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Battlefield Expands as Blasts Heard Inside Russia Near Ukraine; Russia Shuts Off Gas Supplies to Poland, Bulgaria in Escalation; Tapes Say, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) Feared Far-Right Republicans Would Incite Violence. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired April 27, 2022 - 07:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Kristen, thank you so much for that. I really appreciate it.

And New Day continues right now.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning to viewers here in the United States and all around the world, it is Wednesday, April 27th. I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar.

And karma is a cruel thing, breaking news, the war in Ukraine apparently expanding into Russia. Russian state media reports explosions in three separate regions in Ukraine. You can see them in the map right here, including one at an ammunition depot right here in Belgorod.

Now, there's reason to be wary, the Russians have claimed Ukrainian attacks before to somehow try to portray themselves as victims, but an adviser to President Zelenskyy just said this, quote, sooner or later, debts will have to be paid back. That is why disarming the Belgorod- Voronezh depots is an absolutely natural process. Karma is a cruel thing. Karma, he says, is a cruel thing.

On the other hand, Russia is now escalating its economic attacks beyond Ukraine into the west. It shut off gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria. They've shut those off because the nations refuse to pay for the gas in rubles. This is significant. Both countries rely on Russian energy, they are NATO members, and both have aided in the Ukrainian defense.

KEILAR: In the meantime Ukraine now admitting it is taking significant losses in the east as the Russians are intensifying attacks there in this new strategic bombardment of the area.

And in the south, a second missile strike overnight on a strategic bridge near Odessa, this is actually video from the first strike. New images coming in moments ago showing the damage there. This is a rail and road bridge and it's the only link between the southwest corner of Ukraine and the rest of the country.

Let's go live now to Lviv, Ukraine, and bring in CNN's Jim Sciutto with the very latest this morning. Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, I think it's interesting to hear the words of the adviser to President Zelenskyy about this now series of accidents, if you want to call them that, inside Russian territory because Ukrainian officials have been cagey to-date in terms of acknowledging any possible connection to these things. We've seen burning refineries there, weapons depots. But to hear those words from that adviser today to say that debts have to be repaid is almost saying out loud that these were Ukrainian operations on Russian territory, which would be an extension of the war.

He went on to say that Russia, in effect, deserves to be demilitarized, which is sort of borrowing what has been Russia's description of its operations here in Ukraine, to demilitarize Ukraine, Ukraine pushing back perhaps with a little pride in defiance to say, well, if you are going to try to do that to us, we're going to do the same to you. And that's notable. That's notable, because this would show a significant capability for Ukrainian forces to operate outside of their territory.

Again, Ukrainian officials not confirming that in so many words, but, boy, they're getting right up to the line there in that language and, of course, that line John on repeated, karma is king.

The other point I think that is important today is Russia beginning to cut off gas supplies to Europe. This is a pressure tactic they have used before. They've used it to pressure Ukraine years ago. They've threatened it and now they're doing it. And this is happening as those European countries are pledging to not need natural gas from Europe, pledging by the end of this year, they will be able to really wean themselves off two-thirds of Russian gas, whether they can do that still remains to be seen.

But what we are looking at here, right, is a decoupling, a decoupling of the Russian economy and energy from Europe. It's a significant follow-on by-product of this whole war.

BERMAN: Yes. And, look, this will hurt Russia too. I mean, Russia won't get the revenue from Poland and Bulgaria.

Jim, though, as I was waking up this morning getting both of these pieces of information, you can see it on the map here, this is Ukraine right here, this is Poland, this is Bulgaria, this is where the strikes are. All of a sudden, this has expanded. The war in Ukraine is expanding in different ways, but it's expanding beyond the borders.

SCIUTTO: It's a good point, right, we have tended to think of the expansion of this war purely in military terms, right? Could it be possible that Russia might strike, say, weapons convoys coming from Poland inside NATO territory? Of course, U.S. and NATO officials have been clear if that were to happen, they would consider that an attack on those territories, so just trying to warn Russia away.

[07:05:00] But there were other pressure tactics. There were other ways to pay back. Certainly, cyber is one we've seen before and now you're seeing energy being used in effect as a weapon here and a consequential one.

Now, I will say the effect of that blunted perhaps because we're coming out of the winter here, right, given the role in heating and so on that we would have more impact during those months. But, listen, the economies depend on Russian oil and natural gas for now until they can effectively wean themselves off it. So, that's going to have significant impact.

Imagine the same in the states. In the states, our concern now is the cost of gas, which is important, right, but people can still get. Imagine if you couldn't get it. And that's a future -- well, a precedent future the Europeans are looking at right now.

BERMAN: Jim Sciutto, great to have you. Thanks so much.

