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U.S. Says, Profound Concern As Russia Adding, Not Withdrawing Troops; Biden Orders National Archives To Give Trump Visitor Logs To 1/6 Committee; CDC Director Says, We Expect To Release New Mask Guidance Soon; Young Girl Missing Since 2019 Found Alive Under Stairs; NYT: Russian Skater Tests Positive For Three Substances. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired February 16, 2022 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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Our coverage now continues with Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, the United States is expressing profound concern that Russia is moving more forces into fighting positions instead of withdrawing as the Kremlin claims. U.S. officials now are watching a bridge being built miles from Ukraine, a potential sign that Vladimir Putin may soon launch an invasion.
Also tonight, a new blow to former President Trump, his White House visitor logs will soon be turned over to the January 6th select committee, including records from the day of the insurrection. President Biden rejecting Trump's attempts to keep the logs secret.
And the CDC says it expects to update the mask guidance soon despite pressure to make changes now. With state mandates ending and COVID cases falling, what are health officials waiting for.
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.
Tonight, the U.S. says Vladimir Putin could pull the trigger on a Ukraine invasion any day as he keeps building up his forces despite his talk of withdrawal.
Our correspondents and experts are standing by in Russia, in Ukraine, and here in the United States.
First, let's go to our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan, the U.S. says Russian forces are moving into what are described as fighting positions. Give us the latest.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. And they say that they are certainly not pulling back, despite those Russian claims yesterday that they were potentially engaging in a partial drawdown. Instead, the White House coming out today saying that they have seen no evidence of a de-escalation and, in fact, they believe they are adding to the forces that they've already amassed on Ukraine's border.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: Unfortunately, there is a difference between what Russia says and what it does, and what we're seeing is no meaningful pullback.
NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: More Russian forces, not fewer, are at the border. And they are moving concerningly into fighting positions. This is cause for profound concern.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: Today, we should note that President Biden did speak with the German chancellor who recently traveled to Russia, met with the Russian president, while he was there. They talked about the conversations and there are efforts going forward for deterrence.
But, Wolf, we should note another concerning thing for the White House tonight are these new satellite images that they are watching, showing some key construction in a very critical area in Belarus. That is, of course, another area that the White House is pinpointed as a serious concern for alarm when it comes to troops that Putin has put there And you can see, what is happening here is road construction and a temporary bridge construction, a tactical bridge, they believe.
And this is an area by a river that's just about four miles outside of Ukraine. And so this is causing a lot of alarm here for officials at the White House who are watching this and believe that exactly these kinds of steps are the steps that Russia would be taking if they were on the brink of an invasion, not just preparing field hospitals moving blood into the area, but also taking tactical step, like this one, to make it easier to access Ukraine.
So, this is something that they are watching closely. And what officials are also telling CNN is only adding to their very, very emphatic skepticism of those Russian claims that they are moving any troops out of the area.
BLITZER: Kaitlan, I want you to stay with us as we bring in our Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward, ahe's on the scene for us in Ukraine, and CNN Contributor on Russian Affairs Jill Dougherty. She's joining us from Moscow. Also with us, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, he's the former U.S. Army Commanding General in Europe. He's also now a CNN Military Analyst.
General Hertling the State Department says Russian forces are moving into what are described once again as fighting positions. These new satellite images show this bridge that is being built less than four miles from the Ukrainian border. How ominous are these moves?
LT. GENERAL MARK HERTLING (RET.) CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, first of all, Wolf, I would correct the State Department and tell them that they should call those attack positions, not fighting positions. But, secondly, what we're looking at it a lot of moves throughout the front, north, east and south of Ukraine. All of those positions are dangerous, certainly.
But as we talked about, that bridge that you just described over the Pripyat River, you know, leads right into the Pripyat marshes. This is some very difficult terrain, Wolf.
And, as you know, you were with us in Desert Storm. When you're talking about moving forces forward, especially a combined army -- a combined arms army, the size of 150,000 soldiers, there is a lot of movement that's taking place.
We have not seen that preparatory movement into attack positions. We have seen sort of the deception efforts, and the Russians have a word for that, they call it maskirovka.
And they incorporate that in their tactical, operational and strategic plans.
So, we're still not certain what they're going to do. Even though they may be moving forces around, there is no clear indicator that they are actually about to cross the border. But, certainly, there are concerns in all three areas around the boundaries of Ukraine.
