Return to Transcripts main page
The Situation Room
Russian Strike On Train Station Kills Dozens Fleeing War; Ukraine Says, 164 Bodies Found In Bucha, 21 Uncovered In Mass Grave; Russia Denies Train Station Attack That Killed Dozens Of Civilians; Donald Trump Jr. Texted Meadows Ideas For Overturning 2020 Election; Academy Bans Will Smith From Oscars For 10 Years. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired April 08, 2022 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the TikTok @jaketapper. You can tweet the show @theleadcnn. If you ever missed an episode of the show, you can listen to "THE LEAD" wherever you get your podcasts.
I'll be back at 9:00 P.M. Eastern for CNN Tonight with more from Lviv and from our reporters on the frontlines of Putin's bloody invasion.
Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll see you at 9:00 P.M. tonight.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, a ruthless new attack on civilians in Ukraine as Russia hits a train station packed with people fleeing the war. At least 50 are dead, hundreds more injured.
We're learning more about the missile strike and getting new reaction to the slaughter that included children.
Evidence of atrocities in Ukraine clearly is mounting tonight as dozens of bodies are found in a mass grave and on the devastated streets of Bucha. This hour I'll ask Ukraine's top prosecutor where her investigation of Russian war crimes standing right now.
Our correspondents are covering all that, much more in Ukraine, neighboring Poland and here in the United States, as Vladimir Putin's unprovoked war is now in its seventh week.
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.
In Ukraine tonight, President Zelenskyy spoke out just a little while ago about that Russian attack on a train station packed with civilians. He's vowing that everyone responsible will be held accountable.
Let's go straight to Ukraine right now for the latest on the missile strike that left at least 50 people dead, hundreds wounded. Our Chief International Anchor Christiane Amanpour is on the scene for us from Kyiv. Christiane, there's global outrage over this latest attack. Tell our viewers what you're learning.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, indeed. And this had been a hub for evacuations from Eastern Ukraine for the last couple of weeks, but as you say, growing outrage. And today, the head of the E.U. Ursula von der Leyen, was visiting Ukraine. It just happened to coincide with this terrible, terrible massacre. And she said this just stiffens the resolve of the entire international community to increase the punitive pain on Vladimir Putin.
AMANPOUR (voice over): You can hear the fear and the anguish. You can see the desperate efforts to rescue civilians after an attack on this train station in the eastern city of Kramatorsk, a crowded platform hit by Russian missile strikes as people tried to escape heavy fighting. Russian forces also struck the station building itself, the head of the railway told CNN. Now, dozens are dead, including children, and many people remain unaccounted for. I asked Ukraine's chief of military intelligence for his reaction.
MAJ. GEN. KYRYLO BUDANOV, CHIEF, DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OF UKRAINE: What can I say? This is another example of criminal activity, of war criminal dictator Putin. It is in our case that I hope that would be added to the criminal investigation against him in the International Court. Conducting a powerful missile strike against a civilian infrastructure during the evacuation of civilians, it's an act of terrorism.
AMANPOUR: In the hours and days before this attack, the station was crowded with thousands of refugees. Kramatorsk has been a hub for internally displaced people in the Donetsk region, families desperately boarding trains to escape the Russian assault.
Now, body bags and abandoned luggage are all that remain. The hundreds wounded are one step further from evacuation.
Painted on the side of this deadly rocket were the words, for the children, a chilling message the European commission president tells me just strengthens her resolve to make sure Vladimir Putin fails in Ukraine.
URSULA VON DEN LEYEN, EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT: If you look at the attack today at the train station, I was shown pictures where the shelling had written on, for our children, which means like revenge for our children. So, they are building, indeed, this awful narrative as if they would be returning something, a nightmare.
AMANPOUR: Russia has denied responsibility for the strike, calling it a provocation by Ukraine. But the brutality of this invasion is well- documented despite Russia's military consistently denying attacking civilians.
Kramatorsk was one of the first places targeted when the Russian invasion was launched February 24th. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRIANIAN PRESIDENT: Why do they need this war against Ukraine? Why do they need to hit civilians with missiles?
