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U.S. Launches Retaliatory Strikes On Iranian-Linked Militia Targets In Iraq And Syria; Democratic Primary To Kick Off In South Carolina. Aired 6-7a ET

Aired February 03, 2024 - 06:00   ET




AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone and good morning welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. It is Saturday February 3rd. I'm Amara Walker.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. We begin this morning with new developments out of Syria and Iraq after U.S. airstrikes Friday. Iraqi officials say at least 16 people were killed in those strikes. And the Syrian military says the airstrikes caused significant damage to public and private property killing civilians as well as military personnel there. Now CNN cannot independently verify those claims.

WALKER: Pentagon says bombers hit 85 individual targets used by Iran- backed militias and Iran's own Revolutionary Guard. The strikes are in retaliation for the deaths of three American soldiers killed in a drone attack in Jordan nearly a week ago.

Now, President Biden says a launch of airstrikes carried out in Syria and Iraq are only the beginning of the operations.

This is video from what appears to be one of those strikes in Iraq earlier this morning. The mayor of the town says the strikes had houses used for weapons storage. Officials condemned the strikes as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.

We have team coverage this morning CNN's Nic Robertson and Kevin Liptak are standing by. We're going to begin though with Katie Bo Lillis. Hi there, Katie Bo. Tell us more about the targets the 85 some targets in Iraq and Syria, or

KATIE BO LILLIS, CNN REPORTER: Amara, the U.S. military striking a variety of different targets associated with these Iranian-backed militia groups, including rockets, missiles and other munitions stores, striking command and control hubs as well as logistics facilities.

But what's significant here, Amara, is that the these airstrikes targeted, not only these Iranian-backed militia groups believed to have been responsible for the deadly attack on an outpost in Jordan last week that killed three American servicemembers, but also targeting the -- targeting facilities used by Iranian officials themselves embedded with these groups.

Now, this is an escalation from previous retaliatory strikes in response to what has been now more than 160 attacks on American servicemembers across Iraq and Syria by these Iran-backed groups.

The United States, of course, we heard from a senior military official last night saying that these targets were chosen quote with the idea that there would be likely casualties among not just these militia groups, but also amongst the Iranian personnel who used them.

Now, this is of course intended to send a very clear message to Iran, about the funding support training and other support that it provides to these militia groups who are carrying out these attacks knock it off. But the United States is, of course, stopping short of striking Iran directly, as some Republican lawmakers had urged the Biden administration to do something officials believe would escalate the situation rather than have the deterrent effect that they are looking for.

Remember, important to understand here that all of these different Iran-backed militia groups, they receive funding, they receive training, they receive other support, including arms from Iran, and they receive a certain amount of coordination.

But Iran does not necessarily order any one specific attack and it doesn't have perfect command and control over all of these groups, something that has made the response to these attacks, very complex for the Biden administration.

So the big question going forward. Now, Amara, I think, is not only do these strikes have the impact that the Biden administration is looking for in stopping these attacks. But also, how does Iran respond to the likely -- the targeting and potential killing of its own of its own officers even not on Iranian soil? Do they view that as a potential red line that they may feel domestic pressure to respond to? Or does it have the deterrent effect that the U.S. is looking for?

BLACKWELL: Katie Bo Lillis, thank you. Let's go now to CNN International diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson. Nick, Syria, is warning that these strikes will further fuel conflict in the Middle East. What else are they saying?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, that's their position. And it's probably broadly echoed by Iran and by Iraq, though they haven't used that language specifically that but they are all sharing all those three countries sharing the same language that this is a violation of the sovereignty of Iraq or the sovereignty of Syria.


The Syrian military is describing civilian casualties military casualties, significant damage to civilian property, and also public property as well as privately owned property and public property. But I think we get the strongest understanding of where these groups lie and where the intent lies and where and how the likely response will shape up from the Iraqi government who've been spoken more about their 16 people killed there, 25 wounded.

