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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Belgorod Governor Blames Fuel Depot Fire on Ukrainian Attack; U.S. to Sanction 120 Russian Defense, Aerospace and Maritime Entities; Putin Demands "Unfriendly Countries" Pay for Gas in Rubles; January 6th Committee Interviews Jared Kushner for Six Hours. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired April 01, 2022 - 05:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world, I'm Laura Jarrett.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans in New York. John Berman is in Lviv, Ukraine, reporting again for us this morning.

John, what are you seeing today?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to both of you. Heavy shelling underway this morning in eastern Ukraine. Officials say that heavy fire is concentrated around Kharkiv in the north east and in Luhansk and Donetsk regions of the Donbas. This is part of an apparent shift by Russia to redirect its military force to the eastern part of the country.

Just across the border from Kharkiv, the governor of Russia's Belgorod region is accusing Ukrainian helicopters of attacking this fuel depot and setting it on fire. CNN cannot verify this claim but if this is in fact true, it is a really interesting new development. The first time that we would be aware of Ukrainian forces crossing the border in the air to carry out strikes in Russia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says he has fired two generals, he says, for betraying their homeland.


PRES. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE (through translator): And today another decision was made regarding anti-heroes. Now I do not have time to deal with all the traitors, but gradually they will all be punished.


BERMAN: All right, joining me here in Lviv, CNN's Phil Black.

Phil, let's start with this claim of Ukrainian helicopter strike over the border in Russia.

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So what we know, John, is the fuel depot has clearly gone up in flames. The question is how did that happen. The local official in Belgorod, this is a city just across the border, and the Russian Federations says that it was two Ukrainian military helicopters that flew in low, and launched a strike destroying that facility. They say no casualties but a lot of damage to the infrastructure.

The Ukrainians said they have no comment on this at this time. But if true, it's clearly payback. I mean, it's an interesting point because it is a strike across the border on Russian soil. That's quite bold in and of itself. But as we've been talking the Russians have been picking off Ukrainian fuel depots across the country with missiles for some time now. So this is a reciprocal move that could potentially impact the way Russian can move its troops around.

BERMAN: Yes, payback. What's going on around Chernobyl?

BLACK: So we've been talking about troops withdrawing mostly from Kyiv, mostly from Chernihiv in the north. We are also hearing from Ukrainian officials that the Chernobyl site, where there's an existing nuclear power plant and of course it is the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster in 1986, this was a location, at a facility that was taken by Russia in the earliest moments of the war.

The Russian forces have now suddenly left. They're all gone, we understand, as well as pulling back from a neighboring town where workers at Chernobyl live when they're not working. What we don't know is precisely why. But the Ukrainian officials make the point and we can't verify this, but they say that while the troops were there, they were digging in the ground, they were digging trenches. They were building fortifications.

They say this soil is still radioactive and some of them succumbed to radiation illness very, very quickly. And this created a real sense of panic among those Russian soldiers.

BERMAN: We showed President Zelenskyy at the top here talking about two generals who he fired.


BERMAN: What more do we know?

BLACK: Very little other than his comments there. But he's talking about generals within the Security Service. That this is an investigative intelligence organization. One of them it seems had a senior role in the national organization. One of them was the head of the Kherson Regional Office so in the south of the country. And he talks about them as traitors, essentially, as people who don't or haven't chosen where their homeland is. So the implication is these are people who are working for the other side.

BERMAN: Yes. It's interesting. We'd love to know more. What's interesting, truly interesting is how little of that there's been over the last five weeks. I think the Russians thought there might be more.

Phil Black, great having you here. Thank you very much.

Joining me now is CNN global affairs analyst Kimberly Dozier. She's a "TIME" magazine contributor.

