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At This Hour

Biden to Call Ukrainian President amid Russian Aggression; U.S. Weekly Jobless Claims Fall to Lowest Level in 52 Years. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired December 09, 2021 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Here's what we're watching at this hour.

High-stakes diplomacy: President Biden speaks with Ukraine's leader in the next hour, as concerns of a Russian invasion worry his top generals.

Another shot: Americans may need a fourth dose to protect themselves against the new variant. Why one top vaccine maker is raising that possibility now.

And going boldly: Blue Origin prepares for another launch to suborbital space. William Shatner joins me live to talk about his own trek to the final frontier.


BOLDUAN: Thanks so much for being here.

We begin with President Biden preparing to hold a critical call with the president of Ukraine. The call with President Zelensky, which will happen in the next hour, is critical because, right now, Russia is amassing troops still on the borders with Ukraine. And there remains real fear Russia will invade Ukraine.

President Biden warned Vladimir Putin this week in that call that Putin will face severe consequences if that happens. But Ukrainian military officials are sounding the alarm today saying they don't stand a chance against a Russian invasion if the West doesn't step in.

But President Biden has very clearly now said that putting U.S. troops on the ground is not on the table. Let's get over the White House. Arlette Saenz is there for us.

What are you hearing about this important call coming up?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Biden will be speaking with Ukraine's President Zelensky a bit later this afternoon to talk about that Russian military activity along the border of Ukraine, that is so currently of concern to the U.S. and other allies. In addition to that, the president is expected to reiterate his

support for Ukraine's sovereignty and also territorial integrity. Just shortly after that call with Zelensky, Biden will also be holding a meeting with members of the so-called Bucharest 9. That is countries that make up NATO's eastern flank, as he is looking to seek their input as the U.S. is trying to deter Russia from actually invading Ukraine.

Now the White House has assessed that President Putin has not made that decision. And President Biden said yesterday that, currently, U.S. unilateral action in Ukraine, if Russia were to invade, is not on the table.

The president acknowledged that the U.S. has certain obligation to NATO allies but said that does not extend to Ukraine in this situation.

And the president also, speaking about his phone call with Vladimir Putin, said he warned there were severe economic consequences if Putin does move forward with an invasion. That could include sanctioning some top Russian oligarchs, including members of President Putin's inner circle.

The president was speaking a bit earlier today at a summit for democracy here at the White House, where he acknowledged how democracy can -- is under threat in the United States and that there is still more work to be done.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the face of sustained and alarming challenges to democracy, universal human rights and all around the world, democracy needs champions.

And I wanted to host this summit because here is the -- here in the United States, we know as well as anyone that renewing our democracy and strengthening our democratic institution requires constant effort.


SAENZ: Notably not on that list of attendees for the summit were China and Russia. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Arlette, thanks so much.

So Ukraine's top generals at the same time are warning a Russian invasion would overwhelm them without a big boost from Western forces. CNN's Matthew Chance is live in Kiev for more on this.

You just spoke with the Ukraine defense minister about this very thing.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. As Russia builds up tens of thousands of troops on the borders of Ukraine within striking distance of the territory -- by the way, the latest figures on that, they said the number of troop presence that Russia has assembled, according to the latest Ukrainian assessment, has gone up to 120,000.

That's about 25,000 more than when they last made an assessment, so it gives you an idea of the direction of travel.


CHANCE: But undoubtedly, it would be a costly invasion. The generals are saying that. The defense minister, who I spoke to a couple days ago, said that. He said it would be a bloody massacre if Russia came in.

But of course, a massacre for Ukrainians, a massacre for Russians as well, because there's a battle-hardened military here that would stand up, presumably, as much as it could, to a Russian sort of advance, a Russian onslaught.

It's interesting what we just heard there, because the United States has made it quite clear, when it came to resisting a Russian invasion, U.S. troops would not be deployed to help Ukraine. Take a listen to what President Biden had to say.


BIDEN: That is not on the table. That is not -- they are not -- we have a moral obligation and a legal obligation to our NATO allies if they were to attack under Article 5. It's a sacred obligation. That obligation does not extend to NATO -- I mean to Ukraine.

But it would depend upon what the rest of the NATO countries were willing to do as well. But the idea that the United States is going to unilaterally use force to confront Russia invading Ukraine is not on -- in the cards right now.


CHANCE: What is on the table is more U.S. weaponry. And they've already sent another shipment, expected to arrive this week, of anti- tank missiles, small arms and ammunition.

BOLDUAN: Matthew, thank you.

Joining me for more is Thomas Pickering, former U.S. ambassador to the Russian Federation as well as the United Nations. He's a distinguished fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Thank you for being here.

What do you think?

Let's talk first about this call that's going to be happening in the next hour between Biden and the president of Ukraine.

What do you think needs to happen on this call?

