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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
Zelenskyy On His Way To Washington In First Foreign Trip Since War Began; Interview With Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ); House Ways And Means Committee Votes To Release Donald Trump Tax Returns; Sources: Trump's Former White House Ethics Lawyers Told Cassidy Hutchinson To Give Misleading Testimony To Jan. 6 Cmte.; Biden Big Ask Of The Supreme Court On Migrants; China Only Reports A Few Covid Deaths After Easing Restrictions, But What CNN Sees In Beijing Tells A Different Story. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired December 20, 2022 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: And thanks for joining us. AC 360 begins now.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: For the first time since Russia invaded his country, tried to take the capital, topple his government, and reportedly try to take his life, Ukraine's President is leaving his country, and according to two sources, already on his way here.
John Berman here, in for, Anderson, and to say that Volodymyr Zelenskyy's journey could be risky is no overstatement. Then again, so was his visit today to Bakhmut on the frontline to award combat medals to the troops. And to say his expected visit to the White House and address to Congress tomorrow will be moments of the highest significance and drama is no understatement. It certainly has echoes of Winston Churchill's Christmas Time visit to Washington in 1941 just two weeks after Japan's Attack on Pearl Harbor, and America's entry into the Second World War.
He made that crossing of the Royal Navy Battleship Duke of York, the crossing took 10 days. President Zelenskyy's journey will be a lot shorter, but the stakes could not be higher.
CNN's Phil Mattingly at the White House starts us off tonight.
Phil, so what do we know about this visit which is already beginning?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, President Zelenskyy already on his way to the United States according to two sources, and while the history and symbolism are undoubtedly very obvious here, the substance here too is also critical.
John, keep in mind, President Biden and President Zelenskyy have spoken by phone more than a dozen times, spoken by video conference several times as well, but have not met in person since the invasion of Ukraine and President Biden has been explicit that the US support, which has now totaled more than $20 billion in defense and security assistance over the course of the last nine months would last for "as long as it takes" and that will be on vivid display when the two leaders are standing right next to each other tomorrow here on these White House grounds.
Now, there are two elements of this. One is the actual interactions between President Biden and Zelenskyy and their two teams. There are expected, according to sources, to be significant and substantive interactions between the two on how things should be moving forward, going forward.
But there's also the critical element and that is the new addition of a new defense A., that is going to be coming Ukraine's way with the President expected to announce an additional $1.8 billion in US assistance. That's on top of the 20 billion that's already been put in place.
And President Zelenskyy is also tentatively scheduled to give a joint address to Congress. At the same moment, John, lawmakers are considering an additional $45 billion in Ukraine aid underscoring the relationship and just the scale of the US support for this ongoing war.
BERMAN: Look, the fact that the United States is the first country that Zelenskyy is choosing to visit since the invasion began, that tells you everything to begin with. This $1.8 billion, this new round of assistance, what exactly does Ukraine get out of that?
MATTINGLY: This is I think the biggest component here. Obviously, the face-to-face is nothing to scoff at, but what's actually inside this $1.8 billion is as significant as it gets. In fact, it is as far as the United States has gone when it comes to the types of weapon systems that it is willing to provide Ukraine.
This will include those Patriot Missile Defense Systems that President Zelenskyy for months, he has kind of banged on the table and asked the United States to agree to send their way. It is something that for months, the Biden administration was not willing to consider given concerns about escalation or just the pure scale of time it takes to train up on those systems, that will now change.
It has been a process over the course of the last several weeks, President Biden will make that announcement, that $1.8 billion includes Patriot Missile Systems. It's become critical over the course of the last several weeks, something President Zelenskyy said personally to President Biden via phone just a couple of weeks ago, given the Russian ramping up of those attacks on civilian infrastructure. President Biden now willing to go that route, also will include precision bomb kits to add as well. $1.8 billion, the number is big. The scale overall of US assistance has been enormous, but the scale of what this specific weapon system actually brings to the table, it simply has no precedent up to this point -- John.
BERMAN: All right, Phil Mattingly, chief White House correspondent, fast moving developments. Please keep us posted, Phil.
Let's go now to CNN's Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon with more on these Patriot missiles, and the difference they might make, Oren, so talk to us about the Patriot missiles, which many of us first learned about in the first Gulf War, we're talking 30 years ago.
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: And they have only grown more capable since then and more able to do their mission and that mission is a long range aerial defense system.
