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Sources Say, Biden Legal Team Finds Classified Documents At Second Location; Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) Foes-Turned-Backers Rewarded With Top Committee Posts; FAA System Outage Causes Massive Flight Disruptions Across U.S.; Powerful Conservative Accused Of Sexual Assault; Items Found At Trash Facility Being Tested For Links To Missing Woman. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 11, 2023 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Also this hour, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is rewarding GOP opponents turned supporters who ultimately put him in power, top Republicans making new moves right now to help their own and to investigate President Biden's family.

And new air travel chaos after an FAA system went down and all U.S. flights were grounded. Tonight, urgent questions about what went wrong and whether it could happen again.

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

All right, let's get right to the breaking news, additional classified documents and other government records just found by President Biden's lawyers.

Let's go to our Chief White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly. He's over at the White House with the latest on that. Phil, tell us what you're learning about this second batch of material that was discovered.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the last two days, we've been talking about the occasion where a personal lawyer for President Biden on November 2nd while going through personal items of an office the president no longer uses discovered classified documents and it ended up being ten in total.

Now, that process has kicked off what has been a Justice Department review of those classified documents, but it also, behind the scenes, kicked off an effort by the president's legal team to search any other potential locations for classified documents from his time as vice president.

What we're learning now, according to people brief on the matter with both myself and Evan Perez, is that there has been another set of documents that have been discovered. Some of those documents are classified.

Now, the specific details of those documents are still sparse at this point and the president and his legal team, as they have discussed these issues up to this point, have only spoken about those first set of documents and notably have never closed the door to the possibility of additional documents, so much so that we've actually asked repeatedly if they thought there would be additional documents, including today at the White House briefing.


MATTINGLY: There are no assurances as you can provide at this point that there are no other classified documents out there, any other office (INAUDIBLE)?

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Again, this is an ongoing process. So, I'm going to let the process continue. It is being reviewed by the Department of Justice and I'm just going to leave it there.


MATTINGLY: And that was the response that echoed what White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said to just about every question over the course of the White House briefing today, a White House that has been very cautious about this and very clear that given the fact the Justice Department is engaged in a review at this moment, there are significant limitations to what they feel like they have said.

Now, the president spoke about this issue for the first time, Wolf, last night in Mexico City, again, speaking only about that first set of documents that were discovered, said he was surprised when he found out about it. He doesn't know what the details of those documents are to this point.

One thing that he did make clear in which has been reiterated today by White House officials said there would be full cooperation with what the Justice Department is doing at this moment. There is no sense that that has shifted in any way. But it certainly adds an element to an issue that is both legally and politically dangerous for the president and his team.

We have heard Republicans on Capitol Hill make clear they believe that the Justice Department needs to appoint a special counsel. They are starting to launch their own investigations into this matter and certainly this will exacerbate that effort and that outcry on Capitol Hill, Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly will. Phil Mattingly at the White House, thank you very much.

Let's break all this down with our correspondents and our analysts. And, Jamie, you've been doing excellent reporting on this. So, the Biden team launched more searches and they found a second batch of documents including classified information, classified documents. This is a big deal.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Phil and Evan's reporting has been just excellent on this. But right now, it is what we don't know. We don't know what the second location was. We don't know what the classification was. And we don't know what the damage assessment might be yet from these.

I think that, you know, the fact that they are leaving the door open, that there are potentially more documents out there speaks to, I think, probably, that this is not going to wrap up any time soon with the Department of Justice.

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's also a lesson learned though from the Trump folks, right, because their lawyers did sign off and certify that these are all documents we found and then more were found after. That's not a legal position you want to be in and clearly the White House doesn't want to be in that position either.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Listen, I mean you can tell the White House is trying to stick to a script. You saw Biden there in Mexico City saying very little. I think the problem is this is an unfolding story. There are a lot of questions, you asked some of them, that are still out there. Did Biden bring these documents? Like what did Biden know and when did he know it? Why are Americans just finding out about this when that initial search happened in November?


