IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 3/3/22

Guests: Jon Wolfsthal, David Rothkopf, Eugene Robinson, Adam Schiff


MSNBC`s continuing live coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Today after French President Emmanuel Macron took a phone call from Vladimir Putin that lasted 90 minutes a senior French official that Macron is convinced that quote, "the worst is yet to come." Analysis of Russia`s escalating violence in Ukraine.


LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Ayman. And we`re going to continue the live coverage of the situation at that nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

The president of Ukraine, President Zelenskyy, quoted by the foreign ministry, saying, no state except Russia has ever opened fire at nuclear power units for the first time in human history. A terrorist state has resorted to nuclear terror.

We`re moving into a whole new territory on this tonight.

AYMAN MOHYELDIN, MSNBC HOST: Yeah, there is no doubt about it. I think where we started the hour, and where we are finishing the hour, perhaps, some good news at the site of the plant. But it is revealing to what Russia is willing to do in this war, and I think that should be a major cause of concern for everyone.

O`DONNELL: And, Ayman, the risk that Russians are willing to take, if they weren`t specifically targeting the nuclear plants, why were they firing so close to it, or why did they take that risk to be anywhere near it?

MOHYELDIN: And again, as I was seeing, some analysis suggests there`s also a disregard for Russia`s own safety, the safety of its personnel, the safety of nearby Russian towns, where some of its raised ration blasts, God forbid something to happen, could blow in that direction. It`s a game- changer when you consider what`s Russia is willing to do in this war.

O`DONNELL: It really is. Thank you, Ayman.

MOHYELDIN: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Well, tonight, as we say, there is a fire at the largest nuclear power plant inside Europe. That power plant is in Ukraine, and it was subject to a Russian attack tonight. This video caught on security camera earlier tonight appears to show a projectile heading into the plant.

Moments ago, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy released a statement, Europeans, wake up please. It`s time to wake up. The biggest nuclear power plant is on fire.

At this moment, the Russian tanks are firing at the nuclear blocks. They have formal imagers, meaning, they know where they are shooting at. They were prepared for it.

I`m addressing all Ukrainians and all Europeans, all those who know the word Chernobyl, who know how many victims there were there. It was a global catastrophe.

A spokesperson for the plant told the associated press that shelves were falling directly on the nuclear plant, and had set fire to one of the facilities six reactors. That reactor is under renovation, and not operating. But there is nuclear fuel inside.

Moments ago, the International Atomic Energy Agency said this on Twitter. Ukraine regulator tells IAEA there has been no change reported in radiation levels at the power plant site. Ukraine tells IAEA that fire has not affected essential equipment, plant personnel, taking mitigatory actions.

Moments ago, a White House official told NBC News, quote, our latest information shows no indications of elevated levels of radiation, and we are monitoring closely.

Less than an hour ago, President Biden finished a phone call with Ukraine`s President Zelenskyy. The White House said this about the call, quote, President Joseph R. Biden Jr. spoke with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine this evening to receive an update on the fire at the nuclear power plant. President Biden joined President Zelenskyy in urging Russia to cease its military activities in the area, and allow firefighters and emergency responders to access the site.

We have drone video tonight of evidence of war crimes committed by Vladimir Putin, in addition to the war crime of attacking a nuclear power plant. This drone video will be part of the investigation of Russian war crimes, now underway by prosecutors at the international criminal court at The Hague. The drone video shows the destruction of residential buildings near Kyiv. The video proves that this residential area was specifically targeted by Russian forces, and explains why 2 million people have been forced to flee from their homes, homes like these, in Ukraine, a country of 44 million people.


Today, Vladimir Putin, obviously, lied when he said that he is using, quote, only precision weapons to exclusively destroy military infrastructure. That is already a proven lie.

Over 1 million refugees have managed to leave the country, and other 1 million people have been displaced, and are fleeing to areas within Ukraine, not yet under attack by Russian forces. Ukrainian soldiers and civilians in Kharkiv have been attacked with airstrikes. Russian forces captured Kherson, a key access point to the Black Sea in southern Ukraine. Today, Russia and Ukraine held another round of peace talks in Belarus. A cease-fire was not achieved, obviously.

But Russia and Ukraine said that they are finding a way to agree, to create safe corridors for civilians to evacuate, and for humanitarian supplies to be delivered.

