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Putin Claims Mariupol Victory, Blockades Holdout Ukrainian Troops; Biden Says, Putin Will Never Succeed In Occupying All Of Ukraine; Russia Escalating Major Offensive In Eastern Ukraine; Obama Takes Swipe At Trump And GOP Over Election Lies; Florida's GOP-Led Legislature Strips Disney Of Special Status. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 21, 2022 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in a place I like to call THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll see you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, Vladimir Putin claims victory in the besieged city of Mariupol, trapping tens of thousands of civilians and blockading Ukrainian troops holed up inside a huge Steel Plant Complex. Putin ordering Russian forces to make sure even a fly can't escape from the cities last major Ukrainian stronghold.

President Biden says there's no evidence Mariupol has completely fallen and vows that Putin will never succeed in occupying all of Ukraine. The U.S. sending an additional $800 million in military assistance to Ukrainian fighters.

I'll ask a top Pentagon Spokesman, John Kirby, how these weapons might make a difference.

Our correspondents are standing by in Ukraine with the refugees in Poland and at the White House. With CNN's live global coverage as this war enters its ninth week.

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

This hour, we're following what could be a final showdown between Russian and Ukrainian forces in Mariupol, a critical battleground in the war. There's also new satellite evidence emerging appearing to show mass graves outside that southeastern city.

Let's get the latest on the fight for Mariupol. CNN's Matt Rivers has our report from the war zone.


ILLYA SAMOYLENKO, AZOV REGIMENT STAFF OFFICER: We destroyed one tank today. Two armored fighting vehicles and one armored personnel carrier. And the numbers of enemy losses are still increasing. MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This is, Illya Samoylenko, an officer in the Azov Battalion currently fighting for his life and others inside the besieged Azovstal Steel Plant in Mariupol. The plant has taken constant bombardment for days on end though he strikes a defiant tone.

SAMOYLENKO: Right now Ukraine, not just fighting for ourselves. We're fighting for the freedom.

RIVERS: And yet the reality in Mariupol is that Russia controls the vast majority of the city apart from the last remaining pocket of Ukrainian resistance. Enough that Vladimir Putin felt compelled to declare victory in the city he first tried and failed to capture nearly ten years ago.

Completing the military task of liberating Mariupol is a great achievement he says, I congratulate you. But Ukraine and its allies have rejected the notion that Mariupol has fallen. How could that be, the argument goes, when the Russians have yet to force out the remaining Ukrainian fighters.

Putin seemingly aware of this, acknowledge that fighters remain in the Steel Plant and essentially said no problem, just wait them out.

He says there's no need to climb into these catacombs and crawl underground through this industrial facilities. Block off this industrial area so a fly cannot get through.

For those inside plant, this new blockade strategy, a sign of weakness of the Russian military, a force that has tried and failed for weeks to force out remaining resistance.

SAMOYLENKO: Russia right now is cowardly hesitating with the assault, final assault, how do you call this, Azovstal Steel works, because they know that they will fail. And they will fail.

RIVERS: No matter whether the Russians cannot or will not fight their way into the steel complex, the end result is the same. Ukrainian fighters inside are not only responsible for themselves, but for the hundreds of civilians they say are sheltering there. Some seen here in unverified video from Ukraine's government.

SAMOYLENKO: Most heartbreaking thing in this that we have limited supplies here and we're trying to share everything with civilians, but Russia claims that we use them as a human shield. It's bull [ bleep ]. It's complete bull [ bleep ], because you know real military doesn't do this.

RIVERS: And even outside the Steel Plant in areas firmly under Russian control, tens of thousands of civilians that need to be evacuated cannot. Only a fraction managed to leave in the last few days. Some seen here arriving in the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia. Not thousands, not hundreds, but mere dozens after Ukraine says Russian forces violated cease fire agreement.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: It's more like not a war, but a terrorist operation by Russia against Mariupol and the people of this city.


BLITZER: Matt Rivers reporting for us from the war zone. Matt, thank you very much. Now to Russia's escalating offensive in eastern Ukraine.


Our Chief International Correspondent, Clarissa Ward, is covering that for us.

Clarissa, I know you traveled to one city in the region where civilians are struggling to simply stay alive. Tell our viewers what you saw?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Russia appears to have settled on a tactic in this new eastern offensive. Shell a town relentlessly, inch forward, keep shelling the town even more, inch forward.

