Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

Rep. Kevin McCarthy's (R-CA) Last-Ditch Talks Ahead of Speaker Vote Tomorrow; Idaho Suspect Expected In Court Tomorrow Amid Motive Mystery; Deadly New Year Of War In Ukraine; Kim Jong Un Touts North Korea's New "Super-Large" Rocket Launcher. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 02, 2023 - 18:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Very high drama right now in the U.S. House of Representatives. Republican Kevin McCarthy is holding last-ditch talks tonight fighting to win tomorrow's cliffhanger vote for the speaker's job. We're going to tell you who's been spotting heading into his office as he tries to win over opponents within his own party.

Also this hour, the suspect in the brutal stabbing deaths of four college students is expected in court tomorrow, authorities seeking his return to Idaho to face first-degree murder charges, even as they remain silent about a possible motive.

And a deadly new year of war in Ukraine, as Russia suffers today what may be the biggest loss of life since the start of the invasion. Ukraine claiming a major strike against Russian forces as Moscow unleashed a fresh barrage of missiles and drones, including in Kyiv.

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

We begin with a very big cloud of uncertainty right now, hanging over Republican Kevin McCarthy's bid to be the next speaker. Lawmakers will vote tomorrow on whether McCarthy should hold one of the most powerful positions here in Washington that would puts him actually second in line to the presidency.

CNN's Melanie Zanona is following all the new developments up on Capitol Hill. Melanie, what can you tell us right now about McCarthy's 11th hour appeals to his opponents within his own party?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes. Well, Kevin McCarthy is still actively working to solve his math problem and he is hoping for a last-minute deal. But even his closest allies admit they don't know if he is going to be able to get there. And some of his supporters leaving a meeting from his office just moment ago, said that while they're still confident, they admit they don't know how long it's going to take.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ZANONA (voice over): Tonight House Republicans bracing for a once in a century fight --

REPORTER: Do you have the votes for speaker locked in tomorrow?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I think we are going to have a good day tomorrow.

ZANONA: -- after their leader, Kevin McCarthy, has struggled to lockdown the speaker votes.

REP. WARREN DAVIDSON (D-OH): He's worked very hard to earn the job as speaker, and we'll see whether this is placated the people that put out a list of demands. He's gone really right up to the line. He's conceded on virtually everything.

ZANONA: Kevin McCarthy has given in to his critics most hard line demands, including making it easier to topple the sitting speaker, but his opponents remain unmoved.

REP. BOB GOOD (R-VA): I won't be voting for Kevin McCarthy tomorrow. He's part of the problem. He's not part of the solution.

ZANONA: In addition to five hard no votes, another group of nine Republicans made clear they're unsatisfied with McCarthy's promises. Writing in a new letter, thus far, there continues to be missing specific commitments with respect to virtually every component of our entreaties. The drama threatening to paralyzed business in the House and overshadow the GOP's new majority.

REP.-ELECT ROBERT GARCIA (D-CA): Kevin McCarthy has his own problems and we'll see if he actually become a speaker or not. Obviously, Republicans are in complete disarray right now in trying to get their leadership House in order.

ZANONA: McCarthy still projecting confidence with boxes from his office being moved into the speaker's suite and McCarthy vowing to not go down without a fight --

REPORTER: Are you prepared to make more concessions in exchange for support?

MCCARTHY: Oh, I hope you all have a very nice New Year's.

ZANONA: -- while his allies acknowledge the top road ahead.

REP. KEVIN BRADY (R-TX): I'm confident he can pull final votes together. It's not an easy job. It isn't easy being speaker these days. But Kevin McCarthy, I believe, can unite us.

ZANONA: And if McCarthy can't get the votes on Tuesday, no one knows what happens next. But there's speculation that another candidate could jump into the race.

GOOD: I think you will see on the second ballot an increasing number of members vote for a true candidate who can represent the conservative center. The conference can motivate the base, inspire Republicans across the country, get to 218 votes, bring our conference together.


ZANONA (on camera): Now, Kevin McCarthy is still actively trying to get the votes, as we speak. He held two meetings in the speaker's office tonight. First, he met with some of his supporters where he walk through how the floor proceedings are going to go down tomorrow, and then he held a separate meetings with a few of his critics. That includes Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert and Scott Perry.

