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Biden Says, Convinced Putin Has Decided To Invade Ukraine; National Archives Says, Classified Docs Found In Trump Records At Mar- A-Lago; Ex-Officer Kim Potter Sentenced To Two Years In Daunte Wright's Death; U.S. Surgeon General and Family Test Positive For COVID. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 18, 2022 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We begin this hour with President Biden's very grim new assessment that Vladimir Putin has already made up his mind to go to war in Ukraine. We have correspondents in Ukraine, Russia, here in the United States covering this breaking story from every angle.

Let's go right to our Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly. Phil, the president says all signs now point to a Russian invasion of Ukraine in the coming days.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, over the last 24 hours top U.S. officials have given increasingly dire and detailed statements making clear they had significant concerns about where things may be headed. None, however, was more dramatic than the statement from the president tonight.


REPORTER: You are convinced that president Putin is going to invade Ukraine? Is that what you just said a few moments ago?


MATTINGLY (voice over): Tonight a dramatic statement for a world on the brink.

BIDEN: As of this moment, I'm convinced he's made the decision, wherever you believe that.

MATTINGLY: President Biden with a significant shift and a declaration, U.S. officials have been unwilling to make until now. For Biden, the clearest window for plans into Russian invasion of Ukraine, U.S. officials now see as imminent.

BIDEN: We have reason to believe the Russian forces are planning to and intend to attack Ukraine in the coming week, in the coming days. We believe that they will target Ukraine's capital, Kyiv.

MATTINGLY: Biden's remarks coming after a dramatic 24 hours of U.S. officials across the globe calling Russian troop drawn-out pronouncements a facade, an explicit strategy to reveal allege Russian intention in advance. One Biden made appoint to underscore.

BIDEN: We're calling out Russia's plans loudly and repeatedly not because we want a conflict but because we're doing everything in our power to remove any reason that Russia may give to justify invading Ukraine.

MATTINGLY: And less than an hour after completing a call with key transatlantic leader ratcheting up the potential repercussions for Russia's actions.

BIDEN: The west is united and resolved. We're ready to impose severe sanctions on Russia if it further invades Ukraine.

MATTINGLY: Still, Biden continuing to emphasize that a diplomatic pathway, even as it narrows by the day, still exists.

BIDEN: Russia can still choose diplomacy. It is not too late to deescalate and return to the negotiating table.

MATTINGLY: While also warning of the stakes not just for the Ukrainian people but for the entire world.

BIDEN: The entire free world is united. Russia has a choice between war and all the suffering it will bring or diplomacy that will make a future safer for everyone.

MATTINGLY: All coming as Vice President Kamala Harris took center stage at the Munich Security Conference pledging U.S. support and solidarity for Baltic nations.

KAMALA HARRIS, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: We stand with you. I am here personally to say that. We stand with you on this and many other issues.

MATTINGLY: And even with U.S. officials keenly aware there is little they can do to stop an attack if Putin decides to launch, a belief that the unity among western allies and the consequences they plan to impose on Russia will prevail in the long-term.

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: When reckoning unison, I'll take our side anytime.


MATTINGLY (on camera): And, Wolf, U.S. officials are watching very closely as the president predicted an invasion could come in the coming days. The next key day to keep an eye on, the 24th of February, that is when Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, are expected to meet in Europe to continue negotiations.

Biden said if that happens perhaps diplomacy is still possible. However, if there's an invasion before then, according to Biden, the door will be slammed shut on diplomacy. Wolf

BLITZER: And there won't be any meeting either. Phil Mattingly, standby, we're going to get back to you in just a moment.

I want to go live to Ukraine right now. Our Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward is on the scene for us.

Clarissa, President Biden says the U.S. believes Russian forces are planning to target the capital, Kyiv, a city of almost 3 million people. You're there right now. Tell us what's going on.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, for a long time, we've been hearing that an imminent -- an invasion might be imminent, an invasion may not be decided upon yet, it might be a small invasion, it might be a large invasion.

But to hear in those stark terms that the president believes the decision has been made by Putin and Kyiv itself will be targeted is frankly pretty shocking. And it's very late at night here. We haven't had a chance to canvass the mood here in the city but I'm pretty sure it will fell a little different tomorrow morning.

