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The Situation Room
Biden Warns Ukraine Prepare for Impact in Clash over Russia Threat; Biden to Tap First Black Woman for Supreme Court by End of February; Police Union: Suspect in Shooting of Three Officers Barricaded in Home, Believed to Have Multiple Weapons; Top Aide to Former Trump Chief of Staff Select Committee Details of What Was Happening in White House on January 6. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired January 27, 2022 - 18:00 ET
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WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. President Biden warns Ukraine's leader to prepare for impact as they clash over the level of risk that Russia will attack. The Pentagon revealing that Moscow's military buildup on the Ukraine border has increased over the past 24 hours.
Also, tonight, President Biden renews his vow to nominate the first black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying he expects to reveal his choice by the end of February. We're getting new information about the search now that Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has made his retirement plans official.
And a strange, very strange courtroom drama unfolding, Michael Avenatti acts as his own lawyer at his criminal trial, cross-examining Stormy Daniels, his one-time client and former ally against Donald Trump. She is now accusing him of theft and lies.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in The Situation Room.
Let's get straight to the breaking news. CNN just learning new details of the phone call between President Biden and Ukrainian President Zelensky. A senior Ukrainian official tells us that the call, quote, did not go well, with the two leaders disagreeing about the risk of a Russian invasion. That comes as the Pentagon says it has seen for buildup of Russian forces in the last 24 hours. We're covering all angles of this story with CNN's Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto, he's here in Washington, our Senior International Correspondent Sam Kiley, he is in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, and CNN International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson in Moscow.
Jim, let's start with you. First of all, what are you learning about this phone call?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, right now, the White House on the record is contradicting that description of the phone call from the senior Ukrainian official, as quoted by our colleagues. This is an on the record statement from Emily Horne, spokesperson for the National Security Council, saying the following, quote, anonymous sources are leaking falsehoods. President Biden said there is a distinct possibility that the Russians could invade Ukraine in February. He has said this publicly and we've been warning about this for months. Reports of anything more or different from that are completely false. So, an usually straightforward statement here, right, not disputing sort of the characterization, but straight out saying that that characterization of a difficult phone call that somehow went off the rails is straight up false in the words of White House.
As you said, Wolf, the description from a senior Ukrainian official to our colleague Matthew Chance have been that the president used phrasing along the lines of prepare for impact and an attack may be imminent and that Kyiv could be sacked, again, the White House disputing that.
One thing I will say, Wolf, is this, is that my understanding is that the U.S. Intelligence assessments of the chances of a Russian invasion have not changed. They've been consistent for a number of weeks here, that there is a strong possibility of Russian military action in February. This is a combination of things, including the weather there, the ground will be frozen, it would allow heavy armor to cross the border, that assessment has been there for some time. I've been told by U.S. officials briefed on the intelligence for sometimes that that timing of mid-February and the real seriousness of an attack coming has been the assessment for some time.
So, what the White House is saying tonight is, yes, that word imminent is one they have used but it is no more imminent today than the assessment was a week ago or a month ago. So, a tale of two different assessments of that phone call, I think, we could say, safely tonight, two contradictory assessments of that call.
BLITZER: Very contradictory indeed. Let's go to the Ukrainian capital, Sam, you're there on the ground for us. So, what are you hearing? Is there still serious disagreement between Ukraine and the U.S., and how imminent an invasion could be?
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That does seem to be a very serious public disagreement, at any rate, because for some days since the first recent use before this phone call of the term, imminent, by the U.S. president, the Ukrainian president, Mr. Zelensky, came out on Facebook and other broadcast media in order to reassure his population and say, don't panic, it isn't imminent.
It could be weeks away. His defense minister has gone on to say that they don't anticipate any attack imminently, stressing that the position of Russian forces which are building up, not only in Russian territory, but also in Belarus and there are planned naval exercises in the Black Sea and elsewhere, but all of this was not yet in a war- making posture. They weren't getting into the position of being ready to attack.
And yet this -- then they've just come out with this phone call version of the phone call coming from Zelensky's office to Matthew Chance saying that the president said an attack is virtually certain and that Kyiv could get sacked. That is if -- if that is the case, if that really is the way that the Americans are characterizing it, then it is an increase in a sense of their levels of concern. But as Jim is saying there, ultimately, the intelligence picture coming from the United States, and I've been talk people elsewhere in Europe and intelligence community, and there is a strong feeling that there is a strong possibility of a Russian attack among intelligence sources, that, therefore, it probably is imminent. But, clearly, the Ukrainians are trying to downplay it somewhat.
