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Biden: "No Evidence' Mariupol Has Fallen, Despite Putin's Claim; World War II Soviet Victory Flag Flying in Russian-Occupied Areas; New U.S. Military Aid to Ukraine Includes 144K Artillery Rounds, 72 Tactical Vehicles, New Drone System & Add'l Field Equipment; NTY: McCarthy, McConnell Privately Blasted Trump After Jan 6. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 21, 2022 - 12:00   ET




JOHN KING, HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics, I'm John King in Washington, thank you for sharing your day today. Tough talk, very tough talk today from President Biden as he unveiled another big package of heavy weaponry for Ukraine.

The president says the west will not yield and that Vladimir Putin will never succeed in his quest to conquer his neighbor. Just hours after the Russian president claimed victory in a strategic Ukrainian port city. President Biden said there is still some hope.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's questionable whether he does control Mariupol. There is no evidence yet that Mariupol has completely fallen.


KING: Putin telling his defense chief there is no need to storm a steel factory that is home to the last Ukrainian holdouts in Mariupol. Instead, Putin ordered a blockade, quote, "So that a fly can't get through." The CEO of the company that owns that steel plant says the situation is close to catastrophe.

Because he says the civilians trapped inside are now running out of food. Four buses of residents were able to get out of Mariupol yesterday, but according to Ukraine's deputy prime minister overall the evacuation is falling short of its goal. In the east, the Russian military remains on offense. Luhansk top military official says Russian forces are destroying residential buildings. One city he says has no food warehouses left. Russia is marking its gains, we see them there with propaganda stunts. That's a World War II-era Soviet victory flag beginning to appear across areas of Ukraine overrun by Russian troops.

To the White House and the Pentagon in just a moment for more on that big new weapons package. But first, let's get the latest from the war zone. CNN's Matt Rivers live for us in Lviv. Matt, what is the latest?

MATT RIVERS, INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Yes, John, we're watching these evacuations or lack thereof out of the city of Mariupol so let's start there. The glimmer of hope that we had both yesterday and today with the announcement of humanitarian corridors perhaps that could take out some of the beleaguered 120 or so thousand citizens that Ukraine says needs to be evacuated from in and out -- in and around Mariupol.

They're just not doing what they were supposed to do. Yesterday only about a few dozen evacuees managed to make their way out of the city. Only four buses, John, four managed to get into the town. And then today, some 200, only 200 people lined up waiting for buses in Mariupol.

To show up those buses, at least according to the city's mayor a little while ago, never actually arrived. So we're talking in -- about a time where we should be seeing thousands and thousands and thousands of people being evacuated. But the Ukrainians say that the Russians are not holding up their end of the bargain, violating ceasefires, being disorganized overall that is not allowing civilians to leave.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin declaring victory in Mariupol but I'm not exactly sure, if the definition of controlling a city is controlling the entire city, well then he has not taken Mariupol. I have personally spoken to people inside that steel plant who are still there fighting right alongside those civilians that you mentioned.

Hundreds of whom are still trapped in there. Functionally, yes, Vladimir Putin and his forces do control Mariupol, the vast majority of that city, and its surroundings are controlled by Russian forces. But we know there is still the Ukrainian resistance, that is what President Biden was alluding to when he spoke about that.

Where this goes from here, John, not exactly sure. Now that Putin says it's not necessary to storm that steel plant, going to blockade it, that essentially means they are putting that steel plant under siege. No more supplies can get into the defenders and the citizens that are in there.

So how they get supplies, how they can last for much longer remains an open question. But I had one quick conversation in that steel plant earlier today, and he told us that in his view Vladimir Putin saying they don't want to storm the steel plant means that they just can't because they think that they'll lose. John.

KING: Resolve from those Ukrainians, quite remarkable resolve. Matt Rivers, grateful for the live update from Lviv. Let's get to the White House now and CNN's Jeremy Diamond. Jeremy, a big announcement from the president today and he says they'll be more to come.

JEREMY DIAMOND, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Yes, that's right, John, $800 million of additional security assistance going to Ukraine. And it includes more of that type of heavy weaponry that we saw in the U.S. announced plans to deliver last week for the first time.

It brings the total amount of U.S. aid since the beginning of this invasion to $3.4 billion, 1.6 billion of which has come in just these last two weeks. This latest package includes more of those Howitzer artillery weapons, which the U.S. began providing in that initial package last week.

Tactical vehicles to tow those Howitzers as well as over 121 new drones for the Ukrainians. And President Biden making clear that the war as it enters this new phase, we are now in a, quote, "Critical window," are the words that the president used.


