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Putin Call Goals in Ukraine Noble; Inflation Hits 40-Year High; Anna Serdiuk is Interviewed about Escaping Mariupol; Alleged Federal Agents Claim Conspiracy. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired April 12, 2022 - 08:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[08:30:00]

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: This opportunity to lay out in defense of what Russia has been doing in their special military operation here in the Donbas region. Note, he didn't talk about Kyiv or anything else, the Plan A that clearly did not go according to plan.

But, once again, we hear him say we were there to liberate these people, we're here to save Ukrainians, as bizarre and wild as that sounds, given the images and the brutality that we're seeing unleashed upon Ukrainians. And God knows what we're going to see coming out of Mariupol.

But he's saying we were -- we were provoked to come in, right, and we were threatened here in Russia. This Nazification, the nationalism that has been growing within Ukraine was posing a threat not only to Ukrainians, in his words, but to Russia. And thus this was a justifiable special military operation and, as you heard, in his terms, it's going according to plan.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And six weeks in. It's the when of this that strikes me as much as the what he actually said. Six weeks in and he's still saying this kind of stuff.

And you also noted there's some people who say, oh, Putin doesn't actually know how bad the defeat has been for Russian troops in and around Kyiv. But the way he talked to you indicates he knows what's going on.

GOLODRYGA: Yes. Now, there's a difference between what led up to the war and the information that he was given in terms of how he would be received and how quickly this operation would have unfolded in three days they would have taken Kyiv. That clearly didn't happen. And now you're seeing some of the consequences amongst his upper echelon at the FSB.

But in terms of what's going on, on a day-to-day basis, I don't buy this argument that he's clueless and isn't paying close attention to it. Just yesterday with the chancellor from Austria, he called the claims and the massacre out of Bucha as fake news, and that this is all staged, right? He knows what's going on to the detail of every -- every little city in which his forces are unleashing their brutality.

BERMAN: And to hear him talk -- focus about the Donbas, this battle in the east, really does indicate the stakes are so incredibly high there. I think the world watching very closely what will happen there in the next few days.

GOLODRYGA: Yes.

BERMAN: Bianna Golodryga, thank you very much for being with us.

Ukrainian marines in the besieged port city of Mariupol say they will hold on, quote, until the end. They're surrounded by Russian forces. They're running low on supplies. We're live on the ground in Ukraine.

Plus, we do have breaking news. A brand-new report on inflation just released. We'll bring you the numbers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:36:17]

BERMAN: All right, breaking just moments ago, brand-new numbers on inflation,

CNN chief business correspondent Christine Romans joins us now.

Romans.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: As expected, a big number, 8.5 percent, the inflation rate over the past year. That -- that is a big number. It is as expected. And it is the hottest inflation since 1982. That's sort of a broken record there. And you know what it all is. It is gas. It is shelter. It is food. These are three things that people really can't do without, right? So, this is why you have so many people souring on the U.S. economy, consumers rather, because they're feeling this inflation all the time.

Month on month increase, I like to look at this number because it tells you incrementally where you're going. That was up 1.2 percent. Really rare to see a big pop just in one month like this.

I want to say, though, this is until the end of March. And as you've been reporting, we've been reporting, oil prices and gas prices have been coming down. So, in a way, this consumer price number is looking in the rearview mirror.

There are some economists who are hoping this is the peak, this is the worst of it, and things begin to moderate into the summer. As you know, the White House is releasing a million barrels per day of oil. Our allies are pushing oil from their strategic stockpiles too. So, there's a lot of things they're trying to do to ease the oil part of it. But when you look at the sectors, it is gas, it is shelter, it is food, it is used cars. These are numbers that year over year have had big, big increases in prices, and that continues again here in the month.

BERMAN: The 8.5 percent number, that's a big number.

ROMANS: It is.

BERMAN: And a big number (INAUDIBLE). It's crazy to think, though, that the market might be OK with it, because it's exactly in line with what they were expecting today. It's not worse than what they expected.