BLITZER: Yes. Let's not forget, during Desert Storm, the U.S. deployed more than half a million troops in the Persian Gulf to liberate Kuwait at that time.
BLITZER: You know, Clarissa, despite warnings from the west that Putin could pull a trigger at any moment, are Ukrainians right now remaining defiant?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the leadership certainly is, or putting on a very good show of doing so. President Volodymyr Zelensky had joked that today was supposed to be the day of invasion, instead he called it a national day of unity. He's been traveling around the country, meeting with servicemen, witnessing military exercises, saying over and over that Ukraine will not be intimidated by any enemy.
And what is interesting, Wolf, is that CNN has actually had the opportunity to look at an exclusive intelligence report developed by the Ukrainians and it is interesting to see how it is similar to the Americans but also how it differs.
So they say they estimate roughly 148,000 troops, surrounding Ukraine border, that roughly gels with what President Biden had said, 150,000. But their argument is that they do not believe that is enough to launch an all-out invasion. And this is a consistent rift that we have seen between Ukrainian intelligence and U.S. intelligence, with Ukraine really trying to minimize this sort of emphasize or focus on the threat of an all-out invasion because, from their perspective, they're dealing already with so much pain and difficulty as a result of the destabilizing acts of Russia, not just in terms of this eight-year war but in terms of cyberattacks, in terms of misinformation, in terms of political destabilization.
And so what you're seeing, I think, really is an effort from Ukraine's leadership to shift the narrative and focus away from being exclusively on some kind of an all-out invasion and try to keep it in a place where at least there is less concern about panicking the Ukrainian public and also addressing the multitude of ways in which Russia is already successfully destabilizing this country through this situation, Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, Jill, you're in Moscow and you know that the U.S. and the NATO allies are calling Russia out on its claim that some troops are returning to their bases. Russia's defense ministry even put out video to back up that claim. Is this part of Putin's attempt to try to retake the narrative and shape it to his own liking?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, RUSSIAN AFFAIRS: I think it is a way of using and exploiting contradiction and putting out a lot of different stories. I mean, if you look at the message from here, Russia would say, yes, we are pulling back some troops, not all but some, and that those exercises in Belarus, some are coming to an end, et cetera.
But, you know, obviously the contradictions just keep another ball in the air. And President Putin himself, look at what he said over the past couple of days. He said, we want diplomacy to continue but at the same time he was using this word genocide, which is really a hot- button word, to accuse Ukrainian government of carrying out genocide against Russian speakers in that critical Donbas region, the Russian speakers in the eastern part of Ukraine.
So, I think, you know, overall, this can work for President Putin by keeping the contradictions going, by keeping the west guessing and trying to figure out what he is going to do. You know, it is almost like shaking a tree, Wolf. Shake a tree, see what falls out and maybe eventually you could weaken the Zelensky government by doing that.
BLITZER: You know, Kaitlan, how else is the Biden administration right now, trying to stay a step ahead of Putin?
COLLINS: I think what is been remarkable is what we revealed. Because it goes so much further than what we saw even in 2014, when we were last in a similar situation with this, talking to U.S. officials about how they were handling a threat like the one that they're facing today.
And I think that you have seen them be very forthcoming with intelligence. They have declassified. They have not only made it clear to reporters what they are looking at and putting out figures and dates and what plans could be happening, but they're also sharing it with allies pretty readily. And I think that the constant calls that the presidents had with other world leaders really do indicate that.
And we've heard from officials, you know, you have got to keep in mind, a lot of people who are serving right now for President Biden were here during the Obama administration and when this happened, when the Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014.
So they obviously have something that they are basing this off of it and they do feel it is better to put the intelligence out there, maybe it could thwart or disrupt some of Putin's plans, and I think that is something they are trying to use to their advantage time and time again and being very forthcoming with what they are seeing.
BLITZER: Clarissa, how do Ukrainians, in general, view these false claims coming from Russia?
WARD: I think they're not surprised by them at all. They have seen what happened in Georgia in 2008. They understand the playbook that President Putin uses, handing out 600,000 Russian passports in the eastern part of this country, describing what is happening in these separatist regions as genocide. They know this. They've seen it before. It is an obvious pretext for some kind of possible incursion or invasion. So there is a great deal of skepticism and, of course, real concern.
BLITZER: All right guys, everybody stand by. There is more coming up.
Also coming up, who visited then President Trump at the White House on January 6th? The House select committee investigating the insurrection will soon get a new window into what was happening in the executive mansion on that day.
