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Biden Likens Russian Nuke Threat to Cuban Missile Crisis; Ukraine: 120 Settlements Liberated from Russians in 2 Weeks; North Korea Flies Warplanes Near South Korea in Latest Provocation; Ex-Oath Keeper Testifies Leader Spoke with Secret Service in 2020; Herschel Walker 'Not Backing Down' Amid Abortion Allegations; 24 Children Among 36 Killed in Nursery Massacre in Thailand. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired October 07, 2022 - 06:00   ET


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. I'm Brianna Keilar with John Berman.


And we begin with President Biden's blunt assessment warning the world could face Armageddon if Vladimir Putin uses nuclear weapons as Russia faces setbacks in Ukraine. The president's chilling remarks now sharpening the stakes with the Russian leader.

Biden telling a group of Democrats at a fundraiser last night, quote, "We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban missile crisis. I don't think there's any such thing as the ability to easily use a tactical nuclear weapon and not end up with Armageddon."

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Biden does say the nuclear risk is the highest since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

Look, what you just heard from the president, this is stark language. You do not normally hear this from U.S. presidents. Not now. And it comes as the U.S. considers how to response to a range of potential scenarios.

KEILAR: For more, let's bring in White House correspondent Jeremy Diamond. Has there been any escalation from Russia that prompted these remarks?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, there's no question that there is an elevated risk of nuclear war, based on the language that we've heard from the Russian president.

But U.S. officials say that there is nothing that has changed -- that nothing that they have seen that has changed in Russia's nuclear posture.

Look, last week we heard the Russian president talking about using any and all means necessary to defend Russian territory as he talked about the use of nuclear weapons. But what we haven't heard from the U.S. side is the kind of stark language that we heard from President Biden last night at this fundraiser in New York, where he talked about the prospect of Armageddon, where he talked about the highest risk of nuclear war since the 1960s.

And the president also making clear last night that he knows Vladimir Putin well, and he doesn't believe he's joking. Here's a snippet of the president's comments.

He says, quote, "We've got a guy I know fairly well. He's not joking when he talks about the potential use of tactical nuclear weapons or biological or chemical weapons, because his military is, you might say, significantly underperforming."

And that is another element of what we heard from the president last night, is talking about the need for Putin to have an off-ramp. The concern the president of the United States has about the Russian president being backed into a corner as his military suffers one defeat after the next and what a cornered Vladimir Putin might do.

KEILAR: Is his assessment the assessment of all U.S. officials, that a tactical nuclear weapon could be this slippery slope to Armageddon?

DIAMOND: Well, there is heightened concern among U.S. officials, but they just have not been using the kind of language that we've heard from the president.

In fact, they've been extremely careful to be cautious in their language. The starkest language that we heard, perhaps, was when Jake Sullivan a couple of weeks ago warned about the risk of, quote, "catastrophe," should Russia choose to use a tactical nuclear weapon.

We know that the U.S. has transmitted to Russia in private what the consequences of the use of a nuclear weapon would be. And U.S. officials are closely monitoring for any changes in Russia's posture.

But right now, including after the president's remarks, U.S. officials are telling us that they have not seen anything yet in terms of a change in Russia's nuclear posture; nothing that would warrant a change in the U.S.'s nuclear posture.

And so that is ultimately where things stand here, is that the U.S. is monitoring the situation very closely. But they have no indication as of yet that Vladimir Putin has made the decision to use a nuclear weapon in this conflict -- Brianna.

KEILAR: And that is significant. Jeremy, thank you.

BERMAN: All right. Let's go to Kyiv now and bring in CNN's Frederik Pleitgen, who's standing by there, watching this conflict on the ground. Any reaction from the Russians at this point, Fred?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly is all over the news media in Russia. I've been checking out a lot of the Russian state-run news media over the course of the morning.

And you do see President Biden's comments there all over the place, John. You haven't had any official reactions that yet one of the things that we're waiting for right now as we speak is a conference call with the Kremlin where we do expect that the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, is going to talk about that, as well.

However, you do have the Russians very constantly talking about the whole complex of possible use of nuclear weapons in the Ukraine conflict, really almost constantly.

It was quite interesting, because overnight, there were some comments made by the Ukrainian president, by Volodymyr Zelenskyy, that the Russians then interpreted as Zelenskyy calling for a preventative nuclear strike against Russia by NATO.

Now, that's by no means what Zelenskyy actually said, but that's the rhetoric that is now coming from Moscow. That's coming from Sergey Lavrov, from the foreign minister. Essentially, what the Russians are trying to do is they are trying to portray it as the West and Ukraine threatening them and then their sort of rhetoric about nuclear weapons being a reaction to that.

