Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

U.S., Allies Meet Amid Fight Over Supplying Tanks to Ukraine; Biden Says, No Regrets on Not Revealing Classified Documents Discovery Earlier; Baldwin to be Charged with Involuntary Manslaughter in Rust Shooting. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired January 20, 2023 - 10:00   ET




BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour this Friday morning. Good morning, everybody. I'm Bianna Golodryga.


This morning, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is vowing unequivocal support for Ukraine.


LLOY AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: This is a decisive moment for Ukraine and a decisive decade for the world. So, make no mistake, we will support Ukraine's self-defense for as long as it takes.


BERMAN: But how much and with what? This comes as the U.S. and Germany are in something of a standoff over whether to send tanks to the Ukrainian battlefield. The top Pentagon officials are set to speak this hour. We expect to learn more information about maybe if tanks are actually on the way. We'll have much more on the dramatic negotiations ahead.

Plus, in his first public remarks since classified documents were found at his home and office, President Biden says he has no regrets.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I have no regrets. I'm following what the lawyers have told me they want me to do. It is exactly what we're doing. There is no there, there.


GOLODRYGA: And reaction from Hollywood as prosecutors say they will charge Alec Baldwin with involuntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. Ahead, what industry leaders are saying about this case? But let's begin with the war in Ukraine and the major tension right now between western allies over sending tanks to fighters there in that country.

BERMAN: All right. I want to bring in CNN Pentagon Correspondent Oren Liebermann and CNN Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward, who is live on the ground in Kyiv. Actually, I see Nic Robertson in London for us, looking very different than Clarissa Ward in Kyiv.

Oren, I'm going to start with you right now. What are officials saying this morning about the status of this standoff?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, you heard him just a moment ago there speaking at the opening of the Ukraine defense contact group pointing to how big this moment is. Crucially, he didn't mention tanks. That was not part of his opening remarks and that will, of course, be one of the key questions when we get to the press conference where he's expected to speak in a short time.

But he has backed up his words with actions. Just a day ago, the U.S. announcing a $2.5 billion Ukraine security package, that's the second largest ever. Here is Austin, here is again speaking about how critical this moment is for Ukraine and for the world.


AUSTIN: This is a crucial moment. Russia is regrouping, recruiting and trying to re-equip. This is not a moment to slow down. It is a time to dig deeper. The Ukrainian people are watching us. The Kremlin is watching us. And history is watching us.


LIEBERMANN: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also spoke virtually a short time ago, the first time he's come into one of these meetings. He thanked countries for their donations but he said a hundred thank yous do equal hundreds of tanks. So, that clearly very much top of mind on his agenda.

We did hear from the new -- very new German defense minister, Boris Pistorius, who said there has been no decision on whether either they will send their own German-made Leopard tanks or whether they'll give approval for other countries to send Leopard tanks. And about a dozen other countries in Europe have these Leopards, and that's a key issue here. That's where this standoff is and whether they could convince Germany to give that approval.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, Pistorius just days into this job.

And, Nic, what is clear is that there is no ambiguity in terms of what Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian military wants, and that is their need for tanks and advanced weaponry, not in the months ahead but now.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. And President Zelenskyy made that very clear. He said time is a weapon that Russia is using. Time is what we don't have. The concern is that Russia may mount a big offensive in the spring. We know late last year they recruited another about 300,000 troops. About 100,000 of those have been put in the battlefield already. But that has given them many months to better train, better equip these other recruits. And it is the numbers, it's the attrition on the frontline and the sheer numbers of fighters that Russia can put in the frontline, that's the concern.

The Ukraine defense minister today told that meeting in Ramstein that top of the list still in what they -- in terms of what they need is air defense systems but he also said offensive military equipment. That is tanks, which so far only the British have committed 14 of their Challenger II tanks, howitzers, of which Ukraine is getting a lot of those howitzers from different nations that are partners, also they want more ammunition for those howitzers.


