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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Biden Says Putin "Cannot Remain In Power" As White House Walks Back Remark; January 6 Committee Votes Today On Contempt Referral For Scavino And Navarro; Will Smith Smacks Chris Rock, Then Wins Best Actor Oscar. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired March 28, 2022 - 05:30   ET



SLAVA BALBEK, ARCHITECT IN KYIV: The first days of war and first week of war, we're just trying to manage our safe -- our families safe. And afterwards, on the second days, we collaborate with other cafeteria and I set up the headquarters -- volunteer hub here in Kyiv. And now, it's like almost 500 volunteers all over Kyiv and we have kind of 100 drivers serving meals daily -- 12,000 daily meals to the territory forces and military forces, and all the guys who is needed for this.

And myself, I was working as a vacation. I was trying to help my friend's parents just to get to the railway station. And now on, it's totally fine. Now it's fine. The taxi drivers are working.

So, first weeks of war was a little bit mess -- a little bit dis- controlled. But right now, we are working daily and actually it's -- everything is under control.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: It's amazing to think of everybody sort of stepping out of your daily role and finding these new places -- where ways you can help -- you can help your countrymen.

The war has produced all of these Ukrainian refugees -- millions. You're hoping to use your skills as an architect to help build temporary homes for some of these people. Tell us about the refugee housing project that you're -- that you -- that you see.

BALBEK: Thank you for the question. Yes, actually on the second weeks of -- second week of war -- of war we -- I just managed that I am an architect. Not only I volunteer -- not only a vacation driver.

So we gathered a team of 10 people -- 10 architects from my bureau and we analyzed the world experience of the same project of refugee houses and we try to develop the system. So it isn't a project right now; it's a system of comfort. The main aim -- the main thing of this project is to remain dignity life because you can take away our home but you can't take our dignity. So this is the main concept.

So if you even set yourself in the small block -- living block -- like three by six meters, but you should still have the comfort level of communication, of negotiation, of this technical comfort. This is the main aim of this project. LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: So the hope is obviously to provide housing for people when they come back to Ukraine. Right now, they have been forced, obviously, to evacuate but the hope is for when they actually come back.

I wonder just on a personal level what kind of emotional toll this has -- this has taken on you and your family. You're doing so much to help others, but how are you doing?

BALBEK: Think like I'm totally still -- thanks for my friends here in Kyiv and my family. My family is safe. And, you know, the team -- the whole group of people who is working with me right here in Kyiv and all the guys who is working out there on the frontline of war, it's helped you to stay calm even in Kyiv. Now it's -- I think it's totally safe because of the -- of the defense -- of the circle of defense.

So usually, like once in a week, I go there on western Ukraine to visit my family and coming back by train to continue working here as a volunteer and as a leader of architectural team for this refugees houses project.

ROMANS: Slava Balbek, thank you so much for all that you're doing there and for giving us your valuable time here this morning. Thank you.

BALBEK: Thank you. Take care.

JARRETT: Coming up for you, White House aides forced to scramble after President Biden goes off-script.

ROMANS: And what led to the slap that stunned the Oscars last night? Wow!



JARRETT: Welcome back.

It was supposed to be a key speech during the president's trip to Poland. Instead, this off-the-cuff remark is causing a major headache for the White House now.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For God's sake, this man cannot remain in power.


JARRETT: That single line adlibbed by the president -- not in the teleprompter -- sent administration officials scrambling.

CNN's Jasmine Wright is live in Washington. Jasmine, good morning. The White House has been adamant about this for the past 24-48 hours -- the president was not proposing a regime change in Russia. Yet, still, a major distraction.

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN REPORTER: Yes, that's right, Laura. And look, the White House has spent the last 24 hours-plus basically in cleanup mode, trying to clean up the president's remarks and mitigate any damage in the wake of comments.

First, of course, we heard from that White House official who before even the plane took off from Poland issued that clarification. And then we heard from Secretary of State Antony Blinken yesterday in Israel reiterating the same White House talking points that the president was not talking about regime change in Russia.

And lastly, we heard from the U.S. ambassador to NATO yesterday talking to Dana Bash on "STATE OF THE UNION" and saying that it was principled human reaction after the president had spent the day with Ukrainian refugees -- hundreds of them -- seeing firsthand the real casualties of war once again.

And now, ultimately, we heard from the president yesterday who was very succinct, as he put it, when asked what exactly he meant by his comments. Take a listen here.


REPORTER: Mr. President, were you calling for regime change?



WRIGHT: So there you have it, Laura, from the president, though we will likely hear more from the White House today and possibly from the president -- more to describe exactly what he meant --


WRIGHT: -- by those comments.

But what is true is one, the White House is saying that he was not talking about regime change. But what is also true is that the president's remarks about Putin himself have intensified over the last two weeks. They went from calling him a war criminal to calling him a butcher.


