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Mariupol Plant Under Constant Fire After First Evacuations; Pelosi In Poland After Kyiv Visit, Vows Strong Response To Russia; Russian Foreign Minister Remark That Hitler Had Jewish Blood Sparks Outrage; Grand Jury Selected In Trump Georgia Election Interference Probe; Arrest Warrant Issued For Corrections Officer Involved In Escape Of Inmate From Alabama Jail. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired May 02, 2022 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, be safe out there, folks. Thanks, Tom.

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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 ANCHOR: Happening now, new images of black smoke over Mariupol as we're told the city's last stronghold for Ukrainian fighters is now under constant fire by the Russians. The attacks preventing new evacuations from the besieged steel plant after dozens of civilians finally made it out safely and are now recounting the horrors they endured.

Also tonight, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi meets with the Polish president in Warsaw, vowing what she calls the strongest possible response to Russia's aggression, following her visit to Kyiv and talks with President Zelenskyy. This hour, we'll discuss the war with the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine as American diplomats are now back on the ground inside Ukraine.

Our correspondents are also standing by in Ukraine, in Russia and neighboring Moldova, as well as here in Washington.

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

Tonight, a top Ukrainian commander says about 200 civilians remain trapped inside that Mariupol steel plan under bombardment by Russian forces. They are so desperate to join the first wave of evacuees who did make it out alive, hoping to arrive in the city of Zaporizhzhia.

CNN International Security Editor Nick Paton Walsh is on the scene for us there. Nick, what can you tell us about the desperate conditions in Mariupol tonight? NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes, certainly, Wolf. Expectations have been so high today that we will begin to see here in Ukrainian-held territory the first wave of evacuees from inside Azovstal steel plant. Instead we see heavy smoke emerging from there, pleas to get the remaining hundreds out, and deep concerns about whether we will start seeing this United Nations and Red Cross organized evacuation actually delivering people to the comparative safety of Ukrainian-held territory where I'm standing here.

Here's what the last 24 hours gave us.


WALSH (voice over): After two months, when they finally emerged into the light, it was a ravaged world that awaited them. The path out through this, Mariupol's Azovstal steel plant battered by Russian explosive for weeks could easily be mistaken for the first steps of hell.

But rescue awaited at its end, these Ukrainians who had endured the savage rumble of blasts above, grateful to be whisked out, even if it is through a hometown now unrecognizable.

Stefos Lav (ph) turned six months the day before, they say, so he's spent a third of his life underground. Children always wanted to eat, she says. Adults, you know, can wait.

But this was a beginning of possibly thousands of similar journeys here escorted by the United Nations and Red Cross during a brief pause in the violence, after weeks of cajoling in Moscow and Kyiv at the highest level. Thank you, and stay healthy, she says, walking out.

These pictures filmed in Russian-controlled territory appear to show some of the first movements out of Mariupol guided by the U.N. They are still here under Russian armed guard and Russia's Ministry of Defense Monday claimed 11 evacuees have decided to stay in territory they control and 69 to head to Zaporizhzhia held by Ukraine.

Still, Monday, before dusk, none of the convoy either from Azovstal over wider tens of thousands of civilians who might want to get out in the U.N. move and arrived here, a welcome center where slowly people have been arriving from wider Mariupol in the areas around it under their own steam over journeys spanning previous days.

Tatiana (ph), said she got out of Mariupol three days ago. They bombed the buildings, or flame, she says, the bodies have been buried. Her unbroken spirit clear when she tries to get up and walk before she's reminded her wheelchair is there for a purpose.


In the days ahead, the numbers under U.N. escort arriving here will be a powerful omen of whether any sort of talking in this war can save lives.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WALSH (on camera): Wolf, high hopes that possibly tomorrow morning, we might see some of those evacuees coming from Azovstal to here, Zaporizhzhia, Ukrainian-held territory. But I have to tell you, the images you saw there of some of the evacuees still under the Russian gun. Well, that is essentially them off to the east of Mariupol, going either a very circuitous route to where I'm standing here, in Ukrainian-held territory, or possibly headed more toward where Russia has greater control.

So, many doubts as to whether this first phase of the evacuation will happen at the scale initially have the ties, and, two, whether or not it will begin to create a route which could potentially allow the volume of people who need to get out of Mariupol to actually do so.

