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Pentagon: Private Russian Military Group Now Active in Ukraine; U.S. Adds 431k Jobs in March; Oscar Producer: Police Were Ready to Arrest Will Smith; Doctor Who Helped in COVID Battle Now Fighting Health Inequities. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired April 01, 2022 - 08:30   ET




JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: The Pentagon says about 1,000 people associated with the Wagner Group, a private paramilitary group by Russia are now in the Donbas region of Ukraine.

Here to explain what this means, Bianna Golodryga, CNN senior global affairs analyst. Bianna, what is this organization?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: So this is a mercenary group that's funded by Yevgeny Prigozhin. If that name sounds familiar, he was known as Putin's chef, a Russian billionaire with very close ties to Vladimir Putin who the U.S. came to know during the 2016 election interference on the part of the Internet research agency also funded by Yevgeny Prigozhin and his troll farm there.

He has denied any association with this group. But it is a group of mercenaries that can give Vladimir Putin a sense of plausible deniability in terms of having troops fight Vladimir Putin's battles in places around the world.

And here is the founder, it looks like a lovely man here, Dmitry Utkin. And he's a retired military officer. Prigozhin, as I mentioned, denies any association or connection with Wagner. But there is a lot of intelligence connecting them closely.

And as I mentioned, Wagner is in places around the world where you see Russian troops affiliated and where you don't see Russian troops affiliated. Obviously we know there are Russian troops in Syria. There are also Wagner mercenary troops that are affiliated in Wagner that have been in Libya. They've been in the Central African Republic.

And now the news obviously is that you are seeing a thousand if not more being trained, recruited and sent to fight in Ukraine, the majority of them Syrian fighters. Obviously, the sort of the payback from Assad's regime given the help and a helping hand Vladimir Putin has given to the country over the past few years since n 2015.

The big take away though is this really, John, is a sign of desperation. 1,000 troops isn't going to add that much but it adds more bodies, right. And just five weeks into this war, the fact that you're seeing Russia turn to mercenaries to come in to fight their war there gives you a sense of just how miscalculated this has been on the part of Vladimir Putin.

The only danger is obviously these people, forget it, there is no such thing as rules of engagement, rules of war in terms of how they act on the battlefield. And that says a lot given how the Russian soldiers themselves have been acting so indiscriminately killing innocent civilians.

VAUSE: Yes. If Putin needs these people, it shows that the Russian troops couldn't do it themselves.

What do we know about where and how they could be used here in Ukraine?

GOLODRYGA: The word now is that they will likely be used in the eastern battle of Donbas. They are not that familiar obviously with that terrain with the country, which is why they would need extra training at this point. Most of them as I mentioned would be coming from Syria.

This group though was affiliated the first came to be known to western intelligence really after Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, obviously giving Vladimir Putin that plausibility deniability. Remember the little green men. No insignia on these fighters' uniforms.

So that's where we first saw them. And obviously that also being in Ukraine these fighters however would be transported over, would need to be trained. Perhaps they won't be trained, they will just be thrown into the lot there as Russia continues this onslaught.

VAUSE: All right. Bianna Golodryga, thank you so much for helping us understand this shadowy -- and I truly mean that -- group.


VAUSE: Just in, the producer of the Oscars speaking about what happened behind the scenes when Will Smith hit Chris Rock on stage. What he thought was happening and what police were prepared to do.

Plus, in the United States a major monthly jobs report just released. What do the numbers show? That's next.



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news. The March jobs report is in. Let's go right to CNN chief business correspondent and anchor of "EARLY START", Christine Romans. All right. What are the numbers saying?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning Brianna. Well, they're saying there was strong hiring across the board and an

unemployment rate that fell to the lowest of the pandemic. 431,000 jobs added back into the economy. 3.6 percent is the jobless rate.

Also, some very good news for January and February. Those numbers will revise higher. Look at February -- 750,000 jobs added back in that month. That is much stronger than we expected.

That has been the trend, hasn't it, as they've been trying to grapple with all of this flux in the American job market. When they go back and really look at those numbers, they tend to revise them higher.

So a strong performance here in beginning of the year, in fact, if you look at the average it's about 562,000 jobs added back on average in the first quarter of this year.

In normal times, you would be screaming from the rooftops. We know that those are jobs being added back after a huge washout at the beginning of the pandemic. The U.S. economy is still down about 1.6 million jobs since it all began.

The story is really in the jobless rate here. This is 14.7 percent at the worse, this was a really, really ugly moment. Last year, you were still at 6 percent now 3.6 percent unemployment.

That shows you that people are being hired, people are being employed. And the unemployment rate is tumbling quite quickly here.

