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Fuel Depot On Fire After Russian Strike In Odessa; U.K. Intel Chief: Putin "Overestimated" The Strength Of His Troops; Biden Hopes Voters Focus On High Job Growth Over High Inflation; NYT: Biden Wants Garland To Act More Like A Prosecutor; GOP Rep. In Hot Water After Alleging Orgies, Drug Use In D.C. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired April 03, 2022 - 08:00   ET





ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST (voice-over): Russia's strategy in Ukraine shifts after setbacks.

As a lengthy war looms, does Ukraine think it can win this conflict?

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We are standing, and we will continue to fight until the end.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): When I came out of the basement into the street, all the houses were on fire. All houses, all glass. It was simply gone.

PHILLIP: Plus, unemployment is near historic lows, but gas prices are at historic highs. Will Biden's new strategy bring down prices at the pump?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know gas prices are painful. I get it. My plan is going to help ease that pain today.

PHILLIP: And blast from the past --

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: You betcha. It's drill, baby, drill.

PHILLIP: Conservative firebrand Sarah Palin is running for Congress. Will she be a new MAGA headache for Kevin McCarthy?


PHILLIP (on camera): Good morning and welcome to INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. I'm Abby Phillip.

Five and a half weeks after Vladimir Putin launched his war in Ukraine, Russia appears to be abandoning its efforts to take control of the entire country, at least for now. Russian forces have pulled back from Kyiv. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENSKYY: Our defenders control to gain control in these regions. More and more Ukrainian flags are being flown in areas which used to be occupied. Ukrainian armed forces do not let the enemy withdraw without a fight. They are pounding the enemy, destroying all those that we can reach.


PHILLIP: But as they pull back and in some cases are repelled in the north, the world is getting a glimpse of the horrific atrocities they're leaving behind.

Here you'll see the city of Irpin on the outskirts of the capital, or what is left of it after days of Russian attack. I want to warn you this next video is extremely graphic and disturbing. This is a -- these are new images from the neighboring town of Bucha and the bodies of at least 20 civilian men just left on the street, killed execution- style. At least one of those bodies had his hands behind his back.

Ukrainian officials also say that Russian troops have left former occupied territories littered with bombs.

Now, Moscow may be shrinking its ambitions, but U.S. officials say that Russia's strategy is now to capture the eastern part of the country by May 9th. It's a Russian holiday known as victory day. And this morning saw a major attack in the city of Odessa on the Black Sea.

And CNN's Ed Lavandera is there.

Ed, this attack happened not that long ago. Tell us about what happened there.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, Abby, it was just before sunrise when we heard multiple air strikes landing here in the city of Odessa. We were able to make our way to the scene shortly after and discovered that these air strikes struck a fuel storage facility in the city. It has cast a dark cloud of billowing smoke for almost nine hours now over the city.

It was a startling attack. We did not hear air raid sirens before the bombs and missiles starting landing there at the fuel storage facility. Residents we spoke to, it was mostly an industrial area where this happened, but there were a number of apartment buildings and some homes on a hill overlooking the fuel storage facility. Three different people we spoke with say they had been hearing the buzz of reconnaissance drones over the fuel storage facility for several days, and because of that, they kind of felt that something was about to imminently happen there at that fuel storage facility.

And it was a jolt, a terrifying jolt for those residents there. We saw the windows that had been blown out because of the impact, and it's also important to remember that, you know, this is a key port city on the Black Sea here in southern Ukraine. There had been a lot of talk that this city would be a focus of Russian forces. But they have mostly been stalled out about halfway between here and Mariupol.

But this is really one of those things that just startles the city. They have not seen -- it had been several days of relative quiet here in the city, and they had not seen a significant attack in the city since in the early days of the Russian invasion into Ukraine.

So, this attack here definitely changes the mood of this city and how they're reacting to it has been very intense as they continue to see and watch the firefighters at the scene here, Abby, continue to try to contain the fire and the blaze at the fuel storage facility.


PHILLIP: No doubt that city on edge today. Ed Lavandera, thank you for your reporting.

And joining me now with their perspective and insight is Beth Sanner, former deputy director of national intelligence, and Nick Schifrin, foreign affairs and defense reporter for the "PBS NewsHour."

