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Inside Politics

14 Dead Including Ukrainian Govt Officials & One Child; Zelenskyy Implores West To Equip Ukraine With Sophisticated Weapons; Zelenskyy: World Cannot Hesitate When Responding To Russia; Ukraine Pleads For Battle Tanks As It Readies Spring Offensive; Far Right Republicans Given Powerful Committee Spots; GOP Rep Loudermilk: Santos "Innocent Until Proven Guilty"; White House Strategy To Manage Fallout Takes Shape; Source: Feds Interviewed Biden Lawyer Who Discovered Docs. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 18, 2023 - 12:00   ET



CHIEF HAROLD MEDINA, ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO POLICE: In this case, we took it very seriously because we're just getting ready to open our legislative session. We know that it is a very important session in terms of crime, the amount of funding that is in mistaking the (Ph) expert this time and we're looking to take big steps forward. And the last thing we wanted was individuals feeling that they couldn't do their job or push the legislation forward out of a fear of somebody you heard in.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR & HOST, AT THIS HOUR: Chief, thank you so much for your time and being generous with that. I really appreciate it. We'll continue to follow this investigation. Thank you. And thank you all so much for watching. Inside Politics with John King starts now.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. Tragedy in Ukraine today. A helicopter tumbling out of the sky in a Kyiv suburb, killing a child and the most senior member of Ukraine's government to die in this war.


PRES. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE: An hours ago, a tragedy happened near Kyiv. A helicopter crashed planned lives of the Minister of the Internal Affairs of Ukraine, his colleagues and helicopter crew when it found near a kindergarten.


KING: Plus, the new Republican majority rewards misfits and liars with key policy roles. A swindler of far-right firebrand, a provocateur who defended Kanye and Syria election deniers get important House committee assignments and a tour through Washington swamp. A CNN investigation finds, yes, Joe Biden's son and brothers cashed in on the family name. Up first for us, though, tragedy in a turbulent moment and Ukraine's war of survival. Just moments ago, Ukraine's president asking world leaders congregated in Davos for a minute of silence to mark a harrowing incident. That incident earlier today, a helicopter crash rocking a Kyiv suburb.

The smoke and the flames from that crash visible for miles, pieces of helicopter debris scattered in nearby roads, courtyards, just to hint at the massive impact. On board, the country's interior minister and five other government officials they were all killed, along with a three-person helicopter crew.

This minute, the number of dead stands at 14 and it includes a child that helicopter cratered near a kindergarten. Right now, an investigation is underway to figure out why the chopper dropped out of midair. Meanwhile, we are seeing painful pictures of something common, common, a too common ritual in Ukraine, as people unconsolable trying to find an ounce of comfort in the middle of hell.

Let's go straight to the scene now Brovary, Ukraine. CNN's Fred Pleitgen is right there. Fred, give us the latest.

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Either John, Yes, well get out of your way. And you can see what the latest is because the cleanup crews here are still very much working here on the scene. You can see there's sort of an excavator there right now. Next to that, you will see what is really what's left of the debris of that helicopter. It's really just a scorched hulk right now that we're seeing there.

And those cleanup crews, they've been actually working for the past couple of hours, since that helicopter came down. I was able to speak to an eyewitness a couple of minutes ago, and that I witnessed said that they saw the helicopter come in, which would seem extremely low towards a kindergarten that's right next to me here as well.

And they said it didn't actually look like the chopper was going out of control that was having difficulty, but it was losing altitude and then it crashed into the kindergarten. And then finally, a crashed here in front of - that is the residential building that you see here. Obviously, a massive explosion then took place, and then a fire afterwards. So, the complete wreckage just burned out.

And there were several people who were killed on the ground, including unfortunately a child this happened as people were dropping off their children here to this kindergarten. All those on board were killed as well, including, as you said, the interior minister, including the deputy interior minister, the state secretary, and then also some other top-level officials as well.

The latest that we have from the Ukrainian government is that the group was actually on its way from here in Kyiv, or from the area around Kyiv to Kharkiv, to the sort of northeast of the country to pay a visit there, obviously, a big loss for Ukraine. And you were perfectly correctly pointing out that Volodymyr Zelenskyy, they're asking world leaders for a moment of silence for this group that was killed. And you know, a country that has so much suffering already to have something like this happen is certainly a devastating blow. John?

KING: And certainly as, and Fred, help us understand the context. You were with the interior minister just last year. How important is this position at this tense moment?

PLEITGEN: Well, you know, that's an extremely good question. And that an extremely important one. The position right now is extremely important. Denys Monastyrsky the interior minister, he was also a very, very important politician.

