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The Situation Room
Biden Warns A Gigantic Mistake If Russia Invades Ukraine; Ex- White House Officials Say, Trump Routinely Ripped Up Documents; School Mask Mandates To End In Three More States As Cases Decline; Georgia D.A. Speaks Out About Probe Of Trump Election Interference; Ukrainians Prepare For War At Site Of Chernobyl Disaster; Spotify Removes Dozens Of Joe Rogan Episodes Over Racial Slur. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired February 07, 2022 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, we along with everyone else in China are also tracked constantly through our smart phones. It's something that really allows them to keep the app on us.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right. Selina Wang and David Culver reporting from Beijing in our Behind China's Wall Series. Thanks to both of you.
You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the TikTok @jaketapper. You can tweet the show @theleadcnn.
Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in THE SITUATION ROOM.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. President Biden delivers a new warning to Vladimir Putin saying it would be a gigantic mistake if Russia invades Ukraine. The Pentagon revealing that the Kremlin now has well over 100,000 forces massed on the border.
Also tonight, new details on former President Trump's habit of ripping up White House documents. The January 6th committee trying to piece together what happened and track down Trump's records, including some improperly taken with him to Mar-a-Lago.
And school mask mandates are being lifted now in three more states, as COVID cases fall to the lowest level since December.
We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
And we begin with breaking news. President Biden standing alongside the German chancellor presenting a show of allied unity against Russian aggression and warning that Vladimir Putin is in a position to invade Ukraine now if he chooses.
Our correspondents are standing by in Moscow, Kyiv and here in Washington covering the story for every angle. First, let's go to our CNN White House Correspondent M.J. Lee. M.J., give us the latest. M.J. LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it was clear that President Biden wanted to stress this message tonight and that is that when it comes to Russia, the U.S. and Germany are on the same page.
Listen to some of the language that President Biden used in talking about the U.S.-German alliance. He said that Germany is completely, totally and thoroughly reliable. He also said that there is complete trust between the two countries, while this as Germany has frustrated some U.S. officials here in the United States by not being forceful enough, by not being explicit enough in talking about and detailing what kinds of steps Berlin might take if Russia were to invade Ukraine.
Questions about sanctions, questions about sending weapons to Ukraine and, of course, Wolf, one very big topic that was up for discussion today was the question about this Nord Stream 2 pipeline. President Biden again reiterating today that if Russia were to invade Ukraine, that project would not be move forward.
But, interestingly, the German chancellor saying something different or at least not as specific, just stressing that U.S. and Germany would be united on this front and in the actions that they take, but would not specifically say, as President Biden did, that the project would not move forward if Russia were invade Ukraine.
Now, Biden also warned that he believes that Vladimir Putin is ready to invade but that he simply doesn't know if they are planning on doing so. And he offered a piece of advice for American citizens that are currently in Ukraine. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I don't know that he knows what he's going to do. And I think he has to realize that it would be a gigantic mistake for him to move on Ukrainian. The impact on Europe and the rest of the world would be devastating. And he would pay a heavy price.
I think it would be wise to leave the country. I don't mean -- I'm not talking about our diplomatic core, I'm talking about Americans who are there. I hate to see them get in crossfire, if in fact they didn't make, and there is no need for that. And if I were they, everyone in there, I would say leave.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEE: Now, even with thousands of American troops being on heighten add heightened alert, President Biden also stressed that diplomacy is still the preferred method of de-escalation. As he was living the room at his press conference, he was asked could Russia still pursue a diplomatic off-ramp and he answered yes. Wolf?
BLITZER: M.J. Lee at the White House for us, thank you very much.
Let's bring in our Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto, he is here in Washington, and CNN International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson joining us live from Moscow.
Jim, the Pentagon tonight says that Russia has well north, their words, well north of 100,000 troops on the Ukraine border right now. You have new reporting base on U.S. intelligence that some Russian officers are actually having their own doubts about pulling off a full-scale Ukraine invasion. Tell us what you're learning.
