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Inside Politics

Russian Strike On Ukraine Railway Station Kills At Least 50; CNN Captures Stories Of Ukrainian Resistance; Kremlin Spox Admits "Significant" Battlefield Losses; Today: WH Celebration For Jackson's Supreme Court Confirmation; New Focus On WH Protocols For Biden After String Of High Profile COVID Cases In D.C.; Any Moment: Biden Speaks On For Jackson's Supreme Court Confirmation; Sen. Warnock Shares Letter He Wrote His Daughter On VP's Stationery. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 08, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello everybody, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. This hour, celebration in history here in Washington. The president honoring the next Supreme Court justice that in a ceremony at the White House, we will take you there live when it happens.

But first, we go to Ukraine, where more frontline videos, shows Vladimir Putin is a butcher. Today smoking sirens at a railway station in the eastern city of Kramatorsk. We're told at least 50 are dead, another 98 injured. Ukraine says a Russian cluster bombs made a direct impact.

From the Pentagon, the initial U.S. assessment that it was a short- range ballistic missile fired from a Russian position inside Ukraine. Ukraine's foreign minister says the Russian military knew this station was jam packed with thousands, following local government advice to evacuate. The Russians chose to attack anyway.

These next images evidence of the savagery and we need to warn you, they are graphic, beyond graphic, dead bodies scattered amongst toppled luggage. Blood turning the brick pavement red, suitcases shorn open by shrapnel. A stroller abandoned right there in the middle of the carnage. Ukraine's president today urging the world do not look away.


PRES. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE: This is an ordinary railway terminal. People crowded, waiting for the train to be evacuated to the safe territory. They hit these people. There are witnesses, there are videos, there are remnants of the missiles and dead people.


KING: Elsewhere, additional pictures of Russian firepower. In Kharkiv, a Russian strike burning through a bread factory, the thick black clouds stretching or miles. And there is intense worry today in the Ukrainian military that Russia is near finished with preparations for a "breakthrough attempt" to take eastern Ukraine, the Donbass.

We start our coverage right on the front lines in Vinnytsia, in central Ukraine, CNN's Ivan Watson is there. Ivan, what is the latest?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Russian defense ministry is denying that Russia had anything to do with this believes tactical missile strike on this crowded train station in the east of the country in Kramatorsk. As they have denied, other accusations of having carried out possible war crimes against the civilian population here.

The fact of the matter, though, is that Russia does claim responsibility for other missile strikes against cities and towns, all over this country day and night. In the case of this particular strike, the Ukrainians are claiming that this was a Tochka-U surface to surface missile.

The actual parts of the missiles that crashed near that very crowded train station, which had, according to local officials, about 8000 civilians a day trying to flee through that train station by train. It had words spray painted on the side of it, that said in Russian (Inaudible). That means for the children. It can be interpreted in different ways, depending on what the person who launched the missile wanted to say, it could be for the revenge of the children or to target the children.

And that's clearly up for interpretation right now. Also, for context here, John, there is a town about 40 miles to the west of Kramatorsk, called (Inaudible). And on Thursday, the local governor there announced, he accused the Russians of bombing a railway overpass there, stranding some 500 evacuees in the train station out for days.

The Ukrainians have been accusing. The Russians are deliberately targeting the railway infrastructure that's so important to this country. But now, the Russians are denying that they're behind this massacre that has killed and maimed scores of innocent civilians.

In the meantime, the governor of the northern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, that city has been blasted day after day. He's claiming that there were at least 48 strikes of artillery and rockets and mortars on that town in a 24-hour period that wounded at least 15 people, also fighting continuing around a nearby city called Izium, which the Russians claimed to have captured in the last 10 days. Back to you, John?


KING: And Ivan, I just want to follow up about this train station because 24 hours ago almost to the minute, almost to the minute, we were airing a part of your breathtaking report. You are on a train ride from eastern Ukraine, heading to the west with people who were lucky enough to get on a train and get out, following advice to get out.

And you were interviewing the people on that train, and they were telling you, A, that how they were grateful to be heading towards safety, but also how they were worried about those who couldn't make it, who couldn't get on that train or who maybe were reluctant to leave still. And here we are 24 hours later talking about a Russian missile blowing up one of those train stations.

WATSON: Yes. I was on a different train route. I was nowhere near Kramatorsk, but I deliberately did not mention the locations and the towns and the stations that we were traveling through John, because there is real fear among the Ukrainians that the Russians are deliberately targeting a group of civilians.

