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Ukraine On Heightened Alert Ahead Of Russia's Victory Day; Fighting Rages At Mariupol Plant Amid New Rescue Efforts; Americans Reveal Why They're Fighting Alongside Ukrainians; Ex-Defense Secretary: Trump Wanted To Bomb Drug Labs In Mexico; CDC: Investigating 100+ Cases Of Severe, Unexplained Hepatitis In Kids. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired May 06, 2022 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news, war-ravaged Ukraine is now on heightened alert. Officials are issuing new warnings that Russia may increase its attack on Monday and the Putin regime - it's annual Victory Day celebration.
Also breaking, fighting rages on in the besieged city of Mariupol amid new rescue efforts that freed at least 50 civilians. President Zelenskyy is calling the ongoing Russian blockade of the city a form of torture that's left innocent people starving.
Our correspondents are standing by in the war zone in Moscow and at the Pentagon, for CNN's live coverage of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
And welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Pamela Brown, and you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
This hour, there's growing anxiety in Ukraine that Kremlin forces are on the brink of unleashing a brutal new bombardment timed to coincide with Russia's Victory Day holiday.
Let's go right to Ukraine and CNN International Security Editor Nick Paton Walsh. Nick, the mayor of Kyiv just issued an urgent plea for residents of the capital city to be on alert.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Absolutely. So imminent, they feel the potential for renewed intensity of missile strikes, that the mayor Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, is saying people should try and stay indoors, and certainly if they hear air raid sirens, pay special attention and seek covered.
Vitali Klitschko saying there is a concern that on the 8th and 9th of May, there may be escalation by Russia around or ahead of the Victory Day parades there, plenty (ph) of calling.
Still, though, now tension building as Russia continues to relentlessly bombard the steel plant in the besieged and essentially conquered city of Mariupol on the south coast.
WALSH (voice over): Escorted by armor, curtains closed, inside are said to be some of the latest civilians to evacuate the unbridled hell of Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol. Yet these are Russian troops escorting them out, not the United Nations who helped evacuate earlier in the week. Ukraine soldiers here Friday said one of theirs died and six were injured in an evacuation bid.
And while Ukraine set it began a new operation to get people out from under this, the savagery of Russian bombardments at the factory, the U.N. said Friday a total of 500 people had got out since their efforts began this weekend, many, many more desperate to flee.
Battered and uninhabitable as much of Mariupol is, still ahead of Monday's Victory Day, it appears the city's drama theater, it's basement is packed with children when it was bombed by Russia, killing hundreds, is now being cleared up, excavated.
These satellite images first on CNN showing rubble visible in April, gone in recent days. Vehicles lined up and the ground around the theater cleared to make it more presentable. It's not clear why they are tidying the scene of what many called a war crime.
The warped world of what Russia calls liberation was also on view here in these rare images filmed inside a filtration camp, where Ukrainians are held before being forced to go to Russia, passports taken, sleeping on the floor or in chairs, illness from the cold, all part of the experience of liberation, according to one woman whose father was there.
And this staged visit, evidence of Russia's rush to assimilate what it's clumsily torn off Ukraine. This is Kherson, the first city it captured, and the man in the beard is Denis Pushilin, separatist leader from Donetsk, and the visit suggesting Kherson on the Russian occupation where protests are crushed will also be declared a tin part people's republic soon. It all has the whiff of empire.
Here, he sits discussing transferring food from Kherson to Russia's separatist areas, watermelon and tomatoes. He might call it trade, Ukraine a food heist.
But Moscow is far from having its way and the costs are heavy.
[18:05:00] These images CNN has confirmed were filmed in a graveyard in Ryazan, the flags over the Russian paratroop division, the elite, and there are many just in this one city. These are the dead behind the propaganda with so much rubble in Russia's tiny victories.
