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The Situation Room

Sources Says, New York City Subway Suspect Called in Tip Against Himself; Biden Unveils $800 Million in Military and in Call With Zelenskyy; New York City Subway Shooting Suspect Arrested; Biden Unveils $800 Million in Military Aid in Call with Zelenskyy; Finland & Sweden Edge Closer to Joining NATO; 1/6 Committee to Receive New Documents from National Archives. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 13, 2022 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer. He's in THE SITUATION ROOM.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, we're following two major breaking stories. New York City police arrest the suspect in the subway shooting attack, Frank James was taken in by patrol officers after he actually called in a tip against himself and now stands charged with terrorism against a mass transit system.

Also breaking, amid mounting evidence that Russian forces are ramping up their assault on Eastern Ukraine, President Biden unveiled an $800 million security package. The new military aid includes artillery, drones and attack helicopters and could pivotal to the Ukrainian defense. I'll discuss with the Pentagon spokesman John Kirby this hour.

We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world, I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in The Situation Room.

We begin our coverage tonight with the very dramatic arrest of the man suspected of firing 33 shots in a New York City subway, leaving at least 29 people injured.

CNN Crime and Justice Correspondent Shimon Prokupecz is joining us from the scene in the attack. Shimon, the suspect, I understand, actually called in a tip, letting police know where he was. What else are you learning?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Really remarkable, he was just strolling through the streets of the lower east side after calling the police on himself. Two patrol officer just on random patrol spotted him, taking him into custody. Police today revealing more evidence, more information that connects him, they say, to the shooting.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. James, anything to say?

PROKUPECZ (voice over): Frank Robert James, the suspected gunman who opened fire on a subway train in Brooklyn, Tuesday, now in custody.

MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D), NEW YORK: My fellow New Yorkers, we got him.

PROKUPECZ: Patrol officers arresting James walking the streets in New York City's east village today after sources say he actually called in a tip, leading police to his general location.

COMMISSIORNER KEECHANT SEWELL, NEW YORK CITY POLICE: Officers in response to a crime stoppers' tip stopped Mr. James at 1:42 P.M. at the corner of St. Mark's place and 1st Avenue in Manhattan. He was taken into custody without incident and has been transported to an NYPD facility.

We hope this arrest brings some solace to victims and the people of the city of New York.

PROKUPECZ: The 62-year-old talked about violence and mass shootings and multiple rambling videos posted on YouTube, including this one uploaded Monday.

FRANK JAMES, SUSPECT, NEW YORK SUBWAY STATION SHOOTING: I have been through a lot of (BLEEP) where I can say, I wanted to kill people. I want to watch them die right in front of my (BLEEP) face immediately. But I thought about the fact, hey, man, I don't want to go to (BLEEP) prison.

PROKUPECZ: In other videos, James said he had PTSD and ranted about race, homelessness and New York City Mayor Eric Adams. Adams telling CNN today --

ADAMS: Why aren't we identifying these dangerous threats? Why aren't we being more proactive instead of waiting for this to happen?

PROKUPECZ: The videos also giving insight into James' path to Brooklyn, leaving his home in Milwaukee on March 20th. James said he was heading to the quote danger zone. He then stops in Fort Wayne, Pittsburgh and Newark before arriving to Philadelphia on March 25th.

Police initially named James a person of interest because they found a credit card and keys to a rented U-hall van at the scene, later tracking down the vehicle, where sources say it appears he may have spent in the night.

James rented a van from this Philadelphia store on Monday. Court document say, James visited a Philadelphia storage facility filled with ammunition and more weapons on the evening before the attack. They also show surveillance photos of the U-haul van crossing into Brooklyn at 4:11 A.M.

Two hours later a man matching James description, wearing a hard hat and construction vest, left the U-haul on foot. WNBC obtained this video showing a man law enforcement believes to be James, and wearing similar clothing, entering the subway system about two hours before the shooting began.

Investigators also linking the gun found at the scene to a purchase by James, sources say. And authorities have tracked the purchase of a gas mask to James through an eBay account. We are now learning more about the victims.

HOURARI BENKADA, NEW YORK CITY SUBWAY ATTACK VICTIM: I was sitting right next to the shooter.

PROKUPECZ: Benkada was shot in the back of his knee trying to flee the scene.

