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The Situation Room
Supreme Court Says, Draft Decision To Strike Down Rose Is Authentic; Lviv Mayor Says, Fires, Smoke And Power Outages After New Blasts; 100-Plus Evacuees Reach Safety After Weeks Trapped In Plant; Russian Missiles Strike Western Ukrainian City Of Lviv; U.S. Declassifies Brittney Griner As "Wrongfully Detained" In Russia. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired May 03, 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 ANCHOR: The district government reports the man is in stable condition now and four people lost their job.
Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll see you tomorrow.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, new reaction to a bombshell development at the United States Supreme Court as a leaked draft decision reveals the court's conservatives are now poised to strike down Roe versus Wade. The chief justice now confirms the draft is, in fact, authentic and both sides in the abortion fight are bracing for what happens next. We're breaking down this unprecedented moment in the history of the high court.
Also this hour, news out of Ukraine, fire, smoke, and power outages in the western city of Lviv as Russian missile strikes multiple regions of the county. We're going to get the U.S. military's assessment of these light breaking attacks and how it fits into Vladimir Putin's war strategy when I speak with Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
These are live pictures of demonstrations here in Washington and across the United States, protesters gathering after the stunning leak of what promises to be a monumental high court decision if it becomes final.
Tonight, the newly revealed draft opinion to overturn Roe versus Wade is having a seismic impact on the struggle over abortion rights and on the Supreme Court, which is now dealing with an historic breach.
Let's go to our Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid. She's outside the Supreme Court right now. We can hear the demonstrators right behind you Paula.
We learned from the chief justice himself that this draft decision that was leaked to Politico is, in fact, authentic. PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Wolf, this is an extraordinary breach of the code of silence around the court, especially opinions before they are published.
Now, today, the court issued a statement insisting this draft is not a final decision, but as you can tell from those protests behind me, that statement has done little to quell the backlash.
REID (voice over): The leaked draft sparking protests across the country and prompting questions. Chief Justice John Roberts --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you plan to investigate the leak?
REID: -- seen here leaving his home Tuesday issued a statement calling the leak an egregious breach. He has directed the marshal of the court to investigate. The court confirms the draft is authentic but cautioned it does not represent a decision or position of any member on the issues in the case.
The nearly 100-page opinion says a majority of justices are prepared to uphold a Mississippi law that would ban abortion after 15 weeks and overturn Roe v. Wade, which established a right to abortion 50 years ago leaving it to individual states to determine abortion's legality.
Justice Samuel Alito authored the draft stating there is no inherent right to an abortion, writing the Constitution makes no reference to abortion and no such right the implicitly protected by any constitutional provision.
Alito says Roe was egregiously wrong from the start and that its reasoning was exceptionally weak and the decision has had damaging consequences.
The opinion is not expected to be published until late next month and could still be modified as draft opinions circulate and justices can change their vote.
Sources tell CNN Roberts did not want to completely overturn Roe. It appears Alito was joined at his majority by Justices Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett, even though Kavanaugh and Gorsuch called Roe the law of the land during their confirmation hearings.
JUSTICE BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT: It is an important precedent of the Supreme Court.
JUSTICE NEIL GORSUCH, SUPREME COURT: That's the law of the land. I accept the law of the land, Senator, yes.
REID: Senator Susan Collins, who voted in support of Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, said today in a statement the draft opinion was completely inconsistent with what Justice Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh said in their hearings and in our meetings in my office. President Biden called the draft decision radical and echoed concerns that this decision could serve as a template for limiting other individual rights previously recognized by the court, like same-sex marriage and access to contraception.
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: If the rationale of the decision as released were to be sustained, the whole range of rights are in question.
REID: But in the wake of this draft opinion, Democrats are vowing to protect abortion rights.
SEN. CHUCK SHUMER (D-NY): We'll go down as an abomination, one of the worst, most damaging decisions in modern history.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): We could pass a law to protect every woman's right to an abortion and we should do that.
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): If this turns out to be the opinion of the court and it's issued, it could have a major impact on the outcome of the selection.
REID: Republicans are condemning the leak itself.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Whoever committed this lawless act knew exactly what it could bring about.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): So, whoever did this leak should be prosecuted and should go to jail for a very long time. This has shaken the independence and the ability of the judiciary to function.
