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Some Mariupol Civilians See Sunlight for First Time in Two Months; U.S. Sends Never-Before-Seen Military Drones to Ukraine; Special Grand Jury Begins Today in Trump Election Probe in Georgia. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired May 02, 2022 - 07:00   ET


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Line of defense in the city, it's been all but destroyed.


A Ukrainian military commander says, after the first wave of evacuees got out, shelling of the site resumed, hit, he said, by all kinds of weapons. Ukraine is hoping to get more people evacuated from that plant today. And officials say the general evacuation of civilians from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia today is under way, it's slow, but they say progress is being made.

Also, new satellite images exclusive to CNN showing what the steel plant looks like now. You can see it there, destroyed by Russian strikes, nearly every building rubble.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So, the Ukrainian military says Russian forces are pushing their offensive in the eastern part of the region in the Donbas area. They are approaching the Ukrainian city of Sloviansk, right there. Now, over the Russian border, inside Russia, reports of two airstrikes or explosions near the Russian city of Belgorod. It comes after large fire Sunday at a defense ministry installation of that city. Russia has accused Ukraine of mounting cross-border attacks on fuel depots and military installations.

There's new video from the Ukrainians that shows what they say are Ukrainian drone strikes on Russian vessels inside the Black Sea, not far from Snake Island, something worth watching there.

Overnight, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Poland, she met with the Polish president there following her trip to Kyiv over the weekend. She says the visit will send an unmistakable message to the world America stands with NATO allies in support of Ukraine.

I want to go live to CNN's Matt Rivers this morning, who is in Kyiv. And, Matt, I know you are closely following the situation in Mariupol, hundreds of people still trapped inside that steel plant and in Zaporizhzhia, where they are waiting for bus loads hopefully of citizens from Mariupol to be evacuated. What can you tell us this morning?

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, two different evacuation operations going on right now in Mariupol. On the one hand, you have a general evacuation for the entire city that is still -- that is in Russian-controlled hands at this point, so buses still making their way, according to Ukrainian officials, to get what is hoping to be hundreds, if not, thousands of ordinary Mariupol citizens to the Ukrainian-held city of Zaporizhzhia. That is ongoing, though progress is slow.

Then you have the other operation, which is centered on that Azovstal steel plant complex, the last remaining pocket of Ukrainian resistance inside that city. We saw dozens of people get out of that complex over the weekend. This morning, though, no word yet on if anyone has been able to get out, so, two different evacuation operations.

Meanwhile, inside that steel plant complex, questions remain about the fighters that are also inside. Will they eventually surrender to the Russians? I think the answer to that question is no, especially when you listen to the story that we're about to show you.


RIVERS (voice over): Russian propaganda with a clear message to the last remaining defenders of Mariupol. The video says, we guarantee that we will save your lives and we will follow international laws to guarantee humane treatment. Such will be the case, says the voice over, with this man, a captured Ukrainian soldier Dan Zvonyk.

The 25-year-old member of Ukraine's Territorial Defense Force was captured at the Azovstal steel complex, the last remaining pocket of resistance in the city. CNN has geolocated the building behind them to an area just northwest of the plant, a Russian soldier detailing how they will be treated. As you are captured, he says, we will treat you with honor and with understanding.

These videos were published on April 20th. Five days later, Dan Zvonyk was dead. This picture of his face hauntingly lifeless was sent to his mother by officials in Russian-held Donetsk, she told us. We redialed the numbers and were hung up on once we identified as journalists.

To confirm who he was, they also sent a picture of his chest with a tattoo on the body clearly matching the one seen on Zvonyk while he was still alive in Russian propaganda videos.

When you first saw that message, what went through your mind?

ANNA ZVONYK, MOTHER OF DEAD UKRAINIAN POW: Nothing. I just screamed. There was nothing, no thoughts.

RIVERS: We met his mother near where she's staying in Kyiv. She fled Mariupol herself just two weeks ago alongside the rest of her family. Her sister-in-law also reeling from the photo of her nephew.

LUDMILA ZAGURSKA, AUNT OF DEAD UKRAINIAN POW: I still have that photograph in front of my eyes. It's constantly in front of my eyes.

RIVERS: The morgue in Donetsk confirmed to CNN that Zvonyk was dead and that his body was picked up on Sunday. CNN can't confirm how he died but we know he died after being taken into custody either by Russian or Russian-backed separatist forces.


Do you think that the Russians killed your son?

ZVONYK: Yes, I'm sure.

