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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Ukraine To U.S.: We Need 500 Javelin And Stinger Missiles Per Day; January 6 Committee Has Text Messages Between Ginni Thomas And Mark Meadows; Jackson On Track For Confirmation, But GOP Votes In Doubt. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired March 25, 2022 - 05:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, Ukraine is updating its wish list for additional military assistance from the United States and NATO. It reflects an urgent need for American-made Javelin and Stinger missiles. Ukraine says it needs 500 of each per day.

Javelins are shoulder-fired missiles designed to take out tanks, and Stingers are heat-seeking missiles that target aircraft. Both are just incredibly effective and weapons that insurgents use around the world.

Pentagon officials say the last of the $350 million security aid packages from February arrived in Ukraine over the last few days, and two new packages totaling $1 billion (ph) have already started to arrive in this country.

All right, I want to bring in Lt. General Ben Hodges, former commander of U.S. Army forces in Europe. General Hodges, great to have you on.

Five hundred Javelins and Stingers a day. How do those numbers sound to you?



The Ukrainians shouldn't be having to ask us anymore for numbers of weapons. We know what they need. They've made that clear. There should be a flood of these things moving towards them without them having to continue asking please send us Javelin, please send us Stinger.

And the numbers that they need, of course -- I mean, we know how many vehicles that the Russians have. And also, we're discovering -- or the Ukrainians are showing us that you can also use some of these weapons against -- particularly, Javelin -- if a Russian patrol boat comes in a little too close to shore. So, there's a lot of need for this.

And the launcher that fires the Javelin missile has an exceptionally good thermal imaging device so it also gives them a huge advantage at nighttime.

BERMAN: Yes. Look, they're incredibly effective weapons.

We just spoke to a Ukrainian member of parliament who added "we've shown that we can use them well."

HODGES: Yes, it's a -- it's a great point.

I noticed eight years ago when we started with Ukrainian soldiers how technically adaptive they are when we provided Q-36 counterfire radar, which helps you identify incoming artillery and mortars. And they quickly figured out how to use it. In fact, the radar was better than even I knew.

So they have no problem with adapting to new technology and we should stop hesitating -- like, oh, they might not know how to use it because they clearly do.

BERMAN: There seems to be something of a static nature to where things stand right now. The Ukrainians launching these mini- counteroffensives to take back some towns that the Russians have occupied. Meanwhile, the Russians continue to strike areas from the air -- devastation in some Ukrainian towns. And they continue to hit strategic sites, they say, like this fuel depot.

How long can something like this go on?

HODGES: Well, I think we are in the decisive phase of this campaign. I believe that Russian forces have culminated in terms of their ability to conduct sustained land offensive operations. But they still have the ability to continue murdering innocent Ukrainians. They still can strike some targets. I don't know exactly how many cruise missiles and artillery rounds they started off with, but I imagine that they've got to be running low, so they can't sustain this forever.

It feels to me -- my sense -- and, frankly, you're closer to it than I am -- is that the momentum is shifting and this is time for us to pour it on. That the arsenal democracy should be pouring capabilities to them so that they can get the momentum. I feel like we're just within days of Ukraine really being able to get the momentum.

BERMAN: Yes. To be completely transparent, it's hard for us to get visibility on some of these towns that the Ukrainians say they have retaken or at least what they're finding when they get back into them. We're trying to get as much information as we can about that.

The United States continues to state publicly that they worry that Vladimir Putin would use chemical, biological, nuclear weapons. How much do you fear that? And is there any deterrent that the West has?

HODGES: So look, there's -- the pressure of the entire world is on the shoulders of our president, so I understand and respect his concern about this. And our intelligence services have done a superb job at identifying what the Russians are doing or even thinking about doing. And there's no doubt that Vladimir Putin would use a chemical weapon if he uses poison on his own people. But as I've thought about this, honestly, to me it seems unlikely that

they will use chemical weapons in any significant way. And I would say the same thing about nuclear weapons. Why is that?

First of all, the chemical weapons that they would most likely employ would not increase or give them any additional battlefield advantage. There's no practical reason to do it. And the president has made it clear that if they do use chemical weapons there will be severe consequences. That this will put things in a new category. Secretary- General Stoltenberg has said that.

So I think that the people around President Putin have got to be saying hey, look, there's no advantage. There's only bad outcomes for us, the Russians, if we do use a chemical weapon. So I'm increasingly of a mind that I don't think they're going to do it.

And the same thing with a nuclear weapon. The only use that the Russians have for nuclear weapon is to threaten it because they see how we react. And honestly, I think we are overreacting to these threats and we should be a lot more forward-leaning on -- we have all the advantages. We should be more forward-leaning.

BERMAN: General Ben Hodges, we really appreciate you being with us. Thank you so much.

HODGES: Thanks for the privilege, John.

BERMAN: All right -- Laura, Christine, back to you.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: John, it's interesting that Gen. Hodges there thinks that we're overreacting. But your question of deterrence is a good one. We, weeks ago, said we didn't foresee where we are right now, and how do we have any trust that Vladimir Putin won't take things a step further?



