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Battle Moves Inside Steel Plant as Russians Breach; NYT: U.S. Intelligence Led to Ukrainians Killing Russian Generals; Fed to Raise Interest Rates to Cool Inflation; Op-Ed: Biden Walking into Trap on Forgiving Student Loans. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired May 05, 2022 - 06:00   ET


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to viewers in the U.S. and around the world. It is Thursday, May 5. I'm Brianna Keilar with Alex Marquardt. Great to have you here.



KEILAR: John Berman is off today.

And if there is hell in the world, right not it is inside the last Ukrainian stronghold in the city of Mariupol. That is from an official as battles are raging inside the Azovstal Steel plant after the Russian forces there breeched the compound.

These are extraordinary images revealing what hundreds of women, children and elderly Ukrainians have endured for two months. A relentless bombardment.




KEILAR: That's the sound of Ukrainian soldiers singing the battle hymn of the Ukrainian army. And this is brand-new video that we are getting there of troops holding out there in Azovstal's underground bunker. They're singing, "It is sweeter for us to die in battle than to live in chains as dumb slaves."

This morning, Russia claims it will open humanitarian corridors for civilians to evacuate the steel plant, though we have seen Russian forces at times fire on those corridors in the past.

We do have more on this unfolding situation in just a moment, but in the meantime, the counteroffensive against Russian forces continues.

Ukrainian troops have retaken another village in the Northern Kharkiv region. Troops were seen placing a flag on a building in the village of Molodova, which is just 13 miles Southeast of the border with Russia. MARQUARDT: And in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions in the Eastern part

of 11 attacks that they say have been repulsed. This Russian onslaught not letting up, though. You can this drone footage here, showing the devastation from air strikes in the small town of Popansa. That is in the Luhansk region in Eastern Ukraine.

And we do have new video coming in overnight. More attacks on the civilian infrastructure of Ukraine. Russian forces blowing up a bridge in the central city of Dnipro, also hitting a railway with a missile strike.

Now also this morning, U.S. officials believe that it's likely that U.S. intelligence has been used to help Ukrainian forces kill Russian generals in this conflict. It's not clear that any of the deaths can be directly linked to any specific intelligence.

Now, this is in response to a report in "The New York Times."

KEILAR: Want to go live now to Lviv, Ukraine, and bring in CNN's Isa Soares on the very latest today. Isa, what can you tell us?

ISA SOARES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A very good morning to you, Brianna. Let me start in Mariupol where the situation, really, there is incredibly dire, where the attacks have intensified.

And these --just the bombardments have been so intense, and so relentless and brutal in the last 24 hours. We have heard from Mariupol, an official who has said that there's been nonstop shelling on the Azovstal Steel plant, as well as attacks supported by aircraft and supported by drones.

As we look at this footage, really, right now on your screen, it's worth reminding viewers that this is not a video game. This is not special effects. This is happening right now.

And there are people inside the Azovstal Steel plant. There are civilians according -- hundreds of civilians, according to a Mariupol official, including 30 children still inside, holed up inside. They've been there for 30 days or so.

And we have heard that Russia promising, of course, a humanitarian corridor for the Azovstal Steel plant. That was supposed to have started, as they said, about three hours ago. That, we have not seen any promise, any sign that this is underway.

And like you clearly pointed out before you came to me, Brianna, we have been here before, where these promises have been made, and then they have been broken.

And you would remember, because you and I were talking yesterday, Brianna, this time yesterday I brought you the story of Natalia, who in her late 40s really joined the fight for Ukraine and joined the battle following her son, Yuri's (ph) death.

Well, we have learned in the last few hours that Natalia, who was holed up inside that Azovstal Steel plant, who has been there for 60- plus days, we have learned that she has died. We have learned this from her family. We have learned this from officials, as well, and from the regiment that she works for.

Of course, we've have passed on our condolences to the family.

But I spoke to Tatiana's (ph) -- to her mother yesterday before, obviously, we came on air, and I asked her, "If you had the chance to speak to your daughter again, what would you tell her?" And this is what she said. Have a listen.


SOARES: If you were to speak to her now, what would you tell her?

SOARES (voice-over): "I don't know what I would tell her. She would answer me, "Mom, I know what I have to do. I'm a grown up. And she's got the same personality as Yuri (ph). She goes until the end. There is no point in crying and begging," she says.


SOARES (on camera): So clearly, you're hearing there -- This is prior to learning, of course, that her daughter in the dark (ph), Natalia (ph), had died this morning inside the Azovstal Steel plant.

We've spoken to the family this morning, and they've told us that -- you know, they've asked that all we can do for now is remember -- remember her sacrifice and the sacrifice of the other two members of her family who have also perished, fighting this battle against the Russians -- Brianna.

