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Blinken to Visit Ukraine; CIA Director Met with Ukraine President; Senators Meet with Ukrainian President; Oklahoma City at Breaking Point; Johnson on Breach of Covid Rules; Airlines Warn of 5G Impact. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired January 18, 2022 - 09:00   ET



BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Bianna Golodryga.


New this morning, world leaders on edge. With tensions between Russia and Ukraine on the brink, now some fear boiling over, Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Kiev and Germany this week to meet with leaders there. This comes amid increased Russian military drills near the Ukrainian border and as the Kremlin denies a "New York Times" report that Moscow is now emptying its embassy in the Ukrainian capital in what could be an ominous sign.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, the saber rattling continues in that region.

Also this morning, former President Trump could be gearing up for 2024. We have new details about how his political operation is already organizing and how some former administration officials hope to stop him.

Also this morning, an urgent call for a delay in the rollout of 5G cell technology. Airlines warning of possible devastating impact. Lawmakers have serious safety concerns as well. What, if anything, will be done ahead of tomorrow's planned launch?

Lots of news that we are covering this morning.

SCIUTTO: We are beginning, though, this morning with the growing global tensions over Russia's increased military action near and around Ukraine. Our reporters are covering all the angles.

Let's begin with CNN's senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance. He is in Ukraine's capital Kiev. Matthew, Secretary of State Blinken, he's traveling to Ukraine

tomorrow. And the statement he released in advance of his trip, he is not mincing words. He's talking about the west's readiness to impose massive consequences on Russia if it increases military intervention in Ukraine. This is a serious moment.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is, of course. And this visit by the secretary of state to Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, comes as we're all in limbo not knowing what the Russian next steps are going to be. Remember last week there was a week-long negotiations in various cities around Europe, trying to address that Russian concern, and that Russian demand that NATO should not be expanded any further, and, more than that, that Ukraine should never, ever be allowed to join the western military alliance. That was a non-starter for U.S. officials and for NATO as well, by the way.

And so now we're left in this situation where it's really -- the ball is in the court of the Kremlin, for Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, to decide what steps is he going to take next. Is he going to press that, as it were, symbolically on some kind of military incursion, military invasion. Certainly there are more maneuvers, more drills, a continuing buildup, tens of thousands of Russian troops just across the border.

But Ukrainian officials that I've spoken to are saying, look, they see this visit by Secretary of State Blinken and indeed the bipartisan congressional delegation that was here just yesterday as a sign of continuing U.S. support for their position as they continue to live under this looming Russian threat.

Secretary of state Blinken already promised, of course, crushing sanctions on Russia if it steps over that border once again and attempts or carries out an invasion against Ukraine. There's also talk from those congressional leaders, those senators that were here, about providing even more sanctions, imposing even more sanctions, and providing for weaponry ahead of the invasion so that Ukraine and its military can defend itself more -- you know, better from any possible Russian military threat.


GOLODRYGA: And, Matthew, the question is, is Russia, at this point, building itself up to be sanctions-proof after all of these years of just amassing money to sort of isolate itself from what it knows would come from an intervention?

Fred, let me turn to you now, CNN international correspondent Fred Pleitgen, who is in Moscow.

And Germany's foreign minister in Moscow this morning having talks on Russia's military activity near Ukraine, even suggesting that there could be consequences for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline if Russia does invade. One of the few points of leverage that they do hold over Russia.


absolutely right, Bianna, that was actually one of the main points that the German foreign minister made. Annalena Baerbock certainly came out in a really surprisingly strong way, especially as far as that Nord Stream pipeline is concerned. You're, of course, absolutely right, it's an extremely important project, gas project, between Germany and Russia. And one of the things that Annalena Baerbock flat- out said in that press conference is, she said, of course, if Russia makes any further military moves, there will be consequences for that pipeline.


The main thing that she says that Germany will very much defend, as she puts it, the European values order, even if it means massive economic consequences for Germany. You can really see how Germany is aligning itself with the United States, especially that tandem of the German foreign minister and Secretary of State Blinken as well.

