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Russian Withdrawal Near Kharkiv Reveals New Atrocities; Secretary Austin Talks To Russian Counterpart For First Time Since Invasion; White House Scrambling To Tame Formula Crisis As Parents Plead For Answers; Pence To Support Georgia Governor Kemp, Siding Against Trump-Backed Perdue; Russia Extends Detention Of WNBA Star Griner By A Month. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired May 13, 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 (voice over): Bill Weir, thank you so much.
We're not going to be normalizing on this show at least. Bill Weir, thanks for being here to keep us on that program.
Be sure to tune-in this Sunday morning, CNN State of the Union. My colleague, Dana Bash, is going to the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as Republican Governor Pete Ricketts of Nebraska and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto. That's this Sunday at 9:00 A.M. and noon only on CNN.
Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. I will see you Monday morning.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, the battlefield in Ukraine shifting once again tonight with Russia's northern retreat revealing new atrocities, this as the first war crimes trial against a Russian soldier begins in Kyiv.
Also tonight, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaking with the Russian counterpart for the first time since the start of the war in Ukraine, urging the Kremlin to enforce an immediate cease-fire.
Here in the United States President Biden is on the defensive right now, as he struggles to tame a growing crisis for parents, baby formula in extremely short supply across the entire country. Does the White House have a plan to tackle this shortage?
We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We begin our coverage with the war in Ukraine amid signs that conflict is entering a long, bloody new phase. CNN is on the ground in Northern Ukraine. We are tracking developments out of the Pentagon and in Finland where NATO membership could soon become a reality.
First, let's go to Nick Paton Walsh. He's in the pivotal Northern City of Kharkiv where Russia's pullback from the region is revealing new atrocities. Nick? (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice over): Charred, chewed and mauled, Northern Kharkiv scars seem infinite. Putin's troops breathing artillery fire down the neck of this city of a million for two months. But even still, it's a shock to see how close the Russians got on the other side of this road.
We are told this is from demining, a controlled blast. Yet here, everything is fluid. Ukraine stopped Russia's advance here on the first day of the war killing two soldiers by this armor. Three civilians shot dead in this car. Then and their bodies recovered only two days ago.
You can see the colossal force used against armor here, a tank turret literally (INAUDIBLE) full distance thrown off the tank body.
The village of Tsyrkuny lies ahead liberated days earlier. People are starting to go back, he said, but they are still shelling it. Two women died two days ago when they walked on to a trip wire traps set in the village. And even around these factories, Special Forces here warn a soldier was injured by a booby trap three days ago. The zed markings of Russia's invasion still a derail sign of their collective insanity, even two months on. Why do they do this?
They say they reclaimed this area about a week ago, but they are now the difficult task to demining what that can. But look around here, there's really not much left to make safe. These civilians evacuated from the next village, Ruskitushky (ph), just two kilometers away.
It's a nightmare, she says. The shooting is heavy, the driver adds, and when we let them race on. Desperation takes different forms here and caught by another kind of survival is Dmitri whose wife moved away a while ago, wheeling back food his got for his six dogs.
I haven't really left my home for two months, he said. I cross the fields, pass the bomb fragments to get the food. His gentle stroll in the open a sign of how long the violence has swelled here, not that it is slowing.
WALSH (on camera): Now, that are the areas around this vital northern city of Kharkiv from which Russia is pushed often towards its border, you saw there, though, shelling as they retreat.
Meanwhile and elsewhere in Ukraine, one of the first war crimes trials got underway today. Vadim Shysimarin, a 21-year-old Russian soldier, put on trial for the murder of a 62-year-old man killed on the fourth day of the war in the Sumy region, not far from where I am here in a village called Chupakhivka.
Now, apparently, according to prosecutors, his units had lost their vehicles and were driving away trying to flee in a civilian car when Vadim Shysimarin lent out the window and shot this man because they feared he would report their position to the Ukrainian military. And he was subsequently captured but now one of potentially over 10,000 crimes that Ukraine says it is investigating as part of this war. Wolf?
BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh on the scene for us in Kharkiv, in Ukraine. Thank you very much.
Let's get an update from CNN's Oren Liebermann. He is over at the Pentagon.
Oren, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin just spoke with the Russian counterpart, this for the first time since the war actually began. What more are you learning about this important conversation?