Leaving that meeting, the three of them were pretty tight lipped. They called it a productive and short meeting. Gaetz also told us when he walk into meeting that perhaps there will be a New Year's Eve miracle.

So, it's unclear whether McCarthy is going to have to give in to even more of their demands, but, of course, time is running out, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, lots of drama right now. Melanie, I want you to stay with us. I also want to bring in our Chief White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly and Senior Commentator John Kasich, the former Republican governor of Ohio.


Governor, let me start with you. You just heard McCarthy tell reporters, and I'm quoting him now, I think we are going to have a good day tomorrow. But is that simply wishful thinking on his part?

JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR COMMENTATOR: Wolf, I was involved in counting votes, both for passing the budget also for helping Newt when Newt was trying to be speaker. I mean, I've been involved in all of that.

Look, McCarthy has the votes, he's been greatly weakened. That's the problem here. If he gets the job, at any point, some of these what I call obstructionists, I'd like to call themselves conservatives, I call them obstructionists, could demand that he be removed from the chair.

Wolf, there's one other scenario that would be very interesting, and that is for Republicans, the bulk of the Republicans to join with Democrats to pick a speaker in a sort of a coalition government in the House of Representatives.

Is that likely to happen? No. But in the best of times it could happen. It would moderate what would happen in the House of Representatives the same way that Joe Biden is going to have to moderate his agenda because Republicans are in the majority.

But at this point, if it's McCarthy or somebody else and they pass a rules package, it really empowers obstructionist to just remove people willy-nilly because he didn't meet their purposes. That's not a kind of a leader that has any strength. And if there's anything we need today, it's leaders that have some strength and some vision. BLITZER: Yes. You speak with some authority when it comes to the House of Representatives. You used to serve in the House before you became governor. That's where I first met you.

Melanie, let's get back to what is happening right now. McCarthy wouldn't say whether he will actually make more concessions. But is there anything he can offer that will change things right now, because the concessions he has made so far don't seem to have moved the needle all that much?

ZANONA: Yes. Well, Wolf, if he is going to get the votes, he's probably going to have to make more concessions. One thing that conservatives are still pushing for is to lower the threshold to trigger a vote on ousting the sitting speaker. McCarthy has agreed to allow five people to trigger that vote. They want it to be one member. That's what it used to be before Speaker Nancy Pelosi change the rules.

And so it's very possible he might have to come down on that. I asked a number of lawmakers leaving his office just moments ago whether there's still discussions about rule changes, and they said you know, nothing is final until they pass the rules package, which indicates to me that, yes, there's a chance that we could see changes between now and tomorrow morning.

But there're a number of other things besides the rules that McCarthy has in his back pocket. He can make promises about committee assignments. He could create a leadership, a seat at the leadership table and appoint one of these members there. There are number of things, he can twist arms, he can dangle carrots. But it's going to be a big question of whether he can still get there despite all of these concessions that he's made.

BLITZER: Phil, how closely is the White House right now watching all of this drama unfold in the House and does this have any impact on the Biden administration's plans as it prepares for the incoming Republican House majority?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: For weeks, Wolf, White House officials I have spoken to have made clear they are watching this very closely. They are very keenly aware that whoever wins the speakership vote is going to be a critical piece of government moving forward.

And while they are fully expecting partisan warfare from the new House Republican majority, they know, there are issues where it's government funding or raising the debt ceiling, where the person in the speaker's office is going to play a critical role in trying to find some kind of outcome or resolution.

However, those same officials have made clear they have no insight that is any different than we've got. In fact, some have pointed out that Mel's reporting, our colleague, Manu Raju, is reporting, that has been as much as they've gotten in terms of inside into what's actually happening right now. But there's one thing to note going forward. There are procedural reasons why they need answer at this point in time about who's going to lead House Republicans, when the actual state of the Union address is going to be. That will come from the speaker of the House. The committees that are likely to investigate the Biden administration, those won't really launch until there's a speaker of the House.

But there's also the reality of the optics of what's happening right now on Capitol Hill. President Biden on Wednesday, Wolf, is going to be traveling to Kentucky to appear at an event, to celebrate his bipartisan infrastructure law with none other than Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. That is a split screen White House officials are very happy to take if tomorrow devolves into a circus, that I think a lot of people are expecting at this point in time.