RIVERS: Russia's Ministry of Defense did not return a request for comment about how Zvonyk died.

For weeks, CNN has heard directly from soldiers inside the steel plant complex who have told us they will not surrender to the Russians for fear of being executed. Within their ranks, Zvonyk's death only hardened that sentiment.

Does what happened to him only reinforce the notion that the soldiers that are there are not going to surrender to the Russians?

GEORGE KUPARASHVILI, DEPUTY COMMANDER, AZOV REGIMENT: Matt, don't you think it confirms their fear and actually expectations what Russia did today? This is a war crime.

RIVERS: We asked Zvonyk's mother, Anna, if she is angry with the Russians? Her answer, honest and gutting.

ZVONYK: For now, I only feel enormous pain, pain and emptiness. That's it.


RIVERS: And even worse for that family, that soldier, Dan, his father was also inside that Mariupol steel plant complex fighting there. The last time the family heard from him was mid-March. So, his fate, too, is unknown.

BERMAN: Really is a remarkable story. And you hear people in Ukraine referring to Mariupol as heroic Mariupol or epic Mariupol, courageous Mariupol. These are the words used to describe now the people who stayed behind to fight there.

Matt, thank you so much for that report.

KEILAR: The Defense Department announced that the administration is sending more than 121 Phoenix Ghost Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems or drones to Ukraine. And that has raised some eyebrows because even military experts haven't heard about this drone before.

CNN's Tom Foreman joining us at the magic wall now to explain what we do know about this new drone. What do we know?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We know it's a big mystery right now. This Phoenix Ghost Drone is believed to be, in some ways, similar to the Switchblade drone, which we've talked about before. This is small, it can be carried in a backpack, troops can launch it in a minutes' notice when they get close to a target. It doesn't go that far, it doesn't hang in the air that long and it doesn't move that fast but it can be used to drive down upon a target, a tank, anything they want to, an artillery position, and blow it up. And they have been used with great effectiveness.

So, what is different about the Phoenix Ghost? The Pentagon says it requires some minimal training for knowledgeable drone operators. So, in other words, people who can already use the Switchblade drone can probably learn to operate this one very quickly.

Differences in the scope of capability, they will not say what this is but one might imagine that it has something to do with the speed and loitering time and it was developed for the set of requirements that very closely match what's happening in the Donbas area.

John was showing the map a minute ago, the Donbas is much more open than what we've seen before. So, perhaps we're talking about something that moves more toward the Bayraktar, the Turkish-made drone, which has a higher speed, a longer distance and carry multiple different weapons, and maybe that's what we're talking about here, something that can be used in that more open ground to get over bigger distances, loiter a little longer and strike harder.

Right now, though, it really is a mystery exactly what the Phoenix Drone is all about, the Phoenix Ghost, but, obviously, with 700 of the Switchblade drones already headed toward there and these now added to the arsenal, it's something the Pentagon believes could be another change-maker for the Ukrainians.

KEILAR: Yes. We've seen the video, just how vulnerable these targets are to these drones.

Tom Foreman, thank you so much for that.

FOREMAN: You're welcome.

BERMAN: A new Washington Post article details how some of Russia's elite have started to break under the economic consequences of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. In the piece written by Greg Miller and Catherine Belton, it states, quote, oligarchs and financial officials are alarmed over the economic toll it's taking and feel powerless to influence Putin.

Greg Miller joins us now, he's an investigative foreign correspondent for The Washington Post. Greg, great to see you.

You talked to so many of these people, some of them, you know, in the oligarch category. What did they tell you?

GREG MILLER, INVESTIGATIONS REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, they are devastated for selfish reasons largely, I mean, they have seen huge chunks of the fortunes that they built through their connections to the Kremlin and often to Putin himself just be wiped out. And they see their country sinking into economic isolation in a way that they just did not see coming.

I think many of them were absolutely blindsided by this war and have spent the past two months basically trying to recover emotionally and otherwise.

KEILAR: So who is actually, Greg, expressing their dismay and how are they doing it?

MILLER: Yes. So, there are different -- they are sort of falling into different categories here and it's some of the very early era oligarchs who are the most vocal so far.


These are oligarchs who made their fortunes in the rule during the presidency of Boris Yeltsin, not Vladimir Putin, who have left Russia, who have denounced the war, have been a little more pointed in their public comments, although Oleg Deripaska, who is known to many Americans for his connections to Russian interference in 2016 and other cases has also talked about the war as devastating.