WALSH (on camera): Now, Pamela, well, of course we are looking at incremental advances by Russia in territory here inside of Ukraine. There are concerns certainly that ahead of Monday's May the 9th victory parades, where Russia traditionally celebrates its victory over Nazis, curious that they would choose to revive that and the ludicrous notion of the ideology supporting their invasion of Ukraine, that there may be some bid by Russia to take extra territory or a final push in the days ahead, specifically also in the east, Severodonetsk, one of the towns there is concerned that maybe that might be the focus of a renewed Russian effort.
But still Ukraine pushing back on many occasions, but deep anxiety for the 72 hours ahead around that victory parade. Pamela?
BROWN: Understandably. Nick Paton Walsh, thank you.
And now let's over to Russia to Moscow, where the Kremlin is sharing new details about its plans for Victory Day, what we were just talking about. We want to remind you that Russia has strict new laws in place on the reporting of the Ukraine conflict, prohibiting the broadcast of information the government considers to be false.
Our Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance joins us live from Moscow. Matthew, what is the Kremlin saying ahead of this key holiday?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's been some question, Pam, about whether the Victory Day commemorations here in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia might be overshadowed by the fact there is that really ugly military campaign underway across the border in Ukraine. Russia calls it special military operation.
The Kremlin has gone to some lengths today to insist that it won't by overshadowed, the commemorations won't to be have overshadowed by anything that takes place inside Ukraine. They're calling it a sacred holiday for millions of people, around -- not just Russia, but around the former Soviet Union, whose ancestors, whose relatives has let themselves actually engaged in the defeat of Nazi Germany in the 1940s.
But at the forefront of people's minds, there are going to be a lot of concerns about what's taking place in Ukraine, so it won't just be a sort of regular display of Russian military power and forces that it is every year. It's going to have that very potent, poignant backdrop.
Additionally, it may be an opportunity, and the Kremlin has pushed back on this, but it may be an opportunity for Vladimir Putin to make some sort of important pronouncement about his special military operation. There's speculation it could be an opportunity for him to make a formal declaration of war against Ukraine, speculation he could announce a mobilization of Russian forces that will enable him to get more people into the forces, into the military and to deploy them in more strength inside Ukraine. Again, that's been pushed back on by the Kremlin.
But, Pam, in the past the Kremlin has said it's going to do one thing and then does something entirely different. And so no one really is ruling anything out at this stage.
BROWN: Matthew Chance, thank you.
And tonight, we are learning more about U.S. assistance to the Ukraine military. Sources tell CNN that the United States shared intelligence that helped Ukraine sink a prized Russian warship in the Black Sea.
NN Pentagon Correspondent Oren Leibermann has more on that. Oren, this is clearly a sensitive issue for the Pentagon. What can you tell us?
OREN LEIBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It very much is a sensitive issue, as has pretty much all of the intelligence sharing between the U.S. and Ukraine, this pipeline going back and forth between the two.
And it's not just the Pentagon, it's the entire Biden administration. They have been very careful when it comes to this issue, not only about the intelligence that's shared, but what's said about the intelligence that's shared.
Sources tell CNN, sources familiar with this situation, that back in mid-April, the Ukrainian thought they had the Moskva, they knew where it was in the Black Sea, but they couldn't do it on their own. They asked the U.S. for confirmation, according to these sources, and these sources says, yes, the U.S. confirmed that it wasn't fact the Moskva they were looking at.
It was then after that that the Ukraine took a shot at the flagship of Russia's Black Sea Fleet with two Neptune missiles, eventually sinking it as the Russians tried to tow it back to port.
The Pentagon has pushed back on any notion or suggestion that it was involved in a decision to strike the Moskva, or that it had provided what the Pentagon was calling the specific targeting information. Here's Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We did not provide specific targeting information about the Moskva to the Ukrainians. We weren't involved in their decision to conduct that strike, and we certainly weren't involved in the actual execution of that strike.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEIBERMANN: The Pentagon went on to point out that there are other countries providing information and intelligence to the Ukrainian as well and that the Ukrainians have their own ability to gather intelligence. But that seems a way of trying to distance themselves from the story and the risk that come along with this being sort of openly stated by the media as the Russians perhaps are watching. Pamela?