Remember, there are possibly 100,000 civilians there who want to escape disease, shelling, Russian occupation. Today, it was meant to frankly be some sort of test case to try to make sure if that was possible with the U.N. and the Red Cross involved. It hasn't happened yet. It could still be successful. Many hope it will be. And on that, as we heard earlier, rests so many of the hopes whether some sort of negotiation can get people out of harm's way here as Russia advances or shells to pieces cities in its way. Wolf?

BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh reporting from Zaporizhzhia, in Ukraine for us, let's hope for the best. Nick Thank you very much, stay safe.

Also tonight, a new remark by Russia's foreign minister that Adolf Hitler had, quote, Jewish blood, is prompting a lot of international outrage right now. I want to go live to Moscow for more on this story.

CNN is now back in the Russian capital even as the Kremlin has introduced strict laws to control how the conflict in Ukraine is described and has prohibited the broadcast of information it regards as false. Our Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance is in Moscow for us right now. He's joining us live tonight.

Matthew, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made this comment while attempting to justify Russia's claim that it is trying de-Nazify Ukraine. Tell us more about what he said and the reaction.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, it said it's a kind of justification that has been used from the outset of what Russia calls a special military operation inside Ukraine, that it has gone there, sent its troops in to de-Nazify the country, Nazis in Ukraine today, the Russian narrative goes. It kind of present the same excess text threat to Russia that Nazi Germany did in 1940s, and hearing even more of that rhetoric as we build towards the Victory Day celebrations on May the 9th here in Russia, to commemorate the end of the Second World War and the Soviet victory then.

Well, Sergei Lavrov, the problem with that narrative, of course, is that Ukraine isn't run by neo-Nazis. It is run by a Jewish president. And when he was confronted, Sergei Lavrov, with that fact, he reached for, I think, an anti-Semitic trope which says that basically Jews are responsible, they're the worst anti-Semites that's there are. And he also spoken about a conspiracy theory that has made the rounds on the internet saying that, and elsewhere, that Hitler was, in part, himself Jewish. And, obviously, that has been something that is highly controversial. It is something that has been condemned roundly, particularly by Israel.

The Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett, calling it lies and being very critical of the fact that Jews being blamed by the Russian foreign minister for the crimes that are committed, that have been committed against Jews, the Israeli foreign minister calling it unforgivable.

And that's interesting because, up until now, Israel has been sitting on the fence when it comes to its condemnation of Russia for sending its troops into Ukraine and has not fully joined the international sanctions regime that has been imposed against the country. The question is now whether that will change, whether this incident will kind of to push the Israelis on to decide which side of the fence they want to be on.

BLITZER: Matthew, you're back in Moscow now for the first time since the Kremlin established these strict laws for journalists there. How are things there right now?

CHANCE: Yes, it's interesting. You're right. I haven't been back here since the beginning of the year, certainly not since Russia sent its troops across the border into Ukraine. And so coming back, it is slightly odd. Obviously, it is not a war zone. We're geographically distant from where the conflict is taking place. And so in that sense, it feels somewhat disconnected.

But some of the shops have closed down. Some of the shops are -- some of the streets are quite different. Obviously, there has been sort of wide scale withdrawals of many western companies, have been suspending their operations here.


And so that's having an impact on the city.

But the biggest -- I think the biggest problem, the biggest challenge are these reporting restrictions that you mentioned. We're very restricted in the way we describe Russia's action in Ukraine. We have to call it special military operation. That is how it is referred to in the media here. And, of course, there are laws that have been introduced in Russia which basically impose very strict punishment, up to 15 years in jail if you purposefully spread what the Russian authorities regard false information.

And so navigating that while also trying to put across what Russia's perspective is on this and how Russian people feel about the direction the country has gone in is, I think, going to be quite a challenge.

BLITZER: Matthew Chance reporting from Moscow for us tonight, thank you very much.

Also tonight, the White House now says President Biden still has no plans to visit Ukraine after the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi's visit over the weekend. Pelosi is now the highest ranging U.S. official to travel to Kyiv since Russia's invasion.