And talking about this new phase of a war in which you're going to see much more tank warfare, much more open fields. And that the U.S. needs to provide the kinds of weaponry that will help the Ukrainians in that new battle. But the president also making clear that the U.S. isn't announcing every single type of weaponry that it is providing to the Ukrainians. And borrowing a phrase from Teddy Roosevelt to make that point.


BIDEN: We won't always be able to advertise everything we -- that our partners are doing to support Ukraine in this fight for freedom. But to modernize Teddy Roosevelt's famous advice, sometimes we will speak softly and carry a large Javelin. Because we're sending a lot of those in as well.


DIAMOND: And President Biden making clear that the U.S. can sustain this support for Ukraine in the long-term as long as the U.S. and its allies remain united. Something that has been a key focus for this White House. But also, as long as Congress continues to provide additional funding. As Congress comes back from its recess next week, President Biden announcing that he will request a supplemental budget from -- budget request from Congress in order to ensure that these weapons continue to flow to Ukraine uninterrupted. John.

KING: Jeremy Diamond, appreciate the live reporting and a big day at the White House. Thank you, Jeremy. This new aid package includes a new drone system, one that was developed by the Air Force specifically for Ukraine's military needs. Let's get to the Pentagon now. CNN's Barbara Starr has even more for us. Barbara, tell us some.

BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT, CNN: John, as you look at the list that the White House and the Pentagon advertise you can begin to see some clues about how this battle in the east is going to shape up. The tow -- towed Howitzers, for example, designed to give the Ukrainians I think fair to say maximum mobility.

They tow the Howitzer, they fire, they can move it out of Russian eyes and ears very quickly so the Russians can't find them and target them. With these new UAVs, this is something called Phoenix Ghost, we have not heard about this weapon until today. The Pentagon saying it was developed by the U.S. Air Force for Ukrainians specific needs in this area.

Similar to the Switchblade drone that they are sending, this means it is a drone, classified project because they're not telling us what it is, but possibly has both anti-tank, anti-personnel capabilities developed by the U.S. Air Force, again, for specific Ukrainian needs.

And I emphasize this because when we looked up the company that the Pentagon said was developing this drone for Ukraine, it is a U.S. contractor that does work for U.S. Special Operations, specifically for Covert U.S. Special Operations units. This can -- may now be the second classified weapons system the U.S. is giving Ukraine.

You'll recall a couple of weeks ago discussion about an unmanned boat that they were giving to Ukraine for their maritime needs. We have not heard anything about the specifics of that either.

The Pentagon saying they simply for security reasons can't disclose any details about either of these systems. So it becomes very interesting. Ukraine has potentially two classified U.S. weapons systems now joining its inventory. John.

KING: Interesting to say the least. Barbara Starr, grateful for the live report from the Pentagon. Let's get some important insights now from our CNN military analyst, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. General Hertling, grateful for your time today. Let's pick up where Barbara just left off.

Talking about a contractor used by U.S. Special Forces developing a drone for Ukraine's unique military needs on this battlefield. A) what does that tell you? What do you think the capabilities necessary would be? And you've spoken frequently about that the United States and the allies are doing more than we know. Is this an example of that?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), FORMER COMMANDING GENERAL, EUROPE & SEVENTH ARMY: It most certainly is an example of that, John. And I'm not going to tell you anything I know about the drone because I don't know anything about it.

But what I will tell you is when you're a combat leader, and you're asking different folks for capabilities on the battlefield, there's a lot of people that will quickly deliver for you. And in this fight in the Donbas what Ukraine is facing next is a requirement to be light on their feet, light from a standpoint of how much logistics tail they have so they can move very quickly, and a requirement for a lot of intelligence.

So the kinds of equipment that you're seeing being delivered now are providing those things as well as the ability to counter the massive Russian artillery capability they have. So those are all key factors in this next phase of the operations along the Ras (ph) and the Donbas.

KING: And that's going to play out here, the eastern Ukraine, Donetsk to Luhansk, playing out over here. I just want to bring up a list of this and have you help me as a former commander yourself.

Seventy-two big Howitzers, 150 millimeters, 144,000 artillery rounds, 72 tactical vehicles, 121 of these Phoenix Ghosts unmanned aerial systems, field equipment, and spare parts.

When you heard the president today saying this is another $800 million package in addition to an $800 million package that is still in the pipeline, and more to come what specifically will these weapons do to help Ukraine in the fight?


HERTLING: Well, the first one, John, the Howitzers, again, those are towed artillery pieces. You'll see they're not in a vehicle, they're set right on the ground. But those plus the 144 rounds very different than the Russian capability. This is a 155-millimeter Howitzer, the Russians fire 152.

So what you're seeing is the Ukrainians are possibly running out of ammunition for the kinds of former Soviet equipment they had, the Russian equipment. So now they're getting more western technologically advanced capability with a lot of rounds to go with it.

