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The Situation Room

Russia Claims Victory At Azovstal, Nears Biggest Win Of War; Biden Confronts Ukraine War, Rise Of China On First Trip To Asia; Baby Formula Shortage Throws White House Into Crisis Mode; Trevor Reed Reveals Details Of His Brutal Detention In Russia; Dr. Oz Holds Thin Lead, PA GOP Primary Likely Heading To Recount. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired May 20, 2022 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice over): I sit down with Trevor and his family for his first interview since being freed from captivity in Russia. I'm also going to be joined by the loved ones of other Americans detained around the world, 8:00 P.M. Eastern Sunday night, only on CNN.

Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. I will see you Sunday night.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Russia says the long and very bloody battle for the Azovstal steel plant is over. Kremlin forces now in the brink of control over the entire city of Mariupol nearing Moscow's biggest victory of the war. This as Ukraine's president decries Russia's, quote, absolute evil missile strike, which leveled a cultural center in Kharkiv.

In Asia right now, President Biden is confronting multiple crises on his first visit to the region as president. Putin's invasion, China's rise, and threats of a North Korean missile threat casting a shadow over his trip.

Here in the United States, the baby formula shortage throws the White House into crisis mode. The supply crunch is worsening tonight, raising serious questions over when parents will finally see relief.

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.

Tonight, President Biden confronting multiple challenges on the world stage as he makes his first presidential trip to Asia. CNN's Melissa Bell is tracking the latest battlefield developments from Kyiv, our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins is traveling with the president in South Korea, and CNN's Barbara Starr is watching the North Korean missile threat from the Pentagon.

First, let's go to Melissa and the Ukrainian capital for us. Melissa, it appears Russia is about to secure its biggest victory since Putin launched his invasion nearly three months ago.

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's been a long time coming, Wolf. But tonight, it is a huge swath of territory in the hands of Russia. Essentially, the fall of Mariupol providing that land bridge between Crimea annexed back in 2014, the Donbas region, those separatist breakaway republics that have been at the heart of a battle to fight a war that has gone on since 2014, all of that swath of territory now in the hands of Russia.

And it is that strategic importance of Mariupol, I think, that you have to bear in mind when you remember and look at the resilience and the resistance that those fighters that have been holed up in Azovstal all this weeks have shown.


BELL (voice over): This is a picture of Dmitri Kozatsky (ph), a soldier with the Azov regiment who helped the world to see the Azovtal steel plant in Mariupol, posting, that's it, thank you for the shelter, Azovstal, the place of my death and my life.

A steady stream of its haggard and injured defenders has been leaving these last few days, Russian forces and their allies in the Donetsk militia surrounding the plant.

SERGEI SHOIGU, RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER: Nationalists blocked to the plan are actively surrendering. So far, 19,008 people have laid down their arms.

BELL: The injured taken to hospital, the evacuees now prisoners of war in the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic. Some of their families finally beginning to hear news from their loved ones.

NATALIA ZARYTSKA, WIFE OF AZOV FIGHTER: So, my husband wrote to me two days ago and the situation is really hard and horrible. And my husband is on the way from one hell to another hell.

BELL: Russia's promise to treat the fighters according to international law, but has said nothing about any exchange of prisoners of war. According to Ukrainian officials, negotiations are difficult. After weeks of bombardment, the place that symbolized Ukraine's resistance seems at last to be quiet.


BELL (on camera): That now confirmed, Wolf, by the Russian ministry of defense, which says the last 531 fighters have been evacuated, which means that tonight, if those -- that announcement is to be believed, it is Azovstal that has fallen and with it the city of Mariupol.

BLITZER: We're also, Melissa, getting new video right now of a Russian military attack on a cultural center in the Kharkiv region. What are you learning about that?

BELL: Well, pretty horrifying pictures there from Lozova. This is a town in Southern Kharkiv region. And this is a part of the country that Russian forces have been fighting bitterly for over the course of the last couple of weeks, images of a cultural center that has been bombed. We know there are several casualties including a young child.


And tonight, this message from President Zelenskyy that it is another sign of the barbarism, another sign of the lack of regard for human rights, for education, for culture that Russian forces are guilty of.

