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U.S.-Russia Talks are Underway over Ukraine; Jonathan Finer is Interviewed about the Russia Talks; Chicago Schools Closed for Fourth Day; NAACP Cites Ku Klux Klan Act in Lawsuit. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired January 10, 2022 - 09:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, high stakes face-to-face talks underway between U.S. and Russian officials in Geneva, Switzerland. This comes amid rising tensions over Russia's massive military buildup on its border with Ukraine.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN ANCHOR: Let's bring in CNN's senior national security correspondent Alex Marquardt.

This morning, Alex, kicks off a week off diplomatic meetings in Europe aimed at addressing the Ukraine crisis. And what's interesting is, going into these meetings, U.S. officials have lowered expectations for any concrete agreements coming out of them.


These talks have now been underway here in Geneva for going on six and a half hours. And it was clear in the lead-up to these talks that Russia wanted to tackle broader subjects than the U.S. did. Russia wants to talk about never allowing Ukraine into NATO. They want to talk about NATO forces in eastern Europe and having them leave. Those are non-starters for the U.S. And that is perhaps a reason that we've heard some pessimism from both sides heading into these talks. Secretary Blinken telling CNN yesterday he does not expect any real breakthrough this week. The Russians said that they were disappointed by the signals coming from Washington.

But the Biden administration is clearly hoping that there are issues that they can at least start to work on, and those would be namely missiles in Ukraine, missiles in the rest of Europe and exercises, military exercises, by both sides. The Biden administration has been very firm that they want to make sure that anything that NATO does is reciprocated by Russia.

So, as you say, this is the beginning of a week of diplomatic efforts. They will -- the meetings will move from this one on one between U.S. and Russia here in Geneva and NATO on Wednesday and then even broader with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Thursday.

Bianna. Jim.

SCIUTTO: Alex Marquardt, in Geneva, thanks so much.

Joining me now to discuss is the deputy national security adviser, Jonathan Finer.

Jonathan, thanks for taking the time this morning.


SCIUTTO: I wonder if you could help us define success from these talks? Does success require Russia pulling back its forces from the border with Ukraine?

FINER: You know, Jim, I'm not going to go out and set the bar on our negotiating team today while the talks are still under way. What I will say is, this is the first opportunity we've had at a really high level to really explore and understand better, what is Russia's position, what are Russia's intentions so they can better understand where we are coming from. Up till now a lot of this has been, frankly by the Russian side, negotiated in public. And I think our strong view has been that the only way to make real progress, meaningful progress, and ideally deescalate the situation diplomatically, is to get behind closed doors and actually see where the two sides are. So I think that's the opportunity.

SCIUTTO: But we do -- in fairness, Jonathan, we do know this significant part of Russia's position, and that is that it has composed a force on the border that has tremendous capabilities. This is what the U.S. intel assessments read. It has tremendous capabilities to invade Ukraine.

Given that, right now the range of responses include sanctions, a strategy that has failed in the past to prevent Russian aggression. Russia is still in control of Crimea.


It's still present in eastern Ukraine. Why stick with that strategy given it has not successfully deterred Russia in the past?

FINER: So, Jim, you've correctly described what we've seen on the border. And I'll remind you, it was the United States that has actually raised alarm bells about what was an increasing and is an increasing Russian military presence on the Ukraine border and about what Russia might be willing to do with those forces. We've been saying that publicly. We've been going out in tremendous detail to our partners and allies and making sure they share the same assessment we have based on intelligence of what exactly the situation is.


FINER: But I think you have undersold what we have said will be our response to this situation if Russia goes in. Yes, significant, severe economic sanctions are a part of our response. We have also described an increase in NATO force posture, in allied states. We have described that we will increase our security assistance to Ukraine if Russia goes in. And we have, by the way, been providing security assistance to Ukraine steadily.


FINER: More than $400 million over the course of the past year. We have talked about export controls on goods and other things that are being sold, sensitive technologies to Russia. So there is a whole range of dimensions to our response that goes beyond economic sanctions, although they are a significant part of what we will do if Russia does this.

SCIUTTO: Understood. You mentioned lethal military assistance. As you're aware, it's not just Republican lawmakers, but Democratic lawmakers that we've spoken to on this program that have been pushing the administration to accelerate that lethal assistance. For instance, more, for instance, javelin missiles, armor piercing missiles, which the U.S. considers defensive weapons in this.

