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Biden To Announce U.S. Sending Tanks To Ukraine; U.S. Sending 31 Abrams Tanks To Ukraine; Biden: U.S. Joins Germany In Pledging To Send Tanks To Ukraine; U.S. And Europe "Fully United" In Defending Ukraine; Biden: Sending Tanks Is Not An Offensive Threat To Russia; McCarthy Blocks Schiff, Swalwell From House Intel Cmte. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired January 25, 2023 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing a very important news day with us. A major shift on the Ukraine battlefield. Germany reverses course and promises 14 tanks to Ukraine. In any moment now, President Biden will pledge to add American battle tanks too, that prompts a dramatic warning from Russia. Well, red lines are a thing of the past.

Plus, he did it too. The president's allies see a classified discovery at Mike Pence's house as a political gift to defuse a three-week long White House crisis. And retribution on Capitol Hill. The House Speaker Kevin McCarthy refuses to seat a pair of Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee. Next up, an attempt to remove another democratic lightning rod from the panel that oversees foreign policy.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Eric Swalwell be in the private sector and can't get a security clearance there. We are not going to provide him with the secrets to America. Hakeem Jeffries has 200 other---


KING: Need to take it straight to the White House, the president United States.

JOE BIDEN, 46TH U.S. PRESIDENT: Yesterday marked 11 months since Russia's brutal full-scale invasion of Ukraine. 11 months in which Ukrainian people have showed Putin and the world the full force of their courage and indomitable determination to live free. And through every single step, this horrific war, the American people have been strong and unwavering support.

And Democrats and Republicans in Congress have stood together. The United States has worked in lockstep with our allies and partners around the world, to make sure Ukrainian people are in the strongest possible position to defend their nation, their families, and against the brutal - the truly brutal aggression of Russia. I haven't seen the likes of this in a long time. The United States and Europe are fully united. This morning, I had a long conversation with our NATO allies, German Chancellor Scholz, French President Macron, Prime Minister Sunak, and the Italian Prime Minister Meloni to continue our close coordination and our full support of Ukraine. Because you all know I've been saying this for a long time, the expectation on the part of Russia is we're going to break up, we're not going to stay united, but we are fully thoroughly totally united.

With spring approaching Ukrainian forces are working to defend the territory they hold and preparing for additional counter offenses. To liberate their land, they need to be able to counter Russia's evolving tactics and strategy on the battlefield in the very near term. They need to improve their ability to maneuver and open terrain. And they need an enduring capability to deter and defend against Russian aggression over the long term.

The secretary of state and the secretary of the military are behind me, they've been deeply, deeply involved in this, this whole effort. Armored capability as General Austin will tell you speak, has been critical. And that's why the United States has committed hundreds of armored fighting vehicles to date, including more than 500 as part of the assistance package we announced last Friday.

And today, today, I'm announcing that the United States will be sending 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, the equivalent of one Ukrainian battalion. Secretary Austin has recommended this step because it will enhance the Ukraine's capacity to defend his territory and achieve his strategic objectives. The Abrams tanks are the most capable tanks in the world. They're also extremely complex to operate and maintain.

So, we're also giving Ukraine the parts and equipment necessary to effectively sustain these tanks on the battlefield. And we'll begin to train the Ukrainian troops on these issues of sustainment logistics and maintenance as soon as possible. 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 Abrams tanks into their defenses.

We're also closely coordinated this announcement with our allies. The American contribution will be joined by an additional announcement, including that will be ready to available more easily integrated for use in the battlefield in the coming weeks and months from other countries. I'm grateful to Chancellor Scholz for providing German Leopard 2 tanks and will lead an effort to organize a European contribution of two tank battalions for Ukraine.


I want to thank the chancellor for his leadership and his steadfast commitment to our collective efforts to support Ukraine. Germany has really stepped up. The chancellor has been a strong, strong voice for unity, a close friend and for the level of effort we're going to continue. Supporting Ukraine's ability to fight off Russian aggression to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity is a worldwide commitment, not just look to worldwide commitment. Last week, Germany - in Germany Secretary Austin convened Ukraine defense contact group for the eighth time. This group was made up of some 50 nations, 50 nations, each making significant contributions of their own to Ukraine's integrity. Each fully committed to making Ukraine remain strong and independent and able to defend itself against Russian threats and violence.

