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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
Former V.P. Pence Responds To Questions From Audience; January 6 Insurrection Angered V.P. Pence; Russian Troops Still In Ukraine; Missile Accidentally Fired To Polish Border; Idaho Reeling From Recent Killings. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired November 16, 2022 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I mean, when we came into office in 2017, I actually heard that the Air Force had grounded a third of their aircraft to use as spare parts to keep the other aircraft in the air. And I couldn't be more proud in those first two years of our administration, that we enacted the largest increase in our national defense since the days of Ronald Reagan.
Providing for the common defense is the first obligation of our national government. And making sure the men and women of our armed forces have the resources they need to accomplish their mission and come home safe was our top priority.
So, I appreciate you mentioning, my son, and our family, including my son-in-law and their spouses. We couldn't be, couldn't be more proud of them. And couldn't be more grateful for their service as we are the service of all those in the Armed Forces of the United States.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: I want you to meet, Florian Steciuch. He's a certified senior planner and Republican from Porter, Indiana who voted for the Trump/Pence ticket. Florian.
FLORIAN STECIUCH, CERTIFIED SENIOR PLANNER: It's an honor to meet you, sir.
PENCE: Honored to meet you.
STECIUCH: I'm a Hoosier and a first generation Ukrainian American. I administered and done missions work in Ukraine since 1994.
PENCE: Thank you.
STECIUCH: As the war in Ukraine continues, additional support from western nations is critical to enable Ukraine to protect its people and retake its lands. There are members in the Congress who oppose providing additional military and financial support for Ukraine. Many in your own political party and in your own state of Indiana, such as Senator Mike Brown.
Do you support additional A to Ukraine? And how do you handle opposing viewpoints from those in your own party and your own home state? PENCE: Well, first thank you for your ministry for so many years. And even in these times of war, the difference you're making in the lives of the people of Ukraine.
You know, I've said from very early on that it is absolutely essential that the United States of America and our western allies provide the people of Ukraine with the support they need to defend themselves and repel that unconscionable Russian invasion.
I've made it very clear that I believe that there's no room in the Republican Party for apologist for Putin, and that we need to continue to stay the course and stand strongly with President Zelensky and those courageous fighters who, who just this week, their efforts witnessed the Russian retreat from a city called Kherson.
They're making incredible progress, but we can't flag in our commitment. I'm passionate about it because I've always believed in what we used to, Jake, call the Reagan doctrine, which is wherever there are free peoples that are willing to fight communists, we'll give them the resources to fight them so we don't have to fight them.
But it's a little more personal than that for us. Karen and I were on a trip through the Middle East in March of this year. We stopped on the way back in Poland to thank relief workers in a Christian organization called Samaritan's Purse that were providing relief in the early days following that unconscionable Russian invasion.
We actually were able to travel into Ukraine that day, just a few miles, but we came to a refugee center. And I saw a site that I never thought I'd see with my own eyes. Women of every age, children of every age, with what -- whatever their earthly possessions they could carry on their backs, all lined up and being processed to leave their home country and to leave their men behind to fight against the Russians.
As a member of Samaritan's Purse said that day, he said, I never thought we'd see those sites that weren't in black and white. So, they harken back to images in Europe in the Second World War. And what's happening in Ukraine is unconscionable.
And as the leader of the free world, the United States of America needs to continue to stand strong with the people of Ukraine until the Russian -- the Russian army is repelled and the sovereignty of Ukraine is restored.
TAPPER: I want you to meet, Andrea Barber-Dansby from Anderson, Indiana. She's an independent who voted for President Biden. Andrea?
PENCE: Hi, Barbara.
ANDREA BARBER-DANSBY, INDEPENDENT VOTER: Hello. In the states that have reproductive freedom as an issue on their ballots, the majority of voters in all those states voted for reproductive freedom. Freedom in many forms is important to voters. Shouldn't this freedom based on Roe also continue?
PENCE: Barbara, thank you. I represented Madison County in Congress for many years.
BARBER-DANSBY: That's Andrea.
PENCE: It's nice to see you. You know, when I think about my public career and I write about in my book, the cause of the sanctity of life has been at the very center of our calling. And it really emanates out of my faith. I -- I accepted Christ as my savior when I was a young man. And when I opened the bible, I read verses like, before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. And admonishments to choose life so that you and your children may live.
