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Zelenskyy: Time Is A "Russian Weapon," We Need Tanks Now; U.S. Pushes Germany To Send Coveted Leopard Tanks To Ukraine; U.S.-Germany Standoff Over Sending Tanks To Bolster Ukraine; CIA Director Briefed Zelenskyy On Looming Russian Offensive; Now: Anti-Abortion Activists Hold Rally On National Mall; Today: First "March For Life" Since End Of Roe; States Recently Proposing Abortion Banks: WY, NE, VA; Restricting Abortion Access Top Priority For GOP-Led State Legislatures; Trump Accuses Evangelicals Of "Disloyalty". Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired January 20, 2023 - 12:00   ET



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. A secret meeting in Kyiv, the top American spy covertly traveled to Ukraine to share what the United States knows about Russia spring battle plan. The CIA briefing comes as allies meet today to discuss new military aid and Ukraine pleads for tanks.

Plus, the new special counsel is just getting started. But President Biden lays down a marker.


JOE BIDEN, 46TH U.S. PRESIDENT: I think you're going to find, there's nothing there. I have no regrets. I'm following what the lawyers have told me they want me to do is exactly what we're doing. There is no, there, there.


KING: Today is the halfway mark of the Biden term in the classified documents probe. Now a cloud over his reelection ramp-up. And Nikki Haley says, why not me? The former South Carolina governor comes out so close to announcing her 2024 presidential run. She also takes aim at a potential rival, swatting away the notion she plotted the boot Mike Pence from the 2020 ballot.


BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Were you trying to get Mike Pence off of that ticket?

NIKKI HALEY, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: No. And you know, Pompeo even says, he's not sure if it's true. It's really sad when you're having to go out there and put lies and gossip to sell a book.


KING: Politics later, but up first, a big day at a critical moment for Ukraine. United States and key allies meeting in Germany today to make new commitments of military and economic aid. The timing of this contact group meeting is important. We now know the CIA director recently made a secret trip to Kyiv. And we know director William Burns briefed President Zelenskyy on U.S. intelligence detailing Russia's plans to escalate its battle plan.

President Zelenskyy addressed the contract remotely. Thanking the allies for what they have promised and what they've delivered so far, but pointedly appealing for what he sees as the vital missing pieces, more battle tanks and anti-aircraft and missile defenses.


PRES. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE (on video): Hundreds of thank you are not hundreds of tanks. All of us can use thousands of words in discussions, but I cannot put words instead of guns that are needed against Russian artillery, or instead of the anti-aircraft missiles that are needed to protect people from Russia airstrikes.


KING: The Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, you see him there, met with reporters last hour after that big meeting at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Secretary Austin says the allies are more united than ever, but it was also clear a disagreement between Germany and the United States about battle tanks is not resolved.


LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I don't have any announcements to make on him once. And you heard the German ministry of defense say that they've not made a decision on Leopards.


KING: With me to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Oren Liebermann, CNN's Katie Bo Lillis, and CNN's Natasha Bertrand. Oren, let me start with you at the Pentagon. The secretary says there's no disagreement and he says there's no linkage. There's some kind of a holdup. What is it?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: There is no doubt there's a holdup regardless of how Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin paints this or how his German counterpart, the brand-new Defense Minister Boris Pistorius paints this. The fact is, Germany has not yet approved its own tanks, either for Germany to send them or for Germany to sign off on other countries sending them. And we've already seen Poland, which has been very vocal about this threatening just to ignore Germany and send them anyway.

Now this isn't what Austin wanted to focus on. He kept his press conference and his remarks to everything else. The U.S. has sent the second largest Ukraine aid package $2.5 billion dollars strikers, Bradley's a series of other vehicles and a number of other countries making other some very large contributions to Ukraine's defense.

The question however, largely prodded by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy kept coming back to tanks. In his remarks, Austin only thanked the U.K. for sending some of their challenger two tanks. But hanging over this was that question of would Germany shift its position?

