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At This Hour

Biden Meets with Leaders of NATO's Eastern Flank; Putin Meets with Top Chinese Diplomat; Georgia Prosecutors Debate Indictments in Trump Probe. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired February 22, 2023 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. AT THIS HOUR, President Biden wraps his trip to Europe, declaring literally every inch of NATO will be defended.

Plus, speaking out: my interview with the foreperson of the special grand jury that investigated former president Trump and the 2020 Georgia election.

And the Midwest is bracing. A historic blizzard could mean 1.5 feet of snow for millions. This is what we're watching AT THIS HOUR.


BOLDUAN: Thank you for being here, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. President Biden is wrapping up his momentous trip overseas to mark the one-year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

He met with the Bucharest Nine, NATO's most eastern countries in Warsaw. The president declaring his unwavering support for the alliance.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The commitment of the United States to NATO -- and I've said it to you many times; I'll say it again -- is absolutely clear. Article 5 is a sacred commitment the United States has made. We will defend literally every inch of NATO, every inch of NATO.


BOLDUAN: That meeting is one day after President Biden accused Russia of committing crimes against humanity when he was in Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin is having his own series of meetings with China's top diplomat and CNN learned that, around the time that President Biden was in Ukraine, Russia tried to test a ballistic missile.

Let's begin with Phil Mattingly once again in Warsaw.

What's come of Biden's meetings today?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's interesting; this is not the dramatic symbolism of the Monday surprise visit to Kyiv nor is it the widescale rhetorical flourish that we saw in his primetime remarks in Warsaw.

But substantively, this meeting, that went behind closed doors for more than an hour -- still we haven't seen the president depart at this point in time -- is critical. And you noted, these are the eastern-flanked countries of the NATO alliance. They're the tip of the spear and the front lines and have been very unsettled, as you can imagine, by what they've seen over the course of the last year.

This Bucharest Nine group was developed in the wake of Russia's aggression toward Ukraine back in 2014, the annexation of Crimea.

And they've made clear repeatedly over the course of this last year that they need more, they want more help and they want the U.S. not only to commit verbally but also to make very clear, whether it is through U.S. troops or whether through U.S. assistance, that they'll be there no matter what.

Now the president reiterated a key point; he never hesitates to do so and that is related to Article 5: an attack on one is an attack on all. And that is sacred as the president frames things.

But I think the substance here, knowing this will continue, the war between Ukraine and Russia, knowing there is no end in sight at this point in time -- and there's much more that will have to be done.

You often view it through the lane of defense assistance, economic assistance, humanitarian aid for Ukraine, these countries want to know what the plan is and have asked and want to understand the thought process going forward and the strategy.

And I think that's why this is such a critical meeting and one White House officials made clear: it is not just some way to end the trip. This mattered. And it's something that the president has pursued in terms of the alliance and this group in particular throughout the course of the last 12 months.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. It's great to see you, Phil. Thank you so much.

Vladimir Putin, for his part, is trying to rally Russians behind his invasion of Ukraine, appearing at a patriotic rally today just hours after meeting with China's top diplomat in Moscow.

Reporting indicates Chinese president Xi Jinping might be planning his own trip to Russia quite soon. Clare Sebastian is live in London with details on this one.

Clare, what was this meeting in Moscow all about?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Two things, I think. One is this is a message essentially to the Russian people and to the world that, despite the sanctions pressure and the war, that all of the consequences of that, that Russia has faced, it is not isolated.

It continues to cultivate this relationship with China, which provides a counterpoint to the Western transatlantic alliance that we've seen in such sharp focus.

And the second thing is this is a critical, economic relationship. And China has, to some degree, propped up Putin's war chest in the last year and it has provided a market for the displaced energy that was sold to Europe pre sanctions.

Case in point, we saw Russian oil flows to China hit the second highest level on record in January after the E.U. embargo. China is mopping up a lot of that and providing Russia with much-needed revenue. So Putin wants to make it clear that Russia is not isolated.


SEBASTIAN: At the same time, he wants to make it clear that Russia, in his eyes, still has leverage over the West. That is the context in which we should view the Russian announcement that he is suspending participation in the New START treaty, that Cold War era arms control,, and that ballistic missile test that two U.S. officials have told our Washington colleagues about, that reportedly failed.