You'll recall, in the early stages, when the war started, Vladimir Putin came out and said that there had been some hostile rhetoric from -- from the West, and so therefore, he was increasing the nuclear posture of Russia's nuclear forces.

And that's certainly something that we have seen very much over the past couple of weeks and the past couple of months as the conflict has been going on.

What we've also been doing, it's very important, we've been speaking to a lot of sources here on the ground in Ukraine about how they feel the threat is a possible use of nuclear weapons, tactical nuclear weapons, and they do believe that it is very high.

They do believe that, as they make further gains on the battlefield, that the threat of Russia possibly using these weapons are very high. It's something that they say is at the back of their minds, but it's obviously very difficult for them to prepare for something like that.

BERMAN: So Fred, as we look at the changing map of Ukraine behind me, you can see all these areas in yellow, or areas that Ukraine has retaken in the last several weeks, including, they estimate, 120 settlements in just the last two weeks. How have they been able to do so much so fast?

PLEITGEN: It's been -- it's been remarkable. And I think the Ukrainians, for their part, are also partially surprised at the -- at the pace that they've been able to take some of these areas back.

I think that they believe that a lot of it is due to the fact that obviously, they think that their tactics, their strategy is working.

You know, one of the things that I've heard from -- from folks here in the Ukrainian political complex, is they say that they are interconnected there on all of those front lines. That, you know, there are some independent movements by some other units.

But essentially, it is all really an interconnected thing that they are pulling off there right now.

And then, of course, Western weapons have made a big difference, as well. The precision of some of these HIMARS strikes that they've been able to do, they say also helps them. And they say that they want to keep up this pace.

They understand that Russia is mobilizing, and they need to move as fast as possible before a lot of those new Russian recruits hit the field.

BERMAN: All right. Frederik Pleitgen in Kyiv for us. Obviously, this is having an effect on Russian troop morale.

And two Russians took their chances in the Bering Strait. Look at this. What we should be saying is two Russians decided to cross the Bering Strait rather than join the Russian military.

U.S. officials say that the pair left one of the communities on Russia's Far Eastern coast. They crossed the strait and ended up in Alaska's St. Lawrence Island. You can see it right there. They're now seeking asylum in the United States.

Russian state media says diplomats from the embassy in Washington will be calling the two men.

KEILAR: Now to growing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea flying war planes near the South after several missile launches in the last two weeks.

And this comes as the U.S. and South Korea are conducting joint military exercises in the region.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is live for us in Seoul, South Korea. Paula, what do we know about North Korea's latest provocation.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, this happened on Thursday afternoon, local time. The joint chiefs of staff here told us about it in the evening, and they called it a protest flight.

What they believe happened is that some 12 North Korean aircraft were staging some kind of air-to-surface firing exercise. Now, they say they were actually flying South of what they call the special surveillance line.

Now, this is in North Korea, but it is a virtual line that the South Korean military watches closely. And if they see North Korean aircraft come South of that line, then they mobilize.

And that's exactly what they did, according to the JCS, 30 South Korean aircraft also mobilizing, although they haven't said exactly how close either side was to the DMZ, the Demilitarized Zone between the North and the South -- Brianna.

KEILAR: What is the message, Paula, of these joint naval exercises that are being held by the U.S. and South Korea?

HANCOCKS: Yes, so there are more that are starting. We've just heard about this today, that it's a two-day naval exercise. The USS Ronald Reagan, according to the South Korean side, again, will be involved.

And it is with the South Koreans. And just yesterday, there was a trilateral naval drill, with Japan involved, as well. And all sides are being clear that the message is clear, to show North Korea that they are militarily capable of reacting very quickly if they need to do so.

Now, we've heard from Pyongyang, as well, saying that the reason they're carrying out all these missile launches is because tensions are high in the region because of these joint military drills.

They were talking about drills last week, so potentially, this could have an impact, as well -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. We'll be watching with you. Paula Hancocks, thank you.

New CNN reporting, the Justice Department insisting former President Trump return all classified documents that he took from the White House. Yes, even more. What we are learning here.

Plus, a former member of the Oath Keepers says the group's leader was in touch with the Secret Service in the final weeks of the 2020 presidential campaign.

And this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you reached out to any of the mothers of your children?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To ask what? Why not?

WALKER: Why do I need to?


BERMAN: Deny and deflect. It worked for Donald Trump, but can it save Herschel Walker's Georgia Senate campaign?



KEILAR: The Justice Department is apparently not convinced that former President Trump has returned all of the documents that he took when he left the White House.

Officials in recent weeks have told Trump's lawyers that he has an obligation to return any outstanding documents marked as classified. Whether the FBI recovered all of the sensitive records in Trump's possession during its Mar-a-Lago search has been an open question.

