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Confusion As DOJ Considers Challenging Travel Mask Mandate Ruling; American Doctor Sneaks Into Ukraine To Help Local Doctors; "Navalny" Premieres Sunday At 9 PM ET. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired April 20, 2022 - 07:30   ET



MIRO POPOVICH, U.S. CITIZEN FIGHTING IN UKRAINE (via Skype): Well, I'll tell you two things.

First of all, they completely underestimated the Ukrainian military. You know, we have been -- of course, right now, we have full invasion but we also had the wars keep going for eight years now. So, Russia invaded the eastern part of Ukraine eight years ago. So for eight years, our military was keep getting better and better with the help of, of course -- of our allies like United States and England. And Russia just underestimated us.

And second, they overestimated themselves. I think even their leaders created so much propaganda that they are the greatest army in the world, that they actually believe that themselves.

So they came here and they expected to get it done in three or four days. Well, you know what? I'll tell you that there are a lot of civilian casualties outside of Kyiv but also a lot of Russian casualties as well, which for us is a good thing to see.

Our military completely wiped them out. I mean, it was -- I am -- I'll tell you honestly, I am surprised. I was not -- I did not think that it's -- our military is so capable. But, you know, we showed resilience. We showed that we are strong and capable.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Let me ask you this because the State Department is reiterating -- reemphasizing a warning to Americans who come to Ukraine to volunteer to fight that they may face capture, mistreatment, or death if they're eventually captured. Well, certainly, you could die in combat but if captured by the Russians.

For someone like you, does that give you pause?

POPOVICH: Well, no. I mean, I understand what can happen if Russia catches you. The chances are slim.

But you know what? What I keep saying to all the Americans and other Europeans that want to come to fight here, think twice. If you come here and you help us I am grateful. But also, it is not a walk in the park. It is very dangerous.

It's more dangerous than Afghanistan was because right here we have to deal with their artillery, with their tanks, with their missiles. It's -- it can -- it can become pretty hard and pretty dangerous here. Of course, anywhere is dangerous but here you have to -- it's like a dog fight.

I'm not -- I mean, a minute ago I said that Russia is not as strong as they want people to seem but they are pretty strong and they are capable to create damage.

So if you want to come here, think twice. I'm not saying it's a suicide mission but I'm saying that there is a big chance that you can get damaged, you can get killed, or you can get captured, so just think twice. I mean, if you want to come here, thank you.

SCIUTTO: No, it's wise advice. As I'm saying to people, the weapons are bigger, the Russian forces are bigger. They can -- they can spread --


SCIUTTO: -- that effect further across the country.

Well, Miro Popovich, I'm sure a lot of folks watching right now would say the same thing. But please stay safe.

POPOVICH: Yes. Can I add one thing, please? You know, Pink Floyd --


POPOVICH: -- just released a song "Hey Hey Rise Up" to support --


POPOVICH: -- Ukraine. They released it along with Andriy Khlyvnyuk from BoomBox.


POPOVICH: Andriy is in our unit. He's my teammate.

And please go and listen -- "Hey Hey Rise Up" by Pink Floyd and Andriy. All the proceeds will go to Ukrainian humanitarian relief. And it's very important and please go listen. It's number one in the world right now, so yes.

SCIUTTO: We -- I had the pleasure of interviewing Pink Floyd's guitarist on that. It's an inspiring song.

POPOVICH: Yes, David Gilmour.

SCIUTTO: Thank you, Miro.

POPOVICH: Yes, all right.

SCIUTTO: David Gilmour, indeed.

POPOVICH: Take care. SCIUTTO: Thank you, my friend.

Well, Kyiv's deputy mayor is requesting respirators now to protect Ukrainians in the event of any chemical weapons attack by Russia.

And new details this morning about what the Biden administration may do now after a judge has stricken down its mask mandate on planes, buses, and trains. That's coming up.



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: The Justice Department says it will appeal a Florida judge's ruling that struck down the national mask mandate on airplanes, trains, and buses, but only if the CDC decides that extending the order is still necessary.

Joining us now is former federal prosecutor and CNN's chief legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

So, let's start with this statement from the DOJ last night that I think was a little confusing because it said we will appeal this ruling but we're not doing so yet. And we're only going to do so if the CDC makes a decision, basically, that they should appeal it.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: You know, I've read a lot of Justice Department statements and I had to read that about three or four times and then call someone at the Justice Department for an explanation because I was so baffled by this.

But the gist of it is they're in a difficult place because they really disagree with this ruling. And a lot of other judges have addressed the same issue and come out the other way and said the CDC does have the authority.

But the problem is if they appeal or if they -- if they fail -- and the courts are so politicized now and they'd be in the 11th Circuit, which is a conservative court. If they appeal, they could get a worse ruling that has broader application against the CDC.


