Return to Transcripts main page

New Day

More Foreign Fighters Joining War In Ukraine As Russia Invades; U.S. Intel: Putin Shifting Strategy To Focus On East; Mob Hitman With Months Left To Serve Escapes Federal Custody. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired April 04, 2022 - 07:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Amid new evidence of mass atrocities in Ukraine, many foreign fighters have tried to join Ukrainians on the front lines.

CNN+ anchor Sara Sidner spoke with one former U.S. Army official about the role they could play and the risks that these people could present.


LT. COL. DANIEL L. DAVIS, U.S. ARMY (RETIRED): I've just been told by a former special operator -- U.S. Special Forces soldier who is there and is very experienced around the world -- and he's telling me that it's a very mixed bag. There are -- there are some, he said, highly- skilled people coming in.

But then there's also people coming in who have no idea what they're doing and they literally think it's like a video game and they don't understand the danger they're getting into. And the consequences on the battlefield are kind of playing out the way that you might expect with that kind of combination of experience and inexperience.

They also don't have equipment. They come -- they don't have weapons. He said there's like one weapon for 20 guys. The Ukraines (sic) don't have enough stuff to give them. And so, they're just kind of putting them on the front and there's lots of chaos.


They think that what they see in these video games is war. They think they understand but they are so far from what the actual reality of ground combat is it's deeply troubling and potentially fatal to some of these guys when they get there and find out. And he said a lot of them -- you know, as soon as there's a few bombs falling around, they're leaving.


BERMAN: And joining me now is Sara Sidner, anchor of "BIG PICTURE WITH SARA SIDNER" on CNN+. What an interesting discussion. It's not that anyone doubts the

motivation --


BERMAN: -- of people going to help; it's just the effectiveness of everyone.

SIDNER: That's right. And we -- actually, I, myself, and my crew -- when we were in (INAUDIBLE), which is the train station just about 20 minutes away from one of the largest borders with Poland from Ukraine -- and we noticed these gentlemen sort of walking together kind of in a stack -- sort of a military stack. They had on military gear. They had a backpack.

And I heard them speaking and it was English and I thought, I wonder what they're doing here. And so, I started asking them and it turned out many of them were former military from the United States and they all had planned to go into Ukraine.

The problem was they didn't know who was going to pick them up when they got to the Ukrainian side. They didn't have even -- some of them didn't even have a jacket that was -- it was frigid. It was zero and below.

And I was very concerned when I said well, what is your plan. They said well, we haven't quite figured that out -- and also, can you tell us how to get to the border. And I thought -- you know, I kind of -- my motherly thing -- and I was like have you guys really thought this through?

I think the numbers in the beginning -- we heard from Zelenskyy. He said about 16,000 people were on their way or had made it into Ukraine to fight -- foreign fighters. There's a foreign legion. There is a whole process where you have to sign up. And so, we did see these gentlemen -- a couple of them, a couple of days later. They had not made it in because you -- there is a process.

But there is a real concern that you have some who are trained, who have some who are completely not trained who do go into this scenario not knowing just how incredibly dangerous this is. And they think the U.S.'s stance has long been do not travel to Ukraine -- and they are talking about everyone from civilians to those who may want to fight -- because it's just too volatile. And if you don't know what you're doing and you don't have an army behind you -- remember.

But the heart of these people is very clear. They -- all they want to do is help because they feel like an injustice is being perpetrated on the Ukrainian people.

BERMAN: Look, this is a real war and there are real risks.


BERMAN: There's plenty of humanitarian work to do if they can't find a military avenue. Sara Sidner, what an interesting perspective. Thank you very much.

And you can catch Sara Sidner every weekday beginning at 9:00 a.m. only on CNN+. Of course, you can stream it anytime -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: We've been able to -- we've been able to reestablish our communications with Christiane Amanpour who is live in Kharkiv. And Christiane, we have been having a little bit of trouble with our signal -- I just want to warn our viewers -- but I'm hoping that this is going to be the time where we can get you to set the scene for us there in Kharkiv.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: So, Brianna, we came out of the shelter where I was trying to report from about half an hour ago with you where we had seen so many people, still 40 days into this war, sheltering. The reason is because of this kind of damage. And there's been this kind of damage all over central Kharkiv for the last 40 days and it's literally almost like a ghost town.

Now, this is the second-biggest city. We're just panning the camera around to show you these are main roads in the center of the city and everything that we can see is boarded up. You might be able to hear a little in the distance. We've been hearing the crump, crump of incoming and some outgoing artillery literally ever since we've been here.

