Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

New Russian Strikes Target Ukraine's Energy Infrastructure; Senator Chuck Grassley Calls on Elon Musk to Review Twitter's Security; GOP States Ask Supreme Court to Keep Student Loan Relief on Hold; 7 Michigan State Players Charged with Assault After Brawl. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired November 24, 2022 - 09:30   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: This morning Ukraine's prosecutor general says that Russian missile attacks hit eight energy facilities just on Wednesday. Those attacks killed 10 civilians, injured 50 others. Ukrainian officials now say electricity has been restored to all parts of the country's power grid, though individual households are only being connected gradually.

The blackouts also affecting Kyiv hospitals. Check out this astonishing video, doctors performing heart surgery right in the middle of the blackout using hand-held lights.

Joining me now to discuss the war in Ukraine, how it stands today, retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton.

Happy Thanksgiving, sir.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Happy Thanksgiving to you, too, Jim.

SCIUTTO: All right. So Ukraine's energy minister says that Russian missile attacks they targeted generation facilities, caused for the first all four of the country's nuclear power plants to be shut down at the same time. They've been deliberately attacking a whole range of civilian infrastructure here. I mean, they've been doing that since the beginning but frankly they're escalating them as they lose ground on the battlefield.

I mean, is that what this war is becoming as Russia is stymied on the military end of things, that it's just in effect punishing the Ukrainian people?

LEIGHTON: Yes. Exactly. That's exactly what's happening, Jim. And this is part of a deliberate Russian policy and a deliberate Russian strategy of actually prosecuting the war on the backs of the civilian population of Ukraine. So what the Russians are doing is a very systematic approach, ever since General Surovikin became the new commander of Russian forces in Ukraine. He has basically done a little bit of what he's done in Syria, and that is a deliberate, targeting process against the civilian infrastructure. And of course the Russians are quite familiar with Ukraine's infrastructure because they built a large part of it during the days of the Soviet Union.

SCIUTTO: Yes. If you go back to Syria, they deliberately targeted hospitals there. So when you see these attacks on hospitals, that's not collateral damage. Right, I mean, that is deliberate.

A particular threat has been to the nuclear power plant at Zaporizhzhia for some time. And that's been deliberate as well, too. I mean, those attacks are out there. Is the plant still at risk of a nuclear accident and is that part of the Russian plan as well, holding that threat in effect over the Ukrainian people?

LEIGHTON: Yes, I think it is definitely part of the plan. And the reason for that is this is kind of the biggest dirty bomb that you can possibly imagine. So in other words, what the Russians are doing is they're holding this plant hostage, and by extension that entire region around the Zaporizhzhia plant is being held hostage so the Russians can perhaps gain some leverage in terms of keeping territory in the south, making it more difficult for the Ukrainians to advance.

The Ukrainians, of course, took Kherson and they were able to do that in a very systematic fashion. It took them a while but they still did it and they did it very well. So what the Russians are doing is they're holding this plant hostage. And the risk is very high of in essence a nuclear accident or a nuclear incident that would potentially render that entire area useless for several decades.

SCIUTTO: No question.


Going back to when I was first in Ukraine at the start of the war in February, Ukrainians have been calling for closing the sky, as they said, just basically more help to keep Russian aircraft and missiles from being able to rain down this kind of destruction. They've been getting more air defense systems from the West, but not as much as they'd like. And I wonder what's your view. Is it just not enough and not quickly enough?

LEIGHTON: Yes, in large part that's it exactly, Jim. What they -- you know, what we need to do in an effort to close the skies, as they say, the real idea would be to give the Ukrainians not only what they've gotten so far through things like HIMARS and other systems like RST and others like that, but what we need is, we need a system of integrated air defenses, really integrated air missile defenses just like Chairman Milley of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has mentioned.

What we really need to do is get that in place. They should have been in place really at the beginning of this effort, but that's -- you know, that's something that, you know, of course we cannot make a redo on that. But the big idea here is that they need an air defense system that allows them to take care of every threat, whether it's drones or cruise missiles, or other threats as they come toward them.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Those Iranian drones have been wreaking a lot of destruction there.

Colonel Cedrick Leighton, thanks so much for joining us on this holiday morning.

LEIGHTON: You bet, Jim. Any time. Thanks so much.

SCIUTTO: Turning now to Indonesia. A glimmer of hope outside of the capital of Jakarta where an earthquake Monday has killed at least 271 people. 40 people remain missing as authorities continue to search the rubble desperately. But this moment yesterday bringing some hope to those searching for loved ones. Two rescuers pulling right here a 6- year-old boy from the rubble alive after two days of searching.