You mentioned the mayor of Al-Qa'im on the border, who said that the some of the houses that were hit were used as offices or weapons storage facilities by these Iran-backed militia. They're saying that the United States has been duplicitous, saying that it was speaking to the Iraqi government about this prior to the strikes, they say that that's not true.

But the context of this in Iraq, at least, is that these Iran-backed militias are incredibly powerful. They since 2016, eight years ago, had been recognized by the Iraqi government as government forces. They're not just Iranian militias. They are recognized by the Iraqi government as their forces. So these strikes against these Iran-backed militias for the Iraqi government or a strike on their own forces their own government forces.

So the language there is very strong. They're not giving an indication about how these Iran backed militias will respond. And the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman has said, again, that this is a clear violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of both Iraq and Syria.

And on top of that, saying that the United States is violating UN charters, which is something that the Iraqi government is saying, so a lot of condemnation with political and international diplomatic intent, but no indication how they'll respond militarily. But I think very clear from the language use. If not today, if not tomorrow, if not next week, there will be a response.

WALKER: All right, Nic Robertson, thank you. Let's go now to Wilmington, Delaware, where President Biden is spending part of his weekend and CNN senior White House reporter Kevin Liptak, is there. Kevin, as we've been saying, the President has been saying that this is just the beginning. And there are more retaliatory strikes to come.

KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTERR: Yes, very clear that this was just the first salvo in the American response to the deaths of those three U.S. servicemembers, President Biden making clear last night that there would be continued action going forward saying in a statement, our response began today, it will continue at times and places of our choosing, and the President goes on to say the United States does not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere in the world. But let all those who might seek to do us harm know this. If you harm an American, we will respond.

Now, what the next phase of this response looks like, isn't exactly clear. And American officials were understandably reticent about describing what we might see next happen in the region. Certainly, they will want to do that assessment on the ground to see how successful these strikes yesterday were before determining a next base. There are a number of other factors that I think will go into that.

And it was interesting, listening to officials yesterday describing how much the weather impacted the timing of these strikes, because there had been this several day gap between when President Biden told us that he had made a decision on how to respond. And when we saw this response actually taking place, and what official says said was that they were looking for clear skies, you know, that essentially made it easier to determine the targets on the ground, and to ensure that there were no unintended casualties.

At the end of the day, President Biden is trying to strike a balance here and to thread a needle. He is looking to deter these groups to degrade their capabilities. But he's also seeking to prevent a wider war from escalating in the region. You saw this very forceful response yesterday, and certainly, White House officials are hopeful that this could really make a dent in some of the capabilities of these groups on the ground.

But the President did stop short of striking inside Iran. That is something that many Republicans were urging him to do. That option at the end of the day was never a likely one from the get go. Certainly President Biden watching very carefully a region very much on edge and hoping not to cause this conflict to escalate any further guys.

BLACKWELL: Kevin Liptak, traveling with the president. Thank you very much.

Joining me now is CNN Global Affairs analyst Kimberly Dozier and CNN military analyst retired Colonel Cedric Leighton. Welcome to both.

Kimberly, let me start with you. How malleable are these plans for phase two or three or whatever comes next from the U.S. based upon the retaliation that is expected from these Iran-backed groups?


KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: From the briefing we got from senior administration officials last night, they are reserving the right to strike when they see a target. That's what it sounded like to me. And this is in a sense of creeping widening war, We have the coalition in the south, ready to hit any of the Houthi targets that attack U.S. and international shipping in that area.

And now we've got basically the safeties off throughout the Syria and Iraq, Syria, putting any Iranian-backed group on notice that if the U.S. sees them, preparing for any sort of a strike, they might hit back.

So while it's not war with Iran, the fact that the White House decided to say publicly, we went after Iranian Quds Force targets, that is widening this war.

