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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

White House Has Few Answers for Worried Parents; January 6th Committee Issues Subpoenas to 5 House Republicans; Russian General Overseeing Attacks Targeting Civilians Revealed; Thousands Mourn Slain Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired May 13, 2022 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: It's Friday? It's Friday. Can you confirm it's Friday?


ROMANS: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. It is Friday. Friday, May 13th. Happy Friday. I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: I'm Laura Jarrett here in New York. And we begin with the story so many parents of young children are talking about.


JARRETT: They're scrambling and they are desperate for answers on this nationwide shortage of baby formula. And they are not getting much guidance, frankly. Parents found even less formula on store shelves last week than the week before. That's according to an industry database.

ROMANS: When CNN pressed the White House on what federal agency had answers or who worried parents should call if they can't find baby formula, this was the White House response.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We would certainly encourage any parent who has concerns about their child's health or well-being to call their doctor or pediatrician.


ROMANS: With us now, former FDA associate commissioner Peter Pitts. He is the president of the Center for Medicine and Public interest.

Good morning again, sir, so nice to see you.


ROMANS: We've seen recalls of formula before, but this is really a perfect storm because at the same time you already had a really tangled supply chain. Tell us what is happening here and who is responsible.

PITTS: You know, that's a great question because it really isn't a supply chain issue like we've been talking about the gasoline and other things. This is a supply chain issue because the baby formula business is a consolidated industry. There really aren't a lot of players here. So when you take major player out, in this case Abbott, not surprisingly, you have shortages.

Who is to blame? I think the blame is placed squarely on Abbott which is the company. The FDA inspected their facility, it was unsafe and had to be shut down. So people who are saying the FDA shut down a factory and they shouldn't have down are wrong. This factory should have been shut down.

The only thing worse than a shortage of baby formula is baby formula that isn't safe or substandard. The FDA is working 24/7 with Abbott, that plant is coming back online. But there were mistakes made. The FDA had to help get them fixed. We are struggling and the problem was that parents weren't given fair warning to prepare.

JARRETT: So, Peter, then is this an area where the Defense Production Act could help? It's something obviously we saw a lot during the early days of COVID trying to help, you know, the industry sort of fill the gaps here. The White House doesn't seem to want to do it right now. Why not?

PITTS: Well, because it wouldn't work. And you simply can't push a button and say produce more baby formula. That's already been done. One of the first things the FDA did when they took the Abbott plant offline was talk to all the other baby food manufacturers and say, listen, you've really got to ramp up production of baby formula, and they did that, which is why we're not in even a worst place.

But, you know, baby formula, even though it sounds like a basic product, it's been around for a long time which it is, is a very complicated product. You can't simply go to a milk company for example and say start making baby formula. That's not the way it works. These have to be made in special plants with very, very specific regulations so that it is safe and effective.

ROMANS: And it's really domestic production that the U.S. relies on, right? Because the idea here is that you want to keep control of something so important as baby formula.

JARRETT: A lot of people are going to Europe because they need it.

ROMANS: Could we find a way to import this product from somewhere else? Would that help?

PITTS: Well, the first thing to mention, I think like 95 percent of baby formula that you use in the U.S. is manufactured in the U.S. So this is a big question of let's bring it home. But Abbott for example has an FDA approved facility in Ireland and they are bringing in product from there. The FDA is also talking to people in Canada. But of course you can't drain other countries of their baby formula so that we can have it here in the U.S.

So there isn't an overabundance. There aren't warehouses stocked full of baby formula waiting to be used. But we are talking to other regulatory agencies that could, you know, theoretically ship product here. But Abbott is being a good partner. They're trying to help solve that problem.

ROMANS: Peter, you know, we are wondering, is some of this consumer behavior, too? I mean, as soon as something as important as baby formula, you hear that there are shortages, then you go and try to get as much as you can. I mean, I heard one woman who said I only have a four or five-week supply of baby formula, and I thought I don't think I ever had a two-week supply of -- you know what I mean?

I mean, is there some consumer behavior that people are reaching forward and try to make sure that their own closets are full of this stuff in case there is a bigger problem?

PITTS: Of course. I think it goes back to communications. I think obviously when the FDA initially shut this plant down, you know, some press coverage that wasn't really considered that important story as opposed to where we are right now. Had parents been alerted that this was coming down the pike, they could have prepared. They could have waited in a different, they could have been prepared.

