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CNN TONIGHT: Biden: Putin "Will Never Succeed" In Occupying All Of Ukraine; Florida Legislature Bows To DeSantis On Disney & Redistricting; Biden Issues Clarification After Mixing Up Title 42, Mask Mandate. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired April 21, 2022 - 21:00   ET




ALEXEY NAVALNY, RUSSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER (through translator): It's Alexey Navalny calling, and I was hoping you could tell me why you wanted to kill me?

Hung up!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Remarkably, Vladimir Putin faces a legitimate opponent, Alexey Navalny.

NAVALNY: I don't want Putin being president.

NAVALNY (through translator): I will end war.

NAVALNY: If I want to be leader of a country, I have to organize people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Kremlin hates Navalny so much that they refuse to say his name.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Passengers heard Navalny cry out in agony.

NAVALNY: Come on! Poisoned? Seriously?


NAVALNY: We are creating the coalition to fight this regime.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you are killed, what message do you leave behind to the Russian people?

NAVALNY: It's very simple. Never give up!



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, ANDERSON COOPER 360: Well, the news continues. Let's hand it over to Laura Coates. And Jim Sciutto, in Ukraine. Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CO-HOST, CNN TONIGHT: Thanks so much, Anderson.

This is CNN TONIGHT. I am Jim Sciutto, live, from Lviv, along with Laura Coates, in the U.S.

So, when you liberate, a war-torn city, you are freeing it from its oppressors. That is not what Vladimir Putin has done, to the southeastern city of Mariupol, as he twistedly, outrageously, is claiming tonight.

Not only are his forces, still surrounding, entrapping hundreds of Ukrainian civilians, and soldiers, who've been sheltering, in the steel plant. He has now ordered his forces, to blockade the area, so tight, so as not to let even a fly get through.

Pay attention to the way he uses that word, "Fly." He's done it before, dismissing his opponents, as insects, to be swatted away, or worse.

Fact is, Russian forces are slaughtering people, not liberating them. There is brand-new evidence, tonight, of more potential Russian war crimes.

New satellite images, from just outside Mariupol, in a village, about 12 miles away, called Manush (ph), they appear to show, more than 200 new graves, rows and rows, in fact, of mass graves.

One Ukrainian official, in Mariupol, says that Russians are driving truckloads, truckloads, of corpses, to the site, and dumping them. This official calls this, quote, direct evidence of war crimes as well as attempts to cover them up.

President Zelenskyy says tonight that Mariupol continues to resist Russia, despite everything the occupiers say.

And President Biden said today that there is, quote, no evidence yet, Mariupol has completely fallen, perhaps referencing the few remaining holdouts, in that steel plant, as Biden announced $800 million, more, in weapons for Ukraine, including dozens of Howitzers, nearly 150,000 rounds of ammunition, and more tactical drones.

And he also directed this vow, at Putin.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: He will never succeed in dominating and occupying all of Ukraine. He will not - that will not happen.


LAURA COATES, CNN CO-HOST, CNN TONIGHT: Jim, I know you're also going to tell us about this stunning and disturbing new audio, of what appears to be Russian soldiers, discussing, orders, to kill Ukrainian POWs.


COATES: And we're going to come back to that, in a second. It's extraordinarily disturbing.

And also, this hour, Jim, the uproar, in Florida, after Republican lawmakers voted to redraw a congressional map that eliminates two majority Black voting districts.

And they also have voted, to revoke Disney's special status, the tax privileges that were there, and we're talking about it last night, which is a move that critics are calling, retaliation, and what could end up hurting Florida's taxpayers, in the end.

And the question is, will the Biden administration keep a Trump-era policy that allows border officials, to turn back migrants, doing - and during a public health crisis? If it does let what's called Title 42 expire, next month, could it further aggravate the crisis at our southern border?

We'll dig into all of that. But I want to go back to Ukraine and, to Jim, because Jim, from here, in the States, I look at this map of Mariupol, and it's absolutely devastating see this chunk of the city that's surrounded by the Russian forces, as you described.

But for many people, looking at this, or wondering about this discrepancy, the idea of the back-and-forth, over whether Mariupol, as a city--


COATES: --has technically fallen, what's behind this? What is the significance of this discord, it seems?

