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U.S.: Russian Ground Forces Stop Moving Toward Kyiv; Russia Shifts Focus To East Ukraine In Possible Face-Saving Move; Russia Signals Major Shift In Strategy Amid Ukraine Setbacks; Biden Visits U.S. Troops In Poland Near Ukrainian Border; U.N.: More Than 3.7 Million Have Fled Ukraine War; Biden To Meet With Ukrainian Refugees Tomorrow In Poland; Sources: 1/6 Committee Debating Questioning Ginni Thomas. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 25, 2022 - 17:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: My colleague Dana Bash will be talking to Senator Cory Booker, Senator Jim Risch, plus chef and philanthropist Jose Andres. And for the second hour, Ukraine's ambassador to the United States joins as well as Senator Mark Warner and Congressman Mike McCaul. It all starts at 9:00 a.m. Eastern on Sunday.

And you can catch more of me on CNN tomorrow and Sunday evening. Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. After a full month of brutal warfare, Russia signals a major shift in military strategy. Putin's forces now stopping the move toward Kyiv and focusing on eastern Ukraine. Is it an attempt by the Kremlin to scale back and save face after significant setbacks on the battlefield?

Also breaking, President Biden visits U.S. troops here in Poland, just 60 miles from the Ukrainian border. He's praising their defensive Europe and warning that the consequences of Russia's war extend around the world.

This hour, our correspondents are covering the war from every angle in Ukraine, here in Poland and in the United States.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Warsaw. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're live tonight in Poland following major developments across the border in Ukraine where Russian forces have halted, halted their advanced on the capital Kyiv, following heavy losses and weeks of setback. CNN Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly begins our coverage tonight.

Phil, first of all, give us the latest information.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, we've seen for weeks what looked -- appeared to be Russian movement towards trying to encircle Ukrainian capital of Kyiv and perhaps take the city itself. It's what U.S. officials were looking at and their intelligence before the invasion even began. But I mean, it's fierce fighting even some counter offensives from Ukrainian forces.

At this point in time, a senior U.S. defense official says the Russians are digging into defensive positions in the outskirts of the city. They have shown no interest in moving forward toward the city at the current standpoint, Wolf. And they also seem to be focusing most of their interests on the eastern part of the country, the Donbas region, which tracks with what we heard today from Russian military officials saying that that was their focus, the eastern part of the country. It seems to be at least somewhat of a strategy shift, most possibly a face-saving shift as well given the difficulty of Russian forces have had over this first month of the invasion.

One thing to also keep an eye on according to that U.S. defense official, Wolf, the Russians are bringing in some reinforcements from their unit stationed in Georgia. It's unclear where those reinforcements will be going. But it's clear both on the rhetorical side of things from Russian officials and from what U.S. officials are seeing on the ground, Russian focus is shifting to the eastern part of the country, often since towards trying to overtake Kyiv seem to no longer be on the table, Wolf.

BLITZER: All this comes, Phil, as President Biden today met with U.S. troops along NATO's eastern flank and is set to deliver what White House officials are calling a major address tomorrow.

MATTINGLY: Yes, Wolf, his presence here is notable for a couple of reasons. Obviously, the humanitarian issues, the refugee issues, Poland has had more than 2 million Ukrainian refugees into the country. It is a significant humanitarian crisis for which the U.S. is trying to expend major resources to try and help.

But also it's the U.S. troops that are on the ground. More than 10,500 US soldiers in this country. They're stationed across the Eastern flank of NATO. And it underscores the point President Biden made today and something I think you're going to hear him lay out in detail tomorrow in that major speech the U.S. officials are previewing, take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So what's at stake, not just in what we're doing here in Ukraine to try to help the Ukrainian people and keep the massacre from continuing. But beyond that, what's at stake is what are your kids and grandkids going to look like in terms of their freedom? What's happening?

In the last 10 years have been fewer democracies and unformed than we've lost in the world. So this is what you're engaged in is much more than just whether or not you can alleviate the pain and suffering of the people in Ukraine.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MATTINGLY: And Wolf, I think that's the point the President wants to make in detail, according to officials in those remarks here in Warsaw tomorrow, that they believe the world is at an inflection point. Yes, the focus is on Ukraine and Russia's invasion, but this is bigger than that.