And joining us now is Cal Perry, who is Lviv, Ukraine.

Cal, what is the situation there and elsewhere in the country?

CAL PERRY, MSNBC HOST: Well, I think the headline tonight is that the IAEA saying that the essential equipment, as you`ve said, has been secure at this power plant. Just to back our viewers back to 24 hours. Our viewers are familiar with the video of citizens blocking Russian vehicles in this town. Initially, 24 hours ago, it was two tanks and two armored personnel carriers that, according to the national guard, try to make their way to the power plant. They were stopped by civilians.

At some point, they withdrew, and in the last 12 hours, they came back, in force, and started which was initially a small arms fire exchange with both the civilians where there and the national guard. At some point in the last two hours, that`s when we started to see this black and white video. That`s when the mayor for sound the alarm, then the plant manager.

And then, we had the foreign affairs minister, calling on people to wake up, saying, in one of the scariest tweets I have ever read on television that an explosion could happen, and that could be ten times worse than Chernobyl, because of a fire inside the plant.

We have since then learned from emergency services that the fire is in an auxiliary training building behind the power plant. I want to reference that video. When you look at that black and white footage of that planned, and you see the rounds hitting that plant, those are tracer rounds. American marines will put those tracer rounds about one in every ten rounds. I don`t know whether using on the ground there. But you can surmise, pretty easily, that that is sustained gunfire on to that plant.

We understand that it is secure now, but there`s nothing to say it won`t be a counterattack. And as you and Ayman we`re pointing out, the goal of this conflict seem to be moving dramatically. It`s unclear what exactly the purpose was, but this plant, not just the biggest in all of Europe, about a quarter of the power that Ukraine receives comes from this plant.

So the military objective could have been to get in there and shut the power off. I can tell you in the northern part of the country, and what they call the Sumy region here, the northern part of Ukraine, we have seen villages that have been choked off, where the local ex city has been targeted by Russians, to not just cut the power of, but you get the heat off so that people are literally freezing in these basement bunkers, as we`re starting to see now, not just an attack on a power plant, but the indiscriminate shelling of these residential areas across the country, Lawrence.

This is sort of thing in the last 24 hours that has changed, as the Russian army seems to be bogged down or slowing their advance. There seems to be now carrying out these attacks on civilian infrastructure, on civilian targets, all of which, of, course is causing this flow of human traffic. More than 1 million people have already left this country, and that is just in one week of conflict, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: And joining our coverage now, John Wolfsthal, who served as a special assistant to president, Obama as a senior director for arms control and nonproliferation at the National Security Council.

Also with us, David Rothkopf, foreign affairs analyst and columnist for "USA Today" and "The Daily Beast".

John, you have experience with these questions that the world is wondering about tonight, about a nuclear power plant on fire, or buildings close to it on fire inside Ukraine.

What do you make of the situation, as of this hour?

JON WOLFSTHAL, NUCLEAR POLICY EXPERT: Well, I`m sorry that expertise has to come into play, and it`s actually, there is a horrific event that Russian troops would take military action against the plant, and put the safety of the local environment and in fact the world at risk.

What we are looking at does appear to be a contained fire in the training building. There has been no increased levels of radiation. Actually the levels of radiation are live online, you can see them from multiple verified sites. And the real question is whether this facility has power.


Nuclear power plants use a lot of heat. The fuel in the reactors and in the steam fuel ponds, if they don`t get circulated cold water can melt, and that`s where you can get a release of radiation. So the hope is that the backup generators, and if not the backup generators, connections to the grid, including a very large hydroelectric dam on the river, just a couple miles upstream, operating, but we don`t know until Ukrainian officials can access the site.

O`DONNELL: David, the question is, was this a deliberate attack? Was this an accidental targeting? And the answer to that question tells us about what Vladimir Putin is willing to do.

DAVID ROTHKOPF, FOREIGN AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I think it does. Look, it seems really unlikely that this was accidental targeting. This was the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. Certainly, the Russians know exactly where it was. They knew exactly that it was the source of most of the power for that part of Ukraine.

And this was not a single shot, a single air and shell, this was consistent fire directly at the plant. And so, I think one of the conclusions we can draw from this quite apart from any nuclear risks that`s associated with firing on a facility like this, and actually much more disturbing than that risk, is what the Russian intent is.

