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Collins to Back Supreme Court Pick; Diana Berg is Interviewed about Mariupol; Steven Anderson is Interviewed about the War in Ukraine; Worse than Watergate. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired March 30, 2022 - 08:30   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: And rule consistent with legal precedent, the language of the law and the Constitution.

So interesting to see how she's framing it.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, very interesting.

I want to bring in Jeffrey Toobin to this conversation.

Because, Jeffrey, often the conversation, and historically it has been, about whether the nominee is qualified, right? Not whether they're nominated by a Democrat or a Republican, are they qualified to do the job. Clearly, Ketanji Brown Jackson is.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: She is. But the standards the Senate have used have changed in recent years. There is just a complete transformation in how the Senate evaluates Supreme Court justices. It's just a more partisan process now.

You had ideological figures like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia confirmed with over 90 votes, both of them. The days of 90 vote confirmations are over for the foreseeable future.

This is a partisan enterprise. And, you know, it's -- this will be -- you know, the president will say this was a bipartisan confirmation, but barely. I mean we'll see whether she gets -- whether Judge Jackson gets even one other vote. But that's how it's been, basically, since, you know, with Obama's two nominations, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, there were a handful of crossover votes by Republicans. But by the time the three Trump nominees came before the Senate, it was almost a straight up partisan vote. And that's what we're looking at here.

KEILAR: Yes, I mean, it makes it clear that if you had a president who was nominating someone at a time where they did not have the majority in the Senate, they could be in really deep trouble here.

I want to read a little bit more of Susan Collins' statement. She said, in recent years, senators on both sides of the aisle have gotten away from what I perceive to be the appropriate process for evaluating judicial nominees. In my view, the role under the Constitution assigned to the Senate is to look at the credentials, experience and qualifications of the nominee. It is not to assess whether a nominee reflects the individual ideology of a senator or would vote exactly as an individual senator would want.

I guess, Jeffrey, my question is, in this day and age, could you have a Republican supporting a Democratic nominee if it was going to mean the difference between confirmation or not because that's not the case here.

TOOBIN: That is not the case here.

You know, Brianna, it's a great question and I don't know the answer, although we may find out in the second two years of President Biden's term because, you know, if the political trends hold, the Republicans will hold -- will control the Senate for the last two years of the Biden presidency. And the question will be, first, will Majority Leader Mitch McConnell even allow a vote on a Democratic nominee. Remember, he didn't allow a vote on President Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland. But if he allows a vote, will any -- enough Republicans support Biden's Supreme Court nominee to allow confirmation.

Now, it doesn't look like there are going to be any vacancies in the next two years, but the question you ask may be extremely relevant if there is a vacancy and the Republicans hold the Senate after the midterms.

KEILAR: Yes, if they allow a vote, as you so astutely point out.

Jeffrey Toobin, Laura Jarrett, thank you so much to both of you.

Just to repoint there, we are following Susan Collins going to support Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Republican, perhaps the only one, that has said that she is going to support. Will others join her? We're still waiting to find out.

So, just moments ago, it was a fascinating moment in the middle of this war, this unprovoked war by Russia. A NASA astronaut and Russian cosmonauts returning to earth together.

Plus, a tragic milestone. The U.N. now says more than 4 million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion. How high could that number go?



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Brand-new satellite images just in to CNN show entire city blocks in Mariupol obliterated. A level of destruction that we just hadn't seen there. Officials estimate some 75,000 people have been able to get out of Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia, including our next guest, Diana Berg. She escaped Mariupol several weeks ago. She joins us here in Lviv.

Diana, so great to see you again. We had a chance to speak with you before. Even in the last few days,

since we last spoke, the situation in Mariupol has become even worse. And I wanted you to come back and just talk to us about what it's like to watch this -- just this slow motion devastation there.


Indeed, every day is worse than the previous day. And we -- I just can't even imagine that it could be worse, but that's how this terrorist act is happening to our city. And, unfortunately, less and less images we can get from there because all this informational blockade. It's hard to get information out of Mariupol. And the most, like, vivid information we get is from those who managed to escape these last days.

