Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

Kyiv Bombed And Shelled; Ukraine's Population Displaced By War; President Biden Warns Of Cyberattack From Russia; U.N.: Nearly 3.5 Million Ukrainians Have Fled The Country; UNICEF: 1.5 Million Children Among Ukrainian Refugees; Historic Hearings For Supreme Court Nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson; 96-Year-Old Holocaust Survivor Killed By Russian Strike; Chinese Airliner Plunged 25,000 Plus Feet In 2 Minutes Before Crashing. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 21, 2022 - 17:00   ET



ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: What's the big deal and we'll keep us from going through the hell that we've all been through in the past two years.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Such a good point. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you very much. And our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. See you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Deadly Russians shelling batters Ukraine's capital, flattening a shopping mall and prompting a strict new curfew. The war-torn country rejecting Russia's demand to surrender the key city of Mariupol where one officer says bombs are falling every ten minutes.

Also tonight, President Biden has a new warning about potential Russian cyber-attacks on the U.S. as he prepares to travel to a critical NATO summit. And President Zelenskyy is voicing fears that this conflict could lead to World War III as Ukrainians dodge explosions and defy Russia.

Also breaking, a historic moment here in Washington as the U.S. Senate begins confirmation hearings for the first black woman nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court. Judge Kentanji Brown Jackson delivering her opening statement and offering clues about the kind of justice she would be.

We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in "The Situation Room."

The breaking news, Russia's brutal an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine described tonight as "a bloody stalemate" as casualties mount on both sides. We're covering all angles with CNN's Phil Black in Lviv following unfolding bombardment of the southern city of Mariupol.

And CNN's Don Lemon also in Lviv talking to some of the almost 3.5 million people fleeing the country and trying to flee the fighting. But we begin in the capital of Kyiv with CNN's Fred Pleitgen and the latest on a deadly Russian attack on a shopping mall.

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This area of Kyiv was hit overnight into Monday and certainly the ammunition that was used here seems to be absolutely massive. If we go forward, what we can see over there is a mall and the parking lot of the mall where you can clearly see a gigantic impact crater right in the middle of that parking lot.

Also, there is buildings around, that tall building absolutely destroyed in that entire mall complex. And the buildings around here, a lot of them were badly damaged as well. What we're hearing from the city council here in Kyiv is they say that so far they know of eight people who have been killed in this explosion. And several buildings, of course, damaged including a school and a kindergarten as well.

What is not clear is what exactly the military objective of all of this may have been. There certainly doesn't seem to be any military infrastructure close to here or at least we haven't seen any. And also, this appears to be very much a civilian area.

One of the things that we found very remarkable here is we are currently on the 11th floor of a building that is, you know, pretty far away from the explosion. We found this piece of shrapnel. This piece of shrapnel, we did not find that here on the front of the building. This went through this entire apartment and was then found in the hallway. It went through the front door, and of course, this would have been extremely deadly for anybody who was in its path.

The people who live here told us they bought this place about three months ago. It's a new building. Luckily they weren't here when the explosion took place. But if we pan down, we can see the destruction that was brought by all of this. Obviously, a lot of glass that was broken. (Inaudible) windows blown out and of course, anybody who would have been laying in this bed in the bedroom would have been in severe danger, of massive injuries and possibly death especially with so much shrapnel flying around.

This is very much part of the current ongoing battle for Kyiv. The U.S. and its allies say the Russians are not making much progress in that battle and certainly increasingly using heavy weaponry that every once in a while certainly does land in civilian areas.

BLITZER: And Fred, tell us more about this truly awful, devastating strike.

PLEITGEN: Yes, it is certainly an awful and very devastating strike, Wolf. And you know, one of the things that we have to keep in mind about that area, it's in the northwest of Kyiv and it certainly is very close to the front line. I would say it's only a couple of kilometers, maybe five miles away from the actual front line area. And while we were there, we did see a lot of shelling going on, both outgoing and incoming shelling. And on the horizon, you could just see black smoke the entire time.

