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CNN This Morning

WH Faces Questions in Special Counsel Documents Investigation; 25 Million People Under Flood Watches in California; Explosions Rock Kyiv, Other Ukrainian Cities Overnight; Russian Claims Victory in Town of Soledar, Ukraine Denies; Treasury Secretary Warns U.S. Could Default on Debt Next Week; New Report Suggests U.S. Cancer Death Rate has Fallen 33 Percent Since 1991; Researchers Describe 2022 As the Hottest Year on Record for World's Oceans. Aired 6-7a ET

Aired January 14, 2023 - 06:00   ET




AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone, and welcome to CNN This Morning. I'm Amara Walker.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning, Amara. I'm Boris Sanchez.

The White House is trying to go on with business as usual amid mounting questions over President Biden's handling of classified documents. What we're learning about the special counsel investigation and why Republicans in Congress say they're looking into the Department of Justice's response.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Saturday night we could get blasted with rain. And that's when I thought, let's get a little bit more protection.


WALKER: Parts of California preparing for even more heavy rain and flooding as another round of powerful storms move in. Now, look at the forecast, including when things will finally start to dry out.

SANCHEZ: And developing this morning, powerful explosions heard across Ukraine as Russia launches another round of attacks. We'll take you live to Kyiv for the very latest.

WALKER: Plus, $10 for a dozen eggs, why so many of us are getting sticker shock at the grocery store when it comes to some breakfast staples?

SANCHEZ: Take a deep breath, the weekend is here. Saturday, January 14, we're so grateful that you are waking up with us. Great to be with you as always, Amara.

WALKER: I'm so grateful to be with you. It's so nice to see you. I feel like it's been a long time. So good to be with you, Boris. Good morning.

Well, at first, a lot of questions, but few answers from the White House about the growing controversy over the handling of classified documents. President Biden is trying to carry on business as usual, but his administration is under pressure over the discovery of the documents at a former office at his home in Delaware.

SANCHEZ: Yeah. Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed a special counsel to take over the investigation. Robert Hur is a registered Republican. He was actually appointed to the federal bench by Donald Trump, and he's most recently been in private practice. Republicans in Congress are now launching their own investigation, too. The Judiciary Committee Chairman, Jim Jordan, sent a letter demanding the Justice Department hand over its documents, writing, "The American people deserve transparency and accountability from our most senior executive branch law enforcement officials." A top Democrat, though, Senator Chris Coons says, the American people are more focused on other issues.


SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): I don't think we should focus too much on an issue that I honestly did not hear from a single person at home is their top concern. Their concern is prices at the pump, prices at the grocery store, gun violence, climate change, jobs, moving our economy forward. Not one person asked me about these documents.


SANCHEZ: We are learning more about those documents found at President Biden's former office. For more on that and the latest from the administration, let's bring in CNN White House Correspondent Arlette Saenz. Good morning, Arlette.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Boris and Amara. This White House is facing persistent questions about the classified documents discovery at President Biden's home and also an office he used here in Washington D.C. but so, far they've really offered very few answers. This is an issue that has dominated the conversation over the course of the past five days and has entered a new phase as that Special Counsel investigation is underway.

Now, for many here at the White House, when you talk to aides they are in the dark about the details of this discovery. The strategizing has been left to a very small group of advisors as well as outside lawyers. A source confirming that Bob Bauer is the lawyer that is representing the President in this matter. He is someone that worked with President Biden back during the 2020 campaign and he will be the one working closely with the Special Counsel to answer their questions about how these documents made their way to that office and to that residence.

It was on Monday night that the White House first revealed, after it was revealed in media reports that there were classified documents found at the President's, a former office at the Penn Biden Center here in Washington D.C. That is a think tank that he had set up when he left office. In that office we have learned that there were about ten classified documents relating to the U.K., Iran and Ukraine. And there were also some memos, one that President Biden wrote to President Obama and two others that were preparing him for phone calls with the British Prime Minister as well as Donald Tusk who was President of the European Council at the time.


