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Special Counsel Decided Not to Pursue Charges Against President Joe Biden; Trump Wins Nevada Caucus Despite Legal Woes at the Supreme Court; Tucker Carlson Spoke to Russian President in a Rare Interview; Ukrainian President Fires Top General; Medals for the 2024 Paris Olympics Unveiled. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired February 09, 2024 - 03:00   ET




KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR: Live from CNN World headquarters in Atlanta, welcome to all of you watching us here in the United States, Canada and around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber, ahead on "CNN Newsroom."

President Biden hits back. The special counsel decides against charging him with a crime over his handling of classified information but paints an unflattering picture of the 81-year-old.

While CNN projects Donald Trump will win Nevada's Republican caucuses, the U.S. Supreme Court weighs whether he is eligible to run for re- election.

And Russian President Vladimir Putin says an agreement to free an American journalist can be reached, but what will it take to bring Evan Gershkovich back home?

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Live from Atlanta, this is "CNN Newsroom" with Kim Brunhuber.

BRUNHUBER: We're following three big stories this hour that all have implications for the U.S. presidential election. First, Donald Trump has won the Nevada caucuses and picked up another 26 delegates in his march to reclaim the Republican nomination.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court took up the issue of whether states can disqualify Trump from their ballots. The justices seem likely to rule in Trump's favor, and Trump spoke out about the hearing and called it a beautiful process.

He was also handed a political gift when an independent special counsel reported concerns about the current president's age and mental fitness after concluding President Biden had willfully mishandled classified documents, but Biden won't face criminal charges and insisted his memory is fine. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Their task was to make a decision about whether to move forward with charges in this case. That's their decision to make. That's the council's decision to make. That's his job. And they decided not to move forward. For any extraneous commentary, they don't know what they're talking about. It has no place in this report. The bottom line is a matter is now closed. I'm going to continue what I've always focused on, my job of being president of the United States of America.


BRUNHUBER: More now on the special counsel's decision and President Biden's reaction from CNN senior White House reporter, Kevin Liptak.


KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: President Biden making one of the angriest public appearances to date as president, forcefully rebutting some of the claims contained in special counsel Robert Hur's report, specifically relating to his memory. Those allegations suggesting that the president was having trouble remembering certain dates and details.

President Biden saying that those were extraneous, that the special counsel and his team didn't know what they were talking about and angrily rebutting some of those allegations specifically when it comes to one particular suggestion that Hur makes that President Biden had forgotten the date of his son Bo's death. Listen to a little bit of what he said.

BIDEN: In addition, I know there's some attention paid to some language in the report about my recollection of events. There's even a reference that I don't remember when my son died. How in the hell dare he raise that? Frankly, when I was asked the question, I thought to myself, it wasn't any of their damn business.

Let me tell you something. Some of you have commented, I wear, since the day he died, every single day, the rosary he got from our lady of. Every memorial day we hold a service remembering him, attending by friends and family and the people who loved him. I don't need anyone. I don't need anyone to remind me when he passed away, or if he passed away.

LIPTAK: So you hear there President Biden forcefully rebutting some of these claims about his memory. Now we should say the special counsel Robert Hur declined to bring criminal charges and actually made a favorable comparison between Biden and former President Trump's own handling of classified documents, but certainly the political ramifications of this report will reverberate, I think, for days to come, and particularly when it comes to this question of President Biden's memory and his mental acuity. And it is, of course, occurring against the backdrop of an election in which the president's age is a central issue.

Majority of voters in polls suggesting that could be a deterrent for them as they head to the ballot in November and President Biden in this press conference tonight, certainly flashing a lot of anger, but not necessarily being a whole lot to dispel some of those concerns that voters have.


And in fact, in that press conference, when he was talking about the conflict in the Middle East, when he meant to refer to Egypt, he referred to Mexico instead. Now, one of the defenses that the president and his aides have made when it comes to these questions about his mental recall during his interview with the special counsel was that it occurred in the days immediately after Israel's terror attack that occurred by Hamas on October 7th.

And one of the things they've said is that the president was wholly preoccupied by international events at the time, and that he was focused on calling foreign leaders and that he was focused on talking with his national security team. That is something that he mentioned in his remarks tonight.

But certainly this report I think will only buttress some of those concerns that voters have about the president's memory and his mental acuity. And it's something that the president, I think, will still have to work to rebut going forward into the election year.

