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Putin Lauds Military in Speech Marking Defeat of Nazi Germany; Ukraine Says, 60 Feared Dead After Russia Bombs School Shelter; Oath Keepers Revealing Methods, Trump Ally Comms to Investigators. Aired 7- 7:30a ET

Aired May 09, 2022 - 07:00   ET




JILL BIDEN, U.S. FIRST LADY: Happy Mother's Day.




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to viewers here in the United States and around the world, it is Monday, May 9th. I'm Brianna Keilar with John Avlon. John Berman is off this morning.

And this morning, a show of military might in Moscow, Vladimir Putin defending his actions in Ukraine at Russia's Victory Day ceremony. Putin claiming the west was creating threats and preparing to invade Russia. The big plan to have 77 aircraft fly over Red Square to commemorate the 1945 victory over Nazi Germany, that did not happen, the Kremlin blaming bad weather for that. As Putin was speaking in Moscow, Ukraine's president released his own Victory Day message.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: Very soon, there will be two victory days in Ukraine, and someone won't have any. We won then, and we will win now. Happy victory over Naziism day.


JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: Meanwhile, U.S. diplomats return to Kyiv for the first time since the war began. It's a big step towards officially reopening the embassy.

Let's go right to CNN's Matthew Chance live for us in Moscow. Matthew, what stood out to you about Putin's speech this morning?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, look, first of all, the atmosphere, the spectacle of the display of Russian military might was as we expected it to be, quite dramatic. We saw thousands of Russian troops on the cobbles of Red Square chanting patriotic slogans, military bands playing patriotic kind of war songs. There was a march passed and a salute which was taken by President Putin as the crowd cheered and applauded and the annual display of Russia, you know, impressive weaponry, you know, its tanks, its armored personnel carriers, and, of course, intercontinental ballistic missiles, a reminder that Russia is a very powerful nuclear power.

And so that was all very impressive indeed, as we've seen ever year. But it didn't go quite according to plan. You know, there was meant to be 77 aircraft taking to the skies above Red Square in a fly past. That was canceled, we're told, because of the weather conditions. It was too cloudy for them to engage in that safely. So, that sort of, you know, kind of rained on the parade a little bit, if you excuse the expression.

And, of course, Vladimir Putin's speech, he talked about how he -- you know, he talked about not just the commemoration of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in 1945, which is what Victory Day is all about, but he also tried repeatedly to make the connection between that battle, that the fathers and grandfathers and the great grandfathers of those attending this parade today fought against Nazi Germany and the battle that is being fought now in Ukraine.

So, he's trying to use that traumatic memory, which is very acute in Russia, about the Second World War, what Russians call the great patriotic war, and trying to use that to mobilize support for the current conflict. So, that was very evident throughout his speech.

What we didn't hear though was any concrete commitment from Vladimir Putin about a formal declaration of war. It had been anticipated that he could use this opportunity to make that declaration. At the moment, Russia calls its conflict in Ukraine a special military operation, and there was more an announcement of a more broad mobilization of Russian forces, which would indicate they intend to double down on their conflict in Ukraine, and put more forces to bear there to perhaps make more progress.

And so it was -- in some ways, you know, it was a speech that was not as much a firebrand speech as perhaps it had been anticipated, John.

KEILAR: The world was watching this, Matthew. What should the world take from it?

CHANCE: It's a good question, and it's difficult, of course, to answer, because on the one hand, you have seen this, you know, remarkable display of spectacular display of Russian military might. We have seen that played out on the battlefields in Ukraine as well.

But, I mean, the fact that Vladimir Putin did not take this opportunity to declare war and to double down on his military adventure inside Ukraine, perhaps that's an indication that the reality of the situation in Ukraine, the fact that Russia is unable to make the kind of progress that it hoped it would be able to make, maybe it's a sign of that, maybe that's something we should take away from it.


But there was definitely no indication in this speech or in this parade that Vladimir Putin was at this stage prepared to back down on his ambition to achieve certain military goals in Ukraine.