And those troops on the Eastern flank, the focus on Europe right now, obviously, the administration's focus on China and other actors throughout the course of this first year in office, all of that leads into a moment of significant consideration, potential crisis and a necessity of unity that we've seen really play out in spades over the course of the last month, Wolf.


BLITZER: We certainly have. All right, Phil Mattingly reporting for us. Phil, thank you very much. I want you to stand by, we're anticipating there's more news.

But let's go to Ukraine right now. CNN's Senior International Correspondent Sam, Kiley is on the ground for us over there.

Sam, you're in Kyiv, the capital, what are you learning, first of all, about this halt on the capital by the Russians?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think they've been halted. That's the claim being made, I think with some authority by the Ukrainians, Wolf. You and I've discussed over the last week the very aggressive campaign being conducted particularly in the west and northwest of the Ukrainian capital, very heavy exchanges of artillery fire. Today, there was also very significant pushes on the right hand side of the Dnieper in the east of the city. Brovary is the main name of that area.

That area was very significantly inundated effectively by Russian troops about -- up until about two and a half weeks ago. Then there was this counter attack, very substantial counter attack being continued, it's ongoing there. And in both cases, the Ukrainians are saying and now the Pentagon is confirming and British intelligence is saying the same thing that they have managed to push these forces these invading forces significantly back in the west, northwest and the east, Wolf.

Now, one of the other characteristics of this combat, and this is the latest images you're looking at there, that's from the right bank, the east side of the Dnieper. Images that we've got used to seeing now destroyed Russian armies where those javelin and NLOS anti-tank and anti-armor missiles have come in so much use. They also get other similar weapons from other NATO countries.

Those are missiles, arguably, that really turned the course of this fight, if not in Ukraine's favor, certainly allowed them to hold the Russians back, which I think arguably, is why we're seeing this change in tone and even change in strategic intent coming out of the Russians, out of Moscow, with the Russian general there saying that actually this is all about destroying Ukraine's military capability to threaten the Donbas. That was not that causes Belem (ph) that we were given at the beginning of this invasion, but it does seem to be the one that they're falling back on in Moscow, Wolf.

BLITZER: Sam, I want you to stand by. We're getting more information even as we speak right now. I want to bring in our Pentagon Correspondent Oren Liebermann, CNN White House Reporter Natasha Bertrand, and former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor.

Oren, Kyiv, as you know, and you're getting good information has been bracing for the worst. But reading between the lines of this latest, latest U.S. assessment as Russia essentially given up on capturing the capital of Ukraine, Kyiv?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: I would say that the words given up is probably going a little too far given the approaches we've seen to Ukraine as Sam just mentioned from the north, from the Northwest, and from the east is sort of multipronged attack to try to take the capital city. The US assessment was that Russia would try to take Kyiv quickly within a matter of days. Obviously, that failed, as we watched all of these convoys and approaches stall out.

But Russia is still attacking the city, not on the ground, but now from the air using long range strikes and artillery. So the pressure is still there. And we see that. And I think the expectation is that it will continue as we get these updates from defense officials.

Russia now saying, and we've talked about this a bit before, this was all part of the plan all along, just to keep pressure and keep Ukrainian forces occupied there. From here, it looks like it's a shifting of the goalposts that favors Russia here.

BLITZER: It's interesting.

You know, Ambassador Taylor, how significant and potentially hugely significant is it for Russia to say their main goal, at least for them to be saying their main goal is to, quote, "liberate Eastern Ukraine" compared to their original goal to potentially take over and set up a puppet government throughout the entire country?

WILLIAM TAYLOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Wolf, you're exactly right. This is a big deal. This demonstrates that the Ukrainians have indeed stopped the Russian advance. The Ukrainians have been fighting much harder than the Russians.

We know that the Russian soldiers were not even sure why they were there. And we know that the Ukrainian soldiers knew exactly why they're there. Ukrainian soldiers are fighting for their country. They're fighting for their independence.

So the Ukrainians are super motivated. And that's been demonstrated now, Wolf. And I think what we're seeing is a change in momentum. We're clearly seeing the change of momentum in favor of the Ukrainians.

BLITZER: Do you expect Putin, Ambassador Taylor, do you expect Putin will try to claim victory regardless how badly this military campaign has gone for him?


TAYLOR: Wolf, I think that is the key, that is the key. President Putin will look now to some kind of negotiations, conceivably, now where we don't want to get ahead of ourselves, but it is possible with this change in momentum, with the attack stalled, attack on Kyiv stalled President Putin may be looking for a way back, away down.

