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Full transcript of "Face the Nation," June 25, 2023

6/25: Face The Nation
6/25: Face The Nation 45:49

On this "Face the Nation" broadcast, moderated by Margaret Brennan: 

  • .U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken 
  • House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Mike Turner 
  • CBS News national security correspondent David Martin and former U.S. ambassador to Russia John Sullivan
  • U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, Democrat of Texas
  • World Food Programme executive director Cindy McCain 

Click here to browse full transcripts of "Face the Nation."    

MARGARET BRENNAN: I'm Margaret Brennan in Washington.

And this week on Face the Nation: A dangerous drama unfolds in Russia, as a mercenary group fighting the Ukrainians turns on Vladimir Putin and his government. In a breathtakingly bizarre twist to the war in Ukraine this weekend, what could have been a disastrous armed conflict inside Russia, the country considered America's top nuclear adversary, came to a sudden halt late Saturday.

The crisis has cooled for now. But what will the impact of the uprising be on Vladimir Putin's already weakened hold over a country struggling in its war against Ukraine?

Here in Washington, intelligence agencies have been quietly monitoring the escalating tensions between the Wagner mercenary group and the Putin government for some time and spent the weekend nervously watching events in Russia unfold.

We will hear from Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the head of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Turner.

And one year after the end of Roe v. Wade, the march to ban abortion in some states continues.

(Begin VT)

MIKE PENCE (R-Presidential Candidate): We will never rest and never relent until we restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law in every state in the land.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: As do efforts to motivate voters to fight for the right to choose an abortion.

(Begin VT)

JOE BIDEN (President of the United States): The court was betting that all of us would remain silent. Well, we're not. We will not remain silent.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: We will talk with Biden campaign surrogate and Texas Congresswoman Veronica Escobar.

Finally, the new head of the United Nations World Food Program, Cindy McCain, joins us to talk about where the hunger crisis is worst and why we need to do more.

It's all just ahead on Face the Nation.

Good morning, and welcome to Face the Nation.

There is a lot we don't know yet about the motivations behind and the consequences following Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin's actions in Russia this weekend. What we do know about what one senior administration official calls a very bizarre episode is that there seems to be a pause, at least for now, due to a truce struck between Vladimir Putin and Prigozhin that was brokered by the president of Belarus, a Putin ally.

The terms of that deal are still emerging. But even after Prigozhin abruptly stopped his march to Moscow yesterday, there remains trepidation about the risks ahead on this unpredictable path for Russia, which holds the world's largest nuclear arsenal.

CBS News correspondent Ian Lee reports from Dnipro, Ukraine.

(Begin VT)


IAN LEE (voice-over): Rarely do failed mutineers receive a heroes' departure.

CROWD: Wagner!

IAN LEE: But residents cheered Wagner soldiers as they left the Russian city of Rostov late last night.

"Come back alive and take care of yourself," shouted people in the crowd. The mercenary group's leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, smiled and posed for selfies on his way out.

Some greeted the returning Russian authorities less warmly, with cheers and insults. For 24 hours, the world watched Wagner forces inch closer to Moscow. Updates of their advance splashed across social media. The Russian military secured the capital, soldiers deployed on the streets, and heavy equipment ripped up roads leading to the city.

Prigozhin launched his mutiny after accusing the Russian military of killing his men in Ukraine with a missile strike, a claim Russian defense officials deny. His men quickly seized Rostov, home of Russia's southern military headquarters, before advancing toward Moscow.

On Russian state TV, President Vladimir Putin accused Prigozhin of treason, though he never mentioned his name, and called for unity.


IAN LEE: "We will protect our people and country from any threats, including internal betrayal," said Putin, "and what we're facing is precisely betrayal."

And with Wagner troops just 124 miles from Moscow, the Kremlin spokesman announced a deal. Wagner troops would be pardoned and returned to their bases, criminal charges against Prigozhin would be dropped, and he'd go into exile in Belarus, whose leader brokered the agreement.

This morning, an uneasy calm settled on Moscow. Life in Rostov also returned to normal. Putin's hold on power survived, battered and bruised, but not all may be forgiven. In a 2018 interview, Putin told a state TV reporter there's one thing he can never forgive, betrayal, he said.

(End VT)

IAN LEE: Russia continued airstrikes on several cities here in Ukraine, while Kyiv took advantage of the chaos to launch major assaults.

But it'll take time to see what effect this mutiny has on the war -- Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Ian Lee in Ukraine, thank you.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is one of the many top Biden administration officials who has been monitoring the events of the last two days.

And he joins us from the State Department.

Good morning to you, Mr. Secretary.

ANTONY BLINKEN (U.S. Secretary of State): Good morning, Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Can you tell us who in the Biden administration has been in touch with Russian leadership?