And I know the administration's position has been, let's not do that yet because that might further escalate. But what signs have you see from Russia, if any, that they're willing to walk any of this back, right, to give you confidence that leaving that door open is the right call?

FINER: So, again, Jim, I'm not sure that's a totally accurate characterization of our position with regard to those capabilities. We have been providing them steadily through the course of the past year. We are continuing to provide them. No one is saying that now is not the time to be doing that. Quite the opposite. And we have made very clear to the Russians that given what they are doing on the border, that requires, in many ways, our support for Ukraine's ability to defend its own territory.

As of now, you are correct, we have not yet seen Russia take steps to deescalate. We've been very clear to the Russians that this diplomacy, for it to succeed, succeed in a way that addresses both sides' interest, it will require a climate of de-escalation, not escalation. Up till now we haven't seen that. We will see how the rest of the week unfolds.


To this point, Russia's public positions, right, have presented what are non-starters for the Biden administration. For instance, saying NATO will not accept Ukraine's membership, right? In fact, to take Ukraine's potential membership in NATO off the table.

If Russia sticks to those non-starter position in these talks, does the U.S. walk away?

FINER: So I don't see a situation in which the U.S. walks away from talks. But the United States has been very clear about, both publicly and privately, is that it is not up to Russia to determine whether or not Ukraine can -- can associate with an alliance, can join an alliance, who Ukraine chooses to work with in the world. That is a sovereign decision for the government of Ukraine and for the alliance itself. Not up to Russia to close what we call NATO's open door.

All of that said, you know, negotiating in public again is not the way we think is most constructive, most likely to lead to progress. So Russia has put out a lot of positions publicly that we have said are non-starters. They've said some other things that we think maybe present some areas in which we can work to make progress.


FINER: And we're going to find that out during the course of this week.

SCIUTTO: Final question on another part of the world, and another independent country under threat, that being Taiwan. Increasing threats both in terms of rhetoric, but also military moves by China in recent months.

China is watching how the U.S. responds to the Russian threat to Ukraine. And, as you know, Russia and China have been cooperating in a whole host of spheres around the world.

What message does the administration want to communicate to China today about Taiwan? Does America stand with Taiwan?

FINER: So, Jim, one of the things I'll say is that our planning related to this Russia-Ukraine situation has very much taken into account the need to both make clear to other countries and be prepared ourselves for anyone that would seek to take advantage of what's happening along the Ukraine border to undermine peace, stability, security anywhere in the world.

On China specifically, I will say, I do not see these situations as related. I think China will set its own policy based on its own considerations, not based on anything Russia chooses to do in Ukraine or in any way on how the United States responds to that situation. Our policy towards Taiwan is clear. It has not changed at any point during the course of this administration. It is grounded in the three communiques, the six assurances and the Taiwan Relations Act.


That calls for the United States to ensure that Taiwan has sufficient defense capability. We are fundamentally committed to that.


FINER: And to ensuring that cross strait relations are stable and that -- and that the current status quo is not changed by force.

SCIUTTO: Jonathan Finer, deputy national security adviser, thanks for joining the program this morning.

FINER: Thanks for having me, Jim.

GOLODRYGA: A consequential week ahead there.

But up next, four straight days with no school for kids in Chicago. Why the mayor says teachers abandoned more than 300,000 students and their families.



GOLODRYGA: Well, right now, thousands of kids in Chicago are missing a fourth straight day of school as city officials battle with the teachers union over coronavirus safety protocols.

CNN's --

SCIUTTO: CNN's Adrienne -- sorry, go ahead.

GOLODRYGA: I'm sorry.

CNN's Adrienne Broaddus joins us now from Chicago, where teachers are refusing to show up for in-person work.

Adrienne, are they any closer to a solution there?

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know what, Jim and Bianna, since you both said my name, there is a little bit of progress. Just a short time ago we heard from the president of the teacher's union. He says they're hitting a brick wall and that the union has made compromise but still not enough progress to return to the classroom.

Over the weekend, CPS released a news release. And on this news release it shows at least 11 proposals made by members of the union. And let's take a look at some of the progress.

In one column there's wins for both sides. The district has agreed to providing KN95 masks to students and teachers. The district has also agreed to reinstate health screenings on a school-by-school basis. And the district will offer weekly Covid testing to students and staff.