Kevin Liptak, CNN, The White House.


BRUNHUBER: The U.S. Supreme Court appears inclined to rule in favor of Donald Trump as he fights to keep the state of Colorado from disqualifying him from the presidential race. Now one of the key issues is his role in the January 6 insurrection. That didn't get much attention from the justices.

CNN's Jessica Schneider has this report.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Stiff resistance from conservative and liberal justices on the Supreme Court pushing back against arguments for taking Donald Trump off the 2024 ballot.

CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS, SUPREME COURT: It'll come down to just a handful of states that are going to decide the presidential election. That's a pretty daunting consequence.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Chief Justice John Roberts led the sharp questioning, asking whether individual states should be able to decide for themselves which candidates are ineligible for office based on the Constitution's Insurrection Clause.

The 14th Amendment says certain elected officials, including an officer of the United States, are prohibited from holding office if they have engaged in insurrection against the United States. Several of the conservative justices warned that allowing states to decide could create chaos.

JUSTICE SAMUEL ALTO, SUPREME COURT: There will be conflicts in decisions among the states. The different states will disqualify different candidates. But I'm not getting a whole lot of help from you about how this would not be an unmanageable situation.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Even liberal justice Elena Kagan expressed concern.

JUSTICE ELENA KAGAN, SUPREME COURT: Why should a single state have the ability to make this determination not only for their own citizens, but for the rest of the nation?

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled Trump engaged in insurrection on January 6th and that he should be removed from the state's ballot. But there was little discussion during arguments before the high court about Trump's role on January 6th and his ultimate responsibility. His lawyer only arguing that it wasn't even insurrection.

JUSTICE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, SUPREME COURT: You say. It did not involve an organized attempt to overthrow the government.

JONATHEN MITCHELL, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: For an insurrection there needs to be an organized concerted effort.

BROWN JACKSON: So the point is that a chaotic effort to overthrow the government is not an insurrection?

MITCHELL: No, we didn't concede that it's an effort to overthrow the government either.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Justice is also debated whether courts even have a role to play in this decision. Justice Brett Kavanaugh asked whether Congress should be enforcing the insurrectionist ban instead of courts. It's one of the off-ramps the Supreme Court could choose to take with a narrow ruling that avoids confronting weightier issues.

JUSTICE BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT: These are difficult questions, and you look right at Section 5 of the 14th Amendment, as the Chief Justice said, and that tells you Congress has the primary role here.

SCHNEIDER: And the court doesn't even need to decide the core issues in this case, being whether Trump engaged in insurrection and if that would disqualify him from the ballot. Instead, the court really could decide on a more narrow issue, like whether it's up to Congress to enforce this insurrectionist ban instead of the courts. Maybe whether this ban even applies to the presidency, or if it only applies to office holders and not office seekers.

But all signs do point to a win for Trump, and this court could decide fairly quickly. In fact, case in point, back in 2000, the Supreme Court decided Bush v. Gore, where they halted the recount in Florida, essentially handing that win to George W. Bush, they decided that case one day after they heard oral arguments.

Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.


BRUNHUBER: Donald Trump is another step closer to securing the Republican nomination for the presidency. CNN is projecting he will win the Nevada caucuses, taking all 26 delegates. The vote was organized by the pro-Trump state Republican party, and Nikki Haley refused to take part. Trump told supporters in Las Vegas he is expecting the Supreme Court to rule in his favor in the Colorado ballot ban case. Here he is.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our Supreme Court hopefully will be doing something in terms of helping our country and preserving democracy. We have to preserve our democracy.


And I think they had a very, very interesting day and a very beautiful day, perhaps. I think it was really a very beautiful sight to watch. And it's the way it's supposed to be. And hopefully the decision will be a very important decision.


BRUNHUBER: All right, joining me to discuss all this is Thomas Gift, the Director of the Center on U.S. Politics at University College of London. Thanks so much for being here with us again. So let's ignore for a moment the questions about Biden's age and memory. We'll get to that. But just on the decision itself not to charge Biden, politically, how much of a win is that for Biden and possibly as a motivating force for Trump and the Republicans who are crying double standard here?

THOMAS GIFT, DIRECTOR, CENTER ON U.S. POLITICS, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF LONDON: It's a great question, Kim and it's great to be with you this morning. I mean, certainly Biden can be relieved that he wasn't charged in the classified documents probe, but I think you're right that it gives more ammunition to Trump.

