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Judge Questions Trump's Claim of Immunity; Jordan Hasn't Agreed to Talk to January 6th Committee; U.S. Says No Breakthrough in Russian Talks; Russia Issues Non-Starter in Talks; Ground Stop Issued Over North Korean Missile Launch; Georgia Beats Alabama. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired January 11, 2022 - 09:30   ET




BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN ANCHOR: A federal judge is challenging former President Trump's claims of immunity in three civil lawsuits that accuse him of inciting the January 6th attack.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Attorneys for the former president are trying to get the lawsuits thrown out, claiming he and his allies are protected by the First Amendment.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz and Lauren Fox, they join us now.

So, Katelyn, reading his statements, the judge seems skeptical but hasn't yet issued a ruling. Do we know where things stand?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Jim, this was a five-hour hearing. So there were a lot of questions that this judge asked of both sides. And this really was the first time that these lawsuits, trying to hold Trump accountable for the insurrection, are getting looked at closely by a judge raising lots of legal questions.

SO, in this one, Judge Amit Mehta of the D.C. District Court, he didn't really show his cards on how he's going to rule, but he did push Trump's lawyers quite hard on this question of whether Trump could be liable for conspiring with the crowd that he said, you know, walk to the Capitol and then did not call them off.

This is what Mehta said during the hearing when he was asking questions. The words are hard to walk back. That's -- he's talking about Trump's words on January 6th. You have an almost two hour window where the president does not say, stop, get out of Capitol, this is not what I wanted you to do. What do I do about the fact the president didn't denounce the conduct immediately and sent a tweet that arguably exacerbated things? Isn't that from a plausibility standpoint that the president plausibly agreed with the conduct of the people inside the Capitol that day?

Now, the judge also said that it's -- this isn't the only legal question and none of these legal question are going to be easy for him to decide on. There will be a decision in the coming months. And some of the arguments, there are lots of them, that Trump's lawyers and others are making to try to get this lawsuit stopped right now, including that they're protected by the first amendment and that Trump, when he was president, anything that he said or did should have no liability whatsoever in a lawsuit like this.

GOLODRYGA: It is interesting, though, to get a window into the judge's thinking, at least on this very issue.

Lauren, meantime, we know that the House committee has been trying to speak with one of Trump's chief allies in Congress. Of course. that's Representative Jim Jordan. He still won't commit to cooperating with investigators, but he hasn't yet said no definitively, right?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's basically over the last 48 hours been several developments. On Sunday he sent a letter to the committee saying that he didn't plan to cooperate because he said he didn't have any relevant information. However, yesterday, my colleague, Ryan Nobles, pushed Jim Jordan at votes (ph) as to whether or not he had ultimately ruled out participating in the select committee's inquiry. And this is what he had to say.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If they offered you the opportunity to speak in a public setting, would you be willing to do something like that?

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): We have the letter, you can read my letter. That's our response.

NOBLES: But you said before then you were -- you know, you didn't have anything to hide, so does that mean --

JORDAN: I've got nothing -- I've got nothing to hide. But, I mean, I got to tell you, like I said in the letter, I have real concerns with -- I have real concerns with -- with any committee that's going to falsify change evidence and lie to the American people about it. And that's why we put that in the letter.


FOX: And, ultimately, this raises a serious question, how far is the select committee going to go to get members of their own body to testify before their committee. Are they going to subpoena somebody like Jim Jordan ultimately? Are they going to subpoena someone like Scott Perry, another Republican that they think has relevant information, who has so far refused to cooperate with the committee? That is a huge question looming. And we may get answers in the next several days or weeks.

Jim and Bianna.

SCIUTTO: And then of course, do they have other witnesses who could corroborate without that testimony, open question here.

Lauren Fox on The Hill, Katelyn Polantz, thanks to both of you. Coming up next, critical talks between the U.S. and Russia may have

hit another roadblock. We just spoke, CNN, to the U.S. ambassador to NATO. We'll have that CNN exclusive interview, next.



SCIUTTO: The U.S. and Russia emerged from high stakes talks in Geneva. Still very far apart on the growing crisis on Russia's border with the Ukraine. Both sides stood firm yesterday with U.S. officials calling Russian demands for Ukraine never to become a NATO member. In simplest terms, a nonstarter.

GOLODRYGA: So for more let's get to CNN's senior national security correspondent Alex Marquardt at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

And, Alex, you just spoke to the U.S. ambassador to NATO about this. What did she tell you?


I did ask the question about to what extent Russia is taking these talks seriously. Remember, there are three different series of diplomatic conversations this week.


