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CNN Live Event/Special

Russian Businessman Dies Under Mysterious Circumstances; Ukraine Continues Counteroffensive; President Biden Touts Electric Vehicles; Rail Strike Looming?. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired September 14, 2022 - 13:00   ET



ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Hello, and thank you for joining us. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

And, today, an all-out push to avert an economic disaster. Railroad and union officials are in the nation's capital in critical talks to prevent a freight rail strike. Now, if the two sides don't resolve this dispute by Friday, a strike could cost the U.S. tens of millions of dollars a day and make existing supply chain issues worse.

Some rail companies already beginning controlled shutdowns, Norfolk Southern saying they're no longer moving grain. We will dig into the potential rising costs for gas, food, cars and other consumer goods.

Right now, the White House is drafting emergency backup plans. And we're going to cover every angle of this.

Let's begin with CNN's Kaitlan Collins and the meeting today with Labor Secretary Marty Walsh.

Kaitlan, the Biden administration has a new problem on its hands. What's the plan to solve it?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and they're worried it can feed into old problems, problems that we have seen ever since COVID-19 with the supply chain.

And that's why you have seen the White House trying really actively to resolve this issue and make sure that these two sides do come to an agreement. And, Ana, that's really what has led to this remarkable meeting that's happening right now at the Labor Department hosted by Labor Secretary Marty Walsh between these unions and these railroad carriers.

They have been meeting for hours, I am told, as they are trying to get both sides to come to an agreement, none yet, no agreement yet, but we did just get an update from the Labor Department that said they are negotiating in good faith, that they are committed to staying at the table today. So, of course, that is a key word there to see how this ultimately is resolved.

It's remarkable, in and of itself, that he has both of these sides in the room, that they are negotiating, because this has really been an effort not just conducted by Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, but also transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, President Biden himself even personally involved in this, making calls to these unions, to these railroad carriers to try to get some kind of agreement, because their concern is obviously how disruptive it's going to be if they don't come to an agreement.

CABRERA: All right, Kaitlan Collins, you know -- you are going to keep us updated. Thank you.

And at the center of this dispute, roughly 60,000 union workers, so what exactly do these conductors and engineers want?

CNN's Pete Muntean has those details.

Fill us in, Pete.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Essentially, Ana, this could all come down to sick time. That could bring 40 percent of all freight in the U.S. to a grinding halt. Essentially, engineers that make up the key two-person crews on board these trains say they are essentially on call 24/7. And some of them are facing firings for going to things like funerals and doctor's appointments.

We're talking about 60,000 workers in total that could strike at midnight after Thursday, midnight Friday. This would bring the freight rail system to a grinding halt. They say this is not necessarily about pay, really about work conditions, work rules, and staffing shortages, something we have heard over and over again during the pandemic.

A presidential review board suggested that these workers get some huge concessions from the rail companies themselves. We're talking about an immediate raise, back pay from 2020, and also cash bonuses. This is a huge impact here, Ana, because so many rail systems in the U.S. rely on freight rail.

Amtrak, for example, owns only about 3 percent of its own rails. The other 97 percent are freight rail providers, and Amtrak just uses those rails. So we're only just now seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to these impacts. And so much hangs in the balance here, pretty incredible that this could all come down to sick time for these workers.

CABRERA: And, of course, those engineers and the conductors play a very crucial roles when it comes to moving these trains.

Pete Muntean, thank you.

Let's dive deeper into what a strike could mean for you and me.

CNN's Rahel Solomon is joining us now.

And, Rahel, obviously, Americans are already really feeling the sting of high prices. Well, how much worse could it get?

RAHEL SOLOMON, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so what I'm told is that, in the first few days of a strike, if in fact we see one, most Americans probably won't feel that.


However, if this stretches even into a week, most Americans will feel that, because what we're talking about with these railways, 28 percent of all freight moves via rail. We're talking about coal. We're talking about cement. We're talking about fertilizer making its way to farmers. In

fact, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce saying each loaded railcar covers enough wheat, has enough wheat for 260,000 loaves of bread. So that just gives you a sense of how widespread the impact of this could be. And some have said, well, just move it be a truck. Forget the rails. Use it via truck.