And a reminder, also, really, Wolf, of that fierce battle that we've been seeing over the course of the last few weeks. Those Russian forces that have been concentrating their firepower, their manpower, on trying to move west of Luhansk, from their stronghold there, north of Donetsk, trying to consolidate a position and take as much new territory as they can, trying also to come down south from the Russian border in order to consolidate what position they can, because as you mention a moment ago, it's taken three months for them to secure this victory. Now they want to consolidate their gains, however little they've been, Wolf.

BLITZER: Melissa Bell in the Ukrainian Capital of Kyiv for us. Thank you very much.

Now to President Biden, on this his first trip to Asia since taking office. Our Chief White House Correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, is traveling with the president. She's joining us live from Seoul, South Korea, right now.

Kaitlan, there are high-stakes issues involving Russia, China, North Korea, all looming over the president's trip right now. Give us the latest.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and it's making this a high-stakes visit for President Biden, Wolf. And typically a president's first trip to Asia would come a lot sooner in their presidency, but obviously, President Biden was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the restrictions that were put in place by that.

But he is here on the ground in South Korea now, with one unmistakable message. And that is that the U.S. is committed to this region in the face of a more assertive China. And that is really the foreign policy message that President Biden came to office believing was going to be his primary message. The one that he was spreading around and talking about, and confronting on a daily basis.

Obviously, it's been upended by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. That has required a lot of attention of the president and his top foreign policy aides. But while he's here on the ground and his first remark here in South Korea, he referenced President Putin's invasion, invoking it, but also making a reference to President Xi.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: And now, Putin's brutal and un unprovoked war in Ukraine has further spotlight the need to secure our critical supply chains so our economy, our economic, and our national security are not dependent on countries that don't share our values.


COLLINS: A reference there with they don't share our values, Wolf. We should note that the president is here on the ground, as China has just launched a military drill in the South China Sea while his on the ground.

He's going to Tokyo in a few days once he wraps up here in South Korea. Of course North Korea is also looming large over this visit, and this invasion of Ukraine, that is still ongoing as the president is set to sign that staggering $40 billion aid bill that was recently passed by the Senate to continue giving Ukraine weapons. That is something that is expected to be brought up, according to sources, in nearly every conversation that the president has with world leaders while he's here on the ground in Asia, Wolf.

BLITZER: Kaitlan Collins in Seoul, South Korea, for us. Kaitlan, thank you very much.

For more now on the looming North Korean missile threat, let's bring in CNN's Barbara Starr. She's joining us from the Pentagon right now. Barbara, U.S. Officials clearly worry that Kim Jong-un could try to send a message while President Biden is in the region.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Look, the alarms are being sounded, Wolf, from the White House to the Pentagon to the state department, where everywhere senior U.S. officials are saying they see intelligence. They're openly talking about it, intelligence at North Korea is getting ready for an intercontinental ballistic missile test, of course, a missile that theoretically, if it worked, could hit the United States some day.

The concern is growing and the concern -- and that concern of course, that Kim Jong-un has made significant progress in his missile program. Listen to a little bit of what the Pentagon Press Secretary, John Kirby had to say about this earlier today.


JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We're obviously watching this very, very closely. And as I said, with every test, they learn. What we need to make sure is that we are properly postured, that we have the right capabilities in the region to defend ourselves, to defend our interests, and defend our allies and partners.


STARR: The indications are that satellite imagery the U.S. is reviewing shows vehicles at the launch site near Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, that they may be approaching the final stages of getting ready to launch a missile test. They still could decide, of course, not to go ahead with it, but this is of great concern, considered very provocative, while President Biden, of course, is traveling in the region, Wolf?

BLITZER: His not very far away from North Korea. He's in Seoul, South Korea, right now. Barbara Starr, thank you very, very much. Just ahead, more on the latest developments in Ukraine.

But first, is the baby formula crisis here in the United States really easing as the FDA chief claims? We're going to have a closer look at the growing supply crunch. That's next.



BLITZER: The baby formula shortage here in the United States is growing worse tonight, throwing the White House into crisis mode as the Biden administration is clearly struggling to tackle the supply crunch.