REID (on camera): What we don't know right now is whether any of these justices will change their vote or if the contours of this opinion will remain the same. Now, the conservative super majority on the court has repeatedly signaled it is open to overturning Roe, but we will likely have to wait until late next month when the final opinion is published to know if that's actually happened. Wolf?
BLITZER: Paula Reid outside the Supreme Court, thanks very much. There's certainly a lot to discuss.
Joining us now our Chief Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin, our Senior Legal Analyst Laura Coates and our Chief Political Analyst Laura Borger.
Laura, as you follow the reaction from across the country state by state, for example, can you explain just how seismic a shift this would be for millions of American women?
LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, really, the answer is in your actual question, the state by state reaction. It's about having a patch work of laws as opposed to one that's a more universal approach, which would mean that, in some states, women would have more rights than women in other states, less rights than others in other states.
Still, this reaction has really been about the absence of that universality but also about the idea of a fundamental right. One of the first times the Supreme Court has taken away and circumscribed the right. Not upholding one, seeking to enforce or even may be even to create the aspect of it, but then to take it away.
They're having extraordinary reactions about this very notion and weigh that phrase slippery slope, the notion that that which you do here will have consequences down the line, the idea that that the category of fundamental rights, which includes abortion, might include others rights like rights to inter interracial marriage, and choosing who you love and same sex marriage, same sex relation, to interstate travel, contraceptives. All of that is under the same umbrella. And so all of that feels vulnerable and the reaction matches that.
BLITZER: On that point, Jeffrey, the man whose case led the U.S. Supreme Court to legalize gay marriage here in the United States says he's, quote, worried now, worried. Does this draft opinion that was leaked today raise the prospect that the Supreme Court could roll back other rights of Americans?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: It does, but I think it's important to focus on abortion rights because this is a case about abortion rights. Yes, it's possible other rights may be in jeopardy, but there is so much to unpack with this case.
How many years in prison is it appropriate for a woman who tries to get an abortion? How many years in prison is it appropriate for a woman in New York who mails a pill, an abortion pill, to a woman in Texas? How many years in prison for a doctor who conducts an emergency abortion in Oklahoma?
I mean, these are the issues that are going to be decided immediately as a result of this case and the answers to those questions are not going to change just American law but they're going the change American life.
BLITZER: And, Gloria, we're showing live pictures of demonstrators outside the Supreme Court here in Washington. President Biden is warning that this would be, in his word, a radical ruling from the court but the White House doesn't have much to offer when it comes to next steps, for example. So, Gloria, what are the potential political implications of this heading into the midterm elections, for example?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, as Jeffrey was just describing, this is potentially explosive. I can't predict to you what will occur but I can tell you that we live in an environment in which cultural issues have become more and more important.
And I can say that suburban women will no doubt be motivated to come out and vote because something they considered, you know, that they would have forever and they've had for the last almost 50 years is suddenly gone. But can I predict, Wolf, that the economy, for example, gas prices, inflation, that this will outweigh that? There is no way of knowing. What I do know is that the Democrats now have something they can talk about.
I think the question the Democrats ought to be asking themselves, quite frankly, is why the Republicans outmaneuvered them so much in talking about this issue over the last decade or so.
And they made it issue number one and here we are. And Democrats are now playing defense on it. And I think a lot of them are saying, you know, we didn't do enough when we could have done more.
BLITZER: According to CNN polling, Laura, 69 percent of Americans would oppose this Supreme Court overturning Roe versus Wade. What would it do to the standing of the court to be so out of step with the majority of the country?
COATES: Well, the court, as you know, is already grappling with its public image. It's being lessened in the eyes of many people. It's being viewed as a political entity as opposed to an apolitical extension of the government and those have already have its own issues in terms of the credibility of the court, the ability of precedent to mean something.
In many ways, the only reason the Supreme Court's precedent is honored is because of tradition. It's because that's the way it's always been in terms of legislative inertia and political inertia. And what the Supreme Court says ought to be final because it respect it in that respect.
But the Supreme Court beginning in Texas allows those to do an end run around their Supreme Court precedent, if Justice Alito's opinion is an indication of what might be to come in a potential majority holding, then stare decisis, a fancy of saying precedent matters, no longer matters.
