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U.S. & Germany To Send Tanks To Ukraine, Ending Diplomatic Impasse; Pence Classified Docs Discovery Intensifies House GOP Investigation; U.S. Attorney: Investigating Tyre Nichols' Death Will "Take Some Time." Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired January 25, 2023 - 14:00   ET




ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR (on camera): Hello everyone. I'm Alisyn Camerota. Welcome to CNN NEWSROOM.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR (on camera): I'm Victor Blackwell.

Today, the U.S. and Germany announced that they're sending advanced- level tanks to Ukraine. Now, this ends weeks of geopolitical squabbling and introducing what could be a game-changer in Russia's war in Ukraine. Now, President Biden said it will take months for 31 American M1 Abrams tanks to reach Ukraine's battlefield. And he added that there was no diplomatic arm-twisting behind the decisions.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Abrams tanks are the most capable tanks in the world. They're also extremely complex to operate and maintain so we're also giving Ukraine the parts and equipment necessary to effectively sustain these tanks on the battlefield.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did Germany force you to change your mind on sending tanks?

BIDEN: Germany didn't force me to change our mind. We want to make sure we're all together as we're going to do all -- and that's what we're doing right now.


BLACKWELL: Germany also said that it will dispatch 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv's troops.

CAMEROTA: This move by NATO's two most powerful members opens the door for other allies to make similar contributions to Ukraine. The tanks will reportedly allow Ukraine to go on the offensive and to retake occupied territory. The Russian ambassador to Germany warns that Germany's approval is "extremely dangerous, and brings the conflict to a new level of confrontation." With us now, CNN's Natasha Bertrand and Nick Paton Walsh. Natasha, we'll start with you. It was only last week that the Pentagon was saying they could not send these tanks, so what changed?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER (on camera): Yes, Alisyn, it's been a really big 180 by the Biden administration. And we are told that really, this has been the product of discussions between U.S. and German officials about what would actually move the needle and make Germany willing to send their own tanks to Ukraine. Because if you'll recall, last week, we reported that there was this diplomatic standoff between Germany and the U.S. about how to get Germany to send those tanks. And one of the conditions was that the U.S. had to send its own Abrams tanks first.

The Germans did not want to go at this alone and they wanted to form an international coalition. And now we're learning that the administration came to this kind of agreement with the Germans. President Biden, of course, denied that there was any kind of arm- twisting by Germany, but ultimately in calls with reporters earlier today, and in our sources tell us that there was an agreement that it was come to -- with the Germans to make this an international and collective effort.

And what we're learning now, of course, is that it's going to take quite some time for those tanks to actually end up in Ukraine. They require a lot of training. But ultimately, the U.S. does not see this as something that could pose a significant escalation risk when it comes to crossing any red lines. And President Biden made that very clear in his remarks earlier today, emphasizing that this is not an offensive threat to Russia.


BIDEN: That's what this is about, helping Ukraine defend and protect Ukrainian land. It is not an offensive threat to Russia. We are -- there is no offensive threat to Russia. If Russian troops returned to Russia, there'll be there -- this -- where they belong this war would be over today.


BERTRAND: And I also just want to note something else President Biden said during those remarks, which I found really interesting, basically driving home the idea that this is a long-term investment that the U.S. is making in order to help Ukraine protect its territorial sovereignty not only right now, but also in the future, which was we need an enduring capability for Ukraine to deter and defend against Russian aggression over the long term. Alisyn and Victor.

BLACKWELL: And certainly, it will, according to military analysts take months to train and equip the troops there in Ukraine. Nick, you've been there. You've seen the fighting up close. How will these tanks make a difference for Ukraine?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, however, President Biden chooses to frame this as defensive and arguably anything that takes Russia on inside the territory of Ukraine is Ukraine defending itself, this is really an offensive capability. This is about enabling the Ukrainians to go at Russian-held territory inside of their own country to take on the defenses and Russian armor there, too. This is a significant jump in Ukraine's capabilities. And a key issue here is when it is in place. Because that is potentially a long way off. It may change what we see on the battlefield possibly as soon as this summer.


But there is a long logistical chain, particularly behind the Abrams tank, complex fuel, they're going to need to get Ukrainian technicians trained up very fast in great detail to essentially remove the major risk in all of this that the top-end American tank, the M1 Abrams ends up lying idle in parts of Ukraine's battlefield because it needs repair or servicing. More likely we'll see them taken back to somewhere like Poland and possibly refitted or re-equipped by American personnel. That will be potentially a shorter-term project.

