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The Lead with Jake Tapper
Zelenskyy Meets With Biden in First Foreign Trip Since Russia's Invasion; Sources: White House Democratic Lawmakers Eye New "Aggressor State" Label for Russia
Aired December 21, 2022 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Busy news day doesn't even begin to describe the day.
THE LEAD starts right now.
In just a few minutes, the president of Ukraine will take questions from the American press, as Volodymyr Zelenskyy makes his bold and symbolic trip to the U.S., his first time outside his country since Russia's invasion almost a year ago.
Plus, just in, the January 6 committee might delay its final, final report. What new what we learned about the insurrection? And while we're at it, what new we're going to learn from Donald Trump's about to be released tax returns?
And just days before Christmas, with holiday travel ramping up, new states of emergency declared. And power grid operators on guard as winter rushes in with a deep freeze over much of the United States.
TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
Right now, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy meeting with President Biden. This visit marks Zelenskyy's first time even leaving his country of Ukraine since Russia invaded and started attacking. At the beginning of today's meeting, Zelenskyy told Biden, he was so thankful to be there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: All my appreciation. All my heart, from the heart of Ukraine -- from our nation, strong nation, all the appreciation to you, Mr. President, for your big support.
Thanks bipartisan support. Thanks, Congress. And thanks from our just ordinary people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Thanking the American people there.
Today, the Biden administration announced an extra $1.8 billion in new aid for Ukraine. That's -- this includes the Patriot missile defense systems to beat back the invasion of the Russian anti-democracy forces.
In just minutes, Presidents Biden and Zelenskyy are going to address the press from the East Room of the White House. We're going to bring that to you live when it happens.
Afterwards, Zelenskyy is going to travel to Capitol Hill, where he will address lawmakers in a joint meeting of Congress. This comes just weeks before Republicans are set to take back control of the House. Many Republicans have expressed criticism of the price tag of the U.S.'s aid to Ukraine.
Today's visit is drawing comparisons among some circles to 1941. That is when U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill spoke before Congress. This was just days after the Pearl Harbor attack. That visit helps event the alliance that would go on to win World War II against a different autocratic terroristic regime.
Let's go to CNN's Phil Mattingly, who is in East Room of the White House, awaiting to the start of this news conference with Presidents Biden and Zelenskyy.
Phil, what do we expect we're going to hear the two leaders talk about it in just a few minutes?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jake, it's a visit that is both personal and poignant, very symbolic, but also extraordinarily substantive. It is the substantive issues that will be more in-depth discussed over the course of the two hours that the two leaders are expected to meet behind closed doors. Also bilateral meetings with their top national security teams and advisers.
The expectation right now is that there is both the message here, the very clear almost vivid demonstration of an alliance that the White House and U.S. officials maintain has been completely steadfast over the course of the last nine months. But also the realities kind of undergirded this entire meeting about this moment in a war that continues to grind on, surpassing 300 days, at a moment in time where winter months are putting added pressure's, not just on the Ukrainian people, but also the people of Europe. Countries with their own domestic concerns as well.
That is where, in large part, one of the issues that those realities create is what actually happens next. That is one of the questions that both sides will need to walk through over the course of their two hours behind closed doors. The president in the oval office beforehand, before they sat down, talking about helping Ukraine pursue its goal of a just peace. What that actually entails is still very much an open question at this point in time. There's also, of course, the defense assistance, the U.S. is ramping
up that support, $1.8 billion on top of $20 billion already provided -- and of course, expanding that to include Patriot missile defense systems, something President Zelenskyy has repeatedly requested over the course of the last several months. Now, President Biden is signing off on that, and be willing to move forward.
What that means about U.S. support going forward. What that means about how Russia views it in terms of an escalatory act also, questions that I think are very much being weighed at this moment, Jake.
TAPPER: What if you learned about Biden's meeting with Zelenskyy, which happened just about an hour ago.
MATTINGLY: Yeah, it is currently still underway, as far as we know, up to this point. They allotted about two hours for this meeting on the schedule. The president is likely to take it longer than a lot of time on the schedule.
But I think what U.S. officials are saying leading into this meeting, which I think was so critical, with how much the president values and really relies upon face to face interactions when it comes to meeting with foreign leaders. These two men have spoken repeatedly over the course of the last nine months by phone, by video conference, in group settings with other Western leaders.