And the Russian intent is to inflict as much damage, in as many ways as possible, without regard for the well-being of the citizens of Ukraine. Quite the contrary, they`re trying to kill as many, and terrorize as many as they possibly can. And I think that map that you just showed a moment ago of Ukraine, and see the pink and red bits creeping in from the sides. What we are seeing is a Russian cancer, eating away at a Democratic, independent country. And it is clearly the intent of Vladimir Putin to continue until he has destroyed the soul of that country. And that`s what we have to be worrying about.

O`DONNELL: Jon Wolfsthal, is it practically possible to attack nuclear power plants as a way of taking up the power grid in Ukraine? Is it possible to attack those power plants in a way that does not include just a massive risk to millions of people, including people in Russia?

WOLFSTHAL: So, first, this state clearly that attacking and nuclear power plant is a violation of international agreements, to which Russia has signed up to, and the rest of the world has signed up to. So it`s another of the list of things that Vladimir Putin has done.

Look, you can bomb the grid. You can take out the power lines. You don`t need to actually assault the physical plant itself.

And assuming that Russia intends, to gobble up Ukraine, they`re not going to want a smoldering nuclear power plant, they`re going to want an operable plant. So there are two things that are possible here. Either Vladimir Putin has directed his operation to destroy the plant, that`s bad. Or the troops on the ground are doing this without direct orders, and that`s even worse.

And one of the reasons we are so worried about a conflict in Ukraine is that things can get out of control very, very quickly. I don`t believe that Vladimir Putin said, oh, yeah, I want a fire on this plant. The problem is when warfare, things go sideways. And we, the United States and the rest of Europe, and quickly get drawn in with between multiple different powers, which would be a disaster for everyone.

O`DONNELL: Cal Perry, have you had any tactical fury in Ukraine about why Russians would attack that power plant?

PERRY: Other than trying to shut off the power, and again, this is one of the tactics there carried out on the civilian population. The two don`ts when a bomb civilians. They want to basically choke them off, stop any supply lines, cut off the heat.

It is cold here. There are 15 nuclear power plants across this country, counting for half of the power. So right now, you can bet that the Ukrainian military is working on the map, and trying to figure out what is going out with these infrastructures. You know, what was thought to be a quick invasion, or where the Americans warned that could be a quick invasion on Kyiv has slowed down.

I mean, the Ukrainian army, with the assistance of Ukrainian civilians, has certainly slowed that march towards Kyiv, and slow the march towards some of these down. And so, the Russians are recruiting a little, bit and reversing this age-old tactic of punishing the civilian population, of bombing indiscriminately into these areas, which not only terrifies the civilian population, but forces them to flee, forces the states to be cleared out.

If they can take some of these nuclear power sites, they can cut the power, and it makes it all the more difficult to defend these cities. Also, the Russians, I think, at this point, have time a little bit on their side. I mean, they can move as little as they want, but as long as they`re moving again towards these areas, it is incredibly destabilizing.


Like I said, 1 million people across the country, but many millions more are on the move. And if the goal here, on behalf of President Putin, is to scare people inside Ukraine, we`ll, the president and the middle of the night. It is certainly one way to scare people, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Cal Perry, stay safe, thank you for joining us once again we are invaluable reporting.

Jon Wolfsthal and David Rothkopf, thank you for joining us.

And, coming up, we`re following the developments of that Russian attack on the largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine, which is also the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. And we are feeling the agonies of the Cold War descend upon us once again.

Later, we`ll be joined by the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Adam Schiff.



O`DONNELL: We are continuing to monitor the fire at the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, which is in Ukraine after a Russian attack at the plant.

Tonight, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm tweeted, I just spoke with Ukraine`s energy minister about the situation at the nuclear plant, Russian military operations near the plant are reckless and must cease.

The Department of Energy has activated its nuclear incident response team, and this monitoring events in consultation with the Department of Defense. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the White House. We have seen no elevated radiation ratings near the facility, and the plans reactors are protected by robust containment structures, and reactors are being safely shut down.

And so, tonight, the nuclear nightmares of the Cold War return to the world. Thanks entirely to Vladimir Putin.

In the days after Adolf Hitler invaded Poland, the acclaimed poet W.H. Auden, wrote a famous poem called September 1, 1939. And opening lines he wrote, waves of anger and fewer circulate over the bright and darkened lands of the earth.

