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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

U.S., Germany and NATO Allies United in Show of Support for Ukraine; Attorney: Family of Tyre Nichols Want Cops Charged with Murders; Revised Filings Raise Questions About Source of Santos Loan. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired January 26, 2023 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, the new tanks the U.S. is giving Ukraine. It could be a major game changer if they get there in time.


POLICE CHIEF CERELYN DAVIS, MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE: This is not just a professional failing. This is a failing of basic humanity towards another individual.


ROMANS: Memphis braces for fallout over the fatal nonstop beating of a black man by police with video set to be released any day now.

And what's going on now with George Santos? The man just listed as treasurer for Santos campaign says he doesn't even work for the congressman.


ROMANS: All right. Here we go. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Christine Romans.

We begin with a potential game changer in Russia's campaign with a big if. President Biden announces to send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine after Germany said it will deliver 14 Leopard 2 tanks from its own supply. The challenge now: getting the tanks to the battlefield in time to make a difference.


JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: We've got to make sure we're helping the Ukrainians plan and prepare for the fighting we think they're going to be facing in the spring and summer months as the weather gets better. That will rely a lot on what we call combined arms maneuver. Field forces effectively in open terrain and move them. That's why these Bradley tanks and all of these vehicles will be quite effective.


ROMANS: Let's go live to London and bring in CNN's Salma Abdelaziz.

How did this deal come together? How many total tanks will the Ukrainians receive from the West?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This deal came together in the way a lot of things have come together in this conflict, in lock step with the United States and its allies. Germany did not want to send tanks on its own. It's absolutely gotten the wish. The United States is sending over 30 Abrams tanks, and across Europe, some 80 Leopard tanks making their way to Ukraine.

It's important to read the message here behind this announcement. This is absolutely a huge strategic shift. This is a West that was extremely reluctant to provide tanks at the beginning of the conflict. Now, the United States is making it clear, it sees Russia as less of a threat. It absolutely believes that Moscow is weakened by this conflict.

President Putin has lost tens of thousands of troops on the ground. According to U.S. officials, he's running out of weaponry. On the other hand, Ukraine seems to have a bottomless pit of support.

We have those Abrams tanks -- rather, the Leopard tanks that should arrive on the battlefield in under two to three months. Training for those tanks will begin in Germany immediately. The United States time line is much longer, months be for them to get into Europe, months more for training. So that might not make an impact when it comes to the counteroffensive that Ukraine is preparing for this spring.

But already we're hearing rumblings from the Kremlin coming in the form of waves of attacks this morning, 30 missiles shot across Ukraine. Air defense systems were activated. Many shot down. But we do know at least one person was killed and two others wounded by one of these missiles.

Overnight, also more than 20 drones were fired at Ukraine, but of those shot down as well. But Ukraine really preparing, bracing for that spring offensive and waiting for those tanks. They can't come fast enough.

ROMANS: All right. Selma, thanks so much. Keep us posted.

President Biden's decision to send those Abrams tanks to Ukraine followed weeks of intense back channel talks with Germany's chancellor, and other European leaders who insisted from the start that the U.S. had to send its own tanks, too, in order to get a deal done. The president ultimately decided he had to move forward.

More now on all of that from CNN's Phil Mattingly.



President Biden, a diplomatic breakthrough with dramatic battlefield implications

BIDEN: Today, I'm announcing that the United States will be sending 31 Abram tanks to Ukraine equivalent of one Ukrainian battalion.

MATTINGLY: The U.S. tanks set to significantly expand Ukraine's battlefield capabilities.

JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: It makes it possible for Germany but also other European allies to provide to battle tanks to Ukraine, and that will significantly strengthen their combat capabilities

MATTINGLY: At the same moment, Europe's largest land war in 80 years sits in the most brutal and grinding phase.


BIDEN: These tanks are further evidence of our enduring and unflagging commitment to Ukraine.

MATTINGLY: After weeks of U.S. officials dismissing the idea as untenable, the complex operating systems and significant maintenance requirements

SABRINA SINGH, PENTAGON DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: The maintenance and the high cost that it would take to maintain an Abrams just doesn't make sense to provide that to the Ukrainians at this moment.

MATTINGLY: But their inclusion, a central demand from German officials in order to clear the way for more immediate delivery of their own tanks, and to sign off on delivery of German made tanks by other allies, now the trigger for a deal to unleash significant armor contributions from U.S. allies across Europe.

