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Ominous New Signs That Russia is Preparing Ukraine Invasion; Liberal Says, The Left Hasn't Reckoned With Catastrophic School Closures; Conspiracy Theorists Running for Key Election Posts in U.S. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired January 18, 2022 - 07:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: I don't understand Canada. I do not get Canada at all.

All right, Laura Jarrett, thank you very much.

HUNT: Okay. New Day continues right now.

BERMAN: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. It is Tuesday, January 18th. I'm John Berman. Brianna is in primetime this week, which means Kasie Hunt is here, which is big time, primetime versus big time.

HUNT: We are big time today.


HUNT: Watch Brianna in prime. Don't miss it.

BERMAN: All right. Developing overnight, reports that Vladimir Putin is making a move in Ukraine, a possible provocation. But why he is doing it, that's the question and a major concern in western capitals this morning.

Now, the Russians are outright denying a report in The New York Times that they are emptying out their embassy in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. According to The Times, dozens of people, mostly the children and wives of Russian diplomats have been boarding buses for a 15-hour ride back to Moscow.

HUNT: Meantime, a bipartisan delegation of seven U.S. senators met on Monday with Ukraine's president, Zelensky, as tens of thousands of Russian troops stand ready to potentially invade along the country's border. Zelensky telling the senators, quote, it is very important for Ukraine that you are with us today.

And joining us now is CNN Political and National Security Analyst David Sanger. He is also the White House and National Security Correspondent for The New York Times and part of the team behind this new report. David, the Russians, of course, are out denying that this is true. We just wanted to put that to you, as I know you and your colleague have this lengthy story about the state of play.

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Sure. Well, thanks, Kasie, and welcome. So, the Russian statement said that their embassy is still operating, which is true, and our story said that, as well, the ambassador is still there and so forth. But American officials heard and picked up evidence of discussions starting in December of beginning to reduce the number of Russians dramatically who are in Ukraine. And they began to do that, we found, on January 5th, bused them out the 5th, 6th, and 7th. By our count, about 40 diplomats, their families, children, were all removed.

Now, think about that timing for a moment. It was a few days before the negotiations between the United States and Russia began in Geneva and then moved elsewhere in Europe. So, this wasn't as if they were clearing the embassy out because they were imminently about to attack or something. It's now 10 or 11 days ago. But it certainly was a move that they knew the rest of the world would see and suggests that they think that there are going to be significant protests against the Russians in the country.

BERMAN: David, in a larger context, this has to do with the bigger question of whether Vladimir Putin is playing checkers or chess, whether or not he's doing single things that last a day to poke people in the eye for a day, or whether he has some kind of a plan to invade Ukraine, or maybe occupy it. CNN's reporting, there are concerns that they're training occupying forces. We have reporting this morning that there are snipers training on the border. Is that a today thing, or is that because a month from now, Vladimir Putin expects to be occupying that country?

SANGER: Well, that's the great mystery here, and we can't crawl into Putin's mind. We do know that he has got a few major strategic objectives that he's described publicly. One of them is to stop Ukraine's drift toward the west. The second is to make sure that Ukraine never joins NATO. The third is his demand that the United States and NATO pull back all of their armaments, all their nuclear forces, all of their troops to lines that go before 1997. That's when President Yeltsin signed an agreement with Bill Clinton that basically allowed NATO to expand. And Putin has made it very clear he wants to go reverse that.

Now, is this all a giant show so that he can force the U.S. to do that by negotiation? Is he trying to just destabilize the Ukrainian government and put in a puppet government? Yes, I think both of those things would be easier than invading the country. But, at this point, he has got so many forces there that he would look like he was backing down, I think, if he didn't move at least partly over the borders.

HUNT: That's a pretty remarkable statement, David. I'm wondering, one thing we do know about Vladimir Putin and I'm sure that the U.S. officials that you've talked to spent so much time thinking about this, but he is someone who very much thinks about the person on the other side of the table, who is his personal adversary. And right now, that potentially is President Joe Biden, who, of course, was vice president when the former president, Barack Obama, decided to take muted actions, frankly, when Russia annexed Crimea back in 2014.


