Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

Russian Missile Attacks Rock Key Ukrainian Port City Of Odessa; Putin Declines To Escalate War In Muted Victory Day Speech; Official Update On Search For Escaped Prisoner And Prison Guard; Russia Cancels "Doomsday Plane" Flyover At "Victory Day" Parade; White House: Warning Immunity, New Variants Could Lead To "Sizable Wave." Aired 6-7p ET

Aired May 08, 2022 - 18:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Lucy Kafanov reporting for us live from New Mexico, thank you so much.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the TikTok @jaketapper. You can tweet the show @theleadcnn. You can download our podcast wherever you get our podcasts.

Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." I'll see you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Russian missile strikes rocked the key Ukrainian port city of Odessa. The latest barrage comes as Kremlin forces launched new attacks against civilians across Ukraine. Dozens are now feared dead after a Russian bomb obliterated a school where nearly 100 people were sheltering.

In Moscow, Vladimir Putin gives a surprisingly subdued annual Victory Day speech against the triumphant backdrop of tanks, troops and missiles. The Russian president making no declaration of victory in Ukraine and failing to chart a new course for his faltering invasion.

Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelenskyy offering a message of his own, defiant in the fate of the Kremlin's brutal assault. All that is coming up.

But right now, I want to go to a news conference in Alabama. The sheriff in Lauderdale County is speaking on the missing Alabama corrections officer and the missing inmate. Let's listen in.

SHERIFFF RICK SINGLETON, LAUDERDALE CUNTY, ALABAMA: -- Ford F-150 and Casey White was driving that vehicle. Vicky White was a passenger. During the pursuit, pickup truck wrecked. Casey White surrendered. Vicky White has been transported to the hospital for treatment.

So, this has ended a very long and stressful and challenging week and a half. It ended the way that we knew it would. They are in custody. What I'm very thankful for tonight is that no one was hurt. No citizens were hurt. No law enforcement officers were hurt. As a result of this escape. Casey White is now back in custody and I cannot express enough to the U.S. Marshal's Task Force, for the assistance they've been in this. Their agents are the ones that were involved in the pursuit and my team of investigators who worked diligently alongside the U.S. Marshal's Task Force, all the other partners and players in this.

The least of which is not the media. You guys have made this happen. You've kept this story out there. You've kept it on everybody's mind. And the tips, what led us to the arrest and then the capture of them today was a tip that came from citizens and they call those tips in because the coverage you all have provided us.

You don't know how much I personally appreciate the way you have helped us in this case. We got a dangerous man off the street today. He is never going to see the light of day again. And, you know, that's a good thing for not just our community but that's a good thing for this country.

So, thank you very much for your help. I'll be glad to take a few questions.

REPORTER: What's the nature of Vicky White's (INAUDIBLE)?

SINGLETON: I don't know. I just know she's been transported to the hospital for treatment. There was a wreck. I don't know if the wounds are related to the wreck or not. I'm sorry.


SINGLETON: I'm sorry? Yes, I think so, that Ford F-150.

REPORTER: What's the connection (INAUDIBLE)?

SINGLETON: I don't know. If anything particular drew them to that town, you know, but that's where we got the latest tip, which came in late last night, I think, or last night, followed up on it first thing this morning. And they were able to get some leads there and it led to their capture.

REPORTER: Where did the chase start?

SINGLETON: Where did the chase start? I'm not sure. My understanding is that they had found, located them at a hotel and they ran, spotted them ran and the pursuit ensued.

REPORTER: Sir, we spoke to some of the folks that call that tip in Indiana. They said they actually alerted the (INAUDIBLE) last week, on Tuesday, about that. And that it's taken a several days for all the tips coming in, to get through those, get down the list. Was there something last night that changed your idea about why it might actually be a real sighting of Casey White and Vicky White?

SINGLETON: No. I'm not aware of the earlier tip.

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE). SINGLETON: Not sure. You know, they'll have to be extradited if they don't waive extradition. That can take some time for the court proceedings involved in that.