Now, we have actually heard from the Russian defense ministry since then. They claim that in that incident they were targeting a multiple rocket launching system that they say that the Ukrainians were hiding under a mall building. They also said that the Ukrainians were hiding ammo in that area as well. So they claim that this was a military target that they've hit.

We've also managed to get in touch with the Ukrainian ministry of defense and they say that is absolutely not true. There was no ammunition there. There would have been more explosions if that would have been the case.


Now, Wolf, of course, all this happens as this war that's going on continues to escalate. And the Ukrainians are saying that negotiations are the only thing that can solve this or else things could have devastating consequences. Listen once again to what Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the president of this country, had to say.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (through translation): I think that we have to use any format, any chance in order to have a possibility of negotiating, possibility of talking to Putin. But if these attempts fail, that would mean that this is a third world war.


PLEITGEN: So there you have Volodymyr Zelenskyy with some dire projections if negotiations don't come to bear fruit and if negotiations don't happen. AS you can see, Wolf, they Ukrainians right now managing to keep the Russians at bay at least around here, around Kyiv (inaudible) some counter offensives even on the way but certainly, this is still an extremely volatile situation especially in the north of the capital city, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a horrible situation. Russian forces, Fred, also fire on civilians simply protesting in a southern Ukrainian city. What are you learning about that attack?

PLEITGEN: Yes, Wolf. This happened in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson. And one of the things that we have to keep in mind about all of this, Wolf, is that so far, the Russian military even after three weeks, more than three weeks of this war has not managed to take a single major population city here in this country.

Kherson is the single sort of semi-big city that they managed to take. There is about 300,000 people there. They come out to protest every single day against the Russian occupation as they did again today. There were protests where that happened.

And from what we're hearing from an eyewitness, they were saying that there was a disagreement obviously between themselves and the soldiers, and that all of a sudden, the soldiers first of all started firing tear gas and then were opening fire in the crowds, in the air. And then of course, also, at people as well. There were some people that can be seen sort of wounded on the ground. So, really, really devastating situation there in Kherson. And also,

one that quite frankly, is showing that the Russians were coming in there, into Kherson. This is an area just outside of Crimea that the Russians thought they would easily take. The people there obviously very much making their views clear that they do not want Russian soldiers inside their city and that their city is very much a Ukrainian city, Wolf.

BLITZER: This war continues. Fred Pleitgen, be careful over there. We will stay in touch. And now, the latest on the southern city of Mariupol where one Ukrainian officer now says Russian bombs are falling every 10 minutes, terrorizing residents and reducing parts of the city to rubble. CNN's Phil Black has details.


PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Between the shelling and air strikes in Mariupol, people emerge to do what they can for the living and the dead. This man says he hopes these graves are only temporary. That the bodies will be reburied someday. They spend much of their time sheltering in what remains of the buildings and often beneath them. Basements offer some protection but little comfort.

This woman says they have enough food and firewood to last a week. Around 300,000 people in Mariupol are living like this. Those without homes are crowding together in large buildings. Over the weekend, an art school with around 400 people inside was bombed and destroyed.

This video gives a sense of what these large shelters are like. It's from a theater where around 1,000 or more people were staying, mostly women, children, the elderly. Days later, it was blown apart in a suspected air strike. The Russian word for children marked out in huge letters outside provided no safety.

Katarina Iskaya (ph) lived across from that theater and delivered food and other aid to the people hiding out there. She tells us it's difficult to describe the sympathy she felt for them. They were terrified, cowering in horror at the sounds of planes over ahead, always afraid of a bomb dropping.

Alventina Svetsova (ph) lived under Russian attack in Mariupol for 21 days. This is not just a city, she says. This is my whole life. She survived without power in freezing conditions with little food with eight other members of her family until the building was hit. They pulled dead neighbors from the rubble and decided to leave the city.