But, again, there is no agreement on school-by-school remote learning. And the president of the union say that is what they really want. If things get bad in school, they want an option to return to remote learning.

CPS and the mayor rejected the union's request to return to remote learning this Wednesday and in-person learning next week on the 18th.

Meanwhile, the mayor says this is an illegal strike. She says these teachers abandoned their post, their kids and their families. And she says she has support of parents.

Listen in.


LORI LIGHTFOOT (D), CHICAGO: Parents are outraged and they are making their outrage known to the teachers union. This is a very different dynamic than ever before. We've got an enormous amount of parent activism. They are writing letters, emails, they are protesting, they're holding press conferences.


BROADDUS: And a group of parents who represent at least ten students in CPS schools filed this lawsuit. They're calling this school closure an illegal strike. And this lawsuit is seeking lost damages for childcare and missed work.

Jim and Bianna.


GOLODRYGA: Well, at this point, Adrienne, let's hope these students get back to learning, whether it's online or in-person. They are definitely missing out.

Adrienne Broaddus, thank you.


GOLODRYGA: And, Jim, you can tell I'm still a newbie to this show. So, thank you for rolling with the punches with me stepping on your toes here.

SCIUTTO: Hey, I'll always share with you. I'll always share with you, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Well, thank you.

Well, come up, stunning video of police officers pulling a pilot from a plane that crashed on train tracks, just moments before the train came through. You won't want to miss this.



SCIUTTO: The NAACP's lawsuit against former President Trump and his allies heads to court today. Lawyers for the organization accused Trump and Rudy Giuliani of conspiring with the far right groups, Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, to insight the January 6th insurrection.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, their lawsuit is based on a law passed after the civil war to combat the violent actions of the Ku Klux Klan.

Joining us now with more on this is Elliot Williams. He's a former deputy attorney assistant attorney general and a CNN legal analyst.

Elliot, good to have you on.

So, walk us through this because the key text from the Klan Act refers to the use of force, intimidation or threat. We know that the events on January 6th were violent but Donald Trump wasn't there, right, with the rioters. So will this be difficult to link him directly to this violence?


ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: And you're touching on the legal issue right there because, number one, it's forced intimidation or threat but by two or more persons. So, what the statute does is it sets up a conspiracy. You have to have some kind of agreement or working together between the two different folks here.

Now, look, here's what we know about January 6th. Number one, the president wanted the election certification did not happen. Number two, you knew there was violence but the challenge for the people bringing the lawsuits is that they're going to have to link those two things. Number one, President Trump's rhetoric, and, number two, the violence, and that can be tricky under the law.

SCIUTTO: So this is a civil suit. Civil suits have a lower evidence standard here.

Can you describe that and say how that might play into this case?

WILLIAMS: Right, we all watched courtroom shows. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt. That's what you have in criminal cases. That's a really high burden. Here, the standard will be preponderance of the evidence, that they just have to prove -- the plaintiffs have to prove that it's more likely than not that this conspiracy happened or this kind of agreement happened.

And, look, the existence of the January 6th committee, pulling together troves of evidence right now, actually helps this lawsuit quite a bit.


GOLODRYGA: Interesting.

SCIUTTO: Elliot Williams, yes, good to have you on. I mean it will be very interesting to watch.

Bianna, a lawsuit unlike the other prosecutions we've seen so far.


GOLODRYGA: That's right. Thank you so much, Elliot.

WILLIAMS: Thank you, sir.

Good to be on.

GOLODRYGA: Well, new this morning, dramatic video captured the moment a train slammed into a small plane that crashed onto the tracks in California.


And we must warn you, it's a little disturbing to watch. It was a close call for the pilot of the plane, who you can see is

injured and bloodied from the crash.


GOLODRYGA: Los Angeles police officers blocked the road near the tracks and then pulled the man from the wreckage just seconds been the train made impact.

Now, according to authorities, the plane lost power and had to make an emergency landing. Thankfully, no other injuries were reported.

But you just see, within a matter of seconds, he was pulled out before that train came and hit that -- that plane.

SCIUTTO: Listen, and the risk those officers took themselves, right?

GOLODRYGA: Of course.

SCIUTTO: Because they were just seconds removed from that danger. Remarkable to see. Here's to those officers.

Still to come, coming up next hour, more on our top story. Just a deadly apartment fire in the Bronx. Nine children among the 19th people killed. The congressman who represents that district, he's going to join us live, next, and he has some things to say.