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Ukrainian Forces Retake Village Near Border With Russia; Biden Says, MAGA Most Extreme Political Organization in Recent History; CNN Poll Shows American's View of Economy the Worst in A Decade. Aired 7- 7:30a ET

Aired May 05, 2022 - 07:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: This is brand new video of troops that we're getting, troops holding in Azovstal's underground bunker. And they are singing, it is sweeter for us to die in battle than live in chains.

This morning, Russia has said they would open up humanitarian corridors for civilians to evacuate the steel plant. We, of course, though, have seen Russian forces fire on those corridors in the past, so there is some concern about that. We'll have more on that unfolding situation here in a moment.

But in the meantime, the counteroffensive against Russian forces does continue. Ukrainian troops have retaken another village in the northern region of Kharkiv. Troops were seen placing a flag on a building in the village of Molodova (ph). This is just 13 miles southeast of the Ukraine/Russia border.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: And then in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions in Eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian military is saying that Russians have had no success in breaking through the frontlines in the past 24 hours. They say there have been a total of 11 attacks that have been repulsed, in their words.

The Russian onslaught in not letting up though, this drone footage you're looking at right there, this shows the devastation from airstrikes on the small Ukrainian town of Popasna. Overnight, six people were injured in a missile strike in the city of Kramatorsk. At least three buildings were significantly damaged including a kindergarten.

Let's go straight to Kramatorks in Eastern Ukraine and bring in CNN's Sam Kiley. Sam, you are right there on the frontlines in Eastern Ukraine. What are you seeing? What are you hearing?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alex and Brianna, here in Central Kramatorsk, we heard the missile strikes at about 3:34 in the morning and this is the result of them, trees decapitated by the blast, absolutely extraordinary amount of ordnance in terms of the size of the warhead that must have been dropped here.

This building behind me now in ruins was the kind of pumping and sewage station for this residential area. It could not have been big enough to hold any military assets but it has been completely destroyed. And, indeed, they've been digging out the sewage plant.

But the scale of the blast is quite extraordinary and so is frankly the effort being made to clean up already. I mean, it's just a few hours ago that these impacts were felt ripping through these buildings. And I've been on the other side of these buildings. They look the same on this side next to the blast, as they do on the other side. The blast certainly rushed clean through these buildings, tearing them to pieces.

Mercifully, there were 25 people have been wounded across the city in three different locations. There was also a blast quite close to the administrative headquarters. There's only been six people hospitalized and one person is critical. That's in stark contrast to the last time Kramatorsk was hit in earnest about a month ago when the railway station was struck by a surface-to-surface missile, a long-range missile, probably similar to the one that landed here. That killed at least 50 people waiting to try to evacuate from this city.

The consequence though of the evacuations, the toll in terms of wounded and dead from these, frankly, atrocities, this is a deliberate targeting with not dumb bombs. This was not an attack that came from an aircraft. This is clearly a surface-to-surface missile. And the range would indicate that they're guided missiles, not the stupid missiles, if you like, multiple rocket launching system but much more likely the guided missiles that are available to the Russians, such as Iskander and similar.

In that context, therefore, this is a deliberate act against Kramatrosk, which, Alex and Brianna, is really the strategic price for the Russians. If they can capture this town, as far as the Putin administration is concerned, it may be a possibility that they could then believe that they have achieved some kind of a victory and maybe stop their advance at this point.

But they are at least 25 kilometers away to the north. They're pushing down in various salients around. They're also trying to come in from the east. They've had moderate success and some losses around Kharkiv. But this is the ongoing part of their campaign, pound the civilians areas into submission and then try to occupy the ashes. Alex, Brianna?

KEILAR: Yes. I'm so glad you make that point. They're essentially assuming that is a missile strike, as you expect it to be. They are dialing in the coordinates, like you would, in a GPS to get to a destination. This isn't an accident. That is the target. We've seen that time and again.

We were speaking to a retired U.S. general, Sam, about where the Russians are, how they're doing right now in the east. And he said he is kind of surprised at how poorly they're doing at this moment in time. What's the word there, though, on the ground with folks that you're talking to?

KILEY: Well, it's touch and go. I think both sides are fairly equally matched at the moment. [07:05:00]

I'm just going to try and move away from that grinder that's operating. Both sides are relatively, evenly matched, which is why you've got this stasis, this ongoing exchange, backwards and forwards of artillery. The Ukrainians are firing a lot of artillery back at the Russian positions, the Russians inching towards this location. They're close to overrunning several towns on the other side of the Donetsk River, but they haven't been able to break through. And that's the key strategic moment that analysts are looking for. Will they stop their advance at the river or will they try to push across?