BROWN: All right, Oren Lieberman, thank you very much.
And just ahead in THE SITUATION ROOM, is the U.S. bracing for Vladimir Putin to chart a new course for his war on Ukraine during next week's Victory Day celebration in Moscow? The State Department spokesperson, Ned Price, is standing by to join me, up next.
BROWN: More now to the breaking news, a senior Ukrainian official saying tonight, that Russia wants to seize key city in the eastern Ukraine to declare a, quote, grand victory. This comes ahead of Monday's annual Russian celebration marking the Soviet victory over the Nazis in World War II.
And joining us now, State Department Spokesperson, Ned Price. Hi there, Ned. So, what is the U.S. bracing for in the coming days ahead of the Russia's Victory Day?
NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Well, Pamela, we'll have to wait and see what the Russians have in mind but I can tell you what we have in mind. We will be working very closely, speaking with one voice together with our allies and partners, including our allies in Europe, in the G7, in NATO, about what is coming up. It is not only a holiday that is mark in Russian,
V.E. day, Victory in Europe day is something that we mark every year, together with our European partners. This is the day 77 years ago on Sunday when, together with our European partners, we stopped the forces of Nazism, the genocidal forces of totalitarianism and despotism that had swept across Europe, rolled it back.
Once again, we are working with our partners and allies to stop blatant aggression to end this violence and see to it that the brutality that the Russians are inflicting on the Ukrainian people comes to an end.
BROWN: I want to ask you about the latest information we're getting here at CNN. As we know, Ukraine successfully hit the Russian warship, the Moskva, last month, thanks to help from U.S. intelligence. How likely is it that Putin will retaliate against the U.S. directly for its role and intelligence sharing?
PRICE: Pam, we've watching very closely. We've heard a lot of bluster, a lot of propaganda, statements that constitute the hike of irresponsibility, especially coming from a nuclear power. But what we are most concerned about is what we see, not what we hear. And we are going to continue to execute to execute on the strategy we put forward principally because we know that it is a strategy that will allow Ukraine to win. It's a strategy that has two key components when it comes to Ukraine. It is continuing to provide our Ukrainian partners with the security assistance they need to defend themselves.
And just moments ago, we announced that the United States is providing an additional $150 million in security assistance to our Ukrainian partners. That's what we're doing to support Ukraine on the battlefield. We're also at the same time holding Russia to account. And to date, we've enacted together with dozens of countries across four continents a series of financial sanctions, a series of expert controls, precisely what we need to put pressure on Moscow.
So, we're doing two things at once. We're strengthening Ukraine's hand on the battlefield, we are strengthening Ukraine's hand in turn at the negotiating table and we're putting pressure on Moscow to change its approach, to change an approach that heretofore, at least, has not -- a country that has not been willing to engage in diplomacy, not been willing to engage in good-faith dialogue. And that's what we seek to facilitate.
BROWN: Let me just jump in there because you just laid out about what the U.S. is doing. And it's a tricky line to walk. Of course, you've had talked about the concern of escalation with Russia. You just pointed out it's a nuclear power. Where is the line about what the U.S. will and won't do and share with Ukraine, because, for example, if U.S. intelligence is being used by the Ukrainians to kill Russian soldiers and Russian generals, could Russia view the U.S. as a co- combatant?
PRICE: Pamela, we have provided our Ukrainian partner with precisely what they need at this moment. We provided them with billions of dollars in humanitarian support, and economic support, and, to-date, since the invasion, $3.8 billion in security assistance. That's we provided them in terms of funding.
Yes, we are also providing them with intelligence that they need to defend their country, to defend their territorial integrity, their freedom and their democracy. Everything that we're providing our Ukrainian partners in terms of security assistance, in terms of intelligence is to promote their efforts to defend their country against this aggression.
BROWN: I understand that, but is there concern that Russia could retaliate, could view the U.S. as a co-combatant with Ukraine?