Does Ukraine need assurances?

Does President Biden need assurances?

THOMAS PICKERING, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION: I think that Ukraine needs assurances and that President Biden, Kate, has made clear that what's on the table and what's not on the table.

He now has to spell it out for President Zelensky. It's never popular but it is critically important in diplomacy that we begin, if I could call it this way, with sticks. But we have to add carrots into the mix if we're going to get an outcome that is acceptable on a mutual basis.

And that Putin has to know, that, for example, potentially with oil prices going down, were we to increase our exports to Europe of oil and gas, he will begin to suffer losses in his own budget at home, which will reflect on his popularity with the Russian public, something he counts very highly to look at.

Support for Ukraine, as the president is doing, in things like anti- tank missiles and high-technology weapons, is another alternative. Some have suggested -- and I'm not a military man -- that Ukraine create a citizen army, armed with light weapons like the AK-47, which could produce a guerrilla reaction to any Russian invasion.

On the carrot side, we need to look at the U.S. joining the Normandy Group -- France and Germany -- and seek to put in shape something called the Minsk agreement, which is a bit in disarray, to secure Russian withdrawal while, at the same time perhaps, look at an economic workout for Ukraine, which would be, in my view, in the interest of Ukraine, where Ukraine was a favored trading and investment partner both of the European Union on one hand and Putin's economic situation, his economic arrangements on the other.

And really good economists would have to sit down and work that out. The role of diplomacy is to stop the conflict before it breaks out into active fighting. The president has indicated that's not on unilaterally with the U.S. Now is diplomacy's time and President Zelensky has to help President Biden make that happen.

BOLDUAN: How, then, does President Biden's statement, he said, made very clearly, as Matthew Chance replayed for us a second ago, how does his statement that the United States sending over troops to Ukraine to help resist a Russian invasion is not on the table?

How does that fit into everything you're talking about here?

PICKERING: It's realistic and bluffing at a time of terrific (INAUDIBLE). And real contention between the U.S. and Russia, is not an answer.


PICKERING: Were the president's bluff to be called in the opposite direction by Russia, it would open the door to Russians thinking they can exaggerate any threat of force in any direction they want.

What I have laid out is a series of ideas. There are more. They can bring pressure on Russia while, at the same time, offering a diplomatic solution the parties can work with and live with.

BOLDUAN: What I hear from you is a belief, very broadly, more diplomatic engagement when it comes to Russia is better.

What, then --


PICKERING: It's essential, Kate. And what the president did in the phone call was exactly right.

BOLDUAN: But are there risks to that?

What are the risks of more engagement?

PICKERING: Of course there are risk to that. There are risks that somebody will try to draw it out. But they will then pay a price in the sticks that I have outlined, which will, in one hand, guard further against the profligate use of military force to invade Ukraine from Russia and, secondly, call on Russia to pay a real price in the major source of income it depends upon, to feed, clothe and make itself prosperous.

BOLDUAN: Ambassador Pickering, thank you.

PICKERING: Thank you, Kate, very much. Always a pleasure.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Now let's go to Capitol Hill, where President Biden and members of Congress are honoring the late senator Bob Dole, 98 years old, a World War II hero, former Republican presidential nominee and giant of the Senate. He passed away on Sunday.

Dole will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda until this evening. CNN's Manu Raju was there throughout the ceremony. He's outside the Capitol right now, as this tribute just wrapped up.

Manu, so many tributes to the man and the era of politics that he represents.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a bipartisan tribute, top Democrats -- Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, President Biden himself -- along with the Republican leader Mitch McConnell, all praising his time of service, talking about a person they liked, talking about a time that was much different.

And his service stemming back from his time serving in war, World War II, coming to the House of Representatives later, starting in the Senate before he ultimately stepped aside in 1996.

But saying he continued on with his efforts to try to help people, help the disabled, continued on in that regard. And what was heard time and time again is he's someone who tried to reach consensus.

Chuck Schumer remembered him from working across the aisle to cut deals with Democrats. Same with Joe Biden, himself, making a quip about how Bob Dole worked with him on a key Amtrak piece of legislation, even though he was getting pushback from Republicans.

And Mitch McConnell, too, talking about the humor of Bob Dole, saying he is someone who could have a career as a stand-up comic.

But as Joe Biden said, talking about his friend, overlapped his time of service, Bob Dole is someone who sought consensus.


BIDEN: America has lost one of our greatest patriots. We may follow his wisdom, I hope, and his timeless truth.

But the truth of the matter is, as divided as we are, the only way forward for democracy is unity, consensus, the only way. May we follow his wisdom and his timeless truth and reach consensus on the basic fundamental principles we all agree on. May God bless Bob Dole.