You can tell Democrats want to go out there and be on the offense for this president and defend him but the problem is they are in the dark as well and they don't want to get too far out ahead of the story if it gets worse and worse, which is another lesson from I think the Trump saga, the sort of the details of it got worse and worse as the story unfolded.

GANGEL: And let's just still say this is very different from the Trump situation because they are cooperating. They are trying to do everything they can from the moment they found those first documents to going back and searching whatever the second location is. They are doing everything they can to cooperate. That was not the case with the documents in Mar-a-Lago.

BLITZER: I want to bring in Andrew McCabe for us, the former deputy director of the FBI. The Senate Intelligence Committee, Andrew, as you know, they want to see these new documents, the first batch of documents. They want a damage assessment. What will that look like? What are your top concerns about these classified documents that have been found in the first batch, now the second batch?

ANDRE MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, Wolf, the government's primary concern in every one of these scenarios is, first and foremost, to recover the classified material so that they can conduct a damage assessment to determine if sources and methods have been compromised, do people need to be moved, do technologies need to be removed from places they might be installed, that sort of thing. So, I would be confident that is what the investigators and prosecutors have focused on now.

The briefing to the intelligence committee is something -- that is a reasonable ask for the intelligence committee. I expect the briefing would take -- would be delivered by the DNI in the same way she briefed them when they made the same request about the documents that have been taken in the Mar-a-Lago search.

I would guess that what the DNI provides in that circumstance is not an absolute list of exactly what is in these documents but rather a description of the topics they cover and more importantly whether or not they believe there is a risk to national security.

BLITZER: Yes. That's what they have to investigate. That's a legitimate investigation.

Let's talk a little bit, Jamie, about what has unfolded. This started back in November when they found the original batch of classified documents at the president's former think tank, whatever you want to call it, from the University of Pennsylvania, here in Washington private office that he had. Now, they found the second batch.

So, I mean, the key question that we're still asking is, the White House is refusing to answer a lot of legitimate questions, not just that Republicans want answered, that the American public wants answered.

GANGEL: I think one of the problems here, honestly, is they don't know the answer to these questions. This happened a long time ago. Who packed up these boxes? How did these folders get mixed up with these?

And, look, I don't know about the second location yet and what the documents were but let's go back to the first group. By and large, those were all personal documents in that office, including funeral arrangements for Beau Biden, condolence correspondence. So, somehow there were a small number of boxes there that contained material that shouldn't have been there. I think going back to those -- that last -- the last days of his vice presidency, who packed it up, you know, how that all happened, I'm not sure they know the answer yet.

HENDERSON: And, listen, getting to the bottom of this is at the top of the list for Republicans who have all sorts of investigations they want to handle. Lindsey Graham, the senator out of South Carolina, now calling for a special counsel. That's a big question. What does Merrick Garland do to go forward on this in the way that he did with Donald Trump? Does he do the same thing? If you're the White House and you don't want a special counsel, but that might be where this ends up.

This is a real gift politically to Republicans who saw what happened to Donald Trump and all of the coverage in trouble that he has gotten into so far because of the documents discovered in Mar-a-Lago. A different situation because he didn't cooperate, but still Republicans are going to be all over this and trying to score political points and also to get to the bottom what happened.

BLITZER: Yes. And the last thing the White House wants, Audie, I'm sure you agree, is a special counsel being appointed by the attorney general to investigate. CORNISH: And it's not a given that something like that will happen but I do want to clarify that it actually -- if this never happened, Republicans in the House would still be going after the Justice Department, okay? They have broader concerns. They've created this subcommittee about the weaponization of the federal government and some of the same Republicans who want this kind of committee are people who were under investigation, so to speak, with the January 6th committee.

So there is a kind of antipathy between these communities. The law enforcement and Republicans right now, it's going to play out through these investigations where they can bring a heightened scrutiny and this is just another reason to be able to do that.


BLITZER: You knot it is interesting, Andrew, and you're the former deputy director of the FBI, the pressure is clearly going to mount on the attorney general of the United States to go ahead and name some sort of special counsel. But what would be the role and how do you see this unfolding? And also where is the FBI in all of this?

