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Mariupol: Russians Forced Locals to Build Mass Graves for Food; Ukraine: Civilians Being Tricked Into or Forcibly Sent to Russia; Russia Seeing Severe Losses in Ukraine; Marjorie Taylor Greene Called for Martial Law Before Inauguration; CNN Obtains 2,000+ Texts that Meadows Gave to January 6th Committee; Elon Musk Buys Twitter for $44 Billion. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired April 26, 2022 - 06:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to viewers here in the United States and all around the world. It is Tuesday, April 26th. I'm John Berman. Brianna is off this morning. Chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins with me in Washington.

And we do begin with breaking news. Win, win, win. It's a word appearing in U.S. official statements in new ways and more than ever when it comes to Ukraine. Ukraine can win. Ukraine is winning. We're hearing it in ways we did not before, including moments ago, from U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, listen to what he just said in Germany.


LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Ukraine clearly believes that it can win. And so does everyone here. Ukraine needs our help to win today. And they will still need our help when the war is over.


BERMAN: This follows Secretary Austin's announcement of a new goal for the United States: weakening Russia's military overall going forward.

This morning, we have what could very well be a reaction to that statement from the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov. He says the threat of nuclear war should not be underestimated, although he does claim Russia is trying to lower the risk.

Right now, Lavrov is meeting with the U.N. secretary-general, who notably and somewhat controversially is in Moscow before going to Ukraine. And in a couple of hours, the secretary-general will meet face-to-face with Vladimir Putin.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: And John, this meeting is coming at what U.S. officials say is a pivotal moment for the ultimate outcome of this battle as Secretary Austin is calling Putin's unprovoked war, quote, "indefensible." (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AUSTIN: Russia's invasion is indefensible, and so are Russian atrocities. We all start today from a position of moral clarity. Russia is waging a war of choice to indulge the ambitions of one man.


COLLINS: And breaking overnight, there's more fighting under way as Ukrainian authorities say that two guided missiles were fired at the city of Zaporizhzhia in central Ukraine. In the Moldova village, two blasts hit a village in Transnistria, knocking out two radio towers. According to Ukrainian officials, no injuries have been reported so far.

But after weeks of occupying Kherson, Russian troops have now taken control of the city council. The city's mayor describes the scene as, quote, "armed men entered the building, taking the keys, and replacing Ukrainian guards with their own."

BERMAN: Reporting in is CNN's Scott McLean, who is live in Lviv in Western Ukraine this morning.

And Scott, we're just getting information that there's new satellite imagery of yet another mass grave in Mariupol. What are you learning about that?


Yes, this news just coming in. This is according to satellite images and also according to the mayor of Mariupol. Another mass grave has been discovered, they say, in a village very close to the city limits.

They say that this grave is a very large trench that is some 200 meters long. Much of it has been covered over. The mayor also claims that residents of Mariupol, desperate for any kind of money, food, support, have actually been enlisted to help with the digging of those graves.

This is the third one that's been discovered in recent weeks, according to officials, though CNN has no way to independently verify that these are, in fact, being used as graves for the war dead in that city.

John, there is also concern this morning about the situation in Transnistria, and those explosions you mentioned there. Transnistria is a separatist region of Moldova which has housed Russian troops since the 1990s.

Yesterday, the ministry of state security was hit by explosions. Then this morning, two TV towers were hit. The Ukrainians are blaming the Russians for these as a false flag operation to stir up anti-Ukrainian sentiment.

Last week, a Russian military commander said that Russia's goal was to control the entire South coast of the Ukraine, in order to link up with Transnistria, which has a majority Russian-speaking population.

In response, the Moldovans, they are gathering their security chiefs as we speak to discuss a response.

Also, the situation in Zaporizhzhia. There were a series of strikes there, as you mentioned, missile strikes there, killing one person. But the much greater concern, though, is what the Ukrainian nuclear -- state nuclear energy company says, and that's those missiles flew directly overhead of a nuclear power facility that has seven different reactors.