This would sit almost like an extended dome on top of the systems the US has already provided, a more advanced, more capable, and again longer range system to protect Ukraine's air defenses, to protect Ukraine on the ground, its civilians, and perhaps most importantly at this point, its infrastructure, its energy, and water that has become the target repeatedly of Russian barrages that we've seen play out over the course of the last several weeks at this point.
Patriot would offer a longer range capability for Ukraine to better defend its skies that would sit on top of the US provided NASAMS and medium-range system, and some of the shorter range systems, the MANPADS, the Stingers that have already been provided not only by the US, but by other countries as well.
But as Phil pointed out, these are complex systems. They take dozens of soldiers to operate -- the training, the maintenance, the sustainment -- all of that will take time. The US will try to get that done as quickly as possible.
Crucially, as Phil pointed out, it's not just the Patriots. There are also precision bombing kits known as JDAMs, Joint Direct Attack Munitions, that will also be provided to Ukraine, and that fills another needed capability, the ability to strike Russian fortifications, Russian positions at range and with precision.
We've seen other systems the US has provided fill this role. For example, the HIMARS, perhaps the most critical system that has been provided to this point. The Excalibur Precision Artillery Rounds, this will give them more of that capability that's made such a difference on the battlefield.
It comes with its own challenges. The Ukrainians will have to figure out how to adopt or adapt these kits, rather, to Soviet era fighter jets that they have, but we've seen them do it once and we will see them do it again with these JDAMs and crucially, the Patriots that will help defend the skies.
BERMAN: All right, Oren Liebermann for us at the Pentagon tonight. Oren, thank you.
Joining me now CNN military analyst, retired Army General and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Wesley Clark, also Arizona Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, and recently led a bipartisan congressional delegation to Kyiv.
So Congressman, I have to say, when we all first heard the news of Zelenskyy, coming here to the United States, I sat up straight. This is a big deal for a guy who hasn't stepped foot outside his country since the Russian invasion. What's the significance in your mind?
REP. RUBEN GALLEGO (D-AZ): Well, the significance in my mind is that what he is trying to do is draw a direct correlation between our support and the survival and support and victory -- the future victory of Ukraine. We have been very, very tactical and smart in how we provide weapons to Ukraine. It has been extremely helpful. It clearly has been put to their advantage. They have put Russia on its back heels, but there needs to be more done.
When I was there just about a week and a half ago, what I heard from the Ukrainian military, Ukrainian civil government, is that, you know, they can defeat Russia on the battlefield and Russia knows that. So now what Russia is trying to do is trying to punish the economy trying to punish everyday Ukrainian citizens to try to basically destroy their will to fight, and destroy their ability to even arm themselves, you know, through actually economic activity.
And that's the next step that we need to do is give them the weaponry to number one defend their energy grid and water grid. And number two, give him the capability to really reach out and touch the Russians, to the point where it makes them very vulnerable, especially if they're trying to do a counteroffensive, which is something we've been hearing about.
BERMAN: General Clark, President Zelenskyy was in Bakhmut today, which is the site of some of the fiercest fighting of the war so far. What kind of a risk is he taking by getting on a plane, traveling halfway around the world to the United States, the personal risk for him, and also the risk being gone from his country for any period of time?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I think it's going to be a very quick trip for President Zelenskyy, and I think the risk is actually minimal. He has got a battle tested chain of command there. He's got really hard fighting troops. They are doing their best.
This is a window of opportunity for Ukraine and a window of danger as well, because Russia is weak, Russia will be stronger. This is a period where the United States needs to pour in the support, and I'm really pleased about the Patriots and the JDAMs and the other things, but Ukraine also needs more artillery and ammunition at least, longer range systems. They have to be able to win the counter battery fire. They are not winning that right now.
There's a lot of needs, and this is the window. President Zelenskyy knows it. We're never going to -- he is going to defeat with US support the Russian aggression in Ukraine. He has got to have that support over the next 90 days. Wait until the summer, it will be an entirely different battlefield, that's going to come.
BERMAN: Congressman, we had to reach back to World War Two and we had to -- you know, you conjure up images of Winston Churchill coming to the United States in December of 1941 to find a historical comparison here. What do you think it might be like for those sitting in the chamber with him tomorrow?
