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Russia: U.S. & Western Tanks Show "Direct Involvement" In War; Biden Faces Blowback From Democrats On Classified Documents; Today: Memphis To Release Video Showing Police Beating Of Nichols; Biden Calls For Peaceful Protest Ahead Of Memphis Beating Video; Schiff On His Decision To Run For Feinstein's Senate Seat. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired January 27, 2023 - 07:30   ET





VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translation): Every Russian missile against our cities, every Iranian drone, which terrorists use are arguments for why more weapons are needed. Only weapons neutralize terrorist.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: That's Ukrainian President Zelenskyy imploring the West for more assistance as Russia is ramping up its attacks on his country. Putin's Army launched 70 missiles at Ukraine yesterday, according to Ukrainian forces.

Russia also carried out 44 airstrikes targeting energy facilities and killing around a dozen people. The latest spike in aggression came just hours after Germany and the United States announced they plan to send tanks to Ukraine.

Joining us now to discuss this is National Security Council Spokesman John Kirby. John, thank you so much for being with us. Obviously, Russia says they see this as the U.S. being directly involved now. Is the U.S. directly involved now?

JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL SPOKESPERSON: This is Russia's war on Ukraine. And that narrative has been something Putin has been putting out since the beginning, that this is the U.S. versus Russia or NATO versus Russia. And it's not. It's Russia versus Ukraine. And we're doing -- not just we -- so many other nations around the world are doing what we can to help Ukraine defend itself.

COLLINS: Was the United States reluctant to send these tanks?

KIRBY: This was a iterative conversation that we've had with the Ukrainians and with our allies and partners now for quite so many weeks, Kaitlan, about armored capabilities. Because we knew as we got through the winter, and as we get ready to prepare for the spring, or as the Ukrainians prepare for the spring that having armored capabilities, we're going to be critical to their ability to conduct what we call combined arms operations, which is basically being able to fight in open terrain using integrating all your elements, infantry, artillery, and armor. And so the tanks were always a part of that conversation.

COLLINS: But are the tanks going to be there if there is this expected spring offensive?

KIRBY: The Leopard tanks will probably get there from the Germans and from their -- our European allies and partners who will get there in relatively short order, probably in time to help them in the spring and summer. The American tanks, the Abrams will take a little bit more time. It will take many months before they can get on the ground.

But we're not going to waste time. We're going to get Ukrainian soldiers into some training, make sure that they know how to maintain these tanks, and also help them make sure they've got a good supply chain for parts and supplies to keep them moving.

COLLINS: You said many months, well, the tanks that the U.S. is sending be on the ground in Ukraine by the end of 2023?

KIRBY: I don't want to get too specific because we're still working the plans out but it'll be many months. The most important thing is that those Leopard tanks will be there in short order.

COLLINS: What about fighter jets, because that's also something we're seeing the Ukrainians call for?

KIRBY: President Zelenskyy --

COLLINS: Is that on the table?

KIRBY: He's talked about that before too, their desire for fighter aircraft. I don't have any announcements or anything to say specifically about future packages, except to say that we are constantly talking to the Ukrainians about their knees, and we want to make sure that we're doing the best we can to meet them. And if we can't, and that some of our allies and partners can.

COLLINS: Is President Biden considering a trip to Europe to coincide with the anniversary of the invasion.

KIRBY: No travel to speak to today, Kaitlan. He is staying in close contact with President Zelenskyy. They speak quite frequently, quite often. And again, our focus is on making sure that we're arming Ukraine.

COLLINS: Does he still want to go to Ukraine?

KIRBY: I think that -- you know, the President would certainly, whatever appropriate time, would be willing to do that. But we're not at that point right now.

COLLINS: On classified documents, the National Archives has sent a letter to all former presidents and vice presidents basically asking them to do a check if they have classified documents in their capacity given what's happened. President Biden, President Trump, Vice President Pence. Does President Biden support that move by the National Archives and see it as necessary?


KIRBY: He certainly respects the call by the National Archives to ask for that. And as you know, and we've said many times, he takes us the handling of classified material seriously. That's why we're being so cooperative with the Department of Justice.

COLLINS: Senators here on Capitol Hill have argued they're not getting access to these documents. Senators who are on the Intelligence Committee and say, they should be able to see what these documents were that Biden took, that Trump took, that Pence still had in his capacity, why is the administration not giving them access to those documents?

KIRBY: These documents, at least in the case of the President, are in the possession of the Department of Justice. This is an ongoing investigation, and they have appointed a special counsel. We are going to respect that process. And embedded in that process is making sure we preserve the integrity of their ability to go through those documents.

COLLINS: But senators say that that's not precedent. They say the Justice Department's Russia investigation, you know, there was a special counsel there, they could still access those documents.

KIRBY: Again, we're going to defer to the Department of Justice on this. They're the ones doing the investigation. And we want to again, we want to make sure that we're giving them the time and the space to do it in the way they see fit.

