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Ukraine Told U.S. It Tried To Intercept Missile Near Poland But Missed. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired November 16, 2022 - 09:00   ET




ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning top of the hour here. I'm Erica Hill.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto. This morning new details surrounding the missile that struck Eastern Poland with deadly consequences last night. The Polish president says the explosion which killed two Polish civilians was likely an accident. It's not the first time a NATO member country has been directly hit during Russia's war on Ukraine.

The NATO Secretary General says the missile incident was likely caused by Ukraine's air defenses but says that Russia retains ultimate responsibility for this incident. I have new reporting on it. We're going to share that with you in just a moment.

HILL: Looking forward to that new reporting. Also back here at home the 2024 presidential race. Officially off and running former President Trump is the first candidate to announce a bid for the White House kicking off his third run for commander in chief.

SCIUTTO: But first, this new reporting. I can share with you this hour, the Ukrainian military has told the U.S. and allies that it attempted to intercept a Russian missile with its own air defenses. And that strike taking place within the same timeframe and near the location of that Poland missile strike that according to U.S. official speaking to me, it's not clear that this air defense missile is the same missile that struck Poland. But this information has informed and ongoing U.S assessment of that strike.

A Pentagon spokesman referred CNN to these comments by President Biden last night quote, "It is unlikely in the minds of the trajectory that it was fired from Russia. But we'll see. We'll see." Clearly the U.S. and its allies still looking into this to confirm all details. CNN Senior International Correspondent, Matthew Chance is live from the site of that missile strike just across the border in Poland. Matthew, I wonder what is the latest on the investigation on the ground there?

MAATHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting your reporting you just got from U.S. officials, because the Polish Prime Minister has within the past few minutes also released the statement as saying that materials that have been gathered on the ground.

And remember, there's a big investigation underway at the scene, which is a few 100 yards away from where I'm standing now, with various specialists and experts gathering materials and trying to literally piece them together to try and work out exactly what happened. The Polish Prime Minister saying that the indication at the moment is that this was Ukrainian missile defense system fired by them to intercept a Russian missile.

And it seems that the interception they say was successful, implying that there are fragments of both of the missiles, interceptor and the Russian missiles as well that have been recovered from the scene where as you mentioned, those two Polish citizens farmers, in fact, in his very small tight knit community were killed sort of out of the blue when these were hit by these, these rockets and this explosion.

So that's the latest from the scene. You can see there's a bit of a flurry of excitement here with police still sealing off. There's a big military presence in the area as well, Jim, because as part of the precautions that the Polish military have taken, the government's taken is increasing the level of security around these border areas. There's just a few miles from the Ukrainian border here. So it's tense. Anyway.

HILL: Certainly, Matthew, appreciate it. Appreciate that and reporting as well, on those comments from the Polish president. Meantime, President Biden holding an emergency meeting with G7 and NATO leaders in Bali, Indonesia after the missile incident last night. CNN's Arlette Saenz, joins us with more on that now. So, Arlette, measured response from the President and Western allies.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Erica, the President really adopting a very cautious and methodical approach when it came to responding to this incident, highlighting the high stakes that are at play in this moment. The President convened that emergency meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit just yesterday, where he said that those gathered at that meeting were in total unanimity in how to respond to this incident.

Now it was there that President Biden really refrained from assigning any blame for this missile that fell on Poland. He did tell reporters that he it seemed unlikely based on the preliminary information that it came from Russia.

Now several hours later two U.S. officials who were briefed on the latest intelligence said that preliminary assessment found that the missile likely originated from Ukraine that appears to be in line with what we've heard from the Polish President this morning, who has indicated it was merely an accident as this situation unfolded, but really, the White House had tried to be very careful with how exactly they responded to this incident.


So far, we haven't gotten an official statement following these latest news and developments coming from the Polish president. But yesterday, the President did act quickly making that phone call to the Polish president as well as convening that emergency meeting to make clear that the U.S. would wait for more intelligence and also help in that investigation. But it comes at a moment when those tensions between Russia and Ukraine are incredibly high.