This is the first time they will be sitting down face to face since 2021, the first time since this war started and that is incredibly important for President Biden, again, because of those unanswered questions, in terms of what the shape of some type of endgame would look like -- these officials have been very candid. They don't the end see one at this moment, given where things stand. With the view that president Biden -- the view that President Zelenskyy has laid out again and again, whether or not there is any type of sense of the next months even years, about how this ends up -- very much something that they want some semblance of an I answer to over the course of these meetings, Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Phil Mattingly, thanks so much.
Could this be a turning point for Ukraine in its war against Russia's brutal invasion?
CNN's Will Ripley takes a look at the significance of Zelenskyy's visit and why it's happening right now.
ZELENSKYY (through translator): I remain in the capital. My family is also in Ukraine. My children are in Ukraine.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From that moment on February 24th, Volodymyr Zelenskyy became the symbol of Ukrainian resistance, even as Russian forces poured into Ukraine. Amid speculation he would be evacuated, Zelenskyy said, he did not need a ride. He needed ammunition.
A week into the conflict, in his bunker in Kyiv, Zelenskyy told CNN it was about much more than Ukraine.
ZELENSKYY (through translator): It's very important for people in the United States to understand that despite the fact that the war is taking place in Ukraine, it is essentially for values in life with democracy, for freedom.
RIPLEY: A message he has repeated in dozens of video appearances at the U.N., NATO, the U.S. Congress, and countless parliaments around the world. From the early days of the war, Zelenskyy told his visitors Ukraine cannot fight Russia alone. It needs money and above all, weapons.
Whenever one type of weapon arrived from Western supporters, he asked for another, a 100 percent air shield for Ukraine he says will be one of the most successful steps against Russian aggression.
His resolve and that of Ukrainians was hardened by atrocities committed by Russian forces, especially north of Kyiv in March.
Even as the city of Lysychansk was about to fall this summer, he went there to award soldiers metals.
Slowly, the tide of the conflict returned, thanks to advanced U.S. and NATO weapons and some brilliant general ship.
Last month, Zelenskyy went to the only regional capital the Russians had taken, Kherson, hours after its liberation.
ZELENSKYY: People waited for the Ukrainian army, for our -- for our soldiers, for all of us, and so, what can I -- what can I say? Great job.
RIPLEY: Zelenskyy's spontaneous and relaxed presence among Ukrainians in sharp contrast to Vladimir Putin's staged and grim-faced appearances. After his election in 2019, Zelenskyy is in some ways the ideal leader to rally his country in wartime, a former comedian with a gift for finding the right words. Also, youthful stamina and resolution to resist when the odds and casualties have been so great.
Zelenskyy has a well-honed popular touch. He has welcomed Hollywood to his office, post for selfies with wounded soldiers, met children under fire.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All good. Victory is soon.
RIPLEY: But Zelenskyy is keenly aware nothing is won yet. He and his generals expect a new Russian offensive early this year. At real personal risk, he continues visiting the frontlines.
ZELENSKYY: First of all, I would like us to thank those who are not with us with a moment of silence. Let's honor all heroes who died. RIPLEY: That was Tuesday in Bakhmut, where soldiers signed a flag,
thanking the United States for its weapons. Within hours, Zelenskyy was crossing the Atlantic to present that flag to President Biden. Another example of his flair for selling the need to defend Ukraine as the war against Russia passes 300 days.
RIPLEY (on camera): It's extraordinary just to look at the footage from 2019 when he was elected. I mean, he has aged many more years than that as war and presidency would do to pretty much anyone. But he is only 44 years old. Sixteen years younger than Vladimir Putin. He has gone from standup comedy to standing up to an autocrat that is trying to destroy and take over his country.
And he is doing it in a way that has surprised so many around the world, inspired so many people here in Ukraine, to rally behind him and in their own way, resist this constant onslaught by the Russians.
TAPPER: Yeah, I've interviewed a lot of world leaders in my time and very few were as inspiring as President Zelenskyy.
Will Ripley, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
Let's bring in Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, who is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Senator, good to see you -- mister chairman, I should say.
SEN. JACK REED (D-RI): Good to see you, Jake.
TAPPER: A world leader is coming to meet with President Biden to address Congress, while his country is engaged in war. To you, what is the significance of this day?
REED: Well, the significance is that he is coming to thank the American people for their support. And also, President Biden for his leadership, coalescing a free world, literally, in support of Ukraine.
But second, he is reminding us that his fight is really our fight. That the Ukrainian people are fighting for the value, for the priorities, for the world order that has been the hallmark of American diplomacy and Russia Europe diplomacy for decades.
So, he is here to thank and here to communicate that this is a mutual fight. And also, as everyone has pointed out, he is here to continue to inspire his country and inspire the world.
