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U.S. Ambassador to Russia Certain of Tensions Inside Kremlin. U.S. COVID-19 Death Toll Reaches One Million. One Senator Stands In The Way Of Ukraine Relief Package Passage. Elon Musk Says His Deal to Purchase Twitter Is On Hold. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired May 13, 2022 - 07:30   ET



AMB. JOHN SULLIVAN, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: She sent me an email telling me on a - I think it was a Friday afternoon about the missile strike on the train platform in Kramatorsk in Ukraine, and she said, "I'm sending you this email to warn you that I'm going to forward in a subsequent email pictures and I didn't want you to just open your email and see these pictures without a warning because they are grotesque." And they were some of the most distributing images I've ever seen with a blood-splattered train platform with baby carriages and stuffed animals. And it was horrific.

So it's a very challenging place to be, but I - there's no where else I'd rather be, and I'm very proud to be the U.S. Ambassador here in Moscow, even though it's not a hospital place for an American to be these days.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN NEW DAY HOST: Certainly not, and of course, it's probably one of the toughest jobs for a U.S. Ambassador at this time, and I'm glad you brought up Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner because, of course, their families are very concerned about them. We won't go into the conversations about that for security reasons, of course, but Ambassador John Sullivan, thank you so much for joining us this morning and sharing what it's like being on the ground in Russia at this time.

SULLIVAN: My pleasure. Thank you very much.

COLLINS: Just in on this Friday the 13, Elon Musk is scaring investors with a tweet about his Twitter takeover. Why he says it's now on hold.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY HOST: That's kind of meta, no pun intended.


BERMAN: Plus as the U.S. hits the grim milestone of one million COVID deaths, how many died from misinformation?


[07:36:03] BERMAN: As the nation marks one million lives lost to the pandemic, a major question this morning, how did the American death toll reach such a staggering proportion? John Avlon with a REALITY CHECK.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: One million Americans have now officially died of COVID. That number seems impossibly large, so let's try to put it in perspective. That's more Americans than died during the Civil War. It's more people that died than in the 1918 pandemic, and that was before we had the benefits of modern medicine, let along Warp Speed vaccines. When America neared 100,000 dead from COVID in May of 2020, "The New York Times" pronounced it an incalculable loss, but now we've grown numb.

There's still a lot we don't know about this evolving virus, but here's what we do know. America's COVID death toll did not need to be this high. We know that because Dr. Deborah Birx, the COVID Response Coordinator under ex-President Trump told us.


DR. DEBORAH BIRX, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE COORDINATOR: The first time we have an excuse, but there were about 100,000 deaths that came from that original surge. All of the rest of them in my mind could have been mitigated or decreased substantially if we took the lessons we had learned from that moment and ensured we utilize them.


AVLON: Instead we politicized the pandemic, turning masks and vaccines into court culture war signifiers. Now Trump shifted from denial to downplaying the disease to hawking quack cures. He got COVID then hid the fact that he got the vaccine for months, and his mouth pieces on right-wing talk TV kept reinforcing the message. COVID was overblown or a hoax or conspiracy, and vaccines were a plot to take away freedom rather than save lives.


LAURA INGRAHAM, THE INGRAHAM ANGLE HOST: What about the efficacy of the vaccine itself among adults?

CHARLIE KIRCK, TURNING POINT USA: It's almost this a partite (ph) style, open air hostage situation.

SEAN HANNITY, THE SEAN HANNITY SHOW HOST: The science shows the vaccine will not necessarily protect you. It's not protecting many people.

INGRAHAM: There's nothing more anti-democratic, anti-freedom than pushing an experimental on Americans against their will.


AVLON: Now we can't deny that there's a real world cost to all those lives. COVID demonstrated that disinformation and misinformation can be deadly. Don't believe me? Well let's dig into the data.

In the early days of the pandemic deaths were concentrated in urban areas, primarily in blue states around the northeast as this graph from Pew shows. There were, of course, no vaccines available, but by that fall death rates in more rural red counties leapt ahead. Now you can see the sharp drop off when vaccines became more widely available in February and March of 2021, but by that point some 500,000 people in America had already died of COVID.

