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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Major Fighting in Eastern Ukraine as Russia Intensifies Attacks; Mykolaiv Residents Clean Street Daily After Russian Attacks; Congress Suspends Trade Relations, Bans Russian Energy Imports; Weapons Seized from Homes of Men Accused of Impersonating DHS Agents. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired April 08, 2022 - 05:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. It's Friday, April 8th. I'm Laura Jarrett here in New York. Christine Romans has the day off. And Brianna Keilar continues our live coverage in Ukraine.

Brianna, good morning. What's the latest there?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Laura, Ukraine's president is now warning that the atrocities in Bordianka which is a suburb outside of Kyiv will actually be worse than those that were found in nearby Bucha after the retreat of Russian forces from the area. Crews in Bordianka are now digging through rubble. They are searching for bodies. How many they do not know.

Ukraine's chief prosecutor says that 26 bodies were found in the wreckage of just two large houses there and a source telling CNN German -- telling CNN that German intelligence claims to have intercepted radio transmissions of Russian troops talking about indiscriminately killing civilians, that they are on tape talking about this.

In the meantime Ukraine's foreign minister says the battle for Donbas is underway as fighting is shifting to the eastern part of the country. And the U.S. has now committed tens of thousands more weapons to Ukraine. This includes anti-armor systems and suicide drones.

Let's talk more about the big picture here with CNN's Phil Black. And, you know, Phil, I think we look at some of what we're seeing in Bordianka where a lot of this is a horrible cleanup operation and sort of an evaluation of what's going on. But what does this portend now for the east that has been under bombardment for so long?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What we know about Bordianka, Brianna, is that there's almost nothing left. It's been devastated, totally destroyed by the intense fighting that's been taking place there. We don't know how many people lie beneath the rubble in those destroyed buildings. And you're right, in the east there's been intense fighting going on for weeks. And the point is it's about to get a lot worse.

The expectation is that the Russians are about to launch massive new offensive operations. An official there this morning says they are seeing the signs of an imminent attempt to break through Ukrainian lines by Russian forces. This is expected to be, according to the Ukrainians and other analysts, a very different sort of fight here. A much greater density of Russian forces in a smaller area generally. It's more concentrated.

As the Ukrainian foreign minister said yesterday, it's going to be more like something out of World War II. Thousands of tanks, other vehicles, planes, and the fear is that yes, communities, villages, homes will simply be destroyed and wiped out. So it is important that civilians get out now while they can. It's not an easy thing to achieve. And we've got proof of that this morning.

A missile strike on a train station in Kramatorsk in the east. This is a key hub for evacuations from that area. And we're hearing reports of dozens of casualties as a result of that strike this morning.

KEILAR: Dozens of casualties. All right, Phil. Thank you so much for that. We do appreciate it.

Let's talk more now with General Peter Zwack. He's the author of "Swimming the Volga: An Army Officer's Experiences in Pre-Putin Russia."

Sir, what are you expecting from this? It sounds already like Russian forces are sort of testing the Ukrainian lines.

BRIG. GEN. PETER ZWACK (RET.), WILSON CENTER GLOBAL FELLOW, THE KEENAN INSTITUTE: Brianna, thanks for having me. Yes, I would first highlight that in five weeks approximately is Russia's Victory Day ceremony event that commemorates and celebrates the end of the Second World War and the defeat over the Nazis. That's a big deal in Moscow. They really have nothing to show for that.

So I give that as a background because I believe over the next three -- well, starting in the next -- soon, for the next four weeks it's going to be really, really tough. In and around especially Donbas and down along the Black Sea. The Russians have been able to -- look, they've been badly bloodied and humiliated but they are moving forces back down from Belarus keeping some ops in Kyiv and forces are coming in from the inner land.

Not necessarily the best troop quality, but blocks more, full of artillery, cannon fire. Full of rockets, full of -- there will be missiles. It will almost be World War II like we would say hub to hub. Massive fires. Ukrainian positions on the Donbas, along the old contact line, are there. They're dug in deep, World War I or World War II style.


But we could see massive fires in part to make up for -- to help the Russian ground troops, infantry and tanks, push through the positions. So we could see a bludgeon like grinding type attrition through the front of Donbas.

The other point is we've been reading there may be attempts coming from the south up from Crimea, and down from the north down from -- down towards the Kharkiv area of trying to pincer, encircle the Ukrainian forces that are along the line in Donbas.

The Russians want to win a big and decisive victory. They do have Ukrainian forces fixed, meaning they know and they're opposite each other. Russians have -- are on what you call interior lines and expectation is it's going to be a big, hard, ugly, brutal push and, again, this is --

KEILAR: So, General -- so, General, how --


KEILAR: General, can -- what can Ukrainian forces do then? We've seen them use sort of, you know, their wiles and their will in the areas outside of Kyiv, using drones to target tank columns. How can they repel that kind of pincer movement and this heavy activity by the Russians?