TAPPER: As you heard Phil Mattingly reports just now, the U.S. will be giving Ukraine the Patriot missile defense system. Russia threatened unpredictable consequences for the U.S. if in fact we give them the missile system, this defensive system. Are you worried at all about any backlash from Russia? REED: Well, there is always a tension and in fact, we have always
calibrated our transfer of equipment based upon a prediction of the reaction of Russia. But this is purely a defensive system. It is an air defense system.
It cannot be used to initiate offensive actions against Russia. But it can stop the aircraft and other vehicles from attacking Ukraine.
So, I do not think that he would be foolish enough to use this estimate as a pretext to do something escalatory.
TAPPER: What do you want to hear from President Zelenskyy when he speaks in just a few hours?
REED: Well, I think we will hear what he has already said. Thank you to the American people. Thank you for America, standing up and rallying the world. And then, remind us all that the Ukrainian people are fighting and dying and suffering to protest atrocities. Not just for themselves, but two free men and women everywhere. And that message I think will not only inspire people here, but around the globe and sent a message to the Russians that we stand together.
TAPPER: How concerned are you that when Republicans take over the house of representatives and a few days, many of the leaders, the Republican house leaders, have been openly questioning giving money and economic aid to Ukraine, how worried are you about what happens after McCarthy or whoever become speaker? And do you think Zelenskyy's speech will play any role in securing more aid in the future for Ukraine?
REED: I think there is a concern, because it is a very reckless and foolish rhetoric coming out. This really is a struggle. And we are making sacrifices. Our European allies are making significant economic sacrifices. Nothing compares to the deaths and the destruction that the Ukrainians are doing every day. They establish and withhold principles we stand for.
So, I think his visit will make a difference. He will personalize this to members of Congress. And also, I think he will remind them that, you know, we are not doing the fighting. And it will be more costly for us if we were engaged. And the Ukrainians are on the front lines.
TAPPER: Donald Trump Jr. Put out a message on Twitter in which he referred to Zelenskyy as an ungrateful international welfare queen. I would not normally quote Donald Trump Jr. But there is a movement in this country, the MAGA movement, that listens to him and believes that that description is accurate.
What is your response?
REED: It's ridiculous. Again, it is almost incomprehensible that anyone would use that terminology to describe someone who is probably the most courageous and inspirational leader since Winston Churchill. And defending the values that they all claim they are staunch defenders of also. You know, I can recall a few weeks ago, John Bolton said if his father
was in office, the Russians would already be in Kyiv. And I think that's right.
So, this is not about defending democracy, it's just nonsense.
TAPPER: Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Thank you, sir. Appreciate it.
REED: Thanks, Jake.
TAPPER: Coming up, we are standing by for that news conference with Zelenskyy and Biden.
And also, we're going to take a closer look at the Patriot missile defense system Ukraine is getting after months of pleading for it. Exactly, what is this defense system? How does it work? Why does Ukraine think the system could be?
Plus, the delay just announced by the January 6 Select House Committee for its highly anticipated final report. Stay with us.
TAPPER: And we're back with our world lead. Those are live pictures from the White House East Room. In just minutes presidents Biden and Zelenskyy will stroll into that room and come together for a joint press conference, marked by a monumental new phase of military aid from U.S. to Ukraine, nearly $2 billion in new assistance, including long awaited Patriot air defense missile system which represents the deepest U.S. commitment yet to helping Ukraine counter Putin's brutal invasion and attack on Ukraine nearly one year after.
CNN's Oren Liebermann was the first to report that the U.S. plan to send that powerful air defense system to Ukraine, and now he's going to send us tell us exactly why the Ukrainians wanted it so much, what exactly it can do.
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Patriot missile is the U.S. military's most advanced missile defense system, capable of shooting down a variety of targets from ballistic missiles to aircraft. The system will bolster Ukraine's air defenses, which have had to contend with repeated Russian barrage of drones, missiles, and more.
The Patriot batteries will be like an extended dome over Ukraine's current systems. Patriots can have a range of 40 miles or more, and the radar can detect threats even farther away, a long range air defense capability which Ukraine has requested four months. Below that are systems like the U.S. provided NASAMS, with a range of
25 miles, a medium-range system that's proven very effective. And then there are the short-range options, like stingers that Ukraine has used, as well.
MARK CANCIAN, SENIOR ADVISER, CSIS INTERNATIONAL SECURITY PROGRAM: Patriots are significant politically and useful militarily, but they're not a game-changer.
