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McCarthy Officially Denies Schiff, Swalwell Intel Committee Seats; Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) Discusses McCarthy Denying Intel Cmte Seats To Schiff And Swalwell, Pence Classified Docs Discovery, U.S. & Germany Sending Tanks To Ukraine; Opening Statements Set For 3PM ET In Murdaugh Double Murder Trial; VA School Chief Denies Award Notification Delays Were Due To "Equity"; U.S. & Germany To Send Tanks To Ukraine, Ending Diplomatic Impasse. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired January 25, 2023 - 14:30   ET




ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: House Speaker Kevin McCarthy officially cut two Democrats from the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman Eric Swalwell and Adam Schiff were quick to push back.

They united with Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who could soon face a House vote to be removed from her spot on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: CNN's Lauren Fox is with us now from Capitol Hill.

What's the reaction?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The reaction from those lawmakers has been that this was really a retaliatory step from the House speaker, that this was not about anything they had done.

But here is what their message was to the caucus and the rest of the House.


REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): This isn't about any individual assignment. This is about an institution where the speaker of the House is using his power to go after his political opponents.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): He is continuing this destructive trend set by his party leader of tearing down our institutions.


FOX: The expectation that is a vote to remove Ilhan Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee could come as soon as this week.

Although there are a few Republican members who have voiced concerns about moving forward with that action. Two members are saying that they don't believe it's necessarily the right option. Nancy Mace told me earlier today she is going to look at a resolution

the speaker puts forward but she has serious concerns about setting this precedent were lawmakers vote to remove the other party's officials from committee assignments.

We should note that today in the Republican conference, Ilhan Omar's past tweets, some of which Republicans are calling anti-Semitic, they were revealed and they were discussed broadly as part of the conference discussion.

It did change some minds, including John Bacon, who was on the fence saying that he did not know yesterday if he could support a resolution to remove her from the committee. But after today's conference meeting, he said, yes, he does support moving forward with that measure.

So the leadership obviously working very hard to try to win votes to get rid of Ilhan Omar on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

CAMEROTA: OK, Lauren Fox, thank you for the update.

Let's discuss now with Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton. He has served on the Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, great to see you.

So here is Speaker McCarthy's rationale for removing these two, for removing Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell.

He said in a statement yesterday, "It is my assessment that the misuse of this panel during the 116th and 117th Congresses severely undermined its primary national security and oversight missions, ultimately leaving our nation less safe.

What your response?

REP. SETH MOULTON (D-MA): What's Kevin McCarthy is talking about is the fact that Donald Trump, who he will defend to the hilt, is trying to blackmail the Ukrainian president. And Kevin McCarthy continues to defend Trump no matter what it takes.

This is probably some promise he made to Donald Trump as part of his deal to become speaker of the House.

And just like --


CAMEROTA: Well -- yes. Let me just interrupt for a second.

Because I think what Speaker McCarthy is referring to is the fact that, in 2014, this Chinese spy was working for Eric Swalwell's campaign. The FBI had to get involved.

So is that disqualifying from him serving on this committee? MOULTON: It's interesting because, in the letter that Speaker McCarthy

provided, he only talked about integrity. And this was a man who was defending George Santos, who lies about literally everything, and says he can't remove him from a committee assignment.

McCarthy has no basis for this whatsoever. He couldn't even describe what his concerns were in the letter he wrote to all of us.

When Democrats removed Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar from the committee for, let's remember, blatantly racist tweets, and parroting the violence against another member, when we removed them, it was through a bipartisan vote in the House.

Republicans joined us in having a vote to remove them from their committee assignments.

McCarthy has done this unilaterally with a paper-thin justification that there's no resemblance to reality.


And so it's just clearly political retribution. That's not the behavior we should expect from the speaker of the House.

CAMEROTA: I want to ask you about documents that are cropping up everywhere this point.

President Biden and the classified documents found at his home and office and Vice President Pence down at his home. They are cooperating with the National Archives, with the DOJ. President Trump, 300 were found at his home and he was obstructing.

But politically speaking, because this is happening more than just to Donald Trump, do you feel like it's a wash?

MOULTON: No, absolutely not. Because, Alisyn, you hit on the key point, which is it's about how these different leaders are handling their mistakes.

But let me be clear. Standing here, as a member of Congress and a member of the Armed Services Committee and a former Marine officer, this is a mistake. Classified documents are important and we need to be careful with their handling.

None of these people should have classified documents in their private possession.

