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Germany to Send Leopard Tanks to Ukraine After Diplomatic Pressure; More Than a Dozen Tornadoes Tear Through Texas and Louisiana; DOJ Reviewing How Classified Docs Ended up in Mike Pence's Home. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired January 25, 2023 - 10:00   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: For Ukraine, and we're going to bring those remarks to you live when that happens. This of course comes as U.S. officials say they're finalizing plans to send dozens of Abrams tanks to Ukraine, and as Germany now says it will send those highly coveted Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine as well. This, of course, on the heels of weeks of very public diplomatic pressure, not to mention what's happening behind the scenes. Officials in Berlin say this could all be up and running, the tanks there, in about three months.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, takes some time getting in, training, et cetera. Russia is responding to this news. The Russian ambassador to Germany says that Berlin's move brings the conflict, quote, "to a new level," as Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov says that Russia will destroy U.S. tanks in Ukraine.

Joining us now CNN White House reporter Natasha Bertrand, also CNN's MJ Lee, she's at the White House.

Natasha, first to you. I mean, the question is how this fits into the broader plan here given the number of tanks already deployed there by Ukraine and Russia. Is the U.S. view that this is a game changer?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: In a way. So they view this as more kind of long-term investment, right, because obviously this Abrams tanks are not going to be hitting the ground immediately. It could actually take as many as three, four months for the Ukrainians to even be trained on them, so it's going to take a little while. But what we are told is that this could potentially be game changing in terms of breaking through Russia's defensive lines in Ukraine, right.

This is something the Ukrainians have been asking for because they want to take that fight directly to the Russians so that they can take back that territory versus of course kind of striking them with the longer-range equipment that the U.S. has given them. They are still asking for those extremely long-range missiles, so that they could hit targets that are farther away. But in terms of actually a grinding fight that allows them to actually break those Russian lines, they say that this equipment could be game changing. And the reason why the U.S. has been pushing Germany for weeks, if not

months to give them the Leopard tanks is because the U.S. also believes that this would be very effective in allowing them to potentially take back territory in the east and the south, primarily the south. So what we're seeing today obviously is a pretty dramatic departure from what we saw last week from the U.S., but we're told that this has been the product of a lot of discussions between the U.S. and the Germans to try to get to the same page.

SCIUTTO: Yes, some of those just bringing up to the public, too.

HILL: So the product of a lot of discussion, as Natasha said.

MJ, what are we expecting to hear from the White House later? How will all of this -- how is the White House responding, especially to this announcement from Germany this morning?

MJ LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica, we should be hearing actually directly from the president himself. He's expected to give remarks on Ukraine and this expected announcement of the U.S. sending these Abrams tanks at noon at the White House. And as Natasha alluded to, you know, this is such a notable reversal of position that we are seeing from the Biden administration.

You know, U.S. officials, including officials at the Pentagon, have been saying for a while when this issue has come up, that these tanks are just so complicated. They are very difficult to train people to use them, not to mention the amount of time that it would take to physically get these tanks over to Ukraine. And so you have to look at this in the context of what Germany has been doing.

You know, German officials have made clear for a while that they would only be willing to send these Leopard 2 tanks if the U.S. were also willing to go ahead and send these Abrams tanks. So it is an effort by the U.S. and the Biden administration to sort of spur Germany to act and take this action and also now other European countries that have access to these Leopard 2 tanks to also go ahead and send this kind of capability to Ukraine, obviously at a really critical time.

You know, as we approach the one-year mark of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, I think it's so important to underscore how sort of consistent President Biden has tried to be in emphasizing that the U.S. is not interested in making any large, sort of unilateral decisions that at every step of the way during the course of this war it is really important for the Biden administration to work in conjunction with the alliance that already exists of countries that support Ukraine.

And I also think Natasha made a really good point about how this shows that the U.S. is continuing to make a long-term investment because, again, getting this equipment to Ukraine is going to take so much time. So that also just gives you a sense of the mindset of U.S. officials as they look ahead to this war and how it is going to progress in the months ahead.

SCIUTTO: Yes. It's an important point that these weapons don't show up on the very next day, on the battlefield, it does take time.

MJ Lee at the White House, Natasha Bertrand here in Washington, thanks so much.

Well, back here in the U.S., happening right now, parts of southeastern USA bracing for more severe weather after severe storms hit parts of Texas and Louisiana yesterday. More than a dozen tornadoes were reported. They rattled the south, ripping apart homes and businesses.

Goodness, look at those scenes there.

HILL: The pictures are really something.