We spent the day with one very brave volunteer who is risking his life to go into these towns and try to get civilians out safely.


WARD (voice over): It's a road few are willing to take anymore. But every day, Volunteer Alexander Prokupenko (ph), makes the dangerous drive towards Russian forces in his hometown of Popasna, to rescue fellow residents from the heavy fighting.

They shell everything, he tells us, school buses, the Red Cross, anything that moves. So why do you do this work? I love my town and I can't leave it, he says. I can't leave the people here. Somebody needs to help people.

He's hoping the rain provides some let up in the relentless artillery. It's better for us, but it's worse for the road, he says. You can't see the potholes and the shrapnel from the shells. He arrives at the village of Komyshuvakha on the outskirts of Popasna. In the last few days it has come under heavy shelling.

Anatoly (ph) is being evacuated with his son, Vladimir. A neighbor shouts at us to show what the Russians have done. Those who stay here are now completely cut-off from basic services.

So there's no electricity here. No water at all and you can see they're actually collecting rainwater. It's time for Anatoly (ph) and Vladimir (ph) to go. Their entire life now packed into the trunk of Alexander's car. Leaving the village, we spot a house destroyed by shelling.

As we get out to take a closer look, a tearful Galina Nikolaivna (ph) emerges. She tells us it happened two days earlier. The first hit was at 5:50 then there was a second hit, she says. That hit my garage. She takes us around what remains of her home. The steady thuds of artillery can still be heard.

The roof was completely destroyed.

This is where the first shell hit, she says. Galina (ph) had just woken up and was lying in her bed when this happened. We have nothing left, she says. In the living room, she takes down the drapes that were hung to hide any light.

This is how we tried to mask ourselves, she tells us. There's no need for them anymore. Galina (ph) and her husband still don't want to leave their home, but she understands that Russia's offensive here has only just begun and it's going to get much worse.

I lived until 60 and now I have lost everything, she says. Honestly, I have no words. For those like Anatoly (ph) and Vladimir (ph) who do leave, there are few good options. Alexander takes them to a dormitory in a nearby town of Bakhmut.

They can stay five days for free. After that, it's up to them. In the next door bed, another couple rescued by Alexander tells us there is nothing left of their home. But they don't blame President Putin. Thank you, America, she says. It's a horror. It's a nightmare.

So it's interesting. She's saying that she thinks that Russia actually wanted to negotiate here and she blames America primarily for this war. Putin wants to find a peaceful solution, her husband tells us. Please don't tell this bullshit to the whole world, Alexander says.

It's not an uncommon view in these parts of eastern Ukraine, making the situation here all the more complex. Alexander says he evacuated anyone, whatever their political views. He knows there are still so many out there who need his help.



WARD (on camera): Wolf, it's not just civilians in Popasna who are facing great danger. Ukrainian security services have released an audio tape that purportedly shows communications between Russian forces in which they discuss an alleged order to kill prisoners of war in the town of Popasna. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What can I tell you, damn it? You keep the most senior among them and let the rest go forever. Let them go forever, damn it. So that no one will ever see them again, including relatives.


WARD: CNN, of course, cannot independently confirm the authenticity of that audio. We have also reached out to the Russian ministry of defense, Wolf, who have perhaps unsurprisingly yet given us any comment. Wolf?

BLITZER: Clarissa Ward, reporting for us from Dnipro in Ukraine. Clarissa, thank you very much.

Here in the United States, President Biden is now sending yet another $800 million in U.S. military assistance to Ukraine citing a critical window in the war.

Let's go to our Chief White House Correspondent, Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan, tell our viewers what's in this new aid package.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, the president is vowing that Putin will not be successful in his efforts in Ukraine, and in order to do so, he's sending them more weapons including the second $800 million package that he announced today in addition to the $800 million they announced last week.

And this one looks a lot like the one last week which stood out of course because it had a lot heavier duty weaponry, more sophisticated stuff than in previous package from the United States, Wolf, and this one includes about 72 howitzers, 144,000 rounds of ammunition and over 100 tactical drones.

But these are not just any drones, they are new drones that are called Phoenix Ghost Drones that the Pentagon says the air force developed specifically to go to Ukraine and at the request of the Ukrainians.

