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Russia Targeted U.S. Lawmakers; RNC Withdraws from Commission for Presidential Debates; Rain and Snow for Holiday Weekend; Airlines Slashing Summer Schedules; Hoffmann Plays in PGA Event; Billionaire Boom Skyrockets. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired April 15, 2022 - 06:30   ET



KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Targeting anyone in Russia who is close to Putin or pro-Putin. So this indictment charges the deputy chair of the Russia, the state duma, that's like their legislature, with -- his name is Alexandr Babakov -- him and two his staff members with orchestrating this disinformation campaign. And it was all about promoting Russia and Putin's objectives when Russia first went into Crimea. So, several years ago. So these charges charge multiple accounts. And what they're accused of doing is targeting U.S. lawmakers. In one of these schemes, they offered an all-expense paid trip to at least one lawmaker in the U.S. and at least one American businessman, trying to get them to go to Yalta in the Crimea. There's a conference there. The objective was that this conference would benefit an already sanctioned Russian. So that's where they trip into these alleged sanction violations.

Now, in addition, these three Russians were also using an American citizen, who has not been identified, but as a proxy to try to do their bidding to set up meetings with U.S. congressman. And this was from 2012 to 2017. Now, no congressman took him up on this offer to go to Yalta and no congressman met with him. They actually had lied on their visa applications, according to the indictment, and were sanctioned and never let into the U.S. to begin with.

But, you know, this is all part of this big push by the U.S. to go after people close to Putin. And as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, which announced these charges, Damian Williams, he said, today's indictment demonstrates that Russia's illegitimate actions against Ukraine extend beyond the battlefield as political influencers under Russia's control allegedly plotted to steer geopolitical change in Russia's favor through surreptitious and illegal means in the U.S. and elsewhere in the west.

And, you know, as we saw last week, there was a big announcement by Merrick Garland, the attorney general. They seized a Russian oligarch's yachts. They also announced charges against another oligarch. I think we're going to see a lot more of this to come.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And it's just so interesting that the Russians think that a ripe target would be U.S. members of Congress. And this dates back years at this point. Kara, terrific reporting. Thank you very much.

The breaking news, a barrage of strikes overnight and this morning across Ukraine, just hours after a key Russian warship sinks. We're live on the ground.

Plus, could the next presidential election be the first in decades without debates?

Stay with us.



BERMAN: Following months of threatening to do so, the Republican National Committee is withdrawing from the bipartisan commission that sponsors the general election presidential debates.

John Avlon with a "Reality Check."

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I hope it ain't so, but you just might have seen your last presidential debate in America, at least for quite a while. Now, yesterday, the RNC voted unanimously to withdraw from the bipartisan commission that sponsors presidential debates. This is a big deal. Another blow to your democracy. It also appears to be a temper tantrum thrown at Donald Trump's request, complaining that the commission is biased. It's also a virtual guarantee that America will retreat further into its partisan echo chamber, which is the last thing we need.

Look, I love me some presidential debates because they offer voters a chance to judge candidates side by side, to get a sense of their character and beliefs and how they think on their feet.

Think of Ronald Reagan dismissing President Jimmy Carter's criticism and his stance on health care.




AVLON: There was the famous VP debate smackdown of '88.




AVLON: And George W. Bush's nod that put Al Gore in his place.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: But can you get things done? And I believe I can.


AVLON: So, here's how we got here. In January, after the RNC threatened to keep its candidates from participating in debates sponsored by a commission, the commission co-chairman, Frank Fahrenkopf, himself a former chair of the RNC, said that the GOP was demanding to, quote, control things we aren't prepared to let them control.

So, let's look at one of the RNC's core complaints. They point to the selection of Steve Scully from C-SPAN to moderated a debate last cycle, despite the fact that he had briefly interned for Joe Biden decades before. Now, it's worth noting, that debate never happened because of Covid. But, regardless, it's a bad look. Let's give them that.