As far as Sergey Lavrov was concerned, he said that Russia wasn't threatening anyone, that they weren't making any threatening moves, that Russia itself feels threatened. But, of course, we've been hearing from Sergey Lavrov over the past 24 hours has indeed been threatening language. He said that the Russians expect answers from the United States very soon as far as their security demands are concerned

And then, on the ground, I also have some new developments for you as well. The Russians are now saying they're conducting sniper drills in what they call their southern military district near the sea of Osof (ph). And the Russians also say they have now started moving troops into Belarus. The Russians saying they're going to conduct large-scale military exercises with the Belarusian military there at the beginning of February. And, of course, one of the things that all of us know is that the southern border of Belarus is the northern border of Ukraine. So, really, the Ukrainians feeling more and more encircled by that force which, of course, first and foremost is made up of those Russian forces that are being moved from all parts of the country close to Ukraine.

SCIUTTO: Yes, preparations for what looks like a pinser (ph) move on Ukraine.

CNN White House reporter Natasha Bertrand with us.

And, Natasha, we reported early on in this that Bill Burns went to Moscow and met by videoconference with Putin to try to figure out what his intentions were. Now he's gone to meet with Ukrainian President Zelensky. Do we know what his message was?


So, CIA Director Bill Burns has been a very key intermediary throughout this entire crisis between the U.S., the Russians and the Ukrainians. You'll recall that Bill Burns was an ambassador to Russia. He is a highly skilled veteran diplomat. And so he's really been at the center of trying to de-escalate tensions in the region.

And when he went to Ukraine last week and he met with President Vladimir Zelensky, he was really trying to share intelligence that the U.S. had collected about the risks that are posed to Ukraine right at this moment. And Zelensky, of course, sharing intel with him. He shared intel with his counterparts there in Ukraine as well. And this kind of culminated at the end of the week of the U.S. releasing intelligence that it said pointed to Russian provocations in Ukraine's east by Russian actors there who may be trying to stage some kind of false flag operation to justify an invasion.

So, it is very significant that Bill Burns has been doing this kind of shuttle diplomacy between the U.S., Ukraine and Russia, because he is someone who is seen by all sides as very respected, has the president's ear, is someone who can, if anyone can, can share this intelligence and can try to de-escalate tensions and at least prepare Ukraine for the potential risks that the U.S. sees are being posed by Russia right now because, if you'll recall, the U.S. began sharing very detailed intelligence with Ukraine very early on in this conflict, kind of trying to prepare them for a potential invasion.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, and these --

SCIUTTO: Yes, but, Bianna, early on, they didn't have, the Ukrainians, the same urgency that it appeared the U.S. had about Russian moves. Now they all seem to be very much on the same page.

GOLODRYGA: Right. And the timing is really important of these high- level U.S. officials flying to Ukraine because it had been questioned as to whether President Zelensky was sidelined over the past week during these negotiations. Now the attention turns to Ukraine itself and meeting directly with the Ukrainian president.

CN congressional correspondent Lauren Fox on Capitol Hill.

Ukraine officials say they expect strong recommendations to Congress now after a bipartisan group of senators met with the president. What more do we know?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was a significant show of force that this bipartisan group of seven lawmakers went to Ukraine to meet directly with President Zelensky. And I was just talking with one of those members, Kevin Cramer, a Republican from North Dakota, who told me that the message that they received was that they did need more military support from the U.S., but that this was really an opportunity to show that despite the fact that Republicans and Democrats have had some differences over the timing of sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, that there is a united front when it comes to defending Ukraine against Russia and that the U.S. is expected and ready to take significant steps if necessary if Russia invades Ukraine's borders.

Now, this moment is really important for lawmakers as well because it shows not just Ukraine that the U.S. stands behind them, but it also reminds Russia that Republicans and Democrats took the time, despite the fact that they have a busy Senate schedule expected in the upcoming days, to go directly to Ukraine and to meet with the president there.

Bianna and Jim.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, the question is, will that be enough?

You know, Jim, President Zelensky had called for a three-way meeting between President Biden, President Putin and himself.


And that fell on deaf ears. So, the question is, will this meeting that we're going to be seeing today and those that took place among the senators, will it make any difference?

SCIUTTO: Yes, and, listen, there's a perception of division at home here in the U.S., right? So to have the two parties there together with the same message about U.S. support for Ukraine, potentially significant.


Matthew Chance, Fred Pleitgen and Natasha Bertrand and Lauren Fox, powerhouse team there, thank you so much.

