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Polish President Says, Missile That Landed in Poland Probably an Accident; Trump Launches 2024 Bide After Disappointing GOP Midterms; Today, Senate Republicans Hold Leadership Elections. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired November 16, 2022 - 10:00   ET




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


We are following several major stories this morning. For the first time, a member of NATO has been hit during Russia's ongoing war on Ukraine. The Polish president says this morning that an explosion which killed two Polish civilians was likely an accident. I do have new reporting detailing the Ukrainian military's potential involvement in this incident. That's just ahead.

HILL: Also this morning, the 2024 presidential race officially off and running, twice impeached former President Trump kicking off his third run for commander in chief. He is the first candidate rather to announce a bid for the White House.

And major infighting within the GOP, Senator Rick Scott challenging Mitch McConnell for Senate leadership, as House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy secures a nomination for speaker.

SCIUTTO: We begin with my new reporting. The Ukrainian military has told the U.S. and allies that it attempted to intercept a Russian missile, that strike taking place within the timeframe and near the location of that missile strike in Poland, this according to a U.S. official. It is not clear at this time if this is the same missile that struck Poland, but that information from the Ukrainians has informed an ongoing U.S. assessment of that strike. A Pentagon spokesman referred me to these comments by President Biden last night, quote, it's unlikely in the minds of that trajectory that it was fired from Russia, but we'll see. The investigation is still ongoing.

Now, for the latest on what Polish investigators are seeing on the ground there, CNN Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance live from the site of the strike.

I wonder, they've had a number of hours to look over the site, collect evidence. What are they finding? What are they sharing? MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, I mean, and that effort is continuing. You can see there's quite a bit of activity here. The police have still sealed off the area. There's still a big team of experts and specialists on the ground literally piecing together the fragments of the ordnance that they found and other bits of evidence to try and find out exactly what happened, so they can say with certainly where this missile came from.

But, already, there are indications, of course, as we've been reporting, coming to us from the Ukrainian prime minister's office, and tallies with what you're report as well, Jim. Because what the Ukrainian prime minister's office is saying is that the materials they have gathered so far on the ground here in this border area close to the Ukrainian borders suggests that this was a Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile, an air defense missile that was attempting successfully to bring down or divert a missile fired by Russia. So, they didn't say this explicitly but the implication is that they found the parts of both missiles on the ground, which would lead them to say it was a successful attempt to bring down a Russian missile.

And, of course, you have to remember the context. Even if this was tragically a Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile that caused this damage and killed those two Polish citizens, you have to remember the contest, which is this took place during an unprecedented barrage of Ukraine by Russian missiles. And they were desperately attempting to defend their own citizens from those attacks. And so in that context, you can understand how something like this, an overshoot coming into Polish territory could take place. It doesn't make it less tragic, of course, but it does mean that the geopolitical consequences of it are perhaps a little more palatable.

HILL: Matthew Chance, I appreciate it. Thank you.

Well, as the U.S. and NATO do take a cautious approach following that deadly missile strike in Poland, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin says the U.S. will continue to work closely with Poland and allies on the ongoing investigation.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Oren Liebermann is at the Pentagon. And, Oren, this follows the defense secretary, Austin, assuring his Polish counterpart the U.S. is committed to defending its NATO partner. The Pentagon and NATO, they've clearly been walking a fine line, right, because this may very have been an air defense missile as opposed to a Russian strike or certainly a direct one, they're still gathering details here, but where does this end up in the end here in terms of U.S. support for Poland? What does he mean specifically?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, as you point out, was very careful in his words. He barely talked about the missile that landed in Poland, basically condemning at the beginning of his comments just a couple hours ago here at the Pentagon before he headed into the Ukraine contact group, where a group of 50 countries looks to see what can be provided to Ukraine, especially at this point, and, crucially, air defense systems. He simply condemned it and then pretty quickly moved on, not going as far as other U.S. officials and certainly not going as far as Poland in saying what it believes happened and that this may have been a Ukrainian air defense missile that errantly landed in Poland.