SECRETARY ANTONY BLINKEN: Well, I instructed my own team, at the president's behest, to engage with the Russians, first and foremost, to make sure that they understood their responsibilities, in terms of protecting our own personnel, ensuring their safety and well-being, as well as any American citizens in Russia.

So, a number of people have engaged to make sure that the Russians got that message.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is the U.S. ready for further unrest in Russia and the scenario that Vladimir Putin does not remain in power?

SECRETARY ANTONY BLINKEN: Margaret, this is an unfolding story.

And I think we're in the midst of a moving picture. We haven't seen -- we haven't seen the last act. We're watching it very closely and carefully.

But just step back for a second and put this in -- in context. Sixteen months ago, Russian forces were on the doorstep of Kyiv in Ukraine, thinking they'd take the city in a matter of days, thinking they would erase Ukraine from the map as an independent country.

Now, over this weekend, they've had to defend Moscow, Russia's capital, against mercenaries of Putin's own making. Prigozhin himself in this entire incident has raised profound questions about the very premises for Russia's aggression against Ukraine in the first place, saying that Ukraine or NATO did not pose a threat to Russia, which is part of Putin's narrative.


SECRETARY ANTONY BLINKEN: And it was a direct challenge to Putin's authority.

So this raises profound questions. It -- it shows real cracks. We can't speculate or know exactly where that's going to go. We do know that Putin has a lot more to answer for in the -- in the weeks and months ahead.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But is the U.S. prepared for the potential of the fall of the Putin government? And is their nuclear stockpile, the largest in the world, secure?

SECRETARY ANTONY BLINKEN: We always prepare for every contingency.

In terms of what happens in Russia, it's an internal matter for the Russians to figure out. Of course, when we're dealing with a major power, and especially a major power that has nuclear weapons, that's something that's of concern, something we're very focused on.

We haven't seen any change in Russia's nuclear posture. There hasn't been any change in ours, but it's something we're going to watch very, very carefully.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Vladimir Putin is appearing on television this morning. But it appears to have been prerecorded.

Do you know the whereabouts of Vladimir Putin right now? Is he in Moscow?

SECRETARY ANTONY BLINKEN: I don't want to -- I don't want to speculate on that or what information that we have.

Again, we're watching that -- that carefully. I think one of the things this -- this tells you is that we still don't -- don't have finality in terms of what was actually agreed between Prigozhin and Putin. I suspect that we're going to learn more in the days and weeks ahead about what -- what deal they struck.

The president brought together not only the national security Cabinet yesterday. He brought together the leaders of our key allies and partners. He instructed all of us to do the same. We have tremendous unity of purpose and unity of action when it comes to supporting Ukraine. And that's where our focus is.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But, as you just said, Prigozhin drew into question the very premise for Vladimir Putin's war.


MARGARET BRENNAN: So, do the Wagner fighters return to the fight in Ukraine? Do we know?

SECRETARY ANTONY BLINKEN: Too soon to tell what's going to happen to the Wagner forces, whether they go back to the fight.

I mean, it was extraordinary that they were moving out of Ukraine and into Russia. But it's too soon to tell whether they're going to go back into the fight as Wagner, whether they get integrated into regular Russian forces, what this means for Wagner in other parts of the world.

I mean, keep in mind...


SECRETARY ANTONY BLINKEN: ... both Putin and Prigozhin are responsible for committing terrible acts in Ukraine against Ukrainian civilians.

But also, in the case of Wagner, in country after country in Africa, wherever Wagner is, death and destruction and exploitation follow.


SECRETARY ANTONY BLINKEN: But all of this is likely to unroll in the in the coming days, in the coming weeks.

To the extent that it presents a real distraction for -- for Putin, and for Russian authorities, that they have to look at -- sort of mind their rear, even as they're trying to deal with the counteroffensive in Ukraine, I think that creates even greater openings for the Ukrainians to do well on the ground.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, as you just indicated, Yevgeny Prigozhin has a footprint that goes from Africa to Syria to Ukraine. Do you have any idea where he is right now?

SECRETARY ANTONY BLINKEN: Again, I can't get into what we know or don't know through -- through -- through intelligence. It's something that we're looking at and that we're tracking.

MARGARET BRENNAN: One of the things Prigozhin did was directly undermine the Russian military leadership.

Do we know who is in charge of the Russian military right now? And how could Vladimir Putin agree to any changes in the leadership of his military and still look like he's in charge?

SECRETARY ANTONY BLINKEN: Now, those are -- those are great questions. And I think we'll get the answers in the -- in the days and weeks ahead. It's too soon to say with any -- any certainty what the final chapter in this particular book is going to be. The -- the rising storm of Prigozhin inside of Russia is something that many people have seen over -- over months now, direct challenges to the leadership, to the military leadership, powerful criticism of Russia's conduct of its aggression against Ukraine, and now questioning the very premises of the -- the war, Prigozhin himself saying that Ukraine and NATO did not pose a threat to Russia, which has...