Let's get more from our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins. So, Kaitlan, what did we learn from -- first of all, from Pelosi's trip?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, she emerged from this trip calling for the strongest possible U.S. response, whether that has to do with the military or sanctions, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosiis now the highest profile U.S. official to visit Ukraine and, of course, she did so secretly over the weekend and then announce that trip once she had safely made it back to Poland, where she met with the Polish president today.

And right now, the White House says still no plans for President Biden himself to visit, though, Wolf, we should note tomorrow, he is going to a weapons making facility in Alabama in a trip that a year ago would have been incredibly in unlikely. But now, the White House is going to showcase what they are doing, what the United States is sending to Ukraine, including, of course, these Javelin anti-tank missile that Ukraine has said has been so critical in helping them fend off the Russian forces in the attacks that they have made.

And so you will see President Biden there tomorrow talking about his calls for Congress to provide $33 billion in more funding for Ukraine so they can send more things, like these Javelin missiles.

And, Wolf, this also comes, this high-profile visit from Pelosi, this trip from President Biden to somewhere he typically probably wouldn't go to a weapons making facility comes as the U.S. is issuing a new warning tonight from a top ambassador that Russia might be preparing to annex more Ukrainian territory.

Now they say this could potentially be in the eastern regions of the Donetsk and the Luhansk regions, also the southern city of Kherson. They are warning, Wolf, that Russia may be trying on prepare to do these sham elections so they have this veneer of legitimacy so they can try to argue that there is a justification to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

This is something that the U.S. ambassador called straight out of the Kremlin's playbook. And, Wolf, this is something that the White House and the United States is warning could happen in the coming days, potentially by mid-May.

BLITZER: Kaitlan Collins at the White House for us, thank you, Kaitlan, very much.

Just ahead, U.S. diplomats are now returning to Ukraine for the first time since the Russian invasion. What does that say about the American commitment to the Ukrainian war effort? The acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine joins me, that's next.


[18:15:00] BLITZER: U.S. diplomats are back on the ground in Ukraine now for the first time since the start of the Russian invasion. For now, they're working from the western city of Lviv, but they are planning to return to the capital city of Kyiv by the end of the month, we're told.

And joining us now, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Kristina Kvien. Kristina, thank you so much for joining us.

I know you're joining us now from Poland after spending your first day back on the ground in Ukraine. You were in Lviv. This is a big development right now. How did it feel to being back for the first time after evacuating just ahead of the deadly Russian invasion?

KRISTINA KVIEN, ACTING U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Thank you, Wolf. It was fantastic to be back. I and the small team that I went in with today were just thrilled. We had lots of meetings, a very busy day, a long day, but It was a terrific day and we were very happy to be back.

BLITZER: So, bottom line, what can the U.S. achieve on the diplomatic front now, Ambassador, now that it again has a diplomatic, full-time presence inside the country?

KVIEN: Well, even while we've been here in Poland, we've been working really 24/7 to support Ukraine in the wide variety of thing that we're doing to help it fight Russian aggression. So, even from here in Poland, we've been helping with humanitarian assistance, with defense assistance, with consular services for Americans who needed passports and the whole range of meetings and interactions we have with Ukrainians.

But I have got to say that doing it on the ground in place, in Ukraine, is just easier and you have more of a connection with the folks that you're meeting with. So, as much as we've tried to do everything we can do here in Poland to support Ukraine, it will be even better and more effective, I think, once we're back in.

BLITZER: So, what needs to happen right now for you and your State Department diplomatic colleagues to return to the capital of Ukraine, Kyiv, as you hope to do, we're told, by the end of this month? Are you confident the U.S. will be able to ensure the safety of American diplomats who return to the country?

KVIEN: Well, Wolf, as the chief of mission, my number one priority is the safety and security of my staff.


And so we're listening to our security professionals who are doing near daily assessments of the situation to determine when it would be reasonably safe for us to go back to Kyiv. We do hope that that will be soon within the coming weeks. And as soon as we get the green light, we're going to go, because we're very excited to go.

We will have a relatively small presence there at first. Normally, our embassy is quite large. But to be safe and make sure that we can keep everyone secure, we'll go in with a small presence here first. BLITZER: And you're a career foreign service officer, so you have an enormous amount of diplomatic experience over the 30 years that you've been an American diplomat.