BIDEN: Germany has really stepped up. The chancellor has been a strong, strong voice for unity.

MATTINGLY: Biden's praise of German Chancellor Scholz intentional, officials said, even as it served to cover intense and often frustrating negotiations over the last several weeks, but ultimately leading to U.S. commitments that will take months if not longer to reach the battlefield.

BIDEN: Delivering these tanks to the field is going to take time, time that we'll see and we'll use to make sure the Ukrainians are fully prepared to integrate the Abram tanks in their defenses.

MATTINGLY: But those commitment unlock immediate results from allies.

BIDEN: American contribution will be joined by additional announcement, including that will be ready -- will be ready and available more easily integrated for use on the battlefield in the coming weeks and months in other countries. MATTINGLY: The Russian ambassador to Germany declaring the moves,

quote, extremely dangerous to take the conflict to a, quote, new level of confrontation but U.S. officials downplayed the escalatory risk as did Biden.

BIDEN: There's no offensive threat to Russia. If Russian troops return to Russia, they will be there they belong, this war would be over today.


MATTINGLY (on camera): White House officials are candid. They see no near term end to the war. Don't have a good sense of how things may end whenever they, in fact, do. They made clear the support is both durable and will be long lasting as long, according to president Biden, as that support is needed.

And in fact, it's worth noting we are a month away from the one year anniversary of Russian's invasion of Ukraine and that is the moment they are keying on right now understanding this is a long-term effort and the symbolism, the importance of demonstrating the assistance delivered up to this point and will continue to be delivered in the weeks, months, potentially years ahead is just as important as those tanks that will be delivered over the course of the next year.

Phil Mattingly, CNN, the White House.

ROMANS: All right. Phil, thanks for that.

Exclusive new details about the roughly 12 classified documents discovered at former Vice President Mike Pence's Indiana home. Multiple sources tell CNN the documents include background briefing memos that were prepared for Pence's foreign trips. They may have been overlooked during the packing process because they were tucked into old trip binders.

Now according to this source, Pence classified briefing materials would not have been visible unless the packers went through those binders page by page.

All right. To this story now, school administrators repeatedly failed to act after they were notified three times that a 6-year-old student was carrying a gun in school. That claim coming from the attorney for teacher Abby Zwerner. She was shot in the chest by that child in her classroom three weeks ago in Virginia.

CNN's Brian Todd has the latest.


DIANE TOSCANO, ATTORNEY: They should have never happened. It was preventable. And thank God Abby is alive.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The attorney for Abby Zwerner, the teacher was shot and wounded by a six-year-old student in her first grade class, says she will file a lawsuit against the Newport News school district.

TOSCANO: Had the school administrators acted in the interest of their teachers and their students, Abby would not have sustained a gunshot wound to the chest, a bullet that remains dangerously inside her body.

TODD: Attorney Diane Toscano alleging a dramatic timeline of warnings on the day of the shooting. The first coming around 11:15 a.m., when Zwerner warned an administrator the six-year-old threatened to beat up another student.

TOSCANO: They didn't call security. They didn't remove the student from the classroom.

TODD: Later, at 12:30, another teacher searched the boy's backpacks, suspecting he had brought the gun to school and put it in his pocket before recess.

TOSCANO: The administrator downplayed the report from the teacher, and the possibility of a gun, saying, and I quote, well he has little pockets. This is outrageous.

TODD: Around 1:00 p.m., a third teacher told administrators a distressed student confessed to seeing the gun at recess.

TOSCANO: Did administrators call the police? No. Did administrators lock down the school? No.

TODD: Diane Toscano says another teacher was then denied permission to search the child.

TOSCANO: He was told to wait the situation out because the school day was almost over.


TODD: CNN reached out to the school district which declined to comment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I move that we approve the separation agreement and severance with the superintendent.

TODD: At a special meeting Wednesday night, the school board voted to approve a separation agreement with superintendent George Parker and appointed an interim superintendent.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Effective February 1, 2023, Dr. Parker will be relieved of his duties as superintendent.

TODD: A move parents like Mark Garcia Sr. are calling for.

MARK GARCIA, SR., FATHER OF STUDENT IN SHOOTER'S CLASS: Different principal, different administration.

TODD: Thomas Britton's son is in the same class as the alleged shooter but was not in school that day. His response to the allegations? THOMAS BRITTON, FATHER OF STUDENT IN SHOOTER'S CLASS: I told my wife

-- I will leave the expletives out -- but I can't believe someone could be so blase or callous with the safety. Like, what is their job?