Our Senior Medical Correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, is joining us with the latest. Elizabeth, how bad does the formula shortage remain tonight?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: We're getting data from a group called Data Assembly, Wolf, that shows that it's quite bad in many, many parts of the country. So, if we take a look, if you look at there are states where more than 40 -- I'm sorry, more than 50 percent of the formula was out of stock at some point in time last week. So in ten states, Virginia, Rhode Island, Kentucky, Nevada, Tennessee, Montana, Arizona, Idaho, South Carolina and Washington, D.C.


So, you know, you don't even need this map to know, parents can tell you, they go looking for formula, they're not finding it.

BLITZER: Will these latest moves from the White House, Elizabeth, actually fix this problem? It's a huge problem. Just how quickly will parents see any kind of real relief?

COHEN: So, experts I've been talking to who are in the industry say, look, all of these little things -- they're not little things. All of these efforts that are being made, they will help, but we're not -- parents are not going to see relief anytime soon.

So, let's take a look at what those various efforts are. The Defense Production Act directs ingredients to go to formula manufacturers before they go to other manufacturers. Nestle will be airlifting 1.5 million bottles of formula to the U.S. That's expected to happen in the next few days. And FDA and Abbott have agreed on steps to reopen the closed Michigan plant.

Now, I just got off the phone with an executive at Reckitt. They make Enfamil, which is the -- a very popular brand in the United States. And they say that since February, they've increased manufacturing by 35 percent. So, starting in February, they increased manufacturing by 35 percent.

They also say that they're filing paperwork with the government to import Reckitt formulas from Singapore and Mexico. And they say once that paper work is done, they expect it to happen quickly.

So, all of these things could add up to parents seeing a better situation hopefully soon, but no one expects it to go back to normal for many weeks. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, that's sad to hear that. Elizabeth Cohen, thanks very much.

Let's get some analysis right now from CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen. Dr. Wen, thank you so much for joining us.

This crisis clearly won't be solved in a day or two, or even in the next week or two. In the meantime, shortages have actually gotten worse, we're told. What practical advice, Dr. Wen, do you have for parents who are trying to make it through the worst of this?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, it's a terrible situation that parents are in. I have a daughter who just turned two, and so just over a year ago, I could have been in this situation, and I can't imagine not being able to have food to feed my baby.

And so parents should know that if you have a healthy child, that, for the most part, it's fine to substitute any formula that is FDA- approved. And so if you go to the store and you see a store brand from Walmart or Target or Costco or Sam's, that formula would be okay to use for your child.

Now, of course, kids who have specific issues, for example, specific allergies or metabolic deficiencies, they're in a really tough spot. And so talk to your pediatrician if your child has a specific medical condition and may need special formula.

Then it's also important to know what not to do. Definitely, do not water down formula and further dilute the formula to make it stretch out more. And that's because excess water can be really dangerous. It could cause electrolyte imbalances and lead to seizures, especially in young kids. So, don't do that and also don't use homemade recipes that you find on the internet because there is the possibility of bacterial contamination, it's really hard to get the nutrient mix just right. And so try to find that FDA-approved formula as much as possible.

BLITZER: Dr. Wen, do moms and expected moms for that matter need to have different strategies right now depending on how old their baby is.

WEN: Yes, that's a really good point, Wolf. So, I would say for babies who are slightly older, so the 10-month-old, 11-month-old, they are pretty similar to a 1-year-old. And so the American Academy of Pediatrics is saying that, in a pinch, babies that are six months and older can be fed whole cow's milk. And I would say for the 10 and 11- month-old, that's probably even more okay than for a 6-month-old.

For newborns, young babies, they're really fragile and they should not be getting any of these -- any of these methods that are stopgap methods. And so I would say for women who are able to pump milk and able to store milk, to do that, but also understanding that many moms are not able to breastfeed, are not able to produce enough milk for their babies, and that's why this formula shortage is just so devastating.

BLITZER: While I have you, Dr. Wen, on a different issue, the World Health Organization is now warning that the spread of monkeypox could accelerate this summer. What do people need to know?

WEN: Well, right now, this is something that our federal health officials, the World Health Organization, other investigators should keep a close eye on, but it's not something that most people should worry about, and that's because monkeypox has existed for years, it's also something that's not thought to spread through casual contact. It's usually spread through prolonged contact with individuals.

Now, there is evidence of community transmission in different parts of the world. And so it's something that we need to keep a close eye on, but not something that most people should worry about.