The American Trucking Association saying, wait a minute, we don't have the manpower, we don't have the equipment to do it. They're already dealing with a driver shortage of 80,000 drivers that they're short. So they can't do that.

When we look in terms of industries, which industries are more sensitive to this, food is going to be the most sensitive, right? Think about spoiled food. Think about fertilizer not making its way to the farmer.

Gas will be impacted. The refineries could be disrupted a bit, but also coal. Coal is still a main, huge primary source of fuel. So that's going to be impacted. Consumer goods, the National Retail Federation already sounding alarm about the supply chain impact to consumer goods, and cars and trucks also especially sensitive, because 75 percent of cars are transported via rail.

And it's not just the finished product, Ana. It's also the parts, right, the parts that go into making cars, which is why some of the automotive unions are sounding the alarm about this. And, as you know, the automakers have been dealing with supply chain issues for years already. It's part of the reason why cars are so expensive right now. This is the last thing they need.

So, this impact could be quite widespread, which is why you're hearing a lot of the unions, a lot of the stakeholders like the National Retail Federation sound the alarm about what this impact could really look like.

CABRERA: And it's why we're covering it as our top story right now.

SOLOMON: Exactly. Yes.

CABRERA: Thank you so much, Rahel Solomon, for laying it out for us.

As for President Biden, right now, he is in the Motor City. He just toured the Detroit Auto Show and is about to deliver remarks on a brand-new $900 million plan for electric vehicles.

CNN's M.J. Lee is traveling with the president. M.J., this money is all tied to his recent infrastructure win, when we're talking about these electric vehicle improvements, and not even a looming strike that we have been discussing is slowing down the president's victory lap.

M.J. LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Ana, just to set the theme for you a little bit more here, this is the North American International Auto Show, which actually hasn't happened in a number of years because of the pandemic.

And it's really a place where every major auto company is going to showcase their newest car models and the newest technologies and really a dream for any car enthusiast.

And speaking of, President Biden, who has called himself very much a car person, is particularly a fan of those Chevy Corvettes, he has been touring the floor and actually getting into some of these vehicles. We saw him seemingly having a good time, getting into an orange Corvette. He joked that he was going to tell his Secret Service agents that he was going to drive that Corvette home.

We also saw him actually driving around and an electric Cadillac. And this is sort of the colorful backdrop for him taking the opportunity today to talk about the focus of the administration in investing in electric vehicles.

Now, when he takes the stage behind me in just a little bit, in his remarks, we do expect that he is going to announce a new approval of $900 million in investments for electric vehicle charging stations spanning the country across some 35 states, including here in the state of Michigan.

And I should tell you, the electric vehicle issue is kind of an interesting one, in that you see a number of the president's legislative accomplishments converge on this issue. Obviously, there is the infrastructure package from last year. That was a big deal for Democrats. There's also the CHIPS bill, as well as the climate change and health care and tax bill that the president signed into law a number of weeks ago.

So, this is an issue where he's able to really showcase a number of things that the Democrats want to showcase ahead of the midterms. And, yes, the focus is on cars, and particularly electric vehicles. You can really see the political significance here, the president able to come to, a very important battleground state and meet with local elected official leaders, union leaders, and, again, really hone in on the legislative accomplishments that he wants to be talking about so close to the midterm elections -- Ana.

CABRERA: We will watch for the president's message here later this hour. M.J. Lee, thank you.

A vow to retake it all. Ukraine's president today claiming his forces will recapture all occupied lands, as he visits a city destroyed and abandoned now by Russian troops. Can the Ukrainians keep pushing them back? Plus: Would you like a subpoena with that? Why the FBI just served

Trump ally and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and seized his phone as he sat in the drive-through line at a Hardee's.

And a study that shocked researchers, it showed how a daily multivitamin could give older people a brain boost.



CABRERA: Ukraine's President Zelenskyy traveled to his country's eastern front line today to visit the recaptured city of Izyum.

Ukrainian forces seized that village on Saturday, in a major blow to Russia's offensive. President Zelenskyy says he's shocked by the death and devastation from the Russian occupation. And he also is sending a message to Ukrainian still living in occupied areas, vowing they will also be liberated.