Over here. I heard someone over here.

REPORTER: Will they actually be brought back here?


REPORTER: Or the connection is this just too deep to --

SINGLETON: No, they will be brought back here. He has to be brought back here and she does to face arraignment on the new charges. He is charged with escape. She has a multiple charges on her now. They will have to be brought back here for arraignment. We've already made arrangements for the Department of Corrections. He will be brought here for arraignment. If it's 2:00 in the morning, it doesn't matter. The judge has agreed to come out. He will be arraigned and immediately transferred to the Department of Corrections.

REPORTER: Are you concerned about (INAUDIBLE)?

SINGLETON: She will not be confined in this detention center.


SINGLETON: I hope she survives this. I don't know the extent of her injuries. I hope she survives it. You know, we don't wish any ill will on Vicky in terms of her health or her well-being, but she has some answers to give us. And, hopefully, we'll have that opportunity to get those answers.

REPORTER: Was there any kind of struggle?

SINGLETON: Not that I'm aware of. I think it was just a pursuit, they wrecked and they were taken into custody. I understand he surrendered.

REPORTER: Have they found any gun or --

SINGLETON: I haven't got that information. I'm not sure.

REPORTER: How was she injured?

SINGLETON: I don't know. I don't know if it was the result of a wreck or some other kind of injuries.

REPORTER: Is there any indication, Sheriff, that one of them shot themselves during this chase?

SINGLETON: I can't confirm that. I know that no law enforcement fired any shots, for sure.

REPORTER: Sheriff, the eyes of the country, people across the world, in fact, have been watching and following the manhunt, you know, from here in Lauderdale County and now through three different states. How have you managed to keep going every day and keep that energy that we've seen here throughout this search?

SINGLETON: I just wanted to get them off the street. I was committed to that. I was committed to every resource we had available to us, to use those resources, to make this event happen, to make this press conference.

BLITZER: All right, so there you have the Lauderdale County sheriff, Rick Singleton, announcing major, breaking news right now. We've reconnected with him. Let's go back.

SINGLETON: -- about this escape was, you know, most escapes from a county jail especially, they're not planned. They're just sort of spontaneous. There are no resources available, no plan in place about what am I going to do when I get out here other than just run.

This escape was obviously well-planned and calculated. A lot of preparation went into this. They had plenty of resources, had cash, had vehicles, had everything they needed to pull this off. And that's what made this last week-and-a-half so challenging.

You know, we were starting from ground zero and not only that, we started -- they got a six-hour head start on us. So, it's been a very -- and this just speaks volumes to the effectiveness and the efficiency --

This is what they do. They track down fugitives and today, obviously, they do it well.

REPORTER: Is there any reason to believe they had help with their escape?

SINGLETON: No evidence that I know of that there was any else involved other than Casey White and Vicky White.

REPORTER: Is someone going to get them money (ph)?

SINGLETON: That, I don't know about. That's not my deal.

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) to keeping to quiet. Do you have anything to say out there in --

SINGLETON: I have no idea. They're obviously in Indiana and I'm here. So, I don't really know what's going on as we speak. But --

REPORTER: Are you all sending folks to Indiana? Do you have people out there?

SINGLETON: The U.S. Marshals are up there. We will probably wait until they get back here. I don't see a need in sending someone up there. So, they'll be brought back here. And as I said, if they don't waive extradition and are up there for a while, we may end up sending a team up. REPORTER: Sir, can you talk about lessons learned? This (INAUDIBLE) about protocols that are in place for your employees, but will there be change in the lesson that you learned --

SINGLETON: Well, the lesson that I think I've learned and I think everybody has learned, you don't know who you can trust. I had every bit of trust in Vicky White. She has been an exemplary employee. And what in the world provoked her or prompted her to pull off something like this, I don't know. I don't know if we'll ever know.