GALLEGO: Well, I think number one, and I hope President Zelenskyy talks about everything that they've been able to accomplish with the support of the United States. And number two, the shared interests that we have.
You know, for the first time in quite a while, we can be very proud of the fact that we're leading the free world in a good cause, the cause of real, what I would say good versus evil, autocracy versus democracy.
And look, the Ukrainians aren't naive. They understand they're not a perfect nation, but they want to be a perfect nation. They want to keep striving on that.
Even when I was there when I was talking to him about the future weapons system that they want to worry about, they were also talking about potentially, what they need to do in terms of reforms in the future to make sure that they can root out corruption.
This is a country that wants to be western aligned with Western values and wants to defeat autocracy, both inside and outside of Ukraine.
BERMAN: General Clark, just very quickly. The Patriot missile. What could that change on the battlefield?
CLARK: Well, I don't think it's going to change anything on the battlefield, because you're not going to be used that way. It could provide greater protection for Kyiv, and certainly it is a deterrent against the Russians bringing in Iranian ballistic missiles. And really, that is its most important contribution. If the Russians bring these ballistic missiles in, this Patriot system is what's going to be used to knock them down.
BERMAN: All right, General Wesley Clark and Congressman Ruben Gallego, thank you both so much for being with us.
GALLEGO: Thank you for your time.
CLARK: Thank you.
BERMAN: Next, we do have more breaking news, starting with our first chance coming shortly to finally see years' worth of Donald Trump's tax returns. And later, a CNN exclusive. CNN has learned who in the Trump White House or who from the Trump White House tried to sway the testimony of star witness, Cassidy Hutchinson. The man's title a bit of a shocker and you'll only see the story here.
BERMAN: We have more breaking news tonight after a nearly four-year Court battle and hours of debate, the Democratic-controlled House Ways and Means Committee voted tonight to release among other related items, the former President's 2015 through 2020 tax return. Details on what and when and the implications in just a moment.
Republicans on the Committee objected saying it sets a bad precedent, and while the former President set a precedent of his own and being the first in decades not to voluntarily release his taxes and fighting it through the Courts, the idea of lawmakers in either party being able to make any ones 1040 a matter of public record, it does raise questions.
What is beyond question, though, is when it comes to voluntarily releasing his taxes the way every President and most presidential candidates have done since Richard Nixon, Donald Trump gave voters in the 2016 campaign the bait and switch, a kind of a modified version, because even as he was promising to release his taxes, he still managed to sprinkle in a few escape clauses here and there. In addition, some of his promises to release the returns overlapped with his excuses for not releasing them, so it's all a bit of a mess. That said, here's the promise.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I decide to run for office, I'll produce my tax returns, absolutely. And I would love to do that.
TRUMP (via phone): But I would certainly show tax returns, if it was necessary.
I'm very honest with my tax returns.
I have very big returns, as you know, and I have everything all approved and very beautiful and we will be working on that over the next period of time.
Well, because my returns are extremely complex, and I'll make a determination at the right time.
I have a very complex system of taxes.
Her 33,000 e-mails that have been deleted. As soon as she releases them, I will release -- I will release my tax returns.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: So that was the promise, until it wasn't.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I'm under audit. When you're under audit, you don't do it, but I'm under audit.
I would love to give them, but I'm not going to do it while I'm under audit. It's very simple.
I'm under a routine audit, and it'll be released. And as soon as the audit is finished, it will be released.
When the audit is complete, I'll release my returns. I have no problem with it.
Well, I'm not really seeing the tax returns because as you know, they're under audit.
Actually, I paid tax and you'll see that as soon as my tax returns -- it is under audit, they've been under audit for a long time. The IRS does not treat me well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Which brings us to tonight.
CNN's Lauren Fox joins us now with the breaking news.
Lauren, it is a little bit complicated, but what did the House Ways and Means Committee just wrote moments ago to release?
LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we expect that any minute we are going to get a report from the House Ways and Means Committee that is going to summarize a couple of things. But this Committee voted first to release a report as well as the underlying tax returns that they had requested.
That, of course, extremely significant, John, for all the reasons you just reminded viewers about the former President had promised repeatedly to release those returns, never did on the campaign trail. Well, they are going to come at some point with some heavy redactions.