BLITZER: More potential evidence is coming to the House select committee investigating the January 6th insurrection. Visitor logs from White House that could reveal who former President Trump saw that day.
CNs Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid has details.
PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The House select committee investigating January 6th will soon get a new window into what was happening in the White House that day when the National Archives turns over visitor logs from the Trump era. President Joe Biden refusing a request from former President Trump to keep those logs under wraps.
Trump has repeatedly railed against the committee's investigation. DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: The unselect committee on January 6th, how about that committee?
REID: but in a letter to the National Archives, White House Counsel Dana Remus says Biden determined that shielding the visitor logs is not in the best interest of the United States and therefore is not justified as to these records and portions of records.
The Archives provided the documents to the current White House for review in late January. They include visitor logs showing appointment information for individuals who were processed to enter the White House complex, including on January 6th.
Remus notes that the current administration voluntarily disclosed such visitor logs on a monthly basis with some exceptions, a practice also followed by the Obama administration, though both Obama and Biden excluded visitors who were purely personal guests of the first and second families.
Biden has instructed the Archives to provide the documents 15 days after it's notification to Trump unless a court intervenes. Trump could still sue, but he lost a similar case at the Supreme Court earlier this year when he tried to use executive privilege to block the committee from accessing more than 750 pages of his White House records.
REP. ELAINE LURIA (D-VA): I would say that the Supreme Court decision is probably the single biggest day of the investigation so far.
REID: Now the committee appears poised to receive the logs, which may tell the committee who was visiting the White House during the insurrection, who they were visiting with and the location of the meeting down to the room number.
REID (on camera): Wolf, I should note, these logs can be limited. They only record people who don't have a permanent pass to enter the White House. And even if you register to meet with one person, if you met with another official or in another location, like let's say the Oval Office, that may not appear on the log.
So while these records will provide some information to the committee, they will not reveal the full picture of who was coming and going on the day of the insurrection.
BLITZER: You have a good point indeed. All right, Paula Reid reporting, thank you very much.
Let's dig deeper into all of this. Joining us now are Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger and CNN Political Analyst Maggie Haberman, the Washington Correspondent for The New York Times and the author of a book coming up later this year entitled, Confidence Man, The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking America. I can't wait to go through that book.
You know, Gloria, how revealing from your perspective could these visitor logs be to the select committee.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it really depends, Wolf, as Paula was saying. First of all, we know that this White House, the Trump White House, was not known for keeping meticulous records in the first place. So, we don't know what records they actually have.
Secondly, we just don't know when you walk in there and your recorded, are you meeting with the president, did you go meet with somebody else, did you go back and meet with the president? So, it is really unclear what they're going to get.
It is obvious they have to try. They already know a bunch of names of people who were in the Oval Office during this whole altercation. They know that Rudy Giuliani met with the president on multiple times, John Eastman, the conservative lawyer, so we really don't know. But, obviously, the January 6th committee believes it is really worth trying.
BLITZER: You know, Maggie, as Gloria just said, the visit or logs might not necessarily reflect visits to the White House residence or if someone was scheduled to visit one person ended up visiting other people. How much of a problem could that be trying to piece together former President Trump's actions around January 6th?
MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, I think the committee has always had a challenge when it comes to putting together the pieces of the former president's movements that day, with the people around him that day.
And I guess I would raise another question that I'm not clear on, Gloria might be or Paula might be, but I'm not clear on whether these are just the visitors logs from January 6th, which, candidly, I just based on my real-time reporting is probably going to reveal less than anything on the previous days or the days leading up to it if they're trying to understand what happened, and I don't know that those are available.
What this tells me, Wolf, is I think they do have a challenge for a variety of reasons to trying to create what has happening had a day. There are a lot of people who have -- we know have dealt with the committee in some fashion or another who did have direct knowledge of what was happening that day in the White House, but there is a lot of people who didn't and who also talked to them and who have speculated one way or another. And so all of that, I think, compounds the challenge that they have.
What I do think this speaks is a willingness on the part of the Biden White House to not go along with the former president's claims of privilege. Increasingly, you're seeing them give up records in this standoff between the Archives and the Trump White House.