That ability to kind of frame things, President Biden talking about bipartisanship, meeting with Republicans in the Senate, who he thinks he can work with, as House Republicans, can't figure out how to even formulate themselves for the Congress ahead, that is absolutely something White House officials will take given where things stand right now.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. Governor Kasich, do you think this infighting is doing damage to your Republican Party just as it takes back the majority in the House?

KASICH: Sure it does. It's chaos. People just shake their heads. Again, what I'm concerned about, Wolf, is if you have a speaker who could just be removed because he has made somebody angry. And that doesn't make sense to me. But we'll have to see how this all works. McCarthy couldn't (INAUDIBLE). I just hope (INAUDIBLE) to people because the speaker has to have some authority.


Then I want to go back to the notion, Wolf, that if there are enough Republicans and Democrats who would come together, in my judgment, to pick somebody, and they can stand behind that speaker without having to live on the notion (INAUDIBLE) the supposed to be speaker. Then you would have (INAUDIBLE) House, you would have Republicans and Democrats together, like in the good old days when we can actually get things done.

And I must say, a lot of these people who were against McCarthy now, they call themselves conservatives. I basically call them obstructionists. I don't know what they want and they just never seem to say, okay, I'll go along. It's ridiculous.

BLITZER: Yes. Several of them are clearly not satisfied right now. We'll see how much influence they have tomorrow during the roll call.

Melanie, we've seen these images right now, pretty dramatic images of boxes from McCarthy's House office being moved into the speaker's office. That's not necessarily unusual, but McCarthy doesn't have the votes yet. Is he setting himself up potentially for some serious embarrassment? ZANONA: Yes. I mean, he would obviously have to move out if he doesn't get the speakership. This is standard protocol to move into the office. But it just really speaks to the uncertainty gripping the House Republican conference right now.

And what a remarkable moment we're in. Kevin McCarthy did not think he would be in this position. He courted the conservative wing for years. He thought he's going to have a red wave in November. That did not materialize and that is why he finds himself in a position that he does now, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, thank you very, very much. And to our viewers, stay with CNN for live coverage of the vote on the House speaker. That's begins tomorrow at noon, 12:00, Eastern.

Just ahead, we're following significant new developments in two major criminal investigations, the Idaho university murders and the Times Square machete attack. We have new details. We'll share them with you when we come back.



BLITZER: There are new developments tonight in the Idaho quadruple murder investigation. The suspect in the case now facing extradition hearing tomorrow as we learn more about the clues investigators used to track him down.

CNN's Veronica Miracle has our report from Moscow, Idaho.


VERONICA MIRACLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, as new details emerge about the man accused of murdering four Idaho students, growing questions remain including the motive. Bryan Kohberger, the 28-year-old graduate student in criminology at Washington State University, is expected to return to Idaho to face four counts of first-degree murder. His arrest comes almost seven weeks after the stabbing deaths of four University of Idaho college students. One of the victim's families reacting today.

STEVEN GONCALVES, FATHER OF VICTIM: There's a little bit of hope. Things are moving in the right direction and there was a lot of time of not knowing because they had to do everything to monitor this individual.

MIRACLE: Police say they started zeroing in on Kohberger using DNA evidence just before Christmas. An FBI surveillance team tracked him for four days before he was arrested in Pennsylvania. Police haven't disclosed a motive, found a murder or weapon or offered any other details about the suspect except the schools he attended.

CHIEF JAMES FRY, MOSCOW, IDAHO POLICE: We have a job to do. We continue to do it. MIRACLE: Now, police are starting to piece together DNA evidence, and events leading up to the stabbings including the suspect's Hyundai Elantra, like this one spotted near the crime scene. After combing through nearly 20,000 tips, police continued to appeal to the public.

FRY: Now we're at a new point, now we know who we're looking at. We want information on that individual. We want that updated information so that we can start building that picture now.

MIRACLE: The killings traumatizing two college communities, the University of Idaho and Washington State University, just nine miles apart. Samuel Newton teaches criminal law at the University of Idaho.

SAMUEL NEWTON, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF LAW, UNIVERSITY OF IDAHO: This has been a community on edge, a community stressed, my students -- it's reflected in my students and then my classroom.