But I think the third point gets to a key feature of fighting in Ukraine at the moment and that is the ammunition supplies are not so well-coordinated. Sometimes there are shortages where they need more. They can't move it around the country quickly enough and readily enough as they would like. So, a systemic approach to improving ammunition supplies is another key thing, according to the defense minister.

BERMAN: So, Oren, it's interesting, because the U.S. position seems to be it wants want Ukraine to get tanks but German tanks, not U.S. tanks. Why is that exactly and is there anything that could change that position?

LIEBERMANN: From the U.S. perspective, it is what can Ukraine learn to use and what can it use quickly on the battlefield on which they're fighting. And that's why the U.S. has said, look, the U.S. M1 Abrams tank is not what they're looking for. It is a nightmare to maintain. It guzzles fuel. It's heavier, which makes it harder to move across ground that's not solid. The tanks they're looking at and the tanks the U.S. feels are a much better fit are first, as Nic pointed out, the Challenger II tanks that the U.K. is sending, but also the Leopard tanks, lighter, easier to maintain and a better fit as, from the U.S. perspective, for what they need. So, that is part of the pressure coming not only from the U.S. but also from other European countries on Germany to finally make this decision to give it the green light.

Is there a situation, and there has been quite a bit speculation on this, that maybe the U.S. would announce sending just a few tanks to open the door for Germany? We've gotten no indication of that. The U.S. focus has been on the Bradleys, the Strykers they've announced and trying to get Germany to give that green light on the Leopard tanks. Because, again, it is not Germany that has to send the tanks, it is all of the other countries who are ready and willing to send once they get German approval. And that frustration has even boiled over with Poland, which has said openly, look, we might just send them and wait for the consequences.

GOLODRYGA: Yes. And, Nic, and that begs the question, one of the reasons we have Chancellor Scholz on to his second defense minister now is because of their handling of this war and their reluctance at times to provide the weapons that Ukraine says they need and that other allies support, Germany providing. Why are they being so hesitant about these Leopard tanks? And if they're not going to deliver them, why not just go ahead and let the other countries, like Poland, who are willing to deliver them, do it themselves?

ROBERTSON: What the Germans are saying is they want to find consensus among all those allies there in Ramstein, and so far, they're saying that they don't have it and it does seem that they would be ready to change their position if that came. So, potentially, within this meeting, although the German defense minister seems to have indicated that that is not going to happen. Part of the reasons are historic. Of course, German tanks rolled through Ukraine on the offensive during World War II, the outcome of which left Germany as a neutered military power. Historically, since World War II, it's had a defense posture and not an offense posture militarily.

So, part of what we're seeing over the past year at least is Germany recognized that its huge trading partner in Russia is no longer reliable, that it is a military threat to Germany and the rest of Europe, that means a reorientation of the German military. And so this is the tip at the moment of an iceberg and the change in defense minister is part of that picture as well. Massive changes required and needed and an overhaul in the German military machine and the political thinking behind it.

GOLODRYGA: Yes. One can understand the historic sensitivity here but you have a country, Ukraine itself, desperately asking for these weapons. So, I would hope at some point they do come to some consensus as an organization, an alliance there. Oren Liebermann and Nic Robertson, thank you.

BERMAN: If that is, in fact, Nic Robertson. We're going to look into that.

GOLODRYGA: It is not Clarissa Ward.

BERMAN: President Biden says, when it comes to the classified documents at his home, he says there is no there, there.

GOLODRYGA: In his first public comments on the controversy in a week, the president pledged his full cooperation. But he also played down the potential impact of the investigation.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond is at the White House with more on this. So, Jeremy, the president and his inner circle seemed to think that this is another storm that will, too, pass.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. There is definitely a sense inside this White House and also among the president's legal team that they are experiencing some short-term pain here in terms of this investigation, in terms of the way in which they ultimately disclosed that these classified documents have been found, not willingly, but because of public news reports. There is a sense that they're experiencing short-term pain from a P.R. perspective but that ultimately they believe that the president will be exonerated in this situation. And that is exactly what we're hearing from President Biden himself when he says that he believes there is no there, there, and that he also has, quote, no regrets. Listen.


