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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Ukrainian Soldiers Describe "Turkey Shoot" Against Russian Tanks; Oscars Producer: LAPD Was Ready To Arrest Will Smith For Slap; Democrats Worried About Biden Immigration Move As Midterms Loom. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired April 01, 2022 - 05:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Ukrainian soldiers fighting to defend Kyiv say they have succeeded so far because they are defending their land and families against a demoralized enemy far from home. Several of them gave CNN blow-by-blow accounts of one recent battle that left roads and fields near the capital littered with burned-out Russian tanks.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour on the ground near the battle lines.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR (voice-over): The first thing you notice approaching the front northeast of Kyiv are the lines of villages waiting for humanitarian handouts. They receive a bag of bread and basics to get them through these difficult days.

"The first week of the war a shell hit us near the greenhouse. We barely survived," says this woman. "We had help from strangers around us. They gave us bread and canned food. We wouldn't have managed otherwise."

No one here knows when this war will end or whether Russia still has designs on Kyiv. The front line is about a mile away. For now, an uneasy calm prevails ever since the Ukrainian defenders stopped the Russian advance here. It was February 28, they say, day four of the war.

They want to show us how they did it but first, we have to climb over the bridge they downed to see the armored column they managed to take out. The riverbank is littered with their skeletons -- and this was a turkey shoot. Russian armored vehicles and tanks have come off the road to avoid the anti-tank mines only to find themselves unable to cross the bridge and unable to reverse in time. Ukrainian forces tell us none of the soldiers inside survived.

A little further up the road, two tanks have been virtually smelted -- blasted almost to smithereens. Forty-year-old Yevgeni (ph), a veteran fighter, proudly tells us this was his handiwork. "We all here have one role -- to keep the enemy off our land," he

says. "The first thing they did after seeing the village -- they started to shell houses just like that. They didn't see us. They didn't know we were here, so they just started to work on houses. And so, I took the tank in my sights and a fired a rocket, and goodbye to him."

The destroyed vehicles are stamped with an "O." The Ukrainian officers here tell us this identifies them as Russian units that entered from Belarus to the north.

Oleg (ph) is the officer who commanded this operation. "As for now, looking at previous fighting we've had, I can tell you that we are trained better," he tells me. "We have stronger morale and spirit because we are at home. They are afraid but they go because they're made to."

He's been battle-hardened ever since the first Russian invasion in 2014. He says his side has enough weapons, ammunition, and determination to win.


"I can tell you I'm almost sure the Russians are regrouping and not retreating," he says. "Besides, we are preparing ourselves to go forward. We're not preparing just to defend here."

U.S. and British intelligence say Putin seems to have, quote, "massively misjudged this situation and clearly, overestimated the abilities of his military to secure a rapid victory."

And this old lady tells us "I have seen one war and here we go again. I wish Putin would go away."

The people of this land remain stalwart and the soldiers remain dug in, hoping they can continue to withstand whatever Putin has in store for them next.

Christiane Amanpour, CNN, east of Kyiv.


BERMAN: It is just a shocking sight to see so much Russian military equipment simply destroyed. That is not what they expected when they launched this war more than five weeks ago.

Most Ukrainian refugees have fled to or through Poland since the invasion began -- more than two million people into Poland.

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz live at the border crossing with the latest. Salma, what are you seeing there?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: So, I'm right here at what is the pedestrian crossing for this border. And people flow through here constantly, John, and what they want to see when they arrive is a sense of normalcy, a sense of dignity. I just want to start by showing you around. You can see there is these little tents here everywhere.

And really, we have seen charity organizations from all over the world -- Israel, Egypt, India, Germany -- everywhere, we have seen them. And what they're doing is -- yes, they're providing food, they're providing medicine, they're providing information. They're letting you charge your phone. But the most important thing they're giving is a sense of dignity.

We're just going to keep walking a little bit through here because I just want you to get a sense of this. It's almost like a little tent community, John. Like, you can see all these people in high-vis jackets. You can stop any one of them if you want. You see the men in fatigues, of course, here -- of course, the soldiers to provide the security that people need -- the safety that they need but also, a sense of assurance.

