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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

New Details On Classified Documents Found In Biden Office In November; Rep. Santos: "I've Lived An Honest Life;" New Debt In Missing Mom Case; CNN Learns New Details About Past Fears As Search For Missing Massachusetts Wife & Mother Continues; Ukrainian's Determined In Face Of Difficult Winter, Prospect Of New Russian Offensives In Spring; Roughly 500-Mile Area In Southeast Under Tornado Watch; FAA On Outage: "Data File Was Damage By Personnel Who Failed To Follow Procedures"; New Details On Classified Documents Found In Biden Office In November. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired January 12, 2023 - 20:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Georgia Governor Brian Kemp also declaring a State of Emergency. Nearly 200,000 people are also without power in Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee, as the story develops tonight.

Thank you so much for joining us. You can watch us anytime on CNN Go, but it is time now for AC 360 with Anderson Cooper.



There is breaking news tonight. New details on the first batch of Obama-era classified documents, which were found back in November but only acknowledged on Monday, more on that shortly. This comes at the end of the day that saw the naming of a Special Counsel to investigate President Biden's handling of those and other classified documents found at a private office of the current President in his home in Wilmington, Delaware. The most recent discovery just this morning at the same residence that's according to Attorney General Merrick Garland.

This afternoon, he named Robert Hur, a veteran Federal prosecutor and former Trump appointee Special Counsel, and he laid out a timeline of the case.


MERRICK GARLAND, US ATTORNEY GENERAL: On the evening of November 4, 2022, the National Archives Office of Inspector General contacted a prosecutor at the Department of Justice. It informed him that the White House had notified the Archives that documents bearing classification markings were identified at the office of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement.

On November 9th, the FBI commenced an assessment consistent with standard protocols to understand whether classified information had been mishandled in violation of Federal law. On November 14th, pursuant to Section 600.2 (b) of the Special Counsel Regulations, I assigned US Attorney Lausch to conduct an initial investigation, to inform my decision whether to appoint a Special Counsel.

On December 20th, President Biden's personal counsel informed Mr. Lausch that additional documents bearing classification markings were identified in the garage of the President's private residence in Wilmington, Delaware.

This morning, President Biden's personal counsel called Mr. Lausch and stated that an additional document bearing classification markings was identified at the President's personal residence in Wilmington, Delaware.


COOPER: So Lausch recommended a Special Counsel be named, so now enter Robert Hur, who will have to answer many of the same questions that we have, for starters, how and why did the classified material from President Biden's time as Vice President end up where it did?

An attorney to the President put out a statement saying: "We are confident that a thorough review will show that these documents were inadvertently misplaced.

Keeping them honest, though, it is not like there has been a flood of timely information about this at all from this White House about documents whose existence was first known on November 2nd, nothing was said publicly back then nor on December 20th when the additional items were found.

And on Monday, when the administration did acknowledge the existence of that first batch, nothing was said about the second discovered nearly three weeks before.

Here is how the Press Secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre explained that late today.


KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The lawyer said we have been working closely with the Department of Justice and coordinating a search that was still ongoing to ensure any additional documents were in the proper possession of the government.

After that search -- after the search concluded last night, we released a statement disclosing the facts from that search, as you all know, this morning.


COOPER: So there is that. There is also the question of what exactly these items pertain to, what the President knew about them and when. He says he doesn't know what's in the documents that were found.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know what's in the documents. My lawyers have not suggested I ask what documents they were. I've turned over the boxes. They've turned over the boxes to the Archives and we are cooperating fully -- cooperating fully with the review, and which I hope will be finished soon, and there will be more detail at that time.


COOPER: So he said he doesn't know what is in the documents. Most of his teams say they don't know what's in the documents. Yet that same day, CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports, the White House convened a call with top allies, two people familiar with that call telling us a White House official said that none of the documents were "particularly sensitive" and were "not of high interest to the Intelligence Community," which of course raises the question if they don't know what's in the documents, how can they say that? And if they do, if someone does, did that person tell the President making that denial just heard untrue?

Lastly, but certainly not finally, there's a question of what the President now thinks of what he said just a few months back when asked about the former President, admittedly quite different version of what he is now facing.


