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Ukrainian Boy Writes Letter To Slain Mom: "I Will Never Forget You"; Philly Is First Major U.S. City To Bring Back Indoor Mask Mandate; JetBlue To Cut 1 In 10 Flights This Summer Over Staffing Challenge. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired April 12, 2022 - 07:30   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: ESPN reporting that Brittney Griner, the WNBA star currently detained in Russia, is able to see her representative there twice a week, as well as receive letters and correspondence. Russian authorities arrested Griner in February at a Moscow airport. She is accused of smuggling significant amounts of a narcotic substance into the country, according to the Russian government.

CNN's Kylie Atwood live for us at the State Department with more on this. Kylie, what can you tell us?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So this is new information about Brittney Griner's situation while she has been detained in Russia, as you said, since the middle of February. She has, twice a week, been able to see her representatives while she has been detained, and she's also able to receive letters and correspondence.

Now, that is according to ESPN reporting but it also mirrors what CNN reported last month, according to a source familiar, that she has been able to see her legal team multiple times a week while she has been detained. And they said that she is doing well. That she is in good condition.

Now, of course, this comes after just yesterday, the WNBA commissioner, ahead of their draft, spoke about Brittney Griner. Of course, she is an American basketball star. And the commissioner talked about how diligently the league is working to bring her home and talked about how unimaginable the situation must be for Griner.

Now, we should note that she was in Russia playing basketball on the off-season. And the State Department has said that they are also working with the league to try and bring her home as swiftly as possible.


KEILAR: All right, Kylie Atwood live for us at the State Department. Thank you so much for that report.

Here, moments ago, former President Obama weighed in on Russia's invasion of Ukraine and was even confronted about his own actions during the 2014 invasion of Crimea by Russia.


AL ROKER, NBC HOST, 3RD HOUR OF TODAY: Is this the Vladimir Putin that you had to deal with?

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Putin has always been ruthless against his own people as well as others. He has always been somebody who is wrapped up in this twisted, distorted sense of grievance and ethnic nationalism. That part of Putin I think has always -- has always been there.

What we've seen with the invasion of Ukraine is him being reckless in a way that you might not have anticipated --


OBAMA: -- eight, 10 years ago but the danger was always there.

ROKER: Hindsight is 20/20 but, I mean, you go back to Crimea. Is there -- do you -- do you ever think could I have done something differently?

OBAMA: You know, the situations in each of these circumstances are different but I think that what we're seeing consistently is a reminder of why it's so important for us to not take our own democracy for granted. Why it's so important for us to stand for and align ourselves with those who believe in freedom and independence. And I think that the current administration is doing what it needs to be doing.


KEILAR: All right, I want to bring in Josh Rogin, Washington Post columnist, and CNN political analyst. Josh, what did you think about what the former president said?

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, Brianna, to be clear, the blame for what's going on in Ukraine lies on Putin, squarely, and Russia -- not on any U.S. administration. At the same time, if we don't understand the mistakes of history then we're doomed to repeat them. And we have to be honest about how we got into this situation and part of that were bad mistakes made by administrations on both sides, including the Obama administration. I mean, let's remember that in 2008, Putin invaded Georgia, and in

2009, the first thing the Obama administration did was order a reset with Russia. And in 2014, when Putin annexed Crimea and invaded Ukraine, what the Obama administration did is they worked to pressure Ukraine into making a deal that seeded Crimea and didn't remove Russia from eastern Ukraine.

Now, at the time, those decisions seemed rational but the lesson that Putin learned was that if he pursues aggression that eventually, the United States will back down and let him get something for his aggression.

And that doesn't excuse the mistakes that the Trump administration made. It doesn't excuse the mistakes that the George W. Bush administration made. But we see here is Obama -- President Obama intentionally deflecting and ignoring his own rule in what -- how we got into this mess that we're in.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Why might one think that Vladimir Putin would invade Ukraine in 2022? Because he did it once before. I mean, they took over and annexed Crimea, which was part of Ukraine. There is a history here -- a direct history here.

And clearly, as you say, President Obama did dodge that. Every administration dating back 20 years has perhaps misjudged Vladimir Putin along the way and had a hand in creating an atmosphere where Putin might have thought he could get away with this.

Has Putin changed? I was speaking to Fareed Zakaria overnight Josh, and Fareed's view is that Putin -- this is a different Vladimir Putin now, albeit maybe with some of the same motivations he's always had. But something has changed with him the last few years, whether it be COVID and the isolation, or all the money he's awash in with oil revenue.

What do you think?

ROGIN: I think that -- I actually disagree with Fareed. I think Putin is the same Putin he's always been. I think he came to power with violence. He consolidated power with horrendous aggression. And he always has increased that aggression wherever he's able to -- wherever the world allows him to.

So, sure, is he getting more reckless and more dangerous as he gets older and closer to his retirement, sure. But this is not just the -- how Putin has always been. This is how all psychopathic totalitarian dictators are. Their appetite grows with the eating.

