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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

President Biden Departs On High-Stakes European Trip; FBI: Russian Hackers Scanning Networks Of Five U.S. Energy Firms; Today: Final Round Of Questioning In Jackson Confirmation Hearing. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired March 23, 2022 - 05:30   ET




LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Thirty-three minutes -- back now.

In just a few hours, President Biden departs on a high-stakes trip to Europe. His first stop is Brussels for an emergency NATO summit on member nations' response to the war in Ukraine.

CNN's Natasha Bertrand is at NATO headquarters in Brussels live for us. Natasha, good morning. We're already hearing that the president is set to make a big announcement. What are you looking out for?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, Laura. So, a number of different fronts.

The president is expected to announce that there will be new sanctions of Russia's lower parliament, the Duma, to expand that list of Russian oligarchs and influential lawmakers in the country that have been subject now to E.U. and American sanctions.

We also expect that there will be some announcements related to NATO's force posture on the Eastern Flank NATO -- of NATO because those countries, of course, are feeling particularly vulnerable right now and threatened by Russia's aggression in Ukraine. So expect to see some changes perhaps to the amount of troops, for example, that are going to be stationed in those NATO countries, perhaps even permanently given Russia's aggression there.


But there will also be a lot of discussions about Russia's role in the international community, right, because of Russia's legal, they say, war against Ukraine and invasion. There will be a lot of conversations about how Russia should be shunned not only from the financial system around the world but also from the political system.

And one of the things that they are likely going to discuss is this call by Poland now to expel Russia from the G20 -- the groups of advanced economic economies around the world. And so that will be under discussion, of course. It is a major issue because there is a G20 summit later this year and Russia, so far, is invited, Laura.

JARRETT: All right, Natasha. Thank you so much.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Another angle we're following this morning -- the Russian cyber threat. CNN has learned hackers with Russian internet addresses scanned the networks of five U.S. energy companies in a possible runup to a cyberattack. The FBI privately warned U.S. businesses about hacking just last week, just days before President Biden made that threat public.

There are at least 18 U.S. companies in sectors other than energy, like defense and financial services, the FBI found were linked to Russian scanning activity. The FBI now warning there is a greater possibility of future intrusions.

Let's bring in Garrett Graff, contributing editor at WIRED. Nice to see you.

The strategy here from the administration I find fascinating -- a warning directly from the president these classified briefings with businesses, then this briefing from the press room.

What do make of this strategy and how serious this threat is?

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, WIRED: Well, the threat is, of course, serious and it always has been. We've known that Russia is one of the two or three most advanced cyber adversaries we face as a country.

What is remarkable is that we have this unique warning from the president himself. This is consistent with what we have seen all winter through what has been a really remarkable intelligence operation by the U.S. to try to make it harder for Russia to carry out its goals in and around the invasion of Ukraine. We've seen them sort of rapidly declassify and make public warnings and potential threats in a way, really, that the U.S. Intelligence Community has never been able to operate at the speed of social media before.

ROMANS: That has been fascinating I think -- just the fact that it's as if the administration wants this information out there so there's no big surprise.

What would it look like? Let's assume that the Russians carry out some cyberattacks, right? We're not talking about -- well, Colonial Pipeline, for example, is one that gives us some -- that didn't stop the flow of gas and oil, right? That was a back-office manipulation. What would it look like if they did something?

GRAFF: Exactly, and I think -- administration officials have said that they believe that there is a very high threshold for destructive cyberattacks against the United States from Russia. It's something that we've actually never seen Russia conduct itself and that we've only seen those attacks actually come from countries like Iran or North Korea. And that's an important point that this is not going to be one of the first things that Russia turns to. Almost certainly, anything that we do see from Russia is going to be at that sort of below the threshold of war -- sort of more annoyance than outright attack more likely to target, for instance, the support systems of critical infrastructure rather than that infrastructure itself. So that is billing systems, H.R. systems, email systems than we would actually --


GRAFF: -- see them try to take off a power grid or something.

ROMANS: I know that when I talk to CEOs and corporate leaders about what they're doing to beef up cybersecurity they say trust us, we're doing a lot but we're not going to tell -- we don't like to advertise what we're doing.

What should the government and companies be doing right now to beef up security?

GRAFF: Well, we've actually seen some really remarkable moves from CISA, the agency of the Department of Homeland Security in charge of critical infrastructure and cybersecurity on the civilian federal side, this winter to try to build a much tighter relationship between the private sector and the U.S. government.

CISA director Jen Easterly has this very prominent Shields Up campaign basically just encouraging companies and individuals to pay really close attention to their own personal cybersecurity.

ROMANS: Yes, Shields Up, literally, a reference of war -- cybersecurity.

Garrett Graff, contributing editor at WIRED, nice to see you. Thank you, sir.