KEILAR: No, certainly not. Matthew Chance, live for us in Russia, thank you so much for that report.

I do want to bring in CNN National Security Analyst and former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Russia, Eurasia to the National Intelligence Council Andrea Kendall-Taylor with us, as well as former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and the vice president of global policy and public affairs for the National Peace Corps Association Joel Rubin.

Okay. I think what's noteworthy about the speech is what he did not say, right?

ANDREA KENDALL-TAYLOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Absolutely, far more notable for what it didn't say. So, no official declaration of war, no mass mobilization, which was maybe unsurprising given the really significant political and economic costs it would have had, but also no sense of victory, no sense of progress.

I think that's what I found most surprising is he didn't talk about Mariupol or Kherson or try to spin this as, you know, progress for Russia in the east and the south, and then no nuclear saber-rattling. And, finally, there was no, as we heard Matthew Chance say, though, no sense of when this war would end. I didn't take from this speech someone who was ready to back down. And so in that sense, we're still looking at a situation that's going to grind on for a long time.

KEILAR: Yes. What was the takeaway for you?

JOEL RUBIN. FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: Yes, Brianna. This was a defensive speech, without doubt. This is Vladimir Putin trying to justify again and again why he illegally invaded Ukraine, and if anything, this is a Victory Day for Ukraine. This is a strategic failure for Russia right now.

It's clear that Russia is suffering economically at home, their predictions of 10 to 15 percent GDP loss over this coming year, which is cataclysmic. We're looking at another $20 billion in American military aid coming in. NATO is unified, potentially expanding. There's going to be a summit in late June in Madrid, which is going to highlight those shared values that NATO and the west and Ukraine have.

So, this is a major loss for Vladimir Putin on the world stake. This was a nothing burger. Basically, his speech has fell flat and it demonstrates that he really has no vision for what he's trying to do any longer with Ukraine.

KEILAR: Is he worried about his position in Russia? When I think about what every day Russians are going through economically, the burden that they're bearing where their sons are dying in this war, does he worry that that affects his security as a leader? KENDALL-TAYLOR: And I would imagine that he would have to worry, right? I mean, again, he has linked, I think, his fate to the war in Ukraine. He has framed this as existential, not just for Russia but for himself. And so any kind of sense of defeat, a clear humiliating defeat for Putin would, I think, be extremely destabilizing.

But I think that's why we saw him in this speech. It was my sense he was trying to tamp down expectations. He wasn't calling on Russians to make great sacrifices like they did in World War II. It was very kind of muted. And in that sense, I think that the expectation shaping was key.

RUBIN: You know what we can glean from that as well is he may not have the political space inside Russia to do more. There may not be enough bandwidth, quite frankly, for Vladimir Putin to pull more assets into the fight, to draft Russians, to tell the oligarchs to continue to hold tight. He may be really running out of rope. We don't know exactly. Kremlinology is incredibly opaque. But it doesn't appear in public that he is exactly rallying more forces to his side within Russia, which is a pretty significant tell.

KEILAR: If he's running out of road, right -- I mean, the conventional wisdom has been, yes, Ukraine is occasionally pushing back Russian forces, David is besting Goliath here or there, but Russia is the meat grinder, and that is what is going ultimately very possibly going to prevail. But if he doesn't have that will inside, Andrea, does that challenge that conventional wisdom?

KENDALL-TAYLOR: Well, I think what it challenges is also a segment within the Russian public who is calling for more outright victory in Ukraine, right? So, this is a balancing act for him in the sense that there are a lot of people domestically who I think don't support the war. But we see increasingly vocal calls for outright victory in Ukraine, maximalist goals, and he's going to have to balance those two things.

I think the important thing to note too coming out of this speech though is just because he didn't mobilize forces today doesn't mean that he won't at a later date. So, that's still something he can pull on if he feels that he is faltering and that he needs that replenishment to sustain Russia's efforts in Ukraine.

KEILAR: That we shouldn't rule that out.


KENDALL-TAYLOR: Don't rule it out.

