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Kremlin Warns of Escalation After Fuel Depot Hit Inside Russia; Huge Convoy With Mariupol Evacuees Arrives Safely; U.S. Adds 431,00 Jobs in MARCH, Unemployment Drops to 3.6 Percent; Oscars Producer: I Thought Smith Slap Was Part of "A Bit"; Source: No Missing Pages from Trump 1/6 Phone Logs That Showed 7-Hour Gap in Calls; Man Who Brought Molotov Cocktails, Guns Near Capitol on 1/6 Sentenced to Nearly 4 Years. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 01, 2022 - 18:00   ET



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WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, a new flashpoint in the war. The Kremlin accuses Ukraine of attacking a fuel depot inside of Russia and warns it could escalate the conflict. Are the Ukrainians responsible? We're going to tell you what the White House is saying and notably not saying about the strike tonight.

Also breaking, thousands of Ukrainians just made the perilous escape from the southern city of Mariupol. CNN is on the scene for their emotional arriving, this as the Red Cross team trying to reach Mariupol say they can't get in to get more civilians out.

Our correspondents are standing by. They're on the frontlines of the war in Ukraine, and getting new information from top officials here in Washington.

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.

This hour, we're getting new reaction to what could be Ukraine's first attack on Russian soil since Kremlin troops invaded their country. CNN pressing Ukrainian and White House officials on the big question tonight, was Ukraine behind the strike on a Russian fuel depot?

Christiane Amanpour is in Ukraine for us, she interviewed the foreign minister, and M.J. Lee is over at the White House, she spoke to President Biden's top spokeswoman, we'll go to them in just a moment.

But, first, CNN's Alex Marquardt has more on the depot attack and other breaking news. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice over): With Ukrainian forces taking back territory, putting Russia on the back foot questions tonight over whether they have gone on the offensive inside Russia. The Kremlin now accusing Ukrainian helicopters of striking a fuel depot just across the border in Russian territory.

Moscow calling the alleged attack an escalation while Ukraine is refusing to say whether they were involved.

DMYTRO KULEBA, UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: I saw the video, but the quality is insufficient for me to identify whether it was Ukrainian helicopters or not.

MARQUARDT: The lack of denial suspicious, but U.S. intelligence has long warned of potential so-called false flag operations by Russia to give them an excuse to escalate their offensive in Ukraine.

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Let's be very clear, this could be a false flag operation on the part of Vladimir Putin. This is not beyond the type of operations that we've seen come out of Vladimir Putin in the past.

MARQUARDT: Despite Russian claims of shifting their focus to the eastern part of the country, Northern Ukraine is still being targeted, officials in the northern of city of Chernihiv reporting new strikes on hospital and a lack of daily essentials.

MAYOR VLADYSLAVATROSHENKO, CHERNIHIM, UKRAINE: We have no electricity, no water. The Russian forces just shelled a local regional hospital.

MARQUARDT: But it is to the east, NATO officials believe, that Russia plans to step up their efforts.

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: What they call de-escalation, I call repositioning.

MARQUARDT: Thousands of civilians are still trying to flee the southern port city of Mariupol. The Russian shells and constant fighting making it near impossible for people to get out. Tonight, some buses managed to. CNN was there as they arrived in safer Zaporizhzhia, big Red Crosses on the sides to indicate they are civilians, wide smiles from those who managed to escape.

DMYTRO GURIN, UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT: We still have 160,000 people in Mariupol that are not safe and that is a real problem because all of these humanitarian corridors that Russia simulating, it's -- in general, it's all fake.

MARQUARDT: While Ukraine fights for survival, President Volodomyr Zelenskyy says he has removed two top generals who he called antiheros, who, quote, have not decided where their homeland is.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: I do not have time to deal with all the traitors, but, gradually, they will all be punished.

MARQUARDT: Alex Marquardt, CNN at the State Department.


BLITZER: Alex, thank you very, very much, let's go live back to the Ukrainian capital right now. CNN's Chief International Anchor Christiane Amanpour is on the scene for us.

Christiane, if Ukraine did, in fact, attack the Russian fuel depot it would be a bold retaliatory strike. I know you spoke to the Ukrainian foreign minister today. What did he tell you?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, you know, Wolf, this would be a retaliatory strike if indeed the Ukrainians did it. I did speak to the foreign minister.