SECRETARY ANTONY BLINKEN: ... as you know, been part of Putin's narrative.

These create more cracks in the Russian facade. And those cracks were already profound economically, militarily, its standing in the world. All of those things have been dramatically diminished by Putin's aggression against Ukraine. He's managed to bring Europe together. He's managed to bring NATO together. He's managed to get Europe to move off of Russian energy.

He's managed to alienate Ukrainians and unite Ukraine at the same time. So, across the board, this has been a strategic failure. Now, you introduce into that profound internal divisions, and there are lots of questions he's going to have to answer in the weeks ahead.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is there a possibility of civil war?

SECRETARY ANTONY BLINKEN: I don't want to speculate on that. It -- these are fundamentally internal matters for the Russians to -- to figure out. It's not our place to do that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Will President Biden reach out directly to Vladimir Putin? Has the CIA director reached out to Russian intelligence?

SECRETARY ANTONY BLINKEN: Margaret, I'm not going to get into any diplomatic contacts that we -- we may have or have had.

I can tell you that, on my instruction, on the president's instruction, we had some engagement with the Russians over the weekend to make sure they understood their responsibilities when it comes to looking out for the safety and security of our personnel in Russia. Very important that we do that, and we did that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about Beijing.

I was there with you earlier this week.


MARGARET BRENNAN: And I listened to you pick every single one of your words very carefully. And then, on our way home, President Biden called Xi Jinping a dictator with economic problems who didn't know what his own military was doing by flying the spy balloon over the United States.

How much did that hurt the work you did?

SECRETARY ANTONY BLINKEN: Margaret, one of the things that I think you -- you heard me say during the trip and after the trip is that the main purpose was to bring some greater stability to the relationship.

But one of the things that I said to Chinese counterparts during this trip was that we are going to continue to do things and say things that you don't like, just as you're no doubt going to continue to do and say things that we don't like. And if you look at what comes out of the Chinese Foreign Ministry...

MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you saying that was a strategic remark?

SECRETARY ANTONY BLINKEN: ... on a daily basis, you'll hear that.

The -- the president always speaks candidly. He speaks directly. He speaks clearly, and he speaks for all of us.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You also said that Chinese officials assured you they won't provide legal assistance to Russia, but that Chinese companies are.

According to U.S. Treasury, Chinese companies have also done business with the Wagner group. Have you reached out to the Chinese about trying to gauge what is happening on the ground inside Russia now?

SECRETARY ANTONY BLINKEN: Again, I can't get into any diplomatic contacts that we may or may not have had.

But you're exactly right that, when it comes to the visit, the Chinese did reiterate to us, as well as to many other countries, that they have not and will not provide lethal military assistance to Russia for use in Ukraine. I also raised the concerns that you said about Chinese companies providing that kind of support and pressed them to be vigilant about that.

I'm sure they're making their -- their own assessments about what's happened inside of Russia in recent days.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Secretary Blinken, thank you for your time this morning.

SECRETARY ANTONY BLINKEN: Thanks, Margaret. Good to be with you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Republican Congressman Mike Turner of Ohio. He joins us from Dayton.

Good morning to you.

REPRESENTATIVE MIKE TURNER (R-Ohio): Good morning, Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I understand top congressional leaders, yourself included, have been briefed multiple times in recent days by the administration in regard to the risk posed by the Wagner group.

Last year, U.S. intelligence had extraordinary detail, those are the words, the head of U.S. intelligence, about Putin's plans to invade Ukraine. I wonder how you would describe the intelligence the U.S. had about this march on Moscow?


Well, the intelligence community was very much aware of that the conflict between Prigozhin and Putin was inevitable. And, even from public sources, which you've seen Prigozhin for months has put out videos critical of the Russian government, critical of Putin.

Putin has allowed this. And, as the secretary said, those videos themselves even included criticizing Putin's very premise of the war, that it was not started by NATO, that there were not Nazis in Ukraine. 

And then entering into Moscow -- entering into Russia itself and taking their convoy to Moscow, that really shows to the basic issue of whether or not Putin controls his military. For any government to have stability, they have to control their military. Obviously Prigozhin, in order to make it that distance, has to have accomplices.

You know, where was the air force? Where was the Russian air force in preventing this? That's going to be an issue that -- that Putin is going to have to deal with both internationally and domestically, is his government, as an authoritarian government depends, on its assertion of power, force, in order to be able to contain -- to continue to wield power, and that certainly is going to be an issue.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Was Vladimir Putin himself aware of the potential of this uprising?

REPRESENTATIVE MIKE TURNER: Well, I can't go into what our intelligence was.