Now thankfully at this hour, no reports of any deaths. Emergency officials, though, it is important to point out, are still assessing the damage which, in many areas is being called catastrophic.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The house is gone. So the whole top section of the house is completely ruined. So it's toast. The house will be torn down now. So kind of hard to take, but hey, we're alive. That's the main thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just all ran to the restrooms and just watched the whole building fall. Luckily the restrooms didn't fall. That's the only thing that kept us alive.


HILL: Joining us now the police chief of Pasadena, Texas, Josh Bruegger.

Chief, good to have you with us this morning. That last gentleman we just heard from said, you know, we ran to the restroom, luckily the restroom was OK. In so many of those instances, thank goodness, you know, people followed their training, they got somewhere inside.

Give us a sense this morning, the pictures tell us one thing. What are you, though, finding on the ground and what are you hearing from other emergency responders?

CHIEF JOSH BRUEGGER, PASADENA, TEXAS POLICE: There's just devastation. A wide swath to our city taken out. Actually, you know, you just had the story about the Ukraine, and one of my officers told me yesterday, you know, being out there, it looks like something you would see in Ukraine. You know, we have houses that are exploded. And it's a miracle, you know, that nobody was killed or even seriously injured at this point.

SCIUTTO: Chief Bruegger, I mean, I hear you on these scenes. I feel like it looks like something almost out of apocalyptic film. No deaths reported so far. I have to imagine from your perspective that's remarkable, a sense of relief. How did they manage? How did the community manage?

BRUEGGER: So, you know, I think honestly the blessing in it all was probably the time of day because you had people that have started -- you know, kids still at school, folks still at work, and so, you know, luckily it did go through an area with some schools and they suffered some minor damages with the kids inside, but, you know, there was no major damages to the schools. Just businesses and houses in the area.

HILL: It is something. We spoke last hour with the mayor of Deer Park. Power a major issue there understandably. What is the power situation in Pasadena at this hour?

BRUEGGER: So we still have 14,000 residents without power, and I'm told that it could be days at this point. It's not just poles that are down. I'm hearing some of the transfer stations were -- suffered severe damage during the storm and so before they can even deal with the power lines and the poles, they've got to get those stations back up online, which is going to take some time.

SCIUTTO: Chief Bruegger, you know, sadly we see a lot of stories like this, and folks tend to pay attention in the day it happens, perhaps days after, and then weeks, months later, that's how long it often takes to rebuild. Do you have a sense of how long it's going to be before you can get things back to normal there?

BRUEGGER: I think it would be months at this point. You know, we have a city facility that was damaged. Our animal shelter, which is, you know, tragic in itself. None of the animals were actually hurt. But, you know, people willing to step up and help. And so I always say, you know, out of tragedy comes -- you know, you see the good in humanity. I think that's what you're going to see in the community as they start to rebuild.

SCIUTTO: Well, Chief Josh Bruegger, we do appreciate you joining us this morning. We know you have a lot to handle there, and we wish you and the people -- the community all the best of luck.

BRUEGGER: Yes. Thanks for having me.

ACOSTA: All right. Let's go now to CNN meteorologist Chad Myers with what we can expect going forward throughout the day. So is more of this coming as this moves east?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: A little bit, but I don't think we're going to see the big storms like they saw in Texas yesterday. This was a big event, and this was ef-2, ef-3, at least I'm talking 120, 130- mile-per-hour tornado that rolled through this area from south of Pasadena up toward Deer Park, and then up toward Bay Town. This was a long track, probably on the ground 10 miles. I don't see that today.

There will be storms that rotate off the Gulf of Mexico, that come on shore here from Apalachicola, all the way over toward St. Mark's. And also up through the parts of Georgia and the Carolinas. This is where the weather is right now. It's because this is where the humidity is at this point, interacting with the cold front that is going to make the showers and thunderstorms. Why is it a cold front? Well, because there's snow behind it.

The low, and then the cold, and then the warm, and it always happens like this. It always look like a comma. The snow into parts of Indianapolis, in the Chicago earlier, also in the Cleveland, very heavy snow fall coming down today. At least five to seven inches and many of these big bands as they work their way on up toward Toledo, and then finally dying off for tomorrow, not really getting to the northeast, getting to New England, but not getting to New York.

We thought New York might have some flurries coming in. Now it looks as 36, 37, and more likely a rain or mist event.


This is where the weather will be forward today. But this is where the weather was yesterday. All of these tornadoes, and all of these areas of wind damage, where were they? Right along the Gulf Coast. Why? Because the Gulf of Mexico gave its humidity, gave its moisture to that front. And that's where the interaction between the cold, the dry and the very warm and humid, that's why all these storms are almost in a straight line right there along the Gulf Coast.

