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New Witness Transcripts Just Released By January 6th Committee; Once In A Generation Winter Storm Blasting Much Of The U.S.; Zelenskyy To Ukrainians, I'm Returning From U.S. With Good Results; Senate Passes $1.7 Trillion Year-Long Spending Bill, Sends To House. Aired 6- 7p ET

Aired December 22, 2022 - 18:00   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news, a new batch of transcripts was just released by the January 6th select committee. We're going through the interviews by key witnesses, so stand by for those details.

Also tonight, nearly half the U.S. population under a wind chill alert as a once in a generation winter storm unleashes blizzard conditions, freezing rain and record cold, and it is causing havoc for holiday travelers with thousands of flights canceled.

And after his historic address to the U.S. Congress, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy telling Ukrainians he's returning with good results. CNN is in Ukraine following the impact of Zelenskyy's trip and the ongoing assault by Russian forces.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Brianna Keilar and you're in The Situation Room.

Let's get right to this breaking news out of the January 6th select committee. A new round of transcripts just released as the panel is preparing to go public with its final report.

Let's go to CNN Political Correspondent Sara Murray. Sara, what can you tell us about these new transcripts? And we should be clear, I mean, these are like fresh transcripts.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Very fresh transcripts. And, look, we're still waiting for that final report. We hoped to have it yesterday, we hoped to have it today, we may still get it tonight. But in the meantime, the committee has started releasing these batches of transcripts. This latest one, our team is digging through right now. But it includes names that you probably seen or heard before, Sarah Matthews, who was a press aide in the Trump White House, Ken Klukowski, a lesser know name but an important player at the Department of Justice.

So, our team is digging through those right now. And this comes after the committee released a transcript from a blockbuster witness, someone everyone knows from watching the hearings earlier today, Cassidy Hutchinson.


MURRAY (voice over): New details about the pressure campaign a blockbuster witness faced.

CASSIDY HUTCHINSON, TRUMP WHITE HOUSE AIDE: I overheard the president say something to the effect of, I don't care that they have weapons, they're not here to hurt me, take that effing mags away.

MURRAY: As she fought to share details from inside the Trump White House with the House select committee investigating January 6th, former White House Aide Cassidy Hutchinson told the committee her first attorney, who CNN first identified as former White House Ethics Lawyer Stefan Passantino, allegedly encouraged her to mislead Congress and downplay her role in the administration, according to newly released transcripts from a pair of September interviews. The less you remember, the better, Passantino said, according to Hutchinson's testimony and he allegedly advised her to stop talking to the committee, saying contempt is a small risk.

Hutchinson told the committee, Passantino, who was paid for through allies of former President Trump, never explicitly told her to lie. I don't want you to perjure yourself, Passantino told her, according to our testimony, but I don't recall isn't perjury, they don't know what you can and can't recall.

REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): We are concerned that these efforts may have been a strategy to prevent the committee from finding the truth.

MURRAY: Hutchinson testified that she felt she had no other option but to retain the Trump-aligned lawyer because she couldn't afford another attorney. I'm effed, Hutchinson says, she told her mother. I am completely indebted to these people. They will ruin my life, mom, if I do anything they don't want me to do.

The Hutchinson transcripts come as the public awaits the release of the January 6th committee's full report slated to come today.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): Expected sometime this afternoon.

REPORTER: And what do you expect the American people to learn from this report?

THOMPSON: Well, I think they'll see that it's very comprehensive.

MURRAY: It's expected to offer more details about Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election and could offer new insights around this moment revealed by Hutchinson, where Trump was allegedly told he couldn't go to the Capitol on January 6th.

HUTCHINSON: The president reached up towards the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel. Mr. Engel grabbed his arm, said, sir, you need to take your hand off the steering wheel. Mr. Trump then used his free hand to lunge towards Bobby Engel. And when Mr. Ornato had recounted the story to me, he had motioned towards his clavicles.