You can't fit a 152 round from a Russian device into a 155 Howitzer, it's just not possible. The tactical vehicles, again, geared toward what I was just talking about, moving quickly around the battlefield. Wheeled vehicles more thank likely because they want to move fast and a quick reaction force to counter any kind of Russian incursion along that 300-mile frontline.

The tactical unmanned vehicles or UAS systems, the drones as they were, those will give intelligence plus firepower. Whenever you see a breakthrough, which is what the Russians are going to attempt in the Donbas at multiple places, they are conducting what's called the reconnaissance in force right now to find -- try and find holes in the Ukrainian lines.

If the Russians were to find that, and so far they've been running into stiff Ukrainian resistance in every place they've been trying to breakthrough. It's because of the lightness of the Ukrainian force, their ability to move the battlefield, and strike very quickly. The last piece though we shouldn't ignore, the spare parts, John.

This is a logistics war, this battle of attrition. The fact that they're -- that the United States and NATO are not only providing equipment that can be replenished but the parts that go along with it. We've seen Russia failing in their logistical re-supply.

What Ukraine has to do to keep up is make sure they can fix forward on the battlefield, get systems back in the position, and continue the fight.

KING: General Hertling, as always, Sir, grateful for your time and important insights. Especially explaining this part of the new package the president says we'll get there ASAP. General, thank you. When we come back more on the president's new Ukraine package, and what he calls this critical window in the war timeline.

Plus some brand new reporting, a top House Republican told colleagues just after the Capitol riots that he would tell President Trump it would be best to resign. Hear how Congressman Kevin McCarthy responds to that reporting now.


KING: President Biden making clear today this big new package of military aid for Ukraine will hardly be the last.


BIDEN: Our unity at home, our unit with our allies and partners and our unity with Ukrainian people is sending an unmistakable message to Putin. He will never succeed in dominating and occupying all of Ukraine. We don't know how long this war will last. But as we approach the two month mark here's what we do know.

Putin has failed to achieve his grand ambitions on the battlefield.


KING: With me to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Arlette Saenz, Seung Min Kim of The Washington Post and Vivian Salama of The Wall Street Journal. Interesting, Arlette, listening to the President. Number one he's talking about the urgency of now. This big new package, which comes right on the heels of another big new package

But the President also making clear thanking the American people, thanking the bipartisan Congress for supporting him and there is more to come. So a fire drill, if you will, at that the moment but also a message that we're going to be at this for months.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean the President is describing this as a critical window right now as you see the battle transition towards the east and the Donbas region. But he's also trying to lay out for folks that we're going - the U.S. is going to continue supplying this military assistance, Congress is going to need to provide additional funding in order to help the Ukrainians defend themselves.

And I think you also hear President Biden taking a lot of pride in the fact that they've been able to keep the allies together, something he believe Russian President Vladimir Putin really doubted that the allies would stay together on this. But Biden is trying to show that additionally with the type of weaponry that they're sending in that they are willing to adapt and cater to what exactly what the Ukrainians need as they enter a different type of terrain. KING: That's the key point because the President, from the beginning and to this day, says, no U.S. boots on the ground in Ukraine. No he doesn't want any NATO boots on the ground in Ukraine, he doesn't want any NATO planes in the sky over Ukraine.

But with each successive package gets more muscular, more heavy military equipment. You heard Barbara Starr talking about how the Air Force specifically had a drone designed to meet the Ukrainian needs. That tells you that the President, you know, maybe he says some red lines but he's getting more muscular here.

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Getting very much more muscular. I mean look at kind of the details of what he laid out today. You're talking about these long range weapons, tons of ammunition for those weapons, special drone. So it certainly underscores the commitment that this President has to aiding the Ukrainians in the way that he feels is appropriate.

Obviously that does not include U.S. troops on the ground. Jen Psaki, the White House, others have reiterated this over and over that that is not what the President will do. But as, you know, as the conflict evolves it will be really interesting to see what new red lines and how far is he willing to go. Because you are starting to hear some chatter especially from Congress saying maybe we do need to actually talk about potential troops on the ground even if this is not what the President wants at this point.

KING: President Zelenskyy tweeting after the President's announcement, "I'm grateful to POTUS and the people at the U.S. leadership supporting the people of Ukraine in the fight. This help is needed today more than ever. It saves the lives of our defenders of democracy and freedom and brings us closer to restoring peace." So President Zelenskyy saying thank you. He will of course ask for more as is expected.


One of the things the President said that was interesting, he said maybe not yet about Mariupol. You've been in touch with the people on the ground actually in that steel plant in Mariupol. Maybe not yet, they are still - there's still some fierce resistance there, some civilians but, right?