BIDEN: We're fully cooperating and looking forward to getting this resolved quickly. I think you're going to find that there is nothing there.


I have no regrets. I'm following what the lawyers have told me they want me to do. It is exactly what we're doing. There is no there, there.


DIAMOND: And when the president there says that he has no regrets, he's specifically saying that he has no regrets about not disclosing that these documents had been found before the midterm elections. But if you talk to advisers to the president, they will also say that they have no regrets about not revealing it over the subsequent two months before this ultimately came out in the public.

The president also making clear that he believes that ultimately he'll been exonerated and that he's cooperating with the Department of Justice. That is an intentional strategy on the president and the White House's part to try and draw a clear distinction between how Biden is handling the situation versus how former President Trump handled things when classified documents were revealed to have been held at Mar-a-Lago. They want to make clear that even though we're talking about classified documents in both situations, this is a White House, this is a president that is cooperating with the department, whereas former President Trump really hid the ball for months in terms of the documents that he had at Mar-a-Lago.

GOLODRYGA: Two different situations, but two situations that are now both under investigation by a special counsel. Jeremy Diamond, thank you.

Well, with us now is Daniel Strauss, Senior Political Correspondent for The New Republic, and Molly Ball, National Political Correspondent for TIME.

So, Molly, let's talk about this. So, you hear the president saying that he has no regrets, that he was listening to his legal advisers, but according to our own reporting, in terms of how this has been handled, we know that he has been frustrated. So, how do you square the two sentiments here, one the public, no regrets, the internal frustration?

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, TIME: Yes. I think it is clear that the president is trying to convey a sense of, you know, cooperation and also to downplay what is going on and also to put some distance between himself and this whole thing. You can tell that he's irritated that he continues to get questions about it and would like it to blow over and go away.

But time is really going to tell. It is going to depend on what that special counsel finds. It's going to depend too on the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives, which is also certainly going to have its own investigations into this matter and seek to prolong and amplify this scandal. So, he's not going to be fully in control of whether this is just a passing storm, as you said, momentary pain, or whether this becomes more drawn out, whether he faces further questions over why it didn't come to light sooner, especially.

BERMAN: Daniel, if I can shift gears, I want to talk about the Republican nomination for president in 2024. Nikki Haley said that if Donald Trump runs again, she would not run. Now, she's saying something different. Now, she's saying she is considering whether or not she will run. Listen to how she answered the question.


NIKKI HALEY, FORMER U.N. AMBASSADOR: I had a great working relationship with the president. What I'll tell you is that the survival of America matters and it is bigger than one person. And when you are looking at the future of America, I think it is time for a new generational change. I don't think you need to be 80 years old to be a leader in D.C. I think we need a young generation to come in, step up and really start fixing things.


BERMAN: So, Daniel, what does this tell you about Nikki Haley, but more importantly, I think, what does this tell you about the perceived strength of Donald Trump?

DANIEL STRAUSS, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW REPUBLIC: It tells us all that Haley is extremely interested in running. The clip that you just played includes some of the most common code words for candidates who are trying to signal that they're about to run for president.

And at the same time, it also shows that Haley, who wanted to tamp down questions about how interested she was about running for president when it seemed that Donald Trump was in a stronger position in the Republican Party, has now changed course.

It is clear at this point that she's getting impatient, that she's among the number of Republicans who are starting to look at being the first through the door as it were and run for president even if Donald Trump is running now.

And, look, frankly, in the last presidential election, that would be unheard of. But there is a sense within the Republican Party that Donald Trump is not as powerful, is not as locked in as a leader as he once was.

GOLODRYGA: So, as that field, Molly, of primary candidates appears to be growing and we just heard those words and comments from Nikki Haley, it appears that she intends to run as well, what does this mean for Donald Trump? I mean, does he still have a holdover the party and could this be another situation where the more candidates there are, the better it is for him?