Now, first off, we expect that report any minute from the House Ways and Means Committee. It'll summarize their findings. It will also include a report from the Joint Committee on Taxation. That's the official Tax Committee up here on Capitol Hill. That will include a report as well, and then they're going to be working to redact personal information from the tax returns, and then at some point, in the next hours or days, we will start to see those.
So very, very significant tonight, this development appear on Capitol Hill, the Committee voting along party lines to release this information. And we should note, this is a years' long Court battle from the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Richard Neal. He said just moments ago in a press conference, that this clearly showed that a mandatory audit program, which requires every President and Vice President's tax returns to be reviewed by IRS was not working properly.
That was the whole crux of why he requested these tax returns to begin with. He is arguing that they did not do the kind of scrutiny that they should have, and therefore, the Ways and Means Committee also is going to move forward with some kind of legislation.
But we should note, Republicans take control of the House in just a couple of weeks, John, so there is just not that much time. In fact, there is really no time to pass legislation up here. This is really going to be symbolic.
BERMAN: So the documents and the timeline you just laid out, is that everything that the Ways and Means Committee has in their hands? Are they holding anything back?
FOX: Well, that is what I was just told from Dan Kildee who is a member on the Committee. He said, it is everything that Neal requested. They have to do some heavier redactions, because obviously, there's personal information included in someone's tax return, so that's why it might take a little additional time, but it is underlying documents.
And we should note, it is also work files about any ongoing audits that were happening, and I mean, that might really include a treasure trove of information, beyond just looking at someone's tax returns.
BERMAN: And asking now for a friend in the control room, the assignment desks across America, Lauren, literally any minute now, they're going to release this summary?
FOX: They are going to release a summary any minute, John, and of course, any minute could mean right now, it could mean 30 minutes from now, but they are planning to release that, John.
BERMAN: A congressional minute can last a long time, but it could be a busy night for forensic reporting.
Lauren Fox on Capitol Hill, thank you very much for helping us understand what we can expect.
Joining us now is Trump biographer, Michael D'Antonio, author, of "High Crimes: The Corruption, Impunity, and Impeachment of Donald Trump." And with me here is Audie Cornish, CNN correspondent and host of "The Assignment" podcast.
So Michael, look, you've been covering this type of thing for years when it comes to Donald Trump. You just heard Lauren Fox report what we are going to see. What's your reaction?
MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, AUTHOR, OF "HIGH CRIMES": Well, the first thing I can think of is, Trump is probably regretting resisting turning over the tax returns earlier, because I think he motivated the Committee. He motivated them to pursue him all the way to the Supreme Court to get these documents, and now I think they feel that the American public has a right to them.
He has also forced various institutions, including the Courts and Congress to make efforts to normalize his behavior or to make his behavior normal. So, here is a person who said he was going to release the taxes as all presidential candidates have since Nixon, he didn't do it.
He said, well, come catch me if you can, and they caught him. So it is going to be torture for him going forward as everyone with an axe to grind or a forensic reporting bent is going to be ferreting out his secrets.
BERMAN: So Audie, House Republicans have complained that this sets a bad precedent. If the House Ways and Means can release a private citizen's tax returns, the issue of whether or not candidates should release their tax returns, I think there is wide agreement among many people that candidates and perhaps even President should, but whether or not they can be compelled to is a separate issue.
Republicans, perhaps threatening turnabout here. Do you think we can expect them when they take control of the House in weeks to release private citizen's tax returns? I mean, President Biden, by the way has released 24 years of tax returns, so nothing they're going to do there.
AUDIE CORNISH, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: This is not a random person, right? This request came when this person was running for office; later, was in office. There is a specific process for audits of Presidents. And in fact, the point of it is to show that no one is above the law, and here is a special process to handle this person who is in a very particular position.
I mean, there is some irony here that all of these years later, as he has launched his second run, here, this issue is facing him again and the Supreme Court did not step in to save him.
He has also lost on the issue of a Special Master for reviewing the documents coming out of Mar-a-Lago. Now, there are the criminal referrals that had come out of the House Select Committee.
I mean, for a person who has just launched another campaign for President, it is kind of been hit after hit for the last couple of weeks.
BERMAN: So Michael, the former President fought this, as Audie was saying, and as you've been saying, he fought it for a long, long time. Do you think it's more of a concern about legal exposure or more he just didn't want people to know how much or little he had?
