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Ukrainian Troops Pull Back in Rubizhne; Defense Secretary Austin Speaks with Russian Counterpart for First Time Since Russian Invasion of Ukraine; Barnette's Quick Rise Worries Trump, McConnell; KFILE: GOP PA Senate Candidate Barnette has History of Bigoted Statements against Gays & Muslims; Now: Judge Hears Arguments on White House Ending COVID Border Restrictions for Migrants. Aired 12-12.30p ET

Aired May 13, 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 complex picture of the battlefield today Ukraine, forcing a Russian retreat on one front Russian slowly but steadily eating into Ukrainian territory on another, in Kharkiv, Russia is backpedaling. These new satellite images you can see right there show destroyed bridges.

Officials believe they were blown up by the Russians on the way out to slow a fierce Ukrainian counter offensive. In Luhansk and Donetsk the Russian air barrage continues in full force.

Ukrainian troops are now pulling back Rubizhne that after weeks of intense battles there.

At Azovstal Steel Plant the surviving Ukrainian soldiers are again under a Russian assault from the sky heavy bombs, powerful explosions, and thick black smoke engulfing that plant this morning. In Mariupol official now worries the Russians may restart ground attacks there. The war is causing a global ripple effect on the food supply. A Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports, stopping grain from getting out and putting nations the world over at risk of starving,

And in Kyiv, today, an important first a Russian soldier you see him right there on trial for alleged atrocities the 21 year old accused of killing an unarmed 62 year old in Sumi in the early days of this war. We begin our coverage right there in Kyiv the Capital with CNN's Melissa Bell, Melissa, what's the latest?

MELISSA BELL, CNNCORRESPONDENT: Well, this was a preliminary hearing into that at this first trial being held into a war crime, as you said John held that would take that took place allegedly during the first days of the war. Vadim Shysimarin is accused of having shot an unarmed man he's the first Russian to be put on trial, a 21 year old who may face life in prison as this trial unfolds. Now, we've been hearing an awful lot, of course, over the course of the last few weeks, and specifically John you'll remember since Russians began retreating from towns like Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, about the trail of devastation left behind and those allegations of war crimes.

When we spoke today to the country's chief prosecutor, she said that there have so far been more than 12,000 war crimes documented in a war that hasn't even lasted three months. So far now, many foreign forensic teams are here on the ground in Ukraine trying to collect evidence for what will be investigations being carried out by the International Criminal Court at The Hague and other international organizations, other national foreign jurisdictions as well.

But this first trial was held in a civilian court. And what the chief prosecutor explained to us, John is that it was essential that it should happen even as the war continues to rage in the east and the south. So that Russian soldiers understand that they cannot carry out their acts or their war with a sense of impunity. And this she said should be an important message to them, John.

KING: It is remarkable to watch that trial playing out as the fighting continues. Melissa Bell, appreciate you're kicking us off from Kyiv. A new development interesting development this hour out of the Pentagon we just learned moments ago that the U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, had a conversation with his Russian counterpart this morning, Sergei Shoigu, that the first time the two defense chiefs have spoken since the start of this invasion, let's get straight to CNN's Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon, Oren tell us more.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: John, this is the first time Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has spoken with his Russian counterpart since February 18th about a week before Russia's invasion of Ukraine began.

So that's 84 days in which there hasn't been communication between these two critical nations here the U.S. and Russia. The Pentagon acknowledged about a month into this war that there had been repeated attempts of outreach from the U.S. side.

Not only Austin, but also the top U.S. General Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen Mark Milley to try to speak with their Russian counterparts but they were repeatedly rebuffed. And those conversations never happened.

So it is an incredibly important line of communication here that has at least open temporarily between Austin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. In a very brief readout we got from the Pentagon Austin urged an immediate ceasefire and stressed the importance of lines of communication from the Russian side.

We just know that Shoigu talked about the situation in Ukraine. We're looking for more information. And of course, John to find out if there'll be a follow up call anytime soon.

