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Ukraine Says It Hit Vital Russian Warship, Kremlin Blames Accidental Fire; Mariupol Remains Contested; Ukraine Soldiers Trapped In City; U.S. Sending Heavier Weapons As Ukraine Braces For Onslaught; U.S. Sending Helicopters & Humvees To Help Defend Eastern Front; Soon: Frank James To Appear In Court For First Time; Frank James Faces Federal Terrorism-Related Charge; Blinken, Austin Among Officials Being Considered For Trip To Ukraine. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 14, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello everybody, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. We start this hour in Ukraine, a somber milestone and urgent battlefield preparations. This is day 50 of Vladimir Putin's invasion and the Russian military is poised to open a new chapter of this war. The west warns of major Russian offensive will happen as soon as the next couple of days.

Moscow's gunsights now set on eastern Ukraine, a Donbass region. The coming crossroads in Ukraine's east is the source of a Pentagon scramble. The United States is now promising to deliver heavier and deadlier weaponry, helicopters, howitzer, cannons, and more.

Overnight, Ukraine says it put a major military win on the scoreboard. The Moskva, Russia's premier warship in the Black Sea sustained major damage. Ukraine claims it struck that vessel with a cruise missile. Russia blames the damage on an accidental fire. The Pentagon today says it has not determined the cause and says the ship is still afloat, but in need of major repairs.

Mariupol remains under attack on all sides, debris lines just about every nook and cranny of that city. Ukrainian officials say thousands are dead. Russian state media claims this is battlefield progress. A video apparently showing Ukrainian soldiers surrendering. CNN is unable to determine if this is real or if it is Kremlin propaganda.

We start our coverage on the frontlines in Ukraine in Lviv, with CNN's Matt Rivers. Matt, what's the latest?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. Well, the big headline is this certainly this warship, is Russian warship that has been critically damaged, according both to Russian state media and also to what we're hearing from the Ukrainians and the Americans. Of course, the Russians only calling this a fire. They say that the fire has been put under control at this point, not saying what they believe the cause of that fire was.

However, the Ukrainians filling in that blank, they're saying that it was in fact, two or three cruise missiles, shore-based cruise missiles launched by the Ukrainians. They're called Neptune missiles developed here in Ukraine, brought into service within the last year or so. The Ukrainian saying, they successfully attack this ship.

Now the Americans say they can't verify that. But interestingly, they're already seeing the effects on other Russian ships with a U.S. defense official telling CNN that they have seen Russian ships in and around that area actually move further south, perhaps an attempt to make clear or get clear of any further cruise missiles that might be launched by the Ukrainians. John?

KING: Matt, some other important battlefield developments to the Ukrainian, say they've destroyed a bridge in Kharkiv. And they say Mariupol, yes under siege, but the Ukrainian saying has not fallen.

RIVERS: That's correct. And we have some pictures that were provided by the Ukrainian military of that bridge. They say that they were able to destroy that bridge, while Russian armored cars and trucks were moving over top of it. Those trucks said to be heading toward the city of Izyum, which would be where Russian troops want to move from, as they move their way further south and into the rest of the Donbass region.

As for Mariupol, yes, Russia claiming that they have taken hundreds and hundreds of Ukrainian prisoners. However, the Ukrainian government saying that that city is still very much being contested that Ukrainian forces that remain there have not yet given up. This after weeks of continued fighting, it has seemed for a while now that Ukraine's forces in that city might be on their last legs. But Ukrainian authorities saying they are still fighting that the city has not yet fallen to the Russians.

KING: Matt Rivers for us live in Lviv. Matt, grateful for the live reporting. Let's take a closer look now at the battlefield and at the new firepower, included in an $800 million added additional U.S. security assistance package. With me to share their insights, our CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, and our CNN military analyst, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.

General Hertling, Barbara, grateful that you're with us. This is the battlefield but let me go first to this list of new aid. And Barbara, let me start with you. We watched through this here. It's a list of much heavier equipment. The Biden administration deciding after weeks of resisting saying, some things were across the line. We weren't going to do that.

Adding these howitzers, adding more javelins. They've done that before. Switchblade drones, they've done before. But armored personnel carriers, armored Humvees, Mi17 helicopters. It tells you what they expect to happen as this battle unfolds in eastern Ukraine. Barbara, help us with the howitzers as first? Again, a couple of weeks ago, the administration said no, now it says yes. Why?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is because exactly of where they are headed into the Donbass in eastern Ukraine. This is an area that is relatively flat and open. They are going to be fighting over longer distances, open range, long range fires, and that is why they're going to need howitzer. That's why they're going to need those counter battery radars. The air defense radars. This is not what we saw north of Kyiv, wooded areas, ambush tactics, successful as they were. That's what is not on the table here.