SCOTT PELLEY, CORRESPONDENT, "60 MINUTES": When you saw the photograph of the top secret documents laid out on the floor at Mar-a-Lago, what did you think to yourself looking at that image?

BIDEN: How that could possibly happen? How one -- anyone could be that irresponsible? And I thought what data was in there that may compromise sources and methods, by that I mean, names of people who helped or et cetera, and it is just totally irresponsible.



COOPER: CNN special correspondent, Jamie Gangel joins us now with the breaking news, new reporting on the first batch of documents. What can you tell us?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So Anderson, this new information is regarding the 10 classified documents that were found back on November 2nd in President Biden's office at the Penn Biden Center. We have learned that among the documents were a memorandum from then Vice President Biden to President Obama, two briefing memos preparing him -- Vice President Biden -- for phone calls. Those calls one was with the British Prime Minister. The second was with Donald Tusk of Poland, who was the President of the European Council from 2014 to 2019.

For clarity, Anderson, these were classified documents, but it is unclear how much of this material remain sensitive. Over time, classified material becomes perishable, sometimes because it's made public or sometimes because it is just no longer relevant.

COOPER: And even though President Biden has said he doesn't know what's in the documents, there may be a way for him to find out.

GANGEL: Yes, one of the things people don't understand is, even though the FBI and the Justice Department have these documents, they have copies of the documents, at least those that were in the first batch at the Penn Biden Center.

So even though President Biden has said he doesn't know what is in the documents, he could have access to those documents. Those 10 classified documents from November 2nd are actually sitting at the National Archives. And I'm told, according to the guidelines, a source familiar told me if the President wanted to send a trustee over, they could go over to the Archives, even though it's part of the investigation and see what they are.

COOPER: So what more do we know about the Special Counsel who was appointed by Attorney General Garland?

GANGEL: So as you mentioned, Attorney General Garland announced the Special Counsel will be Robert Hur. He was appointed to two positions by former President Trump. He was the US Attorney in Maryland and also had a very high-level position in the Trump Justice Department, working with former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

In addition to that, Hur got his start as a clerk for the former Chief Justice to the United States, William Rehnquist. Bottom line, this is someone with impeccable conservative credentials.

COOPER: All right, Jamie Gangel, appreciate it.


COOPER: New details on classified documents -- appreciate it.

I want to bring in CNN's Jeff Zeleny from the White House, whose reporting I mentioned earlier; CNN senior law enforcement analyst and former FBI Deputy Director, Andrew McCabe; also CNN senior political commentator, and former top Obama adviser, David Axelrod.

So Andrew you know, Special Counsel Robert Hur, you worked with him. What should we know about him?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I think Jamie summed it up well. Rob has an extraordinary background. He is a hard working guy, a straight shooter. I knew him when he was the Principal Assistant Deputy Attorney General, we referred to him as the PADAG for Rod Rosenstein.

He was a key member of that leadership team at the department at the time, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein being his bosses. Yes, he is a straightforward guy with the right background and the right reputation, obviously, deeply connected on the Republican side of things which should protect him for a very short period of time.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, Andrew, this larger issue now encompasses the sitting President, his immediate predecessor, do you think there would be interest inside the Justice Department of finding out whether there are classified documents that got removed after other presidencies.

MCCABE: There is always an interest in returning classified documents back to the authorized storage places where they belong. I think what you -- the fact that we haven't seen issues like this with other presidencies, we didn't see it from the Obama administration, we didn't see it from the Bush administration and others that I am aware of, is really a testament to the professionalism and the training of their staff.

It becomes much more of a staff issue than it is an issue that the principal themself actually deals with. When it comes to the packing of the office, the moving of those materials that are going to go with the former President, and how that stuff is stored wherever they end up.

So I think -- I'm not surprised at all that President Biden's position so far in this thing is that he doesn't actually -- he is not familiar with the documents, says he doesn't know what's in them and may never have actually even seen them in his office or his residence.

COOPER: David, what do you think about how the White House has handled this since the first revelation?


Look when you face what is essentially crisis communications, I mean, you have to recognize that this is at least awkward given his comments on what President Trump had done.