JIM SCIUTTO: CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That is right. This information comes from intercepted communications from Russians involved in leading those deployments in and around Ukraine, expressing some reservations, you might call it, or at least realization that a Russian military campaign inside Ukraine, a renewed invasion would be costly or both in terms of material and personnel than they originally thought.
Now, has this risen up to the highest level of Vladimir Putin? No indications that it has caused him pause. But at that level, concerns, perhaps a reaction to the western lethal military assistance going in there which, Wolf, and you and I have talk about this before, it has been designed to do exactly that, raise the cost for any Russian military invasion, both in terms of equipment but also Russian military personnel.
Now, despite that, perhaps this contributes to that, Russia has been building, not taking away forces in and around the border. And it is the numbers well north of 100,000, as you mentioned, but it is also the composition of those forces, Wolf, a whole host of ground artillery, armored personnel carriers, tanks, aircraft, missile systems, as well as intelligence units embedded in those battalion tactical groups, which make up that Russian force, to give them the full range of options if Putin gives the order to go ahead.
BLITZER: You know, Nic, you're there in Moscow, how will this message be received by the Kremlin, namely seeing the United States and Germany standing together as a united front? It is a very powerful message.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It is, and Putin will be looking for ways that he could exploit that further down the road. He'll be looking at the language and seeing where he feel it doesn't line up.
He had a very tough press conference with Emmanuel Macron after their more than five-hour long meeting today, Putin, criticizing the Ukrainians, and Macron not really pushing back on that, Putin criticizing NATO and saying NATO was the aggressor because they're moving towards Russia and not Russia towards them. Macron didn't push back on that.
Both leaders indicated that there was the potential for some diplomatic steps going forward but they seemed to be conditional. Putin saying that part of those conditions would depend on how Macron gets on tomorrow in Kyiv, forcing the authorities in Kyiv to do more of what he wants. This is how Putin framed it. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT: A number of his proposals and ideas about, which it is too early to speak, I consider quite possible to lay a foundation for our further steps. Let's see how the meetings for the president will go into Kyiv. After his trip to Ukrainian, we will call each other again and exchange views on this matter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTSON: So, essentially, what Putin was accusing the Ukrainians are was not following the Minsk agreements, the ceasefire in Ukraine. And on that accountant account, Secretary of State Antony Blinken today said, it's actually Ukraine has been doing most of what's required from the Minsk agreement and Russia that hasn't been doing most of what is required on the Minsk agreement.
Macron did not come out of this looking strong. That's what Putin wants to exploit.
BLITZER: Important point. You know, Jim, President Biden tonight, as we heard, once again, warning American citizens it is time to leave Ukraine immediately. Approximately 30,000 Americans are in Ukraine right now. So, what does that tell but how serious this situation remains?
SCIUTTO: It is another indicator that shows that the U.S. is taking the Russian threat very seriously, that even though as the president acknowledged today, he does not know or believe that Putin has made up his mind. It is the U.S. military view and intel assessment that Russia has all of the forces it needs to further invade the country. And he want to express that to American citizens that are there.
And I think, Wolf, partly informing that public messaging is the country's experience in Afghanistan when, as one military official described it to me a number of weeks ago, the U.S. was caught flat- footed, does not want to be caught flat-footed again once to have everything in place to get Americans out if there is in an invasion, in fact, prior to if necessary. So, they are not left with their backs against the wall, as we saw in Kabul.
BLITZER: Jim Sciutto and Nic Robertson, guys, thank you very much.
And later this hour, we'll have a live report from Kyiv on how Ukrainian forces right now, military forces, are preparing for a possible military conflict. Stand by for that.
Just ahead, ex-White House officials had now say former President Trump routinely ripped up documents an left the White House with boxes of key papers. Stand by. We have new details.