But vaccine resistance was already dividing us along partisan lines, and when the next wave hit in the late summer of 2021 you could see that vast majority of deaths came from counties that voted most heavily for Donald Trump. That's because those counties had much lower levels of vaccination.

Here's a devastating stat. During the Delta wave in the fall of '21, death rates in low vaccination counties were about six times as high compared to counties where 70 percent or more people were vaccinated. And in February of this year, according to the CDC, unvaccinated people 12 and up were 20 times more likely to die of COVID than people who were both vaxxed and boosted.

And then there's this. KFF calculating that through March at least three - 234,000 U.S. COVID deaths could have been preventable just through primary vaccination. Each of these is their own story, but many were victims of disinformation and misinformation at some level, swayed by fear-fueled partisan lies about vaccination, and they paid for it with their own lives.


That's a surreal tragedy, and it's not over yet because even after a million dead, 37 percent of Republicans still say they definitely won't get vaccinated compared to 15 percent of Independents and just 3 percent of Democrats according to KFF.

And while the Senate fights over whether to pay for a new round of vaccines and boosters, we see a state like Missouri try to pass a law that would stop pharmacists from telling their patients that quack cures do not work for COVID even when they've been clinically debunked.

So the war on disinformation continues alongside the war on COVID. They're unrelated, but with one million dead here at home let's at least try to ensure that no more Americans die because of a lie, and that's your REALITY CHECK.

BERMAN: John Avlon, thank you so much. Such a grim milestone. So why one senator is blocking a bipartisan effort to provide aid to Ukraine.

COLLINS: Plus President Biden is blaming Russia for the sticker shock at grocery stores and food shortages. Senator Jon Tester, who has the title of being the only farmer in the Senate, is going to join NEW DAY next.


COLLINS: Senator Rand Paul is single handedly standing in the way of a bipartisan effort to fast track the passage of a massive aid package to Ukraine. CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is live on Capitol Hill. Sunlen, what was behind Senator Paul being the only senator to try to block this from passing as they were trying to do yesterday?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well he wants changes made to this legislation and, Kaitlin, and that's in defiance of calls from his own party's leadership, Mitch McConnell, who wants this as well as Chuck Schumer to be passed very quickly.

Now Senator Rand Paul, he is calling for the creation of an inspector general that would oversee the aid given to Ukraine. That is an idea that members of both parties broadly speaking are in support of but not at the cost of the time here. It's way too time consuming at this late stage in the game to add that in, and they want to make sure that this $40 billion in aid to Ukraine gets there as urgently as possible.

Now this - these maneuvers by Senator Paul just slows down the process. Senator Schumer has taken steps for potentially final passage as soon as mid week next week. Notably, though, Kaitlan, the Senator's also standing in the way of quick passage of another bill. That is a bill that would protect federal judges and their families from threats by not letting their personal information be in public records. He wants that expanded, Kaitlan, to include members of Congress as well.

COLLINS: Sunlen Serfaty, thank you.

SERFATY: Thanks.

BERMAN: All right. Joining me now is Democratic Senator from Montana, Jon Tester. Senator, thank you so much for being with us. How would you describe your feelings about Senator Rand Paul blocking this $40 billion?

SEN. JON TESTER (D), MONTANA: I think it's a huge mistake. I think Ukrainians are literally paying for freedom with their lives. They need all the support we can get them, and I think the $40 billion - about half defense for weaponry and half for humanitarian aid - is critically important. And I think it's very selfish to say, you know, my way or the highway, but that's what he has done here. And I think it's really, really unfortunate. And it just shows how bad, quite frankly, Washington, D.C. is broken, particularly the United States Senate. For this to be allowed to happen, one person shuts down what 99 other people want to have happen or I think 99 other people want to have happen. A strong majority at least is ridiculous.