So, we've got an eight new $800 million package that they have got to get there sooner, not later because the Russians are already moving into the northern Donbass. We are told with their own artillery, their own commanding control, not the big muscle movements of tens of thousands of Russian troops yet, but they are beginning to make their move into the northern Donbass. The last $800 million package took four weeks to get there. They are going to have to move faster.

KING: Going to have to move faster. General, you've been saying for some time that you wish the United States, and the other allies would be more aggressive in what it delivered to Ukraine. Explain the significance of the howitzers as again, as we expect more of an armor battle. A lot of Ukrainians say, like not unseen since World War II in the east.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), FORMER COMMANDING GENERAL. EUROPE AND SEVENTH ARMY: Well, what we'll talk about linking on what Barbara just said, John, if I were in command of the Russian force, I would be thinking about three things; force generation, logistics, and then massing the force. That's where this long-range fire comes in. Because what the Russian wants, the Russians want to do, (Inaudible), he wants to break through the lines in the Donbass region.

In order to do that, the Russians always fire artillery first, and they fire it from 10 kilometers, 12 kilometers away. That howitzer you just showed up there, the one nine or eight as the army calls it, has a artillery range of about 14 miles. You know, and if they have something called a rocket assisted projectile, I won't go into the details, it will shoot around about 20 miles.

So, what they want to do with both that artillery piece, combined with the radars that the administration has given is as soon as Russia starts firing artillery, they want to fire back, and they want to stop that artillery from shooting. So, that the Ukrainian forces can attack the forces that are trying to make the breakthrough. Russian artillery is deadly, John. They have a lot of it. They practice that extensively unlike some of the other things they do. So, artillery is a killer on the Russian battlefield. And Ukrainians want to stop that.

KING: And Barbara, I want to come back again to the big list. This is a lot of equipment. As you say, the urgency now it's not just a promise it, but to deliver it. But on this list, you see 11 Mi17 helicopters. I'm going to bring that here. This is a Russian that the Genesis is a Soviet helicopter.

The United States has some of these because of its deployment in Afghanistan. President Zelenskyy, the reporting is, is the one who convinced President Biden, originally advisors were saying don't do this. President Zelenskyy said, I needed them. They are now in the package. Why?

STARR: Well, Zelenskyy wants every tool he can possibly get because of what they are facing in the Donbass. The Mi17, look it could potentially be vulnerable to Russian anti air, but they're going to get some of these in there. I think the problem remains getting them in fast enough to make that difference right off the bat. Because as General Hertling is saying, you don't want the Russians to gain one inch in the Donbass.

If you can assemble this range of arms to stop them in their traps. So, the helicopters will be important. And one of the things that we're learning is that the U.S. will frontload, if you will, into these arms shipments, the most vital things, a things Ukraine needs. So, the most vital, these kinds of things, they will go first. They want to get them on the ground. And Zelenskyy wants to make sure, he's got everything he can.

KING: And General, you can equip those, they're largely designed as a transport helicopter. You can equip them as a gunship. Again, when you're talking about a battle in here, a lot of this territory already has a presence of Russian troops or in the separatist areas for eight years or more, presence of Russian forces. What value do those particular helicopters bring to the Ukrainian piece of this?

GEN. HERTLING: OK. John, I just told you a second ago, what the Russian commander wants to do. He wants to regenerate his force, get logistics in there and masses force to break through. If I were the Ukrainian commander, I'm looking at three things. I want to ensure my forces flexible that they're moving around that 400 yards or 400-mile front in the Donbass.

I want to find ways to establish quick reaction forces as part of reserves to get to those key breach points very quickly, and I want to light my logistics resupply capability. So, if you have helicopters, not only can you arm the helicopters, but you can put 20 guys in the back of that helicopter, each one carrying a javelin missile.


One of the other things that they were provided and continue to be provided with. So, they go to the key point, a bridge, where the Russians are coming in. They've stopped the artillery already. They jump out of the aircraft. They start firing the javelins at the Russian tanks. It gives you a good quick reaction force. It's a brilliant package in terms of including those Mi17. It's a very good helicopter for this kind of terrain.

KING: General Hertling, Barbara Starr, grateful for the important insights. As we watch this playout into Barbara's point, we'll try to track the synergent package. The question is, how quickly can you get it there? We'll try to keep our eyes and ears on that as well. Thank you both. Soon for us. The suspect in the Brooklyn subway shooting, set to appear in court for the first time. We're live outside that courthouse. Next.