And any involvement of a NATO member country like Poland certainly raises the ante but in this case, the White House is trying to take that methodical and cautious approach in their response. President Biden is spending most of the day in the air flying back from Bali to the United States. A short while ago, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that the U.S. will continue to support Poland as this investigation unfolds.

SCIUTTO: Arlette Saenz, certainly explains the caution that we've heard those recent hours couldn't last night. Thanks so much. Joining us now to discuss Retired Army Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt. Good to have you on, Sir, thanks for taking the time this morning.

So it's still an ongoing investigation, right. But it appears the most likely scenario is that this was either a Ukrainian air defense missile, or perhaps a combination of that and a Russian missile that it strike. But that kind of strike in the midst of a massive Russian barrage on Ukrainian territory, which was taking place during this time timeframe. Who bears responsibility?

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT (RET.) FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL-MILITARY AFFAIRS: Well, look, I mean, ultimately, Russia bears responsibility for this. They're the ones that shot the cruise missiles. Candidly, they're the ones that started this unprovoked war. So while there may have been tactical mistakes made on the ground, the responsibility is clearly with President Putin and no one else.

HILL: And what about, you know, as we just heard from Matthew, the Polish Prime Minister, noting that there is an indication that likely it was this Ukrainian missile defense system that intercepted a Russian missile, but that fragments of both, they appear to have found fragments of both on the ground there in Poland. What does that tell you about just how close Russia is potentially getting with these strikes to the Polish border?

KIMMITT: Well, you know, could very well be that they intentionally program those cruise missiles to fly near the border, believing that the Ukrainians would hold their fire for fear of this very incident.

But it was responsible on the part of the Ukrainians to defend their people. So if the Russians, in my mind probably tried to get this as close to the border as possible, to cause the Ukrainians not to shoot at it. I mean, that's just another series of war crimes that have been committed by President Putin.

SCIUTTO: Did you - saw a lot of - we heard a lot of caution from U.S. and NATO officials last night saying let's not, you know, jump to a conclusion here about what happened. We're watching this very closely, that caution seemed to be warranted. Did Ukrainian leaders make a mistake by immediately calling this, characterizing this as a Russian strike on Poland? KIMMITT: Well, again, I'm not sure that the Ukrainians are - were necessarily part of that deliberative, methodical process at the NATO headquarters. But these kinds of accidents - I mean, we've often said, the first report is usually wrong when it comes to warfare. So I think what NATO did kind of take a deep breath, try to figure out what's going on, what's the right thing to do?

HILL: We also heard from NATO Secretary General this morning, who said, one of the top priorities now is to provide more air defense systems for Ukraine. Do you think this incident will speed up that support and or the timeline for more air defense systems or any when it comes to what's being supplied to Ukraine?

KIMMITT: No, I certainly hope so. Not only more, but also more accurate, more advanced weapon system that we've seen so far. I mean, this could very well have been the same type of missile, a BUK missile that brought down to Singapore Airlines four years ago in 2017. Not very accurate, depends on a second generation type of guidance system. So more accurate, more of them would make things more safe.

HILL: Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, always appreciate your insight, your expertise. Thank you.

KIMMITT: Thank you.

HILL: Former President Trump officially announcing his 2024 White House bid during his campaign launch. He contrasted his first term accomplishments with President Biden's policies, while also portraying himself as a victim.

SCIUTTO: There were a number of factual inaccuracies in his statement, which CNN was factchecking last night as it happens. National Correspondent, Kristen Holmes is in West Palm Beach with more. Kristen, Trump - He, of course, went after the ongoing criminal probes against him. But he also raised new unfounded questions about election. So I imagine as he gets into full campaign swing, we might expect more of this.


KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jim and Erica, that's exactly right. Now, I do want to note that his aides', advisers have been telling him for quite some time that this election denialism is something that he doesn't want to run on, particularly after we saw that platform largely fizzle out last Tuesday. And I think that's why you saw less of that 2020 rhetoric that we have heard in the past.

