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Now: President Biden Meeting with Palestinian President Abbas; January 6 Committee Discussing Potential Testimony From Trump, Pence; Zelenskyy: Three Children Among 23 Dead in Vinnytsia Attack. Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired July 15, 2022 - 05:00   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. It is Friday, July 15th. I'm Erica Hill, in for Christine Romans.

Right now, President Biden is in Bethlehem meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. We do expect to hear from Mr. Biden after that meeting, perhaps within the hour. After a visit to the Church of the Nativity, he will board Air Force One for the two hour flight to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he is set to meet with King Salman and his advisers, including the highly controversial Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.

Hadas Gold is in Bethlehem this morning. But, first, let's go to White House correspondent Jeremy Diamond who joins me now from Jerusalem.

So, what in terms of the focus, what have we seen here for the president's visit?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica, we just saw President Biden arriving in Bethlehem at the presidential compound where he was greeted by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. This is the first visit by a U.S. president to meet with the Palestinian Authority president since President Trump visited in 2017.

And this comes as the U.S. is really trying to shift its policy towards the Palestinians. We have watched the Biden administration turn back on the spigot of humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people that was cut off by the Trump administration. We've seen over the last -- since President Biden came into office about half a billion dollars of aid. And today, we're expecting President Biden to announce a total of $316 million of additional aid for Palestinians including $100 million for the east Jerusalem hospital network that serves Palestinians.

Here is the president earlier this morning at one of those hospitals in East Jerusalem.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, today, I'm pleased to announce the United States is committing an additional $100 million to support these hospitals, your staffs that work for the Palestinian people, to your commitment of both resources and expertise.


DIAMOND: And White House officials have also told us that the president will announce $201 million for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees and another $15 million in food aid. There is also a series of key confidence building measures between the Israelis and Palestinians, Israelis have apparently committed to opening 24/7 access for the bridge that allows Palestinians to travel to Jordan.

There is also going to be a restarting of this Israeli/Palestinian economic dialogue. What is notable the fact that president Biden and his officials have made it clear that they are not looking to relaunch some kind of high level shuttle diplomacy effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Senior administration officials have told me that they are not doing that because they believe right now the two parties are so far apart, conditions on the ground so gridlocked that they believe those discussions would fail.

Instead what they are looking to do is build these confidence building measures between the two sides, small measures to improve the lives of Palestinians, that they hope can ultimately bring the two parties closer together. And a sign of that, we saw the first call between an Israeli prime minister and the Palestinian Authority president just days before President Biden arrived, the first call between those two leaders in five years -- Erica.

HILL: Very important. Jeremy Diamond, appreciate it.

Well, the president's meeting on the West Bank, of course, being closely watched by the Palestinians.

Hadas Gold is live in Bethlehem.

Hadas, what kind of reception is Mr. Biden getting?

HADAS GOLD, CNN JERUSALEM CORRESPONDENT: Well, we just saw him get the red carpet reception at the Palestinian Authority presidential compound here in Bethlehem. Bethlehem, of course, is such an important, significant city. We just heard church bells ringing for noon and right now, we're hearing the Muslim call to prayer here in this very holy city.

President Biden, after his meeting with President Abbas will himself be having a spiritual moment at the Church of the Nativity, which you can see just behind me over the left shoulder. It's the building with the star on it.

Right now, he is meeting with the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. They will meet for about 30 minutes before giving statements. We don't expect them to take questions from the press.

And besides what Jeremy talked about, the financial support that the Americans are now offering, keep in mind of course that lot of that financial support was cut off under the Trump administration. Much of this visit has been seen by the Palestinians to re-establish the relationship that was severed under President Trump.

But there is also the expectation that there won't be some sort of new announcement toward major steps towards a two state solution.


And to be quite frank, there is quite a bit of disappointment from the Palestinians in the Biden administration. There was a lot of hope when they took over from President Trump, a lot of promises made. We heard from Secretary of State Antony Blinken about a year ago saying over and over again that the Americans wanted to reopen the American consulate in Jerusalem that served Palestinians because for Palestinians, that is seen as a precursor to what they hope will one day be an American embassy in the state of Palestine which they hope will be East Jerusalem. But conversations on that have come to essentially a halt because of Israeli opposition. There is a lot of disappointment in that.

