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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Satellite Images Appear to Show Mass Graves Outside Mariupol; White House Brings on Retired General to Coordinate Ukraine Assistance; Hell Rains Down on Civilians Hiding Beneath Bombed-Out Theater; Marjorie Taylor Greene to Testify at Hearing to Block Candidacy. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired April 22, 2022 - 05:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

KRISTIN FISHER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. We've made it to Friday, April 22nd. I'm Kristin Fisher. Laura Jarrett and Christine Romans are off today.

And we begin with new evidence of mass graves outside the city of Mariupol in southeastern Ukraine. These satellite images appear to corroborate the claims of Ukrainian officials. The photos point to more than 200 new graves about 12 miles west of the besieged city. Ukrainian officials say they add to mounting proof of Russia's war crimes against Ukrainian civilians.

Inside the Mariupol steel plant are hundreds of soldiers, refusing to surrender, and civilians seeking refuge from the fighting. Right now Russia claims to control Mariupol. Ukraine denies that the city has fallen.

So let's go inside Ukraine. And we're joined by CNN's Isa Soares in Lviv.

Isa, what more can you tell us about these mass graves that we're learning about this morning?

ISA SOARES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kristin. Some more grim details really of absolute savagery and brutality. Acts quite frankly, Kristin, that we thought had been consigned to the history books. But what we are seeing from Maxar Technologies these satellite images, I'm sure we can bring up. Maxar Technology said they've uncovered after analyzing and compiling all their satellite images new graves in a town called Manhush, which is about 12 miles west of the city of Mariupol that's been encircled if you remember for days now by Russian forces.

And what Maxar Technologies has found is it's like four rows almost at the top of your screen of all these trenches. That's right off the top. Almost on the edge of that road that you are seeing. And in terms of size, so people can get an idea what we are seeing, it's about 1,100 feet long ditch and it's 20 times, 20 times bigger than what we found in Bucha, if you remember, those mass graves in Bucha where we found 70 bodies there.

Now Ukrainian officials are telling us that what they believe is that Russians were bringing the bodies from Mariupol and ditching them here in Manhush. An MP I've been speaking to in the last hour basically said he expects between 10,000 to 20,000 people to have been killed in the city of Mariupol. And he called this a genocide in the 21st century.

Mariupol, of course, you and I have been talking about this, Kristin, has been besieged for weeks on end. We've heard from President Putin saying -- claiming that the city had been liberated but of course there's still that pocket of resistance inside the Azovstal steel plant.

Now CNN has spoken to the CEO of the Azovstal steel plant and this is what he said. Have a listen.


YURIY RYZHENKOV, CEO, METINVEST HOLDING: When the war started we had stocked quite a good stocks of food and water into both shelters and facilities at the plant. So for some period of time, the civilians, they were able to use it and basically survive on that. Unfortunately, all of the things that they tend to run out, especially the food and the necessities. So I think now it's close to a catastrophe.


SOARES: So close to a catastrophe is what his words. He also told us, Kristin, that he has set up a hotline for employees of Azovstal steel plant. Inside the plant he said about 4,500 people have been in contact but about 6,000 people are unaccounted for. Of course, what President Zelenskyy has called that what we're seeing in Mariupol is a terrorist operation. And in the last hour or so we have heard from Ukrainian officials saying that no humanitarian corridor, so no evacuations will take place this Friday. So more tragic news for the people trapped inside Mariupol, 100,000 or so -- Kristin.

FISHER: Isa, I can't get over what you were saying earlier that the mass graves that we're seeing in Mariupol, 20 times bigger than what we saw in Bucha. Just terrible.

Isa Soares, thank you so much.

So joining us now, Jason Beardsley. He's the executive director of the Association of the U.S. Navy.

Good morning, Jason. Thank you so much for getting up early with us. And, you know, Jason, I'd like to start by asking you about how Putin is claiming victory in Mariupol. But President Biden disagrees saying that the city has not completely fallen.

What is your assessment of the situation in Mariupol?

JASON BEARDSLEY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ASSOCIATION OF THE U.S. NAVY: Well, good to be with you. This is a tragedy and Vladimir Putin for his part has done a lot of face-saving theater. This has been a disaster of an invasion.


His forces have not done well. They've underperformed. His generals lied to him. The intelligence directorate has lied to him. There's people in house arrest all over Moscow. He's trying to make the best of a bad situation. And this siege in Mariupol is a real indication of where this fight has gone. They failed to take Kyiv in the first place, and then you hear Vladimir Putin making ovations as if he has flexed his forces strategically to the east, achieved his goals or objectives in the west.

That's not true. And now with Mariupol, they've been at this siege for over five weeks, pounding the city and killing people and then the disastrous reports of the humanitarian atrocities that are being done there. This is no victory for him. And just for the audience out there as well, the Ukrainians are fighting something like an Alamo-esque spirited defense of their own city even when Russia controls Mariupol, which they'll likely control to a certain degree here.

This is not a tactical victory at all for Russia, though they'll claim it is. In reality, this is going to add more spirit and more will for the rest of Ukrainians. They know there is a reason we have to fight here. It's because the Russians are giving no ground. It's an embarrassment for Russia and their military has been absolutely unprofessional.

