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U.S. Intel Launches Review Into Ukraine, Afghanistan Failings; January 6th Panel Subpoenas GOP Colleagues in Extraordinary Move; Ukraine Tries First Russian Soldier For Alleged War Crime. Aired 7- 7:30a ET

Aired May 13, 2022 - 07:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I want you to look at this. These are pictures, satellite pictures now of two of three of the bridges around Kharkiv that have been destroyed. It is believed it was the Russians that destroyed these bridges as they were retreating to keep the Ukrainians from following them. The Ukrainian military has been in hot pursuit of the Russians in this area and making key gains. Again, I could show you on the map where this is, it's Kharkiv.

Now, it's not the same story elsewhere in the country. If you look at what's happening in Donbas, yes, the Ukrainians are doing well up here in Kharkiv, but the Ukrainian military says they have lost ground in Rubizhne, which is one of these key cities in the Luhansk region. Ukrainians say they have lost a foothold there. There's been intense fighting in the city's industrial outskirts and now it does appear that the Russians are in control.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: And on Snake Island, which you will remember for the defiant stance made by the Ukrainian forces at the start of the invasion, there's new video of a Russian helicopter being destroyed by a Ukrainian missile strike. Ukraine says its forces have destroyed multiple Russian assets on the island in recent weeks and that a Russian support ship that is named for a famous Soviet athlete is on fire, being towed away from the island, a claim that we should note CNN has not been able to verify.

CNN does have new reporting that the intelligence community has now launched an internal review of how it assesses the fighting power of foreign militaries. This comes amid criticism that officials failed to make an accurate assessment in Afghanistan and in Ukraine.

Joining us now this morning is CNN's Katie Bo Lillis, one of the reporters who broke this story, as well as CNN Political and National Security Analyst David Sanger, who is a White House and National Security Correspondent at The New York Times. Thank you both for being here this morning.

And, Katie, I want to start with you on this new reporting. You broke this story. What prompted this review to be conducted on how they find out about what this intelligence is about the fighting power of these foreign militaries? KATIE BO LILLIS, CNN REPORTER: Yes. So, what the intelligence community is looking at specifically is how they assess the fighting power of another military, right, how they determine, how they predict, how that military is going to perform when it is actually faced with another military on the battlefield.

And the reason for this, Kaitlan, is because they've gotten it pretty dramatically wrong nice twice in the last year. In Afghanistan, they overestimated how long the U.S.-backed Afghan forces were going to be able to hold Kabul against the assault from the Taliban. The prevailing estimate was six months to a year. Obviously, it was not even until the United States had left the country before the government fell and before the military collapsed.

In Ukraine, the opposite, they underestimated how well the Ukrainian military was going to be able to withstand the assault from the Russian forces. The initial prevailing assessment in the early days of the conflict was that Kyiv was going to fall in three to four days. Well, here we are almost three months into this conflict and Kyiv still stands.

And, of course, the problem for policymakers is -- according to critics on Capitol Hill is, you know, look, if these predictions aren't accurate, the Biden administration might have made -- might make different policy choices based on having the right information, right? They might move -- they might, for example, have moved to arm Ukraine sooner with heavier weaponry had they known they stood a fighting chance.

COLLINS: Yes. And questions like this kind of prompted a somewhat tense moment on the Hill this week when Senator Angus King was asking the head of the defense intelligence agency about this.


SEN. ANGUS KING (I-ME): All I'm saying is the intelligence community needs to do a better job on this issue.

LT. GEN. SCOTT BERRIER, HEAD, DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: I think the intelligence community did a great job on this issue, Senator, and we will --

KING: General, how can you possibly say that when we were told explicitly Kyiv would fall in three days and Ukraine would fall in two weeks? You're telling me that was accurate intelligence?

BERRIER: So, we were really focused on the Russian forces at the time and so when we --

KING: And we were wrong about that, too, weren't we? We overestimated the Russians.

BERRIER: Well, the intelligence community did a great job in predicting and talking to --

KING: And I acknowledged that at the beginning of my question. I understand that. Yes, they did. What they failed at was predicting what was going to happen after Russia invaded.