As you know, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, she traveled to Ukraine over the weekend with a small congressional delegation. She became the most senior U.S. official to meet directly with President Zelenskyy in Ukraine since the war began. Is Ukraine counting on President Biden now making that trip as well to signal the depth of the U.S. commitment to Ukraine?

KVIEN: Well, nothing is scheduled yet on that front. But, of course, we do have U.S. senior officials who are interested in going into Ukraine. Not only the congressional delegation you mentioned but also we did have Secretaries Blinken and Austin go recently. I think we'll continue to have a stream of officials --

BLITZER: It looks like we've got a technical issue. We're going to try to continue that interview with the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, much more on that coming up.

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

Coming up, western official believe Vladimir Putin could move to formally declare war on Ukraine ahead of the May 9th victory parade in Moscow. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Breaking news just into CNN. U.S. and other western officials increasingly believe the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, could move to formally declare war on Ukraine as soon as May 9th. That's known as Russia's Victory Day over the Nazis in 1945. A formal declaration of war would allow for the full mobilization of Russia's reserve forces.

Meanwhile, there's growing concern Russia's aggression will spill over into neighboring Moldova. That's one of Ukraine's neighbors and other potential former Soviet republics in the region. CNN's Randi Kaye is on the scene for us there.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is the village of Cosnita. It is actually the last village before the border with Transnistria. Almost everyone here told us they did not want to be interviewed. One woman told us, quote, the less you talk, the more you live.

That's where we met Tonya. She fled Odessa, Ukraine with her two children only to end up here just a few miles from Transnistria, and feels under threat again.

The Russian troops are very close to here, does that concern you?

She tells me, yes, she's very afraid. She's very scared. She says her bags are packed and she's hoping to get to Poland or somewhere safer very soon.

Are you worried that Russia will invade Moldova?

Yes, of course, she's afraid for Moldova, she says. Moldovan's are really good people who took Ukrainians in.

Down the road further from the border with Transnistria, we found a village called Vadul lui Voda. People here were much more willing to speak with us.

Are you nervous?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no. I feel very good. I know that I can stay for my country, yes.

KAYE: You don't have a bag packed to go?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no. I will stay here and I will protect my family and my house, yes.

KAYE: So you would stay and fight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, yes, of course. Why not? It's my country.

KAYE: How do you feel about living so close to Transnistria?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, I feel okay. But I understand that there is a problem. There is a problem that exists a lot of time, yes. And I think now it's moment to resolve it.

KAYE (voice over): The trouble with Transnistria is its proximity to Ukraine and its relationship with Russia, which has kept troops there for decades. If Putin's troops are somehow successful in taking control of Southern Ukraine, they could create a land corridor stretching to Transnistria and some here fear eventually into Moldova and deeper into Eastern Europe.

This man tells me he's very worried for what may happen in Moldova.

Can Moldova defend itself against Russia, do you think? No, he says. Then asks me, have you seen the Moldovan army?

He says Moldova is a friendly, neutral state that happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This woman tells me she too is very worried about Russia invading through Transnistria. For now, it's not a threat, she says. But if that changes, she and her husband plan to run away. This woman came all the way from Canada to check on her family.

You're worried for your family?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. KAYE: She grew up here and is familiar with the threats of a Russian invasion.


She wanted to make sure her brother and sister and mother-in-law have all they need to escape.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We tried to help them with the money but actually to prepare maybe the documents just in case, just in case, to have the passports.

KAYE: So many Moldovans deciding whether to stay or go as they wait for what Putin does next.


KAYE (on camera): And just today, the Ukrainian Foreign Minister that Ukraine will work with Moldova to make sure tensions don't escalate in that area of Transnistria, Wolf. But, still, we spoke with the former Moldovan ambassador to the U.S., Igor Munteanu, and he told us that he's very concerned about the troop numbers there. Right now, they have these 1,500 or so so-called peace keeping troops there. But he said that number can jump dramatically.

They have already started recruitment. He said he wouldn't be surprised if those numbers could jump to maybe 50,000 or so troops. And it is worth noting, Wolf, of course, that Moldova is not a member of NATO. It is not a member of the European Union. And its Constitution it declares it a neutral state, Wolf.