BENKADA: This pregnant lady with the (INAUDIBLE) help her, everybody was pushing. I'm thinking it's just a smoke bomb.


I grabbed her from the back so she didn't get shot in the back. She was pregnant. And a lot of people kept rushing. And that's when I got shot in the leg.

PROKUPECZ: Police say James shot a total of 33 rounds in a crowded car before his gun jammed. Five of the injured were children on their way to school.


PROKUPECZ (on camera): And, Wolf, tomorrow James is expected to be in federal court here in Brooklyn, this as investigators are pouring through all of that YouTube video, trying to see some kind of motive. They say they are still working on that, and it is possible he could face additional charges, Wolf.

BLITZER: Potentially, he could face life in prison if convicted. Shimon Prokupecz on the scene for us, thank you very much.

Let's discuss what's going on with the former FBI deputy director, CNN Senior Law Enforcement Analyst Andrew McCabe and former NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton. He's the Co-Author of the book, the profession, A Memoir of Community, Race and the Arc of Policing in America.

Commissioner Bratton, first to you, your reaction to this arrest and the fact that the suspect apparently called in a tip on himself.

BILL BRATTON, FORMER NYPD COMMISSIONER: Well, it's been amazing two days, Wolf, that certainly the climax of evidentially him arranging for his own arrest. But, however, he came into the custody of the NYPD and FBI. New Yorkers are breathing a sigh of relief as it relates to concerns that he might engage in another action.

So, it's good news that he has been captured, now the really hard work of putting the case together. Fortunately, there is a lot of evidence to work with, a huge amount of evidence to work with, a lot of it that left behind by him when he left that subway train as well as a trail coming into New York and a trail all the way across the country in many respects.

What it did show, however, was the great coordination and cooperation between law enforcement agencies in the New York region, that something happened to me during my time at the NYPD in relationship with the FBI, as well as the other agencies, ATF, Marshall Service.

In going forward, if New York is going to halt its crime increase and the mayor is committed, it's going to require more than just the NYPD. It is going to require the collaboration among all law enforcement agencies to help stem the tide of that crime wave.

BLITZER: You know, Andrew, let's discuss the NYPD. They say that this suspect was known to them and actually had a history of several arrests. He also posted videos, as we heard in Shimon's report, advocating from mass violence, mass shootings. Were red flags missed here?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: You know, Wolf, that's really hard to say at this point of investigation. But my initial sense is probably not. You know, there's been a lot of conversation today about whether or not he should have been able to purchase -- legally purchase a firearm. Apparently that purchase took place in 2011, so 16 years ago. And if he didn't have any convictions for felonies at that time or didn't qualify under any of the other eight excluding elements of the Brady Act, then that's a legal purchase.

And it doesn't matter if you have crazy videos on YouTube or lead a somewhat non-traditional life. You don't qualify under that law to be excluded as a firearm purchase, then you get your gun. So, one of the main reasons you should rethink the gun laws in this country. But it looks to me that there were probably not major issues that would have brought this person to law enforcement's attention at this time.

BLITZER: Commissioner Bratton, what's happening? Take us behind the scenes at this stage to try to get to the bottom of his possible motive here.

BRATTON: Well, it was spoken to and addressed at the press conference by the chief detective, Essig, who talked about the hundreds of detectives and now also joined surely by the FBI who were taking the lead, that they are continuing to seek out additional camera evidence knowing the individual took trying to piece together moment by moment where he was in furtherance of creating a prosecution case that can't be refuted by defense attorneys.

So, at the moment the investigation continues on a very significant scale, which is warranted. This was the worst mass shooting in the history of the New York City subway system and one of the worst mass shootings in the history of the city. Thankfully, despite 33 rounds being fired on that 60-foot car with approximately 50 people in that subway car, the fact that only ten people shot, most of them in the legs, it's a miracle.


Terrorizing for those in that subway car certainly they'll live with that forever in respect whether they would live or not, but the investigation will continue to go forward in a very big way. They will try to learn as much as they can.

Going back to your point, was there anything about this that would have forewarned about his actions? Probably not unless somebody who was looking at his YouTube, if anybody was, notified law enforcement about some of the threats. But police would have had no real reason to be looking at his YouTube. There's tens of millions have been post every day. Police cannot be proactively looking at that without some form or indication that there is a crime about to be committed or is being committed.