But despite the RNC's claims that the commission is biased, if you look at what stations have actually moderated general election debates this century, it's PBS that has the decided edge, followed by NBC and CBS. Two debates have been moderated by CNN, as well as two by then Fox News anchor Chris Wallace. MSNBC has been shut out.

So, the problem isn't partisan bias, it's that conservatives seem to believe that anyone who is not explicitly right wing is defacto from the left, which is an absurd way to understand the American electorate. But let's be honest, this is also an attempt to avoid answering tough questions. At the end of the day, it's really just about fealty to Trump. He started this blame the ref cycle and two weeks before election day 2020, former Republican senator and CBD board member John Danforth pushed back in an op-ed. Listen to what he said. Quote, the president's apparent strategy is to challenge the validity of the election should he lose. We saw the strategy initially in his claims that mail-in ballots are tools for massive election fraud. Now we see it as well in his assertion that the debates have been rigged by the commission to favor former Vice President Joe Biden.

Someone buy that man a crystal ball because exactly what happened.

But it's not too much to ask political to have the courage of their convictions and the ability to defend them. Those should be table stakes, right? Instead, we see too many conservates only going on right-wing TV because they'd be guaranteed softballs and too many Democrats refusing to make their case to conservative ballots and audiences.

Here's what former Trump Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham told us last October on NEW DAY.


STEPHANIE GRISHAM, FORMER TRUMP PRESS SECRETARY: They, you know, by and large didn't get tough with us. They just took what we were saying and disseminated it.


AVLON: Spoiler alert, that's not how democracy or journalism is supposed to work. Trying to shut down presidential debates shows a lack of confidence in being able to win a contest of ideas. It's worth remembering that in politics, as in religion, the essence of evangelism is winning converts.


And that means not simply preaching to the choir, but instead making your case on the debate stage for all your fellow citizens to hear.

And that's your "Reality Check."

BERMAN: Important history there. John, thank you very much.

A new report that Moscow is sending the U.S. a formal warning to stop arming Ukraine just days after President Biden announced a new security package for Kyiv.

Plus, more than 150 people injured in clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security personnel at one of the world's holiest sites on a sacred day for Judaism, Islam and Christianity. We have a live report from the ground.



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Multiple storm systems promising to make it a messy holiday weekend in the U.S. Some areas will see a heavy downpour. Others are actually going to see snow.

So, let's get the latest now from CNN meteorologist Chad Myers.

What are you watching?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Certainly, Brianna, some severe weather today. Not the kind of severe weather that we had Monday and Tuesday, and really even Wednesday. But the chance of some hail across parts of the -- middle part of the country, maybe a little bit of wind damage.

But here's how the maps kind of progress. We get some rain and thunder showers across parts of the deep south for Sunday. Even a little bit of snow along the front in the Catskills and the Adirondacks. I don't think we ever get it close to New York City. Don't worry about that.

But we'll see some showers across parts of the Midwest, again on Saturday. And then for Sunday, all of a sudden we get more weather popping. And I think there will be more severe weather down here across the deep south on your Easter Sunday. So we'll keep watching that.

A lot of heavy rainfall down there, three to four inches possible, but heavy snow, as you said, across the Pacific Northwest. They will take it. They need snowpack. And a lot more of it. So, any storm we can put out there will be welcome.

Here are your temperatures for the next three days. And happy and a safe Easter to you, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, to you as well, Chad, thank you so much.

BERMAN: So, this morning, airlines are struggling with staffing shortages. The spring break rush last week was riddled with cancellations. And despite a surge in summer travel demand, airlines are slashing schedules.

CNN aviation correspondent Pete Muntean joins me now.

This doesn't look good, Pete.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: It doesn't, John. You know, travel numbers are huge lately, about 90 percent of where they were back before the pandemic. You're seeing it in ticket prices that have jumped 40 percent according to Kayak. But now there are just not enough workers to handle all of this demand and airlines are in a big bind and being forced to delay and cancel flights.