But then, it was three days later that the White House revealed that they had found additional documents at his residence. That is something that Attorney General Merrick Garland outlined in his announcement of the Special Counsel, detailing that they were told on December 20 that they had found those documents. So, there are so many questions that this White House is facing, including why they didn't reveal feel publicly that there was that second batch of documents that was found and also not answering questions just yet if President Biden himself would agree to sit for an interview with the Special Counsel. But the White House is trying to say that they're trying to answer as many questions as possible.


KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I've been in here almost every day since we got back from Mexico City, standing here, taking your questions at length. So, we're not avoiding anything here. And you've heard from the President at least twice. And we have put forth multiple statements from the White House Counsel's Office.


SAENZ: But still, there are so many details that this White House has not provided. Before the White House's part, they are trying to proceed undeterred with their schedule. You saw President Biden here yesterday hosting the Japanese Prime Minister Kishida. Tomorrow he is traveling to Atlanta, where he is set to become the first sitting President to speak at a service at Ebenezer Baptist Church. That is the church that was home to Martin Luther King, Jr.

So, the White House is still trying to proceed with business as usual, even though this issue of the Special Counsel is dominating so much of the conversation. Of course, officials here at the White House when you speak with them, they believe that ultimately this review will determine that these items were mistakenly or misadvertently located or taken to those offices. But certainly, what they're also trying to do is draw this distinction that they are trying to cooperate every step of the way with the National Archives, with the Justice Department, and not with the Special Counsel.

WALKER: Yeah, it's definitely going to be tough for the White House to be undeterred in all of this. Arlette Saenz, appreciate your reporting, as always. Thank you.

So, let's get some perspective on the political and legal aspects which really are intertwined at this point. Joining us now is former Federal Prosecutor Shan Wu and Lindsey McPherson, Senior Congressional Reporter for Roll Call. Welcome to you both this morning. Shan, let's start with you because I know you're saying that you don't believe the Attorney General Garland needed to appoint a Special Counsel. Why do you believe that? Because, you know, it seems like these are the exact kind of circumstances which would call for one?

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Good morning. Well, the reason that I think he didn't have to do it, although I certainly see why he did it, is because the actual regs give him the discretion if he thinks it's warranted and that really depends on whether he thinks there's some kind of basis for a criminal investigation. He's certainly now not privy to what he learned from the U.S. attorney in Chicago who had done the preliminary look at it. But judging from the outside, it doesn't look like there is any evidence of criminal intent. So, he could have handled it there himself and determined no need for a special counsel. Obviously, from his own remarks, he's very much relying on the notion of public interest here. It's a sitting president, so he wants the COVID and the installation of using a special counsel. So, I don't think he had to, but certainly see why he did.

And actually, there could be some unintended benefits for the Biden administration because by having a special counsel actually run a criminal investigation, that can really insulate them from a lot of the congressional inquiries, because now it's an active criminal investigation.

WALKER: All right, well, those congressional inquiries are obviously underway, as this has become an opening for House Republicans, and they have announced that several committees are now investigating it.

And, Lindsey, to you, I mean, politically, I mean, obviously the implications are huge. And, of course, I do want to talk to you about how much of a political liability this is for President Biden, but also this drip, drip of disclosures. You know, first we heard about these classified documents being found at the Penn Biden Center on Monday. And then, of course, on Thursday we heard about the documents at his private home in Delaware. I mean, are we also seeing a major credibility issue for the Biden presidency?

LINDSEY MCPHERSON, ROLL CALL SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, certainly it's a problem that there are new information that has come out since the initial disclosure. This was the same thing that happened with Trump where it was initially a little documents that were found in the situation escalated. You know, Republicans, in particular, I think that this has been handled in hypocrat -- this is hypocrisy in the way the Justice Department has handled this, that they did a raid on former President Donald Trump's home when he was -- they say he was trying to cooperate. And in the case of Biden, they seem to have kind of kept this under the rug since the first documents were found in November before the election. And they have questions about the timing of that and whether there was any coordination with the Justice Department.