Although, if you have fever, if you have swollen lymph nodes, if you start getting blisters or other unusual symptoms, definitely get medical attention right away.

BLITZER: Yes. Good advice as usual. Dr. Leana Wen, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, Russia right now in the verge of its biggest victory yet in its unprovoked and brutal war against Ukraine, were going to talk about that and all the way these development with a key member of the Ukrainian parliament, that's next.


BLITZER: Russia is now claiming victory in its weeks-long siege of the giant Azovstal Steel Plant. It is now nearing total control over the City of Mariupol, which would be Moscow's biggest victory so far during this war.


Let's discuss with Yevheniia Kravchuk. She's a key member of the Ukrainian Parliament. Yevheniia, thank you so much for joining us. How emotional is it to hear Russia claim victory in this battle for Mariupol steel plant after weeks and weeks of brutal fighting and what does this mean for Ukraine?

YEVHENIIA KRAVCHUK, UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT: Thank you, Wolf, for having me. Well, actually, after almost three months, of course Russia wanted some other victories. You know, go into Kyiv, capturing the capital, capturing other big cities.

And from the military point of view, the defenders of Mariupol already did everything they could. They actually fought for so many weeks. And a lot of Russian troops were, you know, encircled around Mariupol and didn't go further to other cities.

So actually from the military point of view, the defenders of Mariupol, did everything they could. And now we understand that we need to save their lives, because Russia doesn't care about lives of their soldiers, but we do.

So that's why in this situation, one Mariupol cannot be unblocked in military way, it was the only way to save these people's lives. And we really hope, we can exchange those soldiers. For capture to Russian soldiers, so they can come back to Ukraine.

BLITZER: How worried are you, Yevheniia, about for the Ukrainian defenders of the steel plant in Mariupol, who are now in Russian custody. Do you have any faith at all that the Russians will treat these people in accordance with international law?

KRAVCHUK: You know, it's really hard to believe Russia and to believe Putin, but we are in negotiations with international organizations and third-party countries. I cannot give too many details of this, because it's very fragile. And you know, the less information is out, the biggest chances are to have this exchange. So we do hope to do that as fast as possible. Because we do value what these heroes did.

BLITZER: Big picture, do you fear Yevheniia, that Russia has now succeeded in cutting off a key part of Ukraine's southern coast, these port cities, as all of us know, and you know better than all of us, are so critical to Ukraine.

KRAVCHUK: Yes, but we are planning to recapture all of the territories that first of all, you know, all the territories that were captured after 21st of February. That's, you know, the closest stage. And that's why we need multiple-launch rocket systems from the west, especially from the United States. And we're thankful for finally voting the $40 billion bill. And we're hoping though get these weapons that will be used to liberate the land. Because that's the only way to stop the atrocities and to have these people that are in occupied territories to live normal life. That's the only way, just to kick Russians out.

BLITZER: I don't know if you heard this earlier today, but Ukraine's foreign minister is now actually blasting NATO, saying that while individual NATO members are helping Ukraine, and I'm quoting him now, he says, NATO as an institution has done nothing. NATO as an institution has done nothing. Yevheniia, do you agree with him?

KRAVCHUK: Well, NATO had many statements and many meetings, but, at the end of the day, it's only the real deeds that matter, you know real weapons coming to Ukraine, and that's very brave countries who are members of NATO do for Ukraine.

And not just for Ukraine, because it's not a regional conflict. It's a conflict between western civilization and autocracy. The regime of Putin and Russia, that tries to put the force into everything that matters. And that's -- I don't think that's the values that countries that are members of NATO stands for. Because they do stand for other values, for economic success, for democracy, freedom of choice, freedom of speech, and so on and so forth. So we are thankful for some countries that are a part of NATO, to be brave enough to work, but not the whole organization, which numbers 30 countries.


BLITZER: It certainly does, 30 members of NATO. The Ukrainian Parliament Member, Yevheniia Kravchuk, thank you so much for joining us. Good luck to you. Good luck to all the people of Ukraine.

KRAVCHUK: Thank you so much.

BLITZER: CNN Military Analyst, Retired Major General Spider Marks, he's joining us right now. He's here with me in THE SITUATION ROOM. Spider, let's talk a little bit about what's going on right now.