Good to have you both here.

What do you make of that we're seeing? These horrific images even of the liberated portions according to the Ukrainians of Ukraine where not only are Russians apparently committing atrocities but leaving behind this kind of landscape of bombs and just true danger, perhaps making those parts of Ukraine uninhabitable, at least for now.

BETH SANNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think from my perspective, this is part of the big worry is even if Russia is shifting to the east and focuses its forces there, we are not going to see an end of the bombardment and of the destruction. Ultimately, what I worry about is the effort to render Ukraine just a complete destroyed country where it will be a very weak state. And that has been part of Putin's aim even before this invasion.

PHILLIP: That is the political objective. I mean, do you even buy this idea that Russians are actually withdrawing, or are they just regrouping?

NICK SCHIFRIN, PBS NEWSHOUR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: I mean, defense officials here say that about 25 percent of Russian forces who have been surrounding Kyiv have left, so they go up to the north in Belarus and northeast in into Russia presumably at some point to go around the edge and go back into the Donbas, into those eastern regions they'll presumably focus on.

But the strategic aim of the Kremlin has not changed according to the U.S. officials that I speak to. They just don't have the ability to seize Kyiv. It's basically an admission that they have failed at one of their primary objectives and instead are doing the things they can do, focused on the east and the south.

But in this war of attrition, there's lot of people who are worried this will take months, perhaps years, the problem with that war of attrition is that Ukraine will be destroyed in the meantime. PHILLIP: Right. There are some warnings that perhaps this could be a

little bit of a false flag.

So Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution tells the "Washington Post" if they can get the Ukrainians to lower their guard, that would be for them potentially an opportunity to make a strike against Zelenskyy and/or his inner circle and the top tier of the government. I still think there is a possibility that they're trying to lure the Ukrainians into making a mistake. It seems feasible.

SCHIFRIN: Of course. This is Russian playbook. They will say one thing, we're going to talk, have diplomatic steps, even cease-fires or humanitarian corridors, hopefully in Mariupol. And at the same time they still intend to overthrow Zelenskyy, they still want to do things around Kyiv and will use their military to do so. It's clear that the Russians continue to have an incredible amount of firepower that they could bring and an incredible amount of troops they could still use to target Kyiv and Zelenskyy.

SANNER: I mean, part of the danger here is that the Russians have to change the narrative into a winning situation on the ground, right, and there are a number of ways to do that. But if they really are shooting at victory day, which is the celebration of their defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, they've got to show some kind of progress.

If they took out Zelenskyy, certainly that would be a path to a success for them. But I think we're going to have to see -- what we will see is them trying to gain a lot of ground between now and May. So they're going to have a concentration of forces in the east so they can achieve that.


I want to read this quote to Julia Ioffe, a friend of the show, who talked to an adviser to Lavrov, who said this about Russia's position here. Either Russia will emerge from this war as a serious victor and play a more important role in the world or it won't, and Russia will be the world's doormat.

It's an existential dilemma which is why Russia should fight to the end and win, no matter what.

So, as we're talking about these negotiations, does Russia need to be winning in order to escalate and come to a deal or the Ukrainians need to be winning in order to have more leverage?

SANNER: I think if the Ukrainians are winning in some ways, and I think they have this sense of momentum right now, that they are beginning to win, it actually makes it harder for a negotiated solution because they're not going to give up territory, and that's what Zelenskyy has said.


We are not going to give up one inch of Ukraine. Well, it's very hard for Russia, for Putin to walk away with saying,

oh, what did I gain here? Nothing? Nothing more than what I started with?

So, I think that makes a negotiated solution more difficult.

PHILLIP: What does it look like? What do you think a negotiated solution looks like?

SCHIFRIN: Well, I think Ukraine has been clear that it's willing to give up NATO but it is not willing, as Beth just said, what Zelenskyy said the other night, willing to give up any territory. He's willing to basically look the other way when it comes to Crimea and the Donbas. He said something like we can talk about Crimea in ten years, what Russians have seized. Let's stop the war right now.

But there is no sign there's an agreement between the two sides. There's no sign of progress being made -- I think Russians said this morning there's no progress made such that Putin and Zelenskyy could speak together, which is what Zelenskyy has been asking for.