I want to bring in General Michael Repass, he's the former commanding general of U.S. Special Operations Command Europe and he has been involved in education programs with the Ukrainian military since 2016. General Repass, it's great to see you.

I want to put up on the map her so people can see these sites where there have been explosions and we heard that Ukrainian official, if not confirmed that it was Ukrainian strikes at least gloat about the facts that they may be on fire. What's the significance of these three sites? If these were Ukrainian attacks, what do they get out of hitting them?

MAJ. GEN. MICHAEL REPASS (RET.), FORMER COMMANDING GENERAL, U.S. SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND EUROPE: So first off, for the Ukrainians, that's where the Russians do a lot of marshaling of their forces. They're bringing them in by rail, they reorganized the forces and then onward move them into Ukraine. So, the depots there are very important not only for fuel but also the rail transport.

So, these three sites seem to be related to both fuel and rail transportation. They are within range of the border of Ukraine. There is some speculation that Tochka missiles were used to strike these sites. Could be human -- could be human attacks, I don't know, and Ukraine is, in fact, as you said, being very clever about what they say on this.

KEILAR: General, what do you think -- how do you think that Russia and Vladimir Putin are viewing these attacks?

REPASS: I think they probably expected them somewhere along the line. They are not happy about it, for sure. What it really does is it creates an operational dilemma for Russia. As Russia is attacking Ukraine, they have had a free pass so far. Now the Ukrainians are striking back on Russian soil, creating an operational dilemma for them that they now have to protect these sites, both on the ground and potentially from incoming missiles. If they have an anti-missile capability in the area, then they haven't demonstrated it so far if, in fact, they are being attacked by missiles. BERMAN: There have been some Ukrainian losses in the east on the ground there, but as we see the Ukrainians perhaps striking back and here in the other areas, right here and right here, what does this tell us about the reach of the Ukrainian military? Is it expanding?

REPASS: Of course, yes, it's an indication that their reach is not only expanding in practical terms but it also demonstrates a will for the Ukrainians to take the fight to the Russians. I think that is the most significant impact of what we're seeing right now is that they're willing to go out, reach into Russia and affect their interests there dramatically in this case both at the oil and the rail depots.

KEILAR: General, as we look at these strikes in Odessa, I wonder, do you think the Ukrainians are prepared to make that more of a Kyiv situation rather than a Mariupol situation? What do you think?

REPASS: I think you're exactly on point there, Brianna. I think it's more of a Kyiv defense than, in fact, what we saw in Mariupol. The Odessa defenders have been preparing for two months now. They know what's coming. They are not surprised by any of this. And, in fact, the defenses begin much farther out to the east and north of Odessa than just right in Odessa itself.

The Russians also know that they can't get too close to Odessa from the sea because the Ukrainians have demonstrated they will blow their ships out of the water. So, the Russians don't have an easy pass in Odessa. This is not going to be a simple maneuver from the east or in from the north. They're getting challenged to good effect in both areas, so they cannot just take it -- a quick run into Odessa. That's not going to happen. It's a very large city of over a million people and everybody is prepared for the defense.

BERMAN: General Repass, thanks so much for being with us. I think you really helped us understand what we're seeing develop before our eyes this morning. I appreciate it.

REPASS: Yes. Good morning.

KEILAR: Ukrainian officials say Russia is struggling to hold a sham referendum in the occupied city of Kherson. Many of those fleeing the occupation of their home town are resettling in Kryvryi Rih, President Zelenskyy's hometown.


CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is there and he joins us live. Nick, tell us what you're seeing there on the ground.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes, a significant move of people up here to Kryvyi Rih, symbolic as potentially a target for the Russian troops that are clearly on the move to the south of it. We've seen a lot of movement in the empty areas, the farm lands around here, unclear whether their target is the president's hometown of here or possibly to head east towards Zaporizhzhia and join up with other Russian forces or even west to Odessa. Still, great tension building here. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WALSH (voice over): These southern fields conjure a peace-long past, a world away from Ukraine's hell. It's quickly ruptured by Russia's new offensive, sending waves of evacuees fleeing the growing unthinkable world of Russian occupation, families for whom the shelling over the last two hours was finally too much.

He's just saying Grads hit one of the villages further down here. I don't know if the Russians are actually close to them yet but it's impossible to stay. A woman was injured there.

Antonina was three when the last war ended but doesn't know when this one will. Hour by hour, everything changes.

Things are moving fast enough here, that just 24 hours ago, a village about four kilometers in that direction was the meeting point from which people would get evacuated. Now, it seems to be under fire, and we just see panicked locals rushing in to collect their relatives.

Distant tree lines are packed with troops. The blue horizon sometimes pockmarked by smoke.

