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Biden Says He Was Not Calling For Regime Change In Russia; Sources: 1/6 Cmte Will Seek To Interview Ginni Thomas. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 28, 2022 - 12:30   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: I want to get your take on what we heard from Barbara Starr, at the top of the program, which is the United States is now sending more troops and also curiously, some new jets, EA-18G Growlers essentially, electronic warfare jets, they're sending them to Germany, inside of NATO. What does that tell you? Is it just we're sending more capability or the specific capabilities of those jets, if they're up in the air, and they come into Poland, they can jam missiles, they can jam Russian air defenses, are they sent there as a political statement or do you see them as a military asset?

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT (RET.), FORMER ASST. SECY. OF STATE FOR POLITICAL-MILITARY AFFAIRS: Well, I see them as military asset. To me, NATO has probably done an inventory of their capabilities if there was a ground attack into NATO territory. And they look around at the European allies and their own capabilities say what do we need? What are we short? I would suspect that that's why they brought the Growlers on board, in particular, because it seems that the Russians are using open communications and cell phones, and those Growlers can really do a lot of jobs on them.

KING: So do you see it -- and so you see it though as a Plan B if Russia escalates not as a Plan A let's get up in the skies over here and help Ukraine now?

KIMMITT: That's correct. In fact, I think John Kirby said that from the Pentagon as well. I think this is just one of the capabilities they're looking for a deterrence and a defensive operation inside NATO territory, not to help the fight inside Ukraine.

KING: General Kimmitt as always, grateful sir for your insights, appreciate it.

Up next for us, nine adlib words and the global fallout, team Biden unites in a damage control effort, and the President's critics pounce.



KING: The Kremlin today trying to take advantage of President Biden's weekend mistake quote, a cause for concern, those are the words by Putin press secretary Dmitry Peskov. At issue are nine adlibbed words in the President's Saturday speech in Warsaw, Poland. He spoke passionately about standing up against Putin's aggression and for Ukraine sovereignty. This part right here was not in the text quote, for God's sake, this man cannot remain in power.

With me to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's MJ Lee, CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson and Karoun Demirjian of the Washington Post. You have experienced reporting from Moscow. What surprised me the top of the program is given that Biden essentially saying Putin can't stay in power. Beth Sanner, our intelligence analyst, former deputy director of national intelligence, says it has not been played yet on Russian television, could be potentially a propaganda piece for the Kremlin. Why wait?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's a good question. I mean, it is out there right there now for the Kremlin to use when they want to. The fact that they're not using it may some say something about how stable Putin is feeling at home, if he feels like putting that out there isn't instantly going to be a rally around the flag is sort of a trigger and may cause questions about him, then there's incentive not to but it's in his arsenal, it's like one of those clips that you can use to put on political campaign ads here, whenever you need to really to roll it out, even if the Russians understand from the follow up, that it's not actually an indication that we're going to roll tanks into Moscow and try to depose Putin.

KING: And so the White House, you cover, had to play cleanup, is still playing cleanup, the President himself aids on down. But these comments, these comments, were not out of the blue, if you will, if you've tracked the President over the last couple of weeks, you hear he does not like Vladimir Putin.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war. And now he in his country will bear the consequences.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is Putin a war criminal sir? Are you ready to call him a war criminal?

BIDEN: I think he is a war criminal.

The man who, quite frankly, I think is a war criminal. And I think we'll meet the legal definition of that as well.

He's a butcher.


KING: When he's speaking off the cuff, especially you get his personal feelings quite clearly. And it's hard to disagree with him based on the facts. The idea is, though, as president when you're trying to keep the NATO allies, other countries together, you're not supposed to say regime change. MJ LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. This was clearly not a speech in which he was planning to make some big policy announcement. He was not out there to say the U.S. has a new position, and that is that we support regime change. But he did say what he said and actually the moment from a couple of weeks ago, where he was asked during a rope line by a reporter, do you believe Vladimir Putin is a war criminal? And he said off the cuff, I do believe that he is. Was a pretty similar moment just in that afterwards, administration officials had to say he was speaking from the heart. But obviously there's a separate process in which sort of the legality of whether somebody has committed a war crime is determined.

But look, I think that we actually got some pretty interesting insight into how President Biden generally feels about the situation. Would it shock any of us to know that President Biden believes, you know, if he could just snap his fingers and have a new leader in position in Russia, would he be happy about that? Of course. But in a setting like this, he can't say that and not have it reverberate around the world.

KING: But that's a key point in the sense that the diplomats around the world will say, oh, is there any fallout? Or how do we have to fix any potential fallout? How do we have to put a bandaid on this, but the President who believes when he was vice president, he believes Barack Obama went too soft on Putin back in 2014. He believes Donald Trump for four years gave Putin a pass. And if there's going to be a line, if you're going to come down on the too tough or too weak side of it, Joe Biden, President Biden has decided he's going to be on the too tough side.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. And listen, you have had some Republicans previously to say that they felt like he wasn't moving fast enough, wasn't sounding tough enough, and now some of them are saying maybe he's going too far with this message, you know, I think Republicans are going to criticize him no matter what. But Joe Biden is someone who speaks off the cuff. He likes to say that you shoot straight from the shoulder, he means what he says. He says what he means. And that seemed to be what was happening in that moment.