MURRAY: Hutchinson says her former attorney, Passantino, encouraged her to steer clear of sharing that bombshell moment. While Hutchinson faced pushback after her testimony, she stuck with her account in subsequent committee interviews, saying Deputy White House Chief of Staff Tony Ornato later made sarcastic comments about the incident, like it could be worse, the president could have tried to strangle you on January 6th.


Ornato told the committee he didn't recall the communication with Hutchinson and had no knowledge of Trump's anger.


MURRAY (on camera): Now, in the transcript, Hutchinson recalls this pressure she faced to stay loyal to the former president, Trump, that Passantino and his allies were saying, if you stay loyal, you will be taken care of.

Now, in an earlier statement to CNN, Passantino said he behaved ethically when he was representing Cassidy Hutchinson and he believed that she was cooperative and honest with the committee. Brianna?

KEILAR: All right. Sara, stay with us. I do want to bring in CNN Senior Law Enforcement Analyst Andrew McCabe, former FBI deputy director, along with Defense Attorney and former Federal Prosecutor Shan Wu.

Andy, to you, and, first, again, these are some of these transcripts hot off the press in a way here and we're still awaiting this final report. Anything standout to you?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, the Cassidy Hutchinson testimony is remarkable in the detail it provides, showing exactly how it works behind the scenes when you have an attorney who's been provided for you by someone else and that third party is the person that the attorney is protecting.

Now, there's gray area here, there will be invariably some he said/she said, but there are moments in this testimony that are absolutely undeniable. It reads like the transcript of someone who is formerly a member of an organized crime family that's rebelling against having to take the -- you know, the organization's attorney.

There are just lines in here that you can't possibly make up where Mr. Passantino allegedly says to her, we just want to focus on protecting the president. We know you are loyal. They dangled job opportunities to her to be discussed immediately after she testifies in each one of these three interviews.

At one point she says, he never said to me I have to be loyal, but I knew the repercussions, I'd been in this world. So, she knew exactly what was happening here. She really struggled with how to deal with that psychologically and emotionally. She felt a lot of guilt about it and ultimately was responsible for provoking the third interview, which is where she really let loose with the actual full facts in accordance with the question she's answered. It's a remarkable read and really fascinating to go through. And I think Mr. Passantino could be in some trouble.

KEILAR: Yes. And I'm curious about that, Shan, because before that third interview when she did have Mr. Passantino representing her, she said it was almost like I felt like I had Trump looking over my shoulder. What kind of issue is this for as Passantino? What kind of issue could this be legally for the former president? Could it be considered witness tampering?

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, to get to the witness tampering, they'd have to be able to connect some dots for that type of instruction, pressure, coming to Trump. So that's a little bit more attenuated. I totally agree with Andy, it's a very bad look, it looks like mob lawyer speak.

Technically some of what he said would be on the okay side of the line. You can tell your client, don't recall is not perjury, that's fine. What you can't say to them is, even if you remember, just say you don't remember.

And it certainly is very improper for him to be talking about things, like loyalty and protecting someone else. He should be saying to her, my loyalty as your lawyer is to you, I want to protect you, here are the consequences if you don't tell the truth. Sometimes I have clients ask me, hey, what if I just lie about it? And I'll tell them, I can't tell you to lie, here's what could happen if you do, and here's how they might figure out that you're lying.

But this idea of impressing upon your client loyalty to someone else to protect someone else, that's problematic both ethically and it certainly could lead to him being looked at for obstruction.

KEILAR: Sara, she was looking for a way to get other counsel but it was very expensive. That was why she felt stuck, at least initially. She was looking to relatives, right, to see if they could help her out with some money for counsel.

MURRAY: Yes. I mean, it's actually a really heartbreaking portion of her testimony to read through, how she was taking pains to try to find a lawyer that was outside of the Trump world, how she went to various members of her family.