LIEBERMANN: This is a high-end system, missile experts say. A Patriot battery with missiles cost about a billion dollars, so Ukraine shouldn't use this to take out relatively inexpensive Iranian drones. The system itself has six major parts, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a control station, a radar set, the generator, and antenna, and of course the launcher and missiles. It takes about 100 personnel to operate a full system.
Nearly 20 countries have Patriot missile batteries. Israel has used him to intercept drones, and even Syrian aircraft. Saudi Arabia has effectively use Patriots to intercept ballistic missiles, and more, from Yemen.
CANCIAN: I think the system will work against a wide variety of Russian threats. This is by far the most complicated system that we have given to the Ukrainians.
LIEBERMANN: But, complete training on Patriot batteries takes weeks, if not more. Time is one luxury Ukraine does not have.
LIEBERMANN: And Pentagon officials say that that training could take several months. They will try to compress it where they can. But that is a difficult task as they move through this process.
What else is in this $1.8 billion dollar package? Well, take a look. There's also vehicles, precision guided aerial bombs, as well as mortar systems, rockets, different types of artillery ammunition, tactical gear, and of course, the training and maintenance for all of this as this war drags on now past its ten-month mark -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Oren Liebermann, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
Turning to Russians arsenal, sources tell CNN that American made parts are showing up in Iranian made drones launched by Russia into Ukraine. Now the administration has pumped up and expansive task force to figure out why.
CNN's Natasha Bertrand broke this exclusive story.
Natasha, one official told you that this is a quote, all hands on deck initiative. How much progress has the task force made so far?
NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Jake, they really started doing this over the last several weeks, maybe months. It is a really tough job. Because, what they have to do is they have to go to every American company whose components are found in these Iranian drones, being shot down across Ukraine by Ukrainian forces, and tell them that their components have been found in these drones and ask them to go through their entire supply chain and figure out where that point was, where the supply was diverted because, these companies are telling United States, look, we don't know where our microchips are going, where our process is you're going, all of these small kind of microeconomics that are very easily accessible even online.
So, what the U.S. is doing now is they want to as a first step to force more accountability for these companies to have better visibility into the distributors, resellers, where these products are actually ending up because, of course, the real problem is the distributors, the middleman, the resellers who are taking these products that are really widely available, and then selling them to bad actors.
And of course, the administration has levied very tough sanctions on the Iranian front companies, and other entities that have been purchasing these and trying to use them to build these drones. But ultimately, there are so many parts of this evolve through the cracks just because of the sheer number of these components available just freely off the shelf. That it is really going to be a long effort by this task force.
TAPPER: Also, I have to say. So the Ukrainians have been saying for months, they want the United States to label Russia a terrorist state, a state sponsor of terrorism. Where is the Biden administration on that decision?
BERTRAND: Yeah. So, interestingly, we learned that the administration has been working with Congress over the last several months and kind of middle ground. What they have proposed to lawmakers, many of whom actually did want the state sponsored terror leapt designation, is something called an aggressor state designation. That does not exist. That is something that the administration --
TAPPER: They're just making it up?
BERTRAND: Right. It is not something that is currently out there in the kind of a statute. So, they believe that this could be a middle ground kind of compromise. It is a step short of the state sponsored terrorist designation with which the administration believes would have too many negative consequences, too many unintended side effects, things like, sanctioning of countries that we have a relationship with. Things like cutting off diplomatic communication with the Russians.
And, the aggressor state designation would essentially allow the administration to have these enhanced authorities to sanction certain entities in Russia, certain senior Russian officials, without the administration says, all of these kind of negative side effects.
So, they've been working on crafting this legislation. The interesting part of this is, they are waiting to see whether President Zelenskyy tonight in his address to Congress actually mentions and endorses this designation. And if he does, we are told that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is going to introduce a stand-alone bill putting this legislation forward, and it could pass. However, it is unlikely given our little time we have left before Congress goes to recess.
TAPPER: Zelenskyy has made it clear that he wants to the state sponsored terrorist designation.
Natasha Bertrand, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
In just a few minutes, President Biden and Ukraine's President Zelenskyy will walk out of the East Room. You will see pictures of alive. Take questions from reporters at the White House.
First, we are going to tell you what we are learning about former President Donald Trump and his taxes which are now in the hands of Congress.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: It's a very, very, very, very busy day, very busy Wednesday here in Washington, D.C.
Right now, we are standing by for the joint news conference between President Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. That could literally begin at any moment. They're going to stride out into the East Room there. You see all the journalists waiting to ask questions.