The German defense minister claimed there was no linkage between Germany waiting for the U.S. to send tanks, maybe that's a softening of the position, maybe they're getting closer. We've heard that there's some optimism and yet it's still not done, John?

KING: Oren, stay with us. Natasha, let's view this further. The German made Leopard tank, it's viewed as more mobile, viewed as more viable on the battlefield and then big American M1 Abrams tank. 2000 of these tanks across Europe, a diesel engine, night vision equipment, sophisticated targeting capabilities, it can maneuver long distances unlike the M1 tank but before it needs to refuel.


But there's clearly disagreement what's the right word for between the allies here. And some of it is based in history. I want to read a little bit from our CNN reporting on this. A western official explained that for German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the tanks question is red-red line. German tanks fighting Russia again, moral issue. There is that history question that hangs over Germany always. And Germany has gone way beyond what many people thought it would in supplying offensive weapons to Ukraine. How do they resolve this one?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE & NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: And they've done that in conjunction with the United States. And that is why this is such a holdup right now. According to our sources, they have been telling the Americans look, we may be willing to send these Leopard tanks, but we want to see the U.S. and their own tanks first. We want to make it clear to the world that we are not going it alone at this.

And clearly the United Kingdom, sending their tanks was simply not enough to persuade Germany to do so. And another holdup, of course, is this question of whether they're going to allow other European countries to send their German made tanks that they have in their inventory. As we heard Oren just say the polls have actually said, they might just defy Berlin and do this themselves and send the German maintains that they have to Ukraine.

But ultimately, you know, this does represent a significant softening of the position that we saw from yesterday when German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, I should say earlier this week was saying we want to do things in conjunction and together with the U.S., the vice chancellor saying that it would be a lot easier for them to make this Leopard tank decision, if they did have the U.S. sending the M1 Abrams first.

But ultimately, there is still this disconnect here. We're told that it has caused some tension between U.S. and German officials. Because ultimately, the U.S. does not want to send the M1 Abrams tanks, they think it is inefficient. It is too costly. And right now, it is just not what Ukraine needs.

KING: We'll come back to that one in a second. But to the idea of why the moment is so important. You hear President Zelenskyy essentially, saying thank you for everything you've done so far, but let's just speed it up. Those weapon systems, you're sending me now that six months ago, you said you weren't going to send me, let's just get there. His ideas to get to the finish line, and we have a better understanding of why he might have this urgency.

Your part of the reporting on this trip by William Burns - Bill Burns, the CIA director, Bill Burns brief Ukrainian President Zelenskyy in Kyiv last week. The secret meeting comes as U.S. officials are closely monitoring potential Russian offensive in the coming months. So, we know the U.S. has shared his Intelligence, Director Burns goes and says this is what's coming. And then you hear Zelenskyy saying, here's what I need.

KATIE BO LILLIS, CNN INTELLIGENCE REPORTER: Right. Well, that's exactly right. John, I mean, that's certainly why you're seeing, I think some of the urgency here. But it's less, I think an urgency that Russia is going to sort of imminently overrun Ukraine and more of an opportunity, I think, for Ukrainians, to kind of take advantage of some sort of kind of a frozen moment on the battlefield before Russia is able to retrofit, before it's able to regroup.

You know, certainly what we have seen from Russia over the last however many months is really been kind of a frozen conflict. They've been unable to make any major gains on the battlefield. They have, you know, they were forced to retreat from the west bank of the Dnieper. They've suffered enormous, enormous casualties. So, I think there's still quite a lot of questions actually about, even though the U.S. is expecting to see some kind of offensive from Russia in the spring.

I think there's still an enormous number of questions right now about how Russia is actually going to be able to execute that, whether or not they actually have the capabilities to successfully retake a large amount of territory or sort of push forward the advances that they've already made, or whether they're just going to continue to kind of throw manpower at this frozen conflict without actually making any large-scale strategic gains.