MIRACLE: Kohberger was arrested on Friday, according to official at this Pennsylvania house. His attorney telling CNN the suspect's father went to Washington and drove with him across the country to Pennsylvania arriving before Christmas.

The Kohberger family issued a statement saying in part, there are no words that can adequately express the sadness we feel, and saying, we will love and support our son and brother. At Washington State University student Hayden Stinchfield says he was alarmed when he realized the man charged in the murders was one of his teacher's assistants.

HAYDEN STINCHFIELD, STUDENT WASHINGTON STATE UNIVERSITY: It was just like totally jarring, totally shocking to realize that this person who had been kind of grading my papers was, you know, allegedly this like horrible murderer.


MIRACLE (on camera): Kohberger's public defender says his client intends to waive extradition, which means he could be back in the State of Idaho as early as tomorrow. It could take a couple of days, but police here are not revealing exactly how that process will work due to security reasons. Wolf?

BLITZER: Veronica Miracle reporting for us, thank you very much.

Now to the latest on that New Year's Eve machete attack against three New York City police officers right near Times Square. We're learning new details right now about the suspect, including red flags raised by his own family and an interview with FBI agents last just month.

Our Senior Crime and Justice Correspondent Shimon Prokupecz is joining us from the scene of the attack. He's got more. Give us the latest, Shimon.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it was Saturday night here in on 8th Avenue where thousands and thousands of people were lined up, some just hanging out, trying to get inside Times Square, trying to get through this security zone here where officers were checking people in. It was late. So, most people at that hour could not get in.

But as you as you can see here, Wolf, there's a sign up here that says no backpacks, no folding chairs, no containers. This was the security zone where police say the suspect walked up to those three officers unprovoked and started attacking them. After he was shot, Wolf, the police finding the knife here on the street.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Move, move, move.

PROKUPECZ (voice over): New information tonight about Trevor Bickford, the 19-year-old accused of attacking three NYPD officers with a machete on New Year's Eve. Multiple law enforcement sources tell CNN Bickford's mother and grandmother grew concerned after he said he was willing to die for his religion and wanted to travel overseas to help fellow Muslims.


They contacted police on December 10th. The teenager was interviewed by the FBI agents in mid-December. The FBI placing him on a terrorist watch list, according to sources. Investigators seeking information on his phone and online activities, as well as searching his family home in Wells, Maine, Sunday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just kind of hard to believe, I was just shocked.

PROKUPECZ: Investigators believe Bickford arrived in New York Thursday via Amtrak. Those travels not tripping any watch lists data basis, and checked into a hotel on Manhattan's lower east side. On Saturday he checked out carrying a bag that authority say, he'd later discarded containing a handwritten diary in which he expressed his desire to join the Taliban in Afghanistan and die as martyr.

Bickford also wrote in the diary on New Year's Eve, quote, this will likely be my last entry, and left instructions for his last will and testament. That evening he traveled to Times Square and, according to police, approached a checkpoint where officers check bags for weapons or suspicious items.

COMMISSIONER KEECHANT SEWELL, NEW YORK POLICE: Unprovoked, a 19-year- old male approached an officer and attempted to strike him over the head with a machete. The male then struck two additional officers in the head with a machete. One of the officers fired their service weapon, striking the subject in the shoulder.

PROKUPECZ: All three officers have been release from the hospital and are being held as heroes.

MICHAEL DRISCOLL, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR IN CHARGE, FBI NEW YORK FIELD OFFICE: Truly impressive to see what they do every day and even more impressive to see how they respond in times of emergency. (END VIDEOTAPE)

PROKUPECZ (on camera): And, Wolf, Bickford now facing two counts. He was charged by the NYPD. He's facing two counts of attempted murder of a police officer and also two counts of attempted assault. We have yet to see if the FBI, if the federal government is going to charge him in connection with this. That investigation, Wolf, still very much be ongoing. Wolf?

BLITZER: It certainly is. All right, Shimon, thank you very much for that report.

Let's bring in our Chief Law Enforcement and Intelligence Analyst John Miller and our Senior Law Enforcement Analyst Andrew McCabe.