SCIUTTO: Yes. It's hard to say. It may be sort of a willful defiance, wanting to highlight that Ukrainian forces, and this is true, have not given up, in Mariupol, and in other places, even when they've faced the worst of odds.

But the fact is, Russians do control the vast majority of the city. Crucially, they control, the key crossroads, through the city. And that's one of the reasons, they wanted it so badly.

And they control most of the coastline, which is another reason they want it. And really, the defenders are confined in that steel plant, we're looking at, right there. So, that may be a holdout. It may be admirable, to watch.


But militarily, the military officials, I speak to, now, describe the situation there, as dire, for them. And the sad fact may be that, for all intents and purposes, this is now Russian territory.

COATES: Now, the rally, of course, there's the symbolism of resistance, and defiance, and not wanting to concede that there has been anything taken. And then, as you point out, the idea of the realities that are on the ground, doesn't obviously mean that Ukraine has fallen.

But the significance of Mariupol, in particular, is one that I'm sure will be touted, by Putin, in conversations around that that would support the propaganda.


COATES: But also, the Russians surrounded Mariupol, back on March 1, and they've been pounding it ever since, Jim.


COATES: And as we once again, see these images, of the mass graves, and we see the tragedy, we see the terror, we see the conversations, and see the images, around war crime allegations? I'm trying to understand, from the United States', and the audience's perspective, and humanity, how do those of us, here at home, wrap our minds, around the unrelenting horrors, of this war?

We can't normalize it. We can't look at these issues and say--


COATES: --"That happened, and it continues to happen, and move, right on."

SCIUTTO: I want to appeal to folks at home, to keep paying attention, because we're bearing witness here. Not just the reporters on the ground, here, the Ukrainian people, and others, observing this, but everyone, who's watching these stories, we're bearing witness to crimes, taking place. And they're taking place every day. And those are not just claims, right? Because we have visual--


SCIUTTO: --evidence of this. We have eyewitness accounts, of this that fit a pattern, of deliberate Russian targeting, of civilians.

And I just want to tell one story today that helps highlight it. And you and I were discussing this earlier.

A few weeks ago, when I was here, for the first time, with my team, we met a woman, and her three children that had fled. They were fleeing the country, as many millions have done. They were from a place called Bucha.

Now, at the time, we knew that Bucha had seen horrible fighting. But we did not know what Bucha would become, right? The scene of some of the worst crimes of this war.

And here was a family that just made it out, with their lives. And I connected with them, today. They're now in Spain, thankfully, safely. And they told me that they've been reaching out, to friends and family, in Bucha.

And they're hearing just the worst of stories. They heard that two of their children's teachers, including a kindergarten teacher, were among those killed, there. They can't - she can't tell her 6-year-old son that. Who would? That's the reality.

And, I think, we have to remember that each grave that we see, each account of civilians killed, here, has a face, and a name like that. And every day, we hear more, very credible accounts, of just that kind of thing. And, I think, we all have something of a duty, to simply keep paying attention.

COATES: So, so well-said. And just heart-wrenching, to think about it, I mean, if we contextualize it, for so many people, prior to the invasion. I remember, last year, from 2020, and beyond, frankly, when parents were grappling with how to talk to their kids, about the possibility of COVID, claiming somebody's life, a teacher's life--


COATES: --and thinking about the ideas of relative safety, and the bygone era, of what felt like normal.

And you're seeing, for very different reasons, at very different levels, the gut-wrenching choices that parents, like you and I, have to make and, parents, in Ukraine, and beyond, about how to balance that test of the reality, and trying to shield them, and protect them. And we're seeing. And I--


COATES: --and this is why we have to keep on these stories, and talk about it, because the tactics we're seeing, are at a level, even beyond the normalcy of terror, in a war. I mean, what do we know, about reports that Russians are ordering that even prisoners be killed?

SCIUTTO: Yes. This is yet one more story, of the evidence, of war crimes, here. And there's evidence, right? So, in this case, it's intercepted communications. And there have been numerous ones of these.

And the reason that these are credible, is that we know that the Russian forces are using unsecure communications, they're using regular cell phone lines that Ukrainian Intelligence Services can intercept. I know that U.S. Intelligence has intercepted many conversations.