More immediately, the Germans that created German-made Leopards owned by many different European NATO members will see them most likely, 14 of them in the next three months. That may be too slow possibly to impact the spring offensives we're being told both Russia and Ukraine are planning. But look, here's the real thing here behind all of this. It's clear messaging to Russia that Ukraine's capabilities are just going to get better. And the small window that Russia might think it has now with limited capabilities itself to change the battlefield is just getting smaller.

By later this year, Ukraine will begin to potentially have pretty high-end NATO-caliber weaponry. That must be echoing inside the Kremlin right now, along with the other part of all of this discussion, too. And that's NATO countries that have been arming themselves against the potential direct threat of Russia, deciding they may not need these tanks, these artillery pieces, and can give them to Ukraine because they possibly think the key battle against Russia will be by Ukraine in Ukraine, and not really a threat to NATO on a wider scale. Back to you.

BLACKWELL: Tanks on the way soon. What the Ukrainian fighter -- foreign minister said today was that the next thing they want, our western fighter jets, so we'll see if that conversation ramps up. Nick Paton Walsh, Natasha Bertrand, thank you both.

CAMEROTA: So, Congress is reacting today to the revelation of classified documents being found at former Vice President Mike Pence's homes.

BLACKWELL: Members of the House GOP say they will press forward with investigations into the mishandling of classified documents involving both President Biden and former President Trump. CNN's chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill. So, how is this new Pence twist factoring into the Republicans' work there in the House?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, the Republicans had made what Joe Biden did, the mishandling of classified records, the ones that appeared at his home in Wilmington, Delaware, as well as his private office. They've made that the centerpiece of their new investigative agenda as they have now come to power here in the House issuing letter after letter. But the revelation that Mike Pence also had those records has upended that effort. But now, the discussion about trying to investigate what happened there and trying to get a handle on why so many officials and former officials, Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and Joe Biden have these classified records. It's all leading to concerns among members of Congress that perhaps they need to step in and do more.


REP. MICHAEL WALTZ, (R-FL): We need to understand from -- you know, what were the documents? What did they contain? Was there any damage? That's something we have to look at across the board.

REP. JAMES COMER, (R-KY): Pence is cooperating. We're going to treat Pence the exact same way we treat Biden.

RAJU: Why not investigate Trump and Pence just as much as you're putting as much emphasis as you're placing on Biden?

REP. JIM JORDAN, (R-OH): What we want is -- what we want is consistency. What we want is this one standard, and that doesn't seem to be the case.


RAJU: And those last two members were chairman of the key committees that are investigating what Joe Biden did. You hear James Comer there saying there's a difference. He says that, Joe -- that Mike Pence has cooperated already with his committee. He says the White House is not cooperating with it. Jim Jordan, the House Judiciary Committee chairman told me that he believes the FBI treated Donald Trump differently than they did with Joe Biden. That's going to be part of his investigation going forward.

Other members, including in the Senate side, say that there perhaps needs to be actual legislation to look at toughening up standards on how classified records are dealt with. That's one question that Dick Durbin, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman told me he had going forward. But there is just as a big question about why this happened, what were in those documents.

And just in a matter of moments, we do expect the Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, to be behind closed doors with the Senate Intelligence Committee. And the leaders of that committee, guys, telling me that they plan to ask her a lot of questions about this. We'll see if she has some answers, guys

CAMEROTA: OK. Manu Raju, thank you for the update.

CNN political director David Chalian joins us now. So, David, we understand you have some new CNN polling about what Americans think about all of this. So, what's the answer? DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR (on camera): Yes. So, first, broad approval from Americans across all parties for the appointment of a special counsel in the Biden case. Overall, 84 percent of Americans in our brand new poll conducted by SSRS, approve of that decision to appoint a special counsel. 16 percent disapprove.

And look at this. As I said, across party lines, when do you ever see this in American politics? Republicans, Independents, Democrats all overwhelmingly agree and approve of the appointment of a special counsel.


BLACKWELL: So, that's rare but what about the center of this, the discovery of the documents at Biden's home, at the former office? Do people think it's a major problem?

CHALIAN: Well, Victor, in our polling, about two-thirds of Americans say it is a serious problem, either very or somewhat. 30 percent say a very serious problem, 38 percent say somewhat serious problem, and about a third say not a problem, 27 percent not too much of a problem, 6 percent not at all.

Again, look at this across the parties. I don't think it'll surprise you too much. You'll see some partisanship at play here where 89 percent of Republicans say yes, this is a serious problem. But look at Democrats. It's not as such a huge divide, as you might expect. 46 percent of Democrats say yes, it's a serious problem. 54 percent, a slim majority, say it is not.

