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U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson Criticized for Holding Parties During COVID-19 Pandemic; U.S. Placing 8,500 Troops on Heightened Alert for Possible Deployment to Eastern Europe Due to Continuing Threat of Russian Incursion into Ukraine. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired January 25, 2022 - 08:00   ET



SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There is debate on this, urgent debate happening as we speak right now in the House of Commons. The deputy leader of the opposition called it damning.

And there's also competing arguments as to how this should be framed, especially given the threats from Russia and the situation in Ukraine. On the one hand, Boris Johnson's own party is framing this as, look, this is no time to change leaders. On the other hand, another opposition leader said this is exactly why we need to change leaders and get Boris Johnson out of office.

Obviously as well, Brianna, this this reporting from ITV News about these parties at Downing Street, these birthday parties back in 2020 certainly does not help. Boris Johnson's brand has been badly damaged. And the reason why it has struck such a nerve here in particular is because, of course, people were canceling a lot of their own personal events, their own personal birthday parties. In fact, back in March of 2020, a seven-year-old girl wrote to Boris Johnson to explain that her parents would likely have to cancel her birthday party. He wrote back and he published his handwritten response on Twitter, and he said he was sorry to hear about the birthday, but, of course, we've all got to do our bit. So, most people in this country did their bit. Question now is, did the prime minister? Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, we did just get word during your live shot, Scott, that the prime minister says he's going to cooperate with that investigation. He doesn't have a choice, really, I would say. But we're going to see how brits are affected by all of this. Scott, thank you.

And NEW DAY continues right now.

Good morning to viewers here in the United States and around the world. It is Tuesday, January 25th, and I'm Brianna Keilar with John Berman.

We do begin with the United States placing up to 8,500 U.S. troops on heightened alert for possible deployment to eastern Europe. The White House says a Russian invasion of Ukraine appears imminent. According to the Pentagon, the U.S. troops will be ready for any contingencies.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: President Biden held an 80-minute secure video call with European leaders. We are told that they discussed preparations to impose massive consequences and severe economic costs on Russia if it invades Ukraine. That's after the fact. The president said there is total unanimity between the U.S. and its allies, which frankly, there have been questions about and a concept that Vladimir Putin has been testing. The world seems to be testing President Biden right now.

KEILAR: Breaking this morning, North Korea test fired two cruise missiles, this is according to the South Korean military. That is the fifth such action this year. North Korea says it plans to bolster its defense against the U.S. and evaluate, quote, restarting all temporarily suspended activities.

BERMAN: Joining us now, White House deputy national security adviser John Finer. John, thank you for being with us. Our Clarissa Ward has just finished an interview with the Ukrainian foreign minister. And the minister seemed to express some concern about the discussions taking place in Europe and between the United States and Russia, and told Clarissa, quote, "if anyone makes a concession on Ukraine behind our back, first, we will not accept that." So what assurances can you give Ukrainian foreign minister?

JONATHAN FINER, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, I can give you the same assurances that the president has given to President Zelensky of Ukraine and that he has also said publicly, which is that the United States and our European allies will do nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine, meaning there will be no concessions made and no decisions made about Ukraine's security that won't be done in full consultation and full participation of the government of Ukraine. That is a commitment that the president has made and one that we will take extremely seriously going forward in all of our discussions.

BERMAN: One of the things that Ukraine seems to want as it looks at the menu of sanctions and actions promised by the U.S. and NATO after, in the eventuality, that Russia invades Ukraine, Ukraine and others are saying why not impose some of those now? Why not do this now to prevent Russia from invading, because anything else, they say, gives Russia the initiative.

FINER: So I would say two things on this. First is the purpose of putting together these extensive severe sanctions packages in consultation with our European allies is to make very clear to Russia the costs of going forward. If you impose those costs in advance, they're already sort of taken in by Russia and the deterrent effect of the sanctions is reduced because they already assumed the cost.

But second, I would say the United States has already imposed some sanctions on Russia. Just in recent days, in response to some of the destabilizing actions that Russia is already taking inside Ukraine.


That will obviously be ratcheted up considerably with the significant financial sanctions that we have prepared and that we are ready to pull the trigger on the minute Russia crosses the border if they choose to do that.

BERMAN: The 8,500 U.S. troops on standby, what is the trigger that would cause their deployment?