KING: Oren Liebermann live at the Pentagon. Oren, thank you very much! Let's get some important insights now from Retired Air Force Colonel and CNN Military Analyst Cedric Leighton. Colonel Leighton let's just start there. First conversation since before the invasion between the two defense chiefs, what do you make of that?

COLONEL CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think it's really remarkable, John, because the fact that they hadn't talked was kind of normal actually, in this situation. But now that they have talked there is now perhaps a chance for Secretary Austin to start convincing

Minister Shoigu that, you know, perhaps there's a better way forward here. So we'll see what happens.

But I think that this is a certainly a positive development as far as it goes. We can't hold our breath that something's really big is going to happen as a result. But the fact that it is happening is good news.

KING: Let's move to the battlefield and you see the map here. I just want to go through we were talking about this before we came on the air. Just the time lapse just to go back this is March 5th. And now you come all the way into May, you're going to watch, you know, the Russians were taking ground here. And then as the months change, the Ukrainians take it back.


KING: But the Russians are making gains in this part of the country over here in the east and down in through the south. And as you see some of the fighting going on up around Kharkiv up here, you see these bridges.

Now, what is the significance of this, that the thinking believing that the Russians as they backed out because of Ukrainian counter- offensive, essentially blew up the bridges to keep the Ukrainians from coming after them?

LEIGHTON: That's exactly right, John, you know, when you split something like this, like a bridge, it's very difficult to actually put it back together again. And the Ukrainians needed this bridge, and this one over here Rubizhne to cross the river and actually deploy their forces on the other bank, the fact that they can't do it means that they're going to have to find a workaround.

Now they can do that they can build their own pontoon bridges, they can, you know, bridge the gap between these two bridges. But the fact that they have to do that is going to delay their efforts to move forward in this counter offensive.

KING: And you see the market here Rubizhne let's just come back to the map here. If you come back, and you look at the map, and you see if we've watched this fighting play off for some time, if we can go back a month ago. We were having a conversation of this anticipation, they were going to have this giant tank battle, and it has not played out that way, why?

LEIGHTON: That's right. And the reason it hasn't played out that way is because right now, what we see is the fact that you know, the Russians have logistic problems. And the Ukrainians don't have all of the weapons that they need from the Western forces from NATO from the United States.

And the fact that they don't have those means that we're getting into a war of attrition, the mobility factor is gone. In essence, from these words, yes, there is some mobility that is happening, you know, for example, in the town of - now, that that has been taken by the Russians, it just as an example, you know, the Russians are coming through this way.

We're trying to at least through Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. But the very fact that they're doing this kind of in a very slow and methodical way, indicates that both sides are finding where the other is moving, the Russians don't have the logistical support to move their tanks. The Ukrainians don't have the tanks to counter them.

KING: And so Russians have had control here for eight years, essentially separatist pro-Russian separatists, the Russians annexed Crimea to the south here eight years ago as well. But now we're looking here at Melitopol here. Why this is significant in the context, if you go to an airbase there, this is a Ukrainian airbase there, but it's now under Russian control. And you see these Russian transport plates there?

LEIGHTON: So the key is Russian transport planes, John. These can carry troop's equipment, you know, especially airborne troops, they can bring these in, and they can then deploy them out. So when you look at where the Russians are, and where Melitopol this is perfect for them to establish that land bridge I toward the southeast of Ukraine, this part right here.

This area right here solidifies their control of this area. Plus, it also gives them a chance to move to the north to the town of Zaporizhzhia, which is this right here.

KING: And so we're watching again, we've been talking about this for a month. Now let's move on from Melitopol over to Mariupol. And you just look at this Azovstal Steel Plant. This goes back to the very beginning of the war, March 22. You were remarking before we came on the air, you do see a crater, you do see a crater now you see essentially just flat Earth.