And he couldn't now say, when he goes to these negotiations, if that happens, that what he really wants is Donbas, what he really wants is recognition of Crimea. He's not going to get that from the Ukrainians. But he can say that that's what he was after. And he can sit down with the Ukrainians and have that conversation.

BLITZER: You know, Natasha, Ukraine now says it's going to go on the counter offensive against Russia, NATO and the West have set some limits on their support for Ukraine to avoid escalation. But could these developments spur the U.S. and the West to rethink that? What are you hearing?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Wolf, we're told that the United States, for example, is not at this time rethinking its position of not sending those fighter jets to Ukraine because they do believe that it would be provocative. And it remains to be seen whether they would increase their support in any other way to the Ukrainians, maybe giving them weapons that they had deemed previously maybe unacceptable given the risk of retaliation by the Russians if the Ukrainians do succeed in taking more ground here and do gain even more momentum against the Russians.

But I think that there's been a real sense of trepidation here among the NATO and E.U. allies about getting overly involved in the Ukrainians fight against the Russians. Obviously, they are sending a very advanced weaponry to them right now. They're sending air defense systems, for example. And the, you know, Ukrainians are saying that it's still not enough. They're saying that they need 500 javelins a day and 500 Stinger missiles a day just to keep up their momentum against the Russians.

And so, I think the big question here is going to be whether there's enough supplies in the West to maintain that kind of weaponry support to Ukraine. Given that it's a major military here that's fighting against another major military, it's not necessarily what the West had anticipated, maybe they had thought that they would just be, you know, supporting an insurgency by now. So clearly, not what they had expected, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, you're absolutely right.

You know, Sam, if Putin can topple Kyiv and oust Zelenskyy, do you think he might settle for, you know, this is a horrible situation, destroying as many Ukrainian cities as he possibly can?

KILEY: Well, I think the important thing here is that whilst -- let's not get ahead of ourselves, the Ukrainians are not winning. They are just not losing and they are holding their own gains to what would, on paper, appear to have been a superior Russian force now that the reality check has been delivered to Vladimir Putin.

What is his next move? Yes, he has tried to break the will of the Ukrainian people by smashing cities like Kharkiv, like parts of Kyiv, and above all Mariupol into what the president of this country calls ashes, and he has not prevailed, Mariupol is holding out.

So you've seen this shift to saying the strategic intent was to carve off the east of the country. But ultimately, that would be victory, that would be victory. A permanent Russian presence albeit rejected by the international community back to 2014 effectively means that you have a destabilized Ukraine on Russia's doorstep.

What Russian -- what the real threat to the Kremlin is is a pro- Western successful, economically vibrant democracy on Russia's doorstep. That would be hard to achieve if this country is still in a state of near war. Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it's a real horrible situation still, by all accounts.

All right guys, thank you very much.

There's more breaking news we're following including the latest on the refugee crisis. More than 2 million Ukrainians are seeking refuge here in Poland tonight, mostly women and children. We'll have a closer look at their desperate situation when we come back.



BLITZER: We're live here in Warsaw following the breaking news, the Russian invasion of Ukraine that has sent more than 3.7 million people fleeing the country, more than 2 million of them right here to Poland. Our Senior National Correspondent Ed Lavandera is working in this part of the story for us.

Ed, so first of all, what are you hearing from the refugees who are entering Poland today?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that's really kind of give you a sense of what this crisis looks like on the border. Now we are in Medyka, Poland, which is right on the -- as the opening gate into Ukraine. This is a line of refugees that continue arriving here late into this night.

And what we're hearing over and over again, is really fascinating, because these are people who have left Ukraine and they have now been in Ukraine long enough to see some of the worst fighting, some of the most horrific scenes there. And about a week ago, we'd hear stories that people would take a day, maybe two days to reach this point in Poland. But now we're hearing stories that it's taking people nearly a week, five days to get out of Ukraine, largely in part that it's driven. So many people are in these war-torn areas where roads are a mess. There are landmines that they're concerned about Russian soldiers that they're compared -- that they're worried about. There's also curfew issues. So, it's not a quick trip by any means anymore and that is an incredible factor in so many of these people trying to reach a safety here in Poland. And that has really kind of changed dramatically here so in the last week.