Andrew, let's begin with the Idaho killings. We'll get to machete attack in a few moments. Police say more information will be unsealed once the suspect is actually back in Idaho. We're also hearing from his family for the first time. What do you make of these new details that are emerging now?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, Wolf, we're about to learn a lot more about exactly what law enforcement knows about the suspect. According to Idaho law, they're not allowed to share those sorts of details until the affidavit that accompanies the indictment is unsealed. And that happens when the suspect is presented in court in Idaho and the charges are read to him. That will happen after he completes his hearing in Pennsylvania and then he is transported back to Idaho.

This hearing in Pennsylvania is tomorrow. He could very well be back in Idaho tomorrow night or certainly first thing Wednesday morning. And that's when we'll learn all of the facts that they put into the affidavit to convince a judge to give them an arrest warrant. So, that will be an important moment for us.

BLITZER: So, at that time, John, do you think we will learn the motive behind these killings?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: So, we're going to have a good chance of that. But, I mean, we are seeing some tells here, Wolf, when the police chief announced last Friday that they had this arrest. He also put an appeal out to the public saying we want to talk to people who knew this person. We want information on him. We want to know your encounters with him, what he said, what he might have revealed and so on. So, the tell there is that they may well be searching for a motive.

So, it boils down to a couple of really important questions, which is, one, what was his relationship to that house? Had he been there before? Had he been inside? Was he familiar with it? Was he familiar with it because he knew someone in the house, someone who lived there? Was there an issue between him and that person or an obsession or something that we could understand as a motive?

When you talk to FBI former profilers, like Mary Ellen O'Toole, they'll say, for someone to do a home invasion murder of four people at a house where they've never been is extraordinarily high risk for a criminal who doesn't know what he's walking into who is going to be there, whether they're going to be male or female.

So, I think we're going to learn from the affidavit whether they know whether there was a relationship with that house. We know his DNA was found there as an unknown contributor, according to sources familiar with the case. The question is did he leave that there the night of murder or was it left there on some prior trip because he had been there before. A lot of this we may know when they get him to court and unseal this.

BLITZER: Yes. We will find out, I suspect, pretty soon.

Andrew, back to the machete attack on police officers over at Times Square on New Year's Eve.


The suspect was added to a terror watch list, we learned. It was actually interviewed by the FBI just a few weeks before this attack. So, how was he able to carry this out?

MCCABE: Well, Wolf, the terror watch list, the implication of being on the terror watch list is basically it prohibits you from flying, from getting on an aircraft. It does not restrict anyone from traveling inner state, in a vehicle or on a train. So, having met with the FBI, it's likely he was under some level of investigation, but they certainly weren't watching him, physically watching him 24 hours a day. And then if he took the train, which is what investigators believe he did, to Manhattan, he would not have been stopped in any way with that.

BLITZER: John, let me get your thoughts. You served in the NYPD. What are your thoughts about this?

MILLER: Well, I think, what is emerging, Wolf, is a clearer picture now, which his target in New York was New Year's Eve. Otherwise he could have done a machete attack anywhere. But he wanted to do that event to get that level of attention.

His intended victims were police officers. We gleaned that from the idea that he passed many crowds of unarmed civilian which would have been easier targets before targeting three armed police officer and attacking from behind.

And, third, by what we now know from sources about the diary where he put his last will and testament in there, that he pretty much intended this to be suicide by cop. So, that gives us a lot about his motivation, his plan and his endgame.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, thank you very, very much. We'll stay on top of this story as well, bring in new information as it comes in.

Coming up, dozens of Russian forces killed in a strike in occupied Eastern Ukraine. We're going live to Kyiv for the latest. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BLITZER: We're learning new details tonight of a strike in Russian occupied eastern Ukraine that Moscow says killed more than 60 of its troops but Ukraine says it was much more deadly.

CNN's Scott McLean is in Kyiv for us tonight, with the latest.


SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This is the smoldering remains of what could be Russia's single biggest loss of life since the war began. Ukraine says hundreds of Russian troops in the occupied Donetsk region were being housed next to an ammunition cache were killed. Officially, Russia says, it's lost around 60.

For Ukraine, the New Year started the way it ended, with a barrage of incoming Russian missiles and drones, bringing in 2023 with the sound of air raid sirens instead of fireworks. Thousands of Kyiv residents took cover in metro stations. Others defiantly stayed put, shouted, glory to Ukraine, from balconies as blasts hit the capital.