And Ambassador Julie Smith told me that they are committed to these discussions.

Now, as you were just saying, the talks -- these talks at NATO tomorrow come after the one on one talks with the U.S. yesterday in Geneva. The U.S. side said that there was no breakthrough. The Russian side said very plainly today that they don't see any reason for optimism yet.

In the discussions tomorrow at NATO, Russia is going to get to raise two of its major points. The fact that they don't want Ukraine ever to join NATO, and that they want NATO forces essentially to leave eastern European countries. Both of those are non-starters for the U.S. and for NATO.

So, the U.S. does believe that Russia is engaging in these talks in good faith. And so I asked Ambassador Smith what they are seeing in terms of the Russian buildup along the border with Ukraine as these talks take place.

Take a listen.


JULIANNE SMITH, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO: Russia is still maintaining about 100,000 forces right on the border with Ukraine. We believe they have plans to bring more forces forward. We are not in a position where we can say that we believe that we have seen any clear signs of de-escalation. We are of the mind that at this point Russia is holding with the current force posture it has on Ukraine's border.


MARQUARDT: So they still believe that Russia plans to send more forces forward. No signs of de-escalation. That means no troops going back to the barracks. But the ambassador and the rest of NATO do believe that there are areas where they can agree with Russia and they are hoping that the combination of that path towards an agreement, plus this threat of massive economic sanctions would be enough to deter Russia from invading Ukraine yet again.

Jim. Bianna.

SCIUTTO: We'll see. Sanctions certainly have not worked in the past.

Alex Marquardt, thanks very much.

Joining us now to discuss, David Sanger, White House and national security correspondent for "The New York Times."

David, interesting words follow this meeting with the Russians from Wendy Sherman because in very clear terms she laid out all the things the U.S. and NATO are not willing to do, which struck me as notable. I want to play that sound quickly and get your reaction.


WENDY SHERMAN, U.S. DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: We will not allow anyone to slam closed NATO's open door policy, which has always been central to the NATO alliance. We will not forgo bilateral cooperation with sovereign states that wish to work with the United States. And we will not make decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine, about Europe without Europe, or about NATO without NATO.


SCIUTTO: Those statements stand in direct contradiction to several of Russia's demands. I wonder if you believe Russia heard that message in Geneva.

DAVID SANGER, WHITE HOUSE AND NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Oh, I'm certain they heard it, Jim, because Secretary Sherman, who you and I have known for a long time, does not mince words.


SANGER: And I'm sure that if she said it, that clearly, in the briefing with all of us, she was probably even more vivid in the room.

That said, the big question here is, what is this conflict all about? Is it really about Ukraine, in which case there may be some diplomatic room to go move things around, or is it really about the larger demands that Putin has voiced for some time, many years, and has now crystallized in this proposed treaty, which basically would call for the United States and NATO to go back to the lines prior to 1997, before NATO expanded, and keep all weapons, including nuclear weapons and forces, out of those countries.

GOLODRYGA: And, David, we know that that's just not going to happen, which is why it raises the question whether Putin even wants an off ramp at this point in terms of what goes on in Ukraine. And as we heard from the deputy foreign minister of Russia yesterday say that Russia has no plans of invading Ukraine, but things look quite different on the ground. And I want to read from your own reporting from "The New York Times" that, in addition to the 100,000 military personnel surrounding the border, there are now aircraft that have been spotted there as well.

What does that tell you about Russia's intentions? It hasn't built up the number of troops, but the addition of aircraft could suggest that they are, in fact, planning something imminently.

SANGER: That's right, Bianna. We're all trying to figure it out. We are, you are, the U.S. intelligence community is. So there are a couple of possibilities here. One possibility is that Putin simply hasn't made a decision about whether to do a full-scale invasion. And he really couldn't do one until a hard freeze takes place in the area because his heavy armor would sink in the mud otherwise.


And so we have a few weeks on that.

Second possibility is, he just tries to expand the area in eastern Ukraine that they already took in 2014.

Third possibility is that he tries something that would give him influence, but perhaps not trigger the sanctions. Another cyberattack that brought down the power grid, similar to what they've done before in Ukraine. We just don't know. And he may not know.

SCIUTTO: Yes. You -- as you know, a lot of the folks making the decisions and developing the policies right now are veterans of the Obama administration. Joe Biden, of course, among them. And the read on 2014, when Russia previously invaded Ukraine, by the way, still controls Crimea, for folks at home, just to remind them, was that the sanctions weren't hard enough, folks underestimated Russia's commitment, et cetera.

Do you believe the administration's response shows learning from those lessons?