MCCABE: Well, I'll answer the easy part first. The FBI is working likely with the U.S. attorney in Chicago to conduct this review and eagerly awaiting some direction from the A.G. as to how this is going to be handled.

I think, I agree with the Republicans, there should absolutely be a special counsel appointed and to review this matter. So, let's think about it, the special counsel, there is nothing magical about a special counsel's legal authority. They essentially have the same ability to investigate and charge crimes that a U.S. attorney has. There's no competence issue here. You certainly have very competent U.S. attorneys to be able to do it.

The whole reason to put a special counsel in is when the public would be reasonably concerned that an investigation had been, might be, could be, possibly was tainted by politics. There is certainly that concern here with the attorney general making investigative decisions over the guy who appointed them, President Biden.

So, you know, it absolutely calls out for special counsel and I think it goes a long way to addressing some of that criticism that the A.G. is receiving right now from the Republican side. I think they should handle each investigation in as similar manner as possible, acknowledging the fact that the facts in any situation are very, very different.

BLITZER: Yes. There are significant differences indeed. Jamie, you want to --

GANGEL: I just want to add one thing, nobody wants a special counsel in general, but it may actually be in the -- to the White House's benefit if there is a special counsel, just to say, this was treated the same and it was even-handed. And so if they dismiss this as an honest mistake or whatever it is, it is a special counsel who is doing that.

BLITZER: And Lindsey Graham wants a special counsel.

HENDERSON: And, listen, the White House might even be smart to actually call for a special counsel. We'll see what happens.

BLITZER: We'll see if they do. All right, everybody stand by, were going to continue to watch all the breaking news unfold.

Also just ahead, new Republican reaction coming in.

Plus, how Kevin McCarthy and his allies are handing out perks to the conservative Republicans who sealed his victory to become the speaker of the House.



BLITZER: We're following the breaking news on a new batch of classified documents and other federal records found by President Biden's legal team, raising even more questions right now about his handling of very sensitive materials. Stand by for more on that.

But right now, the new Republican house speaker, Kevin McCarthy, is delivering on promises he made to win the job.

CNN's Melanie Zanona is covering all of the action up on Capitol Hill for us. Melanie, Republicans are making major decisions right now on committee assignments. This is very significant. What can you tell us?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes, Wolf. House Republicans have begun to populate their so-called A-list committees. So, these are the top tier committees. And through those assignments, we have started to learn the full extent of Kevin McCarthy's promises that he made in his bid to become speaker.

We know that one of those promises that he made through a sort of handshake deal was to add more conservative hardliners to a number of key committees. And sources told me and Manu Raju that there were at least six dozen, half dozen, so six members, of the McCarthy holdouts, so these are people that voted against McCarthy initially that have now been essentially rewarded with plum committee assignments. That includes Michael Cloud, Andrew Clyde, Andy Harris, who also run House Appropriations Committee and Andy OGles, Byron Donalds and Ralph Norman who all serve on the House Financial Services Committee.

So that will make a total of 16 members of the House Freedom Caucus who will be serving on these so-called top tier A-list committees but there are more assignments to come including, House Rules, House Judiciary, House Oversight, House Armed Services. So, we expect those decisions to be made in the coming days, Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, the GOP also now facing more pressure to act on the controversial New York Republican congressman, George Santos. What is the speaker, Speaker McCarthy, saying about this? ZANONA: So, Speaker McCarthy says he is not going to be calling on

Santos to resign. He says this is up to the people and his voters in his district to make that decision about his political future.

But McCarthy did sound open to a potential ethics probe if the House Ethics Committee decides to go that route. And McCarthy also said that Santos is going to have to build some trust up here and he will have the opportunity to do that because McCarthy does plan to give him committee assignments. But he did say that Santos will not be receiving any top tier committee assignments. Take a listen.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: George Santos will be on any of these key committees, on the eight committees, do you think George Santos --

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I try to stick by the Constitution. The voters elected him to serve. If there is a concern, he has to go through the ethics. Let him move through that.

REPORTER: He himself has admitted to fabricating parts of his resume.

MCCARTHY: Yes and so that a lot of people here and so that matters.