FINER: So that's going to be a decision for the alliance to make. As you describe in your opening, those troops have been placed on high alert by the president. The alliance will make decisions about force posture adjustments, but they're ready to go at a moment's notice when the alliance decides.

And the important thing to point out is this is not an aggressive step by NATO. This is a defensive step that they would be taking, and a reassurance step in response to what Russia has done, which is amassing now 100,000 troops on the Ukraine border and starting to flow troops as well into Belarus, which borders three NATO countries.

BERMAN: Is it possible those troops would be deployed before a Russian incursion?

FINER: I don't think we're taking any options off the table with regard to that. They will not be deployed anywhere but on allied territory. The president has been clear about that, and the alliance has been clear about that. But the timeline and the decision-making will be left up to the alliance and full consultation with all of our allies.

BERMAN: Why should Americans care about what's happening in Ukraine?

FINER: Because it goes to a very fundamental principle of all nations, which is that our borders should be inviolate, that our sovereignty should be respected. If the international system is to mean anything, it means no country can change another country's borders or affect another country's government by force. But Russia, by amassing all these troops on Ukraine's border is calling into question those very basic principles.

They're also, from the perspective of the United States and our allies, unsettling our allies, Ukraine is on the border of several NATO allies, as is Belarus where Russia is flowing troops. And our alliance commitments are sacred. The president has made that clear. And so we will be also posturing ourselves to reassure those allies should Russia choose to test that.

BERMAN: We mentioned that North Korea fired new missiles overnight. Obviously what Vladimir Putin is doing is provocative. Why does it seem that these foreign leaders, in some cases rogue foreign leaders, are testing President Biden?

FINER: John, I know there is a lot of temptation to connect these issues because these events are taking place simultaneously. The North Korea challenge has been with us for quite some time, really going back years and actually decades. The United States has been very clear that it considers North Korea's missile test to be provocative, to be a threat to peace and stability. We have taken action with regard to sanctions just in recent days and weeks. we have taken actions at the security council, and we will continue to provide all manner of reassurance to our Asian allies, in particular the South Koreans and the Japanese with regard to these tests. But I don't see these issues as connected in any way other than that they took place -- taking place around the same time.

BERMAN: John Finer, appreciate you time this morning. Thank you so much for being with us.

FINER: Thanks for having me.

KEILAR: And let's bring in CNN's Clarissa Ward now. She is live on the ground in Kyiv. And you have spoken with the foreign minister of Ukraine, as Berman just mentioned. Tell us what you learned here.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So it was a really interesting conversation, Brianna. And I think there is no question that the foreign minister feels strongly that the U.S. and Ukraine are in lockstep. But there are a couple of areas of difference. We talked about the U.S.'s decision to withdraw the families of embassy personnel here. He said that he was annoyed by that decision, that he felt it was premature.

At the same time, though, when I asked him if the U.S. is overstating the threat of military aggression from Russia, he said, no, not at all. And he welcomed the decision to potentially deploy or put on heightened alert those 8,500 U.S. troops that would go to eastern Europe. He said that it's important when you're dealing with Putin to project strength, because Putin respects strength. And if people feel in the world that they can get away with the kind of activity we have seen Russia engaging in, his point was that it would encourage others to do the same.

One area he was a little bit more sensitive about was when I pressed him on the diplomatic process and what potential concessions the U.S. might be able to offer that would satisfy Russia, but which might also ultimately have a big impact on Ukraine. Take a listen to what he said.


DMYTRO KULEBA, UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: If anyone makes a concession on Ukraine, behind Ukraine's back, first we will not accept that. We will not be in a position of the country that speaks on the phone, hears the instruction of the big power, and follows it. No. We paid a lot, including 15,000 lives of our citizens, to secure the right to decide our own future, our own destiny, and we will not allow anyone to impose any concessions on us.

[08:10:05] WARD: So when last week you heard President Biden in that now infamous press conference say that a minor incursion into Ukraine might not bring about the kind of swift united severe response, what was the reaction of officials here? And did you ever receive an apology or a phone call from the White House or the State Department to try to explain the comments?

KULEBA: We heard what President Biden said, the White House, and presumably President Biden heard our response to that. And we turned that page over. We heard from both U.S. officials speaking openly to the media, but also speaking to me and to other Ukrainian officials directly on the phone that the United States will remain absolutely committed to slashing Russia if any type of incursion, invasion, interference, takes place.