The poor little guy is now being treated in a nearby hospital. Authorities say they found the boy near his grandmother's body. Rescuers confirmed they had taken his parents' bodies from the rubble earlier. The 5.6 magnitude quake has left more than 2,000 people injured, more than 60,000 displaced.

Still ahead, more trouble brewing for Twitter and CEO Elon Musk, as former staffers at the company's Africa headquarters are now accusing Musk of discrimination.



SCIUTTO: A top Senate Republican, Chuck Grassley, is asking Elon Musk to review Twitter's security vulnerabilities. Earlier this year Twitter's former security chief told Congress about possible threats from the inside, including an FBI warning that a Chinese agent was on Twitter's payroll. Grassley is calling on Musk to complete now a full- threat assessment.

CNN's Alison Kosik joins us. Alison, so what do we know about the status? Is this an ongoing threat at Twitter?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's a very good question. I think what we do know at this point, Jim, is that, and something that's been widely reported, thousands of employees at Twitter have been laid off, but not only that, but some top executives who used to work on teams that involved security and privacy, they've handed in their resignations. This includes the chief information security officer and the head of integrity and safety.

These are critical roles at Twitter that now remain unfilled. So yes, it begs the question, you know, who is minding the store there? Who's keeping an eye on digital security? Who is actually, you know, protecting Twitter against the possible threat of a cyber security incident? It really begs all those questions.

And then of course what you alluded to, former Twitter head of security Peiter Zatko already testifying that Twitter had major security issues -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: No question. I mean, the other issue then is do they have the staff, right, to police this kind of stuff given how many people they've fired and people who've left voluntarily, including many folks involved in that very job. KOSIK: Exactly. And then, of course, there's the list of other

problems that Twitter is encountering in these lay-offs. That includes massive lay-offs at its headquarters in Africa where Elon Musk is being accused of discrimination in the way it's paying out its severance. At its Africa headquarters, Twitter laid off all but one employee. There are about a dozen at that office. But now everybody is gone. And that physical office has actually only been open four days.

And the employees there are saying that Elon Musk deliberately and recklessly flouted Ghana's laws in trying to silence and intimidate them after they were fired. They said that they were not given severance pay which is required by Ghana's labor laws and also based on their employment contracts. And they claim that they weren't informed about next steps, next steps that were given to employees laid off in the United States and Europe -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Alison Kosik, thanks so much.

KOSIK: Sure.

SCIUTTO: A collection of Republican-led states have argued on Wednesday that the Supreme Court should keep President Biden's student debt forgiveness policy on hold. While litigation around that plan continues to play out, the Biden administration extended its pause on student loan payments, set to resume in January as the case makes its way through the courts.

Catherine Rampell joins me now with more. She's a CNN economics and political commentator, also opinion columnist for "The Washington Post."

Thank you for taking the time on this Thanksgiving morning.


SCIUTTO: All right. So there are a lot of threads to this story, the politics of it. I mean, how it affects many students with, you know, practically a trillion dollars in student debt out there right now, outstanding. From an economics standpoint, where do these policies stand? How do they affect the broader economy?


RAMPELL: Well, if it is you who is getting your student loan payments paused for a little bit longer, it's great news for you. Right, it means you have more money to spend on other things, if you're not spending a few hundred bucks a month or whatever it is on your student loan payments. It means you have money to spend on clothes, housing, vacations, et cetera. Good news for you.

The problem is that collectively, if you are sending, you know, lots and lots of Americans effectively 100 bucks a month or at least you're reducing their student loan payments by 100 bucks a month, collectively that is inflationary. And this is always the challenge with a lot of these policies that can be popular for those receiving them, but when put together, you know, increased demand. So that's the challenge here.

And I think the Biden administration had even kind of acknowledged that before when they had previously forgiven the student loan, some of the student loans, and said, OK, well, in exchange for that we're going to resume monthly payments. Overall, that won't cause inflation. Now we have the reverse and it probably will be modestly inflationary.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I suppose depends on what your priority is, right, keeping the economy kind of fueled or trying to keep inflation under control.

You recently wrote an opinion column for "The Washington Post" talking about this other thing kind of hanging over our heads economically, and that is the next stage of raising the debt ceiling. You suggest doing it during the lame duck session. This of course a political issue because some Republicans are threatening to use that as a kind of negotiating leverage.