Even though the numbers of refugees that we are now seeing is far from what it was nearly a month ago, but we're still a month out from the invasion of Ukraine. And that huge influx of refugees that you saw arriving here and Medyka, Poland, even though that has slowed down there still is a steady slow flow of people trying to arrive here into Poland and move into other places and try to find some longer-term shelter for the weeks, if not months ahead, Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Lavandera in Poland on the border with Ukraine. Ed, thank you very much.

The International Rescue Committee is warning of a quote, "catastrophic health crisis" in Ukraine as Russia bombards hospitals and chokes off supply. CNN Sam Kiley visits a hospital in an eastern suburb of Kyiv where locals share firsthand accounts of what they say are badly led Russian forces.


KILEY (voice-over): Russian arms (ph) smashed into Ukrainian assault east of the capital. Ukraine now claims to have blocked Russia's offensive against Kyiv.

He said, we've been engaged in a counter attack to recapture Lukianivska. The operation has been a complete success, we decisively repelled the enemy.

At times, it's been a ferocious infantry fight, and it's taken several weeks. Ukraine has also relied heavily on modern drones. Here, ambushing Russians from the air. Tank crews are sent running for cover.

Ukraine has claimed that badly led Russian forces do have more manpower, but that they are reeling under unexpected attacks and lack of supplies.

What they say may be true. According to Zina Khilko who's tending to her wounded husband in the nearby Brovary hospital. Her village was overrun by Russians. And she described dealing with Russian soldiers who were hungry, cold and out of control.

She said, they wore my women's hat, my coat my boots, they wore our clothes. They took our bedding. I don't know what they've done with it. They slept, they ate, they wandered about. They stole our money.

A Russian soldier whom she said was drunk, blasted her husband's leg off with a stolen shotgun.

So then, we were two days in the basement, she said. We started stopping the blood flow and giving first aid. We've got two medics, I'm a midwife and there was a nurse with us.

She said that to Russian officers later admitted that they didn't support Putin's invasion, and others helped her evacuate her husband, Vasil (ph), to Ukrainian lines.

Maxim, a professional Ukrainian soldier was shot in the shin during a firefight a few miles from the hospital. He shares Zina's contempt for Russian forces.

Their commanders sending their soldiers to the slaughter, he said. These bastards they're just sent to their deaths. The officers don't pity them, they don't even count their losses. Civilians here do.

Andriy Mulyar arrived at the hospital when we were there. He'd been helping his brother, Dimitro (ph), a beekeeper, attend his hives when Russian shells fell among them three hours earlier. Mortally wounded, Dimitro, was dead on arrival. He leaves a wife and three kids.

He said, these aren't people, they aren't even animals. I don't know what to call them.


BLITZER: Sam Kiley reporting for us. An amazing, an amazing report. Sam, thank you very, very much.

This important note, for information about how you can help humanitarian efforts in Ukraine go to and you will help Impact Your World.

Up next. Russia signals a major shift in strategy and this ground war. A former U.S. Defense Secretary gives us his assessment. That's coming up next. Stay with us. You're in the Situation Room. We're live in Poland.



BLITZER: We're live here in Warsaw. Tonight, the breaking news this hour, Russian ground forces halting, halting their advanced on the Ukrainian capital in what could be a face-saving move Following weeks of setbacks. Let's get some more with the former U.S. Defense Secretary, former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel.

Mr. Secretary, thanks as usual for joining us. As you know, a month ago the U.S. assessed Russia potentially could capture the capital of Kyiv within days. Now they say ground movements toward the capital by the Russians have effectively stopped. How do you explain this huge shift?

CHUCK HAGEL, FORMER U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, I think Wolf, it's an accumulation combination of a lot of things. First of all, the Ukrainian army, the Ukrainian people, the unity of Ukraine, the commitment of the Ukrainians to resist what Putin and Russians are doing to him, I think that's number one. Number two, the unity of NATO, of the West, I don't think Putin had any understanding of what was going to happen and how we would respond.

I think those two dynamics and furnishing weapons systems, sophisticated weapon systems to the Ukrainians to help them, the javelins, the Stingers the drones, all those things.


And they knew how to use them, and they had a strategy. And --


HAGEL: -- you add that, Wolf, to what's going on internally, these young conscripts, which you've been reporting on. They didn't know why they were going to Ukraine, what their mission was. The Russian generals, certainly Putin don't give a damn about these kids. They're getting slaughtered too.