And then just that conversation with her mother where she says, they're going to ruin me if I do anything they don't want me to do. I think she sort of knew that she had information that would be relevant to the committee, that would be damaging to the former president, and that having an attorney from the Trump orbit was not going to be in her best interests. But, ultimately, at least at the beginning of this process, that was the only option she felt she had available to her because of the finances.

[18:10:00] Of course, you know, she later dropped Stefan Passantino as an attorney. She later got additional lawyers. And then we saw her appear at this hearing in public.

KEILAR: Yes. Because, Andy, as she said to her mother, she was effed because she was completely indebted to these people. And there was something very interesting in her testimony later as well, which was that she said Passantino was telling her that some of her testimony perhaps could risk contempt of Congress, but it seemed to be a small risk and it was better for her to steer a certain direction. What did you make of that?

MCCABE: You know, it's just another one of these remarkable moments where you want to say, where is -- at what point in this interaction did he ever say to her, you should tell the truth? That's not in there. It's not in there anywhere. His constant messages to her are, they don't know what you know, so, therefore, it's okay to say, I don't know.

I mean, that is -- I totally agree with Shan, there are times when in preparing someone for a deposition, you'll say, look, you don't have to stretch your memory, you don't have to direct the committee to questions that they haven't asked you, it's okay to say you don't remember if you actually don't remember. But telling someone, they don't know what you know so it's okay to say you don't remember something, that is just absolutely teeing someone up to dissemble, to obfuscate what they actually know.

And let's look at this relationship between them begins on a bad note. He refuses to give her an engagement letter. An engagement letter is the basic agreement that you sign with any attorney you're working with that lays out the obligations on both sides. He refuses to tell her who's actually paying his bill. I mean, it's just replete with red flags that lead you to believe that this was not for her benefit, it was in fact for someone else's. And that cuts at the core of the ethical problem.

KEILAR: Shan, obviously, other transcripts here, and I wonder what you thought about how many people took the Fifth.

WU: A lot of people were taking the Fifth. I thought what was particularly interesting about the invocation of the Fifth was there does seem to be a theme where it tends to come up about the money trail, who's paying for what. And that's suspicious.

Some of those assertions were just silly. I mean, Roger Stone taking the Fifth over his age. And, honestly, they were taking advantage of the timetable and it being in the committee. If that was in court, that could be challenged. And it may -- there's nothing inherently privileged about where the money comes from. That could be drilled down on if they go before a grand jury and they're trying to invoke that or got in front of the judge, chief judge who oversees the grand jury. Some of that could be tested, and obviously very valuable investigative leads could come from the money trail.

KEILAR: Yes. We'll be looking to see what happens there. Shan, thank you so much. Andy, Sara, thank you so much to you as well.

And just ahead, were going to get more on the newest rollout of information by the January 6th committee with a key member of the panel. We have Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren standing by.



KEILAR: We're following breaking news on the January 6th committee's release of new transcripts from interviews with five witnesses, and were now joined by a member of the house select committee, Representative Zoe Lofgren with us now. Thank for taking the time today.

And, of course, we were expecting to see the committee's final report yesterday. Can you tell us a little bit about the delay as we are still looking for this? Is this just like a clerical or sort of a grammatical editing delay or is this more substantive?

LOFGREN: No, it's just that -- first, I want to say the GPO has done a phenomenal job. This is a lot of material that we got to them late. And they have been working very diligently, and we're very grateful to them.

It's my understanding, however that there were a couple of -- more than a couple -- quite a few things it needed, like punctuation, things like that. So, that's being done. I honestly don't know what the status is, but, hopefully, it's almost done. We've directed the staff to get this out as soon as possible, and hopefully it will be imminent.

KEILAR: Imminent tonight, you think?

LOFGREN: I don't know. Hopefully, as soon as possible. I thought it would be yesterday. So, we told the staff, release the report, release all the committee records, and they are working to make that happen.

KEILAR: Okay. So, I wonder if the Justice Department does not bring charges against former President Trump or doesn't bring all of the charges that the committee has recommended, and the committee did wait, obviously, this long to share all of its evidence. Will you second-guess that decision to share some of those transcripts, especially since DOJ was asking for some of these?