So, there's still a lot of questions to be answered, depending what comes out. This could be a big political liability for the Biden administration, depending what's those answers to those questions are. [06:10:03]

WALKER: Right. And to that point, you know, with Republicans saying that, you know, we're seeing a lot of hypocrisy here, Shan, can we just take a moment to talk about the fact that there are clear differences between Trump's handling of classified -- apparent handling of classified documents versus Biden's, right? And a lot of it goes down to what we've seen in terms of cooperation?

WU: Well, absolutely, that's exactly right. I mean, while there might be a question of this small window of time between the discovery, same day notification to the archives and then to DOJ, we are talking about one to two months at this point where the government already knew about it. In contrast with the Trump Mar-a-Lago situation, there were months of negotiation. There was even a grand jury subpoena before finally, apparently, through some, you know, human source information, the Department became so concerned about the exposure of these highly sensitive documents that they went to a judge and asked for a search warrant. So, the differences are enormous in terms of the cooperation.

Here, at least from the outside appearances, the Biden folks did exactly what you would want them to do. They discovered the documents, told archives right away, archives referred it to DOJ. And the Biden spokespeople haven't really made this point but there is an argument to be made that one reason for not trying to be ahead of the story is that it's in the hands of the Justice Department. It's not really the place of the White House or any witness or subject of an investigation to be making public statements ahead of DOJ unless you're purely doing it for political spin. And, of course, you know, they may be interested in doing that, but there's an argument for not doing that. They're letting the Justice Department take care of the investigation.

WALKER: Well, we also heard too, you know, look, this is just another example of how classified documents can inadvertently, you know, end up in, you know, accidentally in private homes or in an office. And Lindsey, I mean, we had some really interesting reporting here on CNN about the last few days of the Vice Presidency of Joe Biden in 2017. It was quite frenzy up until the last minute, was holding really high- profile meetings, you know, with Poroshenko and the like and how his lower staffers were packing up his stuff in his offices. It was just a very frenzy picture. Can you talk about that and about, you know, how these kinds of documents could end up in these situations?

MCPHERSON: Right, it's not like, you know, when your term ends as a president or vice president, it's not like you don't have a job to continue doing and high-level meetings happen. And as your guy is reporting showed that there was a lot of things going on and that aides were frenzied and trying to pack documents. So, it is easy enough to mistake. You know, you have classified documents out for briefings that you're doing and different things. And it's easy to misplace things and certainly we don't know 100% for sure if that's what happened. But there's an argument to be made that it could be an accident and that things happen. But I think what this whole thing has shown, this and the situation with President Donald Trump, is that maybe there should be more formal protocols in place for packing up documents when a president or vice president leaves office to avoid situations like this in the future, because these are two incidents have come to light. But there could have been ones in the past as well that we never learned about.

WALKER: Right. I understand that the National Archives actually sends a specialist to the Oval Office versus the Vice President, you know, you have staffers doing that kind of work.

We're going to leave it there. Shan Wu and Lindsey McPherson. I appreciate you getting up early this morning. Thank you.

WU: Good to see you.

MCPHERSON: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: A recovery effort is underway across the south right now, especially in Alabama and Georgia, after severe storms killed at least nine people on Thursday night, including a young child. At least 37 tornadoes were reported, with one twister caring through the heart of Selma, Alabama, and neighboring Otago, Georgia -- or rather Otoga County, where thousands are still without power. Alabama Governor, Kay Ivey, who surveyed the damage in Selma Friday, is calling on President Biden to expedite relief funds for her state.


GOV. KAY IVEY (R-AL): A glimpse was very revealing. It's far worse than anything I had envisioned or seen on television. Roofs had just gone and trees looked like toothpicks. And there's a lot of work to be done here.


SANCHEZ: Coming up later this morning, we're going to share with you one Alabama family's story of survival. This is what is left of the McCloud family's home after it was hit by the tornado. They were trapped inside for hours before being rescued. They're going to tell us about their experience and how they finally made it out. Coming up in just about a few hours at 8 a.m.


So, from the Southeast to the West Coast, more than 25 million people are under flood watches across much of central California's coastline and valley this weekend.