I mean, his whole argument has been that there is a double standard, that there are kind of two tiers of justice here, where Trump is subjected to a legal system that is weaponized by the Department of Justice and Biden continues to sort of trot along despite accusations that are similar, if not.

I mean, if you really do look at the details of these cases, I think that they are very different and I think it's legitimate why special counsels came out with different decisions. But you know, politically, Trump is just going to be able to muddy the waters and say that this is all rigged.

BRUNHUBER: Yeah, exactly. We'll see whether the difference is lost on the voters. But now to the age question, those pointed comments from the special counsel, it paints a pretty, you know, bleak picture. So how damaging is that for Biden, especially coming on top of his comments this week, talk about meeting world leaders in 2021 who had actually been long dead, and then last night confusing Egypt with Mexico.

GIFT: Exactly, Kim. I think the portrayal of Biden as a senile old man is even worse for him politically than sort of the actual charges were. I think he compounded it with his press conference. It's hard to believe that his staff thought that this was a good idea.

When you go on national TV to insist that your memory is fine, you're already on the back foot. And the fact, as you suggested, that he confused Egypt and Mexico answering questions also didn't help his cause. But this is a real problem for Biden, make no mistake about it.

Concerns about his mental acuity started as kind of a right-wing Fox News talking point, it slowly radiated out into the mainstream media. And then to find these accusations front and center in a special counsel report with receipts is really something.

You know, Biden's slogan for a second term is to finish the job. And I think all this does is raise questions in the minds of voters that even if Biden does win reelection, whether he'll be able to literally finish the job.

Obviously, there's a lot of speculation about an alternative nominee, from the more realistic like Gavin Newsom to maybe a more fantastical choice like Michelle Obama. I still think it's going to be Biden versus Trump, but all of this is really bad for him politically.

BRUNHUBER: Yeah, for sure. I mean, you talk to election experts and they'll say that the best political attacks, they don't necessarily come up with something new. They focus on existing negative perceptions and then just amplify them.

So how effective do you think that will be for Republicans going forward twenty four and how worried should democrats be because you know there's almost literally nothing they can do to counter this other than saying oh well you know Trump's old too?

GIFT: Exactly. I mean, there is very little that Biden's campaign can do. And you're right, it's amplified by the fact that it just reinforces sort of a pre-existing narrative about an individual. I think it's almost impossible to shake.

But, you know, Republicans are going to hammer this over and over and over and over. They want to do anything they can to distract voters from all the legal challenges that Trump is facing. And this has sort of served up for them on a silver platter.

And of course, Part of their argument is going to be a vote for Biden is a vote for Kamala Harris, who has approval ratings that are even lower than Joe Biden. So, you know, I think that this is really sort of the main ammunition that Republicans are going to use in the lead up to the 2024 election.

BRUNHUBER: All right. We'll have to leave it there. Thanks so much for joining us again, Thomas Gift, I really appreciate it.

GIFT: Thanks, Kim.

BRUNHUBER: All right, still ahead, growing concern for people in Rafah as Israel looks to expand its military offensive into the city, where more than a million Palestinians are seeking refuge from the war that's coming up. Stay with us.




BRUNHUBER: There is growing concern for civilians in Rafah. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the Israeli military will soon expand its operations there. More than a million people have fled to the southernmost city to escape fighting elsewhere in Gaza. The Norwegian Refugee Council warns that if fighting escalates, it could turn Rafah into a, quote, "zone of bloodshed and destruction."

The U.S. says it wouldn't support an Israeli military offensive into Rafah without serious planning for the humanitarian impact on the overcrowded city where conditions are already dire. Israeli airstrikes killed at least 14 people, including five children, in attacks on several residential buildings in Rafah. That's according to witnesses and a journalist who spoke with health officials.

All right. I want to go live now to London and Elliott Gotkine. Elliott, we heard words from President Biden, his harshest words yet for Israel on this war. So take us through the importance of his criticism and the reaction.

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: Kim, I think President Biden's words show the frustration that he's having with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in particular, and the Israeli government and the IDF's operations in the Gaza Strip. The war now four months in following the Hamas terrorist attacks of October the 7th.


It also illustrates the pressure that he's under in this crucial election year, not just from elements within his own Democratic Party, but of course among the electorate where he's been hemorrhaging support among Arab Americans and younger voters.