BLACKWELL: Colonel, five days between that attack in Jordan that killed three U.S. servicemembers, and the response we saw yesterday at about the 4:00 p.m. Eastern hour, that obviously gave time for some of these Islamic resistance, militia groups to scatter or to hide or to move. But what was the advantage, if any, for the U.S., to the U.S. over those five days as they came up with this plan of how to retaliate? COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, good morning, Victor, the main advantage in this particular situation was that it allowed the U.S. to more precisely hone their targeting list. And it would also be a key factor that they could make sure that everything was ready from a weapons perspective. So use that time these things should be anyways.

But there's always you know, from a military operational perspective, it becomes advantage if you can, within a certain limited time, make sure that not only is everything ready, but that you have a pick the right targets that you go over the target list again and again. And you make sure that those target lists are the ones that you really want to strike.

BLACKWELL: Colonel, let me stay with you. And the use of the B1 Bomber for the strikes, along with the capabilities of being able to fly from the U.S. to the region nonstop, the payload capabilities of this aircraft, it's suited for this mission. But what was the strategic message if, if any, to Iran, this was the jet that was used?

LEIGHTON: Well, when the Iranians saw that these were the aircraft that were coming in, or when they were able to discover that, they realized that what the U.S. is showing is that it still has the capability to project its power, intercontinentally, and it will be the same type of aircraft the B1 that would be used if we were going to strike Iran.

And we have made it very clear in the run up to this strike this response, that we would be not striking Iran that we would do stay clear of that. And we did that. But we use the weapons system that wouldn't be capable of doing that.

So it was a message to the Iranians that we were ready to go in if we needed to, but we decided we didn't need to. And it was a message that we have the capability, we're willing to use it at a time and place as the President say, of our choosing.

BLACKWELL: Kimberly, the Iraqi government has wanted the U.S. troops out of Iraq. Prime Minister Al Sudani has said that the U.S. presidents is destabilizing. They now say that the strikes that occurred in Iraq were, let me get this right, a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.

I wonder, does this escalate that timeline? I mean, there wasn't a hard timeline going into this. But now, does this make it more likely that there will be for U.S. troops to leave?

DOZIER: Well, the U.S. and Iraq had been discussing some sort of potential withdrawal of U.S. troops. But the thought was that this was about releasing the public pressure that Sudani was feeling to do something about the U.S. and international presence, because those troops are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government.

This strike might make it harder to stay on the side of coming out at the end of negotiations with a new status of forces agreement that would allow the U.S. troops to stay, but with more limits on their ability to operate without the permission of the Iraqi government.

Now we are in a situation where the U.S. has said, you know, we've asked and asked and asked you to control these paramilitary forces that are partly under Iraqi government control, but largely funded by Iran and backed by Iran. You haven't done it so we've had to take action.

BLACKWELL: Colonel, what do you expect is next?


I mean, we're 14 hours on from the strikes yesterday, what or whom do you think will be targeted next?

LEIGHTON: We're going to hit the same kinds of targets that we hit in this initial wave. I think that wave, it depends. But it could happen in the next day or so. Or there could be a pause. There's a weather system that's moving in the area that could impact what we do from a targeting perspective.

And that very fact it could limit our in second phase response, but it is something that I think will kind of be a rolling set of targets, because at this particular juncture, we've let it be known that the kinds of actions that the Iranian proxies have been engaged in have been unacceptable to us. And I think this response is going to be one that's going to be sustained a bit, maybe a few weeks, maybe a few months.

BLACKWELL: Retired Colonel Cedric Leighton and Kimberly Dozier, thank you.

WALKER: South Carolina's Democratic primary is today and President Biden is hoping for the backing of black voters in the state once again. We're going to take a look at whether he still has their strong support.

Plus, Southern California is bracing for dangerous flooding as another powerful atmospheric river fueled storm is set to hit the state.



WALKER: The polls will open in South Carolina at the top of the hour as the state holds its first in the nation Democratic primary. Democrats made South Carolina their first official primary state this cycle, and it's the first time that delegates will be awarded. 55 democratic delegates are at stake.

However, President Biden will be on the other side of the country today visiting Los Angeles for a fundraiser.