SANGER: Definitely, Jim. It shows that they have learned that the 2014 sanctions were insufficient. And the evidence of that is clear. The sanctions were intended to force Russia to leave Crimea. They are still there nearly eight years later.


SANGER: The question now is, are they sufficient. And so what they've learned is merely going after banks and financial institutions is not sufficient. The Russians have done a pretty good job of sanctions proofing themselves.

So these new sanctions have two new elements, the threat in sanctions. One is technology, including perhaps consumer technologies into Russia, and the second one is that the U.S. would help fund and arm an insurgency should the Russians occupy parts of the country. The question in my mind and I'm sure even in the minds of many in the administration is, is this enough to make Putin recalculate.


GOLODRYGA: And this ahead of Russia's meeting with NATO. Typically they have been more bitter towards NATO than even the U.S. So we'll see what comes out of that meeting tomorrow.

David Sanger, thank you, as always.

SANGER: Thank you, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Well, this just in to CNN. We are learning more about a ground stop for planes issued on the West Coast yesterday. How that may have been a response to warnings of a potential North Korean missile launch. More on that coming up next.



GOLODRYGA: We want to bring you some news just in to CNN. A U.S. official tells CNN that a full ground stop was issued to some pilots on the West Coast Monday for a short period of time following a warning in response to the launch of a North Korean missile.

SCIUTTO: To be clear, the official says it was not a national ground stop. It may have been issued by a regional air traffic control facility. Remarkable nonetheless.

CNN aviation correspondent Pete Muntean has been following all of this.

Pete, do we know who issued it? And I'm curious, in your many years covering the aviation sector, have you seen any precedent for something like this?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: There has never been a national ground stop in the United States since 9/11, Jim, which makes this so unusual that this alert would have gone out to air traffic control facilities on the West Coast.

We are hearing recordings now from some airports on the West Coast, Burbank, California, also Hillsborough, Oregon, also an official in San Diego, California, tells us, there was this national ground stop just yesterday. Although this U.S. official has told us now, to CNN, that this was not a nationwide ground stop and that this information came because of a NORAD concern about this North Korean missile launch, which would have happened around 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time yesterday. So the timing does possibly line up here.

Just want you to listen now to some of these air traffic control recordings from air traffic control site Live ATC (ph). This is from Burbank, California, and flights were essentially urged not to take off. They said there was a national ground stop. They could not take off. And, in some cases, flights were ordered to land.

Just listen now.


ATC OPERATOR: We're currently doing some gate hold procedures. And there's ground stops. All departures, um, all airports right now.

PILOT: OK. All right, we'll just -- we'll monitor you for any updates and have any idea how long it will be?

ATC OPERATOR: The message we got is it's just until further notice right now. But as soon as I get an update, I'll reach out to all you guys.

Some sort of national security threat's going on, and we are not allowing aircraft to maneuver in the area at the moment.


MUNTEAN: So, a bit of a mystery as to why air traffic control facilities, controlled by the FAA, got this national ground stop order and why they were passing it on to commercial flights and private airplanes that were flying around on the West Coast yesterday afternoon on the West Coast. It's still unclear here if the North Korean missile ever really posed a threat. Officials have told us in the past that North Korean ballistic missiles could not possibly pose a threat in the United States. The FAA still not commenting on all of this, despite our multiple attempts to get in touch with them.

SCIUTTO: Those are quite a group of words to hear in a cockpit, Bianna, a national security threat leading to a ground stop. Remarkable.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, and even more remarkable to hear how calm the pilot was in response to that.


GOLODRYGA: Pete Muntean, thank you so much.

SCIUTTO: Still ahead, President Biden expected to use his speech in Atlanta today to try to put pressure on the Senate to change filibuster rules for voting rights. But even some voting rights groups say the president at this point is all talk. Not nearly enough action. We're going to have live team coverage next.


[09:59:28] SCIUTTO: The Georgia Bulldogs are national champions today. They beat number one Alabama for their first college football championship in 41 years. Not easy, Bianna, to beat Alabama.

GOLODRYGA: And look at that celebrating in the aftermath. Of course, Bulldog fans flooded the streets of Athens to celebrate the end of that 41-year drought.

Andy Scholes was at the game in Indianapolis and joins us with more.

Jim, correct me if I'm wrong, you and I didn't have skin in this game.


GOLODRYGA: So we were just rooting for the best team, and it looks like Georgia just, wow, pulled it off at the end.


ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and, guys, what a game. You know, this one really started off really slow, but Georgia and Alabama both getting hot in the fourth quarter.