But, you know, I mean, as a leader, you've got to have people in place in these key positions like she was in, that you have confidence in, that you have trust in. And when they violate that trust, I don't know how you can predict that. We had the policies. Policy is a piece of paper. It can't prevent anything. A policy is there for me as a leader to take disciplinary action when a policy is violated.

I can't predict when someone is going to violate a policy, but, you know, it just -- one more time, you know, I've learned that you just don't know people sometimes. You think you do and you really don't know who they are.


REPORTER: How do you prepare this moment and some of the other events that have happened in your tenure as a sheriff?

SINGLETON: Not just my tenure as sheriff. September of this year will mark the 50th anniversary of me beginning my career. I've never experienced a week like this in my career.

REPORTER: Sheriff, did you have any contact with (INAUDIBLE)?


REPORTER: Have you spoken to her since the capture?

SINGLETON: I have not. That deputy is on her own as we speak. He was dispatched there. That's one reason we had to delay the press conference a while, to give him time to get to their house.

REPORTER: So, she was alerted before the --


REPORTER: You said Vicky over here (INAUDIBLE)?

SINGLETON: Vicky, we will make arrangements to have her detained in another facility. And, in fact, those arrangements have already been made. Those arrangements were made three or four days ago.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we, primarily, want to bring him back here and hold him accountable not only for this escape, obviously, but for the murder of Vicky White -- Vicky Ridgeway -- I mean, I'm sorry, Connie Ridgeway.

So, we're going to be working with the sheriff's department to make sure that we can get him extradited and get him back here and hold him accountable.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, his capital murder case is set for June. So, you know, plan A would be to try him in June for that. And there are a lot of moving parts between there and now, but, I mean, that's plan A.

And, obviously, I know that our -- we got a great staff at the jail and I know that they're going to be on high alert to house him and make sure he doesn't get away from us again.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, she's charged with facilitating the escape. That's class C felony, so she's looking at up to ten years in prison.

REPORTER: Do you have contact with Connie Ridgeway's family, her son? Can you talk to me about making that (INAUDIBLE) and letting them know about this (INAUDIBLE)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. So, I mean, that was, again, our first priority when we found out that they were captured is to let them know that, and we've done that. So they know.

REPORTER: Can you tell me about that conversation? You seem like you're probably excited to make that call. What was there to take on the other hand?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, to be frank, they already knew it from Facebook. So, apparently, the people in Indiana had already released it on Facebook, yes. Well, I mean, what -- but that's part of what we take very seriously is to make sure that our victims are informed and consulted about this case, and we've done that.

REPORTER: And all this, everyone talking Vicky and Casey and then their bus story (ph) and whatnot, there were not victims of Casey White's (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. And, I mean, that's one of the really sad things about this, that after finally being able to indict him for her murder of having this twist and turn in that case, it's got to be devastating to them. So, we look forward to bringing him to justice.

REPORTER: What's the reaction from Casey's ex-girlfriend?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I have not spoken to her. So, I don't have any reaction from her.


BLITZER: Well, there you see the breaking news, major breaking news coming in from Alabama. You just heard the police chief there, the sheriff announcing reporting that the prisoner, the prisoner, the missing inmate, Casey White, 38 years old, has been captured. He's now in police custody along with Vicky White, 56 years old, the missing former Alabama corrections officer, who authorities believe helped Casey White, and there's no relation even though they have the same last name, helped him escape. They are both in custody now.

We are told by U.S. Marshals, they tell CNN that Vicky White's injury, she's now in the hospital, was what they describe as a self-inflicted gunshot wound. No law enforcement officers fired any shots, we're told, by the Lauderdale County sheriff, Rick Singleton. You heard him make the announcement that both of these individuals are both in custody. Vicky White is in custody at a hospital receiving treatment from what U.S. Marshals tell CNN was a self-inflicted gunshot wound. And Casey White, the missing inmate, he is now in police custody as well.

Charles Ramsey is joining us now. He is CNN's Senior Law Enforcement Analyst, former Police Chief here in Washington, D.C., as well as Philadelphia.


What do you make of this -- the breaking news, Chief Ramsey? It's over, at least for now.

CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I'm glad they're in custody. I'm not surprised. You know, this case got a lot of national attention. CNN and others really did a good job of getting the information out and keeping the story alive. And in today's world with social media and the way in which people communicate, I didn't think it would take very long before they finally found them. I mean, his physical stature alone would make him stand out in a crowd.

So, it's unfortunate there are injuries, but, again, it's bet that they're in custody. That's the main thing, they're both in custody and we'll see what happens from here.

BLITZER: Casey White, apparently not injured. Vicky White clearly injured, she's in the hospital for treatment from what, as I said, U.S. Marshals described as a self-inflicted gunshot wound. And she's been transported to a hospital there in Evansville, Indiana. They both escaped from this detention center in Alabama and they obviously made it all the way up to Indiana.

Are you surprised that they managed to get this far away from Alabama? As you correctly point out, Casey White, the missing inmate, 6'9", so he's obviously someone who could be identified rather quickly.

RAMSEY: Well, we know they switched cars at least once. They may have switched cars again. Again, there's a lot of missing pieces to this puzzle. He'll be thoroughly debriefed now that he's in custody. Depending on the nature of her injuries, obviously, they're going to want to talk to her and fill that gap in terms of why she did it, how she did it and all those kinds of things. So, there's still a lot of information that's going to come out from this. But it's not surprising that they got all the way to Indiana, quite frankly. I mean, this has been well over a week since this took place. And so what's surprising is that it probably took this long because, again, I thought it was going to be relatively quick with him being taken into custody.

BLITZER: Well, the manhunt is now over for these two individuals, Vicky White and Casey White, the missing inmate and the missing former Alabama corrections officer there now both in custody. We'll continue to monitor and follow the developments in this breaking story. Stand by for that.

Chief Ramsey, as usual, thank you very much for that analysis.

RAMSEY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we'll get back to the breaking news out of Ukraine, where new Russian attacks are rocking the key Ukrainian port city of Odessa, major developments unfolding. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: Now, let's get back to our coverage of Russia's war on Ukraine, including Putin's new message to the Russian people today, a concoction of lies and conspiracies about his invasion of Ukraine, lacking any clear change in strategy despite mounting setbacks for his army.

CNN Senior International Correspondent Fred Pleitgen has the latest developments.


FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In Moscow's Red Square, a Russian military show of force, the annual celebration of World War II victory over Nazi Germany, Vladimir Putin trying to justify Russia's attack on Ukraine as a supposed preemptive response to western threats.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT: NATO began taking active military control of the territories adjacent to us. Everything indicated that a clash with neo-Nazis and Ukrainian Nazi sympathizers on whom the United States and their junior partners they staked would be inevitable.

PLEITGEN: A ten-minute speech that was notable for what was not said. Putin offered new details of his familiar claims that Russia is fighting against would be Nazis in Ukraine, no clear indication of what would constitute victory and he offered no pathway forward, just this message to Russian troops.

PUTIN: You are fighting for the motherland, for its future, so that no one forgets the lessons of World War II. PLEITGEN: Putin was speaking before a parade of troops, tanks and rockets, but a much anticipated flyover by the Russian Air Force was canceled last minute allegedly due to bad weather, the Kremlin claims.

The appearance of a so-called doomsday command plane and to carry Russia's leaders to safety in the event of nuclear war was mysteriously absent even though it was seen during a practice run. This as the U.S. says Russia's war in Ukraine is not going well.

From Kyiv, a nearly simultaneous message of defiance.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: We are fighting for our children's freedom and, therefore, we will win. Very soon, there will be two victory days in Ukraine and someone won't have any.

PLEITGEN: All this as the violent war leaves thousands dead, millions displaced, and raises fears of a wider confrontation between Russia and western powers.

Over the weekend, Ukrainian officials accusing Russian forces of more brutality after a school bombed in Luhansk has left at least 60 dead.