And so in this news conference that the president gave yesterday, he, these frustrations and this pressure I suppose, came to the fore and he issued his strongest rebuke yet of Israel's conduct in the war in Gaza against Hamas.


BIDEN: I'm of the view, as you know, that the conduct of the response in Gaza -- in the Gaza Strip has been over the top.


GOTKINE: Now we get to see the reaction no doubt it will be fiery from some members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing government. The Prime Minister himself usually errs on the side of diplomacy but certainly these words will not be welcomed in Israel and it's not just concern about what's been happening thus far with more than 20,000 Palestinians killed according to the Hamas-run health ministry in the Gaza Strip, figures which don't distinguish between competence and civilians.

Israel for its part says it's killed 10,000 Hamas militants, but it's not just concerned about what's been going on but what might happen going forward and particularly now that Israel says that it's set its sights on Rafah.

This city on the border with Egypt where the population has ballooned fourfold and where there is disease and concern about additional civilian casualties if and when Israel launches a ground operation.

Now, it may be that Prime Minister Netanyahu and the defense minister and others are saying that they're setting their sights on Rafah to play a psychological game, if you like, with Hamas, to try to put more pressure on it, to do a better deal, to offer better conditions for a hostage swap. But certainly we've seen Israel already carrying out strikes on Rafah from the air.

And I suppose the other concern here is the diplomatic situation, particularly with Egypt. Egypt does not want to see thousands, possibly more Palestinians from the Gaza Strip streaming over the other side of the border into the Sinai Peninsula.

And so there is a concern there that if the situation in Rafah really does play out in the worst possible way, that this is something that could also impact and be detrimental to the current situation and relations and diplomatic relations in that particular region. So a lot of concerns there from the president and I suppose those are coming to the fore in those comments about Israel's war effort being a little bit over the top in his words. Kim?

BRUNHUBER: All right. Elliott Gotkine in London. Thanks so much.

Well, Australia says it's still waiting to see all the evidence from Israel regarding its accusation that UNRWA staff were involved in the Hamas attack on October 7th. Australia is one of more than a dozen countries that have suspended financial support for the U.N.'s aid agency for Palestinians.

Meanwhile, the U.N. secretary-general says it's not possible to replace UNRWA in war-ravaged Gaza, and without donor money, services would soon be impacted. Israel has been calling for the agency to be shut down and replaced. It accused 13 UNRWA workers of taking part in the Hamas attack, ranging from kidnapping hostages to supplying logistics support.

Alright, just ahead, the US Justice Department decides against criminal charges for Joe Biden in the classified documents case, and the Supreme Court weighs Donald Trump's Colorado ballot ban that's coming up. Please stay with us.




BRUNHUBER: Welcome back to all of you watching us here in the United States, Canada and around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber. This is "CNN Newsroom."

U.S. Justice Department special counsel says Joe Biden won't face any criminal charges for his mishandling of classified documents. But the report includes concerns about his age and mental sharpness that didn't go over well with the U.S. president. He condemned the remark saying his memory is fine and that such extraneous commentary didn't belong in the report. President Biden added, quote, "I did not break the law period. And the matter is now closed."

Joining me now from New York is criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor, Bernarda Villalona. Thank you so much for being here with us. So let's start there with the Biden documents probe. Explain for those of us who might be confused. The special counsel said Biden willfully retained and disclosed classified military and national security information. So why wasn't President Biden charged, but Donald Trump was?

BERNARDA VILLALONA, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY AND FORMER PROSECUTOR: Good morning, Kim. Thank you for having me. So in terms of why President Biden is not going to be charged, you have to think as a former prosecutor, as I was, you have to think whether you can prove your case beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury.

And technically, if you are a prosecutor and you're not able to prove that -- prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt, then you shouldn't be bringing charges against anyone. And that pretty much was the determination by the prosecutor is that they said that if we were to take him into custody and bring charges against him, they don't have faith that they can prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt which is different than Donald Trump which the prosecutor believes that they can prove that case beyond a reasonable doubt and the circumstances are different remember the facts are different in terms of Donald Trump he was asked to return the documents on several occasions and he did not.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, so one of the reasons the special prosecutor said that the, you know, that he wouldn't be able to prove these charges was because of Biden's memory would come across as an old man with the bad memory, I mean, those are -- those comments are pretty brutal and then now we have several Republicans in Congress calling on the cabinet to invoke the 25th amendment to remove him for his lack of mental acuity, I mean, politically it's fairly safe to say that won't go anywhere but legally, I mean, how about difficult would that be?