And you have to remember John, of course, when people cross this border many of them don't have a plan. They don't know where they're going to go next. So this is where they come to finally get that bit of breath. To finally get that bit of respite.

We understand that after they go here to the border crossings over there, they walk across with their bags. Remember, people are only coming with what they can carry. So you can stop and get some baby food if you need it for your kid. You can stop and get some medicine if you've run out of it. There's clothes as well.

And then you're loaded on a bus down that way and you are either taken to a train station if that's where you're going to go next, or you're taken to a registration center if you're going to overnight here along the border.

It's really incredible just to see how global this effort is, John.

BERMAN: I think it's safe to say it's an unprecedented humanitarian infrastructure that has been built to help deal with this crisis. And the aid workers that I have spoken to here -- and I know you have as well, Salma -- say they've learned a lot of lessons and they hope this is something they can replicate in the future because this has been just -- it's been an amazing thing to see.

ABDELAZIZ: Extraordinary -- absolutely extraordinary to see. When I say the Egyptians, because I'm Egyptian, I was like what are you guys doing here? This is amazing. And it really felt so global. Such a community opening up, understanding these are families just like us.

BERMAN: Salma Abdelaziz, as always, thank you so much for showing us what's happening on the ground.

Laura, Christine, back to you guys.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: But it's so remarkable, John. This is not 1940. This is 2022 and we are setting up these very elaborate systems for moving millions of people through Europe to flee -- to flee a dictator, essentially, who is raining missiles onto his neighbor.


ROMANS: Remarkable that this is -- even has to be done but that's where we are. Thanks, John.


LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Up next, how new immigration rules at the U.S-Mexico border could pit President Biden against members of his own party.

ROMANS: And how close Will Smith came to getting arrested for slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars.



JARRETT: The producer of the Oscars speaking publicly for the first time now about what exactly happened backstage right after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock for making a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith, Smith's wife. In an ABC interview, Will Packer says the LAPD told Rock they were ready to arrest Will Smith right there on the spot.


WILL PACKER, OSCARS PRODUCER: They were saying, you know, this is battery was the word they used in that moment. They said we will go get him. We are prepared. We're prepared to get him right now.

You can press charges. We can arrest him. You have -- they were laying out the options.

And as they were talking, Chris was -- he was being very dismissive of those options. He was like no, I'm fine. He was like, no, no, no.


JARRETT: A source tells CNN Smith met virtually with the Academy leadership earlier this week and apologized to them. During the 30- minute Zoom call with the Academy, Smith was told his actions would have consequences.

ROMANS: All right, to immigration now. A number of Democrats on Capitol Hill worried about the Biden administration's plan to end Trump-era rules on deporting migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.

CNN's Daniella Diaz live on Capitol Hill. And Daniella, this puts the president on a collision course with members of his own party. What's the issue here?

DANIELLA DIAZ, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Christine, the issue is that more moderate Democratic senators and House members are concerned that if the Biden administration repeals Title 42 -- that is what this protocol is called -- it could create a migrant crisis on the border, which would really damage them politically, of course, ahead of the 2022 midterms.


Now, some of these moderate Democrats say that if the administration repeals this Trump-era protocol -- remember, this protocol turns away migrants at the border and takes them back to their home countries so that they can be processed there -- it could create this migrant crisis that would also, of course, have images across the border of migrants being processed and possibly being housed. You know, we've seen this time and time again in past years.

But the administration has said that they want to repeal Title 42 -- that is what this protocol is called -- in May.

Of course, two border state Democratic senators are leading the charge against this. Those senators being Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly who face reelection. They are concerned that if this were to happen it could hurt -- especially, Mark Kelly's -- chances for reelection. So that is why moderate Democratic senators and House members are concerned about this -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Daniella. Thank you for that -- Laura.

JARRETT: All right. Duke and North Carolina are getting ready for a historic showdown at the Final Four.

Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report live in New Orleans. Andy, I just can't believe given that this is one of the biggest rivalries of all times these two teams have never actually played each other in the NCAA Tournament before. That's crazy.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Just incredible, Laura. You've got to think that each team has probably been in every single NCAA Tournament, too, in all of these years. It never happened though. So it's going to be awesome. We're in for one awesome Final Four here in New Orleans tomorrow night.

