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UK Intel Chief: Putin Using Mercenaries As "Cannon Fodder"; Biden Announcing Historic Release Of Oil From Stockpile; Today: Jared Kushner Voluntarily Meets With 1/6 Cmte. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 31, 2022 - 12:30   ET



LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: From the very beginning, I believe that their original operational and tactical approach was very misguided. It violated the principle of war of simplicity. They were attacking on too many fronts with not enough forces and not enough resupplies. They've learned some lessons, but they are now moving, potentially. And they've even broadcast this to the Eastern Front.

They will try and, you know, there's a good portion of Ukrainian forces around that area that shaded on your map to the east, the Donbass region, the two provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk. They are -- the Russians are going to try and encircle those forces from both the North is young (ph), the town that you've pointed to just now, and potentially if they can get through Mariupol, they will do a pincer movement and try and surround those Ukrainian forces that are still defending on the Donbass.

But that doesn't mean they're going to magically take forces away from Kyiv and Chernihiv and Kharkiv and the Crimea because they want those areas as well. There will be a lot of repositioning in the next several weeks.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Right. And when you hear the talk of reposition, let me just clear the map here for a little bit. Here to talk of repositioning and we know that troops that were in this area that were supposed to, you know, take Kyiv in days. Of course, that has not happened. If they repositioned backup toward Belarus, this is the size of Texas. It is not an easy haul to get troops from here if you say the battle will shift eventually more over here.

So what do you make of the fact that we see reports this so called Wagner group, essentially hired mercenaries are coming in from Russia. And 135,000 or so new conscripts will be enrolled in the Russian military soon. Number one, what is the Wagner group mean? And number two, the new conscripts that seems to suggest months and months and months.

HERTLING: It does. Talk to Wagner group first, that's a little over 1,000 killers, for lack of a better term. They're mercenaries. They're paid. They've been in other places like Chechnya and Syria. They just like to kill people and destroy things. So it will be more of a catastrophe in terms of criminal war crimes and criminal activity. They will not supplement the forces that are already there that much, but they will be dastardly.

From the standpoint of the new conscripts. Yes, April 1st, we used to kiddingly say it was April Fool's Day for the Russians when I was in Europe. That's the day about 134,000 18 year olds will come into the force, that's today. But the other factor that is on the 30th of April, they will lose their current crop of conscripts, also about 130. Some of them are already being employed in Ukraine right now. So you're going to have even bigger morale issues when those folks contracts are finished, and they want to go home. All of those things are fascinating.

KING: I mean, actually, lastly, you just heard Senator Bennet. I was talking to Sir Michael Bennet. I'm going to bring up here, the NATO map here. One of the questions has been our military supplies Ukraine needs getting there as quickly as possible. Senator Bennet said for the most part from the U.S. he thinks it's going well. You're still well wired here from your days as commander in Europe. What is your sense of that, the transfer of needed necessary weapons?

HERTLING: I'm going to tell you, John, that more is happening than any American can understand right now. There's a lot going on under the wave tops, under the under the radar, if you will, of transfers, not just from the United States, but other countries, literally thousands of anti-tank guided missiles, different types of anti-aircraft, missiles, there's a lot of equipment flowing in from those 28 member nations that are in Europe itself.

It's tough to get it in there. We are in a war of attrition right now. It will be a battle of supplies between the Russians and the Ukrainians. And I think the Russians are going to have more difficulty because they started off on a worst split, they're going to have problems with personnel manpower, we just talked about that. Their equipment is in horrible shape. They don't have the spare parts. And that's going to get increasingly worse, because of the sanctions.

I think Russia will be on their hind feet over the next several months trying to sustain this attack. If I can just say one more thing, you have a map in terms of distances, if you can show that, the roads and the railroads. It's fascinating to look at this map, because this gives you a state of affairs. You know, it's about 800 miles east to west in Ukraine, and about 400 miles north to south.

So when you're talking about moving forces out of Belarus and putting them on that western or the eastern frontier, where Russia wanted to attack next, that's about a 1,400 mile move. That's going to be very difficult for the Russians to do.

KING: General Hertling as always, sir, appreciate your very important insights. We'll continue the conversation.

Up next --

HERTLING: Thank you.


KING: -- a new move coming from President Biden to ease gas prices. They were already spiking and, yes, Russia's invasion of Ukraine made things worse.


KING: A big announcement from President Biden next hour about gas supplies and gas prices. The White House says the President will announce the release of 1 million barrels of oil a day from the nation's strategic petroleum reserves. America stockpile is 600 million barrels. This new release could total, could, up to 180 million barrels over the next six months. That would be a record release. Earlier in March, the President released 30 million barrels. And back in November 50 million barrels.