But he did make clear where the U.S. stands. The U.S. will work with Poland, investigate with Poland and defend, as the president has said, every inch of NATO territory, so making it clear there that work and cooperation will continue with Poland and with others looking into this, and, as Matthew just pointed out, the framework in which this happened, Ukraine trying to defend itself against a barrage of 100 or so Russian missiles that were incoming. And that environment is crucial here in terms of where the U.S., where Poland, Ukraine and probably the rest of NATO will place the blame on this.

Here is some of what Austin said earlier today.


LLOYD AUSTIN, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Russia is facing setback after setback on the battlefield. Russia is putting Ukrainian civilians and civilian infrastructure in its gun sights.

The Kremlin may hope that more bombardment will break the resolve of the Ukrainian people. But ordinary Ukrainian citizens have responded with the magnificent defiance that the world now knows so well.


LIEBERMANN: There has not been any change to U.S. force posture in Europe. There are some 10,000 U.S. troops in Poland, including Patriot batteries that have been deployed by the U.S. to Poland, as well as Poland's own Patriot batteries there.

So, we'll see that. We expect to hear about that a little later on today after the Ukraine contact group meeting, which is going on right now. A big focus of that again is air defense systems. Austin said in his opening comments that seven countries have committed to sending air defense systems since the last contact group meeting. And, obviously, we saw what happened with that barrage of Russian attacks that continues to be one of the key critical areas they're looking at going forward here.

SCIUTTO: Yes. The Ukrainians have been asking for more air defense for some time. Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon, thanks so much.

Joining me now, Democratic Congressman John Garamendi of California, he sits on the Arms Service Committee. Congressman, thank you for taking the time this morning.

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): Good to be with you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: So, no final word on this, but it appears the most likely explanation is that this was either a Ukrainian air defense missile or perhaps some combination of a Ukrainian missile and a Russian one that it was targeting here. Regardless, in your view, who bears responsibility given that this took place in the midst of a larger Russian barrage on Ukraine?

GARAMENDI: Well, it's certainly Russia's responsibility. They are the ones that invaded Ukraine. Russia is continue to lose the ground war and has decided that they're going to be a bunch of terrorists raining hellfire and brimstone on to the cities Ukraine. And Ukraine is doing best it can to protect itself.

In the context of NATO, it's really important to understand how NATO responded to this. Very carefully, very careful understanding, look what happened. It is a result of seven years of work that began during the Obama administration with what we call the European Defense Initiative, in which we deployed troops and built the infrastructure in Poland and the eastern NATO countries, all of that in place, and the response was very, very well done, figure out what happened, be prepared and take whatever action is appropriate. And now we're doing that. We're going to send a lot more air defense systems into Ukraine.

SCIUTTO: Okay. I do want to talk about that and the speed of that, but before I get there, do you believe Ukrainian leaders made a mistake -- you heard from Ukrainian President Zelenskyy last night -- in immediately calling this a Russian strike, given the potential for escalation?

GARAMENDI: I think Zelenskyy has been extraordinarily successful in rallying the world to the defense of Ukraine. It doesn't surprise me that he took a step a little ahead of the information, but in doing so, he awoke all of us to the potential that this could happen. And that awakened NATO, awakened America and the world as well, as what was going on in Bali, and gave a very clear -- the result of all of it is a clear message to Russia, don't even think about -- don't even think about attacking in any way.

This was an errant missile, apparently the result of an attempt by Ukraine to shoot down the Russian missiles that were bombarding Lviv and the surrounding area. So, I think we should expect Zelenskyy to continue to be in the front of the issue, as he has been from the very start.

SCIUTTO: As you know, Ukrainians have been pushing for more defense since the start of the Russian invasion, and sometimes complaining about the speed at which those systems have come. In your view, is this a reminder that they need more and they need it quickly? And if so, will that happen?

GARAMENDI: Well, it is happening. The United States is sending its missile defense systems into the condition, as reported a few moments ago.


So is NATO, seven or eight NATO countries are doing that. We're looking at also bringing into the country the Israeli systems. That hasn't yet happened but that's a possibility.