ZANONA: Now, GOP leaders told Manu Raju that Santos requested to serve on the House Financial Services Committee. The GOP leader is rejecting that, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Melanie, up on Capitol Hill, Melanie Zanona reporting, thanks very much.

Let's get to more on all of this. Joining us now Republican Congressman, Chris Stewart of Utah. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

I want to get to the news coming out of Capitol Hill in a moment. But, first, as you heard, President Biden's legal team has found another batch of classified government records in a second location. So, what questions does this raise?

REP. CHRIS STEWART (R-UT): Well, I mean, it's unfortunate. It's obviously not good. These are classified not only top secret but in some cases, Wolf, apparently even SCI, special compartmented of information, which is the highest security classification there can be.

And it is ironic obviously that President Biden is very, very aggressive, very harsh in his criticizing against former President Trump, and because of that you've got a lot of people, at least some are saying, when are they raid the university and his offices there?

But, Wolf, I'm going to be consistent on this.


When we had this information released about President Trump and classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, I said, let's let the investigation develop. Let's see what the evidence indicates. And I would say the same thing here. Let's let the evidence come forward. Let's see what the investigation says.

But, Wolf, one other thing, there was a time when people were saying, there were nuclear codes there and nuclear secrets, and I said I find that astonishingly unlikely. And I think the same thing is probably true with President Biden's documents. They may be classified but I really doubt there's something there that would endanger national security.

Now, maybe we'll find something and be surprised but, again, I would be very, very surprised if that's the case.

BLITZER: But if it is top secret, SCI, and you've been a member of the intelligence committee, you've read those kinds of documents, are you concerned that they could be providing to some person who doesn't have a classification, doesn't have any security clearances to go ahead and potentially get that kind of information?

STEWART: Yes, of course, I'm not minimizing that at all. I'm just trying to reemphasize the point about let's let the investigation come forward. But SCI is -- that, generally, it's not just the information but it's how we got the information that is very concerning.

And so, again, we're going to have to see what the investigators -- what they tell us. And I was listening to the previous segment. I think the president would be smart to call for a special counsel to investigate this and take that responsibility and make sure the American people know that he's serious about (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: So, do you think there should be a special counsel to investigate all of this?

STEWART: I think it would probably be to everyone's benefit, if there was.

BLITZER: Let's see. We've got Lindsey Graham, your Republican colleague, is calling for a special counsel as well.

Let's get back to today's business where you are up on Capitol Hill, Congressman. You've called the dissenters in your party who oppose McCarthy's speakership egotistical. Does it frustrate you to see some of those members being given very prominent committee assignments today?

STEWART: Well, we had a lot of emotion last week, and there were some of them. And, by the way, many of them are friends of mine. They are people I genuinely respect and I think they were actually trying to do something good for the conference and good for the country.

But there were a few who clearly, at some point, this wasn't any longer about rules and how Congress is going to govern itself, it was really about some of them and some of their aspirations. And when that happened, then many in the conference get very frustrated and kind of angry.

So, I would hope that they would not be rewarded for that. But, Wolf, the key here is that many of those individuals, whether on the freedom caucus or others, we should involve them in these committees. If they're involved with appropriations, for example, like I am, where we're writing these bills and going through that process, then they're far more likely to support the language and the legislation once it actually gets to the floor.

That's Kevin's point in trying to do this, involve everyone regardless of their ideological background or regardless of where they are within the Republican Party, whether they're moderate or whether they're very to the right, involve all of us, and then, once again, we'll have much more likelihood and much more likely that we would have support from everyone when were on the floor. Because, as you know, Wolf, you lose three or four seats, or both, you lose just a handful of votes and you can't move the legislation forward. Much, much better to get everyone involve while we're writing the legislation than to put it on the floor and then hope everyone will support it.

BLITZER: All right. Congressman, thank you, as usual, for joining us, Congressman Chris Stewart of Utah.

STEWART: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, massive flight disruptions today across the United States, but this time it's not the weather to blame. Why the FAA is calling a nationwide ground stop. They did today. Stand by. We have new information.



