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British PM: "Realistic Possibility" Putin May Win War In Ukraine; Mariupol's Mayor: 20,000 Dead Since Russia's Invasion Begin; Ukraine: Russian Troops Opened Fire On Evacuation Bus In East; Russia Escalates Attacks, Terrorizes South & East Ukraine; Russia Aims To Establish "Full Control" Over South Ukraine. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 22, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. A top Russian commander today making clear Vladimir Putin's war aims extend beyond the Donbass in Ukraine's east. Full control of the south is also said to be part of the Kremlin war plan. That is a 600-mile swath of strategic land, along Ukraine southern coast.

Mariupol, of course, one of those ports' cities on Putin's list. These new images show Russian tanks rolling through. The Kremlin says the city has captured, but there are still Ukrainian fighters at a waterfront steel plant, and there are civilians taking shelter there are too. Mariupol mayor says, they are running out of food and water. He estimates Russian troops now outnumber the Ukrainians by 15 to one.


MAJOR VADYM BOICHENKO, MARIUPOL, UKRAINE: This my hearts been torn out. My life, my family, we live there. This was our life. And for me and tens of thousands of Mariupol residents, it is extremely painful to see so many dead and the city destroyed.


KING: Near Mariupol, you see there, new satellite images exposing mass graves. And near Kyiv, investigators now examining more than one thousand bodies of civilians found, following the withdrawal of Russian forces near the capital. The U.N.'s top human rights official today says, Russia is tossing aside international law and human decency.

The U.K. among those taking new steps to help Ukraine. It now will send tanks to Poland, so that Poland can give its Russian made tanks to Ukraine. Boris Johnson's government also plans to reopen its embassy in Kyiv. Still, listen, the prime minister says a Putin victory cannot be ruled out.


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The sad thing is that that is a realistic possibility. Yes, of course, Putin has a huge army.


KING: Live to Ukraine now for the very latest, CNN's Matt Rivers live for us in Lviv. Matt?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. We actually just got back not too long ago from the train station here in Lviv. And we saw firsthand the kind of tragedy, the horrific idea that not enough people are getting out of Mariupol that need to be getting out of Mariupol.

You talked about the horrific situation there right now. And there are tens of thousands of people that should be evacuated from that city. But the fact of the matter is, despite the fact, that there have been multiple humanitarian corridors set up over the past week or so, the number of evacuees getting out of that city due to Ukraine says, Russian shelling and Russia ignoring ceasefires. The number of people getting out is slowed to a trickle.

So, we went to the train station here in the Lviv, hoping to see people from Mariupol, getting off a train specifically designated for evacuees. And it was just a handful of people getting off a train that could have easily held hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people. And it was very emblematic of what we've seen out of Mariupol over the past few days, just not enough people getting out.

Though, the people coming out of Mariupol, not the only evacuees from this country that are facing just life and death situations. We know that as the fighting continues in the eastern part of the country, people had been urged to evacuate from places like the region of Luhansk.

And we heard from Ukrainian officials today, that Russian forces actually targeted a bus, carrying some two dozen evacuees, and at least one person was injured as a result of that. So, not only is it difficult to even find a bus to get out on, John, but then you run the risk of being shot at by Russian forces, once you do so, horrific to be an evacuee in Ukraine.

And just as you mentioned off the top before we send it back to you, the idea that Russian forces now openly admitting what so many of us have long suspected that Russia wants to take over completely the southern part of the country, all that access to the Black Sea.

We've known publicly, they've wanted to take over the Donbass region, but now the idea that they want to complete the land bridge that would extend from the Donbass region to the east, all the way down to Crimea and the south, a very significant development and one that should have the city of Odessa nervous, that city largely being able to escape the brunt of the Russian onslaught so far, but given Russian statements today, could very well be in the Russian military's crosshairs in the weeks to come, John?

KING: Important reporting and context, Matt Rivers, live in Lviv. Matt, thank you. With me in studio here to share his expertise, the retired air force colonel, CNN military analyst, Cedric Leighton. Colonel let's pick up on that point Matt Rivers just talked about. We've talked in recent days about the Russians trying to do this, right, take Luhansk, take Donetsk, take the Donbass area here.

But if the ambitions they took Crimea eight years ago, if the ambitions as this general said on Russian state television today, go all the way over here. Number one, does Putin have the forces to pull that off? And number two, what would it mean if he did?


COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): So, this is a really interesting question, John, because what we were dealing with here is not just the plan, but can you actually make this happen? So, when you remember the number of forces that we had here in the north, we had about up to 190,000 troops were arrayed here when the Russians came in this way.

Right now, best reporting indicates that we only have 82,000 here, that is not enough to do this and this. So, we have to see there, either they're going to bring in more troops than what they have right now, or this plan is not going to work.