BILL BURNS, CIA DIRECTOR: The stakes are very high for Putin's Russia and those risks, I think, in this second phase of the conflict are serious and shouldn't be underestimated. I think he's in a frame of mind in which he doesn't believe he can afford to lose.

PLEITGEN: As Putin's military campaign in Ukraine doubles down, outrage is expressed across Europe.


Just after celebrations in Moscow, anti-war protesters doused the Russian ambassador to Poland in red paint as he was laying a wreath at the cemetery of Soviet soldiers in Warsaw.


PLEITGEN (on camera): And, Wolf, there were some observers who found it somewhat odd that the Kremlin canceled the flyover at the last minute, especially since the weather, it doesn't seem to have been all that bad in Moscow today. There were also some other towns in Russia where flyovers were canceled as well. Nevertheless, the Kremlin is sticking by its story and saying it was the weather and nothing else. Wolf?

BLITZER: Fred Pleitgen, thanks, as usual, I appreciate it very much.

Joining us now, the chief diplomatic adviser to Ukraine's president, Ihor Zhovkva. Ihor, thank you so much for joining us.

As you know, in his annual Victory Day speech today marking the end of World War II, Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine, your country, of provoking this current war, saying that Ukraine is pursuing nuclear weapons. What's your message right now, Ihor, to Vladimir Putin? What's your message to him tonight? IHOR ZHOVKVA, CHIEF DIPLOMATIC ADVISER TO PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY: Well, definitely that's a lie. Ukraine was never planning any war, any nuclear war. Ukraine was never planning to conquer any territories except, except that we always wanted only to defend our land. Just to remind you that the war against Ukraine started in 2014 when Putin captured Ukrainian Crimea, part of Ukrainian Donbas.

So, my message today would be we will fight to the end and we will fight until victory for every and each single centimeter and millimeter, inch of Ukrainian territory and we'll definitely win and the general victory will be when we take back the territories, which we had as of 1991.

BLITZER: President Zelenskyy, your president, says that, and I'm quoting him now, very soon, his words, very soon, there will be two victory days in Ukraine. What more does Ukraine need from the United States and the west, the NATO allies, for example? What more does Ukraine need now to achieve victory over Russia?

ZHOVKVA: Well, just an hour ago, President Biden signed into force the lend lease bill, which is another sign and another concrete instrument of support to Ukraine regarding the delivery of heavy weapon. So, that's what the most need. We need heavy weapon to help us ensure victory on the field, whether artillery system, multi-launch rocket system, we need tanks, we need armored vehicles, provided that we have in enough quantity, which we demand, and every country and nations knows which exact piece of equipment of weaponry we demand.

So, provided that in the near several weeks, we have plenty of this supply, we will definitely win, not only the battle over Donbas, but only will take back the territories, which are temporarily (INAUDIBLE) in the south of Ukraine, but we will definitely win this war. So, many thanks to the U.S. and to the western allies for supplying us this weapon.

BLITZER: Ihor Zhovkva, the chief diplomatic adviser to Ukraine's President Zelenskyy, thank you so much for joining us. We'll stay in close touch with you, for sure.

Coming up, American diplomats return to Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, for the first time since the Russian invasion. Up next, I'll speak with the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.



BLITZER: The breaking news out of Southern Ukraine where new barrage of Russian missile attacks just rocked the key port city of Odessa. As CNN International Security Editor Nick Paton Walsh reports, Russia's war in the south is grinding to a bloody stalemate.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice over): Both nothing and everything has changed here. The frontlines have barely moved on the road to the southern city of Kherson, the first Russia captured in the six weeks since we were last here. But instead, since then, almost everything in between has been torn up by shelling that literally does not stop, trapping people who physically cannot flee in a churn of a brutal stalemate.

Here in the village of Shevchenko are two neighbors both called Lyuba. We moved to the yard as the shells get closer. Leonid still manages to get down to his wife's basement shelter. She's installed a plank on the way here to help him rest. They used to get dressed up to go to bed. It was so cold down here. But mention leaving and she chuckles.

