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The Situation Room

Biden Lays Out Dire Stakes If Russian Invades Ukraine, Warns The U.S. Is Ready No Matter What Happens; Biden Says If Russia Attacks Ukraine, It Would Be A War Of Choice; Biden Warns Russian Aggression Would Hurt Americans, Too; Past Racist Slurs By Ahmaud Arbery's Killers Front And Center In Their Hate Crimes Trial; IOC: Valieva Blames Grandfather's Medication For Positive Drug Test; Israeli Prime Minister Makes Historic Visit To Bahrain. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 15, 2022 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: I will see you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. President Biden lays out the dire stakes if Russia attacks Ukraine declaring that the United States is ready no matter what happens as 150,000 Russian troops are now massed at the border. The president is urging Vladimir Putin to give diplomacy a chance, warning the Russian leader that an invasion would be a war of choice with immense human cause.

President Biden is also sending a message to the American people that new Russian aggression in Ukraine would likely cost economic pain here at home.

We want to welcome our viewers here in United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin with all the breaking news out of President Biden's White House remarks just a little while ago. His solemn words and stern tone speaking volumes about this critical moment in the Russia-Ukraine crisis.

We have our correspondents on the scene in Ukraine, in Russia and here in the U.S. to cover the story that has the world on edge right now.

First, let's go to our Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly. Phil the president says an invasion of Ukraine remains, in his words, directly possible.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The president in very sober remarks making clear that despite signs and statements from top Russian officials that perhaps a diplomatic off-ramp is a pathway that could be pursued.

At this moment in time there are more Russian troops than the U.S. has ever publicly assessed before and attack is very possible. And while diplomacy is certainly the best option in the president's view, the United States is prepared. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: The United States is prepared no matter what happens.

MATTINGLY (voice over): Tonight, President Biden making clear he is willing to seize on a diplomatic opening.

BIDEN: The Russian government publicly opposed to continue the diplomacy. I agree. We should give the diplomacy every chance to succeed.

MATTINGLY: But warning recent Russian statements haven't changed the fundamental dynamics of a crisis creeping the world.

BIDEN: And the fact remains. Right now, Russia has more than 150,000 troops encircling Ukraine and Belarus and along Ukraine's border. An invasion remains distinctly possible.

MATTINGLY: And reiterate the Russian invasion of Ukraine would be met with a withering, coordinated response.

BIDEN: The United States and our allies and partners around the world are ready to impose powerful sanction on export controls, including actions that did not, we did not pursue when Russia invaded Crimea in Eastern Ukraine in 2014.

MATTINGLY: But with the world on edge, U.S. officials continue to view an invasion as not just likely a potentially imminent. Still, signs of an opening. But the Russian military announcing some troops would depart the border and return to base, with President Vladimir Putin, while meeting with the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Moscow calling for talks to continue.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT: Our intention is and we strive to negotiate with our partner on the issues which we raised to resolve through diplomatic means.

MATTINGLY: All view there's a notable shift inside the White House, multiple sources told CNN, yet one met with clear skepticism.

BIDEN: We have not yet verified the Russian military units are returning to their home bases. Indeed, our analysts indicate that they remain very much in a threatening position.

MATTINGLY: As major Russian exercises continued on the border --

JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: There are signs from Moscow that diplomacy should continue. This gives grounds for cautious optimism.

MATTINGLY: U.S. and NATO officials are like, reporting no clear signs of troop withdrawals.

STOLTENBERG: But so far, we have not seen any sign of de-escalation on the ground. MATTINGLY: All underscoring the stakes of the moment, which Biden candidly laid out for the American people.

BIDEN: The American people understand that defending democracy and liberty is never without cost.

I will not pretend it will be painless. It could be impact on our energy prices.

MATTINGLY: The Russian people.

BIDEN: To the citizens of Russia, you are not our enemy and I do not believe you want a bloody, destructive war with Ukraine, a country and people with whom you share such deep ties.

MATTINGLY: And the entire world.

BIDEN: If Russia does invade in the days and weeks ahead, the human cost for Ukraine will be immense. And the strategic cost for Russia will also be immense. If Russia attacks Ukraine, it will be met with overwhelming international condemnation. The world will not forget.



MATTINGLY (on camera): And, Wolf, White House officials tell me that they have been weighing the president giving these remarks for the past several weeks. The president wanting to deliver a carefully calibrated message, as we noted in the piece, to several different entities, none perhaps there more important than directly to the American people.