So, yes, Ukraine is willing to give up certain things, especially that NATO chip it's had for years, but it wants security guarantees from Europe and the West, and frankly the west is not ready to give those.

PHILLIP: These security guarantees, it would be outside of NATO. What is your vision for how that could actually work?

SANNER: I think that is the million-dollar question. I don't know how it will work because what he's asking for is equivalent, and he says it is, equivalent to an Article 5 NATO guarantee.

PHILLIP: Individual nations would come to their defense. Would Russia have to also come to their defense, theoretically? Quote, unquote.


SANNER: -- that's what the memorandum was about. We had an agreement like this that the Russians obviously, you know, abdicated from, so, you know, it almost looks to me like a redo of the Budapest memorandum, but it has to have more oomph in terms of coming to Ukraine's aid. Otherwise, why would they -- this could happen again.

PHILLIP: And this whole thing could take many, many months, and there's no sign at this moment that a cease-fire would happen even in the meantime.

SCHIFRIN: We have to remember, even though the Russian tactics are changing and the operation seems to be shifting, there's no sign from the Kremlin that the strategic objectives have changed. They're not willing to give up on some of their big goals in this war. They simply don't have the ability to achieve them on the ground.

So, so long as Russia continues those goals, they have the tactics is that we've seen, frankly, for decades from Russia, if not further back from the Soviets, indiscriminate shelling, civilians being targeted, no use of smart bombs, and that kind of thing which they really struggled with, much more --

PHILLIP: Atrocities on the ground.

So, Beth and Nick, stick around for us.

Coming up next, Vladimir Putin is getting -- is he getting honest information from his top aides? The U.S. intelligence officials aren't so sure.



PHILLIP: In Ukraine, battlefield losses, a rising Russian death toll, troops low on weapons and morale, but U.S. officials say advisers may be deliberately misinforming the Russian president.


JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: If Mr. Putin is misinformed or uninformed about what's going on inside Ukraine, it's his military, it's his war, he chose it, and so the fact that he may not have all the context, that he may not fully understand the degree to which his forces are failing in Ukraine, that's a little discomforting.


PHILLIP: Hans Nichols of "Axios" joins our conversation. Beth and Nick are still with us.

Beth, I'm fascinated by the explicit nature of what you heard John Kirby saying. They're sending a clear message to Moscow.

SANNER: Yeah, absolutely. I think the goal is twofold. One is obviously Putin understands the broad brushes of what's going on, you know, that things aren't going well. But the idea here I think is to give him a little bit more detail and say you need to be digging in, you all aren't doing as well as you think you are, and maybe that'll thing his battle plan. But more importantly I think is this whole idea of creating more discontinuity and tensions and stresses within the security services and the intelligence services.

You know, it's really hard to prosecute a war when you're watching your back. Right now, there's a lot of infighting going on between leaders and organizations, different parts, different agencies, and it creates disarray in their workplace.

PHILLIP: Yeah. And -- but Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, says it's not that. It's this. He says: They just don't understand what is happening in the Kremlin. They don't understand the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

Maybe that's true too. SCHIFRIN: There is some precedent for the U.S. not understanding

Putin or the Kremlin. But, you know, as Beth knows, we have to remember that Putin's Russia and the Kremlin and the military are organized so that there would be infighting. They are organized not in a kind of traditional national security way. They're organized with corrupt oligarchs with a lot of corrupt money coming into the system so they would fight each other for resources and keep an eye on each other.

So baked into the system is a level of these lieutenants, you know, getting emanations from the top, you know, as Masha Gessen, the Russian activist and writer, would put it, emanations from Putin, you know, that everybody has to figure out. Nobody wants to give Putin bad news, and there's been happening for years. So the difference now is there's more people dying because of it. They are facing a more determined enemy, but this is not a new phenomenon inside Russia.

PHILLIP: Yeah. At the same time that this is happening, the Europeans are still trying very hard to work with Putin.


You've had just a slew of calls, nine with the French President Emmanuel Macron, five with the German chancellor, four times with Turkey. I mean, it's a lot of communications to what end?

HANS NICHOLS, POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: Well, keep communications open, right? The Churchill quote, better to trod on and do war. Unfortunately, we are at world war, right? There's already a conflict in place.