Nights spent here have focused her hatred.

And across the road is Valentina alone. Shells always seem to just miss her.


Overwhelmed, yet hauntingly eloquent.

It's not so much that life goes on here but that it has nowhere else to go. These men selling cow's milk, although that's not what Leonid has been drinking.

Hello to everyone, he says. 40 times a day and night, they shell. Barely a window is intact, shrapnel flying through the glass daily.

Yesterday was Svitlana's turn, but she can't leave because she's waiting for her son to return from the war in Mariupol. Our children are all at war, she says. My son is a prisoner. If he comes back and I have gone, it's like I've abandoned him. We wait, hope, worry he is alive and we will live.

On the road out of here, the shrapnel rises fiercely about above the warm fields.


WALSH: Wolf, that fight really all about essentially the main port city of Odessa. That's came under attack today, certainly, where reports of three missiles hitting during the afternoon and then in the evening. The city rocked by significant blasts that were heard a number of miles away from the city center and buildings clearly on fire.

We've also heard of cruise missile attacks on Sunday across the Odessa region, ten of them. Definitely that port being targeted at this point. It may be part of what many here in Ukraine frankly have been bracing for, which is the idea that May the 9th would be part of some broader escalation by Russia.

You can hear here in Kryvyi Rih the air raid sirens we've heard intermittently over the past days. So far today, though, not enormously different than the previous week but people still bracing for what may come next. Wolf?

BLITZER: Horrible situation, indeed. Nick Paton Walsh reporting for us, thank you very much.

We're also following new developments out of Kyiv right now. American diplomats just returned to the Ukrainian capital for the first time since the Russian invasion. It's a key step toward officially reopening the United States embassy.

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

How significant is it that you are able to actually join us today from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, what, just two and a half months or so after Putin invaded the country?

KRISTINA KVIEN, ACTING U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Well, I think it's very significant, Wolf. First, we're here to demonstrate our support for Ukraine and the Ukrainian government. And, second, it just makes us much more effective in our job, being able to sit down directly with our contacts and partners is always better than trying to do it by video call.

BLITZER: I know you're joining us from inside the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, but what needs to happen for the U.S. to officially reopen the embassy in the Ukrainian capital?

KVIEN: Basically we just have to do a few administrative things and legal things. And once that's finished, we will -- we do plan to reopen the embassy.

BLITZER: And how long do you think that will be before you think it's reopened?

KVIEN: It will be quite soon, hopefully no later than the end of the month.

BLITZER: All right. Well, that will be encouraging.

As you know, Russia's what's called their Victory Day parade today, marking the end of World War II, Putin notably didn't declare victory in Ukraine. He didn't escalate by formally declaring war. He didn't threaten nuclear war. Does this speech suggest that Putin is at least somewhat aware of how badly this war is going for Russia?

KVIEN: I can't really speculate on exactly what's in Putin's mind, but what I can say is that in the speech, I heard nothing new. Basically, what I heard was the same false narratives about why Russia decided to attack Ukraine and the same justifications which are basically lies, which I think the entire world knows are completely false and that this war was a war of choice by Putin and was completely unprovoked by Ukraine.


BLITZER: Yes, Ukraine presented no actual threat to Russia at all, yet the Russians invaded.

As you know, the Russian ambassador to Poland was drenched in red paint by protesters earlier today as they chanted -- they were calling him a fascist. What does this incident, Ambassador, tell you about just how much Russia is making itself an international pariah right now?

KVIEN: Right. I would say that I think that President Putin somehow thought that if he just put some false flags out there and false narratives, that somehow the world would believe him, and the fact is the world doesn't, because this is such a blatant display of completely unprovoked aggression followed by an invasion that includes war crimes and brutal attacks on civilians.