Alventina (ph) says she can't imagine life without Mariupol. She will return, but now in her burning city there are lots of people, lots of children under rubble, others in shelters.


The journey out of the besieged city is slow and dangerous, but every day, relatively small numbers are leaving whatever way they can along what are supposed to be agreed corridors. A local official says some people have been fired upon. Others have had their vehicles seized at Russian checkpoints.

The people of Mariupol have no good options. Stay and endure the horror of Russia's bombardment or face danger and uncertainty, leaving all they know behind.


BLACK (on camera): Ukraine's defense minister says the people defending Mariupol are saving lives all over the country. They're slowing Russia's advance by drawing its fire. With the invading force yet to claim a single major city, the desperate battle for Mariupol has taken on symbolic importance for both sides of this war. Wolf?

BLITZER: Phil Black reporting for us. Phil, thank you very, very much. The fighting has sent millions of people fleeing with nearly one quarter of the Ukrainian population now displaced from their homes. CNN's Don Lemon is also in Lviv for us tonight. Don, first of all, tell us more about what you're seeing on the ground.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: We are seeing, really, Wolf, person after person who are homeless here in the city, basically homeless because they have been driven from where they live. This city, Lviv, is about 800,000 people usually. Now imagine adding 200,000 plus people on top of that. People who don't have a place to live and you're trying to find housing for them and services.

It is really interesting to watch. You cannot walk in this city just a few blocks, just a few steps without meeting one of those people who have moved from another place, like Dorina (ph) and Tatiana (ph). They live here. Tatiana, Wolf, is in her 50s. She's lived in the same house for her entire life in the Kharkiv area, and her daughter as well. We met them on the streets today. Tatiana (ph) doesn't speak English very well, but we talked to her daughter and they talked to us, she talked to us and told us about her day to day existence. Watch this.


UNKNOWN: I think I was shocked. I couldn't even cry. I didn't feel anything. I was like -- I'm happy I am alive. I didn't need -- I did need the house. I don't need anything. I just want to be alive and safe. And each day I was praying my mom, our dog, are safe, and that's actually all I need. And it's actually time when we cannot really plan something. We just plan our next step for the next day.

LEMON: Day to day.

UNKNOWN: Yes, day to day.

LEMON: Living day to day.



LEMON: Day to day, Wolf. And they are worried that the bombing and the shelling could come to Lviv. They are concerned about that. They say they may have to move on to Poland so they don't know what they're going to do the next day.

I tell you, the really odd thing that we have noticed since we've been here just to tell about the dichotomy and the mood of the city, we will be sitting here and there will be a church bell going off at the top of the hour or the half-hour, and sometimes moments after that we'll get air raid sirens or even at the same time, Wolf.

BLITZER: I just want you to be careful over there. Don, I'm worried about what's about to happen as well. Don Lemon, thank you very, very much. Important not to our viewers, Don will be back with much more from Ukraine on his program, CNN "Don Lemon Tonight" I should day, later tonight 10:00 p.m. eastern. Two hours of live coverage. We'll be watching, Don, as we do every night.

Coming up, President Biden is warning that Russia could be preparing (inaudible) what he calls malicious cyberattacks against the United States. Lots of news breaking right now. Stay with us. You're in "The Situation Room."



BLITZER: President Biden held a critical phone call with European leaders today and it comes just days ahead of his very high stakes trip to Brussels for an urgent NATO summit. CNN's chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins reports in what was discussed in today's all important call with critically important U.S. allies?


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, President Biden is preparing to embark on one of the most consequential trips of his presidency.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There will certainly be deliverables.

COLLINS (voice-over): Before Biden heads to Europe for urgent talks with allies, he spent 58 minutes on the phone with his counter parts in France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom today.

PSAKI: They discussed their serious concerns about Russia's brutal tactics in Ukraine including its attacks on civilians.