BLITZER: Let's go to Moscow right now. Nic, you're there, you're on the ground for us. Russia, as you know, has repeatedly denied it plans to invade Ukraine. So, what's the latest word? What are you getting most recently from officials from sources there?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, certainly, the perspective from here will be that if there is division between Washington and Kyiv, then that is to Russia's advantage. And some of what our colleague, Matthew Chance, has from his source there, who was -- has knowledge of that phone call, it seems to indicate that President Biden, in part, essentially telling the Ukrainian president that there will be nothing that the United States will be able to do to support Ukraine if there were an invasion.
So, from the Russian perspective, from President Putin's perspective, that kind of pressure on Ukraine to make whatever concessions Russia wants Ukraine to make, like to say it doesn't want to join NATO, is exactly the sort of thing that President Putin wants to see happen.
But Russia's stated position has been, despite these military training exercised going on and the continued buildup, that they have no intention of invading at all. But the real perception is the analysis that we have from the foreign minister today, that written response from the United States does not address Russia's core concerns that Ukraine should be denied access to NATO. That is an indicator that there is a track of diplomacy that the Russians feel is shut down. There is a small area where they think on secondary issues, they could have communication. But does this mean that Russia is arriving at that divide in the road and I think we're going to get an indication of that in the next few days, Wolf.
BLITZER: Let me get back to Jim. Is It surprising, Jim, that the Ukrainians are pushing back on the U.S. so publicly here?
SCIUTTO: Yes. In the simplest terms, I would say so. Yes. Here is the piece of this that is more understandable. The Ukrainian president, Ukrainian officials, they've got a country to run right now, with a lot of human beings in there who might rightfully be fearful of these predictions and they don't want panic. They don't want people to be crowding into airports and driving out of the country, right, overnight. So, that is understandable. And, by the way, that difference in messaging is one that White House officials understand. You have two different audiences to speak to here.
The other piece I would say is this, any time you have intelligence, particularly when it involves a former KGB agent who is now the president of Russia, these are imperfect intelligence assessments that people can look at the same intelligence, and the U.S. has shared its intelligence with Ukrainians, and come to different conclusions. And one of the hardest people to read in all of this is Vladimir Putin, by design. So, you can have different interpretations of the same intelligence, one, but also remember these officials have different jobs, right? The president of the U.S. has a different job here than the president of Ukraine in terms of speaking about the nature and imminence of the threat.
BLITZER: Sam, you're there in Ukraine. Are the Ukrainians downplaying this threat in order to keep their citizens in Kyiv where you are and elsewhere calm, because by the latest estimate, there may be 120,000, 130,000 Russian troops on the border?
KILEY: Yes. And those estimates, Wolf, are Ukrainian estimates that have gone up. Now, recently, we've heard from the U.S. that they believe, they've seen evidence of a buildup of yet more Russian troops in the last 24 hours. But here in Kyiv, you wouldn't know it. This -- first of all, I think it is important to note, as you well know, that Ukraine was invaded by Russia, the Crimea was seized in 2014-2015, and the Donbas region has remained under the tutelage of Russian backed rebels ever since.
There is supposedly a ceasefire there. So, people are quite used to conflict. They just see an escalation as somewhat frightening.
BLITZER: All right. Guys, we're going to stay in very close touch with you. This is a very, very dangerous situation. Thanks very much.
Just ahead, there is more news we're following here in The Situation Room. President Biden announces he'll nominate Justice Breyer's nominee by the end of February, and he renews his promise to will pick the first ever black woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Stay with us. You're in The Situation Room.
BLITZER: Tonight, President Biden is putting the nomination of the first black female U.S. Supreme Court justice on a fast track. He revealed his timetable during the formal announcement of Justice Stephen Breyer's retirement.
Let's go to our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan, the president says he expects to make his choice by the end of February. What are you learning about this search?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right now, making that choice is still in the very early stages, Wolf. Of course, today was just the first time President Biden acknowledged that, yes, Justice Breyer does plan to retire after he formally announced it and hand-delivered a letter to President Biden here at the White House today. And, of course, this is kick-starting the search process. And we are told that the president's team could begin reaching out to potential nominees as soon as next week. Of course, you'll see those staff level meetings happen before they actually sit down with the president one-on-one as he weighs his options here. Though he did say today he already has some qualifications in mind for who he wants to pick.