GRAFF: Always a pleasure.

JARRETT: Still ahead, President Biden's historic Supreme Court pick is set to face more questions from senators this morning. We have some questions about the questions she's faced so far.



JARRETT: Today, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will face the final round of questions from senators in her Supreme Court confirmation hearings. She sat for 13 hours of questioning Tuesday as some Republicans scrutinized her handling of a child sex abuse case as a judge, while others chose to zero in on her faith or a summer reading list of books at a school where she sits on the board.

CNN's Daniella Diaz is live on Capitol Hill with more on this. Daniella, one morning we're talking about war crimes, the next we're on to critical race theory. Not a lot of time spent on her record as a judge. DANIELLA DIAZ, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: That's exactly right, Laura.

Look, during a marathon day of questioning, Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee really doubled down on their allegations they have been floating the past couple of weeks that Ketanji Brown Jackson has been soft on crime in her past as a public defender and as a judge. You know, some of these senators, notably being Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Josh Hawley -- Republican senators that really wanted to discredit Ketanji Brown Jackson in her past in the other job she had as a judge and as a lawyer.


But look, notably, Democrats really tried to use their line of questioning during these confirmation hearings to allow Ketanji Brown Jackson to explain her judicial philosophy and to defend herself and these allegations from Republicans that she has been soft on crime.

Take a listen to what one Democratic senator, Patrick Leahy, asked Ketanji Brown Jackson during the confirmation hearing -- that marathon day of questioning just yesterday.


SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT): What do you say if people say you're soft on crime or even anti-law enforcement because you accepted your duties as a public defender?

JUDGE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: As someone who has had family members on patrol and in the line of fire, I care deeply about public safety. I know what it's like to have loved ones who go off to protect and to serve, and the fear of not knowing whether or not they're going to come home again.


DIAZ: Laura, Democrats are really hoping that they can win over some Republicans to support Ketanji Brown Jackson's confirmation to the Supreme Court. Of course, remarkably, it would make her the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court bench.

But really, they don't need any Republican votes because Democrats can cast and confirm her with just Democratic support. They would need, of course, all 50 Democratic senators to support that vote. But, of course, they really hope it could be bipartisan.

And I do want to note Laura these confirmation hearings continue later today.

JARRETT: And, of course, it has been bipartisan in the past. In the past, she has received at least three Republican votes and query whether they will vote for her this time.

Daniella, thank you so much -- appreciate it. All right. To dig a little deeper into all of this, we are now joined by CNN political analyst Jackie Kucinich. Jackie, it's so great to see you this morning.

For all of the --


JARRETT: For all of the reporting we saw ahead of these hearings about Mitch McConnell understanding that the stakes were low here -- this is a Democrat for another Democratic appointee -- the strategy from at least some Republicans like Sen. Ted Cruz, yesterday, I think went off the rails into sort of midterms, critical race theory.


JARRETT: I want to play just a small little bit of what he did yesterday.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): Do you agree with this book that is being taught with kids that babies are racist?

JACKSON: Senator, I have not reviewed any of those books, any of those ideas. They don't come up in my work as a judge, which I am respectfully here to address.


JARRETT: Her answer I think could not have been more spot-on in terms of just flatly taking the air out of whatever he was trying to do there. By the way, the baby -- the anti-racist baby doesn't say all babies are racist. It's about trying to make sure that children are understanding that you don't get to be neutral about racism. Put that aside for a minute.

Is this a winning strategy for Republicans to take this person -- this jurist who is so clearly accomplished, so clearly brilliant, and try to take her down this way?

KUCINICH: Well, they clearly think so or they wouldn't be doing it. And you're absolutely right, it is part of kind of a broader midterm strategy -- the -- both the allegations of adherence to CRT and the soft on crime other aspect that was being pushed by the GOP yesterday.

Ted Cruz did not mention that some of the books that he was deriding are actually on his -- in his children's school's library. So it really -- this is something that was kind of devoid of any kind of intellectual pursuit.

This had everything to do with scoring political points, and not only about 2022 but also about 2024. Look, consider the source of some of these attacks and whom they were auditioning for. ROMANS: You know, the critical race theory stuff is just so ludicrous. I mean, she very clearly answered that it's not something that she uses in her job. It's not something that she has studied. Critical race theory, of course, is an academic treatment in grad school and law school for how you -- I mean --


ROMANS: -- it's like not something that is being taught in the American mainstream. And yet, you have the GOP -- its rapid response social media team changing her -- the letters of her name to CRT.

Now, to be charitable --


ROMANS: -- they obviously weren't listening to the -- to the hearings if that's what they think or it's just outright racist.