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, this conversation between Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Russian counterpart, Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu, is the first time these two have talked since a week before the invasion 84 days ago. The Pentagon has made it clear that they have repeatedly tried to reach out, tried to open up or rather keep open that line of communication between Austin and Shoygu, but the Russians repeatedly refused.
So, one of the key questions now is what shifted, what changed? And that's one of the things the Pentagon is trying to get a better handle on.
The conversation lasted an hour, again, it was at the request of Austin, but we only got a very brief readout of it from the Pentagon. Austin urged Shoygu to implement an immediate cease-fire and also stressed the importance of these lines of communication. We got an even shorter readout from the Russian side. They just said that Shoygu updated Austin on the situation of Ukraine.
Now, this wasn't the only line of communication. There have been other ways the U.S. could communicate with Russia. There was also a de- confliction line established essentially in the first days of the war because the U.S. and Russian militaries were operating so close together and there was check one or two times a day and made sure that there was a connection there. But certainly it doesn't rise to the levels of the highest level of the U.S. and Russian militaries being in communication. And that's why this is so significant.
Does the Pentagon expect that this will lead to some great change or a shift in Russia's strategy? No. That's not the expectation. The import here was just opening that communication line and now they're looking to see if there will be more conversations.
Wolf, it also leads to another important question, will the top U.S. general, General Mark Milley, speak with his Russian counterpart, Gen. Valery Gerasimov? The last time they spoke was February 11th, one week before the last Austin/Shoygu call, another line of communication they're trying to reopen as this deepen into its third month now.
BLITZER: Yes. Let's see if that happens, very important. Oren Leibermann at the Pentagon, thank you very much. Let's turn now to CNN Nic Robertson, his standing by live for us in Helsinki, Finland. Nic, Sweden seems to be following in Finland footsteps right now as it moves closer and closer to formally joining the NATO alliance. But another NATO member is now expressing serious concerns tonight. Give us an update.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. President Erdogan of Turkey is saying that he is not looking positively about the moves by Finland and Sweden and it was the Swedish defense and foreign ministers today who put out a joint statement saying, look, our assessment is that if we and Finland join NATO, it makes conflict in the region less likely, a bigger military alliance. But Erdogan is saying that he is unhappy because Kurdish separatists, whom he has a problem with in Turkey, he said, are living in Sweden, and that means that he is not looking favorably upon Sweden and Finland joining.
What we've heard from the Swedish foreign minister today, Ann Linde, she said, look, I haven't heard any of these coming from official Turkish channels. She's going to be in Berlin at the weekend for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers. She's there with the Finnish foreign minister as well. They have been invited. So, they'll have an opportunity to speak with the Turkish counterpart and try to get to the bottom of it.
But, you know, Erdogan is a wild card here. He is the NATO leader who went and bought Russian weapons, complex surface-to-air missile system that's way outside of NATO protocols, and it also meant that he didn't get the U.S. made F-35 fighter aircraft.
So, it's not quite clear what he wants. Erdogan often tries to put something up to bargain and possibly he wants the Finnish government to crack down on the Kurdish leaders who are living there. It's not clear at the moment. I think at the moment, this is more of a wrinkle than a roadblock but it is a wrinkle.
BLITZER: Yes. All the members of NATO, the current alliance, they have to approve new membership, so Turkey clearly has veto power if they decide to do that. But, still, let's see what they decide to do.
Adding to all this tension, as you know, Nic, Russia now says it will now suspend electrical exports to Finland. Was this done in retaliation for Finland now seeking NATO membership?
ROBERTSON: I think that's the question everyone is asking. This is literally come into effect in the last few minutes.
Russia made the decision or announced it today, that we know from the Finnish side, they get about 10 percent of their electricity from Russia. They're saying this isn't a problem for them. They will get additional power from Sweden and they'll also generates from additional power themselves.
But the idea that E.U. nations like Finland have said that they won't pay for Russian energy in rubles might be behind this. But, again, Russia has chosen this moment to turn off the electricity. And we know that today President Putin met with his national security chiefs and discussed this issue of Finland joining NATO. And yesterday, the foreign ministry said that they would respond through military and technical means. Is this technical means? So, yes this does look like Russia is turning off the electricity in response but we don't know for sure.
BLITZER: Yes, it certainly does look like that. Nic Robertson joining us, Nic, thank you very.