You heard a little clip of my interview where he said I've seen the video but I can't really analyze it. Here's what he went further on to say.


KULEBA: I saw the video but the quality is insufficient for me to identify whether it was Ukrainian helicopters or not.

I am Ukrainian. I have trust in the people of Ukraine, and in our armed forces and, of course, as foreign minister, in our diplomacy. This is a war. They attacked us to destroy us. They reject our right to exist as a nation. So, it means that we will be fighting back by all means available to us within existing law, international laws of warfare, of course, because we're a civilized nation, unlike them.


AMANPOUR: Wolf, it's really important. There are a lot of threads in what he said there. First of all, they're not confirming or denying because that's a matter of operational security. Second of all, he pretty much hinted that this -- that perhaps they did do it, because this is war, and in war, these things happen. You remember exactly a week ago almost, the Russians actually sent a missile into a fuel depot in Western Ukraine.

The Ukrainian officers and the heads of this, you know, resistance are basically saying, we're not just here to be defensive. We're also going to fight back. And that's why you're seeing the Russian forces retreat a little bit from Kyiv and reform and regroup and go elsewhere.

He also said, the foreign minister, that we abide by the laws and norms of war. So, attacking a fuel depot where nobody was injured or killed is far different than attacking Mariupol, where many, many people have been killed, civilians, men, women and children. So, he's making it very clear that they are waging a war of self-defense, according to the international laws of war, a raid against a much stronger military, which is not following those rules.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Christiane, is Ukraine now bracing for retaliation from Russia?

AMANPOUR: Well, I don't know. I can't imagine that this would cause retaliation. I think what this will do is continue and see the war from Russia just continue, as it has been. You know, this was an act of whoever did it. They're not telling us but one assumes it was Ukraine, in the midst of a war in which Russia doesn't really need any excuses to retaliate anymore, doesn't need any false flags because it's in full war mode.

And it is doing everything it possibly can because it has not been successful in its ground attacks, it's turned its attention to civilians, as we've been seeing, and that has been proceeding in pace for practically the entire 36 days of this war. And also they are regrouping, potentially for the moment, to narrow their focus on the Donbas region.

We don't know what will happen as the weeks and months proceed, but for the moment, that seems to be what the analysts are saying and what we're seeing on the ground.

BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour is on the ground for us in Ukraine, stay safe over there, Christiane, thank you very, very much.

Now, to the Biden administration's take on the fuel depot attack in Russia. Let's go to our White House correspondent, M.J. Lee.

M.J., I know you had a chance to ask White House officials about this attack. What are they saying?

M.J. LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, first of all, the U.S. is currently not commenting on Russian claims that it was a Ukrainian airstrike that started this fire on Russian soil. And so the question that I posed to the White House tonight is what its position is on potential future strikes from Ukraine on Russian soil. Does it believe that Ukraine can sort of make its own decisions on whether such attacks might be justified or would the U.S. generally discourage from Ukraine from taking these kinds of actions which would obviously escalate tensions?

Here's what White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki just told me.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is a war of aggression by the Russian leadership, by President Putin, that has left millions of people displaced, homeless, has targeted civilians, hospitals and other innocent people across Ukraine. We know who the aggressor is. That is President Putin and Russia. And beyond that, I don't have any comment on military tactics.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LEE: This, of course, comes, Wolf, as the U.S. has been saying recently that they believe Putin is being misinformed by advisers, that he is self-isolated, that might even be punishing some of his advisers. It's notable though, Wolf, that the U.S. is clearly not wanting to comment on potential Ukrainian counterattacks on Russian soil, the U.S. generally been pretty careful in not wanting to weigh in or take actions that might be perceived by the Russians as being escalatory, Wolf.

BLITZER: On a separate matter, M.J., as you know, the unemployment rate dropping to a new pandemic low here in the United States but there are still very serious economic issues facing Americans, as we all know, including gas prices and inflation.

LEE: That's absolutely right, though President Biden, understandably, wanted to make sure he took this opportunity to celebrate some of the positive headlines that we saw from today's jobs report, 431,000 jobs created in the month of March.


The past two months jobs report were revised up by some 95,000 jobs. The unemployment rate now stands at 3.6 percent.

What all this means is that the jobs that were lost during the pandemic, most of them have been recovered. And that's why we heard the president saying today that the economy has gone from, quote, being on the mend to being on the move.