With me to share their reporting and their insights CNN's Dana Bash, CNN's Abby Phillip, and Jackie Kucinich of The Daily Beast. Already and we can show the tweet the White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, pushing back amid some, you know, criticism from economists that OK, it helps, but it's a tiny drop in the bucket is what Steven Rattner says and Ron Klain saying no, actually, if you deal with the supply chain issues in the shortage, it helps a lot. Look, America consumes 20 million barrels of oil a day just shy of that this is 1 million barrels of oil a day. So it helps. The question is does it help enough?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR, INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY: Yes, I mean, that's a huge question. I mean, I think it's probably of the options available to this White House. One of the better options, I think you're seeing in the States, they're trying to do things around the gas tax holiday, there's a lot of resistance to that at the federal level. And again, all of those things are temporary. So, at least this from the demand, or from the supply perspective, can help push those prices down a little faster.

You heard the White House over the last few days complaining that, you know, when the price of oil goes down, it's not reflected to the consumer as quickly. So they're trying to do something to push that price down even further.

KING: And things are better today. They're still high prices, but they're better today than they were just a week or so ago. If you look, the national gas average right now, the current average is $4.23 a gallon. A year ago, it was $2.87. But it's down 10 cents. It's not a dime a gallon from just not that long ago. And even yesterday, once the White House signaled it was going to do this oil futures went down. So it does have an immediate effect.

DANA BASH, CNN CO-ANCHOR, STATE OF THE UNION: It does. And it is a lot of signals sending. You're exactly right about what we're hearing from the White House and Democrats about oil companies not necessarily passing on their savings to consumers. Our colleague, Renee Marsh did an amazing piece saying just that. But that doesn't change the political reality for the White House, for Democrats who were on the ballot, who are incredibly concerned about the fact that, yes, the President is understandably putting so much focus on Ukraine, it is a huge, huge issue that demands the attention of the leader of the free world.

However, there are people in this country who are getting more, more frustrated, more upset, more worried about the fact that they have to pay so much more for their, not just for their gasoline, but for their groceries and other goods. And I've talked to Democrats who are on the ballot who want the want the President to, quote unquote, get out there, not one said don't hide any more in the White House, get out and talk about these issues and at least have if they can't it beyond doing SPRO or the strategic petroleum oil reserve, have some I feel your pain moments.

KING: Right. And to that point, it's just unavoidable. Sometimes, again, it seems like a tough conversation. But we're in an election year. The President is trying to keep the coalition together and keep the focus on Ukraine, keep the focus on Putin. But we are in an election year. If you look at this Kaiser Family poll on the, what do you care about right now, what Americans most concerned about right now? Just look at the gap, 55 percent say inflation and rising prices, everything else, everything else is way, way below that.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they're waking up to every single day and tomorrow, we'll have the new jobs numbers that are coming out and I'm sure there's going to be I mean, it seems like that's been in a positive trajectory. However, because of inflation, because of gas prices, people don't feel like this is I mean, we're almost looking at pre pandemic levels of employment but still it doesn't matter if you're still -- you still can't pay your bills because of inflation and that's what's hurting this White House.

And there's only so much they can do and part of this idea of letting out gas from the SPRO is that it does got to do something and that's something even if it is just a drop in the bucket at the end of the day at least it looks like he's doing something.

KING: Make an effort. Again, important announcement from the president in next hour, we will bring you that.


When we come back, new reports the Justice Department investigation of January 6th now expanding to look at the planning and the financing. Plus, House investigators today question a Trump West Wing insider, the president's son-in-law.


KING: Today an important witness for the House Committee investigating the January 6th attack on the United States Capitol. The former President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, that interview with Kushner comes as we learned the Justice Department is expanding its own investigation in a very significant way from beyond the attack itself to the planning and the financing efforts that took place between Election Day and January 6th.

Our great reporters are back with us. Let's start there in the Justice Department. CNN has now confirmed the story, first reported by "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times." And it gets very interesting then to figure out this. And this is a little slice from "The New York Times" story. One of the subpoenas, which is reviewed by "The New York Times," sought information about people classified as VIP attendees at Mr. Trump's January 6th rally.

It also sought information about members of the executive and legislative branches who have been involved in the planning or execution of any rally or any attempt to obstruct influence, impede or delay the certification of the 2020 election. That gets you to a bigger, broader investigation that also gets you inside the White House, the Trump campaign, and the allies of the lying lawyers who tried to help him.

BASH: Absolutely. And this is the kind of investigation that a lot of Democrats, Americans, regardless of their party, who saw what happened on January 6th, had been hoping that the Justice Department embarks on not just looking at and prosecuting individuals who clearly were part of the insurrection part of the attack on the Capitol but the peak, taking a step back and looking at how it happened, why it happened, who was responsible for actually organizing it, and who financed it, and how far does it go up the chain, including and especially into the White House. And so this is a very, very important development.