HILL: Chad, when we talk about these tornadoes, you were mentioning the one yesterday in Texas was on the ground for nearly 10 miles.

MYERS: Yes, at least.

HILL: Last week and the week before, there was one that was on the ground for I think it was 15 miles. They seem to be more intense. Is that the case?

MYERS: This year, yes, absolutely. We are in a pattern and we're still in La Nina, although we're trying to get to neutral and maybe even get to El Nino by the end of the summer. But we are in a pattern that brings the storms down and then on up toward the northeast. For much of January, we had all of this jet stream activity right over California. That is not really what's happening right now, but in the latest few years, it seems that the tornadic activity has shifted to the east.

And why is that? It's because of this, the Gulf of Mexico. And it's because the drought out west doesn't give up its humidity for the tornadoes in tornado alley. It's more humid, it's more volatile to the east. We should have 36 tornadoes in January. That's the normal number. How many? 159.


HILL: Wow.

MYERS: Four times more than we should be getting this time of year. And the tornadoes are in many of the states from Texas all the way to Florida, even had one in California, but back out here into Mississippi, Alabama, that really has been the bull's eye for this. So all of these alleys that we talk about, this is where the tornadoes have been so far this year. But all of this from the Deep South, Gulf Coast, tornado alley here, Hoosier alley centered right over Indianapolis and all the way around there, and then Carolina Alley.

Why? Because it's where the jet stream is placed. Yesterday, came down, made a big swoop through the Gulf alley, the south alley. When this happens in Hoosier alley, it's going to look just like this. When it happens in the Carolina alleys, it's going to look just like this. Getting a picture here? Tornado alley is going to look just like this. It's that trough, it's the turning of the energy. And it depends on where it is, and that's where the tornadoes will be and this so far is where the tornadoes have been.

SCIUTTO: Wow. Those numbers for January, just off the charts. Thank you, Chad.

MYERS: You're welcome.

HILL: Still to come here, with classified documents found at Mike Pence's home in Indiana, President Biden and Donald Trump may be breathing a little easier today. How could the discovery impact their document investigations? We're going to dig in.

Plus he cleared a background check. The suspect accused of killing seven people in Half Moon Bay, California, however, had a violent encounter decades ago which actually led to a judge banning him from owning or buying a gun. The latest updates out of California.

SCIUTTO: Later, the downside of ever evolving technology. We're going to speak to one professor who's changing his curriculum because of a new tool that takes advantage of artificial intelligence. It's pretty amazing what it does.



SCIUTTO: This first on CNN, the FBI and the Justice Department's National Security Division have now launched a review to see how about a dozen classified documents ended up at former Vice President Mike Pence's home, pictured there, in Indiana. Sources say that a lawyer for Pence found the classified records last week, then turned them over to the FBI. The former VP's brother, Indiana Congressman Greg Pence, says his brother would not have knowingly taken classified documents.


REP. GREG PENCE (R-IN): What in the hell is going on?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You tell me. How did classified documents end up with your brother's house?

PENCE: I have no idea. If he said he didn't, he didn't. Yes, my brother is very honest.


HILL: Pence joins President Biden and, of course, former President Trump, both under scrutiny for their handling of classified documents. House Intel member Mike Waltz says Congress should take a hard look at the whole documents handling process, period.


REP. MIKE WALTZ (R-FL): Clearly the process is broken. And we've got to take a hard look at GSA, and how they and the intelligence community pack these documents, get them to wherever the president and vice president is going.


HILL: Joining us to discuss Errol Louis, political anchor for Spectrum News, and Republican strategist Doug Heye.

Good to see you both this morning.

Errol, there has been discussion for some time, right, about whether documents are maybe over-classified in government, whether things need to change. How much does everything that we've seen with the former vice president, former president and current president, does that actually push this to action, Errol?

ERROL LOUIS, POLITICAL ANCHOR, SPECTRUM NEWS: One of the most frustrating parts of this is that we don't know what these documents really entail, whether or not they're seriously secret documents that have to be kept under lock and key, or whether they were classified because we have a system that classifies lots of things fairly automatically. There really is going to be a need to get to the bottom of it.

And of course, because we can't see these documents, we can't make that judgment. But you know who can? It's the Congress, and they really badly need to do some investigation and some legislation to make sure that this doesn't keep happening.


