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Russians on the Rune, Ukraine Takes Back Territories in Blitz; CNN Reports, DOJ Subpoenas 30-Plus Across Trump's Orbit in January 6th Probe; King Charles Visits Northern Ireland in First Visit as Monarch. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired September 13, 2022 - 07:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Russian forces on the run this morning as CNN goes inside a liberated city in Ukraine. It is Tuesday, September 13th, and I'm Brianna Keilar with John Berman.

We do begin this morning with Russians in retreat. Ukraine's counteroffensive blitz seeing success on the battlefield, the nation's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, claiming this blitz has led to the recapture of more than 2,000 square miles of land in just 13 days. The Ukrainians can once again raise their blue and yellow flag above multiple towns that have been occupied by Russia's invade invading forces for months.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: We are told that Ukrainian troops are being greeted as conquering heroes, civilians rushing off of flowers and hugs. It is something of a humiliating defeat for Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Russians being forced to flee fearing they would be surrounded and captured, though they're leaving behind a trail of destruction.

KEILAR: CNN's Sam Kiley is live in Kharkiv, Ukraine, with an exclusive look at what remains there now. He is the first international correspondent inside Izium since the liberation of that city. Sam, tell us what you're seeing.

SAM KILEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, it has been an extraordinary campaign by the Ukrainians, opening with a counteroffensive in the south, possibly drawing off Russian troops there, and now President Zelenskyy saying that they've captured 6,000 square kilometers, military forces on the ground saying that they've now liberated the whole of Kharkiv.

This is what it looked like in the strategically vital city of Izium.


KILEY (voice over): It's been a stunning advance, Ukraine's route of Russian invaders has recaptured 6,000 square kilometers, Ukraine's president says. This land was held by Russia just a few days ago. Now, it's providing a rich harvest to Ukraine's army of abandoned Russian equipment. The Russian Z symbol painted over, the guns ready to kill Russians.

The recapture of Izium, a strategic prize, accelerated by precision strikes from new artillery donated by western allies.

This was clearly hit with a very large piece of artillery or an airstrike. You can see how important it was strategically, clearly, a former school. There's a kind of children's painting on the wall. But it's also got these large holes which have been dug to store tanks or armored personnel carriers, even artillery pieces. There's one, two, three, four, five.

We were shown into a command center in the bunkers of an old factory.

So, down here, we've seen a medical facility, call it something like that, inside this bunker. There's the barracks.

The top brass here slept in beds made of old doors.

And then, of course, the command center here.

As I walk along here, it's absolutely extraordinary. There are the different labels for the different roles of the senior Russian officers on these school desks that have been arranged in this bunker in this old what looks like a brick factory.

Now, they were safe down here underground but they didn't feel safe enough to stay in Izium. And what's critical ultimately for the Ukrainian Armed Forces is making sure that the senior officers of the Russian army stay on the run. If they do that, the Russian Armed Forces will collapse completely in Ukraine and potentially threaten the longevity of one Vladimir Putin.

This couple celebrated liberation. They told me that some of their neighbors were less delighted and had blamed Ukrainian forces for shelling their homes. But he insisted the incoming shells never hit the checkpoints or Russian artillery base right outside his house and so blamed the Russian for false flag attacks on civilians.

He said the Russians behaved like pigs. They stole everything from all the empty houses before they ran away. The Russian guns were busy here, their wooden ammunition boxes now stockpiled for winter fuel. And to the Ukrainian victors here, the spoils have been rich. The capture of Izium and the route of route of Russia here has broken a key link in Putin's logistics chain in the battle for the east.

You have the remarkable scene of a tank coming to collect an abandoned Russian howitzer.

I asked him if it had been a hard fight. Not really, he said. The latest Ukrainian successes may not be the beginning of the end of this war but not even the Kremlin can deny that this chapter has been a very sorry tale for Russia.


