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International Criminal Court Issues Arrest Warrant for Putin; Trump Attorney Ordered to Testify in Classified Docs Investigation; China's President Xi to Meet Putin in Russia Monday. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 17, 2023 - 15:00   ET




BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN HOST: It's the top of a very busy Friday afternoon on CNN NEWSROOM. Hello, everyone. I'm Bianna Golodryga.


The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin today. The charge relating to deporting thousands of Ukrainian children from occupied territories of Ukraine into Russia. A warrant is also out for the official under Putin who is believed to have led to the forced adoptions. You see her in this photo with President Putin, Maria Lvova-Belova,

GOLODRYGA: Ukraine reports at least 16,000 children have been forced to live in Russia since Putin's war in Ukraine began. The Kremlin calls the warrant outrageous and unacceptable. Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, says this will lead to historic responsibility.

And joining us now is the President of the International Criminal Court, Judge Piotr Hofmanski.

Judge, thank you so much for joining us today. So I want to read from the ICC statement here in your ruling. And it states that there are reasonable grounds to believe that Mr. Putin bears individual criminal responsibility for the aforementioned crimes.

Do you have proof of Vladimir Putin actually signing off on these abductions?

JUDGE PIOTR HOFMANSKI, PRESIDENT, INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT: So we use the notion which is written down in the statute. It is the standard which is necessary to be proven to issue an arrest warrant. But I have to say that this arrest warrants are a secret and that says that the content is secret. The Chamber just agree to publish the information about the existence of these arrest warrants and all the crimes, obviously, about person's concerns and the crimes allegedly committed by them. But I don't know all the details you're asking for.

BLACKWELL: Judge Hofmanski, I want to read also from this statement in which you said the Chamber's believes that public awareness of the warrants may contribute to the prevention of the furthering of commissioned of crimes.

The entire world has watched the invasion for more than a year and the targeting of civilian buildings, locations, residences, why would the court believe that making this public would persuade Putin to do anything different than he's doing now?

HOFMANSKI: Well, obviously, the arrest warrants are not the magic wands. This is not the case that the violence will stop now. But we believe for the deterrence effect of the arrest warrants in our proceedings, issued in our proceedings, and we believe that is a very important signal for the world that we are doing our job, that the victims are not left alone. We have not forgotten and we just - are doing what's expected us under their own statute.

GOLODRYGA: Now, neither the United States or Russia are signatories to the ICC, but around 239 countries are and they include Germany, Hungary, Tajikistan, Vladimir Putin traveled to Tajikistan just last summer. Are you asking officials in these countries to arrest Mr. Putin, if he does deem to travel there?

HOFMANSKI: This goes directly from the statutes. All the state parties has the legal obligation to cooperate fully with the court, which means that they're obliged to execute arrest that was issued by the court. And it is indeed one of the most important effects of the arrest warrants, that is a kind of sanction because the person cannot leave the country traveling to the state (inaudible) 123 states, there's two thirds states of the world in which you will not be saved.

BLACKWELL: The New York Times reported that this was coming along with a case that's being prepared by the ICC related specifically to Russia's targeting of the infrastructure in Ukraine. Can you tell us anything about that, that there may be more charges, a case based on that against Vladimir Putin?


HOFMANSKI: So, so far this arrest warrants are limited to the crimes - war crimes of the deportation of children from Ukrainian in occupied territories into the Russian Federation. But it does not mean that is the end of the game, because the prosecutor is still investigating crime and the case can expand and also cover other atrocities allegedly committed on the territory of Ukraine.

But I have not enough knowledge about the material and evidences being collected by the prosecutor simply because everything is confidential.

BLACKWELL: All right. Judge Piotr Hofmanski, President of the International Criminal Court, thank you so much for your time.

HOFMANSKI: Thank you very much. Have a good evening.

BLACKWELL: Thank you.

GOLODRYGA: Well, now to a story you'll see first on CNN, a judge has just ordered Trump attorney Evan Corcoran to provide additional testimony as part of an investigation into the former president's handling of classified documents.

BLACKWELL: CNN's Katelyn Polantz is back with board now. What are you learning?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Victor and Bianna, the top defense attorney for Donald Trump that's been handling this criminal investigation into his handling of classified documents at Mar-A-Lago possible obstruction of justice. A federal judge does say in an order today that that attorney, Evan Corcoran, is going to have to answer more questions that he didn't want to answer before a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C.

So this order, we do believe it's under seal, but we have been able to confirm that it did happen today by Kaitlan Collins of CNN has this reporting today. This is a very, very significant thing that has happened in this investigation because this defense attorney, Evan Corcoran, had previously told the Justice Department that they had done a thorough search at Mar-A-Lago for documents when the FBI went in for that search last August found dozens more, more than a hundred more when he was brought to the grand jury recently.