MUNTEAN (voice over): It is the latest challenge to your next trip, understaffed airlines and overworked flight crews causing carriers to cancel flights. After hundreds of cancellations last weekend, JetBlue announced it is cutting 8 to 10 percent of its summer schedule, citing a challenging staffing situation. The latest numbers show that airlines are still shy more than 30,000 workers compared to before the pandemic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a lot of burnout, and especially among some work groups I'm hearing from folks saying I just can't take it anymore.

MUNTEAN: Crew shortages are hitting airlines large and small. Alaska Airlines is canceling 2 percent of its flights through June. Delta pilots say they are being pushed to the limit on a regular basis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Longer days with shorter nights at home, shorter layovers, and our pilots are tired and fatigued.

MUNTEAN: Pilot reports of fatigue spiked at Southwest Airlines last month. Their union says the company is struggling to retain its newest hires.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is going to be a critical issue every month and every year that we move forward.

MUNTEAN: Help comes in the form of sky-high hiring goals. Delta wants to hire 200 new pilots each month. JetBlue has hired 3,000 new crew this year alone. United Airlines came up with a different solution, opening up its own flight school, a first for any major airline in the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The pilot shortage is real. We can hire pilots at United Airlines. But the regional airlines and smaller airlines have a real pilot shortage and are having real challenges.


MUNTEAN: United's flight school is called the Aviate Academy and tuition costs about $70,000 to get all the licenses necessary to become an entry-level airline pilot. But consider this, John, an airline captain can make up to $400,000 a year, a great time to learn to fly. Airlines worldwide need to hire about 30,000 new pilots by 2025. That's to keep up with this demand and also retirements, remember, that's federally mandated, the retirement age, 65 years old.


BERMAN: Thirty thousand new pilots by 2025.



All right, Pete Muntean, thank you very much.

The head of the CIA warning that Russia's desperation should not be underestimated and that Russian threats of using tactical low-grade nuclear weapons cannot be taken lightly.

Plus, the iconic little girl in the red coat from "Schindler's List," who highlighted the horrors of the Holocaust. The actress is now helping Ukrainian refugees at the Polish border. She joining us live ahead.



BERMAN: Golfer Morgan Hoffmann returning to the PGA tour for the first time in more than two years while he continues to battle muscular dystrophy. The details of his comeback really extraordinary.

Andy Scholes here with the "Bleacher Report."

Good morning, Andy.


So, Morgan Hoffmann, he was once upon a time the number one ranked amateur golfer, but he was diagnosed with a rare form of muscular dystrophy in 2017. And Hoffmann was not happy with traditional treatments, so he went on a worldwide search for alternative cures. And that journey took him to the mountains of Nepal and to the jungles of Costa Rica, where he now calls home. He did a 17-day grape cleanse where he ate 800 grapes a day. He also did a 10-day urine cleanse. Now, Hoffmann's methods seem to be working for him as he was back on tour yesterday for the first time since 2019 shooting even par.


MORGAN HOFFMANN, SHOT 71 IN FIRST COMPETITIVE ROUND SINCE OCTOBER 2019: It felt awesome. It was -- it was pretty surreal. A lot different than the lifestyle I had been living the last two and a half years. And having people cheer your name out there, it's -- it's very special.



SCHOLES: Yes, Hoffmann's playing on a medical exemption this week. Needs to play well in the next three starts to regain full playing status for the rest of this season.

But, John, he also says that he hopes that just being back out there is going to help raise awareness for muscular dystrophy.

BERMAN: All right, Andy, thank you very much.

So, the richest person on earth, Elon Musk, offering an offer to buy Twitter for $54.20 per share, which values the company at more than $41 billion. So, how can any one person afford that price tag?

To help us answer that question, we are joined by CNN chief business correspondent Christine Romans.

It all started with this. Explain this offer.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Four little words on Twitter to buy all of Twitter. The rest of Twitter he doesn't own. Elon Musk, the world's richest person essentially says he'll acquire all the outstanding shares for $54.20 a share, taking it private to save civilization is how he puts it of -- that only he can own Twitter it to be the best steward of civilization there.

