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Crown Jewel of Russia's Fleet Sinks After Alleged Hit by Ukraine; CIA Chief Warns of Possibility That Russia May Use Nuclear Weapons; Texts Show Lawmakers Encouraged, Then Soured on Overturning Election. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired April 15, 2022 - 07:00   ET


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN NEW DAY: Dispute Ukraine's claim, calling it plausible and possible.


Overnight, the Russian military claimed that it struck a military facility on the outskirts of Kyiv with a cruise missile. The Kremlin threatening to hit the capital two days ago, that is of note. And Russian forces are also rapidly building their presence in Eastern Ukraine. Widespread shelling already being reported in the region, and there are also reports of active hostilities and shelling around Izyum and in Kharkiv, as Russian troops continue their advance toward the Donbas.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: A chilling warning from CIA Director William Burns. He says the potential for Russia to use tactical or low-yield nuclear weapons in Ukraine cannot be taken lightly.

Also, The Washington Post reports that Russia has sent a formal diplomatic note to the United States, warning that U.S. and NATO shipments of the sensitive weapon systems to Ukraine are adding fuel to the conflict and that there could be, quote, unpredictable consequences. Brianna?

KEILAR: Let's begin in Mykolaiv, which is where CNN's Ed Lavandera is. Ed, can you tell us the latest from that region?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Brianna. It has been a hectic night here and morning in the city of Mykolaiv, which is just east of Odessa. We have been hearing bombardment throughout the night in the distance, and then this morning, in the mid morning hours, cluster bombs going off here in a residential neighborhood.

This is a park where we are told that, this morning, several people were walking around. And you can see the impact on the ground from various -- these cluster munitions that detonated in a largely residential neighborhood, apartment buildings behind me. This is an orthodox church.

And we will walk you back over here to show you one of the impact sites. But officials here are telling us that at least two dead so far in the explosions and the attacks going on this morning. In fact, here at this church, they have spent the morning cleaning up the rather gruesome scene that was left here. This is one of the areas where people were killed. And they have actually already started covering up the impact site here.

This is just feet away from this orthodox church. This was actually much wider a little while ago. They have started filling it up. This is the glass and everything that they have been cleaning up from these windows. And you can see the damage inflicted here on this building.

And as several people have told us, Brianna, this was an area in this park where people were walking around this morning, walking their dogs. It doesn't seem to be any clear indication of any kind of military presence in this area at all. So, a dreadful morning.

And, in fact, one witness told us that the munitions were going off for almost ten minutes. They were dealing with all of that as people were scrambling try to figure out where to hide and where to get to safety. And there had been attacks, according to officials, in various parts of this region, in the city, this morning. And as I told you off the top, we have been hearing bombardment.

THE frontline is probably 30, 45 miles away toward the city of Kherson, which is down the road. And all up and down there, from the south, up to the north, that's where the frontline has been in the last few days. So, attacks like this have -- and the sounds of this kind of warfare have been common. But an attack like this in the city, a deadly attack sends a great deal of anger.

We talked to one witness a little while ago who described what it was like here this morning and how they reacted to what was happening.

BERMAN: Ed, let me give people a accepts of where you are. Mykolaiv is right here. You can see it's not part of the area controlled by Russia. Close, though. You mentioned Kherson, which is right here.

And just to give people a sense of also the action that people are expecting is actually in the east, in this part of the country. And Ed is right here.

So, I guess my question, Ed, is there a concern where you are in Mykolaiv that even while the main Russian focus might be further in the east, that Mykolaiv could still be a target, that there still could be a Russian push to try to take over the full Black Sea coast?

LAVANDERA: Well, there has been that concern for some time, and even as the focus has been clearly in the east and southeast of this country. But remember, if you look at the map, you can see that Crimea is just southeast of where we are. And that has been a launching point for Russian forces coming into this area.