BLITZER: Three former White House officials are now telling CNN they saw President Trump tear up official papers he was no longer interested in or had finished reviewing on numerous occasions. And now we're also learning he took multiple boxes of White House documents with him when he left the White House.
Our Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles has the very latest.
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Questions swirling today about records from the Trump White House amid revelations that the former president routinely ripped up documents, drafts and reading materials.
REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): It does violate the requirements of the law to rip up official documents in the White House.
NOBLES: The National Archives revealing today that they've obtained 15 boxes of records from Mar-a-Lago that Trump took with him after he left the White House. This coming to light after Trump sued to keep hundreds of records secret from the House select committee investigating January 6th.
When he lost that case, CNN reporting that the National Archives went in search of documents that the Presidential Records Act required be preserved and discovered many were missing.
The Archives arranging to pick up the boxes from the Trump's Florida resort, that included several personal mementos, including letters from Kim Jong-un and former President Obama.
LOFGREN: It is not the way you're supposed to act. But small surprise, the former president acted in many ways that were not the way presidents are required to act.
NOBLES: Former White House staffers recounting to CNN that Trump would spend long flights going through documents keeping articles he wanted to send to close friends and hate reading negative stories. Trump would tear up documents he was no longer interested in while riding on Air Force 1 forcing staffers to come in afterward and literally pick up the pieces. And while the committee pores through the information they do have from the archives, they continue to zero in on the role of former Vice President Mike Pence.
The committee has already interviewed three of Pence's top aides, including his former Chief of Staff Marc Short. The committee still holding out the possibility of subpoenaing Pence himself if necessary.
MARC SHORT, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO FORMER VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: I think it is very different to subpoena a former vice president to talk about private conversations he had with the president of the United States. It is never happened before. And I think we have some significant concerns about that committee.
NOBLES: The committee believes the pressure campaign that Pence was under to stand in the way of the certification process helped to foment the rage and violence on that day, a rage that is clearly demonstrated in new videos released by the Justice Department that shows members of the mob calling for Pence by name.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Pence came, we're going to drag (BLEEP) through the streets, (BLEEP) politicians are going to get (BLEEP) dragged through the streets.
NOBLES (on camera): And Republicans are actively working to attempt to interrupt the work of the January 6th select committee. Last week in Salt Lake City, the RNC censuring two members of that committee, Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney, the two Republican members accusing them of attacking people who were just involved in what they described as legitimate political discourse.
Now, there has been quite a bit of blow back because of that, including from Mitt Romney. It is, of course, his niece, Ronna McDaniel, that serves as the chair of the RNC. And Romney telling reporters today that he texted his niece to tell her that he was upset with the work that the RNC had done last week. He said in part, quote, to suggest that a violent attack on the seat of democracy is legitimate political discourse is so far from accurate, as to shock and make people wonder what we are thinking.
Reporters then asked Romney if he thought that the RNC's actions could hurt them in the midterms coming up this fall and he said, anything that we do to make ourselves look dumber in the minds of voters is obviously going to hurt our chances. Wolf?
BLITZER: Very strong words from Mitt Romney indeed. Thank you very much, Ryan Nobles up on Capitol Hill.
Let's discuss with a key member of the January 6th select committee, Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger.
Congressman, thank you so much for joining us.
As you heard and as you know, at least right now, there are few Republicans, a few Republicans, very few, like Senator Romney, speaking up but you say this is about the 13th time you've been censured. Why do you still want to be a member of a party that seemingly all of the time now rejects you and rejects the values you uphold?
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): Yes, it is a good question. I'm not sure I would particularly want to be a member. But I believe, you know, in what the Republican Party used to stand for and I believe that the Republican Party, it is going to be around for a while. It plays a very important role obviously in politics and very well may take the majority. They deserve to have the truth told to them. And right now, there is just a few of us willing to tell the base voters the truth. There is a lot of people hiding in the sand because the truth is hard and it makes their life a little uncomfortable. I think we have to fight for the soul of the not just the party but the country. We are in a real dire moment, Wolf. And I think if we don't wake up and recognize that this is more than just performance art when we lie, when we tell people elections were stolen, this actually goes to the survival of this country and in the form we know it. It is that serious. It is worth fighting for. But I tell you, I do ask myself that question every day.