CAMEROTA: And so, David, obviously, there are two separate tracks here. One is that the classified documents keep showing up in the wrong place. And we need to figure that out. The other is how these former vice presidents or presidents are handling it. So, what do people think about how President Biden is handling this?

CHALIAN: So, Alisyn, 57 percent, a majority of Americans overall in this poll, disapprove of the way that Biden has handled this situation. Only 43 percent approve. And take a look here. 85 percent of Republicans, obviously, you would expect that to disapprove. You know, more than six in 10 independents disapprove of the way the White House handled this situation. And even a quarter of Democrats, 26 percent, of the President's own fellow partisans, disapprove of the way that he's handled it.

BLACKWELL: David, how did the Biden numbers compare to the Trump numbers?

CHALIAN: Yes. This is a really interesting detail here. But you know, we talk all the time that these are not the same the way that Trump handled this, the way that Biden handled this, or even though Pence is handling it. A slim majority of Americans, Victor, 52 percent say that Donald Trump has done something illegal. That's a majority of Americans that believe that. Only 37 percent say that of Biden.

And again, when you look at it by party, I think it's instructive. Because look here, only 8 percent of Democrats think Biden's done something illegal, obviously 79 percent of them think Trump has. But when you go down to Republicans, a quarter of Republicans, 25 percent, they think Donald Trump has done something illegal here, a quarter of his fellow Republicans. So, he -- Trump is suffering more broadly here than his -- Biden when looks through the lens of how egregious something went on here. Clearly, Americans think there's more blame going on with Trump in his situation than with Biden in his.

BLACKWELL: Telling numbers. David Chalian, thank you.


BLACKWELL: Tyre Nichols' family, they met with the U.S. Attorney leading the investigation into his death today after an autopsy revealed that the young man had extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating. When the police video body cam might be available to the public? When you could see it?

CAMEROTA: And House Speaker Kevin McCarthy making good on his promise to kick Democratic lawmakers Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell off the Intel Committee. We're live on the Hill with the latest.



BLACKWELL: The Federal Prosecutor investigating Tyre Nichols' death says it will take some time to uncover exactly what happened.

CAMEROTA: Nichols died three days after he was pulled over in a traffic stop in Memphis, Tennessee earlier this month. A preliminary autopsy commissioned by his family's attorneys found that Nichols suffered extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating. Today, the U.S. Attorney shared his conversation with the Nichols family.


KEVIN RITZ, U.S. ATTORNEY FOR WESTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE: I had the privilege of hearing from them about Tyre, a young man who enjoyed skateboarding, Starbucks, and sunsets at Shelby Farms. I would like to share with the community what I told Mr. Nichols's family. What I said was that the Department of Justice cares deeply about potential violations of constitutional rights here in Memphis and throughout America.


CAMEROTA: CNN's Nick Valencia is following the developments. So, Nick, as you know, a lot of people, protesters, activists are demanding to see the body cam video. Has the U.S. Attorney said when that might be released to the public?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): He hasn't. And it's really not up to him. It's going to be up to the local district attorney and other local officials. We understand that they're coordinating it. But Kevin Ritz, the U.S. attorney there in western district of Tennessee, making it a point not just to the family but to the public to say that they are taking this case very seriously.

I spoke to a family attorney Benjamin Crump after the press conference was over, and he's just said, you know, Ritz reiterated when he told the family when he met with him on Monday that this federal investigation may take some time because it's going to be thorough, and methodical. But on the point of that video that you just asked about, Alisyn, listen to what Ritz had to say when he spoke earlier at this press conference.


RITZ: The state and local authorities have responsibility for determining when to release video from this incident to the public. But I will say on behalf of the federal authorities, is we want people to express their right to be heard but we want them to do so in a peaceful and nonviolent way.


VALENCIA: And given the nature of this video, you do get the sense just as you heard there from Ritz that the local officials and state officials are very nervous about the public's reaction when this video is eventually made public. And look, as the details are very murky about what happened to Tyre Nichols, we do know that he was transported in critical condition from the scene after his arrest, and he died in the hospital three days later.

You did mention that there was an independent autopsy done that has not yet been -- yet -- not yet been completed. But this is what the preliminary findings showed, according to again, family attorney Benjamin Crump. We can state that the preliminary findings indicate Tyre suffered extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating and that he was observed -- and that his observed injuries are consistent with what the family and attorneys witnessed on the video of his fatal encounter with police on January 7, guys.


BLACKWELL: Nick Valencia, thank you for the reporting.