So, again, we'll be hearing from the White House about exactly what the president meant. But, of course, saying just kind of how these comments play in the wake in the next few weeks -- Laura.

JARRETT: All right, Jasmine. Thank you.

ROMANS: All right, let's bring in CNN political analyst and historian and professor at Princeton University, Julian Zelizer.

Julian, nine little words off the cuff from a president with decades of foreign policy experience. What do you make of it?

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, HISTORIAN AND PROFESSOR, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY (via Webex by Cisco): Well, clearly, the administration is trying to walk it back. They're worried about creating rifts in NATO that have not emerged until this point, and they're worried about focusing attention on Biden rather than Putin. It seems that it was off the cuff even though it reflects some of the sentiment that he has and frustration about the Russian leader.

ROMANS: Yes. He clearly wanted to deliver a stinging rebuke of this president. He went off-script just to make that point.

But it was Putin, of course, who started this war -- a war that doesn't look like it has an end here. Do the president's comments complicate efforts to deescalate?

ZELIZER: I'm not sure they will. I think in the end, the basic dynamics that we're watching now. How much the costs to Russia ultimately contain this invasion. How much the damage to Ukraine pushes them to the table. Those are still the basic factors at work.

The key thing is to keep the NATO alliance intact and I'm not sure the comments will, in the end, undermine Biden's ability to do this.

ROMANS: Yes. I mean, let's be clear. It was a pretty successful trip overseas, right? I mean, the show of unity from the West was -- it was right there -- right there.

ZELIZER: Yes, and I think this is where Biden's history of gaffes, which many leaders know about, might actually be helping -- meaning I think there is some room to walk this back and get right back to where he was for most of this trip, including most of the speech was seen as very powerful and effective.

ROMANS: How do you handle -- his overall handling of the war this far -- is he delivering the right message to the American people do you think, in your view?

ZELIZER: Well, I think it's been relatively successful. It's been a policy of constraint -- a little like George H.W. Bush. Let the focus again be on Russia rather than on the U.S. and NATO. It's a hard sell to the U.S. sometimes --


ZELIZER: -- but I think overall, it's been the right tone.

ROMANS: All right, Julian Zelizer, CNN political analyst. Nice to see you this morning. Thank you.

ZELIZER: Thank you.

JARRETT: All right, now to this. Two top Trump aides facing a contempt vote today by the House committee investigating last year's attack on the Capitol. Dan Scavino and Peter Navarro both claim they can't testify because former President Trump has asserted executive privilege. That, even though the current president has waived any privilege.

Let's bring in CNN legal analyst Jennifer Rodgers, former federal prosecutor and a lecturer at Columbia Law School. Jennifer, nice to see you this morning.

If you were on the committee, would you vote to refer Scavino and Navarro for contempt prosecution? How strong is their case?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, LECTURER, COLUMBIA LAW SCHOOL (via Webex by Cisco): Well, given the precedent that they did so for both Bannon and Mark Meadows, I think I would. Because when you think about the factors in play, certainly, these two are probably not as bad as Bannon but worse than Mark Meadows in the sense that they never cooperated. They've completely thumbed their nose at the committee.

So to try to press their case and get this information and get it to the American people -- I think if I were on the committee -- not at DOJ but at the committee -- I think I would vote for referral.

JARRETT: How essential is their testimony? I just wonder how much bandwidth they have to sort of go after each individual person. They filed a 34-page report yesterday laying out -- the committee did -- laying out the reasons that Scavino and Navarro should be held in contempt.

What stood out to you, if anything?

RODGERS: Well, like a lot of the other inner circle people, each of them could be extremely important, but I'm not sure that any one person is strictly necessary if others are cooperating.

But Navarro was one of the architects of this ridiculous Green Bay Sweep plan that they came up with, so he certainly can talk to how he put that together and who he spoke to about it, including Trump. So he could be crucial in terms of that one-on-one time with the former president.

And Scavino was also very close to the president -- with him a lot of the time, including on January 6 as he was sitting on his hands and not doing anything about the insurrection.

So they're each very important but it's all kind of like a piece of the puzzle. If other people are cooperating each person becomes less critical.

JARRETT: Yes. And Scavino, of course, probably most famously known for being, essentially, the president's right hand when it came to Twitter and his social media guru.

Do you think that the Justice Department will actually prosecute these guys? I mean, so far, we've seen them go after Steve Bannon. He's obviously been indicted for his contempt. But they haven't really made a move on Mark Meadows yet and I'm not sure what the holdup is. What do you think is going on?


RODGERS: That's the million-dollar question. They've been holding it for three months.

I think they're very reluctant to do it for two reasons. One, because Meadows did cooperate at one point. He didn't completely stonewall them. And secondly, because he was in the White House at the time -- he actually was a government employee at the time and so has, albeit a very thin possibility of executive privilege but has that claim.