We're not exactly sure what the -- what the destination is. We saw a little bit of evidence this morning in a residential neighborhood of a mortar shell that hit last night. And according to the authorities here, just in that neighborhood there was something like 34 casualties and seven deaths. That's just in one Sunday afternoon in one residential neighborhood.

So, people in this, the second city of Ukraine, are really concerned a) about what their fate might be as the Russians redeploy and move from Kyiv; b) they certainly don't want to be victims to what we're seeing unfold in the areas of Russian occupation around Kyiv now that they are retreating from there and the full horrors are being demonstrated.

So here, about a third of the population has fled, according to local authorities. There is practically no business that we can -- we can see here at all -- maybe some gas stations. But unlike Kyiv, it hasn't even come back to normal in small areas. There aren't restaurants or cafes that we've been able to see in the last 36 hours.


We have been to several of these underground subway stations where lots and lots of people remain. And they've turned them almost into neighborhoods -- almost into semi-permanent homes underground because people say that is the only safe area, including children. They say that's only where they feel safe.

So today, we saw a civil defense team going around various metro stations teaching even children about what to recognize -- what different ordnance looks like. What not to touch if they happen to be outside and see something lying on the ground. They were even showing how to deal with a chemical attack. Imagine that -- children being shown masks and how to deal with a chemical attack and basic first aid.

It's pretty dramatic when you see it in that very close-up -- close and personal way, Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes. And certainly, if anyone knows, you do, Christiane, the long-term dangers to children when you're talking about so much unexploded ordnance and even mines, potentially, that have been placed. We've heard that from the mayor of Bucha.

I do wonder, Christiane --


KEILAR: -- when I spoke with the mayor earlier he said that he expected what is happening in his city to be the story in places, whether it's Kherson or even Kharkiv. Are people there that you're talking to worried that as they're able to see areas that Russian forces have been in that they may see the same thing there?

AMANPOUR: Well, they are, which is one of the reasons why they still are taking shelter. They don't want to be victims to anything, whether it's long-range artillery or close-up killings, basically, which is what we saw around the Kyiv area.

But the thing is they haven't captured this city at all. They have had some of the villages in the -- in the outskirts. And remember, we're about I think 40 kilometers or so from the Russian border. So, just north is the Russian border. And then east is where the Russians say they are redirecting their combat operations -- i.e., the Donbas area.

So this could -- and that's why people are afraid here -- turn into a much hotter combat zone. It was a while ago. It's calmed down slightly here. But as I say, still, it's shut down. I mean, this city is not operating, really, as you would imagine a major city -- the second city in Ukraine. So, yes, they're worried.

And all those places, we're bound to see -- as Russian forces get pushed back, we're bound to see the full extent -- the full scale of what transpired once we can get into some of these other places.

KEILAR: Yes. It's just such an empty street there in the middle of what should be a bustling --


KEILAR: -- city in the middle of the day.


KEILAR: Christiane, thank you so much. We really, really appreciate that live report for us from Kharkiv. There is some new intelligence suggesting that Russia is shifting focus to the east, as Christiane was just talking about, and may even declare victory by early May. What a, quote, "Russian victory" could look like.

Plus, back in the United States, a mob hitman on the run after fleeing federal custody -- and it wasn't his first escape. Details on this urgent manhunt.



KEILAR: A new U.S. intelligence assessment shows Vladimir Putin is revising his strategy in Ukraine to focus on trying to take control of Donbas and other regions in eastern Ukraine with a target date of May 9. That is when Russia celebrates Victory Day, as it's called, which marks the day that the Nazis surrendered in World War II and is celebrated with parades of troops and weaponry across Red Square in front of the Kremlin.

Joining us now to talk a little bit more about this is CNN military analyst and retired Air Force colonel, Cedric Leighton. Cedric, tell us about what appears to be this shift.


The basic shift is this. Originally, the Russians were involved right in this area right around Kyiv. Well, what they're doing now is they're moving their forces and their efforts into this region right here. So this is the Donbas region. This is exactly where the Russians are going to be concentrating a lot of their efforts. Secondary efforts -- at least at the moment, secondary efforts, will be right around here in the southern area.

So let's move into the area around the south here just real briefly. This area right here is Kherson. That has been the scene of fighting before. Mykolaiv -- where we've had Ben Wedeman there -- that is an area that has also seen a lot of fighting. Ukrainian presence right here. The goal is Odessa.