But if there's going to be any de-escalation, if there's going to be any sort of peace treaty, whether or not it's weeks or months, there has to be a line of communication open. I think that's what you're seeing. Macron doing this, you're seeing the new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz doing. You want to be able to keep talking and not foreclose those opportunities.

PHILLIP: No one seems to believe that more than Macron.

SCHIFRIN: Yeah, he's been dedicated to talking to Putin, frankly probably listening to Putin versus talking to him.

But, look, a senior European official gets briefed on these calls, told me that this is not diplomacy, we're not negotiating and we're not hearing from Putin any indication of substance. So what they're trying to do is keep these channels open, but it's not like they're actually talk about what's going to happen in the future. European leaders have a simple single message -- stop fighting, allow civilians to leave. That is falling on deaf ears.

SANNER: And you have to take into account that there's a French election coming up.

PHILLIP: Yeah. Can't forget about that.


NICHOLS: And those polls have tightened for macron. He's still up slightly, but Macron has a difficult domestic political situation. He likes playing the international statesman.

PHILLIP: And also, he has a vision for Europe. He said back in 2018, he said this: It is up to us today to take our responsibilities and guarantee our own security and thus have European sovereignty. We are paying the price of several decades of a weakened Europe.

That was kind of in the Trump era when Trump was trying to kind of dismantle NATO in some ways. Macron believes that Europe needs to step up, and perhaps he's the guy who needs to do it. Is he?

SCHIFRIN: Well, I mean, history will prove that yes or no. And presumably if he wins again he'll have more of an opportunity to define that phrase "European sovereignty." That is something he's used it. That's something that other European officials have used it talking about some version of military, political, diplomatic ability to exert power is what European officials talk about.

The use of power in Europe isn't something that Brussels has really thought about as much as London and Washington have. But we don't know what that means. In this context, again, European officials are trying to keep an open mind while U.S. and Moscow relations are essentially just not there anymore.

But, again, they're not actually doing diplomacy. They are telling Putin you have to stop and let civilians out of some of these cities. But it's not like a negotiation.

SANNER: An the defense side I think we should all welcome the fact that the Europeans want to step up more, but I don't think we should worry about them doing that significantly outside of the NATO context. There just isn't the money or the capacity to do that. This is more I think talk.

There are some implications for defense industrial policy, getting into details, but in the long run, this is good.

PHILLIP: I don't want to -- before we go, some reporting just in the last couple days inside Russia, Putin's lies are really taking a hold. The population there is not turning on him. In fact, they're doubling down. They believe it.

SCHIFRIN: Quite the opposite. If we trust the Levada Center, it's the most independent polling in Russia, and they say Putin's popularity has gone up, they admit it's hard in an authoritarian state to get a good poll, but still, Putin's popularity is going up.

Again, you know, the intelligence community talks about Putin not getting all the information. The bottom line is the people around Putin, there is no sign of any kind of dissent in the ranks. On the flipside, U.S. officials think 200,000 Russians have left the country. That is an extraordinary --

PHILLIP: I was going to say, of the people who dissent, they're leaving. They're trying to leave as quickly as they can.

SANNER: Absolutely.

PHILLIP: Thank you all for doing that, Beth and Nick especially.

Coming up next, pain at the pump. Will the president's latest plan bring down the prices?



PHILLIP: There are 219 days until the midterm elections and lot of warning signs for Democrats. Exhibit A, President Biden's approval rating still hasn't found bottom and it's been slowly trending down all year. Exhibit B, Democratic voters just aren't as excited. Two- thirds of Republicans report high enthusiasm for the midterms compared to just half of Democrats.

Now, high inflation remains a drag on Americans' pocketbooks, but President Biden would like Americans to focus on the economy's silver lining.


BIDEN: Over the course of my presidency, our recovery has now created 7.9 million jobs, more jobs created over the first 14 months of any presidency in any term ever. People are making more money. They're finding better jobs. And after decades of being mistreated and paid too little, more and more American workers have real power now to get better wages.


PHILLIP: Joining me now with reporting and insights, "Politico's" Laura Barron-Lopez, and CNN's Kaitlan Collins and Hans Nichols of "Axios" is still with us.