TODD: The latest allegations are likely little comfort for the students and parents getting their first chance since the shooting to return to the school on Wednesday afternoon. Not for classes but for a short reorientation, an effort to give students and staff what may feel like a far off sense of normalcy.

GARCIA: My son is still scared. He was crying about three nights ago about this. And he wants to go back to school but he just wants to know that he is going to be safe.


TODD: James Ellinson, the attorney for the family of the alleged shooter, responded to the latest allegations from Ms. Zwerner's lawyer and to the planned lawsuit, with an email to CNN saying that the family continues to pray for Abby Zwerner. The family attorney had earlier told CNN that the gun had been secured with a trigger lock and kept on the top shelf of the mother's bedroom closet.

Brian Todd, CNN, Newport News, Virginia.

ROMANS: All right, Brian. Thank you for that.

To Memphis now where family members are demanding five fired Memphis police officers be charged with murder charges for the beating death of Tyre Nichols. The Nichols family its own autopsy which revealed he suffered extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating.


ANTONIO ROMANUCCI, ATTORNEY TO TYRE NICHOLS' FAMILY: From what we saw, that in the time that Tyre was in the custody, who's in the control and the custody of these officers, for about a 3 to 3 1/2 minute time period he was severely beaten, and as I said, our independent medical examiner said that his injuries are consistent with a severe beating. And that's what happened for those 3, 3 1/2 minutes.


ROMANS: The five officers involved in the incident were fired for extensive use of force. The FBI and Justice Department have opened separate civil rights investigations.

Here's the Memphis police chief.


DAVIS: This is not just a professional failing. This is a failing of basic humanity toward another individual.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: The city of Memphis is on edge. Residents waiting for the release of that video of that beating and to hear whether the ex- officers will be formally charged.

Investigators with the Department of Transportation are now reviewing the Christmas time meltdown at southwest airlines. They're making sure the airline is providing timely refunds and reimbursements to passengers after tens of thousands of flights were canceled and they're examining whether Southwest executives had reasonable scheduling of flights.

Southwest initially blamed the cancellations on weather. The airline says it plans to cooperate with the government oversight.

All right. Next, new scrutiny on $700,000 of campaign loans for Congressman George Santos. Where did he get that money?

Plus, a wild police chase in Wisconsin after a thief stole a car with a woman still inside.

And a State Department warning for tourists while visiting Cancun.



ROMANS: All right. New questions this morning about the source of New York Congressman George Santos campaign loans. The recently sworn in Republican revised nearly a dozen reports for the federal commission this week, placing new scrutiny on the origins of this nearly $700,000.

CNN's Eva McKend reports.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Why did you amend your FEC reports to say 500 --

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER (voice-over): New questions surrounding Congressman George Santos's campaign finances.

REP. GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): Let's make it very clear: I don't amend anything. I don't touch any of my FEC stuff. So, don't be disingenuous and report that I did because you know that every campaign hires fiduciaries.

MCKEND: Santos trying to dodge reporters after his campaign filed updated finance reports, with federal regulators late Tuesday.

The New York Republican previously claimed he lent his campaign more than $700,000 from his personal funds. Those revisions would appear to indicate most of that loan didn't come from him after all. But he is still listed as a source of the lone elsewhere in his filings, deepening the confusion about the source of the substantial sum.

RAJU: What was the source of your funds, sir? Why can't you divulge the source of the money?

MCKEND: In two of the new filings, one related to that loan, $500,000, and one for $125,000. Boxes previously checked indicated they had come from personal funds. We're now left unchecked, confounding campaign finance experts.

JORDAN LIBOWITZ, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, CITIZENS FOR RESPONSIBLILITY & ETHICS IN D.C.: This is incredibly sloppy bookkeeping or he's saying this wasn't really his money. And in that case, there's a legal question of whether this is an illegal pass-through contribution, is this an illegal corporate contribution? There are a number of ways he could have pushed money that was not actually his to his campaign, but they aren't illegal.

MCKEND: And while it is not unusual to update a campaign finance report, Santos has routinely amended his filings, multiple times.

LIBOWITZ: This week, in one very short period, he amended ten filings from -- I believe they were the last ten filings his campaign made. The filings date back to, I believe, April of 2021. So, something clicked and they went back and read at everything.


MCKEND: Other pressing questions remain about the dozens of disbursements just under $200, one penny below the threshold above which campaigns are required to retain seats.