While we wait along with them, we're turning to our politics lead. It looks as though we're going to have to wait at least one more day before we see the transcripts and the documents and the evidence from the January 6 Select House Committee's year-and-a-half-long investigation. The panel said a short while ago that it now anticipates its final report will not be released today, as previously announced several times, but tomorrow.
CNN's Sara Murray is following this for us.
Sara, do we have any official reason? I mean, I wouldn't release it today if I were them anyway, because there's Zelenskyy bringing all the attention. But do we have an official reason why they're not?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They didn't provide an official reason.
I mean, I think a couple realities are at play here. One is, there is a lot going on in Washington. They're trying to get a spending bill done at the Capitol. Zelenskyy is at the White House. He's going to be at the Capitol. So that's taking a lot of oxygen out of the room.
I think the other reality is, they have spent a long time tinkering with this report. I mean, remember the couple of days where Bennie Thompson was saying, actually, we will have eight chapters for you on Monday, as well as our public meeting? That didn't happen.
Then they said, we're going to have the report for you on Wednesday. That hasn't happened. I think there has been a lot of tinkering going on that sort of delayed or contributed to the delay, ultimately, in this public rollout. They are still saying we may still get some information later today, but not being very specific on what that means at this point.
TAPPER: So, one of the things that's been an interesting subplot of the insurrection and the investigation is the attorneys hired by the Trump team for witnesses and the role that they played.
And you have some new reporting when it comes to that star witness, Cassidy Hutchinson, the former aide to the White House chief of staff.
MURRAY: That's right.
I mean, remember, we heard from the committee earlier this week that there was a lawyer who was telling one of their clients, you can just say that you don't recall things to this committee, even if you do actually remember them.
Well, that witness, it turns out, was Cassidy Hutchinson. And the lawyer, it turns out, is Stefan Passantino, who was a top White House lawyer in the Trump administration.
TAPPER: Top ethics lawyer.
MURRAY: Top ethics...
MURRAY: Right, top White House ethics lawyer...
TAPPER: Right. You can't write this stuff.
MURRAY: ... in the Trump administration.
And Passantino provided a statement to CNN, insisting that he represented Hutchinson ethically and that they were honest, and they felt that she was forthright with the committee. But, ultimately, she was not comfortable with that representation. She dropped Passantino as a lawyer.
She got new lawyers, and then she was in that public hearing, where she provided that bombshell testimony. And it's not just interesting. It's important. We talked about how the referrals to DOJ, a lot of that is not legally binding. But, look, if they hand over evidence that there were attempts to actually obstruct or tamper with witnesses in a congressional investigation, that is stuff DOJ is going to take a look at.
TAPPER: And there are other attorneys being paid for by the Trump PAC and others. And you see the witness testimony as described by the January 6 Committee, saying things along the lines of, this person was reading from -- it was like she was reading from talking points.
MURRAY: Right, or someone was offered a lucrative job if they were willing to stay essentially on the former president's team.
I think when we look when we finally get this report, all of its pages, all of its transcripts, that's the kind of underlying evidence we're going to be looking for. We're going to be looking for more names of attorneys and more witnesses they were trying to...
TAPPER: Yes, because that is potentially -- and it's not up to me, and I'm not a lawyer, and I'm not a judge.
But, potentially, that could be considered by some to be obstruction of justice.
MURRAY: It could be criminal.
TAPPER: Sara Murray, thank you so much.
Meanwhile, another symbol in the fight for democracy, which also includes transparency and the idea that public servants are actually servants for the public, the tax returns former President Trump has spent years and lots of money trying to keep private are going to be made public finally in the coming days.
The amount of information we're going to be able to see, however, will be determined by the Democratic-controlled House Ways and Means Committee, Democratic-controlled just for another few days.
And that committee voted along party lines late Tuesday to release some materials on Trump's taxes.
CNN's Lauren Fox is live from Capitol Hill for us.
And, Lauren, the committee mentioned last night that there was a big gap in what the IRS was supposed to do with Trump's returns when Trump was president and in charge of the IRS and what the IRS actually did.
LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, IRS statute under the mandatory audit program means that, when a new president and a new vice president come into office, they're supposed to take a look, audit those individuals' tax returns through that program.
Well, Democrats in their report that they released last night, Jake, said that that simply didn't happen the first two years that former President Donald Trump was in office. Instead, what Democrats are saying happened is that they did not begin that audit until 2019, only after House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal sent a request to the Treasury Department for Trump's tax returns, saying he wanted them because he wanted to understand if this presidential audit program was working effectively.
So, that was the big takeaway from Democrats last night in their report. But, of course, we got a little more information as well.