So, the offensive has been rather strong. And in the last few days, John, we have been driving around in some of the rural areas north of Mykolaiv, and we have seen a steady flow of refugees trying to escape the villages and the cities in this occupied -- Russian-occupied areas of southern Ukraine. So, there is a great deal of sense that this offensive, this renewed offensive by Russian forces into Ukraine has really sent people scrambling to move to safer locations in the country and is definitely spreading a great deal of fear.


As I mentioned, we heard kind of artillery fire throughout the night out in the distance. That's not totally uncommon here in this area. But it does kind of serve as a reminder for people here that as they try to figure out exactly what is the motivation for the Russians, what is their strategy going to be in moving to into this part, are they just satisfied with where they are, do they want to keep pushing west into Ukraine, moving through cities like Mykolaiv and down to the city of Odessa. That has been the question looming over these people and these cities for quite some time now.

KEILAR: All right. Ed, thank you so much and please stay safe. You're in an area that was just hit. We do appreciate the report.

BERMAN: So, the Russian troops who retreated from Northern Ukraine, this area that you see right there, earlier this month, are now resurfacing in the Donbas to the east. And a large-scale attack is expected in days, perhaps even hours. The shelling has already begun.

CNN's Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon this morning. Barbara, what are you hearing?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Well, the Pentagon says they are beginning to see the leading edge of this Russian advance moving into the Donbas. Now, of course, Russian fighters -- Russian-backed fighters have been there for years. But this is something very different. They are seeing the Russians move in with artillery, with command and control, with other leading-edge capabilities as they push into the Donbas for what is expected to be major land combat.

They aren't seeing the big Russian troop movements yet. That is to come. But this is the beginning of setting up the military capability the Russians want for long-range fires in that region. It is something that is being watched so carefully because Vladimir Putin wants to declare some sort of victory, it's widely believed, sometime next month. He is looking next May to score a win in his mind. And this is the place he's going to try and get it because he feels he has the capability in him to do it.

The troops that will move in are likely to be Russian troops that left from Northern Ukraine around the capital of Kyiv several weeks ago, went back into Russia, got resupplied and now are positioning to move into the Donbas from the north.

So, what about Ukraine forces? Well, the U.S. is now beginning to assemble that $800 million package of weapons, artillery, helicopters, radars that it is going to ship to Ukraine forces so they can challenge the Russians on that front in the Donbas. But consider this, John. It's $800 million of heavy weapons. They will get them to the Polish border. Then the Ukrainians will have to pick them up and move them across the country into Eastern Ukraine. The last time the U.S. tried to move $800 million worth of gear, it was lighter weapons and it took them a month. So, time is of the essence here. Time is nobody's friend on the Ukraine side of this fight. John?

BERMAN: Yes, they have got a long way to go. Once they get to the border, they still have a long way if they're going to to get to the Donbas region over there. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you very much. Brianna?

KEILAR: Joining us now is former CIA counterterrorism official and CNN Counterterrorism Analyst Phil Mudd.

Phil, first, I want to talk with you about this formal diplomatic note that Russia sent to the U.S. And it can't escape you that this comes as you have those upgraded weapons that Barbara was just detailing going to the Ukrainians from the U.S. How worried is Russia about those weapons?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, I'll tell you, it's a rare moment when I tell you in the midst of a war, Brianna, that we have a good news story. One of the things I learned in watching wars, when the adversary complains, you can guarantee that you have gotten under their skin.

When I used to watch Al Qaeda, they complained a lot about drones. You know what that means, more drones. When the Russians are complaining about weapons supply, you've got to know that that means that they're under a lot of pain. So, if you're in the Pentagon or the White House, I'm saying, why don't we continue the supplies?

There is one obviously flip side of that coin, and that is if you're at the Pentagon, the State Department, the White House, you have to have a contingency plan, especially if the Russians start striking neighbors, Let's say, Poland, that are part of the supply route. How are you going to support Pols?

So, I would say, in general, sort of good news story, but the contingency if the Russians move out and strike more targets that are allies, you've got to figure out how to respond. You can't let the allies out to dry.