You know, you'd want to gather everything at once and be as open as you possibly can. So as not to create the impression of furtiveness.

I have no doubt that he -- you know, this argument of inadvertence is true, and that will be the end result of this. But because of the way they've handled it, I think it makes it easier for Republicans to do what they want to do, which is to create a sense, I think, a false sense of equivalency, with what happened with Trump.

And just one point I want to make: President Trump never denied that he wanted to take these documents. In fact, he claimed that he made some sort of Vulcan mind exercise and made them all unclassified, without telling anyone. So there was no even pretense at inadvertence. I should say he hasn't made that argument in Court, his lawyers haven't.

So this is a quite a different situation. But it's enough for Republicans in Congress and his partisans to say, why is he being treated differently? COOPER: Jeff, I mean, in terms of what President Biden knew, or didn't know, or still doesn't know, has does it all square with your reporting about what other people inside the White House appear to know?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, look, I mean, the President has said he was surprised by the finding of this and he doesn't know the specifics of this.

But that is what I am told is the difference here, the specifics being the central thing. He has not seen these documents, at least since he had them initially, when he was the Vice President. He has not seen them recently.

But I am told that there was a conversation among White House officials and some top level allies in Washington in the hours after the story broke, essentially downplaying it, and saying that these documents were not particularly sensitive, or of high interest to the Intelligence Community.

So I'm told, while the specifics of the classified documents haven't been seen by the President or others, the general topics have become known through the course of the investigation; and now of course, through Jamie Gangel's reporting.

And as she was saying, someone simply can go over to the Archives, and look at this. But I think in the context of this, as I've been talking to many people in former presidencies, the offices of the former Presidents and Vice Presidents. Vice Presidential material is handled in a very different way.

The Presidential Records Act really pertains to the President, but the Vice President's staff largely is left on its own, in some respects. So yes, the classified material was being taken out for months, but it seems like a few random papers were sort of caught up in the mix as he was in a flurry, a whirlwind of activity in the final week of his vice presidency.

So he is saying, he was surprised by the finding of it, and he doesn't know, but that is not necessarily the fact that people don't know the topics, the general topics of these memos.

COOPER: And Jamie, we are learning that the DOJ has -- they've started interviewing some of President Biden's former aides as part of the investigation. Anything on that?

GANGEL: I think they are interested in talking to anyone who may have been involved in packing the boxes. Specifically, we're told that Kathy Chung, who was his executive assistant, Biden's executive assistant, when he was Vice President has been interviewed. She is now the Deputy Director of Protocol at The Pentagon.

And so anyone who may be able to shed some light on what was happening in in those final days, the FBI is going to want to talk to. Just as a side note, Anderson, you know, it is unprecedented to have a President and a former President, with these two Special Counsels being investigated at the same time.

I do think it's important, as David Axelrod said, the way they've handled it has been not the greatest damage control in the world, but they are very different. The key here, I have been told by sources at the Archives is cooperation. And I'm told that they really believe that this was just a mistake.

COOPER: Andrew, can you explain exactly how the FBI works with Special Counsel on an investigation like this?

MCCABE: Sure. So, certainly in the Mueller Special Counsel example, which I was deeply involved in building that team for Special Counsel Muller, the way it typically works is those FBI agents and analysts and support staff, administrative staff that are necessary to stand up that effort are essentially sent over to the Special Counsel's office and told to report only to the Special Counsel than the attorneys working with them.

You want to have a very clean break between those resources and their prior reporting structures back at FBI Headquarters or any field offices that they may have come from.

So the Special Counsel really has a completely independent FBI workforce to deploy, to do interviews, to work on search warrants, to review evidence, that sort of thing. It is completely at their unilateral control.


COOPER: And David, I mean, when you look at the timeline of what we know so far about when things were found, when things were announced, what questions are unanswered that remain in your mind?

AXELROD: Well, I think there will be questions about the timeline, and why there were these gaps between the discovery of these documents, why they were announced when they were announced. And I think that makes -- it has made the situation more complicated politically.

Again, the substance is the substance. And, you know, this probe may end up being the President's friend here because it may confirm exactly what Jamie said she has heard from the people at the Archives.

But from a political standpoint, you know, it wasn't exactly ideal crisis communication.