And they're pretty similar in capabilities to the switchblade drones that were included in that package last week, Wolf. It makes it a little bit easier to go after targets without being as close to them of course and that is something the Ukrainians have said would be very helpful to them. And it wouldn't necessarily require a ton of training in order to figure out how they work.

And so, as President Biden, was announcing this today, he really gave his overview of where he thinks things stands as they approach this two-month mark of this invasion.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: We don't know how long this war will last. But as we approach the two-month mark, here's what we do know, Putin has failed to achieve his grand ambitions on the battlefield after weeks of shell of Kyiv, Kyiv still stands.

President Zelenskyy and his democratic collective government still remain in power and Ukrainian armed forces joined by many brave Ukrainian civilians have thwarted Russia's conquest to their country.


COLLINS: Now, Wolf, of course the Pentagon is laying out in details what they are sending Ukrainian this new package. The president says they won't always be able to advertise the weaponry that they are sending, of course, not wanting to disclose that to the Russian forces.

One thing we should note is the second phase of the war, the president did say he believe the geography of where Russia is going to be fighting will be limited, but, Wolf, he said he did not believe the brutality wouldn't be limited.

BLITZER: Certainly hasn't been limited so far. Kaitlan Collins from the White House, thank you.

Just ahead, I'll speak live with the Pentagon Press Secretary, John Kirby. We'll discuss this new U.S. military aid package to Ukraine and the Pentagon's newest assessment on whether Mariupol has fallen.

John Kirby, there he is. He's standing by live. We'll discuss when we come back.



BLITZER: We're following all the breaking news on the war in Ukraine, as Russia claims victory in the strategic City of Mariupol and the U.S. sends more weapons to Ukrainian forces.

Joining us now, the Pentagon Press Secretary, John Kirby. John, thanks very much for joining us.

This new package announce today includes more howitzers and a brand- new drone system designed by the U.S. for Ukraine. How will these weapons specifically enable the Ukrainian military to repel the Russians in this new phase of the war?

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We believe these additional systems that we're sending here in this latest package are very well suited to the kind of fighting that we think we're going to see in the Donbas that the Ukrainians are going to face from the Russians in the Donbas.

Again, this is an area of Ukraine, Wolf, that's flat, wide open. Not very urban and lends itself well to mechanized warfare to the use of artillery and long range fires. Well you can see that the Russians already believe that just by what they're moving into the Donbas, and so we want to be able to have the same capabilities available to the Ukrainians and they have asked for specifically artillery support. That's why there's another 72 howitzers going in and more than 1,400 artillery rounds to go with them.

And we're doing some doing training this week with Ukrainian soldiers outside of Ukraine on American howitzers so that they know how to use them and can train their teammates.

These unmanned systems as well, will help them actually attack Russian ground formations. That's what they're design to do. They're very capable, fairly new systems, but again we believe they're well suited to the kind of fighting that's going to unfold here in the Donbas region.

BLITZER: When you say the U.S. is training these Ukrainian forces outside of Ukraine, can you tell our viewers where this is going on? Where this training is taking place? KIRBY: Yes, we're being very careful, Wolf, on the exact location out of concerns for the host nation. We want to respect their need to be able to continue to do this. So we're not exactly detailing where, but it is outside of the country and it's a small number of trainees, a little more than 50.

And it's a train and trainers kind of environment.


So we'll train these 50 or so on how to use American howitzers. They'll go back to Ukraine and will be able to train their colleagues as they get these howitzers in place in the Donbas region. If there's a need for additional training on additional systems outside the country, we'll we certainly look to do that, too.

BLITZER: Yes. As someone who seen these howitzers in action, they are devastating indeed when used appropriately. The Russian, President Putin claims Russia has now successfully captured Mariupol. What's the latest U.S. assessment on control of Mariupol tonight?

KIRBY: Well, we are looking at this very closely. We don't share the Russians sanguine nature of their capture of Mariupol. We still hold it as being contested that the Ukrainians inside Mariupol continue to resist Russian efforts to take the city.

But clearly, the Russians have devoted a lot of force and fire power to take Mariupol. They believe it's critical to their ability to eventually move on the Donbas region and get that land bridge between the Donbas and Crimea. But again, our assessment here at the Pentagon is that the Ukrainians are still fighting for it.