PRICE: I think the Russians know that we have been very clear, than any effort to intimidate, to wage aggression against NATO, against any NATO ally would be met with a strong response. But we're going to continue to do what we have found to be effective and more importantly what our Ukrainian partners have found to be effective when it comes to this support for them.
If you take a step back and look at where we are, Vladimir Putin, on February 24th, thought that within 72 hours or so, he would be the de facto leader of Ukraine. He would be in charge a de facto of its government, ruling, controlling its people and the country. [18:20:00]
We are now more than 70 days into this conflict. Russia has lost the battle of Kyiv. Russia has been force to narrow its war aims, now rather than take the country, Russia has been forced to target much of its effort, much of it focus on a single steel plant, in a single city in the eastern part of Ukraine.
And so I think you see the effectiveness of this strategy every day. It is the grit, it is the determination, the tenacity of our Ukrainian partners, using the key enabling force of our security assistance.
BROWN: Yes, the Ukrainians have certainly showed so much perseverance and grit in the face of this. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price, thank you for joining us.
PRICE: Thanks, Pamela.
BROWN: And coming up at THE SITUATION ROOM, we're going to have an inside look at some of the foreign fighters, including Americans battling alongside the Ukrainians against Putin's invasion.
BROWN: We are following breaking news on a heightened state of alert in Ukraine. Tonight, officials are warning that attacks may be escalated attacks on Monday during its annual Victory Day celebration.
Now, let's turn to chilling new accounts of the war from foreigners who have been fighting alongside the Ukrainians, including two Americans. CNN's Isa Soares has our report.
ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): For weeks now, these volunteer fighters have been developing a country that is not theirs.
DOC, VOLUNTEER FIGHTER IN UKRAINE: I saw on the news, just like everybody else, the atrocities that the Russians were committing. That's the reason why I came.
SOARES: The two Americans and a Canadian, who we prefer we identify them by their nicknames, tell me that from their experiences with one particular unit, the Ukrainian forces they have been fighting alongside on the frontlines are ill-equipped and cut-off from resources.
RAT, VOLUNTEER FIGHTER IN UKRAINE: Specifically, NATO munitions in terms of anti-tank weapons, as well as artillery, like howitzers, or tanks, or even like MRAP type vehicles, anything like that, it's nowhere on the front.
SOARES: Doc, Rat and Shadow said they have fought near Kyiv and in the east in the Kharkiv region, where Russian troops has strengthened their presence.
RAT: So, they would push here, send troops, massive column on the main road, push them here.
SOARES: This video filmed by them shows the challenging terrain.
RAT: It's just field as far as the eye can see with nothing but open ground and next to zero concealment.
SOARES: A battleground that without the right equipment can be deadly, the former Canadian Armed Forces sergeant tells me.
SHADOW, VOLUNTEER FIGHTER IN UKRAINE: It's a miracle, it's really miracle to be here still alive.
DOC: You basically have to be a tank or artillery or an aircraft right now to fight in the eastern part.
SOARES: So far, the U.S. has approved more than $3 billion in military assistance to Ukraine, including thousands of Javelin, Stinger missiles, and other critical weapons, equipment that these former U.S. marines say they haven't seen.
DOC: The stuff from these packages need to get to the front. They do.
SOARES: So much so, they are being teased about it.
RAT: We have guys coming up to us with Google translates, where are the howitzers? Where is Biden's help? Or where is NATO'S help?
SOARES: Last month, the Pentagon said military gear and equipment was getting to Ukraine, between 24 and 48 hours after it was shipped, but the U.S. was transferring it on Ukrainian hands and not dictating how fast they get it to the frontline or what unit gets them.
These fighters have just one glimpse of one frontline, but they're not alone in thinking that Ukraine's military remains desperately outgunned.
RAT: Both parties, it's one side has nothing and doing everything they can, and then the other side has everything and they're too afraid to do anything with that.
SOARES: Despite the challenges of the battlefield, Doc and Rat are returning to the frontline moved by Ukraine's fighting spirit.
DOC: The Ukrainians are giving it their all, and they're doing it every single day, every single minute, every single hour.
