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Erin Burnett Outfront

U.S. Confirms Strikes On 85+ Targets In Iraq & Syria; Zelenskyy Meets With Top General He Is Expected To Replace; Judge Officially Postpones Trump's Trial In DOJ Election Case. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired February 02, 2024 - 19:00   ET




We are following several breaking news stories this hour. First, the United States striking back. New video just into CNN right now showing the aftermath 85 targets hit in Iraq and Syria. President Biden warning that this is just the beginning of the strikes.

And more breaking news, mass confusion surrounding Ukraine's military. President Zelenskyy calling the fired head of his entire military the commander-in-chief. What's going on?

And postpone. The Department of Justice election interference case against Donald Trump is delayed indefinitely. Why? We've got the details.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BURNETT: And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

And we do begin tonight with the breaking news: America strikes. The Biden administration carrying out a mass series of airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria. And I want to show you some new video that we have just gotten in of what's happening there on the ground. This is the aftermath of one of the strikes.

And the U.S. hit, we understand, 85 targets. You can actually see this in the air. You can see the strikes on the ground from this video here. And you can hear -- and you can hear it as well as those -- on those impacts. The U.S. hitting Iranian backed militants who were responsible for the drone attack, in which three American soldiers were killed and dozens more were injured in Jordan.

According to the U.S. Central Command, U.S. forces hit seven locations. According to the White House, the strikes lasted 30 minutes. Now, they are characterizing this as successful, but I want to be clear when we say that that would seem to imply that they're success and they're done and its nowhere near the truth.

President Biden is clearly warning tonight that this is just the beginning. Statement that he put out says, quote, our response began today. It will continue at times and places of our choosing. The United States does not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world.

Now, while Biden says us does not seek conflict in the Middle East, the leader of one of the Iranian-backed militias today vowed to continue attacking U.S. targets.

All right, with this breaking news coverage here continues as we see what happens in these early hours of the morning in Iraq and Syria. We've got a team of correspondents, military analysts standing by for our breaking coverage.

I want to begin though with Oren Liebermann because he is live at the Pentagon.

Oren, you have been learning more and more details about these strikes. What do you know now?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The U.S. carried out strikes across several different locations, strikes carried out over a period of 30 minutes. Four of those locations were in Syria, three of them were in Iraq. It appears one of them you're seeing here, although at this time, the Pentagon, the Defense Department not confirming the locations, but cut him in Iraq is a location they have struck before.

Meanwhile, the director of the joint staff here, General D.A. Sims says that they are confident in the success of their strikes and in the targeting. In terms of the list of targets, 85 different targets across those seven locations, more than 125 precision munitions used. In terms of what was struck, its not just what weaponry, but its also command and control centers, intelligence centers, logistics hub, a clear attempt here to go after the ability of these Iranian back militias to continue carrying out attacks on U.S. forces.

There is no expectation that the attacks will absolutely stop, but the goal of the administration here was to send him more powerful message that has been sent in the past, this is the first time we've seen the U.S. carry out strikes in Iraq and Syria simultaneously. So that's part of the more powerful message we were expecting, and the more powerful strikes. The U.S. says they did see secondary explosions at some of the locations that were struck, indicating they did hit weapons facilities and their attempt to go after some of the weapons that have been used to attack U.S. forces.

The Biden administration, the president himself, the defense secretary, have promised there would be a powerful response after a drone strike killed three U.S. service members and injured scores more in Jordan on Sunday. So five days ago, the U.S. held Iran ultimately responsible but it was a decision to strike the Iranian backed militias in Iraq and Syria, the groups that have been carrying out these attacks. That was the thrust of tonight's operation.


As you point out, President Joe Biden said, this isn't the end. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin echoed those words when he said in a statement shortly after the attack. This is the start of our response.

So very much putting on the table that though these strikes were larger than others, we've seen, there is more to come. Erin, I will also point out that the U.S. used to B1 bombers in this case. Those are heavy bombers, much larger than the F15 and F16 fighter jets. We have generally, you seen used to carry out these strikes, able to carry a larger payload. That in and of itself is part of the message here, that the U.S. is willing to go further than it's gone before in going after these militias and in targeting with these militias.

The U.S. also says there are likely casualties as a result of these strikes. I think that was to be expected, but in terms of how many and where, the U.S. says it went after Islam -- Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and well find out more at the conclusion of a battle damage assessment.

BURNETT: All right. All right. Thank you very much, Oren. Oren, and you get more. Obviously, we're going to bring you back.

Oren is there at the Pentagon talking to his sources. So, we'll let him continue to do that.

I want to go to the White House now and MJ Lee.

So, MJ, here we are as Oren saying, a true show of force, right? B1 bombers coming from the U.S. to do this, not using F16s, F15s. There's a very clear message here and a very clear message that this is just the beginning.

