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Kremlin Lashes Back After Biden Calls Putin a Crazy SOB; Massive Outage Disrupting Mobile Phone Service Across U.S.; Today, Last Day of Early Voting for South Carolina GOP Primary. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired February 22, 2024 - 10:00   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So, what happens when you call Vladimir Putin a crazy SOB? President Biden is finding out this morning.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Police in Arizona arrest a man in connection to a brutal murder in New York, but the local prosecutor refusing to extradite him back east to face charges.

BERMAN: Calling in the National Guard to stop school violence, the controversial proposal at one high school.

Sara is out. I'm John Berman with Kate Bolduan. This is CNN News Central.

BOLDUAN: President Biden and the SOB at a fundraising event in San Francisco, did Biden go off script or was it exactly what he wanted to say when he called Russian President Vladimir Putin a, quote, crazy SOB?

The Kremlin responded this morning, saying Biden was acting like a, quote, Hollywood cowboy and is a, quote, huge disgrace.

This comes as Russia's fingerprints seem to be making their mark on American politics or trying to all over again.

Right now, the Republican Party trying to salvage its faltering impeachment inquiry in the House into President Biden after a star witness and former FBI informant admitted and was indicted over not telling the truth and saying he got information from Russia.

Joining us right now, CNN's Arlette Saenz is joining us as well as Alayna Treene.

Arlette, let me start with you. This isn't the first time that President Biden and Vladimir Putin and between the two of them have resulted or resorted to name calling. What do you see in this? What's happening?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, I think you're seeing from President Biden this willingness to further call out Russian President Vladimir Putin at a time when he is not just waging that war against Ukraine, which is entering the two-year mark, but also in the wake of the death of Alexei Navalny, who died while in Russian prison, and the president specifically blames Putin for that.

And it really comes at a tense moment in the presidential campaign as well. And the president has been trying to not just draw these contrasts with Putin, calling him a crazy SOB in that fundraiser last night, but he's also been trying to drive home this contrast with Trump, trying to paint Trump as cozying up to Putin at a time of major consequence on the world stage.

Now, this has especially played out in the wake of Trump's remarks, where he suggested that Putin should do whatever the hell they want to NATO countries who are not meeting their obligations. And then most recently, when it comes to the fact that Trump has yet to condemn Putin for Alexei Navalny's death, instead turning this into an opportunity to describe himself as being under political persecution in the same way that Alexei Navalny was, something that is not entirely based in fact.

But last night, President Biden went after Trump on that matter as well in that fundraiser, saying, quote, he's comparing himself to Navalny and saying that because our country has become a communist country, he was persecuted, just like Navalny was persecuted.


Where the hell does this come from? He added, if I stood here 10 to 15 years ago and said all this, you'd all think I should be committed. It's astounding.

It really comes as we've seen the president lean in to taking on Trump even more. He's been saying Trump's name calling him out directly from events here at the White House and also really speaking unplugged at these off-camera fundraisers, sharing some more of his unvarnished thoughts against the former president.

At this time, what President Biden has been trying to do is simply tying Trump and Putin together in the wake of many of Trump's most recent comments.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Alayna, just picking up right there, how does -- you've got you -- you hear that from President Biden and what he's saying. How does Donald Trump and those around him, how are they -- how do they view this?

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: Well, look, Kate, I mean, Donald Trump has been very clear in his refusals to condemn Vladimir Putin, but also Russian aggression overall, not only in the aftermath of Alexei Navalny's death, but also more broadly in his rhetoric toward the war in Ukraine and also, as Arlette mentioned, his undermining of the NATO alliance. Just recently, I mean, he raised a lot of eyebrows and a lot of backlash when he called or really invited Russia to invade NATO allies that do not meet their spending obligations.

But, look, I think to take a step back, it is remarkable to look at the transformation of the Republican Party under Donald Trump. It's become far more populist, you know, than embracing Donald Trump's America First agenda, but also what many critics argue is more isolationist.