BLITZER: Because Putin apparently isn't sending troops in for a last stand at that Steel Factory in Mariupol, saying there's no need for Russian soldiers to quote, climb into these catacombs, his words. Does Putin want to avoid urban warfare like the kind Russia failed out around Kyiv?

KIRBY: Difficult to know what's in his mind, Wolf, action not words. I mean, we heard what he said today, but I think we've got to watch and see what the Russians actually do. Their tactics of late have been brutal. They have committed atrocities. We know Russian forces have committed war crimes so we're going to watch this very closely.

In the meantime, we're going to do everything we can to get the tools, the weapons and the system that the Ukrainians need to continue to defend themselves and their territory.

KIRBY: Yesterday as you know, John, the U.S. assessment made public was that Russia had made no major territorial gains yet in this new military offensive. Have they made any progress since then and how much land does Russia control in the east?

KIRBY: Our view is, Wolf, today, that they have still not really achieved any territorial gains in the Donbas. There have been offensive operations conducted by the Russians, particularly in the north part of the Donbas, south of the town called Izyum.

But they haven't succeeded in actually taking much territory and the Ukrainians have been able to hold them off, to defend and push, in fact, push them out of some towns and villages. So our assessment today is that they really have not made any territorial gains in that part of Ukraine.

BLITZER: Well that's interesting. The president, President Biden said today the U.S. won't always be able to advertise everything the U.S. and its allies and partners are doing to support Ukraine, the Ukrainian military. Has publicizing this military aid given Russia a certain advantage?

KIRBY: We are being very careful about what we're putting out into the public. We have an obligation to explain to the American people what we're doing to support Ukraine's ability to defend itself. And so we try to as detailed as we can. But we're very careful.

There's a lot of information that we're not putting out there. Certainly not talking about what Ukraine's capabilities on the ground and where they are and how they're operating. We put that out. We also don't talk about many of the contributions other nations are making. That's their choice and we respect that.

So we're being, I think, very judicious. On the other hand, we believe we have an obligation to try to explain as much possible what sort of effort we're putting forward to help Ukraine defend itself and I think we're achieving that balance pretty well.

BLITZER: The Pentagon Press Secretary, John Kirby, as usual thanks so much for joining us. We really appreciate it.

KIRBY: You bet, Wolf.

BLITZER: The breaking news continues next here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're going live to eastern Ukraine again where hell is raining down in the form of Russian strikes trapping those too old, too young, too poor or too frightened to flee.



BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, Russian forces ramping up their brutal assault in eastern Ukraine. Shelling there is intensifying right now, but Ukrainian forces are putting up a fierce fight.

CNN's Senior International Correspondent Ben Wedeman is in eastern Ukraine for us where the plight of so many civilian residents, the plight is increasingly desperate.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): And it begins again. Hell rains down. A dozen people are hiding in the basement of a bombed out theatre in the town of Rodynske. Let it stop, oh, Lord, he says. Now there's incoming.

A white flag hangs outside to no effect. The theatre above has been bombed and bombed again and again. Yet they stay. Too poor, too old, too frightened to flee. Nina, 89-years-old, has been here for five weeks. I want to go home, she says. I've suffered too much. I've seen the fire and the smoke. I've seen it all. I'm scared. Nina's plea, simple. Help us. Help us.

Her daughter Lyudmila, struggles to comfort her. We're praying to God to stop it, she says. To hear us. Ina says, I have nowhere to go.


I have no friends, no relatives. With the shelling intensifying, volunteers are finding it hard to deliver food.

As Russian and Ukrainian forces fight for control of Rodynske, there are people down there, praying as hell rains down.


WEDEMAN (on camera): And right now, Wolf, here in Kramatorsk, we're hearing the air raid sirens yet again, but in that town, the Rodynske, there are no air raid sirens. It's half controlled by the Russians. Half controlled by the Ukrainians and there are innocent civilians caught in the middle. Wolf?

BLITZER: You're absolutely right. Ben Wedeman on the scene for us. Ben, thank you very much.

Let's get more right now on all the breaking news. Joining us, the former Ukrainian Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Arseniy, thank you so much for joining us.

What goes through your mind when you hear a report like that, when you hear what's going on. How many vulnerable Ukrainian civilians are sheltering from this brutal Russian assault on the eastern front right now?