But I can tell you this. These videos that he was allowing Prigozhin to put -- put out were public. They were distributed around the world.


REPRESENTATIVE MIKE TURNER: Putin certainly was aware of them because he was allowing them, the content of them, where they not only criticized Putin and the Russian government and called for the removal of the minister of defense.

Ultimately, as you know, this weekend, Prigozhin's statement was removal of the president himself. So, Vladimir Putin certainly had lots of public notice that Prigozhin was -- was a -- was a critic and was threatening the -- the government, and now ultimately took this military action into Russia itself.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But that raises the question of whether this was a strategic move by Prigozhin or just sort of a gamble and an opportunity he seized.

Do we have any insight?

REPRESENTATIVE MIKE TURNER: Well, you know, he's a military guy.

Remember, this is like a 12-hour trip from Ukraine to Moscow, and he got within two hours of Moscow. Now, being a military guy, he understands the logistics and really the -- the assistance that he's going to need to do that. This is not a weekend trip he's taking, taking his convoy, and his military convoy, up to Moscow.

There's a number of accomplices, including, as we saw, some of the Russian people on the border with Ukraine who clearly support the Wagner group, in contrast to their support for the Russian government. This is something that would have had to been planned for a significant amount of time to be executed in the manner in which it was,

MARGARET BRENNAN: There was a report last month that Prigozhin had offered in January to help Ukraine attack the Russian military by sharing information on troop positions that he had.

Is this in any way helpful, what has just occurred, to ending the war in Ukraine? Like, where is Prigozhin's interest?


So this really does hurt -- hurt Putin, and not only just politically and in his leadership in Russia and his presidency, but in his efforts to continue the war in Ukraine. You know, I think, obviously, in the beginning, there's going to be an initial increase of activity from Russia against Ukraine.

But because he went -- Putin himself went on a national TV to respond to Prigozhin, and Prigozhin said that your government has lied to you, this is not a war that NATO started, there are no Nazis in Ukraine, taking down the very premise makes it much more difficult for Putin to continue to turn to the Russian people and say, we should continue to send people to die in this war that -- for which Prigozhin himself has said to the Russian people, the premise is a lie.

MARGARET BRENNAN: There was a lot that Secretary Blinken said he could not answer during our interview. Is that because U.S. intelligence does not know or because it's classified?

REPRESENTATIVE MIKE TURNER: Well, you know, I can't answer that either. But you can -- you can assume certainly that we have been very focused on Russia and Ukraine.

And this is an area where Ukraine's successes has been a result in part because of the successes of the intelligence community. So we've been very, very focused on this. I think that as we -- as we go forward, this is going to be even more critical as it face -- as we face the threats both for Ukraine and for the United States as to what's going to happen to Putin and Russia next.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Chairman, please stay with us.

We have to take a break. We'll be right back in one minute with more of our conversation.


MARGARET BRENNAN: And we're back with House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Turner.

I want to talk a bit about China here as well, sir. But let me just button up, what -- how would you define the relationship between China and Vladimir Putin right now?


So, President Xi has got to be very concerned right now, because, as you know, he went to Moscow, stood next to Putin and said, you know, "We're together," he and Vladimir Putin, are bringing about change that hasn't happened for 100 years.

And, of course, that is the march of authoritarianism against democracy that we won in World War Two that they're now rising up against. But now he's standing next to a guy who can't even control his -- his own -- his own military.

Remember, Putin, in his national address said that these individuals are going to have inevitable punishment. And then, in the end, Prigozhin gets a vacation in -- in Belarus, and his troops are now going to sign contracts. It sounds more like paperwork than a KGB agent, than doing inevitable punishment.

Xi, in seeing that with Putin, has got to understand that -- that Putin's stature in the world has diminished. That diminishes President Xi. And, certainly as Putin looks weakened, certainly not being able to control his -- his military and being a strong nuclear power, President Xi has to be worried about the stability of Russia itself.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be watching that.

You know, last Friday, the -- or this past Friday -- sorry. I'm back from Beijing, and my time frame's all screwed up here.


MARGARET BRENNAN: But the director of national intelligence released this declassified summary of the findings in regard to links between the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the origin of the COVID pandemic.

It says several researchers at that institute were ill in 2019 with symptoms consistent with, but not diagnostic of COVID. Why is it so inconclusive still?

REPRESENTATIVE MIKE TURNER: Well, and this is the problem, really, what -- what the director of national intelligence has done, Director Haines.

We passed a law saying, declassify the information that you have about the COVID and Wuhan lab's activities. What they did is they basically went and -- and did a paper on what they believe about the intelligence they've looked at. I will give an example of this.We've asked to open the curtain and release the intelligence, and they went behind the curtain, read this stuff, and came out and said, well, this is what we think about it.