KEILAR: I also wonder especially looking at the historical context of this day, Joel, like this is about -- I mean, when you look at the Russian sacrifice or when you look at the Soviet sacrifice, right, in World War II, you're talking about so many millions of deaths, and, in a way, Russia has this pride of that, the sacrifice that was made. They don't forget that. But they take pride in the strength that they exhibited and, you know, that they pushed back the Nazis. They take pride in that. I wonder if that transfers to what's going on in Ukraine. Does that pride, does that will still exist when it comes to what we're seeing in Ukraine or is this a whole different ball of wax?

RUBIN: Well, certainly, the Ukrainians, they also take pride in this. As you saw, President Zelenskyy, who's Jewish, takes pride in the fact that the Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union that defeated the Nazis, and we in America, we take pride in this too. I don't think that's a cost of (INAUDIBLE) for the Russian people.

Vladimir Putin has been, time and again, banging on the idea that he's defeating Nazis. We even had the vitriolic statements recently by Foreign Minister Lavrov calling essentially Zelenskyy an ally, a Jewish leader, an ally of the Nazis. It didn't fly, it doesn't work. The Russian people, if they're mobilized by Victory Day, that's one thing because national pride, but to see that translate to more and further aggressive actions, clearly, Vladimir Putin had the ability to do that today on Victory Day.

KEILAR: Really interesting speech day. I think you're so right, expectations management. Great to discuss with you. I appreciate it, you guys, thanks.

AVLON: All right. Away from the pageantry and rhetoric in Red Square, the Russian military is inflicting more pain and suffering on the Ukrainian people. At least 60 are feared dead after Ukraine says Russia bombed a school that was sheltering civilians. A survivor told CNN's Sam Kiley how he escaped from the rubble.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): I got slammed down by a slab, bent into a ball, then another explosion, small rocks sprinkled darkness, then I looked and the dust settled and a ray of light appeared. Sergey crawled out. Then he dug me out, dug Uncle Tolia (ph) out, dug Aunt Ira (ph) out. We crawled all in a fog.


AVLON: And an incredible story of courage and survival. A 15-year-old Ukrainian girl drives through battlefields to safety despite being injured and bleeding.

CNN's Isa Soares joins us live from Lviv. Isa?

ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, and this is yet again another example of what we have seen here of defiance no matter the age. And this story comes all the way from the east of Ukraine, not far, in fact, from the village of Beloharivka (ph) that you've just mentioned, where that school shelter was reduced to rubble near Luhansk. And it's incredible what we have been seeing from this young girl who has shown defiance and courage. Have a listen.


SOARES (voice over): This is the face of bravery. Meet 15-year-old Anastasia, a courageous and defiant teenager now recovering from her injuries in Lviv.

What about your legs, the nurse asks her. They came under fire, she replies.

As her hometown of Popasna was pummeled by Russian artillery, she wanted to help two wounded men get to a hospital. The help was urgently needed so as not to lose a lot of blood, she says. So, she picked up the car keys, and I had to get behind the wheel, she says.

They made their way across the bridge desperate to get to a hospital in Bakhmut. We have a bridge and we had mines then at checker board pattern. There was no way to get through, but I somehow made it. And further along there was the corpse of a woman, she says.

Worse was to come. A burst of machine gunfire raked the car. I was driving the car and then the Russians fired on us, she says. When they started shooting, the car stopped, and then I started the car again and drove on.

Even though she was injured and bleeding, time was running out. The car stalled because the battery was shot through by a bullet. By then, Ukrainian soldiers were on hand to rescue Anastasia and her passengers. Now, they're all recovering thanks to the courage of a very young driver.


SOARES (on camera): And, John, she has already gone through so much. She lost her mother when she was eight. It's her godparents now that look after her. But it was her mother, importantly, who taught her how to drive. An incredible, courageous girl who put herself on the line to help those wounded people, those civilians.


AVLON: It is such an incredible story, courage under fire from a 15- year-old girl. Thank you so much for sharing that with us.