VIVIAN SALAMA, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Mariupol is going to be a huge loss for the Ukrainian military not just in terms of territory, in terms of morale and other issues as well. And for the U.S. it's really going to put pressure on them not only because this is a huge - a big city, the fifth largest city in Ukraine which is now lost to the Russians potentially and we expect it to happen at any moment now.

President Putin was out there today claiming that he actually won and has taken over Mariupol. It doesn't seem to be quite there yet. But this is going to be a major, major loss in this battle for the Ukrainian military and so there will be pressure here in Washington as far as trying to do more. But what more can possible done, the U.S. continually emphasizing that

they keep on providing weapons and other assistance. And it has been game changing in a lot of ways. The Ukrainian military of 2022 is not the Ukrainian military of 2014. They've come a long way. They have put up a fierce resistance.

But they will continue possibly to lose bits and pieces of territory in the east. And so long as that happens there will be questions back to President Biden and other allies about what more can we do and maybe nothing


KING: And again to the complicated nature of this, right now the focus is what can we do to help Ukraine. But the United States and all of its NATO and western allies now have to have a conversation about what does this do to our own planning.

The President talked a little bit about this yesterday, listen.


BIDEN: The strategic environment is evolving rapidly in the world but that means our plans and force posture have to be equally dynamic, things are changing.


KING: What the President means there is forget about the idea that we're going to keep reducing troop levels in Europe and embrace the idea that we may have new bases in Europe and more troops in Europe and more planes in Europe even as we need more troops and planes and plans for China, right?

SALAMA: I mean this is the changing situation, geopolitical situation that the administration has had to reckon with since they came into office where they wanted to put so many resources in the Indo-Pacific and the previous administration, too by the way. Where they were taking troops out of Europe to place them in other areas where they believe were priority.

But what this conflict has shown and certainly what we are learning day by day is that Europe is still vulnerable. And Europe is still a strategically important place for U.S. - a U.S. presence. And as much as President Biden wanted to scale back on military presence in so many different place he's now seeing that that's not an option anymore.

KING: Right. President Clinton started that and you've see - never mind (ph) it's a big (inaudible) -


SALAMA: Absolutely.

KING: -- it's a big never mind for (inaudible). Coming up for us, I've had it with this guy. A new book includes some stunning revelations about what Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell said behind closed doors about Donald Trump just after the January sixth insurrection.



KING: A new book offers simply fascinating details of the top two Republicans in Congress. How they initially believed the January sixth insurrection would be the end of Donald Trump's political power. The book says, for example, that Senator Mitch McConnell told advisors quote, "The Democrats are going to take car of the son of a bitch for us." That referring to Trump's post election impeachment.

And the book reports that the House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy vented quote, "I've had it with this guy" and this is important, that McCarthy told other House Republican leader he would tell Trump it was best to resign.

The book is, "This Will Not Pass, Trump, Biden, and the Battle for America's Future". It is written by two fantastic New York Times political reporters; Alex Burns and Jonathan Martin. With us to discuss CNN Legal Analyst, Former Federal Prosecutor, Elliott Williams joins our conversation.

I want to start, I'm going to come back to you in a minute, counselor, I want to start over here. Seung Min, Kevin McCarthy issued a new statement now. His spokesman first issued a statement saying, denying the resign part.

KIM: Right.

KING: Denying specifically that he told other House Republicans I'm going to tell Trump it would be best to resign. There's a new statement, "The New York Times" reporting on me is totally false and wrong. It comes as no surprise that corporate media is obsessed with doing everything they can to further their liberal agenda. This goes on. This is a much, you can read some of it on your screen.

This is a much more Trumpy sounding statement from McCarthy attacking "The Times". The significance of that, the denying that he asked him - he was going to ask him to resign, now he never did ask him to resign. But denying that he planned to ask him to resign is critical to Kevin McCarthy's future because he wants to be Speaker and it would only take a modest number of Republicans to say no, you crossed a line.

KIM: Right. Right, there are still a certain significant number of House Republicans whose actions, whose decisions are dictated by the former President and those decisions include who will be the Speaker of the House particularly if Kevin McCarthy -- or particularly House Republicans take the majority. And look if House Republicans win a number of seats they have a big majority then they, you know, Kevin McCarthy has a cushion to work with.

But let's say they have a majority of, you know, five, 10 seats or so he's going to need every single - almost every single member on board and a lot of his members are going to be like we're going to do what Donald Trump tells us to do. And a lot of this is just making sure that guy in Florida remains happy with what McCarthy is doing.

KING: Right, right. And that's the key point because remember it did not take Kevin McCarthy long to go from being mad at Trump, holding Trump responsible and according to these two great reporters saying I'm going to tell him it's best to resign to suddenly go to Mar-a-Lago and get his picture taken with Donald Trump and try to make peace - to try to make peace.