It looks like the Russians have scored a major victory in Mariupol, taking the steel plant where so many Ukrainian troops and others were seeking refugee. It looks like they've succeeded in Mariupol, the Russians.

MAJ. GEN JAMES "SPIDER' MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: And I think it was simply a matter of time. Russia has really been concentrating almost exclusively on that area. We saw them migrate out of the Kyiv area in Kharkiv and back into Russia and now they are all in terms of the Donbas.

So this siege on Mariupol has been ongoing. And keep in mind that what the Ukrainian defenders have done is quite significant. They have tied up so many of the Russian forces on that objective, for almost the entire period of this invasion. It's quite significant. That's the victory right now, tactical victory for Ukraine.

BLITZER: Yes, even though it looks like Mariupol is going to go to the Russians right now.

MARKS: Absolutely.

BLITZER: We're also continuing to see these brutal, horrendous Russian attacks against Ukrainian Cultural Centers and other civilian targets going on. We just got video, we showed a little while ago, maybe we'll show it again.

They hit this Cultural Center in the Kharkiv region. Who knows how many people were killed in the process. What is the Russian military or strategic goal in going after these civilian targets?

MARKS: Yes, at the strategic level, what Putin and his military are trying to achieve is essentially a wasteland. There is no intent on Russia's part to rebuild or to occupy Ukraine and then build it back up into some type of a vassal state. At this point, they want to create this wasteland.

And by going after Cultural Centers, it's a very clear message. We want to eliminate the Ukrainian culture. We want to subjugate Ukraine. We want the world to think that Ukraine remains or should remain a part of Russia. BLITZER: Retired Major General Spider Marks, thank you very much for your analysis. Always appreciate it.

MARKS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, Buffalo, my hometown begins the heart-wrenching task of burying victims of the racist massacre that left ten people dead. We'll talk to Civil Rights Attorney, Ben Crump, who is representing three of those families. That's next.



BLITZER: As the investigation into the racist Buffalo, New York, mass murder moves forward, the heartbreaking work of laying the victims to rest has now begun. CNN's Brian Todd is joining us from Buffalo, where the community is remembering the lives of those lost to hate.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): An outpouring of support at the first funeral in Buffalo in the wake of Saturday's racist supermarket shooting. One of the ten victims, Heyward Patterson, a Church Deacon and Jitney Driver was honored by friends, parishioners, and the community.

GERALD SLACK JR., KNEW BUFFALO SHOOTING VICTIMS: When Patterson got shot, he was actually loading groceries into the back of a vehicle, helping somebody else.

TODD: Another friend says the community is angry, but -- can you forgive this gunman?


TODD: Some people would argue, you don't have to.

SMITH-JOHNSON: Yes, yes, well, I'm a Christian. You have to. It's mandatory for us.

TODD: The Buffalo suspect's racism was evident during a previous visit to the store, according to a employee who survived the shooting.

ROSE WYSOCKI, TOPS SOTRE PRODUCE MANAGER/TALKED TO ALLEGED SHOOTER: He told me I looked like I didn't belong there. Like, you know, I said, well, what do you mean by that? He said, you look like you belong out in a suburb store. Then under his breath, I could hear him say, just another lover. And I just thought, you know that's just rude. You're just rude.

TODD: Another store employee who survived tells CNN she called 911 and the operator scolded her for whispering.

LATISHA ROGERS, TOPS STORE ASSISTANT OFFICE MANAGER/CALLED 911: I gave her the address and I said, please send help, there's a person in the store shooting. And she proceeded to say to me, what? I can't hear you? Why are you whispering? You don't have to whisper. They can't hear you.

TODD: She dropped her phone and says she was disconnected.

ROGERS: I just laid down flat on the floor and got against the counter and in the hopes -- praying he didn't see me. And during this whole time, it's just constant, just shooting -- he won't stop. He just constantly going.

And as I hear him getting closer, I just pressed myself, like, trying to be as flat as I can on the ground and up against the counter, praying to God that he wouldn't see me.


TODD (on camera): And we're at the scene of this chalk mural on the side of this building, where people are paying tributes to the victims. These two little girls were contributing to it just a short time ago. And in addition to the profound grief that this community is feeling, they're also worried about economic fallout, because several members of this community told us that it took local leaders years to get this Tops store established here.