I want to thank every member of that coalition for continuing to step up. The U.K., the United Kingdom recently announced that is donating Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine. France is contributing AMX-10 armored fighting vehicles. In addition to the Leopard tanks, the Germany like the United States is also - Germany is also sending a Patriot missile battery.

The Netherlands is donating a Patriot missile and launchers. France, Canada, the U.K., Slovakia, Norway and others have all donated critical air defense systems to help secure Ukrainian skies and save the lives of innocent civilians who are literally the target, a target of Russia's aggression.

Poland is sending armored vehicles. Sweden is donating infantry fighting vehicles. Italy is giving artillery. Denmark and Estonia are sending howitzer. Latvia is providing more stinger missiles. Lithuania is providing an anti-aircraft guns. And Finland recently announced its largest package of security system today.

You may remember why I was asked a while ago when I think what's going to happen. And I said, led to know, he thought there's going to end up with the federalization of Europe. We've got the NATOisation of Finland, getting something that he never intended.

Together with our allies and partners, we've sent more than 3,000 armored vehicles, more than 8,000 artillery systems, more than 2 million rounds of artillery ammunition and more than 50 advanced multi launch rocket systems, and our ship and air defense systems, all to help counter Ukraine's brutal aggression. That's happening because of Russia.

And you know, today's announcement builds on the hard work and commitment from countries around the world, led by the United States of America to help Ukraine defend his sovereignty and its territorial integrity. That's what this is about, helping Ukraine defend and protect Ukrainian land. It is not an offensive threat to Russia. There is no offensive threat to Russia.

If Russia troops returned to Russia, they'll be there for where they belong. This war would be over today. That's what we all want, an end to this war, in just in lasting terms. You know, our teams do not permit one nation, are not going to allow one nation to steal a neighbor's territory by force.

Our terms that preserve Russia sovereign - Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity and honor the UN Charter, that's are the terms we're working on. And you know, these are the terms we all sign up for. And 143 nations voted for the United Nations General Assembly last October. So, the United States standing shoulder to shoulder with allies and partners is going to continue to do all we can to support Ukraine. Putin expected Europe and the United States to weaken our resolve. He expected our support for Ukraine to crumble with time. He was wrong. He was wrong. And he was wrong from the beginning, and he continues to be wrong.

We are united, America's united and so as the world. And we approached the one-year mark as we do have the Russian full-scale invasion in Ukraine, we remain united and determined as ever, and our conviction and our cause. These tanks are further evidence of our enduring unflagging commitment to Ukraine and our confidence in the skill of Ukrainian forces.

As I told President Zelenskyy when he was here and today is his birthday, by the way, in December, we're with you for as long as it takes us to present. Ukrainians are fighting an age-old battle against aggression and domination. It's a battle Americans have fought proudly time and again, and it's a battle we're going to make sure the Ukrainians are well equipped to fight as well.

This is about freedom, freedom for Ukraine, freedom everywhere. It's about the kind of world we want to live in the world, we want to leave to our children. So may God protect the brave Ukrainian defenders of their country, we'll keep the flame of liberty burning brightly as we can. Thank you.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, why are you taking this decision now? Did Germany force you to change your mind on sending tanks?

PRES. BIDEN: Germany didn't force me to change your mind. We wanted to make sure we were all together. And so, we're going to do all, that's what we're doing right now. Thanks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, any response to the Pence's disclosures of classified documents?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, the searches of your home is completed?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, when is Jeff Zients starting as your next chief of staff?

KING: President United States leaving the room there. He took one question on the subject. If his big announcement did not answer two other questions about other issues. The president made a very important announcement today that will change the battlefield in Ukraine, announcing the United States prepared to send 31 of its most sophisticated tanks, the M1 Abrams tank to Ukraine. That will take months.

The president also saying though, this is being done in conjunction with a quicker delivery. German tanks will make their way to the Ukrainian battlefield as well. And with the muscle came a message from the president of United States. He said, Vladimir Putin's calculation all along, has been that the Western Allies would quote, crumble in time, the president saying (audio blip) Germany, the other allies will stay in this fight, as long as it takes.

let's get some discussion here. With our experts beginning at the White House, CNN's Jeremy Diamond is there. Jeremy on the way out, the president was asked if the Germans changed his mind. This was a diplomatic, difficult diplomatic situation for the president, is that the German tanks can get there sooner, but the Germans wanted American tanks on the ground as well.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. And while the president, his response there was to say that we want to make sure that we're all together. He repeatedly stressed this idea of unity. The subtext, of course of this discussion of unity is the fact that Germany made very clear to the United States that it didn't want to send their own tanks to Ukraine, unless the U.S. also sent its tanks. They wanted - Germany wanted to make sure that the United States had some skin in the game here as well.