But you're absolutely right, that this administration still facing some very serious concerns, particularly when it comes to inflation, high gas prices. And even though wages are going up, that can, in turn, fuel the concerns about inflation continuing to be a serious problem for this administration.

This is, of course, why we saw this week the administration announcing the release of 180 million barrels of extra oil. This is one of the actions that the administration is taking to try to drive some of the prices down. Of course, they know that there is no simple overnight fix for all of these concerns, Wolf.

BLITZER: M.J. Lee at the White House, thanks very much.

There's more breaking news just ahead. I'll ask former Ukrainian prime minister if his country was behind the fuel depot strike on Russian soil. He's standing by to join us live. That's next.

Also, we're going live to Southern Ukraine for the latest on the safe arrival of an evacuation convoy from the devastated city of Mariupol.



BLITZER: We're following the breaking news on the Kremlin's claim that Ukraine was behind the attack on a fuel depot inside Russia. Joining us now, the former Ukrainian prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Thank you so much, Prime Minister, for joining us.

Based on the information you have, Prime Minister, was Ukraine behind the strike?

ARSENIY YATSENYUK, FORMER UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER: National security adviser neither confirmed nor denied this, but what can I confirm you right now is that, as we speak, Russian military already launched a large-scale missile strike against Odessa, which is the south of Ukraine, and Dnipro, which is the east of Ukraine, each of these cities, around more than 1 million of inhabitants. So, Russian barbaric Nazi-style military is striking missile strike against civilians and killing Ukrainians. So, this is the reality. That's what I can confirm now.

BLIZER: Some evacuees, as you know, Prime Minister, are getting out of Mariupol, but the Red Cross, International Red Cross, said it was impossible to reach the city today. Is Russia refusing to respect these basic humanitarian corridors?

YATSENYUK: Absolutely. Absolutely. This is another way how actually to make people suffer. Russia is telling that they are ready to provide humanitarian corridors, which is not true. They are constantly shelling these humanitarian corridors, and you know that Red Cross actually stopped this evacuation operation and people -- we have more than 100,000 people in Mariupol.

Could you imagine, Wolf, that Ukrainian house minister just provided the data? Russian military already shelled 274 hospitals in Ukraine. More than 70 ambulances have been shot. So, this is a huge humanitarian disaster made by the Russian military and personally by President Putin.

BLITZER: As you may have heard, the Ukrainian foreign minister told CNN today that Putin may be becoming, may be becoming more realistic about this war, realizing he can't win, for example, in Kyiv, the capital, and now turning his attention to the eastern parts of Ukraine. What's your reaction to that assessment?

Well, here is the thing. His ultimate goal is what and will be to take over Ukraine. But he failed. He failed due to a very strong resolve of Ukraine military and very strong unity of Ukraine and the western world, and the sanctions that have been imposed by the United States and G7 and the European Union. So, now, as far as I see, Putin switched to plan B.

My take is that this plan B has a kind of deadline. The deadline is the 9th of May. The reason why because you know that Soviets and Russians, they celebrate victory day on the 9th of May, not like victory in Europe day in 8th of May but 9th of May is a big political holiday for the Russian Federation. And this is the bedrock of Putin's Nazi-style policy, okay? That's weird to celebrate victory against Nazis with Nazi approach and with the Nazi policy that have been implemented by Putin. So, I believe that we are to face very complex and difficult month. He started to regroup his military, to redeploy his military. Ukraine, militarily, already launched a counter-offensive in a number of areas, mainly in the suburbs of Kyiv. But what we see on the ground is that these kinds of redeployments will maybe give him a chance to take over a small chunk of the territory in the east of Ukraine.

But I want to be very clear, we will never give any inch of Ukrainian territory to these aggressors. And that's the reason we ask you, I mean, the United States and the G7 and the entire free world, to help Ukraine to win this fight.


BLITZER: Thank you so much for joining us, the Ukrainian former prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, I appreciate it very much. We will stay in close touch with you.

Coming up, a dangerous and very emotional journey as thousands of Ukrainian civilians escape the horrors in Mariupol. CNN was on the ground as the buses rolled in. You'll want to see this.


BLITZER: More now on the breaking news, thousands and thousands of people fleeing the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, which has been reduced to rubble by Russian strikes.