WARD: He went on to say as well that Ukraine has already lived up to its end of the bargain in terms of making concessions that have been agreed with Russia in previous diplomatic talks. And he said that if anyone comes to Kyiv demanding further concessions, quote, he will personally arrange for a protocol guide to escort them to the airport. So really, not mincing words there, Brianna and John, making it very clear that Ukraine is resolute in being part of these talks and not being a pawn in terms of determining what the future of this conflict will be.

KEILAR: Yes, they may not want to be a proxy in some sort of proxy war, but when you listen to American officials, including President Biden, who you mentioned there in that interview, there seems to be this resignation that Russia's going to do something, right? They're going to come into Ukraine, and it is just about keeping them at bay and not letting them get too far. Is that same resignation present there with the foreign minister of Ukraine?

WARD: I think, Brianna, that most Ukrainian officials see this not as an isolated incident that we have all been very focused on for the past few months, but in the context of eight years of war, eight years of interference, eight years of trying to destabilize Ukraine's political system, its economy. So they view this more as a marathon than a sprint.

But they do like to see a more robust and assertive response in terms of how U.S. and NATO allies deal with Russia's aggression, and that's why I think they have all been very pleased to see the White House really shifting its tone and taking a much more assertive tone, saying that these 8,500 U.S. troops are on heightened alert, that they are ready to be deployed to the eastern flank if that's necessary. That is music to the ears of many officials here in Kyiv.

KEILAR: All right, Clarissa, thank you so much for sharing that important interview with us. We do appreciate it.

Breaking overnight, a six-month-old baby was shot and killed by a stray bullet in Atlanta. This is just the latest in a string of senseless shootings of children across several major cities. We're going to speak to New York City's mayor about what he's doing to address it.

Plus, the legal development that just put Trump's efforts to overturn Georgia's election results in jeopardy of criminal charges.

BERMAN: And how did Sarah Palin, who was proudly unvaccinated, bypass the vaccine requirements at a New York City restaurant? The restaurant is now responding.



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight, a 6-month-old killed in the cross fire of an Atlanta shooting. This is the third time that an innocent child was shot in the city this year. And in Chicago, an 8-year-old girl was killed after being hit by a stray bullet over the weekend.

Police say Melissa Ortega was walking with her guardian on Saturday, when they heard gunshots and without warning she was struck in the head. Melissa was a Mexican immigrant who had just come to the U.S. six months ago.

The family writing a statement to CNN affiliate WLS, quote: Melissa hoped for a better life here. At age 8, she was a girl full of hope and had her whole life ahead of her. She sought to achieve the American Dream, but was instead given American violence.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And in New York City, police just released this surveillance video of a suspected gunman accused of shooting an 11-month-old girl in the Bronx last week.

New York City's mayor is unveiling a plan to fight the rise in crime and gun violence plaguing the city and he joins me now.

Mayor Eric Adams, welcome. Nice to see you this morning.

MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D), NEW YORK CITY: Thank you. Thank you so much.

And I just believe what we just heard that happened in Chicago and across our entire country, it is really the symbol of where we are as a country. Our babies are in a dangerous environment and lawmakers are not responding with the level of urgency that I believe we ought to do -- this chronic disease of violence that's impacting our country.

BERMAN: Well, let's talk about some of the specifics about how you have proposed to do it. One of the things you're going to do is put these plainclothes response units back on the street. Now, they will were removed a couple of years ago, they were controversial, frankly.

So, how are you going to bridge that divide and get them back out there to have them be useful?

ADAMS: Well, first, what I -- the message I'm sending to New Yorkers in America, that we're dealing with a sea of violence and there are many rivers that are feeding that sea. And one of them is using the proper police tactics to continue to build a dam on that part of this aspect of it.

I know how unfair and abusive that unit was, because I testified in federal court, and the judge's ruling acknowledged my testimony, New York City versus Floyd, to rule against the behaviors and practice of the police department.

Using that knowledge, we're going to reinstitute an anti-gun unit where police officers will have a modified version of police uniform apparel. They are going to be better trained. We're going to use technologies, with cameras, to video every interaction and I'm going to make sure the right officers are signed there, with precision policing, to go after those who are dangerous gangs and carrying guns in my city.


BERMAN: Law enforcement officials that I have spoken with say that the biggest problem, the biggest cause of the rise in crime is what they call police withdrawal. Both a literal withdrawal of police leaving the force, but also withdrawal from the community.

So, how do you propose? First of all, do you see that as a problem? And second, how do you alter that? How do you give police the sense to get back in and face this?