And my -- some of my friends and my relatives, they did make it, and everything they say is just terrifying. From the number of bodies lying on the street, like, without legs or parts and just parts of people or arms hanging on the tree, how, I mean, OK.


So many graves made up just in the court -- in the yard, or in a park, everywhere. So it's like a city of mass graves because there is no way to even put bodies in this mass graves, the trenches, that were made, they were dug a couple of weeks ago just for this. But they were shelled by Russian artillery. So, there was -- it's even dangerous to go there.

BERMAN: The ditches were shelled?

BERG: Exactly. So, people just tried to honor their dead with just making it under the shelling. It's also dangerous to go out, even to cook or to bury your dead. So, it's the city of mass grave.

BERMAN: The city is a mass grave.

BERG: Exactly. And we're -- it's just a completely ruin. Everything I see is just -- every time it's so painful to see because this was a beautiful city. Do you know that Mariupol had the title of the large cultural capital of Ukraine, 2021. It's like ironically. And it was really beautiful. And every time I see this images of ruins, I'm just -- it's so painful. On top of --

BERMAN: Do you -- when you look at it now, if you're being honest with yourself, do you think there's any way it's saved?

BERG: You know, what I think about, and I just can't stop thinking only about it, is not the walls, not the stones, not the buildings, but the people. Because, you know, whenever you come out of there, of that brutal hell, you only have one desire to just stay alive and be safe. But whenever you get out, there is a new stage of hell when you try to understand that you are now a refugee, homeless and you are kind of, you know, partially broken because of what you have gone through. And also you just can't stop thinking about people. That you're lucky enough to go buy food, to the village of (INAUDIBLE), like my friends did, and like took this long, very risky and dangerous road through twenties (ph) of Russian block posts and DPR (ph) and (INAUDIBLE) block posts to Zaporizhzhia. At any point you could be shelled or shoot or just exploded, or, I don't know, burned. But you get out and you're very lucky and you have to, you know, thank God or universe, but you start only thinking about how to save people.

BERMAN: It's survivor's guilt. That's what we call it in English (ph).

BERG: Exactly. Yes.

BERMAN: You feel helpless.

BERG: Exactly. Because you know how to act in, you know, in an event of something that you know, but this kind of just terrifying terroristic power, violent power, that doesn't respect nothing. They don't play rule -- by rules.

BERMAN: Well, Diana, I appreciate you coming in and talking to us about this because, again, we see the situation getting worse by the day.

BERG: Thank you.

BERMAN: And I don't want anyone to lose sight of what's happening there, for the people there still trying to survive.

Thank you.

BERG: Thank you.

BERMAN: Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, joining me now is retired Army General Steven Anderson.

Can you just tell us the state of play right now, General?

BRIG. GEN. STEVEN ANDERSON, U.S. ARMY (RETIRED): Let's talk about counteroffensive, Brianna. That is really the word of the day.

Right now we know that the Ukrainians are achieving significant victories here and pushing the Russians out. What they have done has been able to, I think, demoralize and degrade their capabilities so that most of their maneuver units are no longer combat effective. Think about the battle fatigue that these people are dealing with. They have been in the field for about two months straight. They haven't had a shower. They haven't had warm food. They haven't had much sleep. They've been in combat for over a month. So, the ability for them to sustain operations in this area, I believe, is going down every day. I don't see any way that they can continue to do what they're doing right now, which is to continue to rain artillery on top of Kyiv in the city.

So, what they're going to do, I believe, is what they've said they're going to do, which is move to the Donbas. And let's talk about that for a minute. In order to do that, they're going to have to move all the way out into Belarusia (ph) and, of course, into mother Russia itself. This is an 800 mile trip. This is going to take three to four weeks on a train. Very difficult operation.

KEILAR: Three to four weeks on a train?

ANDERSON: Three to four weeks. Absolutely.


ANDERSON: Well, that -- to move all those forces, if we're talking 70,000, 80,000, probably about eight or 10,000 mechanized vehicles, that's a very long operation.


