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End Of Briefing With Adm. John Kirby On Treasury Dept Designating Wagner Group As Transnational Criminal Organization; DOJ Signals It Will Fight Republicans Over Document Requests; Constituents Sound Off About Embattled Rep. Santos; Damar Hamlin Faces "Lengthy Recovery" From Cardiac Arrest; Merck Says It's Trying To Reduce Levels Of Cancer-Causing Compound In Some Popular Diabetes Drugs; CDC: Emergency Departments Reducing Opioid Prescriptions. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired January 20, 2023 - 13:30   ET



REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: So pardon me for repeating myself, but I think it's important to remember what kind of fighting we're talking about here.

It's rough terrain and it's open ground. A lot of it in the Donbass. I described it like Kansas, a lot of farmland. And mostly towns and villages that are not that big, not major industrial cities.

And so when you're fighting in an area like that -- and we fully expect, the Ukrainians fully expect the fighting in the Donbass will continue here for weeks and months ahead.

Combined arms maneuver, which is a fancy way of saying you want to be able to maneuver on the ground quickly, effectively with enough firepower against adversary ground forces.

And so --

ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: Listening to John Kirby there. He's currently talking about the tanks and why he believes they're needed, saying it's time sensitive in Ukraine. That it's a relevant critical need.

This comes though, if you're just joining us, on the heels of a briefing where Kirby was talking about the designation by the Treasury Department of the Wagner Group, which is this mercenary group, which has, as we know, been working on the part of Russia in Ukraine, they will be designated a transitional criminal organization.

More sanctions could be coming next week. Why now? Kirby saying this basically opens up the avenue for sanctions. And also may have an impact on the group's ability to do business around the world.

Retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling is still with us.

So, General Hertling, when we see this, you know, I think it's always a good question of, OK, so there's this designation, OK, there could be more sanctions next week. Practically, though, what is that impact? LT. GEN MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It was a great question

by the reporter in the briefing room asking, well, what does this mean?

When you talk about the Treasury Department opening up those kinds of investigations and sanctions, many people think the Treasury Department just handles money.

But they look around the world to see how money is being transferred to different organizations through different people.

So when you're talking about the Wagner Group attempting to buy weapons and literally becoming an international arms dealer with North Korea, I'm sure a lot of people that are in private organization, Prigozhin's Wagner Group, can be sanctioned.

Bank accounts can be discovered. They can look for how they're paying the North Koreans for doing this as well as individuals in North Korea. That's just one example, Erica, but there are other examples.

That you could garner more intelligence. You could find out more things that are going on between the relationship between North Korea and Russia. And it could negatively affect Russia's capability of fighting the war in Ukraine.

So those are the kinds of things that happen. It's not just the ability to say, hey, we're going to call these people and classify them a certain group. It has to do with what legal, commercial, economic systems can then do against those organizations.

HILL: Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, again, thank, you as always for your expertise and insight.

HERTLING: You're welcome. Thanks.

HILL: A secret list aimed at keeping America safe, turns out it's no longer secret. The TSA investigating a cyber hack after someone put a no-fly list of suspected or known terrorists online.

Plus, for the first time, the parents of the 6-year-old boy accused of shooting his teacher are speaking out and they claim that gun was secured.



HILL: This just into CNN. House Republicans now leading the Judiciary Committee have just been told the Justice Department will not be handing over several documents that they've demanded.

Those documents involve various high-profile investigations, including one into former President Trump's Mar-a-Lago probe.

CNN's Sara Murray has this new reporting.

Sara, what else is the DOJ saying?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, we're learning the Justice Department is informing the House Judiciary Committee, which has asked DOJ for a flurry of documents, that we would like to be helpful but when it comes to things like ongoing criminal investigates, there won't be a lot you will get out of us.

This is the response that we expected from the Justice Department. But it's significant because it's the first time DOJ is going to be engaging withes new House Judiciary Committee, which, of course, is run by Republicans.

And Jim Jordan, who is leading that committee, has signaled he is very interested in delving into ongoing investigations.

And specifically pointed to the special counsel probe into Donald Trump's handling of classified documents and the special counsel probe into Joe Biden's handling of classified documents as areas he wants to look into.

And this new subcommittee they authorized to look into the purported weaponization of the federal government, that subcommittee is authorized to look into ongoing criminal investigation.

But what is coming from DOJ is a signal of the hurdles House Republicans will face as they try to get any information when it goes to ongoing criminal investigations.

HILL: Sara Murray with the latest for us on that.

Also here with us, CNN senior legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Elie Honig.

Elie, you just wrote about this, which is helpful for all of us.

As we look at this, I mean, as Sara was pointing out, this is what we should be hearing from DOJ, from the attorney general. But there were some questions as to whether or not it would happen.

Just how important is this step?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: This is going to be a constitutional showdown, Erica. What Merrick Garland is doing is drawing a line in the sand.

He's saying, yes, oversight exists, Congress, you have oversight powers. DOJ can and should go up to Capitol Hill, whether it's the A.G. or somebody else, and answer questions about their enforcement initiatives.