CNN Senior International Correspondent Ivan Watson was there as evacuees reached a safer haven.



IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The buses have finally arrived from the Russian-occupied city of Berdyansk. It's supposed to be a 2.5 hour drive, and we were told that they left around noon local time. It was around noon local time and they've come in just before 11:00 P.M. And these buses have Red Crosses on them and there are dozens and dozens and dozens coming behind them, and they're pulling into this parking lot.

It's all rather dark because the city is blacked out to protect it from the threat of airstrikes and so on. And people here are piled in and exhausted. This has been close to a 12-hour journey for people who were already trying to flee the besieged city of Mariupol. So, people have already had to endure bombing and weeks without electricity and connection to the outside world, cell phone signals, and they're finally here, reaching a Ukrainian-controlled piece of territory, but it has been an incredible ordeal to try to help these people through.

You can just see the kind of exhaustion here as you look at some of the faces of folks. These are people who didn't have cars to make their own escape. They were waiting for this kind of transport. Everybody has been forced to leave their homes. Many of the people who arrived earlier today with their own cars say that their homes were destroyed by Russian artillery, Russian airstrikes. I saw people bruised and bashed up as a result of surviving explosions and blasts.

There are estimated to be more than 100,000 civilians still in Mariupol. The International Committee of the Red Cross, they were trying to reach those people and they publicly announced that their convoy, just kind of five, or three vehicles, nine people, were not allowed in to the city and Russia controls the entrance, because it encircles it with it is troops.

So, here, you have people coming in after just an incredibly long day and what happens is they're brought in by Ukrainian police and then Ukrainian volunteers who register people, they check their documents, and then they're welcomed into a superstore that the city government and volunteers. They have organized medics, hot meals, clothes, for free, if they weren't able to get out with their clothes in time, and then further information where to go from here with free transport because then, again, everybody, a lot of these people, this is all they have left, a bag, a suitcase perhaps and if they're lucky, their family members with them.

So, this is a major evacuation. There are estimates of at least 200,000 people on some 52 buses that have finally made it through many, many Russian checkpoints to Ukrainian-controlled territory.


BLITZER: CNN's Ivan Watson on the scene, Ivan, thank you very, very much.

Joining us now, Manuel Fontaine, he's the UNICEF director of the Office Emergency Programs, he's joining us from Vinnytsia, in Ukraine. Thank you so much, Manuel, for joining us.

Let me get your reaction to what we just heard from Ivan. It's very difficult to get aid into Mariupol and certainly to get people out. What worries you most about the humanitarian situation for the people who are trapped there?

MANUEL FONTAINE, UNICEF DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF EMERGENCY PROGRAMS: Well, what worries us most is that we don't really know. We're not able to get in. We're not able to see the situations, but we know that people have been without running water. We know that people have been without food for a long time or at least without regular supply of food. We know they've been without medical care in many ways.

So, we're very worried but what we want to do is not only take the people out who want to go but also being able to bring in the aid that is actually so much needed inside as well.

BLITZER: It's so important. You're there in Ukraine, with UNICEF, you're trying to help people, especially children flee the invasion. Tell us what you're seeing. How are your own operations being disrupted by the violence?

FONTAINE: I mean, our operations are very complicated, because, first of all, we have to do everything by road. We cannot fly planes to go faster and closer to where we needed. We have to cross line and it's difficult. We just can't access most of the places. As I said, Mariupol is one of those where we want to bring in supplies but we can't. So, it is complicated. It's long, it's tedious and it's dangerous for the humanitarians, in general, and certainly more dangerous for the civilians who are actually trapped.

BLITZER: The United Nations, as you well know, now says that the total number of refugees, Ukrainian refugees, who have left the country has surpassed 4 million people.


How much worse could that number get if the Russian invasion continues?

FONTAINE: Well, you've got to number one thing, is that there is indeed 2 million children who have actually left the country. But for those 2 million children who have left the country, there are 2.5 million who have been displaced within the country. So, those children, those families actually moved and moved often towards the west and, of course, are ready to cross over in case they feel that they are not safe.

But those people are in need of a lot of assistance. Somehow, we see more the refugees who are in neighboring countries but we really need to also focus on the people who have actually move in the country and those just unable to move. The humanitarian situation is even more dramatic inside the country.