It's going to be very difficult to do.

But what this does is it provides a great opportunity for the Ukrainians to counterattack because they're going to have to do a withdraw under fire. Now, even the best armies in the world have difficulty doing this maneuver. Imagine now you're in a tank for -- a T-72 tank for 60 days. Now you try to -- got to get out of your position, expose yourself, it's muddy, it's bad weather, you're going to have to stay on the roads, and now you're going to be exposed to counterattacks all the way from Chicago to Milwaukee, which is what that distance is.

KEILAR: They're exposed because they're in a column retreating, it's just easy pickings, is that what it is?

ANDERSON: Absolutely. Absolutely. And so this is now the perfect time for the Ukrainians to counterattack. They have been successful thus far in destroying 1,200 mechanized vehicles. They need to continue to do that. They've also captured 150 tanks. They actually have more tanks now than they did at the beginning of the war.

So what is so imperative that they counterattack now because every one of the -- every piece of equipment that successfully gets out of the Kyiv area might very well end up down here. OK. So it -- let's capture it. Let's kill it. Let's take it out now before it comes back to haunt us in another three or four weeks. And I believe that that's what they want to do because they want to mass down here. They've been unsuccessful in this coordinated attacks all over a 1,200 mile front. What they really need to do is utilize principle of mass and get concentrated. It's going to take them time to do -- to regroup that -- in order to do that.

So, that's why today is perhaps the best day ever for them to really counterattack and to take the fight to the Russians.

KEILAR: Very interesting.

General, thank you so much for that.

So, just moments ago, in a rare display of U.S./Russian collaboration, this, cosmonauts returning to earth, an American and Russians. Plus, how President Trump's seven-hour gap in call logs compares to

Richard Nixon's 18 minutes of Oval Office tapes. We'll have your "Reality Check," next.




DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT (october 18, 2016): This is a bigger event than Watergate.

TRUMP (October 5, 2016): In my opinion, it's worse than Watergate.

TRUMP (November 2, 2016): This is the biggest scandal since Watergate.

TRUMP (September 27, 2020): Well, it's certainly the biggest political scandal in the history of our country by far, bigger than Watergate. Much bigger than Watergate.


KEILAR: What was once a go-to line for former President Trump now hits with a hint of irony. John Avlon joining us now with a "Reality Check."

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it's bigger than Watergate. Worse than Watergate. That was a regular refrain from ex- President Trump when he tried to hype up supposed Democratic scandals. That was part of his defect and project playbook. But it's coming back to bite him as we find out there are more than seven hours of missing phone records in a basically blank presidential schedule during the hours around January 6th and the attack on the Capitol. I mean seven hours makes the 18 minutes of erased Oval Office tapes around Watergate look like a game of patty cake.

Now, we don't yet know what was excluded from the full record or why. But it's a bit of historic irony that one of the bylines on the story that broke the news belongs to none other than Bob Woodward, of course one of the legendary reporter around Watergate. And for what it's worth, the other half of the team, Carl Bernstein, has been outspoken in saying that Trump's attempted coup is in fact worse than Watergate.

Of course, the man knows of what he speaks. Because Watergate was an attempt to influence an election outcome through a burglary and a subsequent cover-up. Trump's plot was an attempt to overturn an election after the fact using lies and intimidation to incite a violent insurrection.

And just in case you still doubt its seriousness, listen to how Federal Judge David Carter describing Trump's plot in a ruling yesterday. He said it would have permanently ended the peaceful transition of power, undermining American democracy and the Constitution. Judge Carter concluded that Trump likely attempted to corruptly obstruct Congress from counting the electoral votes on January 6th. And in the same ruling describing the effort as a coup in search of a legal theory. He ordered Trump lawyer John Eastman to release 101 emails from around the insurrection he'd been trying to keep secret from the January 6th committee.

Now, this investigation is ongoing. Despite all the attempts to hid evidence and rewrite history. What we know is damning already and more is going to come out.