So, the question is do they push this or do they simply let it lie? Because remember, the only thing that this order does is stop the mask mandate between now and May third -- just a couple of days. And they may say to the CDC you know, let's just leave this thing alone at this point. The CDC may have -- was going to withdraw the mask mandate anyway.

And if you listened to President Biden yesterday he sort of got off message and said oh, the heck with it. Let people decide themselves.

So it seems to me they are leaning in the direction of not appealing and just letting this thing lie until May third. COLLINS: Because I guess the concern is if they do appeal and it goes to maybe even the Supreme Court and it gets shot down, then what does it say for their authority going forward.

TOOBIN: That's the -- that's right. But the problem is this ruling is now out there.

And the Justice Department feels very strongly that the CDC has the authority to act in an emergency way like this. And they feel that one of the reasons we have a CDC is to act in public health emergencies to protect the public health.

COLLINS: Right. So then, what's the risk of not appealing this decision?

TOOBIN: The risk is you have this ruling on the books. It's not of nationwide application. It's only from the Middle District of Florida. But it is a valid precedent if it's not overturned. It's not the only precedent on this issue.

And the other risk is there are people within the government who feel like we still need a mask mandate and we still need to protect people on planes and trains before May third.

So, that's the -- that's the struggle that the Justice Department is having about whether to push this forward or to sort of leave it alone until May third and hope that the COVID situation doesn't require --


TOOBIN: -- to return to this sort of mandate. But obviously, no one knows whether that's going to happen.

COLLINS: Yes, and it creates this total legal and political dilemma for the White House still.

TOOBIN: Right. And no one -- you know, they recognize that a lot of people are happy to see this mandate go. The president seemed to sort of indicate that it was OK to let it go, so they may just let it go.

COLLINS: We'll see what they decide.

TOOBIN: We shall see.

COLLINS: Thank you, Jeffrey Toobin --

TOOBIN: Alrighty.

COLLINS: -- as always, for sharing your legal expertise with us.

We do have more on our breaking news, which is this deadline for Ukrainian fighters to surrender inside this steel plant in Mariupol to Russian forces that expired just a few moments ago. What the commander there is now warning will happen to them if they don't get help from a third country.

And a U.S. doctor who is no stranger to responding to disaster zones has snuck into Ukraine to help on the front lines.



SCIUTTO: We have new reporting this morning from CNN in collaboration with the Global Health Reporting Center about a Texas doctor driven by a deep personal connection, traveling all the way here to Ukraine to help local doctors treat the wounded of war, both soldiers and civilians.

Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us now with a remarkable story.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Jim. Yes -- I mean, we've seen the misery of what's happening in Ukraine. Two thousand civilians, at least, now killed and many more -- many more wounded. Every time we see those booms and explosions on television there are people who are then rushing in to try and help the injured -- try and save their lives, often at risk to their own lives.

Dr. Monzer Yazji is one of those people and here's a little bit of his story.


DR. MONZER YAZJI, CO-FOUNDER, UOSSM: Whenever I travel to the war zones and I leave my home, always, I do one-way ticket.

GUPTA (voice-over): Dr. Monzer Yazji is getting ready for a journey he's made before -- his third trip from his home in Edinburg, Texas to eastern Ukraine.

YAZJI: As a physician first, it's our duty and our ethics to help every needed person in the world.

GUPTA (voice-over): I understand that feeling. I've been in war zones and disaster zones as a reporter. Monzer and I were in Haiti at the same time in 2010. At times, I have felt compelled to help.

GUPTA (on camera): How much do you worry now about your own safety?

YAZJI: Every time I go back I say this is maybe the last time I'll be going. When I decide to come, it's a lot of fear. And then in a minute I just remember my promise and why the people lost their life, and I see their children not seeing them.

GUPTA: Dr. Yzaji, a Syrian-American, ran over 30 medical missions since 2011 to help his homeland during the catastrophic war there. But even as the conflicts continue in Syria he finds himself in a similar situation in another country.

YAZJI: What's happening in Ukraine, it happened in Syria, and I feel myself that I am part of that.

GUPTA (voice-over): Nearly two months of war and at least 119 attacks on clinics and hospitals have left the Ukrainian health system in disarray and desperately in need of outside help.

YAZJI: The hospitals, which have been attacked by the Russian army.

GUPTA (voice-over): Dr. Yazji spends the next five days in an almost constant blur of action.

GUPTA (on camera): I wonder if you can just sort of describe what you're encountering? Is there not enough care to be given?

YAZJI: A lot of high-complexity surgeries -- trauma. Like, we did a surgery on Monday -- like, for a person who lost half of the upper posterior of the shoulder, of the arm, the chest -- the upper chest. This man survived.

GUPTA (voice-over): There are issues with water and electricity. There are shortages of medical supplies.