What President Putin has done is basically showed the entire world that his justifications were completely false and then showed himself basically to be a brutal autocrat. And so this idea that somehow he can be a partner in world organizations and that we have a lot of common interests is just -- unfortunately, he's undermined all that and I can tell you that it's not going to go back to business as usual.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. The acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Kristina Kvien, thank you so much for joining us, good luck over there, be careful and please stay safe together with all the other U.S. diplomats and support staff who are with you there in Kyiv. We appreciate you joining us very, very much. Thank you very much.

KVIEN: Thank you, Wolf, nice to talk to you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, Russia's menacing and mysterious so-called doomsday plane, why was it missing from Vladimir Putin's show of force today?



BLITZER: There was something notably missing from Russia's celebration today of the victory over the Nazis, its flying fortress nicknamed the Doomsday Plane.

CNN's Brian Todd is here with a closer look for us.

The plane was expected to play a prominent role, it turned out to be a no show.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The Kremlin canceled this fly over today, citing weather issues. These videos from an earlier rehearsal.

Tonight, we have new information on this mysterious aircraft and its ominous capabilities.


TODD (voice-over): A menacing, lumbering jetliner, sometimes called the Doomsday Plane, thunders over the Kremlin walls. This was a rehearsal in recent days for a flyover that was to take place during Russia's Victory Day Parade. But that display was canceled today. The Kremlin citing weather conditions.

This is a modified Ilyushin transport aircraft, experts say, but its nicknames, including Doomsday and the flying Kremlin tell the real story.

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: This is the key aircraft for their command and control abilities. It is also the key aircraft for them in essence to run their country.

TODD: The plane is designed to protect Vladimir Putin in a worst case scenario.

CAITLIN LEE, MITCHELL INSTITUTE FOR AEROSPACE STUDIES: Russia would use the airplane to basically get all of its leadership off the ground. The whole purpose is to keep the Russian leadership safe and survivable in the event of a possible nuclear exchange.

TODD: The mysterious aircraft, also known as the Max Dome, has no external windows except in the cockpit.

LEIGHTON: Normally you'd have windows in these areas right about here. Those are nonexistent because they want to make sure that in case there's a nuclear blast that there is absolutely no possibility of the windows shattering.

TODD: Analysts say the Doomsday Plane is essentially an airborne command post with special communications equipment so Putin can issue orders for military strikes.

LEIGHTON: This is a domed area. This is their communications dome for this, allows them to have secure communications under almost all conditions, whether atmospheric.

TODD: The aircraft can be refueled in flight, experts say, giving it the capability to stay airborne for extended period. The flying Kremlin reportedly had not been seen at the Victory Day parade since 2010, and analysts say the intent to put it on display could be an indication of Putin sending a warning to the West, as the war in Ukraine rages.

LEE: Suggesting willingness or signaling to use nuclear weapons in a more tactical or ready fashion than we might think about in the U.S.

TODD: There is an American version of the Doomsday Plane to protect the president.

LEE: It's called the E-4B Nightwatch. That fleet is designed for senior U.S. leadership to continue command and control over nuclear forces as escalation occurs in the event of a nuclear attack.


TODD (on camera): Experts say the U.S. actually has a fleet of four of these doomsday planes. They say they don't routinely fly with the president on every trip, but one of them is always fueled up at the ready 24/7 for possible deployment anywhere in the world, Wolf. It's pretty impressive.

BLITZER: Very impressive indeed. Our Brian Todd, thank you very much.

Joining us now, CNN national security analyst, James Clapper, the former director of National Intelligence, retired U.S. Air Force general as well.

General Clapper, do you buy the explanation that this flyover was called off due to bad weather?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: No, I don't. I stayed up and watched the coverage of the parade last night and the weather looked pretty good. I thought. And so that, it's a little fishy.

It could have been something as mundane as some kind of maintenance problem or it could have been somebody decided that that's not a message they wanted to convey. So it's an interesting development. Not really sure what to read into it.


And if you pair that, the omission or lack of appearance of the appearance of the doomsday aircraft with Putin's speech, which to me was surprising more by what it omitted in its brevity than I had expected.