COLLINS (voice-over): Also tonight, President Biden is warning companies to harden their cyber defenses "immediately" based on evolving intelligence that the Russian government is exploring options for potential cyberattacks.

ANNE NEUBERGER, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER FOR CYBER AND ENGINEERING TECHNOILOGY: This is a call to action and a call to responsibility for all of us.

COLLINS (voice-over): Russia is claiming it summoned the U.S. ambassador and threatened to cut diplomatic relations with the U.S. after President Biden called President Putin a war criminal and pure thug.


WENDY SHERMAN, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: We think it's important always to maintain diplomatic relationships because that's a method of communications.

COLLINS (voice-over): Biden's upcoming visit to Europe follows several rounds of talks between Russia and Ukraine that haven't yielded any real progress as Russia has continued to ramp up its attacks.

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Each day brings more harrowing attacks. More innocent men, women and children killed.

COLLINS (voice-over): On Wednesday, Biden will travel to Brussels for a full day of meetings with critical allies on Thursday, before heading to Poland on Friday and sitting down with Polish President Duda on Saturday to discuss the crisis in Ukraine. Despite some current and former Ukrainian officials calling on Biden to also visit Ukraine, U.S. officials say it's not on the schedule.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: You have to remember we have discouraged Americans from going into Ukraine. This is a country at war.

COLLINS (voice-over): While Biden is in Europe, Poland is expected to propose conducting an international peace keeping mission in Ukraine. The top U.S. officials are ruling out any U.S. military involvement.


THOMAS-GREENFIELD: The president has been very clear that we will not put American troops on the ground in Ukraine. We don't want to escalate this into a war with the United States.


COLLINS (on camera): Also tonight, Wolf, shipments of that $800 million in military assistance that President Biden is sending to Ukraine have started, but the actual deliveries have not yet made it into Ukraine, though officials told CNN they do believe that will start happening very soon.

We should note that comes as the administration is also in talks with the United Nations about expediting the processing for Ukrainian refugees who cannot stay in Europe and want to come to the United States. Of course, that will be big a topic for President Biden when he does to go Poland in a few days from now, Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point. Kaitlan Collins at the White House for us. Thank you very much. Let's discuss with the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor, and retired U.S. Army Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt. Ambassador Taylor, what specifically realistically could President Biden and these 29 other NATO leaders try to accomplish at this summit to help turn this tide of the war around? WILLIAM TAYLOR, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Wolf, they can do a

couple of things. One, they can turn on the spigot. Increase the -- so the weapons are flowing, but the spigot can be bigger. It can be wider open. It can be more going in there. And all the kinds of things we've talked about in terms of anti-air, air defense, the anti-armor, the stingers, all of those can in and can just go wider. That aperture needs to be wider. That's number one.

And number two, tighten the noose. There are still sanctions that are not in place yet. There are banks, there are Russian banks that are not cut off from the SWIFT organization, the WIFT network. And there are members of the duma who are not yet sanctioned. There are things we can do to increase the pressure, Wolf, on the Russians, and to increase the ability of the Ukrainians to stand off.

BLITZER: You know, General Kimmitt, all this comes as President Zelenskyy of Ukraine is warning that Mariupol is being reduced to ashes, his words. But still, Ukraine refuses to surrender. Why is it so essential that Ukraine maintains control of this key city?

MARK KIMMITT, RETIRED U.S. ARMY: Well, there are a couple of reasons. First of all, there's the geographical reason that it's their only access to the Sea of Azov. And as it looks like, the next target is going to be Odessa. If they get both Mariupol and Odessa, they're not only cut off from the Sea of Azov but they're cut off and they are a land locked nation.

Number two, there is a psychological effect of the surrender of Mariupol. If they show any weakness and they show that they are prepared to surrender, that might have a knock-on effect around the rest of the country which might hamper or completely change the willingness to defend the large cities like Odessa and Kyiv.