It's hard to believe that so many high officials -- and well, at this point two former vice presidents and a sitting president, have just willingly, knowingly, maliciously done this time after time after time. I think it's much more likely that people are doing or making mistakes accidentally. The role of the National Archives in all of this also need to be clarified. When they make a request for documents, it might need to have some teeth in it. This all just cries out for great investigation and hopefully that will result from all of this confusion.

SCIUTTO: I mean, the over-classification question is a relevant one, but that would be less relevant for top level classification documents, where you're talking about, you know, special programs and access, et cetera, which at least relates we know to the documents found in Trump's house.

I wonder, Doug Heye, there are legal questions here, there are classification questions, there are also practical political questions here. Should all three of those men -- Trump, Biden and Pence -- be looking at each other with some sort of comfort right now in numbers, right, as opposed to the likelihood that they face legal consequences?

DOUG HEYE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, certainly we think those numbers could increase. You know, does Jimmy Carter have classified documents still about the Panama Canal? What does Dick Cheney have in Wyoming? If you're a former president, vice president, secretary of State, DOD secretary, CIA director, there's a likelihood that you knowingly or unknowingly have some documents that have been placed as classified.

And this is why, you know, so often, especially in the past couple of weeks as Congress changed over, when we talk about the Government Reform and Oversight Committee, we focus on the oversight. We focus on the hearings that we all see. Reform is really important. And this is where Congress needs to step in to make sure that there's a blanket policy that everybody is following. And then we'll have to determine in the legalities, you know, who committed those sins of omission and who in one case, I think we know down in Florida, sins of commission and really tried to hoard materials that wasn't theirs to keep.


HILL: You know, Doug, to your point about questions about other, you know, other former elected officials, I can tell you that a source familiar with the Archives telling CNN former President Carter said he didn't remember finding any stray classified documents. Dan Quayle confirmed to CNN everything was turned over. Sources familiar with the records of former Vice President Cheney say he turned everything over, and we know, too, that former Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama have said they turned everything over as they were supposed to.

And Errol, they say they're not planning to do any further searches. I found it interesting that all three of those former presidents had nearly the exact same assessment of what had happened and what would be happening or not happening moving forward. How much do you think there was any coordination between those three former presidents and their statements?

LOUIS: Well, we know that they talk. And there's a good possibility that they might in fact have exchanged messages, but you know, it does make sense. Listen, I visited former President Clinton at his presidential library. It's not just a room with a lot of papers in it. It's a big organization with a big stash and a fairly substantial budget. And an ability to take a lot of information and do with it what needs to be done.

I take them at their word if they say that they unburdened themselves and turned over to the very large presidential library staffs the task of sorting out what documents need to go where. I mean, that's just the prudent thing to do. It's also a way to declutter one's life.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And we should note former Vice President Pence also said, prior to this discovery, that his staff had reviewed all the materials and found nothing. You know, how confident can you be in that judgment?

Another topic, Doug Heye, if I can, because Arizona Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego, he's going ahead. He's going to challenge Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona in 2024. Of course the question is, if she runs independent, as she's given indications, do you split the Democratic vote? Are Republicans now looking at Arizona and saying we got a chance there?

HEYE: The honest answer is it depends. And what it depends on is who our candidate is. And Mitch McConnell warned last year that we have a candidate quality problem. Arizona is the ground zero of that, where Kari Lake essentially threw away a governor's race that Republicans should have won. She's looking at running. Other -- Blake Masters is looking at running again, and so we have a situation where Republicans could throw it away again.

And Democrats are trying to be really coy right now, and gosh, will they support Gallego, what about Sinema? They don't necessarily want to come out and endorse somebody who's not an incumbent Democrat. But Republicans are poised to throw this away again, as we've seen in state after state, which is why McConnell is right to warn Republicans, pick your candidates wisely.

SCIUTTO: Lessons learned from those recent cycle. Doug Heye, Errol Louis, thanks so much to both of you.

HEYE: Thank you.

LOUIS: Thanks.

SCIUTTO: Any moment now, the U.S. attorney overseeing the city of Memphis will hold a news conference about the investigation into the arrest and death of Tyre Nichols. That is the man who died from injuries -- his injuries after police pulled him over for a traffic stop, and then after he fled allegedly beat him.


We'll bring you those comments live, as soon as they begin.


SCIUTTO: The man suspected of killing seven people in that mass shooting in Half Moon Bay, California, will appear in court this afternoon. Police say 66-year-old Chunli Zhao targeted, deliberately targeted current or former co-workers at two mushroom farms. He actually lived in one of those locations.

HILL: CNN has obtained records about Zhao's past revealing details of violent incident.