RAJU: So this is just the beginning of several days of service. There will be a viewing period, not open to the public. But he will lie in state, Bob Dole will, in the Capitol, up until tomorrow morning. Then his casket will be taken to the National Cathedral in Washington, before heading back home to Russell, Kansas, for services there as well -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Manu, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

Coming up for us still, weekly jobless claims hit their lowest point in decades. What it can tell you about America's economic recovery -- next.





BOLDUAN: Breaking this morning: positive news on the U.S. economy. First-time weekly jobless claims fall to their lowest level in more than 50 years. The Labor Department reporting 184,000 people applied for first time unemployment benefits last week, far below what was forecast. CNN's Matt Egan has been looking into this.

What does this mean, Matt?

MATT EGAN, CNN BUSINESS SENIOR WRITER: It means the jobs market is really strong right now, just 184,000 people filing for unemployment claims. That is not just the lowest of COVID, it's the lowest since September of 1969.

What is really key is that workers have all the leverage right now. The businesses are dealing with a near-record number of job openings, totaling 11 million in October.


EGAN: And also Americans are quitting at a pace we've never seen before. Another 4.2 million quit in October. So, of course, in this environment, if workers can't find -- if businesses can't find enough workers, they can't let go of the ones they do have. Economists do say some seasonal effects may be overstating the drop in unemployment claims.

But Kate, even if you look at the four-week moving average, which smoothes out some of the volatility in the numbers, this is still the lowest number of unemployment claims since just before the pandemic erupted. Clearly, this is good news.

BOLDUAN: So interesting. Thank you, Matt, so much for that. More to come.

And this just in: "The Washington Post" reports New York's attorney general is now seeking to depose former president Donald Trump. This is part of a civil fraud investigation into Trump's family business, that attorney general Letitia James, who wants him to sit for a deposition on January 7th.

"The Post" is reporting her office is looking into whether widespread fraud, quote, "permeated the Trump Organization" and whether it manipulated the valuations of its real estate properties. Important to note, Donald Trump has not been personally accused of any wrongdoing here.

Let's turn to new developments with the investigation into the Capitol insurrection. Mark Meadows, Donald Trump's former chief of staff, is now suing the House Select Committee.

Meadows recently stopped cooperating with the committee -- on again, off again, cooperating, not and now suing -- but not before he turned over a trove of documents. CNN's Jamie Gangel joins me with more.

Liz Cheney told CNN the committee had received "a number of extremely interesting nonprivileged documents" from Meadows. You have some insight into what is so interesting about these documents.

Can you tell us?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For context, first, I think it's important to say again, underscore, the documents that Meadows handed over were voluntarily, no claim of privilege at all.

What a source with knowledge has told me is that these very interesting documents include text messages and emails that were found on his personal cell phone, his personal email account and that he was, quote, "exchanging" these texts and emails with a wide range of individuals while the attack was underway.

In other words, Kate, these are the messages that people are sending him and he is responding to in real time on January 6th. The source went on to say that the messages relate to, quote, "what

Donald Trump was doing and not doing during the riot."

So I think what's critical is these -- we don't know who sent them yet -- but these texts and emails may give certainly the committee and, if and when they release them, incredible insight into what Donald Trump was doing during those hours, while the Capitol was under attack.

I just want to add one other thing. There is no way that Donald Trump is happy that these emails and texts were voluntarily given to the committee.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely not. Donald Trump doesn't really text or email, if you will. So you have to assume that's a lot of communication, even trying to reach out to president Trump at the time, through his chief of staff, who was with him.

GANGEL: Correct.

BOLDUAN: Extremely critical.

GANGEL: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: Seemingly every day, Jamie, there are more people, who were close, are close to Trump, who are not showing up to testify or pleading the Fifth or fighting in court to avoid the committee.

Beyond the bold-faced names -- Meadows, Steve Bannon and others -- you have reporting there's a lot going on behind the scenes, with people speaking to the committee.

GANGEL: So what I was told was the committee's working on two levels: as you said, what we see in public, people defying the committee, and there is a completely different investigation going on behind closed doors.

According to a source familiar with the committee's work, there are, quote, "many people" every week coming in to testify and to produce documents; in some instances, multiple people a day. Some are voluntary, some are under subpoena, some are under a friendly subpoena to give people some cover.

And while we've known publicly, Kate, about approximately 40 people who have been subpoenaed, I'm also told there are many subpoenas out there that we do not know about and that, among these witnesses, are names we will recognize, Kate.

BOLDUAN: So interesting. Great reporting as always, Jamie. Thank you.

GANGEL: Thank you.


BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, a major vaccine maker raising the possibility a fourth COVID shot may be necessary. Why that is -- next.




BOLDUAN: A moment to mark in the battle against the pandemic: more than 200 million Americans are now fully vaccinated against COVID, more than 60 percent of the population.

The rate of vaccinations has ticked up in recent weeks --