But if this speech is any indication of what his campaign is going to look like, it is going to be very divisive. And very dark. This was not your traditional campaign launch presidential speech, where you talk about hope and change and coming into the country and, and vibrancy. This was a very dark speech, it is the same rhetoric that he latched on to back in 2016. That largely carried him to the White House. Unclear if it would do that again. Now take a listen to just some of what he said last night.


DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: The decline of America is being forced upon us by Biden and the radical left lunatics running our government right into the ground. This decline is not a fate we must accept. When given the choice boldly, clearly and directly, I believe the American people will overwhelmingly reject the left's platform of national ruin. And they will embrace our platform of national greatness and glory to America.

In order to make America great and glorious again, I am tonight announcing my candidacy for President of the United States.


HOLMES: Now, one interesting thing about being in the room is that he largely stayed on message. It was a long speech, but he seemed to be following along with the teleprompter. And also he seemed incredibly subdued, not your typical Donald Trump rally, rah, rah all around him. Unclear if that's because of those lackluster midterm results. But one thing to pay attention to here is that no matter what you think of Donald Trump, this is a historic event.

And not only because there's only been one other president who has run for two non-consecutive terms, but just because of who Donald Trump is. This is a former president, who was impeached twice, whose refusal to acknowledge a legitimate election led to a deadly riot on Capitol Hill.

He is involved in multiple legal battles on the subject of at least two federal investigations. And now he is running for president once again.

HILL: And everybody's tired already. Kristen Holmes, it's such important reporting and so important to put it in that context. I appreciate it. We both do. Thank you so much. Right now control of the House remains undecided. Republicans, though, need just one more seat at this point to take power. And they currently lead and four of the 11 remaining contests.

SCIUTTO: Yesterday, the House Republican Conference voted for Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to be its leader. That vote coming after an underwhelming midterm election performance for Republicans and a challenge from far right, Congressman Andy Biggs to McCarthy if and when the GOP hits that magic number of 218 seats, McCarthy would be the nominee, the party nominee for House speaker.

You'd have another vote then. And in the Senate today, the same wrangling over leadership unfolding. Senate Republicans meet behind closed doors to vote on who will hold top positions in that chamber.

HILL: Florida's Rick Scott does plan to challenge Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for his powerful post. This in the wake of the GOP failure to take back the Senate. It will be McConnell's first challenge in a decade and a half of leadership. So the big question here. Will that challenge work? CNN's Melanie Zanona is live on Capitol Hill this morning. Chances that it is not Mitch McConnell? MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, look at let me start by saying that by all accounts, Mitch McConnell is secure in his job. This is largely a protest challenge. We're hearing that Rick Scott might only get half a dozen or so Republicans. But the fact that Mitch McConnell is even facing a challenger for the first time ever since he's been leader of the Republican Party in the Senate just speaks to the level of anger and the level of unrest right now in the Republican ranks.

You have Rick Scott, who is the chair of the Senate GOP campaign arm, blaming Mitch McConnell for not outlining a policy agenda for cutting all these deals with Democrats on things like guns and infrastructure. And then you have Mitch McConnell, blaming Scott and others for taking a hands-off approach in the primaries and allowing these flawed and in some cases, extreme candidates to move on to the general election. Take a listen.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): We underperformed among independents and moderates because their impression of many of the people in our party and leadership roles is that there in golf and chaos, negativity, excessive attacks. Candidate quality recall I said in August is important.


And in most of our states, we've met that test and a few of them we did not.

ZANONA: Now Mitch McConnell and Rick Scott have been at odds all cycle when it comes to strategy, but it is still remarkable, guys, to see them coming head to head like this. In fact, Rick Scott was disinvited from a GOP press conference yesterday. And meanwhile, this intra party battle is coming at a critical time for Republicans.

They're dealing with Donald Trump, they still have a Georgia runoff race. And so there is a lot of concern that this infighting is going to undercut the party ahead of all that. Jim, Erica.

SCIUTTO: And who's taking responsibility for losing that chance at the Senate, haven't quite heard that publicly. Melanie Zanona, thanks so much. Don't miss the CNN special Town Hall tonight former Vice President Mike Pence will join our colleague Jake Tapper live. Tune in at 9 pm Eastern Time. And coming up next, a closer look at multiple investigations Trump is facing as he tries to get his White House bid off the ground.