Certainly, we're starting to see some of the other pieces fall in line that U.S. officials have been talking about. They warned of these false flag operations that we might see. Well, today in the eastern part of the country in those pro-Russian separatist areas, those breakaway republics, we're starting to see what Russian -- sorry, what Ukrainian and U.S. officials say amount to sort of acts of provocation or false flag operations, apparent kind of refugee crisis being manufactured with civilians being urged to evacuate these areas because of an imminent Ukrainian offensive.


Of course, the Ukrainian military says there is no offensive, but Russian media is full of pictures, Wolf, of people, of tearful women and children being bused into Russia to prevent this imminent so- called attack. Take a look.


WARD (voice over): The not so distant thud of shelling echoes through the city of Donetsk, its origin unknown. Hours later, a jeep ablaze after an alleged bombing. The separatists say the vehicle belonged to the head of Donbas security. The Ukrainians say it's a staged provocation. The leader of the breakaway region claims that a full- fledged Ukrainian offensive is imminent.

DENIS PUSHILIN, HEAD OF THE DONETSK PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC: The armed forces of the enemy are in combat formations and are ready for the forceful capture of Donbas. The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, will soon give an order to military to go on the offensive and a plan to invade the territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics.

WARD: It turns out he recorded the video two days ago. It's unclear why it was released now. He urges civilians to leave to escape the onslaught. And within a few minutes, a video shows children lined up outside an orphanage allegedly to be whisked away to safety in Russia. It all looks very choreograph and as with so much in this crisis very unclear.

The Russian defense ministry says some units are going back to their bases after exercises, but evidence on the ground appears to show at least some Russian armor is heading towards Ukraine. This rail convoy of tanks, geo-located by CNN, just miles from the border near the city of Belgorod.

But for now, the Ukrainians are focused less on the border and more on the self-declared republics in the east, worried they will be used to stage some provocation by Russia.

OLEKSIYDANILOV, SECRETARY, UKRAINE'S NATIONAL SECURITY AND DEFENSE COUNCIL: There's a great danger that the representatives of the Russian Federation who are there will provoke some certain things. They could do things that have nothing to do with our military.


WARD (on camera): And Ukrainian officials have said that they are not going to respond to these attempts to kind of lure Ukraine's military into some kind of conflagration of sorts. The real question now, though, becomes, Wolf, whether President Volodymyr Zelensky will go ahead and travel tomorrow to the Munich Security Conference.

He had been scheduled to do that. There have been some important meetings that he would be having there, meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris among them. But there was some concern that he had been advised that perhaps now was not the best time to go in the event of some kind of possible attack. He had been planning to go, nonetheless. But it will be very interesting to see whether President Biden's stark words this evening and whether the developments that we've just outlined for you in that piece in the eastern part of the country will affect his decision. Because it certainly looks like the coming days are going to be very crucial indeed, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, U.S. officials would prefer if he just stays put in Kyiv. Clarissa, stay with us. I also want to bring back Phil Mattingly over at the White House.

Also joining us, CNN Contributor on Russian Affairs Jill Dougherty, she's joining us live from Moscow, and CNN Military Analyst, retired General Wesley Clark, the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander.

General Clark, how dire was this message we all heard just a little while ago from President Biden that they now believe -- the U.S. now believes Putin has made up his mind and he will invade?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I think it was a somber message, it was direct, and, of course, it's dire. Obviously, the president has access to information that you and I don't have. And if he's saying that going out on a limb, he's obviously heard the order being given down. It doesn't mean it can't be canceled at the last minute, but some kind of order has been given.

BLITZER: Europe as you know -- you're the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, hasn't faced the prospect of a war on this scale for a long time. Just how bloody this could this be?

CLARK: I think it could be quite difficult. The Ukrainians are really going to fight as hard as they can, but they don't have air defense. Their aircraft will be knocked out of the sky. The Russians will come in with missile.

And, Wolf, it's not just the initial combat. When they get into Kyiv and they establish control, there will be civil uprisings because there's a lot of Russian supporters and Russian agents that have already infiltrated. And then there'll be a wave of assassinations and eliminations to get rid of the people who supported the west.

It's going to be like a revolution that's imposed on the people of Ukraine, if Russia follows the model that it's used historically, for example, in 1939, when the Soviet Union occupied Eastern Poland.


So we've got to look at not only the military but the consequences of what happens when they get there -- if they get there.