And I knew in that moment that the cause of life needed to be my cause. I was a champion for life when I was on the airwaves in Anderson, Indiana for years. And then as your congressman, and then as your governor and as vice president, I always believed that Roe versus Wade would be overturned. I just didn't know if it would be overturned in my lifetime.
But thanks to three Supreme Court justices confirmed by our administration, the American people have been given a new beginning for life. And in a very real sense, the question of abortion, to your point, has been returned to the states and the American people where it belongs.
And I think in that democratic process, I -- it may take us long to restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law in all 50 states as it did to overturn Roe versus Wade. But however, many years I have left, for me and my house will, will be standing for life, but not just for the unborn.
But I think, I think it's going to be incumbent upon states that enact pro-life protections to also demonstrate generosity and compassion to women facing crisis pregnancies, to support not just the unborn but newborns in new and in renewed ways.
As I said at the close of my book, I truly do believe we have an opportunity to demonstrate not just a commitment to the sanctity of human life, but a commitment to come alongside and support those that are facing crisis pregnancies. And I'll look forward to being a part of that, bringing principle and compassion to that debate.
But because of the Supreme Court's decision, the debate has now returned to the American people. And I'll be a part of that in the cause of life.
TAPPER: Thanks, Andrea. Let's bring in Pastor Donny Willis from Westchester, New York. He's a Republican who voted for the Trump/Pence ticket. Pastor?
DONNY WILLIS, PASTOR: Mr. Pence, thank you for being here. And I'm not sure whether to direct my question to you or Mrs. Pence, but it's one concerning family. You and Mrs. Pence have both had very successful careers while raising three kids. I'm a dad of three as well.
What is one piece of advice you would offer to parents who are attempting to balance the priorities of serving others and spending time with their families?
PENCE: Well, pastor, thank you. Thanks for your ministry and such a thoughtful question. And thanks for rightly assuming that Karen would have a better answer to that question. She is -- my wife is a miracle worker. In the course of our public career, we've moved 18 times and served our state, served, people of Indiana, served the nation. And all along the way she's -- she's created a closeness in our family that continues to this day.
We were on the phone with our daughter Audrey before we came over to CNN tonight, getting some last-minute advice from her in some of the momentous times that I write about in my book. I can tell you, we always turn to our kids. And any decisions that we make in the years ahead, we'll -- we'll hear our kid's counsel.
My best advice to anyone that leads a busy life, which is true of almost every American these days, is go home for dinner. I used to say that to members of Congress, vote right and go home for dinner. Let's see. Because for me, I never had to, I never had to have people encourage me to want to excel. I know I seem a little low key, but I'm actually a very competitive person. Right? But it does take discipline to put your family first.
And I would say to anyone here and anyone looking on, particularly in those years that your kids are home, there's maybe nothing more important than them knowing that mom or dad in their busy lives are going to shut the computer, set down the phone and sit down at dinner and just hear them out.
I think that dinner table has been a source of incredible strength in our family. And when we all gather for the first time in three years of this coming Christmas, because of deployments, our son and our son- in-law were gone for much of the last several years. But we'll all be back together. We'll all be around that table. We'll be breaking bread. We'll be saying our prayers and my best advice is just go home for dinner.
TAPPER: And my suggestion or my observation is they're going to have a big topic of conversation at that Christmas dinner, and we're going to talk about that when we come back. We're going to have more with former Vice President Mike Pence after this break.
PENCE: Thank you.
TAPPER: Welcome back to our CNN town hall with former Vice President Mike Pence. I want you to meet James Gong. He's a software engineer from New York City. He just witnessed the launch of the Artemis One Moon Mission. He's a Democrat who's volunteered for the party, and he voted for Joe, Joe Biden. James?
PENCE: Hi, James.
JAMES GONG, SOFTWARE ENGINEER: Mr. Vice President, thank you for coming to New York.
PENCE: Thank you.
GONG: This morning NASA launched, successfully launched, the historic Artemis One mission, bringing America back to the Moon. As vice president, you led the re -- the reestablishment of the National Space Council, and I know the Artemis program was a big focus.