In one semifinal, you've got Kansas taking on Villanova. Then the main event -- the one everyone's waiting for -- Duke versus North Carolina. And as you mentioned, the first time ever this amazing rivalry is going to happen in the NCAA Tournament.

And it's pretty incredible that it's taking place in Coach K's final season. Coach K making it to a record 13 Final Four in this final run looking for his sixth national championship as his legendary career comes to a close.

Duke's players have certainly felt all kinds of pressure this tournament to keep this run going. And now, they're trying not to get caught up in all the hype of playing their rivals in the Final Four.


TREVOR KEELS, DUKE GUARD: You can't really get too caught up in this rivalry. If you look at it like that you're in trouble. So I think you just -- you look at it as a championship game.

JEREMY ROACH, DUKE GUARD: This is another opponent in our way. UNC's a hell of a team. We know -- we know they're going to play their ass off for all 40 minutes. So -- I mean, it's just a championship game. That's what -- that's all he's harping on -- just a championship game.


SCHOLES: All right.

Now, despite playing each other more than 250 times, historically, Duke and UNC are evenly matched with Duke holding a one-game lead since Coach K's first season with the Blue Devils back in 1980. And get this -- in all of those games they are only separated by 21 points.

Duke and North Carolina -- they meet tomorrow night around 8:49 eastern right after Kansas and Villanova square off in the other semifinal. You can see both of those games on our sister network TBS.

In the meantime, the women's teams getting ready for their Final Four tonight. UConn is there for a 14th-straight season. This year, it's being held in Minneapolis, just 10 miles from where Huskies star Paige Bueckers grew up.


PAIGE BUECKERS, UCONN GUARD: It's surreal. Like, when you're a kid playing at the park you just dream of playing in a Final Four. And then, you never dream of it being at home as well. So, it's still surreal to me. It hasn't really sunk in yet. But just to be here in the state where I grew up, in the place where I grew up, around all the things I know is still super-crazy to me.


SCHOLES: Yes, a homecoming for Bueckers. Her team, UConn, is going to face the defending champion, Stanford, in the nightcap in Minneapolis. Top overall seed South Carolina opens the night against Louisville at 7:00 eastern.

All right. After being canceled in 2020 and then having limited fans in 2021, the Final Four -- it's back. It's going to be a packed Superdome tomorrow night here in New Orleans.

And check out the line earlier this week on the campus at Duke as students lined up just in hundreds, maybe even thousands, to try to get tickets to come here in New Orleans. I wonder how many of those students ended up missing class in that line?

And country star Eric Church is such a huge North Carolina fan he's canceled his concert tomorrow night in San Antonio so that he can come here to New Orleans to go to the game to watch his Tar Heels. In a letter to fans, Church admitted it was a selfish move but he just had to do it. And I'll tell you what, guys. I respect it because he really had no

other option but to just come out and be honest. Hey, look, I want to go to the game. I'm really sorry.

JARRETT: I'm sure his fans understand. I'm sure his fans wish they were going, too.

All right, Andy. Thanks so much -- appreciate it.


JARRETT: We'll be right back.



ROMANS: Welcome to Friday. Welcome to April, folks. Let's get a check on CNN Business this morning.

Looking at markets around the world, Asian shares closed mixed. Europe has opened slightly higher. And on Wall Street, stock index futures leaning up a little bit.

Wall Street fell Thursday, closing out the worst -- the first losing quarter since the pandemic crashed two years ago. The first quarter of 2022 saw rising interest rate concerns, then a war in Ukraine, inflation problems, sending the Dow and the S&P both down more than 4%. The Nasdaq lost more than 9% -- ouch -- the first down-quarter for stocks since Q1 2020.


Volatile oil prices also looming over markets here. U.S. oil prices fell nearly 7% Thursday after the president announced plans to release a million barrels of oil per day from the Strategic Oil Reserve for the next six months. The aim here is to ease gas prices. Biden promising 10 to 35 cents a gallon in relief is possible with lots of caveats. Experts say to expect lower prices within six weeks or so.

Today is jobs day. Economists expect the U.S. economy added 490,000 jobs back in March. If true, that would mean 90% of the jobs wiped out during the pandemic have been recovered. The unemployment rate expected to slip to 3.7%. That would be the lowest since the pandemic began.