The president, according to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, felt it was a necessity to deliver a clear message to the American people, not just about the stakes or what may happen here at home but about the overall picture and why it's so important, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Clearly, the president did not mince words. Phil, I want you to stay with us. I also want you to bring in Jim Sciutto and Erin Burnett. They're both in Ukraine for us. Nic Robertson is joining us from Moscow.

You know, Erin, how forceful was that warning based on what you're hearing over there from the president of the United States?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: You know, look, as you said sobering, very serious, very clear and very firm. And I would say one thing that stood out to me, Wolf, right? You know, when you're in Ukraine, obviously, you've got Russian troops on the border, you have got NATO and U.S. forces, you know, building up along near the Polish border. This incredible build up in troops is actually, right, that the president keep saying that U.S. troops aren't going to engage in combat, right? So, when he talks about the threats to Russia, he is talking about intense pressure and powerful sanctions. And something happened today is significant both in the president's speech and what we actually heard in a meeting Vladimir Putin had. So, President Biden said Nord Stream 2 in that speech today, and the address that Phil was talking about, quote, it will not happen. That, of course, is the pipeline that would provide gas from Russia to Germany. It's crucial, right? It's an absolutely crucial pipeline. Half of Germany's gas comes from Russia.

And today in this -- after his meeting with the German chancellor and Vladimir Putin, they met, the German chancellor said, it is absolutely understood what the situation will be about Nord Stream 2, which seemed to be a very clear signal that he is on board with that. And that is the single most important price that Putin could pay for his aggression would be that pipeline and that sanction. And it was very forceful that Biden and Chancellor Scholz seem to be on the same page on that tonight.

BLITZER: Yes, good point, indeed.

You know, Jim, President Biden, he sounded skeptical of Russia's claim that at least some Russian troops are returning to their bases from the Ukraine border area. He says the Russians now have, it's a higher number, 150,000 Russian troops along the Ukrainian boarder. The intelligence doesn't seem to square though with Putin's rhetoric, does it?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No. It continues a phenomenon we have seen for the last several days, weeks, months, frankly, a contrast between what President Putin says and what the U.S. sees. This relating to today's claim that Russia remove troops, you heard from President Biden, they have not seen evidence. We heard from the NATO secretary general saying, NATO has not seen evidence. I spoke to the prime minister of Estonia today, has not seen evidence that Russia actually followed through on that there is some evidence that the troops that were moved back were really just repositioning troops within Crimea that could be easily put back into those posts.

In fact, when you look at the larger troop presence, that figure from President Biden is not insignificant, a 150,000 up from a 130,000, which is the most recent number. That's a big jump. And it's also getting close to the figure that the White House briefed a number of weeks ago is being the figure necessary for Russia to be able to carry out a comprehensive invasion of this country.

So, when you see the videos that were posted today notably by the Russian defense ministry of a few tanks going onto a train in Crimea, what the U.S., what NATO have not seen is a significant move of troops away from the border, which reduces Russia's ability to invade this country.

I will draw attention to one thing that did happen that I'm told is potentially significant, and that is word we heard from the Russian parliament, the Duma, about potentially recognizing the independence of eastern areas in Ukraine. Independence, meaning to say really they are not Ukrainian anymore but more Russian, that the U.S. views that as a potential move towards Russia slicing off another piece of Ukraine to put under its control. In other words, a move short perhaps of a full invasion but something that would still be significant, in other words, Vladimir Putin moving forward in a way to take another piece of Ukraine's sovereign territory.

BLITZER: Yes. They took Ukraine -- you know, they took Crimea from Ukraine back in 2014, as all of us remember.

You know, Nic, Putin says he's working towards a diplomatic solution. This is Putin. But at the same time he's making accusations, including accusations of genocide, very strong word, in parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists. So, what's behind this mixed message?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. He's referring to that area, Jim, was just speaking about in the east. This is language that president Putin has used before.


He's banded around this word, genocide. There isn't evidence that Russian official who's put forward. The Russian officials have complained about what they called human rights violations against Russian speakers in that eastern area.