Kim, thank you so much for being with us. I just want to start, again, we know so little about it but the idea that Ukrainian helicopters would have crossed into Russia to attack a fuel depot there. What do you make of that?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, this is one of the concerns the Biden administration has had that the Ukrainian military starts doing so well that it goes on the offensive and goes into Russian territory. It's something that we heard reports of in the beginning of the war and it's something that U.S. officials are worried could trigger a violent response from Russia with something like a chemical weapon. Something that tries to beat the Ukrainian forces back.


They're fine with Ukrainians taking back their own territory but going into Russian territory is considered escalatory.

BERMAN: Now there's great skepticism about the notion that the Russians are truly backing off instead of just redeploying their forces elsewhere. But there really is no question, they've left some places, they just have, and Chernobyl is one of them. What's the significance there?

DOZIER: Well, with Chernobyl, that seems to be a special situation where from all reports on the ground the Russian soldiers didn't come in with the right kind of equipment or even the knowledge that they were entering an area that was contaminated with radioactive waste. That forest that Ukrainian officials say they were digging trenches in, had a forest there during the Chernobyl nuclear disaster that was totally fell, was dug under and then new trees were planted there.

So the soil and the trees that are there to hold that soil in place, to keep it from spreading throughout Europe, are all highly contaminated. Chernobyl, if you look on the map, it's one of the most direct routes for Russian forces to have taken as they tried early on to take Kyiv. As for their repositioning elsewhere, what the Pentagon officials are saying and also Ukrainian officials, they worried that all the Russians are doing is a strategic to rearm, regroup, reform some of their battle groups and then attack another day.

BERMAN: Yes, again we've got no way to confirm it. But you don't dig near a nuclear disaster sites. It's one of the things you -- you know, number one on the list of things you don't do. So if the Russians did that, it would be clearly something that they would regret to say the least.

Mariupol, the city on the Sea of Azov, has been under siege for days now. The entire West, France, Germany, everyone trying to put pressure to allow a relief convoy in. Do you think the Russians will let it happen?

DOZIER: Well, the Red Cross was struggling again today to negotiate access. And there's been a group of Ukrainian parliamentarian visiting Washington, D.C., this week to try to make their case to the administration and to Capitol Hill for more weaponry. And none of them trusted these negotiations with Russia. The all fear -- they said, look, the situation is so dire, we've got to try to get some people out. But until we actually see the Russian forces both allow them to leave and not fire on them, we're not going to trust that it's real -- John.

BERMAN: Yes, again, the pictures out of that city are just devastating.

Kimberly Dozier, great to see you. Thank you so much for helping us understand what we're seeing here. Appreciate it.

Christine, Laura, back to you.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks, John.

JARRETT: So as all this is happening, the United States is about to hit Russia with a new round of sanctions. This one targeting its defense aerospace and maritime sectors.


KATE BEDINGFIELD, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: The power of these restrictions will compound overtime as Russia draws down any remaining stockpiles, for example, spare parts for certain planes and tanks. We will continue to impose unprecedented costs, strengthen Ukraine's hand and make Putin's war of choice a strategic failure.


JARRETT: CNN's Jasmine Wright is live in Washington.

Jasmine, good morning. So how are these sanctions different than the ones we've seen before?

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think you can look at them really as compounding, adding to the fact as the U.S. looks to find creative ways to try to keep the Russian economy in isolation. Really trying to degrade it and keep it in shambles especially as we see glimmers that the Russian economy could be rebounding.

So once again the U.S. is targeting organizations. They say that they're adding about 120 entities to the entity list really making that number round up to about 200, and the point of doing that is basically to cut off their access to new U.S. technology and in that way they would have to apply for technology if they wanted to get it and let those applications would be denied.

And the point of this really, Laura, as Kate just said, Bedingfield just said, is that really as right now the Russian economy and the maritime and the aerospace and defense relies on their stockpiles. Eventually those will run out is the idea and they would not have access to these new forms of technology because they are on this trade list. So again, this is the U.S. economy trying to find ways, if not immediately, at least over time really trying to limit the options that the Russians have when it comes to this new invasion of Russia -- Laura.

JARRETT: Jasmine, thanks for your reporting.