FISHER: Yes. And it's likely part of the reason that we're seeing now these images of mass graves. Ukrainians escaping their homes. I mean, it seems likely that Putin is going to continue to target civilians despite the international backlash, despite the possible legal consequences that Russia is going to face for war crimes.

I mean, at this point, Jason, do you think there is anything that will stop Putin's targeting of these innocent civilians?

BEARDSLEY: Yes. The best thing that Ukrainians can do right now is to integrate all the weapons that the United States and the West are flowing into Ukraine. Mass those on good targets like in Mariupol, you've got these artillery pieces that have sieged the city for the last five weeks like we said. If they can destroy those pieces with a Switchblade drones, the ghost drones, the Javelins, the TOWs, they need to get creative because as long as Putin has his artillery up and running, he's going to do this in the next city and the next city.

So the way to turn this around for Ukraine and to gain some leverage is he's got to get -- Zelenskyy, that is -- creative with taking the forces from one area. Strategically dividing where are the best mass targets that we can bring to bear. The munitions and the supply that the administration that's brought in there.

Now the real lesson here, Kristin, is these weapons should have been in place well before this invasion. It would have mitigated this disaster. And so going forward, because we can't change the past, people ought to really be thinking right now, how do we then not see this in Taiwan? What do we do to get in front of those situations? And for my money this was a disaster that could have been avoided.

FISHER: Well, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy would certainly agree with you there.

Jason Beardsley of the Association of the U.S. Navy, thank you so much.

BEARDSLEY: You're welcome.


Up next, civilians under fire. A CNN team taking shelter with Ukrainians. New general working in the White House.

And the new sanctions, hard to stomach. A ban on Russian caviar.



FISHER: The White House is bringing in a retired three-star general to help coordinate hundreds of millions of dollars in military assistance to Ukraine. Officials tell CNN the priority is to maintain momentum in support of Ukraine.

Natasha Bertrand joins us from Washington. Good morning, Natasha. So what exactly do we know about General Terry Wolff?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kristin. So he is a retired three-star general. He worked on the anti-ISIS coalition under the Obama administration. He has decades of military experience. He has worked on the National Security Council before. And essentially he is seen by someone -- by the NSC and by the Pentagon as someone who can serve as a liaison between the White House and the Department of Defense as the Pentagon sends hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of equipment and weaponry over to Ukraine.

Of course this is a massive undertaking. It needs to be coordinated. The White House needs to understand which weapons are most necessary and how they are operating on the ground, how the Ukrainians are using them. So this is someone that they believe can help kind of facilitate better coordination between the White House and the Pentagon, hopefully allowing for an expedited delivery of those weapons to Ukraine.

FISHER: Natasha, the Biden administration also just announced another $800 million military aid package for Ukraine. What's in it and what is the White House doing now to get it to Ukraine faster, more quickly which is what of course President Zelenskyy has been calling for?

BERTRAND: Yes, so there's a lot of heavy artillery, it's dozens of howitzers which are long-range artillery equipment. It is 144,000 rounds of ammunition, it is more Javelin missiles, it is more antiaircraft missiles. It is just a lot of equipment that the Ukrainians are going to need to fight this battle now that it has entered a new phase here because of course the Ukrainians were fighting in Kyiv, around the capital, in more urban settings.

And now the war has shifted to much more open terrain in the east of the country. So the United States has begun to deliver equipment that it really wasn't prepared to deliver in the early phase of the war. Much heavier duty equipment they believe will allow the Ukrainians to potentially defeat the Russians there. Of course the president said yesterday that he does not believe that Mariupol, that city in Ukraine has fallen yet. The Russians say otherwise.


But he still believes clearly that the United States and the West can help the Ukrainians decisively defeat the Russians and one major way of course of doing that is by providing this new heavier duty equipment.

FISHER: And Natasha, something else that so many Ukrainians have been waiting for news on. President Biden just announced a streamline process for Ukrainian refugees to come to the United States. How does it work?

BERTRAND: Yes, so this will essentially allow Ukrainians who have been a resident of Ukraine as of February 11th to have a U.S. sponsor in the United States, to have an NGO sponsor them or a family sponsor them, and then have that streamline their resettlement in the U.S. Now if they do have the sponsor, then they will still have to undergo extensive background checks. Of course it could take quite some time for them to actually be resettled here.

But the idea is that it will allow the immigration system to have a process that is more streamlined for Ukrainian refugees trying to get into the United States because of course the Biden administration has promised to allow up to 100,000 refugees enter the U.S. in order to relieve some of that burden from the European countries who have been taking in millions of refugees. And so this will be one way that the Ukrainian refugees can try to get to the United States a little bit quicker but they will still need of course extensive vetting before they can do so -- Kristin.

FISHER: Sure. Really trying to speed up that process. Natasha Bertrand, thank you so much.

So all across eastern Ukraine in cities and small towns this nonstop barrage of Russian shells and missiles has ordinary civilians trapped in underground shelters. And CNN's Ben Wedeman found a small terrified group huddling beneath a bombed-out theater.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): And it begins again. Hell rains down. A dozen people are hiding in the basement of a bombed-out theatre in the town of Rubizhne.