And I think if you think about the days of Reagan Republicans, even Donald Trump himself, are lionizing Reagan, calling him one of the best leaders the country had, he was the one who called on Russia to tear the wall down in relation to the Berlin Wall. We're not seeing that type of rhetoric now from Republicans.

And I think a great example of that is just look at what's happening in Congress. You have Republicans refusing to pass more aid to Ukraine, something that is shown to help Russia in some of its battles in that war. And it's something as well that Congresswoman Liz Cheney -- former Congresswoman Liz Cheney, I should say, someone who I think is a great example of the traditional conservative who has been rejected under Donald Trump, it's something that she criticized. Take a listen to how she put it.


FMR. REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): When you think about Donald Trump, for example, pledging retribution, what Vladimir Putin did to Navalny is what retribution looks like in a country where the leader is not subject to the rule of law.

We have to take seriously the extent to which you've now got a Putin wing of the Republican Party. I believe the issue this election cycle is making sure the Putin wing of the Republican Party does not take over the West Wing of the White House.


TREENE: pretty strong criticism there from former Congresswoman Liz Cheney ,calling many of these Republicans who are aligning with Donald Trump the Putin wing of the party, something I think a lot of Republicans, I know from my time covering them on Capitol Hill, would bulk out.

But, look, I think there's no question that Russia and Putin are looming over the election. And I think it's definitely something we're going to continue to see play out in the months ahead, particularly as I know the former president and his team are trying to pivot toward the general election.

And a lot of this discussion over foreign policy, how to deal with Russia, is going to continue to be a flashpoint in those conversations.

BOLDUAN: Alayna, thank you so much. Arlette, thank you so much as well, from the White House.

BERMAN: All right. Breaking news, thousands of Americans are without working cell phones at this moment across the country as AT&T is reporting a widespread service outage. I woke up to a big SOS on my phone this morning, although I do know it is now working. With us now is CNN Chief Law Enforcement and Intelligence Analyst John Miller. And your phone I noticed has the big SOS on it still. What are the possible causes of this?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, AT&T has been working on it. It took them about four and a half hours to kind of get out in public and acknowledge the glitch and that they were trying to fix it. But, you know, possible causes are technical. It could be something in their systems that is failing and they can back through the system and identify that.

It could be weather. Interesting about weather, weather can affect cellular signals, sometimes you have trouble holding a call during a rain or a storm, 5G, which a lot of people have transitioned to, is way more susceptible to weather.

But when you look at these failures, you know, the systems seem to be most affected between Washington, D.C., and Texas. And, you know, I looked at the national weather map, there's not much going on in terms of weather.

And then the third piece, of course, is potentially a cyber attack from a hostile foreign power.


And technical is going to be most likely, whether it's probably the longer shot, but cyber attack is in the discussion because it was just on February 7th when the NSA, the FBI, Homeland Security, and a lot of federal partners issued a warning about a Chinese hacking threat.

BERMAN: I mean, has anyone stood up, AT&T or anyone has stood up and said, hey, it's definitely not a cyber attack? And the part that strikes me, what time is it, it's like 10:08 right now. This has been going on for hours, a very long time.

MILLER: Okay. So, we're talking about, and I'm talking about as someone who has experience in crisis communications, both at the FBI and the NYPD, we're talking about two different system failures here. One is the technical system failure, and the other is the strategic system failure, which is not getting out and talking about this to their customers.

When I went to their website, you know, just after 7:00 this morning, you know, all it had was opportunities to buy more phones. There was no boxing. We know we're experiencing problems. We're trying to resolve that, you know, here are things you can do, Wi-Fi calling, text and so on. So, that's something that on the back end of this, they're going to have to acknowledge and deal with.

BERMAN: All right. John Miller, I know you're going to stay on this until these phones come back up and then and then maybe for some time after that until we get an explanation of the why here, which will be interesting. Great to see you, thank you.