I went with him last year in April to the Chernobyl nuclear plant that was right after the Russians that had been occupying and they went out of there. And he was the one of the first guys to actually go up there. We had a massive difficult trek up there, but he definitely wanted to go and see that place, and also be with the frontline troops who were serving there.


So, he was definitely someone who was very good at rallying those around him, at rallying the security services. And right now, John, those security services are indeed very important. Of course, the Ukrainian military is the force that is defending this country.

But the Ukrainian national police and all those affiliated with his and the disaster relief organizations that are also under the interior ministry. Those are also extremely important in this point in time. They're serving the country in very important ways.

In fact, there were some areas here within and around the Kyiv area, especially that we went into with the national police right as Russian forces has pulled out. They were the first ones to see to it that there was law and order that they were the first ones to do certain cleanup operations, to go into houses. So, it's an extremely important force. And, of course, also an extremely important position.

And this interior minister specifically was definitely someone who was on the rise, who himself was, again on the frontlines, very, very often visiting troops visiting police forces that were serving back. So, this is a big, big blow to Ukraine. And then also, of course, to its president, he was also very close to Volodymyr Zelenskyy, as well, John.

KING: Fred Pleitgen live of us on the scene of this tragedy, Fred, thank you. And it is critically important to have somebody with the experience of Fred and his crew, at delicate moments like this. We are fortunate at CNN to have that this helicopter tragedy coming at a critical moment.

Ukraine's president making his case for more support making it today at the annual Davos gathering of the global elite, and many Western governments, including the United States are taking a fresh look at sending more sophisticated weapons systems to the battlefield.

Let's get some important perspective now from retired Army General Mark Hertling. General, let me just start with this tragedy. We don't know the full details yet. The early indications are it is an accident, but it is still part of this war. Explain as somebody with battlefield command experienced the impact of something like this.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), FORMER COMMANDING GENERAL, EUROPE AND SEVENTH ARMY: Another horrific accident, but not only for those in the helicopter, John, but also those on the ground, the children who have suffered so much already in Ukraine, this is just another horrific event created by a tragedy. This time, what seems to be an accident, and a lot of things can go wrong with helicopters, John.

I mean, this could have been a wire strike, it could have been something wrong with the engine or the transmission, the investigation will show that but the fact that it landed in a kindergarten just adds more grief to the entire situation that's going on in Ukraine, a horrible thing.

And as you just mentioned, the Fred, the position of interior ministry, especially in a war is critically important. It's a counterbalance to the defense minister of what's going on inside the country as the defense minister looks at fighting the battles that are all part of this war.

So, let's listen a bit more to President Zelenskyy, who telling the global leader say look, every day brings tragedy to Ukraine and its people, I need your help. Listen?

PRES. ZELENSKYY: Tragedies are outpacing life. The tyranny is outpacing the democracy. Russia needed less than one second to start the war, the wall needed days to react with forced sanctions. The time, the free world uses to think is used by the terrorist state to kill. The war must not hesitate today and never.

KING: President Zelenskyy going out to say the world needs resolve and speed. Helped me is this, my take on this as two things can be true at once that. The world we're almost at a year mark in this war, the world has responded with tremendous resolve and speed and constantly escalating the sophistication of the weaponry and yet Ukraine is making the case it needs even more, it needs even better. Is that correct?

Mark Hertling: It does, John. And what Ukraine is looking for truthfully, is a transformed military. And they're trying to do that transformation during a time of war. And what I mean by that is they started this war with a lot of old Soviet style equipment. They had begun the transformation in terms of the way they looked at combat in more of a western approach, but they did not have the equipment.

So, what Ukraine's government is looking for is literally other nations of the world to help them right now to rebuild their military during a time of war. And that is what is so challenging with this. There is not a factory output that's providing tanks and personnel carriers and airplanes, while the training is going on, while the doctrine has been developed.

They're looking for all of that to happen right away through handouts from NATO and the United States. And truthfully, what I've seen in this case, a lot of people think the West is slow rolling this I don't believe that at all. I think the West especially under the guidance of the secretary Austin and the Ramstein conferences is trying to push as much as they can into the hands of the Ukrainians.


But when you're talking about things like the biggest topic today is getting them tanks, you not only have to provide tanks, but tanks take a lot of training, a lot of maintenance, a lot of repairs, a lot of spare parts, because they're in direct fire mode with the enemy. That's really hard to do in combat to get all that training and that maintenance support and the supply lines established, while you're conducting combat operations. And you just don't have tanks available off the shelf to turn over to Ukraine.

So, although the Western forces are looking, what can we contribute? What can we add to the equation? And it's very challenging because truthfully, most of the West doesn't have tanks just lying around. So, I think what we'll see in Rammstein this week in the conference is more and more action attempts to rebuild or actually build not rebuild the Ukrainian army to give them the Western capability to conduct counter offensive against the Russians.