In several court filings, prosecutors indicated they had concerns about records that may still be missing. The DOJ, for example, pointing to the empty envelopes with classified banners that were seized in the August search of Trump's Florida home.

BERMAN: New developments in the trial of members of the far-right Oath Keepers group over their involvement in the January 6th Capitol attack.

The group's former North Carolina leader, John Zimmerman, testified that he believes the founder of the organization may have been in contact with the Secret Service in the runup to the 2020 presidential election.

A Secret Service spokesman told CNN they don't have enough information to know if there was contact between Stewart Rhodes and an agent. But they say it sometimes happens with certain protest groups.


I want to bring in CNN chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst, John Miller. It sometimes happens? What could that mean?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: What that could mean is when there's going to be a major event -- demonstrations, marches from the NYPD perspective -- when I ran the intelligence bureau, we would reach out to the group and say, What's your plans that day. We want to be able to coordinate traffic, crowds, so on.

And the Secret Service, John, where there's a protective intelligence division that does the same thing. And you'd be surprised. You get these groups on the phone, and they hang up on you.

And sometimes, you get these groups on the phone, and they say, Well, this is where we're starting from. This is where we're going. It's great to be working with you.

So it's entirely possible that that's what that phone call was about. Now, the witness only heard one side of the phone call from the guy who was on the phone, Zimmerman, who said it was somebody from the Secret Service. So we've got to know more there.

KEILAR: Yes, we certainly do, John.

And also Thursday, a member of the Proud Boys, Jeremy Bertino, he pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy. He's the first member of the group to do so. He's also cooperating with DOJ. How might that impact the investigation? MILLER: In a big way. I mean, you've got a trial coming up where he is

one of the defendants, but you also have the leader of the Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, and others on trial.

This is a game changer for prosecutors. They have tapes. They have videos. They have social media communications. But the defense is going to be, It doesn't sound like what it means. It doesn't mean what it sounds like.

When you have an insider, particularly one who's in leadership, Brianna, who says, Let me tell what you that conversation was about and let me tell you what happened in conversations that -- that weren't captured, it really puts a dent in the defense's ability to try to reinterpret those.

BERMAN: So what kind of leverage do they have on Bertino? How can they assure that they will get what they want from him as part of this plea deal?

MILLER: Because he pled guilty, and they set no sentencing date, which means he's going to testify in that trial if they want him to, give them all the information that they're asking for. And maybe other trials.

And then he will be sentenced based on his cooperation. So the deal is if he lies, if he holds back, if he refuses to testify in any of these cases, the deal goes out the window, and he faces his full sentence, to which he's already pled guilty.

BERMAN: So if you're some of the other Proud Boys or people on this, are you more nervous this morning than you were yesterday?

MILLER: Yes, you are. And it just creates a different challenge for the defense. Because now the defense has to make a liar out of Bertino if they're going to dent his credibility.

BERMAN: John Miller, great to see you. An inside look at what's going on. Appreciate it.

Republican Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker not backing down amid allegations he paid for a woman's abortion and has a child with her. What Republican leaders want him to do now.

KEILAR: Plus, Thailand is mourning after a tragic massacre at a nursery that has left at least 24 children among the dead. We have some new details about the attack ahead.



KEILAR: Herschel Walker hitting the campaign trail in Georgia, defiantly stating that he will not back down.

A report in "The Daily Beast" accuses Walker of paying for a former girlfriend's abortion. With only a month to go before the very competitive Georgia Senate election, some Republicans want to see a more forceful denial to the allegation from Walker.

CNN national politics reporter Eva McKend joins us now with the very latest.

Hi, Eva.


In addition to being advised to give a more Trumpian response, it also seems like he's been advised to steer the conversation back to issues where Republicans, frankly, think they're -- they can win, like inflation, like public safety.

But clearly, Walker still in defense mode.


H. WALKER: You don't quit. You keep going. You keep getting up.

MCKEND (voice-over): A defiant Herschel Walker rebutting allegations that have rocked his campaign for Senate.

H. WALKER: I'm not deterred. I'm not scared. And I'm not going to back down. The stakes are way, way too high.

MCKEND (voice-over): Taking the stage Thursday at an event in Wadley, Georgia, the candidate made no mention of the latest development from "The Daily Beast" but once again faced questions about the report he paid for his then-girlfriend to have an abortion in 2009, and that the woman says she's the mother of one of his children, according to the site.

H. WALKER: This here abortion thing is false. It's a lie.

MCKEND (voice-over): CNN has not independently verified the allegations reported by "The Daily Beast."


MCKEND (voice-over): Walker, also asked about his son's comments earlier this week, calling his father a liar and making a series of accusations against him.

H. WALKER: I've always loved him, no matter what my son says.

MCKEND (voice-over): With a little over a month until the midterms and locked in a tight race against Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock, Republicans facing questions about Walker's path to victory after the latest revelations.