In spite of seemingly endless Russian strikes, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy still upbeat in his New Year's speech, underlying the sense of unity among Ukrainians and asking them to recharge and warning Russia that Moscow is fighting a losing battle. They're afraid. You can feel it. And they're right to be afraid because they're losing, he says.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin ended 2022 by visiting a military base in Southern Russia. He toasted with his forces, awarded the country's highest military honor to its general overseeing Moscow's war in Ukraine. And in his New Year's address he said, in 2022, Russia laid foundations for its true independence. It was a year of difficult, necessary decisions, he says, most important steps towards gaining the full sovereignty of Russia.

Last year was brutal for both sides. This year, there is still no end in sight.


MCLEAN: And, Wolf, Ukraine says that it is clarifying the number of Russian troops who were killed in that massive strike in Donetsk. Its earlier estimate was several hundred higher than what Russia has actually conceded to.

Either way, one Russian lawmaker says that there should be criminal liability over this. And he's not talking about Ukraine. He is talking about the Russian military and intelligence leader who allowed so many Russian troops and so much Russian equipment to be concentrated in such a small area and making it frankly an easy target.

BLITZER: Very easy target indeed. Scott McLean in Kyiv for us, thank you very much. Stay safe over there.

Let's dig deeper right now, joining us for some analysis, CNN Military Analyst, Retired Major General James Spider Marks and the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor.

General Marks, let's talk about this latest development. It could be one of the deadliest attacks on Russian forces since the start of this war almost a year ago. How big of a blow is this to Putin?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES SPIDER MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, it's a significant blow to the military, for sure. I would be speculating how this is going to affect Putin since most of his support clearly is internal with the domestic audience. I simply couldn't comment on that. I would demure to the ambassador.

But what it means to the military is that they have demonstrated from the outset that the Russian military lacks leadership that's competent, knows what it's doing and also they lack an organizational structure that allows them to fight in a rather fluid way.


So, what you see is a collapsing military that is making decisions like this. You never co-locate, geographically co-locate an ammo supply point with an area, a garrison or at least an area where you're trying to refit your soldiers.

If there's a requirement for those soldiers to grab ammunition, which there inevitably will be, you have a sufficient offset so that something like this doesn't completely wipe out your manpower. This is an absolute manifestation of a lack of leadership and lack of understanding of what warfare really means.

BLITZER: Yes, you make a good point, Ambassador Taylor, let's follow up. Even pro-Russian military bloggers are now slamming what they call the incompetence of this loss. So, what does this do to Russian morale?

WILLIAM TAYLOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Wolf, just as General Marks says, this is a big blow. It's a big blow to the military and that's got to be a big blow to Putin and his folks are watching the decisions that he's making, and they're losing confidence in those decisions. They're losing confidence that he's picked the right folks to lead the army. So, he's definitely got a problem, Wolf.

BLITZER: He certainly does.

General Marks, President Zelenskyy tonight, he's warning Russia is planning what he called a prolonged campaign of drone attacks to try to exhaust Ukraine. Is Putin biding time until he can launch a major new military offensive?

MARKS: Well, really good question. I think the second part of your question is does Russia have the capacity to launch a major coordinated, synchronized attack bringing forces in from Belarus, Belarusian forces coming south towards Kyiv and then taking forces from the Donbas and moving them up toward Kyiv.

The Russian military can't do that. They're incompetent. They don't know how to do that. So, I'll just put that aside.

Zelenskyy clearly understands that this is a battle of wills. Russia has the law of large numbers going for it. They can continue to launch rockets and missiles and drones. Zelenskyy has to steel his people and they've demonstrated that they're willing to resist for a long-term battle that we're seeing play out right now.

BLITZER: Let me get the ambassador to weigh in. Go ahead, Ambassador.

TAYLOR: So, Wolf and General Marks, yes, I think that's right, and I think that President Putin is worried about his ability to execute that kind of an offensive. And I think President Zelenskyy is going to be pushing very hard for a preemptive attack.

I imagine that the Ukrainian military is going to attack first and they need the support from us. They need a long range -- we've seen the benefit of these long-range weapons, these HIMARS that attack Avdiivka just today. And we want to see the longer range that they can do that again.