This is not sufficient. And, certainly, this is going to be -- set up between a battle between Congress and the director of national intelligence to make certain that -- that the law that was passed unanimously, both the Senate and the House and signed by the president, is complied with, but also the American public get the answers they deserve.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So there was a classified annex to this, though, that was not released, I would assume that you have read that.

Is that...

REPRESENTATIVE MIKE TURNER: No, actually, we just got this late, late Friday, so I haven't had access to it in a classified setting.

But even releasing a classified annex goes against what the law says. The law says declassify, not give us more classified information. I mean, my committee has already seen a significant amount of this intelligence. Giving my committee more intelligence doesn't give it to the American public, and that's what the declassification law was about.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But the -- the report says that it details two agencies say it was a lab accident. CIA can't determine. The National Intelligence Council and four other agencies say most likely caused by natural exposure.

Do you believe that there actually is a definitive conclusion that the government's not releasing?

REPRESENTATIVE MIKE TURNER: So, I -- I have seen, for example, the classified annex to the report that President Biden requested the intelligence community gave.

What you just read were more conclusions by the intelligence community.


REPRESENTATIVE MIKE TURNER: In the report that was given to the President, the 90-day-or-so report, they have -- they have information in that report that contradicts, I believe, the impressions that are given in -- in these statements by the Intelligence Committee.

We want the intelligence released, not their opinion about the intelligence. If we wanted their opinion, we would have asked for it. We passed a law saying, declassify it. It's the law of the land. Release this so the American public and see it.


REPRESENTATIVE MIKE TURNER: Experts out there in the community besides the intelligence community...


REPRESENTATIVE MIKE TURNER: ... need to take a look at this and help us understand what really happened that resulted in millions of people dying.


Congressman, thank you for your time today.

We'll be right back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: If you miss an episode of Face the Nation or want to watch one of our extended interviews, you can find it all on, or search Face the Nation on YouTube.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We will be right back with a lot more Face the Nation.

Stay with us.



Wagner group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin is actually wanted by the FBI here in the U.S. for his efforts to medal in the 2016 elections.

CBS News foreign correspondent Debora Patta has been tracking the Wagner group and she reports this morning from Johannesburg, South Africa.

DEBORA PATTA: Yevgeny Prigozhin's uprising appears to have been extremely well planned and executed. Who would have thought one of Putin's closest allies, a former convict and Kremlin caterer, would eventually be pitted against the Russian leader.


DEBORA PATTA (voice over): It was during Russia's first invasion of Ukraine in 2014 that Prigozhin made the leap from Putin's shift (ph), to warlord, running an off the books mercenary group. Wagner soldiers started showing up in Syria, then across Africa. And while his hired guns deal in death, Prigozhin makes his money by plundering natural resources in places like the mineral rich Central African Republic, or CAR. In exchange, Wagner provides the mercenary muscle to prop up the country's leader, even guarding the president. What Wagner doesn't say is that they effectively run this nation through violence and a galaxy of shell companies.

Now, this model is repeated across Africa, allowing Prigozhin to evade sanctions and rake in billions to fund what the U.S. has called a transnational criminal organization, as well as his private army in Ukraine.

Until recently, Prigozhin vigorously denied any links to Wagner, but stepped out of the shadows last year, recruiting prisoners from Russian penal colonies in exchange for pardon. And at salaries far higher than any regular Kremlin soldiers. And he certainly enjoyed the notoriety, filming himself strutting around the battlefield and delivering Putin his only real victory after months of war, capturing Soledar and Bakhmut at a heavy cost, though, as many of his mercenaries were killed in the fighting.


DEBORA PATTA: Now, throughout this war, Prigozhin has appeared untouchable, and has survived even after this armed insurrection. And he seems convinced, Margaret, that at the very least he will continue his rein in Africa, the real Wagner money spinner.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Debora Patta, thank you.

For more on the situation in Russia, we turn to CBS News national security correspondent David Martin and former U.S. ambassador to Russia, now a CBS News contributor, John Sullivan.

Good to have both of you here.

David, let's start on just what happened on the ground. 124 miles outside of Moscow. That's how far the Wagner group says they got. What does this tell us about Russia's intelligence in military?

DAVID MARTIN: Well, it came as a surprise to U.S. intelligence. They - they had some warning that there was going to be a mutiny. But they were surprised when they -- Russians put up no resistance, allowed Prigozhin to go into their military headquarters in Rostov and then send his army unopposed north toward Moscow.

And then they were surprised again by how quickly a deal was made. They had expected a longer, more violent affair. And that's why people like the national security adviser, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, canceled their travel plans, because there was the danger that this mutiny could mushroom into a civil war. And that brings up all sorts of concerns about the security of Russia's nuclear weapons and what you learn is that when a person like Putin is sitting on top of an arsenal of thousands of nuclear weapons, his problems very quickly become your problems.