So what does that mean in terms of this being just the beginning? What are you learning?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: For right now, Erin, the White House is trying to make clear that they believe the strikes so far have been very successful. But importantly, Erin, a senior administration official telling me that the U.S. strikes are targeting places outside of Iran and not inside Iran. And in many ways, that is not at all success -- that is not at all surprising given and to what extent U.S. officials in recent days have been telegraphing just how escalatory that would be to strike targets inside of Iran. And they have said that that would actually be akin to basically starting a war with Iran and the White House has said repeatedly, we do not want to start a war with Iran.

Now, in terms of the timing and why the strikes took place at tonight, we are actually told that they had known for some de that they would begin tonight. But that weather really played a very big role in all of this they want it to make sure that they could avoid any unnecessary casualties though, as Oren just mentioned, there are expected to be some casualties. They also wanted to avoid cloud cover. In other words, puts him they waited for good weather to maximize their chances of success and having the best chance of having these precision strikes be as precise as possible.

Now, the president, of course, that has been updated throughout the strikes, he is currently at his home in Wilmington. We know that these strikes had ever everything to do with the three Americans that were killed last weekend, and he made very clear in his statement, as you mentioned, he said, our response began today, but it will continue at times and places of our choosing.

But as you can imagine, Erin for right now, U.S. officials not indicating in any way when or where those future strikes will be -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. MJ, thank you very much.

And as MJ talks to her sources, she will come back as well.

I want to go now to retired Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling and Karim Sadjadpour, Iran policy expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Thanks so much to both of you.

General, we now have the first video in of these strikes, at least if one of them indications of some secondary explosions, right? Which could mean obviously weaponry or explosives that were struck. Your -- we're understanding, their B1 bombers involved that can carry heavy payloads that instead of F16s or F15s.

From what you know, and obviously we're told this is just the beginning, but what we know so far, 125 precision munitions using B1 bombers flying all the way from the U.S. mainland, what does it say to you?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, first of all, Erin, I will confirm that that photo -- or those films you're showing right now are definitely secondary explosions from an ammo cache, just the way the rockets are coming off.

But when you're talking about a B1 bomber, that bomber can dropped more bombs and even a B52 -- many people will find that unimaginable. But the strike took 30 minutes. That tells me there wanted to be a simultaneous engagement on all those targets to somewhat put the various targets that they hit in just an unbelievable state, how fast they can be hit by this one load of weaponry.

Secondly, anyone that's saying this is a proportional response really doesn't know what they're talking about. This is the first stage and it's more than proportional of sending a signal not just to the popular mobilization forces on the ground in Syria and Iraq, but also to the Iranian government. This is telling them were coming after you. We will not put up with these continued harassing attacks that truthfully we've been putting up with before 7 of October.

This is something the Iranian government has been supporting for years, if not decades, against U.S. forces and against Israel as well. This is the reason for those -- for those PMS to exist, is to continue to be the axis of attacks against the Israel and all Western forces.

So I believe what we're seeing right now is the first set. The first set of this campaign. There will be more. It will fall into an action by the United States. An anticipated reaction by the Iranian government, as well as some of the PMS, and then a counteraction to follow on that.

I think it will last at least several days, if not weeks, but it will show to them that were serious about protecting our forces in the Middle East.

BURNETT: Karim, obviously, General Hertling is referring to, right? The response of the Iranian government is what matters, even though these strikes are in Iraq and Syria specifically against Iranian- backed militias. You know, "Reuters" had reported a couple of days ago that the IRGC, the elite Iranian force, had been pulling officers out of Syria. They were saying because of Israeli strikes that have been successful, but that they had taken losses raises the question perhaps whether they anticipated something like this.

We have no idea who these casualties are or what happened. So how do you expect the Iranian government, Karim, to reply, to respond now?

KARIM SADJADPOUR, EXPERT ON IRAN & U.S. FOREIGN POLICY IN THE MIDDLE EAST: You know, Erin, this month marks the 45th anniversary of the Iranian revolution of 1979. So we basically have a 45-year case study of Iranian conduct.

And I would say that on one hand, this is a regime which is deeply committed to its ideology. It wants to evict America from the Middle East. It wants to replace Israel with Palestine. It wants to help bring down the U.S.-led world order.

But they're also deeply committed to staying in power. They're not suicidal. They're very good at testing U.S. resolve -- constantly testing U.S. redlines. I suspect that now what they're going to do, given this massive U.S. response is to lay low a little bit. I suspect we won't see attacks in the near term on U.S. troops.

But once were again distracted, whether it's by our presidential elections, or the war in Ukraine, I think they will start to test us again because again, they're committed to their ideology.