President Lyndon Johnson used a line from that poem and what became the most famous presidential campaign ad in history, the last line of the ad was from Auden`s poem. We must love one another, or die.

That ad sets the stakes for the 1964 presidential election, "Life and Death". And without ever saying the name of the Republican candidate, everything about the ad said that the Republican candidate for president, Barry Goldwater, could not be trusted with nuclear weapons. The ad essentially said Barry Goldwater could get us all killed in nuclear war.

This historic TV ad run only once, on NBC. But it was shown repeatedly after that in news broadcasts. The ad was created by the legendary campaign ad man Tony Schwartz, who I worked with on one campaign late in this career.

This one minute of TV locked in the public mind for the rest of the century the presidential position on the use of nuclear weapons, and the zero tolerance for the risks of provoking a nuclear attack from Moscow.


UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: One, two, three, four, five, seven, six, six, eight, nine, nine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, zero.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are the stakes, to make a world in which all of God`s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other or we must die.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vote for President Johnson on November 3rd. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.


O`DONNELL: Most Americans aren`t old enough to remember the Cold War very well. It had many of the same elements of a hot war. War is hell, and a Cold War is its own kind of how.

It was a Cold War because the two greatest nuclear powers in the world at the time, the United States and the Soviet Union, knew that there were absolutely no circumstances in which either could ever fire a shot directly at the other. Or, nuclear war could, and probably would break out, killing more people in both countries within an hour that have been killed in the entire history of war.

And that meant that we in the United States just had to watch. Just watch, as the Berlin Wall went up, and as Czechoslovakia was invaded, and all the other cruel aggressions of the Russian dictators who controlled the Soviet Union`s nuclear weapons. We have to watch because it`s firing one shot could get us all killed.

That`s why the United States will not be able to enforce a no fly zone over Ukraine. Because that puts the United States and Russia one shot away from a war with each other, in which Vladimir Putin has publicly indicated that he is willing to go nuclear.


Today, after French President Emmanuel Macron took a phone call from Vladimir Putin that lasted 90 minutes, a senior French official said that Macron is convinced that, quote, the worst is yet to come. And, he is convinced that Vladimir Putin showed, quote, determination to continue the military operation and to continue it to the end.

Ukraine`s President Zelenskyy asked once again today for the United States and NATO allies to provide a no fly zone over Ukraine. He said, quote, if you cannot introduce no-fly zone now, then tell us now, when you will do it. If you cannot tell Ukrainians now, when you introduce that, then what else do you need? Tell us how many people must be blown up, how many legs, arms, heads must be torn off and fly away to finally reach you to make you introduce no-fly zone. How many? Tell me the number, I will go myself, and we will count, and wait until the time comes.

President Zelenskyy, the bravest president we have seen, President Zelenskyy is understandably asking for everything he can think of to protect the lives of the people of Ukraine. But, President Zelenskyy has not taken an oath to protect the lives of the people of the United States. President Biden lived through every day of the Cold War, and served in the Senate doing most of the cold war. He had spent some portion of every day of his professional life thinking about America`s nuclear arsenal.

President Biden understands his first duty is to protect the lives of Americans. And so, he is doing whatever president, Democrat or Republican, did during the Cold War. There are no good choices in a cold war. President Biden, like every Cold War president before him, is making sure that the United States does nothing to provoke a nuclear attack by Vladimir Putin, who appears to be the most unhinged commander of Russian nuclear weapons in history.


REPORTER: President Zelenskyy is calling again for a no fly zone over Ukraine, is that something you have given any thought to it all?

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Again, the reason why that is not been established, the president hasn`t been willing to take, we have been interested to taking, is because no-fly zone require supplementation. It requires, essentially, the U.S. military shooting down Russian planes, and causing, prompting a direct war with Russia. Something, the exact step that we want to avoid.


O`DONNELL: No nuclear power has ever fired a shot at another nuclear power. Never. Not one shot. And it`s not going to happen now. And so, no American pilots or NATO pilots will go into the air over Ukraine to enforce a no fly zone by shooting down Russian pilots, because that is how you enforce the no fly zone, and because that would risk nuclear war. A risk, the president of the United States, can never take.

Nuclear war is the one kind of war that you would not be able to watch on TV, because New York City would be targeted in a nuclear exchange. As with Washington dc, and many other major cities, so people in buildings like this one, who deliver your TV news wouldn`t be here anymore. And you probably wouldn`t be here anymore, either.