BLITZER: Randi Kaye on the scene for us, Randi, thank you for that report.

Joining us now, CNN National Security Analyst, James Clapper, the former director of national Intelligence. General Clapper, thanks so much for joining us.

As you know, Russia has been calling the Ukraine war a, quote, special military operation. But U.S. and western officials now believe Putin could move very soon to formally declare war on Ukraine as soon as maybe May 9th. Why make that official declaration now more than two months into this war?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, on one level, Wolf, I think it is a commentary on the failure of the so-called special military operation. And, of course, May 9th has particular emotional or spiritual value, I suppose, for the Russians marking the defeat of the Germans in World War II. So, this would be, I think, a natural milestone if Putin is going to try to embroil or engage more of the Russian population.

I will say that I don't think that if this means mobilization of reservists, I really wonder about their military competence. And I doubt that they have any more will to fight than the troops that the Russians already have in to Ukraine. BLITZER: General Clapper, hold on for a moment. Our Pentagon Correspondent, Oren Leibermann is getting more information right now. He's joining us from the Pentagon. What more can you tell us about these late-breaking developments, Oren?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, this was most clearly stated by British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace when he gave an interview just a couple of days ago saying that May 9th is one of the days, they are looking at one of the possibilities they're considering, is that Russian President Vladimir Putin would use the occasion of May 9th, a holiday, a Victory Day for Russia to declare war.

And this goes from a special military operation focused on the Donbas region, Luhansk and Donetsk regions, to something much broader, a declaration of war, an ability then for Putin to declare a mass mobilization, draft more conscripts.

And he said, he was careful in terms of what to expect here. It would be Putin trying to ride on the popularity that if the polls are to be believed he has now, what he has framed as this attempt to rid Ukraine of Nazis, he would use that propaganda, the seeds that he's been planting for weeks and months now to declare this war and make it a much bigger, broader operation.

Now, that would be essentially one end of the spectrum as far or nearly as far as Putin could go here. There Russian officials that CNN has speaking with who say that it could be something short of that, a declaration, annexation of parts of the Donbas region or something to that effect.

So, there is a question here of how far he would go but it is clear here that at least the U.K. and some officials here believe he could go as far as the declaration of war, which, again, would allow him to draft in more, quote, cannon fodder, as British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace called it. Because one of the things the U.S. and western officials have seen is that Putin is running short on troops because of the thousands he's already lost in this conflict.

BLITZER: Good point. All right, Oren Leibermann at the Pentagon, thank you very, very much.

I want to bring back General Clapper. General If Putin does declare this war officially on May 9th, which is also as you know, Russia's so-called Victory Day to commemorate World War II, will that mean a propaganda victory among Russian citizens? Is that what this is about?

CLAPPER: Well, I guess it would intensify the propaganda, of the internal propaganda campaign, that the Russians -- the regime has already mounted. I guess this would add to the fervor, the patriotic fervor, I suppose.


There is a bigger comment here I would like to make though, Wolf, about I think this also speaks to the poor demographic trends in Russia. The population overall in Russia is declining, and that includes, of course, military aged males. So, if less than 90 days into this operation they're considering some form of mobilization, broader mobilization, I think that's a commentary on their serious manpower shortages. And that has been exacerbated by the success of the Ukrainians and the Russian casualties that they have caused.

BLITZER: The former director of national intelligence, General James Clapper. Thank you so much, as usual, for joining us. You make excellent points, as you always do.

Just ahead, Israel is slamming Russian lies about Adolf Hitler having Jewish blood as the Kremlin now to justify its invasion at an operation we quote, de-Nazify Ukraine. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: New video of what Ukraine says is the sinking of two Russian patrol ships off Snake Island close to the Ukrainian mainland. That's where earlier in the war, Ukrainian troops famously told the crew of a Russian warship demanding surrender to quote, go F yourself. The two Russians Raptor patrol boats were destroyed by a single armed drone.

Meanwhile, we're digging deeper on the very angry response to new comments by Russia's foreign minister after his outrageous attempt to explain the Kremlin's brutal action in Ukraine's.

Brian Todd is working the story for us.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Vladimir Putin's top diplomat repeating the false claim that it is trying to de-Nazify Ukraine shrugs off the fact that Ukraine's president is Jewish and makes an absurd assertion.