And that train had more than 1100 people on it from different parts of eastern Ukraine, all fleeing west, many of them leaving behind parents, grandparents, invalids that they refuse to leave, or we're not in a position to get on these trains, or men of fighting age who are not allowed to flee the country. So, while there's some relief at going, there's still the fear that they may not ever be able to go back to their homes. John?

KING: Ivan Watson, critical reporting for us. We're grateful for it. Thank you, Ivan. And as Ivan noted on those trains, women, children, the elderly, the ill, targeted, targeted in war by Putin and Russia. Tragedy as you can hear everywhere inside Ukraine, but so are some remarkable stories of resistance, grace under wartime pressure.

CNN, Ed Lavandera, tells one of them from a town on the outskirts of Mykolaiv.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): In a small village on the edge of Bosnian since 88-year-old Vira walked out, armed with her canes and fired off an epic tirade of verbal artillery.


LAVANDERA (voiceover): They say, they were chased out of their homes and robbed. But the women relish, telling this story with laughter. I ask if they're worried the Russians will return to seek revenge. They tell me, they're not going anywhere.


KING: That, I'm going to use the word, spunk, that remarkable spunk, one of the miscalculations of Vladimir Putin about Ukraine. With me now to share her critical insights is our former CNN Moscow bureau chief, Jill Dougherty. Jill, grateful for your time today.

You just heard Ivan Watson and you've seen the pictures of the whore at the train station in Kramatorsk. I want you to listen to President Zelenskyy today saying, this is not an accident. This is part, city by city of a Russian tactic.


PRES. ZELENSKYY: After Bucha, this is clear, they don't obey human rights. But now we see in Borodyanka after. It's even scarier, even more bodies under the rubble in Borodyanka.


KING: It is a critical point. And one of the reasons I wanted to tap your great experience, covering Putin and Russia in the sense that maybe after Bucha, you would say oh, it was one rogue unit. It was a mistake. It was someone who got to control. If that were the case, Putin could send clear orders down to his military, be extra careful, the world is watching. But we see something very, very different.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: Oh, absolutely. I mean, you know, that's just one example, and it seems to be getting worse. So, you know, John, if you look back, let's look at this kind of broadly, it would rationally appear that it is time for Vladimir Putin to stop this madness. I mean, just to analyze it, militarily, they are, you know, they have - even his press secretary said, we've had significant losses, this is a great tragedy for Russia.

Their equipment isn't working. We've been reporting a lot on this. Then you have the economic failure. The GDP of Russia is expected to drop 15 percent this year. You have brain drain. You have banks affected. And then finally this part, which he would say is kind of the diplomatic and image of Russia, being just destroyed by this horrible, be show behavior. And there's no other word for it.

So, you would say, it's time, but it's not stopping. Although, there are I think, some indications maybe we could quickly talk about this, that there is something going on these statements by Dmitry Peskov, the spokesperson for President Putin.


KING: Well, let's talk specifically about that. You know, Mr. Peskov well. He's a propagandist for Putin. But when he talks, he's doing it for a reason. And I want to just - I'm going to read it. And he was asked a question, you have lost thousands of troops. And he responded, we have significant loss of troops and it's a huge tragedy for us. He could have just lied. He could have just lied, most Russians on state television here, the war is going well. What do you read into the fact that he did acknowledge? Yes, big losses?

DOUGHERTY: Well, I think the truth is coming home, unfortunately, you know, for families in Russia who are losing their own boys, at this point, the price of this war is increasing. And then you look at the other things that Peskov said, he said, you know, the operation was continuing, objectives are being attained. And that's the propaganda part of it.

But there are other indications, you know, that, how could President Putin claim victory. As I look at that, I tried to analyze. The one way that he could, and of course, it would not be victory, is to define the victory. Say, well, you know, Russia went in to take the Donbass back, protect those people, they asked for our help. These are the Russian speaking in the eastern part of the country.

We took that back. And that is where you see all of the forests of Russia right now, moving to that area, and then May 9th is coming up, May 9th is a huge celebration of victory in World War II. And it could be, or at least there are indications nobody knows, but it could be that maybe he wants to try, at least at that point, to claim some type of victory. But, you know, that he is never going to give up about Ukraine. It is a complete fixation that really verges on, I'd have to say a religious fixation of by Putin, about Ukraine.

KING: And even if he's looking for an out on the May 9th, he use that day as a pivot point. That's a month away. It's a month away and every day we see - every day we see more horror and bloodshed. Jill Dougherty, grateful for your important insights. Up next for us. We come back to Washington, and we celebrate history of South Lawn stage. You see it right there. For the soon to be justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson.