And the Justice Department has been very reluctant in the past to prosecute people for contempt if there's any sort of executive privilege claim at all they were in the White House at the time.

So I think that's what the holdup is there and may cause the same holdup here with these two.

JARRETT: All right. Well, we will see where this goes.

Jennifer Rodgers, thank you for your analysis as usual -- appreciate it.

RODGERS: Thanks so much.

JARRETT: Still ahead for you, while you were probably sleeping -- we were definitely sleeping but we saw it this morning -- major drama on Hollywood's biggest night. The slap no one saw coming. The backstory between Will Smith and Chris Rock, next.



ROMANS: All right, it's Monday. Let's get a check on CNN Business this Monday morning.

Looking at markets around the world, Asian shares closed mixed. Europe has opened higher here. And on Wall Street, stock index futures barely moving here to start the week.

It was a mixed day Friday as investors weigh how Russia's war on Ukraine is feeding uncertainty in markets and the economy. But all three indices gained for the week -- the second-straight week of gains. The S&P 500 -- this is important -- has now erased all of its losses since Russia invaded Ukraine last month.

More clarity on the U.S. economy this week. The March jobs report comes out Friday -- 450,000 jobs likely added back. The jobless rate likely slipped to 3.7 percent. Look, plentiful jobs and rising wages are a continuing bright spot in this economy even as consumers feel the sting of higher gas prices.

Today, the White House set to unveil a new minimum income tax for the super-wealthy. The billionaire minimum tax would require households worth more than $100 million to pay at least 20 percent of their -- on their full income, including unrealized investment income. Suddenly, the wealthiest people in the world would owe a lot more tax.

Currently, some billionaires pay a lower tax rate than the average American because the government doesn't tax the increase in the value of a lot of holdings until they're actually sold.

Elon Musk, chief executive of both Tesla and SpaceX, says he's considering another venture on his resume. In a tweet Saturday, Musk says he's giving serious thought to creating a new social media platform. This comes after Musk also tweeted he feels Twitter doesn't allow free speech.

Musk would grow -- join a growing list of public figures and tech companies creating their own platforms. Former President Donald Trump launched Truth Social last month.

JARRETT: This morning, we're learning more about the sad death of Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins. The band announced Hawkins' death shortly before they were set to perform at a musical fest -- musical festival in Bogota.

Journalist Stefano Pozzebon has the latest.


STEFANO POZZEBON, JOURNALIST (on camera): New details have emerged from the preliminary toxicology report performed on the body of Taylor Hawkins, the Foo Fighters drummer that was found dead here in Bogota on Friday evening.

According to the results of the report, which were published by the Colombian attorney general's office on Saturday evening, 10 substances were found in the urine of the artist, including marijuana, antidepressants, and opioids. But the attorney general's office also said that investigators are still due to perform new medical tests. They're trying to determine the ultimate cause of death.

Meanwhile, the other members of Foo Fighters who were due to perform at this year's Grammy Awards returned to the United States.

Hawkins was found dead in his hotel bedroom in (INAUDIBLE) in Bogota just hours before he was due to perform at Colombia's largest music festival, Estereo Picnic. His death at the age of only 50 years shocked the city and the rest of the music world.

For CNN, this is Stefano Pozzebon in Bogota.


JARRETT: Stefano --

ROMANS: It's a sad story.

JARRETT: Yes, just terrible.

ROMANS: It's awful. JARRETT: All right. A stunning moment at the 94th Academy Awards last night. Will Smith delivering a smack to Chris Rock after the comedian made a joke about his wife Jada Pickett Smith's hair. Watch this.


CHRIS ROCK, 94TH ACADEMY AWARDS: Jada, I love you. GI Jane 2 -- can't wait to see it, all right? It's television (ph). That was a nice one, OK. I'm outta here. Uh-oh.

WILL SMITH, ACTOR: (Slaps Chris Rock).

ROCK: Oh, wow -- wow.


JARRETT: OK. All that happening less than 45 minutes before Smith goes on to win the Oscar for Best Actor for the film King Richard.

Let's bring in CNN's Chloe Melas who has been working this story all night. She has been up around the clock. Chloe, for people who make their careers off of drama I think this is by far the moment that will go down in Oscars history forever.

CHLOE MELAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER: Oh, yes. I mean, it's right up there when a few years ago the Best Picture winner was mixed up -- La La Land versus Moonlight.


JARRETT: Oh my gosh, yes.

MELAS: So people are split. I mean, if you look at the cover of the New York Post this morning it's on the front page. Some people saying look, Will Smith has a right to defend his wife, while others are saying look, violence is never an option. That this is just, you know, had he hit a woman or had it been a different type of a situation he would have been escorted out, right?