Performing as many as half a dozen operations in a day, what Dr. Yazji and his Ukrainian colleagues are doing is, in the context of things, nothing short of miraculous. One thing he learned in Syria is the need to perform skin grafts as soon as possible to reduce the risk of infection.

YAZJI: This is the most challenging, really, kind of surgery because the more -- the faster you cover the bone, you facilitate healing and prevent infection.

GUPTA (on camera): These are patients who have been injured in these explosions that we've been witnessing on television. They may lose skin, they may have fractured bones, they may need amputations, and so you're talking about creating flaps to try and -- to try and care for them. Is that right?

YAZJI: We really save (ph) the amputation or you make a big difference in people life.

GUPTA (voice-over): Dr. Yazji doesn't just provide medical support, though. He provides a form of mental nourishment to the Ukrainian doctors as well.

YAZJI: When I see a Ukrainian doctor suffering because he's exhausted mentally, physically -- and the attack on them -- I see us -- our self -- we are there. That's why this is all make me come to Ukraine and be with them.

GUPTA (voice-over): The morning after our call he started for home, but leaving with a promise that he will be back.


GUPTA: I've to tell you, Jim. So, he started doing these medical missions in Syria back in 2011. He's done 30 of them since then. And people were asking me even as we were reporting this piece how long did that conflict last? And as you well know Jim, it goes on. That's one of the points Dr. Yazji wanted me to make is that sometimes

there's obviously a lot of attention on things at the time but the attention goes away. But that doesn't mean these conflicts end. And he's still going back and forth, as you just heard, Jim.

SCIUTTO: It can go on for years. And as you know better than me, the scars, right, of this go on for many years after the fighting stops.

Sanjay, thank you for bringing this story. It's nice to see little silver linings in the midst of all the suffering.


SCIUTTO: New this morning, two zoo employees -- zoo employees in Kharkiv -- they stayed behind to tend to the animals and try to keep them safe. They have now been found dead. Why?

Plus, a Russian tycoon is denouncing his country's invasion of Ukraine, calling on the West to help Putin get out of this. We'll have more.



COLLINS: Russian opposition leader and fierce Putin critic Alexey Navalny has been in jail for more than a year. The story of how he ended up there after surviving an alleged murder attempt and then tracking down the very people who tried to assassinate him is all laid out in a new CNN documentary "NAVALNY."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you come to a room of a comatose patient, you starting to just telling him the news. Telling him his story. Alexey, don't worry. You were poisoned. There was a murder attempt. Putin tried to kill you with Novichok.

And he opened his, like, blue eyes wide and looked at me and said very clear (speaking foreign language) "What the f**k? That is so stupid!"

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on, poisoned? I don't believe it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like he's back. This is Alexey.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Putin is supposed to be not so stupid to use this Novichok.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His word and his intonation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you want to kill someone, just shoot him. Jesus Christ.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like, real Alexey.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's impossible to believe it. It's kind of stupid. The whole idea of poisoning with a chemical weapon -- this is why -- this is not smart. Because even reasonable people -- they refuse to believe, like, what? Come on -- poisoned? Seriously?


COLLINS: And a surprise to no one the Kremlin and Russia's security services denied that they played any role in Navalny's poisoning. Putin claiming that if they wanted him dead they, quote, "would have probably finished it."

Despite those denials from the Russian government, though, the poison that was used on him was later linked to the Kremlin through investigations by international news organizations, including Bellingcat and CNN.

Joining us now is the director of this new documentary, Daniel Roher.

And Daniel, this documentary -- I've been watching the clips of this. This is truly something else. And also, it couldn't be coming out at a more critical moment.

And so, I wonder, for people who are watching what's happening in Ukraine so closely, what are they going to learn about what Russia is doing from Navalny's story?

DANIEL ROHER, DIRECTOR, CNN FILM "NAVALNY" (via Webex by Cisco): Well, Kaitlan, it's an excellent question. Since we premiered the film at the Sundance Film Festival a few months ago, the context has completely changed. This egregious war has been launched by the Russian government. They're committing war crimes every single day.

And what I think this film serves to remind the world is that Vladimir Putin is not Russia and Russia is not Vladimir Putin. And what Alexey Navalny offers is an alternate vision of what Russia could be.

Alexey is locked up because he believes in democracy and freedom of the press and freedom of expression, and rule of law, and so many of these virtues that we take for granted in the West.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Daniel, one thing that comes across in the film so powerfully is that this is a family battle here. His wife Yulia and daughter Dasha -- they are right in the middle of it. And it was such a pleasure to meet them with you and it's inspiring to meet them.

Describe how they manage this, right -- because they've got to go on while their husband and father remains in prison.

ROHER: Absolutely, Jim. I think one of the best compliments I've received about the film so far is someone came to me -- came up to me after the screening and told me how shocked they were that it was a love story.