That should be the lesson here that appeasement doesn't work. That you can't make semi-OK deals with psychopaths and that in the end, when you see -- when you recognize a leader who is willing to commit mass atrocities, you have to realize that's never going to change.

So I think Putin is being his best self or his worse self, let's say, but he hasn't changed his stripes. He was always a psychopathic dictator -- we just failed to recognize it. And by we, I mean the Bush administration, the Obama administration, the Trump administration, and a lot of us and -- but now, there could be no doubt.


And what happened in Ukraine was not unpredictable. In fact, it was predictable and predicted, especially by the Ukrainians for the last eight years. So we can't sit here and say oh, well, we didn't know. Maybe Putin just became crazy last year. That's not true.

OK, again, we have to be honest because we have to understand who these guys are because he's not the only one. And we can't act surprised every time another psychopathic totalitarian dictator pursues his aggression and we can already see who that -- who that might be next. And if I were Taiwan, I would be looking hard at that -- at that history and making sure not to repeat it.

KEILAR: Josh Rogin, thank you so much -- joining us from Washington.

And ahead, CNN is on the ground on the outskirts of Kyiv with a look at the aftermath of Russia's aggression there. Plus, millions of Ukrainian children continue to suffer whether they have fled or they have remained in their homes. One child with a moving message to his late mother.


SERGIY KYSLYTSYA, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Thank you for the best nine years of my life. You are the best mama in the world. I will never forget you.




KEILAR: "Mama, I will never forget you." A 9-year-old boy in Ukraine writing a heartbreaking letter to his mom after she was killed by Russian forces.

Here is the Ukrainian ambassador to the United Nations.


KYSLYTSYA: "Mama, this letter is my gift to you on the Women's Day of the 8th of March. Thank you for the best nine years of my life. Many thanks to my -- for my childhood. You are the best mama in the world. I will never forget you.

I wish you good luck in the heavens. I wish you to get to paradise. I will try to behave well to get to paradise, too."

Such letters should not have to be written. If they are, it means that something has gone terribly wrong, including here at the United Nations. It would mean its mechanism of maintaining international peace and security aren't working properly and should be fixed. But could they be fixed while Russia is allowed to use the rights of a permanent member?

If we are not able to stop the Kremlin, more and more children will become orphans. More and more mothers will lose their children.


KEILAR: We're told the boy's mother was killed while they were trying to escape from their Russian-occupied town in a car. The boy stayed in the vehicle until local residents rescued him and took him to a shelter.

BERMAN: Look, I spoke to a 15-year-old boy who watched his mother die in Chernihiv. And I think one of the things that people need to appreciate and take away from this is, first of all, how much suffering there has been. The profound tragedy that is being inflicted on the Ukrainian people. But also, why this will not be easy to forgive for them or to forget.

I think the Ukrainians now are of the mindset that the only thing for them to do is win -- is to push the Russians out. They've made so many sacrifices already that they're not going to give in. They've lost so much, this is not a moment where they feel like they have to give in or give up anything to the Russians at all.

KEILAR: Yes. The future of their country depends on it, they believe, as does the future of their families.

BERMAN: All right. In Philadelphia this morning, backlash after that city brought back indoor mask mandates because of a rise -- a big rise in new coronavirus cases. Plus, why JetBlue is slashing its summer schedule and what it might mean for the flights you've booked already.



BERMAN: This morning, Philadelphia health officials facing a backlash after announcing it will be the first major U.S. city to bring back an indoor mask mandate. This starts on April 18. Masks will be required in all the city's indoor public spaces. This is because of a new surge in coronavirus cases.

CNN's Jason Carroll joins me now with this. Not a lot of happy people here.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, and you remember it was just about a month or so ago when people were told in Philadelphia hey, you can take your masks off, get back to work, do your thing. But now they're being told just the opposite -- you've got to put the masks back on. So you can imagine the frustration there.

The city's health department says it needs to reinstate the mask mandate in order to get ahead of the recent spike in COVID cases there. So people there, very soon, will once again have to wear masks in places such as schools, restaurants, and movie theaters. The city's health commissioner said yesterday's case count is more

than 50% higher than it was just 10 days ago. The city now averaging 142 cases per day. Despite those numbers, it should be noted the city's hospitalization rate is still low.


DR. CHERYL BETTIGOLE, PHILADELPHIA HEALTH COMMISSIONER: We don't know if the BA.2 variant in Philadelphia will have the kind of impact on hospitalizations and deaths that we saw with the original Omicron variant this winter.

I suspect that this wave will be smaller than the one we saw in January. But if we wait to find out and to put our masks back on, we'll have lost our chance to stop the wave.


CARROLL: Nationally, COVID cases are trending upward in more than half of the states. But back in Philadelphia, a number of businesses there say this could be a big blow to their bottom line as many of them were just now starting to get back on their feet. The city is trying to give people there a chance to get used to the idea. Enforcement won't begin until next Monday. But still, levels of frustration -- yes.