BLITZER: Yes, you're absolutely right, 4 million Ukrainians have been able to get out of the country but another 6 million have been displaced from their homes, including millions of children.

What about the long-term effects this is going to have on the children?

FONTAINE: I mean, the effect will be long-term, in particular, if we're not able to stop the war, if we're not able to stop the violence. The longer you leave children in a violent environment, in a war environment, the more difficult it would be for them to recover.

Now, there's ways we can help them, of course, and we're doing that. For example, we have teams in the subway of Kharkiv, for example, at the moment trying to work with the families and children, just organize some routine activity to just let the time pass and just be helped. But it's not going to be enough if we don't rapidly stop the violence and the war. And if we're not able to actually reach the people, this is going to be a real long-term disaster.

BLITZER: Yes, it certainly already is a long-term disaster.

Manuel Fontaine of UNICEF, thanks so much for joining us. Thanks for all that you and UNICEF are doing. We appreciate it, very grateful.

And to our viewers, for information about how you can actually help humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, go to and help impact your world.

The breaking news continues next. Millions of gallons of Russian fuel go up in flames with the Kremlin claiming Ukraine was behind it.



BLITZER: More now on the breaking news, Russia accusing Ukraine of an airstrike on a fuel depot in Russian territory and warning it could escalate the war sparked by its own unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Let's get some more with the retired U.S. army major general, CNN Military Analyst Spider Marks. General, thanks so much for joining us.

How did this attack unfold and why didn't the Russians -- why were they able to deal with it if, in fact, this were Ukrainian helicopters coming in?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES SPIDER MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, let me walk you through a couple of things right here, Wolf. First of all, notice this morning at about 5:43 in the morning. This is a shot of where the attack took place. Let me move to the next full in color, and you can see what happened.

Now, watch, and you can see the birds, those are hind helicopters, which are attack helicopters, Soviet-style attack helicopters, Russian-made, and you can see that those are the ones that released the ordinance.

Here's a cell phone shot of the same thing, again, the hind making this entry. We call that nap-of-earth, which means you follow the folds of the terrain. The reason they Russians probably did not detect it is that when you're at nap-of-earth, it's very difficult. You can't get the radar into a position to pick it up. This also shows you what happens after the effect of that kind of an attack.

BLITZER: Ukraine, as you know, the official statements from the government, they will neither confirm nor deny that this was Ukrainian attack on these fuel depots. How significant would it be though if Ukraine did attack this target inside Russia?

MARKS: It makes perfect sense that the Ukrainians would attack this target inside Russia. Let's, again, look at where the fuel depot is located. It's here in Belgorod, right here, which is obviously right across the border. And we saw early on in the war where Russians were staging their equipment. And in advance of putting ground troops into Ukraine, they were launching rocket missile fires from this exact location.

So, it makes perfect sense for the Ukrainians, now that they have taken the offensive, they're pushing back on the Russians, to take the fight into Russia and go after those targets. And the Russians have had so much difficulty with their logistics efforts, go after their fuel supplies, make it that much more difficult for the Russians to prosecute this movement. BLITZER: President Zelenskyy, as you know, General, he says that Russia is preparing to launch more attacks, specifically says powerful strikes in the east and the south. What are you bracing for in this next phase, this new phase of the war?

MARKS: Yes, very, very difficult for the Ukrainians, primarily because this fight is not over. Even though the Ukrainians are having great success and they're pushing back on the Russians, the Russians still have more equipment, more artillery, more rockets, more dumb weapons.

And so what we see is with the effort of the Ukrainians to push some of the Russian forces back, they will refit and could potentially move to this area to reinforce down here. What you want to do militarily is reinforce success. The Russians call what they've been doing in Mariupol, the siege on Mariupol, the destruction there, success. This is where they want to try to achieve some additional successes.

And as you can see, the narrative that the Russians are having, the strategy is following the conditions on the ground. Generally, it's the other way around. The Russians realize they're not having success here, they're not having success here, so now they're backing up and they're saying this eastern portion of Ukraine is where our emphasis is and creating this land bridge really becomes the objective at this point.

BLITZER: All right. General Spider Marks, thank you very much for that explanation.

Let's continue the conversation now with the former U.S. secretary of homeland security, former general counsel at the Department of Defense, Jeh Johnson.


Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us.

What does it say to you about the war right now that Ukraine would be apparently be willing and able to attack Russia on its own soil?