An important note to viewers right now, tune in this Sunday 8:00 P.M. Eastern for a Fareed Zakaria report, Inside the Mind of Vladimir Putin, only here on CNN 8:00 P.M. Eastern Sunday night.
Just ahead, the White House on the defensive right now as the shortage of baby formula across the United States actually worsens. We're going to talk about what parents need to know when we come back.
BLITZER: Tonight, the White House is on the defensive and scrambling to deal with the nationwide shortage of baby formula as increasingly desperate parents plead for answers.
Let's go to our White House Correspondent Jeremy Diamond. Jeremy, so, what is the White House doing to try to fix this nationwide shortage in baby formula that has left parents all across the country scrambling right now?
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, President Biden today outlining a number of steps that his administration is taking to try to address this shortage, including standing up today a new website, hhs.gov/formula, that will give parents information about where they can get formula, the hotlines for the manufacturers as well other medically relevant information.
They're also working with state agencies as well as the manufacturers to ensure families that are on nutritional assistance, a program called WIC, can purchase any brand they want not just necessarily Similac, which is produced by Abbott, which has -- of course, was the source of that voluntary recall. They're also considering using the Defensive Production Act, but that is a step that wouldn't have a short-term impact. That would be for the longer term.
But most importantly, Wolf, next week, the FDA is expected to announce steps to streamline the process of importing baby formula from abroad. That is a step that the FDA commissioner says will dramatically improve the supply in the U.S. in what he is saying is a matter of weeks.
Now, President Biden himself, he is, of course, facing criticism from Republicans who say that he should have acted sooner. His administration should have acted sooner. I asked the president about those criticisms moments ago. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DIAMOND: Should you have taken those steps sooner before parents got to these shelves and couldn't a formula?
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: If we had been better mind readers, I guess we could have. But we moved as quickly as the problem became apparent to us. And we have to move with caution as well as speed because we've got to make sure what we're getting is, in fact, first rate product. That's why the FDA has to go through the process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DIAMOND: And now, that's a fairly defensive reaction from a president whose administration is trying to show that they are on top of this issue of baby formula, and it's a different response than the one I got from the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, who held her last briefing today as she prepares to leave this administration. She told me that the administration has been on top of this from the very start, working for weeks to increase production from other manufacturers, like Gerber and Ricketts, increasing production by 50 and 30 percent over the last few weeks,but, clearly, Wolf, there is still a lot more work to do as parents across the country are still struggling to find formula on the shelves. Wolf?
BLITZER: They are struggling, indeed. Jeremy Diamond at the White House, thank you very much.
Let's dig deeper right now with our Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. Elizabeth, so, what do parents need to know? What are the dos and don'ts in this important issue?
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, unfortunately, there are more don'ts than dos. Let's take a look. For example, do not make your own formula. Infant formula is balanced very, very carefully with the various vitamins and minerals and proteins and sugars. Do not make your own. It could hurt your baby. And also before your baby's first birthday, don't give cow's milk or soymilk or anything like that. It's either breast milk or infant formula. Those are the two choices. And do not water down the formula. Your child can get very sick if you give them diluted formula. They are not getting the nutrients and the calories that they need.
And the last one is talk to your pediatrician but I want to caveat this a little bit. Your pediatrician does not know of a secret stash. They don't have some in a basement somewhere or know of some store that you don't know about. But if your child has a particular medical problem, they could be helpful in finding, in getting in touch with formula companies or your insurance company to get you some formula.
Also, if you're a mother who's recently stopped breastfeeding and transition to formula, they can put you in touch with a lactation consultant who might be able to help you re-establish your breast milk supply. Wolf?
BLITZER: Elizabeth, are there other resources out there right now to help parents find baby formula?
COHEN: There are resources that parents can consult. I'm not sure that it's going to helps you track down formula but let's take a look. So, the first one is the website that Jeremy mentioned, hhs.gov/formula. There's lots of information, there's 1-800 numbers for the formula companies.
From what I could see, again, you're not going to find a secret stash but there is lots of good phone numbers and information out there that might help answer some of your questions, probably not going to lead you directly to a stash of formula.
Also, Abbott, which, of course, makes Similac, abbottnutrition.com/store-locator, they have a finder where you put in your ZIP Code and you put in the brand you are looking for and they will tell you stores where it is available.
I will tell you though, Wolf, I'm sorry to say this, but many parents have told us they put in their ZIP Code and it said that it had formula at a certain store, they went to the store and that formula wasn't there. So, I don't think it's full-proof but it's certainly a place to start.