I want to bring in retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. He's a CNN military analyst and a former commanding general of the U.S. Army.

And, General, it's now about 3,000 square miles Ukraine has retaken, according to Zelenskyy.


What are you watching for in this next phase, as Ukraine works to get back more and hold onto territory?


First of all, I think we really have to see a pause because -- call it a tactical pause, after the Ukrainian forces have conducted such a brilliant attack across Kherson oblast. That's a long trip. It's over 100 miles. The different attacks that they have had, they have been facing Russian fighters. They have generated a lot of Russian prisoners of war. They have sustained -- they have actually garnered some equipment from Russia.

And, by one case, there's the estimates that they have received almost an entire tank brigade worth of armored vehicles that Russia has just left behind.

So, what you have to consider is, as they continue their offensive -- and they're well into the offensive -- they have got to take a little bit of tactical pause, regenerate themselves, get the supplies up, and really continue their coordination for what -- where they're going to go and what they're going to do next.

CABRERA: It seems like they have been moving so swiftly. Again, it's just been since the beginning of September that they have been able to recapture all of that territory.

But one Ukrainian official did warn that further gains will likely be slower, because now the element of surprise is gone.

Just how much more challenging might it be for Ukraine to advance now?

HERTLING: Well, what you're talking about, Ana, I'm going to get a little geeky, military geeky, on you, and tell you that their attack in the north was terrain-oriented.

They wanted to achieve some key terrain objectives, so they could continue the fight and prevent Russia from continuing their fight. Most of those terrain objectives had to do with places where logistics could be shipped to and from on both sides.

In the south, in Kherson, what you're talking about is really a force- oriented attack. They're looking at connecting and engaging with Russian forces in the southern areas, in Kherson province, where they can continue the attack there, all the while they're also doing hasty and deliberate defenses in the Donbass region.

So, you have really got a three-front war going on right now, all somewhat executed in different ways. But it's going to be important that that is all coordinated well at the top levels of the Ukrainian military and the Ukrainian government. They seem to be doing a brilliant job of it so far. They seem to be occupying, reoccupying territory.

And they may go further, but it's going to take some additional equipment and personnel strength to do that.

CABRERA: Zelenskyy also spoke of retaking Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, President Zelenskyy saying this -- quote -- "We know that these are our people. And it is a terrible tragedy that they have been under occupation for more than eight years. We will return there. I don't know when exactly, but we have plans."

General, what do you make of Zelenskyy setting that expectation?

HERTLING: Yes, that's a bold statement.

And, truthfully, the United States and NATO have been following President Zelenskyy's lead on all this.

You have noticed that no one in the United States has said, hey, we need to stop them from going to Crimea, or we need to help them go to Crimea. We are behind what President Zelenskyy thinks is best for his people. And I was, truthfully, kind of happy that he did say that this morning.

I think there's a lot of people within the Crimea autonomous region who were anticipating this kind of move. But, truthfully, that's also going to shake up President Putin significantly. I'm not sure what he can do to stop that. But because he has a naval base at Sevastopol and a couple of air bases in the Crimea region, that's really going to bump it up a level for Mr. Putin in how he is looking at what Ukraine is doing.

But it's also all generated toward a strategic victory on President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people's parts to regain their sovereignty over their sovereign territory.

CABRERA: We're learning the Ukrainian military is seeing signs of movement along that zone among Russian forces from parts of the south moving into Crimea.

Do you think they'd be doing that if they weren't concerned about keeping Crimea? Is Crimea vulnerable right now?

HERTLING: Yes, I think both sides are watching the movement of forces.

What you saw over the last week-plus is, Russia has attempted to deploy some of their forces from the north and the east down to the south. That's what contributed to a very successful operation by Ukraine in the north, because some of those elements of Russian forces had been moved.

But they also have to protect -- the Russians have to protect their supply lines, not only out of current Crimea and the ports, Sevastopol, where they have military bases, but also right across the border from a major town called Rostov-on-Don.


There's a highway that travels along that southern approach. And Russia has to maintain the capability of -- keep that highway moving supplies. If they continue to have interdiction by Ukrainian forces, and especially Ukrainian artillery, hitting key logistics areas, they can't sustain a combat operation and also secure the many cities that they're trying to attempt to secure.