BURNETT: General Hertling, what do you make of the fact that it appears that the IRGC -- again, (INAUDIBLE) support, had been trying to pull out senior officers from Syria. And obviously we have no idea if they actually even succeeded in doing that.

We do know that there are casualties. The U.S. government says that. We don't know anything more than that right now. We don't know how many and we don't know who.

HERTLING: Yeah. It will -- I agree, first of all, completely with Mr. Sadjadpour.

This is a continuous action by the Iranian government. The pulling out of the senior ranking officers doesn't mean they're pulling out the members of the Quds force, a force that gentlemen crystal, ones called a combination of our CIA and joint special operations command. They are continuing to train these multiple PMS and literally, Erin,

we talked a lot about one or two of them and name them by name. But there are dozens of these gang like organizations that aren't really soldiers, they're just gangs. They've been supplied by weapons and some training. They're not soldiers, but they -- they cause problems wherever they're located. And they're doing the bidding of the Iranian government.

So, you know, if we think that this is going to stop all action by any of the PMS --


HERTLING: -- in Syria or Iraq. I think we're going to be mistaken. You know, we used to have a saying in Iraq that just because you think you're winning against the insurgents, are al-Qaeda doesn't mean it's going to prevent every car bomb from happening.

So there may be one of these PMS that may launch another drone strike after this devastating attack tonight. And what I think is going to have over the next couple of days.

BURNETT: And, Karim, when you hear what the U.S. used, those B1 bombers, a statement in and of itself, they could have used less. They didn't. More than 125 precision munitions. And then they have a whole list of things that they hit weapons, stockpiles, weapons caches, as you could see from what General Hertling saying we're seeing here, right, because the rockets going up after the impact.

How much do you think what we are seeing tonight will actually degrade the capabilities of the Iranian-backed groups?

SADJADPOUR: I think no doubt it will degrade the capabilities but Iran has been playing this game for a long time, four-and-a-half decades. There been instances when, for example Israel is significantly degraded Lebanese Hezbollah, one of Iran's proxies, or Israel is degraded Iran's proxies in the Palestinian territories. But they use their oil resources -- Iran uses its oil resources to rebuild those capabilities.

So I think we have to say that this is -- this is a cold war that Iran has been fighting against us for a long time. They're going to continue to do so.

What I would say though Erin, is that what's unique about this Iranian regime is that the probably the most menacing regime beyond their borders, but one of the most unstable and unpopular regimes at home.


And so, that also needs to be part of our strategy to advance the cause of political change inside Iran. Otherwise, we're simply going to be responding to the symptoms of this regime.

BURNETT: Right, we think about in the past 12 to 18 months, so many of the -- (CROSSTALK)


HERTLING: Yeah, if I can, Erin, on that -- that's a great point because what we're seeing and what we're enamored with are these kinds of kinetic strikes. But there are -- there is going to be more, I think, this multilevel operation that the Biden administration has formulated is going to so include covert action, cyber attacks, and other things that we may not see.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you both so very much. I appreciate it.

And, of course, at least in this specific instance, the reason that this is happening tonight is because of what is happening in Israel and Gaza.

And I want to go to Tel Aviv where our Nic Robertson is OUTFRONT.

Nic, this is -- this is part of this escalation since October 7th of what we've seen, the fears of a broader war, and here we are bit by bit. How dangerous is this moment for the region and for the world, when you consider there will be strikes? There then will be a response, there then will be a response to that?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yeah. There's always dangerous for miscalculations. I think once post-October 7th has shown and what the United States is responding to in Iraq and Syria tonight. And your guests have just been talking exactly about it, Iran says that it doesn't want to have a direct fight with the United States and the White House says it, too, it doesn't want to have a direct fight with Iran.

But the reality is Iran is at war with United States and post-October 7th, it's become very, very clear if anyone has sort of fail to pay attention over the past couple of decades, they could have blinked during that period where Iran having set up an established very strongly Hezbollah in Lebanon, they've gone on to stand up and make some very strong and capable militias in Iraq and Syria in Yemen with the Houthis so over the past decade or so, as well as supplying and training Hamas in Gaza.

So that the period that were in at the moment is where we can see -- the world can see, all those strings leading back to Tehran. And at the moment it's convenient to avoid escalation, not to fight them by going so the ends of those strings to Iran. It's convenient to target the Houthis when they're about to launch missiles to take out ships in the Red Sea. It's convenient to target these militias and weapon stockpiles as were clearly seeing now in Iraq and Syria.

But I think the bigger picture is ultimately that thread as your panel have said doesn't go away. Iran's objectives vis-a-vis the United States remain exactly the same. That problem just doesn't go away.