ROMANS: It's --

BERMAN: And combined with measures being taken by the Biden administration that they can see today to try to keep energy and gas prices low, like changing the ethanol rules for the summer.

ROMANS: Changing the ethanol rules for the summer, which the White House says will take ten cents a gallon off of gasoline. And gasoline prices have been -- have been coming down slowly, I grant you, but they have been coming down closer to $4 now. And oil prices are well off that $130 a barrel that we saw at the begin of the Russian invasion.

It is the Fed that is the inflation fighter. And I think that's important to note as well. The Fed is expected to be -- aggressively try to tackle this red hot inflation with big rate increases, 25 basis points, or maybe even half a percent. So if you are in the market to borrow money, you're borrowing costs will be rising, and that is one of the ways they're going to try to -- the Federal Reserve is actually trying to cool down this inflation.

BERMAN: Well, Bank of America overnight, and then Deutsche Bank last week, has some concerns about what will happen if the Fed acts maybe too aggressive.

ROMANS: And they're worried about a shock. A shock to the American economy. That if the Fed is really aggressive here, sure, they're going to break the back of inflation, but they also might push the U.S. economy into recession or some sort of a shock there. So that is a fine line to walk here this year.

Most economists don't expect a recession in the U.S. The U.S. is one of the strongest economies in the world here right now and is less reliant on Russian oil than Europe, for example.

But there are those calls out there saying, be careful here, the risks of recession are rising.

BERMAN: Walk with me for a second, if you will.

ROMANS: OK, I will. BERMAN: Because what's interesting about this is you can see the impact that inflation has already had on people's view of where the economy is. You can see 63 percent say the economy is bad, just 31 percent say it's good, and that's despite, by the way, very low unemployment number.

ROMANS: That unemployment number would be a dream in any administration. I mean that is a 50-year low for the unemployment rate. And, in fact, when you talk to American workers, they're expecting raises this year, big raises this year. They're hopping jobs. They're -- you know, they're very satisfied with what they're finding on the labor market.

But to see such a bad number on the economy, it is all about inflation. Inflation is the headline that gets all of the -- all of the attention.

[08:40:03]

And, you know, when you talk to economists, they say, you've seen record new entrepreneurship. You've got new business owners. You've got wages that are rising, although not as fast as inflation in some parts, but -- and you have all of this flush bank accounts for many, many households. We're in a much better position today than after say the great recession. But these -- these numbers say people don't feel that.

BERMAN: And it's putting them in a mood. And you ask people why the economy is bad in their mind, they say inflation.

ROMANS: Yes.

BERMAN: Which, of course, 8.5 percent today, highest -- highest increase we've seen --

ROMANS: Since '82 (ph).

BERMAN: All right, Christine Romans, thank you very much for that.

We have new details on this bizarre, frightening story out of Washington. Two men accused of impersonating Homeland Security agents. The suspects now telling their side of the story.

Plus, Ukrainian officials say there could be 20,000 deaths inside the besieged city of Mariupol. We're joined next by a woman who was trapped inside for weeks and made a harrowing escape.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:45:11]

KEILAR: President Zelenskyy says weeks of relentless Russian bombardment have left tens of thousands dead in the besieged city of Mariupol. Earlier today I spoke with Anna Serdiuk, who was able to escape from Mariupol after she and her family survived a harrowing 23 days hiding in frigid basements without electricity and consuming what should have been considered undrinkable water from rusty pipes.

Here is part of our conversation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: Anna, thank you so much for joining us.

You spent 22 days in Mariupol, 14 days in a shelter there. Tell us what the bombing was like.

ANNA SERDIUK, ESCAPED MARIUPOL, UKRAINE (through translator): Yes, I must say that we -- indeed I spent the last 14 days in the shelter. Before that I spent all the time in my mother's cellar and -- where she keeps preserves. And the situation was such that there was shells dropping all the time and planes whizzing past and the sound of bombs dropping, the ground shaking. And -- and when this happens, you -- you can't breathe. It -- it's impossible to describe. It's not even something I've ever seen in films, when things are whizzing past you, and you know it can -- a bomb can drop any moment. And the more -- the closer the planes flying, the more -- the louder the sound. It's just -- I don't even know how to describe it.