COLLINS (voice over): Retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer handing President Biden a coveted opening tonight.
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I'm here today to express the nation's gratitude to Justice Stephen Breyer.
COLLINS: Nearly 30 years after Biden presided over his confirmation hearing, the president formally announced Breyer intends to retire at the end of this term.
BIDEN: You would never think that he served decades on the court and I would you be president of the United States in the day he came in to retire.
COLLINS: Breyer marveling at his time on the court and the endurance of the American expirement.
JUSTICE STEPHEN BREYER, SUPREME COURT: When I'm talking to the students now, I said I want you to pick justice up. It is an experiment that is still going on. And I'll tell you something, you know who will see whether that experiment works? It is you, my friend.
COLLINS: With this vacancy, Biden is promising to make history he says is long overdue.
BIDEN: I've made no decision except one. The person I will nominate will be someone with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience and integrity. And that person will be the first black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court.
COLLINS: The president planning to name the nominee in the coming weeks.
BIDEN: It is my intention to announce my decision before the end of February. I have made no choices at this point.
COLLINS: The rigorous search already underway.
BIDEN: I'm going to invite senators from both parties to offer their ideas and points of view. I'll also consult with leading scholars and lawyers. And I'm fortunate to have advising me in this selection process Vice President Kamala Harris.
COLLINS: All eyes now turning to the black female jurist now seen as the most likely candidates.
JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He's already been reviewing bios of potential candidates, that is something that he's been doing since last year.
COLLINS: Once Biden makes his pick, the push moves to Capitol Hill, where Senator Joe Manchin said he open to supporting a nominee more ideologically liberal than he is.
SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): Well, it is not too hard to get more liberal than me. So, it would not bother me having a person who is sound in their thought process and then sound in their disbursement of justice and the rule of law.
COLLINS: The White House firing back after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Biden, quote, must not outsource this important decision to the radical left.
PSAKI: If anyone is saying they plan to characterize whoever he nominates after thorough consideration with both parties as radical before they know literally anything about who she is, they just obliterated their own credibility.
COLLINS: McConnell saying this on Biden's pick.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I'm going to give the president nominee, whoever that may be, a fair look.
COLLINS (on camera): And, Wolf, this vacancy was a much needed, much wanted jolt for this White House that has had a string of bad headlines lately. They also got another one today when it comes to the economy, because the American economy grew at its fastest rate in decades in 2021 at a 1.7 percent GDP growth in the final three months of 2021, putting that expansion at 5.7 percent overall for the year.
BLITZER: Very impressive economic numbers indeed. Kaitlan Collins at White House, thank you very much.
Let's get more on all of this. Our legal and political experts are joining us.
Jeffrey Toobin, what stood out to you from the remarks President Biden and Justice Breyer, for that matter, made at this announcement today? JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, this public very rarely gets a chance to see Supreme Court justices, and I thought it was great that the public got to see the chipper professorial Stephen Breyer, but I thought his message was rather chilling. He talked about, as you just heard, the American experiment and he quoted the Gettysburg address, where Abraham Lincoln questioned whether any nation so conceived can long endure. So, even though Biden sounded optimistic, I thought he was really issuing a warning about the state of American democracy, something worth listening to.
BLITZER: Certainly, of course. And, Abby, the president, he reiterated that he will nominate a black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court and that decision will come within in a month or so. Is he setting the tone that he wants to act decisively and quickly on this nomination?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He is. He wants to send a signal to his supporters that he is going to keep his promise that he made on the campaign trail to put a black woman on the court for the first time in American history. But I do think that his timing, his timeline is a little bit more extended than perhaps some Democrats might have wanted. There has been a lot of talk on Capitol Hill about the timeline set forth from Amy Coney Barrett's nomination in the Trump years, which was after she was named about a month, but Biden is himself is going to about a month to decide, he said, on a candidate. And he said he's going through this process deliberately.
So, while I think Democrats are on a relatively fast timeline for this, Biden also sent the signal today that he's got not going to cut corners when it comes to vetting this person. He said he's going to read their briefs, he's going to consult Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill and also legal experts and scholars as well. And I think he was trying to sort of thread that line there between speed but not looking like he is rushing through this process.