Why this cruelty that the world has witnessed in Bucha and other cities liberated by Ukrainian army?
AMANPOUR: On Friday, Ukraine announced ten humanitarian corridors, including one in the Donetsk region, but civilian casualties are increasing every hour that Russia's bombardments continue.
AMANPOUR (on camera): And so President Zelenskyy and the officials who met with Ursula von der Leyen, of course, reiterated and re-upped their pleas for much, much more weaponry to defend themselves in this massive second offensive that Russia is launching on the east. Ursula von der Leyen said that would happen, plus the E.U.'s dependence on Russian energy that she says is gradually being separated from. They're gradually pulling themselves away from coal, gas, and eventually, they say, oil as well. Wolf?
BLITZER: I also want to bring in our Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly and the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor.
Ambassador Taylor, what's your reaction to this latest atrocity? Is this about inflicting as much terror on the Ukrainian people as possible?
WILLIAM TAYLOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TTO UKRAINE: Wolf, you've described and Christiane has described the international outrage at this, but the other thing that this has done has inflamed, enrage the Ukrainians. The Ukrainians are now more determined than ever that Putin will lose. They are going -- the Ukrainians are going to win this fight, Wolf. They're going to win, and it's because of this horror that Putin is inflicting on them. And Putin needs to lose for the accountability. The war crimes need to be addressed and that will happen if he loses.
So, all of that is to say that the United States, the international community, has to provide those weapons you just talked about to the Ukrainians. They will fight until the end, and that end will be necessary to have the weapons with them.
BLITZER: Yes, weapons, weapons, weapons. That's what the Ukrainian leadership keeps saying. That's what they need the most.
Christiane, let me show our viewers and you, once again, some video from your report capturing the aftermath of that train station attack. It's extremely graphic, but it's important to show what Russia is intentionally doing to innocent men, women and children. Watch this.
So awful. When the world sees the murder, the carnage of innocent people like this, does it strengthen, Christiane, the resolve of the international community to take faster, stronger, immediate measures to punish Putin and eventually hold him accountable?
AMANPOUR: Well, Wolf, it is really actually hard to look at those pictures, especially when you see the children, the women, the elderly, all of whom, according to everybody and whatever we can see, are non-combatants.
And this is just really, really tough to keep witnessing. It's one of the most severe massacres of civilians of this war, as you say now, in its seventh week. It does actually strengthen the resolve. I specifically asked Ursula von der Leyen that.
And actually since the awful evidence started to emerge from around Kyiv, as the Russians were being pushed back from Bucha, from Irpin, from Borodyanka, all those town and outskirts of Kyiv where we've seen streets littered with bodies and bodies buried under rubble where the Russians have deliberately just opened up on buildings and the like and where we know because of intercepts that this was not accidental, that it was actually deliberate. It is part of their strategy.
Ever since then, each time there is one of these terrible, terrible outrages, it does make it much faster, the reaction from the E.U. in this case, to keep upping the pain in terms of sanctions. And that is what continues to happen.
But as Ambassador Taylor said, and he's absolutely right, and the Ukrainians say, that it's all very well, but nothing will help their resolve and their determination and their spirit to fight back unless they get the weapons they need. And it's not just about the smaller and lighter weapons anymore. It's about massive, heavy, long-range artillery, anti-aircraft missiles and even combat aircraft. The military intelligence chief said today they need it for this next phase.
BLITZER: They certainly do. You know, Phil, these graphic images, they are certainly prompting further coordinated action at the White House with the allies. What are you hearing?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And, Wolf, the big question is what might that look like? There's no question there were harsh sanctions put together very quickly in part in response to the horrors seen on the ground in Bucha. I asked White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki if it would be the same result with today's horrors. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: Is there any sense that the strike that we saw this morning will also accelerate talks on additional sanctions between the coordinated allies?
JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What we have done to date and we will continue to do is look at unfortunately the continued atrocities that we're seeing in the country and assess how that's going to impact sanctions, consequences and obviously additional security assistance.