And, Ambassador, I mean, it's -- it sounds strange sometimes, that phrase catastrophic success when foreign policy analysts talk about it, but are we actually in a situation where Vladimir Putin is preferable to Yevgeny Prigozhin in terms of running the Russian state?

JOHN SULLIVAN: Well, he's certainly a known quantity. He's a hardened adversary of the United States, but the alternative could be worse. So, I think the Biden administration is rightfully concerned, as - as David suggests, with chaos and uncertainty in Russia with their nuclear arsenal is very dangerous, not just for the United States but for the world.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, when we - when you look at the map, Rostov, the city that you mentioned, it's a major logistics hub on that route to Moscow. Do we have any insight yet, David, into what's happening within the Russian military right now? Are they remaining loyal to Vladimir Putin?

DAVID MARTIN: There was no sign that any of the security apparatus around Putin had - had switched sides. They seem to hang - hang tough with Putin.

The - the question of why there was no Russian resistance -- I mean one possible explanation is because Putin told them not to resist. We're going to settle this as quickly and as peacefully as possible.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Ambassador, it was a surprise to many when it was Belarus that announced that they were the brokers here, that the president of that country. Now that country is pretty much viewed as a vassal state of Russia. Vladimir Putin controls it. There are nuclear weapons that Vladimir Putin says he's putting there. Explain this part of the puzzle? Like, why would Yevgeny Prigozhin move to Belarus? Why are they suddenly appearing to be power brokers?

JOHN SULLIVAN: Well, as - as you point out, Margaret, Lukashenko is in power now as president because of Vladimir Putin. Vladimir Putin came to his rescue in August 2020. It was Lukashenko who was dependent on Putin. But now, think about this, this is, as you note, Belarus is part of a union state with Russia. They are conjoined. How dependent now is Putin on Lukashenko? It's an -- it's - it's evidence of the weakness that this reveals, what's happened in the last three or four days, the weakness of Vladimir Putin. It's not just an appearance of weakness, it's actual weakness. A person that he has said is a traitor, who has stabbed him and his nation in the back, he struck a deal with? A deal that he needed to strike to avoid bloodshed and chaos? What strong leader does that?

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, exactly. And - and when you look at - I think for so many Americans who are learning about Wagner group for the first time, and they just heard Debora's great reporting there, the U.S. considers them a transnational criminal organization. Is this like the mafia has its own military? I mean how do we think about this?

JOHN SULLIVAN: Well, Prigozhin himself spent most of the 1980s in prison because he's a career criminal. Wagner operates in states in Africa and elsewhere, not because they are patriots who were executing policy on behalf of the Russian government, they're there to get access to gold mines, oil resources and so forth. This is a money-making organization, corrupt organization, that the United States correctly treats as a transnational criminal organization.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And that's what -- David, it was interesting to here, from both the secretary and Mike Turner, this concern of what happens next, not just in Ukraine, but in Libya, in Syria, throughout Africa. Do we have any concept yet? I mean does this become a separate company? Does this become part of the Russian military?

DAVID MARTIN: Well, I somehow don't think that Prigozhin has gone to Belarus to live out his days in idle exile. I don't think he's out of the game. And although there's been this deal with Vladimir Putin, who says Vladimir Putin is going to deliver on the deal? I mean if I were Prigozhin, I would keep my bodyguards close and my food taster closer because poison is one of Putin's favorite instruments of getting revenge.

MARGARET BRENNAN: He has a force of, what, 25,000 under his command, allegedly?

DAVID MARTIN: That's - that's what he's credited for. He was -- at the start of this year, he was credited with 50,000. And I think the drop from 50,000 to 25,000 is a measure of how much they lost in the - in the fighting in - in eastern Ukraine.

MARGARET BRENNAN: This was great to have your analysis and your reporting. Thank you, both.

JOHN SULLIVAN: Thanks, Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be right back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: It's now been one year since the Supreme Court overturned Roe versus Wade, and the political dissension over abortion rights continues to grow. We've recently discussed the topic with Republican presidential candidates on this broadcast, but today we turn to Texas Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, a co-chair of President Biden's re-election bid. And she joins us from El Paso.

Good morning to you, Congresswoman?


MARGARET BRENNAN: It's been 50 years since 1973 and that ruling. But in that time, Congress failed to pass any protections for abortion access. Even when Democrats controlled both houses, even when presidents were Democrats.

We're now at this point where our CBS News polling shows 53 percent of Democrats feel as though your party isn't doing enough on the issue of abortion. Why do Democrats think this is a winning issue for the party when they've not been able to deliver on it for so long?