WALKER: Waves of storms fueled by a powerful atmospheric river are expected to bring more heavy rain and snow, as well as a new round of mudslides and strong winds as if they just, you know, need more of this. Let's get Meteorologist Allison Chinchar in the Weather Center. I mean, some of the stories of the deaths and stuff has just been horrifying. What's the latest on the sign of storms?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, so the good news is there is light at the end of the tunnel, but we still have to get through a couple more rounds of some showers and even some snow as well. Here's a look at where the heaviest rain is now. You'll notice it's mostly focused over northern and Central California, pretty much the same area we've been talking about the last couple of weeks. Flood watches are in effect for over 25 million people because not only of the additional rainfall that's coming in, but also on top of that completely saturated ground.

Here, you can see that first wave. Again, and you notice that shift where it does eventually get down into Southern California. So, even though Southern California has really had a break for the last couple of days, that changes today. Then, the second wave begins to push in. And that's going to be late Sunday and transitioning into Monday. It's not just rain and snow, though. We also have very gusty winds. A lot of these areas where you see this wind advisory, you're talking wind gusts up to 50 mph. When you get higher up into the elevations, now you're talking 60, 70 mph. Overall rainfall accumulations widespread, two to four inches, and then you're talking two to four feet of snow. But the good news, guys, the end of next week, we finally see some drier conditions return.

WALKER: Oh, thank goodness. Allison Chinchar. Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Thanks, Allison. Still ahead this morning, new developments out of Ukraine as explosions are heard in several cities amid a new wave of Russian attacks. We're going to take you live to Kyiv.

WALKER: Also, hopeful news in the fight against cancer as deaths continue to fall, what doctors say is behind the decline.



WALKER: New this morning, several explosions rocked the capital city of Kyiv overnight.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, Kyiv's Mayor Vitali Klitschko said there was an attack on the capital. He reported that missiles struck several power facilities, part of the city's critical infrastructure. We want to go live to Kyiv now because CNN's Scott McLean is live there. Scott, bring us up to speed on the attacks in Kyiv and then tell us about the demonstration that you're at right now?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Boris. Yeah. So, we were woken up this morning by three very powerful explosions in the city center or that we could hear from the city center, I should say. And what was unusual is that the air raid sirens did not go off. We heard the explosions first, and then only moments later did we hear air raid sirens.

Officials say that they were targeting infrastructure, but there is also at least some damage to a residential area just outside of Kyiv. Where I am right now is at a demonstration for people whose loved ones, husbands, sons, are missing in action. So, these are people either who have been taken prisoner of war or some of them, their status is unknown. And we have had many conversations with some of these mothers and wives that are quite emotional. One mother says she doesn't know where her son is, but she has that mother's instinct that he's alive. And she's just been praying ever since.

I also want to introduce you to Tanya Zhukova, whose father was taken prisoner of war last year. And this is a picture of him right here. She's gotten a letter from him. I just wonder what message are you trying to get out here today, Tanya?

TANYA ZHUKOVA, FATHER IS PRISONER OF WAR: All of us, we are here to ask our president and to ask our government to exchange all prisoners there -- to exchange our prisoners to come back our relatives home. We just want to see them as soon as possible. It's quite important for us because some of our fathers, grandfathers, our husbands there in prison for almost ten months, so it's just too long.

MCLEAN: And Tanya, I -- you know, you have your son Tim here, he's five years old, and your husband is also fighting on the front lines. Can you just tell me, you know, as a mother, as a daughter to your father, who's now missing, what have the last few months been like for you?

ZHUKOVA: It was horrible. You know, when the war started out, I just felt myself really bad. Now, we just get used to this situation, but it's not normal for Ukrainians and just not normal for people at all. I just want to come back my dad home and I just want my husband to be alive and we just want to live as we lived before and have our previous life, not like now.

MCLEAN: And how has your son been coping about all this? What's he been saying? How is he feeling?

ZHUKOVA: He was scared for the first time. Now, he just misses his granddad, his father, and he wants to play with them as before. That's why we're here. We want them to come back.

MCLEAN: Are you optimistic about the year to come?

ZHUKOVA: Yeah, I'm trying to be. We need to be. We need to be strong and to believe in the good future.