So I think all of those things have added up. And each day that goes by, it adds up even more to a real problem for Putin.

BLITZER: Yes, these Russian troops we're told, they were going on a training mission and that was it. As you know, Mr. Secretary, a top Russian General said today publicly, that the main thing the troops will be focused on right now is, quote, the complete liberation of eastern, eastern Ukraine. So is Russia moving the goalposts?

HAGEL: Maybe. We don't know. We're dealing with a master of disinformation and lies and manipulation in Mr. Putin. So we can't take anything for granted. I mean, it's still uncertain and unpredictable what way they're going to go and continue to go. But that said, I think there is some indication of what the general said, it might be a shift in a new direction, in a new strategy.

Mr. Putin is in a lot of trouble. It's going to get worse for him. Yes, he's bombarding and shelling and decimating Ukraine, committing atrocities every day, but he's in trouble. I think he's smart enough to start to understand that now going into the fifth week. He needs to get out of this thing. He's got to get out some way --


HAGEL: -- that saves face. And it could be that this is the new strategy and saying, well, it was just really Eastern Ukraine that I want to liberate, and so on, and so on, and so on. Maybe, maybe.

BLITZER: You know, but despite all of this, Mr. Secretary, and what really, really worries me, are these Ukrainian cities, several of them, they are still being bombed and devastated. And so many men, women and children, civilians, they are being killed. Does the U.S. need to reassess its support of Ukraine right now to take advantage of this major shift in momentum and try to help Ukraine win? HAGEL: Well, first of all, I don't know if winning can be the ultimate goal. That possibility, I think it is a possibility. But I'd answer your question this way. What the President was doing in Europe today and this week, along with the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense was really, really important, because it kept the West together, kept NATO together, the E.U. together, the world sees this. And so that's number one, you've got to keep the West together.

Number two, as to your question, I do think that we need to reassess our depth and number of armaments. As you know, the Ukrainians have asked for at least 1,000 javelins and stingers a day more from us, I think we should be serious about giving them that. Drones, more help. I don't think less.

This is not the time to be doing less, in my opinion. I think this is the time to be doing more to help the Ukrainians. And if you really looked at this over the last two or three weeks, and if you look at it from the standpoint of the next two or three weeks, it's all about tomorrow. It's all about what happens next, what happens next to try to shape some kind of future that you want here. But no, I think we should be doing more, not less for the Ukrainians.

BLITZER: Yes, we'll see what happens. These are critical days unfolding right now. Mr. Secretary Chuck Hagel, thank you so, so much for joining us. And I want to continue this conversation with you down the road. Thank you.

HAGEL: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And there's more breaking news just ahead. We're going -- we'll go back live to Ukraine and get on the ground reaction to Russia's sudden change of plans. A lot more on the breaking news when we come back.



BLITZER: We're live here in Warsaw tonight with breaking news. A major shift in Russian strategy amid major setbacks for Vladimir Putin's forces in Ukraine. In a possible face-saving move, Russia now claims it has, quote, completed the first stage of its invasion and will now focus in on, quote, the liberation of eastern, eastern Ukraine.

Let's go live to CNN's Don Lemon who's joining us from Lviv in western Ukraine. Don, I don't know what you think people in Ukraine are going to react to this news tonight that Russia is apparently halting their ground defensive at least in some areas of the country?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. So far, Wolf, I can tell you, they really haven't had a chance to absorb it. They are so consumed with their daily lives and trying to at least get back to some semblance of normalcy. Every time there is an air raid siren that goes off, everything pretty much stops the buses, the mass transportation stops, some people go to shelters, and then they wait for the all clear. So they really haven't had a chance to observe it. But I will tell you if it means that this stops the indiscriminate bombing of their loved ones, their friends of buildings and infrastructure, I would absolutely tell you that they welcome this. But here's the sentiment here as I've been speaking to people in Lviv. They don't believe anything that comes out of Putin's mouth. They think he's a liar.

What former Senator Chuck Hagel just said to you in the previous segment, they know that he is a minister of disinformation and that he is very good with that. So I think that what they're doing is taking a wait and see attitude.


The mayor just day before yesterday said to me and on our air, and these are his words, he said, Putin equals Hitler. And that what the Russians were doing were equal to what Nazis do, the indiscriminate killing of people. So I think they will believe it when they see it, but they don't believe anything that comes out of Putin's mouth or any representative of Putin and the Russians and the Kremlin.