So, you have to think that that was a sort of key part of the conversation in between CIA Director Bill Burns and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, which remember, this is the third time Burns has been to Kyiv in the last three months.

KING: And Oren Liebermann, we're about to hit the one-year mark in this war. And the point when you listen to whether it's General Milley, whether it's Secretary Austin, whether it's President Zelenskyy, they think Ukraine can win. And they think Ukraine - but the question is, Ukraine can win with help. I just want you to listen here the Pentagon essentially beating up its own big weapons systems, and we can't send these tags, bad idea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SABRINA SINGH, PENTAGON DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: The Leopard and the challenger, it's a different engine. They require diesel. It's a little bit easier to maintain. They can maneuver across large portions of territory before they need to refuel. The maintenance and the high cost that it would take to maintain an Abrams, it just doesn't make sense to provide that to the Ukrainians at this moment.


KING: So, the battle tank the American military built to fight the Soviets in Europe is not appropriate to fight the Russians in Europe. Is it because they think that you would have to have U.S. teams on the ground then because of the logistic challenge, the refueling challenge that that would cross the line? Or is it that the United States needs a more modern tank?

LIEBERMANN: Well, from the U.S. perspective, and you heard a version of it right there, essentially it is that these are big, heavy, expensive gas guzzling logistical nightmares that require not only obviously a train 10 crew, but everything you need to support that and maintain it on the battlefield. And that's a key point here.


What is easier on the battlefield? A lot of what the U.S. has given to this point is indirect fire, high marks for example, you're firing from 30 to 40 miles away from the frontline, you have that buffer zone essentially. A tank is right on the frontline.

And that's why the U.S. is trying to focus on getting them the simplest easiest tanks to maintain that fit the battlefield and for the U.S., John, those are the Leopards from Germany or other countries and the challengers from the U.K.

KING: Oren, thank you. Quickly before we go. Is there a compromise offering appeared to send a small number of Bradley's and put them in a place where they're not maybe on the frontlines, but you give the Germans what they want us to diplomatic cover that it's not just us.

BERTRAND: Well, this is what some congressmen in the U.S. had been saying that especially representative Seth Moulton, he said look we should give them like 14 Abrams tanks, and then that will spur the Germans to give them the leopards. But depending on his standing firm here they have made a number of offers were told to the German short of tanks and we will give you this or send this if you do send the leopards, but so far they're not biting.

KING: The secretaries press conference is over. I suspect those conversations are continuing behind closed doors. I appreciate everybody coming in. Up next for us to look at today's march for life. It is the first since the anti-abortion movements giant Supreme Court victory. The crowds are here in Washington today. But the next big moves in the abortion debate are in states with Republican legislature.




KING: Today is both the 50th anniversary and a new beginning for the March for Life. Right now, you can see the annual anti-abortion rally taking over the National Mall. It's the first since the Supreme Court wiped away Roe and rewrote the abortion landscape nationwide.

This year's route for the March swings by the United States Capitol, not the Supreme Court that underlines a key pivot from putting pressure on the High Court, putting pressure on Congress in an effort by some Republicans to outlaw the procedure nationwide.

Let's go straight to the National Mall now. CNN's Brian Todd is there. Brian, tell us what you're saying.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, I'll set the scene for you here a very energetic crowd and still a very passionate crowd here at the National Mall passionate, even though they of course did win a huge victory last June with the overturning of Roe vs. Wade.

The speakers have just started speaking. That's the attorney general of the state of Mississippi speaking now. The crowd has been building here all morning. We can kind of pan over here. Our photojournalist Darren Rode is going to take you to show you some of the depth of the crowd as they've been building toward the Washington Monument over here.

Some people here have acknowledged that the crowd here is smaller than in years past because of the overturning of Roe. But they now say that the - this is kind of a pivotal moment in the anti-abortion movement. Several people I've talked to here say, what they've got to focus on now is taking the fight to the states. Many say they're determined to have these marches in all 50 states. They think this is going to be more of a grassroots movement.