BLITZER: Yes. All right, Elizabeth Cohen helping us, thank you very, very much.
Coming up, the first of what could be thousands, thousands of war crimes trials is now underway in Ukraine. We're going to talk about that and more with the country's ambassador to the United States, she is standing by live to join us.
BLITZER: Tonight, CNN has exclusively obtained satellite images showing the aftermath of the Russian retreat from Northern Ukraine, vital Ukrainian bridges blown up likely by Moscow's troops in the flight to the Russian border. The crossings expected to play a key role in Ukraine's counteroffensive.
We're also learning right now more about a high-tech twist in the war in Ukraine, that country now weaponizing facial recognition technology.
CNN Senior National Correspondent Sara Sidner is on the ground for us in Ukraine working this part of the story for us.
SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Inside this refrigerated train car a gruesome sight, the bodies of Russian soldiers packed and stacked for storage. Look, this is looted. Every Russian soldier who was storied here as a dead body has committed a crime against Ukraine, he says. Storing the bodies of the enemy aligns with the rules of war set out by the Geneva Convention, he says.
After the end of the active phase of combat, the parties must exchange the bodies of dead military, but they have to try to identify the dead men first.
This is where the Ministry of Digital Transformation comes in. We have identified about 300 cases, he says. They do it by using a myriad of techniques. But the most effective has been facial recognition technology. They upload a picture of a face, the technology scrubs all the social networks.
Once they have a match, they go one step further. We send messages to their friends and relatives.
These are often gruesome photos of dead soldiers. Why do you send them to the families in Russia?
There are two goals. One is to show the Russians there's a real war going on here, to fight against the Russian propaganda, to show them they're not as strong as they are shown on the T.V. and Russians really are dying here. The second goal is to give them an opportunity pick up the bodies in Ukraine.
They do get responses from Russian families.
They're responding with basically saying you will be killed. I will come and I will also take part in this war.
80 percent of the families' answers are, we'll come to Ukraine ourselves and kill you and you deserve what is happening to you.
What about that 20 percent? Some of them say they're grateful and they know about the situation and some would like to come and pick up the body.
The technology is not just being used on the dead, it is also being used to identify Russian soldiers who are alive, some of whom are being accused of war crimes.
We have established the identity of one military man. We have a lot of materials, irrefutable evidence, this prosecutor says. This is a footage of the Russian military man he is talking about. He says he was caught on video in Belarus trying to sell items he had looted from Ukrainian homes.
But his alleged crimes go far beyond that. The soldier is accused of taking part in the execution of four Ukrainian men with their hands bound behind the backs. CNN obtained new video of the scene just before shots were fired. You can see what appears to be soldiers standing around and a man on his knees on the ground to the right of them.
Prosecutors say the soldier was first identified by the technology and then, by a Ukrainian citizen who said the soldier tortured him after entering his home. We showed these photos to the witnesses and victims. They identified the specific person who was among other Russian military personnel who killed four people in this particular place, the prosecutor said.
The end result of all their investigations they hope will be a full record of what happened in Ukraine and the proof they need to prosecute those who committed crimes against its people.
SIDNER (on camera): And there are citizens here in Ukraine sending the ministry photos all the time. But they are risking lives taking those photos and videos. People have been killed just for taking photos. And the Russians, one of the first things they do when they roll into a community is try to take away people's phones. Wolf?
BLITZER: Sara Sidner reporting from Odessa, in Ukraine, for us, thanks for that excellent report.
Joining us now, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova. Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us.
As you know, in Kyiv earlier today, we saw the first Russian soldier on trial for war crimes. This 21-year-old is accused of killing a 62- year-old Ukrainian man who was on a bicycle. How momentous is it, do you believe, Ambassador, to pursue justice against Russia like this in court?
OKSANA MARKAROVA, UKRAINIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Good evening, Wolf. Thank you for having me. Yes, I think it's very important, it's very important for Ukrainian people but very important for everyone in the world and also, I think, very important for Russia, because we will get to hear in an open court hearing, according to all the rules, what exactly he and so many like him did in Ukraine, about all horrible war crimes, that it's not -- it is not a war, it is essentially war crimes committed over and over and over again against children and just peaceful citizens. And it is very important part of what we are asking from the world, you know? We all pray for peace but we all demand justice. And this is a very important part of getting the justice for Ukrainian people.