KING: Soon the suspect in the Brooklyn subway shooting will appear in federal court. 62-year-old Frank James is in federal custody, facing a terrorism related charge for violence against mass transit. He was arrested in Manhattan yesterday afternoon, after he called the police tip line to tell investigators, he was at an East Village McDonald's.

Here he is, as you see video there, walking the street just before police arrested him. Police arrested James roughly 30 hours, after they say he opened fire on a crowded subway car during the morning rush hour, shooting 10 people, injuring more than a dozen others. CNN's Shimon Prokupecz standing by for us live outside the courthouse in Brooklyn. Shimon, what do we know?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, John, the prosecutors just filed their detention memo. And obviously, as we would expect, they're asking the judge to keep him in jail, keep him behind bars as he awaits trial here. And what they say, is that they allege that this was entirely prelate, entirely premeditated mass shooting that he had a stockpile of ammunition.

And then they write in the detention memo that he came to Brooklyn, prepared with all the weapons and tools he needed. And they then list all the evidence that they have so far found that they say links him to the crime from the gun. But then they also talk about his social media presence, those YouTube videos that we have been talking about, and they argue that the YouTube videos show how violent he is. Take a listen to some of that, and this is what prosecutors are arguing, should also keep him in jail.


FRANK JAMES, BROOKLYN SUBWAY GUNMAN: I've been to a (Inaudible). We're not going to say, I wanted to kill people. I want to watch people die, right in front of my face immediately. But I thought about the fact, hey, man, I don't want to go into prison.


PROKUPECZ: And John, with these videos and other information that investigators now have, they're still working to try and determine a motive and exact motive as to why he - they say he conducted this attack, open fire on this subway car. They also say that they have video of him, telling people how to make bombs, Molotov cocktails, and other incendiary devices. We expect to see him in court here shortly, whereas we said, prosecutors you're asking that he be kept in jail as he awaits trial.

KING: Shimon Prokupecz, outside the courthouse. Shimon, keep us posted if developments changed in the rest of the hour ahead and throughout the day. With me now to share their insights and their expertise, Caroline Polisi. She's a federal and white-collar criminal defense attorney, and Peter Licata, the former Supervisory Special Agent for the FBI. Caroline, let me start with you. Shimon just outlined what the prosecution says in its memo to have Mr. James kept in custody, kept in prison. He has now had some time to meet with his defense attorneys. It's a preliminary hearing, often they're very quick and swift and you don't learn a lot about the case. But what are you looking for from the defense side of this today?

CAROLINE POLISI, FEDERAL AND WHITE-COLLAR CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Yes. Well, John, Shimon is right, prosecutors are going to have no problem winning their motion to have Mr. James incarcerated pending trial detention. Pretrial in this instance, is falls under the federal Bail Reform Act, and you know, safety to society is a factor that they can argue. So, they're not necessarily even arguing about the specifics of the offense today, just whether or not he will be detained pretrial. And I think all evidence points that that he will be.

KING: And Peter, you make an important point. I saw some of the notes back and forth with our producers for the programming, that you know, there's a sigh of relief in New York, obviously. There's a sigh of relief around the country because we didn't know where James would head, perhaps after doing this, that he is in custody. One piece of evidence, Shimon, played a bit of it. Let's listen to a little bit more. This is Mr. James on YouTube, and you can see why prosecutors say, he must be held, he's a risk. Listen?


JAMES: When we see more mass shootings, yes, he does that. No, when you see more, asking more mass shooting.


KING: Your point, Peter Licata, was that evidence is already gathered, but just because he is under arrest does not stop the critical evidence gathering. The checking the boxes, if you will, sealing this case so that you have it ready and airtight when you go to trial.

PETER LICATA, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: John, absolutely, 100 percent. The investigation is not over. So right now, as I said that the public at large is breathing a sigh of relief. They can go back to their normal lives, you know, not worried about Frank James lurking around a corner to repeat another act.

But the prosecution in this case the Eastern District of New York, as well as the JTTF and the New York City Police Department are ensuring all their i's are dotted and t's are crossed. They don't want to cut any corners in order to let anything, influence the trial and the outcome in order to meet the counts on the indictments in a criminal complaint that was filed.

So, the hard work is still going on. In my experience, after the individuals arrested, it's the joint operation center, is still usually going on for a good 72 to 96 hours after it worked out. Investigators are working with prosecutors in order to outline specific counts and to continue to process that evidence to ensure also that there are no co-conspirators for anyone that provided financial or materialistic support to Mr. James.


KING: Caroline. I want to read a little bit from, this is a Breon Peace, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District for New York. Again, these are federal charges being presented. He's in federal custody. Mr. James, as alleged, the defendant committed a heinous and premeditated attack on ordinary New Yorkers during their morning subway commute. All New Yorkers have the right to expect that they will be safe as they traveled throughout our great city.