LOFGREN: No. I do think that for the integrity of the committee, we could not be seen as an arm of the executive branch of government, any more than, you know, they refuse to share information with us because they're not an arm of the legislative branch.

But we are -- we want them to succeed. We have actually been getting them transcripts and other material for the last six weeks or so. In terms of the Hutchinson transcripts, which are now publicly available, we were aware that they already were pursuing information. So, they didn't need our transcripts in order to get that information. So, we hope that they will see that justice is done. They obviously have a different job than the committee. They have to believe that they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that evidence is there that a crime was committed. And we felt that these matters met that standard, but we're not the prosecutors.

KEILAR: Your committee made the decision to refer four Republican members of Congress who defied congressional subpoenas to the ethics committee instead of to the Department of Justice.


Why did you do that knowing that nothing will come of that?

LOFGREN: Well, I'd like to think that something will come of it. I chaired the ethics committee at one time and we actually took action against Democratic members who violated the rules, because the ethics committee is supposed to be beyond partisanship. So, I would hope that --

KEILAR: But you did that as the party of the person. You're talking about Charlie Rangel. You oversaw his trial.

LOFGREN: Well, and others.

KEILAR: And others, but you did that as a member of the party of the person who was being rebuked. And you know Republicans are not going to do that. So, the effect of sending this referral to the ethics committee is for it to die in that committee. Why do that?

LOFGREN: Well, we'll see. I mean, the ethics committee is evenly divided, five Democrats, five Republicans. And they are supposed to act without regard to party. And when I chaired the committee, that's what we did. And I would like to believe that that pattern, which is in the House rules, will be followed. If it isn't, shame on them.

KEILAR: But if, I mean, if that was the case, you would have allowed Kevin McCarthy's suggestions for the January 6th committee to go in the committee. That wasn't -- or Democratic leaders --

LOFGREN: No. That was a whole different matter. That was a whole different matter. The speaker found correctly that two of his suggested members were witnesses who were involved. Jim Jordan, as we now know, one of them. But she was perfectly willing to accept the other three Republican members and asked for two to replace those that were disqualified.

KEILAR: But on the ethics committee, I mean, I don't know of anyone -- I haven't found anyone who seriously believes the Republicans on that committee are going to do anything to rebuke those four Republicans who have been referred. So, why not refer them to the DOJ? The committee didn't have a problem doing that with Steve Bannon.

LOFGREN: Well, let me just explain. There's a couple issues here about, one, is separation of powers issue, where you -- there was vigorous discussion about involving the executive branch to basically enforce in a legislative environment. And we arrived at the conclusion that we should take the responsibility for enforcing against our own members.

Now, you know, maybe it's true, maybe the members of the ethics committee who are Republican don't have honor. I've never said that. And we'll find out. But if they can't act, then I think we've got to really think about the whole ethics committee milieu. Because we count on the ethics committee, and I -- as I say, I did that when I chaired the committee. You have to call it as you see it, regardless of party. And if there's no action taken, then I guess members of Congress will accept subpoenas as a suggestion instead of a requirement. That's really up to the ethics committee to make that determination.

KEILAR: Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, thank you so much for your time this evening. We do appreciate it.

LOFGREN: Thank you.

KEILAR: And coming up, what is being called a once in a generation winter storm, it is blasting much of the U.S. with these record low temperatures. Its disrupting travel plans as well for millions of people trying to get away for the holidays.



KEILAR: A monster winter storm ominously called a bomb cyclone is blasting large parts of the U.S., leaving millions of Americans facing record low and life-threatening temperatures and triggering travel havoc at one of the busiest times of the year.