BLITZER: Yes, it is. A Ukrainian member of parliament today said the frontlines are, in his words, like hell and that Ukraine is, quote, losing many more men right now than they were losing at the beginning of the war. Based on everything you know, Ambassador, is that true?
MARKAROVA: Wolf, it is a full-fledged war and this part of the war which we do not see on T.V. but we know that along the line in the east and south, a really big line, Russians are using pretty much all heavy artillery they have there in addition to the air raids, in addition to shooting missiles into all other cities. So, it is very, very difficult.
But I can tell you that regardless of how difficult it is, our brave armed forces will not get tired and will not surrender, as we used to say before. So, we have to get more support in order to get through this phase of the war with the same result as we went through the previous one. Regardless of how many losses, we have to win this phase and we have to win this war.
BLITZER: I don't know if you were watching yesterday, but here in THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday, President Zelenskyy's chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, accused NATO of, quote, double standard for welcoming in Finland and Sweden when Ukraine hasn't been able to join. Ukraine has been seeking membership in NATO for many, many years. Do you agree with Andriy Yermak?
MARKAROVA: Well, we would welcome the NATO and Sweden joining NATO and, of course, we count on NATO opening the doors, not only opening the doors but embracing us in NATO. We understand now we have to win the war. But I think we can give so much to NATO and we belong in the democratic world, as independent Ukraine. So, you know, let's get there.
BLITZER: Yes, it's so important.
The Pentagon is now warning, Ambassador, that the flow of U.S. military aid to Ukraine could face serious problems as soon as next week if Congress doesn't pass more funding and do it immediately. Are you confident that the pending bill before Congress providing a lot more money in military assistance for Ukraine will get passed in time?
MARKAROVA: Well, it is tragic that it wasn't passed yesterday. And as a former minister of finance, I always support transparency and accountability. But there was so much inside already that it's really a shame that it wasn't passed yesterday and it was delayed.
It's very important. Let's tell again to American taxpayers and American people why is it important that this bill, which has significant, huge support to Ukraine but also a lot of money to strengthen U.S. capabilities, capabilities of NATO allies and address food security problem. It is very important because Russia is a threat. It's a threat to Ukraine, which Russia attacked already but it's a threat to all democratic worlds. It is a threat to other NATO partners. And they continue -- and it is a threat to the global order and the global security structure they way we know it after the World War II.
So, this new dictator, the Russian dictator, which acts exactly like Hitler, that so many years ago has to be stopped while it is still in Ukraine and I think it's all of us together have to invest into democracy now to stop Russia from doing this so that we can return to normal life and all countries can invest more in education and health care and all other things, which, unfortunately, we all have to now think how to increase the security.
So, it is in all of our interest. And we know that the majority of people support it.
So, we really hope that it will be adopted soon and that Pentagon can continue the support.
BLITZER: I know you've been working your sources here in Washington to get that happen. Ukraine's ambassador to the United states, Oksana Markarova, thank you so much for joining us. I would like to continue this conversation here in THE SITUATION ROOM down the road. Thank you very, very much.
MARKAROVA: Thank you very much.
BLITZER: Just ahead, is the White House forecast of 100 million new COVID cases later this year a realistic projection? I'll discuss with President Biden's COVID response coordinator, Dr. Ashish Jha. We'll do that when we come back.
BLITZER: Tonight, there are new questions about a dire warning from the White House over a potential COVID surge this coming fall and winter.
And joining us now, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, Dr. Ashish Jha. Dr. Jha, thanks, as usual, for joining us.
As you may know here in THE SITUATION ROOM last night, your colleague and friend, Dr. Fauci, told me your projection of 100 million new COVID cases this fall and winter here in the United States could be what he described as the worst case scenario. Is Dr. Fauci right? Is this the high end of the various models you have been looking at? Is this the worst case scenario?
DR. ASHISH JHA, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Yes. So, Wolf, first of all, thanks for having me back in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're looking across a range of different models, preliminary models mostly, because, again, we're projecting out into the fall and winter, and we are looking at these models as a way to plan, to try to figure out what might we see. And, indeed, the model suggests that if we have no vaccines for Americans this fall, winter, we don't have testing, we don't have treatments, we could end up seeing a pretty sizable surge of infections in the fall and winter.
So, there are a lot of different models out there, a lot of different scenario planning that we are doing and we're trying to plan for these kinds of situations.