What is your sense of how U.S. officials are evaluating the way Putin is thinking about President Biden, and what is the Biden administration -- how far are they willing to go here? What lessons did Biden learn from the experience when he was vice president?

SANGER: It's fascinating issue. So, I think the first thing that Biden and the team around him, who largely were in place during the Crimea crisis in 2014, I think the first thing they learned was that they did too little, too late, right, that the sanctions -- they were taken by surprise by the invasion. And then the sanctions they put into place went after smaller banks. The idea was to ratchet it up slowly.

You've heard Jake Sullivan, the president's national security adviser, say, this time, they're going to start big and move down, although they're not going to start until Putin actually invades. That raises some interesting questions of timing.

The bigger issue of how it is that Putin sees Biden, that's really fascinating. And, you know, you have to think that he looks at the Afghan withdrawal, he looks at the political division in the United States, he looks at how we have turned more inward, and he thinks, you know, this is probably as good a moment as he is going to have, especially if he thinks the Ukrainians are going to grow more powerful militarily in coming years.

HUNT: Also remarkable statement. David Sanger, thank you very much, as always, for your great reporting. I really appreciate it.

BERMAN: Every day matters here. I mean, I think every day bears watching along that border. We simply don't know what is going to happen.

In the meantime, here in the United States, tensions high across the country as parents, teachers and politicians debate whether students should return to in-person learning in the midst of a global pandemic. Actually, that debate is over, as almost every student is back in person. The issue, and this was encapsulated in a story in the New York Magazine by Jonathan Chait, is he writes that he feels that Democrats should apologize for the fact that schools were closed at all last year and the year before. He thinks this was a giant mistake. And progressive, as he put it, should come to terms with that fact.

Joining us now is Angie Schmitt. She's a parent and the author of a piece in The Atlantic arguing for a return to in-person instruction, and Donna Chiera, she is the president of the American Federation of Teachers in New Jersey.

First, Angie, I want to go to you here, because what provoked this discussion today is this piece in New York Magazine, which suggests that progressives should apologize for the fact that there wasn't 100 percent in-person learning really last year when this was an issue. Do you think that apology is merited?

ANGIE SCHMITT, WROTE ATLANTIC ARTICLE, WHY I SOURED ON THE DEMOCRATS OVER COVID SCHOOL POLICIES: yes, absolutely. I 100 percent agree. So, I don't think he blames the districts for closing in, like, March 2020, when no one knew anything about this disease and how it operated on children. But by the fall, it was pretty clear from the science that schools were relatively safe. And all of our European peers, essentially, went back to school, and many, about half the districts in the United States, went back to school, including in my own community, the private schools went back to school, wore masks and went to school all last year, pretty much without incident. While my kindergartener spent the entire year sort of wasting away in front of a computer screen, like a lot of the Cleveland public school students.

HUNT: So, Donna, let me get your response to that. I mean, there have been some pretty well-documented accounts of just the impact that school closures had for the year, for 2020, starting in the fall of that year. Respond to what Angie -- the point that Angie is making here.

DONNA CHIERA, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS NEW JERSEY: I don't think there's an issue. I believe teachers, and I know teachers want to be in school. But they want to be in school where it's safe and healthy. They understand the social, emotional and academic toll it took on students to stay home. But to bring us back to school was something that was not in the teachers' control. The ventilation systems are old in many buildings, and, truthfully, it is going to take billions of dollars to fix them. Schools can't do social distancing. Testing, we've been saying all along, one of the things we need is a rigorous testing system in schools so we could control, or at least know, if there is a COVID outbreak.

The outbreaks before this, testing in schools was very sparse.


This time around, we're starting to hear more and more about testing and masks. We need to wear masks in schools. I'm very pleased Governor Murphy put a mask mandate into the buildings when it was going to expire here in New Jersey.