BLITZER: This hour, we're keeping a very close eye on air traffic across the United States after the first nationwide ground stop since 9/11. An investigation is now underway into the cause of an FAA system outage that led to the extraordinary action that delayed or canceled thousands of flights here in the United States today. It's the latest in a series of air travel meltdowns but most were caused by weather. CNN's Omar Jimenez reports almost 10,000 flights were delayed today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sorry for the inconvenience, but like I say, this is a nationwide issue. It's not just a local issue.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This is how the day started at airports across the U.S. Wednesday, a nationwide ground stop from the Federal Aviation Administration, the largest since 9/11. The ripple effects of the ground stop are now affecting thousands of flights.

TAMMARA WILLIAMS, TRAVELER STUCK IN CHARLOTTE: We've been delayed three times. There are no more flights leaving today that would get us there on time, nor tomorrow, nor Friday.

JIMENEZ: The ground stop was because of a system outage and only lasted about an hour-and-a-half. Lifted by 9:00 A.M. but it has left passengers throughout the day scrambling and authorities questioning what went wrong.

The Biden administration at this point says there is no direct evidence of a cyber attack.

PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: But we are also not going to rule that out until we have a clear and better understanding of what is taking place, but, again, no indication of that at this time.

JEAN-PIERRE: We do not have evidence that this outage was caused by a cyber attack. The FAA is working aggressively to get to the bottom of the root causes for the system outage so that it does not happen again.

JIMENEZ: The White House adding that issues began to pop up Tuesday.


JEAN-PIERRE: DOT and FAA report that yesterday, they were working through issues in the NOTAM system, which is used to communicate key safety information about runways and flight patterns with pilots.

JIMENEZ: The affected system is known as the notice to air missions, or NOTAM, it's separate from air traffic control. But it sends alerts to pilots to let them know of conditions that could affect their flight safety, like if a specific runway is closed.

The flight chaos is the second in less than a month after holiday travel was severely impacted tied to weather and a meltdown at Southwest Airlines due to outdated airline systems. This time, Southwest is canceling 400 flights but still nowhere near as bad as just weeks ago when it had to cancel more than 16,000 over about a week. But now, with an FAA failure, every airline is being affected.

BRANDON BEIGHTOL, TRAVELER: We booked our flight to Chicago with about a ten-hour layover just in case something happened, and I'm glad we did.

JIMENEZ: Even with operations continuing to normalize, the next step for officials is making sure this doesn't become the new normal.

REP. RICK LARSEN (D-WA): This situation begs the question about the current state of the technology infrastructure of the FAA. We'll going to have to look at that.

BUTTIGIEG: Now that we've gone through the immediate disruption of the morning is understanding exactly how this was possible and exactly what steps are needed to make sure that it doesn't happen again.


JIMENEZ (on camera): Now, today, we've seen more than 1,300 cancelations and more than 9,500 delays. And on how all of this happened, a source familiar with the FAA operations is telling CNN that yesterday they noticed a computer issue tied to that NOTAM system. They discovered corrupted files both in the main and backup systems.

So, they made a plan to reboot everything early this morning before the rush. The only issue is once they did that, it took a lot longer to get fully back to pushing out that pertinent information needed for flight safety than they anticipated. So, the ground stop was issued and everything rippled from there. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, that's new information that you're reporting. Thanks very much, Omar, I appreciate it very much.

Let's dig deeper into all of this. CNN Business Editor-at-Large Richard Quest is joining us and CNN Aviation Analyst Miles O'Brien is with us as well.

Let me get your reaction to the new information we're getting that we just heard from Omar, Miles. What is your thought?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: It's not surprising, Wolf. Anybody who has followed the FAA closely over the years is aware the agency has had great difficulty innovating in the world of technology. At lot of it is consistent underfunding over the years. Some of it is an aviation culture, which is a little bit hesitant to embrace technologies for obvious safety concerns.

But what you've ended up with is a system that was built essentially in the 1950s with spitting radars and people talking on radios, VHF radios that really hasn't moved into an age of the internet, to an age of computers, to an age of satellites. And this NOTAM situation is directly related that but it speaks to the overall culture there of allowing antiquated technology to persist.