The president is right. The economy is hot. It has recovered most, though not all of the jobs lost in pandemic, 20 million jobs. We are back almost at pre-pandemic levels.

And yet maybe it's a little too hot. There are still signs of the American public doesn't think things are trending in the right direction.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And that's the balance for President Biden right now. They were obviously very excited about this report this week because they've had to deal with a lot of bad economic news. So there were so many good headlines when it comes to boosting sectors that were the hardest hit by the pandemic. We see over 90 percent of the jobs were lost during the pandemic have been recovered.

But he has to balance that with what people are feeling and the fact that 21 percent of people over that say inflation is their number-one concern. They're concerned about the affordability and availability of energy right now. And so, those are the concerns he has to balance. Inflation is such a high concern.

And so, when you talk about the wage gains as he was talking about on Friday, they have to balance that with the fact that is being undermined by inflation.

NICHOLS: Look, everything the president just said that we just listened is true. It is also largely irrelevant. When inflation is where it's at, when you see gas prices going where it's at, we can talk about the jobs report here. We can talk about the way these PC numbers or the CPI and all these former Bloomberg reporters can really get into the weeds, right?

But there is one number that they can't really change right now. And that is what the placard says at the local gas station. And that number is high and that's a daily jobs report that voters, that Americans, consumers see every day and there is nothing the White House can do about it other than bring down the price of gasoline. Which is --

PHILLIPS: And maybe blame Putin. And this week the tag line was the Putin price hikes or something to that effect.

NICHOLS: Look, I pass gas stations that say blame Putin more than they say, let's go Brandon, I'll know the White House has been successful in messaging.


PHILLIP: I mean that is fascinating in its own right. But like, take a look at this Quinnipiac poll. Americans just don't buy that this is related to the war in Ukraine, and most of it frankly is not. 41 percent say it's Biden's policies, just 24 percent say it's the war in Ukraine. 24 percent also say, you know, the oil and gas companies are raising prices.

But the White House is trying to do, to do both, blame Putin, blame the oil and gas companies, but Americans just don't agree.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Yes, they're trying to also, as you said, put this on oil and gas companies, put this on price gouging.

They also have been trying to explain throughout it all that this is part of coming out of a recession and part of coming out of what the pandemic wrought. And Americans though, feel as though even though wages are increasing, that they're not increasing to the pace that prices are increasing. And so that's the difficulty there. You know, I also think part of that democratic gap in enthusiasm has a lot to do with Biden's stalled agenda.

You know, when you talk to Democratic voters, they bring up the fact that he hasn't done anything on student debt. They bring up the fact that nothing has happened on voting rights, you know. Young voters, Biden's numbers have dropped by double digits with young voters and they were a big part of his coalition in 2020. They helped him in states like Georgia and in Arizona. And the biggest issue that they care about is climate change and nothing substantial has happened.

PHILLIP: Interestingly you bring up climate change. One of the challenges for Biden is that he needs more drilling in order to get through this -- this period of high gas prices. But progressives frankly -- I mean that is just not a politically tenable position for a Democratic president to say to the oil companies, "drill, baby, drill".

COLLINS: It goes against their platform overall. But they also have to face the fact that right now people are feeling the pain at the pump and they are having these issues. And they can try to brand it as they are with the Putin price hike which is, you know, the White House says repeatedly everyday at the briefing. But the fact is prices were going up before the invasion started. It is still political reality they have to deal with and that they know that they'll have to answer for in the coming months.

And so you see President Biden taking the steps like what he did this week, announcing this historic release of oil from the strategic reserves. But the question of whether or not that is actually going to change what people are paying, you know, we've talked to industry experts who still think gas prices will hit a high this spring and this summer. Maybe not as high as it was going to be, but it's still going to be high.

PHILLIP: I want to switch gears although it's actually kind of a little bit part of the same conversation. Big Title 42 decision, this is the kind of framework that allowed the Trump administration to basically turn away most migrants at the border. The Biden administration are now going to let that expire.

But these vulnerable senate Democrats running for reelection, Mark Kelly says, "This is a crisis. Because of a lack of planning from the administration, it's about to get worse."

