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At This Hour

Blinken Urges Israelis And Palestinians To Calm Tensions; Zelenskyy Calls On Allies To Send Fighter Jets To Ukraine; Memphis Police Disbands Unit Involved In Beating Of Tyre Nichols. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired January 30, 2023 - 11:00   ET



COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Mama Donna and Dad Ed, what are they going to do? That's the question.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: I immediately thought how many games that mom and dad must have gone through when those guys were playing youth football. I'm just like, you know, the list got to be long.

WIRE: Yes, they were the taxi carrying those guys every game in practice.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Coy Wire, thanks so much.

WIRE: You got it.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks to all of you for being with us today. I'm Erica Hill.

SCIUTTO: I'm Jim Sciutto. AT THIS HOUR with Kate Bolduan starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. AT THIS HOUR, a high stakes mission. America's top diplomat is in the Middle East, trying to calm tensions between Israelis and Palestinians right now. Plus, the brutal beating of Tyre Nichols has now forced the police department there to disband their specialized crime unit. So will other police departments across the country do the same? And the Virginia Elementary School reopens for the first time weeks after a six-year-old shot his teacher in the chest. This is what we're watching AT THIS HOUR.

Thank you so much for being here. I'm Kate Bolduan. A lot of news to get to, so let's get to it, we're going to start overseas. A suicide bomber detonated explosives inside a mosque in Pakistan today, killing dozens of people, injuring more than 100 others during prayers. The attack happened inside a police compound actually in the city of Peshawar. At the same time, Secretary of State Tony Blinken, he is in Israel today, urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leaders to do all they can to ease tensions following a spike in violence that has killed more than a dozen people in the last week.

We're going to have more on that in a moment. But let's get first to Pakistan. Sophia Saifi is standing by for us. Sofia, what more are you learning about this mosque attack?

SOPHIA SAIFI, CNN PRODUCER: We know that the Pakistani Taliban have claimed responsibility for this attack and the numbers of dead are constantly increasing because when this suicide blast took place, the ceiling of that mosque caved in and people have been buried under the rubble. So there's still rescue efforts underway. It's quite later in Pakistan, the attack took place in the afternoon, during afternoon prayers. There's been a sense of high security in cities like Peshawar. It's in the northwest of Pakistan, and the Pakistani Taliban, which had a ceasefire with the Pakistani government and the army until November of last year, that fell apart.

There's been an increase in attacks in the north of the country since then. There's been a general increase in militant attacks in Pakistan since the fall of Kabul in 2021. Pakistan has accused the Iran Taliban government of harboring and providing safe havens for the Pakistani Taliban in order to carry out these attacks in Pakistan.

It's a very depressing sense of deja vu in the city of Peshawar, for example, which has seen many such attacks in the past two decades. In that city, there are about 27 people who were just buried in a mass funeral as rescue efforts still, are still underway in Peshawar. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Sophia thank you very much for that.

Now let's go to Israel right now because that is where Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, they're about to hold a news conference. Blinken is trying to help lower tensions there after a spate of violence in recent weeks. Hadas Gold is in Jerusalem. She's standing by for us AT THIS HOUR. Hadas, what are you expecting to hear from Blinken and Netanyahu on this?

HADAS GOLD, CNN JERUSALEM CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kate, we are watching empty podiums right now, but any moment we do expect the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address members of the press after meeting with one another for several hours.

And Blinken, when he landed in Tel Aviv, said that this is a pivotal moment. But really, Kate, it's more than a pivotal moment. This is a high stakes crisis moment for this region. As you noted, there's just been a spate of bloodshed over the past few days. Last Thursday was the deadliest day for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank in well over a year. And then Friday night, there was that shooting outside of a synagogue that killed seven in Jerusalem, then there was another shooting on Saturday morning.

And since then, there's even been more smaller instances of violence throughout the West Bank that have caused a lot of concern. And so Secretary of State Blinken's main goal, I think, during this trip is to really try to calm things down, bring a sense of calm. But I have to tell you, from speaking to officials here on the ground, there is optimism that he will be able to help dial down the tensions a little bit. But I don't think that there's a lot of optimism that whatever he will be able to do will be able to actually fix the situation completely and stop this sort of intense cycle of violence. Likely the top priority for the Secretary of State in speaking with Benjamin Netanyahu over the past few hours will be specifically trying to get Benjamin Netanyahu to potentially moderate some of the positions from the Israeli government they've taken in the wake of these attacks. Among them, for example, they're saying that they were going to demolish the homes of attackers and also possibly revoke the Israeli residency and identity cards of the families of attackers, not even just the attackers themselves, this being condemned by some as collective punishment.