SERGEI LAVROV, RUSSIA FOREIGN MINISTER: He makes an argument which is what kind of nazification can they have if he is a Jew. I could be wrong but Hitler also has a Jew's blood. That means absolutely nothing.

TODD: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Sergei Lavrov's words are quote untrue and their intentions are wrong. The Chairman of Israel Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial called the remark false and despicable.

DANI DAYAN, CHAIRMAN, ISRAEL'S YAD VASHEM HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL: He is basically engaging in Holocaust inversion, making the victims of the Holocaust the perpetrators. And that is inexcusable.

TODD: Analysts say it is part of a dangerous pattern of twisted Russian rhetoric led by Putin since the war began smearing Ukraine's leaders. PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA: This gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis that's has settled in Kyiv and taken hostage the entire Ukraine people.

TODD: Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council believes this is also a way for Putin to deflect the reality of this war from the Russian public.

STUART EIZENSTAT, CHAIR, U.S. HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL COUNCIL: Somehow trying to connect Zelenskyy to Hitler and suggesting that Hitler had Jewish blood is one perverse way of continuing to try to rally what may be flagging public support in Russia as more and more body bags come back.

TODD: Analyst say Putin is also trying to cloak his war in the glory of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

PROF. ELIYAHU STERN, YALE UNIVERSITY: If Nazis posed the greatest threat to contemporary Russia's great grandparents, then Ukraine today poses that very same threat to them. The problem, of course, is that none of this is historically factual.

TODD: Another part of the irony of Putin's and Lavrov's remarks, Volodymyr Zelenskyy is not only Jewish, he says his grandfather fought against the Nazis in World War II.

PRES. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE: I have lost my entire family in the war because all of them were exterminated during World War II.

TODD: Experts say it is Putin who is fighting this war the way Hitler did.

EIZENSTAT: He said infamously, all I want is the land to protect German speakers. Now we have President Putin saying, in effect, I'm just trying to protect Russian speakers in Ukraine from, quote/unquote, Nazism. It's a similar playbook.


TODD (on camera): A short time ago, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy responded by saying Russia has, quote, forgotten all the lessons of World War II and directly responding to Lavrov, he said, quote, I have no words for that. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us, thank you, Brian, for that report.

Coming up, prosecutors here in the United States in the state of Georgia just took a key step toward potentially charging Donald Trump for trying to overturn the election in that state. We'll be right back.


[18:48:27] BLITZER: A special grand jury has now been selected to investigate efforts by former President Trump and his allies to overturn President Biden's 2020 election victory in the state of Georgia.

CNN congressional correspondent Ryan Nobles joining us with details.

Ryan, this probe grew out of Trump's phone call to the Georgia secretary of state pushing him to, quote, find more votes for Trump.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, that's right, Wolf. And many legal experts believe this may be the most likely path to charging the former president with some sort of crime for his efforts to intervene and prevent the certification of the 2020 election.

Let's listen once again to at left part of that phone call that President Trump had with then Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger shortly after the 2020 election.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state.


NOBLES: Of course, this is just one piece of evidence that the district attorney in Fulton County is starting to compile. By taking this step of impaneling a second grand jury, it gives her the opportunity to issue subpoenas, ask for witness testimony and collect records that could be part of the big investigation to determine whether or not there's enough evidence under the former president himself or some of his associates like Rudy Giuliani and others that were operating in his legal severe to see if they are guilty of any kind of crime to prevent the certification of the election results.


So, it is a significant step, Wolf.

BLITZER: Also tonight, Ryan, I understand you're learning that the January 6th Select Committee has just sent letters to three sitting members of the U.S. Congress asking them to cooperate with this investigation. Tell us what you're learning.

NOBLES: Yeah, that's right, Wolf. This doubles now the number of letters that have been sent to Republicans in the House of Representatives by the January 6th Select Committee looking for information as part of their investigation. They sent these letters to Representative Andy Biggs of Arizona, Mo Brooks of Alabama and Ronny Jackson of Texas. Jackson, an interesting figure here. He, of course, came up in a recent lawsuit involving Mark Meadows with text messages from the Oath Keepers saying they were looking to find Jackson to find protection for him on January 6th. Biggs and Brooks, also people that were very involved in efforts to

stand in the way of the election results. So far, two of these individuals, both Jackson and Biggs said they would not cooperate, that they did not believe the January 6th Select Committee is legitimate. Interestingly enough, Wolf, we did not hear from Brooks who said recently he would consider some sort of corporation with the committee, we'll have to see how this plays out.