TAPPER: And how much do we know in terms of how much Trump paid in taxes during this time frame, as well as his reported losses?
Do we know those numbers?
FOX: Yes, I mean, one other report that we got last night was from the Joint Committee on Taxation.
They're sort of the nonpartisan number crunchers up here on Capitol Hill. Their report was a lot more dense. And it sort of told a story that we were familiar with, thanks to "The New York Times"' bombshell report on Trump's taxes, which is that he used losses to reduce his tax bill.
Now, the JCT is not saying that that was against the law. They're not even suggesting that maybe Trump should have paid more. That's not their job. But what they are saying in this report is, maybe these are some places that the IRS should be looking more closely at.
They also lay out what Trump paid in taxes for those six years in which the Tax Committee has his returns. And a couple of things emerge. One of them is the fact that he paid very little taxes in several of those years. Some of those years, we knew because of "The New York Times"' reporting, but that he paid really $750 in 2016 and 2017 in federal income taxes.
We should note that there were other years he paid more, but, in 2020, he paid zero dollars in federal income taxes. And, obviously, that is something that Democrats say might need to be taken a closer look at. We should also note that Trump's spokesman released a statement yesterday saying that this was an unprecedented leak, Republicans decrying the release of these returns.
We expect we may get them in upcoming days, but information, personal information, has to be redacted before that's released strength, Jake.
TAPPER: A broken tax code, as always.
Lauren Fox, thank you so much for that report.
Any minute now, the news conference with President Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. We're going to sneak in this quick break. We're going to bring that to you live.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: We are, based on the movements inside the East Room of the White House, just moments away from the start of President Biden's news conference alongside President Zelenskyy of Ukraine.
Let's bring in CNN's Phil Mattingly in the East Room of the White House.
And, Phil, what can you tell us? Obviously, just in the last few minutes, we have seen a lot of movement, the Ukrainian delegation, Secretary Austin, Secretary Blinken coming in.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's the universal signal that things are actually starting to move forward to some degree, when the top two leaders have their national security teams come in and sit down.
This meeting was scheduled to start around 2:15. That's around the time I was in the Oval Office with the pool. Looks like it went ran a little longer than was expected. And I think, to some degree, that was expected, given the scale of the issues that the two leaders needed to address, needed to work through.
There's really two kind of critical elements here as they get prepared to speak here at this press conference, take questions from reporters. And that is the intent to make very clear the unity and the steadfast support that the U.S. and its Western allies will continue to provide, but also to Capitol Hill, where President Zelenskyy will be heading after this press conference, making very clear, as lawmakers consider an additional $45 billion in assistance, economic and defense assistance to Ukraine, that it is unity that needs to be maintained here in the United States and in that Western coalition.
That's as much of the message here as anything else, particularly as this war continues to grind on. And U.S. officials have been very clear there is no clear endgame right now, given how Russian forces continue to operate.
So, how the president's address both their behind-the-scenes meeting, but also what the pathway is going forward, knowing full well that we're not talking about days or weeks. We're still talking about months, if not years, and a very, very critical moment in a conflict that has now gone more than 300 days, Jake.
TAPPER: That's right.
We got the two minute warning, we're expecting Presidents Biden and Zelenskyy to come out.
But let me bring in Clarissa Ward, who has been to Ukraine more times than I can count.
And, Clarissa, I'm going to have to interrupt you at some point. And I apologize for that ahead of time.
But tell me what you think is the importance of Zelenskyy coming to the White House and speaking today.
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, Jake, this is his first time leaving the country since the invasion. So, this is already a bold move.
Just yesterday, he was on the front lines in the eastern part of the country in the city of Bakhmut. Today, he's at the White House. He is making it very clear that this relationship is critically important, that the Ukrainian people are incredibly grateful and appreciative of the support.
But he also wants to shore up continued support. He understands implicitly the challenges that are facing Ukraine ahead. They're plunged into a frigid winter. Their critical civilian infrastructure is being bombarded. They are facing real challenges and battles in the east and southern eastern parts of the country. They want more weapons. They want better weapons. And he wants to make the case to the American people that they should get them, Wolf -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Clarissa, let me interrupt.
Here is President Zelenskyy of Ukraine and President Biden of the United States. Let's listen in.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Zelenskyy, I'm honored to welcome you back to the White House.
We spend an awful lot of time on the telephone, as well as on video, but it's good to see you in person again. And we have been in close and frequent communication throughout this conflict from the very beginning, but particularly -- it is particularly meaningful to talk with one another in person, look each other in the eye, because leadership through this terrible crisis has inspired the Ukrainian people, as you have done, Mr. President, and the American people and the entire world.