So, a lot of focus on the video systems in the New York City subway system, (INAUDIBLE) my time as chief of the Transit Police back in the 1990. Those systems are incredibly difficult to maintain. And there will be a lot of discussion going forward about how to improve those circumstances.

BLITZER: Yes. We are going to get into that later this hour as well, Bill Bratton, thank you very much for joining us, Andrew McCabe, thanks to you as well.

Just ahead, we are going to have more on the New York City subway attack and the urgent manhunt leading to the arrest of the suspect.

Plus, there's breaking news, major breaking news out of the Ukraine. The U.S. is now sending $800 million worth of sophisticated military equipment to Ukraine as Russian forces renew their offensive.

Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby is standing by live. He'll join me.



BLITZER: Breaking news, as Russian forces step up their offensive in eastern Ukraine, there is new evidence tonight cluster bombs are being used in civilian areas.

CNN Phil Black is on the ground for us in Kyiv, the capital. Phil, these clustered munitions, they are banned under international law. What are you learning about this new attack?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, banned by many countries. And you can see from this video, it shows cluster munitions bomblets dispersing over civilian areas, then detonating among buildings, on a road.

This is in Kharkiv, in the east of the country. It is not the first time that Russia has been accused of using cluster munitions like this in a civilian area in this war. A new report today issued by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe which details violations of humanitarian and human rights law says it is aware of 134 separate incidents that these munitions being used. And it makes the point that using these wide area weapons in a built-up, heavy populated area is almost always a war crime.

And this is just one type of war crime among many, which it says Russia has likely committed and is detailed in this report released today, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Phil Black, stay safe over there. We will get back to you. Thank you very, very much.

Also break tonight, President Biden now says the United States is sending Ukraine a major new security package, $800 million worth of drones attack helicopters, artillery and more.

Let's discuss with the Pentagon press secretary, John Kirby. John, thanks for joining us. I know you say some of the weapons in this package are new. These are capabilities being provided for the first time in this war. But can you tell us more about these new weapons and why the U.S. decided to step up its military support for Ukraine now?

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Well, the reason that this package looks the way it does is because of conversations that we've had over recent days with Ukrainians themselves. President Biden spoke with President Zelenskyy just today and talked again about the kinds of capabilities that the Ukrainians need in the fight now in the Donbas, where Russians are going to be focusing much more of their efforts in the coming days and weeks.

And so artillery is a great example of that. We are giving them these howitzers with 40,000 artillery round it go along with them, because we know that artillery is going to be a very key factor in this fight that's coming in the Donbas. You can see it on the Russian side as well because the Russians are bringing in artillery assets of their own.

The counter-artillery radar that it's in this package will also help save Ukrainian lives because it will be able to defend them against incoming artillery.

So, there is a whole range of capabilities here that are different, true, but they are designed in concert with the Ukrainian's needs for the fight that's coming.

BLITZER: John, when will the Ukrainians actually get their hands on these critically important weapons and how long will it take for them to be trained on how to use them?

KIRBY: A couple of thoughts here. One, it won't take very long. I mean, from the time the President authorizes, we have been able to get things into Ukraine in as little as four to six days. Now, that's the initial shipment. There will be multiple shipments of material that will flow into Ukraine overcoming days and weeks, for sure.

And as we are training, Wolf, look, a lot of these systems don't require any training as at all. They know how to use a Humvee. They know how to use a Javelin. They know how to use a Switchblade now. But some of these systems will require a little training, the artillery, the howitzers, the counter-battery radars, the air defense radar, that will require a little training, not much.

And so we are working hard right now on what kind of a training program can we can put in place, probably for a small number of Ukrainian soldiers, removing them from Ukraine out of the country, showing them how to use these systems and then having them go back into train others of their teammates. Again, it won't take very long. These are not ultra sophisticated systems.

BLITZER: Will these new weapons being sent to Ukraine be enough to help Ukraine face what's clearly emerging as a major ramped up Russian military assault in the east? This would be a very different battle, for example, in the battle for Kyiv.


KIRBY: Yes. This is a struggle that you're going to see what we call in the Pentagon a long range fires being used quite extensively, like artillery, like rocket fire, short-range missiles, because of the terrain and topography, the fact that both side have been fighting over fighting over Donbas now for eight years. So, we're, again, trying to give them capabilities that they say they need and that we can provide.