COLLINS: Does the President want to see a change in how classified documents are handled?

KIRBY: The President believes that we all have a responsibility to handle classified documents appropriately. And there are very strict guidelines and procedures in place have been for years. And over time --

COLLINS: But if they're strict, how did he end up with so many documents?

KIRBY: Over time those procedures can change and we're always looking at whether or not we need to modify it. You know, with electronic transmission, things are different. So we're certainly open to doing whatever procedural changes might be required. But I don't think we're at a point right now that we know that there are changes that need to be made.

COLLINS: But it sounds like you would support looking at making changes of that. KIRBY: There is a constant process in the federal government to review protocols to make sure that they're still appropriate. I mean, that's something that we just do routinely. I'm not aware of any need to change anything right now. Again, we're -- let the DOJ do their investigation. And we'll see what comes out at the other end.

COLLINS: I want to ask about Memphis because President Biden weighed in yesterday calling for a transparent investigation for the family of Tyre Nichols saying that they deserve that. How is the federal government preparing in case there is unrest in Memphis when this video gets released tonight?

KIRBY: Well, you heard the President yesterday join the family and calling for peaceful protest. We certainly don't want to see anyone else hurt by this terrible, terrible tragedy. And we'll stay in close touch with local and state authorities. I don't have any federal assistance to speak to right now. But, obviously, we're going to stay in touch with with local authorities and should there be a need, we certainly would be part and parcel of that conversation.

Hopefully, the protest will stay peaceful. That's what I think everybody wants. And frankly, you know, that's what's needed.

COLLINS: OK. John Kirby from National Security Council, thank you so much for joining us.

KIRBY: Yes, my pleasure.

COLLINS: All right. Also, today, a competitive primary is now shaping up in California for longtime Senator Dianne Feinstein's seat. She is still a sitting senator. She has not announced whether or not she plans to retire or run again. But Congressman Adam Schiff just announced he will be running for that seat.

He's going to join us live next. Also next, Don is live in the ground -- on the ground in Memphis ahead of the release of that video that we were just talking about there with John Kirby. And just 20 minutes from now, he's going to speak to Tyre Nichols' parents and the family's attorney Ben Crump about all of this.



COLLINS: All right, we are back live here on Capitol Hill this morning. Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff has just officially announced he is running for the Senate in California setting up a high-profile primary for 89-year-old Senator Dianne Feinstein's seat. She has not announced her own plans yet.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator, when are you going to make your decision about 2024?

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Oh, probably in a couple of months. My husband passed away not too long ago and so I'm still going through that, and I want to get through it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you make of people who are already announcing like, Katie Porter?

FEINSTEIN: Oh I think it's all fine. I think people should. If they want to run, run.


COLLINS: As the reporter mentioned there, another California Democrat Katie Porter is also running for that same seat. Congressman Schiff of California is here joining us now. Congressman, good morning. And thank you for joining us. You know, what is the likelihood that you're going to potentially be running against a sitting senator here?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I met with Senator Feinstein a couple of days ago and have talked with her periodically actually talked by phone a couple days ago and met earlier. She has been very gracious, expressed the same sentiments you just played. That was, you know, welcoming of my running for the office.

She hasn't made a decision about her own plans. But, you know, I explained that I think our democracy is deeply at risk. It remains threatened by these extreme elements of the Republican Party, including the former president, and I think a big challenge. And part of the reason why it's so vulnerable is that for too many millions of Americans, the economy just isn't working.

They're working harder than ever, still struggling to get by, keep a roof over their head, provide for their family. These issues I want to champion in the Senate and people that would like to support my campaign or learn more can go to

COLLINS: Should we read into your launch, that you believe that she will ultimately step down and not run again?

SCHIFF: You know, I would just say that, I think -- and I say this out of respect for the senator, and more than that admiration and affection for her. She's earned the right to make the decision on her own timetable. And I want to give her the space and the distance to do that. At the same time, as I mentioned, the senator, it's a big state.

I want to get out to every part of the state and share the vision I have for leading California in the Senate. And I'm really looking forward to it. The response has been wonderful from my colleagues in Congress, from people up and down the state of California. But she'll make her decision the time she judges the best time to do so.


COLLINS: Yes, and your colleague Katie Porter is also running in this race. If the senator does run again, she is the oldest member of the Senate right now. She runs again, she'll be 91 years old. Is it -- is 91 too old, in your view, for someone to be serving in the United States Senate? SCHIFF: You know, I think that age really depends on the capability of the member. And I don't know that there's a specific age, that beyond which you shouldn't run for office. But I do want to speak to my own qualifications. Over the last decade, I've been at the center of every fight to protect our democracy, leading the investigations of former President Trump, leading the first impeachment trial, securing the first bipartisan vote to convict a president in history, participating the January 6, the hearings to hold those accountable, who would overturn our democracy.