But when you go into the Donbas region in the east, this is what we're looking at right here. This is the area that the Russians control at the moment through their separatist forces. What they want is this area right here and to link up here with the land bridge around Mariupol. And that is what they're looking at. That is the big shift that they're doing right now.

And, Brianna, what that means is you can see a lot of fighting here. This is where a lot of this action is going to be.

And what we expect then is for them to go where Christiane is in Kharkiv. And potentially, if they're successful here, move to Dnipro, which is a major junction where they could unite some of their forces, and that would be a big issue for them. KEILAR: You know, it was interesting, Cedric. I was talking to someone who is a journalist for an independent news and media website earlier in the show and he had come into Lviv from Kyiv. And his friends are now telling him come back, it's safe -- you should come back. And yet, he's very concerned that you could have Russian troops regrouping around Kyiv.


What are the chances that this is just Russia letting off the gas in that area for a little while?

LEIGHTON: Well, the chances are actually pretty high that that's the case. What we have to look at is what are they going to do with the forces that are up in this area and over here to the east? So if they do a regrouping and they move back in from this part of Russia and this part of Belarus, then what that could do is that could affect what the Ukrainians have been able to achieve at the moment.

What you see here is actually quite interesting because what the Ukrainians have done is they have actually moved their forces into areas where they've pushed the Russians further back, even in Chernihiv right here. And then you also have, of course, this area, including the nuclear plant at Chernobyl. All of this -- we have a lot of Ukrainian presence right in here moving the Russians back to Belarus, which is right up here.

Bucha, of course, is the -- Bucha is the scene right here of the atrocities that we have been reporting on. And that, of course, will I think change a lot of what we see in this area.

But I would be very wary about making Kyiv as a -- you know, as a safe area at the moment.

KEILAR: All right, Cedric. Thank you so much for that.

And Berman, I think you're probably hearing the air raid sirens going off here in Lviv. As you're -- as you're well aware, Berman, these go off from time to time. They're actually in reaction to quite a large area, so it doesn't necessarily mean that something is impending here in the immediate area. But obviously, we're keeping an eye out just to be safe, of course.

BERMAN: Yes, absolutely. It means it's time to be wary, look around, and be careful.

Back to you in just a moment, Brianna.

But first, here in the United States this morning, a manhunt underway for a notorious New York mobster. Dominic Taddeo was convicted of murdering three people and attempting to kill two others. He's not gone missing less than a year before he was set to be released.

CNN's Jean Casarez joins us now. What gives?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a lifelong criminal -- someone who is very, very dangerous. And federal, local, state authorities -- they are all on the lookout for him now. He was in Orlando -- that's where he escaped from -- but he could be anywhere in this country.


CASAREZ (voice-over): Wanted, once again.


CASAREZ (voice-over): Mobster Dominic Taddeo is on the run after escaping federal custody last week less than a year before he was set to be released upon completing his sentence.

BURBANK: But now -- I mean, if he gets caught and he gets convicted of escape he probably will never get out.

CASAREZ (voice-over): Taddeo, now 64 years old, was serving time in a residential halfway house near Orlando, Florida. He was transferred there in February from a medium-security prison. On March 28, Taddeo failed to return from an authorized appointment, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

BURBANK: This guy was a very violent individual.

CASAREZ (voice-over): Taddeo, originally from the Rochester, New York area, was serving several sentences for a string of convictions, including racketeering and illegal weapons charges.

In 1992, he pleaded guilty to killing three people and attempting to kill two others. He admitted in court that a crime organization known as La Cosa Nostra -- another name for the mafia -- paid him for the killings.

JIM REDMOND, FORMER REPORTER WHO COVERED TADDEO CASE: Dominic Taddeo supposedly got $500 for each one of the killings he is convicted of.

CASAREZ (voice-over): Taddeo filed a request for compassionate release in December 2020 citing concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. That request was denied due to what the judges said was the seriousness of the offensives and his extremely lengthy criminal record.

And this latest escape wasn't Taddeo's first.

BURBANK: He was released on $25,000 bail back in 1987, and he jumped bail and he was gone for two years.

CASAREZ (voice-over): According to the Democrat & Chronicle newspaper, Taddeo disappeared while out on bail on federal weapons charges. He was arrested two years later in Cleveland, Ohio after authorities tapped a pay phone in Rochester where he was known to call local associates, according to the paper.

Today, Taddeo remains a fugitive. The U.S. Marshal Service telling CNN several state and local agencies are involved in the nationwide manhunt.


CASAREZ: So this is a convicted triple murderer that was just about to get out. And as you heard in the piece, in 1987, he was granted bail for federal weapons charges and he was gone for two years. And they finally found him in Cleveland, Ohio.