There's more need to be done, yes. Should more have been done earlier? Certainly from the Ukrainian point of view, absolutely. But look at the total context of what has happened here, and that is that NATO, with the United States leadership, has given at the necessary equipment for Ukraine to be on the offense. Was on the defense successfully and now on the offense, and Russia is on the back heel, backing up. So, it's working. More needs to be done, obviously, and that will happen.

There's a big question in Congress. We are changing the leadership in Congress. It's clear the Republican caucus is not clear on whether it wants to continue to support Ukraine. Make it very clear, that the Democrats, from the very outset, supported Ukraine when we were in charge. We will continue to fight everything, every battle here in Congress and elsewhere to see that the support is there for Ukraine, regardless of what the new Republican leadership might want to do.

SCIUTTO: Congressman John Garamendi of California, we appreciate you joining us this morning.

GARAMENDI: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Turning now to other events on Capitol Hill, the unfolding fight for the future GOP. Senate Republicans, they're now meeting behind closed doors to vote on who will lead them.

HILL: Florida's Rick Scott expected to challenge Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for his powerful post in the wake of the GOP's failure to take back the Senate. This will be McConnell's first challenge in 15 years. So, the big question, of course, will that challenge work?

CNN's Manu Raju is live on Capitol Hill. Just how much support does Scott have?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's the big question here. We don't expect him to achieve what he needs, which is to get a majority of the 49 member Republican member conference. We'll see if there's ultimately 50, but 49 members will be voting today.

Mitch McConnell, according to virtually every single account, has those votes in order become the next Republican leader, and then he will achieve actually a record. He'll become the longest serving Senate party leader of either party in U.S. history. Right now at 15 years, he'll eventually surpass Mike Mansfield.

But this is the first time that McConnell has faced any leadership challenge in his 15 years in power, showing that there is some dissension, dissatisfaction with both his leadership as well as concern about the election results from Tuesday, and some calls for changes about their tactics going forward.

Now, behind closed doors, Republicans are meeting right now. They are having a debate. One debate is to whether to delay these leadership elections until after the Georgia runoff. That is on December 6th. Mitch McConnell opposes delaying these, as well as some of his allies, though we expect that likely to fail. And then afterward, there will be a vote between Rick Scott and Mitch McConnell, a secret ballot election. And then we will learn the results of that election.

Now, this all comes after a three-hour, incredibly tense discussion that happened yesterday afternoon, where the two, McConnell and Scott, traded criticisms over their handling of the midterm. Scott ran the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Mitch McConnell has spent a lot of money with his outside group. They debated tactics. There was criticism of Scott's stewardship of the NRSC.

Scott went back and criticized McConnell. Others called for some change in direction. People like Josh Hawley called for a delay in the election, all showing the internal feuding that continues to persist after that disappointing election from last week, but we do expect in just probably within the hour or so, we will learn the results of this election in which Mitch McConnell, after all of this, likely to be reelected as the Republican leader. Guys?

HILL: Manu with the very latest for us, I appreciate it, thank you.

SCIUTTO: Well, no sooner, the midterms are behind and the 2024 race for the White House is upon us, former President Trump officially launching his campaign last night at this announcement yesterday at his Mar-a-Lago resort. The twice-impeached former president raised new suspicion about elections, even as he announced he's throwing his hat into another one. He slammed ongoing investigations, multiple investigations into him and offered just a grim view of the current and future state of this country.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Much criticism is being placed on the fact that the Republican Party should have done better, and, frankly, much of this blame is correct. But the citizens of our country have not yet realized the full extent and gravity of the pain our nation is going through and the total effect of the suffering is just starting to take hold.

I have no doubt that by 2024, it will sadly be much worse and they will see much more clearly what happened and what is happening to our country and the voting will be much different. [10:15:05]


HILL: Donald Trump painting a dark, grim picture of this country, also painting himself as a victim.

Joining us now to talk all about it, CNN Political Commentator Van Jones and Frank Lutz, Pollster and Communications Strategist. Good to see you both this morning.

It was interesting. As I watched that, and it didn't seem he's -- to borrow a phrase from Maggie Haberman, that his heart was in it, he didn't seem all that engaged. Maybe it was teleprompter, I don't know. But when we look at the Donald Trump that we saw last night, Frank, you recently sat down with a focus group of 2020 to Trump voters, and almost all of them said that today they would vote for Ron DeSantis. Does Donald Trump still have the base that he would need to pull off a primary win if there is, in fact, a real Republican primary this time around?