And I'm certain, given the video footage we've seen on airwaves across the world and photos, that this will be a part of the discussion that our national security officials are having with their counterparts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: And, Wolf, important to note, it is an ongoing discussion and one that goes beyond sanctions, as Jen Psaki alluded to there. Some developments on that lethal assistance front, the U.S. Securing S-300 surface to air weapon system, something President Zelenskyy specifically requested. They went through Slovakia to do that, will backfill with U.S. patriot missile systems. That process is also ongoing. There is an urgency that has not dissipated. In fact, it's accelerated as they continue to see the horrors on the ground.
BLITZER: Ambassador Taylor, are these Russian attacks a sign of Russian desperation? And where does it stop because it seems to be only getting worse?
TAYLOR: It does seem to be getting worse, Wolf. The Russian military on the ground has not done well at all. They are a spent force. They're trying to revive themselves. They're trying to re-equip themselves and moving around from the north around to the east, but they're having difficulty with manpower.
They're looking for men from Syria, from Libya, contractors. Belarusians are not eager to go to the front. So, I think the ground forces are having a difficult time. That may be the problem for President Putin. So, the desperation that you mentioned is from these missiles.
BLITZER: All right, guys. Stand by. Everybody stand by. There's more breaking news we're following.
Just ahead, is Russia's attack on this Ukrainian train station a war crime? Ukraine's top prosecutor joins me live. That's coming up next. We'll discuss when we come back.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Breaking news. Horrific new videos are emerging showing the aftermath of that Russian attack on a train station in Eastern Ukraine. We're going to play some more of that very, very disturbing footage for you. And, once again, we want to warn all of our viewers these images are very graphic. They are very hard to watch, but we believe it's important to show the world the brutality of Russia's war against innocent Ukrainian civilians.
These were men, women and children desperately trying to flee Putin's invasion. At least 50 of them were killed in the strike. Hundreds more were wounded. Joining us now to discuss what's going on, the prosecutor general of Ukraine, Iryna Venediktova. Iryna, thank you so much for joining us.
You're the person in charge of Ukraine's investigation into Putin's war crimes. What's your reaction to today's horrific attack on these men, women and children at that train station?
IRYNA VENEDIKTOVA, PROSECUTOR GENERAL OF UKRAINE: Good evening, dear Wolf. Thank you very much for this time. I want to appreciate again American citizens for support, for sincerely support about (INAUDIBLE). It's an ordinary stretch of Putin's army to kill just civilians, civilians who want to save their lives. 52 deaths for this moment we had in Kramatorsk. It was women. It was kids who wanted to leave, who wanted to be evacuated.
BLITZER: Because this attack is just the latest example of Russia's brutality in this war. Today, you announced 164 more bodies have been found in Bucha. Just how sweeping is your investigation, once again, into Putin's war crimes?
VENEDIKTOVA: Today in the Bucha, we started to exhume their dead bodies from their huge grave. Actually, we took from these grave only 21 bodies. We expect 67. Only in this, what we see, all are civilians, all are gunshoted and, of course, we understand that it was unnecessary deaths.
And the aim of these deaths is just to kill people who are not they. And this we actually see in Ukraine, Kyiv region, for today, more than 800 deaths, and Bucha, Hostomel, Irpin, Borodyanka. And it's cruelty. Actually, it's atrocity crimes, war crimes, crimes against humanity. And we see the war not by rules at all.
BLITZER: As you know, Iryna, Russia is calling reports that they're responsible for today's attack, and I'm quoting the Russians right now, they're saying it's a provocation. That doesn't, and, once again, they say it doesn't correspondent to reality. What's your response to those Russian comments?
VENEDIKTOVA: My response will be by prosecutor, the top politicians, top militaries from -- I want to go not from the soldier to the commander but and from the top commander to the soldier. And I think it will be the best response from Ukraine and prosecutors.
Because we know that in modern world, here is three types of lie. Lie, great lie, and Russian lie. That's why from my side, I will do cases. Now we have more than 5,000 cases, and we will investigate them properly because I understand, and I want very much that prosecutor of International Criminal Court can take any case from Ukraine and do his own investigations. And I do my job with high standards of international humanitarian law because I understand that it could correspond then with International Criminal Court.