Let me follow up, Maggie, with you, because between Trump flushing documents down the toilet, as you reported in your new book, to incomplete call logs, potentially incomplete visitor logs, is this a White House that tried to cover its tracks? HABERMAN: So I can't answer that question in terms of the flushing that I am reporting in the book and that I've talked about here previously. I don't know what the documents are. I don't what the paper was that he was putting in a toilet. I can't begin to speak to it in terms of trying to cover its tracks. I think that speaks to motive that I also can't speak to because we do know, having covered this White House, that there was a lot of disorganization. We also know -- or the previous White House.
We also know, covering that White House, that there were times that they deliberately told us things that were not true. And so I think the job is going to be for investigators on the House committee to figure out what is what there. But at minimum, there is going to be, I think, a lot of holes in trying to put together that day.
BORGER: This is sort of a larger point about Donald Trump, which is that, in my reporting, he didn't want anybody to know who he was talking to, for example, which is why he used staff cell phones, et cetera, et cetera. And he is somebody who, as Maggie reported, was flushing paper down the toilet bowl. So, instead of wanting to be open about things with the American public, and he was sort of trying to hide things for whatever reason. And it was this kind of paranoia that governed him and I think that is what the committee is up against. And whether they could break through that and kind of chart his movements and his meetings minute-by-minute by minute is a real challenge and they're going to have to find multiple ways to do that.
BLITZER: Yes. They're collecting tons of information. I have got to say that. All right, Gloria, thank you, Maggie, thanks to you as well.
Coming up, why the CDC still hasn't updates its mask guidelines, two experts standing by live to weigh in on whether a cautious approach is the right one.
BLITZER: Tonight, the CDC still isn't ready to change its mask guidance, as COVID cases are plummeting and state mandates are ending. But the agency's director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, says she expects to release an update soon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: We are assessing the most important factors based on where we are in the pandemic. And we'll soon put guidance in place that is relevant and encourages prevention measures when they are needed to protect public health and our hospitals. We want to give people a break from things like mask wearing when these metrics are better and then have the ability to reach for them again should things worsen.
If and when we update our guidance, we'll communicate that clearly and it will be based on the date saw and the science.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Let's discuss with Andy Slavitt, the former senior adviser to the Biden White House COVID response team, and Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician and Associate Dean of Public Health at Brown University.
Andy, when it comes to mask guidance, and I know you just spoke with Dr. Walensky, is the CDC missing yet another opportunity to get out in front of this and be a leader on this key issue? As I said, I know you spoke to her today.
ANDY SLAVITT, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO BIDEN WHITE HOUSE COVID RESPONSE TEAM: Yes. I just got off a nice, long conversation with Dr. Walensky and here is her position. She's delighted that we're seeing cases drop. We're still at a place where we have got about 150,000 cases a day, more than 2,000 deaths and 97 percent of the country is technically a hot spot. So, she says we are not there yet but believes we're heading there.
What is interesting though, Wolf, is that she did say that she does understand how in certain localities, the factors on the ground could be different. And she does understand how governors and other local leaders are moving to relax mask mandates even now given that their local conditions may be higher vaccination rates, hospitals that are less full, and more control disease. So, I think she's understanding of that.
If you recall a year ago, she was first in taking down mask mandates only to come to regress it a bit later. So, I think she's been prudent here.
BLITZER: Dr. Ranney, this cautious approach has become a theme for the CDC under the Biden administration, at least in the past several months. Does it make your job as a physician harder when the federal government takes a backseat on some of these really big, critically important decisions?
So, the CDC's job, Wolf, is to interpret the science, not necessarily to set policy or to follow political pressures.
I would actually far rather that the CDC take a little bit of extra time and get the science right. This is not a binary yes or no. That was the problem with their decision last May. This is a triangulation of a bunch of factors, as Andy mentioned, vaccination status, hospital capacity, local cases, right? There are a bunch of different factors and they need to get it right both for the off-ramps and for the on- ramps.
This is not a time for the CDC to be making unforced errors, taking a little extra time, double checking their calculations, making sure the metrics are clear, that all of their web pages are consistent and that all of their communication is on point. It is a much better path moving forward. In hospitals, we're going to keep masking no matter what. And I'm going to keep telling the immunosuppressed to keep masking no matter what, as well as other folks who unfortunately have not chosen to be vaccinated. For the rest of us, I look forward to the CDC providing science in the days to come.
BLITZER: Yes, me too. Andy, as we emerge, at least seem to be emerging from the omicron surge, just how essential is it that the CDC get the shift from a pandemic to an endemic right?