BLITZER: Let me get Richard's thoughts on this as well. Go ahead, Richard.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, what you now have, of course, is that there were these two systems, the primary and the backup, both of which had a corrupted file. And I guess they thought they were being very clever this morning when they decided the full reboot should take place. It was meant to take 90 minutes, it took considerably longer.

So, we don't actually -- I mean, if I'm understanding this right and I take with this, the architecture that Miles has just explained, nothing actually failed. They went in there, they tried to -- they got done with the corrupted files and they rebooted the system.

But the system is so old, antiquated, dilapidated, whatever you want, that it didn't return as fast as it should. And this, as Miles, rightly says, it goes to the problem of when people are going to realize, you've got to spend large sums and probably larger sums than are being spent at the moment for this critical infrastructure for the U.S. economy. BLITZER: Which raises the question, Miles, how great is the risk right now that this system could go down again?

O'BRIEN: Well, it could do it again. Currently, there is a redundancy problem here. But it's important to point out, Wolf, the remedy for -- the failure of this system is you don't takeoff. It's not planes falling out of sky. So, while it was a huge inconvenience, it wasn't in the purest sense a safety issue.

BLITZER: It could have been a safety issue if those planes started taking off indeed. Miles O'Brien, always good ever to you here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Richard Quest, thanks to you as well.

Just ahead, rain, in some cases, incredible amounts, still falling on parts of California tonight with more storms actually on the way.


We'll go there live for the latest on the deadly deluge. That's next.


BLITZER: Turning now to the war in Ukraine and the heated battle right now for the key town of Soledar, which appears to be hanging on in the face of a very brutal brand new Russian assault. The fighting comes as Moscow announces a major shakeup in its military leadership, replacing a top general spearheading the invasion.

CNN's Scott McLean is joining us live right now from Kyiv with details. So, what's the latest in this fight, Scott?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the fog of war is thick right now in Soledar. They head of the Wagner private military contractors said earlier that the Russians were in control of the town, though not even the Kremlin is going that far.


We have also managed to speak to a soldier who was on the frontlines in Soledar right now and he says that they are hanging on at the moment, though the next 24 hours would be critical. He says that communication lines have been jammed by the Russians. Coordination is extremely difficult and they are using a familiar tactic. They are trying to surround the city. And this particular soldier says that he would be trapped if his fellow troops cannot hold the line.

He told us yesterday that he figured that Ukrainians would at some point have to withdraw from the town. It is just a matter of when. President Zelenskyy said today that the Russians need to take Soledar. They need it so that they can continue to gin up support for the war back home after what has been a very difficult few months on the battlefield for the Russians.

Case and point, just three months into his tenure, the commander of this so-called special military operation has already been replaced by man named Valery Gerasimov, a senior Russian military official, for the past decade. Officially this is to better coordinate different branches of the Russian military because coordination has been a big problem for them.

Bureaucracy has been a big problem for them. Others figured that this is a way for the Russian defense ministry to tighten their control ahead of what is expected to be a new spring offensive. And by then, Wolf, the Ukrainians play new weapons at their disposal, Patriot missile defense systems, new fighting vehicles from Germany, the U.S. and France. And now for the very first time, also, tanks. For the first time, the Poles committed to sending German-made Leopard tanks to Ukraine and now we know that the Brits, it seems, are considering doing the same. The prime minister's office said earlier that they recognized that tanks would be a game changer. Wolf?

BLITZER: These are major military moves indeed. Scott McLean in Kyiv for us, stay safe over there, thank you very much.

Other news we're following, everything is wet, everything is saturated, everything is at a breaking point right now. That's how California's lieutenant governor described the situation in her state, which has been inundated over the last two weeks by more massive storms than it would normally see in a year.

CNN's Veronica Miracle reports at least 18 people have been killed in this round of severe weather.


VERONICA MIRACLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The cleanup from a series of deadly unprecedented storms continues across California.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It felt like an earthquake. The dog came running in. We could hear glass shattering and water pouring.

