Return to Transcripts main page

CNN This Morning

Russian Forces Launch Numerous Missile Attacks against Ukrainian Targets; Airman Accused of Leaking Top-Secret Documents Reported Multiple Times to Commanders about His Mishandling of Classified Intelligence; FBI Whistleblowers to Testify for First Time in Public Hearings on Alleged Abuses of Power by FBI Leadership; Republican South Carolina State Senator Sandy Senn Interviewed on Attempts to Stop State Abortion Ban Bill. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired May 18, 2023 - 08:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: He tells us exactly how he picks the restaurants he features on Triple-D. This hour of CNN THIS MORNING starts now.

But we do begin with news on Ukraine. Explosions heard in Kyiv and other Ukrainian regions as authorities reported a countrywide air attack. This as fierce fighting continues around the embattled eastern city of Bakhmut with Ukraine gaining some ground in recent days. We do have new video to show you from those recent days, showing Bakhmut getting absolutely pummeled in shelling.

CNN has obtained new satellite imagery just showing the devastating toll the war has taken on this city in particular over the past year. This as Ukraine prepares for its long awaited counteroffensive to try to reclaim occupied land. Sam Kiley joins us this morning from eastern Ukraine. Sam, good morning.


HARLOW: What can you tell us?

KILEY: Oh, sorry. There's rather heavy wind conditions here, so difficult to pick you up properly there, Poppy. But I think the main thing to take away from this latest wave of attacks by cruise missiles, surface-to-surface missiles, the full panoply of sophisticated missile technology fired by the Russians, is once again they are trying to soak up the air defenses of the Ukrainians and expose vulnerabilities such as they could find in Kyiv. There were 30 missiles filed, 29 the Ukrainians claim, we have not independent verification for this, but the Ukrainians claim to have shot down 29 out of 30. Either a missile or debris of a missile hit the southern port city of Odessa killing one person. Three people were killed the previous day in missile strikes and artillery attacks in Kherson around the country.

So this is a sort of situation, normal in the sense that the Russians are doing this regularly in order to possibly absorb or get the Ukrainians to spend as much of the air defenses as they can ahead of the planned summer offensive that the Ukrainians are expected to launch, when the Russians will want to get their aircraft in the air more freely to use against the ground forces that the Ukrainians no doubt will unleash.

But the ground battle continues in Bakhmut with a peculiar situation in which the Ukrainians are saying they are advancing on the northern and southern flanks around the city, but within the city, the Wagner mercenary group claims to have concentrated the Ukrainians down to a very small area where they say they are fighting bitter battles against diehard Ukrainian fighters holding out to the bitter end it would seem, Poppy.

HARLOW: These images, or these aerial images of Bakhmut are just striking. Sam Kiley, we really appreciate your reporting from southeastern Ukraine.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: We are also now learning this morning that the young airman who is accused of leaking top-secret documents was reported multiple times to his commanders and he was warned repeatedly to stop mishandling classified intelligence. But despite those warnings, he was allowed to keep his job. That is the new and alarming revelation that federal prosecutors made yesterday. According to military memos that date back to September of last year, 2022, members of Jack Teixeira's unit at his Air National Guard base alerted commanders after they saw him writing notes about classified intelligence, stuffing those notes into his pocket. He was also reported for doing, quote, "deep dives" in searching the base's computer system for intelligence that wasn't related to his job. And all of this came months before he was arrested for allegedly leaking a trove of embarrassing and damaging and revealing documents from the Pentagon to video gamer friends online.

Here with more is CNN's chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst John Miller. John, learning this from federal prosecutors as they are saying there are these three incidents where he was writing notes on classified intelligence, which you know you're not supposed to do, putting it in his pocket. Then he was looking at a trove of information, deep diving, they said, and then he was looking at intelligence that was not related to his primary duty. Why were those incidents not enough to remove him from his role?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: They were enough. What didn't happen? So what we're seeing now is that base, this is extraordinarily unusual. That base has been suspended from its intelligence mission totally. The commanding officer has been suspended from command of it as well as the executive officer. So in the Pentagon's review, clearly they have recognized problems there and basically shut that operation down in terms of the classified intelligence side.

But the question is, he is making notes of classified documents. We know from earlier court filings that he was nervous about this because he had been caught, so he just started taking the documents wholesale.