So this is important for people to realize. He literally could be anywhere. He's not someone that necessarily stays in the area.

But this is someone that pleaded guilty to three murders, pleaded attempted murder to two, and conspiracy to commit murder to the fifth person, and he's been in prison for much of his life.

BERMAN: I have a lot of questions about this. What a story. Jean Casarez, thank you very much for that.

Happening today, what is expected to be a party-line committee vote on whether to bring Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson's Supreme Court nomination to the full Senate for a vote.

John Avlon with a reality check.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: This week, we'll likely see a vote on Supreme Court nominee, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. Now, currently, only one Republican senator, Susan Collins of Maine, has said that she'll support here.

Now, judging by recent party-line Supreme Court nominee votes this may not surprise you but it should, and here is why.

As North Dakota Sen. Kevin Cramer explains, the Senate may have entered an era "where the only way to confirm a Supreme Court nominee is the party of the president has to be in control of the Senate. And I'm pretty certain the founders didn't have that in mind." Yes, they definitely didn't.

Because for the separation of powers to work, the Supreme Court needs to be seen as independent, credible, and above the partisan fray. But that's been eroded big-time.

Now, after all, Justice Amy Coney Barrett received no Democratic votes amid accusations of hypocrisy after Republicans pushed through her nomination a week before Election Day 2020, which was after they'd refused to even hold hearings on Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland eight months between the -- before the 2016 election.

Now, if you've gotten used to this play to the base 50 votes+ one approach, it may blow your mind to find out that there used to be broad bipartisan votes for Supreme Court nominees no matter how ideological they seemed to be.

Now, the iconic examples are the nominations of justices Antonin Scalia by Ronald Reagan, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Bill Clinton. Scalia was an outspoken conservative; Ginsburg, famously liberal. But their judicial philosophies didn't determine the Senate votes. Get this -- Scalia was confirmed 98-0. Ginsburg was confirmed 96-3.

And they weren't outliers. Two other Reagan nominees, Sandra Day O'Connor and Kennedy were confirmed unanimously. And Kennedy's confirmation was overseen by a Democratic senator by the name of Joe Biden.

Here's another measure of how far we've fallen. Get this -- between 1967 and 2010, the average Senate vote in favor of a successful Supreme Court nominee was 80 votes.

Now that's not to say there weren't bitter judicial debates and even some rejections. Nixon had two consecutive nominees Heismaned by the Senate. Reagan couldn't push through right-winger Robert Bork. But in general, until very recently, party-line votes for Supreme Court nominees were very rare.

And it's not like anyone's questioning Judge Jackson's credentials. She's been confirmed twice by the Senate. She's been on the federal bench for longer than most other nominees.

But conservative legal icon Michael Luttig endorsed her as being highly credentialed and experienced in the law as any nominee in history. She's also the most popular Supreme Court nominee in public in years, according to recent surveys.

But her hearings have been dominated by culture war ambush questions where senators tried to score partisan points for fundraising and future campaigns. This approach was rightly slammed by Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska.


SEN. BEN SASSE (R-NE): And I think we should recognize that the jackassery we often see around here is partly because of people mugging for short-term camera opportunities.


AVLON: But even with that admiral use of the word jackassery, Sasse announced that he would be, sadly, unable to vote for her, saying "Judge Jackson has impeccable credentials and a deep knowledge of the law, but we disagree on judicial philosophy."

Here's the thing. That's a new standard that virtually guarantees a more partisan Supreme Court, and that's bad for the stability of the whole country.

Now, there's still the possibility that Judge Jackson could get one or two more Republican votes. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah are two possibilities.

But in some ways, the real test we'll be seeing is from senators like Kevin Cramer -- you know, that guy who warned about the dangers of party-line votes for the court. Because he told The Wall Street Journal that Jackson was "intellectually, academically, and experientially qualified." But he still hasn't said how he'll vote.

And that's your reality check.

BERMAN: John Avon, thank you very much.

NEW DAY continues right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. It is Monday, April 4. I am Brianna Keilar live in Lviv, Ukraine, with John Berman in New York.

And this morning, we are seeing the horrors of war discovered in the town of Bucha, which is a suburb northwest of the capital of Kyiv, after Ukrainian forces retook the area following a Russian retreat.

As CNN's Fred Pleitgen tells us, they are finding bodies all over the place. By some accounts, 150 people and maybe more are buried in mass graves there. Others saying that it could be more like 400 people.

The mayor of Bucha told us earlier that half of his city is destroyed.