[03:30:00] VILLALONA: Well it's not to be difficult obviously the comments that

were made in that report have to deal with whether they can prove their case or bring charges in a criminal court not whether he is competent enough to still continue as president or to run again as president. Actually, I don't even think those comments should have been included in the report, but it was done already.

BRUNHUBER: Yeah, I mean, that is, you know, fairly unusual to have comments like that. I mean, do you think that was, you know, because it's a Republican, this was a partisan thing here?

VILLALONA: Oh, definitely. They were able to put in some jabs there at President Biden, of course, to help out the Republican nominee, whether it's Donald Trump or anyone else. But of course, it's going to be Donald Trump. But it was one that was not necessary. But of course, they knew that this report was going to be publicized. You have to think that this report and this news is what carried out the news throughout the day, despite the Supreme Court hearing today.

BRUNHUBER: All right. Well, let's talk about that. Then, Donald Trump, the question whether he's eligible for the 2024 ballot. Your sense of where things are headed. We heard that report there based on what we heard there in the oral arguments so far.

VILLALONA: So in terms of what we heard today in the Supreme Court, it's quite clear from listening to the questions of the Supreme Court justices that, look, Donald Trump is going to remain on the ballot. It's clear from the Supreme Court justices that they do not want to let a state make the determination of who will be the next president. They want that to be left up to Congress to make that determination and not to one individual state to make that determination.

BRUNHUBER: Yeah. Is -- Is that just it? It comes down to that Justice Kagan question, why a single state should decide who gets to be president of the United States?

VILLALONA: That seems to be the consensus from the nine justices. Well, I would say eight justices because I don't think Justice Sotomayor is going to actually rule with the rest of the justices. But I will say this. I mean, I was hoping that maybe they will address the question of insurrection of whether Donald Trump engaged in an insurrection, but all we got was a two-minute question from Justice Brown.

That's all we heard from the insurrection itself, but we understood that's one of a fact-based and the Supreme court doesn't engage in fact-finding missions as opposed to what they do is make decisions based on legal questions.

BRUNHUBER: All right, another legal question that the Supreme Court might hear his appeal against the decision by lower court to reject absolute presidential immunity for his efforts to overturn the election. Will the Supreme Court take it? Do you think?

VILLALONA: Well, the Supreme Court is the one I think the Supreme Court, of course, is going to take it. But what I think the Supreme Court is going to do in a question of absolute immunity is that they're going to tell Donald Trump as president, you do not have absolute immunity.

Common sense tells you that you don't have absolute immunity. You can't go out there and commit any type of crime that you want, and say, hey, because I'm president, I get a free pass not happening. So Donald Trump, he could take his win today, but he's going to lose on the absolute immunity question.

BRUNHUBER: All right, we'll see if that comes to pass. I really appreciate having you on Bernarda Villalona. Thanks so much for joining us.

VILLALONA: Thank you.

BRUNHUBER: All right, just ahead. Tucker Carlson goes one-on-one with Russia's Vladimir Putin. Look at what they discussed in a moment.

Plus, Ukraine's president fires his military chief in the biggest shakeup since the start of Russia's invasion. We'll talk to a government advisor in Kyiv about why the popular general was given the boot. That's coming up.




BRUNHUBER: The interview of Russian President Vladimir Putin conducted by right-wing media personality Tucker Carlson is out. During the one- on-one, the two discussed, among other things, Russia's detainment of American journalist Evan Gershkovich. The "Wall Street Journal" reporter was arrested almost a year ago and charged with espionage. A Russian court continues to extend his pretrial detention, but Putin says a deal could be made for the reporter's release.

CNN's Melissa Bell joins us now live from Paris. So Melissa, Carlson didn't challenge Putin on much, but he did ask Putin if he would be willing to release Gershkovich. So what more can you tell us about?

MELISSA BELL, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It was a two-hour interview that in the end saw Tucker Carlson really not do terribly much to ask many of the questions that one would have expected a journalist to ask Vladimir Putin, anything from challenging him on the war crimes that have been committed in Ukraine, the deportation of Ukrainian children, the repression of opponents, political opponents and independent journalists inside. None of that.