I think if we could at least control the masks, the testing and some social distancing, we need to keep kids in school. We need not only to bring them back to school but we need schools to remain open.

BERMAN: Angie, again, a lot of this discussion is backwards-looking, not forwards-looking, because there is broad agreement now that kids should be in school, and they are, unless there aren't enough teachers to staff the schools right now. But who do you blame for what happened last year? That's really what we're talking about. We're not talking about right when the pandemic hit. We're talking about last school year, when it took a lot time to get kids back in the classroom.

SCHMITT: Okay. Well, first of all, both my kids missed school this month, when I wrote this piece, it was Christmas break, and all I had was a message from our superintendent saying he was consulting with health officials, and he didn't know whether they were going to open or not at the beginning of the year. So, I'm not really sure that's the case here and everywhere, and also both my kids did do remote learning, which implies that staff was available for that.

But, regardless, who do I blame? For one, I think it is a widespread failure. The media sensationalized the risks of COVID to kids and scared a lot of parents, unnecessarily, when a lot of the data was actually very reassuring. So, I blame the media, in part. I think that the left wing became -- got a little bit of an echo chamber and they got detached from the science, and they were too eager to shout down anyone who disagreed with them, even if they were arguing in good faith, like I'm trying to do right now.

I think that the teachers unions, I don't understand what it is like to be a teacher, but I think that they're used to fighting a certain kind of battle. And this battle was a little bit different, and they didn't change their tactics as much as they should have. So, I think that there's widespread blame to go around.

I still think Biden hasn't been strenuous enough about this issue. He's sort of tried to play it both ways, and that we really need our leadership to stand up and send a clear message, schools are safer than the wider community. That's what the data has shown for a long time now. And we shouldn't be making kids, and particularly low-income kids, pay the highest price for this pandemic, when they've always been lowest risk.

HUNT: And, Angie, in that piece, you said that you had been a life- long, loyal Democrat, but that that's no longer the case, can you tell us a little bit about that? And have you encountered other parents in your community who feel similarly?

SCHMITT: Yes. People have been reaching out to me from all over the country, saying they agree. Women who have children at home with disabilities, who were denied the essential services they're supposed to be guaranteed. People feel very betrayed.

So, I'm the kind of person who would door knock and register voters and donate before elections, but I feel like we've really lost our way. Where were the people standing up for low-income kids when all this was going on? In Cleveland, we went so far as to close playgrounds for an entire year, which is completely unscientific. And there really was a total lack of concern about the quality of life and well-being of kids. And it's disappointing because I think that goes against the values we claim to espouse.

BERMAN: All right. Angie, Donna, thank you, both, very much, for joining us this morning.

You can see how this discussion is sitting, and part of this has to do with the tweet that Nate Silver put out at the beginning, where he suggested that the closing of schools for as long as they were closed will come to be seen like the invasion of Iraq, based on the existence of WMD, something that was clearly wrong and misguided, people have come to believe, Nate said. And that's where Jonathan Chait wrote this piece and said that he believes Democrats need to come to grips with what happened.

HUNT: Right. And Silver's tweet elicited responses that were incredibly -- I mean, they were going after him. And this is really a very emotional issue for parents and for teachers, as, you know, you heard a little bit there from the guests. I think that the challenge too, and one of the things I was thinking about, as Donna was talking about, there have been billions of dollars set aside for schools to do renovations, to update their HVAC systems, and a lot of that money hasn't been spent. Congress put a lot of money in various bills that have been passed to do that.

And I think that's where a lot of the frustration is that, hey, you guys knew this. You should have planned for this. Why are we having this conversation again in January of 2022 when we should have been having it forever ago? And so I think that Democrats in Washington are going to have to grapple with that.

BERMAN: And to Angie's final point there, who say, that she this month has had remote learning for both of kids. And I get that. I get that some schools have shut down temporarily here.


Really, what I think that Jonathan Chait and Nate Silver were saying is everyone needs to reassess who they think about this going forward. Based on what they learned from last year, everyone should simply look at this through an entirely different prism before they close schools going forward.