D'ANTONIO: Well, we all know that his ego depends on his wealth, so it is a story that I've told before that in the mid-2010s, he gave a deposition, where he claimed that his net worth went up and down depending on his mood. So if he felt good when he got up in the morning, his net worth was $3 billion more. Now, that was a ridiculous statement, but I think applied to his self- image, it explains a lot. So that's a big part of it, but he is exposed, interestingly enough, with this potential fraud suit being brought by his niece, Mary, who lost in one round in the Courts, but may get more information to power her appeal.
And then imagine how many people who he has done business with, who are going to pour over these documents and determine, hey, this loss that he claimed when he dealt with me wasn't really a loss, and now I have a fraud claim, too. So, this is a very bad circumstance for Donald Trump.
CORNISH: I'm glad you brought this up because debt is an issue, right? One of the reasons why we care as Americans about whether our President has foreign investments that can be leveraged against him, whether there are conflicts of interest. There is a kind of public interest in seeing what candidates and what Presidents have in terms of their finances.
I think where the Republicans will have a point is that originally, Democrats said, look, this is just about this audit process. We only want to know about this audit process. I don't think anyone ever really believed that, and now, they definitely won't believe that, because in the last couple of weeks, it's just like, okay, you know, the House is about to change hands. Here it all is. And I do think that sort of undermines the original claims from the Chair.
BERMAN: Oh, look, it's happening. It is happening in a few minutes, according to Lauren Fox on Capitol Hill, at least the summary, so we may not -- we may know a lot more very soon.
Audie Cornish, thank you very much. Michael D'Antonio, our thanks to you.
And, of course, the House Ways and Means Committee expected, as I said, any minute to release this report. We'll go straight back to Capitol Hill when that happens.
Just ahead, a CNN exclusive and an answer to an important allegation raised yesterday by the January 6 Committee, pertaining to Cassidy Hutchinson and her testimony. The Committee had said an attorney and an associate of former President Trump had urged her to mislead the Committee. We didn't know the name of that attorney until just a short time ago. His name and the rather surprising position he once held at the White House when 360 returns.
BERMAN: And we are waiting for a report from the House Ways and Means Committee on the former President's taxes. Right now though, a CNN exclusive. It becomes a day after the January 6 Committee teased a rather explosive allegation that it had evidence an attorney and an associate of the former President urged a key witness to mislead the Committee. [20:30:10]
The committee said it involved the damning testimony in late June by former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, and that, according to committee member Zoe Lofgren, she was advised to say that she didn't recall something, and she did.
Tonight, we know the name of the former Trump associate, someone who, if the allegation is true, was once in a position to know better. Katelyn Polantz joins us in the House. So, Katelyn, you know, you helped break this reporting. Who's the person at the center of all this?
KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, John, this reporting comes from myself, Pamela Brown, Jamie Gangel, Jeremy Herb. This is about a lawyer named Stefan Passantino. It's about his work for Cassidy Hutchinson. That former White House aide, star witness against Donald Trump. Passantino, he was an ethics lawyer in Donald Trump's White House. Then he started a political law firm. That firm has been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars this year alone by Donald Trump's political fundraising groups, and that included were able to confirm payments for Passantino to represent Cassidy Hutchinson in the House Select Committee probe. At least that was until she was preparing to testify publicly this summer. She got a new lawyer around that time, became the star witness.
Now the House is publicly raising concerns about that entire set up. They have other concerns to, John, with this lawyer, and it's a long list. This lawyer was telling her not to recall facts. She did recall not to clarify testimony that she believed was inaccurate and on something that would cast a bad light on Donald Trump. He told her, we don't want to go there, we don't want to talk about that. That is all according to the committee, which spoke to Cassidy Hutchinson many times, they never reached out to Passantino. He's also not been charged with any crime. But he did provide us with a statement today pushing back on this. He was saying that he represented Cassidy Hutchinson ethically, that she was truthful with the committee whenever he was shepherding her through testimony. He's also said he's taking a leave of absence from a corporate defense law firm where he is a partner.
But all of this matters now, John, because the committee flagged this instance, among other things, for the Justice Department when they released that summary yesterday and previously. And we do know now we can confirm that Cassidy Hutchinson spoke to criminal investigators about this episode and, of course, may be an important witness for federal investigators that continue to look into January 6.
BERMAN: And this is just one of several instances in which the committee has accused members of the former president's orbit of trying to obstruct the panel's investigation. Do we have any more information about the other examples?