Zaporizhzhia is also the city which has been housing a lot of evacuees from Mariupol. That's where a lot of the humanitarian corridors are supposed to end.

But lately, a lot of people were pushed into Russia. As recently as Saturday, the Ukrainians were blaming Russia for tricking some 200 refugees into Russian-held territory when they thought they were evacuating in the other direction.

All of this is bringing back painful memories of the Soviet era when millions of people were forcibly displaced from their homes to remote parts of the country. We spoke to one survivor in Estonia, who sees plenty of parallels with the situation in Ukraine today.


MCLEAN (voice-over): These photos were shot in the Siberian city of Nakhodka, just a stone's throw from North Korea. Local Russian media reported that more than 300 Mariupol residents arrived here by train.

The Ukrainian human rights commissioner says the new arrivals were forcibly deported from Ukraine and taken to Siberia, a violation of the Geneva Convention. The story appears to fit a growing pattern. Mariupol's most desperate people being pushed into Russian territory.

The American ambassador to the U.N. has raised concerns about the apparent forced removals, a tactic that is well-worn in Soviet history.

(on camera): Your mother worked in the coal mine?


MCLEAN (voice-over): Ana (ph) Uibo is 76 today, but he was only 3 when soldiers showed up at his family home in southern Estonia, then part of the Soviet Union, to take his family away.

UIBO (through translator): We saw cars very, very rarely. Never been in the car before, but this time, we got to ride a car.

MCLEAN (on camera): You couldn't understand why everyone was upset, because you were excited to be able to ride in a car?

UIBO (through translator): For me, it was not understandable. My family used to be very cheerful. I couldn't understand why my brother was not making jokes. Sister was not laughing. Mom had tears in her eyes. And father was very gloomy.

MCLEAN (voice-over): In the dead of winter that pickup truck took them to the train station, where they were loaded with others into a packed cattle car and taken on a journey that took 18 days. Some people didn't survive the trip.

His family was among the millions of people who, under Joseph Stalin, were forcefully taken from their homes and sent to remote parts of the Soviet Union. Political dissidents, rebels, or farmers who opposed the communist takeover of their land were all Marked for deportation, all in an effort to crush any dissent.

In Siberia, Uibo's family lived in the barracks of an old prisoner of war camp. It was almost a decade when they were finally allowed to return to their home, which by then had been destroyed.

The names of the more than 22,000 Estonians who were killed or died in the brutal conditions are inscribed on this memorial. Uibo's older brother, who took up arms for independence, is one of them.

Historian Melas Maripol (ph) also has family on the wall.

It was a possibility to actually to kill the people without doing nothing. The people just died from diseases, from starvation.

MCLEAN (on camera): It made people realize that they should just sort of die down and accept the system as it is?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, after such realizations, people should accept the system as it is.

MCLEAN: What has been the lasting impact of this experience on your life?

UIBO (through translator): I lost my childhood. I had to remain myself in a foreign and hostile environment.

MCLEAN: Do you see any parallels with what's happening today?

UIBO (through translator): I was sure that nothing like this could ever happen again. But what has happened in Ukraine has brought these painful memories back very vividly. It's unbelievable that time hasn't changed anything at all. Evil has become even worse. With my whole soul, I feel for Ukrainians who are taken violently, against their will, from their homes to the unknown.


MCLEAN: Now, we don't know exactly how many Ukrainians have been forced into Russian territory. But the threat of that is undoubtedly hampering evacuation efforts today.

Just yesterday, Russia offered a cease-fire in order to allow people to get out of the Azovstal steel plant. The -- Ukraine's deputy ministry rejected it, though, saying that the Russians could not be trusted to keep their word -- John, Kaitlan.

BERMAN: All right. Scott McLean in Lviv for us this morning. Scott, thank you very much.

COLLINS: And joining us now this morning to break down everything that Scott just brought us is retired Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt. He served as the assistant secretary of state for political military affairs in the Bush administration.

Thank you for joining us this morning. And you saw what Scott just reported there. And we know what U.S. officials have been saying. That this looming ground battle, they believe, is going to be ultimately critical in determining the outcome here.