(END VIDEOTAPE) KILEY (on camera): Now, Brianna, one of the most important aspects of this is not only the forcing the commander control structures to run but the huge amounts of material that they've collected. You saw some of that in that report. But it really has been a stunning amount, and it's all being turned around and being used against the Russians. Of course, the Ukrainians are experts with the Soviet-era material, and, of course, on top of that, they've got the new modern equipment coming in from the United States and other NATO allies. Brianna?

KEILAR: Which may be why you see, I asked him if it was a hard fight, not really, he said. Is he just sort of downplaying this or is it really that easy? Can Ukrainians hold these gains?

KILEY: Well, that is going to be critical, and the flipside of that is can the Russians regroup? If they can, they've got a natural defensive line with Donetsk River. They've also got their entrenched positions in the Donbas, which they've held in part since 2014, and they've got still the advantage in terms of manpower and on paper at any rate, artillery and tanks. But they've lost an awful lot.

And it's really going to be important for the Ukrainians to maintain momentum, but, of course, the longer they extend their logistics tale, the more vulnerable they are to counterattack from the Russians. Brianna?

BERMAN: Sam, it seemed that it happened so quickly. There were so many signs that you saw as you were walking through there that the Russians were leaving books on desks, things just left behind in such a hurry. How could it have been that they were so surprised?

KILEY: I think, well, we were talking to a commander on the ground, and he said the bottom line is that they grotesquely underestimated the skill and the will of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. I think also there're tactical issues here with the training that they've had from NATO since 2014. They are much more mobile, they are much more aggressive in terms of use of special forces, drones, they're much better at integrating and using what is called maneuver warfare. They're keeping their movements secret. They're getting in behind the Russians. They're spooking them into running, and it's worked so far. John?

KEILAR: Yes. And, man, do they have the will. We see it day after day. Sam Kiley live for us with that exclusive look inside Izium, thank you.

BERMAN: Right. Joining me now is Ukrainian journalist and President Zelenskyy's former spokesperson Iuliia Mendel. She's the author of the new book, the Fight of Our Lives, My Time with Zelenskyy, Ukraine's Battle for Democracy and What it Means for the World. Iuliia, it's so nice to see in person. We've had a chance to speak to you so much over the last few months. Usually, you were in Ukraine and we were here. Just watching Sam's report there, seeing the pictures from inside Izium, what's your reaction?

IULIIA MENDEL, FORMER SPOKESPERSON FOR PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY: Well, thank you, first of all, for having me here. But I see already that there is a lot of sign that Ukraine resumes life on just overtaking territories. For instance, there is another tower in Kharkiv region, which is called Balakliya, that has been liberated just recently near Izium. And I have seen already that the biggest postal service arrived there, opened their positions, and already helping people to distribute all the goods and to pass the goods through Ukraine and everywhere to connect people, you know? So, people are trying to resume as fast as possible to return back life and this is amazing.

BERMAN: When you look, again, at how quickly this has happened, and we have a map here which you can see just over the last two weeks, this area in yellow is where Ukraine has been able to expand here. How much further do you think that you can take this?

MENDEL: Well, right. So, in the recent days, Russians left the territory, which was approximately 30 percent of Kharkiv region, but also Ukrainian army went to Donetsk region. And what I see right now that they are definitely going to fight for Luhansk region and Donetsk region. And there are like big cities already together with like small villages and towns. So, definitely, the Ukrainian army wants to get all the territory that Russia has captured after February 24. But the best idea, what I've heard about from the authorities already, that they say that taking over all of the Donbas will be the crush to Russian army if we talk about the eastern part of Ukraine.

BERMAN: I just want to get people -- The New York Times did a really interesting comparison here. This is the area that Ukraine has taken back over the last few days. This is the amount of area you can see here that the Russians, it took them months to get that. So, just in terms of new land mass here under regained by Ukraine, this is Ukrainian territory, it's a lot of land all of a sudden that is in Ukraine's hands.

So, as you look at the entire country right now and you see this developing, what are your concerns now? How do you think Russia is likely to respond?

MENDEL: Well, of course, you're right, this is the magic question for everyone, for intelligence, for authorities, for presidents, for the people because we don't know what Russia's going to do.