And even during the past 30 days, while attention has rightly been focused on Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine, there have been big news on the January 6th fronts that you might have missed. Now here's a quick list.

So, we've learned from Congresswoman Liz Cheney that Trump was warned that January 6th could and likely would turn violent.

We've learned that Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, was actively pushing bonkers conspiracy theories to Trump's chief of staff, encouraging him to overturn the election.

We've learned about Senator Ted Cruz's complicity with team Trump to delay the certification of the election.

We've learned that Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks, a MAGA loyalist who had his endorsement pulled by Trump, now says he was pressured by the ex-president to rescind the 2020 election. In other words, remove Biden and reinstate Trump.

We've seen the January 6th committee unanimously recommend the Department of Justice hold two top Trump advisers, Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino, in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with subpoenas.

And we've found out about an alleged pre-insurrection meeting between leaders of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, which was reportedly caught on film by a documentary crew.

And that's just in the past few weeks, folks.

So, yes, a lot more is going to come out. But judging by what we know now, Trump's plot to overturn the election was worse than Watergate. The guy makes Nixon look like a Boy Scout. The biggest question, though, is what the DOJ and Attorney General Merrick Garland is going to do about it. Because as Judge Carter warned, if the country does not commit to investigating and pursuing accountability for those responsible, the court fears January 6th will repeat itself.

Those are the stakes.

And that's your "Reality Check."

KEILAR: John, I also wanted to get your check on something else, which is a comment by the former president, former President Trump. He just asked Vladimir Putin -- a NATO adversary who started this unprovoked war in Ukraine where you have civilians, including children, dying -- he asked him to release dirt on the current president of the United States.


If he weren't potentially running again, I would not even elevate this comment.


KEILAR: But the fact is Vladimir Putin is listening. The world is watching. What do you think of this?

AVLON: It's pathetic, desperate and predictable, but it does matter because he still is a powerhouse in the party who's apparently running for president.

Let's put this in perspective here.

First of all, all the senators who said that Trump learned his lesson about asking Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden, like Susan Collins, those folks really need to just admit they were blatantly wrong. Second of all, pull back for a second. Think of a parallel to the extent it exists.

Imagine it's 1940, and a U.S. politician running for president asks a foreign power, the axis powers. to dig up dirt on a sitting U.S. president. Imagine it happened during the Cold War, people making appeals to communist leaders to dig up dirt on a sitting U.S. president. That's what we're looking at here.

So, let's not get numb to the surreal, desperate, despicable actions by an ex-president who believes ethics are weakness and whose instinct is always to go ugly in a way that is indefensible in the eyes of history.

KEILAR: Yes, it is pro-Trump, it is anti-American what he is calling for here.


KEILAR: John Avlon, thank you so much for the "Reality Check."

AVLON: Thank you.

KEILAR: We do have some more on our breaking news coverage of the war in Ukraine. The mayor of a town that Russia specifically said this is where it will be scaling back operations, he says Russia straight up lied. We'll have the latest from the ground, next.


KEILAR: Back to Ukraine in a moment.

First, though, here are "5 Things to Know for Your New Day."

The FDA is green lining a second Covid booster for people 50 and older as early as four months after your first booster dose of either vaccine.

New CNN reporting revealing a Justice Department investigation into Hunter Biden's business activities is heating up, including over potential money laundering and lobbying violations.

And the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences telling its members its leaders are upset and outraged by Will Smith's behavior during the Oscars when he slapped Chris Rock. This is according to a letter obtained by CNN. The Academy's board of governors holding their annual post-Oscars meeting this evening to determine appropriate action.

And this morning, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei has made his highly anticipated return to earth after a record 355 days in space. He traveled with two Russian cosmonauts in a Russian space capsule despite the war in Ukraine.

Tiger Woods sparking some speculation of a surprise return to the Masters after playing a practice round at Augusta.


Woods has not played an official tournament since suffering serious leg injuries in a car crash in February last year.

And those are "5 Things to Know for Your New Day." More on these stories all day on CNN and Don't forget to download the "5 Things" podcast every morning.

CNN's coverage continues right now.