BERMAN: Look, it assumes the presence of a rational actor here --


BERMAN: -- and I think that is something we can't be certain of right now.


All right, thanks, John.

JARRETT: All right. Still ahead for you, the wife of a sitting U.S. Supreme Court justice calling the 2020 election "the greatest heist of our history." What her text messages mean for the January 6 Committee now.

ROMANS: And Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson on the path to confirmation. The Republicans who say they plan to vote against her, next.


JARRETT: "A fight of good versus evil." That, just one of over two dozen text messages exchanged between Donald Trump's former chief of staff Mark Meadows and conservative activist Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Those messages sent in the days after the 2020 election now in the hands of the January 6 Committee.


CNN's Katelyn Polantz has the very latest from Washington on this story. Katelyn, good morning.

These messages just -- yet another example of what was happening behind the scenes -- what we didn't know at the time she -- clearly, part of this fight -- an integral part of this fight to overturn the 2020 election. So walk our viewers through exactly what was said.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: That's right, Laura. So, good morning.

We have now learned that there are these 29 text messages that the House committee has obtained. They got them from Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff. And all of these text messages -- many of them are from Ginni Thomas, the wife of Clarence Thomas, to Mark Meadows.

And what they represent, really, are extreme views in the right and even conspiracy theories as Donald Trump was pushing to overturn the election. So they really played into the ideas that Trump and the White House -- people like Meadows -- were espousing as they were gaining support to block the Biden presidency.

And so, in one of these text messages days after the election, Thomas messages Mark Meadows a slogan, "Release the Kraken," which is a catchall on the right for conspiracy theories that there might be election fraud. There was none, ultimately.

So this one text message, November 19, 2020 -- so that's just a couple of days after the election. She wrote, "Sounds like Sidney" -- that's Sidney Powell, the right-wing attorney -- "and her team are getting inundated with evidence of fraud. Make a plan. Release the Kraken and save us from the left taking America down."

There are more text messages in November about the election that Thomas is sending to Meadows. But then after the insurrection, on January 10 when supporters of Trump went to Congress to try and block the vote -- try and get Mike Pence to stop the presidency of Joe Biden -- Thomas then writes to Meadows.

"We are living through what feels like the end of America. Most of us are disgusted with the V.P. [Pence] and are in a listening mode to see where to fight with our teams. Those who attacked the Capitol are not representative of our great teams of patriots for DJT [Donald John Trump]. Amazing times. The end of liberty." That's January 10 -- Ginni Thomas to Mark Meadows.

Now, this obviously is a very connected person, a private citizen. But her husband, Clarence Thomas, does sit on the Supreme Court at this time. He was looking at election fraud cases -- or I'm sorry, election cases --


POLANTZ: -- and ultimately, had to decide whether messages like these public records would end up going to the House committee --


POLANTZ: -- and they have them now.

JARRETT: And notably, the only vote against having them go forward.

POLANTZ: Indeed.

JARRETT: Katelyn, thank you for your reporting on this.


All right. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is on track for a historic confirmation after four days of Senate hearings that turned contentious at times. If confirmed, 51-year-old Jackson would be the first Black woman in the Supreme Court. But it seems she won't have the bipartisan support the president had hoped for his nominee.

CNN's Daniella Diaz is live on Capitol Hill. Daniella, Mitch McConnell says he won't vote for her. Is every Republican likely to follow his lead?

DANIELLA DIAZ, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Christine, we're keeping an eye on a handful of Republicans who have signaled openness to supporting Ketanji Brown Jackson -- three Republicans, specifically, who supported her for the D.C. Circuit in 2021 -- Sen. Lindsey Graham, Sen. Susan Collins, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski. However, Graham has already signaled to CNN this week he will not vote to support her for the bench, but Collins and Murkowski have not said which way they will vote. And another Republican, Sen. Mitt Romney, also signaled an openness to supporting her.

But really, Christine, it seems that the majority of Republicans are not going to support Ketanji Brown Jackson when the full Senate votes to confirm her to the Supreme Court -- of course, making her the first Black woman to ever serve on the Supreme Court. Even Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, as you said, will not vote to support her.

But really, the bottom line here being this might be one of the tightest confirmation votes in history. It will likely be along party lines. Remember, every single Democratic senator needs to get behind Ketanji Brown Jackson. It's looking like that will happen and she will be confirmed to the Supreme Court when the Senate votes on her nomination later this month.

ROMANS: All right, Daniella Diaz on Capitol Hill. Thank you, Daniella.

JARRETT: All right, joining us now to dive a little deeper into yesterday's hearing, CNN political analyst and Politico Playbook author Rachael Bade. Rachael, nice to see you this morning.

I wonder -- any grumblings that you're hearing? You're so well-sourced on the Hill. Anything you're hearing about why Democrats, it seems, were not more prepared to fend off the attacks on Judge Jackson? There seemed to be a clear line of thought and line of attack about how Republicans wanted to go about this -- sort of making her the poster child for their -- all of their grievances for the 20 -- for the 2022 midterms, I should say. But any thought about what happened with Democrats?