And just how Santos acquired so much wealth in such a short amount of time remains a mystery, and something Santos has declined to answer.

REP. GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): It's the equity of my hardworking self that I've invested inside of me.

MCKEND: Federal officials have launched an investigation into his findings.

LIBOWITZ: If there's anyone's whose books need to be audited, it's probably George Santos.


MCKEND: In new filings, campaign officials listed Thomas Datwyler as the treasurer of several of Santos' committees. But Datwyler's lawyers tell CNN he declined that role and did not authorize the filings made by Santos's team. So this treasurer they listed on documents says he isn't the treasurer.

Eva McKend, CNN, Washington.

ROMANS: All right. Let's bring in senior political correspondent at "The New Republic", Daniel Strauss.

Daniel, so nice to see you this morning.

So, this makes it unclear whether he lent $700,000 of his own money to the campaign, where that money came from. Shouldn't this be enough to trigger a full investigation by the House Ethics Committee?

DANIEL STRAUSS, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESONDENT, THE NEW REPUBLIC: Yeah. I mean, look, of the many lies George Santos has told, his finances, these FEC reports are the ones that really will put into question whether he can stay in congress. He won't say where this money came from, and it's a lot of money.

Let's be realistic about this, it's not just that we don't know where this money came from and he won't say, it is the pattern of lying and the treasurer, as an example, that he knows something fishy is clearly going on.

With the treasurer he replaced the name of Nancy Marks, a long-time treasurer with Thomas Datwyler. The important thing about Datwyler, he's oftentimes the go-to treasurer for Republican congressional committees that need to switch to someone else immediately. There's been coverage in the past about how Datwyler has been the person that -- the treasurer that campaigns have switched to when they needed to trade out someone.

So, here Datwyler was not willing and clearly knew he shouldn't get near Santos's campaign filings and the Santos team thought that they can slap it on there and call the day.

ROMANS: We got a statement from them, you know, from Datwyler's team where they say: We informed the Santos campaign Mr. Datwyler will not be serving as treasurer. It appears there is a disconnect. We did not authorize.

Politicians lie. Politicians exaggerate. Politicians take their background and try to spin it in the most attractive way for whoever they're trying to get to vote for them, but lying about the money.

The money is where there's the real problem, yeah?

STRAUSS: Yeah. Yeah. And, truthfully, this entire episode highlights a big hole in our electoral system. A member of Congress cannot be ousted for simply lying or misrepresenting. But they can be convicted of serious campaign violations, and that's possibly what we're looking at with George Santos.

ROMANS: Yeah, multiple investigations into the money, following the money.

Listen to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy who still supports George Santos.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: You know why I'm standing behind him? Because his constituents voted for him. I do not have the power simply because I disagreed with somebody or what they have said, that I remove them from elected office.

Now I will hold him to the same standard I hold anyone else elected to Congress. If for some way when we go through ethics and he has broken the law, you know, then we will remove him.


ROMANS: OK, this was before yesterday's revelations. I wonder what's the point? What's the breaking point for some Republicans to be simply fed up with defending Santos and they need to distance themselves from him for their own benefit?

STRAUSS: A more robust majority in congress, I think. Like it's pretty clear at this point that the motivation or there's a strong motivation among Republicans to keep Santos in his seat simply because they need every vote they can because Kevin McCarthy's majority is very slim.

And, look, beyond -- outside of Congress, conservatives and right leaning entities are calling into question why congressional Republicans are not speaking out against Santos. "The Chicago tribune" wrote an editorial yesterday saying exactly that, and their editorial page is hardly liberal.


So I think right now, what we're seeing is that another shoe will break or that if you're a member of the Republican congressional caucus, don't have to weigh in on whatever it is we're looking at here.

ROMANS: Daniel Strauss, the plot thickens every day with Santos. Thank you so much. Nice to see you.

All right. Quick hits across America right now.

Vice President Kamala Harris visiting the site of the Monterey Park mass shooting, laying a wreath and meeting with victims on Wednesday. She also called on Congress to do more to curb gun violence.

Police in Baton Rouge arresting four men, including a juvenile for allegedly raping an LSU student. Officials said a 19-year-old was raped and fatally struck by a car ten days ago.

New dash cam video of a wild police chase in Wisconsin after a man stole this car from a gas station with a woman inside. She was rescued. A man from New York was arrested.

Next, the fierce battle raging in Bakhmut. Can Ukrainian forces hold onto the battered city?

And the asteroid coming very close to Earth today.