LEIGHTON: Exactly it is flat Earth; it's a complete and utter destruction. This is kind of what you saw, you know, in the aftermath of World War II bombings in places like Japan and Germany. This, of course, was, you know, perhaps the result of, you know, more precise, this is the strike that I mentioned earlier.

And there's very little damage that is visible from this vantage point. But here, there's a lot of damage. And it shows that destruction was the name of the game for the Russian forces as they move forward.

KING: And so just wrap it all up for us in the sense as we close the week, in the sense - we it's just been slow and plodding here. Slow and plodding here the Ukrainians taking back some land here, what does that foretell for just weeks and months and months ahead? LEIGHTON: Yes, what we're going to see John is basically a static for the moment, unless there's a change in the types of logistic support that either side gets. We're going to see a basic static line that perhaps goes along these lines right here.

There was a chance, of course, the Russians may try to break out and try to, you know, head toward the Dnipro road junction, that's a major issue right there. And that could help to solidify their control over the eastern part of the country but for the most part based on the Ukrainian resistance and the plotting nature of the Russian advance. I expect the line to be basically like this for a few weeks to come.

KING: Colonel Leighton I appreciate your insight, sir, as always. Next for us, some rare common ground between Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell why both are worried about a late surge by a Republican Senate Candidate in Pennsylvania, who has a long history of attacking Islam, same sex marriage and more?



KING: Republicans are suddenly worried about a Pennsylvania Senate Candidate with a long history of bigotry. The primary is Tuesday and Kathy Barnett has late momentum if you believe the polls that despite a slew of past statements Republicans worry was to undermine her chances of winning in November. Barnett as chronicled by CNN's K-File has a history a long history of outrageous statements.


KAHY BARNETTE, SOURCE, TRUTH EXCHANGE: President Barack Hussein Obama has such a difficult time using the words Islamic terrorists in the same sentence. And yet he wants us to feel comfortable two men sleeping together. Two men holding hands two men caressing that is not normal. We have the right to discriminate against world views because all views are not morally equal all views are not equal.


BARNETTE: So we have the right to reject. And let me just say offhand, I reject how Muslims see the world.


KING: With me to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Nia- Malika Henderson, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, Francesca Chambers from USA Today, and CNN's Gabby Orr. And let's just put his we'll dig deeper into the controversy about this candidate in a minute.

Let's just put this race into context the Pennsylvania primaries Tuesday. It's held by a Republican right now Pat Toomey, who's not running for reelection? If you're the Democrats, this is one in a tough year you think you can pick up. So Democrats would love the Republicans to nominate somebody who's probably maybe not electable in November, right?

AMY WALTER, THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT: Right. That is, Democrats are spending most of their time in the Senate right now on defense now. For Democrats the good news is most of the defense they're playing is in states that Joe Biden carried narrowly, like Arizona, and Georgia and Nevada, New Hampshire.

I think for a time Pennsylvania was seen as you know, maybe it'd be nice, but we really got to pay attention just not to losing anything. Here's an opportunity to actually go on offense. And we've seen this playbook before, go back to 2010.

And it's not simply I think it's not simply the statements that she's made. It's being a completely untested candidate. There are a lot of questions that had been raised by reporters about her past about her resume, what, who she is and where she came from?

If you are the National Campaign Committee, and you have a lot of questions about your own candidate that could be a problem coming up down the pipe.

KING: And so that we count the votes on Tuesday, let's just look at the most recent poll. This is from Fox News, Dr. Oz is Trump's Candidate in the race and you save with the Trump endorsement. He's gone up from 15 percent to 22 percent.

David McCormack more of a mainstream Republican, a lot of Former Trump aides work for him. He's a Former Hedge Fund manager. He's gone down a little bit essentially static if you do the margin of error. But you see Kathy Barnett from 9 percent to 19 percent.

So that's all you know, that's momentum. That's a trajectory that's going your way to a primary to the point where Mitch McConnell was worried about that to Amy's point untested candidate Mitch McConnell wants to keep that seat, and even Donald Trump, this is Donald Trump yesterday at a teller rally for Dr. Oz.