What do you think the role America should play in space in the coming decades, and how can we continue bipartisan support for our nation's great space program?
PENCE: Well, James, thank you for the question. I tweeted about Artemis One this morning. I couldn't be more excited. I want to send my thanks and appreciation to NASA and all the great companies that worked with them to send that extraordinary rocket on a path around the Moon. Really setting the stage for sending the next man and the first woman to the moon in just a few short years.
I appreciate you bringing it up because, I'll never forget the day that President Trump asked me if on the campaign trail that, if that if we won the election, would I want to lead the National Space Council as vice presidents had done in the past.
Now, what he didn't know was that the only committee I ever asked to be on in Congress was the NASA subcommittee. What he didn't know that Karen and I had taken our kids when they were little to vacation at Cape Canaveral just to see the rockets. And I'll never forget just saying to him over the phone, would I lead the space council? Would I?
And we went to work and I would tell you it was bipartisan work. Because you know, for the longest time we'd grounded the space shuttle and we were literally hitching a ride with the Russians to get back to the International Space Station. And when we came in, we were determined to put America back in the lead in human space exploration to get out of low earth orbit, to go back to the Moon and onto Mars.
And working with NASA and working with the incredible space entrepreneurs in this country, we set in motion the processes that'll do just that. And I must say, as I said at the top of this broadcast, I'm -- I've got more than a few arguments with the Biden administration. But I'm truly grateful that they've continued to stay on course, to return Americans to the Moon.
But I must tell you, that day that we were at Kennedy Space Center, the president, Karen and I were watching the day in 2020 in the midst of that pandemic, when for the first time in 10 years American astronauts returned to space on an American rocket from American soil. And I'll never forget, you can see the picture in my book.
The president and I were standing very stoically. It was an important moment in the history of American space exploration. But my wife had both fists in the air, and I think she captured the enthusiasm of Americans.
Look, America needs to lead in space. Not just for the advantage, not just for our security, but because we need to carry our values and the values of freedom into space. And I have every confidence that we will.
TAPPER: So, you mentioned, that your family is going to be together over Christmas, and I know that you have said that you're not going to make a decision about your career and until after there's some prayer and family huddling over Christmas.
You write in your book, and I actually knew this already, that in your West Wing office you had portraits of four former vice presidents on the wall, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Calvin Coolidge.
Now, I can't help but observe that of those four vice presidents, all four went on to become president. So, I know you're not going to announce your candidacy this evening, but do you think you would be a good president?
PENCE: Well, that would be for others to say. Let me just say. When we -- when we gather back in Indiana this coming Christmas, we'll approach that decision in the same way we've approached every decision over the last 20 years in public life.
You know, my daughter Charlotte, still wrote the best book about our families. It's entitled, "Where You Go." Subtitled Life Lessons from my Father. And she captured the story of how we made our decision to run for Congress that third time, Jake.
As I mentioned, I lost those first two races. I write about the lessons learned, and so help me God. When the time came around, I'll be honest with you, it was a difficult decision to decide whether or not to run for Congress again. We had to sell our dream home. We had to move our kids back to my hometown. We had to spend all of our savings and risk it all again, entering a campaign that we'd lost twice in the past.
But Karen and I and the kids all went out west. We like riding horses and we were at a ranch celebrating my 40th birthday, and Karen and I had gone back and forth over the decision. We were praying about it, we were talking through it, we were discussing it even with our younger kids about changes that may come in our lives.
And as we stand, stood in on what was called chimney rock in the Teddy Roosevelt National Forest, we looked down and we saw these, these two red-tailed hawks that were pure wedding up from the valley floor. And they were simply being lifted up on the airwave. They weren't moving their wings at all.
And I looked at my wife and I just said, you know, those two hawks are us. She looked at me and she said, well, then we should do it. But this time, no flapping, just like those birds. Charlotte tells that story in that wonderful book that she wrote.
And for us, whatever decision we make, it'll be out of a sense of calling and be out of a sense of trying to discern whether it's a time that we can spread our wings again. You know, let the Lord and the American people take us wherever he wants us. But more than anything else, we'll respond to the calling that we have in our lives, and I'll always be grateful. The opportunities that I've had to serve the people of Indiana and to serve all of you as your vice president.
