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Ukraine's President To CNN: Open To Negotiations With Putin; Ukraine Forces In Mariupol Reject Russian Demand To Surrender; Russian Rocket Demolishes Kyiv Shopping Center, Kills At Least 8; In Kyiv, New Curfew Starts In Less Than Two Hours; Right Now: Confirmation Hearing Underway For Ketanji Brown Jackson; Senate Begins Supreme Court Hearings For Ketanji Brown Jackson; GOP Senators Hit Ketanji Brown Jackson As "Soft On Crime"; Justice Clarence Thomas Hospitalized, Misses Oral Arguments. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 21, 2022 - 12:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Now CNN's breaking news coverage continues with Inside Politics. Right now.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm Abby Phillip in Washington, and John King is off today. Right now, in Washington, President Joe Biden Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee for a day one of her confirmation hearings. We'll have more on that in just a few minutes. But we begin this hour in Ukraine.

CCTV capturing a moment that the Russian rocket struck at a shopping center in Kyiv, killing at least eight people and the attack demolish everything in sight. In Mykolaiv, you can see firefighters sprinting to a blast site rocked by Russian strikes. In Mariupol as well, Ukraine's president says 400 people may be trapped after a Russian bomb hit in art school.

Russia had been demanding that the besieged city lay down its weapons and surrender, but Ukrainian forces have refused. And so, we start our coverage in Dnipro, where CNN's international correspondent Ivan Watson is there. And Ivan, it's a life-or-death situation today and for the last several days in Mariupol. What is going on there and where you are in Dnipro?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, in Mariupol, there's been a Russian siege where the city has been encircled. It's on - it's port on the Sea of Azov. And the Russian forces according to eyewitnesses that we've interviewed have been pummeling that city, which had a population of more than 400,000 with artillery and airstrikes, and increasingly we're hearing reports of shelling coming from warships in the sea.

The situation is incredibly dire. The civilians that I've talked to who have escaped, they described over the course of march, first losing internet and cell phone signal, then losing electricity and heat, and then running water, all while taking shelter in their basements under the ongoing Russian bombardment. Until finally some people they just couldn't take it anymore and heard that there was a disorganized convoy of civilian vehicles that was fleeing, and some people did make manage to make it out, thousands of them in their own private cars to relative safety, but many of these people describe leaving parents or grandparents behind in the ongoing Russian bombardment.

Last night, the Russian defense ministry issued an ultimatum. It said, to the defenders of Mariupol, lay down your arms, we will guarantee you safe passage out of the city. And the Ukrainian government, the Mariupol city government basically said, really said in a Facebook post, screw you.

And we've since heard from some of Mariupol's Ukrainian defenders in a text message that they claim to have within the last 24 hours, destroyed two Russian tanks, sunk a Russian boat in the sea. But there are also no signs of rescue coming to those beleaguered defenders. So, the situation there are just hard to believe how dire it must be, Abby.

PHILLIP: It truly unbelievable for the people still in Mariupol, as that city has been besieged. Ivan Watson, thank you so much. And coming up, just two hours from now, another 35-hour court curfew is going to go into effect in Kyiv, and CNN is getting some new and up- close pictures of that shopping mall that we just told you about that was demolished by a Russian airstrikes. CNN's Fred Pleitgen was there.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This area of Kyiv was hit overnight into Monday and certainly the munition that was used here seems to be absolutely massive. If we go forward, we can see over there is a mall and the parking lot of the mall, where you can clearly see a gigantic impact crater right in the middle of that parking lot.

Also, there's buildings around it, that tall building absolutely destroyed in that entire mall complex. And the buildings around here, a lot of them were badly damaged as well. What we're hearing from the city council here in Kyiv is, they say that, so far, they know of eight people who have been killed in this explosion and several buildings, of course damage including a school and a kindergarten as well.

What's not clear is what exactly the military objective of all of this may have been. There certainly doesn't seem to be any military infrastructure close to here, or at least we haven't seen any. And also, this appears to be very much a civilian area.