FRANK LUNTZ, POLLSTER AND COMMUNICATION STRATEGIST: Well, two points. Number one is, Donald Trump is still the most popular Republican within the Republican Party. It's changed over the last seven days. He's not the same person that he was before this election. In his attacking the governor of Florida, the governor of Virginia and other Republicans was received very badly among rank and file. So, he's been damaged.

But second, it's the rise. It's not just that Trump is following this. The rise of Governor DeSantis is very significant, having won in a true landslide all across the state from all different voter blocs. Ron DeSantis is today -- he is not the frontrunner. Trump is still the frontrunner, but DeSantis is absolutely credible, absolutely significant, and I actually thought that Trump last night looked more presidential than he has at any point in about five years, that his being subdued is what we expect from someone who wishes to lead the country rather than someone who is yelling and screaming and just being excitable. So, we think we're done, but we're not.

SCIUTTO: Much of the same language we've heard from him before.

Van, if I could ask you about Joe Biden, people will often say don't underestimate Donald Trump, you could argue Joe Biden was underestimated, at least in terms of Democrats' performance in this midterm election. Does Trump running make it more likely that Biden will seek reelection in 2024, in your view?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think he has a strong case to make for himself at this point, that he keeps being underestimated in the primaries. People say that he's old, he's out of touch, look at all these young talent. Jim Clyburn said, no, this is the guy, he just took over, took off. Similarly, people weren't sure if he could handle Trump. He did. People underestimated him. People underestimated even in the midterms. What is he doing? He's talking about democracy, nobody cares about that, what is this guy doing, and it turned out he was right again.

So, I do think that if you're Joe Biden, you're looking, hey, I keep doing pretty well and Trump keeps doing badly here. If Trump is going to be the nominee, why would you switch horses and take the winner off the field when the other side is being a loser on the field? So, I think if you're Biden, you're looking at -- let's keep this thing going.

HILL: So the in that case, Van, do you envision that Biden running for reelection, Democrats in 2024, will approach that campaign differently? Will it be less of pushing back on Donald Trump and more of a campaign that's focused on the issues?

JONES: Well, it's hard to know. I mean, I think that we're two years out. So, we don't even know what the issues are going to be. If the economy is starting to finally pick up some steam, then it's going to be one situation. If we're still struggling with stagflation, it's another situation. So, you really can't tell. All you can try to make a guess about is who can make the strongest case that they can prevail. And right now, it's hard to see what other Democrat can make the kind of case that a Joe Biden can make. People are worried about him. People are nervous about his age. But if he wants to make the case for himself, he has got a pretty strong case now.

SCIUTTO: Frank, both parties, frankly, have a history of making early bets on candidates that go nowhere. If you look at Hillary Clinton in 2008, Rudy Giuliani back in 2008, where' he's polling around this time, or, indeed, Jeb Bush in 2016, voting against -- or betting against, rather, Donald Trump in 2016. Is it -- I'm aware of the DeSantis bandwagon. Is it too early, Frank, to call him the obvious second choice or maybe even a frontrunner to some?

LUNTZ: It absolutely is too early because we don't know what will happen in the next -- we don't what will happen in the next week let alone in the next year. Chris Christie, I think, will be a very credible candidate, former governor of New Jersey. Mike pence is going to be on your network tonight in a town hall. Trump did a reasonably effective job at eviscerating Pence but Mike has a strong record.


There are number of -- Kristi Noem from South Dakota -- I won't give you all the names but there are a number of people who could run on both the Democratic and Republican side.

Here is one point. Most of these candidates talked about inflation. That is not what the public cares about. They care about affordability. They care about prices. They care about cost of living. If the candidates continue to speak like economists or like people that are on high, they are not going to connect to the average individual. Right now, we're struggling. And the public is looking for someone who gets them, feels them and projects their concerns.

SCIUTTO: That's a great point, interesting. Not the word inflation, but -- it sounds like an economist, but more what it means at home. Frank, Van, thanks so much to both of you.