We're working all of the angles of this story with CNN's Omar Jimenez, Pete Muntean, and we have Meteorologist Derek Van Dam. I do want to start with Omar Jimenez, he is in Chicago, where it looks like a winter wonderland, Omar, but I imagine it does not feel that way.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Honestly, you absolutely nailed that. It feels like anything but a winter wonderland. But it is something that many in this part of the country are used to. We are in the middle of what was a huge temperature drop over the course of today where we started in the 30s. We're approaching zero now we're going to continue into the negatives overnight, according to the National Weather Service here.

And one of the factors that officials here in the city are urging people to consider is it's not just going to be about snow. It's going to be about a lot of factors coming together, making the roads a lot more dangerous than people might be used to.


JIMENEZ (voice over): It's not just snow, its wind and cold as part of a huge winter system descending on the U.S. just days before Christmas. Over this week, more than 80 percent of the country's population will see at or below freezing temperatures. Some places way below, like Denver, where the temperature dropped nearly 40 degrees in just an hour, hitting negative 15 by Thursday morning. Or Wyoming, where a state trooper took this video, zero visibility, and temperatures 60 degrees below zero.


Elsewhere, parts of Midwest are doing what they can to keep up.

One of the biggest concerns in a winter system like this is the roads. And this dome is part of what it takes in a city like Chicago. You're looking at 50,000 tons of salt inside that crews come in and out of over the course of the day to try and help keep these roads somewhat manageable.

The city has about 400,000 tons of salt and more than 300 vehicles in its arsenal to fight back on this second official day of winter.

COLE STALLARD, COMMISSIONER, CHICAGO DEPARTMENT OF STREETS AND SANITATION: The goal is to keep up with it, but we're going to be fighting that wind. If you can have a conversation with those young drivers, you know, every of those first-time drivers, kids coming home from college, trying to get home, just have that conversation with those young drivers because this is a little different kind of event.

JIMENEZ: Cold temperatures and snow are nothing new to places like Chicago, Minneapolis and Buffalo.

MAYOR BYRON BROWN, BUFFALO, NEW YORK: Some meteorologists are calling this a once in a generation event.

JIMENEZ: Even Atlanta is forecast to have wind chill in the negatives Friday.

GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R-GA): Communities across the state are about to see temperatures that they haven't experienced in a decade or more.

JIMENEZ: The message is the same, even for places used to dealing with bad winters. It's the combination of snow, wind gusts up to 50 miles per hour and the demand to get home for Christmas. That could mean disaster, especially on the roads, where AAA estimates the majority of those traveling this holiday week will be driving.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: It's not like a snow day when you're a kid. It's dangerous and threatening. This is really a very serious weather alert here.


JIMENEZ (on camera): And you could see the snow falling but you could also see me pretty well. Overnight, these winds are expected to pick up. And the fear is for officials that all the snow you see on the ground and lightly falling is going to blow around in that wind and bring visibility down almost to zero. So, we will see. Brianna?

KEILAR: All right, Omar, thank you for that report. Now, this severe weather is triggering trouble for millions of Americans who are travelling for the holidays. We have CNN Aviation Correspondent Pete Muntean who is also in Chicago. He is at O'Hare International Airport, one of the country's busiest, of course. And Pete, thousands of flights have already been canceled and this is far from over.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Just checked FlightAware, Brianna, 2,300 cancelations in the U.S. so far today, 7,900 flight delays, about a quarter of all flights have been canceled here at Chicago O'Hare.

Buffalo, Detroit, Orlando, Salt Lake City, the list just keeps growing by the moment. Denver tops the list right now of airports with the most cancelations. Then it's here. Then it is Chicago Midway.

This is such a crucial airport for connections, though, and that's why this is going to have a nationwide ripple effect. It's a huge hub for American airlines. It is the biggest hub for United Airlines.

I went behind the scenes at United's network operations center to see how they are handling this. They are trying to make it so that passengers are being rerouted through other connecting airports. They did try and tell passengers to book early and change their flights to earlier flights and not depart today, as the snow hit. And at least some passengers tell us they heeded that advice.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We thought it would be best to escape in that and get out just a little bit before to avoid the weather.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's Chicago. It's O'Hare. We're used to this.