And I want to thank you all for that honor from the bottom of my heart.
TAPPER: Does Karen want you to run for president?
PENCE: I'll let you ask her.
TAPPER: Thoughts? No comment. My last question for you, sir, is if you ran, do you think you could win? Do you think you could beat Donald Trump and anyone else running?
PENCE: Well, if we, if we entered the race for president, I wouldn't be thinking so much about who I was running against, but what I was running for. You know, the Bible says, without a vision the people perish. And I truly do believe that we spend too much time in politics talking about the other side and not talking enough about what our vision is.
And I truly -- I believe that the success we had in the 2016 campaign was for all the contention in that came -- campaign. The American people still heard a commitment to rebuild the military, to secure the border, to cut taxes, rollback regulations, unleash American energy, and appoint conservatives to the courts and the rallies that I stood before. And I always told people, if you want a large rally, you send Donald Trump. If you want a small rally, you can send me.
But it was always the same. People were animated, not so much by personality as they were by a vision, and by policies. And I truly do believe that those policies will carry whether we're the standard bearer or not. I think the difference for, for any candidate will be whether they offer a compelling vision to the American people, a vision of putting back into practice the policies that left our country stronger and more prosperous after four years of the Trump/Pence administration.
But also, as I said at the top of this program. I think the American people are looking for leadership that can unite our country around our most timeless values and ideals, and demonstrate the kind of civility and respect that Americans show one another every day.
And so, we'll take time at the end of the year. We'll give prayerful consideration to what role we might have, but I promise you, Jake, I'll keep you posted. And we will, we'll stay in the fight for our values and do everything in our part, to strengthen and serve the country we love. So, help us, God.
TAPPER: Mr. Vice President, thanks so much for joining us. We want to thank our audience for being here, especially the ones who came all the way from Indiana. Thanks for your questions. AC 360 starts right now.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: And welcome to a late edition of 360.
Joining us to talk about what you just heard, CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash, joins me, CNN senior political correspondent, Abby Phillip, CNN political commentator and one time campaign adviser to the former President, David Urban, also conservative radio host, Erick Erickson.
Dana, I'm wondering what you made of the former vice president tonight.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He is trying to walk the finest of fine lines, Anderson, by distancing himself, criticizing the former president for what happened and the run up to, and especially on January 6th, not just for the country, but for him and his family personally.
But then embracing all of the policies that he believes will serve -- will serve the country well from his perspective, but more importantly for his political future will serve him well if he does in fact decide to run, even though he wouldn't go there quite yet with, Jake.
So, it's, for those who are looking for him to express his anger and not just say his anger. And there is a difference. You're not going to get that from Mike Pence. It's just not who he is. For those who are looking for somebody to embrace the former president more than he did, you're also not going to get that.
So, the question is who, who is out there who is, who he is going to appeal to? Because when you talk about Trump, they're very polarizing ideas and perspectives.
COOPER: David, can you even imagine what it looks like Mike Pence on a debate stage with the former president? I mean, the pacing --
DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.
COOPER: -- the pauses, everything.
URBAN: Yes. So, to say -- to say it to be awkward is probably an understatement. But just, you know, you're -- if America is looking for, you know, if this still matters, if being a kind decent, good human being still matters in national politics, then Mike Pence will be a contender. Right? And because what you just heard from Jake Tapper in the interview
there. And listen, I applaud CNN for taking the whole thing and doing the town hall and for, for the vice president for showing up. I think it's important for Americans to hear, hear this.
But you know, he has a tough road to hold because, you know, I disagree with one of the things he said at the end, you know, politics is about animating the base, right? And animating people. And, you know, he made the -- he made kind of a joke about it at the end and said, if you want a big crowd, send Donald Trump. If you want a small crowd, send Mike Pence.
And I think that's going to be his challenges getting the base and Republican voters animated. I think Mike Pence is an incredibly good, decent, kind human being, but it's going to be hard to fire up the base and animate them after, you know, after four years of a Trump administration.