BERMAN: You've been very focused on Ukraine, held hearings about it in some of your committees. There's new reporting from CNN this morning - I don't know if you heard it from Katie Bo Lillis - about questions being asked about U.S. intelligence prior to the Russian invasion. Now U.S. intelligence got the Russian intentions very right. Said all along --


BERMAN: -- Russia was going to invade. What they got wrong was the Ukrainian capabilities, the fact that Ukraine would do, frankly, such a good job fighting the Russians. If the United States had known the Ukrainians would be, frankly, so good, what might have been different?

TESTER: I don't know. I can tell you that I think it was passed experience that dictated what they thought about Ukraine. Take Afghanistan most recently where they laid down the weapons, Iraq before that where they didn't fight. The Ukrainians have been totally different. Ukrainians have - are fighting, continue to fight from the very first moment.

Look, I got briefed - classified briefings before they went in, and you're right. I think underestimated the will of the Ukrainian people. We also underestimated their love for democracy and freedom, and I think this is a long ways from over, and I actually the Ukrainians can win this battle, but they need support from the United States. They need support from NATO, and that's what that bill was about.

So look, I think - I think mistakes are made all the time. I don't think the mistake that was made by, you know, the assessment on what was going to happen to Ukraine if Russia comes in is a deal killer at all. You've got to take a look at the will of the people, and it's hard to ever assess what the will is, but the will of the Ukrainian people is incredible. These folks are fighting for freedom and we got to support them.

BERMAN: I want to ask you about what seems to be a political shift form the White House and specifically President Biden. He started talking about Republican policies and certain Republicans as ultra MAGA. He's even referred to the former President Donald Trump as the king of MAGA. How do you think - what do you think of that strategy, and how does it play in Montana?

TESTER: Well look, I think that if you take a look at what he past president advocated for, you know, dissolving NATO, where would we be today if it was that. The trade deals from an agricultural standpoint drove egg prices in the tank.


So I think and you take a look at what's going on in Washington, D.C. where it seems as if he says something and the Republican Party doesn't, I think that he needs to be attached and his policies need to be attached to that because quite honestly that's what I see the Republican Party doing. It's not the whole Republican Party. It's not the whole conservative folks who wanted to put America first in his particular case. Even though he says that it's a whole different agenda that's going on in the background. All you got to do is look and see what he did while he was president, took this country backwards a long ways.

BERMAN: You say it's not the old Republican Party. How about the Democratic Party? Is the Democratic Party the old Democratic Party?

TESTER: Well look, I wish they would - they would do some things a little different.

BERMAN: Like what?

TESTER: Well I - it's hard for me to be critical, but I will tell you that I wish they were more pro business. I think back in the day, my parents day there was a lot more pro-business Democrats, and I think there still are by the way. I just don't think - I don't think we're vocal enough. I mean, the truth is is business is important in this country. Capitalism's important. Competition's important. When we don't have competition we need to fix that, but the bottom line is is that I wish that was the case more.

I think, look, things evolve. Things change. The pendulum swings, and it will swing again, but look, in the end I think if you take a look at what the Biden administration has done, you take a look at what we've done with the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the rescue plan, I think that's building capacity in this country to maintain us position as a leading economic power for generations to come.

BERMAN: You split with the White House on Title 42, which is the COVID restrictions at the border, which blocks a lot of migrants from cover over. Why?

TESTER: Well I think security at the border is really, really important, and there's a lot of pressure on the border agents right now because we've got a lot of folks coming up, and I think to pull 42 away sends out a signal that will cause even more folks to head our direction.

What really needs to happen here, John, is we need to depoliticize immigration policy and have a comprehensive immigration plan that we get passed where people get in line, follow the laws, pay their taxes, and can come into this country as my ancestors and probably your ancestors did, too.

BERMAN: Oh, certainly mine. You know, is it worth holding up COVID aid over Title 42?

TESTER: Well look, I think we just ought to vote on it and get the COVID aid done. I mean, I think it's important. I think you guys have had stories right along that shows the COVID thing is far from over, and if we're prepared for the next surge that comes in, which I'm told could be as early as this summer, then we'll be in a lot better shape to keep our economy going and to save lives in the process.