SLAVITT: Well, I don't think we're quite at the point where we can call this an endemic, and I suspect we won't know with more an endemic until after we are there for a year. An endemic implies a level of predictability that we just don't have. I think we know enough now to know a couple of things, first of all. One is that cases are getting better and we should have a good spring. Two, every summer, Florida has reared up as a hot spot. And so we're going to have to be watching that very carefully. And third and perhaps most importantly is that this is a shape-shifting virus. It is not the most contagious virus in the world, it is not the deadliest virus in the world, but it has the properties that allow it to morph in the face of pressure unlike any other one. That makes it unpredictable and that is where the CDC is going to have to keep saying for now, as they make announcements.
BLITZER: Yes. What I was worrying about is there could be another, God forbid, a new variant that comes out that could be really bad as well. Hopefully, it won't happen. Andy Slavitt, Dr. Megan Ranney, to both of you, thank you so much for your expertise. Thanks for joining us.
Just ahead, the stunning story of a little girl found alive more than two years after she went missing. How police discovered the secret spot where she had been hidden.
BLITZER: President Biden has put Americans on alert that a war in Ukraine would be felt right here at home.
Our Brian Todd has been looking into the potential impact. Brian, a Russian invasion could strike very painful blow to the U.S. economy at a critical time.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At a critical time, Wolf, and at a time when Americans are already fatigued by COVID-related economic hardship. Tonight, we have new information for consumers on what to expect at the store and at the gas pump if Russia invades.
TODD (voice over): Tonight, growing concerns about the impact a Russian invasion of Ukraine could have on Americans, and their wallets. JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I will not pretend this will be painless. There could be impact on our energy prices. So, we're taking active steps to alleviate the pressure on our own energy markets and offset raising prices.
TODD: President Biden promising his team will deploy all of the tools to relieve pain at the pump, pain already felt because of supply chain issues connected to the pandemic.
MIKE LOUIS, GAS CONSUMER IN ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA: Every single aspect of my life is impacted by gas prices.
TODD: Russia is a major oil producer, second only to the U.S. If a war in Ukraine damages oil infrastructure, if sanctions are placed on the Kremlin's oil sales, if Vladimir Putin decides to halt exports in retaliation, gas prices in the U.S. already at an eight-year high of $3.51 per gallon for regular, could spike.
RANA FOROOHAR, GLOBAL BUSINESS COLUMNIST AND ASSOCIATE EDITOR, FINANCIAL TIMES: I think if you saw an invasion, they could go spike up 20 percent.
TODD: Other prices could rise for energy as well.
FOROOHAR: Think about heating your home. Think about keeping the lights on, things like a plane flight are going to get more expensive. Driving to work is going to get more expensive.
TODD: Overall inflation could get worse as businesses raise prices to offset higher energy costs and some goods or materials may see price volatility and interest rates could also go up faster.
FOROOHAR: When interest rates go up, your debt payments on everything, from your home, to your car, to education, to any really kind of debt you might have, credit card debt, that all goes up.
TODD: And markets could see a stock sell-off or at least more volatility, so our 401(k)s could drop.
Another concern, cyberattacks. While Ukraine has been hardest hit with banks going temporarily offline, the Colonial Pipeline hack in the U.S. last year shows hackers can easily disrupt America's economy. Just one attack on one company caused a price spike, panic buying set in and many East Coast gas stations ran out.
ADAM POSEN, PETERSON INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL ECONOMICS: The Americans will feel that very imminently because it will affect their access to power, to water, it will affect their emergency services, that is a very big escalation if the Russians choose to do it. People's access to media, cash and payments could be interrupted.
TODD (on camera): Now, what can the average consumer do to prepare for possible economic fallout of a Russian invasion? The experts we spoke to say there are a couple of things you can do without overthinking it. If you have debt, like high rate loans for your home, car or credit card, try to pay those down. And for people that invest, don't take big chances. Maybe be a little less aggressive in playing volatile stocks. Wolf?
BLITZER: Very good advice, indeed. Brian Todd reporting for us, thank you very much.
Let's get some more on all of this. Joining us now, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Michael McCaul of Texas. Congressman, thanks for joining us.
Let me get, first of all, your reaction to Brian Todd's report. What is the worst case scenario here for Americans if Russia invades, which certainly looks possible?
REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX): Well, I think several. I think gas prices would go up. I think NATO will be weakened.
But let's not forget the reason why Putin wants to invade Ukraine in the first place. The legacy, it is the bread basket of Russia, but he wants the ports to the Black Sea. He wants control energy out of the Black Sea.