I'll speak to a former Trump White House lawyer about whether his campaign could potentially minimize his legal trouble.

HILL: Also ahead, a successful launch it happened while you were sleeping. Artemis one now on its way to the moon. We've got details on that mission and a bit later, police in Idaho trying to piece together a timeline. Trying to figure out how for college students were killed. With what has been described as an edged weapon. We'll tell you what we know about the investigation and also these young victims.



HILL: As he launches his third presidential run in just seven years, Donald Trump has much more on his plate than he did with the first and maybe even the second campaign.

SCIUTTO: He is facing multiple criminal investigations in multiple states, along with probes by Congress and by the Justice Department. CNN Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent, Paula Reid joins us now with more. Paula, listen, it's a long list and with sort of uncertain timelines here, so what is the latest on all of them?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Oh, let's be clear. Running for office does not insulate former President Trump from any ongoing criminal investigations. They were valid before he announced they continue to be valid. It's unclear, though, if he will ultimately be charged. There are certainly political considerations for prosecutors. But these investigations they're carrying on.

In fact, today one of the really the most immediate threats, legal threats to the former president is out of Georgia where today former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, she is expected to appear before a grand jury that's hearing evidence about Trump's efforts to overturn the last election.


TRUMP: I'm a victim. I will tell you, I'm a victim. Think of it.

REID (voiceover): As he announced another run for the White House. Former President Trump said he feels aggrieved by the multiple criminal investigations he faces, including in Georgia, where two of his allies, Senator Lindsey Graham and former Trump National Security Adviser, Mike Flynn, are expected to testify before a special Grand Jury hearing evidence about efforts by Trump.

TRUMP: We want all votes counted by election night.

REID (voiceover): And his associates overturn the state's 2020 election results.

And I don't see anything to prosecute him over. On Tuesday. Georgia's Governor Brian Kemp appeared.

BRIAN KEMP, GOVERNOR OF GEORGIA: The truth is ensuring the integrity of the ballot box isn't partisan. It's about protecting the very foundation of who we are.

REID (voiceover): Kemp is a central witness to the criminal investigation being run by Fulton County District Attorney Bonnie Willis.

BONNIE WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: We are going to look at everything until that investigation is complete.

REID (voiceover): The Georgia probe was prompted by an hour-long January 2021 Call from Trump pressing Georgia officials to find the votes to help him win.

TRUMP (ON CALL): I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have.

REID (voiceover): In Washington, Trump faces two parallel investigations into his role on the attack in the Capitol. The House committee investigating January 6 subpoenaed him in October for documents and testimony.

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): We are obligated to seek answers directly from the man who set this all in motion.

REID (voiceover): Trump is not expected to appear before lawmakers, he sued to block that subpoena. And the committee's work wraps up at the end of the year. But the Justice Department is also investigating his role in the attack.

A grand jury in D.C. has heard from witnesses including Trump's former White House counsel and the former president's legal exposure expanded in August, when the FBI searched his Mar-a-Lago residence and recovered documents including some marked classified that were taken from the White House.

TRUMP: They should give me immediately back everything that they've taken from me because it's mine. It's mine.

REID (voiceover): Prosecutors are looking at whether Trump mishandled national secrets, or tried to obstruct the investigation. Attorney General, Merrick Garland has insisted his investigations are being conducted free from political influence.

MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: No person is above the law in this country. Nothing stops. I don't know how to make - I'll say that, again. No person is above the law in this country. I can't say it any more clearly than that.


REID: And sources have told CNN that justice officials have considered appointing a special counsel to handle these Trump investigations. Now that he has declared, the Attorney General will likely have to make a decision about whether he wants to actually do that. As you can tell from that clip, he's not very happy to be answering questions about this. But under the regulation, a special counsel would still report to the Attorney General.


So it's unclear if appointing a special counsel would really do what they hope to achieve, which is insulate him from political blowback.

SCIUTTO: It doesn't change the chain of chain of command. Paula Reid. Thanks very much.