BALL: That is certainly possible. We could face a 2016-like situation where all of the non-Trump candidates fragment to the non-Trump vote and he ends up getting through with a bear plurality, 30-ish percent in some of those primaries. I think it is obviously too soon to tell. I think Trump clearly still has a hold on probably a majority of Republican base voters.


But we can see by the way this field is shaping up, as Daniel said, that the candidates like Haley are not scared out of the water. And the argument that you hear Haley and others making is an electability argument. She's saying that a better contrast with the elderly president that we currently have would be a younger, more vigorous Republican nominee, and that is one of the arguments that you hear Republicans making among themselves about who would be best to take on Joe Biden if, indeed he does run, which it looks like he's going to in 2024.

BERMAN: Now, more candidates, the math seems to work better for Trump the more they jump in, even if it does signify that they think he is weaker.

Daniel, very quickly, Tim Kaine, Democratic senator from Virginia, announced he is going to let us know today whether he is running for re-election. There is a universe where Tim Kaine would have been finishing his second term as vice president right about now, different world than I think he was expecting a few years ago. But now the Democratic Party, writ large, I think is looking at this concerned. They have a tough map in 2024.

STRAUSS: Yes. And, look, as we've seen in recent statewide elections in Virginia, Republicans can win there. They may have two Democratic senators now, but Glenn Youngkin showed that that doesn't have to be the case, that Virginia voters are willing to elect Republicans to statewide office.

And I also just want to say that among the many staffers I talked to on the Democratic side, Tim Kaine is universally popular. He's sort of a dream to work for and very popular among his colleagues in the party. So, there is a fear that if he does not run, a lot of what he brings to the table, both legislatively, both in terms of working with moderates and liberals will go away very quickly.

BERMAN: Daniel Strauss, Molly Ball, great to see both of you. Thank you both very much.

What Alec Baldwin's legal battle looks like after prosecutors announce plans to charge him with involuntary manslaughter for that movie set shooting?

And just weeks after Bill's star Damar Hamlin's on-field cardiac arrest, the Bills and Bengals set to face-off again this weekend in the playoffs. What is at stake and the extra motivation that Hamlin is giving his teammates?

GOLODRYGA: And we're keeping an eye out to see U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley, set to answer questions this hour about the billions in new defense aid on its way to Ukraine. We'll bring that to you live when it happens.



BERMAN: New reaction this morning after New Mexico prosecutors decided to charge Alec Baldwin with involuntary manslaughter over the fatal movie set shooting that claimed the life of Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins in 2021.

GOLODRYGA: Speaking with Laura Coates last night, the national executive director for SAG-AFTRA called the pending charges against the actor, quote, wrong and uninformed.


DUNCAN CRABTREE-IRELAND, NATIONAL EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, SAG-AFTRA: The charges clearly indicate a lack of understanding about the standards and expectations of how a film set operates and the fact is actors are not firearms experts, actors cannot be expect and are not expected to do final safety checks or anything of that nature.


GOLODRYGA: CNN's Josh Campbell is in Sante Fe, New Mexico, where those charges were handed down. So, Josh, what are we hearing from prosecutors now?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Bianna. I spoke yesterday with the district attorney here in Sante Fe after those charges were announced and she said that this came down to negligence. In her view, Actor Alec Baldwin, as well as the armorer on the set, this was the person who was responsible for firearm safety, were negligent. And as far as Baldwin, she said that he was negligent not only in his role as an actor, actually handling that weapon, firing the fatal shot that killed Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, but also in his role as producer, someone who was responsible for maintaining a safe set. Of course, we've been reporting on that there were past incidents of accidental discharges with firearms on that set, employees complaining about unsafe practices.

Now, take a listen to the sound. I spoke yesterday with the D.A. I asked her, of all of this evidence, was there one item, one piece of evidence that sealed it for you, that you knew had you to prosecute? Here was her answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MARY CARMACK-ALTWIES, NEW MEXICO FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I think it was the totality of the circumstances, that this was a really fast and loose set, and that nobody was doing their job. There were three people that if they had done their job that day, this tragedy wouldn't have happened, and that is David Halls, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed and Alec Baldwin. If they had done their basic duty, we wouldn't be standing here.