BERMAN: Well, look, if the Russians ever did hit the supplies before they cross the border, if they hit them in Poland or Romania, that would be an Article V violation right there, and there will be serious NATO issues there and an escalation.

On the subject of escalation, Phil, the CIA director warning that the United States should take seriously the risks of a cornered Vladimir Putin using these tactical or low-grade nuclear weapons.


Now, he also says there is no significant intelligence that Putin is planning it, he just thinks the risk is increasing. Can you explain to me the difference there, the significance of this warning?

MUDD: Sure. If you look at the CIA and you're looking at what's happening in Ukraine right now, there's a phrase that used to use the phrase, that's low probability, high impact. What he's saying is the likelihood of these. He doesn't see movement of troops that he would have -- it would be associated with something like this.

Evidently, based on his statement, that is CIA Director Burns, the CIA doesn't have intelligence about use of these. But if you look at the psychology of isolated dictators, and I'm referring to Putin as a dictator, the ability of information to penetrate that close circle of people is low.

So, Putin might be sitting there saying, hey, why not use tactical nukes? It's a step that people like me and you would say, that's absurd, but the CIA has got a plan for that because they are dealing with somebody who may not be thinking quite clearly. Low probability, high impact, the CIA has got to pay attention.

KEILAR: Phil, this Russian ship, the flagship of the Black Sea fleet, actually did sink. I wonder how significant that is in actuality, in reality when it comes to fighting this war but also symbolically.

MUDD: I think, symbolically, it's more important for Ukraine than for Russia. It's an indication that David can go against Goliath, as we've seen for almost two months, and win. I think, practically speaking, if the Russians want to continue to pump so many people, so many weapons, so much time into this campaign, the likelihood that we are sitting here in months or years to come and that the Russians don't have a foothold in the east and maybe south and maybe moving west, I think the likelihood is very high. The chance that Ukraine can hold out forever, I just don't see it.

KEILAR: Just don't see it. All right, Phil, thank you so much for that, Phil Mudd, I appreciate it.

Just in, a CNN exclusive on the January 6th investigation back in the United States. We're now seeing text messages from Trump allies in Congress to the White House. So, what do they reveal?

Plus, violence erupting in Jerusalem. More than 150 people hurt after fights break out between Palestinians and Israeli security personnel at one of Jerusalem's holiest sites during holy weekend.

And developing now, China's military conducting military drills near Taiwan amid a visit from U.S. lawmakers.

This is CNN special live coverage.



BERMAN: All right. Breaking news this morning, CNN has obtained new texts that show how two congressional Trump allies went from encouraging the White House efforts to overturn the 2020 election or at least block the results to ultimately warning them about the consequences.

Ryan Nobles has this CNN exclusive story. There's a lot in here, Ryan.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no doubt about that, John. Good morning from Capitol Hill.

And what our exclusive report reveals for the first time are close to 100 text messages between two Republican lawmakers and the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows. These text messages reveal a willingness by these lawmakers to be open to the idea that there was enough evidence of fraud and legal precedent to prevent the certification of the election results. But as time ticked close to January 6th, both men agreed that the Trump plan was not going to work and they were encouraging Meadows to convince Trump to stand down.


NOBLES (voice over): Senator Mike Lee of Utah and Congressman Chip Roy of Texas, two of former President Donald Trump's most loyal defenders in Congress. But in dozens of private texts to Trump's Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, a picture emerges of how both went from aiding the efforts to challenge the election results, to ultimately warning against it.

The texts obtained by CNN show how they were trying to help initially but, by the end, raised concerns to Trump's deputy about his campaign's effort standing in the way of the certification of the 2020 election.

We're driving a stake in the heart of the federal republic, Roy warned Meadows in a text on January 1st, that is in possession of the January 6th select committee.

Historic warning came after weeks of begging Meadows for hard evidence of election fraud and concerns that the lack of specific evidence was a real problem for the Trump legal team. We must urge the president to tone down the rhetoric, he wrote to Meadows on November 9th.