If Russia is going to have the general draft, like to mobilize all Russian people, though it's very politically bad for Putin himself, right, or probably Russia wants to go to the latest -- through the worst measure and to use nuclear, tactical nuclear, they are often scaring, threatening with having strategic nuclear weapons.

And this is the scariest thing. And, of course, they're still owning Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, and they are shelling it, and, of course, they can cause any kind of nuclear disaster there that could be even worse than Chernobyl that we know caused a lot of problems to many countries.

BERMAN: Yes. The concern is, as Ukraine makes military gains, will Vladimir Putin take it out on Ukrainian civilians. He's shown a willingness to do that over the last several months. Iuliia Mendel, it's so nice to meet you in person. Thanks so much for being with us.

MENDEL: Thank you so much.

KEILAR: White House officials are scrambling to avoid the first national rail strike in the U.S. in 30 years, but with only four days until the cooling off period expires. Amtrak has suspended service on some of its longer routes.

Let's bring in CNN Correspondent Pete Muntean to tell us what's happening here. Pete, what are you seeing?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What's so interesting here, Brianna, is the impact. The deadline to avoid this possible rail strike is midnight on Friday, but Amtrak is already preemptively canceling some of these routes. We are talking about some of the longer haul routes between Chicago and L.A., Chicago and Seattle, Chicago and San Francisco, also between L.A. and San Antonio.

The rub here is that Amtrak owns and operates only about 3 percent of the 22,000 miles of track that it uses. The other 97 percent are freight rail track. The talks have been ongoing to avoid this strike for months. Rail workers want major concessions from rail companies. In fact, the Presidential Review Board suggested some major changes here, getting back-pay for rail workers for 2020 bonus pay, an immediate 14 percent pay raise.

The issue here is that there are still two unions that represent key employees for rail companies. Those are engineers who make up the two- person crews on board trains. And if they hold out here, then all other rail unions could strike in solidarity.

The deadline, midnight on Friday, if a strike is not averted. This could cause freight rail, a much larger impact than just the Amtrak impact, to come grinding to a halt. We're talking about 30 percent of all freight in the United States, a $2 billion impact a day.

The Biden administration has been burning up the phones trying to avoid this, Brianna, although this Amtrak impact is only just the start. We will see. The clock is ticking.

KEILAR: Wow. That is a huge disruption, that picture that you paint there. All right, Pete, we know you'll stay on this, thank you.

BERMAN: Today, the January 6th House select committee will meet to discuss whether to request former President Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence to appear before the committee. Multiple sources tell CNN the committee does not believe Trump or Pence would actually testify, but some members think it is important to extend the invitations for the record.

The vice chair of the committee, Liz Cheney, spoke to CNN's Jake Tapper about the new reporting from The New York Times, from Maggie Haberman's forthcoming book, that Trump was privately telling aides he was not going to leave the White House after his 2020 election loss. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): When you hear something like that, I think you have to recognize that we were in No Man's Land, and a territory we've never been in before as a nation. And when you think about, well, the Supreme Court would have sorted it out, you have to ask yourself but who would have enforced the rulings of the court? And if you have a president who is refusing to leave the White House or who is saying he refuses to leave the White House, then anyone who sort of stands aside and says someone else will handle it is themselves putting the nation at risk.


KEILAR: The Justice Department is ramping up its criminal investigation of the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, issuing subpoenas to at least 30 people in former President Trump's orbit. Mainly, these are members of the Trump campaign and his fundraising teams. The DOJ is trying to pin down details of the effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election among other things.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz joins us now with the latest here. Katelyn?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Brianna, this is really a significant step. We say that a lot but this is really one we should be paying attention to. Right now, the Justice Department is clearly collecting a vast amount of information from a lot of people very close to Donald Trump in the campaign and in the White House and in other parts of his political operation. It's really a look into the world of Trump for them.

So, let's go through this list.


People receiving subpoenas in recent days in this criminal probe, grand jury out of Washington, D.C., they are top Trump campaign officials, like Bill Stepien, top White House officials at the end of the administration, Dan Scavino, also people working with that push to claim election fraud in 2020, people like Bernie Kerik working with Rudy Giuliani, and also Women for America First getting a subpoena, publicly confirming it. That was the group behind that rally on The Ellipse.