COOPER: And Abby, I mean, to Dana's point about walking a fine line, I don't know if it's a razor's edge fine. It's, it doesn't really, I mean, does it please anybody? Because I mean, he's not winning over people who like the former president necessarily and not really even castigating the former president particularly hard that might bring him some support from people who have turned against the former president.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I was struck by exactly the same thing, Anderson. You know, I keep thinking back to when he was talking about after January 6th talking to, Trump about what his former boss had put him through on that day. And he basically went out of his way to say that he thought that Trump was remorseful, provided really no evidence to suggest that. But really leaned into this idea that, that Trump really didn't mean it in, in some ways.
And I thought that that was, really emblematic of Mike Pence. I mean, I think that for the people who love Pence, it's perhaps a sign that he is a good and decent person, that he's forgiving, he's a person of faith.
But for folks who are looking for Pence to express a statement of principles even on something like that where he and his family were put in danger, where his former boss was doing something that he described as reckless, but other people have described as anti- Democratic.
He wouldn't even go there to sort of express broad statements of principle about why what Trump did was wrong, and also, even a little bit of outrage, I think, it's hard for him. Because I think that that is generally -- I covered Pence for the duration of the Trump/Pence presidency. This is generally who he is, but I think that for the American public, it's going to be hard for him to really gin up a lot of, sort of enthusiasm on either side of this divide within the Republican party.
COOPER: Yes. Erick, I mean, to Abby's point, I want to play the moment where the Vice President Pence addressed what happened on January 6th.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Take a look at the video over here. That of course was the news hanging outside the capitol that day and rioters were calling for your execution, chanting hang Mike Pence.
Almost two years later, is it still tough to -- there's some of the video of the hang Mike Pence. Two years later, is it still tough to see that and hear that?
PENCE: Jake, it saddens me, but that day it angered me. I must tell you when -- when the Secret Service took us down to the loading dock accompanied by my wife, my daughter, Charlotte and our Secret Service detail.
I was determined to stay at my post. I told the Secret Service that I was not leaving the capitol. I didn't want to give those people the site of a 16-car motorcade speeding away from the capitol that day. But frankly, when I saw those images and when, when I read a tweet that President Trump issued saying that I lack courage in that moment, it angered me greatly.
But to be honest with you, I didn't have time for it. The president had decided in that moment to be a part of the problem.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Erick, I'm wondering just what your takeaways of Mike Pence. I mean there -- it's interesting him sort of describing that from a distance without any emotion or actual feeling about it.
ERICK ERICKSON, HOST, THE ERICK ERICKSON SHOW, WSB RADIO: Well, you know, to Dana and Abby's point, that's kind of who he is. He tries to be dispassionate with these things. I've known the man for more than a decade, and his pacing and storytelling like that, this is very much who Mike Pence is.
I did think it was interesting when Jake pushed back on him and said, you said the president became part of the problem, but he was the problem. It took the vice president a little while to get to that and to move on there.
And that's part of the problem he's going to have is people who like Donald Trump, really like Donald Trump, not necessarily Mike Pence. There are a lot of people out there. I was watching social media go through as the town hall was going on, people who were very upset with him for not being forceful.
That's -- that's not who he is. He's not the kind -- iconic class that a lot of people expect in politics these days. He really is, to David's point, just a very nice, humble, good Christian man. He's going to have to find a way to gravitate more than just an Evangelical base if he wanted to run for president and find some way to express some level of indignity about what happened for a lot of voters who were still mad about it.
COOPER: Dana, we have that sound that Erick just mentioned where former Vice President Pence was asked about former President Trump's role on January 6th. Let's play that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: You just said that the president in that moment decided to be part of the problem, and I have to say, as somebody that had been reporting on it for the months leading up to January 6th, I don't think anything happened in that moment that was part of the problem. President Trump had been campaigning in favor of the overturning of the election for months and months and months. It wasn't in that moment, and he wasn't part of the problem. He was the problem.
PENCE: Well, look, the people that rioted at the capitol are responsible for what they did, and as I said that day and have believed every day since. Those people should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: It's what's not, I mean, he never said Trump led those insurrectionists there. Trump is who fomented it throughout the town hall. Pence was still not really denouncing Trump. Are you, I mean, is that a -- is that, if that's the lane he's running in, I mean, is that a lane.