POLANTZ: John, not just in the orbit, but potentially Donald Trump himself. The House in their report or their summary yesterday, they said that they had received a range of evidence suggesting specific efforts to obstruct the committee's investigation. This Cassidy Hutchinson example, that's one of them. Other examples they give is that they say they believe Donald Trump was trying to contact some witnesses in the investigation. That's something the Justice Department knows, at least about one witness already. They also mentioned that Secret Service agents and other employees decided to hire private lawyers that they would presumably pay for themselves or have another entity pay for when they had the ability to just use the agency's own lawyers for free to represent them in the House investigation. So that is all in that summary yesterday. We're expecting a final report, more fulsome report tomorrow. But this is something that is clearly of concern to the House and may as well become something very much of concern to the Justice Department investigation, too.
BERMAN: Right, very soon. Katelyn Polantz, thank you so much. Fascinating reporting.
Perspective now from CNN legal analyst, Carrie Cordero, a former counsel to the U.S. Assistant Attorney General for National Security, and Olivia Troye, Director of the Republican Accountability Project and a former Homeland Security adviser to Vice President Pence.
All right, Carrie just lay this out for people, because I think part of this just has to do with simple lawyering. Can a lawyer tell a client not to say they don't recall something that they say they recall or do recall?
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right, John, so I think it's important for us to distinguish between the ethical obligations of the lawyer and then conduct that might potentially be considered criminal. So, telling a client. So, if what the lawyer did is he told his client to lie, which is one way that I think could interpret this reporting, then that is clearly unethical as a lawyer representing someone before Congress or before any government entity or in any proceeding to direct a client to lie, if that's in fact what happened. And then there's the issue of was his conduct potential obstruction of the congressional inquiry.
But this is where the way that it happened, what the words were then that were used, whether or not what is being reported is actually what transpired, because it doesn't sound like we have the other side of the story yet. So, there's a lot of gray space here, John, between what could potentially be a disagreement among people about what happened versus unethical conduct versus criminal conduct.
BERMAN: Right. But basically, a lawyer can't tell a client to lie. And if a client does recall something and tells the lawyer that she recalls something, if the lawyer then says, yes, just say you don't recall it, that's where it tilts from, maybe more than just ethical. Correct?
CORDERO: Well, that's a problem in the law in terms of obstructing Congress or obstructing any proceeding. If a person corruptly tries to impede the conduct of a congressional inquiry, that is obstruction, and that is something that potentially can be investigated and prosecuted for. So, I think they're definitely, based on what's being reported and what the committee is apparently saying, there is the potential that this person has criminal exposure.
But I do think there's an issue here, John, with respect to the way the committee is doing its work, because the question that is raised for me is, OK, so then is the committee going to make a criminal referral for this lawyer having obstructed their inquiry? Because if they're not going to do that, then we have this space where you have an individual who is being publicly maligned and they're not making a criminal referral. And so then that leaves just sort of this open area as to whether or not they really think his conduct or they really have the evidence suggesting that he potentially committed a crime.
BERMAN: Well, they haven't made one as far as we know yet. But we do know the DOJ spoke to Cassidy Hutchinson, we believe, about this.
Olivia, you know, given your experience with the past administration, this guy was an ethics lawyer inside the White House, does this comport with your experience about their adhering to truth?
OLIVIA TROYE, DIRECTOR, REPUBLICAN ACCOUNTABILITY PROJECT: Yes, look, it certainly does. I have actually been concerned for people like Cassidy and others who may have wanted to come forward and tell the truth and testify under oath and really comply with Congress along the way, because this is kind of the dynamics that people, individuals who want to tell the truth and comply face. And look, I lived the first impeachment in the White House internally, first hand. I saw what the witnesses that were going to go before Congress went through. I personally actually advised a colleague that they should retain a lawyer outside of the circle because they were being advised that they would be fine. And I said, no, you won't be fine, because these people all work for the man in the Oval Office. And it's like the mob boss. It's the mob boss mentality. At the end of the day, they're going to do his bidding, and that's exactly what this entire inner circle does.
And so, it doesn't surprise me that Cassidy faced this dynamic possibly. And look, I believe her because this isn't the one-off situation here. This is something that I've seen happen personally. And I turned out that in that situation, I was 100% correct and right. And that person did retain their own counsel because they wanted to comply and they wanted to tell the truth about what they had witnessed. And I think when I look at Mar-a-Lago to be honest with witnesses that may be complying and coming forward, I think about them too, because not only do I worry about the intimidation tactics that Trump uses and the people around him, but I worry about their safety as well.