Many people just so happy for Will Smith because this was such a big moment for him to win the Best Actor Oscar for his role in King Richard. People had been just waiting for this moment. He had never won an Academy Award before. And it just overshadows the night.

Actually, we can take a listen to some of his --

ROMANS: Yes, what he said.

MELAS: -- acceptance speech.


SMITH: I want to apologize to the Academy. I want to apologize to my -- all my fellow nominees. Art imitates life. I look like the crazy father -- just like they said. I look like a crazy father just like they said about Richard Williams. But love will make you do crazy things.


MELAS: Jada Pickett Smith has been open about the fact that she suffers from alopecia. That she shaved her head because of hair loss.

But other people, like Judd Apatow, took to Twitter. He's a famous director. And he said that this is the Oscars. Chris Rock is a comedian. This is a night where you should be used to the fact that you're a celebrity. There's going to be some jabs. It could have been handled a different way.

The Academy tweeting about an hour after the broadcast ended. Quote, "The Academy does not condone violence in any form."

The LAPD releasing a statement saying that they have not received any charges having been filed by Chris Rock and that they're not going to be pursuing anything unless Chris Rock decides to press charges.

Chris hasn't said anything else. Will hasn't said anything else. Will and his family went to the Vanity Fair Oscar afterparty last night. It's not like he necessarily -- you know, embarrassingly went home.


MELAS: He was out and about.

You saw Denzel Washington and other celebrities sort of like circle Will Smith in the commercial break after this incident happened.

But again, a lot of celebrities taking to social media saying that this is not OK.

ROMANS: You're not -- you shouldn't hit people. I mean, hit -- I mean, hitting is just -- it's not the right reaction.

Is there a history between these two? Is there a -- is there a -- I mean, is this a boiling point? What happened here?

MELAS: OK. So I need to do more research to find out is there -- does Chris Rock have some sort of a history. My husband was asking me the same thing --

ROMANS: Right.

MELAS: -- when I walked in at like 2:00 a.m. last night. He's like wait -- so do Will Smith and Chris Rock have a lot of beef? So --

JARRETT: Because it just doesn't seem like it. I mean, these are people who have been made fun of for years.

MELAS: -- it doesn't seem like it makes sense.

ROMAN: Right.

MELAS: You know, I'll get back to you on that. But I will say, though, that Will Smith -- what's confusing -- is seen laughing at the joke.


MELAS: And he's laughing and he turns to Jada, who is visibly rolling her eyes.


JARRETT: Clearly annoyed.

MELAS: As anybody would be.


MELAS: But again, you are in the public eye. That night is where there are going to be jabs and jokes. It was not cool of Chris Rock to say that but it didn't mean that it needed to escalate to that level.

And also, what's just really interesting to me is the security around the stage. Celebrity or not, to have that kind of access --

JARRETT: Right -- you just go up there.

MELAS: -- to just go up and approach a presenter, a host, a winner raises some security questions I think just about how the Oscars are sort of handled in person. So I think there will be some changes.

JARRETT: Well -- and we know Chris Rock has made fun of her in the past. It was 2016. He made fun of her not attending. The Academy had come under a lot of fire --

ROMANS: Right.

JARRETT: -- for "Oscars So White." We all remember that.

ROMANS: Right.

JARRETT: And he made fun of her for that. Obviously, a different reaction this time. It just makes you wonder what -- there's got to be -- we need your inside scoop on what is going on between them.

MELAS: I will say though, lastly, Chris Rock did a really great movie several years ago about women of color and their hair, and it was like a really thoughtful, insightful documentary. And so --

ROMANS: Oh, that's right. I remember that.

MELAS: -- to think that he made this dig to be really hurtful. Again, like, it's the Oscars. You make -- you make fun of people.

ROMANS: But it's getting a lot --

JARRETT: There's more to this.

ROMANS: It's getting a lot of attention this morning. If you were sleeping, you will -- you will be hearing about it all morning. Thank you so much for --

JARRETT: Thank you, Chloe.

ROMANS: -- getting up early -- or staying up, getting up -- she's just been up.

MELAS: Thanks.

JARRETT: And she's going to be up all day on this.

MELAS: I'm a zombie.

JARRETT: Thank you, Chloe.

ROMANS: Thanks for joining us this Monday morning, everybody. I'm Christine Romans.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. It is Monday, March 28. I'm Brianna Keilar. And John Berman is in Lviv, Ukraine this morning.

Breaking overnight, loud explosions rocking Kyiv. Our CNN team on the ground in the capital city hearing constant explosions there. An adviser to President Zelenskyy warning that Russia is ramping up its military strikes and that Vladimir Putin is trying to wipe Ukraine off the face of the earth.

We are also getting some reports of powerful explosions in the last few hours in the western city of Zhytomyr. A Ukrainian military official says a fuel depot was hit by missile -- by a missile that was fired from Belarus.