This particular one shows Russian soldiers, discussing their orders, think of this, following orders, their orders, to kill POWs. Have a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): What can I tell you, damn it? (expletive), (inaudible). You keep the most senior among them. And let the rest of them go forever.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Let them go forever, damn it. So that no one will ever see them again. Including relatives.


SCIUTTO: "Including relatives." The voices of soldiers, discussing their orders, to kill.

I want to bring in now a Member of the Ukrainian Parliament, Kira Rudik.

Thanks so much for joining us, tonight.

KIRA RUDIK, MEMBER OF UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT: Hello. Thank you so much, for having me.


SCIUTTO: I know, you, like many people, in Ukraine, following the situation, in Mariupol, very closely. Putin used the term, "Liberated," today. He says he "Liberated" Mariupol. How do you respond to that?

RUDIK: The atrocities that we have seen, in Mariupol, and we have heard from the people, who were able to escape, they can only be compared to something that Russians witnessed, eight years ago, as Siege of St. Petersburg, when people were dying, of hunger, on the streets, when people were eating dogs, and birds, something like pigeons or something.

And now, they are repeating it, on my land, for - to my people. And this is absolutely terrifying.

Yesterday, we had a chance, we thought, we had a chance, to get people out, with a humanitarian convoy. It was 25th attempt, to get people out, in a peaceful way, with the agreement with Russians.

We had at least five buses, of women and children, ready to go. And we were not able to take them out, because Russians didn't stop firing. We were not able to get a ceasefire, from them, though, beforehand, they promised to do that.

So, could you even imagine, what these women, and children, felt, sitting there, in the buses for, I don't know, like, couple of hours, waiting if their life will be spared or not? And they were not. They had to return back. Though there was like the small chance of having the future, for the children, and having the life.

And when we, in Parliament, heard that the humanitarian convoy failed, once again, we are crying, many of us. Because there is - there is no explanation. There is no explanation to the cruelty. There is no explanation--

SCIUTTO: Yes. RUDIK: --to the desire, to kill them, just to make sure that they wouldn't exist. We are talking about civilian people, in the city, in 21st Century, in the middle of Europe.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Let me ask you this. Because this is - appears to be part of the Russian strategy. Russia is suffering its own losses, of soldiers. But its leaders don't seem to care. Killing civilians, with impunity.

Ukrainian leaders, they do care about losing soldiers. They care about losing their people, and their cities.

How does Ukraine keep going, keep fighting, an enemy that plays by no rules, and apparently has an endless tolerance, for its own losses? How do you fight that war?

RUDIK: Day by day, making sure that we don't give up every single inch of Ukrainian soil. You know that it's not just soldiers that they are fighting. It's every single Ukrainian man and woman are fighting.

I'm sure that, being here, you heard the stories, about Ukrainian babushkas, who were feeding Russian soldiers, with the poisoned cakes, or something. I'm sure you heard about, the resistance, of teenagers, who are fighting them, with Molotov cocktails. So, it's every single person, who is fighting.

And we know that there would be no additional motherland for us. We know that there is no other place for us, to be. So, we have to protect what's here, our land, our country. And we are - what are they aware of about - what's facing us if we fail?

I have been to Bucha, one of the people. I know what they will do to us. And I don't want this to happen, to myself, and to any of the people that I love. That's why we will be fighting. We will be fighting for every single--


RUDIK: --inch. We'll be fighting till the end.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this. The world is helping. It's calling out this behavior. It's sending weapons. It's penalizing Russia, economically. However, none of that is stopping the crimes, we're witnessing, on the ground, here.

Do you have faith, in the international community's ability, willingness, to stop this, as it's happening?

RUDIK: Yes, I do. I do have this faith. I do have this hope.

Right now, it's many things are done halfway, like, the sanctions are done halfway. When on the one hand, the countries are condemning Russia, and on the other hands, keep paying them straight cash. They get billion dollars a day, from European countries, for Russian gas and oil.



RUDIK: Right now, countries are supporting Ukraine. But we are still in progress of getting heavy weaponry that we do need. And it's already almost 60 days of war.