BLITZER: Elie Honig, you've actually seen Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson action, a possible frontrunner for the nomination, in action. What makes her such a standout in this group of truly incredibly qualified women?
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, I covered a hearing in front of Judge Jackson for CNN two years ago. This is a dispute over the congressional subpoena to Don McGahn. And I have to say, I've appeared in front of dozens of federal judges. Judge Jackson showed the skills to be among the absolute upper tier of that group. She asked questions that were incredibly probing and incisive. She had such an impressive grasp of the facts and the law better than the lawyers actually in the case. She ran a courtroom where she was very much in control, yet at the same time she created an atmosphere that was cordial and professional. That is a very difficult balance to strike.
So, she's shown a really rare set of skills and capabilities and I think that will serve her well on any level of the federal bench and make her particularly difficult to attack from conservatives or Republicans if she is the nominee.
BLITZER: Yes, very strong vote of confidence in her. Abby, some of the most influential black leaders in Congress right now, they're actively lobbying for their preferred candidate but are others taking a more hands-off approach?
PHILLIP: Yes. I mean, this is going to be a period of intense lobbying. There are some very powerful forces pushing not Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who everyone, I think, agrees is the frontrunner for a number of reasons, but another judge coming out of South Carolina, where I happen to be right now, Judge Michelle Childs, who is backed by Jim Clyburn, a top ally of President Biden's.
And then you also have the Congressional Black Caucus that is comprised of a lot of lawmakers who have a number of candidates who are being considered who they are pushing for. One of the names I am hearing a lot from progressives is Sherrilyn Ifill, who is a prominent civil rights attorney and someone who I think a lot of Democrats on Capitol Hill and in the activist world really would love to see strongly considered, but at the end of the day, I think everyone understands this is President Biden's decision and also that the politics of the situation are so difficult that the decision might be made based on whether or not this individual can get enough votes to be confirmed.
BLITZER: Yes. Jeffrey, the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, is warning President Biden not to, quote, outsource this important decision to the radical left. So far, it doesn't seem like the right is gearing up though for a knockdown, drag out fight over this, does it?
TOOBIN: Well, you could be sure that the Judiciary Committee hearings with Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley will be an audition to the 2024 Republican nomination, that they will be not stranding themselves at all. But it certainly does seem like that 50 votes in the Senate and Judge Jackson having received 53 votes when she was confirmed just a few months ago, she looks like a very easy nominee to confirm, if, in fact, she is --
BLITZER: Yes, we'll know within a month. All right, guys, thank you very, very much.
Coming up, there is growing consensus among experts that the U.S. is beginning to turn the corner in the fight against the omicron variant. We'll have more on all of the late breaking pandemic developments right after this.
BLITZER: Tonight, a fresh prediction that the omicron surge may be nearing an end. CNN's Alexandra Field has details in our pandemic report.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DR. TOM FRIEDEN, FORMER CDC DIRECTOR: I am more optimistic about the pandemic today than I have been since it was declared a pandemic nearly two years ago.
ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Public health experts can't predict if or when the next COVID surge might come, but many are increasingly certain this one is nearly behind us.
FRIEDEN: In another few weeks, the omicron flash flood, not a wave but a flash flood, will have largely passed.
FIELD: New COVID cases are down from last week in 33 states. Despite that progress, some states haven't reached their omicron peak yet. In Montana, there is an onslaught of new cases. They're up more than 50 percent in just the last week.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: When you have over 2,000 deaths, 150,000 hospitalizations, and you have people who are now getting infected to the tune of somewhere around 700,000 a day, we're not there yet.
FIELD: Pfizer and Moderna are both working on omicron-specific vaccines. It isn't clear that they'll be needed, but COVID has brought surprises before.
DR. PAUL BURTON, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, MODERNA: I think hopefully we'll get into spring and into summer and have a period of stability but we have to be prepared.
FIELD: Vaccine manufacturers and public health experts are keeping close tabs on an omicron sub-variant. It isn't considered at this point cause for alarm. Most Americans are eager to put omicron behind them and still divided over how to.
The politics of vaccines and masking taking center stage in Florida.
STATE SEN. LAUREN BOOK (D-FL): Scientifically, do the vaccines work against preventing COVID-19? Yes or no?
DR. JOSEPH LADAPO, FLORIDA SURGEON GENERAL: Thank you, again, Senator. So, you know, yes or no questions are not that -- that easy to find in science.