Evan Corcoran declined to answer some questions about advice he was directly giving to Donald Trump or things Donald Trump had maybe said to him. And so the Justice Department went to court under seal and asked a judge to force him to answer those additional questions. He still possibly could appeal and avoid testifying, no matter how the courts work out. But this decision is very significant from the federal judge today in Washington DC.

GOLODRYGA: What does that tell you that Jack Smith is headed with this case?

POLANTZ: Well, this is quite a monumental boost to his investigation. If you look back over time, this is the sort of thing that goes down in history. A decision like this from a predecessor judge, a judge in the same position was a major, major piece, one of the final things in the Watergate investigation.

And so historically, we can't see what this order says at this time, but what Judge Beryl Howell did here is going to be crucial for not just Jack Smith, but going forward for the presidency, for declassified documents' cases. And I should note too the significance of this, it does come just an hour or so before Chief Judge Beryl Howell at the D.C. District Court steps down from that position, passes the gavel to the next judge in line. So it is one of the last things she has done here.

GOLODRYGA: All right. Katelyn Polantz, thank you. Keep us posted on any further developments.

BLACKWELL: Joining us to discuss, Dave Aronberg, State Attorney for Palm Beach County.

Just minutes ago, we were talking about we could learn soon, we have now learned the significance of the decision from this judge. DAVE ARONBERG, STATE ATTORNEY, PALM BEACH COUNTY: Victor, I'm not surprised by this, I think it's the right decision. Because there's a crime fraud exception in the attorney-client privilege rule that says that an attorney can't be used to facilitate an ongoing crime. Well, the fact is that Jack Smith is focused on obstruction which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and it looks like it's Donald Trump and Evan Corcoran, both in his sights.

Because it was Jack Smith who drafted the letter signed by Christina Bobb, that said, yes, all the documents had been returned. Well, that could be obstruction.

And here's a note just as - from one lawyer to future lawyers out there, young lawyers, don't sign a letter that the drafter will not sign himself. That's what Christina Bobb did. She then was called in, she pointed the finger at Corcoran and now Corcoran's day of reckoning is upon us.

GOLODRYGA: And as we heard from Katelyn, he - we have - yet to hear from him and his response, but obviously we'll keep a close eye on this case as well. Dave Aronberg, thank you.

BLACKWELL: Former Vice President Mike Pence joins the growing list of Republicans who's now speaking out against Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis and his views on Ukraine.


Both men are expected to join the GOP nomination race for president in the coming weeks

GOLODRYGA: And a massive stinky seaweed stretching thousands of miles long has started to wash ashore to Coast of Florida. We're live from Key West up next.



BLACKWELL: Hours before the warrant for Putin was issued, China's Ministry announced that its President Xi was going to meet with Putin - will meet with the Russian counterpart Monday visiting Moscow for three days. The Chinese officials said Putin extended the invitation, confirm the war in Ukraine would be a core part of the talks.

GOLODRYGA: A spokesman said China's proposition boils down to one sentence which is to urge peace and promote talks.

CNN Senior International Correspondent Will Ripley takes a deep dive on what's actually at stake here.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bianna and Victor, it certainly sends a very strong message to the West, despite now this news of an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin that President Xi Jinping is going to visit him in-person.


His first overseas trip since getting this massive endorsement in Beijing for an unprecedented third presidential term. President Xi is really making his priorities crystal clear here. And those priorities are not working with the United States in the West on trying to punish Russia for its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. No, China has not condemned it.

They say that Russia's security concerns are justified. They've never criticized Russia or even called it an invasion even in this peace plan that they've drafted up, claiming to be neutral, while having regular communication between Xi and Putin.

And on top of it, even though China and Russia are saying that they - they're going to be talking about strategic cooperation, signing important bilateral documents, a partnership that will benefit their peoples and benefit the world. There's real concern in the United States and NATO that they're also going to be talking about, something that could change the whole equation on the battlefield in Ukraine, and that is sending Chinese weapons in.

Chinese weapons that would potentially give Russian soldiers a far greater fighting edge than they have right now and that could be very problematic, analysts say, for the Ukrainians even with the Western weapons, primarily from the United States flowing in.

So the outcome of this meeting between two strong men in Moscow with all the storm in the West about this arrest warrant, they're going to be talking about something that could have real life and real death implications on the battlefield in Ukraine. Victor and Bianna?

BLACKWELL: Will Ripley, thank you.

GOLODRYGA: Well, we just found out that Russia has awarded the pilots responsible for forcing down a U.S. drone over the Black Sea. Its defense minister presented them with state awards and commended the pilots for preventing the U.S. from violating restricted airspace use for its war in Ukraine. Now, the U.S. is reassessing its drone activity across the Black Sea.

BLACKWELL: CNN's Oren Liebermann is at the Pentagon.