There's also concern about what's been happening in the occupied West Bank when it comes to Israeli settlers and their actions. There's been some reports of settlers attacking Palestinian homes and cars. But Netanyahu has his own issues to deal with in domestic politics. He has a lot of pressure from this new right wing Israeli government, and some of his more extremist ministers have been calling for even further action. So it'll be interesting to see how Benjamin Netanyahu who balances both the American pressure and his own internal domestic pressure. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Absolutely going to be listening very closely as we're expecting them to begin taking questions very shortly. Hadas is there for us. Thank you so much Hadas.

Let's go to Ukraine right now, where President Zelenskyy is meeting with the Danish prime Minister in the southern region of Mykolaiv. He's assessing damage from another round of Russian strikes. And he's also is on the heels of the very big announcement from Western allies that the west is sending in combat tanks to help Ukraine. And on the heels of that, Ukrainian leaders are now calling on allies to send fighter jets as well. Sam Kiley, he's in Kyiv for us. Sam, what did you hear from Zelenskyy today?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's renewed his plea and they really are pleas for fighter jets and for long range missiles, both of which the Ukrainians believe they need in order to continue to prosecute this war to try to rid their country of Russian, of Russian troops. And they also know that from the Russian perspective, if they can be outlasted by Russia, things are going to get extremely difficult for Ukraine.

There's a consensus inside the Ukrainian government that over the next year they really do need to get to victory. And victory from their perspective is the recapture not just of areas that the Russians invaded and are currently holding 11 months ago, Kate, but also those areas, particularly the Crimean peninsula, but the east of the country that the Russians seized with the help of separatists back in 2014, 2015.

So to do that, they need these strategic weapons. They're delighted that they're getting the tactical support in the form of tanks that the Ukrainian ambassador to Paris says could number about 350. That is close to what the Ukrainians have been asking for in terms of tanks. They believe that the unanimity in support of the donation and supply of tanks from NATO and other allies could mean that these more important strategic weapons, which so far have been denied them, particularly by the United States, might be forthcoming. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Interesting. Great to have you there, Sam, as always, thank you.

Joining me now for some more perspective on this is Mark Esper, the former Defense Secretary under President Trump. Secretary, it's good to see you. Thanks for coming in. Let's start where Sam Kiley, what were just talking about with Sam Kiley on the war in Ukraine. Tanks are on the way and a real show of unanimity around that delivery at this point. Ukraine is now asking for fighter jets as well to be sent. The German chancellor over the weekend said in no uncertain terms, that is not going to happen. At least that's what he's saying now. Do you think the U.S. and allies should send fighter jets?

MARK ESPER, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY UNDER PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, first of all, it's great that the allies finally got together and decided to send tanks to Ukraine. They've only been asking for a few months now and have needed them for quite some time. And they will be critical to either defending against a counter Russian offensive in the spring or preferably launching their own counter offensive. Now, with regards to the jets, absolutely, I think we should provide jets. I still wonder what happened to the MiG-29s or so were discussing 10 months ago.

And so the chancellor has said these things in the past. Other leaders have as well, that they won't get this technology or that to include President Biden. But look, we need to lean into this. We need to help Ukraine win, and they can win against the Russians. And to do that, they're going to need fixed wing strike aircraft to help conduct an offensive against the Russians and to push Russia out of Ukraine to include Crimea.

BOLDUAN: One of the things I know that you've talked about is just kind of, I'm just going to call it the lead time required with deliveries like this, you've talked about how the timing may be tricky with getting tanks in to Ukraine in time to when you're talking about the offensive and a counter offensive, if you will, what about fighter jets? What is that going to look like?

ESPER: Sure, absolutely. Look, I think that we've been behind the curve at each step of the way. You talk about HIMARS, were behind the curve. We said we wouldn't. And then patriot and other air defense systems and now tanks. I think this will happen inevitably. As such, why not begin training German, I'm sorry, Ukrainian pilots on F-16s? It doesn't foreclose the fact that we may or may not in the end, but why not get ahead of that so that if a decision is finally made to provide, for example, F-16s, then the pilots are all ready to go. They're trained up. The technicians, the maintenance crews are prepared as well.


And so then it's just a matter of providing the jets and they can be ready to go within a matter of weeks. At this point, with regard to the tanks, it's going to take months, I'm afraid, to deliver them, to train on them, to be prepared, to support them logistically and so on. And that just is insufficient, given the timelines that we're up against.

BOLDUAN: Yes, the timeline is real, that's for sure. And they've been talking about that, and that's why they're begging and pleading for months and months and months now. I want to ask you also about what Hadas Gold was just reporting for us, the Secretary of State Tony Blinken, he's in Israel. He's speaking alongside the prime minister there. Tony Blinken's mission, if you will, is to try to deescalate the situation. How tough is that mission right now?