Joining us now is the president of the Memphis branch of the NAACP, Van Turner. Mr. Turner, thank you for being with us. First, you spoke with the Nichols family this week. Can you tell us a bit about those conversations?

VAN TURNER, PRESIDENT, NAACP MEMPHIS: Yes. I mean, it's a lovely family. Mr. Nichols's mother talked about how he would come home for dinner and how he worked at FedEx. He was a hard worker, a loving father, a loving son, how she was making his favorite meal that actual day, the day in which he was beaten. And she says something that was just so touching.

She talked about how he had her name tattooed on him. And she said you knew that he loved his mom because oftentimes you don't see sons do that. They tattoo their girlfriend's name on their chest or arm, but he tattooed his mother's name on his arm, and he loved her and she loved him. It was -- it was quite devastating to hear.

CAMEROTA: Mr. Turner, about that video, it's apparently awful to watch. Do you worry that by releasing it to the public, it will inflame an already incendiary situation?

TURNER: Yes. I mean, I think that's a possibility. But there are a couple of things which have taken place, which would hopefully, mitigate against violent protests. One, the officers have been fired, and they were fired pretty quickly. They were not suspended with pay. No one is trying to defend them in that type of way. They were terminated pretty swiftly. And that happened last Friday.

So when you take that into account that the DA is looking at pursuing charges pretty quickly, and they're already talking to the family, I think a lot of what you see here happening will mitigate violent protests. Quite naturally, when the film comes out, tensions will be high. I hear is quite disturbing. And so we'll have to navigate that when that occurs. But I think based on what we're seeing now, the transparency, the quick action, things should not end up violently. And that's our hope.

BLACKWELL: And you support the decision to hold on to the tape and not release it immediately?

TURNER: Well, you know, obviously, we want transparency, and we want it as quickly as possible. And that's what was demanded. However, based on a request to the family and to Attorney Crump, they've asked for a little more time to complete the investigation, I think some of the rationales was they didn't want the defendants before the indictment to change their story based on the footage that's shown. We also want to make sure that the jury pool is not tainted potentially or, you know, there may be other concerns.

And so, the district attorney asked the family and attorney Crump for a little more time, the family said yes. And so, at the end of the day, we want to support the family but we also want to support justice in this case. So, a few more days to allow the investigation to be complete, I don't think it's so unusual or too big an ask of everyone. And so that should -- you know, be completed here shortly. And we should be able to see the footage and should be able to go forward with the justice for this family.

BLACKWELL: All right.

CAMEROTA: So, Mr. Turner, obviously no race is immune from brutality. But were you surprised to learn that this involved five black officers?

TURNER: You know, absolutely. These were five young officers. They were relatively young to the force, five or six years on the police force. And just to see that these were five black officers who did this to Tyre Nichols was just disturbing, it was devastating and you know, I just couldn't -- you know, imagine those officers doing what they did, but they've done it.

BLACKWELL: Yes. TURNER: And so, I think, as you would hear, that's not necessarily the race of the officers, but it's the race of defendants. And statistically, defendants who are black and brown are treated much worse during arrest and in their interactions with law enforcement. And that's the issue.


TURNER: No matter who's behind the back, it just seems like if they're black or brown on the other side, they're treated -- they're treated a lot worse.

BLACKWELL: So, those five officers have been fired. We've learned that one of those officers was a defendant in a 2016 federal lawsuit over an alleged inmate beating. Also two employees of the Memphis Fire Department on scene responsible for initial patient care, they have been fired.


You're running for mayor of Memphis, is this limited to just the seven employees of the city or does there need to be structural change? Something bigger is going on in the city.

TURNER: Yes. I mean, there have been efforts. As a commissioner, we put forth policies to 8Can'tWait. And as you know, I mean, they're well-known duty to do it, de-escalate, a duty to intervene, a duty to render aid as quickly as possible. And so, as we see, those policies are not followed here. So, I think there is more work to do Shortly after George Floyd, we had a reimagined policing committee formed.


TURNER: And it led to hiring our first African American female Chief of Police, Chief Davis. And so, there are things that have been put in place, but we just have to, I think, demand implementation.

BLACKWELL: All right.

TURNER: So, what good is a policy if we can't implement it? So, that's something that can be worked on, I think, going forward and that's something that I would -- I would intend to do if I'm able to be elected.

CAMEROTA: Van Turner, thank you for your time.

BLACKWELL: Opening statements are set to begin in a short time from now in the case of a once-prominent South Carolina Attorney. He's now standing trial for the murder of his wife and his son. We're outside the courthouse with what to expect next.