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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Peskov: Russia Would Only Use Nukes Amid Threat To State's Existence; Biden: I Was "Expressing My Outrage" At Putin, Not Announcing A Policy Change; Florida Governor Signs Controversial LGBTQ Topic Bill Into Law. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired March 29, 2022 - 05:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The Kremlin's chief spokesperson facing questions about Russia's nuclear arsenal -- specifically, would Russia use it in Ukraine?

Atika Shubert joins us now. Atika, Dmitry Peskov -- Dmitry Peskov, I should say, was asked to clarify Russia's position. What did he have to say?

ATIKA SHUBERT, JOURNALIST: Yes. This was in an interview with PBS and he said Russia would only use nuclear weapons in the event of an existential threat. And so far, the special military operation in Ukraine, by which he means the invasion of Ukraine, is not that.

Take a listen to what he said.


DMITRY PESKOV, PRESS SECRETARY FOR VLADIMIR PUTIN: Any outcome of the operation, of course, is not a reason for usage of a nuclear weapon. We have a security concept that very clearly states that only when there is a threat for existence of the state in our country we can use and we will actually use nuclear weapons to eliminate the threat for the existence of our country.


SHUBERT: Now, as you heard him say there, only if the threat of Russia's existence is at stake. So far, with the special military operation in Ukraine, that doesn't meet that sort of threshold. However, there is a caveat to that and we've heard it from Russian President Vladimir Putin before. If the war expands -- if it starts to include other nations -- specifically, NATO countries -- then Russia could see that as an existential threat. And that is why we have seen Russia repeat this warning that it reserves the right to use the -- those nuclear weapons, John.

BERMAN: Atika Shubert, thank you so much. Great to see you.

Russia escalating its attack on the capital Kyiv. A CNN team was able to drive to Novi Petrivtsi, a village north of the capital, and what they found was horrifying.

CNN senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen reports.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Kyiv remains under full-on attack by Vladimir Putin's army. Ukrainian officials saying Russian forces are trying to storm the capital but failing, unleashing artillery barrages on civilian areas in the process.

We drove to the village Novi Petrivtsi, north of Kyiv, only a few miles from the front line. Even the streets here are pockmarked with shrapnel and massive impact craters -- whole buildings laid to waste.

PLEITGEN (on camera): I mean, just look at the utter destruction caused by this massive explosion. There's some really thick brick wall that even they were annihilated by the force of whatever landed here. The people here tell us they only felt one really large explosion and it wounded several people and killed a small child.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): That child was 2-year-old Stephon (ph), killed while in his bed when the house came under fire.

These videos given to us by local authorities show the chaos in the aftermath --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Speaking foreign language).

PLEITGEN (voice-over): -- as the wounded appear in shock. Residents and rescuers try to save those who are inside. Stephon pronounced dead on the scene.

Stephon was Oleg Shpak second-youngest child. We found Oleg sifting through the rubble of his house days later. Inside, he shows me the damage caused by the explosion. He was at work when his home was hit. His wife, the other children, and his mother-in-law had already been brought to the hospital when he arrived at the house.

Stephon couldn't be saved and because of staff shortages at the morgue, Oleg had to prepare his son's body for burial himself.

OLEG SHPAK, NOVI PETRIVTSI RESIDENT WHOSE SON WAS KILLED BY RUSSIAN SHELLING (through translator): I had to wash him, to dress him. His head from his right ear to his left ear, one large hematoma. His arms, his legs, a total hematoma not compatible with life. And besides that, lots of other wounds were discovered after death.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Many other houses have also been hit here. The police tell me the Russians shell the town every day.

We bumped into 84-year-old Halyna in the town's center. She was a child when the Nazis invaded this area and says now things are worse.

HALYNA, NOVI PETRIVTSI RESIDENT (through translator): Worse than fascists. When the Germans were here and entered our homes they would shoot at the ceiling but they would not touch us. They moved us into the woods but they did not shoot us like the Russian soldiers are shooting now, killing children.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): The Kremlin claims its forces don't target civilian areas, but the U.S., NATO, and the Ukrainians say the Russians are frustrated by their lack of progress and are firing longer-range weapons because they can't make headway on the ground.

VLADYSLAV ODINTSOV, KYIV REGIONAL POLICE (through translator): They understand that sooner or later our troops will push them out of our territory. Now, the Russians are doing dirty tricks. They shoot more at civilian areas than in the positions of the Ukrainian army.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): Ukraine's army says it's pressing its own counteroffensive, trying to dislodge Russian troops from the outskirts of Kyiv. The Kremlin's forces, meanwhile, so far unable to take the Ukrainian capital, are instead laying waste to its suburbs.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Novi Petrivtsi, Ukraine.