KING: And when we get that list the specifics of the weapon system. General Hertling, hope you come back to help us walk through why they will matter? What it takes to get them to the battlefield as soon as possible, General Hertling as always, thank you, sir.

Up next for us, Republicans rewarded a liar, an election denier, and a conspiracy theorist. These Republican, they're members of Congress and they now have brand new important committee assignments.




KING: The price Kevin McCarthy paid to become speaker is becoming more and more clear as House Republicans award election deniers and conspiracy theorists with top committee assignments. Some, you see some right there will now sit on a panel, the oversight panel responsible for conducting the highest levels of congressional investigations and accountability.

Also earning spots on lower-level committees, the freshman Congressman George Santos that despite a growing list of lies about his resume and personal life. With me to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Jeremy Diamond, Leigh Ann Caldwell of The Washington Post, and CNN's Eva McKend. Let's start with the oversight committee and the members who are now audit Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Scott Perry and Paul Gosar.

We could spend the rest of the hour going through questionable things said or done or believed or said to be believed by these four. Scott Perry tried to help Donald Trump, steal the election, both at the Justice Department and back in his home state of Pennsylvania. This is the price, is this - is this the price Kevin McCarthy paid to get their votes for speaker?

LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, EARLY 202 CO-AUTHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, absolutely. But I also don't think that Kevin McCarthy was going to keep these people off committees anyway. He basically what he did, though, is he put them on the committee that they wanted to be on the most controversial of the most politicized committee, the one that is going to be charged with investigating President Biden, his administration and his son.

And they are extremely pleased now with the makeup of the committee. And as one Republican, even a Republican told me, this is a very strong sign of how hard this committee is going to go after the Biden administration.

KING: And I guess, way for me, Kevin McCarthy and this team, they're not dumb people, they have to understand. If you're trying to make the case that Biden doesn't tell the truth, or the Biden people are unethical or Biden, people don't follow the rules. You're putting a bunch of people who are known liars, conspiracy theorists and cheats on a committee. Where's your credibility to make the case the other guy's doing wrong?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, they're thinking that those questions are not going to be asked by the people that they have to be most concerned about, which is essentially their voters. But listen, I think that ultimately, Speaker McCarthy had no choice here. If you go to as I often have traveled to places like Kentucky, Marjorie Taylor Greene is more popular there than Kevin McCarthy. So, in many ways, he can't afford to alienate any of the mark or marginalize any of these folks. These folks are really popular in the party.

KING: So, let's listen to a bit of a sampling here. Again, these people you've known them, if you follow the campaign, if you follow the Trump years, they believe things that are not true. They say things that are not true, they push conspiracies that are not true. Now, they're going to be a committee to try to convince you, here's what right and what's wrong. Here's what's true and here's what's false.


REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): There's never any evidence shown for a plane in the Pentagon. Saudi Arabia, the Rothschilds and sorrows, he says are the puppet masters that fund this global evil.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everything that I've heard of that - I hope that this is real, because it only means America is getting stronger and better.


KING: I assume that the Biden White House, they view this as a political gift. In the sense that there are very legitimate questions for congressional oversight to ask if the Biden administration, whether it's about Hunter Biden, we'll have more on that later in the program, whether it's about the border. There are legitimate policy questions, we should have performance review and oversight and Congress. I assume they view that there was a gift that those are the people going to be asking the questions.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. They certainly do. And already this morning, we saw the White House go on the offensive Ian Sam, the spokesman for the White House Counsel's Office, putting out a statement saying that essentially House Republicans are putting these far-right conspiracy theorists in charge of oversight.

Now, they're certainly not the chairman of this committee, but they are going to be key members of a committee that is going to be focused on investigating the Biden Administration investigating Hunter Biden, any connections to the president himself.

And so, the White House's strategy as it relates to oversight is to try and filter through what are the more legitimate oversight requests, at least in their mind policy questions like the Afghanistan withdrawal, for example, that they'll handle differently than the way that they handle investigations into Hunter Biden into a Burisma, those kinds of things.

And we're already seeing the beginnings of that kind of more aggressive muscular response from the White House. And so certainly this helps them make that case much more clearly. When you put people who are conspiracy theorists who say the kinds of things that you just played. It helps the White House to make that argument that the Republicans - House Republicans are overreaching.


KING: And let's focus a little bit on the new freshman member George Santos. It is easier to make a list of the things he has not lied about than the things he has lied about throughout the campaign. He wanted to be on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the House Republicans said no. But they did give him seats on the Small Business Committee in the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, both very important committees in the United States Congress.

So, Barry Loudermilk, who's on the steering committee, which decides which members get, which committee says, hey, look, nothing's been proven.