ZWACK: First along the flanks, the pincers, the -- again the Russians are grinding down. They've been doing that. They will use the -- the Ukrainians have been pretty agile, what you call with their counter fire, counter artillery, with their drones. They've been able with the Stingers and the other systems coming in, the Russians while they have air -- don't have air dominance and the Ukrainians still make it really difficult for Russian air support to get low.

Ukrainian forces also will be defending while there's a lot of open terrain, a lot of ground, but they will use villages and towns to kind of anchor their defenses. They will -- the pincers are going through Ukrainian territory and they will be hit heavily along the flanks probably by Ukrainian smaller units and infantry, but what is different is that there is a fixed fight developing, a force on force.

The Russians see the Ukrainians. The Ukrainians are dug in deep in the key areas with some flexibility in the flanks. And all the modern weapons we're providing should be a real help. But, no, this could be very, very bloody and direct.

KEILAR: All right, General Zwack. Thank you so much for your insights there. We appreciate it.

Laura, I want to go back to you in New York.

JARRETT: All right, thanks, Brianna.

Coming up for you, the moment Russian forces hit a cancer hospital in Ukraine. CNN talks to survivors near the scene. Plus disturbing new accusations against two men who fooled the Secret Service. And the moment history was made for the U.S. Supreme Court and the country.



KEILAR: Russian targets in the port city of Mykolaiv including the city's cancer hospital and a market full of civilians.

CNN's Ben Wedeman meeting some of the victims of Russia's brutality there.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This has become Mykolaiv's daily routine, picking up the pieces, sweeping away the wreckage from Russian missile attacks. Random shelling throughout the city with what appear to be cluster munitions. Glass shards and shrapnel tore into Marina. As she lies in a hospital, her thoughts are with her teenage daughter, also injured, now in a children's hospital.

My daughter and I were caught between two bombs, she recalls. It's a miracle we're still alive. It was terrifying.

The hospital where Marina is recovering was hit in the morning. Dirt covers the blood from one of the injured. Closed circuit television video from the city's cancer hospital captures the moment it was struck. Earlier this week, a missile barrage killed nine people and wounded more than 40 at this market.

(On-camera): We were able to count 23 impact points in a radius of just 100 meters. And each one of these incoming rounds sprays shrapnel in every direction.

(Voice-over): Danilo was working in this store and rushed outside when he heard the blasts.

Over there a woman was screaming, help me, her leg was shattered, he says. Behind the store, two people were killed. Dried blood and flowers mark the spot where people died. Last week, a bomb struck the regional governor's office, killing 36 people.

Every day in Mykolaiv, this relentless bombardment shatters any semblance of normal life. Mid-afternoon and people line up to escape the danger, this bus bound for Poland.

Victoria cradles her 1-year-old daughter Ivana. Her husband stays behind.


Soon, we'll be back home, says Victoria. Everything will be all right. How soon that will be, nobody knows.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Mykolaiv.


KEILAR: Another Ukrainian family separated by this war, Laura. We thank Ben Wedeman, of course, for that report. JARRETT: Yes, thank you to Ben who's been doing such phenomenal

reporting there.

Here in the U.S. Congress just passed two bipartisan bills to further punish the Russians. CNN's Daniella Diaz is live on Capitol Hill for us.

Daniella, good morning. So what exactly do these bill target?

DANIELLA DIAZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Laura, one of these bills would suspend normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus. Another country that's been aiding Russia in this invasion into Ukraine. And the other bill puts into Biden's previous executive order banning imports of Russian oil, natural gas and coal. These are two measures that Congress has been working for weeks. And look, the Senate actually passed both of these bills yesterday. It was stalled in the Senate after some negotiation with some Republican senators.

But it was passed unanimously, Laura. All Democrat and Republican senators voted in support of these two bills. Now in the House, that was a different story. Some Republican House members opposed these bills. Both of these bills, those being of course Marjorie Taylore Greene, Thomas Massie and Matt Gaetz. Unclear why they didn't support this when it turned out to be a very bipartisan measure in the Senate.

But look, President Joe Biden is expected to sign both of these measures into law as soon as possible. And now of course this was the last measure by the Senate to punish Russia before of course the Senate and House go to a two-week recess starting today. So they won't be here for two weeks, Laura, which is why they wanted to try to pass this before they left.

JARRETT: All right. Daniella, thank you for that. Appreciate it.

Coming up, how fake federal agents with real guns tricked the U.S. Secret Service. And the volunteers saving the pets left behind in war- torn Ukraine.