But I will tell you what this will do, if they indeed do draw back, the people of Ukraine will see this as a win. And this will only strengthen their opposition to Russia, and to Putin. So this will be a win for them, strengthen their resolve, but they're taking a wait and see attitude, as of now.

BLITZER: As they should, because in the meantime, the bombings continues. And, you know, potentially could even get worse. Let's see what happens.

Don Lemon, thank you very, very much. An important note to our viewers, Don, of course, is going to have much more later tonight. He's live in Ukraine on "Don Lemon Tonight" 10:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.

Joining us now to discuss what's going on, the UNICEF spokesman, James Elder. James, thanks very much as all of our -- all of us know your organisation does amazing, wonderful work. And UNICEF now says more than half of Ukraine is children. This is hard to believe. But more than half of them have already been displaced from their homes since this war started a month ago. It's more than 4 million kids. How do people watching at home even begin to understand the level of trauma so many Ukrainian children are facing now?

JAMES ELDER, UNICEF SPOKESMAN: Well, it's very hard to because, as you say, wanting to have all children. And when we say displaced and fleeing, as you know, Wolf, we're talking about children who came under fire, we're talking about children who fled to a bank or maybe didn't make it to a bank, or maybe their mom had to lie on them as they move that way. We're talking about children who farewells family members who sat with their dad, who explained why he wasn't coming with them.

We're talking about children with wounds of war. And we're talking about kids who are leaving and going to where you are in Poland. So this type of trauma continues until the bombing stops. There are things we do as UNICEF to try and mitigate it. But it's very, very difficult until we see something like a political solution for these kids.

BLITZER: What are the most immediate needs right now that these children have?

ELDER: You know, first and foremost, it still is for safety. You know, when I -- today was in bunkers, with pregnant women, pregnant women and women who've just had babies. They're going downstairs to bunkers at 3:00 in the morning, some of them with newborns, and some of them are leaving their babies in incubators, because they can't go.

So first and foremost, it's safety, Wolf. And then secondly, it's traumatic support. We need to make sure we do everything we possibly can. And that's about getting kids some normality, getting them a little bit of schooling, anything online. But it's protection.

First and foremost, these kids need protection from the war that keeps raging around them. I know we see like we've heard good news today. I haven't met many Ukrainians who who feel that. They wake up every day. And there's another horror story from a family member somewhere in a city that is still under siege.

BLITZER: The White House says President Biden will be meeting with Ukrainian refugees tomorrow while he's here in Poland that he's pledging to welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees to the United States. How does he actually meet that goal? What more do you think he could do?

ELDER: Look, it's -- so I just spoke to the military. I'm just doing -- look, he -- I think what the U.S. has done so far, and opening up doors for refugees is so critical. This is about many more countries than just Poland showing a big heart and big hands, countries have to lead by example, to try and support what is millions of people who didn't want to leave their homes, millions of people who want to stay in Ukraine home.

This as I've heard time. And again, this is their home, this is their dream to be here. Whilst that's not the case, Wolf, any country who offers either fiscal support, or as I say, literally opens their doors and puts themselves in the shoes of these people. And this treacherous journey just for a few a few minutes will understand that, you know, there's got to be deeds to support the words in terms of welcoming so many people who really want to stay in Ukraine.

BLITZER: The UNICEF Spokesman James Elder, thanks so much for joining us. And thanks for all that UNICEF does. We are so, so grateful to you and to UNICEF. Thank you.

There's more breaking news we're following. We're live here in Warsaw. We've got new information on the war that's going on right in neighboring Ukraine.

[17:45:05] Also breaking, another story we're following, the House January 6 committee back in Washington is now set to be considering questioning the wife of the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. We're getting new information. Stay with us. You're watching The Situation Room. We're live from Warsaw.


BLITZER: We're back live from Warsaw and we'll have much more on the war in Ukraine coming up in a few moments. But there's other breaking news we're following. Sources are not telling CNN that the House Committee investigating the January 6 insurrection is now debating bringing in the wife of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas for questioning about text messages she exchanged with former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.


Our Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid is working the story for us. Paula, so what's the latest.

PAULA REID, SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, CNN has learned that lawmakers are now discussing whether or not to call Ginni Thomas to come before the panel after CNN and other outlets reported that she exchanged at least 29 text messages with then White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows about how to overturn the 2020 election. Now these text messages were the first direct evidence.