BERMAN: You hear - what are you hearing from Montanans about baby formula?

TESTER: Big concern, and we need to do everything we can do to right this ship. It's literally is a life and death situation in many cases.

BERMAN: And is the White House doing that?

TESTER: I believe they're taking appropriate steps right now to get this done. Yes. I pushed the FDA Commissioner months ago on this issue, and I think they're taking it serious. Yes, I think they're moving forward in the right direction.

BERMAN: While I have you here, on a lighter note, I need you to explain what I'm looking at in this tweet you sent out. This was during March Madness. You put video of this out. This is - I guess you were playing with Cory Booker - Senator Booker there --

TESTER: I was.

BERMAN: -- back in 2018. Now I understand you were sort of taunting Virginia Senator Mark Warner about March Madness, but how would you describe the defense that you're playing right there?

TESTER: Well I mean, when I play basketball - and not very well as that shows - in high school the coach always says if they get to the paint make them earn it at the free throw line, and I made Booker earn at the free throw line. Take him down, man.


BERMAN: Did he call a foul on you there?

TESTER: Oh, he thought it was - he thought it was right next to murder, but the truth is that, you know, he came in the paint. I just - I just reacted as I was taught.


BERMAN: Bottom line, if he's going to come in the paint, he could expect that, right?

TESTER: Yes. Absolutely. No, he knows now not to come in the pain. Shoot the 20 footer. He's fine. I won't touch him.

BERMAN: Cory Booker from shooting from half court now every time when he plays against you.


TESTER: Exactly.

BERMAN: Senator Jon Tester, we appreciate seeing you in person. Thanks so much for coming in. Be well.

TESTER: It's a pleasure to be with you. Thank you.

BERMAN: All right, we do have some news just in this morning. Why Elon Musk says his Twitter deal is on hold this morning; an announcement he made before the markets opened.

COLLINS: Plus we're going to take you inside the cockpit of the same plane that a passenger landed when his pilot was sick, of course, just with the help of someone on the ground.


[07:57:36] BERMAN: New this morning, Elon Musk says his deal to buy Twitter is

on hold. The billionaire made the announcement on the very app that he is seeking to buy, writing, quote, "Twitter deal temporarily on hold pending details supporting calculation that spam/fake accounts do, indeed, represent less than 5 percent of users."

Joining us now, Catherine Rampell, CNN Economics and Political Commentator and "Washington Post" Opinion Columnist. I mean, what the what? I mean, what's he talking about here, and What about live tweeting your attempt to take over Twitter?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN ECONOMICS AND POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well when Elon Musk is involved there's always going to be drama. There's been a lot of - there's been a rocky road up to this point. He was joining the board. He wasn't joining the board. He was taking over. Now who knows? I think there could be a few things going on here.

So Musk tweeted that this is on hold pending some confirmation of details about the number of spam bots, which he has previously said he was concerned about. That could be true. It may be a cover story for other reasons to put the deal on hold or try to renegotiate it. Remember, markets have fallen quite a bit recently, including for tech stocks, including for Twitter stock. And so, that implies that investors already had been doubting whether this deal would go through in recent days before this announcement, and beyond that Tesla stock is down. You know, Musk has to finance at least part of this with his own wealth. He has less of it now effectively, at least on paper, and maybe some of his investors do as well since he got some financing from outside investors. I don't know what their portfolios look like, but they also possibly took a back (ph).

All of those things together suggest maybe they've decided they're overpaying for this company. Maybe they want to renegotiate the deal, or maybe they want to pull out all together. We don't know.

COLLINS: And Catherine, what's your read on the fact that Elon Musk tweeted this before the markets opened today?

RAMPELL: It's hard to say. You know, he - it's hard to get into the mind of Elon Musk. It could be that he wanted to get in front of the story because something might come out pretty soon about why this deal is on shaky ground. It could be some sort of negotiating tactic, of course, to try to get the Twitter board to, who knows, maybe agree to a lower offer by spooking markets a little bit. It's really hard to say, but we have seen the price fall in.