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At This Hour

Kramatorsk under Fire for Second Straight Day; U.S. to Boost Military Presence in Philippines; Hunter Biden Calls for Criminal Probe; Biden and McCarthy Voice Optimism after "Good Meeting". Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired February 02, 2023 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello, everyone. AT THIS HOUR, Russian missiles slamming Eastern Ukraine and the close call for our CNN team.

Plus, Hunter Biden is now fighting back, now calling for a criminal investigation into those sharing his personal information.

And the lead prosecutor in Memphis is considering additional charges in the beating death of Tyre Nichols.

This is what we are watching AT THIS HOUR.


BOLDUAN: Thank you all for being here. I'm Kate Bolduan.

Several stories developing overseas. Russia unleashing a fresh barrage of missiles in the military hub city of Kramatorsk. You can see the search crews there. The attack killing civilians and sending so many scrambling for safety. Our CNN crew was caught dangerously close to that.

Also big news out of Asia. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin just announced a deal to increase U.S. presence, giving access to four more military sites. It is coming as the fears are growing over a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

Also news out of the Middle East. Iran is now threatening to retaliate against Israel after accusing it of a drone attack on an Iranian military facility. First to Fred Pleitgen.

Fred, you and your team were dangerously close to these military strikes.

What happened?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, was extremely close. It happened in Kramatorsk. A missile strike there last night killed several, flattened a building, was a huge missile the Russians shot right into the center of town.

There was big a search and rescue operation still going on. Ukrainians believe that there were and are still people trapped in the rubble. So we went to the area to film there and just arrived there on the scene. We parked our vehicles and gotten out of the vehicles when another missile struck right at the that building.

Many civilians trying to get shelter and we did the same thing. Then I looked up and saw another missile that then hit almost the same location and causing a huge explosion, leading to more people fleeing the scene.

We tried to run for cover and went for shelter. And then after a while tried to get out of there. I think one of the things that is very important to point out, Kate, is that there was a big search and rescue operation going on, on the ground. And the Russians targeted exactly the area where that search and rescue operation was going on in the city of Kramatorsk.

This was not a military facility. We saw no military facilities in that area but a lot of civilians. And this was right in the center of town. Certainly, we later got word from the Ukrainians, who said they believe these were S-300 missiles used by the Russian military.

Those are normally missiles used to take down airplanes at high altitudes, very powerful missiles. They also have a ground-to-ground configuration but when they are used against surface targets, they are extremely inaccurate.

So when they are used in densely populated urban areas, there is the potential of extreme harm among civilians. So far the Ukrainians are saying there were several people wounded in this one and several people killed the night before.

So a lot of carnage in the center of town as we are seeing some of the population centers under attack from missiles from the Russian side.

BOLDUAN: And no matter what the target it, the Russians know the inaccuracy of those missiles and still fired them into a densely populated area. Thank you so much for coming on.

Fred will be back with much more reporting.

To asia now, the U.S. and its allies are making some big new moves to counter China's aggression by Taiwan. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced a new deal with the Philippines to expand U.S. military presence there. Marc Stewart is in Hong Kong with details.

Marc, what is going on and how is China responding to this?

MARC STEWART, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, no real surprise. The response from China is strong and sharp.


STEWART: I was looking at the remarks from a government news conference today. A Chinese government spokesperson said the move has escalated tension and endangered regional peace and stability, some strong and firm wording in what is becoming an increasingly volatile part of the world.

Let me give you some backstory here. The United States has had a presence in the Philippines since 2014. They have had this agreement to allow U.S. troops on bases throughout the Philippines.

This announcement by Secretary Austin basically expands the reach. We don't know exactly where U.S. troops will be. But there is this potential that they could be on military property that is about 200 miles south of Taiwan.

And as you have discussed on this program many times, that, too, is part of this volatility that we are seeing in the Pacific. This move also falls in line with a broader move by the U.S. to beef up its presence in the Pacific.

We have seen a new base in Guam and a commitment to troops in Japan. This as secretary of state Antony Blinken is preparing to make a visit to China. It is going to be interesting to see it this impacts that narrative, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Good point. Thank you for brings us that, Marc.

Now turning to Iran, who is vowing to retaliate against Israel, accusing it of a drone attack on a military plant last weekend. And Israel is not the only group they are lashing out at. The regime is resolved to crack down even hard on its own people for simply protesting. Hadas Gold is tracking this out of Jerusalem.

Hadas, what are you hearing there?

HADAS GOLD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the accusation from Iran was in a letter to the U.N. secretary-general, accusing Israel of being behind what is described as a drone attack in Iran on a military facility.

The Iranian defense ministry says there was minor damage but they reserve the right to defend itself and respond to any threat whenever and wherever necessary.

This would be the first time that Israel has allegedly targeted Iranian sites in Iran. But Israel rarely confirms (INAUDIBLE) and instead winks and nods from Israeli officials.