But there's a massive difference between how Donald Trump is handling this and how President Biden and Mike Pence have handled it.

This is not a partisan comment. I am saying that Pence and Biden are handling the same. They are handling it respectively. They are acknowledging their mistake and cooperating with officials.

Donald Trump is obstructing justice at every chance he gets. The FBI had to go and raid his property because he refused to turn over these documents. Whereas Biden and Pence are asking the Justice Department to get the documents they need.

So it could not be more different. And I think the American people are smart enough to see that.

CAMEROTA: Congressman, as a veteran, I know you are familiar with the M1 Abrams. So it was last week that the Pentagon was saying of these tanks are labor-intensive, too complicated, they involve jet fuel, it's too much to send to Ukraine.

Today, they are announcing 31 are being sent there. So what changed? And was it true last week that they were too complicated?

MOULTON: They are complicated tanks but they are not too complicated for the Ukrainians to handle.

The Ukrainians have proven time and again that they can take weapons from all across the world and use them effectively in a matter of days and weeks. That's what they have been doing since the beginning of this war.

So, yes, the M1s are a complicated tank but the Ukrainians can handle it. And most importantly, by accepting these M1 Abrams, it's unlocking tank deliveries from a lot of European allies.

So this is a right thing to do. The Biden administration was right to it. I honestly wish they had just done it sooner.

CAMEROTA: Congressman Seth Moulton, thank you for your time.

MOULTON: Thanks, Alisyn. Take care.

BLACKWELL: Several schools in Virginia are under investigation for allegedly delaying students' Merit Scholarship recognition. Parents and critics claim it was intentional. The district superintendent responds exclusively to CNN. That is ahead.



CAMEROTA: Happening now, a jury has been seated and opening statements will begin in a half an hour in the double murder trial of Alex Murdaugh.

Prosecutors allege the disgraced former lawyer shot and killed his wife and 22-year-old son in an attempt to cover up fraud.

BLACKWELL: Murdaugh denies he was involved in their deaths. He has pleaded not guilty.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher is live in Walterboro, South Carolina.

What should we expect to hear today?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So the beginning of the opening arguments, we will hear from the state of South Carolina first.

Likely Creighton Waters, who has been presenting this case from its inception, from the moment that they indicted Alex Murdaugh in the murders of his wife, Maggie, and his son, Paul. Both of them were shot and killed on the Murdaugh family hunting property, their home there, back in June 2021.

Alex was charged last year, roughly 13 months after the crime. And we are expecting the state to lay out its evidence that it has.

We do know that, late last week, there was a subpoena that was filed. The judge signed off on it for a Snapchat representative.

They said there is a Snapchat video that Paul sent out to several friends at approximately 7:56 pm on the night of the murders. They said the contents of that video is, quote, "important to proving the state's case in chief."

And part of that reason is likely because they believe that Paul and Maggie were murdered sometime between 8:30 p.m. and 10:06 p.m. on that night.

Alex Murdaugh has maintained his innocence in the murder of his wife and son. And his team even issued a statement this week basically saying they are ready for this trial to happen, that they want to get it over with.

They believe he will be found not guilty. And they want the attorney general's office to focus on finding the real killers, in their words.

We saw a preview of this yesterday during pretrial motions where the defense said we believe everything the state has is circumstantial.

And they are trying to prevent the state from bringing in some of the other things in the other crimes that are currently surrounding Alex Murdaugh. Part of why this case has gripped the entire nation because there are so many twists and turns in other cases that surround it.

He is facing roughly 100 charges, most of them financial, related to fraud, saying he has stolen upwards of $9 million from former clients and his own law firm and family members.

We are going to learn if that can be admissible into court. That does seem to be, in large part, Victor and Alisyn, what the case is based on.


The jury was just seated a few moments ago. Court comes back at 3:00 p.m. for those arguments.

CAMEROTA: Keep us posted.

Dianne Gallagher, thank you.

So another day, another babbling George Santos situation. This one involves his campaign funds. We will tell you about it next.


BLACKWELL: A battle over National Merit honors is dividing a Virginia school district.

Here's the story. A number of high schools in Fairfax County, they delayed notifying students about their merit scholarships. They say it was human error.

But parents and critics don't buy that. And they say the lapse was intentional. That includes Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin.


The Fairfax County school superintendent is responding for the first time since the state's attorney general announced an unlawful discrimination investigation.


YOUNGKIN: They have a maniacal focus on equal outcomes for all students at all costs.