So flight tracking software spotted another U.S. drone over the area. So tell us what does that mean and what is the assessment that's going on entail?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The assessment essentially follows the encounter between the Russian jets and the MQ- 9 Reaper drone that ultimately forced down the drone when one of those Russian jets collided with the drone. It's essentially a look at drone operations over the Black Sea.

What are the benefits? What are the risks? What intelligence is gathered? And look at the routes and altitudes, essentially just a whole look at those drone operations in general. It's worth pointing out two things: First, even before we learned of the assessment, there was another MQ-9 Reaper flight shortly after the flight with the encounter with the Russian jet. That according to three officials familiar with the flight itself was to look at the area that the Russians were trying to get to, to see if they could reach the wreckage of the drone.

Even after we learned of the assessment we now saw on flight tracking websites, an RQ-4 Global Hawk drone over the southern area of the Black Sea. So we know at least that there have been multiple drone flights over the Black Sea since the encounter and this is the indication we have gotten. These drone flights will continue and that's what defense secretary Lloyd Austin promised that the U.S. will continue to fly where international law and international airspace allows which is a whole lot of the Black Sea.

GOLODRYGA: It's pretty petty that Russia would decorate these pilots for an incident they said initially that they had no part in, but that's Russia being Russia. The U.S. also says that Russia may have recovered some of the debris from that downed drone. Do we know exactly what they recovered?

LIEBERMANN: We haven't gotten a real description of what it was. One official we spoke with described it as bits of fiberglass, essentially parts of the wreckage. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said there probably wasn't much left after the drone hit the water.

Crucially, both Milley and John Kirby, the strategic coordinator for the National Security Council says they took steps to mitigate the risk of losing anything sensitive to the Russians. We later learned that that was wiping the sensitive software off the drone before it hit the waters. So there isn't too much of a great concern here about what bits of wreckage or debris the Russians could recover.

Of course, the U.S. hasn't had any Navy ships in the Black Sea for more than a year now since before the invasion, so it wasn't really an option for the U.S. to try to get in there and recover it on their own.

GOLODRYGA: All right. Oren Liebermann, thank you.

BLACKWELL: Former Vice President Mike Pence continues to draw some battle lines between himself and Ron DeSantis, setting up a possible 2024 showdown should they both decide to run for president. During a visit to New Hampshire, Pence again defended his support for Ukraine, making clear he disagrees with DeSantis' view that Russia's war is a territorial dispute.


MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think anyone who believes that Vladimir Putin will stop if he takes Ukraine has another thing coming. The war in Ukraine is not a territorial dispute. It is a Russian invasion.

[15:20:01] Vladimir Putin was able to overtake Ukraine. It wouldn't be too long before Russian tanks would be rolling into NATO countries where our service members will be required to enter the fight.


BLACKWELL: Gloria Borger is a CNN Senior Political Analyst, Scott Jennings is a CNN Senior Political Commentator and former Special Assistant to President George W. Bush. Welcome to you both.

Gloria, let me start with you and it's interesting there's this new write out today in the National Review where a writer says that don't let them Reagan shame you, Ron, how dare DeSantis defy the Hawks by articulating what GOP voters think about Ukraine.

Latest poll shows than half of Republicans believe that there's too much us support for Ukraine. So is this a rift between DeSantis and the Republican voters or DeSantis and the Republican members of Congress, the elected Republicans, what do you think?



BORGER: I think DeSantis is clearly reading the political mood here. And what this really points to is a divide within the Republican Party. I mean, you have people like DeSantis and Donald Trump, and he is trying to get those Trump voters here. And that's how he's reading the political mood, Donald Trump's saying, it's too much the war in Ukraine is too much.

And on the other side, you have Nikki Haley, for example, and Pence who are saying, look, you - this is not a territorial dispute. We have to get involve. The Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell saying the same thing.

So I think as we watch this primary play out, you're going to see a lot of discussion about the war in Ukraine and what America's responsibilities are and whether, in fact, it is a territorial dispute or something much larger as Mike Pence was just saying,

BLACKWELL: Scott, do you think this is a tenable position for the governor?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I do, because I think if you go and look what he wrote all of it and not listen to what - how other people are characterizing it, you'd find that he's pretty well squarely in the mainstream of where most Republicans are right now. I think there's a world of difference between where DeSantis and Trump are on this. I think DeSantis laid out a relatively thoughtful view.

I don't like the phrase territorial dispute, I agree that that was not good. But if you look at everything else he articulated, it was pretty much mainstream political thought and not all that is similar to current U.S. policy. He said he was not for a further escalation of U.S. engagement in Ukraine. Well, neither is Biden, because further escalation is boots on the ground and I don't think there's really that many people that want that.