If you are not old enough to have lived through the soul crushing agonies of the Cold War, I am very sorry to say, you are living through them now.

Joining our discussion now is Eugene Robinson, associate editor and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Washington Post. He`s also an MSNBC political analyst.

Also with us is David Rothkopf. He`s back to join our discussion.

Eugene, here we are again. I think this is a place neither one of us ever expected to be. But the president of United States once again is faced with the extreme the limited choices that a Cold War offers against a nuclear power.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: That`s right, Lawrence. So much for the end of history.


You know I remember the Cold War. I remember what that was like. I was a kid, but I remember duck and cover exercises in school when we ducked under our desks, as if that was going to protect us from the nuclear bombs that were falling around us.

You are absolutely right. while there`s absolutely nothing cold about this war for the Ukrainian people. It is very hot and deadly and savage and evil from their point of view. And our hearts and all the aid we can ever give them goes out to them.

But and there is the but of mutually assured destruction in the nuclear age. But there will not be a no-fly zone for that very reason because we cannot have a direct military confrontation with Russia. We cannot shoot down Russian planes because that risks annihilation of a kind that perhaps people who are younger, and who don`t remember the Cold War, cannot imagine. But it is literally beyond imagination.

But as you said, we wouldn`t want -- this war would not be televised because none of us would be here, after the first -- the opening salvo of this war. It would be Armageddon on a scale that is just unthinkable.

And so nuclear powers cannot get into wars with other nuclear powers, full stop. It cannot happen.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: And David, it seems to me that President Zelenskyy`s repeated request for the no fly zone makes perfect sense. And I actually think it is a useful request, because it helps press, not just the United States, but all of the European allies to go even farther, to go another step, to go farther than they wanted to go already, partially because they know they can never get up in the sky and shoot down a Russian plane.

DAVID ROTHKOPF, FOREIGN AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes. I think that`s right. President Zelenskyy has the obligation to protect his people, and he knows, in many ways, that he cannot. And so, by asking for this, he saying, do everything you can.

There is a lot we can do. I think the sweeping sanctions you are seeing are going to bring the Russian economy to its knees. And wars like this are not cheap. That has a big impact.

I think we can do more in terms of the provision of weapons that can stop Russian tanks, whether it`s Stingers, Javelins, or rocket launchers, or other kinds of vehicles like that.

I think we can do more to help the Ukrainians, in terms of things like fighting against Russian electronic warfare, that jams things for their air force. We can provide aircraft to the Ukrainians to fight with.

We can provide aid, as we are, and there is a very, very big package now in the U.S., perhaps the $10 billion package being considered. So I think we have to explore all those options.

You know, there`s another two things that are really critical here. One is NATO has said we are moving forward, and these are lines that Russia cannot cross. And it is very important with a guy like Vladimir Putin to recognize that while we will not go into a no fly zone over Ukraine, if he sets an inch into Poland, an inch into the Baltics, at that point, we`re going to undertake the risk.

And the final thing that I would say is, you`re right. Joe Biden has lived through this throughout his entire life. And one of the things that is remarkable is that while Putin`s rhetoric is inflammatory and actually insane, actually puts all of us on the planet at risk, Joe Biden`s response, and the response of the western leaders has been very cool. They have not taken the bait. They have done everything they could to help Ukraine, but they have not ratcheted up the tensions as Putin wanted them to do. And I think we need to be very grateful, particularly if we remember back to the Cold War, that we have leaders who understand how to manage a crisis like this, rather than get caught up in it, and tuned up by it.

O`DONNELL: David Rothkopf and Eugene Robinson, thank you very much for joining us during our coverage.

Thank you.

And the House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff will join us next will join us next.



O`DONNELL: Earlier today, NBC`s Richard Engel spoke with President Zelenskyy.


RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: You just mentioned that you want to talk to Vladimir Putin. Vladimir Putin has so far not been willing to meet with you.

Do you have a message for him now that Ukrainian cities are under attack? This city is under attack. A convoy is on its way here.

Is there a way to prevent this war from escalating even further now?

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: It`s not about I want to talk with Putin. I think I have to talk with Putin. The world has to talk with Putin because there are no other ways to stop this war. That`s why I have to.