In fact when you look at these numbers, you can see that 418,000 people came off the sidelines and went back into the labor market.


ROMANS: That's what you want to see. They are hearing about rising wages. They're hearing about all this job hopping that's providing people with this great opportunity in the American jobs market and they are coming back into the labor market. Wages up 5.6 percent. That is the fastest wage growth in a couple years, Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes. It is a lot.

Let's bring in CNN White House correspondent John Harwood to this conversation. That is a lot in wage growth. Inflation is higher than the wage growth, though.

So it helps but it doesn't quite meet the mark. How is the Biden administration seeing where there's some pretty good numbers here?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're going to celebrate the lowering of the unemployment rate and a continued strong job growth. By the end of the year, we may be back to pre-pandemic trend in terms of the number of jobs in the economy.

The challenge is, you know, this is the kind of numbers as Christine was indicating that in all the years I have been covering presidents and the economy, they would love to see these numbers. And the White House will celebrate.

On the other hand, the paradox is that it illustrates part of the problem. That hot demand for workers is a part of the economy itself, running so hot that inflation is going up.

So it's not a surprise. We knew that the job market was good. Workers have a lot of opportunity out there. The challenge is what are the effects on inflation and can the Fed with its interest rate increases manage to cool down the economy enough without throwing a lot of these people who were adding to the labor report out of work.

KEILAR: Christine, who is not feeling good right now economically? Who is not feeling these numbers?

ROMANS: Well, it would be the lowest income Americans who are feeling inflation more than the rest.

When you go up the income ladder, you see savings that have been built up during the pandemic. You see wage growth that is coming in strong. You stock market gains in the past couple of years and high home equity levels that are making people feel good.

It's down the income ladder that is where this is being felt the worst. And I will also say down the income ladder is also where the expiration of those expanded child tax credits are also felt. You know, the expiration of some of this extraordinary aid.

So it really is almost a worsening of income inequality this in country. And that is something that we have seen ironically in good times, we see income inequality widen and in bad times we see income inequality widen.

But these aren't bad times. Overall, the consumer demand is very strong. A job market that is firing us on all cylinders. And a Fed that is the inflation fighter that has the pretty herculean task here of trying to thread this needle right of raising interest rates to tamp down inflation but not hurt the strength you're seeing elsewhere in the economy.


HARWOOD: Brianna, I think there is one point that Christine just made that we ought not to forget. That is there is still a lot of pandemic aid that is sitting in people's bank accounts, that's providing some cushion against that inflation.

There is a big challenge for people from gas prices and rising prices for every day goods and it hits the hardest down the income scale. But the federal government put out a lot of pandemic relief aid. And some of that money is still there to cushion the blow of inflation.

KEILAR: Yes. Certainly for some people for sure, if you're paycheck- to-paycheck, it's going to be really tough with the inflation.

John Harwood, Christine Romans -- thank you so much to both of you. Just in. The producer for the Academy Awards speaking out revealing what the police told Chris Rock immediately after Will Smith slapped him.



KEILAR: Just in, Oscars producer Will Packer speaking out for the first time on the behind-the-scenes chaos after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock on stage on Sunday night. Packer told ABC News that the LAPD was ready to arrest Will Smith on the spot, but it was Chris Rock who stopped them.


WILL PACKER, PRODUCER, 94TH ACADEMY AWARDS: They were saying, you know, this is battery was the word they used in that moment. They said, we will go get him. We are prepared -- we're prepared to get him right now.

You can press charges. We can arrest him. You have -- they were laying out the options. And as they were talking Chris -- he was being very dismissive of those options. He was like no, I'm fine. He was like no, no, no.


KEILAR: Let's get the latest now from CNN's Chloe Melas. She is live in Boston where Chris Rock has been performing. Chloe, what can you tell us?

CHLOE MELAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER: Brianna, the interview this morning with Will Packer on GMA is fascinating. He also said that like the rest of us watching the Oscars, he too, didn't know if the slap was real. Take a listen.


PACKER: I thought this was part of something that Chris and Will were doing on their own. I thought it was a bit. I thought it was a bit like everybody else.

Will Smith reached out to me the next morning and said and he apologized. And he said, you know, this should have been a gigantic moment for you. He expressed his embarrassment and that was the extent of it.


MELAS: Brianna, a source also tells me that on Tuesday Will had a 30- minute Zoom meeting with Academy leadership where he apologized once again and that they listened, they heard him out and they told him that his actions have consequence.