MUNTEAN: It seems kind of crowded. I mean, it's pretty intense. But --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We came early enough to hopefully make it. And hopefully our plane will take off today before and we'll get out and get to Orlando, see our families.


MUNTEAN: Airlines big advice, download their app, that is the best way to get up to the moment information on your flight, cancelation or delays, hopefully not, and to get on a new flight.

The other big piece of advice here is that things could get worse as days go on. We've seen 1,900 flights canceled tomorrow. That's where the temperature here is expected to drop to a high of three degrees Fahrenheit, Brianna. It's going to be tough for a lot of travelers.

KEILAR: Yes, it's three degrees. All right, Pete Muntean, thank you for that. I want to go to CNN Meteorologist Derek Van Dam. He's tracking the entirety of this storm for us.

This, of course, is dangerous, it's potentially deadly weather. So, give us the latest here.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. It was the nightmare before Christmas, right? This is it in real time. Where Pete and Omar are located, it was 25 degrees warmer this time yesterday. Look at Denver, 50 degrees warmer 24 hours ago, even Amarillo, Texas 53. This is dangerous cold. National Weather Service using the terminology life- threatening. If you are outside in these types of conditions, the exposed skin has the potential to have frostbite within a matter of minutes.

So, let's get to some city-by-city locations, talk about what's happening along interstate 80. National Weather Service explicitly discussing some snow squalls that are possible across this area that could bring visibility between a quarter of a mile down to zero.


Now, this is what it looks like downtown Chicago. You saw Omar's live shot a moment ago. The Arctic front has pressed eastward. There it is, just moving through Indianapolis and Fort Wayne. And you'll see along the East Coast, well, temperatures are warm enough there for all rain. But the cold and wind is coming your way too. Brianna?

KEILAR: It certainly is. Derek, thank you.

And just ahead, what President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is saying about his historic trip to the U.S. as he returns to Ukraine.



KEILAR: Tonight, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, says he's returning home with good results from his historic visit here to Washington.

CNN's Will Ripley is in Ukraine with the latest on the war.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Ukrainians remain defiant in Bakhmut, as heavy fighting continues on the outskirts. Russian forces still pounding the city, as they've been doing for months now, driving most of its 70,000 residents away.

These days, it's eerily quiet here. Silence broken only by rushing soldiers and Russia's deadly bombardments. Only a handful are staying, braving the Russian artillery roulette. They gather in underground shelters. Power, water, heating only available in aid stations like this. There's Wi-Fi too, a chance to call family, get a warm drink. For Dennis, it's this that keeps him going. We're holding on, surviving, he says. His father stayed behind, and so did he, betting on Ukraine. We hope our soldiers will defend Bakhmut, he says.

To make sure they're able to do so, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy traveled all the way to Washington.

PRES. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE: To ensure Bakhmut is not just a stronghold that holds back the Russian army but for the Russian army to completely pull out. More cannons and shells are needed.

RIPLEY: The Ukrainian president thanking the U.S. for its support and the decision to supply more advanced antiaircraft missiles.

ZELENSKYY: If your Patriots stop the Russian terror against our cities, it will let Ukrainian troops work to the full to defend our freedom.

RIPLEY: A predictably less enthusiastic response from Russia. Moscow saying, providing Patriots will only prolong the war. This is a rather old system, Russian President Vladimir Putin said. Those who are doing this are doing it in vain.

Putin's P.R. machine firing back. The Russian defense ministry releasing this video of what it says is a visit from Minister Sergei Shoigu, reassuring frontline troops in Ukraine. Don't fuss, keep calm, everything is fine, he says, everything is fine, keep calm.

Back in Europe, Zelenskyy seemingly ending the year on a high with more military aid on a pipeline. But on the frontline, no break, still no cause for celebration.