[08:05:06] The real answer is, had these three things been treated seriously at the time, this would have been a referral to the base's security officer who is supposed to ensure the security of those documents, and then logically it should have gone to an organization like OSI, the Office of Special Investigations, which is the Air Force's criminal investigation bureau, to see -- one thing is one thing. Two things, three things. He went to a classified briefing and sat in the audience and asked extraordinarily detailed questions about things that nothing had to do with his realm. And remember what his realm was. He was the I.T. guy. His job was to make sure the systems were working. He wasn't an analyst. He wasn't a targeter. He wasn't a drone pilot. So all of this should have been setting off alarm bells sooner.

HARLOW: Should it also change at large how the Pentagon allows people in what positions to have access to classified documents?

MILLER: That's something that the Pentagon is looking at now, which is the person in that job who is basically the I.T. person that makes the systems run actually needs to have that, needs to have that clearance because you can't access the mechanics of the system where all that information is contained and not have been through that background investigation.

That also doesn't mean, as you point out, that you need to be looking at it and reading it, because it has nothing to do with your job to make sure the system functions. So this is a holistic review about where do you put up these fences.

But to get back to Kaitlan's question, the real thing is we don't need to change all the rules. We need to go by the rules that were already in place. When alarm bells go off, that has to go up the chain further.

COLLINS: And it did, and yet he stayed in his job. John Miller, as you learn more, keep us updated. Just remarkable developments, though.

MILLER: Yes. Thanks.

HARLOW: So this morning three FBI whistleblowers will testify for the first time in a public hearings on alleged abuses of power by FBI leadership. It is the latest escalation of the House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan's high-profile investigation into allegations that the FBI is weaponized against conservatives. Two of the individuals speaking today have already sat for closed door interviews with the subcommittee, and Democrats have been raising questions about the credibility of their testimony. Our Sara Murray is following all of this and has more. Good morning, Sara.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. We learned in a letter from the FBI last night, they ruled out examples of three employees of the FBI whose security clearances had been revoked either because they attended the Capitol riot on January 6th or they espoused essentially alternate theories about it. We're learning that two of those employees that the FBI lays out in this letter are going to be witnesses in this hearing today. So that I think gives you an idea of where these folks are coming from that Jim Jordan is putting forward.

One of these men is someone who emailed his colleagues at the FBI telling them to exercise extreme caution and discretion in pursuit of any investigative inquiries or leads pertaining to the events of January 6th. He had also been asked to investigate a possible subject who had been there on January 6th. He said he found nothing. Another FBI employee looked into it and found a bunch of evidence of this person's participation in the Capitol attacks. They're saying one of the witnesses Joran is putting forward has hindered investigations into January 6th. Another one declined to participate in a SWAT attempt to arrest someone who was there on January 6th and went to the FBI, tried to download FBI files on an unauthorized flash drive.

So these are the men that Jim Jordan is going to be putting forward in part to make the case that the FBI is somehow weaponized against conservatives. You can imagine Democrats have had a lot of issues with the legitimacy of these whistleblowers. But Jordan is standing behind these guys. His staff says that this is just the FBI's desperate attempt to salvage their reputation, Poppy.

HARLOW: Sara Murray, keep us posted as this now public hearing is underway. Thank you.

COLLINS: This morning, South Carolina is now one step closer to banning most abortions after six weeks. The Republican-controlled House passed that abortion bill last night after nearly 24 hours of an intense debate. State lawmakers have attempted to pass a ban three times already there in South Carolina.

If it's passed this time, South Carolina would join almost every other state in the South, besides Virginia, as you could see here on the map, with strict abortion bans. The bill would ban most abortions after early cardiac activity is detected, and with pretty few exceptions. The exceptions include, quote, "fatal fetal anomalies," that means heart or nerve defects, and for the health and the life of the mother. There are also exceptions up to 12 weeks for cases of rape, incest, or underage pregnancy.

It's now heading back to the state Senate for another vote, and that is where three Republican lawmakers, a Democrat and an independent, have so far banded together to block a near total ban on abortion.


They call themselves the sister senators. They are the only women in the South Carolina Senate filibustering for hours each time a ban has come up. They say banning abortion is about having control over women.


STATE SEN. SANDY SENN (R-SC): Abortion laws have always been, each and every one of them, about control. It's always about control, plain and simple. And in the Senate, the males all have control. We, the women, have not asked for, as the senator from Orangeburg pointed out yesterday, nor do we want your protection. We don't need it. We don't need it. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: That was Republican South Carolina State Senator Sandy Senn. She joins us now. Good morning, and thank you for being here. As I just said, this bill is now headed to the Senate in South Carolina. Are you going to oppose this bill?