So, I understand that it takes time, for the world, to adapt, to the truth that we, in Ukraine, have known, for eight years. You cannot trust Russia.


RUDIK: They would pull you, and they would be killing you, at every step of the way.

This is why we are explaining to the world that what's happening in Ukraine, is called genocide. This is why we are explaining to the world that you cannot get into any peaceful agreement, with Russia.

Because, in comparison, it is like going into peaceful agreement, with Hitler, and saying, "Oh, we will talk to him. And probably, he will spare some lives of the Jews." We know that it's all useless. But we understand that it will be time for the world to understand this, and to believe it.


RUDIK: Unfortunately, my people are paying for, this time, with their own lives. But I do know that people will come around. I truly believe in that. And every single day, I'm making sure that we are closer to the point--


RUDIK: --that there will be absolutely good (ph) decisions that will be made.

SCIUTTO: Well, I hope you're right. Kira Rudik, Member of Ukrainian Parliament, thanks so much, for joining us, tonight.

RUDIK: Thank you. And Glory to Ukraine!

SCIUTTO: "Slava Ukraine," as they say.

Well, we turn to survivors, of the horrors, in Borodianka. Just ahead, how one family managed to stay, alive, for more than a month, on nothing, but grains. All of that, in an underground bunker. And the sounds of war that will haunt them, forever.



SCIUTTO: Back now, from Lviv. Like so many stories, of this war, it sounds like something out of World War II, children forced to hunker underground, as bombs go off above them, surviving, for weeks, on nothing but grain. That is the tragic reality, of the war, here, today, a war that the President of Estonia said, today, has elements of genocide.

Our Ed Lavandera, he is in Kyiv. He spoke to Ukrainians suffering, this reality.

Ed, just an incredible story, here, of how one family, managed to stay alive, and all they had to do.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It really struck us, as we've been driving around the areas, north of Kyiv that were under Russian occupation, for so long. You see children, teenagers, witnessing, the aftermath, of this horror. And it really got us to thinking, what it must be like, for them.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): Hidden behind, a row of homes, in the town of Borodianka, Ukrainian police exhume, the bodies, of nine civilians, killed by Russian soldiers. They're documenting evidence, of war crimes.

This mother stands over her son's body, left in a makeshift grave.

On the other side of the graves, we notice Ivan Onufrienko, staring quietly, at the grave of another victim.

LAVANDERA (on camera): One of your friends is buried here?


LAVANDERA (voice-over): Ivan says, his friend was killed by Russian shrapnel, as she tried to escape the city. The cross, bearing Katia's (ph) name, was made by his grandfather, who dug this shallow grave, because they couldn't store the bodies, at the hospital.

ONUFRIENKO (through translator): I can't take this well, when I see this. I cry, but I'm not showing this. I feel weak. Weak, because I cannot do anything.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Ivan is 16-years-old. In two months of war, he's witnessed the innocence of childhood, die, before his eyes.

Watching Ivan makes you wonder how a teenage mind copes with the horror, in front of him. His family says, to understand, we must see, what they experienced.

Ivan's family never left this backyard shed, for more than 30 days, while Russian troops occupied this city. Ivan's grandfather, and father, showed us, how they survived, on nothing, but homemade bread.

LAVANDERA (on camera): So basically, they would take the grain, the raw grain, and grind it down, into flour, or a version of flour. And then, they would make their own bread, in this oven. And that's what they lived on, for more than a month.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Five adults, and four children, hid, in this underground bunker. This is where Ivan heard weeks of artillery blast, and cries for help. The sounds of war that will haunt survivors forever.

ONUFRIENKO (through translator): I slept here. My sister and my mom slept here. And another family slept here too. We tried to curl up, and sleep here, together. Sometimes, when things got really scary, our dads would come down, and stay with us.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): Ivan's grandfather Sergey (ph), says Russian soldiers, told him, the family would be killed, if they tried to escape. Police say, more than 50 people were killed here. Many of them shot, as they tried to run away. The death toll is expected to climb.

LAVANDERA (on camera): How frightening was this experience for you?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I can't express it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It's war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It is war. It is scary.

We never felt anything like that.