RIPLEY: Tonight, there is no official confirmation President Zelenskyy has made it back here to Kyiv. They keep that a secret for obvious security reasons, given the danger attached to this trip. He took the train from here to the Polish border before flying to the U.S. on a military plane.

And earlier tonight video emerged of President Zelenskyy meeting with the president of Poland. That was a number of hours ago. So, whether he took the train or whether he drove, he should be back by now. We'll let you know when he pops back up in public.

Meanwhile, over in Russia, they are living in an alternative reality, Brianna, saying that the west has turned Ukraine into a hostile terrorist state. Really? Russia started the war.

KEILAR: They certainly did. Will Ripley, thank you for that report from Ukraine.

President Zelenskyy's stirring address to the U.S. Congress was a new milestone in his historic journey from entertainer to war hero.

Brian Todd has more on that. Brian, Zelenskyy certainly seized the moment.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He did, Brianna. Volodymyr Zelenskyy is proving to be very adept at seizing these moments. We have a fresh look tonight at Zelenskyy the communicator, who has an uncanny ability to rally people to his side, from Kyiv to Washington.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Madam Speaker, the president of Ukraine.

TODD (voice over): It was familiar and captivating all at once. Volodymyr Zelenskyy wore his customary olive fatigues and enraptured his audience in the Capitol.

ZELENSKYY: Against all odds and doom and gloom scenarios, Ukraine didn't fall. Ukraine is alive and kicking.

TODD: Throughout his whirlwind visit to Washington, Zelenskyy utilized his natural showmanship, from deftly handling an awkward moment at the news conference with well-timed humor --


TODD: -- to his speech before Congress, delivered entirely in English, where he often sounded like Winston Churchill.

ZELENSKYY: We have no fear, nor should anyone in the world have it.

TODD: It's not the first time Zelenskyy has imitated Churchill to great effect. Compare what Zelenskyy said to the British House of Commons shortly after the war began --

ZELENSKYY: We will fight in the forests, in the fields, on the shores, on the streets.


TODD: -- to what Churchill said after the evacuation of Dunkirk.


WINSTON CHURCHILL, BRITISH PM: We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.

PROF. KEITH DARDEN, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Of course, he's definitely trying to channel Winston Churchill. One thing that's very important to remember about Zelenskyy is he is a performer.

TODD: Skills he honed before winning the presidency as a comedian, playing the role of a school teacher in the Ukrainian TV series "Servant of the People."

On that show, Zelenskyy's character unexpectedly became president of Ukraine after ranting about corruption. Then life imitated art.

JOHN HERBST, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: He was very comfortable in what's called the Russia world. He made a great career for himself as a comedian and businessman in part by appealing not just to Ukrainians but also to Russians.

TODD: Since the invasion began, Zelenskyy's use of social media has allowed him to dominate the information war like when he posted this message on Facebook from the streets of Kyiv with his cabinet on the second night of the invasion.

PRES. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE (through translator): The president is here. We are all here. Our military are here.

TODD: Contrast that with the autocrat in the Kremlin, who often seems isolated.

DARDEN: He appears fearful and you just get the sense of a man alone. Whereas Zelenskyy is among his people, among his team, and in the fight.


TODD (on camera): Analysts say there aren't many downsides to Zelenskyy's communication media skills other than what might possibly happen if he ever reaches a peace deal with the Russians, Brianna. He might have to spin that to his country.


Brian Todd, thank you for that.

Coming up, the latest on the last-ditch effort to avoid a government shutdown.



KEILAR: A massive $1.7 trillion government spending bill is on its way to the House after passing the Senate by a wide margin as lawmakers scramble to avert a government shutdown.

CNN's congressional correspondent Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill.

Manu, this morning there was a breakthrough.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, there actually was. And this was a messy process.

Remember they were supposed to get this done by September 30th. That didn't happen. They had to delay this by September 16th. Then they delayed to this Friday.