But that said, the Ukrainians cannot prevail, they say, until they get these new weapons that have been promised from NATO, from the United States, Germany, Britain and others, in particular the very sophisticated artillery systems that can effectively spot an incoming -- the location of the firing point of incoming artillery and respond in more than kind. That would -- is something that the Russians really don't have anything to match and that would give them the tactical edge and possibly even a significant strategic advantage.

And on top of that, of course, they want the capability to take out these surface-to-surface missiles, cruise-type missiles, but also the less sophisticated Iskander-type missiles that can be shot down with American, British, Israeli-type technologies. There's a little bit of that coming in, but those, again, will be game changers.

At the moment though, the assumption is that over the coming week, the Russians are going to try and step up their campaign. This may be their last throw of the dice before those NATO and other western NATO- style weapons, which, frankly, simply are in a different league in terms of their technical superiority to what we've seen deployed by the Russians.

And that is something I think that western analysts have been surprised by, the extent to which the Russian armed forces have proved to be something of a paper tiger, lots of international boasting online about hyper missiles and all sorts of almost science fictions capabilities, but on the ground is pretty grinding, Soviet-style, low level, low tech stuff, I mean, right down to their radios, which were readily intercepted because they're pretty entirely analog. They don't even have digital, secure communications.

MARQUARDT: Which is one of the ways that the Ukrainians have been able to be so effective against Russian generals. Sam, just seeing you there in front of that building, we've said it before, it looks just like what the Russians did in Chechnya, what they've done in Syria. This is a tried and tested tactic of theirs, one that is very simple, a very effective and absolutely ruthless. And here we are just four days before this Victory Day in Moscow with all kinds of questions about what President Putin will announce on that day.

Sam Kiley in the eastern city of Kramatorks, thank you so much for that report. Stay safe, my friend.

KEILAR: You mentioned those generals, right, because also this morning U.S. officials believe it's likely that American intelligence that has been shared with Ukraine has been used for many things by Ukraine but also to help forces kill Russian generals. It's not clear that any of the deaths can be linked to any specific intelligence, and this is in response to a New York Times report.

We should mention, Alex, right, the White House just responded to this, right?

MARQUARDT: Yes, they did. They said, and this is a quote from the NSC spokesperson, Adrienne Watson, we do not provide intelligence with the intent to kill Russian generals, but we do know that the exchange of intelligence between U.S. towards Ukraine is very strong.

KEILAR: All right. Let's bring in retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton to walk us through some of this.

That's not the intent but, hey, here is the intel, do with it what you like, right, Cedric?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: That's right, Brianna, and good morning. And one of the big things associated with this New York Times report is the fact that it is very precision targeted stuff that they're getting. The intelligence is allowing the Ukrainians to do things that they otherwise wouldn't be able to do.

So, this war allow them to -- and the intelligence provided by the U.S. and other allied nations allow the Ukrainians to achieve the gains that they have in the Kyiv area. It also is allowing them to really prevent the Russians from moving forward at least at the moment in these areas in the northeast, near the Donbas region, which is, of course, right here.

So, the intelligence is helping quite a bit, Brianna. It is making it much more difficult for the Russians to achieve their goals. And it is also helping and enabling the Ukrainians to achieve theirs, which means basically keep the status quo and move forward while they can to roll back the Russians as much as possible.

MARQUARDT: So, we are hearing from our sources, Cedric, that it is likely that the Ukrainians have used some of this intelligence, some of this American intelligence in their efforts to take out these Ukrainian generals. There is some dispute over exactly how many, somewhere in the range of 8 to 12, 12 was reported by The New York Times.

How much of an impact has that had on that map that we're looking at on that fight, which we understand now from both the U.S. and Ukrainian side, is essentially at a standstill?

LEIGHTON: That's right, Alex. It's basically at a standstill because of the way in which the forces have arrayed themselves. So, what we're looking at here, Alex, is the Russian generals that have been killed during this period. There's no dispute that some of them have been killed. The Russians move forward.

And when you look -- Let's take a look, for example, at the Donbas just to make it region-specific. For example, in towns like Popasna and in these area, like Rubizhne, Kreminna and Severodonetsk, those areas right there are where the Russian generals come forward. They basically command from the front. That's what they pride themselves on.