I want to emphasize, though, that they mostly are refraining from directing any pointed criticism at Putin himself. They are not blaming him, they are not attacking him, they're mostly bemoaning their own fate.

BERMAN: Why aren't they attacking him? Did they learn something early on?

MILLER: Well, I think that -- I think that mostly that is because their circumstances are very uncertain now. For many of them, they now face a life of isolation in Russia where Putin continues to hold a very firm grip on power and where the odds or likelihood that any movement could emerge that could unseat him seem very remote.

So, they are kind of just hedging their bets there and out of self- interest not trying to draw his ire, even as they privately among themselves really talk about just devastation.

KEILAR: Greg, you mentioned in the piece how the head of the central bank, the governor of that bank, tried to resign and couldn't, right? Vladimir Putin wouldn't accept it. You have an amazing quote from an exiled former oligarch who said, everyone will continue working right up to the next Hague tribunal. They're stuck there.

MILLER: There are many who are stuck there and she is a widely respected central banker, even economists in the west hold her in high regard. She has worked a decade or more to kind of shore up the Russian economy and make it more stable, and then was among the last to know that this war was starting, sought to resign, submitted her resignation twice, told twice you're not going to be allowed to leave this position, you're staying in place, you're going to help us deal with the wreckage here.

But even so, she has made some pointed comments, including a week or so ago in public warning that the damage that Russia has seen so far from sanctions and isolation is only the beginning, basically saying it's going to get worse in the coming months.

BERMAN: Greg Miller, great to have you on. It's a terrific story. Thank you so much for sharing your reporting.

MILLER: Thank you guys.

BERMAN: All right, jury selection getting underway in Georgia in just a few hours in the investigation into former President Trump's efforts to overturn that state's election results.

KEILAR: More on the urgent manhunt this morning for an Alabama inmate charged with capital murder and the corrections officer who officials say may have helped them escape.

And the late Naomi Judd inducted into the country music hall of fame just a day after her sudden death. The touching tribute from her daughters, ahead.



KEILAR: Overnight, a federal judge rejecting the RNC's effort to block its email marketing vendor sales force from releasing records to the House select committee investigating the capitol insurrection. The panel says it wants to understand the flow of emails from the RNC that said the 2020 election was stolen in the weeks before the capitol attack.

Trump-appointed Judge Timothy Kelly of the D.C. District Court tossed out the RNC's claims that the panel wasn't properly comprised or appropriately seeking information, however, the panel will not obtain the marketing information immediately. Kelly is temporarily blocking the data from being turned over until at least May 5th so that the RNC does have a chance to appeal.

Judge Kelly also notes that the data won't reveal any major secrets of the Republican Party's internal workings.

BERMAN: A special grand jury will be seated today in Fulton County, Georgia, as part of an investigation into whether former President Trump and others illegally tried to pressure Georgia officials to overturn the 2020 election results in that state.

CNN's Sara Murray has been covering this story from the beginning. Sara, it's been like a year-and-a-half since we first heard the phone call, the tapes of the phone call from Trump to the secretary of state but today a very big moment.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it has been quite a while. But what is happening today is this grand jury selection, it will give the district attorney here broader investigative powers and, of course, it comes as the January 6th committee is uncovering just a mountain of new information that could be relevant to the investigation here in Georgia.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: And even if you cut them in half, cut them in half and cut them in half again, it's more votes than we need.

MURRAY (voice over): It's the now infamous call between Donald Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger after the 2020 election.

TRUMP: all I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state.

MURRAY: The call created so much alarm that a top aide texted a plea for help as it was ongoing, writing to Trump's chief of staff, need to end this call. Then Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs wrote, I don't think this will be productive much longer, to which Mark Meadows replied, okay. Fuchs wrote back, let's save the relationship, then, thank you. Wow.

The messages which Meadows turned over to the House select committee investigating January 6th and were included in a recent court filing reveal more of the chaos created by a call where Trump insisted he won Georgia, a state he lost.


TRUMP: Thank you, Georgia. Wow. That's a big crowd of people.

MURRAY: The call is now at the center of an investigation into the former president in the Peach State.

FANI T. WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: The Trump investigation is under way.

MURRAY: Set to advance today. A special grand jury will be chosen to subpoena witnesses and documents and decide whether to recommend charges against Trump or his allies for their efforts to overturn Georgia's election results.

WILLIS: We will have from May 2nd until April 30th, 2023. Hopefully, we don't need that long.

MURRAY: Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis already interviewing more than 50 witnesses over the past 15 months with plans to subpoena at least 30 more, a source tells CNN.