BLITZER: It is a legitimate question. The RNC, as you know, is also trying to do some damage control after calling the January 6th insurrection, they called it legitimate political discourse and a formal public statement at their big meeting in Utah.
But watch just part of this new video just released by the U.S. Justice Department from that day and I need to warn our viewers that this language is very disturbing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Pence caved, we're going to drag mother fuckers through the streets.
You fucking politicians are going to get fucking dragged through the streets because we're not going to have our fucking shit stolen. This is the second fucking revolution. We're here to take it back from you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cut their fucking head off.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cut their head off.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: How dangerous is it Congressman for the Republican National Committee to whitewash the events of that day and to simply call it legitimate political discourse?
KINZINGER: Oh, it is extremely dangerous, and it is not even -- it's, if there was a word even more intense than dangerous, I would use that. Because when you convince people, the person talking there, obviously pretty upset, probably really believes what he's saying. And you can multiply him by hundreds of thousands or millions of people because their leaders tell them the election was stolen.
Look, if it election was legitimately stolen, I would be pretty ticked off too. That violates everything I swore to defend. And so when you convince that number of people, it is not a far thought, Wolf, to think that someday, some militia shows up somewhere to do something and then some counter-militia and, truly, at that point that is how you end up in a civil war.
I never would say that we would ever have ended in that position but I now believe it is a real possibility that we have to be wide-eyed as we walk into so we don't have that happen again. And anybody that thinks that sounds cool, or they get to play dress-up because they somehow think it is going to be fun to go out and camp with their buddies and have a civil war, there are people that really think that, well, you know, the four or five heart medicines you're on, Walgreens isn't going to have them available when this place fails, and that is how serious this is.
BLITZER: Am I hearing you right, Congressman? You fear potentially there could be a civil war here in the United States?
KINZINGER: I do. And a year ago, I would have said, no, not a chance. But I have come to realize when we don't see each other as fellow Americans, when we begin to separate into cultural identities, when we begin to basically give up everything we believe so we can be part of a group, and then when you have leaders that come and abuse that faithfulness of that group to violent ends, as we saw on January 6, we would be naive to think it is not possible here. And it is not like the blue and gray north and the south, it is just turns into violence like you see in other countries.
We have to look at this wide-eyed and walk in and say we may have differences as left and right, but we have to bridge those differences because our basic survival is at stake, the basic survival of this democracy.
BLITZER: Wow, those are strong words and you heard the Republican National Committee say it was just legitimate political discourse. Congressman Kinzinger, thanks so much for joining us.
On a very, very different note, I want to show our viewers this beautiful picture. This is little Christian, your newborn son. I think he's about three months old now. We just want to congratulate you. It's really, really sweet and we're really happy for you, very, very lovely young little boy.
KINZINGER: Thank you. I appreciate it.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Coming up, three Democratic governors announce plans to lift mask mandates in schools but the White House suggests that the timing isn't right.
BLITZER: Tonight, new plans that are in the works right now to end mask mandates for hundreds of thousands of students in three states. CNN's Alexandria Field has more on the growing push to try to get back to normal as new COVID-19 cases are in a steep decline.
ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Some Democratic governors making dramatic shifts as the countries impatiently awaits a pandemic exit plan.
GOV. PHIL MURPHY (D-NJ): The statewide school mask mandate will be lifted.
FIELD: New Jersey's Governor Phil Murphy announcing the end of mask mandates in schools as of March 7th. The governor of Delaware, John Carney, lifting the state's indoor mask mandate as of Friday and lifting the mask mandate for schools at the end of March.
GOV. NED LAMONT (D-CT): My recommendation is that we end the state wide mask mandate as of February 28th.