KEILAR: A heartbreaking story that you told us, Isa, and our hearts go out to that family. Thank you so much for the update. We appreciate it.

I do want to bring in retired Army Brigadier General Mark Kimmett. He served as the assistant secretary of state for political, military affairs during the George W. Bush administration.

Sir, can we first talk about what "The New York Times" is reporting today? They're saying that intelligence provided by the United States is helping Ukraine target and kill Russian generals. What is your reaction or assessment of this?

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK KIMMETT (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Well, my view is that that is good for what's happening on the battlefield. It's not surprising, with our electronic tracking capability, particularly cell phone tracking. It just makes sense that we'd be passing that intelligence on to the Ukrainians for them to go against critical general officers that are roaming around the battlefield.

MARQUARDT: General, the -- the sense that we're getting from our sources is that this is intelligence that we're providing of all kinds that may have assisted in killing these generals, but not specific intelligence about locations, about specific individual generals.

How important is it that U.S. -- that the U.S. intelligence community not cross that line?

KIMMETT: Well, again, it's -- it's important, because there are laws in the United States against assassinating foreign leaders. Now, these are true battlefield targets, the generals. But we're not at war with Russia, so we've got to be careful on maintaining that legal basis for providing that intelligence to the Ukrainians.

KEILAR: Can you tell us just to this area where Ukrainian forces have retaken some places near the Russian border? And this is so key, because you actually have supply lines for the Russians running through some of these places near Kharkiv.

KIMMETT: Yes, I think it's not just supply lines. Those are important. But if you take a look at this area, first, we've got to remember that Kyiv [SIC] -- that Kharkiv is the second largest city inside of Ukraine. The most important thing, of course, is that by pushing the Russians out into these blue areas, you're getting their artillery outside of the range of being able to shell into Kharkiv.

The second point, as you've noted, is that we're able to go against the supply lines.

The third, and equally tactically important, is the fact that all these troops from the Russian offensive that's going on down here that are being pulled up for this fight in Kharkiv are, to a great extent, slowing down this offensive where they are trying to go -- they, the Russians, are trying to encircle those Ukrainian forces in the Southeast.

MARQUARDT: And is there any sense that despite those -- the Ukrainian pushback there around Kharkiv, that the Russians are making any progress in the Southeast, making any progress when it comes to encircling their troops and push farther into the Donbas region?

KIMMETT: This is what's surprising for military analysts and military historians. If you take a look at this spider web that's happening here, those are small, dispersed attacks. That's not the Russian tactic from the past.

The Russian tactic has usually been to attack on a single axis, very tight, so they can push as much artillery and troops into that region.

But these small, dispersed attacks obviously are not having any kind of effect, and it's truly slowing down this offensive that the Russians are trying to undertake to surround the Ukrainian forces in the Donbas.

MARQUARDT: Yes, the Ukrainians stating that that Russian advance has stalled. And that is what U.S. officials are seeing as well.

All right, General Mark Kimmett, we've got to leave it there. Thank you very much.

KIMMETT: All right.

MARQUARDT: Now, President Biden is under mounting pressure from the left to forgive student loans. Why our next guest says that he might be walking into a political trap if he does that.

And there is new audio of the House Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, slamming then-President Trump in the days following the Capitol riot on January 6.

Plus --


AMBER HEARD, EX-WIFE OF JOHNNY DEPP: I just laughed, because I thought he was joking. And he slapped me across the face.


KEILAR: Amber Heard on the stand, claiming her former husband, Johnny Depp, physically and sexually abused her. Her emotional testimony ahead.



KEILAR: The Federal Reserve announcing another interest rate hike to cool red-hot inflation. So what does this mean for you?

CNN chief business correspondent and "EARLY START" co-anchor Christine Romans with us now. What does it mean, Christine?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: I mean, look, Brianna, if you have a credit card, if you're shopping for a car, trying to buy a house, this is big news.

The Federal Reserve cranked up interest rates Wednesday, and it's a rare 50-basis-point hike in the benchmark rate. It is the Fed's job to fight inflation. With prices rising faster than they have in 40 years, this is the biggest increase in 22 years to fight that inflation. Here's the Fed chairman, Jerome Powell.


JEROME POWELL, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: The economy and the country have been through a lot over the past two years, and it proved resilient. It is essential that we bring inflation down if we are to have a sustained period of strong labor market conditions that benefit all.



ROMANS: This is only the second rate hike since 2018. The Fed raised rates by a quarter percentage point back in March.