Maggie Hassan all the way up in New Hampshire says "Ending Title 42 prematurely will likely lead to a migrant surge that the administration does not appear to be ready for."

This is another potential looming crisis for Biden.

NICHOLS: And there are no easy answers for this administration, for any administration. I mean the past four presidents have tried to do something on comprehensive immigration reform. They haven't gotten very far.

Take Trump out of that, right. I don't think Trump was really for a comprehensive path to citizenship. But this is clearly a problem for Biden. They've known it from the transition. They're wondering how they can message it. They're wondering what they can do.

But there are no easy answers here from either a policy perspective or a political one.

PHILLIP: This is a promise, Laura, that he made as he was campaigning. Now he has to keep it.

But I think the concern among these moderates is that it's going to lead to a surge in migrants at the border that the administration isn't ready to handle.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Yes. Two things about this. I think that right now, yes, there are the moderates who are vulnerable that are saying that they aren't totally happy with repealing it. But more than just progressives wanted this gone. A lot of Democrats wanted this to be revoked because as you noted, Biden ran on this to make the whole immigration system much more humane to undo the Trump harsh policies.


BARRON-LOPEZ: Also the second thing about this is that one thing that some moderates like Amy Klobuchar have raised is that an increase in legal migration, which could also happen as more migrants come to the border, could help with labor shortages which are a huge problem in the economy right now.

So there are moderates like her who are trying to put forward, let's increase legal migration and bring in people even maybe more on a temporary basis with visas if they're being encountered at the border, to help with big labor shortages that a lot of companies are doing.

PHILLIP: That makes a lot of sense, but it maybe the reason why it doesn't happen in Washington.

Coming up next for us, as rioters stormed the capitol, former President Trump was making calls to his closest allies. But why is there no record of them?



PHILLIP: It's been 15 months since the Capitol insurrection and some of the biggest names have so far avoided any real consequences. The "New York Times" reported just yesterday that there is growing frustration in the White House with Attorney General Merrick Garland.

President Biden, quote, "has said privately that he wanted Mr. Garland to act less like a ponderous judge and more like a prosecutor who is willing to take decisive action over the events of January 6".

Now Garland says that the law and not politics is what will guide him.


MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The only pressure I feel and the only pressure you that our line prosecutors feel is to do the right thing. That means we follow the facts and the law wherever they may lead. (END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: Now, this is exactly why president Biden picked Merrick Garland in the first place. He is, first of all taking this very seriously. The "New York Times" reported that early on he asked for a full review of all of those cases, wants to make sure everything is aboveboard. But it's not enough obviously for some Democrats.

NICHOLS: Look, the key sentence in that "New York Times" story which I think all of us a reporters that compete with the "New York Times" would have taken that story because it's a good story, is "privately", right. President Biden is privately saying this.

There is a world of difference between private frustration and actually publicly or privately putting pressure on the attorney general just what we saw the previous president do.

So yes, they are getting a ponderous judge. They're getting someone that could have been on the Supreme Court. That's no surprise. Biden and his team have known Merrick Garland for many years. They knew exactly what they're getting. And what they have is an independent Justice Department which is what the goal was.

PHILLIP: They're going out of their way, in fact, to avoid these perceptions of entanglements.

I do want to talk about the January 6 probe though because we learned this week that there were some gaps here and what we know about what former President Trump was doing on January 6. There is a time line in which a lot of things were happening in the capitol.

The Vice President Pence was rushed off the senate floor. Ashley Babbitt was shot. Even the time the Trump tweeted video, no records of actual calls, even though we know there were calms. We know he talked to Senator Tommy Tuberville. We know he talked to Josh Hawley and Kevin McCarthy. We are also learning that the diarist who records all of these calls, this is a person who is responsible for dictating when the president is on the phone, stopped doing somewhat mysteriously on January 5th. What does that mean?

COLLINS: She stopped getting the information is what she testified based on CNN's reporting. And I think people looked at the call logs and they say, "Ok, there's records missing for how many hours?" They raised questions about it.

As a reporter who covered the Trump White House, Trump did not always use the switchboard. He was very skeptical of it after John Kelly was his chief of staff because you could review everyone that Trump spoke to and he didn't like that.