BLACKWELL: Now for the Republicans, Nikki Haley will actually be in South Carolina herself this weekend to drum up support. South Carolina's Republican primary is in three weeks, February 24. And Haley is trying to stave off a potential loss as former President Trump continues racking up wins.

President Biden is zeroing in on the coalition that helped elect him in 2020. But support from a crucial group black voters may be slipping.

WALKER: Polling of key battleground states indicates weakening support specifically among black men. CNN's Eva McKend spoke with some voters in South Carolina about their concerns heading into the election.


EVA MCKEND, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Saturday, South Carolina primary will serve as an early test of President Joe Biden standing with a loyal constituency, black voters.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: You're the reason I am president. You're the reason. Kamala Harris is historic vice president and you're the reason Donald Trump is a defeated former president.

MCKEND (voice-over): While the president is expected to win the first official democratic contest, the results could signal how much work he has to do to shore up support with a critical piece of his coalition ahead of an expected rematch with Donald Trump in November.

GABRIEL FANT, SOUTH CAROLINA VOTER: We need somebody who speaks to black Americans in the United States and I don't think that either or I doing so.

MCKEND (voice-over): Gabriel Fant is a server at Hannibal's Kitchen, a must stop for political candidates visiting Charleston, including the President just last week.

FANT: I'm a seventh generation in South Carolina. So I've seen the hardships black people go through, and no one is addressing that. And economically we are at the bottom not

MCKEND (voice-over): Even FaceTime with the President has changed her mind. Her economic anxieties too great.

FANT: We need a candidate who's going to stand up and stand up strong for us, or we're voting for the couch.

MCKEND: So you're considering staying home and not voting?

FANT: Yes, and a lot of us are.

TONYA MATTHEWS, CEO, INTERNATIONAL AFRICAN AMERICAN MUSEUM, CHARLESTON: History reminds us to never forget that there was a time when we did not have that choice.

MCKEND (voice-over): Dr. Tonya Matthews is the CEO of the International African American Museum in Charleston. She says black voters have created the organizing power to elevate issues are vital to them, like fair wages, housing development, and small business support. MATTHEWS: We think about the ancestors who died to fight for this, but we also think about aunts and uncles that are currently poll workers when we see encouragement or strong turnout or strong voices in places like South Carolina. It is a note to the rest of the country, not just to other black voters, that black voters are paying attention.

MCKEND (voice-over): The significance is not lost on shop owner, Mimi Stripling, who met Biden last month with other South Carolina entrepreneurs. With this administration, she says, she feels like she has a seat at the table and her voice is valued.

MIMI STRIPLIN, SOUTH CAROLINA SMALL BUSINESS OWNER: I think that we have to be able to step back and think a little more long term like yes, four years, eight years feels like a long time in my lifetime. But we think about these changes and how they are hopefully going to be impacting the next generations to come.

MCKEND (voice-over): She worries about what another Trump presidency would bring.

STRIPLIN: It could be chaos all over again, like there were days that I just wake up as a person of color in this state and fear for my life. And that shouldn't be the case for anyone. And so of course, there are definitely worries and fears around that.

MCKEND (voice-over): National Democrats are leaning into those concerns, hoping they will motivate voters to turn out while also making an affirmative argument for Biden.

JAIME HARRISON, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIR: Diabetes and heart attack. There are a lot of ways that we've been trying to make things more affordable for working people student loan debt. We have seen the lowest, the lowest unemployment for black folks and 50 years. We've seen this president work to cut childhood poverty in half, particularly in black communities.


MCKEND (voice-over): Many are ready to give Biden another four years to continue making the case.

GEORGE MCCRAY, SOUTH CAROLINA VOTER: I'm always in support of Biden because I on the inside, I think he's fair. On the inside, I think it's fair. I don't think Barack Obama would have had him a part of the team if he wasn't. And I'm a firm believer of Barack Obama.

MCKEND (voice-over): But it may not be enough to convince some black voters weary of supporting Democrats again.

FANT: I'm telling black people stay home.

MCKEND (voice-over): Eva McKend, CNN, Columbia, South Carolina.