Also the Palestinian political office in Washington that was closed under Trump, that has not been reopened. And there is also widespread very much anger and disappointment in how the Americans have handled the investigation into the killing of the Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh who was killed in May while covering an Israeli military operation in Jenin. In fact, while President Biden was driving into Bethlehem, his motorcade passed by a mural that's on the separation wall, a giant mural of Shireen Abu Akleh wearing what looks like a press pass. But instead of press, it says justice across from it.

We also know a lot of Palestinian reporters who will be covering President Biden's statement, they are all wearing black shirts with Shireen's face on them as a statement to the president. Her family has made a request to the president to meet with them while they are here, we do not as far as we understand think that that will happen. Instead Secretary Blinken has invited the family to Washington.

But as one nurse at the hospital that President Biden was visiting told president Biden while he was there, they said that they thank him for the financial support but what they really need more than financial support is more justice and more dignity.

HILL: Hadas Gold with the latest from Bethlehem -- Hadas, thank you.

Also with us, Bobby Ghosh, foreign affairs columnist for "Bloomberg".

Bobby, good to see you this morning.

I want to pick up where Hadas left off there, right? As she was saying, this one nurse saying to the president we need more justice. She talked about the disappointment even as there are these steps to re-establish the relationship. What is this going to achieve today for the president?

BOBBY GHOSH, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST, BLOOMBERG: I don't think that it will achieve a great deal. What we've seen from American presidential visits to Israel and to the Palestinian territories before is that there is a little flutter of goodwill, some gestures like the ones both Hadas and Jeremy have talked about. But then the American president goes away and then things go back to where they were between Israel and the Palestinians.

The real progress has to come in the period between American presidential visits. There is not a whole lot that the Biden administration is committing in that respect. Perhaps they cannot, because also there is a political context to this. Only in a matter of months by October, Israel will have another election, may have a whole different government. Midterm election coming here, President Biden's party is not looking particularly solid at the moment. His political fortunes may have greatly changed.

So the Palestinians will take the $300 million that he is offering and will be happy to have it. Better than not to have it. But I don't think that -- I think that they know enough from previous presidential visits not to hold their breath for a great deal of progress on the real issues that they confront every day.

HILL: Which a place they found themselves in before.

When we look at what is coming up next, there has been so much made of this next stop understandably in Saudi Arabia. The fact that the president will be meeting with MBS without the king present, rather, how important is that? What does that signify?

GHOSH: Well, it's a very, very big deal. No point in the American president going all the way to Saudi Arabia and not meeting the man who is actually running the country. King Salman is old and infirmed and Prince Mohammed has been running the country for several years now. That is the reality.

And President Biden when he was on the campaign trail a couple years ago had harsh words to say about the crown prince over the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi. He said he wanted to make a pariah out of Saudi Arabia for that murder. But he is not been able to follow through on that. He hasn't taken any real steps to make Saudi Arabia or its crown prince a pariah.

And now as so often in American history, the president needs the Saudis to help him bring down the price of gas. And another big issue to come up is inflation in this country being what it is, the president is in no position to maintain that tough harsh position against MBS.

So, this is President Biden walking out of a corner into which he had painted himself, and accepting the reality.


Now, that is not going to be popular with the Democratic Party, particularly the progressive side of the party back home. It's not going to be popular with human rights groups and all of Jamal Khashoggi's friends and well-wishers and I count myself in that category. But that is the reality American presidents have to operate in that reality.

HILL: And just to further underscore that point, he was asked specifically yesterday about he said extensively, of course, I'll bring up human rights, I always bring up human rights.

But when it comes to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, he was asked specifically and I want to play that for people who may not have heard it.


BIDEN: I will bring up, I always bring up human rights. I always bring up human rights. But my position on Khashoggi has been so clear. If anyone doesn't understand it in Saudi Arabia or anywhere else, then they haven't been around for a while.