ROMANS: OK. Just ahead, Joe Biden's historic move on the release of emergency oil. We'll tell you when Americans can expect relief at the pump and how much.

JARRETT: Plus, Vladimir Putin doubling down on a threat that could affect people beyond Ukraine.

ROMANS: And Jared Kushner talking to the January 6th Committee for hours.



ROMANS: All right, big, historic move from the White House to try to cool down gas prices. President Biden predicts his latest move to tap into the country's emergency oil reserves will push down gas prices at the pump. It's unprecedented. The White House calling it a wartime bridge until production can be ramped up.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It will come down and it could come down fairly significantly. It could come down a better part of, you know, I think from 10 cents to 35 cents a gallon.


ROMANS: The president listing a lot of variables there, but I was talking to experts yesterday who said that seems like a reasonable range, 10 cents to 35 cents a gallon. Right now they remain stubbornly and painfully high, $4.23 a gallon is the national average according to AAA.


One expect yesterday told me you could get below $4 for the summer and stay there if this plan works as they want to. The administration will be releasing one million gallons of oil a day over the next six months. That's potentially 180 million gallons, 30 million gallons were released in March after 50 million tapped last November.

There are new concerns this morning about an energy crisis in Europe. Vladimir Putin doubling down on Russia's threat to cut off natural gas supplies to Western countries that refuse to pay in rubles.

CNN's Nina dos Santos is live in London with more. Nina, what does Putin's move mean for the rest of Europe? NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN EUROPE EDITOR: It was very worrying and it also

raises the prospect of Russia which is the biggest supplier of energy to this part of the world potentially at some point turning off the taps, at least temporarily to some of Europe's biggest economies, notably Germany which relies on Russia for about 55 percent of its natural gas needs. Its chancellor Olaf Scholz has been emphatic in saying that the E.U. will not allow itself to be blackmailed by Russia over energy.

Having said that, though, Germany has become so alarmed recently at the spiking cost of gas and also its reliance on Russia which is becoming increasingly unreliable energy partner that it's decided to move to phase one of a three-part state of rationing of gas and energy for its consumers.

Now what does this plan actually entails? As you can see we've got pipelines heading towards Europe from the Western part of Russia. This is the type of gas that's being affected here so it's not as though if Russia were to turn off the taps, that it could actually sell it to China because the pipelines don't actually work in that direction. They get their gas from another eastern part of Russia.

And so Vladimir Putin to a certain extent would be shooting himself in the foot if he were to alienate his biggest customer for this vital commodity. But what he does need to try and do is on the one hand economically save face in the face of these punitive sanctions that the West is continuing to impose on Russia over its invasion of the Ukraine, and he badly needs the foreign currency.


DOS SANTOS: So as of today, what we've seen is as decree come into effect very suddenly by which countries that get this gas need to suddenly pay in their own currency into an account at Gazprom Bank, that will be transferred into ruble. It's a win-win for Putin if he can get people to actually agree to do this. But it's not yet clear whether they will -- Christine.

ROMANS: Yes. And the contracts are in dollars. I mean, this is dollar- denominated stuff so it would be, it would be really sort of rewriting how we sell oil, right?

DOS SANTOS: It's euros.

ROMANS: Euros. Right.

DOS SANTOS: The large part of the gas contracts are in euros. Another hefty percentage of it is in dollars. And there's just a few that are in other currencies. So you're right in saying that the bulk of all of this is in those two valuable foreign currencies, euros which tallies with the fact that this is the biggest market for Russian gas, and also dollars as well.

It is an unprecedented move. But of course we live in an unprecedented times.

ROMANS: Yes, we do.

DOS SANTOS: What I would point out, though, is that the E.U. hasn't sanctioned the vehicle that Putin wants this money to be paid into. But the United States and the U.K. have so it's probably a no-go area for them.

ROMANS: Yes, complicated. Arm Nina dos Santos, thank you so much.