BLITZER: We'll find out soon enough. Ryan Nobles up on Capitol Hill, thank you very, very much.

Let's dig deeper into all of this, our chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin is joining us.

Explain, Jeffrey, the legal jeopardy the former president of the United States could be in here.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CVNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, what makes this investigation perilous for the former president is there is a statute under Georgia law called solicitation of election fraud, trying to encourage the authorities to engage in a false result for the election, if the prosecutors can prove, and this is not easy, can prove the former president knew he'd lost, that he knew he'd actually lost the election but was trying to get votes he knew he was not entitled to, that could be a violation of this statute. There's no federal law that's an equivalent so this is an opportunity for prosecutors in Georgia that they don't have in the Justice Department investigation.

BLITZER: This special grand jury in Georgia is not the final step in the process though, how long might it be before we know whether or not Trump will face charges?

TOOBIN: Right, this is what's called an investigatory grand jury meaning they don't investigate but would indict, it would be a different grand jury to indict. This grand jury is certified to act for a year, they don't have to act for a year but as always with the law, things don't go very quickly and this one isn't likely to move in the space of weeks. This will certainly be months at a minimum.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens.

All right. Jeffrey Toobin, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, a very bizarre manhunt is under way right now in Alabama where an inmate and a prison guard are on the run together.



BLITZER: Tonight, an arrest warrant out for a corrections officer involved in the escape of an inmate charged with murder from an Alabama jail.

CNN national correspondent Ryan Young has the latest. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHERIFF RICK SINGLETON, LAUDERDALE COUNTY, ALABAMA: I'd be surprised if they're still in Alabama.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, a manhunt is under way for a dangerous murder suspect and correction Officer Vicki White who may have helped the inmate escape.

SINGLETON: If she did this willingly, all indications are that she did, I guess we're holding under the last straw of hope that maybe some -- for some reason, she was threatened and she did it under coercion, but I have to believe we feel betrayed.

YOUNG: Friday morning, the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Office says assistant director Vicki White told her coworkers she was taking inmate Casey White to the county courthouse for a mental health evaluation. Casey White is awaiting trial on murder charges.

Investigators say security video shows the pair never arrived at the courthouse and no evaluation or court appearance was even scheduled.

Several hours later, White's patrol car was found abandoned in a shopping center parking lot less than a mile away from the detention facility.

SINGLETON: We have gotten a couple tips on a possible vehicle. We're still pursuing that.

YOUNG: Investigators say they still have no evidence of a relationship between them.

SINGLETON: We're still looking into that, reviewing phone calls, reviewing video from the jail.

YOUNG: CNN got a firsthand look at security procedures inside the detention center.

You can see how all this works, the security at every single level. You have to radio in.

The sheriff says Vicki White violated protocol when she removed Casey White from the facility.

This is the hall way the inmate would walk out, from the door, loaded into a car. Normally, it's just two deputies per van, but this time, it's just the deputy and the inmate.

The sheriff says since Vicki White is in charge of the detention center, no one questioned her. The sheriff's office says last week after about two decades with the department, Vicki White put in her retirement papers. Friday was supposed to be her last day.

Casey White was already serving 75 years for a rash of crimes. Next month, he's scheduled to go on trial for two counts of capital murderer for the stabbing death of Connie Ridgeway in 2015. Tonight, investigator as are hopeful he'll soon be back behind bars.

MARTY KEELY, UNITED STATES MARSHAL NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA: Keep in mind that Casey White is a large individual. He is 6'9" tall. There is the possibility that he's changed his identity as far as his looks, but he will stand out.


YOUNG: Hey, Wolf, I just talked to the sheriff and they believe they have more video evidence they plan to release to the public within the next 24 hours, hoping they'll help them get a little closer to these two who are on the run.

BLITZER: Let's hope.

Ryan Young on the scene for us -- Ryan, thank you very much.

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

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.