HILL: There is a very large camp of people who say that you should bring it up no matter what. The reality though is that, and I think we heard clearly in that answer even if it wasn't said clearly, this is likely not going to come up.

GHOSH: No, very unlikely. And if it does, it will just be as a side bar ticking off the boxes. Let's not forget that almost every Arab leader that the president is meeting there has a highly, highly questionable human rights record. The president of Egypt will be there and his human rights record is awful.

So the president will I think try to glide through it as quickly as he can. His big objective in the trip is to try to get more oil out of Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates and the other oil-producing countries. If he comes back with promises and actual action on that front, the trip will be a success and his best hope is that we forget about this embarrassment of having to go back on his word, his promise to make Saudi Arabia a pariah and that we will all be charitable to the president for trying to do his best for the American economy at this difficult time.

HILL: Bobby Ghosh, always good to have your insight. Nice to see you this morning. Thanks.

GHOSH: Anytime.

HILL: Coming up here, the state now suing the Biden administration over emergency abortions.

Plus, could Trump and Pence actually speak with the January 6 Committee? The new reporting is next.

And a bit later, the last thing that you want to see when you make your way to the beach, that guy.


[05:16:45] HILL: The House January 6 Committee is debating whether to ask former President Trump to testify. The "Wall Street Journal" reported the committee may also seek an interview with Mike Pence.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz joining us now live from Washington.

So, as we know, Katelyn, asking is one thing, but actually getting the former president and former vice president to agree to testify would be quite another. Where does all this stand?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER : Very much so, Erica. We've heard this refrain before that the House Select Committee could try to get answers directly from Donald Trump or Mike Pence.

Let's start with Pence. Yesterday, Representative Adam Kinzinger told "The Wall Street Journal" his panel could try to do a written interview with Pence. But this has been kicked around for the committee for months now, they were planning to discuss it again this week.

But remember, both Pence's former chief of staff Marc Short and his counsel Greg Jacob have already testified. We even saw Jacob giving the searing details about how Pence pushed back, several meetings, multiple days, against Trump and lawyer John Eastman on the idea that Trump wanted Pence to block the election result.

He wasn't going to do what Trump wanted. We already know that. But the area that those staffers could share were the private conversations that happened between the vice president and the president himself. That is an area that if the House presses for it, it really could get into some complicated areas of executive privilege. So we don't know if they will be able to get that sort of information. And now we have the insight into what Donald Trump was thinking or they want that insight, whether the committee could learn that, that is a whole other ball game.

Kinzinger did mention potentially subpoenaing Trump and possibly pence too, but we've seen Trump fight off pursuits of this before. Remember the Mueller investigation they considered for months whether to subpoena Donald Trump and actually did not. So we're still waiting to see where the committee lands on this.

HILL: Yeah, a large part of it is whether it is worth the legal headache in the end.

We're also learning that the committee was told the Secret Service had erased text messages between January 5 and January 6. So they learned that when it was asked -- they were asked to hand over those texts. The agency said this was all part of a device replacement program. It does sound like a little bit of odd timing.

What is the real story here and could there be any potential consequences?

POLANTZ: So, this is a new twist in what the House has or hasn't been able to obtain. And this story really is unfolding we were just learning about it the first time yesterday. CNN reporters learned yesterday that the watchdog agency for the Department of Homeland Security, the inspector general, was trying to get access to text messages from around January 5 and 6, 2021 from Secret Service phones.

But those text messages were erased after that request came in and DHS, which is the department where the Secret Service sits, they said that erasing happened in a device replacement program as you mentioned and the secret service also saying that there is nothing malicious about this, that they are being very cooperative, but the inspector general expressed some frustration in how difficult it seemed to be to get records out of this agency.

And now they are notifying the House. The House Select Committee and other committees are expressing concern about that. We already know what Secret Service agents witnessed Donald Trump doing on January 6, what they said about it afterwards.


That is an important part of the House's January 6 investigation.

So they are still trying to get answers there. There's a lot of questions that this brings up now.

HILL: So, in terms of what the Secret Service witnessed, you led me perfectly to the next question. So, thank you for that.