But I'd also add that it's not just the United States. We are helping coordinate the delivery of shipments of other types of capabilities and systems, like long-range air defense that we know the Ukrainians need from other nation. So, there is a lot of effort going in here, not just from the United States. And we do believe, based on our conversations with the Ukrainians, that this kind of capability will be quite effective.

BLITZER: The French military says that this Russian large scale offensive, in their words, is coming perhaps within a matter of a few days and that Russia could try to push as far as the Dnipro river. What's the U.S. assessment on the time line of the Russian military objectives in this new phase of the war?

KIRBY: It's not exactly clear, Wolf. We do already see the Russians begin to refit, resupply and try to reinforce some of the units that they already have in the Donbas. We see them flowing in, resupply and command and control and enabling functions from the north out Russia into the northern area of the Donbas. So, it's already -- you can see them already sort of trying to shape the environment.

Unclear exactly when full-on offensive operations might occur. I would remind all your viewers though that the Donbas has been in a hot war now for eight years. The Ukrainians and Russians have been fighting over it quite a long time. How long it's going to last? I mean, that remains to be seen as well.

And what are the ultimate goals? Again, we don't know perfectly. It could be that Mr. Putin wants to secure the Donbas as a negotiating chip at the table. It could be that if he were to get it, you might declare that that's the end all, be all of what his war objectives are and try to sue for some sort or peace at that point, or it could be he wants to use that area as a bridge to go further and deeper into Ukraine. We are just not sure.

But what we are sure is we're going to make sure Ukraine can defend itself and all of its territory. BLITZER: Important developments, indeed. John Kirby at the Pentagon, thank you very, very much.

There is more breaking news we're following. Just ahead, Russian forces pouring into Eastern Ukraine in a new military offensive. CNN is live on the scene.

Plus, more on the arrest of the suspect in that chilling New York subway attack. We will talk to the system's top official when we come back.



BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, the arrest of a suspect in a New York City subway shooting that shocked the city and the nation. It's the latest incident that has many New Yorkers on edge right now.

CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us. Brian, the city, New York City, is experiencing a very, very awful dramatic rise in violent crime?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf, it's a rise in crime that has the mayor and the police department scrambling to turn the tide. They're trying to reassure jittery residents and commuters that they can get a handle on this crime wave.


TODD (voice over): An inexplicable burst of violence at a Brooklyn subway station, part of what law enforcement experts say is a disturbing recent rise in gun violence and other crime in America's largest city.

ANTHONY BARKSDALE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: The criminals now have had years of success of doing what they want to do.

TODD: The mass shooting in Brooklyn was the most recent of several high-profile attacks that illustrate New York City's crime wave. In January, 40-year-old Michelle Go was killed after being pushed in front of a subway train by a homeless man. A few weeks later, in a series of incident at multiple subway locations in New York, a man stubbed four people, killing two of them. In mid-February, Christina Yuna Lee was followed into her apartment building in Manhattan's China Town and allegedly stabbed more than 40 times by an intruder.

By February in New York City, major crimes had gone up nearly 60 percent compared to the same month last year. Much of it, experts say, is pandemic-related.

PROF. CHRISTOPHER HERRMANN, CRIMILOGIST, JOHN JAY COLLEGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE: And a lot of the pandemic-related issues revolve around unemployment, housing insecurity, food security, and then a lot of that just leads to mental health stressors. TODD: Gun violence rising in New York to disturbing levels. New York City has seen more than 320 shootings so far this year, a 72 percent increase from the same period two years ago. Analysts say that's not just a New York City problem and they attribute it to a simple, disturbing trend.

HERRMANN: The overall increase in the number of guns. We've seen record sales in 2020. We've seen record gun sales in 2021. We assume that these are going to increase again in 2022.

TODD: New York's Police Department trying to attack that problem partially by going after so-called ghost guns in the city, guns that are privately made and don't have serial numbers.

Crimes in subways and other transit hub have jumped significantly in New York over the past year.

DELOLA BUNCH BAPTISTE, COMMUTER, NEW YORK: You ride in a train, you don't even feel safe anymore. This is just -- you don't know what to do.

TODD: New York's mayor, Eric Adams, a former City Police Officer, vows to turn the crime wave around.

ADAMS: This is going to be a safe city and we've been here before.

TODD: But expert warn of another possible spike as the weather gets warmer.