FIELD: The governor in Connecticut recommending his state ease some measures later this month while New York signals there could be changes soon.
DR. CARLOS DEL RIO, EXECUTIVE ASSOCIATE DEAN, EMORY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE AND GRADY HEALTH SYSTEM: A couple of weeks, maybe removing masks is actually the right thing to do. It allows us to the opportunity to actually peel off one of those restrictions that have been so controversial.
FIELD: These steps even in the absence of clear federal guidance on how or when to do that.
DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: So, I think what governors are sensing is that we need to agree upon a set of metrics, when we're going to start to roll back these mitigation steps and give people a light at the end of the tunnel. What is that point when this stuff gets turned off?
FIELD: Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams, who pushed for stricter mask policies for schools, is coming under fire from political opponents after tweeting and deleting this picture maskless in a classroom. In Abrams aide confirming the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that said the mask was removed for the photo on the condition that everyone else remained masked.
New COVID cases are down dramatically but deaths remain high with an average of more than 2,400 Americans losing their lives every day. The unvaccinated are overwhelmingly at the highest risk of severe disease. The CDC advisers are now considering extending the time between the first and second doses of both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which may improve effectiveness and reduce the potential risk of rare side effects.
DEL RIO: By spacing the time of vaccines, you can actually significantly decrease the risk of myocarditis. And not only that, you can actually increase the level of immunity to the vaccine.
FIELD: The change could particularly encourage more parents of 5 to 12-year-olds to get shots for her kids, health experts say.
A proposed law in Georgia moving the other way, seeking to ban all school vaccine requirements.
DEL RIO: I think it is bad for public health. I think it is bad for our children.
FIELD: And in about-face in Flint, Michigan, students are heading back to the classroom after the district previously announced indefinite remote learning.
FIELD (on camera): And while some states do move away from masks, the White House is encouraging use in schools in line with CDC guidelines. Wolf?
BLITZER: Alexandria Field reporting for us, thank you.
Let's discuss all of this with Dr. Richard Besser, the former acting CDC director. Dr. Besser, thanks for joining us.
As you heard, three Democratic governors just announced plans to end school mask mandates within the next month or so. Is the timing right?
DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING CDC DIRECTOR: Well, Wolf, I think what they're signaling is that the trends we're seeing are very encouraging. If they continue, then there is the light at the end of the tunnel for a lot of children in schools.
I'm a pediatrician. And it is critically important that we keep children in school learning. And as it is safe to do so, it is important that we're able to normalize more of the behavior that a child has. For a child who's learning to speak, who's learning to read, a child who speaks another language, not being able to see teacher's face, that has real impact.
But I think it is really important with each of these announcements and I wish I heard more of it, to say that this is being done because the numbers are moving in the right way. And if things turn around and go in the other way, we may be back to you saying we have to put masks back on children. These are things that could go in both directions, and the more you let people know that, the easier it is if there is a new variant, if there is a reason why you would need to put this back in place, that would you be able to do so.
BLITZER: Despite all of the pressure that is coming right now from the nation's governors, federal officials here in Washington still have no clear plan to help states transition out of the pandemic. How big of a problem is that, Dr. Besser?
BESSER: Well, there is a lot of conversation around that. No one wants to say that this is the steady state that we're going to live with, with 2,500 people dying every single day. But if the numbers continue to go in the right direction and the number of cases has declined dramatically, the number of hospitalizations is declining dramatically, hopefully, the number of deaths will soon start to go down in a similar fashion.
If that is the case, then planning for what a steady state is, what the new normal will be, do we expect that we'll see COVID show up every season, and we'll have to be ready for that, just like we are with other respiratory viruses. That is where I think a lot of the discussions are going. And you want it to be based on real metrics but not a metric where we're willing to accept this number of people dying every day in America.
BLITZER: Dr. Besser, thanks, as usual, for joining us.