And so sometimes here we would hear from people who say they were on the phone with Trump through the switchboard and he'd say, hang up and call me on my personal cell phone. Because he didn't want aides monitoring who he was speaking to long before January 6.

And so he this main -- this long held skepticism of the switchboard. And you know, sometimes if you're familiar with how Trump operates in the Oval, he would just shout out to an aide sitting outside the Oval and say "Call so-and-so. Call Kevin McCarthy, call Lindsey Graham, whichever lawmaker or ally he wanted to speak to.

And I think that is more likely the reason based on the official review that said there's not some missing page here of calls. They didn't go through the switchboard.

BARRON-LOPEZ: But there are still those phone records, right, whether it was on a burner phone which we now hear Trump that they -- that Trump and his allies were using a lot of burner phones. Or all of those that -- there is still that big gap.

And we know that Trump was having phone calls whether it was with McCarthy or whether it was with Jim Jordan, one of the Freedom caucus members. And so where are the records of those phone calls?

Also relevant to this entire discussion is the fact that Kevin McCarthy, minority leader, you know, issued a threat last August to tech companies who complied with subpoenas to hand over these phone records.

You know, Watergate investigators, one actually recently told Vice News that that could be considered witness tampering because it also involves his potential phone calls with the president.

PHILLIP: And this was a very chaotic time in that White House in which the people who would have this information are as close to the former president as you could be. They may not be willing to turn it over, but I do wonder about the committee itself and what they are trying to do.

They say that they're still in the fact gathering phase. There are supposed to be public hearings, but this drip, drip, drip is very reminiscent of the Mueller probe. Would it have the effect of kind of diminishing the impact of whatever they come up with?

NICHOLS: Potentially. I mean we'll see what ultimately public hearings look like, what the evidence says. I mean they're taking their time.

You know, whenever there is, you know, I guess a leak from the committee, but there is information from the committee, you realize how deep they're going, and everything they're looking at.

And just take the phone records conversation here. I mean think about how a reporter would do this. We try to reverse engineer, talk to every single person that we know that Donald Trump spoke to.


NICHOLS: We don't have subpoena power, right. The committee does. So they will get some picture -- it might not be a complete picture of everyone that Trump spoke to on that day just by sort of process of elimination but they'll get there.

They're taking their time. They're doing their work. We'll see what they have.

PHILLIP: And they want the help of the DOJ as well, quickly before the --


BARRON-LOPEZ: Yes. Because one big difference between what the committee is able to do versus what the DOJ is able to do, if they are pursuing the grand jury investigation which it's looking like they very well could be with the expanding probe is that a grand jury can look into the lawmakers in a way that the committee right now is saying they don't want to look into the lawmakers that would potentially end conversations with Trump at the time.

PHILLIP: Very interesting point.

But remember this?


SARAH PALIN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: I love those hockey moms. You know, they say the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick.


PHILLIP: All right. She may be back from Alaska to North Carolina, two fascinating house races. And what they say about Trump's influence in the state of the GOP. Coming up next.



PHILLIP: Congressman Madison Cawthorn is no stranger to controversy. There was his bucket list trip to Hitler's summer vacation home in 2017. He repeatedly also brought a knife to school board meetings last year.

And then there are the suggestions that future U.S. elections could lead to bloodshed and, of course, calling Ukrainian President Zelenskyy a thug.

But it was allegation that fellow Republicans held orgies in Washington, D.C. that finally led to GOP outrage and to this.


SETH MEYERS, COMEDIAN: Come on, man. You really expect us to believe that Congress could plan and execute an orgy? At best I could see them announcing an exploratory committee that would begin to investigate the feasibility of an orgy at a later date.

STEPHEN COLBERT, TV HOST: I'd interview 80 members of Congress and I had sex with 2.5 of them. Not at the same time, of course. I'm not in the GOP. (END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: It's all fun and games unless you're Kevin McCarthy who apparently found this to be so extraordinarily offensive that he had to reprimand Madison Cawthorn.

But forget about all the other stuff, January 6 where, you know, I mean really anything that has gone on in the conference, this is what he gets (INAUDIBLE) up about.

COLLINS: And that's what -- I will say of course, Madison Cawthorn's statement saying that it was the left in the media that was putting this criticism on him.