BERMAN: Yes, very -- again, I think it's curious. It won't be -- you know, if you need the mask today -- if you need the mask today, why not -- why wait until next Monday. You can infect people for the next four days.

CARROLL: Here we go again.

BERMAN: All right, Jason Carroll. Thank you very much for that.

So, if you plan on flying JetBlue this summer you better listen to this. The airline is slashing its summer schedule, canceling 8% to 10% of its flights beginning next month. This, despite what it calls heavy demand for travel.


CNN's Pete Muntean live in Washington. Pete, I imagine a lot of people listening to this are going what? What's going on?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. You know, the big spring break travel rush is really showing the airlines that they have to plan very carefully for the summer. The issue here is there's just not enough airline staff to handle the millions who are flying again.

You know, over the weekend, JetBlue had to cancel hundreds of flights and the airline says it was a challenging staffing situation made worse by bad weather.

So now, JetBlue is slashing 8% to 10% of its flight starting next month and lasting through the summer. JetBlue says it has already hired about 3,000 new workers since the start of this year but even still, it says this is necessary given the huge demand for travel.

But it's not just JetBlue. Alaska Airlines said last week it's cutting 2% of its flights through the end of June. Pilots at Delta Airlines say they're overworked.

You know, John, just one more example of how these worker shortages at the airlines are really making travel tougher for everybody.

BERMAN: Pete, any update on whether the federal mask mandate for travel will be renewed?

MUNTEAN: It's something we are asking. It's something passengers are asking. It's something the airlines are asking.

You know, this was one of the last major mask mandates to remain in place after those rules began disappearing. Now they're coming back in places like Philadelphia, we just heard. Now the question is whether the transportation mask mandate will stick around even longer.

You know, this rule was put in place by the Biden administration almost immediately after he took office. Masks still required on planes, trains, buses, boats, and in terminals until April 18. That's not in less than one week.

But just last night, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha told us that the CDC will release a framework in the next few days. He says that framework will be used to make the decision on whether to extend the transportation mask mandate once more.

You know, remember, this was set to expire on March 18 but was extended another 30 days. We told you that first here on CNN.

You know, not long after that, all the heads of the major airlines wrote the White House to say the mandate should be ended immediately. Remember, it's airlines and their flight crews that have been on the front lines of enforcing the rules. And the latest FAA data says about 70% of all those unruly passenger incidents -- we talk about them all the time this year -- have been over masks.

We'll see if this really ends this time or if it's extended once more, John.

BERMAN: Pete Muntean, thank you very much.

President Biden cracking down on so-called ghost guns in an attempt to reel in violent crime across the United States.

John Avlon with a reality check.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Guns and crime -- they're always on our mind in America. And yesterday at that White House, President Joe Biden took action to restrict so-called ghost guns -- those unregulated, easily available, and untraceable weapons often bought from kits sold online. But later today, on the flip side of our gun politics, Georgia's Gov. Brian Kemp is signing a law, which will allow people to carry a concealed handgun without a permit in his state.

Now, there are some folks who believe that an armed society is a polite society, and there are others who believe that people with guns are more likely to kill other people.

But this debate is all happening at a time when a new Gallup poll shows that concern about crime in America is at the highest level since 2016, with 53% say they worry about it a great deal. But there's a partisan divide even here, with 61% of Republicans saying they are very worried compared to just 43% of Democrats.

So, what's the real deal? Well, here are the facts from the FBI.

Twenty-twenty saw a 30% increase in homicides and a 5% increase in violent crimes. It's the year -- the most recent year we updated to date. But you can see those numbers are still far below the battle days of the early 1990s.

Now, let's make it concrete, OK? Last year, police recorded 488 murders in New York City -- every one a tragedy. But that is still far below the more than 2,000 people killed each year in the early 1990s.

And in March of this year, major crime was up in New York City more than 35% over that same month in 2021 despite New York City Mayor Eric Adams' efforts because it takes a little time to turn around a trajectory.

But people across the United States are frustrated, especially after decades of taking crime decline for granted. The violent crime rate hit a 45-year low in 2014, but then it began to climb. Now, no single thing created this dynamic but in addition to more legal guns flooding the streets there are well-intentioned reforms that didn't quite work out as planned.

Now, take California where a plan called Proposition 47 has backfired badly. It was passed in 2014 to reduce criminal penalties, effectively decriminalizing thefts under $950. Spoiler alert: this was a bad idea.

Now, critics say it helped spur a wave of shoplifting, which has led to a bipartisan call to amend the law in the State Legislature. There's also a recall directed at San Francisco's young D.A. Chesa Boudin, the son of a weather underground who has pursued aggressive agenda as a prosecutor.

Now, in New York, far-reaching reform basically removed cash bail for most crimes. And from July 2020 to June of '21, only 4% of people who have been released create -- commit new violent crimes. That's according to a study by the Albany Times Union.