SENN: Well, of course, I am going to oppose it. This will be the fourth time our body has taken up an abortion bill since September and we are supposed to be part-time legislators. We have failed to pass any laws to help us combat fentanyl. There are many things that we need to do in our state. Instead, the overwhelmingly white male Republican majority is going to focus again and again on abortion.

So we will, all of the five women will be fighting against this bill. The big nailbiter is whether the three men who stood with us last time, whether they will stick with us. And they are going to be studying today the bill that the House passed back to us.

I heard you mention a minute ago that there was longer time for minors. That's not correct. We passed a bill that would give minors up to -- without our vote, of course, up to six weeks -- I mean an additional six weeks, so up to 12 weeks. But, no, the bill that the House passed back to us takes it back to six, and they have to go to a doctor twice. So in order to get an abortion in South Carolina, the female is going to have to go to the doctor two times, is going to have to get an ultrasound, verify that there is no heartbeat, and wait an hour while she is given literature and things of that nature and asked if she wants to see the ultrasound, and things of that nature.

COLLINS: Thank you for clearing that up, because that is a very important distinction of what the bill looks like and what they are going to be voting on. And you mentioned the three men that so far stood with you all when it comes to the votes. What is your sense? Have you had conversations about which direction they are leaning on this?

SENN: Well, I had a lot of conversations with them. But of course, their response was understandably that they have to see the final product. Now they are going to get the final product. But the House added 14 pages to our bill, and the side by side is really difficult to read.

But we have now given them some bullet points and they are going to be making their decisions. One of our concerns is we think one of our colleagues who was called up to active duty, that would be Senator Stephen Goldfinch out of Georgetown County, he apparently might be getting permission from Commander Snow (ph) to allow him to come back and vote on this issue. So I guess, maybe abortion is a national emergency at this point. I don't know. If he comes back and votes, and he will vote -- he will vote with the bill, that means that they will only need to flip one male. So it's going to be a nailbiter.

COLLINS: You are one of just five women in the South Carolina Senate. Your state ranks 47th when it comes to the proportion of women who make up the state legislature. What are your conversations like with the other men, the ones who have voted each time for these near total abortion bans?

SENN: We are cordial people. I was listening earlier in the hour, hearing some congresspeople screaming and shouting on the streets. That's not going to happen in our chamber like that. We are definitely more genteel. We are forceful and we are direct but don't have bad behavior. So even when we are face-to-face, we are not going to be ugly. We just disagree on this topic, and really, we disagree severely.

Yes, we only have about 14 percent of females, even though we have 51 percent females in the state, and in the Senate, it's even worse with there being only five of us and three Republicans. And, by the way, we received yet another high-level threat to take us out in 2024 just yesterday. In fact, the bill's main sponsor over in the House said that he really wants to go back, he doesn't like the six-week ban, he wants a zero ban. And the only way to do that would be to eliminate those who voted against this in 2024. And we were called out specifically. I was called out by my party leader, Senator Massey out of Edgefield, saying that he would have an answer for me in 2024.

And then we also have a guy who is running for Republican Party chair in South Carolina. He said that -- basically, he singled out the three women, said we need to start by taking out three women. And didn't mention the men.


But I certainly don't want my men counterparts who helped us to get targeted just because we have been. But, you know, it's just sad when you think five women in the Senate, I mean, that's too many, really?

COLLINS: And you have been targeted, threatened with primaries, you've been called you -- the five sister senators have been called baby killers. I know a pro-life group sent plastic spines to your offices. I mean, what is it like to get that kind of backlash to your position?

SENN: Well, you know, I think all of us are tough. You don't go into politics unless you kind of have basically tough skin. And the spine thing, my sister senators, they were offended by it. And some of the males got it too, by the way, but they would never tell anybody because, you know, that really would offend them. But I just thought it was a joke, I mean, they called themselves students for life. I go around and speak to students all the time.

I have a son who's a senior in high school. And I know for a fact, they overwhelmingly support access. And so, I don't know -- there was only like six of them running around the Capitol giving out these spines, but I got mine -- I keep it kind of like a trophy on the desk. Because I am OK with my vote. I'm OK with my God, and just because they believe something different, that's fine, it really was a little silly. The students need to go back to school because obviously, you have to have a spine if you're going to buck your own party.

COLLINS: South Carolina State Senator Sandy Senn, you've said you and your sister senators, as you call them, the five women will oppose this measure. We'll see what your Republican or what your male colleagues do. Thank you for your time this morning.

