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At This Hour

U.S. Navy Releases New Images Of Downed Chinese Spy Balloon; Memphis City Council Weighs Police Reforms After Tyre Nichols Beating; McCarthy Reveals Rep. George Santos Facing House Probe. Aired 11:30a- 12p ET

Aired February 07, 2023 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, just take a look at this. The U.S. Navy just released new images of the Chinese spy balloon that they recovered in the waters off of South Carolina. It's pretty -- this is really intriguing to see. This balloon, of course, was shot down by the military over the weekend.

Also happening right now, the House Armed Services Committee is holding a hearing on the threats that China poses to the United States. And CNN has learned exclusive details about the intelligence failures that led to the Pentagon not detecting Chinese incursions during the Trump administration.

Let's go over to Oren Liebermann. He's at the Pentagon for us. Oren, what are you learning?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: So, I was watching the beginning of the House Armed Services Committee here. And it's worth pointing out that although this was scheduled before this latest Chinese balloon was discovered, it has certainly been a topic of conversation. And the chairman of the committee said you'd have to be naive not to realize that this was intentional by China in an attempt to spy on the United States.

In terms of what we're learning. Last year in April, there was a report from the Air Force called People's Republic of China high altitude balloons, and CNN has reviewed parts of this report. The report itself documents a case in 2019, where a balloon flew all the way around the world, flying near Hawaii over flying parts of southern Florida during the Trump administration. Now, it's crucial to point out that what's unclear from this report is when the U.S. realized it was a Chinese surveillance balloon. And the Pentagon believed that that was the intent behind the balloon.

And that gets out another point here that the Pentagon said yesterday General Glen VanHerck, the commander of Northern Command and NORAD, said there was what he called an awareness gap that allowed China to fly balloons -- surveillance balloons, he said, over the continental United States three times during the Trump administration, without the U.S. knowing it. It was only later, Jake Sullivan said the National Security Adviser when the U.S. went back and looked at the -- at the data and the trajectories of these balloons that they came to believe these were surveillance balloons.

That gap there is what the U.S. is trying to close now, especially as it now has the balloon in hand or at least parts of it, as we saw from the images there. And it's working to recover the rest of it, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Oren, thank you so much. The FBI's lab for those as we've been seeing these images, what's being recovered in those images, the FBI is now analyzing some of the debris recovered from the downed spy balloon. Carlos Suarez has more on this for us from South Carolina. Carlos, what's the latest from there?


CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, so we are at an area about 21 miles north of the main debris site off the coast of South Carolina, where in the last few minutes, it's become quite clear that the Navy and the FBI are starting to make preparations to possibly bring some of that debris to this location here. It is a boat ramp as well as a parking lot to the north of where the search is taking place. It's where for the past three days, the Navy has pre-positioned a lot of their equipment, a lot of their personnel. It's where we found a number of boats being brought in this morning, along with some heavy equipment as well as some oxygen tank.

An FBI agent earlier today told us that they were securing this site in the event that they might have to bring some of that debris out here. In the last few minutes, we've seen floodlights being brought out, as well as a forklift and what appears to be some storage containers.

Now, in the main debris search site off the coast of South Carolina, which is about a half-hour drive from where we are right now, we're told that crews have been using equipment to essentially scan the bottom of the ocean there to get a sense of exactly how much of this debris is still left there. Once they get that done, then they're going to start the work of lifting all of that debris out onto a ship and then most likely bring it out here or up to Virginia, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Carlos, thank you.

Joining me for more on this is James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence of course under President Obama. It's good to have you, Director Clapper. I want to put up -- and I know you can see this -- put up these images that we're just now getting in from the U.S. Navy because I think they're fascinating of some of what is being pulled in a really much closer up -- look at what they're recovering from this Chinese spy balloon. We will put those images up when we get them. What do you see here?