BLITZER: You know, Ambassador Taylor, children fleeing Mariupol, they have been fired on. These are children. One Mariupol resident describes the situation as a living hell. Is that all part of the Russian strategy? Punishing civilians including children to try to force them out?

TAYLOR: Wolf, it's horrible. It is just -- words can't express how horrible it is. General Kimmitt is right. Mariupol is important, but the other thing about Mariupol is, even if the Russians eventually do take it, they will have alienated the entire country. They will have indicated, they will have created a (inaudible) city and they will benefit the morale of the Ukrainian people.

BLITZER: Yes, indeed. You know, and General Kimmitt, the ground fight, almost a stalemate based on everything we're hearing, but could that actually force Putin to wage an even more brutal war?

KIMMITT: You know, Wolf, I don't agree that it's at a stalemate. I think that the Russians continue to soften up Mariupol with rockets, missiles and artillery. They are making progress in flattening this city and getting it to a position where they can send their troops in with a minimum of casualties. Street fighting, urban fighting is horrible at its best. It's only done better on a relative basis if all of the buildings are knocked down and all the civilians are out. So, I would not for a minute say it's at a stalemate.

BLITZER: General Kimmitt, thank you so much for joining us. Ambassador Taylor, thanks to you as well.

The breaking news continues next. Almost 3.5 million people fleeing Ukraine for neighboring countries as Russia's totally unprovoked onslaught escalates.



BLITZER: More now on the breaking news. The number of people fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine growing by the hour. And tonight, the United Nations says about one-fourth of the country's population has been displaced from their homes. CNN senior national correspondent Ed Lavendera reports. Some fortunate refugees have found sanctuary, thanks to the kindness of strangers.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The children enjoy a game of hide and seek with the young boy hiding in the corner. But they're not siblings. They're new friends brought together by war and the good will of Jaroslaw Swiecicki and his wife (inaudible). They opened their home to this Ukrainian family who escaped the war zone less than a week ago.


(On camera): When did you decide to help Ukrainian refugees?


LAVANDERA (voice-over): Since the war started, that's Swiecicki family has taken in 46 people. This truck driver who recently recovered from cancer says helping Ukrainian refugees is something he has to do.

(on-camera): Why have you opened up your house to so many people?

SWIECICKI: Because we show this is imposed tradition, I think, to open our house, to open our homes for someone who is in need.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): And he's quick to think of the little things that make his guests feel at home. Yulia Grishko is in Poland with her seven-year-old son, four-month-old baby, along with her elderly parents. Today is her birthday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Foreign Language).

LAVANDERA (voice-over): She wanted us to see the gift she received from her host, blue and yellow flowers, Ukraine's national colors. Yulia and her family escaped from the eastern Ukrainian city of Dnipro last week. The Fighting has intensified around their hometown.

(on-camera): So on March 13th at 530 in the morning, a Russian fighter jet flew over your home. What were you thinking in that moment?

She says, this was the turning point. I realized that I could no longer endure it. At that moment, I thought I had to save my children.

Yulia is a police officer at home. She was on maternity leave when the war started. Now it's up to her to figure out what to do next as the war drags on. But she says her heart is in Ukraine with the family she left behind.

My heart stated home, she says. I'm scared for my relatives. But thank God I'm in a warm place surrounded by kindness and have inner peace.

(on-camera): This family here in Poland, will you always consider them part of your family?

Yes, she says. They have already become part of our family.

On this night, far from home, Yulia was treated to a birthday cake surprise, and a lovely version of the song Sto lat, the traditional Polish birthday song. Yulia tells us her only wish is for peace, and the end of war so her family can return home at.

Ed Lavandera, Przemysl (ph), Poland.


BLITZER: Beautiful story indeed. Let's get some more on the refugee crisis. Joining us Nancy Dent, senior communications officer for the International Rescue Committee. Nancy, thanks so much for joining us. Thanks for all you and your teams are doing. Give us the latest on the situation you're actually now seeing on the ground in Poland where you were.