O`DONNELL: Joining us now is Representative Adam Schiff of California. He`s the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and a member of the January 6th Select Committee.

Chairman Schiff, we`ve been puzzling here over the -- is there any strategic reason you could conceive of for Russia to attack a nuclear power plant?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): No, I can`t imagine what they`re thinking is. You know, I understand, although it`s reprehensible, why Putin has been essentially using the nuclear saber-rattling tactic to just raise the temperature.

But to risk the release of radioactive material to make himself even more a pariah, I can`t imagine there`s any strategic thinking to it. So I have to imagine that this is more incompetence, as well as a willingness to just attack civilian targets, even without knowing what they are.

O`DONNELL: Yes, we have seen, we have to remember this tonight, I think especially in this coverage. We have seen a great deal of military incompetence on the Russian side, including inoperable trucks because their tires are too old. Just kind of stunning situations like that.

And so, it is entirely possible that that is what is at work here, including a unit, kind of operating in a renegade fashion.

SCHIFF: You know, you can`t exclude the possibility. I think there have been a number of route surprises that have been coming Putin`s way. One of them is really how poor the Russian planning is.

Now, maybe part of the reason why the Russian planning is so poor is that Putin is isolated, and Putin hasn`t wanted to share his thinking with others. And you know, those in his inner circle are probably terrified of contradicting him, and even telling him that he was not going be greeted like a liberator in Ukraine.

He`s also I think been rudely awakened to the strength of sanctions, the degree of western unity, all of this. Zelenskyy`s leadership must have come as a rude awakening to him. But he has to be really displeased with the performance of his military. And I have to hope, because I don`t think he is insane, that attacking a nuclear power plant wasn`t on the list of Russian war plans.

O`DONNELL: You know, we have never had a chairman of the Intelligence Committee have to make the point that I don`t think he is insane, when we referring to a Russian dictator. But that has been an active question. And when I hear you say that I know that you are briefed at the highest level by the intelligence community on everything about situations like this -- Ukraine, Russia and the mental state of Vladimir Putin.

Are you confident in your own, are you confident in the intelligence briefings you get on this? Are you confident now in your own understanding of what Vladimir Putin may be capable of?

SCHIFF: You know, I think that Lawrence, the intelligence agencies have been pretty spot on in their assessment of what Putin`s plans were, in their disclosure of Putin`s false flag operations, Putin`s timing. So, I have to give them a lot of credit. Tragically, they`ve got this exactly right.

In terms of Putin himself, I think we have pretty good visibility, not perfect, but I think we have pretty good visibility. You can tell, though, just watching open source that he is isolating himself.

You know, that highly publicized incident where he dresses down the head of his intelligence agency because he wandered off script. You could see how far away from Putin these (INAUDIBLE) people would even sit. And by that display of humiliating one of his top officials, he`s basically telling the Russian people that not even his top people are safe from him. But he is also telling his top leaders they dare not contradict him.

And I have to think that COVID isolation, the isolation from getting candid advice from even his top people, because they`re scared to give it to him is resulting in a lot of really poor decision-makings. But I don`t think that`s a mental health problem.

O`DONNELL: Chairman Adam Schiff, thank you very much for joining us in our breaking news coverage in the war in Ukraine tonight. We really appreciate it.

SCHIFF: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Thank you. And up next, we`ll go back to Ukraine for a live report on that fire at the nuclear power plant. That`s next.



O`DONNELL: For an update on the fire at Europe`s largest nuclear power plant which is in Ukraine, I want to go back to Cal Perry who is in Lviv, Ukraine. And also with us, James Acton, co-director of the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

And Cal, what are the latest facts as we know them about the power plant?

CAL PERRY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Right. So at this hour, the plant we are told by the IAEA, is secured, at least that essential equipment, as they put it. The Russians have withdrawn for now. I want to caution, though, as has been the case in the week that we have been here reporting, this seems like we get good news. I want to caution that it could turn bad.

When we get bad news, I want to caution that it`s early. The Russians could come back. There could be a counterattack. There is nothing to indicate that that won`t happen.


PERRY: Now, in addition to that, the White House is saying the Department of Energy has put an incident response team into effect in place.

We`re also hearing now from the United Kingdom. Boris Johnson saying he has spoken to President Zelenskyy and that he is going to call for U.N. Security Council.