However, the line is in the sand, we cannot talk about pending ongoing investigations. Whether you want to know about Donald Trump or Joe Biden or Hunter Biden or Rudy Giuliani or anybody else, that is off- limits.

And it's important that Merrick Garland is drawing that line. It would be an enormous problem if he were to testify about those cases.


But he's signaling here I'm not going to go down that road.

HILL: One thing that is important is one thing you wrote about in your piece. Apparently, you had a premonition.

You talk about the importance, though, of Merrick Garland answering questions in the broader sense. But it's OK if the House asks him to come in. It's actually helpful for him to go there and testify about perhaps, you know, practices, how things work.

But it's the specific investigations where you have to be careful.

HONIG: Exactly. If Congress wants to ask the attorney general, any Congress, any attorney general, what are your top priorities, where are you focusing resources, why are you emphasizing or de-emphasizing this area of enforcement? That's fair game. But there's no mystery here.

By the way, House Republicans have said in their new subcommittee and statements, we are going to ask about specific ongoing investigations.

They want to dig into the Trump probe and dig into the Biden probe. And those cases or United States versus unknown normal person should all be completely off-limits.

Because once you open that door, if you're DOJ, you start testifying about ongoing cases, you jeopardize those case. Obviously, you jeopardize the presumption of innocence of the people who are being investigated.

And we've got a separation-of-powers problem where Congress will have the ability to expose and kneecap any DOJ investigation.

HILL: So there's also -- I think this comes up a lot. I know you've spoken to it a number of times.

But there are claims from Republicans of the reason we have to do this is because we believe that the DOJ is being politicized. There were plenty of claims under the Trump administration where people thought that former President Trump was politicizing the DOJ.

How do you wade through all that have.

HONIG: I do take issue with the premise there's weaponization. Right? I don't think that's accurate or reflects what DOJ does on a day-to- case basis.

Look, Congress has broad authority to investigate almost whatever it pleases. And if they want to look into the purported weaponization, fine, you can do that in certain ways. What you cannot do is not go into pending ongoing cases.

You want to ask about past cases, you want to dig into the history a little bit, you want to ask about policy, how do you do things in the Justice Department, how do you decide where your priorities sit, that's fine.

But, again, that line that cannot be crossed, that red line is specific case.

HILL: What happens if they come to DOJ and come to Merrick Garland and say, we want you to talk about this and he says no.


HILL: What's the next step?

HONIG: Now we're in a tactical battle here.

Congress' only having a countermove to hold Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress. He's not going to get prosecuted because, who does the prosecuting.


HONIG: DOJ, which is headed by who?

HILL: Merrick Garland.

HONIG: Merrick Garland, exactly.

There is a little bit of history here though. We managed to go 220- plus years as a nation without an A.G. being held in contempt until Eric Holder was held in contempt in 2012 over the Fast and Furious, this firearms investigation scandal.

That was a Republican Congress but joined by 17 Democrats who voted to hold him in contempt.

Then in 2019, Bill Barr was held in contempt over the attempt to include a citizenship question on the census.

Now, nothing happened to either of them. But contempt is meaningful. It's a symbolic slap to the wrist. I think Merrick Garland has to take the slap on the wrist if it means protecting DOJ's core institutional values.

HILL: Elie, always great to see you. Thank you.

HONIG: All right.

HILL: And another bit of news just into CNN. More scandal for freshman Republican Congressman George Santos.

The latest denial from him? He's denying he ever performed as a drag queen, calling the story, quote, "categorically false."

A longtime local performer in Brazil is saying otherwise, claiming they were actually at a Rio area parade in 2008. She provided us with this image from that time which she says is, in fact, so she says you're looking here at George Santos.

CNN has not independently verified the image.

Santos has not replied to a request for comment.

But this is just one of a number of stories that is coming out. There are more controversies, there are more lies exposed and more investigations tied to the congressman, which is why numerous elected Republicans are calling on him to resign.

But what about his constituents in New York?

Well, CNN's Miguel Marquez asked them.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What's the level of frustration right now?

GENE DOMANICO, NASSAU COUNTY, NY, RESIDENT: Very high. I think it was above and beyond what many politicians do, you know, exaggerate a little bit. What he did was criminal.

MARQUEZ: Would you like Speaker McCarthy and the Republican leadership to freeze him out, to ask him to resign? I mean does something more need to happen?

DOMANICO: Yes, I think they should get rid of him and vote him out on the House level.

ELEANOR HANNON, NASSAU COUNTY, NY, RESIDENT: The other person had been in for a long time. Wasn't doing a lot for my town and Nassau County and I was figuring, you know, maybe some fresh blood would be the best.

MARQUEZ: What would you like to see now? Would you like to see him leave office?

HANNON: Well, I guess he has to leave office because of everything that he pretended that he was when he wasn't.


However, I'm kind of like up in the air. I didn't donate any money so I don't have that against me.


HILL: Well, one person who thinks Santos should stay right where he is, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy who, of course, can't afford to lose a single vote in his four-seat majority.

Buffalo Bills Safety Damar Hamlin is back at the team facility. His recovery just beginning in many ways. We have new details on that recovery. Stay with us.