BLITZER: You know, Jill, you're in Moscow for us. Does Putin, do the Russian people for that matter fully understand the implications of launching this kind of an invasion of Ukraine, just how crippling the western response could be?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR RUSSIAN AFFAIRS: I don't think that's part of the discussion here, Wolf. I mean, obviously, they talk about sanctions, but the things that General Clark is talking about, it really doesn't come up.

I mean, what is coming up right now, we're right at the height of this information war. And it's more the message that, you know, our people, and Clarissa has been reporting on that, our Russian-speaking people in the Donbas region are being attacked by the Ukrainians. And so it's more a justification that we might have to respond to protect them.

But I really can say, you know, it was an interesting moment today with President Putin because he came out. He had Lukashenko, president of Belarus, with whom, of course, they're carrying military exercises. And President Putin said, look, all you have to do to solve this is that Kyiv has to sit down with those leaders of the Donbas region, the breakaway region and go through political, military, economic, humanitarian and solve it.

So, in a sense, President Putin was kind of a negotiator saying this is what we need. But they've been very maximalist about their demands. And now, you know, we don't know whether they'll continue with diplomacy, as we had expected or not.

BLITZER: You know, Clarissa, you're there in Kyiv. The U.S. has intelligence, we're told, that Russia has now drawn up lists of political figures in Ukraine that it would target for removal if it were to invade Ukraine. How dangerous is this moment?

WARD: I think there's certainly a marked shift in the tone of the way people feel here. It seems to be that this sort of boa constrictor is squeezing ever more tightly. It's not news that Russia has been seeking to destabilize Ukraine's political situation from outside.

It's not a secret that they have favored candidates who they would try to put forward, but it's also not going to be any easy feat or a slam dunk for Russia to come in here and try to implement their own Kremlin-backed regime.

In fact, it's difficult to see how on earth that will play out because you will see another revolution in the streets. You will see people coming out in droves and quite possibly taking to violence as well because it's important to remember for our viewers how this all started with the Maidan Revolution back in 2014, eight years ago. People here already shed blood to get rid of the last leader who was the Kremlin-backed Victor Yanukovych who was ultimately forced to flee after opening fire on his own people.

And so there's a sense in the Ukrainian capital, I think, that no matter how tough things get and no matter how outmatched the Ukrainian military is by Russia's military, and make no mark about that, that is very clear, that people here will fight. And whether that takes on a sort of guerilla type of incarnation or a more classic formal one or a street protest, revolutionary type of movement, remains to be seen, but they will fight, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very interesting. You know, Phil, this revelation from President Biden today, it was very dramatic, it fits into this strategy to reveal intelligence on Putin's plans in real-time. Does the administration still feel this approach is the right one considering, ultimately, they believe Putin will invade in the coming days?

MATTINGLY: Wolf, I think officials do in large part because they feel like they've learned lessons or at least taken evidence from past experiences, particularly in 2014 and 2015, that gives them the rationale that, one, they had the intelligence capability and, two, it's important to try and look like you know what the administration knows what President Putin may be thinking or trying to do in order to throw him off.

Again, it doesn't mean that it's going to stop an invasion, but perhaps it will shift plans, perhaps it will shift strategies, but perhaps most importantly it eliminates the ability to use false flags or disinformation as pretext for any type of invasion.

I think when you talk to administration officials they say the reason why the west is so united at this point in time, the reason why Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill are mostly united on this issue as well is because they have made clear there is no rationale, at least in the western view, for Russia to attack Ukraine. There is nothing that would be drawing them into military conflict right now.

And I think it just underscores that this has been a very carefully calibrated, very strategic approach that differs dramatically from how the U.S. has approached Russia in the past.


Will it force stalled invasion, at this point the president making very clear, he doesn't believe it will but they, do believe it has helped them in terms of preparation for what may be coming next.

BLITZER: Yes, it's very, very scary right now. All right, guys, thank you very much.

Just ahead the National Archives now says it's in possession of classified material President Trump took with him to Mar-a-Lago after he left office. Just how serious of a violation is this?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Breaking news. The National Archives has confirmed it found classified documents in boxes retrieved from former President Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate last month, which he took with him after leaving the White House.


The agency is also acknowledging its disgusted discovery with the U.S. Justice Department.

Let's discuss what's going on with our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger and CNN Political Commentator Michael Smerconish.