President Putin has said, and his spokesman have said as well, that right now they don't -- it's going to be up to them, up to President Putin whether or not they move on this vote by the Duma. But the moment the Kremlin is saying that it wants to follow Minsk agreement and the Minsk talks, that it cares and is concerned about the people in that eastern region. In fact, President Putin has handed out 600,000 Russian passports to Ukrainians living in that eastern area. So, this genocide claim can be used as a pre-text, again, to go into -- for Russian forces to enter that area.

On your other point, Wolf, about the negotiations, President Biden said clearly that NATO and the United States would not bend in their core principle of giving an open door to NATO for Ukraine. President Putin said, I'm willing to get into negotiation but it has to address my core concerns, that Ukraine cannot join NATO. So, you can already see a very significant variant between both parties and, therefore, the limits of dialogue at the moment.

BLITZER: Yes. This is clearly, clearly such a delicate moment right now. It could go either way but people are very, very nervous. Thanks to all of you. An important note, Erin will certainly be back right at the top of the hour, a special Erin Burnett OutFront, that's coming up right after THE SITUATION ROOM.

Just ahead, the threat of a Russian cyberattack on the United States. What kind of response would President Biden consider? I'll ask a key member of the House Intelligence Committee as our special coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM continues.



BLITZER: We're getting new reaction to President Biden's urgent message about the Russia-Ukraine crisis. And it's promised that the United States will be ready no matter what happens. We're joined by a key member of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

How do you interpret the timing of this message from President Biden today? Is this a last stitch effort before and imminent invasion?

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): Well, I hope there's not an invasion. But as you know, they have the capability of conducting it imminently. The message could also be interpreted as one of reaffirming any steps the Russians are taking to deescalate the situation. If that is the case, we're offering them both an olive branch and saying that our quarrel is not with the Russian people and yet issuing a stern warning that an invasion of Ukraine would be a huge strategic blunder with huge costs.

BLITZER: Huge costs for Putin personally, as well as for other Russian people. The president gave his updated estimate now of more than 150,000 Russian troops encircling Ukraine right now. We're seeing some of those troops, this video supplied by the Russian defense ministry. Is there any diplomatic concession that would allow Putin to save face and back down after a buildup of that size?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Potentially. And I think that the Europeans working with the Biden administration, which I think is done a very good job of assembling a diplomatic response, I think, are exploring ways to address legitimate security concerns. But at the end of the day, we cannot give in to Putin's core demands about somehow controlling NATO membership or controlling Ukrainian sovereignty.

BLITZER: The British foreign secretary says she fears a Russian attack, quote, would not stop at Ukraine. If Russia invades, how great is the threat to the rest of Europe potentially to the stability of the world order and the NATO allies?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: We have to be concerned. I think that the threat could be grave. Because we have to realize that Putin has always been very upset about the Baltic States as well as Poland and Romania being members of NATO. He's been rattling the saber towards those countries constantly. And, of course, with regards to Georgia and Kazakhstan and Belarus and other countries like those, he will not tolerate any democratic movement.

So, we all know about how 85 years ago when we conceded any part of Europe to authoritarian or dictator and we mistakenly believe that they would just stop with that one incursion but we were wrong and we can't be wrong again here.

BLITZER: President Biden also says the United States is prepared to respond if Russia launchers cyberattacks and critical infrastructure here at home. Just how much damage and chaos could Putin inflict with cyber attacks on the United States? KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, we all know in '15, Russia actually successfully launched attacks against energy infrastructure of Kyiv and shut down the power for maybe a quarter million residents there. And so, we have to make it very clear to them now that any such attack on the United States would be met with huge costs, again, and at the same time we have to cooperate with state and local authorities, utilities and private companies to guard against any such attacks on critical infrastructure or in the form of ransomware attacks by criminal gangs that are controlled -- criminal cyber gangs that are controlled by the Russians.


BLITZER: Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, thanks so much for joining us.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you so much.

BLITZER: We'll have more in Ukraine coming up as crisis escalating.

Also coming up, the Trump Organization's longtime Accounting firm cuts ties with the company, saying a decade's worth of financial statements are unreliable.


BLITZER: There's breaking news in the January 6th investigation, the House select committee just issued a new round of six subpoenas as the panel digs deeper and deeper into a plot involving fake Trump electors.


This comes amid new revelations about the Trump Organization's finances.

CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us. So, Brian, so what are we learning from the former president's longtime accounting firm.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that accounting firm, Mazars, is severing ties with the Trump Organization. Analyst say the way Mazars handled this is not a good sign for Trump's firm.