In some ways, it didn't really seem unscripted, because he was so sort of deliberate when he was saying it during this very important speech. We'll see what the fallout is. We've obviously heard from some other foreign leaders to say this wasn't helpful as you're trying to negotiate and end to this conflict. But the problem is, they don't know how to get Putin to change his behavior, right? And they're obviously on nervous about triggering a further actions, whether it's in Ukraine or beyond. So in some ways, this was a way to sort of maybe play a mind game with Putin, and we'll see what the fallout is going forward.

KING: And you mentioned, you know, Republicans have been saying he's not tough enough. Now listen to two. And these guys, the two you're about to hear Senator Portman, Senator Risch not usually on the leading end of those chasing Biden, but say he went too far. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R-OH): By saying that that regime changes our strategy and effectively, it plays into the hands of the Russian propagandists and plays into the hands of Vladimir Putin. So it was a mistake. And the President recognize that and the White House has walked it back.

SEN. JAMES RISCH (R-ID): It's a horrendous gaffe right at the end of it. I just, I wish he would stay on script, whoever wrote that speech did a good job for him. But my gosh, I wish they would keep him on script.


KING: It is an odd spot. Again, those are that fire breathers if you will in the Republican Party, there are others who were criticized Biden, if he said, you know, Tuesday came after Monday, thereafter him. Those are, you know, tend to be more thoughtful lawmakers on Foreign Affairs saying the President went too far. But then you go back a few weeks and find them saying the President's not being tough enough or aggressive enough.

DEMIRJIAN: Yes. But what is tough mean here. They're saying the President's not being tough enough or aggressive enough, because they want him to send, to enable the sending of fighter jets and war planes in Ukraine because they want him to put more actual hardware muscle behind Ukrainian effort, no matter what the Russians threaten in terms of things being escalatory. Talking tough is very nice there. But doing tough is something else. And you can't, you know, unfortunately, it's a delicate balance between diplomatic gestures and the actual military hardware sort of gestures and all of this. And I think actually, those two lawmakers aren't being that inconsistent. They weren't telling Biden yes to talk tougher, they were telling us to do tougher, and talking tough without the doing tough is what's reading the criticism.

KING: I've covered Joe Biden since the late 1980s. And this is -- this comes with the territory. Anybody that works for Joe Biden knows that sometimes his tongue gets out ahead of his brain. The question is, can, you know, can the staff work it out and get there? Do they feel, you know, do they feel that this is a 24, 48, maybe 72 hour story, the president misspoke, yet they contain the fallout or do they see something more?

LEE: Look, I think as cleanup goes, this was the fastest cleanup job that you can expect to see from any White House. So it was clear how -- with how the speed with which White House officials said after he said those words, those were unplanned, he didn't mean to say that in here is what he meant. Look, some people may not actually buy that argument. But it was very, very clear that those were not planned remarks, and that the cleanup that they're sticking to is pretty consistent.

But the Republicans who are worried about this are worried about it, because they fear sort of the perception of escalation and that it is going to be used by Russia, by you know, by way of sort of propaganda. And we haven't necessarily seen that yet. But that is a real concern.

DEMIRJIAN: Or if not escalation just you know entrenchment. You know, like Putin needs to either himself change his ways or be pushed aside, there's hardliners in his cabinet that would, you know, potentially perpetuate this in other ways. It's not like we have a lot of control over what happens if we say this guy needs to go.

HENDERSON: Yes, and does it feed his paranoia around the West.

KING: All right, well, President's done a pretty remarkable job holding everybody together so far. We'll watch as this one plays out in the days ahead.


Coming up for us, other big news breaking news into CNN a federal judge says Donald Trump's effort to stop the certification of the 2020 election results was quote, listen here, quote, more likely than not a crime. Plus, new reporting on Ginni Thomas and the January 6th Committee.


KING: Some important breaking news this hour, a federal judge says Donald Trump's effort to stop Congress from certifying the 2020 election results was quote, more likely than not a crime. The judge's comments came as he ruled Attorney John Eastman, who was working with Trump must turn over 101 e-mails to the January 6th Committee. CNN's Paul Reid joins us with the latest on this. This is the decision here Paula. It's a big deal of President saying more likely than not the then President United States committed a crime.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: This is a huge deal and it's a really big win for the House Select Committee. Lawmakers have previously used this litigation over John Eastman's e- mails to lay out their theory of potential criminal conduct by former President Trump. In a previous filing, they argued that conservative Attorney John Eastman and former President Trump engaged in a conspiracy to perpetuate fraud against the American people by trying to overturn the election results.

And here moments ago, you have a federal judge agreeing, saying yes, it's more likely than not that they were planning a crime. So this is the first time you have the federal courts, affirming that the former president may have engaged in criminal conduct. It's likely that this decision will embolden lawmakers to make a potential criminal referral to the Justice Department.