BURNETT: All right. Nic Robertson, thank you very much live in these early hours of Saturday morning in Tel Aviv. I want to go to Major General Spider Marks at the wall right now.

And, General Marks, I -- just to understand exactly what were seeing here, right? Strikes targeting Iranian-backed proxies, no strikes inside Iran, notable and important. Can you just walk us through exactly the significance of what we're -- what we're seeing here right now.

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yeah, Erin, at least what we know right now is the strikes took place essentially in this area, we don't know precisely where 85 individual targets, seven clusters, if you will, what significant is United States did not strike into Iran.

But look, you know, the historic trade routes that have existed in this part of the world forever have come from Iran have come from Iran and they migrate through in this particular area, this Shia arc, if you will, this access of resistance is what we've now called it.

So, United States, I think very wisely has chosen not to strike into Iran, but as Nic just indicated, let there be no doubt, the United States truly is at war with Iran in a tactical level right now. There is a strategic competition that's taking place and right now, the United States is trying to insert itself and to get into a leaning forward posture. So we're just not responding to what the Iranians are doing. We need to take the initiative and this is what this first strike is all about.

BURNETT: All right. So the B1 bombers that were used to carry out the strikes, can you tell us more about their capabilities? I mean, obviously, know we understand the payload they can carry a significantly greater than that of an F15 or an F16. But what is the capability here?

MARKS: Yeah, two things in particular identified here and you just mentioned one, 24 cruise missiles plus a number of gravity munitions, gravity bombs, very, very capable, a lot of experience inside the cockpit. This thing has been around for over 40 years.


It's got legs that are going to go out for another ten to 12 years. But also, unlimited range. You can keep refueling this thing. So these bombers, I assume, flew from the United States, refueled in route very precise targets made it very crystal clear that this is what they're going after. And the United States chose not to use fighter aircraft that had to do it could have had a dual purpose of supporting forces on the ground.

So this sends a very clear unequivocal message. This is a bomber. Were not going to linger, were not going to sport are the folks on the ground. We're coming directly after you.

BURNETT: All right. So what else stands out to you about what you've seen so far, what we understand so far happened? MARKS: Yeah. The challenge that were seeing right now is that the government is indicated -- our government is indicated. This is a multi-tiered attack. The challenges, what does that really look like? I would hope it would be a whole of government type of attack.

We've got economic sanctions we can continue to pour on. We've got incredible cyber capabilities. We've got great diplomatic capabilities.

And also the multi-tiered in my mind doesn't have a time horizon. We should not be in the business of saying we're going to be there another couple of days. The questions will be asked. How long will this take? It'll take as long as it takes, but the United States needs to be able to assess the damage that's taken place so far.

And then the target sets going to evolve as a result of that. So this thing will cascade and will escalate in terms of volume, I would hope over the course of time until at some point we say, we've achieved our objectives.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much. I appreciate it, General.

MARKS: Thank you, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. And next, the breaking news, Ukraine Zelenskyy now calling the top general that he fired days ago, he's, quote, commander in chief. What is actually happening here? Did Zelenskyy suddenly change his mind?

Also breaking this hour, the start of Trump's election interference trial, that crucial trial, we have just learned has now been postponed indefinitely. We'll explain exactly what happened.



BURNETT: All right. Tonight, we have more breaking news, a stunning move from the Ukrainian President Zelenskyy after firing his top general, the man who has commanded the war against Putin. President Zelenskyy then did it seemingly total about-face, calling General Valerii Zaluzhnyi his, quote, commander in chief today.

The two coming face-to-face for a war cabinet meeting as Zelenskyy was expected to announce to Zaluzhnyi's replacement.

Fred Pleitgen is OUTFRONT.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Since Moscow's forces invaded Ukraine almost two years ago, General Valerii Zaluzhnyi has been the man behind the military effort to push the Russians back, a successful effort but one requiring great sacrifices in Ukrainian blood.

Zaluzhnyi, a respected commander close to his troops.

The path to our victory is very hard, he said at a military funeral, and the price for this victory is the lives of our warriors, the best citizens of Ukraine who have stood in the defense of the country with weapons and their hands.

But after Ukraine's large-scale counteroffensive failed last year, Kyiv's forces making little headway while suffering major losses, relations between Zaluzhnyi and Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, appeared to fray.

Zelenskyy seemingly critical of his top general strategy.

I have working relations with Zaluzhnyi, he has to answer for results on the battlefield as commander in chief, together with the general staff, Zelenskyy said. There are many questions.

Zaluzhnyi remains extremely popular. A December Ukrainian poll finding nearly 90 percent supported him compared to around 64 for Zelenskyy.

Another point of contention between the two further mobilization of soldiers to beef up the armed forces, but also to give troops fighting on the front lines for months, a breather.