BASH: It's hard to see that it's a lane. It's incredibly narrow, which was my takeaway when we started this. Which is, the people who really want him to show his anger even, and especially when what we're talking about in the short term is the Republican primary electorate. For those who are so angry about what happened. And there are Republican primary voters who are angry about what happened. He's not necessarily showing it.
What he's trying to do is say, I did all the good things in the Trump administration when it comes to Republican policies that you all support. And I stood up when the, you know, what hit the fan. And I prevented the Constitution from being completely shredded.
But again, he -- when it came to -- when it comes down to culpability, which sounds to me is part of your question, Anderson, he won't go there. Yes, of course, the people who are at the capitol are responsible, but they're not the only people responsible. It's the person in the White House for whom he worked, who fomented that, who fed them lies and helped to incite what they did.
COOPER: David, you were on the set with us the other night when Van Jones was talking about one of the things he believes the supporters of Donald Trump believe in is that they are part of a movement. It's not just they, like the policies that Donald Trump was espousing, which Mike Pence espousing, is they are part of something that's deeply connected to Trump, that Trump represents.
Mike Pence is not a movement leader. That still seems to remain one of the former president's biggest advantages.
URBAN: Yes, you're exactly right, Anderson. That's what I was alluding to. You know, the vice president spoke about that at the end of his -- at the end of the town hall, they were saying, you know, he kind of -- he kind of made fun of it and said, look, you want a big crowd, send the president. You want a small crowd, send me.
Mike Pence, again, very good, decent, kind human being, not, not a guy who's going to fill a, you know, 10,000 seat stadium with people who are chanting, you know, lock -- lock her up. Right? That's just not who he is. And he can't be someone he is, and he's authentic. And it's going to be a problem.
Like when you -- we're talking about, right? He's, you see the video of him being whisked down the stairs while you can hear shouts outside the capitol of hang Mike Pence, his wife, his daughter, you know, I mean, and you asked when, what he felt about the president.
I would've had some pretty strong words. I would've gotten in the car and driven back to the White House, had probably got in a fist fight with the president, right? I mean, that -- that's what people are looking for, is saying like, wow, that was my wife and family. I'd be back there banging on the desk saying more than, you know, you let me down, Mr. President. And I think that's the issue.
You know, Mike Pence is a decent human being, great guy. I got to spend a lot of time with him. And I think people want -- people want to see a little more fire. They want to see someone who is going to stand up and fight hard. And that's what the allure of President Trump was. And I think that's what they see in Ron DeSantis in Florida. And I think that's why he's, you know, kind of surging the polls. They see someone who's kind of a pugilist in the -- in the political sense.
COOPER: Abby, do you think Mike Pence is or can be the future of the Republican Party?
PHILLIP: I think it's too early to know, but I mean, for all the reasons that David just described it, it's hard. He in this moment has a bit of a choice. I think if we look at the results of the midterms last week, there is a constituency in American politics for people who are not election deniers, who are espousing real policy, and perhaps people who are willing to push back on those things.
Pence doesn't really want to be that person. He wants to be just distant enough from it, that he can't be, you know, called an election denier. But not so distant that he might be perceived as being more in the sort of Liz Cheney vein of the Republican Party. And it's just hard to see who that appeals to.
You know, on the other hand, I mean, I do think that the one thing that Ron DeSantis has that is working for him at the moment, although it remains to be seen whether that will work in an actual primary, is that he's picking fights with the other party. Pence won't do that either. It's just hard to see what the lane is. I think this Republican Party
of today, frankly, is not particularly all that interested in the nice guy who shows up at the party. And I think that Pence is going to have to deal with that.
COOPER: Yes. We got to leave it there. Dana Bash, Abby Phillip, David Urban, Erick Erickson, I appreciate it. Thank you.
Coming up next, how the missile crisis on the Polish Ukrainian border was contained and the latest on the investigation to what actually happened. We're joined as well by a retired army general and former military attache to Russia.
COOPER: Secretary of Defense Austin today said the U.S. has seen nothing to contradict Poland's assessment that the explosion that killed two -- near its Ukrainian border was caused by Ukrainian air defense missile. Ukraine says it's ready to cooperate in the Polish investigation of what happened, but the NATO secretary general today said that it's not Ukraine's fault, and that Russia, quote, "bears ultimate responsibility."