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, CO-AUTHOR, POLITICO PLAYBOOK (via Webex by Cisco): Look, I think Democrats didn't know what to make going into these hearings because Republicans had been so quiet about her nomination.


If you go back to just a month ago or so when she was first named, there was actually a debate happening within the Senate Republican Conference about how hard do we go after her. Should we try to sort of paint her as a liberal activist -- an activist judge -- and sort of use that as a rallying cry for the base, or do we want to -- does that distract from issues we want to keep front and center for the midterms, like inflation and high gas prices?

So I think with Republicans, in terms of this nomination, from the very beginning it was hard to predict what they were going to do here because they were actually so quiet in advance -- in advance of these hearings. And you could actually see that in the poll numbers reflected if you looked at what Republican voters and Independent voters thought of Judge Jackson. I lot of them didn't know what to think and that was because Republicans were so silent.

Obviously, at the last minute they decided they wanted to use this as an opportunity to score some political points --



BADE: -- before the midterm elections. And so, I think Democrats in that regard were perhaps caught a little flatfooted. But they did use their time to try to allow Judge Jackson to hit back whenever she was sort of cornered by Republicans who would not let her speak or not give -- you know, basically, give her time to hit back.

JARRETT: Yes. But, of course, she's not really in a position to hit back. And certainly, the implications of her --

ROMANS: Right.

JARRETT: -- even trying to do that in her position just would -- it would have been really hard for her to do that.

ROMANS: Mitch McConnell called it a -- 48 hours of dry and friendly legal seminar, which is not what --

JARRETT: It's not the hearing I saw.

ROMANS: It was not what I was watching.

We also want your thoughts on these text messages revealed by the January 6 Committee between Mark Meadows and Ginni Thomas. She is the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. We see an effort by her to help overturn the election results. Even if not a direct conflict, does this at least raise the appearance of a conflict of interest for Justice Thomas?

BADE: I mean, I think there's no question about that, especially if you look at a lot of these cases that are going to the court right now from the January 6 Committee. They're trying to investigate what happened and trying to make sure January 6 doesn't happen again -- ever again.

There are a lot of Trump officials who are saying they're not going to cooperate. And this panel is obviously going to the federal courts to try to get favorable rulings to investigate and do oversight. Some of these could clearly go all the way to the Supreme Court.

And so, there's a real question right now about Judge Clarence Thomas. Does he need to recuse himself on something like this? Obviously, we can't say what one spouse believes another spouse believes. We all fight with our spouses, of course, and disagree on politics and whatever.

But it's going to create an optical problem for the high court. And judges on the high court traditionally try to refuse -- or try to recuse themselves to make sure that doesn't happen and that there's no question about the rulings as they come down.

JARRETT: Yes. The Supreme Court unusual in being the one body of justices that isn't bound by a code of ethics -- just sort of their own discretion --


JARRETT: -- if you will.

All right, Rachael Bade, always great to have your analysis. We'll be right back. Thanks so much.



ROMANS: All right, let's get a quick check on CNN Business this Friday morning.

Looking at markets around the world, Asian shares have now closed for the week, and they closed narrowly mixed with the Hong Kong down almost 2 1/2 percent. European shares have opened mixed here, I'd say. On Wall Street, also a mixed performance for stock index futures.

It was a rebound on Wall Street Thursday after NATO leaders increased military aid to Ukraine and tightened sanctions on Russia. All three indices gained at least one percent.

Chipmaker stocks led the rally after NVIDIA and Intel said they're considering a manufacturing deal.

Also, strong data in the American job market. U.S. weekly jobless claims hit their lowest level since 1969.


ROMANS: Look at that falling to 187,000 first-time claims last week. That is a really good number. It shows you that there are not a lot of layoffs. People are trying to keep a hold of their workers here.

Drill, baby, drill. With gas prices skyrocketing across the country, why isn't the oil industry rushing to produce more oil and capture the windfall from these higher prices? The chief executives of oil companies blame Wall Street. They say they're under enormous pressure to return cash to shareholders instead of investing in badly needed supply.

For years, the oil industry would fund all-out production growth, keeping prices low. Then hundreds of oil companies went bankrupt doing this. And now, investors are demanding more restraint from energy CEOs.

The optics today, though, not good for the oil companies -- look. Here are last year's profits. This year expected to be even better prompting calls on both sides of the Atlantic for a windfall profit tax.

A lot of people saying wait, energy companies are making an awful lot of money. Why aren't they drilling more?

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

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: Good morning to viewers in the United States and all around the world. It is Friday, March 25. I'm John Berman in Lviv in western Ukraine. Brianna Keilar is in Washington.

We do have breaking news this morning. Intense fighting overnight in several Ukrainian cities with Ukrainian forces making gains east of the capital. In one town about 30 miles -- 35 miles east of Kyiv, a Ukrainian soldier talks about the destruction of three Russian tanks and nine infantry fighting vehicles. He calls them trophies.

The U.K.'s Ministry of Defense confirms the Ukrainian forces have been able to retake some towns and defensive positions up to 21 miles east of Kyiv. But this just in to CNN. Russia's Defense Ministry claims its forces destroyed the largest of the remaining fuel depots.