And so I wonder what you're seeing and what's happening over the last 24 hours or so on the ground and also what you're seeing in these Russian losses that we've been talking about.

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Well, I think we're still seeing the buildup. Most people believe that the attack is going to be coming down here with an idea of moving over to there to surround the Ukrainian troops. We'll continue to see the fights going on in the South as well. And of course, you've still got the fight around Mariupol.

But you will see continuing fighting to take Odessa. And now, we're starting to talk about the Transnistria area, as well, in Moldova.

COLLINS: Yes. And that's such a critical area, because it helps get them closer to Odessa, right?

KIMMITT: Yes, exactly.

COLLINS: And so when you see and you look at the Russian losses, how do you think that factors into this phase of the battle? Is it going to hurt them? Is it enough to really affect what they're going to be able to accomplish here?

KIMMITT: Well, first of all, this is stunning. This is greater losses, in aggregate, than in 10 years fighting in Afghanistan. The Russians haven't seen numbers like this since World War II.

But it is still not enough. It is clear that President Putin is determined to win this fight. And he will continue to pile as much equipment, personnel into this fight until he achieves what he believes to be some semblance of victory.


COLLINS: Yes. And that's so interesting about what you heard Secretary Austin saying just this morning, saying Ukraine clearly believes it can win this war. He said, "So does everyone here," including himself. Is that a realistic view? What is your -- your estimate?

KIMMITT: Well, I'd be surprised if the Russians believe what he -- what he said. The fact remains, is we are providing a lot of equipment. There's no doubt the Ukrainians are fighting hard.

But I think we really haven't seen the phase two that the Russians are talking about. And that's the attack in the Donbas, heading either South or West from the Donbas.

He still has a lot of capability. He still has a lot of aspiration. We haven't seen the large amount of artillery, the large troop movements, the large armored formations that you would expect to city out of a Russian attack.

COLLINS: And do you expect to see more of something that we did see this week, which is these attacks on these lines to get humanitarian aid to get weapons into critical areas?


COLLINS: Which we heard Mark Milley, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, saying yesterday so much of what we are doing right now depends on getting the right aid to the right place at the right time. And you know, we saw several of these attacks this week. And I wonder what you make of whether or not Putin is probably going to ramp those up?

KIMMITT: Well, the Russian commander, this new commander, Dvornikov, is no fool. He understands both tactics and strategy.

He was called the Butcher of Syria. He was unrelenting in his attacks there. And he has seen the mistakes that the Ukrainian war has brought on, that the Russians have had so far.

So now they're doing what you would expect. These logistic lines, these rail lines that are coming in from the West to provide this equipment over to the fight, these were the railways -- railroad stations that were attacked. And over here, as well.

That is the right thing to do tactically to slow down the movement of logistics coming in. And the aid. Of course, it's horrible, because that's not only where the aid is coming in. But it's also where the refugees are going out.

COLLINS: Yes. And it's also massive concern, because President Biden has said they need to continue that aid going in.


COLLINS: Uninterrupted.

Retired Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, thank you so much for --

KIMMITT: Certainly.

COLLINS: -- breaking it all down for us this morning.

Next up, we are going to talk about January 6 and what is happening, and what we're seeing in these new explosive texts from Marjorie Taylor Greene to the former Trump chief of staff, Mark Meadows, all of them obtained exclusively by CNN.

Plus, the actor Johnny Depp is wrapping up his testimony in his defamation trial against his ex-wife, Amber Heard. Why he says that the end of their relationship was, quote, "horrific."

BERMAN: And Elon Musk buying Twitter for $44 billion. What does this mean for him? What does this mean for your feed? And what does it mean for Donald Trump?



BERMAN: We have some exclusive new reporting.

CNN has obtained the more than 2,000 text messages that former White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, gave to the January 6th Committee. Messages revealing just how far the Trump White House and allies tried to go to overturn the 2020 election. And really much more than that.

