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Right Now: Confirmation Hearing Underway For Judge Jackson; Sources: U.S. Isn't Sure If Russia Named Commander To Lead War; Now: Biden Holding Call With World Leaders On Ukraine. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 21, 2022 - 12:30   ET



ANGELA ONWUACHI-WILLIG, DEAN, BOSTON UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW: Encounters where police can simply stop anybody without any suspicion at all and ask them questions, asked to see your I.D., asked to examine your identification, asked to search your car, as long as the person, a reasonable person would feel for the stopping encounter or to walk away. And to me that just never made sense to Black woman, to anybody feel free to walk away.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: So this is exactly the kind of thing that we are already expecting Republican senators to criticize her for? You know, they have said that she is soft on crime, they intend to question her about her past as a public defender. What do you make of those arguments? Especially considering that that background is just not that common when it comes to the Supreme Court?

ONWUACHI-WILLIG: Yes, I would say, absolutely. It's not that she's soft on crime, I would say that we -- that she's going to bring an important perspective, as somebody who really, really helped us uphold the very principles and values that we hold here in law. You know, we're based on an adversary system that we believe that if you have two sides that are making opposing arguments, you can get to the truth in that way. And a public defender plays an important role in arguing that opposite side of prosecutors on the criminal -- in criminal area to make sure that we're getting to the truth, you're holding the government accountable in those cases.

She's bringing a different lens, a different perspective in other people. But I'd also say that she has a broader lens as well. She has a lens, as someone who is related to police officers. She has a very, very strong connection to law enforcement. So in many ways, she has this really, really complex, complicated important lens, and nobody else on that bench would be bringing. And I think that to have those insights on the court will be credibly important. She understands how dangerous it is for police officers are, but she also understands that African Americans are disproportionately stopped for no reason, right?

And so I think that having both of those lenses is really important. And I think not asking, right, so I think one of the assumptions is that if somebody isn't a public defender, that somehow they are objective, and they're neutral and their fare on these cases. And how about we ask questions, well, how can you decide these cases without understanding the realities of people who are stopped an arrest without reason, right? How can you understand these cases if you've never had any interaction with them, no dependents, right?

And we don't ask those questions of people who don't have that experience. And it's an assumption that because she brings that experience, she'll be somehow biased based on promotion.

PHILLIP: Yes, that's a very good point. I mean, the lack of that experience is also something that is worth questioning. Thank you so much for being with us here today.



PHILLIP: And bombs are few bombs are falling every 10 minutes, Russian forces increase their offensive in Mariupol. Ukrainian fighters are saying that they will not surrender the city.


PHILLIP: And we have new reporting just into CNN. Multiple sources now say the United States hasn't determined if Russia has tapped a military commander to lead the country's war on Ukraine. CNN's Katie Bo Lillis is here breaking the story for us. Katie Bo, what are you learning?

KATIE BO LILLIS, CNN REPORTER: Abby multiple sources familiar with the matter tell us that the United States hasn't been able to determine whether or not Russia has designated a single military commander that would be responsible for the overall theatre of its war in Ukraine, the kind of top military official that the United States would expect Russia or any professional military to put in place to run a war in a coherent fashion. Now the Russian Ministry of Defense has declined to respond to a request for comment from CNN.

But our sources tell us that absent a top commander, different units from different military districts across Russia that are pushing forward and offensives across Ukraine appear to be operating independently of one another. They appeared to be competing for resources instead of coordinating in a way that the United States would anticipate under a single commander with a single coherent vision for the campaign, for the war.

This is also happening at the same time that sources tell us that Russia is having an incredibly difficult time with secure communications. Its service members and commanders in the field are at times relying on commercial cell phones and other unsecure channels that the Ukrainians have been able to intercept and at times used to target their own counter strikes against Russia. Abby?

PHILLIP: Fascinating reporting Katie Bo. Thanks for bringing it to us. And let's bring in now CNN's military analyst retired Major General Spider Marks. So Spider you heard what Katie Bo just reported and as we've been discussing, over the last several days, Russia is engaged in fighting in a lot of parts of Ukraine right now, in Mariupol, around Kyiv, also, they are in Kharkiv, but having trouble with the civilian population there? What does all of this tell you?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, it tells me that the Russian forces tried to bite off in the vernacular more than they could chew. They're trying to win in multiple locations which means they've violated one of the most incredible and most important principles of war, is mass. What is your center of gravity? What are you trying to achieve? And put the maximum power against that objective. They're trying to get Mariupol. They're trying to get land bridge from the Donbass all the way to Odessa. They're trying to get Kharkiv for logistics reasons. They're trying to get Kyiv because it's the capital city.