They were hitting everything, smashing it.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Sergey (ph) is stoic, as we talk about surviving the Russian siege. But there's one question that pierces his heart.


LAVANDERA (on camera): Do you worry about your grandchildren, witnessing this war?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I don't have words for that. Do you understand?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The little ones can forget, but the older ones will remember always.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): Grandfather and father know, their children, will never be the same.

LAVANDERA (on camera): Why do you feel, it was important, to be here, at this moment? ONUFRIENKO (through translator): So, people can see for themselves. The whole world should see how the Russian world comes, and kill civilians, for nothing.

LAVANDERA (on camera): When you get older, what do you think, you'll remember, about this moment, and this day?

ONUFRIENKO (through translator): I'll remember everything. I'll remember every day. And I will tell my children, and my grandchildren. I will remember this all my life.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): He's a teenager, who refuses to look away, from the raw reality, of this war.


LAVANDERA: And Jim, what Ivan and his family really struggle with, most, right now, is trying to understand, why they are some of the lucky ones that survived, in that city. They were up close, face-to- face, with Russian soldiers, who at the time, were killing other people, in their city. How they were able to escape alive, is something--


LAVANDERA: --that they don't have answers for, and it's almost difficult to live with.

SCIUTTO: And he still has the face of a child, and all that he has witnessed already, like so many children in this country.

Ed Lavandera, thank you for bringing us that story.

Let's go back to Laura, in Washington.

COATES: What a story! It's incredible to think. And just this, the look, in that grandfather's eyes, you know that he is--


COATES: --thinking about what his children, his grandchildren, are thinking. And it's something that is just, it's heart-wrenching, to see, knowing that there's no end in sight.

Jim, thank you.

I want to take it to what's happening here as well, because the controversy, here, at home, over new laws that are being passed, in Florida, those targeting Disney, and Democrats, raising retaliation, and also claims of discrimination.

We're going to tackle that, when we come back.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COATES: Well, tonight, Florida's Republican governor, is poised to sign new laws that mark, well, two key political wins, for him, perhaps, that's thanks to the Florida Legislature.

GOP State lawmakers voted to strip Disney, of its self-governing district, after the company publicly opposed, his new law, the one that critics referred to, as the "Don't Say Gay" law. The Florida House also approved DeSantis' proposed redistricting map, even as several Democratic members, staged a protest.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher, is outside the State Capitol, in Tallahassee.

Dianne, take us through, what happened, today, play by play.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Laura, the Disney bill is the one making all the splashy headlines, right now.

But Republicans, who voted for it, even those who presented the bill, aren't exactly sure, how or if it can actually be accomplished, leaving Democrats to worry that it may have been a distraction, from the maps that were passed that will reduce minority representation.


GALLAGHER (voice-over): Not the happiest place, on Earth, this week, as Florida Republicans vote to strip Disney, of its special private government status.

In what Democrats have dubbed the Governor's retaliation session, the bill would eliminate Disney's special privileges, which allows the theme park, to provide its own public services, like police and fire units.

JANET CRUZ, (D) FLORIDA STATE SENATE: Why are we putting our knee, on the neck of the mouse?

GALLAGHER (voice-over): A bombshell add, to the legislative session, just days earlier, by Governor Ron DeSantis.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): This state is governed by the interests of the people of the State of Florida. It is not based on the demands of California corporate executives.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Stemming from a new Florida law that bans schools from discussing sexual orientation, and gender identity, with young children, dubbed, the "Don't Say Gay" bill, by opponents--


GALLAGHER (voice-over): --Disney called for it to be overturned, and suspended political donations, in Florida, after DeSantis signed it into law, last month.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, Disney poked the bear. And they got us looking at special districts. BOBBY POWELL, (D) FLORIDA STATE SENATE: It's play or punish. If you're going to play into the hands of the governor, or you're going to be punished.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Republicans struggled to answer questions, about whether taxpayers will be stuck, covering the services, and more than $1 billion, in debt, carried by Disney special district.

GARY FARMER, (D) FLORIDA STATE SENATE: The debt service alone would amount to $580 per person. Family of four just got hit with a $2,200 tax bill.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Over the protest of Black representatives.