KING: But let me clear the map for a little bit, just to make clear what would happen here. Look, we've seen Mariupol is under siege. It's all but captured. Right, all but captured. There's a few holdouts here, we'll come back to this in a minute. We see the red here. The Russians have been in Crimea for eight years. The red means, Russian forces have moved into this area. We've seen obviously in Kearson, they've taken over Mykolaiv has been bombed.

To move over here if that were to hold out. Number one, it puts you on the border with Moldova, which is independent, not part of NATO, not part of the European Union. But number two, there are some pro-Russian separatists in Moldova. If Putin went that far, then he's knocking even closer, Romania. He's knocking on NATO's doorstep, were that to happen.

COL. LEIGHTON: And, of course, as we can see here, Romania is a NATO member. This starts to get into Article 5 territory, potentially, if there's something that happens where, for example, if Putin moves into Moldova, right here, and he takes over Transnistria, which is this, this Russian area right here, that would, then make for a possible entry into Romania. This has a lot of Romanians speaking people in that area anyways. So, this will get into a situation between Russian speaking people and Romanian speaking people, if that were to happen.

KING: So, the question is, is this bluster from this commander? Or is it part of the plan, which is something we will watch. But let's go back to where we are right now. Number one, you see all the heavy fighting, you see where - you see the fighting scenes here. Russia is slowly by small town by small town, trying to take more of this area, in terms of what the United States has promised.

So, you hear the U.K. today saying, we will send Poland tanks. Poland can give it its Russian tanks. That comes in from all the way over on the western border. How do you get aid to the fight? Is it getting there fast enough?

COL. LEIGHTON: So, that's going to be the problem, because the aid has to come from here, it has to go all the way this way. In order to go through all of this, you have to go through a road system that is not perfect. You have to go through railroads that are potentially under attack. And you have to get to places like Rubizhne and (Inaudible). You have to get all these frontline places, and Kramatorsk would be next in this end.

And here at the road junctions in Izium, you have even more of an issue where you have to bring this and the Ukrainian forces, not only do they have to get the aid there, but the Ukrainian forces, John, are going to have to pivot to different things, either here, here or here. And then we also have to watch out, as we talked about with Odessa, after watch out what could happen here.

KING: Right. And so, that was just bring you into some of this as we watch this play out. This is what these small cities look like, this is Rubizhne. And you see, if this is not military targets, I mean, there may be a government building here, government building there. But when you see things like this, what does it tell you about the Russian strategy as they go from town to town?

COL. LEIGHTON: So, the Russian strategy is very clearly to subjugate the population, to terrorize the population, destroy all of the infrastructure that's in the cities and towns. And this, for example, being a theater in Rubizhne. This is one of the areas that they look at as being a place where they can actually take control and destroy all of the infrastructure and make these buildings uninhabitable.

KING: And we see, I just want to show, this is then and now in Mariupol. This is the steel factory. We've talked about so much in recent days. New York Times video here, have opened operations. This in recent days here. We know there's a small group, a band of Ukrainian fighters desperately trying to hold on. We know there are civilians there taking shelter. But again, you just see, the right side of the screen, tells you everything you need to know.

COL. LEIGHTON: It does. Absolutely, and you know, the difference that damage can make, you know, in this area, you have a very vibrant steel plant that was responsible for about 12 percent of Ukraine steel exports at the time. This, of course, is now totally laid to waste. And it's a scene of urban combat. It's a scene that's very different, kind of reminiscent of Stalingrad at World War II. This is the kind of thing that will face the Russian troops as they get in there. And it's, probably why Putin said that he doesn't want to directly go in there. He's going to in essence starve them out. KING: Starve them out, as we watch that play out. Colonel Leighton, sobering, sobering insights, but I'm grateful for them. Thank you. Well, we come back, brand new audio of Kevin McCarthy, the top House Republican, saying Donald Trump admitted, he bears some responsibility for January 6. The tape and how it just might complicate McCarthy's ambitions. That's next.




KING: Some breaking political news, now brand-new audio that sheds light on what Donald Trump thought about January 6, and this audio could also complicate Kevin McCarthy's ambition to be the next speaker of the House. This is from January 11, 2021. McCarthy is on a call with fellow House Republicans. And he shares details of a conversation with then President Trump.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA) (voice over): But let me be very clear to all of you and I've been very clear to the president. He bears responsibility for his words and actions. No ifs, ands, or buts. I asked him personally today, does he hold responsibility for what happened? Does he feel bad about what happened? He told me he does have some responsibility for what happened. And he needs to acknowledge that.


KING: With me in studio, Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns from the New York Times, who broke this story as authors of the upcoming book, "This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden, and the Battle for America's Future." Gentlemen, grateful to have you here and grateful to have this new clip.