BERMAN: You know, our thanks to Fred for that.

But that's so important to see these. Even as the Ukrainians have some success in these counteroffensives and they're able to push the Russians out, the Russians are leaving these towns and cities destroyed, in rubble, and these are civilians who are suffering.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: It's heartbreaking, you're right. And thank you Fred for that reporting. All right, John.

President Biden, meanwhile, explaining his off-the-cuff comment that Vladimir Putin cannot remain in power.

Jasmine Wright live in Washington for us. Jasmine, the White House has spent three days clarifying that the president was not calling for regime change. This wasn't about policy -- it was the president's personal outrage at Putin's war, Jasmine.

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN REPORTER: That's exactly right, Christine. That is what he said -- that he was expressing his moral outrage to President Putin's actions in Ukraine. That was President Biden. And he said that these were his personal feelings and he wasn't going to apologize for expressing them. But again, he wasn't announcing a policy change.

Take a listen to the president in his own words here.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The face of the matter is I was expressing the moral outrage I felt toward the way Putin is dealing and the actions of this man -- just brutality -- half the children in Ukraine. I've just come from being with those families. And so -- but I want to make it clear. I wasn't then nor am I now articulating a policy change.


WRIGHT: So there we heard it again -- no policy change.

But I want to just note one thing that he said in that sound bite Christine where he said that he had just been with those families. He had spent the day meeting with hundreds of refugees. We saw that now- viral photo of him lifting up that little girl and telling her that he wanted to bring her home with her (sic).

So these were -- these were really personal feelings that the president was experiencing, sources around him said, that day. And so, when asked what led him to say this off-the-cuff comment that was unscripted, he said that they -- he was speaking to the Russian people. And again, that these were personal feelings but that they were in no way articulating a policy change.

So that is what the president is standing by today --


WRIGHT: -- after really hours and hours of the White House trying to downplay exactly what he said.

ROMANS: All right, Jasmine. Thank you so much for that. Nice to see you this morning.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Still ahead for you, frustration on the January 6 Committee spilling out in public view. Some members now calling out the attorney general directly. That's next.

ROMANS: And the Pentagon's new plan to keep up with Ukraine's request for all those missiles to fight Russia.



JARRETT: Welcome back.

The January 6 Committee voting unanimously to recommend holding former Trump advisers Dan Scavino and Peter Navarro in contempt of Congress for defying its subpoenas. Committee members in the process also calling out the Biden Justice Department.


REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): This committee is doing its job. The Department of Justice needs to do theirs.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): The Department of Justice has a duty to act on this referral and others we have sent.


JARRETT: CNN senior crime and justice reporter Katelyn Polantz joins us this morning. Katelyn, clearly, some lawmakers frustrated, much like some of their constituents, at the speed with which DOJ is moving on these cases.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: That's right, Laura. As you know, the Justice Department does not work on the same timeline as Capitol Hill wishes that they would. And so, in this situation there's a lot going on already. It's not as clearcut as just do your job.

The House committee has subpoenaed dozens of people and some of the people closest to Donald Trump, including advisers in the White House like Dan Scavino who had one of these contempt votes last night -- they do not want to comply with these subpoenas.

And so, what is the House to do whenever they can't get compliance with subpoenas? They need help. And so, they're asking the Justice Department now for help. They're asking for criminal prosecutions of the people who have not complied, given them documents, or sat for depositions.

So, they've done this twice already -- once with Steve Bannon and once with Mark Meadows who was the chief of staff at the White House during January 6.

Steve Bannon -- it was a pretty quick turnaround. He was charged with contempt of Congress in court. He's fighting those charges.

Mark Meadows, much more complicated. He went to court to sue. He's tried to say that there may be assertions of executive privilege -- secrecy around the president that is protecting him from complying a little bit more.

And so, now we have this backlog where the Justice Department has not charged Mark Meadows. It's been 15 weeks since the committee made the referral on him. And now, too, Dan Scavino and Peter Navarro. The committee is wanting to send a signal to these holdouts.

But at the end of the day, Laura, these people, including Dan Scavino -- Mark Meadows, especially -- are daring the Justice Department that perhaps the House subpoena power isn't as powerful as the House wishes it were to result in a case right away on the timeline that the House needs -- Laura.

JARRETT: All right, Katelyn. Thank you for your reporting as usual.

Joining me now to continue this discussion, former federal prosecutor Michael Zeldin, host of the podcast "That Said With Michael Zeldin." Michael, good morning to you. Great to see you as always.