When all of a sudden you walk into the store and the shelves are empty, people panic. And as you know, if you have an infant, you're already kind of on the razor's edge in a number of different ways.


So I think that a better communications program could have gotten the job done. You know, this is indicative of a bigger problem because there are other products in the FDA portfolio of regulations that are also consolidated, where only a few manufacturers make them where one goes down because of a safety problem or a storm or a terrorist attack or an earthquake, you have to need a plan in place to address these types of things. There has to be a plan B other than hang in there and wait.

ROMANS: That's really good -- and I don't mean to blame parents, by the way. I'm just --

JARRETT: We're on a razor's edge, as Peter said.

ROMANS: I know. I get it. I get it. Peter Pitts, former FDA associate commissioner, thank you.

And you will be on a razor's edge again soon.

JARRETT: I'm already on a razor's edge.

ROMANS: Thank you, Peter.

JARRETT: Thank you, Peter.

PITTS: Thank you.

JARRETT: All right, to Washington now where lawmakers are taking on their own. The House select committee investigating January 6th has now issued subpoenas to five GOP lawmakers aligned with former President Trump. House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, Republican Congressmen Jim Jordan, Mo Brooks, Andy Biggs and Scott Perry.

CNN's Zachary Cohen is live with more on this.

Zach, why did the committee single out these five in particular?

ZACHARY COHEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Laura. I think it's really important to note how unprecedented it is for a congressional committee to issue subpoenas to their own colleagues on the hill. Now that speaks both to the fact that they think that these lawmakers still have important information about what happened before and on the day of January 6th, but they also think it's important to get on the historical record to show that they did everything that they could to get every piece of information out there about the January 6th attack.

Now, most notable among this group is House minority leader Kevin McCarthy. He's obviously the top Republican in the House of Representatives. And they really want to hear from Kevin McCarthy about Trump's state of mind on January 6th. We know that McCarthy spoke to Trump, we know that McCarthy was in communication. And we also know that Kevin McCarthy told colleagues that he thought Trump bear responsibility for January 6th and he even floated the idea that Trump may need to resign.

Add to the fact McCarthy's tone has shifted dramatically since then and he really has, you know, reverted back to his normal stance of being one of the former president's biggest defenders. But he's an example of somebody that the committee really wants to talk to.

Now this is all happening against the backdrop of upcoming public hearings. The chairman of the committee, Bennie Thompson, didn't rule out the idea that some of these lawmakers could appear as witnesses in these public hearings, but as always the question remains, will these lawmakers comply with the subpoenas and, you know, can the committee enforce them?

JARRETT: All right. Zach Cohen, always great to have your reporting. Thanks.

ROMANS: All right. These five Republicans the committee subpoenaed have already refused to talk voluntarily.

CNN's Daniella Diaz live on Capitol Hill now.

Daniella, any sign they'll cooperate now?

DANIELLA DIAZ, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's just as he said, Christine, the issue here is the top Republican in the House, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, he said that he would -- whether he plans to comply with the subpoena to appear before the committee, he later clarified that his attorney received it. He said it first that he had not seen it, and he's told reporters yesterday when he was leaving his office for voting, he said they're not conducting a legitimate investigation. They just want go after their political opponents.

This is what he told reporters in response to the news that the committee was going to subpoena him and these other four Republicans in the House. But really the bigger picture here, Christine, is that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy wants to be House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Look, it's predicted that in the 2022 midterms Republicans will take back the House and that we're expecting retaliation from Republicans should they gain the majority in the House, things we could expect would be preparing for committee removals, retaliatory subpoenas, and even impeachments from House Republicans should they win back the majority in the House in the 2022 midterms.

So really of course it is unclear whether these Republicans are going to comply with the subpoena. They have not said yet. Of course it is a subpoena, this is the power that the House select committee has and they're going to have to see what ends up happening with the fact that they have the subpoena to appear before the committee. But really the bottom line here is it's a long time before now and the 2022 midterms and a lot could change until then.

ROMANS: But just to be clear, Daniella, I mean, there's been a lot of process around the January 6th, you know, investigation, but this is a really big deal, right, when you've got Congress going after its own.