Let's bring in chief economist at Moody's Analytics, Mark Zandi. Mark, what are you expecting this morning.

MARK ZANDI, CHIEF ECONOMIST, MOODY'S ANALYTICS (via Webex by Cisco): Yes, about a half-million jobs. That's what the economy has been creating for more than a year and I don't see any reason why it didn't do that in the month of March. Layoffs incredibly low. And given all the unfilled positions I expect hiring to be strong. So it should be another very strong month.

And unemployment should decline. Given all these jobs, we should see unemployment continue to head lower.

ROMANS: We hear so many concerns in the -- in the polls and among consumers about inflation, but a real important point here is the job market is very strong right now. Wages are rising briskly -- not matching the price of inflation -- or the cost of inflation, of course, but are rising.

Do you expect, though, we're heading into a new phase? Maybe as the Fed starts raising interest rates to fight that inflation, we're heading into a new phase in the job market where the pace of growth could be slower?

ZANDI: Yes, indeed. You know, a half-million jobs and falling unemployment -- that can't be sustained, particularly when we're suffering from this painfully high inflation. So the Federal Reserve is raising interest rates and plans to raise them very aggressively here over the next few months to try to slow down growth.

So, you know, more sustainable job growth would be something closer to 150,000 jobs, maybe 200,000 per month. So I would expect job growth to slow as move through the year. But that would be a good thing because obviously, right now, the number-one problem is inflation.

ROMANS: Yes. A couple of years ago if you were talking about 500,000 jobs added a month over and over and over again you'd be gobsmacked, right? I mean, it just shows you the deep hole we are in --

ZANDI: Exactly.

ROMANS: -- and coming back.

Let's talk about the president releasing a million barrels per day of oil from the U.S. emergency reserves. For six months, we've never seen something like that. At least putting a lid on energy prices here in the near term, do you think?

ZANDI: Yes, that's my sense of it. You know, I think it's a good move. I mean, we need more oil. Like, you know, what's going on with Russia's invasion of Ukraine -- it's really curtailed several million barrels a day of oil and we've seen prices go skyward. So we need more oil.

And so, I think the release makes a lot of sense. I don't know that it's a gamechanger but I do think it will limit increases in prices and that's a good thing. I'm not sure it's going to lower prices to a significant degree but, at the very least, limit the increases. And that's a plus given that this is a real hardship on a lot of Americans.

ROMANS: Yes, it really is. With oil the way it is and looming interest rate hikes -- maybe aggressive rate hikes in the next few meetings -- what's the recession risk? The Fed's got a real careful line to walk here to tap down on inflation but not slow the economy too strongly.

ZANDI: Yes, it's pretty hard to thread that needle. So I think recession risks are rising. I put them as high as one in three, which is uncomfortably high.

You know, I think the Fed will pull this off. It's got the tools to do it. And the economy is fundamentally strong, so I think it should be able to do this, but a lot of risk.

And, of course, there's a lot of crosswinds here, too. The pandemic is still a problem in many parts of the world. It could come back here. And with what's going on in Russia, that can go along a lot of different paths. So a lot of risk here but I think they'll pull it off.

ROMANS: Mark Zandi -- I hope you're right -- Moody's Analytics chief economist. Nice to see you this Friday morning -- jobs day. Thank you, sir.

ZANDI: Thank you.

JARRETT: You're going to have a big morning.

ROMANS: Yes, it's going to be a big morning. Five hundred thousand jobs would be great if that happens, right? But we're still down from the pandemic. So a lot of changes happening in the job market. We'll get a good read in just a couple of hours.

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: Good morning to viewers in the United States and all around the world. It is Friday, April 1. I'm John Berman in Lviv in western Ukraine. Brianna Keilar is in Washington.

We do have breaking news. Reports of a Ukrainian strike inside Russia. We want to show you some new video. It shows a fire at a fuel depot near the Ukrainian border in Belgorod. Belgorod is just over the border in Russia.

The governor there claims this was attacked by two Ukrainian helicopters who entered the territory flying at low altitude. Now, it's important -- CNN cannot confirm this claim. We are told there were no victims.

But this would be a very significant development.