HILL: Joining us now to discuss former Trump White House lawyer, Jim Schultz. Good to see you this morning. Picking up where Paula left off, we know that this does not declaring yourself a candidate, does not relieve you right of some of the legal jeopardy that he is facing here or these investigations.

It does, though, potentially add to what we have heard from the former president for years now that anytime there is any investigation into him any lawsuit, it is a quote witch hunt, it is a well worn, well worn phrases we know from him. Is that going to work for him politically? Is he going to you think further politicize the DOJ, which he has actively worked to do with this campaign?

JIM SCHULTZ, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE LAWYER: The fact that you had to spend three minutes listing off the litany of various investigations is accusing the various law enforcement agencies are taking up against him and looking into relative to him says a lot, right. And all that's going to do is weaken him politically. I don't believe in this instance, it strengthens him politically in any way, shape, or form.

And I think that, like you said, is wearing thin with the public. It's well worn, but I think it's wearing them with the public. And that coupled with the fact that the President, the former president got involved in primaries and handpicked candidates in states and those candidates didn't do very well. You have right here in Pennsylvania, we have three winnable House seats here in Pennsylvania. That went the other way. We had a winnable Senate seat that went the other way.

And that's largely lies at the feet of the President on this. And you're starting to hear from GOP leaders, folks who are elected by GOP committed people, who are elected by GOP voters starting to go into papers and turn away from the former president. And they're looking for something different here in Pennsylvania, in a swing state that's been suffering for a number of years.

I think the comments Kristen made the other week, were right on point in terms of what folks are going to be saying about Donald Trump's candidacy is that he said, "Look, we're going to be tired of winning." You know, a lot of folks in Pennsylvania at least are tired of losing.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, though, because we could have had the exact same combination and say February 2021, post January 6, post the loss in those Georgia runoff elections.

Post some Republicans at this at the time coming out and denouncing Trump from Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor to others, but it changed. Kevin McCarthy went to Mar-a-Lago. Other candidates asked, begged in circumstances for his endorsement.

Why is - Why do you believe it's different now? I mean, is it really the electoral losses?

SCHULTZ: It's not just the electoral losses. I believe it's the - it's kind of the will of the electorate on the GOP side, right. Back then, you know, that a lot of the GOP electorate, unbelievably so post January 6, we're still with President - former President Trump at that point. And his approval rating and the like, were still very high among the GOP, you're seeing a chink in that armor now.

And folks are looking at it, and politicians are looking at it. And they're not jumping on board with President Trump - former President Trump's announcement last night correctly at all, except for a couple of folks who we knew would be with him. So I think it's more the electorate now is driving the conversation. And that gives politicians the ability to make decisions that are different than they could back in February.

HILL: And it'll be interesting to see who could throw their hat in the ring at this point. But you bring up such a great point. Ivanka Trump, of course, one of the most notable figures, not there last night saying she supports and loves her father, but she's not going to do that when it comes to politics right now. Will not be out there on the trail. When you look at where we're at, it didn't a number of people I've heard say this morning, you know, he was really kind of lackluster didn't seem like his heart was in it.

There's been talk about the fact that he was reading off a teleprompter, he's less engaged when he does that. Maggie Haberman, though, this morning, also made the point that this is, he wants the title. He wants this perceived legal protection, which again does not exist. But he doesn't want to do the work. It didn't seem that he wanted to do the work the first time around. Why is he running?

SCHULTZ: I can't speak to why he's running. I mean, if the idea is that the spotlight is going to create some shield for him from the Department of Justice from these investigations in Georgia. I think he's sadly mistaken in that regard. So I can't speak as - I don't think any of us can get into Donald Trump's speech as to why he's doing what he's doing and the timing just before the Georgia runoff election. I just don't get.

SCIUTTO: Jim Schultz, always good to hear from someone who was so close to him. Appreciate it. Still ahead--

SCHULTZ: Thank you

SCIUTTO: --Quite a night last night a lift off that lit up the sky for miles, NASA Now one step closer to a permanent post on the moon. What is next for the Artemis moon rocket and why this morning's launch almost didn't happen? That's coming up.