There was still an element of the nuclear saber rattling that we've seen from Russia.

BOLDUAN: Quite a bit of it. Good to see you, Clare. Thank you.

Joining me now for more on this is Sergii Leshchenko, an adviser to President Zelenskyy's chief of staff.

Good to see you again. Thanks for coming in.

Vladimir Putin meeting today with China's top diplomat, "The Wall Street Journal" reporting that president Xi is planning to go to Moscow to meet with Putin in the next few months.

What is your view on that relationship between Russia and China and what it means for the war that you're fighting right now?

SERGII LESHCHENKO, SENIOR ADVISER TO VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: Ukraine looking for strong coalition support Ukraine in this war, which started a year ago. And of course we expect to see China on our side. That is why we were looking forward to see what is that proposal for the world.

We have some rumors the Chinese will prepare some proposal but first of all, this proposal should be based on Ukrainian interests because Ukraine, it was attacked a year ago by Russia in this war, which has a huge impact on the global economy, on the situation in Europe. And I believe Ukraine war is supported by China, as well.

BOLDUAN: The Chinese foreign ministry responded today to NATO's concerns that China might be sending -- preparing to send or planning to send lethal support to Russia. And I want to read for you what the Chinese foreign ministry said about this.

It says China urges NATO, quote, to "stop smearing China with unfounded speculation on Ukraine, abandon the old Cold War mentality of zero-sum game and bloc confrontation and stop fomenting confrontation."

What do you say to that?

LESHCHENKO: I can only say that, in this situation in the world, China also have an (INAUDIBLE) impact of this war. And I believe it's in the interest of China as well to let Ukraine win, because this attack against Ukraine, it has no reason on the ground.

It was done just on the direct act of aggression. And China, one of the guarantees of Ukraine (INAUDIBLE) with the best (ph) memorandum in 1994. That is why we believe in Ukraine that China has the role here to stand with Ukraine.

And (INAUDIBLE) is best for normally security for China, for Ukraine, for everyone because Ukraine is on the right side of history now in this situation and the Russia is the enemy of Ukraine, which attacked Ukraine without any reasons to do so.

This is why again we will see what China propose but for China, it's in the interest of China to stand with Ukraine, I believe.

BOLDUAN: Does it concern you though when saying that and does it concern you when you hear that Xi Jinping is making another trip to Moscow, that you hear when President Putin is meeting with China's top diplomat, he is saying, say hello to my friend, Xi Jinping?

Does that relationship concern you with what it could mean for Ukraine?

LESHCHENKO: Ukraine is always welcome international community guests to come to Kyiv and to see what's happened here on the ground, in Bucha, Borodyanka and (INAUDIBLE) well-known all over the world, to see this attack by Russia, occupy by Russia.

Wednesday started just after here (ph) just a few weeks after the occupation started. So we always would like to see our international partners to be a witness (ph) of what happened here.

And if Chinese is already decides the general (INAUDIBLE), we are almost welcome him to stay on the ground and to see by his own eyes what's going on in this war.

BOLDUAN: Do you know if there are plans for Xi Jinping or anyone with the Chinese foreign ministry to come visit Ukraine anytime soon?

LESHCHENKO: I cannot say because it's the agenda but all Ukraine is open for the world, for the global community to help the people on the ground. You know, it is very important to see and you know, U.S. president was in Kyiv.

The U.S. president -- (CROSSTALK)

LESHCHENKO: -- U.S. and made this I believe historical (INAUDIBLE) compared with what happened in Birmingham, John F. Kennedy (INAUDIBLE) in the '60s.

That is why I believe for global community it's important to be in Ukraine in these days and to support Ukraine even by presence on the ground. And I believe for Chinese leadership, it is also would be a crucial moment to see the consequences of the war for them in the global situation and also for Ukrainians.

To stand with Ukraine it's important these days.

BOLDUAN: Joe Biden is about to depart to return back to the United States after his big visit. That surprise visit to Kyiv this week.


BOLDUAN: What does it mean for Ukraine as we're approaching this one- year mark of the Russian invasion of Ukraine?