I think the biggest mistake this administration made was waiving our congressional sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, allowing Putin to complete the pipeline into Europe, making them more dependent on Russian energy than the United States, then shutting down Keystone in the United States. This whole movement against energy production in the United States, I think, has hurt us in being an energy-independent nation and projecting that.
So, it is really intertwined and I think that the comments are correct, this is about world domination on the energy front and Putin wants to be a dominator.
BLITZER: He certainly does. Secretary Blinken says there is no meaningful pullback of Russian troops despite claims that are coming from the Kremlin. Are you still waiting to see if there is any drawdown or do you believe that Russians with lying?
MCCAUL: I think they're running a disinformation campaign. While on one hand they say they want diplomacy, we're not seeing a lot of talk there. They talk about drawing down forces, de-escalating when, in fact, our intelligence community and our geospatial shows they're increasing on the border, 150,000 troops now, artillery, tanks and planes.
So, I don't see any signs of de-escalation, so this is not working. And it could be a matter -- we're in a window of a couple of weeks now, right now, Wolf, when Putin will make this calculated decision. Is it worth it to go into Ukraine?
BLITZER: Because the latest Ukrainian intelligence, we're told, is that Russia doesn't have enough troops amassed to pull off a full- scale invasion. Based on everything you've heard, is that accurate?
MCCAUL: Russia is in full frontal attack mode. They would overwhelm Ukrainian forces starting out with the cybererattack, shutting down their infrastructure, then you would see the artillery, the tanks and the planes. It would be over in a matter of two to three days, and then the invasion is complete. And then we're in a post-Ukraine world with Russia dominating. You would you see a resistance movement after that, and then you look at President Xi, who is going to be looking at Taiwan as the next step in this shoe to drop.
BLITZER: We're just getting word, and this just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM, congressman, from a senior U.S. official, that Russia has increased its troop presence around Ukraine by approximately an additional 7,000 troops, 7,000 in recent days. We heard the president say -- President Biden say the other day that the Russians had more than 150,000, now it looks like they're getting increasingly closer to 160,000 troops. What does that say to you?
MCCAUL: Well, we've been told all along 100,000 and then 75,000 more troops that would come in from Moscow. I think that is what we're seeing right now. And it is deceptive. They are lying. I think it is a disinformation campaign about a de-escalation to negotiate when, in fact, they're escalating.
The other thing, Wolf, I find of interest is Duma, which is their parliament, basically passed a resolution to name the Donbas region on the east part of Ukraine as an independent state. This will allow Putin to do this false flag operation, if you will, if it is an independent territory by the Russians and Ukraine, somehow meddles or interferes, then there would be the pretext for an invasion by Russia. Keep your eye on that one very closely. And Putin is saying they're committing genocide against the Russian separatists in the Donbas area as well.
BLITZER: Yes, that is very, very alarming.
This senior U.S. official now says, and I want to be very precise, that there is -- the U.S. government now has every indication that they, the Russians, mean only to publicly offer to talk, make claims about de-escalation, while privately they are, quote, mobilizing for war, direct quote from the senior U.S. official. Is any talk of diplomacy from Russia, from your perspective, Congressman, a ruse at this point?
MCCAUL: Well, I believe that senior official you talked to is correct. And I think the foreign minister is somewhat kind of walled off from Putin's hardliner team. What we're seeing is that Putin is now surrounding himself by his most hawkish supporters in his administration and the foreign minister is kind of off on his own talking about negotiations. That is not a good sign. And the buildup that we've never seen before, on the European continent, an invasion of which we haven't seen the likes of since World War II is quite concerning.
[18:45:08] BLITZER: Yeah, but don't you think that the Russians know, Putin knows how severely punished they would be by the sanctions not just from the U.S. but from all of Europe. For all practical purposes, it would have a devastating impact on the Russian economy and the Russians would lose thousands of casualties.
MCCAUL: You would think so. And you would think that the threat of sanctions would deter him. I've been a proponent of sanctions before an invasion because he has been provocative and aggressive on the border.
This is a start last March and has gone on for almost a year now with little deterrence. And I thought the president's speech was candid, sobering and powerful. But, you know, the rhetoric doesn't meet the actions, or maybe vice versa. I haven't seen deterrence the key here and that is what was necessary to stop Putin.
He's going to make the calculation and by willing to go through the sanctions and possibly the shut down of Nord Stream 2.