Gloria, just how significant of a violation is this?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, when the National Archives feels the need to consult with the Justice Department about documents they say are classified that were taken by the former president without their knowledge and then trying to retrieve them, I think it's very serious. The question, of course, is will Donald Trump be prosecuted on this? I mean that's another story. Who knows?

What the archives is trying to do because they are serious about preserving history, is trying to figure out just what was in those 15 boxes, trying to figure out if there are more boxes because these are missing pieces of history.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right. You know, Michael, you're, among other things, an attorney. Did Trump potentially commit a crime here? Is there a chance he will be prosecuted for it?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST, SMERCONISH: Did he intentionally mishandle those documents, or was he grossly negligent? That's the legal issue. I don't know. I suspect his defense is going to be, this is the way I treated all of my possessions, government and otherwise. Whether the toilet story is accurate, the shredding of documents, the use of cell phones, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Wolf, for anybody else this is five alarm fire. For him I think it's the least of his worries. He's got the Manhattan district attorney. He's got the New York attorney general, the January 6th commission and a grand jury in Georgia all looking at him.

If he were a major corporation -- and he isn't in reality -- there'd be in-house teams of lawyers and a lot of outside counsel. In his case this has got to be incredibly expensive and difficult to manage. It's like a death by a thousand cuts legally speaking.

BLITZER: Yes. You're absolutely right. You know, Gloria, the National Archives is also confirming former president Trump continued actually tearing up documents even after he was warned not to do so. Do you see this potentially as further evidence that Trump thinks he's above the law?

BORGER: Well, look, Trump treated the White House like his own personal sinecure. And so when he ripped up documents as he used to do all the time when he was running the Trump organization.

And, by the way, I've been told this went on for years. It just wasn't about January 6th, for example. He would rip it up, leave it on his desk, leave it in the personal residence. And that the Archives received documents that had been pasted together because -- or taped together. People in the White House had been warned by the Archives and had been asked by the Archives to please pay attention to this. And so there were people there who were actually trying to do that.

And so they were -- can you imagine this running around trying to piece together pieces of paper from Donald Trump that he had ripped up? It's kind of remarkable. And we don't know the extent of that even.

BLITZER: You're right. You know, Michael, let me turn to another case. A federal judge has just ruled that civil lawsuit seeking to hold Trump accountable for January 6th can move forward. How significant is it to see a judge rule that a former president can be sued for something that happened while he was in office, in this particular case, on January 6th?

SMERCONISH: I think it's more perilous to Trump than is the National Archive issue. It's the last thing the former president wants to be put under oath in a deposition, which can be a fishing expedition of sorts with quality counsel on the other side of the fence. Just as this week, the New York attorney general won a similar battle to be able to get his testimony and that of Don Jr. as well as Ivanka.

So, I think it's real problematic if all of a sudden he's under oath and having to answer questions about these issues.

BORGER: You know, Wolf, I just have to add, during the whole Mueller investigation, I spoke to a lot of attorneys who had previously represented Donald Trump and who represented Donald Trump at the time. And not one of them wanted to put Donald Trump -- and, Michael, you're on attorney -- wanted to put Donald Trump under oath before an attorney because they knew he would lie. And so remember in the Mueller case he ended up doing written answers, which his lawyers wrote for him. But the notion that he would actually go to answer questions, I think his lawyers would keep him very far away from that.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right. Gloria Borger, Michael Smerconish, guys thanks very much.

An important programming note to our viewers, be sure to tune in for Michael's weekend show tomorrow morning, Saturday morning, 9:00 A.M. Eastern right here on CNN. Excellent show, indeed.

There's more breaking news just ahead on Russian troops moving into attack positions as President Biden anticipates an invasion of Ukraine in the coming days.



BLITZER: We have following breaking news, President Biden revealing just a little while ago that he is convinced -- convinced that Vladimir Putin is on a path toward war in Ukraine.

Let's bring in CNN Pentagon Correspondent Oren Liebermann. Oren, the U.S., we're told, has very disturbing new intelligence on Russia's military buildup. What's the latest?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: If President Vladimir Putin has made the decision to invade Ukraine, as President Joe Biden suggested or believes, then the forces are there in place.


A U.S. defense official says that 40 percent to 50 percent of Russian troops near Ukraine are now in attack positions. And you get a sense on the map there of where those troops are arranged basically not far from many of Ukraine's population centers. And a raid against the country on three different sides, in the north in Belarus, where they're conducting joint exercises between Russia and Belarus, aside from Eastern Ukraine and Russia there and in occupied Crimea.