HUNT: All right. Up next here, Oath Keepers and big lie candidates are not only running for office, they are running to oversee elections. We're going to tell you where this is happening.

Plus, Boris Johnson's former aide is spilling some of that British tea. What he now accuses the prime minister of knowingly doing during the pandemic.

BERMAN: And today, the Senate will debate voting rights, a centerpiece of Biden's agenda. But unless something remarkable happens, unless Republicans budge, which they have shown no sign of, unless Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin miraculously change their mind this morning, this is all for show today.



HUNT: Welcome back. Imagine for a second that it is 2024 and the presidential election results have all come down to one state. So, let's set up a hypothetical. What if the top election official in said state is a self-proclaimed Oath Keeper and QAnon conspiracist? It could become a distinct possibility if these Trump-endorsed candidates win their elections in Arizona.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MARK FINCHEM (R), ARIZONA SECRETARY OF STATE CANDIDATE: I look forward to the day that we set aside an irredeemably flawed election. That's the election of 2020. With all the evidence we have, the Arizona election should be de-certified, with cause, by the legislature.

KARI LAKE (R), ARIZONA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: But there's a few other people I'd like to send right down to the prison, down here in Florence. Anybody who was involved in that corrupt, shady, shoddy election of 2020, lock them up.


HUNT: And it's not just Arizona where all this is happening.

Joining us now is CNN Correspondent Donie O'Sullivan. Donie, this is rather alarming, having listened to just what those folks had to say here. How likely is it that this becomes reality?

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I mean, imagine, Kasie, how chilling that is if you are an election worker, an election volunteer in Arizona, hearing from people there who are running to take control, to have authority over elections in that state, and they're saying they want to lock people up. They believe in QAnon conspiracy theories. Look, it's very, very concerning for people we spoke to on the ground in Arizona, people, certainly Democrats, have a real sense that this is the major issue of 2022, because these elections are going to then play directly into 2024 and how those elections are overseen.

And, look, it's not just happening in Arizona. Take a look at these numbers from The Washington Post. They did a tally across the country. They found at least 163 Republicans who have embraced the big lie that are now running for statewide positions that would give them some authority, some control over elections. You see there in 30 states, 69 candidates for governor, 55 candidates for U.S. Senate, 13 candidates for state attorney general and 18 candidates for secretary of state.

Now, of course, not all of those have been endorsed by Donald Trump, but those two candidates you heard there at the top of the segment, they have been endorsed by Trump.

BERMAN: Yes. And, again, these are people who are spreading lies about the past election, embracing them, which leads you to believe they would have no issue going forward, perhaps enacting things based on dishonesty.

Now, the Democrats in Washington, most of them, are trying to pass new voting rights legislation that would address some of the movements that you're seeing from the right here to take over election apparatus. Not all, but some. But there are two Democrats standing in the way of doing it without a filibuster, and that's Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

Now, donie, what do the people, these Trump supporters, say about Democrat Kyrsten Sinema? O'SULLIVAN: Yes. And this Trump rally that we were at on Saturday was in Arizona, Sinema's home state. And it's rare you hear anything good about a Democrat at a Trump rally, but have a listen to this.


O'SULLIVAN: I think right now, what she's doing, stopping the voting rights bill and things like that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. It was a big deal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: God bless her. Good for her, for standing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kyrsten Sinema, good for her. You know, she's our representative. She represents the state. She's not along party lines. She's what's good for the country.


O'SULLIVAN: So, there you have it. Even some Arizona voters there telling us they would consider voting for Sinema, those Trump supporters.

Important to point out, of course, that Sinema says she is supportive of these voting rights bills but doesn't want to change Senate rules to get them through.

And, look, guys, I think it is important to point out here that on Saturday, we started our day at an event with the King family. There was a march for MLK day weekend for voting rights in Arizona. People we spoke to there, African-Americans, many of them have a real fear about what is happening with voting rights in this country. And that is a real fear based on history, based on the president. Some of them see echoes of Jim Crow in what is creeping in.