That would be a big offer, his best and final. It's under the 420, the number, I mean, I don't understand exactly why, but he has these pot references from time to time. He had, in the past, in 2019, said erroneously that he had the funding to take his own -- other company private at 420. We can go on and on about that.

BERMAN: I love Christine Roman's disclaimer, I don't understand what that means, but -- I don't get it.

ROMANS: I don't understand what that means.

BERMAN: But he's got a big thing with marijuana.

ROMANS: He does. He does, apparently.


ROMANS: But, I mean, but does it mean he's unserious. Does it make it -- it's just not the normal investment banker speak.

BERMAN: And explain to me how it is that he can afford this?

ROMANS: Because he has more money than God. He has more money than anybody else on the planet. At the end of last year, his net worth, $219 billion. Since then, it is even bigger. He's probably opened the gap between Jeff Bezos almost $100 billion. A billion is 1,000 million. It's almost mind boggling how big these numbers are and how quickly the wealth of the richest -- the world's richest people is growing.

BERMAN: Yes, and the relative wealth we're talking about here is like Rockefeller at the end of the 19th century.

ROMANS: I think so, yes.

BERMAN: Maybe even more here. And this -- this disparity, it grew during the pandemic, yes?

ROMANS: It absolutely did. And when you look here, the world's 10 richest men, this is from Oxfam, their wealth grew from $700 billion to $1.5 trillion during the pandemic. Just during the pandemic. Think of that, for those 10 rich men, a growth of $15,000 per second, $1.3 billion a day. And the same time the rest of the world struggled to just keep in place, to keep the wealth that they already had.

This is Musk's wealth, by the way, over the past two years. So, look at that.

BERMAN: Holy (ph).

ROMANS: That's a big bump. So that's -- he owns PayPal. Now we know he owns Twitter. And then, on a given day, if Tesla stock moves quickly, he can make -- he can make hundreds of millions of dollars over a course of minutes. Unrealized gains (INAUDIBLE) stock.

BERMAN: But this jump, is this Tesla? I mean what --

ROMANS: It's mostly Tesla. Yes. Yes, it's Tesla and these other holdings too. PayPal I think (INAUDIBLE).

BERMAN: And what's the difference, you know, average Americans here? It's just very different.

ROMANS: So the average American, you know, wealth, family wealth, just under $121,000. Closer to retirement, that number is much bigger, by the way. But just -- just look. You know, this is unrealized wealth, of course. He takes a modest salary but he's paid in stock, right? He's got all these stock investments. And that makes him 2.3 million times richer than the typical American.

But Elon Musk is not typical. There's -- he's been investing, he's been building businesses, investing in AI, in space, in tech, in electric vehicles. And so he has been a real mover in some important spaces. The question here is, can he do SpaceX and Tesla and be prolific on

Twitter, I guess, and own Twitter? Is there enough Elon Musk to go around? I mean what is it -- what kind of steward would he be for Twitter and what is the board going to decide here? Clearly the board has to make some big decisions.

BERMAN: I can't believe 2.3 million times richer than the average American. That is quite a number.

ROMANS: Yes, I mean, what I can't really -- I mean this is what is shocking to me.


ROMANS: The way during the crisis the world's richest people just got a hell of a lot richer.

BERMAN: Christine Romans, we'll let you get back to the lava lamp. Thank you so much for being with us this morning.


BERMAN: NEW DAY continues right now.

KEILAR: Good morning to viewers in the U.S. and around the world. It is Friday, April 15th. And I'm Brianna Keilar in Lviv, Ukraine, with John Berman in New York.

We are beginning with breaking news. A flurry of Russian strikes across Ukraine overnight and this morning after the sinking of a Russian war ship that the Ukrainians claim to have hit with a missile. The sinking of this ship, the Moskva, the crown jewel of Russia's Black Sea fleet, would be an enormous achievement for the Ukrainian military, and it's a devastating setback for the Kremlin war machine. The Pentagon says it has no reason to dispute Ukraine's claim, calling it plausible and possible.


Overnight, the Russian military claimed that it struck a military facility on the outskirts.