COOPER: Yes. David Axelrod, Andrew McCabe, Jeff Zeleny, Jamie Gangel, appreciate it. Thank you.

Coming up next, Congressman George Santos who cannot tell the truth tells a friendly interviewer: "I've lived an honest life." So why can't he say a single word to CNN's Manu Raju about all the lies he's told. We will show you what happened when Manu tried to get some answers ahead.

And later, potentially a big development in the case of a Massachusetts mom who is now missing. What a newly uncovered police report has to say about her husband who is now in custody.



COOPER: Republican Congressman George Santos under growing pressure to step down for his serial dishonesty, said again today, he is staying put.

Speaking on a podcast, Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz, he said he'll only leave if he's voted out of office two years from now, by the 142,000 people he says he represents. Gaetz also gently asked him about where he got all the money he put into his campaign.


REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): One of the principal critiques I've heard is that a lot of money was donated to your campaign by you, $700,000.00, I believe? Where did it come from?

REP. GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): Well, I'll tell you where it didn't come from. It didn't come from China, Ukraine, or Burisma. How about that?

Look, I've worked my entire life. I've lived an honest life. I've never been accused of bad doing, so you know, it's my -- it's the equity of my hard working self.


COOPER: "I've lived an honest life," he says. What number lie is that?

George Santos says he has lived in on his life. He has never been accused "to do of any bad doing." That makes no sense both grammatically and factually. The guy who has lied about his career, his religion, his heritage, and education in fictitious college, athletic prowess, is under investigation for check fraud in Brazil says "I've lived an honest life, never been accused of any."

CNN's Manu Raju tried to talk with the mysterious Mr. Santos. Take a look at how that went.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Santos, why did you lie to your voters about your qualifications, your past, being Jewish? Why would you lie to them? Don't voters deserve an explanation about the widespread lies about your past?

How can you be trusted with sensitive security information, Mr. Santos?

REPORTER: How can you say your voters elected you if they didn't know they were electing?

RAJU: Have you been contacted by the Brazilian authorities about the fraud charges you're facing, Mr. Santos? Are you just staying in Congress because you were concerned about losing the seat? Democrats picking up this seat?

What has the Speaker said to Mr. Santos? Has he told you to stay in office? Have you gotten assurances to be on any Committee assignments, Mr. Santos?

Mr. Santos, why did you say your family fled the Holocaust? Is that true?

How can you be trusted to have classified security now, Mr. Santos?

Mr. Santos, why won't you respond to any of these questions about your past?


COOPER: Wow. It's awkward. Who is the other guy there, too? What's his job?

Hard working Manu Raju joins us now. So what is the latest House Republicans are saying about him?

RAJU: Well, we are hearing more Republicans calling for his resignation. In fact, tonight Max Miller, who's an Ohio Republican, a freshman called on George Santos to resign and specifically raised the issue of him, Santos claiming he was Jewish and claiming that his family had fled the Holocaust, neither of which are true, saying in a statement that it's not okay to fabricate or lie for political gain. This is especially true when the lie seeks benefit from the murder of millions of Jewish people.

Now, there are five others from the New York delegation also calling on him to resign, but very significantly, Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican -- the House Speaker is not doing so. He says that it's up to voters in his district to decide. He said that there is a process by which things can get determined in the House, that the House Ethics Committee reviewing it and then they could decide any recourse.

But the very real issue here for the Republican leaders, Anderson, is that he comes from a district that Joe Biden carried by eight points in 2020. If he were to resign, this would open up a seat that could very well flip to the Democrats and Kevin McCarthy right now, battling to hold his razor thin majority, does not want to make his margins tighter.

So he is willing to see Santos stay in office despite all these concerns about his credibility and even Santos himself admitting about all those mistruths and the lies from his past.

COOPER: I spoke -- and yet, today says you know, he has lived his life -- I spoke to the Democratic Congressman Seth Moulton last night about concerns he and some colleagues have about Santos on National Security grounds. Do -- I mean, from many Republicans, do they seem to share that concern? I know, McCarthy obviously, you know, has other reasons not to. RAJU: Yes. I actually asked a bunch of Republicans about that today. They're not really echoing those concerns, many of them, the ones who are calling on him to step aside are concerned about his other aspects of his lies.