And so ultimately, it's very clear that the U.S. decision to send these 31 M1 Abrams tanks was in effect designed to ensure that Germany would send its tanks, which will arrive there much sooner. And also, so that Germany would authorize the export of German tanks owned by other countries to Ukraine as well.

And so that's why we're hearing the president. And we've also heard a number of senior administration officials, talking about this idea of unity, making sure that the alliances stayed together. And that's what they did here.

We also heard President Biden talk about the fact that this is going to help improve Ukrainian capabilities. We know that there have been so many stalemates in recent weeks and months there, and these tanks will help them with their maneuverability. And that's also key here as you look at the decision to send these tanks and the German tanks as well.

KING: Jeremy Diamond live at the White House, just after the support announcement. Jeremy, thank you. Let's go to where this will matter most to Kyiv and CNN's Sam Kiley is there. Sam, President Zelenskyy for some time has said, I need tanks on the battlefield. Tanks by their very nature or more an offensive weapon. Yes, you can use them to defend territory, but they are meant to maneuver to reclaim or to take territory. Is that the next chapter in this war once the tanks arrive?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Ukrainians have made no secret of their strategic agenda, which is to drive the Russians out of their territory in their entirety. And that'll include the Crimean Peninsula. Now that at the moment is something, not quite a pipe dream, but definitely a distant dream.

What they're really trying to fixate on at the moment is making sure that they still have the sort of momentum that they showed over the summer with those lightning advances, recapturing large amounts of territory around Kharkiv. And then in the autumn we saw, in the fall we saw the capture of Kherson, the recapture of Kherson.

Since then, the battlefield is somewhat stalled, winter has come. And most importantly, they have begun to run out of the heavy armor that is so important in prosecuting a war of maneuver. Where they have the edge over the Russians is in terms of their motivation and battle skills.

A lot of that comes from NATO, where they've changed the doctrine for the Ukrainians, putting to use these heavy pieces of weaponry that the Russians like to dig in and use as almost artillery. Whereas you see a much more kind of swashbuckling approach coming from the Ukrainians, which is consistent with their NATO training.

Now they are experts at driving tanks and using the tank. So, it won't take them that long, particularly with the Leopard tanks to get up to speed and get them used on the battlefield. These are not going to be driven by soldiers who need to learn how to use tanks in war, they just need to learn how to drive those Leopards, and later on the Abrams and the Challenger.

But the other very important thing indeed is it technologically that way in advance of anything that the Russians can field. And although, the Ukrainians are saying they need 300, by our internal estimates, we're guessing at around 90 have been pledged so far. There is about still a two-thirds to be made up, which they're hoping to be fulfilled later on.

KING: Sam Kiley on the ground for us live in Kyiv. Sam, appreciate the perspective. Thanks so much. Let's go to the Pentagon now, CNN's Oren Liebermann is there. Oren, you just heard the president saying that Secretary Austin - General Austin, former general, now the secretary of defense recommended this.


But we've talked in the recent weeks about how the Pentagon was somewhat resistance because of the logistics involved, because of the resupply and keeping the tanks and the training involved. How quickly the American tanks get there? And how big of a difference is the Pentagon think they can make?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The short answer to that is not quickly at all. These have to be procured and then you have to train the Ukrainians on logistics, maintenance, operations of a complex system. And that's on top of all the new systems, you already need to train them on the U.K. Challenger tanks, the German Leopard tanks, U.S. Paladin howitzer is the Patriot missile system.

So, it's not a rush to get these to the front of the other systems, and Germany's Leopard tanks are their priority. But Biden did say they would begin training Ukrainian forces on the Abrams to make sure that when they're ready to go, Ukrainians can use them immediately when they arrive in country. John?

KING: Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon. Thank you. Let's continue the conversation, bringing two of our best. Nick Paton Walsh joins us live from London, General Mark Hertling joins us as well. Nick, I want to start with you. You wrote a fantastic piece about the strategic implications of this for CNN, that's on the internet. I urge everybody to go to and read it.