One of the things I mentioned, the Ukrainian government said within the last five days they have liberated over 400 towns just in the Kharkiv province. Now, some of those villages and towns are relatively small, but, at the same time, those were the same towns that Russia was trying to seize and secure.

And they, just truthfully, Ana, did not have enough forces to do that. So, we have seen from the very beginning that this has been an ill- planned operation by the Russian government and the Russian military .And it's coming back to bite them right now.

CABRERA: Well, and that area that Ukraine has gone on to seize and retake is so close to the Russian border. Presumably, that would have been an area that Russia could more easily dig in and resupply and all of that. So, the logistics are going south there. That doesn't bode well, I would assume, for other regions within Ukraine.

Thank you so much, General Mark Hertling. I appreciate you, as always.

HERTLING: Always a pleasure.

CABRERA: Meantime, a Russian businessman has now become at least the ninth prominent executive to die under mysterious circumstances in less than a year.

And CNN's Tom Foreman is here now to walk us through this string of suspicious deaths.

Tom, who is this latest businessman to die?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suspicious is the right word.

In this case, it is Ivan Pechorin, managing director of the Corporation for the Development of the Far East and the Arctic. On September 10, regional media reported that he was found drowned. There were some reports about a possible boating accident. But there is mystery around this and suspicion.

He is not a member of either Gazprom or Lukoil, two big companies out there. They are notable because six of the nine who have died in these suspicious circumstances were associated with these two very large energy companies -- Ana.

CABRERA: And so why would employees of these energy companies be potentially targeted?

FOREMAN: Well, because these energy companies spoke up early about problems with the invasion of Ukraine.

Notably, Lukoil put out this statement in March: "We express our sincere empathy for all the victims who are affected by this tragedy. We strongly support a lasting cease-fire and a settlement of problems through serious negotiations and diplomacy."

This absolutely did not make the Kremlin happy. So people started looking at this and saying, well, what came next? Well, two months later, Alexander Subbotin was dead after visiting a shaman for some possible treatment of some kind of issues. But he was founded. September 1, Ravil Maganov dies after reportedly falling from a hospital window.

In both cases, there were some official accounts, particularly in this case, of saying, well, he was dealing with some kind of issues, maybe depression after a heart attack.

But when you go beyond this, and you put it into the big picture, it gets confusing, six of the nine of these people in suspicious deaths tied to those companies, but look at this, suspected suicide, reported stabbing, suspected suicide, reported stabbing, murder/suicide, murder/suicide, falling from window.

All of these taken together have really raised interest among people, saying, is this the machination of the Kremlin? Now, notably, we do not know that. And in the current circumstance, there is a tremendous amount of business pressure over there as well, on top of which, there could be elements within the business community that might have complaints with all of this.

But it remains suspicious, and a lot of questions in all of these remain unanswered, especially that they're all happening now.

CABRERA: I wonder if we will ever know the truth.

Tom Foreman, thank you.

FOREMAN: Perhaps not. Thanks.

CABRERA: First on CNN, Bill Richardson, the former U.N. ambassador and former governor, has been in Moscow this week meeting with Russian leadership.

Now, the Kremlin refusing to comment on whether these discussions involved a possible prisoner swap for Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. And a spokesman for Richardson's center also declined to comment, and the Biden White House says it won't comment on private citizens going and having these discussions, not representing the U.S. in Russia.

But Richardson has long negotiated for the release of Americans detained abroad. You will recall, last April, he helped secure Trevor Reed's release from Russian detention.

A trip to Hardee's ends with an FBI visit. MyPillow CEO and fierce Trump ally Mike Lindell says federal agents seized his cell phone in a fast-food parking lot. Why?

That's ahead.



CABRERA: OK, picture this. You're sitting in a fast food drive- through and a swarm of cars surround your vehicle. Then FBI agents jump out and hit you with a subpoena.

That's apparently what happened to MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell at a Hardee's yesterday.


MICHAEL LINDELL, CEO, MYPILLOW: Cars pulled up in front of us, to the side of us, and behind us. And I said, those are either bad guys or the FBI.

Well, it turns out they were the FBI.