BLITZER: Did you cherry-pick this worst-case number 100 million new cases here in the United States to pressure Congress to pass additional COVID funding?
JHA: Well, first of all, let me be clear, it is not our model. This is a -- there are range of models both within the government and outside, and they're talking about 100 million infections, not 100 million cases. As we know, we miss a lot of infections that are out there and this is a pretty median estimate, a common estimate under those assumptions that we're going to have viral evolution, we're going to -- if we did not get vaccines and this is part of our planning that we need to be doing. Whether congress does its job or not, the administration has to plan for a variety of scenarios and that's what we're doing right now, Wolf.
BLITZER: You say that updated vaccines for this coming fall and winter will provide, and I'm quoting you now, a much higher degree of protection. But regulators need to decide on which strain of the virus to use for those shots by the end of June in order to get them ready. Can the vaccines keep up with the evolving variants?
JHA: Yes, it's a very good question. We're going to see a lot more data. I am hopeful that the data we will see in June that Virbac and FDA are going to pick will show a much higher level of effectiveness against the variants we have out there. That's the hope.
At the end of the day, we're going to want to be driven by data and we'll see what the data shows.
BLITZER: As you know, Dr. Jha, parents out there, they are, of course, anxiously waiting for authorization on vaccines for kids under five. Are you confident kids in this age group will be able to get fully vaccinated before the fall and winter surge that you are predicting?
JHA: Well, it's a very good question. Again, these things, the timeline for it always driven by evidence and data. Moderna submitted its data. That is being evaluated right now by the FDA. We expect Pfizer to submit theirs in the upcoming weeks.
So, my expectation right now is that we will probably see an authorization on one or both, but the specifics and the timelines and whether they will actually meet FDA's bar, that's an FDA decision. And if that happens in June, then kids will be able to go into the fall with a very high degree of protection. But, again, the details of this are really going to have to be driven by the evidence and data.
BLITZER: Dr. Ashish Jha, we're always grateful to you for all the important work you're doing. Thank you so much for joining us.
JHA: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Coming up, a new setback in U.S. efforts to get WNBA Star Brittney Griner released from Russia.
BLITZER: Former Vice President Mike Pence is making a very high profile break with former President Donald Trump. Pence is scheduled to appear at a rally for Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, even though Trump is backing former Senator Perdue in the state's Republican primary. Let's get some more and joining us now, CNN's chief political
correspondent, the co-anchor of "STATE OF THE UNION", Dana Bash and CNN political commentator, former Republican Congressman Charlie Dent.
Dana, I can't imagine former President Trump will be too happy to see his former vice president alongside Governor Kemp on stage in Georgia, will he?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Not at all, because the former president blames Governor Kemp for him losing Georgia because Governor Kemp and other Republicans refused to find those votes that President Trump was looking for, that there's no evidence that they existed at all and upset that the governor didn't bend the rules.
So, now, you see the former president's -- former vice president going down to campaign for Kemp which there's no question Donald Trump will say that's campaigning against me. And he's doing it I'm told by people who are close to Mike Pence because he wants to show that he has support for incumbent Republican governors, especially those who are conservative in their records and from Pence's perspective didn't do anything wrong.
BLITZER: It's interesting, Charlie. It took former Vice President Pence a while to pick a lane but did he have any other options, serious options after the insurrection?
CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Wolf, no. He didn't. By the way, I think it is smart for Mike Pence to endorse the likely winner of the Georgia gubernatorial campaign, Governor Kemp. Kemp is going to win, so Pence is on the bandwagon.
And Donald Trump, of course, has endorsed the man who will likely lose, David Purdue.
So this makes sense. And, of course, Pence will never be back in the good graces once again of Donald Trump, because of Pence's appropriate actions, or correct actions on January 6th, to validate and certify the election.
So, Pence is in this lane. He's got no choice, you know, he's a persona non grata in Trump world. And we saw what they said. They want to hang him. And I suspect their attitude hasn't changed much.
BLITZER: You know, Dana, in the Pennsylvania Senate race, which is next Tuesday, Republicans have been caught off guard by a controversial third candidate searching right now against Trump's pick. What can you tell us?