One of the things, that we found very remarkable here is, we are currently on the 11th floor of a building that is pretty far away from the explosion. We found this piece of shrapnel. This piece of shrapnel, we did not find that here on the front of the building. This went through this entire apartment and was then found in the hallway when through the front door. And of course, this would have been extremely deadly for anybody who was in its path. The people who live here, told us they bought this place about three months ago. It's a new building. Luckily, they weren't here when the explosion took place. But if we pan down, we can see the destruction that was wrought by all of this.

Obviously, a lot of glass that was broken, whole windows blown out, and of course, anybody who would have been laying in this bed in the bedroom would have been in severe danger of massive injuries and possibly death, especially with so much shrapnel flying around.

This is very much part of the current ongoing battle for Kyiv. The U.S. and its allies say, the Russians are not making much progress in that battle and certainly increasingly using heavy weaponry that every once in a while, certainly does land in civilian areas. Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Kyiv, Ukraine.

PHILLIP: Thanks, Fred for that. And joining me now, is Beth Sanner. She is a former Deputy Director of National Intelligence and a CNN national security analyst. So, Beth, you just heard that report from Fred but also earlier, the report on Mariupol where regressions have been bombarding that city for weeks. They are now asking for a surrender, demanding a surrender. Why is that so significant to you?

BETH SANNER, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, Mariupol has a lot of significant strategic positioning. It is exactly where the Russians need to take land. It's the, you know, part of the land bridge between Crimea and Russia proper. It's also the gateway that would take land forces toward Odessa. But it also has this other kind of emotional aspect to it for Putin.

Mariupol was the largest city in the Donbass. It's considered in the Donbass. It's the largest port on the Sea of Azov. But it was the place that actually repelled Russian efforts to take over the Donbass. And it was successful in that in 2014. And so, there's kind of, I think, some revenge, as well as being of utmost strategic importance.

PHILLIP: A horrifying revenge that's really kept catching a lot of civilians in the crossfire. And at the same time this is happening, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says, he wants to negotiate with Putin. But do you really think that Putin is interested in a real negotiation, and Zelenskyy warned that this could lead to World War III? I mean, some people say he's being dramatic, but is he potentially telling the truth?

SANNER: Well, Putin spokesman Peskov today said basically, that negotiations were going nowhere. And they blamed - he blamed the Ukrainians for putting, you know, too many demands, new demands on, this has been the refrain of the last few days. So, they are absolutely not serious at this stage. He also said that he ruled out any meeting between Putin and Zelenskyy until, basically the Ukrainians came to their senses and agreed to what the Russians want.

So, you know, I think that right now, this is a distraction. And it's probably designed for domestic audiences, as well as to try to get the West to think that, you know, maybe we shouldn't keep pouring aid into Ukraine. I don't know regarding World War III, you know, never say never, I don't want to say that it's not at all possible. But I still believe, as the intelligence community has reported in recent weeks that Putin still does not want to go there. He does not want to directly attack NATO, because mutually assured destruction that would take place.

But, you know, what I worry about is an escalation, based on desperation, and we are starting to see the Russian troops use much more indiscriminate fire. We're going to see a lot more casualties. We're going to see a lot more refugees.

PHILLIP: This indiscriminate fire you just mentioned, is this an attempt by Putin to create leverage in negotiations by going after civilians?

SANNER: Absolutely, absolutely. It is to wear them down and try to get them to capitulate. And I think the refugee flow as well, and just seeing the destruction he's also expecting of the West and these negotiators, Turkey and Israel in particular to try to pressure the Ukrainians into coming down off of some of their red lines and agreeing in order to stop the war. So, this fear of escalation, you know, hopefully from Putin's perspective, he'll see more pressure from all of us on Zelenskyy to capitulate.


PHILLIP: Beth Sanner, thank you for sharing your expertise with us today. And coming up next for us, the confirmation hearings underway for President Biden Supreme Court nominee, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. We are live on Capitol Hill next.



PHILLIP: And happening right now in the Senate confirmation hearing for President Biden's nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, that is underway. And the senators in the Judiciary Committee are giving their opening statements. We will hear from the nominee herself soon later this afternoon. But first CNN's Manu Raju joins me from Capitol Hill. Manu, what is the tone right now in that hearing room?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's coming down along party lines are 22 members of the committee split evenly among both sides. Democrats are praising for background making very clear that all 11 of them are certain to vote for her. Republicans raising questions about her record, raising questions about her past as a district judge, as a public defender, and making clear they have serious questions to ask.