MICHAEL ZELDIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, PODCAST HOST, "THAT SAID WITH MICHAEL ZELDIN", ROBERT MUELLER'S FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT AT THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE (via Webex by Cisco): Good morning. JARRETT: Let's start with these calls from lawmakers we just heard from Katelyn laying it out there. These calls from lawmakers basically for DOJ to do more.

Do you think this will add any pressure on Attorney General Garland to move on Trump?

ZELDIN: It shouldn't. Merrick Garland should make a decision based on the law and the facts as he sees them, according to his timetable.


The reality is that if Navarro, if Scavino, like Bannon, are indicted, they're not going to cooperate. These guys don't even believe that President Biden was the duly elected president. So the likelihood that they're going to get testimony from these guys is fanciful. So Merrick can't be pressured by them, as much as they'd like him to be.

JARRETT: You do wonder, though, what's going on with Mark Meadows' case. Obviously, a number of rulings have now come out that have bolstered DOJ's case should it choose to make one.

Yet, another one yesterday. A federal judge in California issuing this significant ruling in favor of the January 6 Committee. It's all in this case where lawmakers want to get some documents from this lawyer, John Eastman who you remember came up with that blueprint for overturning the 2020 election.

And as part of the ruling, the judge found it, quote, "more likely than not that Trump corruptly attempted to obstruct the vote count on January 6."

Now, this is a civil case. I want to be clear about what it's doing and not doing. But how much do you think this ruling does bolster the work of the committee?

ZELDIN: Well, this is an important ruling. And actually, going back to our past segment, it should inform Mark Meadows that he is going to lose any legal challenges that he makes.

The court in this case said the illegality of the plan to stop this election was obvious. And so, if you've got a judge saying this is an obvious illegal plan and Mark Meadows in some way is implicated by it, that I think is way more important for Meadows' attorney to determine whether or not he will cooperate further with this committee.

JARRETT: Well, and the judge -- I mean, really, lays it out pretty carefully over the course of 44 pages. So if the DOJ should choose to use this as its own blueprint for making a case -- at least constructing the framework of one -- it lays out a pretty compelling one.

I also want to ask you about this. Jared Kushner, the former president's son-in-law, expected to appear before the January 6 Committee. CNN has learned would do it voluntarily, so not under subpoena. What would the committee gain from talking to Kushner? ZELDIN: Well, we know that Kushner's wife Ivanka was in the White House on January 6 and was begging her father, so the reporting goes, to stop the insurrection. To come out forcefully and say stop. He didn't do that. She didn't prevail.

But the implication here is that Jared knows what was going on there from talking to Ivanka or from others. And so, he may be another set of eyes on what was going on in the White House on January 6, which is at the heart of what the committee is trying to get at.

JARRETT: Yes, and still waiting to see what Ivanka chooses to do here. Of course, the committee wants to talk to her as well.

All right. Michael Zeldin, thank you so much for your analysis as always, my friend -- appreciate it.

ZELDIN: Thank you.

JARRETT: Also, some more legal moves on the Trump front. A New York judge ordering The Trump Organization to fully comply with a subpoena from the state's attorney general's office by the end of April.

The subpoena was issued more than two years ago as part of a long- running civil fraud investigation. The New York A.G. says they've uncovered significant evidence -- those are their words -- that The Trump Organization artificially inflated its value to obtain a host of economic benefits, including loans and tax deductions.

ROMANS: All right, to Florida now where legislation opponents call the Don't Say Gay bill is now law. Governor Ron DeSantis, Monday, signed the measure banning certain instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom.

Let's bring in CNN's Steve Contorno. He is live in St. Petersburg for us. And Steve, LGBTQ leaders call this harmful for children. They say it hurts an already marginalized community. What's the reaction there this morning?

STEVE CONTORNO, CNN REPORTER: Christine, the reaction has been swift. We've seen outrage and anger all throughout the state.

Yesterday's action by Gov. Ron DeSantis wasn't necessarily a surprise by any stretch. He has said for weeks that he is supportive of the legislation and he was expected to sign it into law.

But nevertheless, there was immediate outrage, a lot of pain, and also a promise to fight on. That there are already organizations that are going to be setting up legal defense funds for any teachers or schools that might be sued under this legislation. And there's also an expectation that opponents will fight this legislation and keep it from going into effect by filing lawsuits.

And yesterday, actually, Disney, the state's -- one of its largest employers who has faced backlash from its own employees over its lack of involvement on this bill -- the company issued a statement yesterday saying that it hopes this bill is overturned by the courts, saying that it should never have been passed and it should never have been signed into law.