So, piece by piece, they can essentially be undermining their own legacy and legit legitimacy.
And so, if these things happen, then you have it in the hands of individual state legislatures, individual decision-makers who might also be out of touch what the people want and the will of the people deciding for the rest of us what ought to be.
And, frankly, it's a very sad day when precedent begins to mean nothing because you're really then in the wild, wild west of deciding what it's like when one person disagrees and who is right and when the Constitution means anything. That's not what we want to see in this country.
TOOBIN: All that is true, but it's worth remembering that these justices don't have to run for office. They may be more or less popular than they once were. But as Justice Robert Jackson once said about the Supreme Court, we are not final because we are infallible. We are infallible because we are final. Somebody has the last word and it's always going to be the Supreme Court, whether we like it or not.
BLITZER: All right, guys. Thank you very, very much.
And important note to our viewers right now, Laura will be back later tonight. 9:00 P.M. with more on the fate of Roe versus Wade. She will be Anchoring CNN Tonight later tonight. Laura, we will be watching of course, as we always do. Thank you very, very much.
There's more breaking news coming up next here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Multiple, multiple new missile attacks rocking the western Ukrainian city of Lviv tonight, far from the battlefield in the eastern part of the country. We'll go there. We'll get a live report from the city right after this break.
BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, multiple Russian missiles striking the western Ukrainian city of Lviv where the mayor now says there are fires, smoke and power outages.
CNN's Scott McLean is in Lviv for us tonight. Scott, there were missile attacks across several regions of Ukraine today targeting power and train infrastructure, including where you are right now in Lviv. And I know you saw some of the damage firsthand. Give us the latest.
SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf. Yes, the explosions happened about an hour after the air raid sirens had gone off in the city. It was just before dark. And I heard three powerful explosions. The sound was really unmistakable.
Shortly after, you could see smoke rising on the horizon in several different directions. Also, the power went out in many part of the city, which is not surprising considering what official here say was hit, which is three electrical power substations.
We went out to one of them about four miles to the east of the city center and there were flames still raging when we got there. Firefighters were on scene working to put out the flames. It was right next to some train tracks in the area. There's no indication that the tracks themselves though were damaged. This is very similar to another strike about a week ago, about an hour east of here.
CNN also spoke to an eye witness, Wolf, who saw the missiles flying overhead and they thought that this was actually a Ukrainian fighter jet because they were so fast and so loud. About two seconds after they saw them go overhead, they heard the explosion. They actually packed up their car with a shovel, an ax, a bucket, thinking that perhaps they hit residential homes and they were going to have to start to pull people out of the rubble.
When they got there, obviously, they realized that it was an electrical substation. They also though heard a secondary explosion which was they think a transformer exploding.
Now, officials say that two people were injured here. There was also injuries in the Dnipro region where there was other strikes. And what was really surprising, Wolf, is that there were even strikes in the Zakarpattia region, in the far western and southern part of Ukraine. This is a region that has not been hit by missile strikes before. And so even though we are a very long way from the frontlines, this is another reminder that nowhere is safe in Ukraine right now. Wolf?
BLITZER: CNN's Scott McLean in Lviv for us, thank you very much, Scott. Stay safe.
And joining us now, the Pentagon press secretary, retired Admiral John Kirby. John, thanks very much for joining us.
As you know, Russia claims to be focusing their war efforts in Ukraine on the eastern part of the country. So, why are they attacking targets all across Ukraine today including in the major city of Lviv in Western Ukraine, which is so far from what they suggest is now the front?
JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Yes. Well, they have been doing this sporadically over the last couple of weeks, Wolf. And what we believe this is, is an attempt by the Russians to try to hit targets that they believe are affecting the Ukrainians' ability to resupply or reinforce themselves.
So, we've seen them hit weapons productions facilities in Kyiv, for instance. We've seen them in central Ukraine go after what they believe are weapon storage facilities or ammo depots. And then they have also be begun to try to hit transportation hubs because they know that the Ukrainians are using thins like the rail lines to move their troops and to move their equipment.
So, we think that this is of a piece of their attempt to try to limit the Ukrainians' ability to reinforce themselves.