So, the difficult that they have is, on the one hand, they are being brave and going up to the front and doing what they need to do. But what that also shows, Alex, is that their command and control procedures are really lax in the sense that they don't trust the lower echelons. And if they don't trust the lower echelons, the lower echelons really can't do what they need to do in order to take advantage of tactical opportunities.

The Russians are a very command-centric military culture and that command-centric culture is really stopped when they start killing generals like this.

KEILAR: Yes, they end up in harm's way because of that. Cedric, thank you so much for taking us through that.

LEIGHTON: You bet.

KEILAR: President Biden says that the MAGA crowd is the most extreme political group in recent American history. Michael Smerconish joins us next.

MARQUARDT: Plus, Republican Congressman Madison Cawthorn is attempting to explain a way, a new video that shows some naked in bed with another man. We'll have what he's saying, next.

And a White House economic adviser is also joining us live to respond to the brutal polls that are showing that a majority of Americans think that the U.S. economy is terrible.

This is CNN's special live coverage. We'll be right back.



KEIALR: In what's widely understood as the president's attempt to sharpen his midterm messaging, as the U.S. heads into campaign season, Biden is taking aim at what he calls the MAGA agenda.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: What happens if you have states change the law, saying that children who are LGBTQ can't be in classrooms with other children? Is that legit under the way that the decision is written? What are the next things that are going to be attacked? Because this MAGA crowd is really the most extreme political organization that's existed in American history, in recent American history.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: Joining us now is CNN Political Commentator Michael Smerconish to discuss this moment, which I wonder if you think that it's a pivotal moment. What's your reaction to hearing him say that, Michael?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: I think, Brianna, he's trying to put Donald Trump in the ballot. I mean, Republicans hold advantages with regard to the midterm election. There's no secret about that. The party of the incumbent president usually loses seats in an off-year election like that, which we're in right now. Now, factor in inflation, factor in the border, factor in crime.

And Republicans have a very strong hand in terms of the sort of issues that motivate their base. Democrats need a response and we can talk about whether abortion might be that response. But I think President Biden is road-testing some themes to see if they get traction. He knows that he was elected largely because people came out to vote against Donald Trump in 2020 and he wants to recreate that. Of course, Donald Trump is not on the ballot in 2022. He might two years, hence, but he's trying to put Trump top of mind. That's how I see it.

MARQUARDT: But, Michael, in targeting the MAGA crowd, which we don't often hear him talk about, if ever, do you think there's any fallout from that? Is it kind of like when Hillary Clinton called this same Trump base deplorable?

SMERCONISH: Alex, be careful, right, because I think that that backfired on her. I think that she regretted. I think it became a rallying cry. You remember, there was merchandise. There was merch at the time. People were wearing T-shirts proudly proclaiming that they were part of the deplorable. So, I think it's a fine line, but I think we're at a stage now, right, at this point in the spring where it's the president and his team seeing what resonates and what's going to drive people.

And the argument that he seems to have settled on yesterday is one of, if Roe versus Wade is overturned, where else might this so-called movement lead?

KEILAR: Big questions after that Roe v. Wade draft opinion is out, whether it is going to motivate Democratic voters, whether it is going to motivate the base or whether inflation is going to be the motivator. Here is what Senator Joe Manchin said about that, Michael.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): Inflation is the number one driving factor, I believe, in my state, right now. It's hurting everybody not just at the pump but at the grocery store, at the drug store.

Inflation and getting our financial house in order is the most important thing we can do for this economy.


KEILAR: So, he says it's inflation, not abortion in West Virginia. Do you think that's the case more broadly?

SMERCONISH: I think he's probably right. I've seen the polling data, whether it's a majority or whether it's a strong plurality of Americans who would rather leave Roe versus Wade in place. I think that's the sentiment of a large part of a country.

But, Brianna, whether that's a passion issue that's going to drive a majority of people around the country, it will drive people in some parts of the country, for sure, but inflation is an equal opportunity offender.


And I, of course, keep thinking of James Carville, it's the economy, stupid. And I think that Joe Manchin, Senator Manchin is probably correct.

MARQUARDT: Michael, what evidence have we seen in the past few days that the abortion issue will be a galvanizing factor for Democrats this fall?