So, the federal prosecutor making clear. He wants the prosecute to the fullest extent here. As we watch this playout, do you believe will there be state charges as well? Or is this federal jurisdiction and the feds have a better case or stronger case, it'll stay there?

POLISI: Well, absolutely, John, all options are still on the table. As Peter just pointed out, this has been a colossal effort on behalf of the NYPD, JTTF federal and local law enforcement agencies. They specifically noted the Kings County District Attorney's office is involved as well. So, there absolutely could be a superseding indictment if there are more co-conspirators, more charges for Mr. James himself, and certainly state charges are on the table. So, all options remain there, John?

KING: And Peter, what's your take on that part of it? Is it more federal charges as they gather more evidence? They just make a superseding a typo. It's more specifics, or does the state need to come in here as well?

LICATA: Absolutely. And it's combination of both in my experience. So, when we're looking at title 18-1932 or 1992, which is the main charge and the criminal complaint. That's basically an act of terrorism on a mass transportation device. The federal government tends to have a heavier hammer with regard to sentencing and the penalties associated with it.

So, you're looking at 20 years for this individual and it meets what Mr. James did, meets the statute on the section of that statute 100 percent. I think they're charging. I think it's one A, and one sub - one seven and two, or B one, which is use of a weapon in order to commit bodily harm, basically a mass transportation system like a subway car at rush hour.

And what I've seen in the past, happened with Ahmad Rahimi in the 2016 Chelsea bomber, as well as other cases, the state usually holds those charges in reserve. They let the federal government proceed. And then they could always add those state charges for attempted murder, criminal possession of a weapon in New York City, and et cetera, just to tack on charges in conjunction with the federal government.

KING: Peter Licata, Caroline Polisi, grateful for your insights on this day. We'll watch how the proceeding plays out and talk again, I'm sure as the case proceeds. Up next for us. Though President Biden just moments ago, weighing in on whether the United States should at this delicate moment in the war send a top official to Ukraine. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)



KING: Just moments ago, the President United States taking a question about this being debated at the Biden White House. Should we now send a high-level delegation to Kyiv as a show of solidarity on this day 50, the Putin's invasion? Let's get to our chief White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins. She has more. Kaitlan, what the president say?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. This is a big question that was raised after the British prime minister made a surprise visit to Kyiv, whether or not President Biden or someone from the Biden administration would also make a trip to Kyiv, to show a sign of support to Zelenskyy. Of course, as you've seen, more and more world leaders decide to do this.

Now that we are several weeks into this Russian invasion. And while, we're told it is very unlikely that President Biden or Vice President Harris are expected to go at this time. We are told that there are discussions about sending someone potentially to Ukraine, and the president was just asked about this by reporters as he left the White House.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will you send officials to Ukraine? Will you send senior officials to Ukraine?

JOE BIDEN, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA PRESIDENT: Well, we're making that decision now.


COLLINS: So, it sounds like a decision has not yet been made, John. I was told yesterday by multiple officials that it's not clear that this trip will actually materialize. But if they did send someone, they have talked about sending maybe defense secretary Austin or Secretary of State Blinken to go there. Of course, it's a very difficult logistically to pull off, because of course, you can't just fly into Ukraine.

Boris Johnson actually took several forms of modes of transport, including a very long train ride. And so, I think that's a big question that the White House has to deal with is, how long this person would be out of commission going into Ukraine. Of course, that is something that would have to be done with a lot of secrecy around that visit. But it is something that they are talking about internally, as they are also sending this new $800 million aid package into Ukraine.

KING: Kaitlan Collins, live with the White House. Appreciate the update. With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Tarini Parti of The Wall Street Journal, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, at the New York Times. I want to spend more time on the actual substance of the package, but let's stay to this moment because symbolically, it would be important. And we could show, it would most likely be, we'll see if the president decided he wanted to do something like this.

But it most likely be the secretary of defense Lloyd Austin, the Secretary of State, Tony Blinken. Kaitlan raises significant concern. You essentially lose two or three days of this person's time. They fly probably to Poland, take a train across as a security presence. So, it's why take that person out of other critical meetings for two or three days?

Yet, popping up in Kyiv, you show solidarity with Zelenskyy. You also in a way, you know, show Vladimir Putin, you thought you were going to have the city by now, you thought this was going to be yours. The United States of America is here, as the U.K. just was flying the flag.

TARINI PARTI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: I think, yes. I think the discussions that are happening right now is, is it worth the security risk, sending that message to Putin. Sending that sort of symbolic message of solidarity, is that worth the security risk, is it worth pulling these people out of meetings.