Roy did believe that there were problems with the election. In early December, he went to the House floor, imploring his colleagues to look into the thin examples of fraud.

REP. CHIP ROY (D-TX): The American people are raising legitimate questions about our elections and this body is missing in action and doing nothing.

NOBLES: Like Roy, Senator Mike Lee started out hopeful that there was a path to challenge election results. In early November, he touted the work of conservative lawyer Sidney Powell, encouraging Meadows to get her an audience with the president, calling her a, quote, straight shooter. But less than two weeks later, Powell appeared with Rudy Giuliani in what would become an infamous press conference where the duo made wild, baseless claims about the election.

SIDNEY POWELL, ATTORNEY WHO CHALLENTGED 2020 ELECTION RESULTS: President Trump won by a landslide. We are going to prove it. NOBLES: Lee then changed his tune, calling Powell a liability and turning his focus to touting Attorney John Eastman.

Lee pushed a plan to convince state legislatures to offer up a set of alternate electors. When that plan fizzled, Lee decided he was no longer on board.


He texted Meadows on December 16th, quote, I think we are now past the point where we can expect anyone will do it without some direction and a strong evidentiary argument.

Both Lee and Roy ultimately chose not to join other Republicans to vote against certifying the election.

SEN. MIKE LEE (R-UT): Our job is to open and then count, open, then count. That's it. That's all there is.

NOBLES: Privately, they were they are more emphatic about the fool's errand Trump's team was on. The president should call everyone off. It's the only path, Roy texted Meadows on December 31st, while Lee argued the effort was on dangerous constitutional ground. Three days before January 6th, he warned, I know only that this will end badly for the president unless we have the Constitution on our side. They did not.

But the Trump team and a group of loyal Republicans went ahead with their plan anyway. As it became clear, their effort would not be successful, hundreds of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in protest. As the violence was raging, Roy texted Meadows, fix this now.

He then went to the House floor and placed the blame squarely at President Trump's feet.

ROY: And the president should never have spun up certain Americans to believe something that simply cannot be.


NOBLES (on camera): And both the offices of Mike Lee and Chip Roy responded to our reporting. Chip Roy spokesperson say that the congressman believes the texts speak for themselves. As for Mike Lee, his spokesperson telling us that he had been fully transparent about his concerns about the election during this timeframe and the texts do not contradict what he was saying publicly. John?

BERMAN: All right. Ryan Nobles with this exclusive report, Ryan, thank you very much.

I want to bring in George Conway, Attorney and Contributing columnist for The Washington Post. George, what do you think?

GEORGE CONWAY, ATTORNEY: It's a remarkable chronology. And I think the key to its significance is the contrast with Trump's behavior. The judge in California who said that Donald Trump likely committed crimes pointed out all the evidence that was presented to Trump or available to Trump that he should have known that there was no fraud sufficient to overturn the election.

And what you see with these texts is a remarkable chronology in real- time of them wanting to see, find evidence of fraud, and then not hearing any from Giuliani and Sidney Powell, and all the cases they lost, 60-plus in federal, state courts throughout the country, and they came to the conclusion that there was no constitutional way to overturn this election, and yet Donald Trump persisted.

BERMAN: These two members, Lee and Roy, Senator Lee and Representative Roy, basically saying, help me, help you.

CONWAY: Right.

BERMAN: Help me, help you. But then over time they realized there was -- in their words, there was no help there. Just look at the evolution from Chip Roy here. This was a text right after the election. He goes, we need ammo. We need fraud examples. But then later, he is saying the president should never have spun up certain Americans to believe something that's simply cannot be through. He never got the ammo.

CONWAY: Right. There no there there. And that's the point that the judge in California was making about Donald Trump's probable intent, was he did not care whether or not there was evidence or not.

BERMAN: And, again, and let me just read more from Mike Lee here. He writes, again, closer to January 6th, I only know that this will end badly for the president unless we have the constitution on our side and unless these states submit new slates of Trump electors pursuant to the state law, we do not, it never happened.