ARSENIY YATSENYUK, FORMER UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER: You know, on the one hand, this is one of the biggest tragedies, humanitarian tragedy. This is a disaster. When tens of thousands of people actually the population of Mariupol was more than 400,000 people.

As of now, we believe around 100,000 people are sheltering in the bunkers and in different areas of Mariupol. So this is a big disaster, but on the other hand, this is a real example of heroism, of very courageous both Ukrainian men and women in the uniform and Ukrainian people.

So what is needed right now? A safe passage, a humanitarian corridor for these civilians urgently needed. And for those who fight against the Russian military, I mean Ukrainian military who is fighting like hell against the Russians, they have to be rescued as quick as possible using all tools and all means in order to save every single life of these heroes. BLITZER: We've seen satellite images, Prime Minister, which show mass graves just outside of Mariupol. A Ukrainian official says this is quote, direct evidence of war crimes by Russia. What sort of atrocities do you fear have already been committed in this besieged city?

YATSENYUK: The satellite images showed that presumably, this is the mass grave of around up to 9,000 people that had been killed by Russians and buried in these mass graves. My message to the world, Wolf, is as follows, that unpunished evil always returns, Putin and his military committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. The incumbent legal machinery is not capable of bringing to justice Putin and these criminals.

So, it is important to realize that we need urgently to facilitate a real legal mechanism, how to bring to justice those responsible because Putin already committed a number of crimes in the suburbs of Kyiv. He did the same in different areas of Ukraine, in Kharkiv, in Chernihiv, but Mariupol -- Mariupol it's just -- I mean, this is just unbelievable what is happening, unbelievable.

And the world has to stand its ground. We need not just to send a message. We need to send a legal team to every single spot where Putin committed these crimes and actually orchestrate a legal case against Putin.

BLITZER: The former Ukrainian Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for all you're doing. We'll continue this conversation down the road for sure. Appreciate it very much.

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

Just ahead, why a growing number of refugees are now returning to Ukraine even as the war rages on. CNN is live on the scene. We'll have that when we come back.



BLITZER: The number of Ukrainians who have fled Russia's unprovoked invasion now tops 5 million people according to the United Nation's as CNN's Scott McLean reports from neighboring Poland, a growing number though are now returning home even as this war rages on.


SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In the early days of war, trains leaving Ukraine were standing room only, packed with terrified women and children. Trains going the other way for virtually empty.

As the bombs fell and the tanks rolled, millions desperately tried to get out, most to Poland. Almost two months later, there are now days when more people go back into Ukraine from Poland than come out. Do you think that the mass exodus is over?

PIOTR ZAKIELARZ, POLISH REGION'S BORDER GUARDS SPOKESPERSON: No. We can never say that. We cannot -- it's hard to predict, actually, the direction of the crisis.

MCLEAN: In Przemysl, the first stop in Poland for many Ukrainians traveling by train, the mayor was once overwhelmed by the number of refugees showing up every day. Not anymore.


MAYOR WOJCIECH BAKUN, PRZEMYSL, POLAND: Seems looks better, we're better organized as well after the two months of experience and we are happy, we are so happy that situation on Ukraine looks better at this moment.

MCLEAN: Inside the station, Natalla Belchik and her family are headed back to their hometown in southern Ukraine, about 50 miles from the contested city of Mykolaiv.

NATALLA BELCHIK, FLED FROM SOUTHERN UKRAINE: In our town, we had about seven or eight people killed at a military unit when it was bombed. My child was so scared.

MCLEAN: They fled to a small town in northern Germany. The government put them up in a nice hotel, but they say they had little help beyond that.

BELCHIK: We didn't know what to do. Nobody helped us to find jobs. Well, we were told we needed to speak German.

MCLEAN: You're willing to take a small risk to get your life back?

BELCHIK: Yes, we want to go back. After all, home is home.

MCLEAN: Down the hall, Natalia Vyhivska fled Kyiv just days into the war. While she stayed with friends in Germany, her neighborhood withstood Russian shelling. Now that the fighting has retreated, she's going back.

NATALIA VYHIVSKA, FLED FROM KYIV: It's a bit scary but I've been looking forward to seeing my husband. I never thought this would last for a long time. I thought it would be for a week or two. I don't want to start a new life in Germany without my husband.