COLLINS: Did questions like that play any kind of a role in prompting this review or was this something that they were going to do anyway?

LILLIS: Well, certainly, this review predated some of the pressure that they've gotten from Capitol Hill. We do know that the Senate Intelligence Committee actually sent a classified letter on Tuesday to the intelligence community saying, you know, look, you guys have gotten this wrong a couple of times, you need to take a look at your methodologies, how you're reaching this assessment on will to fight. But the review is something that the intelligence community would likely have done anyway and was already doing by the time this kind of pressure came to bear.

This is the kind of question that they want to know the answer to, right? Like assessing will to fight is historically an incredibly difficult thing for the intelligence community. They've been essentially getting it wrong since Vietnam. And so trying to come up with kind of better indicators that they might be looking at to be able to say this is how the human organ of a military is going to behave when it is confronted with enemy fire, that's a hard question to answer but it's one that they want to be able to do in a sort of scientific -- scientific is the wrong word but in an organized way.


COLLINS: Yes, and learn from what's happened.

David, what's your take on this?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: So, what we're really good at as a country is counting things, right? You get these satellite photographs, just like John was showing us before, you can see where the tanks are and so forth, and this explains why the intelligence community did such a good job on the question of the Russians massing to invade and did a pretty good job on the timing, which dealt with intercepts of, of course, of the Russians speaking to each other or whoever they had in close to Putin.

Figuring out will to fight is, as Katie suggested, really difficult. I remember it was just the beginning of January during one of those moments in a pool encounter with President Biden and I asked him at one moment how long he thought with the U.S. pulling back they could hold on to Afghanistan. And he said, oh, a year, year and a half. The forces are really well-trained, meaning the Afghan forces.

Well, they were really well-trained and they had no interest in defending their country if they thought the United States wasn't behind them. And many intelligence officials I've spoken to have said that's the intersection they need to begin to get in at, which I think is what your good reporting indicates.

COLLINS: Yes. And officials have been very blunt that they did underestimate what the Ukrainians were going to do. David, you have new reporting out in The New York Times this morning about this bid by Sweden and Finland to join NATO, exactly a rebuke of what Putin wanted ultimately to happen here, but still hesitation from western officials about Ukraine joining NATO. And I wonder what your view of it is and how do you think Russia is going to respond.

SANGER: Well, Russia has responded, they responded immediately and --

COLLINS: Right, whether or not they will retaliate.

SANGER: Yes. Whether they would retaliate, I doubt. They have got about 80 percent of their available forces tied up in just those areas we were looking at on the map before. They don't really have a lot to go contribute to this.

What do I think they will probably do? I suspect they will put tactical nuclear weapons on the Iskander probably up near the Finnish and the Swedish border. They will try to intimidate those countries as they're entering.

I think the period of vulnerability, Kaitlan, for these two countries is in that ugly middle when their application to join NATO is being considered, a process that could take eight months or so, maybe a year, and they're not in yet. So, they're not covered by NATO's an attack on one is an attack on all.

I think the big scramble right now is to make some security guarantees to them that are better than what we made to the Ukrainians. Ukraine has got no chance of being considered anytime soon.

COLLINS: Yes. And officials have been pretty blunt about that and Zelenskyy even seems to realize that.

David Sanger, Katie Bo Lillis, thank you both for joining us this morning.

SANGER: Thank you.

BERMAN: So, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito speaking publicly for the first time since the leak of the explosive draft opinion that would overturn Roe versus Wade. According to The Washington Post Alito was asked by students at George Mason University about the current status of the justices working relationship.

And Alito said this, quote, this is a subject I told myself I wasn't going to talk about today, regarding, you know, given all the circumstances, the court right now, we had our conference this morning, we're doing our work. We're taking new cases, we're headed toward the end of the term, which is always a frenetic time as we get our opinions out. So, that's where we are. What exactly does that mean?