They've given him 15 days notice. On April 18th, they will come down with a decision as to what will happen next. Will be suspended from the Academy which means that maybe he might not be able to vote in next year's Oscars? Will he not be able to come back to next year's Oscars, if ever.

There are a lot of things at play, but we should have some more answers soon.

KEILAR: All right. We'll be watching for that with you, Chloe. Thank you so much.

Joining me now is comedian and author of "Yes, I Can Say That: When They Come For The Comedians, We Are All In Trouble". Judy Gold here with us.


KEILAR: You hear this, Judy, the Academy is considering what to do. What do you think they should do?

JUDY GOLD, COMEDIAN: You know, I don't know. This is the first time this has happened. I know that if it had happened in a comedy club, he would have been immediately removed.

But this is -- I mean there is nothing prior happening like this on the Academy Awards and it's shocking. I definitely think he should be disciplined. Absolutely. Should they take his Oscar away? No.

But, yes, he needs to be punished because that was, it was just crazy and it was -- it was an assault. He was assaulted. Chris was assaulted.

And the previous story, I know the producer was saying he thought it was a joke. I knew, I think all comedians knew immediately --

KEILAR: You knew.

GOLD: -- it wasn't a joke. Yes. I got a stomach ache. I thought, well I could tell by Chris. I mean I know Chris.

And we have all been in that kind of situation where you are publicly humiliated. And you need to recover and he really took the high road, Chris. And you could tell that he's had a lot of experience with, you know, not getting assaulted but dealing with hostile audiences.

KEILAR: That is so interesting, Judy. You're saying that you could look at Chris Rock's face and that gave you the sense of his sort of surprise and his emotional reaction, that you knew then this wasn't something that was planned.

I wonder -- and that speaks to -- look, that speaks to what comedians go through. Do you think comedians will feel safe on stage going forward? Do you have concerns about what this could bring about?

GOLD: Absolutely. You know, we're all talking about it as you can probably can imagine. But you know, hecklers are a part of what we do. There is no fourth wall when you do stand-up comedy. And people ask about hecklers, you know, when we get interviewed all

the time. Have you ever had a terrible heckler? Yes.

But this goes a step further. And Will Smith is a beloved role model for so many that why wouldn't people say, you know, Will Smith did it and look at him. He's successful. He's intelligent.

There is copycat crimes all the time. And I think it's -- it is a (INAUDIBLE) -- I mean it's dangerous now because we can't say anything because we get in trouble for everything we say.

You know, we are just comedians until we say something you don't like. And then we are harmful I guess in a way. It's a really sad -- it's a sad situation for all of us, I think.

And yes, all comedians are talking about -- because things are happening in clubs. People are getting their mics cut off, people are getting ice cubes thrown at them, and olives thrown at them. People are getting on stage. We have been behaving very badly in this country for quite a few years.

KEILAR: And comedians worried, hey is this going to happen to me? You know, it sounds like it's a very real fear.

GOLD: Right.

KEILAR: My hope is that maybe this draws a very clear line about what is acceptable behavior and what is not.

Judy, thank you so much for being with us. Judy Gold.

GOLD: Thank you for having me.

KEILAR: Well, more on our breaking news coverage of the war in Ukraine. The Chernihiv mayor says Russian forces just shelled a local hospital. He says they destroyed the cancer ward.

And overnight claims of a Ukrainian airstrike inside Russia. The Kremlin now says it could actually impact negotiations.



KEILAR: With COVID infection rates and restrictions waning in some places and a variant surge in others, it's difficult to understand where we are in the coronavirus pandemic right now.

But two years ago the situation was clear. We were in a global lockdown and that's when a 2021 top 10 CNN Hero sprang into action, testing and vaccinating more than 75,000 people in Philadelphia's hardest hit black and brown communities.

Today she is still on the front lines working to protecting her community from the ongoing virus and to bring everyone the healthcare they deserve. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ALA STANFORD, CNN TOP TEN HERO: So we started in the midst of this pandemic with testing. Then vaccination. We were seeing folks that hadn't seen a doctor in a decade.

We were just literally putting a band aid to a much bigger problem with health inequities and disparities.

So I opened the Doctor Ala Stanford Center for Health Equity. We are a multi disciplinary clinic. We take care of newborns through grandmas and grandpas. And that is the next step to not just save a life but really impact an entire lifetime with people.

But after Christmas there were so many people sick, literally wrapped around this building to get COVID testing. The positivity rate was 45 percent. So we had to stop primary care and just focus on testing and vaccinations.


DR. STANFORD: The need here right now is so great I feel that this is where I'm supposed to be.


KEILAR: And if you want to find out how you can support Dr. Ala Stanford's work and nominate your own CNN Hero go to