BLITZER: You've said that, as a lawyer, you don't want to become emotional, but I know you visited, for example, Bucha. You visited Borodyanka. How difficult is it to not become emotional when you see such vicious brutality up close?
VENEDIKTOVA: It's very difficult. Maybe when the war will be finished and we really can investigate all these crimes and will punish all these war criminals, I can speak as a human, and we will discuss it with you, dear Wolf, absolutely.
But now me, and other Ukrainians, prosecutors, soldiers, policemen, investigators just do their job, because we understand from our professionalism it's our success. That's why we try to be not emotional. We try to be professional, 24/7 day all weeks.
BLITZER: Iryna Venediktova, thank you so much for joining us, the Ukrainian prosecutor general. As I say, we will stay in touch. I appreciate it very much.
VENEDIKTOVA: Thank you very much that you speak about this and that you really demonstrate to the whole world what is going on in Ukraine. It's very important because we need to prevent such aggression in the future. Thank you again.
BLITZER: We will continue to do so, for sure. Thank you to you, once again.
BLITZER: Coming up, a new look at a Ukrainian city shattered by Russian invaders, residents living in fear that Kremlin forces who retreated may return.
BLITZER: The British military is revealing its new assessment of the Russian retreat from Northern Ukraine, saying Kremlin forces have fully withdrawn from the region. Tonight, we're getting a new and chilling look at the destruction the Russians left behind.
Our Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward is back in Kyiv after visiting the ravaged city of Chernihiv. Clarissa, tell us more about what you actually saw.
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Wolf, we basically pushed even further north, up beyond Chernihiv, to some of these areas that have basically been under the complete control of Russian forces for more than a month, until just about a week ago. We found scenes of desperation and massive devastation.
WARD (voice over): This is what remains of Russia's presence in much of northern Ukraine. A hastily abandoned camp by the roadside, just 30 miles in from the Belarusian border, where soldiers dug in and prepared for their advance, their foxholes still littered with their rations.
So, this is where it looks like they were doing their cooking. You can see some onions, coffee, some water, some cans over there. But what's so striking walking around this camp is that it's just a mess. It seems there was a total lack of discipline.
Around the corner in this village, Chernihiv, Ludmila Stepanovna (ph), tells us residents hid their valuables as Russian forces looted the area.
Five weeks they were staying here. Tanks were all around us. At night, they would shoot at the houses with machine guns, she says. But, praise God, they didn't touch us.
As the Russians continued their lightning defensive down to the city of Chernihiv, their tactics grew more brutal. Faced with stiff resistance on the ground, they doubled down on bombardment from the skies.
Ukrainian Soldier Bagdan Vervitski (ph) shows us what is left of the village of Novoselivka, just outside Chernihiv. The scale of the destruction is jaw-dropping. Not a single house is untouched.
Bogdan (ph) explains that this was the final push to get into the city.
So, he's saying this was a Ukrainian position. The Russians bombed heavily. And then Russian soldiers were actually here in this area just a mile away from the city.
Nikolai Kraznatal (ph), never saw the Russian soldiers here, but he felt the full force of their assault. This is my cellar, he says. He tells us his nephew was sheltering from the bombardment there when it took a direct hit.
Pinned down, Nikolai (ph) was forced to bury him in a shallow grave in the garden.
We put a cross and covered it with a shield so the dogs wouldn't dig him up, he says. I feel such hatred for Putin. I want to tear him apart. I lived for 70 years but I never saw a beast like this.
Many here fear they haven't seen the last of him. On a destroyed bridge, an emotional Tatiana and Svetlana (ph) are returning from their first visit with their parents since the war began.
They're worried they may not see them again. We don't know if the Russians will come back to the village where my parents are, Tatiana says. And this is so scary.
In the end, Russia's offensive in the north was a failure, but the scars of its assault remain deep, and the prospect of a return to normalcy still seems far away.
WARD (on camera): For the people, Wolf, in those villages that were occupied by Russian forces, they have survived the worst. But their struggle really is far from over. Some of them are still completely cut off. Many of those roads are impassable. There are mines laid on many of them.