KING: As you can see right there, there's a big celebration about to begin on the South Lawn of the White House, and Ketanji Brown Jackson is the guest of honor. She has to wait a little bit now, until late June or July to be sworn in. But yesterday's big vote in the United States Senate means Justice Jackson will join the Supreme Court for its next term, becoming the first black woman to serve on the nation's highest court.

The president, the vice president and Judge Jackson are due to speak at that event any moment. And CNN's MJ Lee is right there at the White House for us. MJ, set the scene for us.

MJ LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, this is certainly about to be a marking of a historic moment here at the White House. There are hundreds of people behind me here on the South Lawn. And we expect the president, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to step out any moment.

And in the audience, we expect to see family members of the judge, we expect to see lawmakers. We have spotted a number of cabinet officials, as well as importantly, members of the Senate who voted to confirm Judge Jackson yesterday, they have all been invited as well. And now for President Biden, this is also going to be a celebration of the fulfilling of a major campaign promise. And that, of course, is to put the first black woman on the Supreme Court.

Now, I'd have to set the scene here in terms of just the COVID environment because we have seen in recent days, many positive COVID cases are within the highest levels of government, including some cabinet members. Yesterday, we got the news of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, testing positive as well. This has been concerning because we have seen a number of events that the president himself has attended in indoor settings where most of the audience members have been unmasked. Now, the White House has been clear in saying that none of those people that tested positive that the president was a close contact up, but it does just raised concerns. And we have seen the White House field a lot of questions recently, just about the COVID protocols and what they are doing to make sure that the president himself is not at risk.

But we did notably here, White House Communications Director, Kate Bedingfield, saying on our air this morning that it is certainly possible that the president is going to get COVID at some point, but it is good that he's been vaccinated that he has been boosted, but that the White House is following CDC guidelines.

I will just quickly note though, just on that note, Vice President Kamala Harris, of course, she was a close contact of an aide who did test positive for COVID this week. And yesterday, when she was presiding over this historic vote, she was seen unmasked.

And when we asked White House officials about this yesterday on why she was unmasked, and the CDC guideline says that you do need to be masked for 10 days. They said that she was socially distancing. Just important to note that that is the CDC guideline better to be masked for 10 days after you've had close contact. But again, this is just a moment. And the mood here is one of celebration as President Biden gets to speak in front of this big audience to celebrate the confirmation of Judge Jackson. John?

KING: MJ is going to stand by for us, as we wait for the program to begin, and we'll bring it to the conversation as we do. With me in studio here to share their insights and expertise, CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson, CNN's Joan Biskupic, and CNN legal analyst Elliot Williams.

I want to get to the history and the legal significance of this. The case is coming if you want the docket for the new justice come this spring in summer. But let's just start with the moment. Here we are, again, trying to figure out how we're supposed to behave in our ever evolving new normal.


Couple years back when Donald Trump introduced Amy Coney Barrett, his nominee then for Supreme Court justice, that event turned into a super spreader in the middle of COVID. Now we have more vaccines, boosters since then, but this is still a question.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And we saw a super spreader event in Washington, which was the grid iron dinner, which a lot of people probably got it at that dinner. And then you had Nancy Pelosi with the vice president there. The folks I've talked to in and around the White House have expressed concerns with sort of a relaxed approach to masking, a relaxed approach to testing.

And part of the reason they're doing this is because Democrats have been hammered for their COVID policy for seeming to be overly cautious around masking after being boosted, after being vaccinated. So, that's why you see this happening there with a kind of lacks approach to masking at this event.

KING: You do see. This is the South Lawn. There's a lot more space in the South Lawn and there in the Rose Garden. Amy Coney Barrett event was in the much tighter Rose Garden, where people are closer together. So that's one thing. But you mentioned that the criticism, sometimes the Democrats be too cautious. Another criticism is sometimes they write the rules and don't follow them. And I think that's a question for the vice president at the moment based on yesterday.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes, absolutely. And, you know, it's this question of what constitutes a super spreader event now in a world that has more vaccines and so on, but don't certainly the optics of it are not good. And the idea of we have a set of rules that we will follow, but others do not. I don't think it sits well with people. But again, this is the new normal and the new world, and people are just trying to figure out what makes sense then.

KING: And so, we'll watch as the event plays out. Joan, let's talk about, you know, it's an odd period, because Justice Breyer is not leaving until the current term ends. So that'll be late June, early July. And then Judge Jackson will become Justice Jackson, and she will take her historic seat. We know University of North Carolina affirmative action case, Alabama voting rights case, a web designer who would handle marriages, but not for same sex couples.