And they're failing in each one of those locations, other than in Mariupol, which is where they've been able to simply conduct this brutal long range fire assault against fixed facilities. It's not warfare. It's simply thug tactics, that increase the terror level of the citizens within Ukraine. So the Russian forces are really out of stride. They don't have any momentum, and they're trying to find their next moves.

PHILLIP: And in Mariupol, the Russians have been bombing that city for weeks, and yet they have not been able to control it. Now, they're demanding a surrender. Why is Mariupol is so significant from a military perspective?

MARKS: Well, in order for the Russians to secure those newly independent the Donbass region, remember, they did that three weeks ago.


MARKS: In order to do that they have to secure the western flank of that, which is Mariupol, and then from Mariupol, they then need to move down through Kherson into Mykolaiv and then onward into Odessa. And each one of those is a step that's required, Abby, in order to accomplish the next step, because it protects that flank, if you will, it's a military term for get yourself squared away focus in on your target so you don't have to worry about that stuff on your side. That's what we see happening right down there on the Black Sea.

PHILLIP: Right. And so as you were just describing down there, in this area, what Russia is really trying to do is create a connection in this entire part of the region in order to have control over this incredibly strategically important area. And yet at the same time, they are still struggling up in the north around Kyiv. We are hearing that they are still trying to encircle, encircle Kyiv from the north and really struggling with that. Do you think that that is still a military priority for Russia? And will they be able to actually achieve it?

MARKS: Abby, it is a military priority. Yes, it's the capital city. If Putin cannot control Kyiv, he's not going to be able to control Ukraine. Frankly, if he controls Kyiv, I still doubt he's going to be able to control Ukraine, because he's pissed off, 45 million citizens and residents of that country in order to do everything in their power to make it difficult for him to do anything there. But Kyiv remains a priority. But it's of a lesser priority right now, in the military, you don't want to reinforce failure.

And the Russians have experienced failure. Three weeks, can't get their arms around Kyiv. So what I think they would do if they're following any of these principles of war, they would probably move in the direction of where they're achieving success, which is down along the Black Sea, as you just described. But Kyiv still remains a priority. I just think it's lower on the priority list.

PHILLIP: Thank you so much General Spider Marks for all of that background.


And coming up ahead for us, President Biden is -- has a critical phone call with world leaders this morning ahead of his emergency meeting in Europe later this week.


PHILLIP: Right now President Joe Biden is talking to European leaders about the ongoing war in Ukraine, the U.S., France, Italy, and the United Kingdom, and Germany all connecting this morning, just after 11:00 a.m. for a call ahead of their emergency NATO Summit in Belgium. And our panel is back with me to discuss. This is a really critical week for the world but particularly for President Biden as the leader of the free world. These leaders who are on the call today, they're racing to figure out what can we deliver by the end of this week?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And that's been a big question that they've had behind the scenes because this trip has been so abruptly scheduled. I mean, you don't often see an instance like this where all of these world leaders are coming together as they are about to do with the leaders of NATO in Brussels on Thursday, this quickly. And so, this was put together just within a few days, about a week or so. And it's easily going to be the biggest trip of President Biden's time in office so far.

And I think one big question will be what will the deliverables be coming out of this meeting? What are they going to say? Here's what we accomplished. Here's what we achieved. We will expect like a joint statement or something. But also this trip is for President Biden to go and rally the support behind Ukraine to talk about what they've done so far to talk about what they're planning on doing going forward. And I think it's going to be a really critical trip for him because he's got a very busy Thursday, where he's meeting with the leaders of NATO. He's going to the European Council meeting. And then he's going to go to Poland. Of course, he's going to be the president there.

They've taken in about 2 million refugees from Ukraine since it started. They haven't all stayed there. But it's a really big moment for his presidency. One thing we should note, though, is you've heard this push, this push from some Ukrainian officials that say President Biden should go to Ukraine while he's overseas while he's in Europe. We're hearing from White House officials. They basically say that's not going to happen at this time.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, and if you listen to President Zelenskyy who is talking to foreign leaders and countries all across the world, he wants more. He wants more sanctions. He wants more weapons. He of course wants a no fly zone. NATO has said a no go on that.