DOLAND TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: Kathy is going to be a lot of trouble. I think she does gonna be a lot of trouble. She may have a great future, but she's totally, totally an unknown. We can have that.


KING: Interesting that you know, obviously, he's for Oz so you know, he's going to be for other people. But why get so specific about her at this moment?

GABBY ORR, CNN REPORTER: Because she's a threat. I mean, in the Fox News Poll that we just showed she is in a statistical tie against Dr. Oz and David McCormack, and she's a candidate who has had virtually no attacks run against her up until the last 48 hours.

And when I talk to my sources in Trump World, not only are they blindsided by this completely, but they say that the biggest vulnerability for both Dr. Oz and David McCormack is that they've been attacking each other for the past few months.

The kind of opposition research against Kathy Burnett that is circulating among reporters and her opponents now is typically the thing that we would have seen months ago, and we have four days left until this primary, so they have a really tight window to try to define her for voters.

And we are seeing an attempt by both of those candidates to do so. But that is why, you know, as Amy said, Republicans are in a panic mode, not just Mitch McConnell, but also Donald Trump, who has of course endorsed Dr. Oz.

KING: It reminds me forgive me it reminds me of 2016 when all those Republicans didn't take that guy, Donald Trump seriously. It's like now that's not going to happen.

NIA- MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's one of the big arguments about Donald Trump was that he wasn't electable, right? And he's making the same argument here about Kathy Barnett.

I think the problem that they have with Kathy Barnett is in primaries, people very much vote with their hearts, not necessarily with their heads. She's got a fairly compelling background and personal story coming from Alabama.

Her mother was a victim of rape was born when she I think her mother was something like 12 years old, that's resonating with a lot of people. And listen, I mean, some of the comments she's made about Muslims.

Listen, those are some comments you may have heard from the likes of Donald Trump the likes of the late or Rush Limbaugh on Fox News. So you know, when I saw some of those initially, I was like, this is going to help her right.

I don't think it's going to hurt her certainly not in the primary. So we'll see they got a small window to really damage her. But you want to be her at this point, having momentum down the street.

KING: And then you're suddenly getting attention. You mentioned before we came on the air in the last day. So a lot of voters are skeptical about that. It's like all of a sudden, OK, I'm voting on Tuesday. They were nice to her for weeks and months. And now all of a sudden, now all of a sudden, so let's listen. This is David McCormack as it's this is a web app.

They're not putting a lot of money behind this. So I'm almost hesitant to put it on television because I'm doing him a favor in some ways. But listen to the tone. This is David McCormick's argument against Barnett.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do we really know about Kathy Barnett? She has applauded the George Floyd protest and opposed Trump saying I was not a Trumper. We can't trust Kathy Barnett for Senate. (END VIDEO CLIP)


KING: They don't deal with the fact that she has said bigoted things or she said that Barack Obama was not born in America. They don't do that - he is not - don't want to say that, don't want to actually to your point, to your point saying that she said bigoted things about gay people, bad things, bigoted things about transgender people, bigoted things about Muslims, maybe that will play the Republican primary to call that out.

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, USA TODAY: Well, to your point, they're racing to try and figure out how to stop her from beating them in the last couple of days? Some of these super PACs didn't even start out sending out emails about her until a few days ago when they're looking at this polling and realizing what a threat she is.

But John, one of the things that really stands out to me in this race, though, is that the Club for Growth has endorsed Kathy Barnett in this race, or rather least they've spent money on her in this race in the last few days, also putting $1.9 million into advertising behind her. So what we have now is the Trump endorsement for Dr. Oz playing out against a background of this other, you know, major conservative group that has at times been with Trump on endorsements at times been against him.

And we're very curious to see how that plays out on Tuesday with this late game endorsement of which candidate will pull it out?