For Russia's reaction to all this, we turned to CNN senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen who joins us from Moscow. What is the latest from the Kremlin, Fred.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Anderson. Well, the Russians clearly are trying to capitalize on all this. They're now calling this a Polish Ukrainian plot and a provocation on the part of those two countries to try and draw this into a wider conflict between Russia and NATO.
It was quite interesting because the spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov, he came out earlier today and he actually praised President Biden's early reaction to this. Of course, President Biden had said that it did appear as though the missile fragments that landed in Poland probably originated from Ukraine and were not fired off by Russia.
The Russians are saying that that was obviously the kind of reaction they wanted to see. On the part of the European allies, they called that hysteria and specifically singled out the Polls. The Russians put forward what they called their experts saying that it was absolutely clear that this was a surface to air missile.
And even summoned the Polish Ambassador to Moscow late last night. He was at the, Russian foreign ministry, I would say for about 20 minutes, not far from where we are right now at all. And then the Russians also laying into the Ukrainians as well.
Again, saying that they believe that the Ukrainians and the Polls are trying to draw NATO into a conflict with Russia, Anderson.
COOPER: Investigators in Poland and the U.S. they're still on the scene.
PLEITGEN: They certainly are. And you know, it is very possible that we might clear new details of what exactly happened there. The Polish president, of course, he's already cut out and he said that it does appear as though that this was a tragic accident, that the Ukrainians essentially were trying to shoot down some sort of Russian projectile that was fired at their infrastructure or at some sort of military facility.
Of course, we know that on that day there were massive Russian airstrikes that took place mostly with cruise missiles, and that one of those interceptor missiles that the Ukrainians launch probably went astray. But there are still a lot of questions that are open. Did this interceptor hit some sort of Russian projectile and was then maybe diverted to the territory of Poland, or could there also have been a Russian projectile that was hit and then part of that also landed on Polish territory.
A lot of things that are still unclear and certainly more information that could come out, Anderson.
COOPER: All right. Fred Pleitgen, thanks.
Earlier today, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Mark Milley noted the Ukrainian military's recent successes also played down the idea that they're near a full victory.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN, U.S. JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: The military task of militarily kicking the Russians physically out of Ukraine is a very difficult task, and it's not going to happen the next couple of weeks unless the Russian army completely collapses, which is unlikely. The probability of that happening anytime soon is not high militarily.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Joining us now, retired Brigadier General Peter Zwack, who was the U.S. defense Russia during its 2014 invasion of Ukraine. He's also author of "Swimming the Volga: U.S. Army Officers Experiences in Pre-Putin Russia."
General Zwack, do you agree with General Milley about the difficulty Ukrainian army actually pushing Russian forces fully out?
PETER ZWACK, FORMER ARMY BRIGADIER GENERAL: It's going to be a hard fight and the Ukrainians are going to press, they have momentum. I they sense, and I think we would agree that if the Russians are able to stop, set, reorganize, it will even be a harder fight.
Of course, we've got winter coming that works both for and against both sides. So yes, it will be hard. The Russians are falling back on what we call a little bit interior lines, closer to the supply routes, but winter for Russian forces in Ukraine will be harder, I believe, for them than the Ukrainians because Ukrainians are fighting on their own ground.
ZWACK: And those Russian troops are going to be out there fighting unpopular and really cold.
COOPER: The fighting will likely slow down during the winter. Right? Just logistically, I mean, just the elements make it that much more difficult.
ZWACK: Well, that's right. The one point to make on that though, that tracked vehicles and some wheels can really, really motor now off the roads, the front extends now. A lot of the fighting has been sort of linear along what we call, you know, military, if you will, lines of operation. They can move faster now, what they call general mud.
That period is passing, but now you're going to get to general winter, and this will be, people talk about Russian prowess in the winter. Ukrainians can fight in winter too.
COOPER: So, so you think it's, you think it affects Russia? The winter affects Russia more because Ukrainian is fighting on their own turf.
ZWACK: I think it's a -- it's a major, it's very important. Same ground. World War II. You had German and Soviet forces fighting over villages and towns just to stay warm and for the hearth and Ukrainians were fighting in a generally friendly populated area.