BLITZER: So the U.S. assessment is that is Russians will continue to launch these targets, launch their attacks against these targets not only in Eastern Ukraine but in Western Ukraine as well, is that right?
KIRBY: Well, it's certainly in keeping with how they behaved over the last couple of weeks so we would not be surprised to see those kinds of strikes going forward as they become even more pressurized in the Donbas.
It's not going well for the Russians right now. They have not made very good progress, incremental and uneven. The Ukrainians are pushing back very, very strongly. And one of the reasons that they can push back that strongly is because they're getting all the support from the United States and from the west.
So, we think this is again of a larger piece of the Russians ability to try to improve their prospects in the east by trying to affect the Ukrainians' ability to resupply and replenish themselves.
BLITZER: All right. Let's move on to some other sensitive issues. CNN is now reporting that some western officials believe Putin will formally declare war on Ukraine just ahead of the May 9th victory parade in Moscow. That's their victory parade that ended World War II. Does the Pentagon share that assessment?
KIRBY: We've seen some rumors about that, but I don't think we can conclusively say that we believe that that's what he's going to do. But, look, even if he does, he's not fooling anybody. He's already at war in Ukraine, a war of choice that he started on February 24th. He's at war inside Ukraine completely unjustifiably. And what he needs to do rather than declaring war, Wolf, he needs to end this war. And he can do it today.
You heard Secretary Austin say that today to members of Congress up on Capitol Hill today. He can end it right now by moving his forces out of Ukraine and sitting down with Mr. Zelenskyy.
BLITZER: If he does declare war in the coming days, would that enable him to formally mobilize thousands more Russian reserve forces, significantly bolstering Russia's combat capabilities in Ukraine?
KIRBY: There are some experts that think that by declaring war, he might open up the aperture in terms of how he's able to reinforce and recruit more forces. So, there is possibly there that it would provide him to tap into more manpower.
But I would tell you, Wolf, that he's already tried to do that. I mean, he's on a second now group of conscripts. This is an army that is almost half conscripts, young 17, 18-year-old young men who are right out of school, very little training, put right into the fight. He's already done that now twice and he's been trying to reinforce forces and replace the forces that he lost in the fight over Kyiv in the north and even further in the south, and he's only had mixed success.
So, this could provide more manpower that he could tap, but, frankly, it's not clear that it's going to make much of a difference. Because you know what they haven't been able to do, they haven't improved their command and control, they haven't improved their joint air and ground integration, they haven't improved unit cohesion or operational maneuver, they're still having leadership problems.
So, it may open a tap for more manpower, but there's no indication that that alone is going to turn the tide for them in the Donbas.
BLITZER: All right, we shall see. Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby, thanks, as usual, for joining us.
KIRBY: You bet, my pleasure.
BLITZER: The breaking news continues next here in The Situation, survivors of a nightmare ordeal reach safety after being trapped underground for weeks while enduring relentless attacks by Russian forces. Plus, protests across the United States in reaction to a leaked draft decision showing the U.S. Supreme Court's conservatives are now poised to strike down Roe versus Wade. These are live pictures you're looking at right now.
BLITZER: There's more breaking news out of the Ukraine. Around 100 people who were trapped under a steel plant in Mariupol have now reached safety after surviving weeks of relentless attacks by Russian forces. Some of them recounted their unimaginable ordeal to CNN's International Security Editor Nick Paton Walsh who's on the scene for us tonight.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice over): Five buses only, but within them, the world's hopes of a way to deliver innocent Ukrainians to safety from Russia's onslaught, just over 100 civilians, the first to leave the basement of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol. Bringing with them stories of the circle of hell they lived in underground for weeks.
This is Olga. After two months in the dark, she struggles in sunlight still. I asked if she can see okay. Bad, she says. I can't see anything in the sun. Age 78 and she keeps saying, completely alone. Her entire life is in these two bags.
48 hours earlier, she was pictured in a Ukrainian military video just walking out of Mariupol cheerfully across a bridge. Now, via the U.N. and Red Cross, talks in Moscow and Kyiv and countless Russian checkpoints, she is here, worried she cannot fend for herself as a wound to her leg isn't healing because of her diabetes. The head torch that was her only source of light still around her neck, her toilet roll in her pocket.