TODD (voice over): Tonight a body blow for Donald Trump's business empire. The Trump Organization's longtime accounting firm, Mazars, has bailed on Trump's company, cutting ties. Mazars also say it can no longer stand by nearly ten years worth of financial statements it compiled for the Trump Organization and told Trump's firm it should not rely on those statements either.

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, AUTHOR, THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMP: I think this is a disaster for Donald Trump and his family. Add the peril that they face from various prosecutors and this could be the beginning of the end for many of the Trump businesses. TODD: Mazars says it came to its decision based on filings last month by New York Attorney General Letitia James, whose office is looking into whether Trump's company manipulated the value of its properties by possibly low balling the values of those properties to tax officials while inflating the values of those same properties to curry favor with lenders.

Mazars told the Trump Organization that, overall, it has not found, quote, material discrepancies with the Trump organizations statements but still the firm didn't trust the information.

HARRY LITMAN, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: They are saying, we, overall, our bottom line was accurate and we said in our letter and they surely did, this is only as good as the information you gave us. So, guess what, the information you gave us was lousy.

TODD: According to Attorney General James, the Trump Organization valued their Seven Springs Estate in Westchester at $291 million in 2012, information which Mazars compiled. But the Trump firm got it appraised at $56 million in 2016. And the Trump Organization told lenders the Manhattan Skyscraper 40 Wall Street was worth $550 million in early 2015 but called it $735 million in a statement prepared by Mazars that June.

Trump himself wrote in his book, The Art of the Deal, that he engaged in what he called truthful hyperbole, playing to people's fantasies when making business deals.

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT, THE TRUMP ORGANIZATION: It's whatever he thinks that the value of the asset is. It doesn't take into consideration anything, such as appraisals. He just makes things up as it goes along.


TODD (on camera): A Trump Organization Spokesperson says the company is disappointed that Mazars has chosen to part ways but say Mazars' work for the company was performed, quote, in accordance with all applicable accounting standards and principles and says, the fact that Mazars says it didn't find material discrepancies effectively renders the investigations by the New York district attorney and the State attorney general moot. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian Todd, reporting for us. Thank you very much.

Let's get some more on this. Joining us now is CNN's Chief Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin and CNN's Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger.

Gloria just how significant is this decision from Trump longtime accounting firm that it can no longer work for him.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, no matter which way the Trump Organization tries to spin this, and they are trying, this is a disaster for them. Their longtime accountants have just quit and they have said the stuff that we worked on for the last decade or so, forget it. We really can't vouch for it. And it's based on our new position is based on this, they say information from internal and external sources.

So, who's going to do business with a company whose accountant, longtime accountant, just quit on them because they couldn't verify certain information that was given to them by the client? I mean, what the firm is basically saying is that folks at Trump Organization were lying to us.

BLITZER: You know, Jeffrey, in a statement, as you know, the Trump Organization argues that Mazars' characterization of its work effectively renders the investigations by the district attorney and the attorney general moot. You heard that in Brian Todd's report. Does it?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: You know, I've spoken English my whole life, but I don't even understand what that means because it's a 180 degrees wrong. This shows how serious the investigation is and it creates so many problems, as Gloria said, you know, it creates problems going forward for the business.

But there's another part of this statement that is extremely perilous for the Trump Organization. They say they have to leave representation because they have a conflict of interest. That suggests witnesses from Mazars are going to be witnesses against members of the Trump Organization, whether it's Donald Trump or his children.

The fact that these witnesses who are privy to the innermost secrets of the finances of the Trump Organization may be incriminating witnesses is just as bad as not worse as the fact that they now have to go out into the world without an accounting firm.


BLITZER: And, Jeffrey, we're getting news right now that the January 6th select committee has issued more subpoenas related to the fake elector plot of the many ways Trump was trying to overturn the election. Was this plot, from everything you know, the most expensive?

TOOBIN: Well, it involved a lot of people. Frankly, I think in terms of leading to ultimately criminal charges, I don't think this is the most significant one because it is so sprawling and there so many people who were not an immediate connection with each other. I think, if there are going to be any criminal charges arising out of January 6th, it's going to be about the core accusation of starting a riot, starting an insurrection. That's the heart of this investigation and I think it's going to remain.