Biden said earlier this week that Russia has 150,000 troops in place or more than that number, so, more than half of those, according to the defense official, in attack positions, some just kilometers from the border there. That's a total of rather includes 120 to a 125 battalion tactical groups ready to go essentially at a moment's notice if and when Putin gives that order to invade Ukraine.

At the same time, however, a de-information and destabilize -- disinformation rather -- campaign has already begun according to a defense official which could be used to lay the groundwork for a coming invasion, to create a cause to go to war for Russia, which will make claims, even as they're dismissed by Ukraine, U.S. and NATO, but giving a reason not only to the world but also the Russian public for why Putin feels that Russia needs to go at this point.

But the official says this isn't on auto pilot and there's no set path here. Putin has a number of options in front of him from a smaller incursion of Eastern Ukraine to an all out invasion of the entire country, and he will act and react as this plays out in real-time. Wolf? BLITZER: Yes, that video we're showing of the Russian defense ministry, released video, very, very ominous. Orein Leibermann at the Pentagon, thank you very much.

Let's discuss now with the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor. Ambassador Taylor, thanks so much for joining us.

As someone who tried to promote peace and democracy in Ukraine, what goes through your mind right now hearing the president of the United States say he's convinced Putin has made the decision to invade in the coming days?

WILLIAM TAYLOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Wolf, it's sobering. It is sobering. It's a chilling thought that the Russians would attack Kyiv, where I served and other parts of the country where I visited. People will clearly die, Ukrainians and Russians. So, it's depressing to think.

Now, that said, the president also thought that there was still time for diplomacy. And I guess what that means is the president thinks that President Putin, if he's already decided, he can change his mind, and can go in a different direction, can go to negotiations. That gives me a little hope.

BLITZER: It gives me a little hope too, but I must say not a lot. In all of your time working in Ukraine, did you ever think you'd see Russia on the brink of a full-scale invasion?

TAYLOR: I never did. I never did. So, I was there twice. I was there in 2006, 2009, where there were real politics, Wolf. There was a debate in the country about whether the Russian model or the European model was best, and it was real politics. They talked about language. They talked about NATO. But since 2014, when the Russians invaded the first time and took Crimea and stirred up in Donbas, the attitude of Ukrainians has changed. Ukraine now sees Russia as the enemy, and that's just amazing to think that the Russians might attack.

BLITZER: Intelligence suggests, Ambassador Taylor, that Russia already has a list of Ukrainian political figures it would remove if it invades and topples the government. Would you expect President Zelensky to be on that list?

TAYLOR: I would. I would. You know, this use of intelligence, Wolf, is very interesting. We remember that the United States thought and had some reason to believe from intelligence that the Russians would attack last Wednesday, on the 16th. Well, they didn't. We had reason to think that they would plant a false flag, that is they would put Russian soldiers in Ukrainian's uniforms and attack Russians. Well, they haven't yet. We also heard they might try to take over the government with a puppet organization, maybe with Ukrainian members. Well, they haven't done it.

So, maybe by calling them out again saying they're likely to invade or he -- President Biden thinks President Putin has decided already, maybe that will deter this again.

BLITZER: Well, we can only hope. Former Ambassador William Taylor, we'll stay in touch with you. Thank you very much.

TAYLOR: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead former Police Officer Kim Potter sentenced for the killing of 20-year-old Daunte Wright. His family's emotional reaction is next.



BLITZER: A very emotional reaction from the family of Daunte Wright at the sentencing of former Police Officer Kim Potter who shot and killed the 20-year-old during a traffic stop saying she mistakenly drew her gun instead of her taser.

CNN Security Correspondent Josh Campbell has more.


KATIE WRIGHT, DAUNTE WRIGHT'S MOTHER: Daunte Demetrius Wright, I will continue to fight in your name until driving while black is no longer a death sentence.

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tears and raw emotion fill the Minneapolis courtroom Friday as former Minnesota Police Officer Kim Potter was sentenced to two years in prison. In December Potter was convicted of first-degree and second-degree manslaughter for fatally shooting Daunte Wright when she said she mistakenly mistook her gun for her taser.

ARBUEY WRIGHT, DAUNTE WRIGHT'S FATHER: She pointed her gun into my son's chest and pulled the trigger, not only killing Daunte, but she also damaged my whole family's heart.