And there's also just a real sense of desperation because it has been so difficult for Ukrainian authorities to meet the needs of all these different people in different places in terms of food, in terms of water. They still don't have electricity. And it's going to be quite some time, Wolf, before they likely will.
BLITZER: Clarissa Ward, stay safe over there. Thank you very, very much.
Joining us now, the head of the Kyiv office in the International Committee of the Red Cross, Gherardo Pontrandolfi. Gherardo, thank you so much for joining us and thanks for all your important work.
How does an attack like the one we saw on this rail station in eastern Ukraine, on civilians trying to flee a war zone, make the work of the Red Cross even more essential?
GHERARDO PONTRANDOLFI, HEAD OF KYIV OFFICE, INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF THE RED CROSS: Well, as you've seen the images on T.V., that what is going on there, the images you saw is going on all across Ukraine, and it makes not only the work of the Red Cross more difficult but actually the situation for the civilian population really horrible. And this is the focus of our operation, try to find ways to make sure at least that civilians are protected, somehow protected. But I tell you, it's really a very, very difficult task each moment.
BLITZER: Because as all of us know, the International Committee of the Red Cross was founded as a neutral, impartial, independent body. Is it hard to remain impartial, though, and neutral when you see these atrocities like these?
PONTRANDOLFI: Well, as you rightly say, we are a neutral organization, and we are not neutral to violence and (INAUDIBLE) neutral to human suffering. And this is what I'm observing on a daily basis in the areas where we operate and actually in the areas that we are able to operate because it's far away from being able to operate across the country.
BLITZER: When rail stations, like the one that was bombed today, hospitals are being bombed as well, and based on what you've personally seen on the ground in Ukraine, how difficult is it, Gherardo, and how dangerous does all that make for your work and the work of all the teams of the International Red Cross?
PONTRANDOLFI: It is very dangerous obviously because we have -- what we observe all around the so-called combat zone is actually the critical infrastructure has been destroyed, damaged severely. And as we enter cities, like we did just a few days ago in areas around Kyiv, northern of Kyiv, so, Irpin, Bucha, Chernihiv, the situation is really dire because it's heartbreaking, upsetting, and disturbing.
We are making our ways into those cities pretty much on our own in four-by-four vehicles and at times we just have to stop because there's so much ordnance and mortars and shells lying around that we have to stop. And here again, it's not only our job, but the problem is that people are trapped inside those cities, and we have to make sure to reach them to provide basic aid. And it's making our life and our attempts to reach those areas even more difficult.
Well, be careful over there. As I said, we're grateful to you, Gherardo, we're gratefully and to all the teams that you have out there trying to help people save their lives. Gherardo Pontrandolfi of the International Committee of the Red Cross, thank you so much for joining us.
PONTRANDOLFI: Thank you.
BLITZER: And for information about how you can help humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, go to cnn.com/impact and help impact your world.
Just ahead, we'll have an inside look at U.S. troops training in nearby Poland.
BLITZER: Breaking news. For the first time since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we're now getting an inside look at American troops training on the ground in neighboring Poland.
CNN's Senior National Correspondent Kyung Lah has our report from a base where joint military exercises are now under way.
KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): No words needed. This is the NATO message to Russian President Vladimir Putin. This is the first look at American troops firing weaponry on the ground in Poland since the war in Ukraine began. U.S. and Polish forces publicly showed off the might of the west in a bilateral live fire training exercise. One by one, Polish tanks lined up heavy artillery and paratroopers dangled from helicopters, landing on a battleground that is designed to prepare for a war just a short drive away.
The 82nd Airborne Infantry Brigade Combat Team based at Ft. Bragg has been drilling with American Blackhawks here in Poland for weeks, deployed in mid-February before Russia invaded Ukraine. As the U.S. soldiers run across the field, a U.S.-made Javelin missile launches. It's a portable surface to air system that's been critical for Ukrainian forces in the war.
What we understand is that there are two platoons here, about 60 American troops taking part in this live fire act. It's a show of force. We're about just two hours away from the Ukrainian border. The Americans trying to show that they are indeed working with the polish troops.