GALLAGHER (voice-over): House Republicans gave final passage, to a new congressional map.

FENTRICE DRISKELL, (D) FLORIDA HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: When the governor announced that he was expanding special session, to include this attack, on Disney, it was to distract and hide the ball, in terms of what he's doing with redistricting.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): In an unprecedented move, DeSantis vetoed maps, passed during the regular session, by his own party, and submitted his own version, last week.

KELLY SKIDMORE, (D) FLORIDA HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: You don't get to write the map, and approve the map.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): It potentially gives Republicans as many as 20 of the state's 28 districts, while dismantling the 5th District, held by Democratic congressman Al Lawson, dividing Jacksonville, the city with the largest Black population, in the state, into two Republican- leaning districts. And shifting the Orlando area 10th District, currently held by Congresswoman Val Demings, east, towards wider communities.

ANGELA "ANGIE" NIXON, (D) FLORIDA HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: Anytime someone comes up, against the Governor, he bullies them. That sounds like a dictator to me.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): The map was approved without changes, and now heads to DeSantis' desk.


GALLAGHER: And Governor DeSantis confirmed, late this evening that he had received the bills. He has until May 6, to sign them.

Look, voting rights groups have already indicated that they do plan to file legal challenges, Laura, against these maps.

COATES: Of course, I'm a former member of the Voting Rights section, in the Civil Rights Division. And without Section 5, and without a lot of teeth, behind the Voting Rights Act, of course, it's difficult to see how this can be undone.

But this is part of what democracy really has to take a look at, the idea, as you mentioned, writing the maps, being able to sign them, and then talking about the will of the people. There's a lot that needs to be unpacked there.

But the common thread, Dianne, is that what he is pushing, in his own congressional map, and other aspects, might very well be that he is continuing to see, sometime with the culture war issues that many people have been focusing on, in Florida.


And you know what? It's really raising his political profile. And imagine, perhaps, the coup, if one can take on the Voting Rights Act!

How do you see this unfolding?

GALLAGHER: So, that is the concern, from a lot of the Democrats, here, and a lot of voting rights activists, here, in Florida.

What was specific about these maps, is that Governor DeSantis said that he was trying to go off of the U.S. Constitution, and make them, quote, "Race-neutral."

Now, Black Democrats said that race-neutral was just another way of saying a "White district." But they say that the Florida Constitution requires the preservation of minority districts. DeSantis has said, he does not agree with that.

And the belief is that the attempt, of these maps, is to challenge, not just the Florida State Constitution, but potentially, get to the Supreme Court of the United States, to challenge the Voting Rights Act, itself, Laura.

And a lot of that does fall into some of these headlines. These, as you mentioned, culture war touchtones that we have seen, from the Florida governor, over the past year or so.

Now, I do want to point out that a lot of the bills that were signed into law have been stopped, either all, or in part, here, in Florida, by the courts. But he's still getting the headlines. And that is what people are seeing, talking about all that has been accomplished, on those fronts.

The expectation is these will end up in court. But here's the thing, and you know, this, Laura. These are 10-year maps. And even if it does end up in court, the likelihood of it being stopped, before the 2022 congressional elections, those midterms, is very slim.

And so, because they feel like they are running out of time, here, in Florida, the Democrats say, they were afraid that regardless of what happens, that they may see, a diminished minority representation, in those all-important 2022 midterms, even if they are successful in court. COATES: That's fascinating. And also thinking about the idea, as you mentioned, these were Republican-drawn maps that the Governor said, no to.


COATES: And, as you mentioned, his approval ratings are up. I mean, it's up six points, from August, and potentially up eight points, in the governor's race. He's now at 54 percent. That's higher, according to the CNN Poll of Polls, and even the President of the United States.

Dianne Gallagher, thank you.

Also, another controversy, tonight, some Democrats, Democrats, are pleading with the White House, to keep a border policy, from the Trump era. What happens with migrants, trying to reach the U.S., if Title 42's pandemic rule ends, next month?

And how does this Biden approach to immigration compare with, frankly, the handling of refugees, from Ukraine, and beyond?

I'll discuss that with David Sanger, next.