ADAMS: Well, what you are just showing is how I keep laying out the various rivers of stopping the sea of violence. That's a river we must deal with.

We must deal with a city, and cities where we're telling police officers that people can walk in stores, steal items off the shelves and no one is going to prosecute them, where you can do fare evasion in a city and no one is going to prosecute, where you can pour water over the head of a police officer and the person who did that is not going to be held accountable for that.

So, we asked, officers are doing their job. We removed 6,000 guns off the streets in the city of New York last year, and over 300 since I have taken office. We ask them to do their job, but let's look at the other aspects of public safety, mental health, prosecutors, lawyers.

We must make sure we don't continue to put dangerous people back on the street, and continue the flow of guns in our cities. I'm going to get my cops to do their job. I need the rest of the country that are in positions of authority to do their job.

BERMAN: The first things you just listed were proposals from the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, who has proposed to stop prosecuting things like robbery from stores, if you steal a banana from the store, proposed stopping fare jumping, who has proposed that he would only prosecute gun crimes if the gun was used in a crime.

So, are you right here saying that all of that in your mind is wrong?

ADAMS: No, here's what I'm saying. I'm saying the D.A. has his job to do, and he has a non-mandate authority. I don't have the authority to tell him how to do his job.

What I will do is have conversations with him, like I've had, and we're going to partner together to deal with violence in our city.

And my job is to do exactly what we're doing now, show the public and those who are part of this apparatus, how do we dam all of those rivers that is feeding this sea of violence?

BERMAN: You know, you were a police officer, though. If you are hearing the message from someone like Bragg, it happens around the country too. It's not just him. If you hear that message and also the message you're trying to send, how do you process what appears to be a difference?

ADAMS: The New York City Police Department are made of professionals. We saw two professionals, Officer Wilbert and Rivera, walk inside a room and were shot -- targeted to be shot at. I know how well they do their job. And we're going to continue to do so.

I tell my officers all the time, don't get caught up with social media, don't get caught up in the politics, stay focused on keeping New York City safe. And they're doing that.

We are doing our job and we're going to continue to do their job and they're going to have a mayor that is going to give them the support, the resources and the equipment to keep New York City safe.

BERMAN: And I know you will be at the funeral for Officer Rivera, and our thoughts are with the family and the city.

Mayor Adams, thank you for being with us this morning.

ADAMS: Thank you very much.

BERMAN: So could the votes of suburban mothers be up for grabs in the midterm? How the voting bloc that recently launched Democrats to power have Republicans chomping at the bit?

KEILAR: And big news just in, the college board making some significant changes to standardized tests. How the SATs are going to look a whole lot different soon.



BERMAN: The battle over pandemic policy could be reshaping how some voters cast their ballots as COVID, masking, remote learning and schools plays out. Parents, specifically suburban women, who helped propel the Democrats to power in 2020, could be breaking ranks ahead of this year's midterms.

CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro joins us live with this -- Evan.

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, thanks. Good morning. I went to Ohio to find out just about this whole story we're talking

about right now. Moms on two sides of this idea of what Democrats are facing in the midterms because of the pandemic in schools.




SCHMITT: What about this?

Look at my voting records. I'm a registered Democrat.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Some people think this Cleveland woman is brewing the strongest tea in American politics right now.

SCHMITT: If you would have told me like two years ago that I would be alienated from the Democratic party, I wouldn't have believed it. I really, really hated Trump. What was going on in the Trump administration, because I just don't think people realize what a big deal closing school for a year was.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Some political strategists are starting to think it was a very big deal. To them, Angie Schmitt represents frustrated suburban moms whose vote is now up for grabs because, they say, Democrats were too cautious about public schools and the pandemic.

SCHMITT: I have a friend I talk to this about a lot. All of a sudden, we're at odds with the people we used to agree with.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Angie is a progressive, but these days she thinks Democrats have put politics ahead of kids when it comes to pandemic schooling. Her take on the science can sometimes be very different from the public health consensus.

Vaccine mandates, are you good with that in the school?

SCHMITT: I think they should mandate for the teachers and the staff, but not the students.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: And mask mandates, what about those?

SCHMITT: So, I think at minimum there should be like a timeline for when they get rid of them, right? Why is my son, who already had -- double vaccinated, and already had corona, masking 40 hours a week. That's another thing, I think Democrats have been too dogmatic about that.