BORGER: Well, you know, I think to add to Jeffrey, there's also a question of whether there was some conspiracy here with these state electors. Did someone, for example, like Rudy Giuliani, organize, you know, from state to state to state?

And I think one of the things the committee is going to be looking at is whether these people were dealing with each other, when they decided to file these false claims and how much of that was done in advance and how much of that was done with the knowledge and the approval of the people in the White House and the people in the Trump campaign?

BLITZER: Great questions, indeed. Gloria Borger, Jeffrey Toobin, guys thank you very much.

Just ahead, we're going to tell you how the Russian figure skater at the center of a doping scandal is fairing in the Olympics after being allowed, yes, allowed to compete.



BLITZER: Tonight, President Biden is preparing the American people and the world, for that matter, for what could happen next in the Russia/Ukraine crisis. And he's promising the United States is prepared for any scenario, including the still very, very real threat of a Russian invasion.

Let's bring in CNN's Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward. She's joining us from Ukraine. Also with us, the former Supreme NATO allied commander, retired General Wesley Clark, he's a CNN Military Analyst.

Clarissa how are Ukrainian officials, and you're there in Kyiv, reacting to president Biden's message to Russia today?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think, Wolf, the response has been overwhelmingly positive, that sort of balance between taking a really tough tone. But what the presidential adviser here to Volodymyr Zelensky referred to as the key message of the statement aimed at finding a peaceful solution.

He went onto say from, Ukraine's perspective, there is not a single reason for war and he also said that they are definitely not interested in expansion or confrontation. There's definitely a sense here on the ground, Wolf, that Ukraine could potentially be the biggest loser in all of this if things did go wrong, if a crisis was to unfold if an invasion was to actually happen.

And I think that while people are still very focused on talking tough and being stern, there is now maybe a chink of light or optimism about some of the developments in the last 24 hours, hearing President Putin at the press conference earlier, say that he's committed to a diplomatic path, that he is reducing troops along the border. No one here will believe it until they see it with their own eyes. But leaders here and officials here are very keen to really try to stay on that path of diplomacy, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, let's hope that path of diplomacy works. You know, General Clark, on the other hand, tell us how a Russian invasion, and the president of the United States says that is still possible, tell us how a Russian invasion would play out and would Putin stop at Ukraine? GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I think he doesn't have the troops right now to go beyond Ukraine. He's probably got a hard time handling Ukraine. But I think if he were to use military power, it probably begins with airstrikes and missile strikes. He takes out air bases, air defense and command control centers with these long range fires. He probably moves in from the north as a main access. He has a secondary attack on the south from the Crimea and with amphibious groups and he attempts to force the Ukrainian government to capitulate before he goes into Kyiv.

He probably has some quisling Ukrainian standing there waiting to take President Zelensky's place saying, I'll bring peace, I'll bring peace. And then he -- you know, he says, gee, we don't want war, we don't want to hurt a lot of people but we can't stand the threat. So, that's the way I kind of see this go on. What happens from then on is hard to predict.

But, Wolf, we're in the stage right now where this is like the cat playing with the mouse. He withdraws. He wants diplomacy. He's got some forces ready. We're at the point of maximum pressure on President Zelensky and the Ukrainians and to some degree, NATO.

So we have to stand ready, just as President Biden said, we're ready for anything on this. No one wants war but don't believe that this is going to be solved by some magic diplomacy and then everything is going to be fine. President Putin has built this force. He's strived for 20 years to regain the Soviet space. He's not going to give up on it.

BLITZER: You know, Clarissa, as you noted, Russia claims to have reduced troops at the Ukraine border. The U.S. says it has not verified that claim. The Russian defense ministry is putting out its own video of Russian troops. What else are you learning there?

WARD: Well, so far, we have no indication as whether this has actually taken place, Wolf. Also the NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said that there's no evidence that there's been any kind of meaningful de-escalation.


And then, of course, this evening, earlier, there has also been a coordinated cyberattack of some sort. Now, we don't know who was responsible for that cyberattack, but what it really contributes to, it targeted the ministry of defense, the armed services website as well as two large commercial banks.

And it really just contributes to this idea, Wolf, of confusion and doubt particularly here in the capital. On the one hand, you hear the promises of diplomacy. On the other hand, you're hearing that there's cyberattack. On the one hand they say they reducing forces. On the other hand, no one has actually seen any evidence of that happening yet. And that kind of confusion is continuing as the situation unfolds, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Clarissa Ward in Ukraine for us, General Wesley Clark, thanks to both you have very much.