You say this, among other things. It is a momentous decision, partly because these are not defensive weapons. They are intended to hit Russia's troops hard in a ground offensive. They are unequivocally about Ukraine retaking territory. This is a new and fierce and it portrays a NATO unafraid. This is it's helped for Zelenskyy that his long asked for, but this is as the president United States just said, a message to Vladimir Putin, you thought we would blank, you thought we would crumble, just the contrary.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And it is, Frank (Ph) had to say after the weeks in which we've seen, this diplomatic tussle with Germany reluctant to give authorization for Leopards to be used, manufactured in Germany now being portrayed as kind of the leader of this European effort by Joe Biden.

They're getting Leopard tanks to Ukrainian as quickly as possible. Fundamentally, at the end, another sign of western unity. Now, Joe Biden was clear there to talk about how this is not an offensive capability, suggesting essentially that Ukraine is always defending itself, even when it goes on the offensive inside its territory to kick Russia out.

A valid argument, I think you would say, but certainly it shows that the west is no longer concerned about giving elements of its weaponry, which it might have closely guarded to potentially defend itself from an escalation by Russia. It does appear that most of those nations giving forward their advanced weaponry, don't think they're necessarily going to need it to defend themselves and an escalation of conflicts in the months or years ahead.

And it also suggests that this consistent drip feeding from the Kremlin, the idea that some sort of escalation might follow if the west crossed some red lines that weren't to Russia's liking. They're not really afraid of that anymore. But they've heard the nuclear rhetoric, they've challenged it openly, they've signaled against Russia's sort of nuclear blackmail, as some have referred to it. And they might start to begin to wonder now quite what else could happen.

It's important to point out though, that these tanks are not suddenly going to turn up overnight and radically change the battlefield. There aren't that many initially pledge, they will take months to put into training, certainly, and Joe Biden there was keen to point out that there'll be a lot of training happening now for Ukrainians, to be able to get these complex logistical systems up and ready.

This is a huge country with vast amounts of terrain to fight over and to take tanks back, potentially to repair depots that need some kind of refit. So, a huge task ahead, but it does do one important thing. And it tells those in Moscow, planning the months ahead, that they have a very small window until Ukraine's weaponry gets incrementally and enormously better and its quality. And that is something I'm sure that we're weighing on the morale of those in Russia's military. KING: General Hertling, come in on that point. Your distinguished resume includes Commander U.S. forces Europe. So, you understand the capabilities here. You also understand the terrain here. What is the military significance here on the battlefield? And what message is Nick just notes, doesn't send to Putin?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET), FORMER COMMANDING GENERAL, EUROPE AND SEVENTH ARMY: Well, I'm impressed by everyone's commentary on this because you're getting it mostly right, John, both you and Nick. And what I'd say, tanks are primarily used for tactical offensive operations, shock action, rapid maneuver, lethal firepower, they are both physically and psychologically intimidating when used.

But here's the key point, when used correctly, and that requires the training. When we're talking about the numbers that have been bandied around this morning. The president just said that Germany is providing two tank battalions worth of equipment. A German tank battalion is about 44 tanks. So, maybe you're talking 80 tanks from Germany. There are 13 other allied and partner nations in Europe that also use the Leos, the Leopard 2 tanks.

So, you could see other ones like Poland and Netherland, but other countries jumping on the bandwagon. President Biden mentioned the U.S. is giving 31 Abrams, that's one Ukrainian battalion, three companies of 10, plus an additional tank for the battalion commander.


So, we're talking about certainly a lesser number than general Zaluzhnyi, the Chief of the Ukrainian ground forces wanted. He asked for 300 tanks. I've kind of thought that the maximum they're going to get into Ukraine is about 100 to 150 early on. But the thing is as Nick just pointed out, this is going to take a long time.

The German Leos are a short-term solution. They can train up on them. It's a simple diesel engine weapons system. There is transferability like Sam said, it's more, however. I'd counter what Sam said, it's more than just learning how to drive the tanks. There's a lot of mechanics involved and resupply and recovery opportunities here.

The Abrams is much more complex. And that's a longer commitment to Ukraine. The Leos are probably going to get there within two to three months. The Abrams, you know, I'd put the estimate on that in terms of the, what I know about maintaining and logistics support for Abrams, I'm going to say that's a longer-term commitment to Ukraine's continued military transformation. It's going to take between six to eight months for those vehicles to get there.