Also coming off the bus is another familiar face, Anna with a six- month-old Sviatoslav (ph), embraced by her brother, one of many family reunions here. She was also seen in the same video as Olga leaving Mariupol the day after Sviatoslav (ph) turned six months old. She is a French teacher in happier times.
How do you feel now? Tired?
ANNA, AZOVSTAL EVACUEE: Now, I feel happy and exhausted because two months in basic --
WALSH: How did you live for two months in a basement with a four- month-old boy? How did you eat?
ANNA: Now I smile because I can smile finally, because all those months I was crying every day. Emotionally, it was really very, very difficult. When we didn't have any food, water for him, we just took a candle and we heat the water on the candle.
WALSH: The busy world she's emerged into now different for her.
ANNA: For me now, (INAUDIBLE) -- how to say it? Yes, yes. It's the most difficult and the most scary because now, when I -- sorry, it's emotional, yes.
WALSH: Of course.
ANNA: Now, when there are a lot of noise, I have like a reflex to hide myself.
WALSH: What are you going to tell him when he's older?
ANNA: I'll just tell him that he was really a very, very brave boy, very brave. He's very calm. He's the best child in the world, I can say. He's (INAUDIBLE).
WALSH: He's sleeping well, so that's good. It's all you can ask for.
ANNA: Yes, yes, all the time.
ANNA: Yes. And also I can say that I don't want for him to repeat this story with his child.
WALSH: Yet the terror they bore witness to will fuel a loathing that won't pass quickly.
WALSH (on camera): Now, Wolf, there have been hopes that that relatively small convoy bearing the neediest from Azovstal would have been joined en route by many other civilians trying to use that United Nations and Red Cross mechanism to also get to safety in Ukrainian- held territory. That did not happen. It appears the Russians were not willing to allow that convoy to grow in size.
And there were also hopes that in the days and weeks ahead, that same mechanism could be used to get possibly thousands of other people out through the same route. Unclear if that can happen too.
This has been deeply complex as a process in terms of time just to get over 100 people out from the worst place frankly on Earth maybe at the moment, but it does raise concerns as to whether or not it can be used to get any more of the 100,000 deeply in need in Mariupol.
BLITZER: Let's hope they get out. Nick Paton Walsh, thank you very much for that report.
Just ahead, we'll have more on the protests across the country right now here in the United States, as the U.S. Supreme Court appears poised to strike down Roe versus Wade. We'll discuss the leaked draft decision with the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood. That's coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: We're keeping a close eye on protests at the United States Supreme Court here in Washington and indeed across the nation at this critical moment for Roe versus Wade and the future of abortion rights for women in America.
The chief justice, John Roberts, now confirming that a leaked draft opinion to Politico to strike down Roe is authentic while also cautioning that it is not final.
Let's discuss what's going on with the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Alexis McGill Johnson. Alexis, thank you so much for joining us.
If Roe is, in fact, overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, abortion would become illegal in about half of the U.S. states immediately. But from the day that ruling comes down, how quickly would Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers in the United States, specifically in those states, how quickly would they have to shut down?
ALEXIS MCGILL JOHNSON, PRESIDENT AND CEO, PLANNED PARENTHOOD: Well, look, you know, it is clear that if Roe is overturned, there will be deep impact in those 26 states. A number of them have trigger laws that are laws that have been on the books since before Roe, before 1973, that would go into effect within weeks. And then there will be state legislative sessions that will happen where these states have already been emboldened to enact further restrictions, if not, outright banning abortion.
And we believe that would happen within the next 12 to 18 months.
So, we're looking within a year's time of seeing no access to abortion services. And it will impact obviously the provision of healthcare. It will impact many independent providers. And we will continue to fight to make sure that we can provide extended care, access to birth control and the other services that we currently provide now.
BLITZER: President Biden says he wants to pass legislation to protect abortion rights but the White House admits the reality that there aren't the votes there with or without the filibuster. Do you see any truly viable legislative solution here, Alexis?
JOHNSON: You know, look, I think the Women's Health Protection Act that President Biden as well as Leader Schumer have called for is very important for us to have a vote on. Because what we will see here is the ability to hold to account the people who are being obstacles to us having a federal protection to accessing abortion in this country.