Cassidy Hutchinson has described a moment that has gotten a lot of attention, obviously from January 6, a moment she was told about, the president pushing to go to the Capitol. I'll play a moment of that just to remind people.


CASSIDY HUTCHINSON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE AIDE: The president said something to the effect of I'm the f'ing president, take me up to the Capitol now. To which Bobby responded, sir, we have to go back to the West Wing.


HILL: There was a little bit of pushback on that although no one has come forward to publicly refute it. CNN has learned however that a D.C. police officer who was in Trump's motorcade on January 6 has now confirmed those details.

POLANTZ: That's right. So, Erica, it wasn't just the Secret Service in that car. My colleagues Jamie Gangel and Annie Grayer were able to confirm that D.C. police officer has spoken to the house committee, told the House committee what he or she witnessed from that heated exchange that Donald Trump was said to have with his security detail on January 6 when he demanded to go to the crowds -- go to the capitol with the crowds that were supporting him when he was inside this presidential SUV.

The officer from D.C. was in the motorcade and talked to the House about that. And that is significant because there has been some pushback on whether the testimony of what White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson heard about the exchange, whether that was accurate. But this underlines the main point of Hutchinson's testimony which really has not been disputed, that Trump wanted to go to the Capitol. And as we continue to learn more, that does indeed seem to be based in quite a bit of truth.

HILL: I mean, talk about a lot of developments this week alone.

Katelyn, appreciate it. Thank you.

And the state of Texas is suing the Biden administration over access to emergency abortions. The suit which names the HHS secretary is in response to a letter from his department that reiterated guidance that refusing to provide an abortion when a woman's life is in danger may violate federal law. Texas is arguing that the federal government doesn't have the authority to force doctors to provide abortions. And it is now asking the court to strike down that directive.

Coming up, thousands of bags backed up at airports, as the backlash over the travel nightmare grows.

Plus, surveillance camera capturing the moment a cruise missile strikes a crowded city.



HILL: Ukraine's president is calling on world leaders to officially declare Russia a terrorist attack after Thursday's attack on the city of Vinnytsia. This video, you can see the moment of impact there at a store. President Zelenskyy says the strike killed at least 23 people including three children. A hospital was among the buildings hit.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): This day has once again proven that Russia must be officially recognized as a terrorist state. No other state in the world poses such a terrorist threat as Russia, no other state in the world allows itself to daily destroy peaceful cities and ordinary human life with cruise missiles and rocket artillery.


HILL: Scott McLean is live this morning in Vinnytsia with the latest for us -- Scott.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Erica, yeah, this behind me is one of the hospitals where some of the victims were taken, most of the victims were taken in the moments after those two missile strikes. We spoke to the medical director earlier who said that it was chaotic. There were well over 100 people who were brought here, most of them with shrapnel wounds, some also with severe burns. And he said the only thing that even remotely compared to what he saw yesterday was a bus crash that happened a few years ago, but even then they only had a fraction of the victims that they saw yesterday.

The doctor told me that, look, he sees soldiers wounded on the front lines all the time, he understands war. He understands hitting military targets, but he does not understand this.

Sorry, I'm just -- there is a bit of commotion here. We understand that there is some people from the president's office who are actually here at the hospital surely to meet with some of these patients. And while we're looking at that, I can tell you I also met with -- or got to speak with some of the family members of one man, 28 years old, who was injured yesterday. He was a technician for a Ukrainian pop singer who was holding a concert to raise money for the military. He was inside of the building at the time. He has now severe injuries to his spine and chest. They will find out over the next couple days doctors say whether or not he will be able to survive and whether he will be able to ultimately recover.

President Zelenskyy you mentioned earlier calling on the international community to recognize Russia as a terrorist state and he mentioned the youngest victim by name, a 4-year-old girl named Lisa, stressing her age, and this morning we found out that the first lady of Ukraine knew this young girl. She had met her while shooting a Christmas video with some other children with disabilities.

And she sent out this video on her twitter account asking people to remember what this child looked like alive. The Russians for their part, they have not yet, Erica, come out with any explanation as to why exactly this site was hit. The fact that it was being used for a concert tells you everything that you need to know about the fact that this was not being used for any kind of active military operation.