BLITZER: All right, excellent points all around. Guys, thank you.

Just ahead, the January 6th select committee now releasing new records from its investigation, including a text exchange between top White House aides blaming former President Trump for making them look like, and I'm quoting now, domestic terrorists. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: Right now, CNN is digging into a fresh batch of January 6th records released today by the select committee as investigators wind down the congressional probe.

Our Senior Crime and Justice Reporter, Katelyn Polantz has been combing through all these documents for us. Katelyn, the committee is filling in key details from inside the White House. What can you tell us?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Wolf, one of the things that we are seeing is emails and text messages that the committee has collected extensively. They're now putting them out there for the American public to see. And they were preserving what was happening, how people were feeling inside the White House to an extent we haven't even seen before. That includes a text exchange between Julie Radford, the chief of staff to Ivanka Trump, and Hope Hicks, the longtime adviser to Donald Trump, an ally of him for much of the presidency.

And Hicks was writing how frustrated they both felt over Trump's actions during the Capitol riots. She wrote, in one day, he ended every opportunity that doesn't include speaking engagements at the local Proud Boys chapter and all of us that didn't have jobs lined up will be perpetually unemployed. I'm so mad and upset. We all look like domestic terrorists now. So, that's Hope Hicks on January 6th in text messages.

And it's a good thing that they have documentation like this from what people were saying because there are many witnesses that didn't answer questions, didn't remember, took the Fifth, didn't show up for testimony. And there are missing records too, six or seven hours of records on January 6th of the White House call logs that don't exist.

However, the committee has made public as of today, call logs from the White House, from the presidency from January 2nd, January 3rd, January 5th, those days leading up, days where Donald Trump was calling the Georgia secretary of state in that infamous phone call, putting pressure there, also when he was speaking with Justice Department officials about reorganizing the top of leadership for the Justice Department to help him. And also, these logs, especially on January 5th, it look likes he was calling quite a few members of Congress and wanting to speak to them as well about what appeared to be his plan of the next day.

BLITZER: It's very important to get all of the logs. That's very important.

Stay with us, Katelyn, I also want to bring in Defense Attorney and former Federal Prosecutor Shan Wu. Shan, what stands out to you from these new details that are now emerging?

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: What really sticks out to me is these call logs really show you where Trump's focus was in the last days of the administration, calls to Bannon, Giuliani. I mean, these aren't even people in government. So, clearly, it's indicative that what he's really focusing on is trying to stop the peaceful transition.


I think similarly, it's fascinating to see all of the calls with the DOJ folks about trying to reorganize the leadership. That's not typically something that you do in the Justice Department in the waning days of the administration, to try and re-organize the leadership. That one detail at one point, I'm forgetting which day it was, that Clark is listed as the acting attorney general, and then later in the day, he's no longer, that's very telling.

BLITZER: Very telling indeed.

You know, Katelyn. I want you to listen to Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger. This is what he told us yesterday. It's very significant about how he sees accountability with the former president. Listen to this.


REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): If he is not guilty of a crime, then I frankly fear for the future of this country, because now, every future president can say, hey, here's the bar, and the bar is to everything you can to stay in power.


BLITZER: So the committee is now wrapping up in the final days right now before the Republican majority takes over in the House. So it's now up to the Justice Department, to follow all the leads.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Right, so the select committee for a long time has been carrying the football, pushing forward, making sure that they are getting as many people in for these witness interviews, and the justice department will pick it up. We have to see how far they are going to carry it. But one of the things in the -- especially in the recent transcripts that were released this weekend, it shows the limitations that the House Select Committee head up against.

And certain people, people including especially Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, they were able to get not just his text messages which we've reported on extensively. But emails, too, and they say, we weren't able to ask him about them, the Justice Department could ask many people about this.

BLITZER: What do you think the Justice Department is going to follow up with now?

WU: I think they will want to follow up with that, because the committee really was running out of time, and so, the department has that time. But the Fifth Amendment indication was made to the committee was also made with the department, although, they do have more time to pursue that. Just because I invoke the Fifth doesn't mean that the court is going to get agree with me, and if you are in a grand jury? You can bring that before the chief judge, and actually litigate that claim, get down to the bottom of it.