BARKSDALE: More people are outside, that's more interaction. With more people on the street, that gives criminals, what, more opportunities. Hey, there is somebody I can rob. Hey, you are riding around in your nice vehicle which your windows down, listening to your music, I want that car.



TODD (on camera): But analysts say we have to keep all of this into perspective, at least relating to New York City. They say the murder rate there is far, far below what it was in the late '80s and early '90s and Professor Christopher Herrmann cited a telling figure in his sturdy that his doing for John Jay College, that over the past ten years, only about 6 percent of all of the streets in New York City had one or more shootings on them, Wolf. We do have to keep this in perspective. It was a lot worse a few decades in this.

BLITZER: Still very, very disturbing. Brian Todd, reporting for us, Brian, thank you very much.

Let's discuss what's going on with Janno Lieber, Chairman and CEO of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the MTA. Janno, thank you for joining us.

Thankfully, the suspect has been apprehended, but what are some of the immediate lessons you have learned from this attack, lessons that you need to learn to protect subway riders in New York City?

JANNO LIEBER, MTA CHAIR AND CEO: Wolf, yesterday was a terrible day for New Yorkers. Today was a great day. The NYPD came through again with just unparalleled investigative capacity. They found the guy in a matter of 24, 30 hours. We are celebrating.

New Yorkers are riding the subway 3 million-plus a day. We are half, basically half of the mass train riders in the country and we have been coming back fast. But there is no question as your reporters said. There are some challenges in front of us.

Fortunately, we have a mayor who has made subway safety his top priority and he's coming through on it. I can't get into some of the details but that is really the top line, is the mayor and governor committed to subway safety. We are starting to see some turnaround, though yesterday with a terrible setback.

BLITZER: Really an awful situation. The police as you well know, Janno, used MTA video from other stations to help identify the suspect. Can you say definitively, that only one camera at the shooting site wasn't working or was this a wider problem with the cameras at that specific station?

LIEBER: No, Wolf. We have increased from roughly 3,000 cameras in the subway system. We have a 472 station system. We are now up to 10,000 cameras, an increase of like 70 percent in a few short years.

Yes, there were a couple of cameras that definitely had internet hook- up linkage problems yesterday. But the police department combed through the video up and down the line. There were 600 cameras just on that one line in Brooklyn and they found a lot of material, including visuals from multiple perspectives of this arrested guy coming into the system and leaving the system. I think it helped the P.D. in their investigation a great deal.

BLITZER: Could the suspect has been caught sooner, Janno, if that camera at that specific station where the shooting took place had actually been working?

LIEBER: It doesn't appear so since he boarded the train across the platform, which, with a lot of people to safety, and apparently emerged that station further down the line.

BLITZER: Why wasn't it working?

LIEBER: Well, like I said, Wolf, we're an internet-based system and appears that one or two -- again 10,000 cameras in the system were malfunctioning on a particular day. But there is so much video from all of these different stations, 472 of them, including there are more than a dozen on the line that the police were studying and further into the system. They caught video of him emerging elsewhere in the city. That's why we were able to help with this 10,000 camera system. And it seems to be working well, a big step up from where we were just a few short years ago.

BLITZER: Yes. Those cameras are so, so important, indeed. Janno Lieber, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for all you are doing. We really appreciate it.

LIEBER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And just ahead, we're going to go live to Ukraine for an update near the eastern front lines of Russia's renewed assaults.

Stay with us. You are in The Situation Room.



BLITZER: Breaking news, Kremlin forces are pouring into eastern Ukraine tonight, an ominous sign of Vladimir Putin's renewed assaulted on the region.

Our Senior International Correspondent Ben Wedeman went inside one Ukrainian town facing down this horrible Russian offensive.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): All is not quiet on Ukraine's eastern front. Not far from the town of Barvinkove, Russian mortars warn of what's to come.

Ukrainian officials say the offensive in the Donbas region, the eastern part of Ukraine, has begun. Perhaps it has.

Or perhaps this is the softening up before the onslaught. Among Ukrainian troops, bravado.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are stronger than them.

WEDEMAN: This officer gives a more sober assessment, the Russians are building up for an attack. They're coming and coming and coming, Lieutenant Leonid tells me. We are not in an easy situation.

Russian shelling Tuesday killed three people, including a 16-year-old girl, according to town mayor, who has been urging residents to leave. Not everyone heeds his call. The stubborn few wait for supplies.