KING: That has been a question from the beginning what Merrick Garland, Joe Biden's attorney general who came in with a very important mission, depoliticize the department facing more and more calls to do more here.


LEE: Yes, and, you know, the John Eastman case in particular, Democrats in Congress had made clear in talking about it, that they were watching it carefully, because they thought that whatever happens in that case could set some precedent for some of these other Trump allies and aides whose cases are up in the air, particularly because increasingly we have seen how much they are trying to rely on the argument of executive privilege to keep their communications, keep their actions from surrounding January 6th, private and secret now that we have a judge thing, those e-mails have to be turned over, that could certainly influence what happens with everybody else who's trying to keep their communications in private as well.

KING: And that's why the word you use conspiracy matters so much in the sense that normally, maybe an attorney's e-mails about his client or with his client conversations are privileged but not if you're part of a conspiracy, not if you're part of a criminal act, as you do it. Another question for Ginni Thomas now being raised by the Committee, we're told the January 6th Committee wants to interview will reach out for an interview with Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Now she's long been active and conservative groups in the Tea Party. But we saw last week some of the startling, simply startling text messages to then White House Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows saying be more aggressive, we'll get the army in the streets, we have to overturn the election, to your word conspiracy. Adam Kinzinger, one of the two Republicans on the Committee says maybe she has a right to say this, maybe not.


REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL), JANUARY 6TH COMMITTEE: If a private citizen has a conversation, of course, we have a freedom of speech in this country. The question what that for the Committee is this or any exchange, was there a conspiracy or an attempt to come up with a reason? Or how close did we get to overturn an election?


KING: It's one of the fascinating questions still, the Committee has made a ton of progress in piecing together myriad groups and individuals into this conspiracy or plan. I'll call it a plan. I'm not a lawyer, Ginni Thomas.

HENDERSON: Yes. Amazing to look at her text messages to and from Mark Meadows, of course, she has access to Mark Meadows, because if her husband is right, she is a private citizen but her husband also sits on the Supreme Court. So the questions for whether or not Justice Thomas should recuse himself from some cases involving January 20 -- January 6th, in whether or not going forward, there will be rules put in place for that Chief Justice John Roberts has talked about maybe there doesn't need to be a code of conduct.

But in terms of the January 6th Committee, and what she has to say, these e-mails reveal that she was deeply, you know, pushing this conspiracy theory pushing people around the president to try to overturn the government, obviously present on January 6th, as well, and we'll see if she comes before this Committee. One of the things that she that she says in the text message is she refers to talking to her best friend, right?

And no one really knows who the best friend is, right? The big question, of course, is the best friend, Clarence Thomas? Were they sort of going back and forth and talking about and believing in this conspiracy theory, which again, goes to Justice Thomas's credibility and his judgment.

KING: Which is again, the Committee wants to interview you, if you have nothing to hide, voluntarily appear. Don't drag it out, voluntarily appear. You mentioned the text messages. It was discussed somewhat last week. But here's one of them do not concede. It takes time for the army who is gathering for his back army, or I can't see Americans swallowing the obvious fraud, there was no fraud. But I think -- that's what she writes. Just going with one more thing, no freaking consequences, the whole coup and now this, we just cave to people wanting Biden to be anointed. Many of us can continue the GOP charade, what she's writing is factual lunacy. But it gets at the emotions behind these people who were pushing Mark Meadows do more get people to do more.

LEE: That's right. And, you know, an obvious reason that these text messages are particularly alarming to a lot of people is because people expect there's a general expectation that justices on the Supreme Court are supposed to be completely removed from politics, that they are supposed to be completely impartial. When you have the spouse of one of the justices writing this and putting these thoughts down in writing, I think it makes some people in the public at least wonder well, you know, these are private conversations but could that affect how a justice behave.

KING: Right. Which is an important conversation right now, in the sense that for years, people have said, there should be a published set of ethics guidelines, the Supreme Court essentially runs its own business. Now you have members of Congress. And you mentioned Chief Justice Roberts has talked about this. There's a member of Congress say it's time -- talk time is over, give us clear rules or we will impose them on you.

REID: Absolutely. The Chief Justice has said look, trust us on this. The guidelines don't apply to us, but trust us. But in the wake of this, a lot of questions for Justice Thomas, now his wife has long said that she tries to distance her work from her husband's work. But we also know publicly they refer to one another as being best friends. So a lot of questions right here about whether he should have stepped aside or going forward if he should recuse himself from future 1/6 litigation.


KING: Very important questions. We'll stay on it. We'll be right back.


KING: Half of the 3.8 million Ukrainian refugees who have arrived in the European Union are children. That's according to an E.U. commissioner. That means almost 2 million children have had their lives uprooted by Putin's war in Ukraine forced to flee without any indication when they might be able to return.

Two major beer makers have decided to pull out of Russia because of the invasion. Heineken today announcing it's getting out but will pay salaries to its 1,800 Russian workers until the end of this year, 2022. It expects to take a $439 million loss. The Danish Brewer Carlsberg will also exit the Russian market.


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