Coming up, brand new reporting on the investigation into the January 6th insurrection, what the far-right group, the Oath Keepers, are now telling congressional investigators.

And get this, Justice Clarence Thomas says he's against institutions being bullied into providing certain outcomes, and he worries that U.S. institutions are eroding.

KEILAR: Plus, what killed three Americans at a popular Sandals Resort in the Bahamas? The mysterious new details, ahead.


KEILAR: A CNN exclusive this morning, members of the far-right extremist group, the Oath Keepers, sorry, pardon me, the Oath Keepers are sharing details of their communications with January 6th investigators.


A lawyer working with the group revealed to CNN that she's met with the FBI several times already handing over their phones and digital files.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz is joining us with this reporting. What did this lawyer reveal?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Brianna, this is a lawyer named Kellye SoRelle, and she's on what the Justice Department calls was a planning call among the Oath Keepers in November 2020. And when she spoke to us, she said she has been helping investigators. She's not someone that's charged but clearly was among talking to people, like Stewart Rhodes, among the time in question that he's ultimately charged with this seditious conspiracy charge among lots of other people.

But it's not just her. That's the thing here that we're finding. SoRelle was saying, I was helping, but even Rhodes, at one point, sat for an interview with investigators. We know that there are several cooperators already that are lined up in this case. One of them is an informant we learned of just last week at the end of the week, someone who recorded that call, where SoRelle was on this planning call. Someone recorded that call, gave it to investigators.

KEILAR: And do we know these Oath Keepers, sort of the top folks in the organization, do we know if they were talking to or coordinating with people close to Trump?

POLANTS: Well, we don't really know about coordination at that point. That's still part of the investigation. But up to this point, we do know that there was some level of communication where the Oath Keepers at least believed that they were able to get in touch with Trump through intermediaries.

So, also in court last week in this Oath Keeper seditious conspiracy case, this huge case on January 6th, one of those people did reveal that Rhodes on speakerphone tried to get in touch with Trump, called someone close to him, someone unnamed, we don't know who it was, and said he wanted to talk to Trump, he wanted Trump to get the message that he could ask the Oath Keepers to obstruct the transfer of power.

And we also learned, I learned through sources in this reporting, that the prosecutors in this case have gathered lots of signal messages from phones related to the Oath Keepers. One of them is a chat called VIP chat, and it's a chat between leadership of the Oath Keepers and top people on the right who would be rally speakers or people who were prominent in the Stop the Steal movement, discussing security around the events of January 5th and 6th.

KEILAR: So, it seems like the question here is, were the Oath Keepers enlisted as sort of an ad hoc militia to help with the Stop the Steal movement if this election result were going to be paused in a way?

POLANTZ: Well, it's quite clear from the case so far that the Oath Keepers believed that they were security for a lot of people, including prominent speakers on the right. At this time, that's not something that is charged as a crime, and, you know, and we can't say that there is anyone that is an adviser close to Trump who's charged in the insurrection itself.

KEILAR: All right. Katelyn, great reporting, thank you so much for that.

And joining us now is CNN Political Analyst and Author of Chasing History, a Kid in the Newsroom, which is a great book, Carl Bernstein. Carl, always great to have you.


KEILAR: What do you think about this new reporting?

BERNSTEIN: This new reporting is another step to building a case around the people around Donald Trump as well as Donald Trump himself. This has been a conspiracy at the top or near the top by lawyers, which is very unusual. And we have the evidence of what lawyers around Donald Trump did to encourage and foment this staged coup to keep the new president, Biden, from being elected. And so did those lawyers engage with the oath keepers and others to obstruct the election of the president of the United States, to stage a coup?

And also, my own sources are telling me that the committee is building and is well along with a methodical case about what Trump did. There is no smoking gun yet. But their investigation is really moving into places and has very convincing evidence, a chain of timetable, et cetera, et cetera, communication between the White House and organizations, like the Oath Keepers, they're making a lot more progress than has been publicly reported.