WALKER: Eva McKend, thank you very much. With us now is Meg Kinnard, National Political Reporter with The Associated Press. Good to see you. Good morning.

South Carolina, the Democratic primary is not going to be a nail biter. We all know what to expect that Biden will easily win there, it's going to come down to how much he is able -- Biden is able to maintain that strong support from black voters, right. What are you seeing?

MEG KINNARD, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: That's absolutely right. Hey, it's good to be with you all. You know, it's we haven't seen the campaign really talking about exactly what number they want to hit in South Carolina, certainly, as you know, they expect to win and to win by large margins.

Remember, in 2020, Joe Biden won here with a much bigger field of Democrats and not as an incumbent with 49 percent. So, certainly something above that is what would make the campaign feel good.

But also, as was noted in the previous reporting, this is more signaling toward the states that follow South Carolina, not just with black voters, but they do play an outsized role of the Democratic electorate here. Joe Biden is a good bet, and he wants to stand up for you. And, you know, this could carry forward into these other states that will follow.

But there are a lot of frustrations as voiced by some of the voters that ya'll talk to, you know, after looking at this first term, that he's had an office, feeling that some promises haven't been delivered on.

And so for the Biden campaign, they're really hoping for a strong showing that will then forecast that message in the following states. Look, we're working on it, just give us four more years.

WALKER: It's always so important to hear from the voters directly, right, as we heard from Evan McKend's piece there in South Carolina, but it has to be concerning for the Biden campaign, as they look at these polls and slipping enthusiasm amongst black voters nationally. A Pew Research Center poll in January found that 48 percent of blacks nationally approved of Biden, 49 percent disapproved.

But if you look at this number, compared to last January, the approval rating amongst about black Americans was 60 percent. So again, enthusiasm is slipping. Is his campaign -- has his campaign been effectively addressing the reasons for this in South Carolina ahead of this primary?

KINNARD: So much of what I hear is driven by the voters who are telling me some are very happy, and some are very frustrated. But again, the campaign is talking about the need of we need more time to get this done, as the President often says, I want to deliver on these promises for you. But this is what I've been able to get through.

I've had obviously not a fully democratic Congress able to pass some of my initiatives. So that's kind of bring all of those things in together saying, yes, we are working on it. We have all these issues we have delivered. Representative Jim Clyburn, one of Joe Biden's biggest surrogates nationally, but especially here in South Carolina, often talks about those caps on insulin costs is something that has been delivered for everybody but a particular note when he's speaking to black voters here.

So again, it's they're frustrated maybe by not having that broad support that was noted in years past, but certainly hoping that with South Carolina, they can kick it off strong.

WALKER: Let's listen to Nikki Haley now, the lone Republican challenger as she looks ahead to the Republican primary in South Carolina, which happens later this month. She's clearly amping up her attacks against Trump. Listen.


NIKKI HALEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is unconscionable to me that a candidate would spend $50 million in legal fees. It explains why he's not doing many rallies. He doesn't have the money to do it. It explains why he doesn't want to get on a debate stage because he doesn't want to talk about why he's doing it.


WALKER: And that was Nikki Haley there this week speaking with Jake Tapper, she attacked Trump on character, his age and, you know, all sorts of things. But, you know, she raises obviously a good point that Trump, you know, his political action committees are spending what over $50 million on his legal fees.

But also with Nikki Haley, I mean, she's also losing some prominent donors when it comes to fundraising. How are things looking on that and for both of them, especially Haley as she tries to keep her candidacy viable? She needs money to continue to come in.

KINNARD: For Nikki Haley, that's absolutely right. She needs to continue bringing in that money and that's something that we have seen her doing, making a trip up to New York and also South Florida for fundraisers recently. Next week she's heading out to California to do a little campaigning but also to be raising some money so that is going to be critical not just to get her to the South Carolina primary three weeks from today, but also spinning forward into the places that follow, and then if she can make it to Super Tuesday.