DIAZ: That's exactly right, Christine. Look, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called the committee illegitimate. It's not illegitimate. And of course this is setting a precedent now in the future should Republicans take the majority in the House, they could subpoena even Democrats if they create their own House select committee for impeachment or any sort of issue involving them.

ROMANS: All right. Daniella Diaz, nice to see you this morning. Thank you.

JARRETT: Coming up next, an exclusive CNN investigation reveals a Russian commander responsible for targeting civilians, a war crime.


ROMANS: Plus President Biden talks to police chiefs about money to fight crime.

JARRETT: And the Supreme Court justice who wrote the leaked abortion opinion breaks his silence.


ROMANS: The world has watched in horror as Russian artillery devastated Ukrainian cities and lives all seemingly with impunity. The U.S. and the international committee -- community, rather, have accused Russia of war crimes in Ukraine, but actually identifying the Russian generals responsible. Connecting generals to specific atrocities, has been challenging, extremely challenging. That challenge taken on by CNN's chief international investigative correspondent Nima Elbagir.


She joins me live from London with this exclusive report. To be able to connect the dots, so important here especially for grieving Ukrainian families -- Nima.

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And also to remind the world of its responsibilities. We in Kharkiv were able to see the aftermath of the attacks targeting civilians using indiscriminate cluster munitions which is a war crime.

In our two-month-long investigation, we can now reveal the commander responsible for these attacks and also a string of atrocities that he has committed not just in Russia's latest war in Ukraine, but also in the 2014 war in Donbas and in Syria. I have to warn our viewers that they may find some of these images disturbing. Take a look.


ELBAGIR (voice-over): A devastation of civilian homes and lives. Throughout the last few months, we have witnessed atrocities in Ukraine.

(On-camera): More mortar strikes very, very close. They want us to start moving.

(Voice-over): While we know these Russian actions, it's been difficult to draw a direct line from individual atrocities to a specific Russian commander. Until now.

CNN can exclusively reveal that this man, Colonel General Alexander Zhuravlyov, commander of the Western Military District, is the commander responsible for this. Munitions targeting civilians in the city of Kharkiv, east Ukraine, a war crime under international law.

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I can see more artillery rockets apparently being fired from Russian territory towards the territory I would say around Kharkiv. I don't know if you could hear this right now.

ELBAGIR: This is the start of the war. CNN senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen witnessed artillery being fired from inside Russia, within Zhuravlyov's district, towards the city of Kharkiv.

Sam Kiley was in Kharkiv and could hear the shelling moments later.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Could feel the concussion against the glass --

ELBAGIR: We soon learned from experts these were Smerch rockets. This is what they're capable of delivering. Cluster bombs, one Smerch rocket releasing many smaller explosives, scattering bombs amplifying the devastation.

These attacks, captured on social media both in Kharkiv and both from the same day, are a clear example of their indiscriminate nature. When used in this fashion against civilians, it's considered a war crime.

The use of Smerch rockets are key in our findings of who is responsible because they are unique to one unit here, one commander. After months of forensic work, we can reveal the trail of evidence leading to Zhuravlyov. Using social media videos to guide us, we returned to some of the scenes of the attacks, focusing on February 27th attack, when three civilian targets were hit and eight more on February 28th.

We start in the Pavlova Pola, neighborhood of Kharkiv.

This is shrapnel from those missiles that fell on our neighborhood, Lilia tells us. This shrapnel was found in one of the rooms. Lilia takes us to see a Smerch rocket that fell 200 yards from her apartment block, in this once affluent area.

I remember the whistling sound of the missiles. I know that the missiles were flying and that they were accompanied by fighter planes or drones.

(On-camera): You can see the hole that it came through. You can see the way that the rocket buckled when it hit the car. You can also very clearly see that this is a Smerch.

(Voice-over): It's not the only rocket coming from this direction on this day. Less than a half mile down the road, another hit.

(On-camera): Helping to situate us, this kiosk, that water cooler, they're key landmarks. The bodies landed here down this road. Those blue doors you see, that's where the cluster munitions shrapnel embedded.

(Voice-over): This video, filmed moments after the attack, where four people, including a child, were killed. Another Smerch launching cluster bombs. We know this because one of the unexploded bombs was found only 280 yards away. Notice the date, 2019. Russia stopped selling arms to Ukraine in 2014. This confirms this is a Russian cluster bomb. One and a half miles away, another strike, more suffering, and no sign of any legitimate military targets.