This includes a text from Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene to Mark Meadows. This is actually after the insurrection, but before the inauguration. Listen to this text.

She wrote, "In our private chat with only members, several are saying the only way to save our republic is for Trump to call for Marshall [SIC]" -- spelled incorrectly -- "law. I don't know on those things. I just wanted you to tell him. They stole this election. We all know. They will destroy our country next. Please tell him to declassify as much as possible so we can go after Biden and anyone else."

Joining me now, Maggie Haberman, CNN political analyst and Washington correspondent for "The New York Times"; and Errol Louis, CNN political commentator and host of the podcast "You Decide with Errol Louis."

Wow, Maggie, from Marjorie Taylor Greene, and remember that we just heard testimony from her that she didn't recall any discussions she ever had about the subject of martial law.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It becomes clear why she was equivocating on that point when you see that text. I don't know who these other members she was talking to are. I don't know how serious this conversation was. It doesn't matter.

It was a few days after there was supposed to be an inauguration of a new president, whose win in the Electoral College had been certified already. That is fundamentally different in everything we had heard. As undemocratic as a lot of what was taking place was up until January 6, that is a very different order of magnitude.

BERMAN: The admission of a discussion about martial law.

HABERMAN: Correct. When there was -- we were, I think, three days, four days away from the inauguration, when that text was sent. This was about martial law to delay the incoming of a new president. This is just fundamentally different. BERMAN: Even after --

HABERMAN: Exactly.

BERMAN: -- an insurrection.

Errol, on the day, January 6, released all these text messages to Mark Meadows, from people, allies of the president, calling on the president to stop what was going on, including from Marjorie Taylor Greene. We don't have it from the screen, but let me read it.

She wrote, "I was just told there's an active shooter on the first floor of the Capitol. Please tell the president to calm people. This isn't the way to solve anything."

Barry Loudermilk says, "It's really bad up here on the Hill. They've breached the Capitol." Barry Loudermilk says, you know, after Meadows says, "POTUS is engaging," Loudermilk says, "This doesn't help our cause."

William Timmons says to him, "The president needs to stop this ASAP."

These are all allies of the president.


BERMAN: This was on January 6. They want it all to stop. Their tune changed after that.

LOUIS: Their tune changes after that, and that is the essence of Trumpism, isn't it? I mean, that, you know, in the end, you -- it's not enough to swear allegiance to him. You also have to sort of deny the evidence of your own eyes. You have to discard all of your prior commitments to friends, and family, and philosophy and, ultimately, the truth itself.

So we now see the Republican Party and the leadership of it and the closest allies of Donald Trump doing exactly that, doing it in real time on January 6 and doing it in the weeks that followed.

Going from, like, Hey, there's a real problem here. People's lives are in danger; this is complete chaos. You can stop this. You have to do it. They tell the truth, and then they realize now the truth isn't going to do it.

In fact, the opposite of the truth is what Donald Trump now demands. The opposite of the truth is what they deliver to Donald Trump, as they always do.

BERMAN: It's interesting. This wasn't the first flip in that time line between the election day and now, frankly. We have this text from Ivanka Trump. And if we can put it up on the screen, Maggie, because you tweeted about this yesterday. Maybe I can read it off the screen if we see it here.

She writes -- This is November 5. She writes to a group of people, including the campaign managers, campaign officials, "You are all warriors of epic proportions. Keep the faith and the fight." That's the type of note you write after you lose an election.

HABERMAN: Right. So, you see this shift in the first couple of days after election day. You have Donald Trump's family members, Ivanka Trump, doing it privately there. You saw his sons, Don and Eric, doing it publicly. Keep fighting. Keep fighting. This is when they were still counting votes.

Everyone -- not everyone, but a couple of them had their tunes changed fairly quickly after that. Not the sons, but certainly, she sort of disappeared, but I was very -- in the West Wing. I was very struck that she was among those encouraging people to keep going and fighting, because she had been so not really visible during this period of time.