We know that as we move into this next midterm season, as you can hear the rage in the streets behind you, this is going to be the number one issue going into the midterms. And so it is very important for us to have these votes on record so we know how to help people understand who to hold accountable for what is happening right now.
BLITZER: Justice Alito writes in this draft, and I'm quoting now. He says, the inescapable conclusion is that a right to abortion is not deeply rooted in the nation's history and traditions. How do you respond to that?
JOHNSON: You know, I haven't had a chance to read the draft opinion yet fully but I think that there are things that are not written into the Constitution that we accept as rights right now, the right to interracial marriage, the right to marriage equality, all of the ways in which we express ourselves, our identities and our freedoms do not have to the letter paragraphed in the Constitution, and yet we hold them as rights under the 14th Amendment. And we know that if the court overturns Roe, as they pretend to in this draft opinion, not just that the right to abortion is under attack, all of these other rights that we hold very dear, and we should be very concerned because they are forecasting already where they will go.
BLITZER: These demonstrations are continuing as we can see these live pictures from outside the U.S. Supreme Court. Thank you very much, Alexis McGill Johnson of Planned Parenthood. Thanks for joining us.
Coming up, new urgency in U.S. efforts to get WNBA star Brittney Griner released by Russia.
BLITZER: More now on the breaking news. Russian attacks on the western Ukrainian city of Lviv are ongoing.
Democratic Congressman Jason Crow of Colorado is just back from a high level trip to Ukraine. He's a former U.S. army ranger, a veteran of the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as a key number of House Intelligence and Armed Services Committees.
Congressman, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for your service.
Are you surprised the Russians would launch a strike on Lviv right now, which is all the way across the country from the eastern front?
REP. JASON CROW (D-CO): Hi, Wolf. Good to be with you. I'm not surprised. They've been talking about targeting the supply lines for some time now. They actually hit Lviv and some areas in the west a few days before our trip and then hit them again today, a few days after our trip.
So they are desperate. They're trying to disrupt the supply lines and flow of weapons and ammunition into the Ukrainian front line because those supplies have been so devastating for the Russian invasion in advance. BLITZER: These late breaking blasts rocked Lviv just as American
diplomats were returning to the city with plans to eventually return to the capital of Kyiv.
Is it safe, Congressman, for American diplomats to work from Ukraine right now?
CROW: Well the diplomatic security service is conducting that analysis right now. We certainly aren't going to take any undue risks, but at the same time, being a leader, international leader, and having the United States lead from the front requires a presence.
I mean, there's always risk. We had diplomats in Afghanistan. We have diplomats right now that are in Iraq and other places around the world. There are risks in a lot of places where our diplomats, where our U.S. government officials travel and also reside and do the work of the American people that keep us safe.
So it's never the instance where there is no risk. We just have to mitigate that and take calculated risks.
BLITZER: Yeah, that's important.
Congressman Schiff who was with you and the other members on this congressional delegation, as you met with President Zelenskyy, he says the Ukrainians made requests for aid that he had never heard them make before.
Can you tell us specifically what the Ukrainians are now asking for and whether you believe the U.S. can actually deliver?
CROW: Well, what's happening is that this war is evolving. It's changing. It's different right now and in the months ahead than it was just a month or two ago.
The terrain is different. The front line has shifted from the north to the south and the east. The terrain is very different in the south and more like the plains of Kansas. It's flat. It's open. It's less amenable to ambushes, small unit, kind of guerilla style tactics and turning into a long-range kind of stand-off artillery battle.
So that means the Ukrainians need long range artillery rocket weaponry. They need howitzers. They're targeting drones. They need surveillance radars and other things. So that's what we need to do now is provide that new type of aid, so that's changing.
The other really important thing, we spent over three hours with President Zelenskyy and top advisers and top leadership and we are helping them, working to help them prevent a worldwide famine because the Russians are blockading food exports. Ukraine provides a lot of the world's grain, corn, sunflower oil, a lot to Africa and the Middle East which is already vulnerable.
But the port of Odesa has been mined and the Ukrainians are not going to remove those mines for fear of a Russian invasion of Odesa tale they have anti-ship missiles that can protect Odesa and that port. So we need to provide those missiles so they can demine that port and provide limited shipments to prevent that hunger spreading.