Coming up, prosecutors in the federal hate crimes trial for the three men who murdered Ahmaud Arbery are putting the spotlight on their past usage of racist slurs. I'll speak with an attorney for Arbery's mother.



BLITZER: Court has just finished for the day in the federal hate crimes trial of the men who chased down and killed Ahmaud Arbery.

As CNN national correspondent Ryan Young reports, racist slurs, the men used at the past are in the center of the case.


RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The three men convicted in a state trial in November murdering Ahmaud Arbery as he was out for a jog, now standing trial for federal hate crimes. Prosecutors largely avoiding race in the murder trial now focusing on it as they attempt to prove Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William "Roddie" Bryan acted out of racial animus.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Barbara Bernstein laying bare has comments from all men in her opening statement, citing social media posts and messages to friends in which Travis McMichael used racist slurs and offensive language in one text, quoting Travis McMichael as saying, zero N-words work with me. They ruin everything and that's why I love what I do now. Not a N-word in sight.

The prosecutor also telling the jury to expect testimony about Greg McMichael from his days as a police officer that the senior McMichael had once ranted that those blacks are nothing but trouble. And that William Bryan Jr. made derogatory racial comments when he found out his daughter was dating a Black man, quote him as saying, that his daughter has her N-word now.

Attorneys for the defendants each making their case separately acknowledging their clients use of racist language in the past saying it's wrong but insisting they followed him that day only because they believe he had illegally entered a house under construction, not because he was a Black man. The three men sentenced the life in prison but this case is important to our Arbery's family and in general as it tests how the legal system deals with allegations of violent racism.

Another notable difference in this trial, the jury is more diverse with three Black injuries and one Hispanic in addition to eight white jurors. Unlike the murder trial which consisted of 11 white jurors and only one Black juror. None of this is easier for this time around for Arbery's mother to have to listen to on a daily basis.

WANDA COOPER-JONES, AHMAUD ARBERY'S MOTHER: I think it's going to be a long, long hard trial. A whole lot of hard evidence will come into play. I got be prepared for that each and every day. YOUNG: Ryan Young, CNN, Atlanta, Georgia.


BLITZER: All right. Ryan, thank you very much. Let's discuss with the attorney for the Ahmaud's mother, Merritt Lee.

Thanks for joining us.

How is the Arbery family holding up after hearing these disgusting racist comments from the defendants that were laid out in court today?

LEE MERRITT, ATTORNEY FOR MOTHER OF AHMAUD ARBERY: The family is having a hard time, as you can imagine. Not only are they hearing the racial animus having to see the images again. Today, the video of the gunshots were played. Graphic images from the crime scene were displayed and the family is having to relive that horror one more time.

BLITZER: The attorneys for the three defendants, the three defendants, they acknowledge their clients did use racist language but they insist that's not why they chased down and killed Ahmaud Arbery. What do you say to them?

MERRITT: Well, these men knew that other non-black people, white people were going into that same property over and over again. They didn't have the racial animus that they did towards them that they did toward Ahmaud. And they targeted him for being the subject of the criminal interest.

They did it because they were racist. We have to deal with the reality of racism in this trial which is why the trial is so important for the family.

BLITZER: Well, I want you to elaborate, if you don't mind, Lee. Tell us why it's so important to the Arbery family that this federal hate crimes trial actually move forward. All three of them were convicted already and about to spend the rest of their lives in jail.

MERRITT: The family is very gratified, but at the sate level, these men were convicted for murder. Two of them got life without the possibility of parole. Williams "Roddie" Bryan got the possibility of parole but still a life sentence. So that was satisfying in terms of accountability.

But people need know why he was murdered. They need to understand that racism is still very much alive in South Georgia. That those feelings of racial animus motivate actions that result in these kind of outcomes. It's not enough just to say that these men, you know, suspected Ahmaud of a crime, which many people use to justify his murder. But they were, in fact, motivated by the color of his skin. Other black people in South Georgia and throughout the country are in danger.


BLITZER: So, what's your assessment, Lee, at this point? Where you do see this heading?

MERRITT: I believe that these men will be convicted, understanding as a civil rights attorney, there's a high bar of proving that these men not only had racial animus, but were motivated by racial animus when they murdered Ahmaud.