WILLIS: I imagine that we are going to be issuing subpoenas to a lot of people and that all of them are not going to welcome our invitation to come speak with us.

MURRAY: But she's waiting until after Georgia's primary to call people to testify, as several likely witnesses Raffensperger, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr are on the ballot.

WILLIS: I would now request that anyone that was on the ballot come speak to me prior to May 24.

MURRAY: Willis may call on close associates of Trump as she investigates, which could spell a long road ahead. MICHAEL MOORE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA: I think she's going to face questions and probably legal challenges full blown court battles if she decides to move forward over presidential immunity.

MURRAY: The Trump investigation playing out with heightened security. As jury selection begins, roads are closed around the courthouse, K-9 police dogs are at the ready and prosecutors have been issued bulletproof vests, officials tell CNN.

SHERIFF PATRICK LABAT, FULTON COUNTY, GEORGIA: Given everything that took place on January 6th, we want to make sure that our community, our justice community, is as safe as possible.


MURRAY (on camera): Now, this special grand jury will make a recommendation about whether they think Trump or any of his allies should face charges in this case. It will not issue an indictment. Willis can go to any of the regular grand juries here in Fulton County, ask for an indictment. And she's previously told us she hopes to make a decision about whether to bring charges by the end of the year. Back to you guys.

BERMAN: All right. Sara Murray, terrific reporting, thank you so much.

KEILAR: And joining us now is former U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, who you saw there in Sara's piece, Michael Moore with us for more analysis here.

Can you just explain, Michael, what exactly this special grand jury is going to be considering? What specific laws will they be looking at to see if Donald Trump broke them?

MOORE: Well, good morning. The consideration by the special grand jury is really up to them. They have the right to investigate the case, they have the right to issue subpoenas, they have the right to ask questions to dig a little deeper on certain topics if they want to do that. But if you think about it from sort of a legitimate sense, maybe an umbrella under which the investigation will fall, you are really talking about election fraud, a conspiracy to commit election fraud, was there a solicitation to commit election fraud or maybe was there an effort to interfere with the performance of the secretary of state's official duties.

So, those things may have tentacles, they may become a little bit like an octopus of an investigation as they go down to certain paths. And some evidence may be developed that they decide through the issuance of the subpoenas and the testimony that they want to pursue a little bit further.

KEILAR: What penalties could Trump face and what do you think are the odds that he will actually face any?

MOORE: You know, he could face a felony charge. Certainly, there are some misdemeanors that could be in play here. The question is what penalty. I think that's the bigger question. And do I think, at the end of the day, he's going to end up in prison? I think that's hard to imagine that a former president in the case like this without a criminal record, you know, is not a repeat offender, a serial offender, that he would end up behind bars.

There's a provision too that allows for an executive official if the allegations stem under the color of the auspices of the federal office they hold, which in this case would be the president, to ask a court to remove the case to the federal court. I think you're likely to see that. But, really, this today is almost like here in the starting gun at the marathon and there will be legal challenges and I'm sure that subpoenas have come out and there will be efforts to invoke immunity and executive privilege like we've seen in other cases.

The stakes here might be a little bit different in the sense that this is a criminal grand jury or at least an investigative criminal grand jury moving forward and that may ramp up a little bit some of the legal arguments that have been made and the discussion. And she's doing what she thinks is the appropriate thing to do, but certainly it's been some period of time since the initial charges and I don't think judges will see this as any real delay if they hear those arguments.

KEILAR: This is all happening in the middle of a very competitive Republican primary season, right? And the witnesses, many of them, are on the ballot. So, how does that affect things here?

MOORE: Well, and I think at the end of the day that may push things out beyond November.


I mean, it's the right call to not make people come testify and give evidence, especially for those in the middle, and let's take Brad Raffensperger, he's in the middle of a primary battle against a Trump follower who has been touting election fraud. And so she's saying I don't think he should have to come in and testify and maybe somehow that would have some impact on his primary battle.

The same argument can be made and I think you're likely to hear it over the course of the summer as people move to the general election in November. They are going to say, why should we now have to come in and give testimony that will be used against us in an election to either keep or gain our official position?

KEILAR: It will be really interesting to watch what is happening there in Georgia. And, Michael, we appreciate you walking us through it. Thank you.

MOORE: Always good to be with you. Thank you.

KEILAR: A switch up from team Amber Heard right before she takes the stand in Johnny Depp's defamation days against her.

BERMAN: And inmate charged with capital murder on the run this morning and the sheriff says he believes a corrections officer was involved in the escape.