So that money is critical for the Trump campaign. Clearly, she's going to be hammering him in terms of how much he has to spend on all of his various legal cases. But those rallies they put on, are expensive. We've heard advisors say that they can cost a million dollars apiece.

So, if we're thinking about those big scale Trump events that we've seen, through this campaign and the previous ones, that is certainly something that's a consideration, and maybe a reason why we have seen some few more small scale events that the former president has put on this campaign. WALKER: And I do want to give a shout-out to one of your articles you

wrote, and I -- if you can touch on that about how Haley has navigated the delicate topic of race as the daughter of Indian immigrants. I mean, through this campaign at least, I mean, there has been some contradictory messaging as you say, depending on who she's talking to.

KINNARD: She has frequently referenced her own personal experiences with prejudice, talking about things that she herself experienced as a child growing up in rural South Carolina, as well as her family writ- large, being an Indian-American family where that's not a super commonplace circumstance.

But for Nikki Haley too, she does project the notion that there's systemic racism in America, and that's kind of the bifurcated issue that we've seen her addressing, you know, saying that America is not a racist country, and then saying recently that it's never been a racist country, and then kind of putting that with her history, bringing down the Confederate Flag in South Carolina, making that argument after a racist massacre at a black church in 2015.

All of those kinds of things go together with kind of this delicate balance, really, that she's been trying to find, talking about her own situations, but also trying to portray America as a more united place.

WALKER: I'll leave it there, Meg Kinnard, great to see you, thanks so much.

BLACKWELL: Still to come, the Jennifer Crumbley trial is wrapping up. This is a unique case. The jury will decide if she's also criminally responsible for the death of her son's victims after he went on a shooting spree.



BLACKWELL: More on our top story this morning, Syria is warning the U.S. that airstrikes could fuel Middle East tensions in what they called a very dangerous way. The U.S. says the airstrikes targeted 85 strategic points across seven locations overnight in Iraq and Syria.

Iraq says the strikes killed at least 16 people, including civilians, injured 25 others. CNN cannot independently verify those numbers.

WALKER: The airstrikes were in response to a drone strike by Iran- backed militants on an American military base in Jordan, it killed three American service members and injured more than 40 other people. All right, turning now to a pivotal moment in a novel legal battle.

A jury is set to start deliberating next week in the involuntary manslaughter trial of Jennifer Crumbley. The case captured national attention in 2021 when her son Ethan shot and killed four of his classmates at Oxford High School in Michigan.

BLACKWELL: The gun used was a Christmas gift from Ethan's parents. So Jennifer Crumbley's trial, this is the first time that a parent is potentially facing jail time because of a child's actions and a mass shooting. Her husband is scheduled to be tried next month. CNN's Jean Casarez has more.


KAREN MCDONALD, PROSECUTOR, OAKLAND COUNTY: We actually saw the last day he was practicing to kill four of his classmates, and there was only one person with him, ladies and gentlemen, and her name is Jennifer Crumbley.

SHANNON SMITH, DEFENSE ATTORNEY FOR JENNIFER CRUMBLEY: It was unforeseeable. No one expected this. No one could have expected this, including Mrs. Crumbley.

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Attorneys making their final pitches to persuade the jury in this historic trial of the mother of the Oxford Michigan school shooter.

MCDONALD: She walked out of that school when just the smallest of things could have saved, could have helped Hana and Tate and Madisyn and Justin. Just the smallest of things, and not only did she not do it, she doesn't even regret it.

SMITH: The Crumbleys' son was a skilled manipulator and they didn't realize it. He's not sick, he doesn't have a mental illness. No parent would purchase a weapon if they believed their child had mental illnesses.

CASAREZ: Before closing arguments began, Jennifer Crumbley faced cross-examination, testifying she knew her son was acting depressed after his only friend moved away just one month before the shooting.

MARC KEAST, ASSISTANT PROSECUTOR, OAKLAND COUNTY: And you're going to be true, in November of 2021, that he had no peer support.