California does -- has come to expect their senator to be in the middle of these fights, protecting California's rights and values and interests. And that's what I've been doing. And that's what I'd like to do in the Senate.

COLLINS: Yes, you mentioned Trump several times in your launch video, how much of that has shaped what your run is going to look like? And what it would be like if you do ultimately become the next senator from California?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, I think the fight for our democracy is far from over. And I had to take on not only the former president, but just within 24 hours of my announcement have been attacked by Mike Pompeo, by Kevin McCarthy, by Ted Cruz, by Roger Stone, you name it, you know, this extreme kind of MAGA world, I'm definitely going to have to contend with.

But I do think it shows my mettle. I've never backed down from these kinds of difficult fights. And, you know, sadly, as long as Donald Trump is the leader of that party, then our values, our country, our democracy are going to be at risk. But I do want to underscore where I think this is all coming from.

And again, I think it's the fact that over the last two or three decades, our economy has become structured in a way that people can be working full time and still not make enough to get by. They see their quality of life as less than their parents and their children's future and it leads them to consider a demagogue who comes along and says that they alone can fix it. So these issues to me, of the economy and fairness in the economy, as well as our democracy are really intertwined.

COLLINS: Well, Congressman, speaking of former President Trump, Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, has just announced that they will allow him back on to those platforms, onto Facebook. You believe that that's a bad decision?

SCHIFF: Yes, I do. I think it's really inexplicable except for, you know, the profit motive of Facebook and Meta. If you look at what Donald Trump has been saying on his own social media platform, this so called Truth Social, none of that stuff, I think would meet to what Facebook says is his own standards.

He continues to push out lies about the 2024 election, he continues to give aid and comfort to those who committed the act of insurrection. People he incited talking about pardoning them, all of these shouldn't violate Facebook policies. So, you know, the -- all approved since he was taken off the platform indicates that he wouldn't responsibly go back on the platform. And the only thing I think you conclude is they think it's a moneymaker to have him back and that overrides the safety concerns for the American people.

COLLINS: Yes. I'll note the ACLU says that Trump should be allowed back on. I do want to ask you about the classified documents discussion that we've all been having here in Washington. Now we've learned that the former Vice President Mike Pence also had classified documents found at his home, they've turned those over. But given there's a special counsel for Trump's classified documents, given there's a special counsel now for Biden's, does there need to be one for Pence in your view?

SCHIFF: You know, I think that the Attorney General will have to weigh the circumstances where the documents were found, how many documents is the former vice president cooperating. I don't know that a special counsel is necessary in every case, but the Attorney General may want to consider it.

You know, one of the things that's important to the Justice Department, I spent almost six years there is the appearance of fairness and the reality of fairness. And if the Attorney General believes that in terms of public perception of whether the department is acting in an even handed manner that they should appoint a special counsel in the case of the Vice President, then that's what he should do.

COLLINS: You are in the House now, of course, you're running for that Senate seat. As we noted, some of the Senate Intelligence members say they are frustrated that the administration is not giving them access to these documents to be able to see them in a closed setting. Do you believe the Justice Department and the administration should give these lawmakers access to these classified documents?


SCHIFF: I think that we should certainly be briefed on the documents. And this was the point I made after the Mar-a-Lago discoveries. It was the point I reiterated after was discovered the President Biden, also had classified documents. The committee should be briefed on what's in those documents, what threat that may have been posed by where they were located, and what steps are necessary to take to mitigate that threat.

COLLINS: So you believe they should have access to those documents?

SCHIFF: I think they should be briefed on them whether they need to have those specific documents in hand or not. I don't know. You know, I would say that the -- both the department and the Congress need to be careful that what we do in handling this doesn't interfere with any investigation that the Justice Department is conducting. So, you know, with that caveat, I think we should be briefed in a way that allows us to do our oversight and protect our sources and methods.

COLLINS: All right, Congressman Adam Schiff, now running for a Senate seat in California, thank you so much for joining us on all of these important issues this morning.

SCHIFF: Thank you.

COLLINS: All right, officials across the country are on high alert this morning. They are bracing for protests that could erupt after the release of that video showing the brutal beating by police of Tyre Nichols. We're going to have more on that. We'll also have an exclusive interview with his parents. They're going to sit down with Don just ahead.



DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Don Lemon live in Memphis, Tennessee, where in just moments I'm going to speak with the parents of Tyre Nichols. The first interview that they have done since the officers have been charged. Also, I'm going to get their reaction to that extraordinary interview from the Memphis Police Chief where she says what we're going to see in that video that is released later is reminiscent if not worse than what happened with Rodney King. We're back live with CNN This Morning in just moments.


ROWVAUGHN WELLS, NICHOLS' MOTHER: When that tape comes out tomorrow, it's going to be horrific.


WELLS: I didn't see it. But from what I hear, it's going to be horrific.