Zaluzhnyi saying, it's going to slow. As for the local mobilization offices as of now, frankly speaking, I am not satisfied with the work of the mobilization offices. If I were satisfied with their work, we would not discuss this bill right now.

But Zelenskyy is critical of further mobilization and unpopular measure for many Ukrainians.

And what everyone take everyone away because they don't have money. This man asks that really smells like slavery. As harsh as it may sound, in my opinion, it's necessary. This man says, because it's really a matter where it seems to me there is no choice.

Outmanned and outgunned, Ukraine's army is struggling to hold the Russians up while the president's relations with his top general seemed damaged, possibly beyond repair.


BURNETT: And, Fred, when it is incredible, what were seeing here and just raises so many questions about what is really happening in what more are you learning about this, this firing me, it was supposedly Zaluzhnyi was fired. I mean, everybody knew it was fired and then we were just waiting for a formal decree. So what happened with that?

PLEITGEN: Yeah. That's the big question everyone is asking here in Kyiv, I'm one of the things that we can also see Erin, is that all political key of really isn't a holding pattern wedding, whether or not this decree is going to comments really the indications that we were getting is that a decree would come by the end of this week. Well, now, it's around 2:30 a.m. in the morning on Saturday and still there is no decree. So, right now, its absolutely unclear how much longer Valerii

Zaluzhnyi might be an office if indeed he is still an office. And what in general, his fate is going to be as the commander of Ukraine's armed forces, Erin.

BURNETT: I mean, Fred, it's like then today, we see this happen that there's a cabinet meeting and maybe were going to find out who's going to take the place of Zaluzhnyi and instead Zelenskyy walks in and refers to Zaluzhnyi as his commander in chief. Is there any possibility that with all this firing that that he may not actually be -- he may undo it?

PLEITGEN: There is -- there is always that possibility again. Right now, it's absolutely unclear, but Volodymyr Zelenskyy is going to do. The main thing that people are talking about here is possibly the big question is still, does Zelenskyy have a successor lined up a possible one for Zaluzhnyi?


And, of course, we have been talking about the fact that there were two people who seem to be in the running to be the successor. One of them, Kyrylo Budanov, the head of military intelligence, random ahead of the land forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi.

But again, at this point in time, its not clear whether its going to be any one of those or whether or not Zelenskyy has indeed changed his mind. We simply don't know at this point in time. Certainly, right now, we'll see what happens on the weekend and whether a decree might yet come, Erin.

BURNETT: An absolutely incredible moment.

Fred Pleitgen is in Kyiv and we're so grateful for that, to have eyes and ears and on the ground there.

And we have the breaking news, of course, coming from the Middle East. Video now in of the United States striking more than 85 targets in Iraq and Syria in just these past moments. Multiple casualties are reported. We don't yet have formal numbers for you on who or how many. The strikes were in retaliation for the drone attack on a military outpost in Jordan in which three American soldiers were killed and dozens injured.

I want to go to Oneida Oliver Sanders. And you all heard from her earlier this week, her daughter, U.S. Army Sergeant Kennedy Sanders, was one of the soldiers killed and that obviously receiving her promotion after she died, Oneida.

Today, I know you're just learning about these strikes as well. These strikes are in response to your daughter's death.

What's your reaction to what were seeing tonight, Oneida?

ONEIDA OLIVER-SANDERS, MOTHER OF SGT. KENNEDY SANDERS, U.S. SOLDIER KILLED IN JORDAN: Well, my initial reaction is that I'm just here to honor my daughter's legacy on her time in service and honor the sacrifice that she made. That's my main focus is to lay my daughter to rest respectfully.

BURNETT: She was honored today in that military ritual, the dignified transfer, when she first came back to the United States.

Can you tell us about or share what do you feel comfortable sharing, Oneida, about what happened at that ceremony today?

OLIVER-SANDERS: The ceremony was very dignified as stated. It was very -- it was a solemn ceremony, but everything was handled with respect. I was very pleased with the way they were handled.

BURNETT: President Biden was there. He did appear emotional. What was your interaction with him today? I know you'd had a chance to speak, Oneida, before, but you had a chance to be with him in person in this moment.


BURNETT: What did -- what was that interaction like?

OLIVER-SANDERS: Every interaction that I have had with the president does far has been very personable. He shows so much compassion and care for us with what we're dealing with. His wife, Dr. Biden, as well.

We did keep it as light as we could. We share laughs together. We talked about her career as a teacher and my stepdaughter was there who's also a teacher. And they just had conversations about that as well.

So it was a very light conversation, but at the same time, everyone show their care and concern for what were dealing with.

BURNETT: Well, President Biden called you and your husband. I know shortly after you learned of Kennedy's death and you shared a picture of yourselves when you had a chance to speak with him and video of that moment. How has it been even for you, Oneida, to deal with this now. I can only imagine that today had to have in so many ways been surreal that you were actually standing there with your daughter coming home like this.