BERMAN: You know, very quickly, Carrie, Olivia brings up a good point, which is the split loyalties that this lawyer might have. I mean, junior employees, it's nice to have a lawyer paid for, but if that lawyer is looking out for someone else instead of you, there is a potential conflict there.
CORDERO: That's right. And it speaks to Cassidy Hutchinson's wisdom that she decided to switch lawyers, whether she was in fact being pressured or whether she felt like she was being pressured and that her interests weren't being represented. Clearly, when there's payment going on and then someone is being paid by someone other than who their client is, then you worry about the influence that the person who's paying the bills is perhaps influencing the conduct of the lawyer. That's not the way that it should work, but as a practical matter, I think we all know that it can.
And so, it speaks to her strength in having the wisdom, as it sounds like Olivia also advised some other folks, if they want to really, truly be independent and get legal advice that is specific to them and in their best interests and in the interests of the truth, then they needed to retain their own counsel.
BERMAN: Carrie Cordero, Olivia Troye, thanks both so much for helping us understand this.
And just ahead, as we wait to hear from the House Ways and Means Committee with its report on the former president's taxes, we'll go live to El Paso, Texas, and CNN's Ed Lavandera for the latest on the surge of migrants at the border as the Biden administration asked the Supreme Court to end enforcement of a COVID-era restriction on migrants. But with one caveat, we'll explain next.
BERMAN: We have more breaking news. The Biden administration tonight has asked the Supreme Court to allow a COVID area policy restricting migrants to end. But it also asked the court to delay ending enforcement of the public health policy known as Title 42 for at least a week. The request comes as border states are facing a huge influx of migrants in El Paso, Texas. Federal officials have moved more than 9,000 migrants out of the city in just the last week, though they also report that the daily number of migrants there recently has begun to decrease.
CNN's Ed Lavandera joins us down from the border in El Paso. Ed, give us a sense of what you're seeing there.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. Well, here in El Paso as officials await the fate of Title 42 as it remains in legal limbo at the U.S. Supreme court. What we're seeing here in El Paso is political gainsmanship.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): Just hours before sunrise, Texas national guard soldiers and Texas state troopers constructed a nearly mile long fence covered in razor wire along the Rio Grande in the very spot where federal border patrol agents started processing thousands of migrants in the last week. The Texas military department says the national guard did not alert the border patrol or local officials that this fence would be constructed.
[20:45:04] On Monday, El Paso official said national guard soldiers would primarily focus on humanitarian efforts and with security of migrants who were already in the city, not with deterrent efforts.
MARIO D'AGOSTINO, DEPUTY CITY MANAGER, EL PASO TX: The state is preparing resources. They are relocating them to El Paso. They are not activated anything other than security. So, at this time, it's for the what ifs.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego says the newly installed fence and razor wire is a political stunt and a misuse of resources at a critical time.
RICARDO SAMANIEGO, JUDGE, EL PASO TX: Standing on the border and putting barbed wire and fences is not what we need. We're the epicenter right now of migration, and you've got the governor. Not calling the mayor myself.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): But this is the kind of optics and strategy that Texas Governor Greg Abbott has long supported. The Republican governor has repeatedly criticized the Biden administration for not doing enough to secure the border.
But the newly installed fence isn't stopping migrants. CNN captured these images just a few hours after the fence went up of a group of four migrants crawling through the razor wire. Despite warnings from border agents, they were taken into custody.
RUBEN GARCIA, DIRECTOR, ANNUNCIATION HOUSE: And who's got the keys to that?
LAVANDERA (voice-over): As the uncertainty of what will happen with Title 42 looms over this border, city, local officials and migrant advocates say they will continue preparing, as if the public health rule that was used during the pandemic to block migrants from entering the U.S. some 2.5 million times will be lifted. But those leading the humanitarian efforts, like Ruben Garcia, are frustrated. Garcia runs the migrant shelter Annunciation House and has served migrants for more than 40 years in El Paso.
GARCIA: The federal and the state government are fighting with each other, so they're not working together. One of the reasons we face moments like this is because our political leadership does not sit down to work out, you know, comprehensive reform that takes into account the phenomena of refugees.