BLITZER: And you say this could happen in the next two weeks. We'll see what happens.
Congressman Michael McCaul, thank you so much for joining us.
MCCAUL: Oh, thanks, Wolf. Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Coming up a young girl missing since 2019 is found alive hidden under a staircase in a home that police had visited before. We have details of the shocking case. That's next.
BLITZER: We're following a stunning case in New York where a young girl missing since 2019 was found alive hidden under stairs in a home officials had visited several times while investigating her disappearance.
CNN senior national correspondent Miguel Marquez has details.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm just shocked, because they seemed like just regular people.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Neighbors stunned after a little girl missing for two and a half years is found alive and well located in what police describe as a secret hiding spot.
JOSEPH SINAGRA, SAUGERTIES POLICE CHIEF: It was intentionally built that way. It was apparent that that location have been used on more than just that occasion.
MARQUEZ: Paislee Shultis, now six, disappeared from Cayuga Heights, New York, where she was living with her legal guardian in July of 2019. Monday night she was found in this home, in the small town of Saugerties, about 160 mile east of Cayuga Heights, where biological parents, Kimberly Cooper Shultis and Kirk Shultis Jr. live.
Police say the couple does not have custody of Paislee and have been to this same home several times since she was reported missing.
SINAGRA: The interaction between the homeowners and the police wads adversarial and not on our part. They were upset. They accused us of harassing them.
MARQUEZ: Then Monday, acting on a tip, police got a search warrant and went to the house. That's where in the say an officer noticed something weird about the staircase.
SINAGRA: He just said there was something, he couldn't put his finger on, it there was something about the staircase that bothered him, and he used a flashlight to look between the crack of one of the stairs, and he sees actually where the stairs meets the riser, and he sees what he believed to be a blanket. Removing the steps of the staircase, they see a set of feet, little feet. They discovered that it was Paisley.
MARQUEZ: Police say they also found Kimberly Cooper Shultis hiding inside this wet, dark, cramped, secret, area under a stairwell.
ANNETTE WROLSEN, NEIGHBOR: I just felt sick to my stomach. Dumbfounded. Because my granddaughter has been over there playing and everything and I just figure they were just normal people.
MARQUEZ: The couple were arrested and charged. So is Paisley grandfather, Kirk Shultis Sr. Police believe Paislee been living there since she disappeared.
MARQUEZ (on camera): Here is the important bit, wolf. Six-year-old Paislee has shown no signs of abuse. She is now with her legal guardian and her older sister. This is a very tough custody case they could have ended poorly.
Back to you.
BLITZER: All right, Miguel, thank you very much, Miguel Marquez in New York.
Coming up the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency warns red flags and alarm bells as the investigation into a Russian figure skater widens.
BLITZER: New developments tonight in the doping scandal shadowing Russian figure Kamila Valieva.
CNN correspondent Selina Wang has the latest from Beijing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This whole situation is just devastating.
SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kamila Valieva, Russian figure skater, and favorite to take individual gold at this Olympics, raced into the league in the women's single short program on Tuesday. Taking the ice, despite testing positive before the games for a banned drug. Valieva blamed her positive drug test on a mix up with her grandfather's heart medication.
DENIS OSWALD, CHAIR, INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE DISCIPLINARY COMMISSION: She presented the elements, which brought some doubts. If she would miss the competition, in these games, the damage would not be repaired.
WANG: The 15-year-old stumbled on her first job, but still easily sealed her place in Thursday's free skating program. Valieva emotional when she finished her routine.
Valieva returned her 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. He was for the revealed that while she declared use of two other substances, one of which the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency try to ban due to his performance enhancing capabilities.
TRAVIS TYGART, CEO OF THE UNITED STATES ANTI-DOPING AGENCY: Having these three, two declared, and one obviously testing positive that wasn't declared, the one that is prohibited. It raises significant red flags and alarm bells.
WANG: The World Anti-Doping Agency says it will be investigating her entourage, if she medals as expected, the award will be put on hold, with no ceremony.
TYGART: There is somebody behind, whether it is the coach, doctor, or state, that's helping this young athlete, and teaching these young athletes to use the substances. In order to ultimately increase and enhanced performance.
WANG: A glimpse behind the glimmering surface into the murky world of Russian sports.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe it is time for a timeout for Russia, in the Olympics.
BLITZER: Selina Wang reporting,
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" live from Ukraine, starts right now.