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Biden Visits Ukraine In High-Stakes Visit; Feds Sending Medical Experts To Ohio Toxic Train Wreck Site; Catholic Bishop Found Shot To Death In His Home. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired February 20, 2023 - 11:30   ET




KRISTIN FISHER, CNN ANCHOR: Back to our developing news. President Biden made a surprise high-stakes visit to Kyiv meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. And it comes just days before the one-year anniversary since this all began and just one day before Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to deliver his own speech. CNN's Fred Pleitgen is in Moscow. So, Fred, what are Russians saying about this remarkable surprise visit from the U.S. president?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Kristin. Well, there's sort of a mixed bag of reactions that we've been seeing here in Moscow. First of all, the Kremlin has basically stayed silent on all this so far.

But I think one of the reasons for that is certainly the fact that Vladimir Putin obviously, as you mentioned, about to deliver that really big, fundamental speech tomorrow here in front of both houses of Russian parliament that I've sort of been speaking to Russian politicians, to people in the media, and also political analysts.

And they believe that that is going to be a huge landmark speech for Vladimir Putin that could, of course, also determine the way that Russia continues to prosecute this war.


Obviously, the special military operation is something that Vladimir Putin has said he will not back down from. And certainly, from what we're seeing, that really does seem to be the case. Now, as far as President Biden's visit there and Ukraine is concerned.

There are some Russian commentators who are saying, look, he did all this basically at the mercy of Vladimir Putin because of course, we have heard that the Kremlin was informed by the U.S. before President Biden made that visit just to make sure that there's no miscalculations.

There's others, though, there are some commentators, especially hard one -- hardline ones who are saying, well, this should never have been allowed to happen. Vladimir Putin should never have allowed President Biden to even set foot in Ukraine. And they're quite angry and believe it could be a sign of weakness on the part of the Russians. But that's sort of as far as the process is concerned.

But I think one of the things that we heard that seems to stand out is that there's some commentators who were saying, look, President Biden's visit in Ukraine shows that Russia is not only fighting against Ukraine but in fact, actually fighting against the entire West.

It's sort of a narrative that we've seen develop here, especially on Kremlin-controlled media, but also from Russian politicians, and Russian commentators as well, especially as things have been going badly for the Russians on the battlefield. They've essentially said, look, we're not just up against Ukraine.

We're also up against a lot of these modern weapons that Western nations are delivering to the Ukrainians. And therefore, essentially up against NATO, against the West.

So, that's certainly something that some commentators are trying to push here, that Kremlin-controlled media is trying to push here but at the same time, of course, right now, the Russians very much gearing up for tomorrow in that massive speech that Vladimir Putin is set to hold, Kristin.

FISHER: Fred Pleitgen live in Moscow for us, Fred, thank you so much. And for more on all of this, we're going to go straight to California Congressman John Garamendi. He's a senior member of the House Armed Forces Committee. Congressman, thank you so much for joining us.


FISHER: And I'd like to start by just getting your reaction to President Biden's trip to Kyiv. Were you surprised that he went?

GARAMENDI: Yes, I'm surprised but I'm absolutely thrilled. It is extremely important that he did this. He's showing his resolve, his leadership, and he's matching his leadership to Zelenskyy's extraordinary leadership. Two of the most important players in this entire war are together and in lockstep to the future.

FISHER: Well, and to see the two of them walking the streets of Kyiv as those air raid sirens were sounding, it was really something. What do you think that the U.S. should be doing as the one-year anniversary of this war approaches? Is the U.S. doing enough? Should it be doing more? What's your opinion?

GARAMENDI: Well, the U.S. is not doing this alone. We're doing a great deal. In fact, we're doing the most of any of the countries but this is a NATO operation. All of the NATO countries, particularly those on the Eastern Front.

When you take a look at the Baltic countries and down into Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria, they are at risk. They know that if Russia is successful in Ukraine, they're next. They're the next in the -- in line for the Russian aggression. So, all of NATO and the European Union are standing together. It was just two years ago that NATO was in disarray. The European Union, even the French were talking about building a different security system outside of NATO because basically, Trump had done his best for four years to diminish and destroy NATO.

Biden came in, NATO is solid, European Union is solid, sanctions are in place, new sanctions are going to go in place in the next weeks ahead. This is an extremely important moment. And the president's visit puts a capital exclamation mark on it.

We're in. We're all in. We've got to see this through to the end because it's not just about Ukraine. It's about NATO. And frankly, it's also about China.

FISHER: Congressman, not all of your colleagues are as thrilled as you are about the president's trip to Kyiv. Today, some of your Republican colleagues are criticizing Biden's visit. For instance, Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene just called the trip "insulting." What do you think of that?

GARAMENDI: She's insulting, that that woman would be able to try to define this war is just outrageous. There are the extreme MAGA Republicans, and she's right at the top of it that are just naysayers. If Biden was going to the left, they'd go to the right. If Biden was going to the right, they'd go to the left.

They're as simply out to get the president regardless and to try to continue to promote Donald Trump. They want to see Donald Trump back in the presidency, which would be a great gift to Russia. So, you know, come on.

The reality is the president is leading. The president has said very, very carefully -- very clearly, that this is critically important to America's future, not just in Europe, but also in the western Pacific.


Think for a moment that if we were to cut and run and abandon Ukraine, what does that mean for Taiwan? What does that mean for the other allies that we have in the -- in the western Pacific? It means that China would be in a position to simply dominate them.