MILLER: You too? BERMAN: Kate?

BOLDUAN: So, why school officials in Massachusetts are now asking the state's National Guard to step in as hall monitors? We have details on this story coming up.

And an extradition fight over a murder suspect, and an Arizona district attorney who's now refusing to send him back to New York.

Early voting is underway in the South Carolina Republican primary, and will Nikki Haley's new comments about the Alabama Supreme Court ruling impact what happens to her in her home state?



BERMAN: All right. Happening now, the last chance for voters in South Carolina to cast early votes in the Republican primary there, Election Day itself is Saturday. Nikki Haley has been crisscrossing the state, making her final pitch to voters and trying to make some inroads against Donald Trump.

CNN Chief National Affairs Correspondent Jeff Zeleny joins us now from Hanahan, South Carolina. Jeff, what is the word from the low country this morning?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John, good morning. This is the final day of early voting before the South Carolina primary as you said on Saturday. So far, 165,000 voters have cast ballots in a no excuse early voting, the first time in a presidential election here in South Carolina.

And Nikki Haley is making that pitch to voters, asking them to go to the polls early. Of course, Donald Trump is doing the same thing. He's been campaigning here far less than she has. She's been on a bus tour really for the last several weeks since the New Hampshire primary, making the case to many of her voters, you know, her fellow South Carolinians to come out and register their support for her, but also that this race should go on from here.

We were in a rally with her last night. This is her pitch to voters in this urgent state of the race, John.


NIKKI HALEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In general elections, we're given a choice. In a primary, we make our choice.

I am not going anywhere. Well, I am going somewhere. After South Carolina the next day, I'm headed to Michigan and then we're going to Super Tuesday states.


ZELENY: So, the former South Carolina governor is vowing to stay in this race beyond the Saturday primary through Super Tuesday at least in March. The question is what will some of her supporters do should she not become the Republican nominee.

We're talking to many of those voters here, John, and really it runs the gamut from grudgingly potentially supporting Donald Trump to voting for President Biden to we talked to several who are saying, look, we may not vote at all in this race. There's so much sort of a disinterest in a rematch between Trump and Biden.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The voting still here is taking place on Saturday. In fact, some of it is going on behind me here. There's been a pretty steady stream of voters coming in here in this key suburban county just outside of Charleston.

So, John, there's no doubt the former president wants to suggest this race is over. Nikki Haley says not so fast. We will see what the voters here say. But South Carolina, interesting, there are no registered voters by party. So, some potential moderates and Democrats could even cross over. So, let's keep her in what happens here on Saturday, John.

BERMAN: Yes, as long as they didn't vote in the Democratic primary a few weeks ago.

Jeff, you've been to some events there.

ZELENY: For sure, you cannot vote twice.

BERMAN: What have Nikki Haley's crowds been like? What have crowds been like in general at political events?

ZELENY: Pretty enthusiastic. We were in Beaufort last evening, which, of course, is the famous town where a lot of the Forrest Gump movie was shot and we talked to several voters who are saying, run, Nikki, run, like run, Forrest, run. Several hundred people that are crowds but Donald Trump also has been having large crowds per normal at the few events he's had. He really has not been campaigning aggressively here but he is on television here using some of the very ads that he ran against Nikki Haley in New Hampshire, talking about Social Security talking about immigration. He suggests she's soft on both of those issues. The fact checks suggest otherwise.

But voters, it's not certainly the most exciting South Carolina Republican primary.


We've seen many over the years where it's been neck and neck. It doesn't have that feel. But there are many people here who are, you know, certainly registering their support for Nikki Haley because they like the job she did as governor.

But, John, perhaps the biggest wild card here, the population has changed so much since she served as governor more than a decade ago. It's one of the fastest growing states. So, many of the people we talked to said they didn't even live here when she was the governor of South Carolina. But they've been following this race with interest.