MCLEAN: At the border, the line to get into Ukraine stretches for five miles and at the Polish side of the pedestrian crossing, there are more volunteers than refugees. Oksana Deresh is going back to see her parents in Lviv.

OKSANA DERESH, FLED FROM LVIV: But actually for Easter. Because I want to meet my parents, I miss them very, very much.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MCLEAN (on camera): And just in the last hour or so, the last train of the day left for Ukraine. A lot of people headed back there to Kyiv since the Russians retreated. Some people are even going even farther east though the areas is frankly a lot more dangerous. And, Wolf, you hear a lot of the same reasoning over and over, again.

People couldn't find work. They didn't know the language. They were feeling isolated. And one family even told us that they didn't want to take advantage of the generosity of their hosts in Germany. The reality is that getting people out of the country is often the easy part. The hard part is integrating people and setting them up for success in their new countries. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes. It's heartbreaking, indeed, the whole situation. CNN's Scott McLean in neighboring Poland for us. Thank you very much.

Let's get more on the breaking news right now. Russian President Vladimir Putin claiming victory in the key Ukrainian City of Mariupol.

CNN's Brian Todd and CNN Military Analyst, Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel, Cedric Leighton, they're working the story for us. Brian, show our viewers what's going on.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf, Putin claims victory. The Ukrainians say the city has not fallen yet but Mariupol mostly in control of the Russians, Colonel, as we start this. Looking at the siege of Mariupol, what makes this port city so crucial for Vladimir Putin?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Brian, what so crucial about this, this makes the final piece of the land bridge that the Russians have wanted from Crimea all the way into the Donbas and then finally into Russia.

So when they have this land bridge, that serves to take this part of the coastline off the table for Ukraine and potentially puts in play the western part right here if they pivot and move toward Odessa.

TODD: Now let's look at what's being called the Alamo of Mariupol, and that is the battle for this complex, the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works Complex. Colonel, it takes up four square miles of southern Mariupol. It is a sprawling complex of buildings, of warehouses, rail tracks, smokestacks, roads. It's got its own port, but it's also got an underground network of rooms, tunnels, and communications systems.

As we look at this video that we're getting this, before and after video, that before the video from The New York Times, before the siege, this after video. What are these futures that I'd talk about? What makes it so difficult for this complex to be captured by the Russians?

LEIGHTON: So, Brian, what's really difficult about this is the cavernous nature of this. Things stall in grad in World War II. You look at the kinds of buildings that you have right here, and you see exactly how difficult it is. Imagine yourself fighting through this and trying to find a room that you can clear and you have to do that hundreds of times, thousands of times throughout this complex.

TODD: It's going to be incredibly difficult to capture. If you see all these crimes here and if the Russian forces don't, Wolf, understand where some of these places are, how to navigate them, it's going to be difficult for the city to capture. Sergei Shoigu, the Defense Minister says three to four days to capture this. Both the Col. Leighton and I think that's a fantasy going.

TODD: Good reporting. Good analysis. Thanks, guys, very, very much. Brian Todd, Cedric Leighton, appreciate it.

Coming up, new reporting right now on some top Republicans who privately who privately blasted then President Trump after the January 6th insurrection. Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell calling Trump an SOB and cheering Democrats for taking him on. We have details when we come back.



BLITZER: More breaking news tonight, former President Obama taking a swipe at former President Trump and the GOP over their election lies as part of his campaign to fight disinformation.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: The fact is autocrats and aspiring strongmen have become emboldened men around the world. They are actively suborning democracy, they are undermining hard earned human rights, they are ignoring international law. Worse yet, democratic backsliding is not restricted to distant lands.


Right here in the United States of America, we just saw a sitting president deny the clear results of an election and help incite a violent insurrection at the nation's capital.


BLITZER: There is also breaking news this hour on the insurrection investigation. CNN has learned that Donald Trump Jr. is expected to meet with the January 6th Select Committee in the coming days. This comes as "The New York Times" now reporting that two top Republicans actually questioned Trump's ability to lead after the January 6 insurrection.

Let's go to CNN senior legal affairs correspondent, Paula Reid.

Paula, tell us about this new reporting.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that is right. McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told associates in the days following January 6 that they believed Trump was responsible for inciting the deadly riot. According to a new book by two New York Times reporter.