SOARES: Shadow, meanwhile, staying away from the front lines in Lviv after learning he's going to be a father, camaraderie and a common cause as they fight for freedom in a foreign land.
Isa Soares, CNN Lviv, Ukraine.
(END VIDEOTAPE) BROWN: And CNN reached out to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry for comment on these claims of the foreign fighters featured in the story, the military aid is not reaching the frontlines in the north east of Ukraine and why. But, so far, we haven't received a response.
And joining me now, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor. Hi, Ambassador.
So, there are disturbing signs that Russia is digging in the south of Ukraine, putting up Russian flags, restoring Soviet monuments. As someone who served as the ambassador to Ukraine, how do you expect Ukrainians to push back on that Russian grip?
WILLIAM TAYLOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Pam, we've seen the push back in several places. We've seen the military push back around Kyiv. We've seen the Ukrainians push to Russians back to the north, back to Belarus, back into the Russia.
In the northeast, where your report was just describing the fight, I've talked to -- I've got friends in the military, in the Ukrainian military, who are telling me -- told me as recently as three days ago, that those howitzer, those big howitzers, the 155 millimeter howitzers that are in the packages, coming from the United States, are on the frontlines and are already engaging Russians at long distances, exactly as they said is necessary.
And your point about the Russians trying to dig in and taking over places in the south, yes, that's what they have done. That's what they did in Donbas, in Donetsk and Luhansk. They put in puppets to govern. And then they forced Ukrainians to take passports, to switch passports into Russian. They forced the Ukrainians and use rubles. They use the Russian currency.
So, this is what they have done in Donbas. This is what they have done in Crimea. This is what they'll try to do in places like Kherson, which is just north of Crimea and just to the west of Donetsk.
So, that is the play book that they used. The Ukrainians are pushing back. The Ukrainians are not going to be able -- the Russians are not going to push Ukraine to do that without large forces, without military forces. And we know that they don't have those forces now.
BROWN: I want to talk about this video address that came out just recently from President Zelenskyy of Ukrainian. And he says, quote, they are working on diplomatic options to save Ukrainian troops in the besieged steel plant in Mariupol. He says influential mediators are involved. So, what would that look like?
TAYLOR: I hope it would be the United Nations. The United Nations and the Red Cross have had some success in getting civilians out of Mariupol, and they have negotiated ceasefires, or at least humanitarian corridors to allow these convoys to get these folks out. So, I'm hoping that the U.N. will continue to have that progress.
BROWN: All right. Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor, thank you.
TAYLOR: Thank you, Pam.
BROWN: And just ahead in THE SITUATION ROOM, the European Union is preparing new sanctions for Vladimir Putin's reputed girlfriend. Who is she? And why does Putin deny the relationships, despite being romantically linked for more than a decade?
BROWN: More now on the breaking news tonight, President Biden just authorized a new $150 million aid package to Ukraine as it struggled to fight off Russia's unprovoked invasion. CNN Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins has the details.
So, Kaitlan, another big move from the White House, what do you learning?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Pam, this is the package that is to the tune of $150 million that President Biden is authorizing to go to Ukraine. This one includes artillery rounds, these counter artillery rounds, these counter artillery radar systems, jamming equipment, other spare parts that the Ukrainian forces fighting need. Of course, this is something that the White House will work to get to Ukraine quickly as they have been sending those other packages, the last two, $800 million packages that President announced, sending them very quickly
But, Pam, crucially what also comes alongside, the statement from President Biden authorizing this latest package, is he says that now with this announcement, they nearly exhausted the funding that they have from Congress, that authorization that they got of what they can send to Ukraine.
And so, in light of that, he is calling on Congress to quickly pass that $33 billion package that he's asked for. That's for mainly sending weapons to Ukraine but also humanitarian and economic assistance. So far, lawmakers have not made enough progress where they have been able to be prepared to send that, to pass that, to send it to the President Biden's desk, and he's asking them to move quickly to do so, so they can continue sending these weapons into Ukraine without any interruptions.