BESSER: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, the Chinese tennis star, Peng Shuai, surfaces at the Beijing Olympics after her mysterious disappearance. We have details of her closely monitored interview. That is next.
BLITZER: The Chinese tennis star, Peng Shuai, has surfaced at the Beijing Winter Olympics meeting with Olympic officials and giving a very closely monitored interview.
Let's get some more. CNN Correspondent Selina Wang is joining us. CNN Sports Analyst, USA Today Sports Columnist Christine Brennan is also joining us. They're both in Beijing right now.
Selina, first, to you, what is the latest?
SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the WTA is saying that this interview does not lay their concerns. They're asking for an investigation to those sexual assault claims. And rights groups say that even though she's making this deniable publicly for the second time, that we do not know if she was being coerced into making these statements in order to make the scandal go away. In fact, I spoke to the journalist from the French sports outlet where she again denied making the sexual assault allegations and he made it clear to me that it was a carefully managed interview.
There was a Chinese Olympic sports official in the room with them who acted as a translator. He was required to submit the questions he was going to ask beforehand and was also required to print the interview as a Q&A, not as a story with analysis inside of it.
Now, reporting on Peng in China has been heavily censored in China. In fact, our earlier reports, my earlier reports on CNN, cutting the feed selectively here in ,China showing color bars on T.V. screens in China instead.
Now, in this hour-long interview with this journalist, Peng also said that she may be retired from the sport because of her injuries. This journalist also told me that when they were talking about sports, she was relaxed, seemingly open. But when they started talking about the assault allegations, she turned cautious.
Now, of course, back in November she had posted this long, emotional story on Chinese social media about how she about had been coerced into sex by a Chinese vice premier, one of the most powerful leaders in China at the time. Of course, she then disappeared for several weeks, then reappeared in seemingly choreographed reappearances. In fact, Thomas Bach, head of IOC, recently had dinner with Peng over the weekend but no photos, no detailed information was released about that meeting and rights groups have been slamming the IOC for what they say is supporting Chinese authorities' efforts to silence Peng. Wolf?
BLITZER: Christine, I'm anxious to get your take on her meeting with the IOC and what she told this French sport publication. What you do you think?
CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: This is such a shameful period for the International Olympic Committee, as a comparison that Selina mentioned, the WTA, the Women's Tennis Association, has been exemplary. And what the WTA would have done in that same kind of meeting is made it public. They would have allowed other journalists to be there. They would have allowed everyone to talk about this issue that is really driving this.
It is the world's biggest Me Too issue.
And the International Olympic Committee has been silent on that. I asked the president of the IOC, Wolf, Thomas Bach, late week at a press conference why he hasn't talked about the Me Too aspect of this. Frankly, it is just an appalling time in the International Olympic Committee. They want it to go away because they're in business with China and, basically, they want -- they have everything to be smooth sailing and I'm sure this is driving them crazy, which is good and we will continue to try to do that.
But when an appalling shameful and time for the IOC in terms of handling this so poorly, basically, Wolf, let's just say it, to make it go away. China and the IOC are acting in concert now and I never would have thought I would have said that sentence.
BLITZER: Yes, me either. You know, Christine, this is certainly not the only human rights issue overshadowing the Olympics. How is that impacting the mood of the games and the athletes?
BRENNAN: Wolf, certainly, COVID, concerns of COVID, the American silver medalist figure skater Vincent Zhou is out. That is the biggest name by far of COVID positive. That is the overwhelming fear here and the overwhelming concern.
They are told to be very careful. I'm certainly expecting over the next week-and-a-half that some athletes will speak out. They certainly did before the games. There is great concern here. And, as you know, as a sports fans, this is the pinnacle is for them. This is the peak athletic existence. And so it is understandable that you want to focus on their sports even though these issues are obviously top of mind.
BLITZER: They certainly are. Christine Brennan, Selina Wang in Beijing for us, thanks to both of you.