Now, McCarthy went as far as saying that Trump should resign, but within weeks, both men have backed down that it became obvious that such moves would put them at odds with their own party. In this new reporting, it clearly once again illustrates the gulf of what Republican leaders say privately about Trump and what they do in public.

Of course, you will remember after January 6, McCarthy issued a corporal rebuke of Trump, saying he bore responsibility for the mob tried to block Congress from certifying the election. "The Times" reporting on a call with other Republicans, McCarthy told fellow lawmakers that Trump's conduct on January 6 had been atrocious and totally wrong. He faulted the president for, quote, inciting the attack on the capitol.

Now, a statement, a spokesman from McCarthy said the Republican leader told colleagues -- did not tell colleagues that he would push Trump to leave office.

But interestingly, this new book also gives us some insight into what was happening with the Senate. Senate leader McConnell reportedly predicted that his party would break with Trump following the insurrection. At the impeachment vote for Trump's happening within the House, McConnell reportedly said that the Democrats would take care of this, quote, son of a bitch for us, if this is not impeachable, I don't know what it is.

Now, these are private statements, McConnell, of course, ultimately did not vote to convict Trump. The Senate majority leader's office declined to comment on this new reporting.

BLITZER: Paula Reid, thank you very much for all that. Appreciate it very much.

Up next, Florida's Republican-led legislature votes to strip one of the state's largest employers, Disney, of its decades-old special status.

We'll be right back.



BLITZER: There is more breaking news that we are following. Florida's Republican-led legislator has voted to strip Disney of its special status after the company opposed the law that critics are calling the, "don't say gay" bill.

CNN national correspondent Diane Gallagher has the latest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Not the happiest place on earth this week as Florida Republicans vote to strip Disney a bit special private government status. And what's Democrats have dubbed the governor's retaliation session. The bill would eliminate Disney special privileges which allows the theme park to provide its own public services like police and fire units.

JANET CRUZ (D), FLORIDA STATE SENATOR: Why are we putting our knee on the neck of the mouse?

GALLAGHER: A bombshell add to the legislative session just days earlier by Governor Ron DeSantis.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: This state is governed by the interest of the people of the state of the Florida. It is not based on the demands of California corporate executives.

GALLAGHER: Stemming from a new Florida law that bans schools from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity with young children. Dubbed the "don't say gay" bill by opponents, Disney called for it to be overturned and suspended political donations in Florida after DeSantis signed into law last month.

REP. RANDY FINE (R-FL): I think if Disney had not done what they had done, we would not have gone and taken a look at special districts. That is why say when you kick the bee's nest --

BOBBY POWELL (D), FLORIDA STATE SENATOR: You are punished. If you are going to play into the hands of the governor, or you're going to be punished.

GALLAGHER: Republican struggles to answer questions about whether taxpayers will be struck covering the services in the more than one billion dollar in debt carried by Disney's special district.

GARY FARMER (D), FLORIDA STATE SENATOR: The debt alone would amount to $580 per person. A family of four just got hit with a $2,200 tax bill.

GALLAGHER: Over the protests of Black representatives, House Republicans gave final passage to a new congressional map.

REP. FENTRICE DRISKIELL (D), FLORIDA: When the governor announced that he was expanding special session to include the attack on Disney, it was to distract and hide the ball with what he's doing with redistricting.

GALLAGHER: In an unprecedented move, DeSantis vetoed maps passed during the regular session by his own party and submitted his own version last week.

REP. KELLY SKIDMORE (D), FLORIDA: You don't get to write the map and approve the map.

GALLAGHER: It potential gives Republicans as many as 20 of the states' 28 districts, while dismantling the fifth district held by Democratic Congressman Al Lawson, dividing Jacksonville, the city's largest Black population in the state, into two Republican districts and shifting the Orlando area 10th district currently held by Congresswoman Val Demings, east towards wider communities.

REP. ANGELA "ANGIE" NIXON (D), FLORIDA: Anytime someone comes up against the governor, he bullies them. That sounds like a dictator to me.

GALLAGHER: The map was approved without changes and now heads to DeSantis's desk.


GALLAGHER: And Governor DeSantis confirmed that he has received all of the bills. He has until May 6th who signed them into law. Wolf, voting rights groups have already said that they plan to challenge these redistricting maps.

BLITZER: CNN's Dianne Gallagher reporting for us from Tallahassee. Dianne, thanks very much.

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

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.