MIRACLE: Heavy rainfall triggered flash flooding.

CAITLIN CLANCY, FLOODING VICTIM: So, it was shocking. It was really unreal seeing that water just come surging up.

MIRACLE: In San Francisco, lightning and hail storms, trees falling, power lines down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw sparks everywhere around me.

MIRACLE: Even a tornado briefly touched down near Sacramento.

On Tuesday, California had one of its busiest days ever for air rescues and at least 18 people have died in the storms.

LT. GOV. ELENI KOUNALAKIS (D-CA): That's more than we've lost in the last two years of wildfires. So, this is a very significant emergency.

MIRACLE: And in San Francisco and other parts of Northern California, the rain continues to fall.

CLANCY: If we flood more and more, it's not manageable. MIRACLE: Some 5 million people are under flood watches in Northern California while parts of Central and Southern California getting a much needed break from downpours, flooding and mud slides.

DREW LANDERS, SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC WORKS: The ground is so wet and the water is pooling up. I would say there is like the worst winter I've seen in this short amount of time.

MIRACLE: In the Sierra, one to three feet of snow has blanketed several ski resorts in the last several days. The snow closed a major thoroughfare in the state overnight delaying shipments as trucks waited to pass.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to get this stuff where it's supposed to go.

MIRACLE: The snow pack, which contributes roughly 30 percent of California's fresh water, offers some relief amid lingering drought conditions in California.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a double-edged sword because we're seeing these slides and stuff but this state needs water so badly.

MIRACLE: The unrelenting downpour is also filling some of the state's largest reservoirs.

KOUNALAKIS: We've never really seen anything like this. The state has been experiencing drought for the last four years and now we have storm upon storm.

MIRACLE: The benefit of so much rain falling so fast.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We wanted rain. We got it.

MIRACLE: Six storms in the last two weeks and there is more to come. After almost 20 inches of rain in the last three days, even Southern California's brief respite from the deluge will soon end, another round of heavy rainfall is due this weekend with two more major storms to follow.


MIRACLE (on camera): Wolf, this is a prime example of what is happening all across the state. This used to be a dry hillside and now you can see, it looks like a water fall has come down here, washing all of this mud and debris all across this roadway. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Veronica Miracle, on the scene for us, thank you very much.

Coming up, we're getting new reporting on a powerful figure in the conservative -- in conservative politics here in the United States accused of sexual assault by a campaign staffer.


Stand by. We'll bring you all the details right after a very quick break.


BLITZER: Tonight, some very disturbing allegations are being made against a powerful and influential conservative leader here in the U.S.

CNN's special correspondent Jamie Gangel is working the story for us. She's back with us right now.

So what are you learning about these allegations against Matt Schlapp?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Wolf, we've learned that a Republican strategist is alleging that Matt Schlapp, who's the influential chairman of the ACU, made unwanted sexual advances, including groping him and fondling him as he drove Schlapp back to his hotel. This was several weeks before the election date in November.


The strategist is a male in his late 30s. He was working for the Georgia state GOP and the Herschel Walker campaign. And he had been assigned to drive Schlapp that night. He says the incident happened on the way back to the hotel. That when they got to the hotel, the staffer says Schlapp invited him up, he declined, and hours later he informed campaign officials.

We want to read Schlapp through this attorney, his attorney denies this claim. The attorney says, quote, the attack is false and Mr. Schlapp denies any improper behavior. We are evaluating legal options for response.

BLITZER: You've also opted -- and this is pretty important -- some text messages sent in real time. What do they reveal?

GANGEL: CNN has reviewed text messages from that night as well as phone records. They reveal the allegations that he was upset at the time, and he was telling people about it. In addition, CNN also spoke to multiple high-level campaign officials who were speaking to the staffer in real-time and describe him as being, quote, angry and mortified.

What we want to show you here is actually an exchange between the staffer and Schlapp when the staffer, who's been instructed not to drive Schlapp any more by the campaign, texts Schlapp and says, quote, I do want to say I was uncomfortable with what happened last night, the campaign does have a driver who's available to get you to Macon and back to the airport.