This is of Mrs. Thomas advising the Trump White House in its effort to undermine the election outcome. And Mrs. Thomas is a longtime conservative activist. She has confirmed that she attended the Stop the Steal rally that preceded the insurrection. But she says she left early, and that was the extent of her involvement.

Now, she certainly has the right to engage in advocacy as a private citizen. But she is unique in that she is married to a Supreme Court Justice and had a direct line to one of those powerful officials in the Trump White House. And these texts are the most significant intersection to date between her work and her husband's decisions on the court.

Now, look, there's no code of conduct for Supreme Court justices defining when they must recuse. But these messages raised questions about whether Justice Thomas should have recused himself in cases related to the insurrection. Now Justice Thomas was the only dissent you may remember when the court granted access to a batch of records that former President Trump was trying to keep secret from the committee.

It's important to note, the text messages between Meadows and Mrs. Thomas, they were part of a different trove of documents that were voluntarily handed over by Mark Meadows. And it's unclear if Justice Thomas at this point if he knew about his wife's efforts. Now Justice Thomas left the hospital this morning after a week long stay for what the Supreme Court says were flu like symptoms but not COVID.

He was approached by CNN a short time ago given the opportunity to weigh in on some of these questions. And Wolf, he declined to comment.

BLITZER: Paula Reid reporting for us. Paula, thank you very much.

I want to dig a little bit deeper right now with all of this. CNN Legal Analyst Elliot Williams is joining us. Elliott, as you know, members of the committee, they're weighing the optics of calling a U.S. Supreme Court Justice's wife as a witness. But what about the optics of someone married to a justice advocating a coup?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Look, you know, Wolf, we've talked for the greater part of a year about various people at the highest levels of government weighing and talking about a coup. Far more important is the integrity issue this poses for the Supreme Court. As Paula had said there is not a code of conduct or really specific rules as to when justices had to recuse themselves.

But look, this taints the integrity of the court and imposes questions as to how much faith the public can have, and how independent the decisions of the judiciary are. So it's really bad for the Supreme Court as a whole.

BLITZER: The Senate Minority Leader just put out a statement and it reads among other things, it reads this, it says, "Justice Thomas is a great American and an outstanding justice. I have total confidence in his brilliance and impartiality in every aspect of the work of the court." What's your reaction to that?

WILLIAMS: Look, it's not unlike Mark Meadows's lawyer also said that there's no legal issue to Ginny Thomas's text. And look, there is not a legal issue. No one's going to jail. No one's being prosecuted for these statements. But there's an ethical issue with respect to the Supreme Court.

And one of the hallmarks of the federal judiciary is its decisions have to be trusted. And we have to believe that we have at least a nominally independent judiciary and when there is the threat of or the fear that justices are compromising their ability to be fair. The court just can't do its work effectively. So nothing and Senator McConnell statement really suggests that, you know, Justice Thomas might be smart and might have integrity, but he's also married to someone who is texting high government officials on January 6.

BLITZER: Is there any recourse at all if Justice Thomas decides not to recuse himself from January 6 related questions specifically to that?

WILLIAMS: No, Wolf, there really is not. And this is the biggest issue. Look, the Supreme Court nothing, there's no body over the Supreme Court that can sort of direct it as to what to do. And Chief Justice Roberts has spoken out quite frequently about how, you know, the justices are -- it is up to them to determine their own ethical standards without Congress.

A justice could be impeached, a justice could resign, like I hate to break it to Twitter. But that's not going to happen for both practical and political reasons. So really, this just comes down to how seriously the public sees the court. I wrote a piece about this today for It all comes down to the faith and integrity that the public has here.

BLITZER: All right, our legal analyst, Elliot Williams, thank you very, very much for that analysis. Appreciate it very much.

There's more breaking news we're following, all the latest developments on the halt, repeat, halt to the Russian advance on the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. We're going live to Kyiv as our special coverage continues. We're here in Warsaw.



BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, on the battlefield in Ukraine, new signs emerging that Russia may be scaling back the goals of its month-long war. The U.S. now says Russian ground forces that stopped moving toward Kyiv, the capital and are shifting focus to eastern Ukraine. We're going to break down to changing strategy and weather Vladimir Putin is trying, trying to stay, save some face after military missteps.