Then when it was, other businesses like banks followed. They're now worried that even when this Tops store reopens as promise, that maybe the economic viability of this neighborhood could still take a nosedive.

BLITZER: My heart goes out to all my fellow Buffalonians right now. Brian Todd, thank you very much.

Let's discuss this and more with the Civil Right Attorney, Ben Crump, he's representing the families of three of the Buffalo shooting victims. I know you just were in Buffalo too, Ben. How are the victim's loved ones holding up, as these funerals starts to get underway?

BEN CRUMP, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: They're still in complete shock, disbelief, Wolf. And so they are leaning on each other, the families are bonding together.


And thankful for the outpouring of support across Buffalo and America, saying that this senseless act of hate will not divide us.

BLITZER: The Attorney General of the United States, as you know, Ben, Merrick Garland, he met with leaders of the NAACP today, including the NAACP president. He's also unveiling new steps and more funding to combat hate crimes here in the United States. Does the response so far match the enormity and the very real danger of this threat?

CRUMP: Well, you know, Wolf, he met with the families and it was very important that you had the president come to Buffalo to show respect for these good people who were senselessly killed by this young radicalized white supremacist.

One thing that the families are asking for is that, especially the Whitfield family, that they want to see this tragedy transformed into some positive change. They would like to see a anti-white supremacy hate crime bill, especially since the FBI director said one of the greatest threats to America society right now is white supremacy and these acts of domestic terrorism.

BLITZER: Yes. He said in his testimony before Congress last year, this was the number one threat, domestic threat facing the U.S. right now. Do you have any doubt, Ben, that the perpetrator of this deadly attack will ultimately face hate crime charges as well as murder charges?

CRUMP: I do not. With the track record of Christian Caulk, who is heading up the civil rights division for the Department of Justice, I believe with great confidence that he will be convicted of a federal hate crime. But Wolf Blitzer, it is not enough for us to simply hold this individual who committed this act of hatred and just ignorance accountable.

We also have to hold accountable those who at the root of the hate, those who curate the hate. The people who own these websites, these people who are pushing this great race replacement theory that indoctrinate these young insecure minds of young white men to go commit senseless acts of violence.

We need to hold them and these gun manufacturers, these gun distributors, everybody who were an accomplice of this. They may not have pulled the trigger, but, Wolf Blitzer, they did load that gun for this young, sick, deprived individual.

BLITZER: Attorney Ben Crump, thanks as usual for joining us. Appreciate it very, very much.


BLITZER: Coming up, a U.S. official visits WNBA Star Britney Griner in Russian detention, while former detainee Trevor Reed reveals chilling new details of the conditions he faced. We'll preview Jake Tapper's exclusive interview with him. That's next.



BLITZER: Tonight, the State Department says that a U.S. official has visited WNBA star Brittney Griner in Russia, where she's being detained. Griner, who's been held since February, was described as doing, quote, as well as could be expected under these exceedingly challenging circumstances.

Meanwhile, former detainee Trevor Reed, who was released in a prisoner exchange after being held by Russia for almost three years, is speaking out about the brutal conditions he faced. He spoke exclusively to CNN's Jake Tapper. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Any prison is brutal. Russian prisons are notoriously awful and tough. Did you have a strategy for surviving?

TREVOR REED, AMERICAN DETAINED IN RUSSIA FOR 985 DAYS: I did. I tried to -- to kind of compartmentalize and focus not on being in prison, kind of, you know, distract myself, think about future plans, what university I was going to go to. You know, what plans I was going to have with my family. All of those things and just tried to distract myself from reality, which, you know, was not something that you want to think about.

TAPPER: Did you have confidence that you were going to get out?

REED: No, I didn't. And a lot of people are not going to like what I'm going to say about this, but I kind of viewed their having hope as being a weakness. I did not want to have that hope of like me, you know, being released somehow and then have that taken from me.

TAPPER: You denied yourself hope.

REED: Yeah.

TAPPER: You wouldn't let yourself --

REED: I wouldn't let myself hope.


BLITZER: And Jake Tapper, the anchor of "THE LEAD" and "STATE OF THE UNION" is joining us now.

Jake, it's really incredible to hear that exchange. What more did he share with you about how he coped during this incredibly difficult and painful experience.