Including one of the senators Lindsey Graham, who's probably the only Republican vote who's a swing vote in play here, also criticizing some of the liberal groups to finding judge Jackson, but Democrats say these criticisms are out of line.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): There may be some who claim without a shred of evidence that should be a rubber stamp for this president. For these would be critics, I have four words. Look at the record.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): The bottom line here is when it is about philosophy. When a somebody of color on our side, it's about we're all racist. If we ask hard questions, it's not going to fly with us. We're used to it, but now, at least I am. So, it's not going to matter a bit to any of us. We're going to ask you what we think. Senator Hawley, you need to ask her about her record as a district court judge. You should. I hope you do. And we'll see what she says. Very fair game.


RAJU: So that last comment, a reference to what just Josh Hawley, the Republican senator from Missouri plans to raise, which is raising questions about how she approached sex offenders during her time as a federal district court judge. Now Democrats and the White House say that that is distorted her record, but undoubtedly, she will be asked about that starting tomorrow.

So, Abby, expects some fireworks at the hearing. Both sides still expect her to be confirmed unless something different happens over the next couple of days here. And we'll see if any Republicans including Senator Lindsey Graham, decides to break ranks. Abby?

PHILLIP: Manu, we know, you'll be watching. We will be right back with you as things develop. But here with me in studio is CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson, CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Jackie Kucinich of The Daily Beast, and Elliot Williams, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor.

So, I do want to start with Lindsey Graham, of course, because he's always a main character in these affairs, but in particular, he seemed very upset in his statement about President Biden's choice, signaling that Biden maybe went in the wrong direction, but also signaling that he could be a no, even though he voted for her a year ago.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Which is not a surprise in so many ways. Lindsey Graham is a political performer. He is also a bit of a flip flopper. And that has become his reputation over the last few years. As you said, he voted for Ketanji Brown Jackson. He was one of the three Republicans who did so, and now he is saying that she is essentially a captive of the radical left. I don't know if she was a captive of the radical left when he voted for her before but that is his argument now.

It also this idea that he really backed on Judge Michelle Childs, who is a judge in South Carolina. And he seems to be, I mean, we talked about this a bit before that maybe he would have voted for Michelle Childs, but he won't possibly vote for Ketanji Brown Jackson. I will say this, though, he actually might vote for her. And we're going to see a lot of fireworks here. Because that's what these hearings have become about over these last years of partisan affairs and that's what Lindsey Graham is as good as.

PHILLIP: Who else thinks is a different? JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: This is a very different Graham than the Graham that showed up to her, a confirmation hearing last year. And a lot of this, I mean, he is absolutely right. A lot of this is performative for some of the other senators on the panel. They're performing for a different job, perhaps the presidential run in 2024. So, we'll see a lot of people take to the stage and use this hearing, maybe not even talk to judge Jackson at all. Maybe just use her as upon to get at Joe Biden, we'll see that as well.

PHILLIP: And as a vehicle to get at some 2022 arguments. Take a listen to what we're expecting later today from the senators.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): We need to explore why the far as left activists in the country, desperately wanted Judge Jackson in particular, for this vacancy. Her supporters look at her resume and deduce a special empathy are criminals.

SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): There are some concerns that people have about her being perceived as soft on crime, as a pattern here of treating sex offenders, leniently, those who have gone after children. And I think we just have a basic question to ask, are we going to get a judge here who's going to protect children, or who's going to protect child predators?


PHILLIP: So, two items for your bingo cards, soft on crime, and also dark money groups. Those are going to be the two main arguments that they're going to pursue against her, and the White House is presumptively prepared for all of this.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And you've already seen them push back on a lot of the arguments that Hawley has started making on Twitter. He has said in his opening statement today, this is going to be the focus of his questioning. So, it's not surprising the White House does know what is coming their way. And their pushback so far has been, that he is taking her out of context.

When he's talking about the sentencing guidelines and the minimums that whether or not she felt within those ranges and talking about what other judges have also done. And what those ranges look like if judges come close to them?