ORR: And I think one of the reasons why David McCormack isn't using those comments that she made previously is because David McCormack and Dr. Oz have both been labeled carpetbaggers in this race and they've both had their conservative - is questioned in this race.

As Nia said those comments are actually something that might appeal to conservative voters who see a candidate like Kathy Barnett and think, oh, she's a genuine, you know, "Ultra Maga" as Steve Bannon described her on his show yesterday.

KING: And so you see these headlines? Again, we didn't hear that much about it unless you watch the debates during the race. But you see these headlines on CNN Politics in the Philadelphia Inquirer in "The New York Times" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

But Amy, to this late campaign part, you wrote a very smart column about the Democrats. How electability in these primaries is not turning out to be an issue like it often is? When you say I'm the strongest candidate in November. But ideology is more of an issue in the primaries.

Could we be seeing the same thing on the Republican side that you write about in the Pennsylvania context Connor Lamb, the Congressman from the Pittsburgh area early on, he was like, look, I'm the guy who can win statewide. WALTER: Right.

KING: And you think, OK, maybe that'd be a calling card in this race. So we - are we seeing sort of the same version?

WALTER: Yes, it is really funny to me as point to see President Trump - Former President Trump going on and saying, well, she's really great, but she can't win. That was not the message. Republicans were like; we just need to go in there and doesn't matter.

We were - what you saw from Republicans, the backlash in 2010 and 2012 and 2016 to the we kept the losing with electable candidates was, let's put everybody out there can't do worse than the electable ones.

Democrats were so careful in 2018, obviously, in 2020, with Joe Biden, so careful, we got to pick the right candidate, because the only thing that matters is beating Donald Trump. And if John is that candidate, even though I may not like his views, or his personality, now, love you, John.

I'm still going to vote for him because he can win. Connor Lamb really was the poster child for electability. He was conservative, but it was OK for donors, and especially liberal donors around the country to give him money because he was going to beat Donald Trump.

Interestingly enough, the candidate who is most likely to win who's been ahead in the polls, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman yes, ideologically, he's to the left of Connor Lamb. But what he's really leaning into isn't the ideology.

He's not talking about Medicare for all or some of the other Bernie Sanders like language he's leaning into I'm a fighter. I'm going to fight for you. And so no longer the let's just win it's, oh, it's not enough to win because we won. Democrats and we don't have anything to show for it.

KING: It's interesting to watch all these races play out again. Again we'll be counting votes on Tuesday. It's a critical month of these primaries. And next, only in Washington the debate in Congress over new COVID funding takes a detour because of a separate fight and a heated fight over a plan change and immigration policy.



KING: Title 42 is the Trump Administration immigration policy that is right now a giant legal and political challenge for Team Biden. As we speak a federal judge in Louisiana hearing a challenge to the Biden Administration plan to end Title 42.

That policy allows the United States because of COVID concerns to turn away migrants who otherwise would be allowed into the country to file their asylum claims. The Biden White House says we no longer need that policy and it wants to end it later this month. The political debate over Title 42 leaves the Senate Majority Leader in a tough spot. The White House says it is imperative that Congress passed new COVID funding but Senate Republicans have a price. They first want to force a vote on whether Title 42 should be kept on the books.

Our reporters are back with us to discuss and this is why Republicans want this vote. Number one, the immigration debate it's a legitimate issue has nothing to do with the COVID funding but this is how Washington works.

You want to get something through the Senate unless you have 60 votes. You got to cut a deal. Republicans want to go listen to Jon Tester not on the ballot this year but the moderate Democratic Senator on TV this morning. Listen, to him talking about this issue.


SEN. JON TESTER (D-MT): The poor 42 away sends out a signal that will cause even more folks to head our direction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it worth holding up COVID aid over Title 42?

TESTER: Well, look, I just think we ought to vote on it and get the COVID aid done. I mean I think it's important--


KING: So that's why Republicans want the vote because there are a number of Democrats some on the ballot some not who will split with their--