Well, still to come, despite positive signs across the country that the omicron surge is diminishing, hospitals remain overwhelmed. In Oklahoma City, doctors there say they are at a breaking point with no end in sight.

SCIUTTO: Plus, new CNN reporting on former President Trump's plans for 2022, and crucially 2024, and former Trump administration officials' efforts to strategize against him. It's remarkable. That's ahead.

Also, within hours, a giant asteroid, you heard this right, will pass by earth, coming as close as any asteroid will get in two centuries. The path, and just how close, coming up.



SCIUTTO: Twenty percent of Americans, that's one in five, have now been infected with Covid-19. This according to new data this morning from Johns Hopkins University.

GOLODRYGA: An incredible statistic there. The latest surge from omicron cases is putting a huge strain on U.S. health care systems. Take, for example, Oklahoma City, where leaders from four major hospitals tell CNN they are now at a breaking point with no ICU beds available due to the surge.

So let's go to CNN's senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen for more on this.

And, Elizabeth, how are hospitals, not just in Oklahoma City, but across the country holding up now weeks into this latest surge? ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know what,

Bianna, many hospitals are struggling. We saw it in the northeast and we're going to see it as omicron spreads across the country.

And it's not just omicron. When you look at places like Oklahoma, there are many other factors at play.

Let's start with that letter. It's an open letter. This is very unusual. I don't know that I've ever seen this. An open letter from the heads of four large hospital systems in Oklahoma to, as they put it, their fellow Oklahomans saying, help us. They say in their letter, soon you or a loved one may need us for life-saving care, whether for a stroke, emergency appendectomy or trauma from a car accident and we may not be able to help. We need your help. Get vaccinated. Wear your mask. Socially distance. Stay at home if you're sick.

In Oklahoma City, there are more than 100 people waiting for hospital beds. There are no hospital beds to be had. There are no ICU beds to be had.

Let's take a look at what omicron is doing in Oklahoma, as well as in other rural states. Now, in New York, the numbers are going down. In Oklahoma, they're going up 56 percent, when you look January 10th compared to January 17th. North Dakota, up 68 percent. Idaho, up 46 percent. So that's one part of the perfect storm.

Here's another part of the perfect storm. Vaccination rates in many rural areas are relatively low. So, when people get omicron, they are more prone to getting very sick and needing to go to the hospital. If you look at the vaccination rate nationally, 63 percent of the American public is vaccinated. But in Oklahoma, that number is only 54 percent. In North Dakota, it's 53 percent. In Idaho, it's 47 percent.

And then you couple that with yet another strike, and that is that rural hospitals have been closing down in record numbers. For example, the hospitals in Oklahoma, they wrote in their letter, they have 300 fewer beds than they did this time last year. So as rural hospitals have closed over the years, way before the pandemic, that's fewer doctors and nurses, fewer hospital beds to handle these patients.

Bianna. Jim.

GOLODRYGA: Just another reminder of the incredible burden this has been on the health care system, doctors and nurses throughout this ordeal, especially the last few weeks.

Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much.

Well, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is now saying that he didn't know the parties at Downing Street were in violation of Covid restrictions.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I tell you categorically, categorically, that nobody told me and nobody -- nobody said that this was something that was against the rules, it was a breach of the -- of the Covid rules, or we were doing something that wasn't a work event because, frankly, I don't think -- I can't imagine why on earth it would have gone ahead or why it would have been allowed to go ahead.


SCIUTTO: Nobody told him, he says.

The denial comes after his former top aide said that the prime minister knew, in fact, that the parties violated lockdown rules. In a blog post, Dominic Cummings writes, quote, the events of 20 May alone, never mind the string of other events, mean the prime minister lied to parliament about parties, not only me but other eyewitnesses who discussed this at the time swear under oath this is what happened. Remarkable from inside his own party.

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz has more on this.

You know, this has been percolating for some time there. What are the politics? Is Johnson genuinely in trouble?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: He's in lots and lots of trouble. Not just with voters, but with his own party.

Let's go to that party that you just played, that sound bite there, of the prime minister denying that he knew it was a party, calling it a work event. That May 20th event, there was an email sent out to 100 people inviting them, telling them to bring their own booze, exclamation point.