LESHCHENKO: (INAUDIBLE) historical visit is also very symbolic to be in Kyiv these days. It's not safe. You know, we have no clue what the Russian dictator going to do next few days against us again. And again he attacks Ukrainian territory (ph). Yesterday he killed five civilians by shelling Kherson and newly (ph) liberated regional center of Ukraine just because he hates Ukrainians.

Yesterday he had address in his legislators, saying that Ukraine does not exist. Ukraine has no right to exist as independent country. He started to mention the myth and the conspiracy theories from the 19th century, saying that Ukraine is artificially created and saying, he said, that the American president (INAUDIBLE) junior on the Budapest and Bucharest summit of NATO.

Like 50 years ago. So his mind (ph) toward Ukraine has not changed. He hates Ukraine. He does not let Ukraine to exist at all. And this war, which, again, started a year ago, this is just the continuation of his policy toward Ukraine he's had from the beginning of his leadership in Russia.

That is why Ukraine should win this war as soon as possible. It is in all the interests, not only in the interest of Ukrainians and to provide weapons and (INAUDIBLE) Ukraine, it's investment in the future of global security. I believe, without victory in Ukraine, it is impossible to imagine global security in the coming years.

BOLDUAN: That was very much in line with the message that we did hear from President Biden when he was speaking on that big speech yesterday. Sergei Leschenko, thank you for your time as always. Appreciate it.


BOLDUAN: Thank you. BOLDUAN: A CNN global town hall event, Fareed Zakaria is hosting a

live audience and also hosting key officials from the Biden administration. "A CNN Town Hall: Russia's Invasion of Ukraine One Year Later," it airs tomorrow night at 9:00 pm Eastern.

Still ahead for us, not a short list. That's the word from the grand jury foreperson speaking to us about the number of indictments that they recommended to the Georgia district attorney, investigating Donald Trump's election interference.

And also new reporting today on what the DA Is now considering. That's next.





BOLDUAN: The foreperson for the Georgia grand jury investigating efforts to overturn the 2020 election is speaking out. Emily Kohrs suggesting to me in her first live interview that indictments from their investigation could be coming and for possibly more than a dozen people.

Here is some of my conversation, my interview with her on "OUTFRONT" last night.


BOLDUAN: Did you recommend charges against Donald Trump?

EMILY KOHRS, FOREPERSON, GEORGIA SPECIAL GRAND JURY: I really don't want to share something that the judge made a conscious decision not to share. I will tell you that it was a process where we heard his name a lot.

We definitely heard a lot about former President Trump and we definitely discussed him a lot in the room. And I will say that, when this list comes out, you wouldn't -- there are no major plot twists waiting for you.

BOLDUAN: When you say there's no plot twists and people won't be shocked, people are going to -- people are going to hear that and they're going to think that means that Donald Trump is definitely on that list.

I know it's delicate, but can you speak to that?

KOHRS: I can't.

BOLDUAN: Interesting.

KOHRS: Well, I might be able to, according to instructions. But I don't want to. I don't want to speak out on something that the judge, like I said, consciously chose not to release at this point.

I don't know if I would interfere with the D.A.'s investigations. I don't know if I would interfere with procedures in some way. I very much do not want to cross that line.

BOLDUAN: But in your view, people will not be surprised when they see the list of names to come out who you recommended to face indictment?

KOHRS: Especially if they've been following the investigation, I can't see it being a shocker.

BOLDUAN: After everything that you've seen, what would your reaction be if the DA decides against bringing any charges after what you've seen?

KOHRS: I will be sad if nothing happens. Like, that's about my only request there is for something to happen.

I don't necessarily know what it is. I'm not the legal expert. I'm not the judge. I'm not the lawyers.

But I will be frustrated if nothing happens. This was too much, too much information, too much of my time, too much of everyone's time, too much of their time, too much argument in court about getting people to appear before us. There was just too much for this to just be, oh, OK, we're good, bye.

BOLDUAN: And if it was just a perjury charge or perjury charges, would that be acceptable to you?

KOHRS: That's fine. I will be happy as long as something happens.


BOLDUAN: Now a lot of questions of what the DA will do with all of this. Sara Murray live in Washington.

Sara, you've been watching this closer than anyone from this investigation and you have new reporting now what's happening in the DA's office.