Coming up, the Georgia district attorney investigating former President Trump for election interference is now speaking out. We're going to tell you why she said she's confident, yes, confident Trump won't be able to delay her work.
BLITZER: New tonight, the Fulton County, Georgia, district attorney speaking out to CNN about her investigation of former President Trump's efforts to try to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in her state.
She sat down with CNN political correspondent Sara Murray.
Sara is joining us right now.
So, Sara, what did the district attorney tell you?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you know, when it comes to other investigation news the former President Trump, Donald Trump has tried to delay and stonewall and tried to stall investigations and really muck up these proceedings. The district attorney tells me she's not worried about that when it comes to her investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MURRAY: Are you worried former President Trump could somehow be able to avoid, delay, you know, what's going on with your investigation?
FANI WILLIS, DISTRICT ATTORNEY, FULTON COUNTY, GEORGIA: No.
MURRAY: Why is that? What gives you that confidence?
WILLIS: This is a criminal investigation. We're not here playing a game. I plan to use the power of the law, we are all citizens, Mr. Trump, just as every other American citizen is entitled dignity. He's entitled to be treated fairly. He will be treated fairly in this jurisdiction.
But I plan to do my job and my job is to make sure that we get the evidence that gives us the truth. I'm not concerned at all about games to delay this.
MURRAY: Have you given any thought to or seen his defenses in other cases that essentially what you do as president is protected because you're the president, doesn't amount to a crime.
WILLIS: Of course. I've given thought to that that may be raised as a legal issue. I don't think that that is protection will prevent a prosecution if that becomes necessary in this state case.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MURRAY: Now, of course, Willis hasn't said if she's going to bring charges again the former President Trump, but you see her saying that the defense that were a president isn't a defense in Georgia.
BLITZER: Sara, the district attorney tell you when she would decide whether to actually charge the former president?
MURRAY: Well, she previously suggested in another interview that she thought it would be if the first half of 2022. She has since walked that back. She told us that she still hopes to make a charging decision by the end of 2022. But, Wolf, this grand jury is going to be seated in may and under the rules of the court, they can be seated for a year. So they does have that grand jury empanelled until Early into 2023.
BLITZER: All right. We'll see what happens. Sara Murray on the scene for us. Thank you very much.
Now, let's turn back to the Ukraine crisis. And many Ukrainians are bracing to for a potential war including security forces training at the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster.
CNN's Melissa Bell is on the scene.
MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Through the forests of northern Ukraine, it appears. The Chernobyl nuclear reactor, a monument to humanity's ability to unleash uncontrollable forces.
Suddenly, the apparent calm left behind by the 1986 Soviet era accident is broken. Ukrainian forces run drills in what remains a radiation exclusion zone, free of any inhabitants. They're practicing urban combat.
Of course, this is also an information and propaganda war. Everyone waits for Russian President Vladimir Putin to decide even as Ukraine questions an earlier U.S. assessment of just how imminent a potential invasion is.
OLEKSIY REZNIKOV, UKRAINIAN DEFENSE MINISTER: So we have this same facts but the difference perception or different estimation.
BELL: The difference is on the question of intention. You don't believe they intend to invade?
REZNIKOV: I hope that in the Kremlin, they didn't make those decisions still.
BELL: But Chernobyl is only ten miles from the border with Belarus, where Russia has been holding joint military exercises. These just some of the 30,000 Russian combat troops that NATO has warned are on their way. Welcomed with bread and salt and open arm.
To the east of Chernobyl lies this neutral zone between Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. It's known as the Three Sisters Crossing in memory of a time when the three countries ruled Soviet republics. But more than 30 years on from the collapse of the Soviet Union, Belarus is a staunch ally of Russia, while Ukraine fears an invasion. Barely visible through the freezing mist across the border in Belarus as Soviet era monument to the sister nations, and at the Three Sisters Cafe on the Ukrainian side, there is more nostalgia for that past than there is worry about war.