This is our town, insists Galina. We are staying here. We know our soldiers are protecting us.

Lyudmila looks to a higher power. We will pray to God, she says. Maybe he will save us all.


83-year-oldest Yelizaveta sits outside her home, she, too, is staying put. My son's wife is scared and will probably leave today, she says, but I am not afraid.

And then off she goes on her bicycle, gathering storm be damned. (END VIDEOTAPE)

WEDEMAN (on camera): And there is a storm actually coming this way. It's been cloudy, drizzly, and it's expected to be raining hard in the coming days. That kind of weather could complicate any Russian advance. But the feeling is that once the weather clears, the Russians are coming. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, it's an enormous fear. Ben Wedeman on the scene for us, stay safe over there, thank you very much.

For more on all of these, I want to bring in a crisis conflict researcher for Human Rights Watch, Richard Weir is joining us right now. He's in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. Richard, thanks so much for joining us.

I know you have been investigating these attacks on civilians around Kyiv, where you are, what have you discovered so far?

RICHARD WEIR, CRISIS AND CONFLICT RESEARCHER, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: Well, once we've been able to get access to areas in and around Kyiv when Russian forces withdrew, all we found was evidence of extraordinary violence. Each of the cities that we visited, like Bucha and Hostomel and Borodyanka have effectively been turned into crime scenes, where we have been documenting summary executions, torture and other indiscriminate violence that has left civilians dead or maimed over the course of the Russian occupation.

BLITZER: Because other parts of the country as you well know, Richard, including Mariupol, for example, have been under siege now for weeks. Do you fever what we are seeing is only the tip of iceberg?

WEIF: Well, since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we have been documenting violations of international humanitarian law, or the laws of war and apparent war crimes. This includes the use cluster munitions in places like Kharkiv, in the Donetsk region, in Mykolaiv and, of course, it includes violence and violations in places like Mariupol.

And the places under siege, like in Mariupol, people have been left without water, without food, without access to communications and without humanitarian assistance for weeks on end. And the individuals that we interviewed just after a couple of weeks describe extraordinary violence and difficult conditions, including lack of water and food, which left them really struggling to deal with the cold with the lack of heat.

And these conditions have only been extended and exacerbated the suffering that civilians have faced in these areas. But, of course, Mariupol is just one of the most-devastating examples of violence that they have seen and experienced across the country since the start of the invasion.

BLITZER: Yes. And God only knows what we are going to discover in Mariupol once there is access to the hundreds of thousands of people that are still stuck there. Richard Weir, thanks so much for joining us. Thanks for all you are doing.

And to our viewers, for information about how you can help humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, go to and help impact your world.

The breaking news continues next with details of a major new U.S. military aid package for Ukraine as it struggles to fight off Russia's bloody and totally unprovoked invasion.



BLITZER: More now breaking news, new details of a phone call between President Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and a substantial new commitment of U.S. military aid to Ukraine.

Let's go live to our chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, there's new U.S. weapons package for Ukraine. It's more sophisticated than we've seen before. The timing is especially crucial. What are you hearing over there?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, it is more sophisticated, Wolf. And the reason why this is heavier duty stuff in this new package is by design. According to White House officials who say as Russia is shifting its strategy, as we talked about, they are focusing much more on eastern Ukraine and launching what the White House is saying could be a major round of offensives to come in the next several days or weeks potentially.

And so, the White House is shifting what they're sending to Ukraine, partly because they want to tailor it to what they expect the Russians will do, partly because this is what Ukrainians have been requesting. They spent hours on the phone with Chairman Milley from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and, Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, going over what they believe what they are preparing for Russia was going to do next since Russia was unable to take Kyiv, unable to capture the major city.

So this is a new $800 million package. President Biden laid it out for President Zelenskyy during this 58-minute call today. As you see, Wolf, it includes these attack helicopters. It includes hundreds more of those switch blade drones. These artillery systems that Ukraine wants.

And I'm told specifically when it comes to the helicopters that of last night, they were not included in this package, that changed during that call that Zelenskyy and Biden had today, when I am told by U.S. official that Zelenskyy directly appealed to President Biden saying that he did believe Ukraine needed these helicopters.