Even some were concerned about him like Congressman Don Bacon would not go as far as saying that he has concerns about the National Security aspect of it, but that was a question that I put directly to Kevin McCarthy at his press conference today.

I said, well, the fact that you have someone here who is potentially facing fraud charges in Brazil, who fabricated major portions of his life, how could you trust him to have classified briefings, get access to the nation's secrets and he said initially that I don't think -- he said, I don't see any way he's going to have top secret, and then he caught himself, because he will have access to classified briefings.


And then he went on to say, he has got a long way to earn trust. The voters of his district have elected him. He is seated. He is part of the Republican conference.

So right now Republican leaders, standing behind him, but Anderson, if more revelations come out or if he is facing some serious investigations right now, if things turn worse for him legally, we'll see if that tone changes.

COOPER: Yes, Manu Raju, appreciate it. Thank you.

Coming up, even with Russians desperation in its war in Ukraine, signs of trouble in the Ukrainian fight in the East. Why a Ukrainian soldier tell CNN he is feeling abandoned. Our Clarissa Ward join us with a view of the war from Kyiv, tonight. That's next.


COOPER: Breaking News tonight in the Ana Walshe mystery. She is the Massachusetts wife and mother missing for well over a week now. Her husband is charged with misleading police as they search for her.

Our national correspondent, Jason Carroll is in Cohasset tonight with brand new information about their past.

So Jason, this is no doubt going to be of interest to investigators. What are you learning.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's for sure Anderson and it's just another disturbing development. There has been so many in this particular case and now another one emerging tonight.


According to a public incident report from 2014, this was before the couple got married. Ana apparently told police in Washington, D.C. Remember, D.C. is where she works at that real estate firm. She told police that Brian Walshe at the time made a statement over the telephone that he was going to kill her and her friend. I'm going to repeat that made a statement over the telephone that he was going to kill her and her friend. This, again, back in 2014. Making a threat like that, of course, is a felony. But again, according to this incident report, it says here that the victim refused to cooperate in the prosecution, which is why that never went forward. So again, Anderson yet another disturbing detail in a case that has been filled with them.

Meanwhile, out here in Cohasset, just earlier tonight, there was a candlelight vigil for Ana and her three small children. We spoke to a number of people out there, out here who have basically said they stopped watching the news because there have been so many horrific details. So tonight, those that we spoke to say their prayers are for Ana and her three children. Anderson.

COOPER: And Jason her three children are still in the custody of the state, is that right?

CARROLL: That is correct. The youngest two, the oldest six still in the custody of the state. And one of the Ana's supporters who were out here, who was out here earlier tonight was saying that her hope is that the three children can be kept together and not separated, because you can imagine all that they're going through, missing their mother, trying to figure out, trying to sort out what has happened with their family. And so, the hope at this point is that the children can be kept together.

COOPER: Jason Carroll, appreciate it. Thank you.

I want to bring in Martha Coakley, she's the former Massachusetts attorney general. Thank you so much for being with us. You heard Jason's reporting. What do you make of where this investigation stands tonight?

MARTHA COAKLEY, FMR MASSACHUSETTS ATTORNEY GENERAL: So, its making progress, obviously, and there's a lot that we can't see. I will say I think it's pretty likely those three kids will be kept together in the short run. But on the latest evidence Anderson, you know, one of the things I'd be concerned about as far as the case goes, is that it's very old. It's almost ten years old that anybody looking at that in terms of a trial would have to say what's the evidentiary value of it. It really doesn't go to intent or motive in 2023.

Having said that, it starts to complete a bigger picture of who he was, how he behaved, what their relationship may have been like. And that is all important for investigators as they move forward looking for evidence. Both testimonial real, including DNA and circumstantial evidence that all goes to whether they can and will indict and ultimately what a jury would do with this case.

COOPER: So, I mean, evidence of a past threat from that far along ago, a threat before they were married, obviously they ended up staying together and getting married. That would not be allowed in court, you don't think? COAKLEY: At this stage, I'd say it's unlikely. It doesn't have much

evidentiary value, and it is inflammatory. They could be prejudicial. But it is helpful to investigators to take a look at what was the relationship passed between these two and does it help them now, that's different from what could be admitted before a jury if it were ever to go to trial.