Look, it begs the question, how believable is the prime minister if he's denying a BYOB event with 100 attendees is a party. And the problem is, this isn't the only event we're talking about. There is now a pattern of behavior that is emerging. Allegations of parties stretching from the first lockdown into spring of last year.

Bottom line, there is now an image of this government, of this administration, as being one that was partying it up while a pandemic was in place, of breaking rules while police were enforcing those very rules on citizens in this country. That's why opposition leaders are calling for his resignation.

Take a listen.


ED DAVEY, BRITISH LEADER OF LIBERAL DEMOCRATS: The British prime minister was breaking his own rules, and he's been called out, and then he's lied to parliament. And in the British system, if you lie to parliament as a minister, including as a prime minister, you have to resign. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ABDELAZIZ: Now, there's an investigation ongoing into all of these allegations of multiple parties. I am talking, bring your own beer parties, garden parties, Christmas parties, all of these parties now being investigated. We expect that in the coming days. But I think the reputational damage here is done.

Jim and Bianna, this prime minister is being seen as the party boy of Britain.

SCIUTTO: It's interesting to see Johnson attempt to put it off on others and says, well, nobody told me, right? He's the prime minister, but no one told him this was not doable.

Salma Abdelaziz, thanks very much.

Coming up next this hour, former President Trump's plans for the midterms and beyond are solidifying with Republican lawmakers and donors backing him, despite his role in the January 6th insurrection. We're going to have a live report next.

GOLODRYGA: And we are moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Stock futures are tumbling after the markets were closed for the MLK holiday. The focus this week, corporate earnings and how well big companies are weathering inflation and the omicron variant. Volatile trading has sent the Nasdaq nearly 5 percent lower than last year. Dow futures down about 1 percent and S&P futures about 2 percent lower.



GOLODRYGA: This morning, executives from the nation's largest airlines are warning that U.S. commerce could grind to a halt unless the Biden administration immediately intervenes and delays the planned rollout of 5G technology near major airports.

SCIUTTO: Yes, this is a big story. The airlines appear to be very serious about this.

CNN aviation correspondent Pete Muntean is following all the latest.

I mean the technology's set to roll out tomorrow. Can this turn on a dime like this? And what happens if it doesn't?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: We'll see if the White House and the Biden administration intercedes here, but airlines insist there is a real threat to your safety here because of this interference from the 5G radio towers. They say this will lead to more flight delays and more flight cancellations, maybe about 1,000 per day on a normal day, they say.

Now, the issue here is the 5G radio spectrum. I operates on a similar part of the radio spectrum to what is called a radar altimeter. There's a critical piece of instrumentation in everything from commercial airliners, to cargo planes, to helicopters. They all need this to be able to tell their exact height above the ground, especially in low visibility conditions, especially in those critical moments right before landing.

Now, the airlines say there is an out here. We could delay this once more. It was already delayed two weeks. Could also come up with a way to make sure that these transmitters don't interfere when the airplane is closest to the ground, turn off these transmitters essentially near runways at airports. In this letter that airline CEOs just sent the Department of Transportation, they say, quote, the ripple effects across both passenger and cargo operations, our workforce and the broader economy are simply incalculable. To be blunt, the nation's commerce will grind to a halt.

Now, the FAA has issued a warning to airlines and airplane operators and helicopters operators to try and avoid about 80 airports across the country, not rely on radar altimeters because of this issue. The FAA says it's still working with this. It also says it's working with the FCC.

United Airlines just put out a statement saying that the way to do this is to turn off these transmitters near airports, a two-mile buffer zone, they say. They say that that has worked in plenty of other countries. The U.S. should do the same.

The telecom industry says this really isn't all that much of an issue because it has worked in other countries, there hasn't been much of an issue with the 5G turn-on in other countries.

AT&T and Verizon behind this in a big way. They're not commenting on this new letter from airline CEOs, Jim and Bianna.

SCIUTTO: Interesting that a buffer zone could solve the problem. We'll see where it goes.

Pete Muntean, thanks so much for following.

All right, gas prices, they're starting to creep back up. You may have noticed it. The national average price for a gallon of gas is $3.31, according to AAA. That could have political consequences for President Biden, his larger agenda.


And, Bianna, the oil markets seem to be pointing towards higher oil prices this year, too.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, some predictions that they could go up to $100.

CNN's Matt Egan joins us now