HILL: A long road ahead. Buffalo Bills Safety Damar Hamlin has made amazing progress since he collapsed on a field after suffering a cardiac arrest during a football game over 2 weeks ago.

A longtime friend and business partner, however, says Hamlin is now facing a "lengthy recovery."

But now we are joined by Coy Wire from the Buffalo Bills stadium.

The Bills coach has said Damar Hamlin is back at the facility almost every day. Bring us up to speed, Coy, how is he doing and what is the lengthy road ahead?

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Hi, Erica. Yes, we are reminded how scary, serious and near fatal Damar Hamlin's injury was.

His long-time representative tells me that he is still requiring oxygen and he is winded easily and his heart is monitored regularly.

But he said Damar is positive and he is ready to overcome this. And his teammates say that they feel so settled now knowing that he is getting better.

And many others say that their spirits are lifted now that Damar is back around the team in that building.


JOSH ALLEN, BUFFALO BILLS QUARTERBACK: It has been good to see him, you know, with a smile on his face, and, you know, the guys love to have him back in the building.

DION DAWKINS, BUFFALO BILLS OFFENSIVE TACKLE: To see three, the smile and wave and put his hearts up and keep on pushing, it is like a positive energy bubble floating around the facility.


WIRE: Positive energy bubble. Sounds great, doesn't it, Erica? We can use that from time to time.

Coach Sean McDermott said that he is not sure if Damar he is going to be at the game. The organization is just there to support him in any way they can.

The players, Erica, they have to lock in. It has been an emotional roller coaster. And one player said that he cannot unsee Damar collapsing on the field.

But they have to play this huge playoff game with the lingering emotions, those invaders of the mind, from what happened the last time, the Bills and Bengals faced off.

Kick off for this one is Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Eastern.

HILL: Sunday at 3:00 Eastern. You're right, a lot will be coming out there with them on the field. They will have plenty of people watching.

Coy, great to see you, my friend. Thank you.

Pharmaceutical company, Merck, says it has finally found out how some of the diabetes drugs became contaminated with a cancer-causing compound and is now trying to reduce the levels.

CNN medical correspondent, Dr. Tara Narula, joining us now.

So the FDA said last August Merck found the potential carcinogens in some of the drugs. Now they know how it got there, but still really troubling.

DR. TARA NARULA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is definitely scary when you hear about this. But it does happen.

And we talked a little bit about this in 2018 about these compounds being found in some heartburn medications and blood pressure medications. And you may remember that many of the drugs were recalled at the time.

And in fact, in 2020, the FDA issued some guidance to the companies about how to keep the nitrosamines from becoming part of the drugs that they're creating. We know that can happen during the manufacturing process, those chemical reactions.

But nitrosamines are naturally occurring compounds that we can found in the water, air and food, like cured or grilled meats or fish. So we are all exposed to them. The question is what level.

It is when those levels are higher than acceptable for long periods of time that there's an increased risk of cancer. So some level is acceptable. And we don't know what level it is that Merck has found. But they are clearly working on it.

One key thing is that if you are taking one of the type two diabetes drug -- and these are drugs that are based around a drug around Januvia, don't just stop the drug abruptly, but reach out to your doctor about the next steps.

We have reached out to Merck, and they said the company "has already instituted quality controls and expects to be able to consistently reduce NTTP levels to meet the long-term acceptable daily intake level this year."

Erica, so that hopefully this is coming soon -- Erica?

HILL: Quickly, before I let you go, there's a new CDC report on opioids and emergency visits. And what do we know?

NARULA: Well, we know a big risk factor for opioid dependence is getting a prescription when you leave the E.R. for pain for an opioid. And many of those opioid pills go unused by the patient and end up in circulation in communities and contribute to the misuse and overdose.

The CDC is releasing the data suggesting that the numbers have gone down in terms of what the E.R.s are prescribing.

And so the rates of those E.R. visits with opioids given at discharge dropped, you can see, from 2017 to 2018, that was about 50 visits for about 1,000 adults. And 2019 to 2020, it dropped to 36.4.

In addition, the percent of E.R. visits with an opioid prescribed at discharge also decreased from 12.2 percent in 2017 to 2018, down to 8.1 percent in 2019 and 2020.


So this is really encouraging.

HILL: Yes.

NARULA: One more step in the right direction.

HILL: Absolutely.

Dr. Narula, thank you.

Finally today, it is this show team's favorite story. Ketchup, we know it's great on burgers. It's a good friend to a French fry. Apparently, one of America's favorite condiments can also save your save your life.

Just ask this man, who spend more than three weeks lost at sea but he survived thanks to what? Ketchup.

He was working on a sailboat off the coast of St. Maartin. Strong current sweeps him out to sea. He tried to call friends, lost the signal.

And then he spent the next 24 days adrift with nothing but garlic powder and seasoning cubes and a bottle of ketchup.

He was eventually rescued by a container ship near the coast of Columbia. He used a mirror to catch the attention of someone flying a plane overhead who saw "help" scrawled on his boat. So there you go.

Have a great weekend. Pack the ketchup.