So, certainly, this outcome on Saturday likely may not change the trajectory of the race, but it could change how long this competitive contest goes on. John?

BERMAN: Right. Jeff Zeleny, who had been in Beaufort, South Carolina, run, Jeff, run, as always. Great to see you, thank you very much. Kate?

BOLDUAN: You really did a nice job bringing that all together. I'm very impressed.

The fight to extradite, we're going to show you a suspected killer is getting personal right now. Why one attorney says people will be less safe if the Manhattan D.A. takes the case. So, what do you do about unruly and violent high schoolers? School

committee members at one school think the National Guard is the answer.



BERMAN: This morning, a fight over a suspected killer in Arizona. The Maricopa County attorney is refusing to extradite a man accused of killing a woman in a New York City hotel room. He's also accused of stabbing two women in Arizona. And the prosecutor there in Arizona says it would be a safety concern to send him back to New York, citing the handling of other cases by Manhattan prosecutors.

CNN's Brynn Gingras is with us now. What's the latest here, Brynn?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. You know, he would be here in New York facing murder charges, but the district attorney here saying that can't happen until he's actually physically in New York.

Now, remember, it is common practice for extraditions to happen to violent criminals from state to state, certainly when the charges are greater in a different state. But it looks like that is not going to happen.

Let's get into a little bit more detail of what this 26-year-old is accused of doing before we get into sort of the back and forth between these district attorneys or attorneys.

So, 26-year-old Raad Almansoori, according to the NYPD, committed a murder here in Manhattan in a hotel room earlier this month. And then police say he jumped on a plane and he went to Arizona, where authorities say he stabbed one woman while committing a carjacking. And he also allegedly stabbed a different woman at a McDonald's restaurant.

Now, both of those women survived and then he was arrested. Well, just yesterday, the Maricopa County attorney took to the microphone and explained how she has instructed her staff to not work with New York authorities with an extradition. Take a listen to more of what she said.


RACHEL MITCHELL, MARICOPA COUNTY ATTORNEY: We will not be agreeing to extradition.

Having observed the treatment of violent criminals in the New York area by the Manhattan D.A. there, Alvin Bragg, I think it's safer to keep him here and keep him in custody so that he cannot be out doing this to individuals either in our state or county or anywhere in the United States.


GINGRAS: Clearly taking a dig there at Alvin Bragg,

John. And the D.A. responded very quickly, a spokesperson saying in a statement, New York's murder rate is less than half that of Phoenix, Arizona, because of the hard work of the NYPD and all of our law enforcement partners. It is a slap in the face to them and to the victim in our case to refuse to allow us to seek justice and full accountability for a New Yorker's death.

The D.A. saying that she is playing politics here. Remember, there is politics involved. She is a Republican, he is a Democrat who has certainly been criticized many times over by Republicans for being soft on crime in many cases of recent, too, and, of course, also a very recent case where he has brought criminal charges against the former president with that trial set to go forward next month. John?

BERMAN: All right. Brynn Gingras covering this for us, keep us posted as developments come in. Thank you. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Let's go from there and let's head back to South Carolina, where, happening now, it is essentially Election Day already in South Carolina, voters casting early votes in the Republican primary election.

The formal Election Day, if you will, is Saturday, as we've been discussing. And Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley, she has been crisscrossing her home state, urging voters to head to the polls, as she is reiterating, quote, she's not going anywhere other than onward after South Carolina, no matter what happens in that primary with Donald Trump.

Joining us right now, Eaddy Roe Willard, she's the executive committeewoman for South Carolina's Richland County Republican Party. Eaddy, thank you so much for jumping on.

You've worked for decades in Republican politics in South Carolina. What does the race feel like right now on the ground? We talk about the polls to try to give a sense of where voters' sentiment is but does it feel like the polling suggests that Donald Trump has such a significant lead?



It feels so exciting on the ground here always with our presidential primaries.