JENNIFER CRUMBLEY, MOTHER OF ETHAN CRUMBLEY: I don't know what he had in school. He had told me he had friends in school that he talks to.

KEAST: OK, you never met them?


KEAST: OK, and he didn't have any clubs at school he was a part of?


CASAREZ: Jennifer Crumbley is charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter. She has pleaded not guilty. The prosecution pressing Crumbley on her actions the day of the shooting, that morning the school called in Jennifer Crumbley and her husband after discovering a violent drawing their son made on his math worksheet.

KEAST: What about the thoughts won't stop, help me? Did that ring out to you?

CRUMBLEY: Yes, that was concerning to me. KEAST: Blood everywhere, and there's a bullet, and actually you were

the one who bought the bullets in November the 27th.

CRUMBLEY: Correct.

KEAST: And you later came to learn that those bullets were used in the shooting?


CASAREZ: In the meeting at school, Crumbley did not mention the gun purchased four days earlier for their 15-year-old son.

KEAST: You didn't tell them that you had gotten him that Christmas gift.

CRUMBLEY: I didn't think it was relevant, no.

KEAST: You acknowledged that you didn't go home to look for that firearm after the meeting at the school?

CRUMBLEY: We wouldn't have a reason to.


CASAREZ: Her son used that gun to kill four of his classmates, Madisyn Baldwin, Tate Myre, Justin Shilling and Hana St. Juliana. After that meeting on November 30th, 2021, the prosecution asking Crumbley whether she neglected her son, pointing to how often she spent time with her horses.

KEAST: Your son could have been with you those three, four, five times a week when you were at the barn?

CRUMBLEY: He could have, yes.

KEAST: And on November the 30th of 2021 at 12:51 p.m., you could have been with him?

CRUMBLEY: I could have, yes.

KEAST: And you didn't?


CASAREZ: In closings, Crumbley's lawyer dismissing that argument.

SMITH: Just because she spends money and time on horses doesn't mean she doesn't love her son.


CASAREZ: Closing arguments concluded late Friday afternoon, the jury will return on Monday to hear instructions from the judge and then they will begin deliberations. Amara, Victor. BLACKWELL: Thank you. Coming up, the Fulton County D.A. now

acknowledges a personal relationship with the lead prosecutor in Donald Trump's election subversion case. Why she says that does not disqualify her from the case.



WALKER: District Attorney Fani Willis of Fulton County is acknowledging a personal relationship with the lead prosecutor that she hired as part of Donald Trump's election subversion case, but says she did not benefit financially.

BLACKWELL: Yes, both Willis and Nathan Wade, that's his name, responded in court filings, they rejected the accusation that their relationship created a conflict of interest. Wade says the relationship started in 2022 after he was brought on to the prosecution team. CNN's Nick Valencia has more.


NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fulton County D.A. Fani Willis responding for the first time to an explosive court filing last month, accusing her of an improper romantic relationship with her top deputy, Nathan Wade. Writing in her response, "while the allegations raised in the various motions are salacious and garnered the media attention, they were designed to obtain, none provide this court with any basis upon which to order the relief they seek."

And for the first time, both she and Wade acknowledging that they developed a personal relationship in addition to our professional association and friendship. But they said that happened after Willis appointed Wade in 2021 to investigate efforts by Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia.

And Willis strongly pushed back against defense attorneys who she says are wildly speculating that she somehow benefitted financially from the arrangement. Willis also addressing allegations that Wade paid for them to take lavish vacations together with money he earned on the case.

Writing, "financial responsibility for personal travel taken is divided roughly, evenly between the two, with neither being primarily responsible for expenses of the other, and all of the expenses paid for with individual personal funds.

A hearing on the alleged conflict of interest and the effort to disqualify Willis is scheduled for February 15th, where Willis, Wade and some of their colleagues could be forced to testify. But Willis argues in her response that such a hearing is unnecessary, and she continues to defend Wade's appointment as her top deputy, like she did the last time she spoke publicly in church in January.