BROWN: And, of course, this comes as the first lady, Dr. Jill Biden, is in Eastern Europe and will be there through the weekend. What do we know about her plans there while she's there?
COLLINS: Yes. So far, she's gone to Romania. She's visiting with U.S. forces who are deployed there. You saw her today, of course, getting on her plane, going over there to make several of these stop. She visited with these forces, even brought them ketchup, which apparently was in short supply at the base that they were visiting, but really putting emphasis on the humanitarian aspect of this, which is not just the U.S. forces that have been sent there to reinforce NATO allies, she's also going to go to the border. She's going to go to Slovakia, as well the border with Ukraine, to visit with a lot of these displays Ukrainian refugees who have been force from their home.
Of course, the visit of this weekend is especially timely given it's Mother's Day on Sunday and that will be part of her visit as well, Pam.
BROWN: All right, CNN's Kaitlan Collins, thank you.
CNN has also learned that the longtime girlfriend of Vladimir Putin is on the list of sanction targets. What are you finding out?
And CNN has also learned that the woman widely believe to be Russian President Vladimir Putin long time girlfriend is named on the proposed list of European Union sanctions target.
CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us. So, Brian, what are you finding out?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Pamela her name is Alina Kabaeva. And Vladimir Putin has been very secretive about her and their relationship as he has been about his entire family. But this woman, who's about 30 years younger than Putin, has benefited financially and politically from her association with him.
TODD (voice over): She's been linked romantically to Vladimir Putin for more than a decade, though he has always denied it. An early photograph of them together at the time she was a decorated gymnast shows Putin looking infatuated with her.
Tonight the E.U. appears to set new sanctions on Alina Kabaeva, according to two European diplomatic sources.
LOUISE SHELLEY, TERRORISM, TRANSNATIONAL CRIME AND CORREPTION CENTER: This is very personal. She is not only part of his inner circle but she also probably holds a lot of money for Putin.
TODD: Kabaeva also, late last month, in a rare public appearance at a gymnastics event in Moscow, spoke out in support of Putin's war in Ukraine.
ALINA KABAEVA, FORMER OLYMPIC GYMNAST: Every family has a history of war and we shouldn't forget about it. We should hand it over from generation to generation.
BEN JUDAH, THE ATLANTIC COUNCIL: Alina Kabaeva has participated in a lot of propaganda state efforts to shore up the Putin regime over the years.
TODD: Kabaeva and Putin have rarely been seen in public together, but analyst say, she and her family have gotten rich because of her close ties to the Russian president. SHELLEY: She spends much of her time overseas, even though she has lavish properties in Russia to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.
TODD: Experts say targeting Putin's purported girlfriend for sanctions is a cold-eyed method of punishing the former KGB colonel for the Ukraine invasion.
JUDAH: One of the leaders to make him feel some of the costs of this is to sanction those closest to him and American officials believe that she is very close indeed.
TODD: Putin's two adult daughters from his first marriage were sanctioned by the U.S. last month. A U.S. official confirmed their names are Maria Putina, who also goes by the name Maria Vorontsova, and Katerina Thikhonova shown here speaking at an economic conference. Both are believed to be in their mid 30s.
CASEY MICHEL, KLEPTOCRACY INITIATIVE, THE HUDSON INSTITUTE: We know they have traveled widely, especially in the west. We know one of them, Katerina, was married to Russia's youngest billionaire, and we know that she also tried to pursue a career in acrobatic rock-and- roll.
The other one, Maria, we don't know quite as much about. We know she has pursued or at least purportedly pursued a career in medical sciences.
TODD: As for Alina Kabaeva, last month, The Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. official had debated whether to placed American sanctions on her, but held off out of concerns that so personal a strike at Putin would escalate tensions even more now that the E.U. could soon sanction Kabaeva and the U.S. has already sanctioned Putin's daughter.
SHELLEY: Putin might take this personally and strike out more at Ukraine and against the U.S.