REP. BARRY LOUDERMILK (R-GA): He hasn't committed a crime. He hasn't been indicted on anything at this point. And in this country, you're innocent till proven guilty. So, we're going to treat him like any other member, and you keep an eye on it.


KING: The innocent till proven guilty. True, it's a great American tradition. It is not a rule they apply to Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, Hillary Clinton, Secretary Mayorkas. The House Republicans have already said they're guilty of things before they've had the hearings. But why in George Santos case?

CALDWELL: Well, and also does this change how Republicans are going to move forward on three Democrats kicking Adam Schiff, Eric Swalwell, and Ilhan Omar off of their committees, especially Ilhan Omar because the whole house is going to have to vote on that. It's not a select committee, the process is different. And so, it's going to be interesting to see if House Republicans vote to kick Omar off her seats after putting someone like Santos on NC.

MCKEND: And I think the way that it's being characterized as well, you know, the Small Business Committee is not as important as foreign affairs. But if you're a small business owner in this country, you care about the oversight and functionality of the SBA. So, I think that that's sort of a problematic characterization. But ultimately, this speaks to I think, sort of the rancid nature of our politics that Santos could be put on these committees I think, indicates that nothing is objectionable.

KING: That's why you hear so many, mostly private complaints from Republicans, but some very public about how this taints the brand. You mentioned where it used the word grandson, I think it's a good word just taints the brand as you go forward.

Up next for us Jeremy just touched on this a bit. The White House fine tuning its strategy now to deal with new special counsel investigations and those house Congressional investigations.




KING: The White House is adopting a new strategy to deal with an unpredictable road ahead. The special counsel and congressional investigations of how Obama era classified documents ended up at President Biden's home and his former private office. The plan pledged full cooperation, attack House Republicans for hypocrisy and overreach and do not engage with the details of the investigation. The White House says it will stick with this approach for the duration of the special counsel probe.

CNN's Paula Reid joins our panel. I want to come to you with an investigative question in a second. But first, you touched on this before, some of the key elements here I covered the Clinton White House Clinton--Lewinsky. Some of the key elements sound pretty similar. Say you're cooperating, attack the House Republicans and hope actually they overreach because it gives you as we discussed earlier, so a political opening, don't talk about the details.

We've seen the briefings get pretty contentious in recent days. We've seen the president ignore repeated chatted questions. What is the sense, the mood in there? And why this fine-tuned strategy? DIAMOND: Yes. It really is about drawing a distinction in particular between what the special counsel the Department of Justice are doing, and what House Republicans with their oversight are going to be doing. And we've seen the White House in the last few days get much more aggressive in terms of the way that they are distinguishing between those two things and going after House Republicans in particular.

The chairman of the House Oversight Committee, James Comer, pointing out to some hypocritical statements that he's made in the past, as it relates to not caring too much about the Trump classified documents, but now suddenly being very interested in what President Biden did in his post vice presidency. So that distinction is becoming a clear line.

What we're still not getting from the White House, though, is a lot more answers. They are coming forward, we saw Ian Sams, the spokesman for the White House counsel's office, hold a briefing, that's going to start happening more regularly. But even he like Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary unable to provide a lot of details repeatedly pointing to the fact that this is an ongoing investigation. And that's what we're going to keep.

KING: And so therefore, we are all reliant on the investigations. The Trump investigation, in this case, the Biden investigation to get us facts. You are part of the great reporting on this piece, federal investigators interviewed the Biden attorney who initially discovered classified documents, so that tells you they're at least starting to build their timeline custody chain of custody, and who knows what where are we?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. This is, of course, someone you're going to want to talk to. He was at the center of this entire documents matter. So, it wasn't surprising that the U.S. attorney spoke with this lawyer during the course of his initial review. But in reporting out the details of this interview, we really learned how superficial and surface level this initial review was.

In this interview, they didn't even generate what's called a 302. That's the form the government uses to memorialize an interview. So, it sounds like it was more informal. So, when the special counsel finally assembled his team, he's not going to inherit like a big mountain of evidence, he's going to be pretty much starting from scratch.

So, it's easy for the White House to say we have been so cooperative when you're dealing with a U.S. attorney who didn't ask you to do searches, didn't tag along, didn't even wait for your searches to be done before appointing a special counsel didn't fire off subpoenas didn't do 302s.

Once Robert Hurd gets his office set up, it'd be very interesting to see how this cooperation continues once they fire off subpoenas, and especially around this question of whether the president should sit and answer questions. KING: And so, we're just getting started there and Congress says it won't wait. The question is there'll be tension between the two investigations obviously? This is James Comer, the Chairman of the House oversight and accountability committee.