We can't let that happen. The president is firm. Congress will ultimately be firm. Most of the Republicans have no use for what the MAGA -- the extreme MAGA Republicans are doing. They're going to continue to stir the pot. But the reality is, Congress will continue to provide the support necessary.

There'll be questions raised, but nonetheless, we're going to hold firm, we're going to stand with the president, we're going to stand with Ukraine and with NATO, for as long as it takes.

FISHER: Congressman, one more thing before you go.

GARAMENDI: Sure. FISHER: Over the weekend, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken warned that China may be close to supplying weapons and ammunition to Russia. Let's listen to what he said and then I'll get your take on the other side.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Today, we have seen Chinese companies and, of course, in China, there's really no distinction between private companies and the state. We have seen them provide non-lethal support to Russia for use in Ukraine.

The concern that we have now is based on information we have that they're considering providing lethal support. And we've made it very clear to them that that would cause a serious problem for us and in our relationship.


FISHER: Congressman, your reaction and how you think the U.S. should respond.

GARAMENDI: China should be very careful who they get in bed with. They're getting a bed with a loser. And that's not wise for China. And there are many, many ways that the United States can push back on China if they were to do that and we should and we will.

FISHER: OK, Congressman John Garamendi, thank you so much for your time today.

GARAMENDI: Thank you.

FISHER: So, federal medical experts head to the Ohio town where that train derailed causing a toxic spill. Residents report experiencing some really scary symptoms more than two weeks after the disaster. We'll have a live report from the ground next.



FISHER: The federal government is deploying medical experts to East Palestine, Ohio to assess the long-term risks to public health after that train derailment two and a half weeks ago. The CEO of Norfolk Southern Railway is vowing to do right by the residents. Our Jason Carroll is in East Palestine, Ohio for us. So, Jason, what are you hearing today from the officials and residents who are there?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, in terms of the residents, the same thing, Kristin, that we've been hearing all along. And some of them have real concerns. They've talked about experiencing nausea and rashes.

That's part of the reason why this clinic will be set up at this church here tomorrow. It will open tomorrow. So, if anyone is having any sort of symptoms, they can come here and get themselves checked out.

Meanwhile, you've got the governor, you've got other federal officials who say that the air and that the water is safe. And in fact, the governor says to date, approximately 500 homes here in East Palestine have been tested and found no sign of contaminants.

So, you've got this disconnect right between what the federal and what state officials are saying versus what people are feeling here on the ground. I want you to listen to what one resident had to say about her experience.


ASHLEY MCCOLLUM, EAST PALESTINE, OHIO RESIDENT: It's kind of like a sense, you can send something wrong if you're smelling something like that. Even if the tests are coming back and you're still feeling dizzy, weak, tingling mouth, and severe headaches.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is worse than what everybody thought it was. And the people in town are afraid.


CARROLL: And so as you can imagine, a lot of anger directed at the rail company responsible for this, Norfolk Southern. They talk about that controlled release that they did. And Norfolk Southern said the following. It's CEO, I think we did what we needed to do in order to prevent an uncontrolled explosion which they said would have been a disaster.

Norfolk Southern representatives will be on the ground here tomorrow. And again, the clinic here will open tomorrow as well. The Ohio governor is saying the clinic is opening out of an abundance of caution, Kristin.

FISHER: Jason Carroll, live for us in East Palestine, Ohio, thank you so much.

So, a Catholic Bishop found shot to death in his Los Angeles area home. Police are investigating it as a homicide. We'll have a live report next.



FISHER: A Catholic bishop was found shot to death at his home in California over the weekend. The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department says that the Archdiocese Auxiliary, Bishop David O'Connell, was killed. An investigation is now underway. Camila Bernal live in Los Angeles with more. So, Camila, what more are authorities and the Catholic community saying about this really shocking death?

CAMILA BERNAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The Catholic community here in Los Angeles heartbroken and in shock. And then when it comes to authorities, what they're saying is that this is a homicide investigation. The LA County Sheriff's department saying they're working diligently to find the person responsible for this.

They've given us few details on the case but they do say that on Saturday afternoon at around 1:00 p.m., they received an emergency call and went to the bishop's home. That's where they found him dead. He was shot in the chest. And, of course, the news of this just shocking the entire community here in Los Angeles who is now grieving the death of their bishop.

Many of the parishioners were too emotional to even speak on camera. They held a prayer service yesterday. He was remembered during Sunday Mass. And I want to just show you how some of these community members are feeling. Here's one of those parishioners.


RAMONA TORRES, PARISHIONER: It's just heartbreaking to see what happened to him. I'm brokenhearted. I've been crying for the last few days knowing that he's no longer here to share all of his inspiration and his prayers, and everything with us.


BERNAL: And Bishop David O'Connell was born in Ireland, but he'd been serving the LA community for 45 years.


The Archbishop, remembering him as someone who was usually in deep prayer who cared deeply also about the poor and the immigrant community in this area. So many people remembering him as someone who was loving, who had given his time to the community here in this area. But, of course, everyone wanting to know, Kristin, what happened and who did this.

FISHER: Sure. And hopefully, those parishioners get some answers soon. Camila Bernal, thank you so much.

And thanks to all of you for watching on this very eventful Presidents' Day. I'm Kristin Fisher. "INSIDE POLITICS" starts right after the break.