What have you learned?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We are told by sources that what the DA will do next is still something under very active discussions in her office.


MURRAY: They have not yet decided how many people they want to try to pursue charges against. In that interview that you did, which was excellent, we heard the foreperson suggest that they may have recommended indictments for more than a dozen people.

And of course, it doesn't necessarily mean that there will actually be a dozen people who face charges; it is up to the Fulton County defense attorney Fani Willis to decide if she wants to go before a regular grand jury and how many people she wants to pursue indictments for.

So I am told by sources that what's happening now is prosecutors are looking over this list of referrals and they're looking at basically what evidence they have to back up each one of these referrals.

Is there enough evidence where we can take this to a regular grand jury and get an indictment?

And not only that, be able to bring charges that will hold up in court. This is a big chunk of time, not only for those who served on the grand jury but also for prosecutors who were involved in this case.

There are big legal implications and big political implications for the defense attorney who's elected, if she were to bring charges, to bring a case that would fall apart in court.

The other thing worth noting is we heard from Kohrs there just about the volume of evidence they heard. And prosecutors are still sorting through more evidence. The grand jury essentially wrapped up their work in mid-December.

So that was before we saw the January 6th report from the House committee and before they started releasing all of these transcripts so prosecutors are digging through all of that.

BOLDUAN: That does seem quite a bit that they are still going through. Thank you, Sara, always.

Joining me for more on this, is former U.S. attorney Harry Litman.

Thank for coming in.

From what Emily Kohrs told me last night, what do you think the DA Is going to do?

HARRY LITMAN, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, I have a strong opinion about what the special jury recommended. And with your and others' adroit questioning, I think she will step over the line.

I think there's substantially zero doubt that they will recommend and they have recommended indicting Trump. That's already a huge headline. And then in addition, up to around 15 other people -- and she said by and large they would be familiar names.

So there's some Georgia folks who are implicated in a separate fraud elector scheme but I think she made it pretty clear, familiar names, Mark Meadows, Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman for starters.

So this will be a seismic event --


BOLDUAN: I did --

LITMAN: -- heard around the country and the world when --



BOLDUAN: No, I wanted to ask you about that, because taking -- you can talk about the details of what Emily Kohrs wanted to discuss and not discuss in talking with me and others in interviews.

There are also those in general; if a dozen-plus people are indicted, including the former president, how big of a deal is that?

LITMAN: Humongous, gigantic. I mean, think about it. With the president itself, has never happened. So for starters, that would be, especially after the last couple of years, a really titanic event in and of itself.

But then all the president's, in this case, men, that's what happened in Watergate so put them together. Now you would ask originally and it's a fair point, what is she going to do because she's not bound by their recommendations.

But I think it would be a profound surprise for her to be departing from them more than marginally. And we hear, yes, they're still chewing it over. They had almost to say something after Kohrs came out.

But it's been a couple of months and they ought to be very close to their decisions. They've seen the evidence already. They're not looking through it for the first time.

So I think we can expect something that tracks pretty well the special grand jury report. I think we pretty well know what that is. And in terms of magnitude, I'm straining for the right adjectives. But it's the biggest thing that's happened in the criminal law perhaps in American history, right?

This has never happened to a former president.

BOLDUAN: You also think that what Emily Kohrs said in the interview with me and also in the other interviews that she has given, pretty much in the last, I would say, 24 hours, that what's been said could also help Donald Trump.

Why do you think that?

LITMAN: Yes. First of all, it is an odd 15-minute PR tour. There are ways it could help and I'm sure the prosecutors in the DA's office are sort of consternated. The main way it could is to just give more reason that, when it comes time to pick a jury, that people will be -- will know things and will be prejudiced.


LITMAN: Let's say they, for example, she gives some indication but then it doesn't happen. They'll have to be closely questioned on what they know and whether that impacts on their ability to be fair.

But this was always going to be a very complicated and extensive voir dire process. So at the end of the day, I think she is talking out of school. But it will all be (INAUDIBLE) by the coming tsunami of the actual indictments.

BOLDUAN: And we stand by to see what the district attorney does decide, now that she has all of this information in her hands and evidence. Harry, thank you.

So Minnesota is bracing for an historic once in a generation blizzard and they're not alone. What people are doing to prepare. That's next.