TODD (on camera): Analyst say there is also Putin's ex-wife, Lyudmila, the mother of Maria and Katerina, who also may have account where Putin is hiding his assets, one expert who tracks Putin's finances. So he does not believe that Lyudmila has been placed under any sanctions yet but he says that could be coming as the U.S. seeks to ratchet up the personal pressure on Vladimir Putin. Pamela?
BROWN: All right. Brian Todd, thanks for bringing us the latest there.
And coming up in THE SITUATION ROOM, stunning revelations from Donald Trump's former defense secretary who claims in a new book the former president wanted to launch missile at Mexico.
BROWN: A Georgia state judge says that far-right Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene should not be disqualified from this month's primary over her role in the January 6th insurrection.
In an unprecedented hearing, lawyers for voters who challenged Greene's candidacy, tried to connect her rhetoric to the violent attack on the Capitol.
And we're also following startling new allegations about former President Trump.
Let's get more on that with CNN political analysts Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns. They are both national political correspondent for "The New York Times" and co-authors of the new book "This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden and the Battle for America's Future."
Great to see you both. Congratulations on your book.
JONATHAN MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Thank you.
There you go.
BROWN: So many headlines out of it. We've going to dive into that.
But I have to ask about the other book from the former Trump Defense Secretary Mark Esper, this idea that Trump floated launching missile strikes into Mexico to take out drug labs.
BROWN: Now, your book is full of stories detailing other wild ideas from Trump. I covered the Trump White House, and I remember hearing from officials they had to rein in his most outlandish instincts when it came to stuff.
Take me behind from all the reporting you did on this book on what that was like with officials trying to rein him and at every turn.
MARTIN: Yeah. I mean, it was not just his own staff, it was every level of government he was dealing with. We have a lot of material in the book from 2020 during the height of COVID when there are these governors across America who are desperately trying to get relief, literally a matter of life and death, trying to help people in their state. And they're calling the president, almost begging for help.
And the president is saying back to them, you have to show me some measure of appreciation and gratitude for me to help your state. That's the kind of operation that he had running. It was shocking to governors in both parties to find that trigger, but that was the nature of the Trump administration that we talk about in great length in the book.
BROWN: Yeah, just a transactional type nature.
MARTIN: That's right. ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, one of the things that was also striking reporting in the book was the way people around President Trump who were somewhat less forthright than Secretary Esper who kind of rationalizing his wild behavior and trying to play down some of the really aberrational things he did as president, like his coercive behavior with governors. And like some of the, you know, to use technical terms, bonkers ideas, like sending missiles into Mexico.
There was a senior Trump administration official that we interviewed, we ran a particular Trump idea, pass this person, I won't get into that idea. The response we got is well, that idea never went through the inter agency process, as though that makes a difference whether the president of the United States is suggesting stuff, it's way out there in terms of mainstream political acceptance.
BROWN: You know, it's interesting because in covering the Trump White House, I got a lot of that, too. And they would either sometimes say you guys are making a big deal out of nothing, or they would say and rationalize it, this is how Trump's. This is why he so successful. He thinks outside the box, a lot of that.
And I'm wondering --
MARTIN: Or he was just kidding around.
BROWN: Or he was just kidding. That was another when you hear a lot of.
But it is pretty striking when Esper comes out and says bluntly quote, he should not be in a position of public service. I'm curious, in the course of your reporting, if you heard that same sentiment?
MARTIN: Oh, Sure. If you talk to a lot of people in the GOP, off the record, or not for attribution, they will be totally -- they don't want Donald Trump to be their standard bearer again. I think part of the reason why January 6th was consequential politically, at least in the short term, it is because the vast majority of the GOP lawmakers saw that is their opening. We can finally rid of this fellow. We can stop faking it.
This is one of the big storylines in our book. Divide between the leadership of the pub Republican Party and the voters. The leaders of the party have little regard for Trump. They have to put on this facade for the public, but in private and when he detailed this at great length in the book, they can't stand the fellow. The last thing they want is for him to run again for president.