BASH: That this is a scrambled Republican primary. And one that is so illustrative of where the GOP is right now. I talked to so many people are connected to, or in Pennsylvania, and I'm sure you're going to hear something similar from Charlie Dent, about the fact that, because you have a Trump-backed candidate in Mehmet Oz, and then, you have a -- somebody who worked for Donald Trump, or is in and around the Trump orbit who's running as a bit more of a traditional conservative. And then, you have this third candidate, Kathy Barnette, who is -- who knows what's going to happen?
But it is a three-way race right now, it's anybody's guess, and there's the concern here in Washington that this is possibly going to cost the Republicans this seat, because it's retiring Republican Senator Pat Toomey's seat, and they don't want to lose it to the Democrats.
BLITZER: Dana Bash, Charlie Dent, guys, thank you very much.
And be sure to join Dana this Sunday morning, for "STATE OF THE UNION", 9:00 a.m. Eastern, once again, at noon Eastern. Her guests include the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the governor of Nebraska and the president of Finland. An important show coming up this Sunday.
Also ahead, an update on WNBA star Brittney Griner, who just learned she'll spend at least another month in a Russian jail.
BLITZER: Tonight, Russia says American WNBA star, Brittney Griner, will spend at least another month in prison.
Our Brian Todd is working the story for us.
Brian, Griner just appeared in public for the first time since her arrest. But it doesn't appear she's any closer to being released.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDNT: It really does not, Wolf, between what a Russian court just ruled and what the Russian foreign ministry has just said about her case, it appears that the Russians could be keen on making an example of Brittney Griner.
TODD (voice-over): Seen for the first time since her arrest, Brittney Griner is shown handcuffed with her head down, and she learns her time in detention in Russia has been extended, according to task, a Russian court has ruled the American basketball star will be detained at least until June 18th, drawing a swift response from the White House.
JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I will just reiterate that the Russian system wrongfully obtained Ms. Griner.
TODD: That's an accusation the State Department leveled at that Russians last week, but the latest tensions don't end there. The Russian foreign ministry, issuing a statement to CNN, saying Griner's detention is based on objective facts and evidence, that Griner was, quote, caught red-handed while trying to smuggle hash oil. In Russia, this is a crime. And that Griner faces a prison term of up to ten years.
PHILIP MUDD, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: This is an escalation of what we've seen. We can presume that she's going to be given a fair trial. You can presume that the process isn't waited.
TODD: Griner was jailed in mid-February. Russian authorities said they found cannabis oil in her luggage, when she arrived at a Moscow airport. Despite the ramping up of heated rhetoric between Vladimir Putin's regime and the U.S. over Griner's case, we asked former White House hostage advisor, what could be going on behind the scenes?
DANE EGLI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE HOSTAGE ADVISER: At the National Security Council, and within the highest levels, we're going to continue to insist on a proof of life confirmation of her health condition, and thirdly, specific location. And those are things we want to have as a backdrop to then move into a diplomatic process.
TODD: An America diplomat was able to meet with Griner on the sidelines of her hearing today, and says Griner his going as well as can be expected under exceedingly difficult circumstances. Analysts worry about her and fellow American Paul Whelan, also detained in Russia.
TOM FIRESTONE, FORMER RESIDENT LEGAL ADVISER, U.S. EMBASSY IN MOSCOW: It's not a pretty picture, so I think that we have to be concerned about their health, obviously, on the day-to-day basis, and the conditions in which they're being held.
TODD: Whelan has been detained since 2018, on espionage charges, which he had tonight. One analyst says that charge doesn't bode well for him.
ALINA POLYAKOVA, CENTER FOR EUROPEAN POLICY ANALYSIS: Espionage charges, that's basically for life in Russia. So I think the United States, if they're involved in negotiation together with the government, that's going to take a very, very long time, just because of the complexity of the case.
TODD (on camera): The analysts we spoke to are all worried about the health and living conditions of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, but they say, as Americans, they're both likely being treated better than the Russians Putin has in prison -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian Todd, reporting for us. Brian, thank you very much.
Finally tonight, our senior producer Jennifer Rizzo (ph) and her husband Jeff McGary (ph) have welcomed their second child into the world. Clara Faye born on Mother's Day. She's a healthy seven pounds, eight ounces, and 19-1/2 inches tall.
Jen says the entire family is doing well, and feeling strong. And she says big sister Ella now has the best friend to watch her favorite show with her.
The entire SITUATION ROOM family sends our warmest congratulations to Jen, Jeff, Ella and the baby Clara Faye. Congratulations!
And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.