JONES: Thank you.

LUNTZ: Thank you.

HILL: A special programming note, don't miss a CNN special town hall tonight with former Vice President Mike Pence. He's sitting down with Jake Tapper right here starting at 9:00 P.M. Eastern.

Still to come this hour, a judge suspends Georgia's six-week abortion ban, ruling it unconstitutional. The state now pushing back.

And later, were you involved in the chaos with the Taylor Swift tickets? I didn't get them either, my friends. Now, the angry Swifties are ready to take on Ticketmaster.

SCIUTTO: Plus, incredibly new images from the Orion spacecraft showing this rock that we call Earth. More on today's early morning launch that reignited the U.S. return to the moon.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Four-stage engine start, three, two, one, boosters in ignition, and liftoff of Artemis 1. We rise together back to the moon and beyond.




SCIUTTO: This just into CNN, a tragic crash. At least ten L.A. County sheriff's recruits are injured after a car plowed into them while they were out for an early morning run. Now, this is aerial footage here in the city of Whittier, about 20 miles southeast of Los Angeles. Not clear at this point how many have been injured. Emergency personnel are seen on the scene treating several victims. We will keep you updated.

HILL: Wow. We are also following right now developments far above the Earth, the Orion spacecraft on its way to the moon after a successful liftoff very early this morning. A few hours ago, it gave us this stunning image of Earth. We're going to show you as they headed off, there you go, for a 25-and-a-half-day journey.

Now, this is the first step in the Artemis 1 mission to put astronauts back on the moon and eventually to set up an outpost there.

I want to bring in Jonathan McDowell for his expertise. He's an astrophysicist at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Great to have you here this morning.

I'm guessing this is a pretty big day for you. We know what a big deal this is. We've been waiting for the launch. Can you put this in perspective for us? Why is this such an important moment?

JONATHAN MCDOWELL, ASTROPHYSICIST, HARVARD SMITHSONIAN CENTER FOR ASTROPHYSICS: Well, for the first time in half a century, we now have the ability to send humans into deep space back to the moon. And so we're going to have to wait a little longer because the second flight of this rocket, which will be the one that will carry people, won't be until 2024. But we prove the technology last night that we've sort of regain that ability to go beyond Earth orbit and explore the frontier.

HILL: Listen, you wait this long, 2024. It doesn't sound it's that far off in the grand scheme of things. As I understand it, Artemis here would be paving the way for potentially a permanent outpost on the moon. Can you give me a sense of what that would look like? Because in my head, I'm picturing the tents that they lived in The Martian, the movie, or something like the biosphere dome from back in the day. What would that really be on the moon?

MCDOWELL: Right. It would be a bit more like the biosphere dome. And you might want to cover it with moon rock just to insulate it and protect it from radiation. So, it might look like some little caves that you built on the surface of the moon with a nice big flat landing area with rockets landing taking off, bringing supplies, bringing astronauts, a whole bunch of little modules, a little village, probably off the south pole of the moon where we think there might be some frozen that we could use. HILL: So, a lunar village at the south pole, perhaps the next hot vacation spot maybe a few years down the road.

This launch was the first step, as you pointed out. There are some really big benchmarks ahead. What are you going to be watching for over the course of the next couple of weeks here?

MCDOWELL: Right. So, this spacecraft is now on its leisurely way to the vicinity of the moon. It's going to get there on Monday, I think, and get into orbit around the moon. And so it's going to be in an orbit that we haven't used before. Actually, there's a little robot craft that's been practicing that orbit just in the past few weeks.

And so one of the issue is can this Orion spaceship locate itself precisely, navigate well? There's no GPS out at the moon. And will its systems continue to work, continue to make a nice, toasty environment for the astronaut mannequins on board during this long, extended mission where it finally leaves the moon on December 6th and head back to the Earth?

HILL: The astronaut mannequins that I believe Snoopy too.


We can't forget about Snoopy.

MCDOWELL: And Snoopy and Shaun the Sheep, I believe, from the Europeans.

HILL: There you. Jonathan McDowell, great to have you with us this morning, we really appreciate it. Thanks for making it understandable --