There is a rumble of rockets still here, and you can see the damage of what they've done before. But somewhere like this has felt to some degree that it survived the worst of the war. But now in this second phase of the Russian operation, the brutality of those forces is essentially coming straight their way.

The flag flies still in the spot here where Lenin used to stand, and it needs an army to hold it in place. People don't want and cannot live under occupation, he says. We've managed to get 7,000 out across our 100 miles of front line, some by bicycle, some in wheelbarrows or by foot.

Here's where they're welcomed in President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's hometown, Krivyi Rih. Talk of a sham referendum on Wednesday, trying to gentrify the Russian occupation, and many flee these past days, with queues of cars backed up for miles.

This father and son lost a wife and mother respectively to a bomb and even here do not want their faces shown.

If they see us they'll shoot everyone left there, he says. We left on foot over the water and the river.

For this family it was about saving the eldest, fearing their 18-year- old son would be conscripted after the sham vote. The first time we tried to leave, they shot at us. The second time we got out, she says. We are completely occupied, she says. There's no food, no money. We have nothing. They'll do a referendum and take our children. My son is 18, and they'll take him as cannon fodder. We ran as fast as we could.

It is jarring among the generosity of donations and offers of new homes to hear of the casual brutality of the occupiers. Mikhail was tortured for days in a basement after Russian troops mistook his rough builder's hands as a sign he'd been a soldier.

One got out a gun, a real one, he says. I saw it was cocked, two shots. They hit the concrete wall. I think it was a starting pistol. Two other men then came in and talked less. They were drunk. One must have been a boxer as he beat me in the same place on my ribs, breaking six of them, rupturing a lung. Broken in parts here but even as Russia closes in still breathing.


WALSH (on camera): Now, is there a referendum happening in Kherson, the first city taken by the Russians at the beginning of the war? At this point it seems pretty unlikely. We're speaking to people there and the consistent message has been, yes, they thought there was going to be one today in which Russian troops would essentially ask people in a sham vote to declare they wanted to be closer to Russian kind of gentrifying the occupation, so to speak.

But as of today, we've seen videos and heard from locals of protests in that town against the Russian presence, but not this referendum.


Remember, Brianna, it brings to really question how well-thought through any of this occupation has, in fact, been if the key plank of them pretending locals wanted their support has kind of evaporated, instead, Russia, it seems, appointed more friendly officials in the local administration there, but it's a sign possibly maybe of the violence ahead.

People have been fleeing that referendum, as you heard there now and now fleeing Russia's encroaching presence to the north towards Kryvyi Rih. Is this the target? Are they headed east? Are they headed west? Unclear. No comfort though, frankly, for those fleeing those villages changing hands hour by hour. Brianna?

KEILAR: Yes, it certainly is not. Nick Paton Walsh, wonderful reporting, thank you so much for that.

A major bank with a chilling projection about the future, the immediate future of the U.S. economy.

BERMAN: And contact tracing under way at the White House after Vice President Kamala Harris tests positive for COVID.

And new audio revealing house minority leader Kevin McCarthy's fears of fellow Republicans inciting violence following the insurrection.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA) (voice over): Tension is too high, the country is too crazy. I do not want to look back and think we caused or we missed something and someone got hurt.




KEILAR: New audio revealing that House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy feared that some far-right lawmakers, like Congressman Matt Gaetz, would incite violence against their peers after the January 6th insurrection. Here it is.


MCCARTHY (voice over): Well, he's putting people in jeopardy and he doesn't need to be doing this. We saw what people would do in the Capitol, you know, and these people came prepared with rope, with everything else.


KEILAR: We're joined now by Abby Phillip, CNN Senior Political Correspondent and the Anchor of Inside Politics Sunday and New York Times Political Correspondent and CNN Political Analyst Jonathan Martin, who obtained this audio. He is the author of a new book, co- author, This Will Not Pass, Trump, Biden and the Battle for America's Future. It is out on Tuesday.

This is -- I mean, it's like the private Kevin McCarthy versus the public Kevin McCarthy.

JONATHAN MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And it captures the gulf between these two people and really reveals just how different he felt in that moment, in those days, those hours after January 6th when he and most everybody in Congress was worried about more bloodshed, more violence. And they saw those images both inside the Capitol, with the zip ties and people outside the Capitol battering Capitol Police officers. They took it seriously.

And as the weeks and months went by after that and the political considerations took over, they stopped thinking about the immoral and historic implications and more about the politics of it. I think that is what has led them to retreat from that hard line that you heard there on the audio and re-embrace President Trump.

And that's why in this book, we talked so much about that period, that walk-back in the months from January 6th on to this day and how Republicans went from that audio to today.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And that's why I think this is so important for people to understand. There's a perception that a lot of Republicans in Washington had like a brain transplant when Trump came into power and that they became some other person and now they've lost touch with who they were.