MCLEAN: You're hoping. Thank you so much for talking to us, we really appreciate it. And obviously we're hoping that your father comes home soon and that your husband stays safe.

So, Boris, Amara, look, I could have had the same conversation with any number of these people. Obviously, they're doing prisoner exchanges. You hear about them from time to time. There have been several dozens since the war began, but usually you hear about maybe 50, 100 prisoners exchanged at once. Clearly, there are thousands and thousands who are still missing.


WALKER: It's so powerful to hear that mother say that, you know, she just wants her son to be able to play with her father and grandfather. Hopefully that will happen soon. Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Thanks, Scott. New video from the town of Soledar shows a massive explosion on Friday. This is in the eastern part of Ukraine and this explosion is at a building that appear to be occupied by Russian troops. The Ukrainian commander says there were at least 25 Russian soldiers in that building. And Soladar in the Donetsk region has been the site of intense fighting. Russia has claimed victory there, but Ukraine says it still has troops holding that town. We want to talk about that situation with CNN Military Analyst and Retired Colonel Cedric Leighton.

Colonel, always great to have you on bright and early. We appreciate you joining us. Put this into perspective for us. This is a relatively small town, but it carries symbolic importance, right?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It sure does, Boris. And good morning. There are certain things about Soledar. First of all, it's a mining area. It's mainly known for its salt mines, which have a lot of caverns in them. So, there is the possibility that somebody could use this as a storage facility for military equipment, for troops to keep them in hiding, things like that.

Soledar is also right near Bakhmut. Bakhmut has been in the news for the last few weeks and this area is really kind of as the gateway for the conquest of the rest of the Donbas region by the Russians. So, the Russians believe that if they capture Soledar and they'll be able to encircle Ukrainian troops that are holding Bakhmut and then they'll be able to capture the remaining part of the Donetsk Oblast, which is the southern part of the Donbas Region. So, these areas are critical from that standpoint, but from a military standpoint there are no military installations there.

The one other thing to note about Bakhmut is that it sits astride one of the main highways that connects the eastern part of the country with Kharkiv and then it goes on to Kyiv. So, there is a path that the Russians could potentially take forward. But given the difficulties that they've had, it's very unlikely that they would be able to prosecute that advantage and take advantage of any capturing that they be their Soledar or Bakhmut at this point.

SANCHEZ: You mentioned the difficulties that Russian troops have had in Ukraine and perhaps the victory in Soledar is also symbolic because it represents any victory at all. They've been rare for Russian forces and notably I found it interesting that there were competing groups who took credit for it. The Russian Defense Ministry is taking credit and then the Wagner Group has also taken credit, this private military force, what do you make of that infighting, those conflicting claims.

LEIGHTON: Yeah, it's pretty clear that there are several power centers that work here, Boris. And one of the key things to note is that the Wagner Group is basically a private mercenary army that has a bit of state support, kind of under the table, usually through the intelligence agencies of the Russian Federation. So, what you're seeing is the ability of the Wagner Group to use people like convicts and others that they've brought out of prison and from other parts of, in essence, the Russian underworld. And they're using them, they're employing them as fighters. On the other hand, you have the Russian Defense Ministry, which controls the Russian military, and they obviously want to take credit for it, because what is happening is their failure to prosecute. The advantage in this war has created a really negative impact on their ability not only to carry out military operations, their ability to defend Russia itself.

SANCHEZ: Yeah. And, Colonel, one last question. Vladimir Putin again this week reshuffled the top command for the Russian military forces in Ukraine. General Valery Gerasimov is taking over. His predecessor lasted about three months in the position. What does that tell you about the Kremlin's outlook in Ukraine long-term?

LEIGHTON: Yeah, that -- so what you're seeing here is the guy that's responsible for a military doctrine that got a lot of, you know, press in the west is now in charge. And what you're doing here is you're putting in somebody who really should be sitting at headquarters and running the whole war effort. The fact that they're doing this means that the Ukraine effort is really important to the Russians and they're seeking everything on it.

SANCHEZ: Colonel Cedric Leighton, appreciate you walking us through all the details.