LT. GOV. GEOFF DUNCAN (R-GA): I think every Republican knew that there was baggage out there, and -- but the weight of that baggage is starting to feel a little closer to unbearable at this point.

MCKEND (voice-over): The former NFL star brushing aside those concerns.

H. WALKER: People told me I couldn't play football. So do you want me to listen to someone like that? I'm here to win the seat for the Georgia people, because the Georgia people need a winner.

MCKEND (voice-over): Walker allies say they want to see him more forcefully denounce the allegations.

H. WALKER: Come on!

MCKEND (voice-over): Many supporters say they simply believe him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I take Herschel for his word. If he said it didn't happen, it didn't happen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I believe Herschel. I do not believe he's lying.

MCKEND (voice-over): Meanwhile, the Warnock campaign up with a new TV ad.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: New details tonight about accusations that continue to follow Senate candidate Herschel Walker.


MCKEND (voice-over): Part of a sustained effort by Democrats to highlight Walker's turbulent past, even as they avoid focusing on the latest allegations.


MCKEND: So sources close to the campaign, Brianna, telling my colleague, Gabby Orr, that Walker should -- that at the debate next week, this high-profile debate between Walker and Warnock, that they are going to have this big reveal, and that they are going to roll out a more fulsome defense against these allegations.

But if they had this defense, you would think that they would provide it now, right? As he continues to have to battle these allegations. So that is not making a whole lot of sense to a lot of us.

But we shall see. As you can see, voters on the ground in Georgia, they still very much are standing with Walker.

KEILAR: Yes. It's very interesting to hear them there. Eva, thank you for your report.

BERMAN: All right. A source tells CNN that Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska is expected to resign by the end of the year and become the president of the University of Florida.

The move has caught many Republicans off-guard, since he was just reelected to his Senate seat in 2020. Sasse has been a vocal critic of some of the changes within the Republican Party and of former President Trump.

He was one of several Republican senators to vote to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial.

The resignation would not change the balance of power in the Senate. Nebraska's Republican governor would appoint a temporary replacement. Sasse has experience. He did run a college before running for Senate.

KEILAR: And this morning, Thailand is flying national flags at half- staff to mourn the deaths of the victims in the tragic nursery massacre there.

At least 36 people were killed, and that includes at least 24 children. And it was believed to be the deadliest mass shooting in the country's history.

Moments ago, Thailand's prime minister arrived in a hospital to meet with survivors. CNN's Anna Coren is live with more in Thailand.

Anna, tell us about what you're learning. This is just horrific, the more that we do learn.

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's been an incredibly distressing day, Brianna. Shock and disbelief is what people are feeling here in Thailand, certainly in this province of Nong Bua Lam Phu.

This is a rural farming community. We're surrounded by sugar cane plantations and rice paddies. This is not a place of mass murder, and yet that is exactly what happened.

The overwhelming number of victims were, of course, children that's what makes it more distressing. Many of the bodies were brought here to this hospital. So were the survivors.

You mentioned, the prime minister did arrive at this hospital a short time ago. The king of Thailand is also due to arrive here in the coming hours.

Now, today, Brianna, we spent time with the families of some of the victims. And we should warn our viewers that some of the images you're about to see you may find distressing.


COREN (voice-over): Sitting in the stifling heat under a corrugated iron roof, a mother is unable to contain her heartache and anguish, her pain muffled by the collective grief being felt in the province of Nong Bua Lam Phu in Thailand's northeast, after a disgraced police officer went on the country's most murderous rampage in recent history inside a daycare center.

Of the 36 victims, 24 were children.

Four-year-old Dan (ph) was one of them. This happy, cheerful little boy was expecting a baby brother in a matter of weeks. His mother, barely conscious as she sits with other grief-stricken parents and relatives who've come to register for assistance at the government relief center, just meters away from the scene of the massacre. "I can't imagine this kind of person exists," says his grandmother. "I

can't imagine a human could be this cruel to children."

For this couple, clutching each other, their loss is unfathomable. Their 3 1/2-year-old fraternal twin boys, Weerapat and Worapon, their only children, were slaughtered.

Here we see them in the car with their parents, just days before their future was horrifically cut short.

The father now speechless. The mother still in shock.

"They were so talkative. They were at that age where they talked a lot," she explained. "They had different characters. They were so lovely."

For the emergency crews, the carnage they witnessed when they walked through the doors is a nightmare they won't ever be able to erase.

"The first thing I saw when I opened the door, I was stunned. I had to gather myself," he says. "I have never seen anything like this before."

COREN: We are learning gruesome details about what happened at this daycare center from the first responders who were on the scene. They said that they found the bodies of the children and teachers spread across these three rooms.