OLIVER-SANDERS: Yes. So many thoughts went through my head, the fact -- just the fact of knowing that when I attended her farewell ceremony in Columbus, Georgia, in August and here we are now in January and she's returning to me in a box just the thought of that. Did break me down just a little bit when I saw her and her friends along with her, be taken from the plane.

But we have so much the poor around us, all the dignitaries that came out today and offer their condolences. I felt that they were all sincere even some of them were very touched and you could tell that they were touched, some of them were teary-eyed as well.

And I just felt the support and concerns from every the one that was here today.

BURNETT: Oneida, thank you so much. Certainly in my thoughts --


BURNETT: -- and I know everyone, everyone who sees you now. Thank you.

OLIVER-SANDERS: Yes. Thank you.

BURNETT: And OUTFRONT next, as we continue to cover this breaking news out of the Middle East, we also have a major development in the election interference case for the special counsel, Jack Smith.


We have learned that it has been postponed indefinitely in terms of the court date. So what does this mean? What has happened? Plus, a shocking revelation, the Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is admitting she had a personal relationship with her top prosecutor. We'll tell you exactly what it means.


BURNETT: Breaking news, a federal election interference case against Donald Trump is now postponed indefinitely. The trial was scheduled to start March 4th, but the ongoing appeals about Trumps claims of presidential immunity are making that start date impossible.

And Ryan Goodman is OUTFRONT.

So, Ryan, here we are, that this has been postponed indefinitely, and I guess they're awaiting an immunity ruling. But what does that mean? I mean, I understand, we knew it was going to be postponed, right? I mean, that was understandable, but this point because we hadn't gotten the ruling. But nonetheless, indefinitely does sort of have a heavy weight to it.

RYAN GOODMAN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL AT DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE: It most certainly does, because the judge, Judge Chutkan, could have put down another silver provisional date for startup trial, but she didn't, which gives us a sense of just how suspended the action currently is as we await the D.C. circuit. And she even suggested if and when she gets the mandate from the D.C. circuits.

So it could be that by the time they issue a mandate, her calendars already full. So it really is just going to be waiting to see when that trial could start and if it could even start in the spring or the summer at all.


BURNETT: Which I mean, it's incredible that we've reached this moment. I mean, advisers to the former president are telling CNN -- given what you're saying -- that they think this is a win for Trump in the campaign. Is it that clear cut? GOODMAN: I'm not sure it's that clear cut, but it's certainly a good

day for him. This is good news for him. The reason that it might not be that clear cut is that in a certain sense, the district court is sending a signal to the D.C. circuit. She's basically saying in a certain sense this is be -- this is very disruptive to the trial. Now I've had to suspend everything.

So that puts a little bit extra pressure on the D.C. Circuit to rule and so we might still see a ruling from the D.C. Circuit then the Supreme Court decides whether or not it wants to act, and then everything could be put could be put back on track. So, definitely a good day for President Trump, but not necessarily out of the woods.

BURNETT: So, in the context of what this means for the other trials against Trump. Obviously, you know, you've got the question marks in Georgia that are out there right now, that that could mean Alvin Bragg's hush money case, which is the one that had been seen as the most politicized, but it is a criminal case that could be the one that goes first after all of this, right, when he had had sort of acquiesced and moved it so that that wouldn't be the case. But it looks like it's conceivable that it is first now.

GOODMAN: I would put my money on the idea that that's going to be the first case. And it might be the one case. It might be the only criminal case that's actually brought to trial before the election. But it's definitely -- it looks like its going to be first and I think that's another windfall for President Trump, because as you say, it's certainly the weakest of the criminal cases. It has the lead east gravity to it. It might not even come with a real serious risk of imprisonment, is that weak of a case in that sense, and it's also predicated in part on witnesses like Michael Cohen.

So, it's the case that if he were to wish which case we go first, it would be that one.

BURNETT: All right. Ryan, thank you very much.

And I mentioned the Georgia case as well in this context, and there was a bombshell admission in that case today, the Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis finally admitting that she did have a, quote, personal relationship with their top prosecutor. The announcement coming almost a month after the scandal first broke.

Now, Willis filed 176 page court filing. In it, she argues there are no grounds to dismiss the case or to remove her from the prosecution. So she's fighting back and she's countering accusations that she financially benefited from the relationship with Nathan Wade.

There are a lot of specifics as to why and Paula Reid is OUTFRONT in Washington.

Paula, you got a chance to go through 176 pages. What have you learned in there?

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: A lot, Erin. As you can see, it is voluminous. This is the first time they are publicly responding to these allegations. Let's go through some things that we've learned.