So, in that sense, they have more time. And they have the tools.

POLANTZ: And we saw that happen with someone in the Mar-a-Lago investigation on the other side of what the special counsel is looking at.

BLITZER: It's up to the Justice Department now to follow up.

All right, guys, thank you very much.

Coming up, North Korea's Kim Jong-un makes an ominous resolution, a major increase in his country's nuclear arsenal.



BLITZER: More nukes. That's North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un's resolution for the New Year.

CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us.

Brian, Kim also wants other new weapons of war.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he wants new intercontinental, ballistic missiles and he's just introduce a multiple rocket launcher that puts all of South Korea in range. Kim Jong-un's swagger is indeed on full display, once again, creating a very dangerous moment on the Korean peninsula.


TODD (voice-over): A new year brings a new round of threats from North Korea's combative, soon to be 39 year old dictator.

Kim Jong-un citing an increased threat that he perceives from the U.S. and South Korea, calls for a quote, exponential increase in the country's nuclear arsenal, and the mass production of tactical nuclear weapons.

THOMAS KARAKO, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: That's a bad enough problem as it is, assuming that he's got tens of nuclear weapons right now, and it just continues to build up that pace. That is a challenge.

TODD: Kim also called for the development of a new intercontinental ballistic missile system for North Korea. Analysts say Kim has tested a couple of ICBMs that are believed to be capable of hitting the continental United States. But he still needs to perfect the ability of the missiles to re-enter the earth's atmosphere.

KARAKO: In terms of re-entry, that is actually something interesting that they flagged. Kim flags this past week or so, is their interest in developing that interests, and testing, it's in some conspicuous ways that we can see.

TODD: In recent days, Kim Jong-un has also bragged about this ominous-looking new weapon. What North Korean state media calls the country's, quote, super large multiple rocket launcher, which it says was test fired over the weekend. A launcher that Kim's regime claims it can be loaded with tactical nuclear warheads, and put all of South Korea within range.

Kim's public swagger in recent weeks has shown no sides of diminishing. He's just attended New Year celebrations where children bestowed him with flowers.

In mid-November, as he oversaw the test launch of one, he had in tow a young girl who South Korean intelligence believes is his daughter, Kim Ju-ae, believed to be around ten years old, who had rarely, if, ever been seen in public before.

But in private, the palace intrigue in Pyongyang is as formidable as ever. State media reports that Kim just fired Pak Jong Chon, the most powerful military official in North Korea, other than Kim himself.

COL. DAVID MAXWELL (RET.), FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: This could be the internal game of thrones, inside of North Korea. He has not been able to achieve his objectives, and so, he is likely making personnel changes. And the other thing that we are seeing, of course, is that he can accept no responsibility for failure. So he must have scapegoats.


TODD (on camera): So how should the U.S. and South Korea respond to Kim Jong-un's latest threats? Analyst David Maxwell says that it is important to the U.S. and South Korea, to strengthen their alliance, keep up their joint military drills and find other ways to put more pressure on the dictator. Maxwell says if Kim Jong-un, history tells us that he will not attack strength, Wolf. They've got to show resolve here.

BLITZER: Important point.

Brian Todd reporting, thank you very, very much.

And we'll have more news just ahead.



BLITZER: The Vatican says that 65,000 people paid respects to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who's lying in-state inside St. Peter's Basilica. He was the first pope in almost 600 years to resign, leading to the election of Pope Francis, who had presided Benedict's funeral Thursday. Viewing continues tomorrow, and Wednesday.

Tonight, we are also remembering one of the most prominent TV journalists of our time, Barbara Walters, who died Friday at age 93. By now, you may have heard many tributes to her, and the trail that she blazed for women broadcasters.

But she was also a role model for men in TV news, including me. Barbara and I covered many stories together. And she was always way ahead of the pack.

That was certainly the case in 1977, when she scored a historic joint interview with Egypt's Anwar Sadat and Israel's Menachem Begin just ahead of the Camp David peace accords.

I learned so much from Barbara, and I am so grateful that she was always receptive to my questions and thoughts.

My deepest, deepest condolences to her family, including her daughter Jacqueline. May Barbara Walters rest in peace and may her memory be a blessing.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.