COATES: Well, President Biden, is getting major blowback, from his own party, over expectations that his administration will appeal Title 42. To remember, that's the Trump-era COVID policy that allows U.S. border officials, to turn migrants, along the southern border, back to Mexico, or their home countries.

But when the President was asked about this, today, he seemed to conflate Title 42 with the federal mask mandate battle. Watch.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you considering delaying lifting Title 42?

BIDEN: No. What I'm considering is continuing to hear from my - my - well, first of all, there's going to be an appeal, by the Justice Department. Because, as a matter of principle, we want to be able to be in a position where if, in fact, it is strongly concluded by the scientists that we need Title 42, that we be able to do that.

But there has been no decision on extending Title 42.


COATES: Now, to be fair, the President later clarified that then he was talking about the mask mandate.

But more on why this conflation may have political ramifications, a little bit later.

As you know, a federal judge, this week, overturned the CDC COVID policy, for airlines, and other forms of mass transit.

Well, my next guest says the Administration's viewpoint on these two issues reveals a very key consistency. Well, an inconsistency at that.

CNN Political and National Security Analyst, David Sanger, joins me now.

David, the conflation, really, raises a larger issue, because on the one hand, there's the idea of taking away Title 42, which essentially, you got to say, means there is no longer a public health emergency that merits that.

On the other hand, you've got the idea of appealing a decision, to rollback that mask mandate that's happening in public transportation.

How do you reconcile the two? Can you?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: You really can't, Laura. Thanks for having me on.

So, what we've learned, is that the President, of course, had set a date, a while ago, on May 23, to lift the Title 42 elements, of this. Now, what that means is, this is a health mandate, as you indicated, not an immigration mandate.

And so, under Title 42, if you came over the land border, from Mexico, or from Canada, you would not be allowed to go through the usual asylum process. You would be turned back right away.

This is a technique that was adopted by the Trump administration, at first, rejected by the courts, you may recall, before COVID, as just another way, to try to limit immigration. And then, during COVID, it was allowed.

And so, the big question was, what would President Biden do with it? He stuck with it, for what will essentially be a year and a half, but was then going to ditch it, in May. Now, there's some suggestion they may try to extend that, and keep Title 42, in place.


And, as you say, the crazy part about this is if the mask mandate is being lifted, at that time, you're essentially saying that the pandemic is over, as a health emergency, for air travelers, but not for people, coming over the border.

COATES: Well, what's interesting, too about this, David - and you point out this notion. And again, these are members of his own party, who were talking about this very issue.

It's not as if the announcement of Title 42 meant that no one tried to come to the border. So, the lifting of Title 42, obviously, is going to provide, for an influx, of migrants, who are hoping to come to the United States of America.

Is there a plan in place that you have seen sufficient, such that the Administration, that they really can't claim to be blindsided, by the influx, when it comes and it most likely will come? Is there a political consideration about how to deal with this?

And the reason, I'm so focused, on this, is, of course, we've got an inconsistency. On the one hand, we're all watching what's happening, in Ukraine, and an open-arm policy, as related to refugees, albeit for very different reasons. No one can doubt that.

But yet, in the U.S., we still have this tension, about just how open our borders are, in relation to those, who are also seeking refuge, in the United States.

SANGER: It's exactly right. So, on the first part of your question, Secretary Mayorkas, who's the Secretary of Homeland Security, has said that they are preparing, for what they know, will be a big surge, in as soon as the Title 42 provisions are lifted.

I went back, and looked, today, to see how much they were using Title 42. It turns out that in the - along the southwest border, there were about 160,000 encounters, with people, coming over the border, last month, March - I'm sorry, two months ago.

So, in that time, about half of those were sent back, under Title 42. They were just immediately turned around. So, you have to think that there will be at least 80,000 people, who they could send back, right away, who will remain in the U.S., and add to that backlog of asylum cases.

COATES: What I'm hearing you say well--

SANGER: And then, as you point out?

COATES: --what I'm hearing you say, David, obviously, is this is a problem that you've contemplated, an issue that must be resolved, and anticipated. And the question will be, politically, what the Administration intends, to do about it, now that it's not just Republicans, who are asking for resolution.

David, we're out of time. But thank you so much.

And we will all be right back.

SANGER: Thank you.