First of all, we know that Nathan Wade was appointed in 2021, but he revealed today than what he describes as a personal relationship with Fani Willis actually began in 2022. So after his appointment and they say it grew out of their pre-existing professional relationship, but, Erin, as you know, the accusations from former President Trump and his codefendants are not limited to concerns about a personal relationship. They also pointed the fact that Wade has earned hundreds of thousands of dollars while overseeing this high profile case.

And during that time, he and Willis have gone on vacations and he has at times paid for some of those expenses. But today, Wade denied that his earnings had been shared with or provided to Willis saying, quote, at times have made and purchase travel for District Attorney Willis and myself from my personal funds. At other times, District Attorney Willis has made in purchase travel for she and I from personal funds.

So, it's basically saying when we travel together, we split the check. Now, Willis, in her part of this filing, she insists that none of this meets the legal requirements for her to have to be disqualified from this case. She insists that none of the substantive decisions that have been made here, the charging decisions, the plea deals that have been brokered, none of these have been influenced by their personal relationship. So all of this sets up a February 15th hearing, Erin, where the judge overseeing this case will consider this disqualification question.

Now, among the witnesses who could be called, Willis and Wade and some of their colleagues. So not surprising, they are seeking to have that hearing canceled.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Paula.

So, I want to go to Michael Isikoff, the chief investigative correspondent for Yahoo News and the co-author of "Find Me the Votes". It details the inside story of the case led by Fani Willis against Trump in Georgia.

So, Michael, you've spent an enormous amount of time with her while writing your book. You've spoken to Wade as well. Were you surprised at all by the revelation that they had -- this personal relationship -- I guess they say this goes back to 2022, very significant that they're saying after he was appointed, right? So he wasn't appointed because of it. I want to emphasize that's what they're saying here.

But were you surprised that the relationship was even going on?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, YAHOO NEWS: I think it's been pretty clear for the last few weeks that there was a relationship there, a intimate relationship. Fani Willis all but acknowledged that when she gave that speech at the Black Church on Martin Luther King Day. And quite say it, but if you read between the lines.

But look, you know, I think this filing today could go a long way to defusing this whole controversy. If you take a step back, the motion filed by Ashleigh Merchant, that lawyer for Michael Roman, one of the defendants basically argued that there was a financial and personal conflict of interest here because, number one, Fani Willis hired somebody she was having an intimate relationship with, paid them lots of money and then use that money so that they can go on lavish vacations.

So if in fact the relationship had not begun at the time she hired him and they shared the cost of these trips, that kind of really knocks down the predicates for some of the motion. The idea was that somehow, they wanted to prolong this case so they can so Nathan Wade can make more money to take Fani Willis on lavish vacations. It was speculative from the start.

You add these two facts and it kind of like under the basis for the motion. There's going to be hearing February 15th. We'll see whether the judge wants to get into an evidentiary hearing, but I'd be surprised at this point if he does.

BURNETT: All right. Trump is pushing these accusations against Willis and Wade, of course. Here's some of what he said.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: She paid her boyfriend, a lawyer who had no experience as a lawyer and no experience doing what almost $1 million. And then they decided you on beautiful Norwegian cruise lines strips all over the place. He was very generous person with our money.


BURNETT: Now, again, they're saying it didn't start until after he took the position. I would presume that if that's not the case, people are going to come forth out of the woodwork and make that clear, right? Yeah. They're swearing the fact that it didn't.

So, but you write in your book that Wade was not even at the top of Willis' list. So this would mean not only do the relationship start after he was hired, but in fact that she herself did not even want to hire him.

ISIKOFF: Exactly. She had a hard time finding anybody to take the job as we write in "Find Me the Votes". I mean, she reached out to a number of high profile people, Roy Barnes, the former governor of Georgia, Gabe Banks, a former highly regarded federal prosecutor, and they turned her down. Why? As Roy, as Roy Barnes is quoted in a book, in his -- in our book, hypothetically speaking, do you want to have a bodyguard following around for the rest of your life?


ISIKOFF: They were worried about the threats that were coming from Trump's supporters and something that Fani Willis was experiencing every day.

BURNETT: And just briefly, so much so these threats that she had a body double? ISIKOFF: Yes.

BURNETT: This is one of the most dramatic, extraordinary stories of this whole saga.

The night of the indictment in August, where she makes that late night announcement, it was about midnight to all the press corps, the Fulton County staff had picked up an assassination threat on a MAGA website, the best time to shooter is when she leaves the building.

So they arrange this whole elaborate decoy operation. Fani Willis goes back from the press Congress to an office or office, takes off her black business suit and pearls, gets on, puts on sweats than a baseball cap and a body double, somebody on the staff who resembled Fani Willis puts on the business suit underneath the over a Kevlar bulletproof vest and drives out. Fani Willis is smuggled out the back door of her office to an undisclosed location.