Kevin McCarthy was a kind of, you know, middle of the road -- he was a young gun Republican, remember that?

KEILAR: I remember that.

PHILLIP: I mean, back in the day, when he was kind of a traditional Republican.

And in those moments around January 6th, some of these people, like Kevin McCarthy, like Steve Scalise, were kind of scared back into their old selves. And that only lasted for a short period of time, but it just -- I think all of this seems to demonstrate that all of these politicians, because this is what they know how to do as politicians, they know how to -- how to become the thing that they need to become in order to maintain power, and that is what is going on here.

McCarthy understood the politics was different from how he felt in those moments of fear on the Hill a few days later and he changed his tune very, very quickly because he knew that's the only way he would survive.

KEILAR: To borrow your analogy they weren't brain transplant patients, they were pretending to be brain transplant patients.

All right, let's listen to a little more of the sound.


MCCARTHY (voice over): So, I'm calling Gaetz, I'm explaining to him. I don't know what I'm going to say but I'm going to have some other people call him too. But the nature of what -- if I am getting a briefing, I'm going to get another one from the FBI tomorrow. This is serious shit, to cut this out.

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA) (voice over): Yes, that's -- that's -- I mean, it's potentially illegal what he's doing.

MCCARTHY: Well, he's putting people in jeopardy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Brooks apparently said today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass, which I would say is even a step further than the kind of rhetorical take, you know?

MCCARTHY: If you think the president deserves to be impeached for his comments, that's almost something that goes further than what the president said.


KEILAR: So, yes, they knew it was really, really bad and yet they go on to back up people who are saying this.

MARTIN: Well, and what's extraordinary in that conversation there, it goes further and there is a discussion about, hey, what all committees does Mo Brooks serve on? Somebody says, armed services. And there is the first inkling of a discussion about a punishment. How can we send a message to Mr. Brooks that this is not acceptable?

And we write this in a story that's in The New York Times today and it's captured at further length in the book.

[07:25:00] In the weeks after that, there was an effort by a lawmaker from Arkansas, Steve Womack, to punish Mr. Brooks by having him slipped of his committee assignments, yanking that slot from him on Armed Services and Kevin McCarthy does not see any upside in continuing to litigate January 6th. He ignores Womack and says, we're not going to punish Mo Brooks, he's staying on his committees.

In response to that, Mr. Womack, a down the line conservative from Arkansas, this is not a boat rocker, this is not Adam Kinzinger, he privately is furious, sends McCarthy a letter, resigns from a prestigious committee on of his own on Capitol Hill and tells Kevin McCarthy, in no uncertain that you have shown weakness and cowardice here. And, by the way, Steve Womack is in our book on the record saying all of this.

KEILAR: He has people saying, you're doing the wrong thing, people in his own party who he might at some point have listened to before. And I wonder if in your reporting, Abby, do you get any sense that there is like any moral injury on the part of Kevin McCarthy that he understands that what he is doing is wrong and is at all bothered by it?

PHILLIP: I don't think so. I mean, at this point Kevin McCarthy is pretty much all in. And the biggest concern that he has -- and that he had frankly in the weeks that followed when he went down to Mar-a- Lago, et cetera, are his own political future within the Republican conference, whether he, if in a scenario in which Republicans take control of the House, has enough votes to become the speaker.

And a couple of things that are happening simultaneously, one, McCarthy is realizing the rhetoric is overheated on the part of a few members but there's also a lot of members who are actually very much involved in the planning for January 6, for the efforts to overturn the results of the election. Some of the other reporting that has come out in the last few days indicate that there were, you know, maybe a dozen members or more who were actually involved in these conversations with the White House, implicated in some of this stuff.

And so as you see McCarthy not only turning his own rhetoric around, he also is pushing back on efforts to investigate January 6. He changes his tune about whether he even thinks an investigation is warranted. Part of that is because there are a lot of Republicans who become implicated in that. That makes it a lot more difficult for him to keep his people together and become speaker when the time comes.

KEILAR: J. Mart, fascinating reporting, infuriating reporting as we see Kevin McCarthy going from lying to lying about lying, but it is important to hear and we appreciate you sharing it with us.

MARTIN: Thanks for having me.

KEILAR: Thank you both very much.

A new CDC study reveals that three out of four American children had COVID-19 by February of this year, that they have antibodies. What does this mean for their protection? BERMAN: Plus the breaking news, Ukrainians responding to explosions inside Russia by saying, karma is cruel. Who is responsible?

And a round of attacks in and around Moldova raising fears that Russia is planning a new front of war.