And I think one other interesting thing that we'll see potentially as she is answering these questions, and as she is prepared to push back on this is, they're saying that it's being taken out of context that she was asking questions, quoting some of the defendants in these cases when she was talking to them.

But also talking about the sentencing commission that she was on, a lot of the decisions they made. I think, if not all the decisions were unanimous decisions, it is a bipartisan group. It's someone who was on that eventually went on to be a Trump appointee as a judge. So, I think that is all part of the bigger picture that the White House is trying to bring into this.

PHILLIP: So, on what Hawley has been trying to do over the last few days. This was mentioned earlier in the hearings by the chairman Dick Durbin, that it even the national review of conservative publication writes this in a headline Senator Hawley's disingenuous attack against Judge Jackson's record on child pornography. Elliot, this is baseless on a number of fronts.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Look, if forget what Josh Hawley says, the Fraternal Order of Police, the largest policing organization in the world supports Ketanji Brown Jackson. The International Association of Chiefs of Police, 60 former DOJ attorneys, 60 former police chiefs all over. What are they seeing that this senator is not? Now, I have a hard time believing that the Fraternal Order of Police is going to let someone who's soft on sex offenders.

So, put aside all the politics and the nonsense and just get back down to the qualifications of this nominee. Number one, graduating from Harvard twice with honors. Number two, nine years as a federal judge. Number three, private sector practice, public service, all of its there. And yes, as you were saying, with Kaitlan, this is a proxy battle about the 2024 election. But at the end of the day, this is a nominee that no one can really keep a straight face and say it's often (cross talk)

PHILLIP: I'm curious about what you think about this idea of as McConnell indicated that she will be attacked for perhaps having a special preference for criminals, or even a special preference for her former alma mater, Harvard University. What do you make of that?

WILLIAMS: The number one, four of the nine justices went to Harvard University. So, let's talk about special preferences and who's got biases there. When it comes to preferences for criminals. Look, she's overturned by higher courts 2 percent of the time. They are letting her decisions stand 98 percent of the time in that tracks and is even better than most district judges in her position, when she was a trial judge.

She's just, this is all silly season. And I think it's important and fair, Abby, for every nominee to get a fair vetting and honest questioning and she should answer, and Republicans should hold her accountable and President Biden accountable too. But at the end of the day, it's nominee that ought to be confirmed, it's that simple.

PHILLIP: The White House earlier today, Ron Klain, the Chief of Staff, put up a graphic that literally had her checking boxes and comparing her to the other justices who are currently on the court just to make that very point that they believe this should be a very bipartisan vote. But coming up next for us. The Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas, is hospitalized, and will have some new details on his condition next.


PHILLIP: Welcome back. Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas, was admitted to the hospital on Friday with flu like symptoms. The justice is being treated with antibiotics for an infection and it's not COVID according to the court spokesperson. But he will miss arguments that are happening at the court today.

Meanwhile, right now we continue to follow the first day of confirmation hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson, and we're expecting to hear from her soon. If confirmed, she will be the first black woman to serve on the High Court. And joining me now to discuss all of this is Angela Onwuachi-Willig, Dean of the Boston University School of Law.

So, Angela, your perspective is incredibly important. And you have said that her perspective as a black woman, as a mother is also incredibly important. You've talked a little bit in an iPad about justices not just, you know, Ketanji Brown Jackson, but others in history using their personal experience. You use an example of, Clarence Thomas, using his experience as a black man as someone who lived and grew up in the Jim Crow South on the court. Tell us about a why this matters?

ANGELA ONWUACHI-WILLIG, DEAN BOSTON UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW: Yes. It's incredibly important because of justice don't have a full understanding of the experiences of all Americans on our streets, in our courtrooms and our society in general. And when they're writing legal doctrine, when they're deciding these cases, and writing an opinion that affects all Americans, they won't encompass those realities.

And it's important (CROSS TALK) for me, my hopes, at least, it's not. I don't know whether Judge Jackson would rule or vote in this way. But my hope is that she would bring her perspective as a black woman, as a black mother to cases involving the Fourth Amendment, in particular cases concerning what's called consensual and encounters.