And so we'll see what they're able to actually deliver. As you said, there's this raging refugee crisis. How do you put a handle on that because it seems to just be continuing more and more, I think it's something like 3.5 million at this point. So this is a real challenge. I mean, is it just going to be sort of a symbolic show of force or are you actually going to be able to do something to stop Russia?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And all these world leaders have been trying to do exactly that and keep themselves from becoming involved in the conflict, which would bring all of NATO into the conflict.

PHILLIP: At the same time there -- this idea of a peacekeeping mission or NATO peacekeeping mission going to Ukraine keeps coming up, in part because in Poland, that's what they have been offering. But this is the U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield saying, not going to happen.


LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: The President has been very clear that we will not put American troops on the ground in Ukraine. We don't want to escalate this into a war with the United States, but we will support our NATO allies.


PHILLIP: So it's as clear as you can be, in part because a peacekeeping mission is about peacekeeping, but it requires boots on the ground.

COLLINS: And often you don't see them happen until maybe conflict is ending. This is -- we're still right in the middle of it. I mean, you see, it's basically the stalemate now in Ukraine of what's been happening as the bombing has just gotten more indiscriminate. By the day, she was very clear though, you're not going to see American troops in Ukraine. And part of this proposal would be sending NATO forces, including U.S. forces into Ukraine as part of this peacekeeping mission.

And it's not fully clear how that would work or what that would look like. But it does still seem to be that Poland is going to propose this on Thursday at this meeting. But the White House has said no U.S. troops are going in. NATO has said, NATO forces are not going in. And so whether or not that changes, we don't know where we'll be on Thursday, but it is something that White House has rejected so far.

KUCINICH: Well, and American people have rejected sending boots on the ground, or at least in polling, they do not support that. They support Ukraine. They support everything that's going on with --

PHILLIP: And they want more, but they don't want that.

KUCINICH: But they don't want that, yes.

HENDERSON: You know, the big question is how do you stop Russia without provoking Russia? That is the thin, you know, line that NATO and the West are trying to figure out at this point. And you see President Zelenskyy are calling on countries like Israel to do more put up sanctions against Russia. And you see Europe for instance, not willing to completely wean themselves off of Russian oil, essentially, bankrolling this effort by the Russians. I think they spent something like a billion dollars a day on Russian energy.

So listen, you've had this -- the President Zelenskyy make very heartfelt please. But so far, there's a stalemate in Ukraine. I think they are lucky that the Russian forces aren't as powerful as people thought they were. So we'll see what comes out of these NATO meetings.

PHILLIP: Big priority this week is going to be a show of unity, to show Putin that NATO is still here. And thanks to our panel. Thank you all for coming in today.


Remember, Amelia she is the little Ukrainian girl that you saw and was seen all around the world singing "Frozen" from a Kyiv bomb shelter. And over the weekend, she performed the Ukrainian national anthem at a charity concert in Poland. We'll be right back.


PHILLIP: We go to Ukraine now we're more than 3 million people have now fled since the Russian invasion began less than a month ago. And UNICEF estimates half of those are children. CNN's Melissa Bell is live at the Poland-Ukraine border. Melissa, what are you seeing there?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Abby, this is the place where refugees continue to come across the border, women and children making their way on foot. It is the land crossing where they can walk through. It is also where the cars and trucks make their way into Ukraine. Now, these land routes have become even more important, Abby, because as Ukraine has become more isolated, cut off as it is to the south and to the north. It is these roads, these arteries from European countries like Poland, that allow all that humanitarian aid that the country is now so dependent on to survive.

So it isn't just refugees coming out that have impacted Poland with 2.5 million now that have crossed the border. It is also the importance of these routes to getting that much needed aid in as well. It is also these land routes that see the weapons shipments that are coming from both Europe and the United States getting into Ukraine, you're mentioning a moment ago, the difficulty of stopping Russia without provoking it.

One of the dangerous as well at this border where essentially NATO meets Ukraine is what would happen if some of those humanitarian convoys going in started to be bombed on the other side of the border. We had chilling words from the Russian Foreign Minister just a few days ago warning the Russian now believe that if could consider as a legitimate target any cargo entering the country that it believes was carrying weapons. So this is an extremely important border both in terms of what's coming out, the people, and what's going in, the humanitarian aid, the weaponry, and what Moscow might make of the relationship between the two. Abby?


PHILLIP: Thank you so much Melissa Bell for all of your great reporting. And this is all tragic and sad, but there is something that you can do to help go to for more information on how you can contribute to relief efforts. And thank you for joining Inside Politics. Don't forget you can also listen to our podcast download Inside Politics wherever you get your podcasts. Ana Cabrera and Don Lemon from Ukraine, pick up our coverage right now.