And ultimately, it wasn't until this Tuesday morning where the leadership and key appropriators on the committees released a 4,100- page bill basically only a handful of members drafted. And in the last couple of days, there had been furious negotiations, efforts by the Senate Democratic leadership with the support of the Senate Republican leadership to push this through.

Now, this bill was huge in its size and scope. It has $45 billion aid to Ukraine, another $38 billion in disaster relief, funding for all sorts of measures, an overhaul of the electoral count act to prevent another January 6th effort to overturn the election results, and $15 billion in earmarked projects.

That is one reason why it faced push back from a number of Republican including senators who said they should have waited and delayed this until next Congress.


SEN. ROGER MARSHALL (R-KS): I think whenever we're adding a trillion dollars debt, borrowing money from my grandchildren. Of course, I'm horribly disappointed. I think we could have gotten a much better deal done if we went over to the house side and had a situation where we addressed one bucket at a time.

SEN. MIKE BRUAN (R-IN): McCarthy was clear publicly and he was at our lunch yesterday, that he would welcome the opportunity to do some real work in the House.


RAJU: So, ultimately, this passed 68-29 in the Senate, 29 Senate Republicans, a majority of them voting against this, wanting this to be delayed until the next Congress, but it will pass tomorrow in the House. House Republicans plan to rail against it, but they don't have the votes to stop it, so it's only a matter of time before Joe Biden signs this into law -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Manu, thank you for that report from the Hill.

And next, a Republican congressman-elect claims his grandparents fled the Holocaust, but records show otherwise.



KEILAR: New York Republican Congressman-elect George Santos says he'll address questions about his resume and biography next week as House GOP leaders stay silent about what seem to be some glaring inconsistencies.

CNN congressional correspondent Jessica Dean has the latest.


JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, incoming Congressman George Santos finally acknowledging the growing scrutiny surrounding many apparent discrepancies in his biography tweeting, quote: I have my story to tell and it will be told next week.

One part of the New York Republican's background now in question, his family history.

REP.-ELECT GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): You know, my grandparents survived the Holocaust. I'm very proud of my Jewish heritage. I'm very proud of my grandparents' story. My grandfather fleeing Ukraine, fleeing silent persecution, going to Belgium, finding refuge there, marrying my grandmother, and fleeing Hitler, going to Brazil.

DEAN: But those claims are contradicted by sources reviewed by CNN's KFILE including family trees, records on Jewish refugees and interviews with multiple genealogists.

SANTOS: As I always joke, I'm Jewish. I come from a Jewish family. My mother's family, Jewish. I grew up and I was raised Roman Catholic.

DEAN: Megan Smolenyak, an author and professional genealogist who helped research Santos' family tree at CNN's request said in an e- mail, quote, there's no sign of Jewish and/or Ukrainian heritage and no indication of name changes along the way.

SANTOS: Today, I live that American dream.

DEAN: It's just the latest development since "The New York Times" first reported and CNN confirmed that Santos may have misrepresented parts of his resume regarding his college education and employment history, saying he attended schools and worked at companies that have no records of his attendance or employment. While some are calling for an investigation and potential consequences --

REP.-ELECT DANIEL GOLDMAN (D-NY): This is what is clearly a serial effort to defraud voters in his district. And if George Santos did that -- and he certainly appears to have made false statements in his disclosure forms to the FEC -- I think it's worth the U.S. attorney's office looking into this.

DEAN: On Capitol Hill today, GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy refused to answer any questions about what may happen to Santos or if anything should be done.

Santos is part of a very slim four-seat majority Republicans will hold when they take over the House in January.

And that is the looming question, of course. What comes next? Will Santos be seated as a new member? What, if anything, will Kevin McCarthy do about it? I noted in that story there, he would not talk about it earlier today, Brianna. And will the House Ethics committee get involved?

These are the questions we'll keep our eye on in the coming weeks.

KEILAR: Big questions.

DEAN: Yeah.

KEILAR: All right. Jessica Dean, thank you.

I'm Brianna Keilar in THE SITUATION ROOM. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.