MICHELLE REID, SUPERINTENDENT, FAIRFAX COUNTY, VA, PUBLIC SCHOOLS: What I mean when I talk about equal outcomes is the opportunity for each and every student to achieve their unique potential.


CAMEROTA: CNN's Athena Jones joins us now.

Athena, you spoke exclusively with that superintendent. That's her calling right now.


CAMEROTA: You might need to get that.

Did she explain why they delayed the notifications?

JONES: She says they believe it's human error. There's not a division- wide protocol for how to handle the commendations, telling students that they will receive commendations from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.

Now all the students who were semifinalists, those are people who have to fill out more forms and move on in the competition, this is not a problem for them.

There was no division-wide protocol. So different schools will handle it different ways.

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation sends these by snail mail in a packet to the principal. Sometimes they just say "principal" on the envelope, and not their actual name. There's one school that never received their packets.

They say that they believe this was human error. There is, of course, an investigation being carried out by the Virginia attorney general into Fairfax County schools because it was eight schools that had this happen.

The schools are doing their own third-party investigation looking into this.

But here's my exchange talking about this issue of whether it was intentional because that's what the critics think. They think that they were -- some of these teachers and administrators didn't want to hurt the feelings of those who weren't commended.

Listen to the exchange.


JONES: Part of the thing that has so many up in arms, this idea this was not human error. That this was intentional effort. What is your response to that accusation?

REID: We celebrate each and every one of our students' unique contributions and achievements. And there's absolutely no division- wide effort to withhold recognition or not to honor hard work and achievement.


JONES: And so she insists they tried to make this right. Once we make a mistake, we want to acknowledge it.

And so they did several things. They reached out to all the colleges that these students weren't able to submit this information to. The students were applying to early decision and early action. They made lots to phone calls.

And she also held town halls or meetings with the communities and parents at all of those eight high schools.

We should note that the A.G. is investigating Fairfax County. But this happened in other counties as well, Louden County and Prince Williams County. And there were other schools that weren't notified.

So bottom line, a lot of people are arguing this was human error and wasn't some massive plan to deny these folks honors.

BLACKWELL: OK. We'll await the outcome of the investigation.

CAMEROTA: Athena, thank you.

BLACKWELL: President Biden announces much-needed fire power for Ukrainian troops. The U.S. will send dozens of tanks to the country. Ahead, how the Kremlin is responding.


CAMEROTA: The U.S. and Germany ending their weeks'-long diplomatic impasse. Today, the two nations both vowed to send advanced-level tanks to Ukraine, introducing what could be a game-changer in Russia's war.

President Biden said it would take months for the 31 American Abrams tanks to reach Ukraine's battlefield, adding there was no diplomatic arm truce.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF HE 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 REPORTER: Did Germany force you to change your mind on sending these tanks?

BIDEN: Germany didn't force us to change our mind. We want to make sure we're all together. That's what we're doing all along, and that's what we're doing right now.


BLACKWELL: Germany said that it will send 14 Leopard II tanks to Kyiv's troops.

This decision, the announcement by the U.S. and Germans, they opened the doors for other allies to make similar contributions to Ukraine. The tanks will reportedly help Ukraine go on the offensive and reclaim occupied territory.

But the Kremlin echoed previous warnings, saying Abrams tanks will "burn down just like all the others."

CNN's Sam Kiley is in Kyiv.

What impact will these tanks have on the ground where you are?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it's very important, Victor, to recognize the importance of this, but also give it some context.

It's very important because these weapons have been seen, particularly by Germany, as strategic weapons. They are not.

But they have been strategically, symbolically important in that they do show a new level of commitment, a renewed commitment, a renewed unity across the Western allies at a time the Russians were hoping to see a degree of disunity in terms of the extent to which Ukraine should get military support. They're not as important to the Ukrainians, for example, as HIMARS,

the medium-range, very highly accurate rocket systems that they've got about 50 of from various different countries, mostly from the United States.

But they could be used, as the defense minister said to Christiane Amanpour earlier today, Victor, as part of what he said was an iron fist-attempt to bash through the defensive lines of the Russians. Now that could be his disinformation.


This is a very long battlefield indeed. It's 800 miles long, at least, spread right across the east of the country. So focusing this armor in one location could be highly effective, but it could be highly risky.

The Ukrainians were also saying, in the same interview, we've got a shopping list of stuff we need. We need modern aircraft.