LEIGHTON: You bet, Boris.

WALKER: All right. Still ahead this morning, encouraging news in the fight against cancer. A new report showing the U.S. cancer death rate has fallen significantly in the last three decades, we'll explain, next.



BORIS SANCHEZ, CO-ANCHOR, NEW DAY WEEKEND: The Treasury Department is warning that the United States will reach the debt ceiling in about five days on January 19th, and that extraordinary measures must be taken to avert defaulting. The White House press secretary said it's up to Congress to take action.


KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There's been a bipartisan cooperation when it comes to lifting the debt ceiling, and that's how it should be. That's how it should continue. It's not and should not be a political football. This is not political gamesmanship, and we are -- this should be done without condition.


SANCHEZ: House Republicans are now preparing contingency plans in case the nation does hit the debt limit.

WALKER: Signs of progress in the fight against cancer. A new report from the American Cancer Society shows that the rate of people dying of cancer in the U.S. is on the decline, falling 33 percent in the last three decades. [06:35:00]

SANCHEZ: And that is fantastic news, but the report is also warning about a concerning rise in cases of breast, prostate and uterine cancers. CNN health reporter Jacqueline Howard breaks this down for us.

JACQUELINE HOWARD, CNN HEALTH REPORTER: This new report from the American Cancer Society shows we've made steady progress in getting our nation's cancer death rate to decline in the past three decades. That's in part due to advancements in treatment. We have fewer people smoking, which is a risk factor for cancer.

We also have an HPV vaccine which offers some protection against cervical cancer, and we're detecting cancers early. All of those factors have played a role in what the head of the American Cancer Society calls meaningful gains. Have a listen.


KAREN KNUDSEN, CEO, AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY: There's new revelations for prevention, for early detection and for treatment, have resulted in true meaningful gains in many of the 200 diseases that we call cancer.


HOWARD: While this is good news, when you really look at the numbers, there's still some room for improvement in certain areas. So the data shows that our nation's cancer death rate has declined 33 percent since 1991, but there are some significant racial disparities in the death rate. We still see a 12 percent higher death rate in the black community, which signals that there's still some inequities that need to be addressed.

We also are seeing increases in the overall incidents of certain cancer cases. We're seeing more breast cancer, more uterine cancer, more prostate cancer. And we also know, Boris and Amara, the lifetime probability of being diagnosed with any invasive cancer is 41 percent for men, 39 percent for women. Researchers say that there's room for improvement to get our cancer risk in general down as well. Amara and Boris, back to you.

WALKER: Yes, that is a great point, thank you so much. Coming up, tributes continue to pour in after the death of Lisa Marie Presley. A look back at her life and how she is being remembered.



SANCHEZ: Crowds of fans are gathering at Graceland; the former home of Elvis Presley, to pay tribute to his only child, Lisa Marie Presley.

WALKER: She died Thursday after being rushed to the hospital following a cardiac arrest. She was just 54 years old. CNN's Chloe Melas has more.

CHLOE MELAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER: Boris and Amara, tributes are flooding in from all over the world in the wake of Lisa Marie Presley's death. One of them being one of her ex-husband's, actor, Nicholas Cage writing this, quote, "this is devastating news. Lisa had the greatest laugh of anyone I ever met. She lit up every room. And I am heartbroken."

Adding quote, "I find some solace, believing she's reunited with her son, Benjamin." Now, Benjamin was one of her four children, he died by suicide in 2020. And Lisa Marie opened up about that grief and that loss, and what that was like in an essay over the Summer. And she said that her soul went with Benjamin that day.

And she was never able to fully process that grief. She wrote it in an effort to try to help others who were grieving over the loss of a loved one. Now, many other individuals took to social media over the past couple of days, one of them being Baz Luhrmann, who directed the movie about her father, "Elvis", in which Austin Butler won the Golden Globe for best actor earlier this week when Lisa Marie Presley and her mother Priscilla were in the audience when Austin took the stage to accept that award.