COOPER: And this investigation obviously spans several jurisdictions. How difficult does that make it for law enforcement? Also, for prosecutors who may eventually, I guess, have to kind of stitch all these pieces together?

COAKLEY: Well, interestingly, most of this is happening in Massachusetts. And so, although there's local district attorneys, one of the things viewers may not know is that in Massachusetts, by and large, every district attorney has jurisdiction over the homicide investigation into homicide, and they work with state and local police, so state jurisdiction shouldn't be an issue. But they would also get cooperation if they need to work with D.C. police, for instance, or other jurisdictions. That's not going to be a big issue for them. There are a lot of crime scenes, and there is a lot of work to be done.

But this is where a DA, an assistant DA who's working on the search warrants, the investigators who can work with crime scene investigators as a team to see what they need to get, how they need to cross their T's and dot their I's on these warrants to make sure they're seizing evidence properly and to make sure and, in this case, I think you can see that because he is being held on that charge of misleading investigators, it gives them a little more breathing room to make sure they're doing it right. And that if there is a charge, if this is brought to trial and there's a conviction, then it would be upheld.

COOPER: And just going back to the children, in a case like this, who determines what happens to them? Obviously, I assume an effort would be made for, you know, relatives, friends of the family or something who may either be able to care for them in the short term or obviously longer term, but who actually decides that thing.


COAKLEY: So, they are within, and rightfully so, right now with a mother missing, a father in custody, they are in the custody of our Department of Children and Families and they may end up, depending upon where this goes, making that decision. The first effort is always going to be to place them with family members, if possible, who are able to care for them. But as we know, Ana Walshe's family and mother does not live in this country, and he -- the father is an only child.

And so, that will remain to be seen. But that is up to the state in these very unfortunate circumstances.

COOPER: When it comes to forensic evidence that may have been disposed of in the trash or something else, is there -- I mean what sort of clock or authorities up against to find it? Those sorts of leads can grow cold quickly, can't they?

COAKLEY: Well, actually, DNA is pretty resistant. I mean, if they can find any kind of clothing, anything that may have DNA on it, we know there's some weapons potentially or articles that were used in the house. If they find articles of clothing or any kind of matter that they think they can get samples from, they are fine right now, really, the clock is ticking in some respects. But again, because he's in custody, they can take their time, do the test they need to and make sure they're gathering the evidence properly, thoroughly, so that it can be used if there was to be an indictment. And I'm sure they feel that getting it done right, so it can withstand appeal down the road is more important right now than getting it done quickly.

Remember, this is still a missing person's case and we have a person of interest. What the DA has to decide with this investigative team is, was there a murder and who did it? And so, that's what they are working on now, determining circumstantially with other evidence. Was there a homicide that took place here or not? And if so, who's responsible for that? And you can see where circumstantial evidence is going to play a big role in this case.

COOPER: Yes. Martha Coakley, really appreciate talking to you. Thank you.

COAKLEY: Thank you.

COOPER: Ahead, we're going to Ukraine for a discussion with our Clarissa Ward, who's on the ground there, for the latest on the fight in the east as Ukrainian soldiers hang on in the face of a Russian onslaught and how the people of Ukraine are faring through the cold winter as the war grinds on.



COOPER: The Russian war efforts placed a great emphasis on its siege of the eastern Ukrainian town of Soledar, a Ukrainian soldier who's there tells CNN this evening, quote, we are just abandoned. The soldier who were not identifying for security reasons, says they tried to withdraw their own. If they wait for an order to go, the soldier said, they likely won't have time to get out. He warned that troops are out of food, low on water and struggling to help wounded comrades.