Masha, a 64-year-old grandfather, works here to supplement her pension worth the equivalent of just $77 a month, she says.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will Putin go to war with civilians? He won't do that. I have brothers and sisters living in Russia, in Belarus. I will dissolve the parliament in here, kick them out of parliament, every last one of them. They should give the people proper pension so people won't be beggars.
BELL: The nearby village is only a three hour drive from Kyiv but feels much further.
This man won't tell us his name for fear of being labeled a separatist. He too misses the unity of the past and doesn't appreciate visits from the likes the likes of the British prime minister.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Boris, the uncombed (ph), comes here, only whipping the tensions up. Only a fool would start a war.
BELL: Nobody will come out a winner he says. Nobody.
BELL: Now, Wolf, one of the most worrying aspect of about that military build up on the Belarus border is just how close it is to where I'm standing right now. Just a couple of hours drive. The latest American assessment is that were Vladimir Putin to decide to invade and as we keep saying, no one knows whether he intends to, Kyiv could fall within 48 hours, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yeah, it's pretty scary stuff.
Melissa Bell, in Kyiv for us, thank you for that report.
Coming up, Spotify removes dozens of Joe Rogan episodes over his use of a racial slur. Today, he's speaking out and so are his critics.
HANNITY: New developments tonight in the controversy over podcast host Joe Rogan and his relationship with Spotify.
CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us.
So, Brian, clips have emerged of Rogan using a racial slur on multiple occasions.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They have, Wolf. You know, Joe Rogan show is Spotify's number one podcast is more than 90 markets. But tonight, the popular host and the streaming giant itself are enmeshed in controversy and crisis over his use of the racial slur.
JOE ROGAN, PODCASTER: These things happen.
TODD (voice-over): The CEO of the streaming giant Spotify says while podcast host Joe Rogan's past use of racial slurs is, quote, incredibly hurtful, he does not believe silencing Rogan is the answer. That's according to an internal memo at Spotify, provided to CNN, in wake of video compilation of Rogan frequently using the N-word on his podcast spreading on social media.
ROGAN: You know the (AUDIO DELETED) saying the word (AUDIO DELETED),
TODD: In the clips, Rogan uses the N-word more than 20 times. He says this was compiled over a period of 12 years. Rogan now says these clips were used out of context but in an apology on Instagram also says it's the most regretful and shameful thing he's had to address publicly.
ROGAN: Now, I know to most people there's no context where a white person is ever allowed to say that word, never mind publicly on a podcast. I agree with that now. I haven't said it in years.
I never used it to be racist because I'm not racist, but whenever you're in a situation where you have to say, I'm not racist, you (EXPLETIVE DELETED) up. I clearly have (EXPLETIVE DELETED) up.
TODD: A growing number of podcasters and recording artists are abandoning Spotify in the wake of the controversy.
Actor Dwayne The Rock Johnson after promising him to speak more responsibly about COVID pandemic on his podcast says he was, quote, not aware of his N-word use, quote, but now, I've become educated to his complete narrative, learning moment for me.
Several artists have already pulled their catalogs from Spotify, protesting Rogan's previous misinformation about the pandemic.
ROGAN: If you're like 21 years old and you say to me, should I get vaccinated, I go no.
TODD: Spotify has since added a content advisory to any podcast that discusses CDOVID, which will steer listeners to trusted sources on the pandemic. Rogan has promised he'll do better on that score.
ROGAN: I'm going to do my best in future to balance these things out.
TODD: But will Spotify fire Rogan for the racial slurs?
DAVID ZURAWIK, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: Financially, they are wedded at the hip to Rogan. Walking away from him could be catastrophic to their business model right now.
TODD (on camera): Did Spotify know of Rogan's racial slurs before the company signed him to a $100 million deal in 2020? We reached out to Spotify asking about that and whether it plans to discipline Rogan in any way. We haven't heard back -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You do let us know.
All right. Brian Todd reporting for us -- Brian, thank you very much.
Ands to our viewers thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.