SMERCONISH: Alex, fencing around the Supreme Court building, by way of one example. I mean, some people are very hot about this issue, as you know. When it comes out presumably at the end of the next month, there still be so much time on the clock between then, the summer and the fall campaign.

And I don't need to tell the two of you, in this 24/7 news cycle, it's just impossible to tell those things that we will be discussing September, October and the first few days of November.

MARQUARDT: All right. Michael Smerconish, thank you so much for your time, sir.

SMERCONISH: See you, guys.

MARQUARDT: And you can catch Michael's show at 9:00 A.M. Eastern Time on Saturday. Michael, thank you.

KEILAR: So, new this morning, North Carolina Congressman Madison Cawthorn addressing a new round of allegations. The embattled freshman in the throes of a Republican primary now answering questions about a video of him out on social media by an opposition group, and it purportedly shows him acting crass, I guess, you could say, with a friend in a bedroom while not wearing any clothing at all.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is live with the details. Sunlen, what can you tell us?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, this is a completely shocking video appearing to show the congressman completely naked in this video. Now, notably, this was put out by an opposition group. This is a group that's working actively to try to defeat the congressman in the upcoming Republican primary. But the congressman notably pushing back and trying to downplay the video. He admitted that it is indeed him in the video. He says it's crass and that this happened a few years ago with a friend. In total, his tweet says, quote, a new hit against just dropped years ago in this video. I was being crass with a friend trying to be funny. We were acting foolish and joking. That's it. I'm not backing down. It told you there would be a drip, drip campaign. Blackmail won't win, we will.

Now, this is notable just the latest in a very long string of scandals and controversy for the young congressman just last month. He resided in trying to bring a loaded handgun through TSA the month before. He brought an unloaded gun on his carry-on. In March, he, of course, caused a complete uproar here in Washington by saying that Republicans were inviting him to orgies and doing cocaine in front of him.

That brought him in the office of the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, who reprimanded him. This caused anger within his party. And McCarthy essentially told Cawthorn then, you need to get your act together.

Now, Brianna, Cawthorn's Republican primary is less than two weeks away on May 17th.

KEILAR: All right, we'll be watching. Sunlen, thank you so much for that report.

What a new CNN poll is revealing about American's view of President Biden's handling of the economy.

MARQUARDT: And then as the manhunt intensifies for a fugitive inmate and the officer who many have helped him escaped, we'll be speaking with a colleague of that officer who spoke with her the day before they went missing. Stay tuned.



KEILAR: American's view of the nation's economy is the worst that it has been in a decade, according to a new CNN poll. A majority of U.S. adults say President Biden's policies have hurt the economy. Eight in ten say the government isn't doing enough to combat inflation. This as the Fed yesterday raising interest rates by a half percentage point to get a handle on rising prices, quite a bold move there.

Joining us now is Jared Bernstein. He is a member of President Biden's White House Council of Economic Adviser. Jared, thank you so much for being with us at such a critical time on the economy here.

I mean, you are looking at this poll. We are seeing this. Only 23 percent of the Americans are rating the economic condition in the U.S. as even somewhat good, down from 30 percent in December, so, quite a dip here. The president is touting economic wins. We heard that yesterday. Is he out of touch?

JARED BERNSTEIN, MEMBER, WHITE HOUSE COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISER: Not at all. And, in fact, if you listen to the president, every time he talks about the economy, he lands squarely on this inflationary challenged faced by household budgets. And I think that's obviously very much embedded in these polls.

Now, if you get under the hood and you look at how people feel about the job market or even about their own financial conditions, in many cases, you post much higher numbers. So, we have a couple of things going on at the same time. We have households experiencing extreme discomfort, something the president is acutely attuned to regarding inflation, but we also have those households, in many cases, hitting this period from a position of strength based on their balance sheets, based on the job market. We have an unemployment rate that's just about where it was pre-pandemic, almost 8 million since this president took office.

So, I think you have to be more nuanced when you're trying to assess the economy. That's point one.

Point two is the second you said, you have to look at what we're doing. We're doing all we can to try to help ease these inflationary pressures, whether it's on the supply chains, getting goods from ship to shelf, getting things through the ports, lowering energy prices through a release of strategic reserves, competition agenda, helping to try to lower prescription drug costs, health care premiums. We have to just press on this as hard as we can.


That's the dispatch from our president.

KEILAR: We're looking at some of the numbers here of the increase in costs for certain items, items that people cannot avoid.