So I think there is a rush with DeSantis always to try to mischaracterize what he is saying. And I think in this case, it was way overdone. Again, territorial dispute don't - I don't love that phrasing, but also he's not a policymaker. He's a candidate for public office and I guess if you're in my camp, which is we're either going to have Trump or someone else, I'm willing to give Ron DeSantis some latitude here in order to get us a different nominee than the people who I think basically want Trump back for their own personal amusement.

BLACKWELL: All right. We'll ...

BORGER: I think there's ...

BLACKWELL: Go ahead. Go ahead, Gloria.

BORGER: I just want to say, I think there's a historical issue here, which is that in 2014 as we all know when Ron DeSantis was a member of Congress and CNN pointed this out, he was all for arming Ukraine when Russia was of course trying to annex Crimea.


BORGER: And now, he regards what's going on in Ukraine as a territorial dispute. So I think he's going to have to continue to explain his shifting positions and how this is somehow a smaller thing than Crimea was,

BLACKWELL: Let's stay with DeSantis and Trump in Florida. We're about, what, 10 months out from the first votes of the primary, but there's a new Emerson College poll out that shows that Trump is just three points ahead of the governor of Florida among Florida, Republicans.

I don't know if Gloria. Is this is this good news for DeSantis or not? On one hand, he's not in the race and he's at 44 percent. The other hand, he just won reelection by 20 points and he's the governor of the state. How do you play this? Where do you think these numbers fall?

BORGER: Well, let me just say one thing, as you pointed out, we are 10 months out.


BORGER: Also, I think DeSantis is not yet an official candidate, although let me go out on a limb and say that he is running, which he is.

BLACKWELL: You think? You think?

BORGER: I think. But also, the thing you pointed out, is that this was in a nine-candidate field.

BLACKWELL: Mm-hm. BORGER: I mean, nine candidates, this is good for Donald Trump when you're in a nine-candidate field and the rest of the vote gets split up and then you can win the nomination because of the Republican - there are a lot of contests that are winner take all.

So is this bad news for DeSantis, he's not announced and he's only a few points behind Donald Trump in such a large field? I don't think it's bad news for Ron DeSantis.

BLACKWELL: He's at home though, that's what I was considering ...


BLACKWELL: ... is that it's in Florida.

BORGER: He's at home, I get it.


BLACKWELL: If you can't win at home - I don't know ...

BORGER: But maybe they want to keep him there.

BLACKWELL: All right.

JENNINGS: If I may ...

BLACKWELL: Come on, Scott.

JENNINGS: ... you would - if you compare DeSantis in this Florida poll to say Gov. Sununu in New Hampshire and look where DeSantis sits ...

BORGER: Right.

JENNINGS: ... vis-a-vis Trump in Florida or Sununu vis-a-vis Trump ...


JENNINGS: ... in New Hampshire. I think you conclude DeSantis is in a pretty good position here.

BLACKWELL: Yes. And Sununu acknowledged that DeSantis would do well in New Hampshire if he were to run there.

BORGER: Right.

BLACKWELL: Scott, let me stay with you on this and the Vice President - former Vice President, when he was asked about former President Trump saying that he would stay in the race if he's indicted. Of course, we're waiting for decisions from Georgia and Manhattan, that the VP said that it's a free country.

And Gloria and I talked about this, I think it was yesterday that an indictment could actually help Trump, but also it is really uncertain territory for Republican opponents. How do you play that? Do you go - do you attack him for being indicted, because that could come back to hurt the opponent, right?

JENNINGS: I think the legal cases are all different and I think the thing that's pending in New York City right now, which I've read today, they may be preparing for indictments imminently - I'm not sure if CNN is reporting that, but that's out there in the news today.

That specific case, this deal with the paperwork and Stormy Daniels and it's a misdemeanor, but they're going to have a novel legal theory and bank shot it into some kind of a felony. Yes, I think that right there could help Donald Trump because it seems silly to most people that this is still a pending matter.

Now, the stuff going on with the Special Counsel, the stuff with the documents and stuff going on in Georgia, that's all serious stuff.


JENNINGS: If the first thing that comes out, though, are these New York indictments, I think there's a real chance it backfires politically on the people who want to get rid of Trump and it ends up elevating him because of the - I think the relatively inconsequential nature of the matter at hand.

BLACKWELL: All right. Scott Jennings, Gloria Borger - Gloria, I still think of that enchantment song I play for you in my office that time, every time you're on ...

BORGER: Can you play it again?

BLACKWELL: No. Every time you're on - all right, thank you two.

BORGER: It's on my playlist now, yes.

BLACKWELL: Good. Good.

GOLODRYGA: I liked Gloria's take and interpretation of that poll like maybe they just want to keep him there in Florida.

BLACKWELL: It may be. It may be.

GOLODRYGA: You never know.

Well, ahead, the CEO of TikTok says forcing its Chinese parent company to sell it off would not address the U.S. government security concerns. We'll have more on that straight ahead.