BROWN: You know, it's interesting, because you do laid out really well in the book. I've heard from Republicans who don't like Trump. They say, well, if we stand up to him and we will lose and then you will have Marjorie Taylor Greene types, for example. You hear lot of that kind of rationalizing it.
But the audio that you released to back up all this excellent reporting you have in your book is really startling. Just with the Kevin McCarthy right after January 6th and comparing that what we are hearing now.
I also want to ask you when it comes to leading up to January 6th were all the election lies as we know, but also we're all the racial injustice. I know you touched on this in the book. Esper also confirms he floated the idea of shooting some of the protesters.
How close do the U.S. come to an even more violent crackdown on these demonstrators?
BURNS: Well, we are very fortunate as a country. The president never, to our knowledge, put to the test a direct order to the military to do something like that.
But one of the things that we uncovered in the reporting in our book was that the chairman of the joint chief of stacks, Mark Milley had told people at the time, told folks on the hill, including Democrats on the hill, I know that I don't have to follow an illegal order. That is a shocking thing for the nation's top general to be saying.
The implication of what he thinks of with the commander of chief couldn't be clearer.
MARTIN: And Trump when was really feeling the heat, our colleague Maggie Haberman, memorably reported, that he was brought to a bunker. He did this conference called with the nation's governor -- the governors couldn't believe this was the president of the United States. The governor of Maine, Gina Mills, turned to someone in her office said, the president of the United States is having a nervous breakdown.
So, it's an extraordinary scene. It's all there in the book.
BROWN: Yeah. Well, we will be reading it. If you haven't read it, check it out.
Jonathan Martin, Alex Burns, thank you.
MARTIN: Thank you.
BURNS: Thanks a lot.
BROWN: We will have more just ahead a wave of unexplained and severe hepatitis cases in young children has the CDC grasping for answers.
BROWN: There is more breaking news we're following tonight, the CDC now investigating more than one cases of severe hepatitis with children.
Let's dig deeper with CNN analyst, Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency room physician and former Baltimore health commissioner. Also a mother like I am.
This is so frightening. How concerning is this outbreak, and what would be the cause, Dr. Wen?
DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, it's something that we should keep an eye on. Right now the two elements are that it is so far unexplained, ease cases of hepatitis inflammation in the liver are already supposed to be very uncommon in children, right now we don't know the cause. It does not appear to be due to the hepatitis viruses, it is not due to medicines or toxins that causes unknown. And the other thing too is even though it's only effected relatively few children this far, just over 100 children that's known, it's caused very severe illness in these children. Most have had to be hospitalized, 15 have needed liver transplants and five children have died.
So parents should be on the lookout for symptoms like very high fever, prolong abdominal pain, very importantly, jaundice, yellowing of the skin, yellowing of the whites and the eyes. Light colored school -- stools, dark colored urine, if any of the symptoms, call your doctor right away.
BROWN: All right. I want to ask you, the FDA is importing -- imposing strict limits on who should get the J&J COVID vaccine. I know you had that and they're saying it's because of the rare but dangerous blood clotting condition, this rare side effect.
What do you make of this new warning?
WEN: We in the U.S. are fortunate. We have two other vaccines that are very safe and very effective, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. So, the FDA simply saying choose those two other vaccines first. If you can't get one of these other vaccines first for some reason, you could still get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Very importantly, if you've got the J&J vaccine already, don't worry. I got the change a vaccine over your go and you are not to have long term side effects from that. The side effects of this is very rare, but again, serious side effects of blood clots disorder is only seen in the first to three weeks so that's when you should be worried but not after.
BROWN: All right. Dr. Leana Wen, thank you so much joining us.
WEN: Thank you.
BROWN: And we are following breaking news out of Cuba where a massive explosion at a prominent hotel in Havana has killed at least nine people and injured dozens. Officials say a gas leak is believed to be the cost of the blast. It destroyed the historic hotel there, Saratoga, as well as buses and cars outside.
A CNN team there saw rescuers using their bare hands to reach people trapped in the rubble.
Thank you very much for watching, I'm Pamela Brown. Join me tomorrow for CNN newsroom starting at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.