In fact, Tucker Carlson's first question led to a rambling 30-minute reply about the often repeated grievances that Vladimir Putin has used as justification for the invasion of Ukraine. But it was on the question of Evan Gershkovich, the "Wall Street Journal" reporter who was arrested in March of last year, that perhaps the most interesting answer came. You know that American officials have, of course, been trying to get

some progress on his release ever since last March. This is how the exchange went.



VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We are willing to solve it. But there are certain terms being discussed via special services channels. I believe an agreement can be reached.


BELL: What we understand the Russian position is now is that there is a Russian national, Vadim Krasikov, who's imprisoned in Berlin, has been since 2019 when he killed a Chechen fighter in broad daylight in Berlin, and he appears to be at the heart of Russia's demands. He had been a part of their demands, you'll remember, during the Brittany Griner negotiations, and Paul Wellen remains, of course, in a Russian prison.

She, the basketball player, was released in return for the arms dealer Victor Bout, who had been in American custody, but one of the requests of the Russians had been for this particular Russian national to be released from a German jail.

And that appears to be, again, the request that is being made in return for Evan Gershkovich's release. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen, but from the point of view of the Russian president, with just over a month to go before elections this a good propaganda coup and if you need to had if you had any questions about who this interview served you need only look at the amplification of it that's been made over the course of the last at twelve hours by Russian propaganda media outlets. Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Alright, thanks so much. Melissa Bell in Paris.

Ukraine's top general is out of a job after President Zelenskyy officially fired him on Thursday. General Valery Zaluzhny has clashed with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy over mobilization plans and he drew anger from the presidential office when he described the war as a stalemate last year. But the general is more popular than the president, according to recent polls, and some experts suggest his sacking may be purely a political move.

For more, we're joined by Yuriy Sak, an advisor to Ukraine's minister of strategic industries, and he's speaking with us from Kyiv. Thank you so much for being here with us. So from your perspective, I mean, why do you think he's been replaced?

YURIY SAK, ADVISER TO UKRAINE'S STRATEGIC INDUSTRIES MINISTER: Good morning. The president of Ukraine is the supreme commander-in-chief and under our constitution he is responsible for determining the strategy of how Ukraine defends itself and how Ukraine goes forward in the present situation. This war, very soon we will be marking the second anniversary of this

aggression and going into the third year it is clear that a lot has been achieved, and this has been stressed by President Zelenskyy yesterday when he made the announcement. He is grateful to General Zaluzhny, all of us, all of Ukrainians are grateful to General Zaluzhny because he's been at the top of our military command since the beginning of this large-scale invasion.

At the same time, we now realize that this is a changed war and it requires new vision, it requires new strategies. It requires certain aspects to be improved. So from our perspective what has happened in terms of the replacement of the military leadership team in the army is an upgrade of Ukrainian army that will allow us to achieve our goals faster and more efficiently.

BRUNHUBER: How much of this was because of perceived failures of the counter-offensive?

SAK: Well, neither our successes nor our failures or shortcomings can be blamed on one individual, one general, one president. We are in this together as a team, and I'd like to stress that the way that this change of leadership has taken place demonstrates that when it comes to serious decisions, Ukraine acts as a team.

And this is exactly why President Zelenskyy invited General Zaluzhny to stay on Team Ukraine. So it's not about blaming game, it's about finding better solutions which are more suitable at this stage of the war for the real front needs. We have issues that have to be improved like mobilization, like rotation, like supply of our frontline troops with western weapons.

All of these issues can be resolved and then require a fresh approach and this is what the newly appointed General Syrski, who will be now our commander-in-chief, will bring into the table.

BRUNHUBER: We've had soldiers talking to CNN, criticizing the decision, for example, saying that, quote, you do not dismiss the commander-in-chief in the middle of a war. Nothing good will come of it. It is playing into the hands of the Russians. I mean, is that right at all? I mean, how big of a boost might this be for Russia?


SAK: Well, one thing that we can say with certainty is that of course, Russian propaganda machine is really involved deeply in trying to solve discontent and divisions in the Ukrainian society because that's the way Russian propaganda works, divide and hopefully make your opponent weaker. Now we are well aware of this, but at the same time we are confident that, you know, the people of Ukraine will stand behind, will continue to stand behind the President of Ukraine.