Help me, Alex, you go first in terms of the idea that, number one, this takes you back to those important days. When Republicans had a very different view and the urgency of the moment, the aftermath of the chaos than they do now. Kevin McCarthy, you could say as Exhibit A of somebody who was outraged, blamed the president. You heard him there, say the president himself took responsibility. Now, Kevin McCarthy is in a hug Trump mode because he thinks it helps him get to be speaker.

ALEX BURNS, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: That's right. And in those days after January 6, the idea that Donald Trump might someday help you become speaker of the House, seemed a little bit farfetched. He was a disgrace president. He was implicated in an attack on the seat of American democracy.

And what you hear in Kevin McCarthy's voice, and in his telling of what happened was a sense of culpability, a direct sense of culpability by the president in the attack on the Capitol. It's important to distress here, John. This is a conversation with scores and scores of House Republicans from the very right-wing members of the Congress to folks a closer to the political middle. They all heard Kevin McCarthy say this.

So, when they have been going around and sort of ducking questions about January 6, they're redirecting responsibility elsewhere. They have all heard their leader or ostensible leader say that Donald Trump acknowledged to him personally, that he bought some---

JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: And I think it's important to emphasize, John, that while we're talking about the events of January of 2021, this is also a story about the future of American politics, not just the past, because Donald Trump clearly would like to run for president again. Kevin McCarthy would like to be and could be speaker of the House next year. This has implications for the future governance of America.

What is Kevin McCarthy and his people, the GOP colleagues of the House, what are they going to do when President Trump runs again? And what do they do if he wins the election or if he loses the election and tries to overturn the results? The conduct in the past has a direct bearing on what could happen in the future.

KING: And so, we're going to spend a lot of time on this. We're going to spend this segment. We're going to spend some more time in the next segment because it's very important. A, looking back to record the history properly. But B, as you know, what about this year, the midterm election? What about 2024? How much sway does Trump still have? Kevin McCarthy makes peace.

We are told that we'll discuss this as we go forward that McCarthy spoke to Trump last night. He has reason to try to say, oops, that I will get more into that. But I want to listen to a little bit more of this audio, because this is what Kevin McCarthy thought. He talked about how people in a very different position now. Back then, in the days just after the insurrection, Kevin McCarthy, Donald Trump, I'm done with him.


MCCARTHY (voice over): All right, I know, this is not fun. I know this is not great. I know this is very tough. But what I want to do, especially through here, is I don't want to rush things. I want everybody have all the information needed. I've had it with this guy. What he did is unacceptable. Nobody can defend that, and nobody should defend it.


MARTIN: I've had it with this guy.

KING: I've had it with this guy. That was a moment in which you guys detail, not just Kevin McCarthy, Mitch McConnell said, look, the Democrats have the votes to impeach him again, this time for his post- election conduct. And maybe we should be part of that. Maybe we should be part of getting rid of Trump. But they blinked.

BURNS: On that very call, you have Kevin McCarthy talking about asking Trump to resign. You have Kevin McCarthy inquiring about the process for invoking the 25th Amendment - President Trump off from office. And you know, just again, to put people back in that moment, you'd had two members of Donald Trump's a cabinet resigned. You'd had three Republican governors, a call for him to step down. The Democrats are steaming towards the impeachment resolution that they eventually pass.

And again, what you hear from Kevin McCarthy, there is clearly actually quite a bit of sympathy with at least the sentiments behind what the Democrats are doing, if not the exact measures that they're taking. I think, John, what we will reveal again and again, in this book, is the enormous gap between what people like Kevin McCarthy will say about Donald Trump in public and to his face and what they actually think about it.

KING: Right. And at that moment, they had in their grasp, this idea they talked about throughout the Trump presidency, even throughout the Trump candidacy. How do we get rid of this guy? Because we don't like him. We detest him. We despise him. That's what they say in private. You have Kevin McCarthy there.

If he had moved enough people 10 House Republicans ultimately voted to impeach the second time around. If he had made that number 30 or 40. If McConnell had given them more votes in the Senate, they could have done it, but they blinked. Why? Are they afraid of Trump? Are they afraid of his voters?

MARTIN: It's the great what if of our times. What if those two leaders had summoned their members in that moment to move on Trump? It's a matter of, I think, very straightforward political facts on the ground. The rank-and-file members of Congress in the GOP are deferential, and in some cases, downright afraid of their own voters.


And there is a, speaking of golf, there's a massive golf between how the members of Congress in this party view the president and how their voters view the president. Their voters for the most part like him and some guests just love him. A lot of their members of Congress love with him, and this is an open secret has been for years now.