This is just a small snapshot of the greater U.S. Force here. A U.S. official says approximately 11,000 U.S. Troops are deployed in this NATO country. They're a visible sign of a larger military ramp-up near Ukraine. A senior U.S. official tells CNN about eight to ten aircraft a day land at airfields near Ukraine with weapons and security assistance material that is moved into the war-torn country by truck convoy. This bilateral drill ends with a photo op for the cameras, the two countries side by side.
What is the message you're sending to Russia?
COL. MICHAL MALYSKA, POLISH TERRITORIAL DEFENSE FORCES: We are strong. We are cooperating with our forces from all NATO. We're ready for any action. We are ready to defend our country.
LAH (on camera): You may notice I didn't interview any members of the 82nd Airborne on camera. The reason why is that there is a blanket no- media policy for U.S. troops here in Poland. They are not speaking to the press.
But we did have conversations with some of the members of the 82nd Airborne, and they told us that they've been here since mid-February sleeping in tents. They've been away from their families. The days have been long, the training tough. But, Wolf, this is not being presented to us as complaints. They just view this and their job here protecting NATO territory as just a job. Wolf?
BLITZER: A critically important job indeed. Kyung Lah on the scene for us in Warsaw, thank you very much.
Now to a major story here in the United States. President Biden is celebrating Ketanji Brown Jackson's confirmation to the United States Supreme Court, calling it a moment of real change in this country. The president and Vice President Harris hosted Judge Jackson at the White House today, a day after the Senate sealed her place in history as the first black woman to serve on the nation's highest court.
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: When I decided to run, this was one of the first decisions I made. I could see it. I could see it as a day of hope, a day of promise, a day of progress, a day when once again the moral arc of the universe, as Barack used to quote it all the time, bends a little more toward justice.
JUDGE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, INCOMING SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: I am just the very lucky first inheritor of the dream of liberty and justice for all.
To be sure, I have worked hard to get to this point in my career, and I have now achieved something far beyond anything my grandparents could have possibly ever imagined. But no one does this on their own. The path was cleared for me so that I might rise to this occasion.
And in the poetic words of Dr. Maya Angelou, I do so now while bringing the gifts my ancestors gave. I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
In my family, it took just one generation to go from segregation to the Supreme Court of the United States.
BLITZER: Judge Jackson is set to be sworn in this summer after Justice Stephen Breyer retires.
Coming up, more news on the war in Ukraine.
Also a CNN exclusive, new evidence of Donald Trump Jr.'s role in promoting the big lie about the 2020 election.
BLITZER: There's more angry reaction to the deadly Russian attack on a Ukrainian train station packed with civilians fleeing the war. The European commission president visited Ukraine and witnessed the aftermath of the slaughter in Bucha.
Ursula von der Leyen shared her raw reaction as dozens of bodies were recovered in Bucha.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
URSULA VON DER LEYEN, EUROPEAN COMMISION RESIDENT: It is the unthinkable has happened here. We have seen the cruel face of Putin's army. We have seen the recklessness and the cold-heartedness with which they have been occupying the city. Here in Bucha, we saw our humanity being shattered.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: European leaders visiting Ukraine also met with President Zelenskyy.
Now to a CNN exclusive report on the insurrection investigation. We're learning about Donald Trump Jr.'s communications about efforts to try to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
CNN congressional correspondent Ryan Nobles has details.
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): November 5th, 2020, two days after the 2020 election, votes were still being counted, the final outcome still in doubt, but President Trump's son, Don Jr., was already passing on ideas for overturning the election if necessary to insure a second term for his father.
It's very simple, Trump Jr. texted before outlining several options. We have operational control, total leverage.
Trump Jr. was texting Mark Meadows. This text reviewed by CNN hasn't been revealed publicly before. It's in possession of the January 6th Select Committee.
In a statement to CNN, Trump Jr.'s lawyer said after the election, Don received numerous messages from supporters and others. Given the date, this message likely originated from someone else and was forwarded. Meadows' attorney declined to comment.
On election night, President Trump was already laying the groundwork to claim the election was stolen.
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: To me, this is a very sad moment and we will win this. As far as I am concerned, we already have won.