KING: Right. And so it and it happens. So it's connected. The Committee is separate from the Justice Department, but they're interviewing Jared Kushner today. He's coming in voluntarily, perhaps to him for doing that. A lot of people have said no, so we'll give him some credit for coming in voluntarily. He was not at the White House on January 6th. He was on business in the Middle East. But we do know from Mike Pence's national security adviser that Jared Kushner's wife, Ivanka Trump, several times tried to get President Trump to do more to stop it.

And we do know to this point about if you're looking at the financing and the planning, Jared Kushner was as close to the President as could be from Election Day to January, up to January 6th, so he knows inside stuff.

KUCINICH: And also he appeared if -- in Ginni Thomas's text messages that came out last week, he has mentioned to someone she'd been speaking to when she was texting, the President's chief -- former president's chief of staff. So we know that he was, I mean, assuming she's telling the truth, that we know that he was involved in kind of the lead up to this -- to the rally that led to the insurrection. So while, yes, he wasn't in the room, while it was happening, he definitely knows, you know, everything that was swirling around it because of his proximity to power.

KING: Right. And to your point about Ginni Thomas, Jared Kushner is being interviewed. The Justice Department expanded his investigation. I just want to show you, just in the past week, what has happened, we've learned more about Ginni Thomas, again, the wife of a Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and her involvement in trying to, she says rally the troops, rally the army. We have, you know, a judge saying Trump, most likely in his view, committed a crime as part of all this.

You have that Navarro and Scavino, two very close Trump aides, the House may hold them in contempt for not cooperating. You see more and more of this. And I want you to listen here. This is Senator Chris Murphy, saying this is all looks complicated, because we're trying to put, I'm sorry, we're trying to put all this together. Stephanie Murphy, who's a member of the Committee, says this.


REP. STEPHANIE MURPHY (D-FL), JANUARY 6TH COMMITTEE: By triangulating basically from a lot of different angles, and we are getting a fulsome picture of what happened in the run up to and on the day of January 6th.


KING: It's complicated. And just in the last week, you see, wow, about the depths and the scope of it. We're also about to move into April and the calendar forces this committee to pick up the pace.

PHILLIP: Yes, I mean, I think they're trying to do the last step of this, which is to connect the dots between all of the different elements of this investigation. There's the violence at the Capitol, there is the rally and the organization of that rally that provided in some ways a cover for the violence that happened later. And then there's also the element of it, which is the attempt to put forward these fake electors. And one of the reasons I'm also intrigued by Jared appearing before the committee is because I think they would be interested in what he knows about that. He was very involved in the Trump campaign. And we know that the Trump campaign was deeply involved in the organization of this effort to create fake electors that would be sent and tried to replace the real electors that certified Joe Biden as the president.

KING: That's just a fascinating moment on all fronts as we watch this go forward.


Ahead for us, another big moment, big changes ahead for restrictions at the U.S.-Mexico border. We're live the ground, next.


KING: A big change coming at the border. The Biden administration now plans to stop using a pandemic rule that blocked migrants from coming across the southern border. Most Democrats and immigrant advocates argue that Trump era policy, known as Title 42, was never justified by science and they argue it put migrants in harm's way. But lifting it could quickly overwhelm already overstressed order facilities. Let's get the CNN's Priscilla Alvarez. She is near the border. Priscilla, this is a big deal but a big challenge.

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN IMMIGRATION REPORTER: Well, U.S. officials tell us, John, that they are planning to end these restrictions by May 23rd. Now remember, these are restrictions that have been in place for more than two years. That means that border authorities have been able to turn migrants away at the U.S. southern border. So officials are bracing for what may happen after this list because they anticipate that migrants will want to cross. They will see it as an opportunity to seek entry into the United States.

The Department of Homeland Security is planning for three scenarios. The first is where we are now with current figures. That is 6,000 encounters a day. The second scenario is up to 12,000 people a day at the U.S.-Mexico border. The third is a worst case scenario of 18,000 people a day. That would be more than 10,000 people than we're currently seeing at the U.S.-Mexico border when resources are already under immense strain.

So DHS is currently building out capacity for processing, winding up contracts for transportation, and then also deploying hundreds of border patrol agents here to the border in anticipation of more people when these restrictions lift. Now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not yet announced when -- what they're going to do with this order. We anticipate that that is coming this week. But this is really coming to a head in the next few weeks, John.

KING: Priscilla Alvarez at the border for us, grateful for that live reporting. Appreciate it very much. We can stay on top of that important story.

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