KEILAR: I know you escaped with your husband and his parents and a grandparent, as well as your brother and your mother, all of you crammed into a car.

Can you tell us, first off, how you were able to do that? I understand that your father-in-law actually stole a battery out of his damaged car to use on another vehicle that got you out.

SERDIUK: Yes, indeed. We had -- originally we had three cars. One was my mother-in-law's and two were my father-in-law's. And this third car was parked in a car park in a four-story building. So, what happened was that my mother-in-law's car was borrowed by somebody who then disappeared. We don't know what happened to him, whether he was killed or whether he managed to escape and never came back. So, the second car was parked in the street and a shrapnel got into it. It was hit by shrapnel and it -- it caught fire. So -- and the third car didn't have a battery. It was parked in the building and -- without a battery. So my father-in-law had to quickly rescue the battery from the burning car, and fit it to the battery in the parked car. And, fortunately, he was able to do it without injuring himself. And that's the only way that we could leave.

The people who had cars parked in the street, they were all burned very quickly and people from that building, I don't know where even -- whether they got out of the city.

KEILAR: Thank God, Anna, you were able to get out.

Can you tell us a little bit about how long that took, how many Russian checkpoints you went through and what that was like?

SERDIUK: Yes, well, first of all, I must say it was difficult to actually get into the car because bombs were dropping all the time. Everything was burning around. There were lots of dead bodies and just to leave the shelter, the basement of the building where we were in, it was -- it was almost impossible. So there was a quiet -- there was a lull in the bombing, and we took advantage of that, and we came out and decided to run at that point.

And as we were going through the city, we saw all this horror, all the buildings including ours, our nine-story building and all the buildings were destroyed or had holes in them. There were dead bodies in the streets. I didn't really -- I didn't really see it all in detail because I didn't want to take it all in.

And then, yes, we reached a checkpoint. It was a checkpoint that belonged to the Donetsk People's Republic because they checked our passports and they checked our residence addresses and that's in the passport. And they also questioned my husband.

But then they let us go. We went towards Berdyansk. And in Berdyansk we came across the Russian checkpoint. And indeed over there they actually got everybody out of the car and they inspected my husband, all the men, they inspected men for signs of -- of, you know, belonging to battle contingents. And then my husband has a tattoo from his neck to down his arm.

[08:50:03]

And this was 3:00 a.m. So they spent ten minutes inspecting his arm with a torch. They were looking for Nazi symbols. And we were shocked because the -- yes, indeed they decided that they're fighting Nazis. I mean it was so shocking to us that they were looking for Nazi symbols on us. But, actually, it's also hypocritical because they're not fighting Nazis. They are destroying the civilian population of Mariupol. They are simply exterminating civilians. So, this whole Nazi fighting business is just hypocrisy.

KEILAR: Anna, tell me about your father. He's still in Mariupol.

SERDIUK: Yes, indeed. My father was a civilian, but when the war started, he decided to join territorial defense to defend his family, his city, to defend the borders, so he and my uncle joined territorial defense.

And until very recently I had no communication with them. I had no idea whether they were dead or alive. And I've just found out that my uncle has been killed. He was killed by a mortar shell. And my father was hit by a collapsing building and he broke his leg. And right now he is in a serious condition because of all the medication he needs, he only has painkillers. So he is slowly dying because he has -- he hasn't got the right medication. And there was -- there's no way to get it to him.

KEILAR: Anna, I am so sorry for what your father is going through. I'm so sorry for the loss of your uncle. I'm so glad that we can speak to you and that you are safe with many members of your family. And I appreciate you telling us your story this morning.

Thank you.