"The New York Times" and "The Wall Street Journal" have reported that Israel is behind this attack. But Jake Tapper asked Benjamin Netanyahu specifically about this drone attack. And Benjamin Netanyahu did not address it directly. But this is what he did have to say.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: I'm saying that we are attacking Iran's -- not only Iran's nuclear program, trying to thwart it, as I said, but also taking action against certain weapons development that Iran has. And Iran invariably exports them.


GOLD: Now the U.S. and Israel just wrapped up their biggest-ever joint military exercise and one of the key messages was Iran. One of the top Israeli generals said in this messaging, if Iran makes mistakes, their offensive forces are getting ready.

BOLDUAN: Hadas, thank you.

And joining us now is David Sanger.

As my colleague Fred Pleitgen was describing the close call he and his team had, narrowly missing a Russian missile strike.

And another colleague of ours, Sam Kiley, had a similar close call in southern Ukraine. People see these missile attacks as they're building up and Russia is announcing troops as a build up for something to come.

Of course, the spring offensive that everyone is warning about, what are you hearing at this moment?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Kate, what we are hearing is that the spring offensive may be actually be early or mid February. We heard President Zelenskyy say the other day that he believes --


SANGER: -- certainly there is a lot of talk that it may be centered on February 24, which is, of course, the first anniversary of the initial attack of -- by Russia on Ukraine. And you know, it would make some sense that Putin, having failed so last year and having been so humiliated having to give up the attack on Kyiv, may be looking to do a second.

We are seeing a vastly increased number of missile attacks and artillery attacks. But we are also seeing troops amassing by some estimates over 200,000. So maybe there is a rough few weeks ahead.



BOLDUAN: And to your point of kind of becoming a February offensive, if you will, just this morning, the Russian foreign minister hinted that Russia is gearing up to "gain the world's attention," is how they put it, on the anniversary of the invasion coming up later in the month.

And we have seen some of these hints before, if you will.

What is the strategy behind Russia advertising this?

SANGER: One possibility is, in the south, the real objective is to grab territory back up in the north, like Kharkiv. They may be trying to draw Ukrainian troops to the south and the east.

That is exactly the mistake that the Russians themselves made when they lost Kharkiv and the Ukrainians took it back. But it is helping to understand why there are no negotiations and no diplomacy underway right now.

Because both sides are planning offensives and looking to grab advantage and territory before any negotiations. Some U.S. officials believe that some of the current fighting that the Ukrainians got in to with Russia are not terribly helpful. They are fighting on the Russian strength here, the trench warfare that's making gains of inches or losses of inches.

And instead, Ukraine needs to turn to much higher-tech areas, using missiles, the new equipment and improve their advantage.

BOLDUAN: I wanted to ask you about the announcement from Secretary Austin in the Philippine. And he called the agreement to expand the U.S. military presence there as a really big deal.

Is that what you are hearing?

SANGER: Well, it is a big deal when you take it in context with everything else that the U.S. has done in the past year.

So there was the AUKUS announcement, the deal for submarines with Australia. And also the agreement with the Japanese, moving Marines south of Okinawa to island jus 100 miles from Taiwan.

And so the message to the Chinese is that, on all sides, the U.S. is bulking up mostly to protect Taiwan but also treaty allies in the region. In this particular case it's a return to the Philippines.

I was there as a reporter 30 years ago when the U.S. had to give up Subic Bay and a bi airfield. So I basically had to pick up and leave the Philippines. That was a big strategic move that I think that the Chinese saw an opportunity to take advantage of. And I think the U.S. is now trying to basically correct that.

BOLDUAN: That is really interesting. Thank you for coming on, David. Great to see you.

SANGER: Thank you so much.

BOLDUAN: Of course. Great to see you.

Hunter Biden is coming out swinging. His new legal strategy as the Republicans on Capitol Hill are preparing to investigate him. That is next.





BOLDUAN: So Hunter Biden is stepping into the fight. This all has to do with the long-standing controversy over his laptop and his personal information. Well, now his lawyers are taking a new tactic, coming out swinging. Evan Perez is Washington and he has details on all of this.

Evan, what is all of this about?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SR. JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, this has to do with what Hunter Biden and his legal team says are simply legal violations by a computer repair shopowner in Delaware as well as a bunch of rightwing figures who have been using, what he says, weaponizing his personal information to try to use it as political cudgel against his father.

And they're asking for criminal investigations of a number of figures, some you can see on the screen there: Rudy Giuliani, Steve Bannon, Robert Costello, Garrett Ziegler and John Paul Mac Isaac, who is the repair man, got access to the laptop and then shared and accessing data on it that belongs to Hunter Biden.

I will read you part of a letter from Abbe Lowell, who is his new attorney, who is sending these letters to the state attorney general in Delaware as well as the Justice Department and the IRS.

He says, "This is a failed dirty political trick directly -- that directly resulted in the exposure, exploitation and manipulation of Mr. Biden's private and personal information.

"Mr. Mac Isaac's intentional and reckless and unlawful conduct allowed for hundreds of gigabytes of Mr. Biden's personal data without any discretion to be circulated on the internet."