The Central Bank will also start shrinking its enormous $9 trillion balance sheet in June. It bought up all of those assets, right, to help fight that recession because of COVID. This is a much more aggressive Fed. Inflation was already a problem

coming out of a COVID recession. Now the raging Russia-Ukraine conflict makes it worse. There are higher prices for food and energy, and that's expected to persist. So the more common pace of little quarter-point increases is just not doing the job.

Higher rates mean the cost to borrow money goes up. Borrowing money will be more expensive. Credit cards, auto and student loans. Mortgage rates are already now back above 5 percent and will likely go higher.

Some perspective, though. These aren't the mortgage rates of your parents' generation, right, when they had 17 percent or 18 percent to buy a house. Five percent still historically low.

But it will mean a lot of people will not be able to buy the house they thought they wanted to.

Wall Street like this news, by the way, Brianna. Investors have already priced this in. Stocks rose sharply after Powell said the Fed is not actively considering an even bigger rate hike, at least for now.

Right now, futures down a little, but it was a very, very big rally yesterday on this.

KEILAR: All right. Christine, thank you so much for that. Really appreciate it.

MARQUARDT: Now, President Joe Biden is getting pressure from the left to forgive student loans, and that is ramping up in this midterm election year, as a CNN poll shows that Biden is facing challenges with younger Americans.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am considering dealing with some debt reduction. I am not considering $50,000 debt reduction. But I'm in the process of taking a hard look at whether or not there are going to -- there will be additional debt forgiveness.


MARQUARDT: "The Atlantic's" David Frum warns that Biden is walking into a trap. He writes, quote, "Student debt relief could bring large downside risks because it so obviously involves a transfer of wealth from average income Americans to the most energized but also more advantaged parts of the Democratic coalition."

David Frum joins us now.


MARQUARDT: Good to see you.

FRUM: Nice to see you. MARQUARDT: Now David, we do have the CNN poll that shows that more than 70 percent of Americans who are under the age of 35 says that the government is doing too little to address student debt. So it's quite popular with young Americans. And yet, you say that -- that in doing this, Biden -- it carries a large downside risk. Why is that?

FRUM: The president who has very good instincts, has been in this for a long time, has through his campaign and then through his presidency, resisted this push, which as you say, comes from the party's left.

The Democratic activist left wants to deliver measures that benefit their particular constituencies, very energized people. But these are not broad-based deliverables. These are not things that benefit very many people. Only about 13 percent of Americans have federal student debt.

And so Biden is being pushed in a direction. Every instinct he has tells him this is not the way to go, and yet, he doesn't seem able to stop himself.

KEILAR: What does the fallout look like to you?

FRUM: Well, the fallout looks to me like that the -- most people are not looking program by program when they decide how they feel about the government. They think, is this government working for me or is this government working for someone else?

The median -- the people who are going to decide the outcome of the elections in 2022 are swing voters who are less educated. They typically haven't gone to college. And they're somewhat older, and they -- they will think this sounds like someone I'm going to help for in order to help Elizabeth Warren's voters.

MARQUARDT: And you note in your piece that, obviously, the president is not polling well, despite the fact that he's had a number of victories and is doing a number of things that are popular.

Rolling -- you know, the COVID vaccination plan has been rolled out. Spending bills. Supplying Ukraine in a way that they can fend off this Russian advance. Nominating the first black woman to the Supreme Court. So why do you think he's suffering so badly?

FRUM: Look, he's suffering badly because food prices are up and gas prices are up.

But also, because Democrats are a coalition made up of a lot of moving parts, and they want to do a lot of different things. And that means they're always unhappy.

So it's hard for them to say, as a Republican administration would be saying now, look at all the things we did. Instead, Democrats are consumed by all the infinite number of things they didn't do.

I want to make one more point about the student debt and why it is a trap. Because when this idea was conceived by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, they conceived it as a subsidy, not to students but to universities. There's tremendous pricing pressure back on universities. This debt is a warning signal of distress from the society.

Universities are charging students too much. They need to discipline themselves. They need to rethink how they do their business.

If you simply say, we'll bail out the students, who's the ultimate beneficiary? The students in the past. Not the students today. But above all, the universities, who are relieved of pressure from their consumers to say, Maybe we should rethink how we do business and deliver education more economically.


KEILAR: Well, and how do you do that?

FRUM: Well, what happens in every other area of American life is, whether you're delivering frozen chicken, whether you're delivering automobiles, whether you're delivering media services, we are constantly thinking how do we integrate technology into our business? How do we do things in a new way to deliver better services at lower cost?

Universities and health care are different, in that you have constantly rising costs. But at least with health care, you're getting a constantly improving product. With universities, you're getting the same product at ever rising prices.