This visit to Washington, your first trip outside of Ukraine since February, comes as President Putin is escalating his attacks, his brutal attacks, targeting critical infrastructure to make life as hard as possible for not only innocent Ukrainians, but children, and young children, and everything from orphanages to schools. It's just outrageous, what he's doing.
And we've -- as we have heard into -- as we head into the new year, it's important for the American people and for the world to hear directly from you, Mr. President, about Ukraine's fight and the need to continue to stand together through 2023.
This visit also falls on the 300-day mark of Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine, 300 days since Putin launched an unprovoked, unjustified all-out assault on the free people of Ukraine, 300 days of the Ukrainian people showing Russia and the world their steel backbone, their love of country, and their unbreakable determination, and I emphasize unbreakable determination, to choose their own path.
To the Ukrainian people, I say to them all, you have demonstrated, you have shown your strong stand against aggression in the face of the imperial appetites of autocrats who wrongfully believe you might, you might -- they might be able to make might right. And they're not able to do it. Thus far, they have not -- they have stood alone. And you have -- but
you haven't stood alone. You have had significant, significant help. We will never stand alone. You will never stand alone.
When Ukraine's freedom was threatened, the American people, like generations of Americans before us, did not hesitate. The support from all across this country, Americans of every walk of life, Democrats and Republicans alike, had the resources and the -- to rebound in a resounding, united way to provide unequivocal and unbending support for Ukraine, because we understand in our bones that Ukraine's fight is part of something much bigger.
The American people know that, if we stand by in the face of such blatant attacks on liberty and democracy and the core principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, the world would surely face worse consequences.
And as I said when Putin rolled his tanks into Ukraine in February, American -- American people are prepared to have us stand up to bullies, stand up for freedom. That's who we are as Americans. And that's exactly what we have done.
Even before the invasion began, and Putin threatened Ukraine by building up his forces, we helped make sure Ukraine would be prepared to defend itself, even before they crossed into Ukraine. We provided a steady stream of defensive weapons, including air defense systems and artillery, ammunition, and so much more.
But we have not done it alone. From the very beginning, the United States rallied allies and partners from around the world to stand strong with Ukraine and impose unprecedented -- and I emphasize unprecedented -- sanctions and export controls on Russia, making it harder for the Kremlin to wage this brutal war.
More than 50 nations have committed nearly 2,000 tanks and other armored vehicles, more than 800 artillery systems, more than two million rounds of artillery ammunition, and more 50 -- more than 50 advanced multiple-rocket launching systems, anti-ship and anti -- and air defense systems, all to strengthen Ukraine.
Together, we have provided billions of dollars in direct budgetary support to make sure the Ukrainian government can keep providing basic fundamental services to the Ukrainian people, like health care, education, and emergency personnel. This includes another $2 billion that -- in direct budget support from the American people that the World Bank distributed earlier this week.
We have provided humanitarian assistance to help the millions of Ukrainians who have been forced to flee their homes because of Putin's inhumane, brutal war.
Communities across Europe have opened their hearts and their homes to help Ukrainians in need. The United States has been proud to welcome more than 221,000 Ukrainians seeking refuge since March of 2022, including as part of Uniting for Ukraine -- as part of our Uniting for Ukraine program.
And, today, USAID is committing more than $374 million in urgently needed humanitarian assistance for Ukraine. This will help provide food and cash assistance for more than 1.5 million Ukrainian people, as well as access to health care, safe drinking water, and help to stay warm in the winter to more than -- for more than 2.5 million Ukrainians.
The United States and our allies and partners around the world have delivered a broad range of assistance at historic speed, and it's been critical to bolstering Ukraine's success thus far. Ukraine has won the battle of Kyiv, has won the battle of Kherson, has won the battle of Kharkiv.
Ukraine has defied Russia's expectations at every single turn. And, President Zelenskyy -- Zelenskyy, you have made it clear that he is open to pursuing -- well, let me put it this way. He's not open, but you're open to pursuing peace. You're open to pursuing a just peace.
We also know that Putin has no intention, no intention of stopping this cruel war. And the United States is committed to ensuring that the brave Ukrainian people can continue, continue to defend their country against Russian aggression as long as it takes.
And I want to thank the members of Congress and their -- for their broad bipartisan support to Ukraine. And I look forward to signing the omnibus -- omnibus bill soon, which includes $45 billion, $45 billion in additional funding for Ukraine.