BLITZER: Congressman Jason Crow, thanks so much for joining us.
CROW: Thank you.
BLITZER: There's new urgency tonight in U.S. efforts to secure the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner who is being held by Russia.
CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us.
Brian, what's the latest?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, Brittney Griner is entering 76th day in Russian custody. We have new information on the U.S. government's new efforts to bring more pressure to bear on getting her released.
TODD (voice-over): Tonight, basketball star Brittney Griner's case facing a new sense of urgency from the U.S. government. The State Department now classifying Griner as being wrongfully detailed. It means the U.S. won't wait for Griner's case to move through Russia's legal system.
How aggressive will the government be now in this case?
THOMAS FIRESTONE, FORMER RESIDENT LEGAL ADVISER, U.S. EMBASSY IN MOSCOW: Well, certainly more aggressive, I assume it means more intensified diplomatic negotiations with the Russians and probably more specific discussions who might be released from the U.S. prison in order to secure her release.
TODD: Biden administration officials say the case will be handled by the president's special envoy for hostage affairs, Roger Carstens.
NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: He will go anywhere. He will talk to anyone, if it means we're able to come home with an American.
TODD: The Biden team's shift in strategy on this case comes just days after American Trevor Reed was released from Russian custody.
FIRESTONE: I think it certainly raised expectations that they would more to get her out. They succeeded in getting Trevor Reed out of Russia. That means it's possible.
TODD: Vladimir Putin's regime has detained Griner since February when Russian officials claim they found cannabis oil in her luggage after she landed at a Moscow airport. She's been charged with smuggling narcotics, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Christine Brennan reports in "U.S. Today", the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic committee is landing its support to try to get Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, released.
CHRISTINE BRENNAN, SPORTS COLUMNIST, USA TODAY: It is adding another layer to the sport that is already there. But, is it having an impact right now to get Brittney Griner home? I think the answer would be, no.
TODD: In late March, former WNBA star Lisa Leslie she was told not to make a, quote, big fuss publicly over Griner's case. Leslie did not say who told her that.
Does the new classification for Griner's case change at that approach?
BRENNAN: My sense is that we will see people speaking up more. We will see WNBA players picking up more. We will see her friends and colleagues picking up more.
TODD: The NBA now says that it is in constant communication with the U.S. government for Griner's case. And Griner's agent tells us that they expect the White House to do whatever is necessary to bring her home, Wolf.
BLITZER: We hope that she comes home quickly.
Brian Todd, thank you very, very much.
We'll be right back with more news.
BLITZER: Tonight, the midterm election season here in the United States begins with primaries in two states, Indiana and Ohio.
Let's go to CNN's chief national correspondent Jeff Zeleny. He's joining us from Cincinnati right now.
So, Jeff, what is the latest there in Ohio?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, voters have about 30 more minutes to cast their ballot in Ohio, one of the country's most competitive Republican Senate races. This is going to test the strength at least among Republican voters, of the former President Donald Trump. About two and a half weeks ago, he endorsed JD Vance, of course, best known after that bestselling book he wrote, "Hillbilly Elegy", but widely unknown to Ohio valley voters.
Over the past couple of weeks, he has certainly gained ground here. This is a very crowded and competitive field. Josh Mandel who has run for office several times here before, also seeking the support of the former president, they'll say that he is a Trump Republican. So the Trump side of this party is dividing the loyalties among four candidates. Wolf, we are hearing from Republicans we've been talking to on the
ground here for the last few days, that Matt Dolan, a Ohio state senator who is the only Republican not seeking Trump's endorsement. He may be gaining ground here at the final days, consolidating the establishment Republican vote, if you will.
So, this evening when the polls close, at about 30 minutes or so, we will see if the former president has the ability to select a kingmaker to be a kingmaker, if you will.
And, Wolf, every Tuesday in the month of may. There's going to be a critical primary race. There is Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and beyond, that is going to test the strength of the former president.
But, certainly here tonight, in Ohio, all eyes on JD Vance. We're at his headquarters to see if he can collect on the power of endorsements, and deliver a victory -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We will find on the next few hours. Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much for that report.
And thanks to our viewers for watching.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.