And so, what happens, John, in those weeks in January, when it's an uncertain question, it's an open question. What happens is, people like McCarthy, take the temperature of their conference, and they either hear, love two things, crickets, which is nothing at all, or they hear, you know, our voters back home. They just don't care about January 6.

There's an amazing moment where a member of Congress from Ohio, you know, a very conservative member speaks up on this call, conference wide call and says, they want to hear about Hunter Biden and Hillary Clinton, talking about their voters. They don't want to hear about January 6, and that's the bottom line.

KING: Yes. Sometimes it's the responsibility of leaders to have conversations, maybe have difficult conversation,

BURNS: Sort of any job description.

KING: That your voters don't want to have that. You constituents don't have that. Your colleagues don't want to have. That's part of being a leader. These guys are going to stay with us. We have much more ahead, including more audio of Kevin McCarthy, clearly saying something, he denied saying.




KING: Kevin McCarthy says, he never planned to suggest President Trump resign after the January 6 riots. Totally false and wrong. McCarthy said in a statement, we shared with you at this hour yesterday. Actually, totally true, and correct. Listen?


REP. LIZ CHENEY, (R-WY) (voice over): Is there any chance? Are you hearing that he might resign? Is there any reason to think that might happen?

MCCARTHY (voice over): I've had some few discussions. My gut tells me no. I'm seriously thinking of having that conversation with him tonight. I haven't talked to him in a couple of days. From what I know of them, I mean, you guys all know him too, do you think he'd ever back away. What I think I'm going to do is, I'm going to call him. The only discussion, I would have with him is that I think this will pass, and it would be my recommendation you should resign. I mean, that would be my take, but I don't think he would take it. But I don't know.


KING: Kevin McCarthy in his own words, saying what he said he didn't say. The co-authors of the upcoming book, "This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden, and the Battle for America's Future." Jonathan Martin, Alex Burns, are still with us. And joining our conversation, CNN's Manu Raju, and from the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Tia Mitchell.

Manu, to you first. Number one, nice work, gentlemen. These guys know how to do their job. Kevin McCarthy says, he never said what we just heard him say. We'll just leave that. So, now Kevin McCarthy has a problem. He's a liar. In addition to having other political problems, he's a liar. And so, he had to call Trump last night to play this.

And today, I'm interested in this part, the Shakespearean drama of this. Liz Cheney, we also heard that call. And Steve Scalise, McCarthy's deputy, both say, they are not the source of the tape. So, part of this also was Kevin McCarthy with the idea of who. Who is it as I tried to be speaker who's had recording my calls? MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And a lot of people are on those calls. So, it could have been anyone. And the question, though, for McCarthy is, what does this - how does it impact him in the long term and his standing within the Republican conference, which is one reason why his first call was to Donald Trump after this recording broke that these guys were able to obtain, because the Trump wing of the Republican conference in the House is sizable, they're vocal and they can inject them as speaker if Donald Trump were to try to round up the votes to prevent him from ascending to the speakership.

Now, that being said, and talking to Republican sources this morning, they've been feel pretty confident. McCarthy is still in good standing in large part because Trump has not come out and said anything, and try to bash him, throw him under the bus. McCarthy, he has been allied with Trump ever since in the days after January 6. He's done nothing to anger Trump. And for McCarthy, the real question will be how big was House majority be, assuming their majority. It's a narrow majority. It could be in prompt for those Trump, sub diehards, but if it's a little bit bigger, he should be fine.

KING: And the question is, can he keep Trump. As Trump keeps listening to this audio and the conversations about it. Can he keep Trump and Trump's closest acolytes in the House? Adam Kinzinger says, they should not know. Adam Kinzinger, we have to know for the record, he's long broken with Donald Trump. He's one of the two Republicans on the January 6 committee, so he's a rhino in Trump's view.

But this is what he says today. Wow. McCarthy literally today said this was a lie. In just a few hours later, the tape with his voice from his mouth proves that was a lie. Incredible at GOP leader ought to be ashamed. Republicans, your leaders think you are dumb. Let's be dumb with them. It is pretty striking to Kevin McCarthy now to say, hey, I'm a liar. Vote for me.

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION: Yes. I mean, to me this is a very serious and high-level example of what's wrong with our politics today, because it's, you know, the speaker of the House most likely, is someone who's now been caught saying one thing behind the scenes that he would not say publicly to the American people about, you know, a deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol. And this is the man that is going to be one of the most powerful leaders of our American government. That to me is the most serious thing that come out of all the reporting, that's come out in the last 24 hours.

KING: And you say all the reporting last 24 hours, which is why I bring it back to you guys. The book is not in bookstores yet, and we're learning little pieces of it as we go. Here's something else in the Times article you wrote, based on your reporting for the book.