Those are all cases that will be on the docket. When this new justice takes place. Now, you're the court, the Trump majority, the conservative majority, led by the three Trump justices is not going to change. But what do you look for from this impact of this new justice? Right, left of center, excuse me, like Justice Breyer, but a different person.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's absolutely right. And she brings very distinctive experience, in addition to this historic demographic. You know, first time in 233 years to have a black woman joining the court, but she's also a former Federal Public Defender, a trial court judge. She's got very deep experience, very deep experience on a bench, more than many of the other justices when they joined.

And what, you know, several of the justices talked about what it's been like when a first joins them. Sandra Day O'Connor talked about what it was like when Thurgood Marshall, who was the first black justice appointed in 1967, joining the conference room and brought that perspective in.

So, even though her vote at this point with a six-justice super majority on this court doesn't appear like it's going to change the dynamic of the outcome of cases. She will probably change things around the margins. And the other thing to remember is that Stephen Breyer, the man who she's succeeding served for 28 years. So, we're just at the very earliest stages of the impact she's going to have.

And remember the kinds of cases you just said, John, the racial cases, two of the biggest ones that they're about to hear in the October session, that she will be right there in her black robe for voting rights, racial affirmative action. You know, when Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined the court, she brought her perspective as the first Hispanic and that actually didn't change the outcome of some cases.

KING: So, we'll see yourself as (Ph) that also changes the look of the court in many ways. Let's just put up the ages of the current Supreme Court justices. Ketanji Brown Jackson is 51. She's replacing a judge who is in his 80s. So, you get a younger court. You have more women on the court than ever in history.

And Elliot, you make a point, you make a point that as African Americans, as black Americans rightly celebrate this landmark achievement as women, celebrate this achievement. You make a point that it's also important, I have a 10-year-old son, for a young white kid, boy or girl to look up and see this different court, to see a black woman the Supreme Court means what?

WILLIAMS: Look, it is important to me, to people, black people, a black women to see this representation matters. And it's important, but there's an entire generation of young white kids right now, that is going to have a notion that a Supreme Court has a black man and a black woman on it.

Think about when President Obama was elected, polarizing and partisan, many people did not like President Obama. But there's a generation of children that came up thinking that the President United States could be a black man that is very powerful. And 25 years from now that impact is going to be felt far more, I think, to some extent than what we feel today.

And to the point of what happens in that room. Think of it as a workplace, but of only nine people. If you swap one person out who's a generation younger, and a black - the dynamic in the room just changes, and it's going to change for a long time.


KING: Back to the history point, Senator Raphael Warnock, who himself is a historic figure who really a black man and a pastor elected in Georgia in his very polarized times. At the advice of the vice president and we can show you, Kamala Harris, our first black woman vice president. It's going to be maybe part of the ceremony as well.

Vice President Harris told Senator Warnock, you should write a note to your daughter, and she picked his stationaries. This one's for you, Chloe. Again, again telling his young daughter, who's still my question. How far can I go in this world? Well, here's more proof. There's more proof, shoot high.

HENDERSON: This is a woman who looks like you and has hair like yours. You know, it is notable that she is a brown skinned black woman. She has natural hair. And she has a name, like Ketanji, which is an African name. And so, I think to Elliot's point, this idea of a black woman on the Supreme Court, it expands the imagination of everyone, in terms of what African Americans can do, in terms of what women can do, in terms of what black women can do. And this is how you push America forward. This is how you push the world forward.

Getting away from stereotypes about what people can do and putting people in boxes. It'll be fascinating to see how she cages, how people view the courts, right? Because the courts now do seem to be mired in partisanship, the rating of the Supreme Court, I think it's something like 40 percent approval.

BISKUPIC: But you know, as the court, rating has gone down (crosstalk) exactly, exactly. So that's a nice contrast.

HENDERSON: Yes. I was getting text messages from one of my best friends in South Carolina, who was saying, he was wanting to show this, then yesterday's event to his classroom of kids who are eighth graders. And so, we have a whole new generation who's going to look to this court and look at it differently.

KING: You see the guests. You see the guests of honor coming in. The guests of honor coming in. We've seen the president, the vice president, the Judge Jackson leave the Oval Office, but they're still making their way through the crowd. So, we're going to take a quick break. We'll come back with this historic event. We're also, of course, tracking live developments in Ukraine. Stay with us.