The other thing I was struck by, I just want to go back to those texts where everyone is saying the president has to stop this. What is striking to me about all those texts on January 6, is how Trump's allies in Congress all thought he could do something. That it was really him. You can make this go away. You can end this. You can stop this, which really, I think, speaks volumes about whether people, not just thought he was responsible for it but the control that he had over his supporters.

BERMAN: What about that, Errol?

LOUIS: Well, that's the reality of it. You know, when you have Rudy Giuliani and others saying, like, Well, we weren't -- you know, we just gave a speech and then these people went and did whatever they did and we had nothing to do with it. We couldn't have stopped them, that's simply not true.

I mean, we have the testimony. We have the texts in real time of people saying, You can stop this, Mr. President. You must stop this. You know, this is worse than anybody ever imagined, and you are the person who can pull it back.

So this notion which we're hearing in some of these hundreds of cases against some of the rioters, where they're saying, Well, I thought, you know, the president sent me down there, and that's what I was doing. I thought I was protected legally.

We're starting to see that, you know, from top to bottom. From the rioters inside the Capitol ransacking the place, all the way up to the president's top advisers. Everybody knew that this was organized, that there was a structure to it, that there was a hierarchy to it, and that at the top of the hierarchy was the president.

BERMAN: Errol, I'm struck by the fact that these are the texts Mark Meadows handed over willingly. There are still others that he is keeping secret and fighting to keep secret. What are we supposed to make of that?

LOUIS: What I would make of it is that the January 6 Committee very much needs to get their hands on that if they possibly can. Because I think, you know, if this is what he's fine with telling somebody, I think you can sort of really button it up much more closely about who said what, when. And the lines of responsibility, I think, will be so clear that it will start to have legal --

BERMAN: It makes you wonder, at least hypothetically, if this is the not bad stuff what is the bad stuff?

Maggie, I want to ask you about Twitter, if we can.


BERMAN: Elon Musk buying Twitter for the low, low price of $44 billion. What does this mean for the former president, Donald Trump who's put a lot of money into this whole new social media platform? Will he go back to Twitter?

HABERMAN: So a couple things. I don't actually know how much money he has put into that other social media platform. Somebody has put some money into it, and it is very problem-plagued. And we have all written about this.

So problem-plagued that he has barely touched it. I think he's posted on it once.

He said yesterday -- or his people put out yesterday that he's not going to go back on Twitter, even with Elon Musk buying it. Let's see whether that holds true in a couple of months.

I think it's very hard to him. He has to say that, because otherwise it craters that deal, from the social media deal of his own, from which he stands to make money. That thing is not going well. I tend to assume what he wants is to be back on Twitter.

But, look, I think that when you look at it politically, Republicans and Democrats will both tell you that Twitter did Donald Trump a favor and actually hurt Democrats by taking him off Twitter. He ceased to be a central player politically the same way. And you got less of a reminder daily of the things he's willing to say. So let's see where this goes.

BERMAN: Maggie Haberman, Errol Louis, great to see you.

HABERMAN: And you.

BERMAN: All right. A nighttime curfew now in effect in Kyiv because of the, quote, "provocative actions" by Russia. A member of the Kyiv territorial defense and the brother of the mayor joins us next.

COLLINS: Plus, investigators are releasing a trove of material from the "Rust" movie set revealing the chaotic moments after that accidental fatal shooting that happened on set.


COLLINS: There's a new curfew in effect this week in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv between 10 p.m. And 5 a.m. local, because of what the head of the Kyiv regional military administration says are, quote, "provocative actions" by Russia. That means no walking around or driving during those hours.

Joining us now is Wladimir Klitschko, a member of the Kyiv territorial defense, former world boxing champion, and the brother of Kyiv's mayor.

Wladimir, thank you so much for joining us this morning. And first of all, I just want to get your response to this curfew being put back in place.

WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO, KYIV TERRITORIAL DEFENSE FORCE: Well, we had curfew for every day in the past 61 days since the beginning of the war. And curfew is important to have to stabilize the situation. Especially in the city of Kyiv, if the capital, where people are coming back home and city is getting filled up with people, with -- with the citizens.