JARRETT: Welcome back. Two men in Washington, D.C., will appear back in court this afternoon after investigators found a stash of weapons during a search of their apartments. The suspects are accused of impersonating federal agents from Homeland Security for more than two years. And according to court papers they enjoyed cozy relationships with real federal agents.

Let's bring in CNN national security analyst and former assistant secretary at DHS, Juliette Kayyem. She's also the author of a brand- new book "The Devil Never Sleeps: Learning to Live in the Age of Disasters." Well, that sounds like a doozy.

Juliette, good morning. This is such a --


JARRETT: This is such a wild case. Authorities haven't said anything about their motive. But these guys are accused of providing tons of gifts, thousands of dollars basically to ingratiate themselves with multiple federal agents including Secret Service members, including one on the first lady's protective detail. This seems like a serious breakdown in the process. How do you get away with this for two years?

KAYYEM: It is so mind boggling, jaw dropping, name the word. I mean, whatever it is, it isn't good because it is -- it defies any logic whatsoever. You have two men who are clearly have access to lots of money. They're paying for very expensive apartments. They're living in apartments. They have all sorts of weaponry. Who's funding this exercise?


KAYYEM: Right? Is it another country? Are they alone? And then the second piece is of course how did Secret Service agents not begin to ask questions of who are these two guys who are telling us that they are part of what's called the HSI, Homeland Security Investigation Division, and just lavishing us, right, that sort of doesn't make sense. So the question right now is, was this an intelligence operation?

In other words, court the Secret Service agents, get information that they can then, you know, give to a third party, or was it more nefarious? Right? That in other words this is involving something to do something bad to very important people. And we don't know that yet.

JARRETT: You know, it also made me wonder, has the Secret Service sort of learned anything from past scandals that we've seen? You think about the agents sort of breaking protocol down in hotel rooms with women in past administrations.

KAYYEM: Right.

JARRETT: You know, there's been embarrassing episodes in the past.


JARRETT: Because of those, have they taken any steps to try to shore things up?

KAYYEM: Well, the -- you know, after every scandal they definitely do. There's two types of scandals. So one is just they're doing something wrong, prostitution, drug use, and the Secret Service has gotten very intense about agent discipline, about making sure that agents behave well in their personal conduct.

The other is when there's sort of -- when there's a breach. And we've seen before, we saw that at the White House dinner during the Obama administration. And they tried to tighten it. This one is odd and different in that for several years -- this isn't a specific place that was breached. For several years they're sort of an alluring of these agents under some theory of an investigation and that the agents never seemed to think, and that's why I have a big question mark in my head, never seemed to think something's wrong here.

It was actually a postal service investigator investigating something totally different who discovered it. The agents were on administrative leave. They have not been fired yet. That's probably because there'll be a criminal investigation, but I -- let's just say, you know, I think we remain skeptical about what the Secret Service agents knew what's going on because this just seems -- that seems too naive for a sophisticated law enforcement agent to believe.


JARRETT: You would just think at some point a red flag would have been raised.


JARRETT: And someone might think, why am I being courted in this way? And I would think that would be part of their training is that people may try to give you things.

KAYYEM: Right.

JARRETT: And, you know, that that would be part of a --

KAYYEM: Women may try to -- right.


KAYYEM: Exactly. Women may try to pick you up in a bar. Someone may try to be really -- a new neighbor may try to be really nice and give you things. And that's what is very odd. You know, was it because they presented themselves as law enforcement agents that the Secret Service was duped or is there something more nefarious between these agents and these guys? But the big question is, that's a lot of money that these guys -- that the two defendants are passing around. They're living in high apartments over two years.

JARRETT: And to what end?

KAYYEM: So this is not like -- and to what end? Is it intelligence or is it worse? So this is going to be -- this is one of those things where, you know, me and you re-read, and we go, oh, this is the beginning, this is not the end. Some steps -- a lot of steps is going to come out.

JARRETT: Yes. It seems like a lot of efforts if it was just to become buddies with federal agents.

KAYYEM: Exactly. Exactly.

JARRETT: We will see where this goes. Juliette Kayyem, always great to have you. Thank you.

KAYYEM: Thank you. Good morning.

JARRETT: Meanwhile this. New York attorney general Letitia James is asking a judge to hold former President Trump in contempt for stonewalling her civil tax fraud investigation. She says despite clear orders from the court Trump has refused to turn over documents subpoenaed in her investigation of Trump and the Trump organization's business dealings. James is also asking for a $10,000 a day fine until Trump complies with the subpoena.

Well, just ahead, meet the team in Ukraine dedicated to saving pets left behind in the war zone. And we will take you to the vacation hot spot where people are praying for rain.