FIELD: Democrats walked out on a confirmation hearing for the Republican's governor's pick for surgeon general.
BOOK: It is sort of interesting to hear the surgeon general say that he's being guided by science but then at the same time says that mask wearing is an extreme measure.
FIELD: In New York, Sarah Palin rejecting the CDC's isolation guidelines. Two days after testing positive for COVID, she's spotted eating outdoors at a restaurant. Palin reportedly also ate inside of the same restaurant while unvaccinated, a violation of city rules, two days before she tested positive.
FIELD (on camera): And, Wolf, the head of one of the largest schools districts in the nation, Prince George County Public Schools in Maryland, says she doesn't foresee an end to masks in class any time soon. She says there is no magic number when it comes to vaccinations that would put an end to certain safety protocols. This is, of course, the debate that is really fueling a lot of emotion on both sides in districts across the country.
BLITZER: It certainly is. Alexandra Field, thank you very much for that report.
Let's discuss with Dr. Paul Offit, a member of the FDA Vaccines Advisory Committee, he's also the director of vaccine education at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Dr. Offit, as you heard, Dr. Tom friedman told me here in The Situation Room last night, he's more optimistic now than he has been at any point since the pandemic began two years ago. Do you share that optimism?
DR. PAUL OFFIT, MEMBER, FDA VACCINES ADVISORY COMMITTEE: I do. I think there are two things working against this virus right now. One is population immunity. So, about 90 percent of people in this country have either been naturally infected or vaccinated or both, that is good. Two is we're moving into warmer weather, that's good, but realize that this virus is very good at finding people who are susceptible, which is to say unvaccinated people. So, virtually, all of the hospitalizations and deaths that we're seeing currently with this virus are in people who are unvaccinated. So, it is still important to be vaccinated but I do think we're definitely getting there.
BLITZER: Well, that is encouraging. A new study from the United Kingdom found that 66 percent of the infections during the omicron wave were actually re-infections, people getting COVID twice now. What does that tell you?
OFFIT: It is what you would expect, actually. I mean, if you're naturally infected with this kind of virus, the so-called mucosal virus, like the influenza virus, when you're re-exposed, you can get re-infected, which is to say you can have mild symptoms. But usually, either natural infection or immunization, protection against severe disease, meaning the kind of disease that causes you to go to the doctor's office, go to the hospital or go to the ICU. So, this is what you would expect.
I think the biggest mistake we make communications-wise was months ago when we ever labeled those kind of infections breakthrough infections, it is okay to get a mild infection if you've been vaccinated or naturally infected, it is actually what you would expect from this kind of virus.
BLITZER: That is important, indeed. Just two days ago, it was revealed she, Sarah Palin, tested positive for COVID. Now, she was spotted dining outdoors at the same restaurant where she had flouted New York's vaccine mandate. How dangerous would you say that kind of behavior is?
OFFIT: When you're a celebrity, and Sarah Palin is a celebrity, you are -- people look up to you. And, therefore, I think you have to be -- just show that you are behaving well. And most people do that. Most celebrities know that, they know that they've been given a platform, they know that people are looking up to them, but not all. So, unfortunately, that kind of behavior not only puts her at risk, but at some level, others at risk if she's tested positive and she's interacting without mask.
BLITZER: Yes, because she could spread that virus, indeed. All right, Dr. Paul Offit, as usual, thank you very, very much.
Just ahead, there is more breaking news we're following. An armed standoff appears to be unfolding in Houston, we're looking at live pictures right now, where a suspect who police say shot three police officers, is now barricaded inside a home and believed to have multiple weapons.
BLITZER: There is more breaking news we're following right now on the shooting of three, three police officers in Houston. We're getting new information on the suspect right now.
CNN's Rosa Flores is in Houston working the story for us. First of all, Rosa, what are you learning?
ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, according to the Houston Police Department, three officers have been shot. Now, they were brought here to Memorial Herman Hospital in the Texas Medical Center, that is the hospital that you see behind me. You can see that there is a lot of police activity here. We actually just saw top brass going into that hospital. We're expecting a press conference with more details in about 20 to 30 minutes.
Now, I just heard from the Houston Police Union president that these officers each received one gunshot wound. One was shot in the arm, the other in the leg and the other in the foot. Now, the mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner, tweeting that these are nonlife-threatening injuries, that these officers are in stable condition.