According to the records, Schlapp tried to call the staffer a couple of times and then later that day texted the staffer, called him by name and said, quote, if you could see it in your heart to call me at the end of the day, I would appreciate it. If not, I wish you luck on the campaign and hope you keep up with the good work.

We did obtain another set of text messages. These are being made public for the first time. The staffer was reaching out to a friend in politics asking for guidance.

He tells that person -- this is the same night, quote, he's pissed I didn't follow him to his hotel room. The staffer wrote, then later, the friend responds, I'm so sorry, man, what an effing creep. And then later the staffer texts the same friend, I just don't know how to say it to my superiors that their surrogate fondled my junk without my consent.

We're told the staffer is keeping his legal options open. He didn't come forward at the time, he said, because he didn't want to cause a distraction to the Herschel Walker campaign. He says he's coming forward now because he doesn't want other people to be victimized -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting indeed.

All right. Jamie, good reporting. Thank you very, very much. Jamie Gangel reporting.

We're going to have more news just ahead including chilling new details in the case of a missing Massachusetts woman. What we're learning about her husband's past. That's next.



BLITZER: Gruesome new findings in the hunt for a missing Massachusetts woman.

Our Brian Todd is joining us now with more on the latest in the investigation.

What is the latest, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, we have new details from a previous unrelated court case pertaining to the missing woman's husband Brian Walshe who faced serious accusations in a dispute over his father's will.


TODD (voice-over): Tonight in court documents just obtained by CNN, relatives and acquaintances of Brian Walshe, the husband of missing Massachusetts woman Ana Walshe referred to Brian as a, quote, sociopath and, quote, not a trustworthy person.

The documents are part of a dispute over the estate of Brian Walshe's father who died in 2018. One of his adversaries in court also wrote that Brian Walshe was a, quote, very angry and physically violent person.

CNN reached out to current and former attorneys for Walshe but has not gotten a response.

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: The evidence of any prior bad acts or violent outbursts will be of interest to prosecutors and investigators.

TODD: This comes as investigators process a significant amount of circumstantial evidence regarding Ana Walshe's disappearance with one consuming mystery hanging over the case.

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: What they're trying to prove here is a murder case, and doing that without a body offers certain challenges.

TODD: Neither a body nor any body parts have yet been discovered. But other grisly evidence has been found. Law enforcement sources tell CNN the latest evidence investigators are analyzing includes a hacksaw, torn-are up cloth and what appear to be blood stains recovered from a garbage transfer station north of Boston.

Earlier, prosecutors said, a bloodied broken knife and blood stains were found in the family's basement.

CHRIS SWECKER, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION DIVISION: Tracking this guy is like tracking a bleeding elephant in a snow. I mean, he's leaving tools, clues, and signs everywhere.

TODD: Including law enforcement, sources say, Internet searches in the days following his wife's disappearance of how to dispose of a 115-pound woman's body and how to dismember a body.

BRYANNA FOX, FORMER FBI AGENT: When your wife is missing, when that's what you're searching for, it's just too much to explain away, in my opinion.

TODD: Law enforcement sources tell CNN that investigators now hope to collect blood samples from the Walshe's sons so they can compare that DNA to the blood found in the trash piles and in the basement.

MILLER: By getting DNA from the children, they could establish scientific direct bloodline DNA link, saying that the contributor of the blood on one or both ends of that scenario is the mother of those children. That would get them to much closer to a place of probable cause to bring an indictment.

TODD: Then, there are Brian Walshe's inconsistent accounts. He's been charging with misleading investigators about him and his wife's whereabouts on January 1st, the last day he claims to have seen her. He didn't report his wife missing until January 4th.

LYNN BELAND, ASSISTANT DA, NORFOLK, MASSACHUSETTS: During the time frame when he didn't report his wife and gave various statements that allowed him time to either clean up evidence, dispose of evidence --


TODD (on camera): Brian Walshe has pleaded not guilty to misleading investigators but his lawyers have otherwise not commented to CNN on this case -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting. Brian, thank you very, very much.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.