So, this is really a new step by the Justice Department, and as our large team of reporters were nailing this down, we found that there were more than 30 people that had received subpoenas like this both for testimony and documents in this grand jury investigation. And what they're sweeping in here are things about this fake electors probe that we know is going on, this aggressive criminal investigation, and also things about fundraising, including information about the Save America PAC, and also what people may have been getting as money if they were working with or closely to Donald Trump around that time.

KEILAR: Really getting a sense of the scope of this. Katelyn, thank you so much for that reporting. BERMAN: So, King Charles has landed in Northern Ireland. These are pictures of him arriving at the George Best Airport in Belfast, George Best, of course, one of the great soccer players of all time. The king is making his first visit to Northern Ireland as the king, and, of course, it is a country that has had complications over the decades and the royal family has very much been at the center of it. That comes as the queen's casket gets ready to make the journey to London.

This is CNN special live coverage.



BERMAN: What you're seeing there is King Charles arriving in Northern Ireland on his first official visit to Northern Ireland as king. Soon, he and the consort queen, Camilla, will be greeted at Hillsborough Castle, which is the official royal residence of Northern Ireland, the only official royal residence, the only royal castle there. They'll be greeted by a 21-gun salute. A number of ceremonial events are also planned for the day.

CNN's Nic Robertson is in Belfast for us this morning at St. Anne's Cathedral with what to expect. Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, King Charles, queen consort, they're arriving at Hillsborough Castle at important political meetings for King Charles, although obviously has no direct role in the politics of the United Kingdom. There is a deep political division here, pro-British and pro-Irish, and it played out 25 years ago before the peace agreement as 30 years of violence, more than 3,000 people killed here in the name of those different pro-Irish or pro-British views. So, King Charles to meet politicians from both sides of the divide.

And it's interesting, because over the weekend, when at Hillsborough Castle, the royal proclamation of King Charles being announced officially as king was read out, the pro-Irish politicians chose not to attend. That said, they'd been full of praise for Queen Elizabeth. They have been praising King Charles as well. Both the queen and King Charles have done a lot here to sort of build cross community bridges. The queen meeting former paramilitaries turned politicians, shaking hands at one time ten years ago with Martin McGuinness, a renowned alleged former paramilitary, and that was a big step for the queen. King Charles met a few years a with another leading paramilitary figure turned politician.

But for King Charles, there's a real personal weight in what those paramilitaries did. The IRA killed his great uncle and mentor, Lord Louis Mountbatten, 1979, blew him and his family up when they were out fishing on a boat off the coast of Ireland.

So, there's a lot of deep political significance about what happened here, a lot of historical baggage, if you will, for King Charles, but the royal family seen as helping establish peace here. So, when later on in the afternoon there is this service at St. Anne's Cathedral, it is significant that among the invitees, not just from Northern Ireland, not just the politicians and community figures from Northern Ireland, the Irish prime minister and the Irish president had been invited across the border here into Northern Ireland to attend the prayer service that will be held here.

So, although the world waits to send its leaders to the funeral for the queen later in about a week's time, there will be the Irish prime minister, the Irish president here. These are symbolic, significant things. This is an important day for King Charles to show king of the United Kingdom, even though there are some people here who would shun the monarchy.

BERMAN: Yes. The very name, the United Kingdom, has to do with Northern Ireland, and as you say, significant that the leaders from the Republic of Ireland themselves will be there. Elizabeth, I believe, was the first reigning monarch to visit an independent Ireland, a significant trip in its own right.

Nic Robertson, thank you so much. We'll check back in with you in just a minute.

Joining us now, CNN Contributor and author of Elizabeth, the Queen, Sally Bedell Smith, and Erin Vanderhoof, staff writer for Vanity Fair and co-host of Vanity Fair's Dynasty Podcast.

And, Erin, I just want to talk about what we are going to see today, because Charles has made dozens of trips, dozens to Northern Ireland over the decades, but this is his first as king, and, obviously, it's been a complicated and painful history for the royal family and Northern Ireland.