ESPER: Look, it's very tough. You have a new government that's taking a really hard stance on these issues. And you still have the lingering tensions because of what's going on between in the West Bank and Israel. And then the broader context, which you didn't mention, but we know is out there is Israel and Iran. We have, you know, word of the attacks that happened against some type of Iranian facilities in Isfahan. We just in the past week had the largest or one of the largest military exercises between Israel and the United States, so there's the -- what's happening within Israel and then the broader regional context that all is impacting this new government right now.

BOLDUAN: I want to add into this conversation the element of China into just the broader context of something that you, I know you were very focused on. NBC News and The Washington Post are both reporting that the head of Air Mobility Command for the Air Force, General Mike Minihan, wrote in a memo to officers, and saying this in part, I hope I am wrong. My gut tells me we will fight in 2025. He's predicting that the United States will be at war with China in two years. Do you agree with that assessment?

ESPER: Well, you know, implementing the National Defense Strategy, which focused on China, was my top priority of Secretary of Defense, and I read parts of General Minihan's letter. What I think he's trying to do is drive a sense of urgency within his command to accelerate whatever things they're trying to achieve. I think that's very good that they're doing it. I think we need a broader sense of urgency within the entire Department of Defense.

That said, I don't think war with China is inevitable. I wouldn't speak about it in those terms. I think we want to avoid war with China. But I think what he's looking at are the timelines. One that probably has everybody's attention is the fact that Taiwan will change, will have a presidential election in early 2024. A leading candidate for the Democratic Progressive Party is pro-independence, has taken a pro-independence position. It is things like that could incite some type of reaction from Beijing.

And I think he's looking ahead to that. So, one hand, I think it's very important to drive a sense of urgency. I applaud him for that. He's an aggressive commander. But on the other hand, I would not paint it as inevitable that that we will be in war. And I hope we can do everything we can to deter a conflict, but do so on our terms, that we defend a young democracy, robust democracy like Taiwan, and preserve a free and open Indo Pacific. BOLDUAN: And this folds into our discussion on Ukraine, of course, because if China is watching very closely how everything in Ukraine is playing out, I know that you see that, and that's something you have suggested. What do you think Xi Jinping sees so far and how the United States and the west have reacted in the collective? What's the lesson to China here?

ESPER: Well, I think there are several lessons. First of all, in my view, the Russia-Ukraine conflict is the opening fight in the much broader contest between autocracies and democracies in the 21st century, and China represents the greatest threat to that. I think what he should see is that maybe his military isn't as prepared as they think they are or that they are telling him. That is certainly true with Vladimir Putin and his generals. I think he should be very concerned, secondly, about the ability of a skilled, resolute people with a smaller economy, a smaller country, a smaller military to defend themselves against a much bigger foe and neighbor.

And I'm glad to see that Taiwan is finally taking a number of decisions that will help improve their self-deterrent capability as well. And then thirdly, is the broader political issue that the west is acting together and the west being not just Europe and NATO, but many of our partners in Latin America, certainly India, I'm sorry, certainly Japan and Korea and Australia and others are standing up to help defend Ukraine against the Russian aggressor.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Secretary Esper, it's good to have you on. Thanks for coming in.

ESPER: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Really appreciate it.


So Memphis has shut down its specialized anticrime police unit, the very same unit involved in the deadly beating of Tyre Nichols? Much more than that, next.


BOLDUAN: So, the Memphis Police Department has permanently disbanded its Scorpion street crime unit. Whose members are the officers now charged in the deadly beating of Tyre Nichols? This announcement coming as largely peaceful protests took place across the country this weekend. Nick Valencia joins me now with much more on this. Nick, what can you tell us about this decision to disband the unit?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this comes as a direct response to what happened and what we all saw happen to Tyre Nichols. This unit was made up, allegedly of elite officers, and it was launched in late 2021. In fact, it was praised by city leadership during his address to the city in January of 2022, the mayor of Memphis, Jim Strickland, pointed to the more than 500 arrests, 566 arrests from this unit, he said, 390 of which were felonies. He also said there was more than $100,000 of cash seized. [11:20:24]

And this unit, which was praised by city leaders over the weekend, was permanently disbanded. And now some of those same city leaders that once heralded this unit are calling not just for a top down review of the Scorpion division, but also of the police department and its hiring practices.


FRANK COLVETT, MEMPHIS CITY COUNCIL: I think maybe where your questions might go is a top down evaluation of not just the Scorpion unit, but our police officers are hiring practices particularly.