NOBLES: Behind the scenes, his son and adviser Don Jr. was sharing ideas with meadows for how to subvert the Electoral College process, leveraging Republican majorities in the Senate and swing state legislators.
State assemblies can step in and vote to put forward the electoral slate. Trump Jr. texted.
The text message from days after the election ticks through questionable legal theories, many of which would eventually be employed by the Trump campaign and GOP operatives across the country. We have multiple paths. We control them all.
The paths Trump Jr. refers to in the text include creating alternate slates of fake electors, pushing the vote back to state legislatures and forcing a scenario where neither candidate had enough electorate votes to win, leaving it to the House to vote by state delegation. Republicans controlled 28 states, Democrats, 22 states, Trump Jr. texted. Once again, Trump wins.
Trump Jr. was a prominent surrogate for his father, traveling the country on his behalf. In the days leading up to the election, he told Trump supporters that if Trump lost, it would be because the radical left cheated.
DONALD TRUMP, JR., SON OF FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP: Make sure everyone gets out and votes because if you don't, they are going to steal it from you.
NOBLES: But while he publicly warned against fraud on the left, his private text message to Meadows foreshadows a legal strategy his father's allied would eventually launch, even teasing the showdown in Congress on January 6th two months before it happened.
We either have a vote we control and we win or it gets kicked to Congress 6 January, 2021. This text, part of a tranche of thousands of texts from Meadows the committee has in its position, and is already used as part of its investigation.
(END VIDEOTAPE) NOBLES (on camera): And in that text, Trump Jr. also already floating ideas for his father's second term. They included firing Christopher Wray, the FBI director, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, and also having the attorney general, William Barr, appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Joe Biden's son, Hunter -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ryan Nobles on Capitol Hill, thank you.
Up next, Will Smith banned from attending the Oscars for ten years.
BLITZER: Breaking news: Will Smith has officially been banned from attending the Oscars for ten years.
Brian Todd is joining us right now.
Very dramatic decision today.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Despite Will Smith's apologies and his resignation from the Academy following the incident, the academy was under extraordinary pressure to send a message here.
TODD (voice-over): Tonight, Oscar winning superstar Will Smith banned by the academy from attending the Oscars for ten years. For the now infamous slap heard around the world.
CHRIS ROCK, COMEDIAN: That was a nice one. Okay. I'm out here -- uh- oh. Richard --
Oh, wow. Wow.
TODD: The decision to ban Smith for a decade comes after a meeting today of the board of governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. A board member telling CNN there was, quote, tons of debate on what the consequences for Smith should be.
BILL CARTER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: I'm a little surprised that he got a ten-year ban, but I'm not surprised that this was the way they went. I knew they would give, I believed they would give a long term ban. I thought maybe three, five years. Because I think it was incumbent on them to send some kind of message that this was actual punishment, that there would be accountability.
TODD: An uncensored feed from a Japanese outlet the night of the Oscars shows how Chris Rock and Smith reacted immediately after the slap.
ROCK: Will Smith just smacked the shit out of me. WILL SMITH, ACTOR: Keep my wife's name out of your (EXPLETIVE
ROCK: Wow, dude.
ROCK: It was a "G.I. Jane" joke.
SMITH: Keep my wife's name out of your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) mouth.
TODD: In addition to announcing Smith's ban, an extraordinary admission from the Academy that it mishandled the incident.
In an open letter obtained by CNN, it said, quote: We did not adequately address the situation in the room. For this, we are sorry. This was an opportunity for us to set an example for our guests. Viewers, and our academy family around the world, and we fell short. Unprepared for the unprecedented.
CARTER: They bungled it. They had an opportunity to do something on the spot, and at least address it. They didn't even address it, which was kind of absurd.
TODD (on camera): In the statement today, the Academy expressed its, quote, deep gratitude to Chris Rock for maintaining his composure under, quote, extraordinary circumstances. Will Smith in a statement says, quote, I accept and respect the Academy's decision -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian Todd, thank you very much.
I'll be back in a half an hour on CNN+ with my new show, "The Newscast".
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.