Now, John, they want to do more things like marching towards the legislatures, maybe even knocking on doors individually to get the message across. One woman said, she's focusing on the fact that so many abortion pills have been flooding the country since Roe vs. Wade was overturned. So, it's kind of a time now to gather and talk about a change of tactics and a change of focus of the movement. John?

KING: Brian Todd for us live at the March for Life. Brian, thanks so much, important firsthand perspective. When the High Court adopted the Dobbs decision and erase Roe access to abortion, as Brian noted, became a state-by-state debate.

And as new legislative sessions now get underway early in the new year. We are getting a better understanding of the debate and the terrain. CNN's Jessica Schneider is here with more details on that. Jess, some of the states are already taking action.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We're seeing this rush of activity, John, from these Republican led states, either fully ban abortion or significantly restricted. In the past week, we've already seen a flurry of activity. So, in Wyoming, state Republicans there introduced a full ban complete with criminal penalties for doctors who perform abortions that includes medication abortion.

In Nebraska, we've seen a six-week ban proposed plus on the first day of their legislative session earlier this month, Virginia Republicans introduced a 15 week ban and I'm told now that more is coming. I talked to a powerful pro-life lobbying group. They have drafted model legislation that completely bans abortions with criminal penalties.

I'm told that was the template for Wyoming's bill, and that more Republican state lawmakers are centered introduced similar all-out bands in the coming weeks and really this avalanche of activity is happening because legislatures are now in the first full session. Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade in June Plus, we've seen that states have become increasingly polarized. 22 states are now solidly controlled by Republicans.

That means legislature, the governor's office, 15 states controlled by Democrats. So, at the same time, as we're seeing this huge Republican push to ban abortion, John. We're also seeing Democrats respond in ways where they're trying to protect abortion in their states, namely Michigan and Maryland. So, it's really this split screen battle. That surely will amp up in the coming months as they move forward in their legislative sessions. John?

KING: Fascinating to track both sides of it as you go through state by, state by, state. Jessica Schneider, thank you, that important reporting. Let's bring the conversation in the room. With me to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Audie Cornish, CNN's Lauren Fox, Laura Barron-Lopez at the PBS NewsHour and our CNN legal analyst, Carrie Cordero.

Carrie, let me start with you. Carrie the sense that there's no federal guarantee of abortion rights anymore. So as these legislatures act, what do you see as the next big legal challenge that may make its way back to the Supreme Court? Is it over abortion pills? If a state says, you can't mail them into, let's say, Mississippi or Alabama. Is there a federal issue there? Is that where this is going to hit?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It can potentially I mean, I think the critical part is what the Dobbs decision did in June, is it just eliminated the constitutional right. And so, that's why we're seeing the Dobbs opinion, in part said that that would settle things more for the country. And what we're seeing is that the exact opposite has happened is that now it's state-by- state. It depends on the political landscape of the state. It depends on the legislative landscape of the state.


And so, in some cases, there could be individual state laws that start pushing restrictions on medical abortion for example. And in addition to that, there is this question as to then whether or not that eventually would end up at the federal level. But I think the Dobbs decision really did for a long time, in the near foreseeable future, push this to state considering.

KING: And so, this new terrain, Audie, puts you in literally this state-by-state terrain. We're in the age of Roe. There were some states that were trying to push restrictions or some restrictions. But there was general parameters of the debate were clear.

Now it's every state to itself. We can show you this map. It really depends. Who runs the governor? Do you have a state where that you have a Democratic governor or republican governor, the legislature controlled by the same party. See all that read, 22 states have Republican governors and Republican legislature. So that will be the new terrain in the year ahead.

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: I mean, ironically, I think it's always been state-by-state right? It was just fought in a different way through the courts so that it could get to the point where Roe could be reconsidered. I also think it's significant that we're seeing this flood, after the midterms, because we saw states like Kentucky, Pennsylvania, where abortion rights became a kind of galvanizing concept for Democrats in particular.