The backdrop, Kate, is that Hunter Biden is under criminal investigation by the Justice Department and focused on potential tax violations and a gun issue that also he has.

And of course, Republicans are now taking aim at Hunter Biden, you know, it's doing the investigations and they are trying to use a lot of his personal issues against the president, Mr. Biden.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Much more to come on this, Evan. Thank you for looking at it.


BOLDUAN: Really appreciate it.

Turning to Capitol Hill, the Republican led House is expected to vote very soon to remove Democrat Congress woman Ilhan Omar from the powerful Foreign Affairs Committee. Kevin McCarthy says that he has the votes to do it. Lauren Fox is on the Hill.

Lauren, this has been threatened and promised for some time.

What are you hearing now? LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was a long time coming Kate, but it took still some time for the Republican leadership to wrangle the votes they needed to ensure it passed.

They found a sweet spot in the resolution to allow an appeals process to the House Ethics Committee. But the Democrats say it is still toothless and essentially there's no way for Ilhan Omar to challenge this vote today on this resolution.

This is what Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic leader, said about what this means for the future of Republican and the Democratic relationships in the House.


REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: There has been accountability. Ilhan Omar has apologized. She has indicated that she'll learn from her mistakes, is working to build bridges because we believe in building bridges, not walls.

Is Ilhan Omar perfect?

No, none of us are.


FOX: And it is important to keep in mind today that, while the Republicans have the votes they need, according to the leaders, there is still maybe some Republicans who vote against the resolution. Our colleague Manu Raju just reported that Nancy Mace may still vote against this.

BOLDUAN: Joining me is Jeff Zeleny.

And so, the question is, is this the new norm?

What do you think?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, it is certainly feeling like that, Kate. And you covered Capitol Hill and that was never the situation. Yes, there were disagreements but throwing someone off of a committee was not the usual. It does feel like retribution and the new norm.

But what is interesting or as interestingly is that Speaker McCarthy got the votes to do that. And it was an open question a couple of days ago. If he was not able to do that, we would be talking about how he is a weak speaker, so he is able to carry through with this symbolic move.

Will it change the workings of Congress?

Not necessarily but it just is one more example of how things have eroded on Capitol Hill and it is seeming to be the new norm.

BOLDUAN: Yes, yes, absolutely. So also, as Evan Perez is reporting out the new aggressive strategy

from Hunter Biden's legal team, it might be a good legal strategy.

But is it a good political strategy when it is coming to his father and President Biden soon to be announcing his re-election bid?

ZELENY: Look, probably not. Just the sheer fact that Hunter Biden is back in the news certainly --


ZELENY: -- signals a change. He has been trying to do everything he could for the last couple of years to stay out. But it is definitely a new legal strategy and he has the of a potential serious case against him.

And Abbe Lowell, one of his lawyers, is known for hard tactics on this and going on the offense. But going on the offense for Hunter Biden legally, it is certainly creating some challenges potentially for his father.

But at the end of the day, the reality was that Hunter Biden was going to be back in the news all year long as the House GOP was going to be investigating things.

I think it was likely to be done but this is not necessarily something the White House and the president, as he's thinking about the State of the Union address next week, wants front and center, the discussions about the laptop, et cetera. But that is where we are.

BOLDUAN: Yes, maybe they don't want it but it is unavoidable knowing that the investigations on Capitol Hill are coming for sure.

Let's talk about the looming, looming, going to be crisis of the debt ceiling. Biden and McCarthy had the first big sit down yesterday at the White House and both of them came out of it sounding optimistic at least.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let's start treating each other with respect. That is what Kevin and I are going to do. Not a joke. We had a good meeting yesterday.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: I thought it was a good meeting. We promised that we would continue the conversation and we will see if we can get there. I think at the end of the day, we could find common ground, I really do.


BOLDUAN: McCarthy told reporters after he got back to the Hill that the House Republicans would not pass a clean debt ceiling with no strings attached.

So where are they getting the optimism? It seems disjointed in this moment.

ZELENY: Well, they are both trying to be good cop. And I'm not necessarily surprised this is where they want to open up the conversation. They are trying to take the temperature down for the sake of the markets.


ZELENY: And how other countries are looking at the U.S. its financial obligations and credit, et cetera. But it was much more important, the words that Kevin McCarthy said coming back to the Capitol than the words he said outside White House there.

He told Manu Raju and others that they will not support a clean debt ceiling so there is going to have to be some type of negotiations happening at the same time. If it's about the budget going forward, the White House is open to trimming some spending.

We will have to see but there has to be at least some type of a negotiation. But I think the president this morning, he has been on Capitol Hill a very long time and saying he wants to treat him with respect. He means that and this is something that we will see play out.

Every president develops a unique relationship with the Speaker of the House and we are seeing the opening chapters of this president's relationship with Speaker McCarthy. And it is going to be interesting and fascinating and important to watch.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely right. Great point. Jeff, thank you.

The Memphis district attorney is looking at the potential of more charges in the beating death of Tyre Nichols. He tells CNN there are hours of additional footage yet to be released. That is next.