In the afternoon and evening, we went to this Trump rally, where people -- some people are there genuinely fearful.


Some of them know the big lie is B.S., it's a talking point, but some people are genuinely fearful. And that fear is not based in reality. That fear is based on a lie and conspiracy theory.

HUNT: Well, one thing, if you want to understand, there have been a lot of Democrats who live on Twitter and some of our other spaces who are very angry with Kyrsten Sinema for what she's done here. But I think these interviews that you did with those Trump supporters speaks to exactly what she's doing as she looks to her election -- potential re-election in Arizona. Donnie O'Sullivan, thank you, as always.

BERMAN: So, prosecutors have filed the first sedition charges in the Capitol attack against leaders and members of the Oath Keepers. Seditious conspiracy is a serious charge, difficult to prove and rare, but a significant milestone. In fact, up until this point, some have used the absence of sedition charges to somehow try and diminish what happened that day.

Back in May, Republican Congressman Pete Sessions said, quote, right now, there is a rush desire for judgment, yet not one person has been charged with sedition. Many of his colleagues echoed that.


REP. PAT FALLON (R-TX): Has anybody been charged with sedition, to your knowledge?


FALLONG: Okay, no again.

So what we're supposed to believe here that the best way to describe the events of January 6th should be calling it an insurrection?

REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): Expressing concern over election integrity is not a seditious act.


BERMAN: So, it was also a significant refrain on Fox T.V.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: Oh, it was an insurrection. So, how many of the participants in that insurrection have been charged with insurrecting, with sedition, with treason? Zero.

WILL CAIN, FOX NEWS HOST: But you know what? No one has been charged with sedition. No one has been charged with the less favorite word, insurrection. Instead, people like Kelly and Connie Meggs walked into the Capitol, no vandalism, no violence, but instead were guilty of being members with the Oath Keepers. And they have been hit with felony conspiracy to obstruct official proceedings charges. They walked in while being a member of the wrong group.

GREG GUTFIELD, FOX NEWS HOST: No one has been charged with sedition or insurrection. Most have been hit with charges like parading, parading. Who knew that was a crime? By the way, it should be. I hate parades.

MARK LEVIN, FOX NEWS HOST: Has anybody been charged with treason? Nobody. So, why do they keep calling it an insurrection?

GLENN GREENWALD, COMMENTATOR: Do you know how many people have been charged with inciting insurrection or sedition or treason or domestic terrorism as a result of anything? Zero, exactly. Just like Robert Mueller never indicted anybody for criminally conspiring with Russia. They live in this fantasy world that never corresponds to the reality. And they just think if they keep feeding on it, one day, it might come true.


BERMAN: Well, now, there are sedition charges.

Now, this is not to suggest they were made to counter these talking points, not all. Presumably, the charges were filed when prosecutors had to mask the evidence. And, of course, now, the question is how much further will this investigation go? Does it include the president and his close allies?

HUNT: Well, first of all, I will just say, I was at the Capitol on that day. And I think it is important to underscore that these people who literally invaded the Capitol were attempting to obstruct the actual certification of the election that would install the duly elected president, now, Joe Biden, into office.

And I think the point that it does take time to bring these major charges, pull them together, is the right one to be making. I mean, one of those congressmen said that these people were there expressing concern about the election. Oh, it's fine to express concern. But, I'm sorry, that doesn't mean you show up with zip ties and halfway rappel down the wall of the United States Senate while your representatives are on the floor. I mean, the level of insisting what we all saw happen with our eyes didn't continues to just appall me.

BERMAN: And now are these charges, we'll see if there are more.

HUNT: All right. Let's go now to the U.K., what did Boris Johnson know and when did he know it. One of his former, top aides made damning allegations about those boozy lockdown parties. We'll tell you about that.

BERMAN: An almost completely wiped out, breathtaking before and after images from Tonga after the devastating volcano eruption.