Taking just one step back here, it is important to remember that the U.S. said there could be a false flag attack. That could be part of what`s going on here. We don`t know how this is being presented to the Russian people.

The other thing that`s happening here is that the Russians are clearly trying to secure some of these power sites. They`re trying to cut the power to the broader population. This is a way to scare people, and nothing really that I`ve covered this week`s scarier than, you know, what we`re going to see on Ukrainian morning television which will include a weather report about which direction the wind is blowing and what is happening on the ground at again, Europe`s biggest nuclear power plant.

O`DONNELL: And the wind from there can easily blow across the Russian border. President Zelenskyy issued a written statement tonight saying, "No state except Russia has ever opened fire at a nuclear power units. For the first time in human history, a terrorist state resorted to nuclear terror."

James Acton, do you agree with President Zelenskyy`s statement?

JAMES ACTON, CO-DIRECTOR, NUCLEAR POLICY PROGRAM, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: Well, everything that we`ve done, all of the reporting that we had about this evening has been terrifying, frankly. The immediate dangerous (INAUDIBLE) right now but nonetheless, it was exceptionally irresponsible of Russia to be conducting a firefight and potentially shelling this nuclear power plant.

I think it`s very important that Russia modifies its behavior going forward from here. I mean obviously, I want Russia to get out of Ukraine right away. But if it doesn`t do that, I think it needs to stay away from Ukraine`s nuclear power plant.

And this is crucial, not conduct attacks that have nuclear safety implications. Nuclear power plants rely on a state electricity grid, to power cooling systems in the event that reactors are shot down. And so Russian attacks against Ukraine`s electricity grid have potential nuclear safety implications.

O`DONNELL: Well, stay with that. If the power plants cannot cool down, if they`re trying to shut down, then what happens?

ACTON: So, you know, firstly, I should emphasize that nuclear power plants have multiple layers of safety. If they`re shut down, and they`re trying to call the preferences to use power from the states electricity grid to cool the plant.

If that connection is severed, which is eminently possible in a war, deliberately or accidentally, then they have emergency diesel generators on site. But, you know, in the event that you have a fire, especially if firefighters weren`t able to get to the plants to put it out, then the emergency diesel generators could become damaged.

You may have batteries as well and other systems on site. But ultimately, if you can`t cool a nuclear power plant, the fuel is going to melt down. People are reaching to Chernobyl for obviously reasons for an analogy here. But actually, the worst-case scenario in nuclear power plants in Ukraine will be more likely to look like Fukushima, than it would Chernobyl. A fuel meltdown would disperse these large amounts of radiation into the environment.

O`DONNELL: So you`re saying this situation could actually be worse than Chernobyl, far worse?

ACTON: I`m now saying -- I mean Chernobyl was a terrible accident. I`m not saying it would necessarily be worse than Chernobyl. But what I`m saying is that if you look at possible nuclear accidents, the one that this one in the worst-case could most closely resemble, I think would be more likely to be Fukushima.

And if the plant lost cooling systems, if it wasn`t able to keep cool the fuel, and the fuel then melted down, you could have a release of radiation that will be similar to the Fukushima disaster.

I mean you know, in terms of their calamitous effect, Fukushima and Chernobyl were fairly similar to one another, although they have very different causes. This is what a meltdown in Ukraine`s nuclear power plant could look like in the worst-case, which I want to be very clear about, we did not see tonight.

O`DONNELL: James Acton, thank you very much for your expertise on this. And Cal Perry, thank you very much for joining us again. Stay safe. Your reporting is invaluable. Thank you, Cal.

And tonight`s LAST WORD is next.



O`DONNELL: Here`s more from Richard Engel`s interview with President Zelenskyy.


ENGEL: Internationally, you have become incredibly popular. People are comparing you to Winston Churchill. But you`re not getting a lot of sleep. You are taking time to talk with us. How are you holding up under all this pressure?


ZELENSKYY (through translator): I have been living in another world. A human can become a great person for the country, but this isn`t decided by this generation, later generations will decide that. Maybe some will remember me but that is not the goal. The most important thing is how people remember you, but not the fact that they remember. And it seems to me Churchill was drinking more.


O`DONNELL: Winston Churchill was definitely drinking more, and Winston Churchill would stand in awe of President Zelenskyy.

Our breaking news coverage continues on "THE 11TH HOUR WITH STEPHANIE RUHLE" which starts now.