And Laura, I need to make a correction here. We said that 180 million gallons of oil would be released. No, no, it's barrels. It's a lot more than that. So sorry. We had the size wrong. So it was 180 million barrels, which is something we have never done before. Slow release of oil every single day is something that hopefully would help at least stabilize the market, put a lid on oil and gas prices.

JARRETT: And how soon do we see the results of that?

ROMANS: Six weeks usually. The experts yesterday I was talking to said at the gas pump, six weeks is when you would see it.

JARRETT: All right. Let's see. Coming up for you, the producer of the Oscars tells us what happened backstage right after Will Smith's slapped Chris Rock.

ROMANS: And what could be the real reason for that seven-hour gap in Donald Trump's White House call logs on January 6th.



JARRETT: Welcome back. Jared Kushner, Donald Trump's son-in-law and former aide, appeared before the House Committee investigating the Capitol Insurrection on Thursday. A source tells CNN the interview lasted more than six hours.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz is live in Washington on this story.

Katelyn, good morning. What do we know about what Kushner actually said?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Laura, this time we don't know what was said in this interview but one committee member did tell CNN yesterday that he was volunteering information about January 6th.

So, Laura, as you know, these interviews can go one of two ways. They can be short, where a person, a witness doesn't answer questions and has some sort of official reason why they're not going to engage, or they can go very long. This is a substantial interview, six hours, even for this type of investigation that is quite thorough. Six hours is a lot of time for someone to be sitting with the committee including someone like Kushner especially. And so now the question is whether Kushner revealed anything the committee didn't know about his father-in-law, about what happened in the White House on January 6th. JARRETT: So we know the committee is also really interested in getting

to the bottom of what happened with this seven-hour gap in the White House call records from January 6th. You've been doing some great reporting on this. What did you learn?

POLANTZ: Well, my colleagues and I have been digging into this trying to figure out what happened. Why aren't there calls on these manifestos that the House Select Committee has? We now know that the White House switchboard records are complete, that the White House -- that the House committee has at this time.


But that they do not fully explain why there were calls on January 6th that don't appear there and also don't appear in the Presidential Daily Diary. Our reporting has been that there are lots of reasons why calls might not be on these lists that should be listing everything the president does on that day. There could be other calls being made that don't go through the White House switchboard. They can be on cell phones, other lines in the White House.

And also the Presidential Daily Diary, that comes down to a human task. People writing down what the president was doing. So we don't know why there aren't all of these calls on this list, but we are still looking into that and trying to find an answer.

JARRETT: And we know that just general recordkeeping at the Trump White House was less than thorough to say the least.

We also know that separate from the House investigation, the Justice Department is looking into a whole bunch of issues surrounding January 6th. They almost have parallel tracks going. And you're now reporting that there is an actual grand jury issuing subpoenas?

POLANTZ: That's right. So we have been following this investigation in the court. It is the largest investigation by the Justice Department and the FBI in history. And what we have this week is big news that there is a grand jury in Washington that is looking into planning, organizing, financing around the Trump rally on January 6th.

Now we don't know exactly where this is going to lead investigators but up until this point over the past year, we've seen 800 federal criminal cases against people, almost solely people who were setting foot on the Capitol grounds in restricted areas that day. This would indicate that there is an investigation into something different, a circle that gets closer to political people, potentially people even connected to Donald Trump and people around him.

And, you know, we have been a year into this. People have been asking would something like this come? Merrick Garland, the attorney general, has been promising the Justice Department would do everything they needed to do to follow the money, follow the facts and the investigation is ongoing -- Laura.

JARRETT: Yes. It's one thing to have just a preliminary inquiry but it's far, far greater and far more significant to have an actual grand jury digging into this and issuing subpoenas. So that was a great nugget that you broke, Katelyn. Thank you. Appreciate your reporting.

ROMANS: All right, next, CNN on the ground near Kyiv for a first-hand account from Ukrainian troops who took out some Russian tanks.

JARRETT: And the army of volunteers greeting refugees who fled on foot for the border, next.