Our chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward joins us from Kyiv. Clarissa, thanks for being with us. What are things like in Ukraine tonight?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think, Anderson, if I had to describe the mood, I would say it's grim determination, but really with an emphasis on grim. We are now deep in the winter. It is bitterly cold. There are rolling blackouts, there are regular bombings. The fighting in the Donbass region is kind of grinding on, it's sort of a stalemate. And so, I think there's a growing realization for many Ukrainians that this isn't going to end necessarily in the next few weeks or even a few months. And so, people take it day by day. There is some optimism about the flow of weapons, the type of weapons coming in, the fact that we're going to see up to 100 Ukrainians traveling to the U.S. next week to get trained on how to use that Patriot missile, the fact that air defenses are improving, but it's a grind and it's a slog and it is tough.

COOPER: One of Ukraine's top generals predicted that Russia could make another attempt to attack Kyiv with ground forces perhaps as soon as the end of January. That's obviously got to be a huge concern.

WARD: This is something you hear a lot, and particularly last month in the run up to President Zelenskyy's visit to the U.S. you heard a lot of top Ukrainian leaders and military leaders talking about this much vaunted sort of spring offensive that they believe the Russians are planning for. And the reason they give behind, believing this or fearing that it's going to happen, makes a lot of sense. Putin mobilized 300,000 troops, Anderson. Roughly half of those are still in training. That training will come to an end sometime probably in February or in the springtime.

And so, theory is, or the logical supposition is that they will then push to make another big offensive. Whether that's in Donbass, whether that's in the south, whether that's in Kiev, as General Zalushnyi, the commander in chief of armed forces here in Ukraine, has suggested, nobody knows. But it's definitely a big fear. And that's part of the reason that you're seeing the Ukrainians really trying to keep their foot on the gas, keep the pressure going and keep international support coming in.

COOPER: We've also been covering this week some of the fiercest fighting of this war just in the past few weeks in the east of Ukraine, near Soledar, Bakhmut. How do Ukrainian authorities think or what did they think about the tempo of the conflict?

WARD: So, I mean, there's no two ways about it. The situation is very difficult for Ukrainian forces right now in Bakhmut and in Soledar. CNN actually spoke to a Ukrainian soldier in Soledar who said wanting to keep anonymous, but he said that, you know, the situation is dire. We're running out of food. We're running low on water. And the Ukrainians themselves, even the leadership, acknowledged that this is a very difficult situation. From Soledar potentially, you're looking at Bakhmut, it's 6 miles away. And really this area is seen, Anderson, as being the kind of the gateway to the Donbass region.

So strategically, it is important for the Ukrainians to try to hold on to it. But they are getting hammered, and they are getting hammered hard. They have managed to stand their ground thus far, but it remains an open question how long they can keep that up there's.


COOPER: There's also, I mean Russia just now appointed a new general to oversee the war. The previous one, I think, lasted just three months. How is that interpreted on the Ukrainian side? WARD: Well, I think obviously, you know, primarily it's interpreted as

some kind of a failure. Right. This is the fourth leader they've had in one year. So clearly something's not going right that they keep shifting and changing tactics. I think for people who are really watching the minutiae of, like, why would he change leader now? And why would he choose Gerasimov, this general who's basically the de facto leader of all of Russia's armed forces. And different people have come up with different kind of conclusions as to why that may be. It may be that Putin is looking for a fall guy ultimately, if things don't go right, that he would be the one to take full responsibility for it. It may also be a kind of declaration of intent that not only are we going to slow things down, we're going to maximize things, we're going to get the Navy more involved, we're going to get the Air Force more involved. We're going to actually try to increase the pressure and the scale of this operation.

So, different people have different perspectives on why this may be, but certainly a lot of people saying that it doesn't really bode well for the Russians that they have such a high turnover. Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Clarissa Ward from Kyiv tonight. Thank you.

So just ahead, more breaking news. At least six deaths in Alabama after dozens of tornadoes hit the Southeast. We'll have the latest on the deadly storm system hitting the area. There's also new reporting about what caused that massive failure that grounded every flight in America yesterday.



COOPER: There's more breaking news tonight. At least six people are dead in Alabama after at least 24 tornadoes hit the southeast part of a much larger storm system that struck much of the region.

CNN's Jennifer Gray joins us now from Atlanta. So, where's the greatest threat right now?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Anderson this is still a powerful storm system. We still have a tornado watch in effect across southern portions of Georgia. That's going to be an area of concern over the next couple of hours. And if we zoom in even closer, you can see a severe thunderstorm warning that includes Raleigh right now, any of these storms could produce very damaging winds and large hail. That's going to be the primary threat, but we could see a brief tornado or two still to come. You can see those thunderstorm warnings across southern Georgia as well.