I will also sign into law the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes authorized -- authorities for -- to make it easier for the Department of Defense to procure critical munitions and defense materials for Ukraine and other key materials to strengthen our national security.
Today, I'm announcing the next tranche of our security assistance to Ukraine, $1.85 billion package of security assistance that includes both direct transfers of equipment to you that Ukraine needs, as well as contracts to supply ammunition Ukraine will need in the months ahead for its artillery, its tanks, and its rocket launchers.
Critically, in addition to these new capabilities, like precision aerial munitions, the package will include a Patriot missile battery, which will -- and one which we will train Ukrainian forces to operate as part of the ongoing effort to help bolster Ukraine's air defense.
It's going to take some time to complete the necessary training, but the Patriot battery will be another critical asset for Ukraine as it defends itself against Russian aggression. All together, today's new security assistance with humanitarian funding amounts to $2.2 billion in additional support for the Ukrainian people.
We should be clear about what Russia is doing. It is purposely attacking Ukraine's critical infrastructure, destroying the systems that provide heat and light to the Ukrainian people during the coldest, darkest part of the year. Russia is using winter as a weapon, freezing people, starving people,
cutting them off from one another. It's the latest example of the outrageous atrocities the Russian forces are committing against innocent Ukrainian civilians, children and their families.
And the United States is working together with our allies and partners to provide critical equipment to help Ukraine make emergency repairs to their power transmission systems and strengthen the stability of Ukraine's grid in the face of Russia's targeted attacks.
We're also working to hold Russia accountable, including efforts in Congress that will make it easier to seek justice for Russia's war crimes in Ukraine.
Let me close with this. Tonight is the fourth night -- night of Hanukkah, a time when Jewish people around the world, President Zelenskyy and many of the families among them, honor the timeless miracle, the small band of warriors fighting for the values and their freedom against a much larger foe, and how they endured and how they overcame, how the flame of faith, with only enough oil for one day, burned brightly for eight days.
A story of survival and resilience that reminds us that, the coldest days of the year, that light will always prevail over darkness and hope drives away despair, and that the human spirit is unconquerable as long as there are good people willing to do what is right.
This year has brought so much needless suffering and loss to the Ukrainian people. But I want you to know, President Zelenskyy, I want you to know, that all the people of Ukraine to know as well, the American people have been with you every step of the way, and we will stay with you. We will stay with you for as long as it takes.
What you're doing, what you have achieved, it matters not just to Ukraine, but to the entire world. And, together, I have no doubt we will keep the flame of liberty burning bright, and the light will remain and prevail over the darkness.
Thank you for being here, Mr. President. We're going to stand with you.
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: Thank you.
(through translator): Dear Mr. President -- please put on equipment.
Once again, Mr. President, President Biden, audience, journalists, ladies and gentlemen, I came here to the United States to -- for the -- thank the -- the word of thanks to the people of America, people who do so much for Ukraine. I am thankful for all of this.
This visit to the United States became really a historic one for our relations with the United States and the American leadership.
In the last 30 days of this war, we have started a new face of our interrelations with the United States. We became real partners and allies with the content, and I felt today during all of my meetings and during our talks.
Once again, I would like to thank Mr. President, President Biden, for his candid support in what is very important, the understanding of Ukraine, and for the support of the international coalition to strengthen international law.
I'm grateful to President Biden for his personal efforts, his steps that unite the partners and global South. When all countries of the world take some position and are focusing on cooperation and mutual understanding, this is very useful for all of the countries, for Ukraine, for the United States.
I want to thank the Congress for bipartisan, bicameral support. And I am looking forward to good meetings with the members of the Congress and their support. This is the visit that I'm -- I'm here today to meet with the Congress.
The main issue during my -- today's talks is to strengthen Ukraine next year, our movement forward to fight for our freedom and independence. I have good news returning home. President Biden announced a new package of defense support, about two billion U.S. dollars.
And the strongest element of this package is the Patriot battery systems, something that will strengthen our air defense significantly. This is a very important step to create a secure airspace for Ukraine. And that's the only way we would be able to deprive the terrorist country and their terror attack, to strike our energy sector, our people and our infrastructure.
We had a very good negotiation and talks about our strategic steps, which we discussed with President Biden, and what we expect next year and for what we are preparing.
This is very important for all Ukrainians. And I'm hopeful. And, once again, thank you, Mr. President, for $45 billion, because this is a big assistance. And I hope that the Congress will approve this financial assistance for our crime -- country.
This is almost $45 billion. Thank you very much for the support. Every dollar of this investment for the United States is going to be strengthening of global security.