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, it looks to me, Kate, like this is part of the larger dirigible if you will, the balloon structure itself. What's really crucial, of course, is the payload. That is the sensor suite that was being carried by the balloon itself. So, this is a good sign because this would indicate hopefully, where this was going on as in relatively close proximity to the payload, which is the key thing you want to get here to analyze just what was a sensor suite -- what were the Chinese actually trying to do and what were they trying to collect with this balloon.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely, right. And to the big -- another big question that's now being raised with some of the new reporting as Oren Liebermann was just discussing about previous incursions. and what the commander of U.S. Northern Command is now saying about these previous incursions by Chinese balloons that they went undetected because -- and the way he described it was a domain awareness gap. What does that mean to you?

CLAPPER: Well, that's a sort of military jargon for we all -- we missed it. There is, I think, a kind of a gray netherworld between the altitudes of which conventional aircraft normally fly, say, 40,000 feet and below, and then where we have pretty good coverage. And then we can detect aircraft and other vehicles in that -- in that regime, 40 or 50,000 feet and below. And with respect to spacecraft, we do a pretty good job of tracking them.

But there's a gray area. That's not actually the color, but there's an area there where we don't apparently have a good technical collection capability to track objects in that -- in that zone of altitude if you will. So, that's -- I think that's what's a footage here. And I'm sure we can bring to bear the resources to -- overtime to correct this deficiency, this domain awareness gap to use -- to use the phrase.

BOLDUAN: Yes, I'm going to try -- to try to work that into the conversation more often, I guess. You aren't -- you'd said this weekend, Director Clapper, that you tend to believe China's explanation that this balloon had gone off course. Can you tell me more about that? In your -- when you say that, do you mean that you believe that this is not a spy balloon?

CLAPPER: No, no, I didn't mean to imply that at all, Kate. What I meant I think the Chinese may have been truthful about it wandering off course. I don't think they've been truthful about what the sensor suite on. I think it was clearly for intelligence collection purposes.

I've had some experience within my time and it tells me they're operating balloons for intelligence collection, and they can be effective but you are of course subject to the vagaries of weather. A fog, mist rain, and in this case, was critically wind. And that's a -- by the way, is one of the interesting things hopefully we can learn as just how much control the Chinese may or may not have had over the flight path of this balloon.


BOLDUAN: Fascinating. Director Clapper, thank you for your time.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Still ahead for us. The Memphis City council is meeting right now to talk about police reform after the brutal beating death of Tyre Nichols. What they are considering? That's next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: The city council in Memphis is meeting at this hour to consider nearly a dozen proposals to reform its police and fire departments.


This is because of the beating death of Tyre Nichols, of course. This is their first public meeting since the video was released showing police officers violently beating Nichols during a traffic stop.

Nick Valencia is watching this for us. He's joining us now. Nick, how quickly could the city move on this?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, Kate. That's one of the big questions here is what kinds of reforms will be presented and how quickly will they be implemented. The chair of the city council started the meeting by saying that this year is barely getting underway, but it has already been a deeply emotional time something that has affected the city of Memphis and beyond.

And it was during this presentation by the fire chief that she was questioned about her role and her leadership and the reforms that have been taking place. It was revealed during this questioning that the EMT chief of the fire department did not see the video of what happened to Tyre Nichols until more than two weeks after the incident.

More than a dozen reforms are on the agenda and that is being discussed right now by the fire -- the police chief. She's currently making her presentation to the city council. It is a well-attended meeting by a robust coalition of activists and they want some very specific things to change here in the city of Memphis.

Some of the things that they're asking for or to pass, data transparency, an ordinance that they say will give them a better idea of why people are pulled over in the city and what happens to them afterwards. Citizens here also asking for the end of the use of unmarked cars and plainclothes officers for traffic stops as well as the end of pretextual stops.

This city council meeting is still going on right now. And later this afternoon, members of the public will have their opportunity to make statements to the city council, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Nick, thanks for that. Appreciate the update.

This just in to CNN from Capitol Hill. The House Speaker is now confirming for the first time that George Santos is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee. We're going to take you there next.