BURNETT: All right. Well, I hope people well read more because that is an incredible story. Sad, but incredible.

Thank you so much, Michael. I'm always glad to see you.

ISIKOFF: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, lawyers for a group of Colorado voters are now preparing to make their case in front of the Supreme Court to keep Trump off the ballot. The state secretary of state will take part in those arguments. That's a change. But she will now and she's my guess to explain why.

And breaking news tonight about the Republican effort to impeach the homeland security secretary.



BURNETT: Tonight a flurry of preparation underway for the Supreme Court's oral arguments over whether Trump should be kicked off the Colorado ballot. Colorado's secretary of state now officially taking a stand and urging the justices to disqualify Trump using the 14th Amendment as justification.

Her legal team has just been granted ten minutes on Thursday to make that argument before the highest court, and the Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold is now OUTFRONT.

All right. Secretary Griswold, I'm so glad to see you again.

And obviously, all eyes are going to be on your lawyers is coming Thursday when they're making your arguments to the justices. And that's not a lot of time. I know you'd want at 15 minutes, so it's not as if you were asking for a lot, but you only have ten minutes to make the case.

What are they going to lay out for the Supreme Court?

JENA GRISWOLD (D), COLORADO SECRETARY OF STATE: First off, Erin, always great to be on your show. Thank you for having me and our message is pretty simple. It's the idea, the clear statement that states can stop oath-breaking insurrectionists from appearing on our ballots.

I imagine that the Supreme Court may focus its questions on the role of state law and how the Constitution interacts with state law. And regardless of the time, we want to make sure that Colorado's interests in our election system and election law is clearly protected at the United States Supreme Court.

BURNETT: So, Secretary, here's what I just to be clear, you've been very careful on this issue. You didn't just come out and pound the table on this from the beginning. You know, for months, even on this show, you did stop short of saying Trump should be kept off your states ballot, even though you did believe he incited an insurrection on January 6th.

So you don't come to taking the stand and going before the Supreme Court lightly.

Why? How did this happen that you've decided now to take a different and very clear public stand.

GRISWOLD: Like you said, I've always believed that Trump incited the insurrection, but it was pretty clear that regardless of my personal thoughts court was going to decide did his actions reached the level of disqualification under Section Three of the 14th Amendment?


And a court has. And the Colorado Supreme Court looked at all the district court's findings, spent specialized amount of time, and determined he did engaged in insurrection. And that on top of that, the Constitution applies to the president. There's no get-out-of-jail- free card for insurrection for Donald Trump.

And honestly, Erin, I think they got it right. And I'm making this clear statement in protection of Colorado law because I think that's how the Constitution should work. Section Three of the 14th Amendment is there to protect the country from insurrectionist like Donald Trump, and I hope that the United States Supreme Court looks at all the facts, all the case law and the clear words of the United States Constitution in making their determination.

BURNETT: Does the fact that there appear to be delays for the special counsel's case -- I mean, that was supposed to start on March 4. That is not going to start for now. It's been postponed indefinitely. Ryan Goodman was just pointing out that the judge there could have given another date, a provisional date, knowing that it could move, right?

So the fact that its indefinite is significant, possibly. Does that -- I mean, obviously, you made this decision before that, but do the delays that we've seen there waiting for this immunity ruling as they are in that case. Did that play into your decision to take the stand?

GRISWOLD: No, it did not. As soon as the Colorado Supreme Court made its decision, it was very clear to me that a court of competent jurisdiction at looking at how Colorado election law should apply to this scenario, had made its clear decision. Donald Trump incited the insurrection. That was just part of his strategy to steal the 2020 election from the American people. I think he should be held accountable.

And whether it's in the other cases you have talked about tonight, or this case, he is a clear threat to this country. I believe he's one of the largest dangers to this country. And I look forward to oral arguments next Thursday.

BURNETT: All right. We will, of course, all be watching for that on Thursday.

Secretary Griswold, thanks so much. I'm glad to talk to you.

GRISWOLD: Thank you.

BURNETT: All right. And next, the breaking news, Republicans have just announced a major step on the impeachment of the homeland security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas.


BURNETT: Breaking news, Republicans taking another step tonight towards impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Our Manu Raju reporting that House leaders and officially scheduled the impeachment vote for next week. It will be either Tuesday or Wednesday. They say, something that has not been done in 148 years in the United States.

And it is still not clear if the Republicans have the votes. House Speaker Mike Johnson can only afford to lose three. Retiring Congressman Ken Buck has already touched on OUTFRONT that he is leaning no.

Thanks so much for joining us.

"AC360" begins right now.