And we also heard from the Biden administration saying that it's going to keep a close eye on what happens in Florida to make sure there aren't any violations of federal discrimination laws.


But Gov. DeSantis -- you know, he has said what he has said all along yesterday when he signed this bill. He said that this has been widely misconstrued by its opponents and by the media, saying that it doesn't prevent teachers or schools from having conversations with students about sexual orientation or gender identity. It doesn't prevent kids from talking about their same-sex parents. It just prevents curriculum that is designed to teach kids about sexual orientation --

ROMANS: Well, Steve, is there --

CONTORNO: -- and gender identity. Obviously, opponents have a problem with that.

ROMANS: -- curriculum -- is that curriculum being taught in Florida? Is that curriculum being taught in Florida? Is that what the governor is trying to stop? Is there some widespread problem with same-sex curricula? Is that what he's trying to stop or is this a law that's in search of a problem that doesn't exist?

CONTORNO: The governor did provide a couple of one-off examples yesterday where there have been instances where teachers have brought instructional materials into the classroom that he doesn't think are appropriate for children aged kindergarten through third grade. He, at the outset of this debate, has said that he didn't think that this is happening very often in schools.

And many teachers and LGBTQ groups have said that this isn't part of instruction. It's not part of curriculums and this is a problem that is -- this is a solution in search of a problem. So --


CONTORNO: -- there are one-off examples that he was able to provide yesterday but again, they are few and far between.

ROMANS: All right, Steve Contorno. We know you'll continue watching it for us. It's just fascinating, opening up teachers -- opening up teachers to civil suits. Thanks, Steve. Opening up teachers to civil suits if a parent --


ROMANS: -- doesn't like something that they're hearing about --


ROMANS: -- in the classroom for small children.

JARRETT: Yes, so they going to err on the side of not risking going through litigation.

ROMANS: All right.

JARRETT: Who wants to have to hire a lawyer and go through that?

All right, crucial face-to-face talks underway right now between Russia and Ukraine. What's it going to take for a breakthrough to end this fighting?



ROMANS: Let's get a check on CNN Business this morning.

Looking at markets around the world, Asian shares have closed mixed. Europe has opened strongly higher here. And on Wall Street, it looks like gains here if these futures hold into the opening bell.

It was a higher start to the week on Monday. Tech led the gain. Tesla, alone, rose 8% after it said it wants to split its stock to pay shareholders a dividend.

U.S. oil prices fell 8% Monday. That's good news for consumers if it translates into lower gas prices. COVID lockdowns in Shanghai are the reason there would be concern about demand. For weeks, prices have been rising over supply disruptions due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

It's a big week for data, especially in the labor market folks, kicking off today with the February JOLTS survey that tracks job openings and quits and wrapping up Friday with the March jobs report. Four hundred fifty thousand jobs were likely added last month. The jobless rate is expected to fall to 3.7 percent.

Credit Suisse now the target of a congressional probe over its compliance with Russian sanctions after the bank asked investors to, quote, "destroy documents related to yachts and private jets" owned by its clients. The House Oversight Committee wrote to the bank asking for documents about loans, potentially including sanctioned Russian oligarchs.

Credit Suisse has previously said asking investors to destroy the documents was part of good data hygiene and was in no way related to sanctions compliance.

The world's largest beer brewer is joining that big long list of companies pulling out of Russia amid the invasion of Ukraine. Heineken and Carlsberg had already halted new investments and exports to the country earlier this month. Now the companies say, along with 400 other companies, they are existing their businesses in Russia entirely.

Heineken, Russia's third-largest brewer, says the move will cost the company $439 million. Carlsberg says Russia was one of its main markets and it expects to incur a substantial loss from leaving Russia.

Both companies saw shares rally on their decisions, which is telling. There's so much risk in the Russian market right now. So they are out, too. More than 400 on that list.

JARRETT: It's something to watch other companies.

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

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: All right, good morning to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. It is Tuesday, March 29. I'm John Berman in Lviv in western Ukraine. Brianna Keilar is in Washington.

And what you're listening to right now -- the sounds of the air raid sirens warning of a threat here in this western Ukrainian town, telling people to go seek shelter. These have been going off fairly regularly over the last few days. And I do have to say people here generally heeding these warnings now after the attack over the weekend at the fuel storage depot.

So, we'll listen to these sirens for a little bit. We'll monitor the situation here very closely, bringing you any updates as they come in.

In the meantime, there is important breaking news elsewhere. Russia and Ukraine at the negotiating table in Turkey at this very moment. Ukraine's foreign minister says that at the very minimum he hopes these talks yield a solution to the humanitarian crisis caused by the Russians.