People were queuing for food and then something just hit. People started running here, she says.

This is the exact moment of impact. Look at it again. Frame by frame, you can see the scale of the rocket and proximity to innocent civilians.


We are here in Kharkiv. Notice the five hits along this line from the 28th. They are pretty much in a line. Apart from three here, they line up with the hits from February 27th. We can trace these lines 24 miles to a point of convergence here, across the border in Russia, well within the range of a Smerch rocket, where we have a satellite image from the 27th showing the launching position. Notice the plume of smoke and the telltale burn marks of a Smerch launch here, here and here.

In collaboration with the Center for Information Resilience, we can also tell you who is firing from this position, the 79th Russian Artillery Brigade, part of the Western Military District, which borders Ukraine and is under the command of Zhuravlyov. According to open-source information reviewed by CNN, military experts and intelligence sources, they are the only unit in this district equipped to launch Smerch rockets. And only the commander has the authority to order the 79th Artillery Brigade to launch the rockets.

One expert told CNN Smerch is a district level asset. There are very few of them in the Russian Armed Forces, and therefore they're dedicated to special missions at the order of a military district commander.

Colonel General Zhuravlyov is this commander. And he's no stranger to these brutal tactics. Atrocities targeting civilians.

They are very similar to what we saw in Syria in 2016. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that Zhuravlyov also led Russian troops during the siege in Aleppo. He is the architect of the devastation you see here. For leveling Aleppo, he was awarded the highest honor granted to Russian officers, hero of the Russian Federation. Yet Syrians have documented his war crimes.

(On-camera): Russian?

(Voice-over): Despite the direct line from the impunity the world afforded Russia in Syria, to the atrocities suffered by civilians here today, the question remains, what will the world do to stop this cycle?


ELBAGIR: We've asked the Russian Ministry of Defense for comment as well as the Kremlin, but we are yet to receive a response. We also shared with the U.S. State Department our findings. Noting the lack of action taken against Colonel General Zhuravlyov and other key Russian generals. They wouldn't comment on these specific acts or any other information we gave them to review but said they continue to track and assess war crimes and reports of ongoing violence and human rights abuses.

Not really though dealing with the key question of what the global community's impunity is in this trail of atrocities left by this commander -- Christine and Laura.

ROMANS: Yes. A trail of atrocities that you have so adeptly marked there for authorities and for the world to watch.

Nima, thank you so much for that reporting. Well done.

ELBAGIR: Thank you.

JARRETT: And just incredible, incredible reporting consistently.

Coming up, how that leaked SCOTUS opinion on abortion opens up a whole can of worms about the right to privacy.

ROMANS: And thousands right now mourning a journalist shot and killed on the West Bank.



JARRETT: Thousands gathered in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Thursday to mourn the slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. She was shot and killed on Wednesday while reporting on Israeli military raids in the city of Jenin. This morning the Palestinian Authority is vowing to take that case to the International Criminal Court.

CNN's Atika Shubert is live from Jerusalem with the very latest. Atika, good morning.

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. We're actually at St. Joseph's Hospital and you can see behind me the building there with the wreathes and the Palestinian flag draped across the door. That is where the body of Shireen Abu Akleh is being prepared for burial. We understand the funeral will take place at a church by Jaffa Gate and then there will be a funeral procession to the Mount Zion Cemetery where she would be buried.

It's bound to be a very emotional day. Yesterday thousands of people came out and I think we'll see that same outpouring of grief. I think what's important to remember here is that she was not just a veteran journalist. For so many Palestinians, she was almost like a member of their extended family, appearing in their living rooms on TV, chronicling daily Palestinian life under Israeli occupation.

And this is why her death, her killing really has really hit people so hard here. Because it's such an emotional day, I think it's also made Israeli authorities quite nervous. So for example, they have blocked off the traffic in the general area here for the public to come and they have also removed posters of her describing her as a martyr that have been pasted up in the Old City. Israeli police are very much on guard today for tensions.

Back to you.

JARRETT: All right. Thank you so much. Appreciate that reporting.

ROMANS: All right. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito questioned about that leaked opinion on abortion, we'll tell you what he said and avoided.

JARRETT: And President Biden getting ready to talk about funding for police.