As we go into the rest of the evening, we could see a few tornadoes, damaging winds, and large hail, primarily in those areas shaded in yellow and green. Anderson.

COOPER: Will there still be a threat of major storms into the overnight hours? GRAY: Right, the overnight hours, we are still going to see the

potential for severe storms as these storms march to the east. We still have that risk area. They are going to quickly make it off the coast. These storms are traveling at about 55 mph, so very fast moving. So, by the time we get into tomorrow morning, things do look much better. However, there is still a threat during the overnight hours for the potential for strong storms. We'll see about an inch of rain potentially across the southeast. Could see some snow for portions of the mid Atlantic.

But this was a powerful system, 34 tornado reports, 114 wind reports, we had hail reports, and you can really see across Alabama, you can see three streaks right here. Those are really the three significant tornadoes. One of them, the one that went through Selma, possibly was on the ground, Anderson for about 50 miles. So, these were definitely significant storms that rolled through the south.

COOPER: Yes, Jennifer Gray, I appreciate it. Thank you.

We're learning more about what caused the FAA ground stoppage yesterday that caused thousands of flights to be delayed. Pete, what do you, what can you tell us? Pete Muntean --

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson we're learning more all the time about this. The Federal Aviation Administration has been in the crosshairs of critics since this air travel meltdown first broke yesterday, 10,000 flights delayed, another 1,300 canceled. And we were the first to report that the computer system that crashed, which stores critical safety information for pilots, was 30 years old. Now, the FAA says it knows the cause of the failure, not the age of the system, but rather who was working on it. In a just released statement, the FAA says it determined that a data file was damaged by personnel who failed to follow procedures.

Government sources tell us the FAA first noticed problems on Tuesday night. The Notices to Air Missions or NOTAM database crashed because of that damage file. And that file also impacted the backup system. The FAA tried to reset, essentially unplugging the system, plugging it back in again in the early morning hours of yesterday. But that restart failed, triggering a nationwide ground stop for 90 minutes. All air traffic paralyzed, Anderson something we have not seen since the 9/11 attacks.

Another government official tells me the computer system was not slated to be updated by the FAA for at least another six years. That caught the attention of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the FAA falls under the Transportation Department remember. Now, the source tells us, Buttigieg is really not happy with how this update was planned, and he wants that system that caused these cascading cancellations fixed fast so this does not happen again, Anderson.

COOPER: Does it seem like this was done on purpose, or was it accidental?

MUNTEAN: The FAA has ruled out a cyber-attack here. We do not think it was caused on purpose. This seems like it was something accidental. And the FAA initially says that damaged database file may have been something simply uploaded to the system during the routine, uploading of NOTAMs those database files, those critical safety alerts for pilots. So not totally clear exactly what caused this all to come down, although the FAA does say now that it was really personnel who failed to pilot procedure as a human error here.

COOPER: Pete Muntean, I appreciate it. Thank you.

Coming up, more on our breaking news about new details in those classified documents that have been found, prompting a new special counsel to investigate President Biden and his handling of them.



COOPER: Our breaking news tonight, even as Attorney General Merrick Garland today named a special counsel in the Biden classified documents affair, we're learning tonight what was in the initial batch of the, ten Obama era documents found in early November at his old think tank. CNN's Jamie Gangel reporting earlier tonight that among those documents was a memorandum from then Vice President Biden to President Obama. Two briefing memos preparing a then vice president for phone calls, one with Britain's prime minister, the other with the president of the European Council from 2014 to 2019. This news ends a day dominated by the Garland decision.


MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm here today to announce the appointment of Robert Hur as a Special Counsel pursuant to Department of Justice regulations governing such matters. This appointment underscores for the public the Department's commitment to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters and to making decisions indisputably guided only by the facts and the law.


COOPER: Now in our last, CNN's David Axelrod, a former top White House advisor who worked alongside then Vice President Biden, the Obama administration called the White House handling of this situation the White House now, to use his word, suboptimal.