A lot of the criticism is coming from more than the Republican Party. And I think that is why you saw McCarthy come out and speak about this. And he had this, you know, very stern meeting behind closed doors and then spoke publicly about it, which he doesn't always normally do.

I think he probably felt more comfortable because you are seeing a lot of Republicans come out and criticize Cawthorn for these comments and say that they were wrong and unfounded.

And it does give an interesting insight into what it's going to look like if McCarthy does become House Speaker again if Republicans do take the majority of how he balances his caucus.

PHILLIP: Go ahead and speak in a white supremacist conference but just don't do this?

BARRON-LOPEZ: Well, exactly that point which is that McCarthy is willing to give Marjorie Taylor Greene back her committee assignments when they regained the majority which is likely going to happen after 2022. And she spoke at a white nationalist, you know, conference and yet where he take as harder line is with someone like Cawthorn who made the comments about orgies and the like.

PHILLIP: Does he think like he can reprimand Cawthorn in a way that he can't, maybe Marjorie Taylor Greene?

NICHOLS: Clearly because he has cover from the conservative base in his party, right. That's the big difference and the point Kaitlan's making, is it simply because you had conservatives in the old Freedom Caucus to the extent it exists. They were critical of Cawthorn and so then you see potentially Speaker McCarthy, now just minority leader McCarthy make a stand on this.

But we all know McCarthy is going to have a huge challenge if he becomes speaker because today we're talking about Madison Cawthorn but imagine as speaker, imagine new members are going to come in.

PHILLIP: oh yes.

NICHOLS: This is going to be a big challenge for, if he's speaker, for McCarthy, even as minority leader. So how he navigates this and who he gets his cues from is something we should all be watching.

PHILLIP: I mean speaking of, there's going to be a new entrant into the House, you know, GOP primary scene. Take this.


PALIN: I want to throw my hat in the ring because we need people with cojones. We need people, like Donald Trump, who has nothing to lose. Like me. We got nothing to lose and no more of this vanilla milk toast namby-pamby, wussy-pussy stuff that's been going on. That's why our country is in the mess that we're in.


PHILLIP: Talk about a blast from the past but she's going to be running for Congress in a field, by the way, of more than 50 candidates.

COLLINS: Yes. It's a huge field of people that she'll be running against. And it will be interesting to see how she runs this race. And you know, she's obviously invoking the former president there talking about this saying that she's a lot like him and they've nothing to lose.

Of course, talking about this. It will be fascinating to see her entrance back into this and how she navigates the politics, of course, given how she talked about this in 2008.

PHILLIP: A headache for Kevin McCarthy?

BARRON-LOPEZ: Well, I mean we're seeing that more and more members like Palin -- or politicians like Palin have a place in the House GOP, a place in the Republican Party.

And so long as she's running as close to Trump as possible which we assume that that's going to mean that she's running on a platform of, you know, the 2020 election was stolen and big on culture wars then she could very well end up and have very comfortable home in the House field.

NICHOLS: Look, I'm looking at June 11 primary date. I'm just looking at what her number's going to be and what it tells us about the Wyoming race and Liz Cheney. So we'll get a really early indicator just how strong Trump is.

There's been a lot on the margins on just where sort of the Trumpy candidates are going to come down. We're still wondering about Ohio, Missouri. We'll get a strong indicator in Alaska. It's a very similar culture league economically to Wyoming. This will tell us a lot about Liz Cheney's race later on.

PHILLIP: And Palin a 100 percent name ID but a lot of baggage as well and a huge, huge primary field.


So we'll be watching for that.

But that is it for INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY.

Coming up next for us, "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash.

Dana's guests include Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the NATO Secretary-General and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.

But before we say good-bye, we wanted to take a moment to note an important piece of history that happened this week. More than 100 years after barrier-breaking black journalist Ida B. Wells (ph) exposed the brutal practice of lynching, President Biden with a jubilant Vice President Kamala Harris by his side signed the Emmett Till anti-lynching bill on Tuesday.

Next to them in that green coat was Michelle Duster (ph) the great- granddaughter of Wells and it's a reminder that progress does still happen in our nation's capital, even if it is sometimes quite a bit late.

But thank you for sharing your Sunday morning with us. Hope you have a great rest of your day.