KING: So, a reminder, reminder as we approach the one-year anniversary, the beginning of this war that everybody expects it to go well into a second year, as well as we go through this. General Hertling and Nick Paton Walsh, grateful for the important insights. And we'll continue to stay on top of the story as the tanks now will be delivered to the battlefield in Ukraine in the days, weeks and months ahead. Up next for us, a return to politics here in Washington. Two Democrats get kicked off a key House committee, and a third is likely to lose her seat soon. Just moments ago, they respond, accusing Speaker Kevin McCarthy of pandering to the far right.




KING: Kevin McCarthy keeping a promise and wielding his new power as speaker removing Congressman Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, both Democrats from the Intelligence Committee. Those California Democrats just moments ago, calling it an act of political benches.


REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): This isn't about any individual committee assignment. This is about an institution where the speaker of the House is using his power to go after his political opponents.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): He is continuing this destructive trend set by his party leader of tearing down our institutions.


KING: Speaker insists that's not true. He says this has everything to do with honesty and credibility.


REP. MCCARTHY: The one thing I will always do, I'll put the national security ahead of partisan politics any day. I don't care if they're in my party or not, integrity matters.


KING: With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Kasie Hunt, CNN's MJ Lee, and Rhonda Colvin of The Washington Post. You saw in the photos there, Congressman Swalwell and Schiff, you heard from. Ilhan Omar, the Democrat from Minnesota also there, she's next.

McCarthy says, he can - because intelligence's select committee. He has the power of speaker to remove Swalwell and Schiff, Omar is next. The full House has to vote on that. The Democrats say this is retribution, especially for the two Intelligence Committee Democrats because they stood up to Donald Trump. Is that all it is?

RHONDA COLVIN, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: If that's what it looks like, right now. It looks like it is a political game, of course, isn't something that McCarthy did promise that he would remove them from intelligence, of course, giving background to the situation, both were involved in the impeachment efforts by Democrats, both impeachment of Trump. And both are saying that this is - what this is about.

Now with Ilhan Omar, the representative from Minnesota, that's a little different, that does have to go through a House vote situation. The question now is, does McCarthy have those votes of Republicans? There are a handful of Republicans who are saying, they were not comfortable voting on that, to kick her off of that committee.

There was also one Republican who is - he is in Florida right now going through, I guess, rehabilitation from an injury, and he may not be on the House floor to vote. So, there is a question right now of if that will be successful, but of course, it's just a lot of politics.

KING: There are the specifics. There's a lot of politics. That's an understatement to that. There are the specifics of what the Republicans hear their grievances against these members. But is it really about that? Or is it about, you know, this is to prove that there's a new sheriff in town?

KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes. I mean, I think it's fundamentally about politics before it's about anything else, John? I do think this shows you why norms are important in our system, because, you know, the reality is, Democrats started down this road by removing a couple of Republicans, removing Marjorie Taylor Greene from her committee assignments.

Now, that they will say is totally different because it was related to death threats against other members of the House, right? So, in that case, they say the details matter. But the reality is they did it, which is why this is now on the table.

Now, there are some differences between, you know, Republicans, and frankly, I've talked to some Democrats who behind the scenes will talk about issues with Eric Swalwell and ties to a Chinese national, that they say raise questions about---

KING: An intern who work for him, and he says he did the right thing. He says, once the FBI came to him, he said, what do you need and cooperated, but the Republicans continue to use it against, no.

HUNT: And fair. But there's nothing like that for Adam Schiff, right, who has really become public enemy number one, from a political perspective for many of these Republicans. I mean, it is hard to overstate how much they can't stand Adam Schiff behind the scenes for strictly political reasons.

So, you know, I do think there are differences among the cases. But the reality is here, like we're in this place, because of how toxic our politics are. And it's a new place. It's not a place that Congress used to go in the past. And I think it's, you know, worth discussing whether that's good for the country.

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, I think McCarthy will continue to try to argue that, all he's doing is going by the precedent set by Democrats in the last Congress, but there is a very clear distinction between removing members from a committee or refusing to allow them to sit on a committee because you have some political or ideological differences, you know, objections that have to do with politics and ideology versus doing this because somebody has a real ethical or character issue, like I think, just being very clear about the two distinctions there, it's really, really important.

KING: And so, the next challenge will be on the floor as you know to remove Ilhan Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee after vote of the full House.