And for all of us reporting on it and meant we sort of overshadowed the red leaning states that actually push further in the territory of banning abortion rights of any kind. So, this has been brewing for a while. And I'm most interested in what a March for Life type campaign looks like when they have want it.

KING: Right. So, it's to Brian's point. Some of the activist saying maybe we should be marching our legislatures, maybe we shouldn't be here, Washington. But there is a debate among some Republicans who want to pass a national ban, who especially see the House Republican majority, and saying even if we can't get through the Senate, even if we know the president, we should do it. As a matter of principle, one of the House Republicans in the new majority that she just won reelection, as he may says, that idea.


REP. NANCY MACE, (R-SC): I will tell you the vast majority of individuals, Republican or Democrat in my district, when Roe v. Wade was overturned, or very upset, frustrated, angry, we have entire counties in South Carolina, that don't have a single OB-GYN doctor. And so, if we're going to get serious about protecting women's rights, protecting the right to life, that seems like a really great first place to start.


KING: Where will this go?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, the debate that you are going to see among House Republicans, if they want to go down a route of some kind of federal ban would be really incredible to watch, in part, because there's a lot of people who are thinking like me, Nancy Mace, who aren't necessarily as outspoken as Nancy Mace. There's a debate about whether that ban would be 12 weeks or 15 weeks. There's a debate about whether or not social services need to be bolstered, something that a lot of House Republicans and the age and returning age of cutting spending would be opposed to, but something that you hear activists talking about, maybe that's the direction. If we're going to get rid of abortion, maybe we need to broaden the social safety. I think the debate in Congress would be fascinating and likely one that leadership would want to avoid, in part because they know what could divide the conference.

KING: And so, we'll watch the states in 2023. We'll watch to see whether Republicans in Congress, especially in the House determined to do. A big question. How does this impact the 2024 presidential race? In the sense that the odd relationship, I'm going to use the term odd, I could use other language between Donald Trump and Evangelicals.

A strong relationship, despite personal character questions on his part because he promised to appoint federal judges and lo and behold, three Trump appointees on the Supreme Court, the wipeout Roe. Donald Trump is running for president. He has not received overwhelming support from Evangelicals. He says, they're being disloyal.


DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT (voice over): That's a, that's a sign of disloyalty. There's great disloyalty in the world of politics and that's a sign of disloyalty because nobody is you know, and you would know better than anybody because you do such a great job. Nobody has ever done more for 'right to life' than Donald Trump.


KING: Is it a different issue in Republican politics now for Donald Trump and for everybody else who may run for the Republican nomination because anti-abortion movement did achieve the big victory at the court?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, PBS NEWSHOUR: I think it is because we're starting to see Republicans, as Lauren noted, be on either side of what to do next, which is some are not totally comfortable with the national ban, some are. If we see a large primary, where a number of Republicans jump in against Trump, I think you could potentially see candidates like Kristi Noem of, you know, the governor of North Dakota, as well as Ron DeSantis try to run to the right of Trump on an issue like abortion.

One thing, though, that's just surprising that Republicans are deciding to continue to go down this route is because of the fact that it was not a political winner in the midterms at all.

KING: In swing states.

BARRON-LOPEZ: In swing states, yes.

KING: And that's one of the issues in the polarized America. If you're in a solidly red state, you might think this is good politics for you that might be popular in your state. Your question is, what is it do for the national brand?

CORNISH: It's a question about this during the Pennsylvania elections, and it was tough because he had Doug Mastriano also on the ballot, really talking very hard right about these issues.


KING: It would be, its again, it's a fascinating piece of the year ahead. Up next for us. The president says, no, they're there. President Biden says classified documents found at his home and private office were just misfiled and he predicts the special counsel will find no wrongdoing. The president's lawyers though would prefer, he say nothing right now.


KING: Today is the two-year mark of the Biden presidency. And this afternoon, the president will address the nation's mayors to tout both his achievements so far and his plans for the next two years.