We thought it was hard for the Russians for their lines of their supply lines out in front of Kyiv and elsewhere. It's going to get really hard for them, especially in the south where they still are extended. No, it's going to be a tough fight though. Without a doubt.
COOPER: Generals Zwack, it's always a pleasure. I appreciate it.
ZWACK: Pleasure is mine.
COOPER: Coming up, giving new details on the investigation from law enforcement into the fatal stabbings of four University of Idaho students as they continue to search for a suspect to the latest, next.
COOPER: We have new information tonight in the investigation at the fatal stabbings of four University of Idaho students. The local police chief says they can't assure the community as safe as the -- they continue to search for the suspect. The students were found dead Sunday in an off-campus home.
Police chief also revealing for the first time that two other roommates were home at the time of the killings. He says they were not injured or held hostage.
More now from CNN's Lucy Kafanov.
JAMES FRY, CHIEF, MOSCOW POLICE DEPARTMENT, IDAHO: We do not have a suspect at this time, and that individual is still out there. We cannot say that there's no threat to the community.
LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, with a killer on the loose police in Moscow, Idaho trying to calm a community on edge, shaken by the brutal killings of four young students.
FRY: But the reality is, is there's still a person out there who committed four horrible, horrible crimes. So, I think we got to go back to -- there is a threat out there still.
KAFANOV: The students' bodies were found inside this home across from the University of Idaho campus Sunday. Police say two were at a party on campus while two others were at a downtown bar. All returned home sometime before 1.45 a.m. What happened after remains a mystery.
FRY: The four were stabbed with a knife, but no weapon has been located at this time. There was no sign of forced entry into the residence. We're not a hundred percent sure if the door was unlocked, but there was no damage to anything and the door was still open when we got there.
KAFANOV: The coroner describing a gruesome scene.
CATHY MABUTT, CORONER, LATAH COUNTY, IDAHO: There was quite a bit of blood in the apartment and, you know, was a pretty traumatic scene to find four dead college students in a residence.
KAFANOV: The victims, all members of Greek Life on campus appear to have been friends, pictured in this photo posted by 21-year-old Kaylee Goncalves hours before their death. The caption, one lucky girl to be surrounded by these people every day.
Kaylee was killed alongside 20-year-old Xana Kernodle, a junior majoring in marketing, 21-year-old Madison Mogen, a senior, also majoring in marketing, and 20-year-old recreation sport and tourism management major, Ethan Chapin.
The university president, visibly shaken.
SCOTT GREEN, PRESIDENT, UNIVERSITY OF IDAHO: First my deepest condolences to the families. And friends of Ethan, Kaylee, Xana, and Madison. Excuse me. Their loss has been devastating and they were bright lights in our community.
STACY CHAPIN, MOTHER OF VICTIM ETHAN CHAPIN: We're just trying to process it. It's not a call that you think that you're going to have to speak with the funeral home directors and the FBI and have it hit national news. KAFANOV: The families who should have been planning Thanksgiving
dinner now making funeral arrangements while demanding answers and justice.
COOPER: And Lucy Kafanov joins us now. Are authorities saying anything about a possible motive? The mayor raised one possibility. What's the latest?
KAFANOV: Yes, I mean, the police chief was asked about comments made by the Moscow mayor earlier this week describing the killings as a crime of passion. The chief today refusing to speculate about any motive, saying the authorities are continuing to investigate.
And of course, look, there are times when investigators have to keep cards close to their chest, but students and families have expressed frustration with just how little they've heard from authorities, especially given that police today walked back previous assurances that there was no threat to the community.
The father of Ethan Chapin issuing a statement saying, quote, "there is a lack of information from the university and the local police, which only fuels false rumors in innuendo in the press and social media."
Something that the chief actually alluded to today when he said he probably should have had this press conference earlier in the week. And at the end of the day, Anderson, someone brutally killed four people with a knife and that person has not been caught.
KAFANOV: The community still waiting for answers. Anderson?
COOPER: Lucy Kafanov, I appreciate it. Thank you. The news continues. Laura Coates and "CNN TONIGHT" right after a quick break.