Let it stop, oh, Lord, he says. Now there's incoming. A white flag hangs outside to no effect. The theatre above has been

bombed and bombed again and again. Yet they stay. Too poor, too old, too frightened to flee.

Nina, 89-years-old, has been here for five weeks. I want to go home, she says. I've suffered too much. I've seen the fire and the smoke. I've seen it all. I'm scared. Nina's plea, simple. Help us. Help us. Her daughter Lyudmila struggles to comfort her. We're praying to God to stop it, she says. To hear us. Ina says, I have nowhere to go. I have no friends, no relatives.

With the shelling intensifying, volunteers are finding it hard to deliver food. As Russian and Ukrainian forces fight for control of Rubizhne, there are people down there praying as hell rains down.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Rubizhne, Ukraine.


FISHER: Up next, a powerful lawmaker trying to deny what is clearly heard in a newly released tape. And Johnny Depp in court faced with some things that he admits he's not proud of.



FISHER: A newly released reporting of a phone call contradicting a claim made by House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy. McCarthy denying a report that he wanted to tell then President Trump to resign in the wake of January 6th. McCarthy called the story in "The New York Times," quote, "totally false and wrong," but listen to the audio obtained by "Times" reporters Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin, authors of "This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden and the Battle for America's Future."


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Liz, you on the phone?

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): Yes, I'm here, thanks, Kevin. I guess there's a question, when we were talking about the 25th Amendment resolution.


CHENEY: And you asked, you know, what happens if it gets there after he's gone. Is there any chance, are you hearing, that he might resign? Is there any reason to think that might happen?

MCCARTHY: I've had a few discussions. My gut tells me no. I'm seriously thinking of having that conversation with him tonight. I haven't talked to him in a couple of days. From what I know of him, I mean, you guys know him, too. Do you think he'd ever back away? But what I think I'm going to do is I'm going to call him. This is what I think, it will pass the House. I think there's a chance it will pass the Senate even though he's gone. And I think there's a lot of different ramifications from that. Now I

haven't had a discussion with the Dems that if he did resign, would it not happen? Now this is one personal fear I have. I do not want to get into any discussion about Pence pardoning.


Again, the only discussion I would have with him is that I think this would pass and it'd be my recommendation he should resign. I mean, that would be my take but I don't think he would take it, but I don't know.


FISHER: And CNN has reached out to McCarthy's office for a response but we haven't heard back yet.

Controversial Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene is expected to testify in a hearing this morning on a challenge to her eligibility to run for a second term in her Georgia district.

CNN's Daniella Diaz is live on Capitol Hill. Good morning, Daniella. So what exactly is behind the challenge to her candidacy?

DANIELLA DIAZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kristin, this challenge is an attempt by liberal groups to disqualify Marjorie Taylor Greene from seeking reelection on claims that she actually aided the January 6th insurrectionists with her rhetoric around the event. They are claiming that she encouraged them to storm the Capitol, including specifically citing one comment where she explicitly said she opposed the peaceful transfer of power.

But, Kristin, I want to make clear, Marjorie Taylor Greene has denied any of these allegations from these liberal groups, from these voters in Georgia. She explicitly says that she opposes political violence and she claims that this disqualification attempt is an unconstitutional witch hunt.

But look, this federal judge cleared for this hearing to take place later today, to hear arguments from both sides. Those against Marjorie Taylor Greene seeking re-election, those for Marjorie Taylor Greene seeking re-election, and ultimately this could really reverberate past Marjorie Taylor Greene depending on how this takes place. It could also affect other Republican officials, Kristin, from seeking reelection who other voters argue also aided in the January 6th insurrection.

So depending on how this plays out, this could be a long path toward seeing whether other officials also are disqualified from seeking reelection.

FISHER: Yes, I think a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill are going to be watching how this plays out today.

Daniella Diaz, live on Capitol Hill for us. Thanks, Daniella. So alarming text messages revealed in actor Johnny Depp's first day of

being cross examined in his $50 million defamation trial against his ex-wife, Amber Heard. Some exchanges read in court showed Depp texting to friends about his drug use. And the messages also included references to violence towards Heard during their relationship.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You say, let's drown her before we burn her, three exclamation points. Did I read that right?

JOHNNY DEPP, ACTOR: Yes, it's referring to the text prior to --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You didn't stop when you said let's drown her before we burn her. After that you made another comment. After you said, let's drown her before we burn her, Mr. Depp, you said I will (EXPLETIVE DELETED) her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she is dead. That's what you said that you would do after you burned her and after you drowned her. Did I read that right?

DEPP: You certainly did. Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you wrote that about the woman who would later become your wife?

DEPP: Yes, I did.


FISHER: Oh, that is awkward to say the least. Well, recordings were also played of Depp threatening self-harm. Cross examination continues on Monday.

Just ahead, two Russian oligarchs found dead within days. So what's behind these mysterious death? And diamonds in the rough. The Russian gems now sanctioned.