BERMAN: So, Ed, El Paso's mayor said a few days ago the Governor Abbott wouldn't do anything along the border without telling him first. What does the mayor think of these latest developments?
LAVANDERA: Well, the Mayor says that the governor's office did tell him that this fence was going to go up. But the mayor says he was told that this was part of a three-hour training mission for the Texas National Guard that is now here in El Paso. Those 3 hours have long passed. So now, the mayor, who we spoke with just a short while ago, says that he wants to speak with the governor's office and the Texas Department of Public Safety to exactly understand why this fence is needed, because it's clearly not doing much to deter migrants from crossing the river. It is definitely not the way local officials here expected these resources to be used. John.
BERMAN: Ed Lavandera, terrific report at the border. Thank you very much.
Next, an astonishing look at what's now happening inside China as that country continues its battle against COVID. A report you will only see on CNN.
BERMAN: Beijing is facing its worst COVID outbreak after the government eased strict containment measures nearly two weeks ago. What's surprising is the government isn't reporting many deaths yet at the same time the death business seems to be surging.
Here's CNN's Selina Wang reporting from Beijing.
SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): China has only reported a few COVID deaths since abandoning its zero COVID policy. But what we see on the ground tells a different story.
(on-camera): There is a long line of cars that snakes across this entire area of cars waiting to get into that cremation area. I'm in the parking lot right now and it's completely full of cars. I'm speaking here because there are many, many security guards patrolling this entire area. And I spoke to a man earlier who said that his close friend passed away from a fever, though the hospital didn't say why. He said he's been waiting here for hours and he still has no idea if his friend's body can even get cremated today.
(voice-over): And it's not just in Beijing. Social media shows crematoriums and funeral homes around the country overwhelmed. In this funeral home in Jinan, the man is saying it's going insane. Here it is, packed with cars and vans carrying bodies stretch all the way into the distance in front of this crematorium in (INAUDIBLE) and families wait and stand in their morning clothes at this Wuhan funeral home with no idea how long they have to wait before their beloved ones can be cremated.
A new study by Hong Kong researchers estimates nearly 1 million people in China could die from COVID if the country doesn't take necessary public health measures like increased vaccinations. Long lines like these are forming across the country outside of hospitals. In Hong Zhou, people wait for hours outside in the cold rain. Crowds form outside of hospitals in Wuhan, ground zero of the original outbreak.
(on-camera): This is a COVID designated hospital in Beijing. There's been a steady stream of elderly patients in wheelchairs being led into this hospital. I spoke to a man who's been waiting outside for his elderly family member, who he said is very sick with a high fever from COVID But he said this hospital is running out of bed space.
(voice-over): Are you busy? I asked the COVID worker outside this hospital? Yes, extremely busy, he tells me. We even work into the evenings. Did a lot of people die here, I ask? Yes, every day, he says. It all because of COVID? Yes, he says. People with underlying conditions.
The country's COVID strategy has suddenly swung from one extreme to another. This is what China's metropolis Chongqing looked like a month ago during a mass COVID lockdown. A ghost city. But now, not only has Chongqing lifted its lockdown. The government announced on primetime television that people who have COVID, as long as they are only mildly sick or asymptomatic, well they can return to work.
But people are still scared to go out. Restaurants and shopping malls in the city barely have any customers. Subways across major cities are eerily empty. But none of this is stopping Chinese state media from hailing the country's COVID strategy as victory after victory, as the Chinese people feel they are suddenly left to fend for themselves.
WANG: And John, if we're already seeing this major strain on the hospital system in Beijing, the capital of China, that's well resourced, well, you can imagine the devastation we might see in other parts of China. The country's chief epidemiologist said that the worst is still yet to come and that the country is going through the first of three expected waves. That second wave is expected to be triggered by the mass travel ahead of the lunar New Year holiday, which could lead to COVID sweeping through China's countryside, where vaccination rates are much lower and medical resources are far less. John.
BERMAN: Stunning picture. Selina Wang, thank you so much.
We'll be right back.
BERMAN: A busy night of breaking news. And as we've been reporting, the House Ways and Means Committee is expected to continue that trend when it releases its first summary after voting to make public years of the former President's tax returns. So even more than most nights, we can truly say the news continues. So, let's hand it over to Laura Coates in "CNN TONIGHT."