So they will be including in that package. It still remains to see how they will get the helicopters into Ukraine, Wolf. Of course, that's a little more difficult than some of the other assistance that they've been sending. [18:50:05]

But the other thing here, Wolf, is they are trying to move quickly, because they say time is not their friend. They know that Russia is preparing to do this major ground offensive that they have been warning about, shifting their strategies since it didn't go initially as they planned with this invasion.

And so, they are going to try to quickly to get this $800 million, this new military assistance into Ukraine.

BLITZER: So critically important right now. Kaitlan Collins, at the White House for us, thank you, Kaitlan, very much.

The unfolding horror in Ukraine has Finland and Sweden now edging closer and closer to joining NATO to gain the alliance's protection against Russian aggression.

CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson is joining us. He's over at E.U. headquarters in Brussels.

And, Nic, this would be a major addition to the NATO alliance. So, what are you learning right now about how quickly potentially Sweden and Finland could join NATO?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yeah. Finland is putting a document in fronts of its parliament beginning next week. They will talk about it for several weeks. They will take a decision on it and they could be in NATO leader summit in Madrid, in June, asking to join NATO. Sweden could be following along behind them.

I was speaking to a Finnish diplomat in Brussels earlier on this year in January, before the invasion. And he told me the lesson they were seeing here, that what lesson that the Finns were learning was that Ukraine was getting all the threats of attack and it was getting support for NATO. It was being told, we'll give you weapons but we won't send you troops. And the Finnish people were looking at that situation and saying, Okay, that could be us.

Once Russia invaded Ukraine, that was the turning point. That's what we heard from both the Finnish prime minister today and the Swedish prime minister, significantly standing side by side, joint press conference in Stockholm in Sweden, both speaking English, both making it very clear that Russia's invasion had changed the equation they see Putin as more aggressive and more dangerous and they see the way that NATO operates that an attack on one will draw support from all the other nations, and that is what they think they need.

This will be significant. It will double the length of NATO's land border with Russia. The Finnish border is about 830 miles long with Russia. Finland has a well-developed, well-sophisticated armed force that is well-integrated already with NATO. But this is already drawing criticism from Russia. Putin's spokesman said this will not, expanding NATO this way, will not lead to greater stability in Europe.

So, expect push back, some way, somehow from Putin on this. It's exactly the opposite of what he wanted, Wolf.

BLITZER: Could be a very, very dramatic moment, indeed.

All right. Thanks very much, Nic Robertson, over in Brussels, Belgium, for us:

Up next, potentially key testimony as two of former President Trump's top lawyers are expected to meet with the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th insurrection. We'll be right back.



BERMAN: There are new developments tonight in the House investigation into the January 6th Capitol insurrection. The Biden administration has now cleared the way for the National Archives to provide more documents to the select committee that former President Trump initially wanted to keep secret.

CNN's senior legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid is joining us right now.

Paula, the committee also expected some key testimony today. What's the latest? What are you hearing?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a steady stream of top Trump White House officials appearing before the House Select Committee investigating January 6th this week, today, two of Trump's top lawyers were expected to meet informally with investigators. Pat Cipollone, former White House counsel, and his deputy, Patrick Philbin, were both expected to sit for interviews.

Now, these are potentially significant witnesses for lawmakers as Cipollone was one of the leading voices inside the White House pushing back on the campaign to pressure then Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the election results while presiding over the Electoral College certification on January 6th. Now, he also appeared to be mentioned in a January 5th text message from Fox News host Sean Hannity to then White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, where Hannity suggested White House counsel would leave if Pence continued to be pressured.

Now, these are the latest in a string of high level aides. Wolf, we're talking about members of Trump's innermost circle who are cooperating with the panel. In recent weeks, Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared had both answered questions from investigators, and former White House senior adviser, Stephen Miller, is expected to appear before the committee this week.

Now, Miller who's previously sued to block a subpoena from the committee for his phone records. The committee wanted to talk to Miller saying he spread misinformation about the presidential election and pushed officials to change the results. Now, the committee has conducted more than 860 depositions and will continue to hear from witnesses daily with dozens of more interviews expected to take place over the next several weeks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very interesting indeed. Significant developments. Paula, thank you very much. Paula Reid reporting.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer, in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll be back in half an hour on our new streaming service, CNN+, with my new show called "The Newscast". It's also always available on demand.

Until then, thanks very much for watching.

"ERINBURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.