The military and political leadership of the country has already expressed their support for the newly appointed Commander-in-Chief. So we're still united and Russian propaganda will not succeed.

BRUNHUBER: All right, so you've mentioned him a couple of times. Now tell us a bit more about the men who will replace him. General Oleksandr Syrsky, by some accounts loyal but divisive. So tell us about him and crucially what different approaches he might bring.

SAK: General Oleksandr Syrski brings with him an indispensable experience of conducting successful military operations. He was personally involved in the defense of Kyiv. He was personally involved in masterminding the spectacular liberation of Kharkiv a little more than a year ago.

General Syrski has been the commander of ground forces of Ukraine for a very long time. He has a very good understanding of the frontline needs and how this war should be fought. And it is also important to note that he will bring with him a new team of young generals and colonels who also have battlefield experience and very good understanding of the modern warfare. So the highly technological approach will be espoused and we are looking with optimism as a result of this change into the future.

BRUNHUBER: All right, finally, we heard earlier about Vladimir Putin's interview with Tucker Carlson and Putin's claims that the war could be over in a few weeks if the U.S. stopped supplying weapons to Ukraine. I mean, one imagines one of Putin's motives for doing the interview with a propagandist like Carlson would be to try to further influence and kill support in the U.S. Congress for military aid to Ukraine. So what did you make of Putin's interview and what he was hoping to get out of it?

YAK: Well, that was an interview that I and millions of other Ukrainians have seen long before Tucker Carlson has actually decided to do it, because nothing new was said during that interview. It was, again, the same set of falsities and propaganda messages that the Kremlin has used since the beginning of this large-scale invasion.

Now, we know for certain that if Ukraine stops fighting, it will be the end of Ukraine. But if Russia stops fighting, withdraws its troops, it will be the end of the war. So that's our goal. And we also understand that Ukraine's victory is in the national interests of the United States of America.

So we are hopeful that despite all the political difficulties that could be in the United States, in the end, there will also be, and always be a bipartisan support for the support of Ukraine, because I will repeat, standing with Ukraine, continuing to provide us with the vital support is in the national interest of the United States of America and we are confident that the leadership of the United States understands this

BRUNHUBER: Alright, we'll have to leave it there Yuriy Sak. Thank you so much for speaking with us. I really appreciate your time.

SAK: Thank you.

BRUNHUBER: And we'll be right back. Please do stay with us.




BRUNHUBER: The National Weather Service says there were at least three tornadoes reported in Illinois and Wisconsin Thursday night, and that includes the one captured in this video in Evansville, Wisconsin. Now, this is the first tornado ever reported in February in the state. There were no injuries reported, but power was knocked out in the area.

There were also reports of large hail and high wind gusts across the Midwest. Survey teams from the National Weather Service will be out in the morning to assess the number, strength, and path of the tornadoes.

Organizers of a soccer match in Hong Kong that didn't feature Lionel Messi will offer a partial refund. Tatler XFest apologized Friday and said it would refund half the cost of the tickets after fans were outraged that Messi didn't play with his team Inter Miami during the friendly last Sunday.

The organizer had said injuries could keep Messi from participating, but only confirmed he wouldn't play 10 minutes before the game ended. Added to the anger in Hong Kong, Messi did play in a friendly match in Tokyo just a few days later.

An emotional yet bittersweet moment in Los Angeles on Thursday, where the L.A. Lakers unveiled the first of three statues dedicated to basketball legend Kobe Bryant. Kobe's widow Vanessa Bryant revealed her late husband picked the pose for the statue. Bryant, also known as the Black Mamba, is the seventh player in franchise history to be commemorated with a statue.


The date of the unveiling, 2-8-2024, coincided with the two jersey numbers Bryant wore during his playing career, numbers 8 and 24, while the number 2 represents the jersey number his daughter, Gianna, wore. Bryant and Gianna were among nine people who died in a helicopter crash four years ago.

All right, we're getting a first look at the medals that athletes will compete for at the Summer Olympic Games in Paris, and they literally contain a bit of history in them. Oh, look, the medals unveiled Thursday were inspired by the iconic Eiffel Tower and include a piece of the original 19th century landmark in each one. Organizers say ironwork pulled from the tower during its recent renovation was cleaned to become part of the sought after prize.

Well that wraps this hour of our coverage. I'm Kim Brunhuber. "CNN Newsroom" with Bianca Nobilo continues after the break.