NANCY DENT, SR. COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER, INTERNATIONAL RESCUE COMMITTEE: Thanks for having me. And so as you said, there's about 2 million people who fled Ukraine into Poland now. It's mainly women and children arriving and they're arriving without their partners, their fathers, their brothers.

And over the last sort of couple of days, border crossings have felt really tense. People are extremely quiet and they don't really want to talk. When they do, they speak in sort of short one word answers and it's really clear that people are exhausted. And today I met a 17- year-old girl who was traveling with her family. She had her mother, brother and her two-year-old baby sister with her. And she described the moment when they decided to leave just as the airport near their home have been bombed. And she said that her sister has started to sleep with her eyes open.


DENT: (INAUDIBLE) tiny two-year-old baby.

BLITZER: Yes, I'm just saying it's so awful these stories. And, you know, the U.N. now says about a 1.5 million Ukrainian children are now refugees. Are countries like Poland, for example, prepared to care for these Ukrainian kids for months, maybe even longer?

DENT: Yes, the broad concern right now is whether the Polish economy and cities in particular can absorb the numbers into their labor force, along with children in schools, ill people in hospitals, et cetera. You know, are there going to be physically enough shelters and apartments for people to live in and the medium to long term? Shelters in the big cities are sort of being loaned out by a second buildings by businesses and local governments (INAUDIBLE) learning out their city workers to run them.

And, you know, it's an incredible sort of voluntary thing. And it's happening (INAUDIBLE), you know, this kind of outpouring of support can't last forever. And it's really now time for kind of their national security, international (INAUDIBLE) to step in and finish the marathon that the Polish communities have started.

BLITZER: You got to give the Polish people a lot of credit for what they're doing and helping all these Ukrainian refugees. Nancy Dent of the International Rescue Committee, thank you so much for joining us. And once again, thanks for all you're doing.


An important note for our viewers, very important for information about how you, our viewers, can actually help humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, go to and you can help Impact Your World.

Just ahead, much more in the breaking developments out of Ukraine, as Russia is actually ramping up its brutal attacks. Plus, we'll have the latest from Capitol Hill where Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson gives her opening statement as she seeks to become the first black woman to serve on the nation's highest court. Stay with us.


BLITZER: We'll have much more on all the late breaking developments from Russia's brutal war against Ukraine, that's coming up in just moments. But there's another very important (INAUDIBLE) story we're following. The first day in the confirmation hearings for President Biden's Supreme Court pick Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. The hearing just wrapped up a little a while ago. If confirmed, she will become the first black woman on the nation's highest court.

CNN Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid reports.



JUDGE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: I do. PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the first day of her historic confirmation hearing, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson told lawmakers she was humbled to be the first black woman nominated to the Supreme Court.

JACKSON: My parents taught me that unlike the many barriers that they had had to face growing up, my path was clearer. So that if I worked hard, and I believed in myself in America, I could do anything or be anything I wanted to be.

REID (voice-over): Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin kicked off a hearing by highlighting the significance of her nomination.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL), JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN: Not a single justice has been a black woman. You, Judge Jackson, can be the first. It's not easy being first. Often you have to be the best in some ways the bravest.

REID (voice-over): Jackson currently sits on the D.C. federal appellate courts and was always considered the front runner for the vacancy created by the coming retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer, for whom she even once corked. She would bring unique work experience as a former Federal Public Defender and member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: You will be the first public defender on the court. You understand our justice system uniquely, through the eyes of people who couldn't afford a lawyer.

REID (voice-over): Monday marked the fourth confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill for Jackson over the course of her career.

JACKSON: I decide cases from a neutral posture. I evaluate the facts. And I interpret and apply the law to the facts of the case before me without fear or favor, consistent with my judicial oath.

REID (voice-over): But Republicans on the committee had several lines of attack against her. Some GOP lawmakers signaled they will take on her judicial philosophy.