Carl, to that point about the possible indictment of a former president, which would be unprecedented, the former attorney general, Eric Holder, attorney general during the Obama administration, seems to have changed his opinion on a possible indictment of the former president just yesterday. Take a listen.


ERIC HOLDER, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm an institutionalist. My initial thought was not to indict the former president out of concern of how divisive it would be.


But given what we have learned, I think that he probably has to be held accountable.


AVLON: Carl, what do you make of that?

BERNSTEIN: First of all, I think the former attorney general knows better that that's not going to happen because of Justice Department policy that has been in place since before Richard Nixon had to resign. The Watergate grand jury with Nixon did something very, very interesting. They named Nixon to be an unindicted co-conspirator.

And certainly something like this could happen particularly if either the jurors or the prosecutors who are building the case want to make Trump an unindicted co-conspirator, which would send a real signal to the country, to those who support Donald Trump, about his illegal activities if they exist such as the committee is building a case on.

KEILAR: I also want to ask you about something that Clarence Thomas said, Carl. He said that we can't be an institution that can be bullied into giving you just the outcomes that you want. The events from earlier this week are a symptom of that. He didn't speak specifically. I should say, he didn't say exactly what happened. He didn't call it the leaked draft decision but that is what he said. I wonder what you think about that.

BERNSTEIN: I think that Clarence Thomas talking about faith in institutions is a little misguided, given particularly the role of his wife in the Stop the Steal movement around the president of the United States, the wife of a Supreme Court justice doing what Ginny Thomas did is utterly unheard of in the history of the United States.

So, Justice Thomas talking about legitimacy of institutions, either the White House or the court itself and he should recuse himself, which he refuses to do, from any case involving the president of the United States and the election.

There is a real failure of institutions, especially on the Supreme Court by a rogue justice who would not say, I'm going to step aside because -- and also, let's look at what Ginny Thomas did. Let's look at what she was saying and we have text of what she was saying. It is crazy stuff. It is out there, but it is also encouraging the president of the United States, really, to stage a coup.

So, it's disingenuous to hear from the justice to say this kind of thing.

AVLON: Well, Carl, you know, I mean, those texts show evidence of blowing past anything resembling the separation of powers, but even in Watergate, I mean, things turned ultimately when Republicans stood up to Richard Nixon and said, it's time for you to go. Why do you think we are not seeing that similar break? Why do you think we're not seeing principles at the end of the day Trump partisanship this time around?

BERNSTEIN: One, the Republican Party has become almost a total instrument of Donald Trump, that the party leaders and particularly leaders in the Senate of the United States feel that they are beholden to Donald Trump, that he can get them out of office, if Trump goes to his supporters and primaries, some of these incumbent senators out there craven.

You know, I did a report here on CNN about a year ago saying that 21 Republican senators, and I named them, disdained Donald Trump, and yet they voted in the impeachment and they haven't said anything public against Donald Trump yet. I think what we need to look at here is Nixon was a criminal president, such as we never had in our history. But what Donald Trump is and what we are now getting real evidence for is the first seditious president in the history of the United States. Think of what that means, a seditious president who staged a coup to stay in office and not allow the transfer of power to the duly elected successor.

And so what the case is that's being built right now is that Donald Trump on January 6th, particularly, there's only one time under the law that the president of the United States can be elected. That is a proceeding that begins on 1:00 P.M. on January 6th. And what happened on 1:00 P.M. on January 6th, an effort by the Oath Keepers and others who presumably have knowledge, such as Katelyn was talking about today, to stop the counting at 1:00 P.M. on January 6th.

That's what the conspiracy is about. There hasn't been much clarity yet on that. There's going to be more, but 1:00 P.M., January 6th, and when I said the committee is building a TikTok, a minute-by-minute record of what happened, that's where this investigation is going.

AVLON: Carl Bernstein, thank you very much, as always, for your reporting and insights. Be well.

All right, new reporting this morning revealing just how much of a strain gun violence put on an already overwhelmed hospitals early in the pandemic.

KEILAR: And U2 --