Baz Luhrmann wrote this, "over the last year, the entire "Elvis" movie family and I have felt the privilege of Lisa Marie's kind embrace. Her sudden, shocking loss has devastated people all over the world." Now, those are just some of the tributes earlier on Friday. We learned from a family representative, that Lisa Marie will be laid to rest at Graceland.

That was the estate that her father lived at, that he left to her, and also Benjamin, her son, is buried there. Still, no word on autopsy results, toxicology. And we will keep you all posted on that as those developments come in. Boris, Amara?

SANCHEZ: Chloe Melas, thank you so much for that report. Up next, a coral killer, the lionfish wreaking havoc on reefs in the Atlantic for decades. Now, one conservationist is popularizing a tasty approach to protect against invasive species. We'll talk to him next. And he was mayor during 9/11, and in the midst of tragedy, he stepped up.

But what happened to that leader? A CNN original series "GIULIANI: WHAT HAPPENED TO AMERICA'S MAYOR?" Tomorrow at 9:00 p.m.



SANCHEZ: Twenty-twenty-two was the hottest year on record for the world's oceans. That's according to a new research published this week by the journal, "Advances in Atmospheric Sciences". Climate change is one of many factors threatening the ocean's delicate ecosystems like coral reefs which are rapidly dying all over the world.

You may also not suspect that one of those threats, a coral killer, is a hugely popular pet, lionfish, are found in aquariums all over the world, but mishandling them can lead to devastating consequences for reefs. Fortunately, our next guest is raising awareness about a delicious way to limit their impact.

Conservationist and underwater photographer Jason Washington joins us now live from Grand Cayman where he helped organize an event this week, drawing a claim from environmentalists all over the world. Jason, we're grateful to have you this morning. Help us understand this problem. The population of lionfish have exploded in the Caribbean over the last few decades. Why and why are they so harmful to reefs?

JASON WASHINGTON, CONSERVATIONIST & UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHER: So it started in the Carolinas somewhere around the mid-1980s. And these fish were very likely aquarium releases. So you buy them, you take them home to your child's aquarium. You come back the next day, all the fish are gone except for the lionfish.

They eat everything. Very likely people released those into canals because these fish can have 30,000 babies every four days. It only took a couple of interactions between a male and a female and we had this giant explosion. Now, the big problem lies in the fact that they don't have any natural predators in the Atlantic or the Caribbean, and when they land on a reef, they start to consume all the juvenile reef fish that maintain the healthy balance on the reef.


SANCHEZ: So you're helping to raise awareness that people obviously shouldn't be dumping their pets into the wild. But since they're already out there, how are you promoting or eradicating them?

WASHINGTON: Well, the good news is, they're delicious. So, we started a program back in 2009 here in the Cayman Islands, and I am the head of a nonprofit here called CULFL or the Cayman United Line Fish League, sponsored by a very generous local family, the Foster family, and they give us money to incentivize local callers to go out and hunt these fish.

And as a part of our program, we hunt the fish over the weekend and then we bring it to a local restaurant where the restaurant prepares the fish for the public for free, so everyone gets a chance to eat the fish, raising awareness about how delicious the fish is. But also teaching people that eating lionfish is better than eating a local reef fish and just raising awareness about the delicate nature of our marine environment generally.

SANCHEZ: And there are communities that have followed that example. You also have some world-class help in preparing the lionfish fresh out of the water. We saw in that video, one of your partners in this effort is Jose Andres, he was onboard with you this week. Let's play a clip of that.


JOSE ANDRES, CHEF & RESTAURANTEUR: But actually, it's like any other fish, and actually, it's a very tasty fish because of their diet. They eat the best of the coral, so they have to be, but tasty --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What does it taste like? Can you compare it to another fish?

ANDRES: Well, it takes like comers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a very clean white fish. It's like snapper or mutton snapper.

ANDRES: I think it's a sophisticated mutton snapper.


ANDRES: If you like mutton snapper, you're going to love lionfish.


SANCHEZ: Mr. hot sauce describing a sophisticated fish there. What's it like to eat lionfish prepped by Jose Andres?