VALENCIA: Now the police chief of Memphis was asked by CNN on Friday if she knew of any other members engaged in similar patterns or similar assaults to other members of the community. She said there was no evidence at this time. But earlier this morning, I spoke to Tyre Nichols family attorney, Ben Crump, and he tells me that tomorrow he's planning on hosting a press conference for a 66-year-old man who claims that he was assaulted by the Scorpion unit. This seems it's just the beginning, Kate. And this once elite unit will forever be tied to the death of Tyre Nichols. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Interesting, thanks for bringing that to us, Nick. I really appreciate it. It's good to see you. Joining me now for more on this is Ron Johnson. He's a former captain at the Missouri State Highway Patrol, as well as criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor Mark O'Mara. Thank you both for being here. Captain, this unit is no longer, as Nick Valencia is laying out for us, but there are cities across the country that have similar specialized anticrime units. Do you think all of these police departments need to be taking a hard look at these units now in light of this?

RON JOHNSON, FORMER CAPT., MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY PATROL: I think in light of this, a lot of our agents across the country will take a look at that. They're units that are similar. And I think the important part is when you have units like this, you have to make sure you're managing those just proper supervisions, there are alert system that whenever there is a use of force, that someone looks at that and reviews that tape. I think it would be good for agencies across the country to make sure they're reviewing and making sure those units are running properly.

BOLDUAN: Mark, an interesting question has been raised in a New York Times op-ed this weekend and essentially wondering, when it comes to specialized units like this, is it an either or that communities have to face? Let me read in part what's written in this op-ed. Police and city officials have often claimed that these units helped reduce the crime rate going on to say, even if true, the implication ought to give us pause. It suggests that residents of the neighborhoods these units patrol must choose between living in fear of crime or living in fear of the police. Is that really the choice? MARK O'MARA, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: You know, unfortunately, that's an easy way to try and justify it. The reality is, without getting too global about it, is that there has been this militarization of law enforcement over the past 15 or 20 years in response to some increase in crimes and some violent crimes. But the problem with it is that there is that disconnect. There are many people, particularly in the lower socioeconomic areas of various cities, that are actively afraid of police. And that's the issue that has to be addressed and resolved because let me tell you, things like this only cause more fear. And fear is the negative interaction that causes.

So, you know, it's easy to say these cops were bad or these type of units are bad. The reality is we have to train our law enforcement much better to deescalate, to realize that they are dealing with their employers, right? The people, the citizens who they're supposed to be helping and until we get to that point, we're going to keep seeing things like Tyre's death and others that we've seen in the past.

BOLDUAN: And Captain, Tyre Nichols death has renewed a conversation that's been going on for some time, which is what is the solution, right? The family's attorney, Ben Crump, he's made clear that he believes, the family believes that progress here from here on can only come through new federal laws. Let me play something from Ben Crump for you.


BEN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR NICHOLS FAMILY: I believe this video is a watershed moment for America. The only question that remains is how much progress have we made from 1992 with Rodney King video to 2023 with Tyre Nichols tragic video and what are our national leaders going to do?


BOLDUAN: And of course he's looking towards Congress and he's looking towards Washington. Putting current political realities aside, which complicates everything, do you agree that federal legislation is really where this change or progress needs to happen now?


JOHNSON: I would agree with Mr. Crump op on that. I think we've got to be consistent in what we're doing and I think that starts at our federal level. And so I think it's going to take that and, you know, we have small departments and large apartments, but everybody needs to be doing the same thing because we're impacting the same people in the same community. So I would totally agree with that.

BOLDUAN: You know, Mark, I've been wanting to ask you. Clearly the videos of this beating are critical to understanding what really happened, which is vastly different from the initial first account from the police department after this happened. But the question is, how does it work in court before a jury because I've been reading some analysis saying that videos can, while important, because you can see what happened, videos can actually make a prosecution's job harder in a courtroom before a jury. What do you think about that?

O'MARA: Well, it's a great problem that we have. Look, videos are much better than not having videos. And we lived in a day 20 years ago where you had to believe everything that a witness said, whether that witness was calm or not and now you actually have videos. But I will also tell you, if I was the defense attorney, I'm going to look at that video and tell my jury on behalf of the officers, look at how stressful it was. Look at the of the moment decisions they have to make. Look at it was dark, it was crazy. There were lights flashing. So we have videos that help give us some insight, but they do have to be played in context.

And I can already hear the defense teams talking about, you know, how difficult it is to make decisions of the moment. Having said that, this was not a moment, this lasted way too long and there was many, too many criminal acts by those cops against Tyre that were not necessary.

BOLDUAN: Mark, it's good to see you. Thanks for coming on. Captain, really appreciate your time. Thank you.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: So does a sit down meeting equal a negotiation? Maybe a strange question to pose, but it does get at the heart of the matter at hand, as President Biden and Speaker McCarthy are getting ready to meet about the very important issue of the debt ceiling, that's next.