BLITZER: Let me get to some other issues while I have you, General. After details emerged revealing Ukraine is using U.S. intelligence to target Russian warships and generals, President Biden told us that top security officials, the leaks need to stop.

If you were still director of national intelligence, would those leaks keep you up at night?

CLAPPER: Well, probably not, since we've had a history of leaks, unfortunately. And it's not helpful to have that, you know, openly discussed, but I will say, I think some of the hand-wringing about this is kind of over-wrought.

I think in this context, we should think about intelligence as just another weapons system that we're providing to the Ukrainians. So we give them Javelins, we give them Stingers, and it's up to them as to their use. When, where, how, and so it is with intelligence.

And we provide them intelligence, they're going to use it as they should, for their survival here. That's what's at stake because, you know, Russia is certainly an existential threat to them.

So we don't attach strings to their use of Javelins, Stingers, long range artillery, Phoenix, ghosts drones or whatever and we don't attach strings to the intelligence we provide to them.

And I also would say as John Kirby indicated, in the Pentagon the other day, that the Ukrainians have a very capable intelligence system themselves. So, I don't know -- so we don't provide them intelligence but say, oh by the way, don't use it to kill generals or sink ships. BLITZER: Former director of national intelligence, James Clapper,

thanks so much for joining us.

Coming up, White House warns 100 million Americans could be infected with COVID during a new surge later this year.



BLITZER: Tonight, White House is warning that the United States could see a, quote, sizeable wave of COVID later this year, potentially infecting 100 million Americans.

Let's discuss with the former CDC director, Dr. Tom Frieden.

Dr. Frieden, thanks for joining us.

One hundred million Americans the White House says could get COVID this coming fall and winter. That's a huge number obviously. How worried should Americans be right now about another surge along these lines?

DR. TOM FRIEDEN, FORMER CDC DIRECTOR: Wolf, the plain truth is that no one can predict for certain what will happen in the coming months. We don't know how COVID will behave. It has already surprised us multiple times.

What we do know is that we've got better tools than we've ever had to fight it. With staying up to date with your vaccine, getting treated quickly with Paxlovid, particularly if you're medically vulnerable and masking up with an N-95 if you or someone you live with is vulnerable and there's COVID spreading, we have multiple layers of defense so we can get and keep the upper hand against COVID.

But unless we apply all those three layers, we're going to have places where COVID can spread and unfortunately, preventable deaths.

BLITZER: Yeah, could be coming up this coming fall and winter we're told by the White House.

How many of those 100 million new cases could actually be re- infections, do you believe, Dr. Frieden?

FRIEDEN: What we're seeing, Wolf, is very interesting and very concerning. We're seeing this virus kind of learn how to adapt to people, how to re-infect people it's infected before. And so far, those re-infecting strains are not more severe, not more deadly, but better at being immunity to our immunity, and that's why we need to continue to adapt.

Be up to date with your vaccination schedule, see what is recommended in the coming months and if you get sick, particularly if you're older or have a medical problem, get tested quickly and get on to Paxlovid as quickly as you can. The sooner you're on it, the better off you'll be. BLITZER: Because with the potential rise in cases in huge numbers

like this, how important will it be for people who do get tested positive for COVID to take advantage of those therapeutics, those treatments like as you point out, Paxlovid.

FRIEDEN: It's really remarkable how effective these are. The vaccine is our first line of defense. It's highly effective. Some people will still get seriously ill despite being vaccinated and for them as well as others, getting treated within the first five days of being sick, especially if treated in the first day or two drives your risk of having to go to the hospital or die from the disease down by about 90 percent.

These are stunningly effective medications and anyone over age of 65, anyone with underlying health problem who has got COVID should get treated promptly to stay out of the hospital and stay healthy and, Wolf, we also need to do more to make these vaccination programs and treatments available around the world. If we don't work with other countries to protect the world better, we'll be more vulnerable and Congress needs to step up and provide that funding promptly.

BLITZER: Really important indeed.

All right. Dr. Tom Frieden, thank you for joining us.

And to our viewers, thanks for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.