Joining us now, Jeffrey Toobin, CNN Chief Legal Analyst and former federal prosecutor. These are the words that Alito said. What's your forensic analysis? JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Business as usual. I mean, what else can he say? It's that they're trying to sort of get back to normal and this investigation will proceed, maybe it will produce something, maybe it won't. But I think the one thing all the justices will agree on is they want to try to project an image that this leak, embarrassing as it was, is not going to change fundamentally how the court works.

BERMAN: I want to ask you about the subpoenas going out to Republican members of Congress from the January 6 committee. There is talk about will they testify, won't they testify. I think that obscures a larger issue, which there's very little question that these Republican members, they know stuff about what happened that day. They were in the middle of a lot of things and they have stories to tell, starting with Kevin McCarthy.

TOOBIN: Well, if you are serious about investigating how this insurrection happened, why the Capitol was invaded, you have to talk to these members of Congress because, based on what we already know, they were extremely at least knowledgeable, if not complicit in what was going on.


One of the most famous examples of that is Kevin McCarthy's conversation with Donald Trump about, you know -- apparently telling him to call off the dogs, telling him to stop his supporters from engaging in the riot.

What makes this an even more sort of outrageous objection on McCarthy's part is that he has talked about this conversation publicly and that's what's known in the legal world as a waiver. If you talk about something publicly, you can't then say, well, I'm not going to talk to an investigative body. So, legally, he may be on the least solid ground of all the congressmen who are objecting to these subpoenas.

BERMAN: All right. Congressman Perry and Jordan, what would the committee want to know from them?

TOOBIN: Yes. One of the issues in the investigation is what was the Justice Department doing and were they trying to be complicit in the effort to overturn the election. Representative Perry was apparently involved in discussions about that. Jim Jordan, fiery senator -- congressman from Ohio, also in touch with Donald Trump on the day of the riot, what was said, obviously very important to know what Trump was saying, Jordan knows.

BERMAN: And, again, Congressman Biggs and Brooks.

TOOBIN: Same thing. With Biggs, actually a -- what's particularly interesting about Biggs is that he was in talking to some of the people who later were involved in the riot, what was said, what were part of the plans. Mo Brooks spoke at the rally, in touch with a lot of the people whose behavior is of interest to the January 6th committee. All of this, if they were not members of Congress, they would have been talked to already.

The question now is do they have a legal ground on which to object and does the committee have enough time to litigate the subpoenas in time for their committee.

BERMAN: Answer both of those questions.

TOOBIN: Okay. The answer is the time seems very much against the committee. Let me give you an example. Steve Bannon who is the person the committee has moved most aggressively against, he was subpoenaed in September, he was indicted in November, the trial of his contempt is scheduled for July, okay? So, you are talking about a year just to get to a trial.

The subpoenas were issued yesterday, May 12th. This committee has to be done by October, November at the latest. It just seems to me that the clock is going to run out on the legal fight before there's any kind of resolution, so I doubt we will see any of those congressmen testify unless they decide it's in their interest to testify.

BERMAN: It seems like the committee wanted to make a statement with these subpoenas. They know.

TOOBIN: Which they have.

BERMAN: Okay. Jeffrey Toobin, thank you very much for that.

This morning in Ukraine, the very first war crimes trial since the Russian invasion began, and it all begins with this 21-year-old Russian soldier in custody. CNN is live outside the Courthouse in Kyiv.

Also, we're going to be joined next by the U.S. ambassador to Russia, the secret message that he delivered to the Russians.

COLLINS: Plus, a rift in the GOP is about to bust wide open, as former Vice President Mike Pence is set to campaign for Georgia Governor Brian Kemp while former President Trump is backing his opponent very loudly. How will all of this play out?



BERMAN: Ukraine's prosecutor general says Russia has committed nearly 10,000 war crimes since the invasion began. This morning in the Ukrainian capital, the first Russian soldier is on trial for an alleged war crime.

CNN's Melissa Bell is live outside the courthouse in Kyiv. Melissa, tell us about this case.