(INAUDIBLE) what's going on in someone's head is a very difficult test, now that what the prosecutors are doing is laying out a long history of racial slurs, racial feelings, but they're going to have to do the job of tying it to their actions that day, and it's going to be a situation where they have to prove it by proving why Ahmaud, and there's no recall justification, because other people had done exactly what Ahmaud did that day, and survived.

BLITZER: Attorney Lee Merritt, thanks very much for joining us.

MERRITT: Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: Other news we're following, the Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva is leading the short program at the Winter Olympics are returning to the ice despite a positive drug test.

CNN's Selina Wang reports from Beijing. The Russians are offering an unusual explanation for her test results.


SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kamila Valieva, Russian figure skater and favorite to take individual gold at these Olympics, raced into the lead at the women's single skating competition allowed that despite her testing positive before the games for a banned drug.

Valieva defended her positive drug tests by saying it was cost by a mix-up with her grandfather's heart medication.

DENIS OSWALD, CHAIR, INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE DISCIPLINARY COMMISSION: He presented the elements which brought some doubts. She was in a very special situation that the Olympic Games take place only every four years, and if she would miss the competition, in these games, the damage would not be repaired.

WANG: The 15-year-old stumbled on her first jump but she gave an otherwise stellar performance, sealing her place in Thursday's free skating program. Valieva visibly emotional when she finished her routine.

Valieva returned the drug test on Christmas Day but it was only last week that the sample was reported to have come back positive for the drug trimetazidine after she and her teammates had already won gold here.

The World Anti-Doping Agency says it will also be investigating her entourage and the team could still be spread of her medal, a glimpse behind the glimmering surface into the murky world of Russian sports. DICK POUND, FOUNDING PRESIDENT, WORLD ANTI-DOPING AGENCY: Maybe it is

time for Russia in the Olympics. Simply say, you will not be invited into the next games. You will not be able to host any Olympic sport events and so forth. That will get their attention.

WANG: Team USA not holding back in a statement. Quote, this appears to be another chapter in the systematic and pervasive disregard for clean sport by Russia.

The Russian Figure Skating Federation President labeling the decision, common sense and justice.

But though the Russian Olympic Committee says Valieva tested negative for banned performance enhancing drugs before and after the test in question, inescapable is that clean athletes are performing against a competition favorite who tested positive once. At an Olympics dogged by politics and China's rights record, this doping scandal tainting the sport here as well.


WANG (on camera): And, Wolf, we're just new getting details now. According to a document filed in the hearing with the court of arbitration in the sport, Valieva tested positive for three different substances used to treat a heart condition. Only one of them is banned. I spoke to the head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, and he told me all three drugs have performance enhancing capabilities to improve endurance and fatigue.

He says that the fact that this was a mix of three different drugs shows that there was a sophisticated and deliberate attempt to improve performance. He says that he does not expect a 15-year-old to have the financial resources or knowledge to do so -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point. Selina Wang in Beijing for us, thanks very much.

We'll be right back.



BLITZER: We're following a historic visit by Israel's prime minister to Bahrain.

CNN's Hadas Gold reports.


HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wolf, it's a scene that may have been unimaginable just a few years ago, the Israeli prime minister being welcomed with an honor guard. The Israeli national anthem being played by a Bahraini military band at the royal palace. The first Israeli prime minister to visit Bahrain since the two countries signed those Abraham Accord normalization agreements in 2020. Naftali Bennett meeting with the crown prince, as well as the king of

Bahrain. At one point, the crown prince saying they were essentially cousins getting together and that this relationship was a symbol of the changing dynamic of this new Middle East.

Of course, one of the issues that brought these two countries together is Iran, just 200 kilometers from where we are, and it's a shared security concern between the two countries. Bahrain is a strategically significant country, both for Israel and for the United States.

The U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet is based here. Bennett met with them earlier today. And Israel cares about Bahrain's relationship with Saudi Arabia as well.

For the first time ever, an Israeli military office will now be posted in Bahrain, the first time an Israeli military officer will be posted in an Arab county in history. Just a few weeks ago, the Israeli defense minister was here for his first visit and he signed a memorandum expanding the security cooperation between the two countries, military to military, to potentially opening up the path for Bahrain at one point to purchase Israel missile defense systems such as the Iron Dome -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Hadas Gold reporting for us, thanks very much.

And to our viewers, thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now live from Ukraine.