SCIUTTO: In Russia, Putin's boldest critic, opposition leader, Alexey Navalny, remains in jail, after more than a year. The story of how he got there, is the stuff of spy thrillers, and is told in the new CNN film, "NAVALNY."

Here's Alex Marquardt, with a closer look.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): There is no greater antagonist, or political threat, in Russia, to Vladimir Putin, than Alexey Navalny. As a result, the 45-year-old opposition leader, is now languishing, in a Russian penal colony, serving a combined sentence, of more than 11 years, in prison.

NAVALNY: I understand how system work in Russia. I understand that Putin hates me.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Navalny's imprisonment is the culmination of more than a decade, of activism, of being a thorn, in Putin's side. He was a blogger, and a lawyer, who emerged, in 2008, exposing corruption, at some Russian state-owned companies.

NAVALNY (through translator): The Putin regime is built on corruption. And Putin himself is the most corrupt.


MARQUARDT (voice-over): In 2011, after allegations that parliamentary elections were rigged, in favor of Putin's political party, Navalny rose to prominence, as a leader, in the large-scale protests.

Over the years, he was repeatedly arrested, evidence of a growing popularity that threatened the Russian establishment's grip on power.

His shining rise, somewhat complicated, in his early days, with cooperation and marching alongside other anti-Putin forces, which included members of far-right nationalist groups. Navalny justifies it now, by saying a broad coalition is needed, to fight a totalitarian regime.

In 2013, he ran for mayor of Moscow, and lost to Putin's favorite candidate. The same year, he was also convicted of embezzlement, a conviction which he called trumped-up, that would prevent him from running for president, against Putin, in 2018.

Two years later, in August 2020, he boarded a flight, from the central Russian city of Tomsk, to Moscow.


MARQUARDT (voice-over): Soon, his cries, were heard, throughout the cabin. Navalny knew exactly what had happened.

NAVALNY: I turn over to the flight attendant, and said him, I was poisoned. I'm going to die.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): He had been poisoned with a chemical nerve agent called Novichok. He was flown, to Germany, for treatment.

A joint investigation, by CNN, and the investigative group, Bellingcat, uncovered the team of agents, from the FSB, the successor to the KGB that had tracked, and followed, Navalny, for years, before the poisoning.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Is it your contention that Vladimir Putin must have been aware of this?

NAVALNY: Of course, 100 percent.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): CNN's Clarissa Ward, and her team, confronted a member of the FSB's toxin team, Oleg Tayakin, at his apartment, on the outskirts of Moscow.



WARD: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE) Clarissa Ward (FOREIGN LANGUAGE) CNN. My name is Clarissa Ward. I work for CNN. Can I ask you a couple of questions? (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).


WARD: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE) Navalny. Was it your team that poisoned Navalny, please?

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Five months, after his poisoning, Navalny returned to Russia, knowing what awaited him.

NAVALNY: I will go back, because I'm Russian politician, I belong to this country.

I would never give Putin such a gift.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): He was arrested, on arrival. In prison, he started a hunger strike. He was initially sentenced to two and a half years, for violating his probation. Then, another nine were added, for fraud and contempt of court charges, which Putin critics say, are clearly political.


Alex Marquardt, CNN, Washington.


SCIUTTO: You really do want to tune in, to this film. "NAVALNY" premieres Sunday, 9 P.M. Eastern, right here, on CNN. It's a powerful story, and an inspiring one.

We'll be right back.


COATES: Welcome back.

And I want to reiterate, this comes full circle, Jim that how important it is, to keep telling the stories--


COATES: --that we're hearing, not to let any of this be normalized, or have people be dismissive, just because of the idea of seeing it day in, day out. It's really tragic, but we have to keep covering it.


COATES: And I want to thank you for the coverage that you're doing out there, in particular, and bringing in these stories, for everyone to hear, and know that they're attached, to human beings and lives.

SCIUTTO: Thank you, Laura. I'm part of a big team here. And we're doing our best, to tell those stories. We'll keep telling those stories.

I'm going to be here, in Ukraine, tomorrow, for CNN TONIGHT, along with Laura, reporting from Washington.

"DON LEMON TONIGHT" starts right now.