JEH JOHNSON, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETAR: First, Wolf, I actually have trouble referring to what's happening now in Ukraine as a war. This was an illegal, unprovoked invasion by one country into the sovereign territory of another, riddled by war crimes. Some would even argue that this gives war a bad name.

Now, I thought General Marks' analysis of the strike on the fuel depot was interesting. I think it's a little too early to responsibly speculate about what this is. This could have been the Ukrainian military. It could have been some form of covert action by the Ukrainians that publicly they are not yet in a position to acknowledge. It could have been a false flag operation, as some are speculating. It could have been some rogue third group, for example.

So, at this stage, we just don't know exactly what this was. It would make a lot of sense for it to be the Ukrainians, but in this particular confrontation, it's difficult to speculate at this stage. BLITZER: Is this though the kind of incident that demonstrates the potential risk of this war, and I know you don't want to call it a war, this Russian invasion, of spilling over even outside of Ukraine's borders?

JOHNSON: That is correct, yes. And there are all sorts of risks of it enlarging in some way, in some ways unintended, could spill into NATO territory, for example. And that's obviously a great concern of the Biden administration and of Western Europe right now.

BLITZER: It certainly is. I know the Ukrainian foreign minister has told CNN today he doesn't believe the Russian forces are strong enough, his words, to sustain a three-front war in Ukraine. Do you think Putin would be willing to admit that and start to scale back his ambitions?

JOHNSON: I don't think Vladimir Putin would admit that. It does seem, however, that assumptions and estimates about the strength of the Russian military have been vastly overestimated. It appears to be the Russian bear is overweight and untrained.

What we see, in my judgment, seems to be a very haphazard effort at the invasion of Ukraine where they're focused on one front one week and then focused on another front in another week. Many have drawn great significance from the fact that there's no battlefield commander in the territory of Ukraine running this effort by the Russian military. I think there might be something to that.

Typically, in a confrontation like this, there is a battlefield commander responsible for the joint forces of the force that is in that country that would be the traffic cop, so to speak. Here, you don't have that. The effort by the Russians does seem to be very haphazard, very opportunistic, as if Vladimir Putin is flailing about trying to get somewhere.

BLITZER: It's brutal what the Russians are doing and very unimpressive, militarily speaking, as well. Jeh Johnson, the former secretary of homeland security, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, the producer of the Academy Awards now speaking out about Will Smith's attack on Chris Rock and revealing how police were involved.



BLITZER: There's new information tonight about Will Smith's Oscars outburst and Chris Rock's reaction to the slap that hijacked the show.

CNN's Brian Todd is working on the lates developments for us.

The producer, the ceremony's producer, Brian, is now speaking up. BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Will Packer saying

he was devastated in the moments after the slap and it took him moments to process it.

And he has surprising revelations about the dynamics inside the theater immediately after the incident.


TODD (voice-over): Oscar producer, Will Packer, says when he saw Will Smith striding onto the stage he thought it was a bit.

WILL PACKER, OSCARS PRODUCER: I'm thinking, OK, he's going to say something, come at him, something funny will happen because that's the nature of Chris and the nature of Will.

TODD: But then --

CHRIS ROCK, COMEDIAN: Oh, that was a nice one. OK. I'm out of here -- uh-oh.


ROCK: Oh, wow! Wow.

TODD: Then --

WILL SMITH, ACTOR: Keep my wife out of your mouth.

ROCK: I'm going to, OK?

PACKER: Once I saw Smith yelling on the stage with such vitriol, my heart dropped. And I just remember thinking, oh, no, oh, no, not like this.

And Chris was keeping his head when everyone else was losing theirs.

TODD: But Packer told "Good Morning, America" he still wasn't convinced of what had happened.

PACKER: I said, did he really hit you? And he looked me and he goes, yes. He goes, I just took a punch from Mohammed Ali, as only Chris can.

He was immediately in joke mode. But you could tell he was very much still in shock.


TODD: Patrick says the LAPD came to his office and wanted to talk to Rock.

Chris Rock, he says, had the power at that moment to have Smith arrested.

PACKER: And they were saying, this is battery. We will go get him. We are prepared. We're prepared to get him right now. You can press charges. We can arrest him.

As they were talking, Chris was being very dismissive of those options. He was like, no, I'm fine. He was like, no, no, no.