WASHINGTON: It's amazing. I mean, everything prepped by Jose Andres is amazing. But the fact that we can take a celebrity and elevate the issue surrounding lionfish invasion or the invasion of invasive species generally is such a huge win for us, because without the help of celebrities like Jose Andres, we just wouldn't be able to get the word out there in a substantial way or in a meaningful way.

And he's been a giant champion of our program from the jump, and because of his involvement, Atlantic and Caribbean nations all over are now utilizing our programs to fight their invaders.

SANCHEZ: And Jason, quickly, we should point out lionfish are venomous, right? So You've got to be careful.

WASHINGTON: They're venomous, but they're not poisonous. So, I think that's why some people are afraid to eat them because they forget the difference between venomous and poisonous. But it's a protein-based toxin inside their flesh, because it's protein-based, that venom is broken down like any other protein by our digestive system. So, you can actually eat them raw, which is what we did with Jose yesterday.

SANCHEZ: Some lionfish, so she -- if you want to try something new at your favorite seafood place, you know what to order. Cayman Jason, thanks so much, we appreciate the recommendation.

WALKER: I'm up for it, I want to try it. I mean, I love fish, I love it raw, I just got to find it on the menu. But I know this is a topic that you're really passionate about. So --


WALKER: Protect the coral if you've got to -- I will eat lionfish just for you and just because of the segment.

SANCHEZ: If you're an adventurous eater, I would give it a shot and you're doing something good for the environment. So why not? WALKER: But he said it was a sophisticated --

SANCHEZ: Sophisticated, yes --

WALKER: What did he say sophisticated -- snapper. I love snappers. So, anyway, that was great. All right, coming up, the road to the Super Bowl begins today as four teams begin their playoff journey. We're going to have a preview of the key match-ups next.



WALKER: The NFL playoffs kick off today. Six games over the next three days on super wild card weekend.

SANCHEZ: The first game between the Seahawks and 49ers may come down to a player donned Mr. Irrelevant. Andy Scholes joins us now --


SANCHEZ: This morning. Andy --


SANCHEZ: Brock Purdy not so irrelevant now, is he?

SCHOLES: Yes, not at all, guys. You know, when you get picked last in the NFL draft, you get that title, Mr. Irrelevant. You need to get your own parade at Disneyworld. But you know, most guys who Mr. Irrelevant know end up having long successful careers, Brock Purdy is breaking that trend in a big way.

Purdy, the 252nd and final pick of that 22 -- 2022 NFL draft out of Iowa state, he was the 49ers third-string quarterback to start the season, but after injuries, throw lands to Jimmy Garoppolo, he's taken over, won every single start. A perfect 6-0. Mr. Irrelevant lifting the Lombardi Trophy, maybe like a movie in real life. But Purdy, he's trying to live in a moment.


BROCK PURDY, QUARTERBACK, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: I feel like I'll do a lot of reflecting, you know, towards, you know, half of the season. Right now I'm looking at it like, man, we've got the Seahawks, yes, it's a playoffs. But for myself, it's -- I've got to do my job, I'm not trying to, you know, think about the storybook ending with anything like that.

It's -- man, I've got a great defense I've got to play on Sunday. I've got to do my job in terms of giving the guys the ball, and all that will fall in place.


SCHOLES: The 49ers won ten straight, huge favorites today against the Seahawks. The nightcap will have the Jaguars hosting the Chargers. All right, we had a record-setting night in San Antonio, 68,323 fans pouring into the Alamodome to celebrate the Spurs 50th anniversary, shattering the NBA attendance record by more than 6,000.

Which was set by a match during the Bulls when they played at the Hawks in the Georgia Dome back in 1998. It ended up being a showcase for defending champs, eight warriors scoring in double digits on their way to a season high-end points. They won that game 144-113.

All right, finally, LSU gymnastics had to have extra security. They had that last night for their meet in Kentucky because fans because Livvy Dunne fans were becoming disruptive at Tigers' road meet. Livvy is a junior for LSU, she's also the most followed college athlete on TikTok with 6.7 million followers.

And a group of fans in Utah disrupted the LSU meet last weekend, chanting, "we want Livvy". She didn't compete due to an injury, but she did greet --