And with price pressure, people question why y-- why don't the universities innovate? Either deliver a clearly superior product, the way health care does, or deliver the same product at lower prices, the way the frozen chicken people do; but the universities are sort of stuck in the middle.

KEILAR: Fascinating conversation, David. We'll see which way he goes. We'll see. David Frum, thank you so much.

Explosive core testimony from the top member of the Oath Keepers militia group, who says he overheard the leader of his group trying to contact then-President Trump after the Capitol riot.

MARQUARDT: And the former president's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., meeting for more than three hours with the House committee investigating the January 6th insurrection. Maggie Haberman joins us next.



KEILAR: New details out this morning about the far-right group the Oath Keepers and possible connection to former President Donald Trump. In court, a top member of the group said that he overheard the leader, Stewart Rhodes, trying and failing to get in touch with Trump soon after the January 6th attack on the Capitol.

Joining us now is CNN political analyst and Washington correspondent for "The New York Times," Maggie Haberman.

I just wonder, Maggie, if this is something that draws enough of a connection, because what this gentleman described in court was hearing Stewart Rhodes on the phone talking to an unidentified person, trying to get in touch with Trump, urging him to use these groups like the Oath Keepers to try to stop the transition of power, stop the certification of the election.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's informative; it's interesting. It's certainly a different level of engagement, Brianna, than we have heard taking place, of somebody trying to connect directly to the president.

I would personally like to know more about, A, who this intermediary was. And B, what the intermediary did. Did the intermediary follow through with this? Did they try to reach Trump? I don't know the answer.

We certainly do know -- it speaks to me to the fact that a lot of these folks, a lot of these members of these militia groups, a lot of people who arrived in Washington that day, believed they were doing something that Trump wanted. And I think that this speaks to that.

MARQUARDT: Maggie we've seen, of course, through -- through all these text messages that a lot of people had access to Mark Meadows. A lot of people had access to the inner circle of the Trump White House, but what do we know about the Oath Keepers and Stewart Rhodes in particular in terms of who they could have been calling on that day? To your point, this intermediary, did they have any real conduit to be able to get to the president?

HABERMAN: Look, what you are going to hear people speculate about are a couple of folks. I don't want to throw people's names out, because we don't know who it is.

But there certainly are a couple of people whose names have come up repeatedly in connection with the Oath Keepers. There are people who could have been reaching out to Trump, who could have been trying to get him.

Again, I don't know how much of that -- one of the things that's so hard to tell with this world, always, with Trump's world, is who actually has access, what is actually taking place.

I'm not minimizing what happened. The fact that somebody thought that they could use a point of contact who they knew who was close with -- who apparently was close with the White House speaks a lot about the conversations that were going on, but I think there's still more to understand about this particular incident.

KEILAR: Donald Trump Jr. appeared before the committee, before the January 6th Committee this week, and sort of a refresher for folks about some of the information they have about Donald Trump Jr., a text message that he sent to Mark Meadows saying, "It's very simple. We have multiple paths. We control them all."

I wonder what you think the committee can get from Donald Trump Jr., if anything.

HABERMAN: So I think our understanding of what took place in this interview this week was that it was not tremendously enlightening the way that it had been described, that particular text that you just read when it emerged is a jarring thing to read. The way that people around Donald Trump Jr. described it as was something that he had passed on. I have some reporting that this was a Steve Bannon plan that was given to him. And if you look at it, it certainly does sound like stuff that Bannon was saying later and that Bannon has taken ownership of over and over again every day since January 6th.

So that is not surprising.

I think that Donald Trump Jr. is honestly, Brianna, a limited witness. I think there are other people in the Trump family and around the Trump family who are much more interesting in terms of what they knew, such as Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who worked in the White House, and Ivanka Trump specifically, who was in the White House on January 6th, we know, trying to get her father to get the rioters to stand down.

MARQUARDT: Maggie, we do have remarkable new audio that was obtained by two of your colleagues at the "Times" that is of the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, talking about invoking the 25th Amendment against President Trump. Let's take a listen to that.


JOHN LEGANSKI, HOUSE GOP FLOOR DIRECTOR: I think the options that have been cited by the Democrats so far are the 25th Amendment which is not exactly an elegant solution here.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): That takes too long, too. It could go back to the House, right?

LEGANSKI: Yeah, correct. If the president were to submit a letter overruling the cabinet and the vice president, two-thirds vote in the Senate and the House to overrule the president. So it's kind of inartful. Obviously, impeachment has been discussed, and then I think they want him to resign, which I don't see happening either.


MARQUARDT: So that's a conversation between -- between the Kevin McCarthy and a top GOP leader.