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, we are talking about 20-year- old Vadim Shysimarin, he was traveling with his Russian companions from Russia on the 28th of February, four days after the war began, their convoy came under attack, they stole a vehicle and then got to a village where they saw a civilian, a 62-year-old man on a bicycle, on his phone, not very far from where he lived and Vadim Shysimarin was given the order, we understand, according to the prosecutor's office, to shoot. That civilian died.

I think what is so extraordinary about what we witnessed this morning here in this fairly nondescript court in the heart of the Ukraine capital, when we saw Vadim Shysimarin, the first Russian to go on trial for war crimes, is that this is really quite an extraordinary historical precedent. When you think about it, John, since the Nuremberg Trials of 1945, war crimes have tended to be prosecuted internationally, first of all, but also after the event. This is the first example I can think of where a national judicial system has been sufficiently upright and determined to get to the bottom of these war crimes, even while the war continues to rage on in the south and the east of Ukraine.

Of course, prosecutors here have been helped by the extraordinary nature of this war, the fact that there are so many international journalists here, the fact that there are so many foreign investigators here carrying out their forensic research to try and document those many thousands of alleged war crimes that you mentioned. But it is also down to the determination of Ukraine's prosecutor general who says that she believes that by prosecuting these war crimes even as the war rages on, she believes that civilian lives can still be saved in the south and the east. Have a listen.


IRYNA VENEDIKTOVA, UKRAINE PROSECUTOR GENERAL: These proceedings now can save lives of all Ukrainian civilians on the south and eastern part of Ukraine.


Because these perpetrators who are now fighting will see that we will find all of them, we will identify all of them and we will start to prosecute all of them.


BELL: We also put to her this morning when we spoke to her, john, the question of whether Vadim Shysimarin would be able to get a fair and independent trial. She explained that the trial, the prosecutor's case was based entirely on the facts, facts collected on the ground and that the process would be entirely transparent for the world to watch.

We also caught up a moment ago with Vadim Shysimarin's lawyer and asked whether he thought he would get a fair trial. He said he had full faith in the Ukrainian judicial system.

And I think one of the most interesting moments though came because the question comes also about all the emotion in this country. Even if the judiciary remains independent, this is a country at war. And, understandably, Ukrainians have extremely strong feelings about it.

We caught up with a Ukrainian court translator whose job it is to translate from the Ukrainian to the Russian what exactly is happening. This is a preliminary trial. Vadim Shysimarin just stated who he was and his age and so on, the rest will carry on on Wednesday. We said to her, how do you feel when you translate for him? And she replied, I don't feel hatred because, remember, that the tears of Russian mothers are also salty.

BERMAN: Melissa Bell, very interesting report. You raised great points. We have never seen anything quite like this before, a concurrent war crimes trial. Thanks, Melissa.

COLLINS: Secretary of State Tony Blinken is traveling to Germany over the weekend where he's going to meet with his counterparts and other NATO countries to discuss their response to Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine. It comes as Finland and Sweden have both said they will likely request to join the military alliance after years of remaining neutral. The change is raising alarms in Russia who is threatening to retaliate.

And so joining us now is the U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan. Thank you so much, Ambassador, for joining us this morning.

And I just want to start with what is your response to Russia threatening to retaliate if Finland does ultimately join NATO?

JOHN SULLIVAN, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Well, thanks very much, it's a pleasure to be -- for me to be with you this morning.

What my first reaction is, I've heard this song before. This is exactly what they said to Ukraine and about Ukraine when Ukraine had the temerity, Ukraine's government, the Ukrainian people, to decide what's right for them and their national defense and seek to join NATO.

Russia has a very warped conception of what they call indivisible security in Europe. So, that if a sovereign country like Finland decides in its own interest that it wants to join NATO, Russia presumes to have, in effect, veto authority and if any country should dare on its own to decide what's right for its national security, Russia seeks to be able to control that. Its idea of indivisible security is what's secure for Russia is good for Russia, but what's security for Finland, if we don't like t, it's not acceptable.

COLLINS: Yes. It's also exactly what Putin was trying to avoid is now happening.

And I know that, Ambassador, you just visited the Ministry of Foreign affairs in Moscow to deliver a message to the Russian deputy foreign minister. What was that message?