TAPPER: Well, it really was just a horrific ordeal. And in that clip, you heard him talk about how he didn't want to let himself hope.


And he would actually -- he said later in the interview, he would get angry when his father would visit him and try to give him reason to hope, reason to think he would get out of this Russian prison would say don't tell me that, don't tell me that, I don't want to know.

At a different time, I asked him of all the three years he was in Russian captivity, which included time in Russian jail, Russian prison, Russian work camp, Russian hospital, what was the worst thing that he went through, and he talked about how they punished him at one point for constantly appealing the sentence against him, nine years in prison for this bogus charge. He said as punishment, they sent him to a Russian psychiatric jail and to his description of it was just chilling.

BLITZER: And you spoke to reed about the conditions he faced in Russian custody, let me play this part of the interview. Watch this.


TAPPER: What was the worst conditions that you had, that you experienced during that time?

REED: The psychiatric treatment facility, I was in there with seven other prisoners in the cell. They all had severe psychological health issues. Most of them, so over 50 percent of them in that cell were in there for murder or like multiple murders, sexual assault and murder, just really disturbed individuals.

And inside of that cell, you know, that was not a good place. There was blood all over the walls there, where prisoners have killed themselves or killed other prisoners or attempted to do that. The toilets just a hole in the floor and there's, you know, crap everywhere all over the floor, on the walls. There's people in there also that walk around that look like zombies.

TAPPER: Were you afraid for your life?

REED: I mean, I did not sleep there for a couple of days. So I was too worried about, you know, who was in the cell with me to actually sleep.

TAPPER: You thought they might kill you?

REED: Yeah, I thought that was a possibility.


BLITZER: Jake, did U.S. officials and reed's own family for that matter, know the full extent of this horror?

TAPPER: I don't think they did, and in fact Trevor said he kept a lot of things from his family, until he was out, because he didn't want them to worry. He would downplay what he was going through. I don't think anybody knew how bad it was. They knew it was bad,

I mean, Trevor went on two different hunger strikes, he got really sick, they feared he had tuberculosis, he was hospitalized and he was put in just the worst, most unsanitary conditions, fed food that even a rat might reject. But that said, the depths of t the depths of the depravity of the Russian legal system, I won't call it a justice system, really was something I don't think U.S. officials or his family knew until after he got home.

He did do a full debrief with the U.S. government and obviously, has told his family everything now but at the time, no.

BLITZER: Really a powerful, very, very important interview, Jake, thanks so much for doing it.

The CNN exclusive, "FINALLY HOME: THE TREVOR REED INTERVIEW" will air Sunday, 8:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN. And we'll have more news just ahead including an update on a key test

for Donald Trump, the Pennsylvania Republican Senate primary race now within only about 1,000 votes and almost certainly heading to a recount.



BLITZER: Right now, we're tacking a razor-thin race in Pennsylvania, where former president Trump's influence over the GOP is being put to the test.

CNN's Melanie Zanona is joining us from Pennsylvania with more on this Republican Senate primary nominee.

Give us the latest of where things stand right now and how this is likely to play out.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, it's really coming down to a wire here in Pennsylvania. There are only a small number of votes left to be counted but it looks like we're going to end the day exactly where we began and that is with Mehmet Oz holding a very narrow lead over David McCormick, literally the difference of just over 1,000 votes here.

Now, both sides are still projecting confidence. McCormick's campaign believes military and overseas balance are going to benefit McCormick who is an army veteran, but Oz's camps say that math just isn't there and there's not enough outstanding votes left for him to be able to close the gap.

But, Wolf, I can tell you, one thing that they both agree on, this is likely headed to a recount which will be automatically triggered if the race comes within half a percentage point and both sides appeared to be going up for a drawn-out and bruising battle, adding legal experts and lawyers who had experience in recounts.

In fact, McCormick's campaign last month hired a GOP operative Mike Roman, who's known for expertise in election results. He was Donald Trump's manager of election day operations in 2020. He became a key figure in seeking to overturn Pennsylvania's election results.

But we should know next week officially whether this is indeed heading to a recount, that would need to be called for by June 1st and happen a week later, so we'll sure to have some updates in the coming days, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll follow it closely, together with you. Melanie, thank you very much, CNN's Melanie Zanona reporting.

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

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.