VERONICA ESCOBAR: Well, Margaret, the - the House Democrats have passed the Women's Health Care Protection Act. We did that both sessions of Congress, the last two, when we had a majority. But as you know, and as the American people know, we did not have a wide enough majority in the Senate. In the Senate because of the filibuster, the Senate has not acted on protecting access and women's freedom to have access to abortion care.

But it is really important that we look at what's happened since Roe v. Wade was overturned by the Republican-controlled Supreme Court. We have seen 23 million women lose access to reproductive health care. We've seen 18 states enact harsh abortion bans. And we have also seen every single Republican nominee express support for a federal national abortion ban. We cannot go in that direction, and that's why these upcoming elections are critically important.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But even when there was unified control, it wasn't delivered on. When you look at what's happening now, half of those polled by CBS say abortion access has become more restricted over the past year, as you've just detailed.

So, we know President Biden is taking these executive actions and orders. Why isn't there more grassroots mobilization at the state level if the entire point of the court ruling was that it goes back to the states?

VERONICA ESCOBAR: We have seen grassroots mobilization at the state level. We've seen states such as --

MARGARET BRENNAN: You're saying you're losing the argument, though?


MARGARET BRENNAN: But you just detailed that state by state, in many places, you're losing that argument.

VERONICA ESCOBAR: Well, states are making every efforts and grassroots organizations and women across the country are working to put in protections at the state constitutional level. But the challenge that we will face, should Republicans maintain control of the House and gain control of the Senate or the White House, is that we would see national restrictions that are harsher and more serious than - than what we see today.

So, we've got a very - we've got a huge challenge on our hands in the sense that women's reproductive freedoms continue to be rolled back. And the only way to win that is by winning elections. Both making sure that we flip the House and regain control, and that we elect a wide enough margin, a filibuster proof majority, or senators willing to lift the majority to protect women, and we've got to maintain the White House.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley was recently on this program and she said candidates aren't telling the American people the truth. Republicans and Democrats she puts in that bucket. She said, there's not -- you know, if there's neither the consensus nor the votes for either party to either legalize or fully ban abortion.

Listen to what she said.

(Begin VC)

NIKKI HALEY (R) 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So let's be honest with the American people and say, let's find national consensus. Let's agree on, you know, getting rid of late-term abortions. Let's agree on the fact that we need more adoptions. Let's agree on the fact that we need accessible contraception. Let's agree on the fact that mothers shouldn't be jailed or go to - you know, get the death penalty for abortions.

(End VC)

MARGARET BRENNAN: Doesn't she have a point? There are smaller issues related to abortion you can find consensus on?

VERONICA ESCOBAR: The national consensus, Margaret, is that 80 percent of Americans do not agree with the overturning of Roe v. Wade. That is --

MARGARET BRENNAN: But in terms of what you could actually get passed in Congress?

VERONICA ESCOBAR: Well, we -- again, we -- Democrats passed the Women's Health Care Protection Act in the House.

MARGARET BRENNAN: In the House. Yes, only in the House.

VERONICA ESCOBAR: (INAUDIBLE). And the challenge in the Senate is that you need a super majority.


VERONICA ESCOBAR: You need 60 votes.


VERONICA ESCOBAR: And so, right, which is why we need to win elections this -- next November. And, furthermore, we've got to retain the White House because there's only one person who will be on the ballot next November, and that's President Biden, who has promised and committed to fighting for women's reproductive freedom. Make no mistake about it -


VERONICA ESCOBAR: As much as Nikki Haley wants to talk about finding consensus here and there, the bottom line is all these --

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, stopping women from being prosecuted, for example, the death penalty. I mean you have to appreciate that.


MARGARET BRENNAN: I mean why not pass a law on that front?

VERONICA ESCOBAR: Can - can you imagine that's --

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is that not worth it?

VERONICA ESCOBAR: That's their - that's where they want to allow consensus?

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, she's saying, let's pass a law to prevent that on the national level.

VERONICA ESCOBAR: Well, I -- my perspective, and I think the vast majority of Americans' perspectives, is, we want the protections under Roe v. Wade restored. Eighty percent. And, in fact, even 65 percent -



MARGARET BRENNAN: Protection up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, that's your defined position? I know that's what was in the protection act, but specifically that's what you are endorsing?

VERONICA ESCOBAR: Roe v. Wade essentially protects a women's right to access abortion. And what we are seeing in states like my own, in Texas, where the rollbacks have happened and the bans are occurring, is that even in cases where women's health is at risk, politicians don't really care about the health of the woman.


Congresswoman, thank you for coming on and making that case.

We'll be back in a moment.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to the global hunger crisis and our conversation with the new executive director of the United Nations World Food Program, Cindy McCain. She spoke to us Thursday from New York, where she addressed the U.N. Security Council about what she called a spiraling hunger crisis in parts of the world.