Now, about the suspect, how we got here in the first place, according to the Houston Police Department, there was a shooting in midtown part of Houston. Now, we do not have a lot of details about the suspect but we have learned that he has barricaded himself in a home. This is after he led -- he fled the original scene in a white Mercedes. Again, we do not know all of the details. But according to the Houston -- to the president of the Houston Police Union, he does say that this individual is barricaded in a home.
And based on the video that we've been able to see from our CNN affiliates, and you're probably able to see some of this video, you can see that vehicles, including Houston Police Department cruisers with gunshots, with the windows shot out. So, there is a lot of details and a lot of questions that we're hoping to ask at this press conference that we're expecting here in the next 20 to 30 minutes, Wolf.
But I should add that this is just days following the shooting and killing of a Harris County Precinct 5 corporal, just days ago, Wolf. I was just at a press conference earlier today as that -- the suspect was captured in Mexico. And here we are again here in Houston with three police officers shot and we're hoping to get more details here in the next 20 to 30 minutes. Wolf?
BLITZER: We will check back with you for sure. Rosa Flores on the scene for us in Houston.
Let's discuss what is going on with CNN Law Enforcement Analyst, the former Philadelphia Police commissioner and former D.C. Police chief, Charles Ramsey. Chief Ramsey, thanks very much for joining us.
As you heard, the suspect has already shot three police officers. He's believed to have multiple weapons. How dangerous is this standoff right now?
CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, it is incredibly dangerous. I mean, he's already shot three police officers. We don't know what he did prior to the encounter with the police. And now if he is, in fact, heavily armed, barricaded in a home, that is certainly a very dangerous situation.
Hopefully, there is no one inside of the home with him. I don't know if that is the case or not. I'm sure that the SWAT team and negotiators are trying to find out exactly what is going on right now. But if they have him located and have him isolated, at least they have him pinned down and we'll see how it unfolds.
BLITZER: So, what do they do next?
RAMSEY: Well, they're going to try reach and try to contact him, try to talk to him. I mean, that would be the first step, it would be to have some kind of negotiation to try to get him to come out peacefully and try to wait him out.
Again, a lot of it depends on whether or not he's holding hostages, if he's in there by himself. Is he heavily armed with firearms? Does have he any explosive devices? I mean, there is a lot of unanswered questions right now.
But right now, they're trying to make contact, if they have it already, so they could talk to him and get a better sense and a better feel and try to get him to surrender.
BLITZER: Thankfully, these three police officers who were shot, they are in stable condition right now. But this is a reminder of the danger police officers face each day. And in recent days and weeks, we've seen so many police officers around the country shot.
RAMSEY: Yes, it is not good at all. I mean, your reporter just mentioned Corporal Galloway, who was murdered about four days in Harris County in the line of duty, and, of course, tomorrow, the funeral of Officer Rivera in New York and then, of course, Officer Mora, who just passed away. His funeral will be happening shortly.
So, it is not a good situation. This is only January and I believe we've already had like 25 instances of police officers either being shot or shot at.
BLITZER: It is a terrible situation indeed. All right, Chief Ramsey, thanks so much for joining us. We'll, of course, continue to watch what is going on in Houston. We'll stand by for the news conference as well.
Coming up, the disgraced former attorney, Michael Avenatti, is representing himself and cross-examining his former client, Stormy Daniels, who accuses him of stealing her money. Stand by. We'll have more on the courtroom drama when we come back.
BLITZER: Breaking news we're following. We're keeping a very close eye on a potentially very dangerous situation in Houston where police say a suspect who shot three police officers has barricaded himself inside a home with multiple weapons. The officers are in stable condition. We expect an update from authorities in the next half hour or so.
Stay with CNN for more on the story as it develops.
Also, tonight, we're learning new details about the hours of testimony by a former top aide to ex-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.
Our senior legal correspondent Paula Reid is working the story for us.
Paula, what have you learned about this latest testimony?
PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Ben Williamson is a top aide to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. I can tell you. Ben was a frequent presence around the Trump White House when I was covering it and he was actually in the West Wing on January 6th.
Now, to give you a sense of how close he was to former President Trump on that day, the House Select Committee in its letter to Ivanka Trump asking her to cooperate in their investigation actually cites a text message Ben sent detailing his efforts to get then President Trump to do something to stop the violence.