CAMPBELL: Both of Wright's parents made emotional statements in court.

K. WRIGHT: She took our baby boy with a single gunshot through his heart. She shattered mine.


My life and my world will never, ever be the same.

A. WRIGHT: Everything we do as a family ends in tears because all we have is memories left of our son.

CAMPBELL: The mother of Wright's two-year-old son talked about the impact on her family as well.

CHYNA WHITAKTER, MOTHER OF DAUNTE WRIGHT'S SON: Kim Potter took my son's best friend away from him and things haven't been the same since. I am now a single mother, not by choice but by force.

CAMPBELL: Potter tearfully apologizing to Wright's entire family turned and spoke directly to his mother.

KIM POTTER, SENTENCED IN KILLING OF DAUNTE WRIGHT: Katei, I understand a mother's love and I'm sorry I broke your heart. My heart is broken for all of you. I am so sorry that I hurt you so badly.

CAMPBELL: Then even the judge appeared to be controlling her emotions as she handed down her sentence of 24 months imprisonment and a $1,000 fine.

JUDGE REGINA M. CHU, HENNEPIN COUNTY, MINNESOTA: Officer Potter made a mistake that ended tragically. She never intended to hurt anyone. Her conduct cries out for her sentence significantly along the guidelines.

CAMPBELL: Spelling out the actual time Potter will spend behind bars.

CHU: You shall serve two thirds of that time or 16 months in prison and a third on supervised release.

CAMPBELL: Prosecutors had asked that potter serve more than seven years in prison. Wright's family had asked for the maximum.

A. WRIGHT: This lady got a slap on the wrist, and we still, every night, sitting around crying, waiting on my son to come home.

K. WRIGHT: This isn't okay. This is the problem with our justice system today. White women tears trumps, trumps justice.


CAMPBELL (on camera): Now, Wolf, it's important to point out that this two-year sentence is much less than what was expected under Minnesota sentencing guidelines. The judge, in explaining her decision, said that this officer was remorseful. She said that Kim Potter did not intend to kill Daunte Wright. She also described the shooting scene as chaotic, saying that officers oftentimes have to make split-second decisions.

Nevertheless, the family of Daunte Wright obviously very unhappy with this judge's two-year sentence. In their view, this is a miscarriage of justice. Wolf?

BLITZER: Josh, thank you very much, Josh Campbell reporting.

Let's discuss what happened today. The attorney representing the Wright family, Ben Crump, is joining us. Ben, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

As you heard and as you well know, the Wright family is clearly dissatisfied with this two-year sentence for Kim Potter. What went through your mind then when you got the news?

BENJAMIN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR FAMILY OF DAUNTE WRIGHT: You know, Wolf, the Wright family has every reason to be dissatisfied as many minorities, especially African Americans around the country today, because, again, we see there are two justice systems for America, one for black America and one for white America.

Wolf, the judge actually said -- and I almost fell out my seat when she said that -- try to put yourself in the shoes of Kim Potter, this white police woman that just killed this young man over a traffic stop. I have never in my entire career heard any judge ever say when a black person was convicted -- and we have to remember Kim Potter had been convicted by a jury of her peers in Hennepin County, Minnesota, there in Minneapolis.

And she then said put yourself in her shoes. They have never said that about a convicted black person in America as citizens to put themselves in their shoes. I was offended not just as a civil rights lawyer but as an African-American.

BLITZER: I also want to turn then to this mall fight in New Jersey. Let's watch the video showing a black teenager, who you are now representing, getting very, very different treatment from the police than the white teenager who was also involved. Just watch this for a moment.

The black teenager was wrestled to the ground, handcuffed, the police on his back. The white teenager, they let him sit on the couch over there. Tell us why this all caught your personal attention.

CRUMP: Because, Wolf, it seems to be a double standard again at play just like with the cynicism of Officer Kim Potter where we have black people sitting in prisons for selling marijuana, and they got greater time in prison than this white police woman for killing a young black man.


It just seems to be a double standard all the way around. And when you look at the video of this young black kid being place face down, a knee in his back and handcuffed because he was presumed guilty and the young man who was white was presumed innocent, it tells you why we have the system that we have today with so many black men incarcerated, disproportionately to the population.