KUCINICH: When you saw the meme that they were sending around it really -- I mean, it was just -- there was very little to analyze there. It just was right there in your face, crossing out her initials and putting CRT next to the first Black woman to be considered to be on the Supreme Court. What more is there to say about that?

But again, I really think this goes to their broader strategy when it comes to the midterms and some of the things that they're looking to use against their colleagues as we get closer and closer to those elections, and whether or not it's ugly or has absolutely nothing to do with how this woman approaches her job as a judge.

ROMANS: Yes. She's a picture of a judge there. She's so measured in all of her answers, right?

JARRETT: She has to be.

ROMANS: I mean --

JARRETT: She has to --

KUCINICH: And her record really should be examined, which is why --


KUCINICH: -- it's such a -- I mean, which is why it is such a disservice --

JARRETT: Of course -- of course.

KUCINICH: -- to turn these hearings into a total circus.

JARRETT: And there were plenty of other senators like -- Republican senators like Ben Sasse who did sort of engage with her --


JARRETT: -- on legal issues like her judicial philosophy. There was a way to do this. Other senators chose otherwise. We will see what they do today.

Jackie Kucinich, thank you.

KUCINICH: Thanks, guys.

ROMANS: And CNN's special live coverage of Judge Jackson's Senate confirmation hearings resumes at 9:00 a.m.

We'll be right back.



JARRETT: A deadly tornado battering parts of New Orleans last night. Take a look at this.


Tornado in Arabi, Louisiana.


JARRETT: A St. Bernard Parish official tells CNN at least one person has died and that homes were picked up off their foundations and tossed into the streets. Look at that overturned bus.

CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam is on the ground in New Orleans for us.


DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST (on camera): I'm on the scene of a deadly tornado that struck the Lower Ninth Ward and the St. Bernard Parish just east of downtown New Orleans.

And using the terminology from the St. Bernard Parish sheriff, the destruction here, he described as widespread. And this is a prime example of just that. You're looking at a school bus that was literally lofted or rolled over 100 yards from where it was originally parked. He told us stories of entire homes wiped off of their foundation, lofted into the air, and literally thrown into the middle of an intersection.

At 7:31 in the evening, the National Weather Service warned of a large, destructive, wedge tornado that was on the ground and approaching the Arabi region.

We spoke to some of the residents that rode out that tornado that caused the destruction you see behind me, and they said it was like they were in a movie. They literally felt the pressure drop within their ear as the tornado approached their home -- unbelievably, sparing their home but, of course, taking out and ripping off roofs from the homes that you see directly behind me.

You know, this is March. Residents here are accustomed to nice weather. They get used to damage during the hurricane season -- August, September -- but that is not the case. We're in the middle of spring and we should be seeing the sun shine. But unfortunately, this was a deadly and very destructive day, which will take weeks to clean up. We just cannot catch a break here in the Lower Ninth Ward and into the St. Bernard Parish as yet another disaster strikes this area.

Several agencies, including the National Guard, on the scene helping with search and rescue operations ongoing. And Entergy is on the scene as well, attempting to restore the power that has been lost to customers within this area.

Christine, Laura, back to you.


ROMANS: All right, Derek Van Dam there on the ground. Thanks, Derek.

Let's get a check on CNN Business this morning. Looking at markets around the world, Asian shares have closed higher -- a nice bounce there in Japan. And Europe has opened narrowly mixed here. On Wall Street, stock index futures down just a little bit.

It was a rebound Tuesday led by a recovery in tech a and strong earnings report from Nike. Stocks, of course, had fallen on Monday after the Fed chief Jay Powell suggested the central bank would be more aggressive about interest rates hikes. Investors now adjusting to the -- to that possibility and are now taking those higher rates in stride.

A French energy giant, Total, vowing to stop buying Russian oil and oil products by the end of the year. The company says the move is due to the worsening situation in Ukraine. It says it will continue to purchase natural gas from Russia.

But the international trading relationship with Russia -- every day, new companies trying to figure out how to isolate themselves from the unpredictability of Vladimir Putin.

All right, thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: I'm Laura Jarrett. "NEW DAY" starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to viewers in the United States and all around the world. It is Wednesday, March 23rd. I'm John Berman in Lviv in western Ukraine; Brianna Keilar in Washington.

The breaking news this morning, Ukrainian forces trying to turn the tables on Vladimir Putin, launching counteroffensive efforts north and west of Kyiv to take back towns that were seized by Russian forces. They appear to be making some headway regaining control of Makarova, a city 30 miles west of Kyiv. Bigger picture -- this could help prevent Russian forces from encircling the capital, and it could threaten the Russian ability to resupply.


Skirmish between Ukrainian forces and the Russian military caught on video.


BERMAN: You can see the ferocity of the fighting here. This was a skirmish between Ukrainian forces and the Russian military caught on video near a train station.