[11:51:20] BOLDUAN: This just in to CNN. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy just confirmed to CNN that Republican Congressman George Santos is facing a House Ethics investigation. Manu Raju has this new reporting. He's joining us from Capitol Hill. Manu, what did McCarthy say?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. He just told me just moments ago that yes, George Santos is facing a House ethics investigation. We have not known that publicly since the -- all these questions and controversies have come out about Santos and his past. McCarthy -- and there's been some expectation that that would happen. But McCarthy's saying "yes, there is a House ethics investigation facing Santos."

I asked him about the number of constituents are coming up to Capitol Hill today calling on Santos to resign, as long -- along with some other Republicans calling on him to resign. McCarthy has not gone that far. But he said there's an Ethics Committee process. He told me that ethics is moving through and if ethics finds something, will take action. Right now, we're not allowing him to be on committees from the standpoint of the questions that have arisen.

Now, if Santos voluntarily agreed to step down from two House committees after McCarthy agreed to see him after some concerns had been raised, McCarthy told me that that was the right decision. And then at one Santos responds to some of these questions, that's when they'll decide whether to move forward here. But indicating the House is prepared to take action, depending on what the House Ethics Committee ultimately fine, in saying for the first time this investigation is happening.

Now. Santos, of course, is facing a number of questions and federal investigations over issues rolling campaign finances, potentially scamming a veteran on a GoFund fake -- GoFundMe account among questions about his past, all those issues, all coming to light potentially could be part of what the House Ethics Committee will look into as well. So, Kate, a sign here that Santos is growing legal problems --


RAJU: -- could be a big political problem here on Capitol Hill if the Ethics Committee in the House finds something that forces Republicans to act, forces the Republican leadership for him to step aside, or even falls goes to the pretty extreme example of having the House vote to expel him from Congress, which will require two-thirds support to do that. But this is the first step in that process, a House ethics investigation happening over George Santos according to the House speaker, Kate.

BOLDUAN: In getting confirmation -- but importantly, in this moment, getting confirmation for the first time he is facing this House ethics investigation. Thank you so much, Manu, for jumping on to report that.

There's also this we're tracking today. The jury in the double murder trial of Alex Murdaugh is hearing from more witnesses this morning. The judge allowing the jury to hear evidence of Murdaugh's past alleged financial crimes. The trial now likely to stretch another week.

Randi Kaye, live outside the courthouse in South Carolina for us with the very latest. What's happening, Randi?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Kate. So, Jeannie Seckinger, who is the CFO of Alex Murdaugh's former law firm has been on the stand all morning. She has been telling the jury about how she confronted Alex Murdaugh on the day of the murders June 7, 2021. She confronted him about missing a turn of attorneys' fees, totaling nearly $800,000.

And she said during that confrontation with him, she was asking about the missing fees. He took a call about his father and he was told that his father was terminal and was back in the hospital. So, she had to end that conversation with him.

But she said later, the partners at the firm all got together and said they need to tell Alex Murdaugh's brother, Randy Murdaugh about what they were finding in these alleged financial schemes. So, they did. And she told the jury that Randy Murdoch hung his head and said he stole it. And then later, of course, Alex Murdaugh was forced to resign. She also told the jury, Kate, that as they were investigating these alleged financial crimes, they also -- many of them at the firm, including herself realized that he was taking pills and acting erratic both before and after the murders of his wife and son, Kate.


BOLDUAN: And real quick, just looking at -- what about the blue tarp -- the blue rain jacket? Is our conversation -- is that continuing?

KAYE: That should continue later today. We're expecting a witness who sort of oversaw the testing of that blue raincoat that was found at Alex Murdaugh's mother's house. So, there is expected to be gunshot residue on that -- on that raincoat. That's what the prosecution had said in his opening statement. We have yet to hear that testimony today.

BOLDUAN: All right, so much more to come. Randi, thank you for being there.

And thank you all so much for watching us AT THIS HOUR. I'm Kate Bolduan. "INSIDE POLITICS WITH JOHN KING" starts after this break.