And if we sweep this under the rug, Wolf Blitzer, then these turns into Trayvon Martins, turns into Ahmaud Arbery. Right now in America whether in Minneapolis or New Jersey what black people are seeing is anything but equal justice.

BLITZER: We look at many cases you've been involved in over these past few years from Wright's killing to this mall fight, a very clear as you correctly point out a disturbing picture of policing in America emerges. Do you see -- do you see any real progress being made?

CRUMP: Well, obviously, we had the convictions of Derek Chauvin for killing George Floyd and the lynch mob for lynching Ahmaud Arbery for jogging while black. But there's so much work we have to do as we come up on the ten-year remembrance of Trayvon Martin next week of how far we're going to get racial justice in America. And I hope that President Obama will pass -- I'm sorry, President Biden will pass an executive order to address this on a national level. BLITZER: Attorney Ben Crump, thanks so much for joining us.

CRUMP: Coming up, the U.S. surgeon general reveals even strict adherence to COVID precautions didn't prevent him from getting infected.



BLITZER: Tonight, one of the Biden administration's top health officials now has COVID-19. The U.S. surgeon general announcing he and his family have tested positive. This comes as states are moving away from the crisis mode of the pandemic, as CNN's Nick Watt reports.


GOV. SPENCER COX (R), UTAH: Let me be clear this is not the end of COVID, but it is the end or rather the beginning of treating COVID as we do other seasonal respiratory viruses.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): So, Utah now back on testing. Officials in Oregon say they'll think about lifting mask mandates if COVID hospitalizations drop below 400.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm all for it. I'm so sick of wearing masks. I think it's ridiculous, honestly.

WATT: New Mexico just pulled that particular trigger.

GOV. MICHELLE LUJAN GRISHAM (D), NEW MEXICO: I am announcing that the mask order for indoor setting is gone.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: When you want to pull back and say we're done, well, you know, the virus may not be done with us.

WATT: California is being cautious.

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D), CALIFORNIA: There is no end date. There's not a moment where we declare victory.

WATT: But California is now moving out of the pandemic phase into living with this virus. Researchers are watching an omicron sub- variant now detected in the United States. More contagious, yes. More severe, that's still unclear.

NEWSOM: While we can't predict the future, we can better prepare for it.

WATT: There's now a mask stockpile in California and for now, kids in classrooms still got a wear one.

NEWSOM: On the 28th of this month, we will be asking announcing a specific date, the date with destiny, the masks will come off. WATT: More than 15,000 Americans have been killed by COVID. In just

the past week, the surgeon general and his wife and 5-year-old son all just tested positive.

One major source of peace of mind for us, he tweeted, we and our son are vaxed/boosted.

The Pfizer vaccine still not authorized for the under 5S. That process reports "The Wall Street Journal" delayed due to a lack of data on how well the vaccine protects those little kids like 3-year-old Evie against omicron. After seven weeks in the hospital, she's now home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We just stood by her all the time. Her coming out of everything she's just a little walking miracle.


WATT: And, Wolf, for the past couple of years we've watched governors treat this virus very differently state to state. It'll be interesting to see how many governors follow cautious California as we exit from the pandemic phase. Here, they're going to carry on testing, vaccinating, and they just re-launched an effort to combat mis- and disinformation as we move into this next phase -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nick Watt reporting for us, thank you very much.

And we'll have more news just ahead.



BLITZER: This president's day weekend, CNN is premiering a new original series focused on the life and presidency of Lyndon Baines Johnson. Here's a preview.


LUCI JOHNSON, DAUGHTER OF LYNDON B. JOHNSON: There was always that sense he was no John Kennedy, and indeed he wasn't.

LYONDON B. JOHNSON, FORMER PRESIDENT: Is there anything I did someone didn't approve of, they would always feel that President Kennedy wouldn't have done that. My conduct in the office being contrasted with President Kennedy's conduct, well, with my accent and his accent, with my background and his background.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His style was 180 degrees from John Kennedy. Kennedy was polished, Harvard. LBJ was the Hill Country, cowboy hat, boots.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Washington at that time was disproportionately influenced by the Ivy League elites. And LBJ was not from the Ivy League nor was he ever elite.

(INAUDIBLE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You never had to guess where Lyndon Johnson was coming from. He was coming from that growing up in the Hill Country of Texas.


BLITZER: The CNN original series "LBJ: Triumph and Tragedy" premieres this Sunday right here on CNN.

Thanks very much for watching.

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