(Begin VT)

CINDY MCCAIN (World Food Program Executive Director): There are a lot of fires in the world right now. There's a lot going on. There's a lot of countries that are in deep distress. Somalia being one of them. And so we're spread pretty thin right now. And so to be able to continue the work that we do, obviously we need more help, but we need the world to pay attention to us also and make sure that people understand it's not just a security crisis in Somalia, it's a humanity crisis as well.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I know you've recently lost some employees in Sudan where the United States has pulled out because of the violence there. Are you still able to feed people despite the war?

CINDY MCCAIN: Well, we never left Sudan. We stalled for a little bit, we paused for a few days because, you're correct, we did lose three people there. And we had to evacuate our other citizens, our other nationals, as well as our international people out. But we never left.

And so we are now, again, we're back in, we're distributing food. Again, reminding everyone, it's extraordinarily dangerous there right now. So, our methods and how we're doing it were -- are a little bit different. But we also have asked the U.N. to please guarantee us a humanitarian corridor for us to be able to work and operate so we can deliver our food.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I know the U.S. is the largest financial donor to the World Food Program and the U.N., having given $7.2 billion, more than all other donors combined last year. Meanwhile, the world's second largest economy, China, gave $11 million. How receptive is Beijing to your requests?

CINDY MCCAIN: Well, I'd like to encourage Beijing to get involved and be a part of this. We need -- not only do we need their funding, but we need their expertise on many things. Their - their technology, with regards to agriculture, and the technology with regards to - to climate change can be very helpful in these countries that are really struggling with drought and lack of food, et cetera.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is the issue that the government wants credit and so, therefore, they want to do it under their own flag and not through the international system, which you represent?

CINDY MCCAIN: I think, to some degree, you're correct on that. I think it's also just a willingness to be a part of - of working together as a team worldwide. In these countries that we're in, one agency cannot do - cannot do the job. We need partnerships. And so we encourage the Chinese and we encourage many - encourage many other countries around the world to partner with us.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, in the room, when you are trying to pitch to the Security Council, you are looking at the United States, you were talking to China. You're also talking to Russia in addition to some other members. But I want to pick up specifically on the Kremlin because they said this past week there were no grounds to extend the Black Sea grain initiative. That is the deal under which Russia agreed to allow grain to leave the ports of Ukraine, a country it is militarily occupying. That's arguably weaponizing food.

What's the impact if that deal goes away?

CINDY MCCAIN: Well, the impact is, again, we're short on grain, and what does that mean? It affects a lot -- a large portion of Africa. We're also short on fertilizer. Fertilizer is the other half of this that's kind of - that's supposed to be coming out. And so, without the fertilizer, in many cases, they're not going to be able to grow crops that are as large or as productive as they could be.

For all the things that - that are going on, I truly wish that we could end this war so that we could begin again to feed people around the world and - and so that the Ukrainians can also feed themselves. What's at stake here is starvation and famine. That's what we're looking at.

MARGARET BRENNAN: There's been an uptick in migrants to the United States from Haiti, which is now largely controlled by gangs. How do you keep the food you are getting into that island nation out of the hands of criminals and into the mouths of starving children?

CINDY MCCAIN: Well, you're exactly right, the importance is, is that the international community needs to be in there to not only help keep the country safe, but to - but to help us be - enable our organization, other organizations, to be able to move the grains around and move food around in general.

The idea in - in Haiti, which is such a lush tropical island, but it is also affected by climate change, it's also affected by -- by, you know, by land use. I think the world community has taken a step forward and kind of forgotten Haiti a little bit.

So -- so my job, having returned from Haiti, is to remind the world that Haiti is still there, is -- still needs our help, it still needs food, it still needs security, and it needs to be able to prosper in a way so that they don't lose a generation of children.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Broadly speaking, extreme weather is a factor that's affecting crops and migration. You've said climate change is influencing the situations in a number of the examples you just gave. Where are you seeing it impact the most?

CINDY MCCAIN: Well, one of the places is the Sahel. I mean the -- if you could see what's down there and see the impact that the - that climate change has had on it. So what we're -- what we are doing with regards to the Sahel and other regions, particularly in Africa, is water management, teaching ancient ways, which are very simple to do, and climate change, not just in Africa or the Sahel, climate change is worldwide. And we're going to be seeing. You know, we're having to manage crops now that are - they have to be more resilient to drought. Our animal feed and things have to be more resilient so the animals can be more resistant to drought. There's a lot of things at stake here. And I think when people talk about climate change, and - and those naysayers that think climate change isn't real, I'd like to take them to the Sahel and show them what's real.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Cindy McCain, at the United Nations, thank you.

CINDY MCCAIN: Thank you.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be right back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: That's it for us today.

Thank you all for watching.

Until next week, or FACE THE NATION, I'm Margaret Brennan.


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