And he told them. I mean, this gets to state of mind and consciousness of guilt. Mark Meadows certainly knew.

CONWAY: Right. He basically was saying this was a violation of the Constitution to proceed with trying to overturn the election and that getting certificates from the states, if you didn't have valid certificates of states, that would be a violation of the Constitution. And yet Donald Trump, on January 5, is trying to get Mike Pence, brow beating him, bullying him into trying to not count the valid electoral certificates that were signed and sealed and reflected the actual victory of Joe Biden.

BERMAN: Does this, in any way, hurt the former president in terms of whatever legal case he might face?

CONWAY: I think it should, because I think the contrast, whether it's specifically admissible into evidence, I would say, for another day. But I think, overall, it just illustrates the amount of evidence there is that should have been -- that probably was, definitely was to some extent, made apparent to Trump that he lost.

And there's so much other evidence. There's the White House Counsel's Office, you've got Barr, you've got the other members of the Justice Department saying, there's no there there, you don't have any evidence.

BERMAN: And so I want you to explain the distinction so people understand this.


Mike Lee, from the beginning, was calling on the state legislatures around the country to submit alternate slates of electors, different slates of electors, calling on the legislature to do so.

CONWAY: Right.

BERMAN: How is that different than this scheme that was being cooked up within Trump world to just submit different electors?

CONWAY: It wasn't. It is really the same thing. Although I think Mike Lee pulled back when he realized that, you know -- there is no league basis in the first place, but there was no factual basis for these legislators to conclude that the election did not go the way it went.

BERMAN: Well, Mike Lee was basically saying is the legislators are the ones who need to send the new electors. They never did. They never did.

I want to talk about some New York Times reporting overnight also, Stephen Miller, president's former aide, the former president's aide. The speech writer testified yesterday before the January 6th committee, I guess, for several, several hours. And they were very focused on the speech that he gave on January 6th at The Ellipse, asking a lot of questions about the choice of language used, why the former president kept saying we, we, we, when he spoke to the crowd there. I just want to listen to a little bit of that speech.

No? We don't have it. Well, he kept on referring to that speech repeatedly talking about we, we, we. Why does the language choice there matter?

CONWAY: Well, because it's like the language -- I don't remember the specific language but it's like, we must fight, we must go to Capitol Hill. We must show strength. And by saying, we, he was saying, you're doing this for me, we're doing this together. And it goes straight to the question of what Donald Trump thought he was doing. Was he inciting a riot at the Capitol?

And that's probably what they spent a lot of time asking him about, according to The New York Times report. It's about, okay, why did you choose that word, we? What were you trying -- what was the object there?

And the fact of the matter is, it's secondary to the -- to what we saw and what is out in the public. I mean, the fact of the matter is, we did see -- the language was inflammatory, the language was encouraging people to go up and essentially intimidate the vice president. He's saying things like Mike Pence has to show strength. And the fact that a lot of the people that have been charged for committing violence on Capitol Hill or trespassing on Capitol Hill January 6th have said they did it because of Donald Trump.

BERMAN: What does it tell you the committee is asking of these questions and what we think is probably like the ninth inning of the game in terms of the investigation? When where do you think they are right now?

CONWAY: Well, I think you're right. I think they have to be at the ninth inning. I think they have been promising that they're going to have hearings sometime in May, so they need to be wrapping up. And they have a lot of evidence to go through. And we have only seen just a tip of the iceberg.

But there's probably -- there's got to be a lot more there we haven't seen. And we're going to be in for quite a show, I think, in May.

BERMAN: George Conway, thanks so much for being here. I really appreciate it.

Next, we're going to be joined by Senator Steve Daines, one of the first American leaders to visit Ukraine since the Russian invasion began. He will join us live from Ukraine.

And her character, the little girl in the red coat in the film, Schindler's's List, that epitomized the horrors of the Holocaust, the actress who played her now providing hope to Ukrainian refugees in Poland. She joins us on New Day.