FANI WILLIS, DISTRICT ATTORNEY, FULTON COUNTY: The black man I chose has been a judge more than 10 years, run a private practice more than 20.

VALENCIA: Well known Atlanta attorney Randy Kessler told CNN that Willis' written response on Friday was smart.

RANDY KESSLER, ATTORNEY: I think it was the right thing to do. She came straight out and said, look, yes, we had a relationship, it wasn't before I hired him, and it's not a terrible thing. We worked together, we developed a relationship, but it's a distraction, let's put it aside, let's focus on the real issue. There's no conflict, there's no legal reason why I can't prosecute this case.


VALENCIA: Mike Roman and his attorney, they're pushing back on Fani Willis, saying that they want the chance to cross-examine her and Nathan Wade. They say in Willis' response, she's not being fully truthful, and is trying to avoid accountability by seeking to dismiss a scheduled February 15th hearing to discuss these claims further. Amara, Victor?

WALKER: All right, Nick Valencia, thank you very much. Still to come, a powerful storm is expected to bring flooding and heavy mountain snow to California. The forecast after the break.



WALKER: The CNN original series "THE MANY LIVES of MARTHA STEWART" returns tomorrow with its final two episodes. Here is a preview.


MARTHA STEWART, AMERICAN BUSINESSWOMAN & WRITER: This is showing that a good idea can lead to an excellent company, can lead to a wonderful IPO.

LARRY KING, LATE AMERICAN TELEVISION HOST: But it also can lead to jealousy, people not liking people who succeed, and people who go after you.

STEWART: And that's right --

KING: Right, all true it seems --

STEWART: That seems to be the American way, doesn't it?

I thought that things were going along just great, a wonderful family, a beautiful daughter, a fantastic business.

KING: What have you had that was a failure? Because you've been so successful, there has to be something that didn't go right.

STEWART: In business, not much.

KING: Not much? STEWART: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Martha Stewart was at the height of her wealth, the height of her glory. She could do no wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then something like this happens.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The questions these days for Martha Stewart.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A federal prosecutor tells CNN that Martha Stewart is among those under investigation for a suspected insider trading.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of a sudden, here was Martha Stewart, a picture of perfection, and she's under investigation by the feds. It was shocking.


WALKER: The final two all new episodes of "THE MANY LIVES OF MARTHA STEWART" air tomorrow at 9:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific only on CNN.

BLACKWELL: They say it never rains in southern California. I was going to sing it, but then I decided against it. L.A. though is going to get drenched this weekend. Some areas could see several months' worth of rain in the course of just a few days, that would set up potentially life-threatening flooding.

WALKER: Thank you for respecting my request that you don't sing.

BLACKWELL: All right.

WALKER: California is still drying out from storms earlier this week. This is a video of a soaker in the Bay area. Meteorologist Allison Chinchar is joining us now. And this is shaping up to be a really significant storm.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, METEOROLOGIST: It is, and you have to understand that some of these places had record rainfall on Thursday, some of them even had their wettest January on record. So, that ground is already saturated before this plume of moisture even arrives.


It's going to start across central California before shifting the bulk of that moisture into southern California as we wrap up the weekend and head into the early upcoming week. For some of these areas, you're looking at a level 3 atmospheric river producing a pretty substantial amount of not only rain, but also snow.

But again, since we had that saturated ground already, that's just going to exacerbate the potential for flooding. So, you've got these flood watches that exist for pretty much up and down most of the state of California. But it's going to be spread out over different days.

So, the focus today is mainly across portions of the coastal areas of central California. By Sunday, it still includes those, but we start to see it shift further into southern California, and we also start to pick up additional moisture, increasing that threat up to a moderate risk.

And then by Monday, again, similar area of concern, mainly focused across southern California. The reason why we're talking widespread areas of 2 to 4 inches of rain across the state, and then the snowpack is going to be measured in feet. And when I say that, I mean 3 to 4 feet at a minimum in some of these areas.


BLACKWELL: Wow, Allison Chinchar, thank you, we'll be right back.