And even to the point where I said -- I said, Rock, let them finish. They said, would you like us to take any action? And he said no.

TODD: The Academy says it asked Will Smith to leave the ceremony. One source telling CNN they firmly asked Smith's publicist but that he refused.

Some published accounts dispute the claims that Smith was asked to leave.

Packer told ABC what another production team member told him.

PACKER: That they were able to physically remove Will Smith, and I had not been a part of those conversations. And so I had immediately went to the Academy leadership that was on site, and I said, Chris Rock doesn't want that.

TODD: Packer says he and other producers were hoping Will Smith would go on stage in his acceptance speech and make it better.

SMITH: Art imitates life. I look like the crazy father, just like they said. But love will make you do crazy things.

TODD: But Smith wouldn't apologize to Rock for another 24 hours later in a written statement.

PACKER: He didn't nail it in terms on of a conciliatory acceptance speech in that moment, who then continued to be in the room.


TODD: Will Packer says Will Smith apologized to him the next day.

Packer says the energy in the room was amazing before the slap. And at that moment, it just sucked all of the energy out. He said it was like it was like someone poured concrete in the room.

Packer said Chris Rock really saved the event, at least what was left with it with how he handled the incident.

Wolf, that is a pretty consistent point.

BLITZER: Yes, good point.

Brian Todd, reporting for us, thank you very much.

Up next, the attorney general of the United States, Merrick Garland, responds to questions about pressure to prosecute former President Trump and his allies.



BLITZER: There's more breaking news coverage of the war in Ukraine coming up.

But, first, we are learning more details about at the White House phone logs and a significant gap in the records of the day of the capital insurrection.

Let's bring in our senior legal affairs correspondent, Paula Reid, who has been working the story for us.

Paula, I understand you have new information that helps explain that seven-hour gap in the phone log on January 6th. What are you learning?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. A mystery that prompted so much speculation has been solved to a degree.

According to multiple sources familiar with Trump's phone behavior and the switch board records, the January 6th log reflects Trump's typical phone habits.

He mainly placed calls through the switch board when he was in the residence but rarely used it when he was in the Oval Office.

So the fact that the log does not show phone calls January 6th from the Oval Office is not unusual, sources tell us, because Trump typically had staff either place calls directly for him on land lines or cell phones.

And those calls would not be noted on the switchboard log.

Now the six pages of logs on January 6th are determined to be complete based on an official review on the White House records.

So there are no missing pages. And the seven-hour gap is likely explained by the use of White House land lines, White House cell phones, and personal cell phones that doesn't go through the switchboard.

BLITZER: Paula, there was a notable prison sentence handed down today for one of the January 6th defendants. Tell us about that?

REID: That's right. Lonnie Coffman brought multiple firearms, Molotov cocktails and other weapons near the capital on the day of the insurrection. And he was sentenced today for nearly four years in prison.

Notably, Wolf, the judge who sentenced him said his stash was like a, quote, "small armory ready to do battle."

She said, in all of her years as a judge, she had never seen such a collection of weapons.

She sentenced him several months above what prosecutors recommended. As we know, Wolf, the attorney general has been facing pressure from

lawmakers to do more, to investigate and hold accountable those responsible for the insurrection.

And today, he made a rare comment about the pressure he is facing. Let's take a listen.


MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The only pressure I feel and the only pressure that our line prosecutors feel is to do the right thing. That means we follow the facts and the law wherever they may lead.


REID: CNN has learned the Justice Department has expanded its investigation to gather information about fundraising and organizing for the political rally that preceded the attack on the capital, as well as efforts to subvert the Electoral College vote.

We learned that subpoenas were issued by a grand jury in Washington in recent weeks to get more evidence on these issues.

It shows a new stage of the investigation. And, Wolf, it confirms that federal prosecutors are at least looking into a more well-connected political circle.

BLITZER: So, clearly, this investigation is moving onto a new level, right?

REID: Exactly.

BLITZER: Paula Reid reporting for us.

Paula Reid, thank you very much for that update. Appreciate it very, very much.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

I'll be back in a half an hour on our new streaming service, CNN-Plus, with my new show called "THE NEWSCAST."


You can catch me here at 9:00 p.m. Eastern later tonight with the latest on the war in Ukraine and the day's other top stories.

Until then, once again, thanks very much for watching.