SULLIVAN: Well, we are in fairly regular conversations with the foreign ministry about the operations of our embassy here and their embassy in the United States, their mission to the United States. It's one of the few areas where we continue to have substantive engagement with the Russian government.

So, that meeting earlier this week was about our embassy operations here and some technical diplomatic issues that we're trying to work through. And the reason we're engaged in those conversations is we think it's important, very important, President Biden does, that the United States continue to have an embassy here in Moscow. And for us to continue to operate it properly, we have to be engaged with the foreign ministry.

COLLINS: But what are those conversations like given there is such little contact between any other U.S. officials and their Russian counterparts? These are very few conversations that are happening. So, what's it like?

SULLIVAN: Right. Well, you know, it's funny because it will often be portrayed, including by the Russian government, as a very hostile atmosphere and it's not. It's always professional. In my experience over two and a half years, my engagement with the Russian government across the Russian government at the ministry of foreign affairs and other ministries, my engagements have been nothing but professional, not overly friendly sometimes.


We obviously have deep and significant disagreements, but the discussions are always professional and that includes my discussions this week at the foreign ministry, entirely professional.

But, you know, what amuses me is it will often be the case that I will schedule a meeting with the Russian foreign ministry to meet with a senior official. While at that meeting, the Russian government will raise an issue with me and then the ministry will issue a press release that says I was summoned and admonished about the particular issue they raised with me when, in fact, it's not the case.

So, I know there's lots of speculation about that and it may sound odd given the tense relationship between the United States government and the Russian government, but as diplomats both on the U.S. side and the Russian side, we try to keep things professional.

COLLINS: Does the invasion get brought up in these conversations?

SULLIVAN: Sure. Of course. Of course, they won't -- they don't refer to it as the invasion, it's a special military operation. And if one were to make the mistake of using that word, invasion or war, here in Russia, there's a new criminal penalty of 15 years in a Russian labor camp for calling what is obviously a brutal aggressive war anything other than a special military operation.

So, if you asked the Russians they would say, yes, the special military operation comes up in our discussions with Ambassador Sullivan and I say, no, the aggressive war that's being waged in Ukraine with atrocities being committed on a daily basis in Ukraine by Russia, yes, that comes up.

COLLINS: And given you're one of the few U.S. officials who is having regular conversations with Russian officials, what is your sense of the tension happening inside the Kremlin given, of course, what's happened on the ground in Ukraine is not what they wanted to happen? SULLIVAN: Well, that's certainly the case and we saw it in President Putin's remarks on Monday, on Victory Day here. There really wasn't a victory for -- there is no victory in Ukraine for President Putin to celebrate. So, while the mood is professional when I have these meetings, it's also quite somber.

And I would describe Victory Day this week in Moscow, it's part celebration, the way to conceive of it as an American, it's so important here in Russia, it would be equivalent of Memorial Day, July 4th and Veterans Day hold into one. The Russian people are very proud of their victory over Nazi Germany in the Second World War and the sacrifices that they made. So, there is a celebration but there is also a very somber aspect to it, remembering all of those who died during the Second World War, the millions of Russians who died.

Same thing with Ukraine, they -- you know, the average Russian person given the propaganda they hear from their government, supports the special military operation, but there's also a recognition of significant sacrifices by the Russian military in Ukraine, which people outside of Russia have a lot more details on. So, even from the Russian perspective here on their Victory Day, celebration, not so much, much more somber mood, I'd say.

COLLINS: What's it like being the U.S. ambassador to Russia right now?

SULLIVAN: There's no place I'd rather be. It's a fascinating place to be a U.S. diplomat, it's also quite emotionally draining in a number of ways. First, dealing with our American citizens who have been wrongfully detained here, Paul Whelan, Brittney Griner and others, and, second, just witnessing here through my view as government sources what's happening in Ukraine.

I recall some weeks ago I got an email from my friend our charge, Kristin Kvien, in -- who is our charge in Kyiv.


She sent me an email telling me on -- I think it was a Friday afternoon about the missile strike on the train platform.