CAMPBELL: Now, attorneys for Alec Baldwin as well as Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the Armorer on the set, they have maintained their client's respective innocence. They will try to fight these charges.

Now, interestingly, the third person that the D.A. mentioned, David Halls, he was the assistant director on the set. He actually handed that gun to Alec Baldwin. He has pleaded guilty already.

And so what we're expecting with the other two on these involuntary manslaughter charges is that those charges will be filed, according to the D.A., by the end of the month. They will then issue what is called a summons. There isn't an arrest in this case but both Reed and Alec Baldwin will have to appear here in New Mexico either physically or by video conference and then the court will get underway.

Of course, we've heard from legal experts saying this that case is an uphill battle for this prosecutor, a lot of criticism from obviously the Hollywood community, saying that the actor shouldn't be the one responsible for the safety of a gun.


So, we'll have to wait and see what happens. Of course, the prosecutor here will still have to get a judge to sign off on this case moving forward before it goes to trial. Guys?

GOLODRYGA: Josh Campbell, thank you.

For more on the key takeaways from these charges, we're now joined by Criminal Defense Attorney Anne Bremner. Anne, thank you for taking the time.

So, we heard there from the D.A. when asked what specifically in everything that they had learned in investigating these deaths stood out in terms of bringing the charges, and she said it was a totality of circumstances. From everything that you have seen and read, do they merit the level of charges that we heard yesterday?

ANNE BREMNER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE AND CIVIL TRIAL ATTORNEY: You know, I think that they do. And this prosecutor is very strong in her language saying nobody is above the law. And importantly, I think the key to her case is that you do not point a firearm at somebody, you have to do your duty, as she said was negligent, is that you cannot point a gun at somebody. You have to assume it is loaded. And then she's got the totality of the circumstances with all of the negligence on the set, using loaded firearms for target practice, not having safety checks, and remember all of the issues about people walking off the set and doing so because of safety concerns. So, she's got a bigger picture case and then a smaller, much more tragic part of the case that resulted in a death.

BERMAN: So, put your criminal defense attorney hat on now. What would your argument be if you were defending Alec Baldwin if this case does get before a jury, what would that case look like?

BREMNER: Well, cold gun. He's going to say, I rely on the armorer, I rely everybody on the set when they hand me a firearm, that they've carefully looked at every aspect of that gun and made sure it is not loaded. And so I just did what anybody would do in a movie set. We have westerns, we have all kinds of movies with firearms and every time there is a protocol, that looked to be followed to me, I relied on these people and this is a horrible thing, it is heartbreaking and I can't believe it is happened to this family and -- but I shouldn't be on trial because I'm not guilty of involuntary manslaughter with a sentencing enhancement that could give him five years mandatory time in prison.

GOLODRYGA: And since the shooting death of Halyna Hutchins, we've seen Alec Baldwin giving multiple interviews in the past year-and-a- half or so and he has vehemently denied that he is responsible, that he pulled the trigger, and he, in fact, has gone on to blame others for the tragic death of Halyna Hutchins. Do you think that, the fact that he spoke out the way he has, ended up hurting him in terms of coming down to this charge now that he faces?

BREMNER: Absolutely. When you have finger pointing away from yourself, you have got the rest of your fingers pointing at yourself, is the saying. But the worst thing he did is to come out and say, I didn't pull the trigger. I mean, but guns don't just go off. When I was a prosecutor, I used to hear it all the time, the gun just went off. Well, they don't. You have to pull the trigger.

The FBI has determined in this case that he did pull the trigger. There is a Latin phrase, falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, it means, false in one, false in all. So, that is the way that the case could be portrayed to a jury, which he's already falsely said he didn't pull the trigger, and we know that is a lie.

BERMAN: Anne Bremner, we appreciate you being with us this morning. Thanks so much.

BREMNER: My pleasure, thank you.

BERMAN: The key role Bills star Damar Hamlin is playing off the field in this weekend's playoff game as he recovers from cardiac arrest.