SENN: Thank you, ma'am.

HARLOW: That was really interesting. We'll keep following that very closely what happens there. This just in, sources tell CNN, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, expected to make it official next week, officially entering the 2024 presidential race sometime next week. He'll file paperwork with the Federal Election Commission declaring his candidacy and is expected to make his official announcement from his hometown the following week. DeSantis is also gathering top fundraisers in South Florida. They are expected -- expecting, I should say, the campaign to be officially launched once they arrive so that they can begin calling donors, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: And while we wait for that, later today, the Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is planning to meet with bank CEOs in Washington. One of the top topics, of course, is going to be the debt ceiling. Up next, we're going to speak with Congresswoman and Senate candidate Katie Porter, about that looming deadline to get a debt ceiling agreement done.




JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America is not a deadbeat nation. We pay our bills. The nation has never defaulted on this debt and never will.


HARLOW: President Biden reiterating the U.S. defaulting just not an option but the days before potential default as early as June 1st are quickly slipping away. And while lawmakers on both sides have recently expressed some optimism, that a deal could be reached. Sources tell CNN that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will meet today with the CEOs of some of the biggest banks in the country, including JPMorgan, Jamie Dimon, Brian Moynihan and Bank of America also Jane Fraser of Citigroup.

We're told the talks will likely focus on the debt ceiling and the recent banking crisis. Let's bring in Democratic Congresswoman of California Katie Porter, she's a member of the House Oversight and Economic Committees. Also, the candidate for the U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by Dianne Feinstein, good morning.

REP. KATIE PORTER (D-CA): Good morning.

HARLOW: OK. So, if you were Janet Yellen, and you were meeting with Jamie Dimon, Jane Fraser and Brian Moynihan today, what would you say?

PORTER: I would tell them to pressure the Republican officials that they donated to and that they funded to do right by our economy. At the end of the day, this is really coming down to, are Republicans willing to hijack the economy and harm the American people in order to try to get their political goals across the finish line for our future budget.

HARLOW: Are you sure it's fair to just say it's only on the Republicans at this point? We've got 13 days and it appears that the president is willing to give a little -- a little bit on work requirements for welfare. Here's what he said yesterday.


BIDEN: I'm not going to accept any work requirements that's going to impact on medical health needs of people. I voted years ago for the work requirements that exist. But it's possible there could be a few others but not anything of any consequence.


HARLOW: Are you willing to support a bill that does include some increased work requirements for things like SNAP food stamps or TANF cash aid? Maybe Medicaid?

PORTER: These work requirements are designed to punish people who need help there. Everybody would love to be having a full-time job, being able to make ends meet and not being relying on these government programs. The research is really clear, these work requirements simply don't work to force people into the marketplace. What they do is inflict harm on children and our seniors.


PORTER: I think President Biden should not or should hold the line on this. This, we want every American who can work to do so. But the best way to have them do that is to make sure that they have access to the food and medicine they need to thrive and be able to go out into the marketplace.

HARLOW: Just as the point of fact here, Congresswoman, I know you know this, because you know this stuff, you read these bills very, very carefully. But the GOP bill that passed the House on this, does when it comes to the Medicaid work requirement they include, included does not apply to anyone caring for dependent children, it does not apply to anyone caring for an ailing relative, it doesn't apply to pregnant women. And the CBO, the nonpartisan CBO scored it and said, look, if you do that and add these work requirements, it would result in a $109 billion in savings over 10 years. Still, the president shouldn't budge at all?

PORTER: I mean, it's up to the President, I think to come to the table and see what we're going to have to do. The alternative of going over the debt ceiling and being able to be in default on our loan or bills is really, really terrible. But I do think there's a lot of work for the President to do to socialize with Democrats. What these work requirements would look like, because there's a lot of things in the Republicans' bill that are truly, truly terrible. There may be room on some of these things, but we're not having this conversation yet. HARLOW: OK. Well, that's important what you just said there may be room on some of these things, right? That's not an inflexible position. And would you agree -- look, you're an economist, you're a lawyer, you're an expert watching your hearings, with anyone in the financial community. We know you're an expert on this stuff. Is it your assessment that the default would be more catastrophic for those most vulnerable in this country than some of these requirements in the Republican bill?


PORTER: I'm not going to have a debate about, which kind of terrible policymaking would be worse? Because we have a clear, better alternative here. Look, Congress appropriated this money, we spent it, it's like a customer who goes to the cash register and rings up at the grocery store. You can't later when the credit card bill arrives, decide you're not going to pay it. That's essentially what Congress is trying to do here.