Tell us what the dangers are here, right, if they don't get that limit raised?

RAMPELL: If they don't get that limit raised, a number of very bad things happen. I mean, one is that it's probably unconstitutional to default on our debt. I don't know what you do about that. Beyond that, it ruins the reputation of the United States in that we are now considered the safest of safe borrowers to lend money to. That's part of the reason why we are the world's reserve currency, why Uncle Sam enjoys such low interest rates that the government has to pay on treasury bonds and such.

And so you could see interest rates go up in the future. And in the near term you could cause a global financial crisis.

SCIUTTO: Oh, just that.

RAMPELL: Because basically every other -- yes, I know. Because basically every other asset on earth, it's perceived riskiness. It's, you know, how people -- how risky people consider those investments to be is benchmarked against us, the safest of safe assets. So you'll have this cascading consequences throughout the global economy. Very, very bad.


RAMPELL: And I would point out that there are a number of reasons to think that when we hit that so-called ex-state where we run out of cash to pay our bills in full and on time, is probably moving a little bit sooner than Congress realizes, in part because of things like, you know, extending the student debt repayment pause. That will probably cost somewhere around $40 billion. You also have interest rates going up. That means it's more expensive for the government to borrow and you have the rise in risk of recession which could mean, if we have a recession, lower tax revenues and potentially higher spending commitments for things like Medicaid and food stamps.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And yet, you know, periodically we come up against this same wall, right. People don't seem to listen to those arguments. Now just quickly before we go, big indicators are pointing to not a bad economic situation, right. I mean, the "Wall Street Journal" noticed and a lot of economists believe that the global economic slowdown may not be as severe as some have feared. You have some slowing of inflation growth in the most recent reports. I mean, do you see some hopeful signs in the data you're watching?

RAMPELL: You know, it's very confusing to know how to read all of these conflicting signs. The indicators are kind of noisy right now. Yes, there are some good indicators, things like inflation seems to be moderating. The job market is still very strong. Unemployment is near historic lows. All that stuff is good. But you know, you also have some other concerning things like China is still doing COVID lockdowns.


RAMPELL: You still have a war in Ukraine that's affecting commodity markets and such. So it's really hard to know what it all points to.

SCIUTTO: Yes. We're watching those China shutdowns very close today.

Catherine Rampell, always good to have you on. Thanks so much.

RAMPELL: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Well, a heated rivalry goes way too far. Now seven Michigan State football players facing charges related to a post-game brawl. The video that was central to that investigation, that's coming up.



SCIUTTO: This morning, seven Michigan State football players now face assault charges after last month's brawl with University of Michigan players in a stadium tunnel.

CNN's Jason Carroll joins us now. Jason, these are criminal charges it sounds like. What have we learned?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, fairly serious here. And Jim, as you know, several Michigan state football players had already been suspended because of what had happened. Many may remember the video of the fight that broke out involving Michigan State and Michigan. At one point it shows an MSU player swinging his helmet apparently striking one of the players from Michigan.

Now come the consequences. Six SMU players are facing misdemeanor charges of aggravated assault, a seventh player, Khary Crump, who goes by KJ, is facing a felony assault charge. His attorney went to Twitter to defend him.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MIKE NICHOLS, ATTORNEY REPRESENTING MSU PLAYER KHARY CRUMP: This was a gut punch to KJ, being charged the day before Thanksgiving. But he's going to get through it while you're getting up, having your turkey, whatever, watching football, just think about seven young men whose lives have been upended by these criminal charges. In KJ's case, a felony charge which is felonious assault because he allegedly used his helmet as a weapon to strike at the other player.


CARROLL: Well, Jim, the investigation into the matter took weeks and included the University of Michigan Police, Michigan State Police, and representatives from the big 10. The University of Michigan Division of Public Safety which also took part in the investigation released a statement saying in part, "At the conclusion of the investigation and submitted to the prosecutor's office a request for criminal charges against several individuals all student athletes on the Michigan State football team."

Meanwhile, the interim president of Michigan State saying in a statement, "While we do not condone the actions taken by some football players on October 29th, we will support our student athletes through this process adding consequences are part of the learning environment.

So some serious charges there facing some of those players. We're going to see what happens as it heads to the courts.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, listen, that video is just alarming to watch again. Jason Carroll, thanks so much.

Still ahead, in our next hour, we are getting new detailed timeline of the terror that unfolded inside that Virginia Walmart as the community there mourns those killed in such a familiar story in this country. An American mass shooting.