Now, former White House staffer Alyssa Farah confirms that she sent the text message that is referenced on page 6 of the letter to Ivanka asking Ben, is someone getting to POTUS? He has to tell protesters to dissipate, someone is going to get killed. Now, Williamson is only identified as a White House staff member in
the letter, but we have confirmed he is the one who replied, I've been trying for the last 30 minutes. Literally stormed in outer oval to get him to put out the first one. It's completely insane.
So, Wolf, it's clear why Williamson is exactly the kind of staffer the committee wants to talk to, to better understand what was happening in the White House on January 6th, and these efforts to get the former president to do something to stop the violence.
Now, Williamson testified for about six to seven hours on Tuesday, fielding questions from congressional investigators. Now, during his testimony, we've learned he did not invoke his Fifth Amendment right, and that's notable, because several other former officials and top Trump allies have invoked the Fifth, including Alex Jones, Roger Stone, and conservative lawyer John Eastman.
Now, a source familiar with Ben's testimony tells CNN his interview covered the story behind Trump's video address telling rioters to leave the Capitol hours after the initial reports of violence as well as Mark Meadows' conversations with the former president and members of congress.
And Williamson's testimony may prove significant. As his long-time boss, Mark Meadows, continues to stonewall the committee. Congress voted to refer him to the Department of Justice for criminal contempt of Congress but they, of course, have yet to file charges -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. We'll stay on top of this story as well. Paula Reid, thank you very much.
We're also following the criminal trial of lawyer Michael Avenatti accused of defrauding his former client, the porn star Stormy Daniels. Avenatti himself grilling her as she testified today.
CNN's Kara Scannell is outside the courthouse in New York for us tonight.
So, tell us, Kara, about this face-off.
KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Well, Wolf, it was only about ten minutes of one-on-one questioning and Avenatti opened by asking Stormy Daniels a question at the heart of this case. Prosecutors say that Avenatti had stole $300,000 from Daniels as part of a book advance.
Daniels had testified for three hours questioned by the prosecution in which she said that according to this deal and this agreement, which the prosecutors put up on a screen for the jury to see, that she was going to pay him $100. That he would deduct expenses from some online crowd fund-raising effort and that if they had agreed that Avenatti would receive a reasonable percentage of any book deal.
Daniels testified they never did reach an agreement so Avenatti's first questions off the bat to her was asking if she had any text messages, emails, voice mails or recordings of Avenatti actually saying that. She said she didn't. She had previously testified that Michael Avenatti had told her he wouldn't take a penny from her, that she was an American hero.
She also was testifying about the arrangements, how this came to be that she first met Michael Avenatti at the Waldorf Astoria in Beverly Hills. They had reached this agreement, and then she had got her book deal. She said she was so excited when she received that first installment of this payment that she screamed so loud that she frightened her bodyguard that was with her. She then testified and read some text messages that she exchanged with Avenatti, some in dramatic fashion expressing the frustration that she had that she wasn't getting these payments. Prosecutors say that Avenatti had these payments and did not disclose them to her -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We'll see what happens tomorrow. Kara Scannell in New York for us, thank you very much.
Just ahead, I'll take a moment to share some personal thoughts on this Holocaust Remembrance Day as the world honors the lives of millions of juice slaughtered by the Nazis, including members of my own family.
BLITZER: I want to close tonight on a very personal note. This is International Holocaust Remembrance Day set aside to honor the 6 million Jewish victims and many others slaughtered by the Nazis. All four of my grandparents were killed in the Holocaust.
My father's parents died at Auschwitz. I went there in 2014 for a CNN special, tracing my family's roots. It was a deeply emotional journey.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER (voice-over): It's one thing to learn about the Holocaust in school or from books. But to see these places firsthand, some untouched since the war, can be overwhelming.
Most of the Jews that were brought here came by cattle car.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then they got selection.
BLITZER: Who lives and who dies?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Exactly.
BLITZER: My grandparents died here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Probably, they were driven away to the gas chamber. People who walked in, they really believed they were in the shower room.
BLITZER: So they thought maybe they were going to get a shower, but instead --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was the gas chamber. BLITZER: Before we leave Poland, we visit the only Jewish cemetery still left in the town of Auschwitz. And I see a tombstone that says Blitzer.
I don't know if this woman was related to me, but I do what my father would have wanted. I say a special prayer for the dead, the Kaddish.
(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Please join me in remembering all those killed in the Holocaust. May their memories be a blessing.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.