SEN. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R-TN), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I can only wonder what's your hidden agenda.

REID (voice-over): Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley took a different tact.

SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: So let me say a few things that I'm concerned about aspects of your record that trouble me.

REID (voice-over): And has tried to paint her as being soft on crime, specifically, sex offenders.

HAWLEY: I'm not interested in trying to play gotcha, I'm interested in her answers. REID (voice-over): But CNN reviewed the decisions in question and found that Jackson mostly followed the common sentencing guidelines and practices. And Hawley had taken some of her comments out of context.

DURBIN: Trust me, we'll get her on the record because there's a big story to be told that Hawley is leaving out.


REID: Tomorrow, lawmakers will begin questioning Jackson. Now at this point, even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says he expects Jackson will ultimately be confirmed. And Democrats would like to see her confirm before they leave for their next recess on April 8. Wolf?

BLITZER: Paula Reid reporting from Capitol Hill. Thank you, Paula.

Let's discuss this truly historic hearing. The Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Dick Durbin is joining us. Senator, thank you so much for joining us. Give us your thoughts on Judge Jackson's opening remarks today and what you hope to learn from her during the question and answer sessions that actually begin tomorrow?

DURBIN: We'll think about it. If you were a nominee, and you set through an entire day of people saying nice things and not so nice things and had no opportunity to respond until an opening statement which is kind of generic in nature. So for a way, it must be a little frustrating for the judge. I have full confidence in her credentials or qualifications, her ability to answer the questions that are raised, that starts tomorrow. That's the real exchange where each senator has 30 minutes to ask questions of the nominee.

BLITZER: 30 minutes is a long time for Q&A. Each Senator gets that. The Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell praised Judge Jackson for reaching what he called impressive heights in her career, but question her judicial philosophy. So what does that tell you about what's the common the next few days?

DURBIN: Well, I can tell you they go back and forth on this judicial philosophy. Some of them are so called originalist, some are textualists, some invent their status as they go along. She has 573 written opinions. I mean, it isn't like we're grasping for straws. What could she possibly be thinking she's decided these cases. She's written these opinions.

On the Sentencing Commission, 12,000 pages of transcripts about her thinking and her background. You want to know who she is and what she believes as a judge. It's in writing, and this is the fourth time, the fourth time that Judiciary Committee has had an opportunity to review these things in detail.

BLITZER: What do you say to those Republicans who are already attacking Judge Jackson as being, quote, soft on crime?

DURBIN: Well, it's a natural thing to do. I want to tell you, she's being nominated by a Democrat and they blame every Democrat for being soft on crime.


We've had 40, 50, 60 nominees before us. Every single one of them has been accused of being soft on crime by Republicans. Why? Because it's one of their talking points for the November election. They're going to accuse every Democrat of that.

And secondly, being an African American woman and a public defender. There's some of them that are still struggling to accept the reality that we reached a point in history where that kind of person is a good asset to the Supreme Court.

BLITZER: What will it mean, Senator, for the court, for that matter, indeed, for the country of Judge Jackson is confirmed as the first African American woman to serve as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice?

DURBIN: Well, I went to the Supreme Court this morning, there was a rally for the judge. And I saw a sea of African American women there. They were moved to tears with the thought that she would get this chance, and then open up a new opportunity.

You really have to understand that when the Supreme Court first set, we had 700,000 slaves in America, and neither white nor black women could vote. We've come so far, and this would be an achievement the president and all of us can be proud of.

BLITZER: We're watching history potentially unfold. While I have you, Senator, let me get your quick thought on Ukraine, what's going on. I know you're the co-chair of what's called the Senate Ukraine Caucus, a huge Ukrainian American community in Illinois. The Ukrainian President Zelenskyy is warning that this conflict could actually spiral into World War III if negotiations fail, do you share his concern?