ERIN VANDERHOOF, STAFF WRITER, VANITY FAIR: And Charles has done a really good job of, you know, I think because he has a lot of bona fide as a person who has promoted religious tolerance, I think from the very beginning of his time as -- you know, at least in the 1980s, he was like really trying to put himself forward as a person who could heal the rift between, you know, Catholics and protestants, even as he was not visiting due to like the violence that was tearing up the country. I think now you're seeing him -- he's going to have a day where he's trying to make like a face-to-face, person-to-person connection with the people who are there to support the monarchy in a way of sort of shoring up those connections and proving that it's so important.

Next, he's going back to London, then he's going to Wales and this tour around all of the nations is a show of unity.


KEILAR: Sally, how do you see this moment for Charles and why is this unique for him?

SALLY BEDELL SMITH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think he's putting his own stamp on his kingship. Obviously, he has been to Northern Ireland 40 times. He has promoted reconciliation, as did his mother. The first monarch to visit Northern Ireland was his great grandfather, King George V, in 1920 to 1921, to open the new, you know, parliament there.

But so much of what Charles represents is reconciliation, interfaith dialogue, and obviously his mother was very important in promoting reconciliation. We all remember her visit some years ago to Ireland and, really, the apologies she made for the way that, you know, the British had acted against the Irish. And so I think this was really sort of a brilliant stroke.

You know, when the queen became monarch back in 1952, she didn't visit Northern Ireland until July following her coronation. But this is a really emphatic statement to emphasize this is the United Kingdom and that Northern Ireland is very much a part of that entity and also a very important part of the history of Great Britain.

BERMAN: We're watching the motorcade wind its way through the streets. A moment ago, we saw an open window and I believe we saw the queen consort, Camilla, waving to people.

It is worth noting, as they drive through the streets of Belfast, even the streets, every road of Northern Ireland is fraught with its own history. Some are used by protestants. Some are used by Catholics, the unionists and the nationalists. There is a separation there. Again, this is part of this daily series of firsts for King Charles, Erin.

And I'm wondering as you're watching this every day, you know, how are you evaluating his evolution into the new role?

VANDERHOOF: I mean, at a certain point, you know, we know he has a five-year plan laid out, and at a certain point, it's knowing that he's done something successfully I think is just seeing like he has proven himself to be a really good orator. He's really strong at, you know, hitting his mark. And I think that the thing that has, you know, impressed me or gone above and beyond is that he's been able to show emotion. He's been able to bring a certain honesty to the position.

And I think that that's what we're going to be looking for for the rest of, you know, his reign is that we know he's going to be a more transitional figure. We know that he wants to keep up some of the traditions of his mother, but at the same time he has to show changes. And, you know, in the last year he's been more outspoken about things like, you know, slavery and the role it played in building the commonwealth, and now that he can't be as honest about that, I think that we're going to be see him being a lot more open about his emotions. And so this is the kind of thing that we're going to be looking for for him today and what he did a really impressive job with yesterday in Scotland.

KEILAR: And, look, the queen consort, Sally, is also a very big part of this public-facing couple. What do you think about what you've seen so far there?

SMITH: Well, I think she's been brilliant. We haven't heard from her, obviously, and we probably won't, but she is by his side, and she is his true partner. And she's been involved in various initiatives that he's had in Northern Ireland. You know, one of the things that he did was to help underwrite the restoration of Hillsborough Castle with money from his foundation. Part of that was the restoration of the gardens. Camilla, both of them are very avid gardeners. He's really interested in, you know, restoring and bringing to life cities that have fallen into decay. So, I think if you looked at his many charities and enterprises and initiatives, he also has done some very specific things in Northern Ireland.

But I think that whole notion of interfaith dialogue is central to the role he can play, and he can do that in a way that doesn't overstep his political -- the political ground lines that prevent him from taking positions. He always is emphatic on using his convening power.


And I think that's what we're going to see a lot of in not only here but in Northern Ireland.