So, rather than having this debate about which thing is more harmful to those who are vulnerable in the country. We have a clear, better option, which is to raise the debt ceiling. Look, Congress created this debt ceiling by making spending decisions, we have to live by those spending decisions and raise the debt ceiling. We want to have a debate about future spending, about what we -- how we should shape our social service programs going forward? That's a debate I'm ready to have.

HARLOW: OK, let's move on, if we go to the banking crisis, which I suspect they'll also talk about in this meeting today. I wonder how you feel, you have found the committees where the big bank CEOs, including Jamie Dimon, have testified before you, JPMorgan obviously swooped in and bought up the assets of First Republic Bank. Were you happy to see that? Or did it concern you that it made America's biggest bank bigger?

PORTER: Well, one of the concerns I have with regard to the sale of Silicon Valley Bank is that the regulators did not require Silicon Valley Bank when they were sold to first citizens. They did not require first citizens to honor the community benefit agreement to lend --

HARLOW: First Republic purchase.

PORTER: -- to low-income people. So, it's -- I think it's really important that when we do these deals, when we do let big banks get bigger, we don't let them off the hook to serve the communities in which the smaller banks are located in.

HARLOW: But when it comes to the First Republic purchase, the most recent purchase by J.P. Morgan, are you comfortable with that?

PORTER: I mean, I don't think once a bank is in failure, I think you don't have any good choices.

HARLOW: Right. PORTER: And so, I think the goal is -- I think if J.P. Morgan was willing to buy it?


PORTER: And they're going to do a good job with it. That was the best choice we had at the time.


PORTER: But the forward-looking goal is to stop these failures from happening.


PORTER: Because once they do, there are no good alternatives.

HARLOW: No question, OK. Let me just end on this. You're running for the Senate seat in California, currently occupied by Senator Dianne Feinstein. She returned to the Senate after a two-and-a-half-month absence. And she was answering some questions this week from reporters. And I want to play you a moment that has a lot of people concerned here it was.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What have you heard?

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): What have I heard about what?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About your return? How have they felt about you?

FEINSTEIN: No, I haven't been gone.


FEINSTEIN: You should follow, I haven't been gone. I've been working.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've been working from home is what you're saying?

FEINSTEIN: No, I've been here. I've been voting. Please, either know or don't know.


HARLOW: It appears she doesn't recall. She's been gone for two and a half months, and I should note her office, despite us reaching out has not corrected that or said no, here is what she actually meant. Does that concern you? And do you believe she is fit to serve in the Senate right now?

PORTER: Well, I obviously think California needs a different senator going forward. That's why I was the first to announce even before Senator Feinstein had made her decision about whether to run for reelection, I launched my campaign back in January because I think this change is overdue. I haven't spoken to Senator Feinstein. So, I'm not able to comment on how she's doing and her recovery. But I do think that the Senate in our country needs to look forward and think about, how are we going to address these issues going forward.

We're going to have more people who are absent, we are going to have more people who fall sick, we are going to have more senators who age, given the age of the body. And I think we need some forward-looking policies, not just focusing on Senator Feinstein, although, I understand the concerns, but really look at how are we going to deal with this structurally. This is unfortunately, not the first time that we've had this situation where we have real concerns about how senators are recovering and whether they're able to come back and really do the job.

HARLOW: Just to clarify, are you suggesting an age requirement, or an age cut off?

PORTER: I don't think it's necessarily an age cut off. I think that there's not necessarily, that's not necessarily the right approach.


PORTER: But I do think that we are going to have people who exit the body for short periods of time. Look, we just had Senator Fetterman, who was in the hospital --


PORTER: -- for a couple months. We've had senators who have had children. If we elect more women, we might have more. And so, I think we do need to have some policies like every other workplace in America to think about, what are you going to do when someone becomes --


PORTER: -- in firm, either for the short term or the long term?

HARLOW: It's a very fair point, who steps in and does the job when you can't? Congresswoman, thank you, as always, congrats again on the new book "I Swear: Politics Is Messier Than My Minivan". It's a fascinating and frank read. See you soon.

PORTER: Thank you.

HARLOW: Thank you -- Thank you.


COLLINS: So, you have a different kind of lawmaker, the mayor of Flavortown, sat down with CNN's Sara Sidner to talk about his nearly 20-year reign on the Food Network. We'll show you Sara's interview next.