DURBIN: I pray that it doesn't, but we've got to take it seriously. And that's why I've been careful to criticize the President when he has to make these decisions on behalf of the NATO alliance. He doesn't want World War III. He doesn't want a nuclear war and none of us do.

We want to give the Ukrainian people the power to stop Vladimir Putin. I think they're doing it now. I want them to continue to and the United States should be behind them all the way.

BLITZER: Senator Dick Durbin, thanks so much for joining us. We'll be watching the hearing resume tomorrow. Appreciate it very much.

DURBIN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, a mysterious plane crash kills 132 people. So what caused one of the world's most popular passenger jets to simply plunge from the sky?


[17:51:35] BLITZER: The Russian invasion of Ukraine has claimed the life of a 96- year-old man who survived four Nazi death camps during World War II. The Buchenwald Memorial Institute says Borys Romanchenko was killed by a Russian striker in his apartment building in Kharkiv on Friday. The Institute adds that Romanchenko worked extensively to keep the world aware of the Nazi crimes.

In 2012, he attended an event marking the liberation of Buchenwald where he read an oath devoted to, quote, creating a new world where peace and freedom reign. May he rest in peace, and may his memory be a blessing.

Also tonight, the National Transportation Safety Board has appointed an investigator to help China as it tries to determine what caused the crash of a Boeing 737-800 that killed everyone on board. CNN Aviation Correspondent Pete Muntean is joining us now with the latest.


PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New video shows one of the world's most popular jet liners dropping from the sky. Security images obtained by state-owned television show China Eastern Airlines Flight 5735 plunging straight down into the mountains of Southern China. Data from Flight Radar 24 shows minutes after leveling off at a cruising altitude of 29,000 feet, the Boeing 737 began a rapid dive, losing more than 25,000 feet in less than two minutes. China's state media says all 132 people on board were killed.

MARK WEISS, RETIRED AIRLINE PILOT: This is what they would have heard in the cockpit as a --

MUNTEAN (voice-over): Retired airline pilot Mark Weiss teaches in this Boeing 737 simulator. He notes the plane in question was a Boeing 737- 800 which lacks the technology behind the crashes of the 737 MAX.

WEISS: It's probably one of the safest airplanes ever built. This was the model before the MAX and that did not have the MKS system in it.

MUNTEAN (on-camera): Even though people hear 737 --

WEISS: Apples and oranges. Same airplane, different problem.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): What was supposed to be a less than two-hour flight from Kunming to Guangzhou crashed in heavy forest making access for rescuers difficulty. Witnesses say they saw no smoke coming from the jetliner until it hit the ground. The 737-800 is the second most common airliner in the world. There are more than 4,500 worldwide, including almost 800 in the United States. China Eastern Airlines is now grounding its entire 737-800 fleet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The early evidence is very ominous. I'm afraid the early evidence on this accident, they say points that you're going to do a hard look at the flight crew.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MUNTEAN: Wolf, the Chinese government is leading this investigation, but experts stress to us that a Boeing 737 should not fall out of the sky quite like this. Southwest Airlines and American Airlines fly hundreds of these aeroplanes. You've likely flown on one of them already.

What's also interesting here is that this data shows this flight did this steep dive then climb back up just below 10,000 feet then that dive continued once again. That's something that investigators will no doubt zero in on once they recovered the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder, both had not been found yet. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Pete, thank you very much. Pete Muntean reporting.

There's more breaking news we're following. Up next, Russian forces escalating the assault on the Ukrainian Capitol with deadly new strikes. We're going live to Kyiv.



BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. The Ukrainian capital faces another night of Russian shelling after a deadly attack that demolished a shopping center in the besiege city of Mariupol. Officials are rejecting Russia's demand to surrender, accusing Kremlin forces of hostage taking and terror.

Here in the United States, President Biden says there is evolving intelligence about a potential Russian cyberattack on this country just ahead of his trip to a NATO summit on the war.