SERDIUK: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: This morning, a new stage of terror. The U.S. monitoring unconfirmed reports of possible chemical weapons attacks in Ukraine.

Plus, we're getting our first look at Trevor Reed, the former U.S. Marine imprisoned in Russia, since he went on a hunger strike. The latest on his condition ahead.

But first, a couple struggling to find the right therapy for their daughter has harnessed the power of horses. Now they're helping other families in today's "The Human Factor."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SASHA CAMACHO, CO-FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, SOLEANA STABLES: As a parent of a child with special needs, you're always looking for activities that will engage your child. Things that are going to strengthen them. For Solana, that was horseback riding.

Solana, she was born with down syndrome. She took her first lesson when she was four years old and she loved it, but the lessons just weren't consistent enough for her. There was nothing in our area.

In 2014, Andy started having these dreams of horses and pasture and I remember him telling me, you know, maybe this is what we're supposed to do, start this program so that she can ride.

ANDREW CAMACHO, CO-FOUNDER, SOLEANA STABLES: And from that point forward, we kind of moved into action to serve our -- the greater community of Houston.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good morning!

SASHA CAMACHO: SoleAna Stables is a therapeutic riding program for individuals with special needs. Our riders come to us each and every week, working on physical strengths, spiritual strength, emotional strength.

SOLANA CAMACHO, RIDER, SOLEANA STABLES: Horses are my favorite and they are my life and they help me.

SOLEDAD CAMACHO, VOLUNTEER, SOLEANA STABLES: I'm a sidewalker, which means I get to walk alongside the rider and the horse and be there to make sure that they're not only safe, but that they also have someone to talk to.

SASHA CAMACHO: Our riders diagnoses range from down syndrome, Rett syndrome, autism, undiagnosed.

A. CAMACHO: We have an expression, therapy starts at the gate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [08:57:55]

BERMAN: This morning, the two men arrested in Washington, D.C., for posing as Homeland Security officials deny they were trying to influence federal agents. Officials say they developed those relationships, including giving gifts and offering favors to Secret Service agents and officers. The suspects are calling the charges a, quote, conspiracy theory.

CNN's Whitney Wild joins me now with the very latest on this strange and really scary case, Whitney.

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely.

It is alarming, it is bizarre, and now we are hearing for the first time from the defense attorneys of these two men. The defense attorneys for Haider Ali and Arian Taherzadesh insist they were genuinely friends with members of law enforcement, including those two Secret Service agents and two Secret Service officers. When defense attorneys said prosecutors have jumped to the wildest conspiracy theories imaginable over the most scant of evidence, adding that one of those men, Taherzadesh, never asked for anything from the officers he befriended.

Further, the defense attorneys disputed that foreign travel by one of the men in recent years to places like Iran and Pakistan indicated any foreign intelligence connection or suggested any kind of foreign funding. But attorneys and family for that man said instead this illustrated a spiritual journey.

In an effort to keep both men behind bars, prosecutors laid out several new details accusing them of trying to hide evidence after being inadvertently tipped off to the investigation.

And, John, investigators acknowledge that in this court filing, that due to the just break-neck pace of this investigation, there are still many facts they do not know, John.

BERMAN: Still many facts --

WILD: So, certainly -- certainly a case to watch because it just gets stranger by the day.

BERMAN: Yes, and there really are still so many questions out there.

Whitney Wild, thank you so much for this reporting. I know you're going to stay on this case.

And we do have some breaking news, just before we go. A reported cyberattack attempt against a Ukrainian power company by hackers linked to the Russian military. We're told by Ukrainian government officials that the group tried to infiltrate Ukrainian power substations and deployed a virus capable of cutting off the power. Ukraine says they thwarted the attack. Keep in mind, U.S. officials tell CNN that Vladimir Putin may also be targeting the U.S. with cyberattacks, specifically the U.S. elections. [09:00:08]

There are a lot of people wondering why Russia did not do more in terms of cyber in the days leading up to or beginning their invasion of Ukraine.

CNN's coverage continues right now.