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Biden: U.S. Sending 31Abrams Tanks To Ukraine; Meta Restores Trump's Facebook & Instagram Accounts; Sources: DOJ Was Prepared To Seek Warrant If Biden Hadn't Consented To Search Of Home; Family: Autopsy Shows Tyre Nichols Died After "Severe Beating". Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 25, 2023 - 17:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, President Biden pledges to arm Ukraine with some of the most sophisticated war machines on the planet, American Abrams battle tanks. Officials warn it could take months to deliver the equipment but Ukraine is already making plans to use the new weapons as a so called iron fist to smash Russian defenses.

Also tonight, new developments in the Biden classified documents probe. We're getting a behind the scenes look at measures the U.S. Justice Department was prepared to take if the President had refused to cooperate with an FBI search of his Delaware home.

And Congressman George Santos is dodging questions about yet another controversy half a million dollars in mysterious campaign payments he once claimed were personal loans.

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

Let's get straight to our top story this hour, the United States formally pledging Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine. Our Pentagon Correspondent Oren Liebermann is joining us. He's got details on this major, major boost to the war effort on behalf of the United States for Ukraine.

Oren, what are you hearing about how all of this will unfold?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: This was one of Ukraine's top requests for quite some time. And now that request being fulfilled from the United States. President Joe Biden announcing earlier today 31 M1 Abrams tanks will be headed to Ukraine. It's a process that will not move all that quickly, it will take several months, not only to get the Abrams ready but to get the Ukrainians trained up and ready to operate and maintain the Abrams tank. But Biden was clear about what this means, the strongest direct offensive weapon the U.S. has yet offered to Ukraine to meet Russia head to head on the battlefield.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Abrams tanks are the most capable tanks in the world. They're also extremely complex to operate and maintain so we're also giving Ukraine the parts and equipment necessary to effectively sustain these tanks on the battlefield.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did Germany force you to change your mind on sending tanks?

BIDEN: Germany didn't force me to change your mind. We want to make sure were all together as we're going to do all along. And that's what we're doing right now.


LIEBERMANN: Crucially, this broke what appeared to be a deadlock between Germany and the U.S. German officials had said they would not send their own Leopard 2 tanks until the U.S. sent Abrams. With the U.S. announcement, we saw the German announcement as well, so tanks are on their way to Ukraine. The White House said they may start training on the tanks before they're able to send them so that Ukrainians are ready to use them when they arrive, Wolf.

BLITZER: Oren, do we know where these Abrams battle tanks will be coming from?

LIEBERMANN: Wolf, that's unclear at this point. What we do know, and we heard from the army acquisition said a little earlier today, is that the U.S. doesn't make new M1 Abrams tanks, it has thousands in stock and it will refurbish or update these in a way as it sees fit for the battlefield of Ukraine. Whether those tanks come from stocks in Europe or stocks in the U.S. unclear, but that's part of what will become clear as this process plays out and as the U.S. continues its training program on not only Patriots but also all of the other new systems it has provided and other countries have provided as well.

BLITZER: A really significant development indeed. Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon, thank you very much.

We're also getting reaction to this dramatic announcement from the Ukrainians. For more on that, let's go to our Senior International Correspondent Fred Pleitgen. He's joining us from Kramatorsk right now.

Fred, so what are top Ukrainian officials saying about all of this?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, he came out and he thanked both President Biden, obviously for those Abrams tanks, but he also thanked the chancellor of Germany, Olaf Scholz, for the Leopard tanks.

Of course those Leopard tanks will not only be coming from Germany but the Germans also say they're going to give the go ahead for countries that operate the Leopard tank which is made in Germany and which they operate to send those to Ukraine as well. The Germans say a lot of tanks are going to be coming to Ukraine in the not too distant future.

We also spoke to some Ukrainian soldiers who are fighting not very far from where I am right now on the battlefield in Bakhmut, and even they were elated to hear the news that main battle tanks would be coming. Tanks are huge part of the equation here in eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainians say they're extremely important. Obviously would be even more important if they managed to get western modern battle tanks here as well. They of course, understand it's something that's going to take a while. But right now the Russians really pouring a lot of effort into trying to take that key town of Bakhmut.


Lot of Ukrainian officials also voicing their pleasure at the fact that this was happening. The Defense Minister of Ukraine, he spoke to Christiane Amanpour and here's what he had to say.


OLEKSII REZNIKOV, UKRAINIAN DEFENSE MINISTER: We will use them as some kind of metal feast or iron feast to break through the defense line of our enemy because we need to make our -- continue our counter offensive campaign in different directions.


PLEITGEN: And, Wolf, so there you have the Defense Minister of Ukraine. I also earlier today actually messaged with a spokesman for the Kremlin, Dmitry Peskov about all this, obviously the Russians quite angry that this step is going to be taking place. They say that this will increase the tensions on the European continent and with NATO. They also say that it's going to be first and foremost Ukrainians that will suffer. And Peskov then later, on a call with journalists, said that the tanks that would be sent, specifically the Abrams tanks, will burn once they get sent here to Ukraine. Of course the Russians have said that about many other weapons systems that the U.S. has sent here to Ukraine. So far, that has not been the case.

And just a word here from the battlefield as well, Wolf, right now Bakhmut certainly extremely tough for the Ukrainians. They say the Russians are gaining some ground but at huge own losses, essentially sending waves of people towards the front line to try and storm Ukrainian positions. The Ukrainians say they're trying to hold those positions, but it is extremely tough going. And right now, Wolf, the area that I am in right now as much of central and eastern Ukraine is under an air raid siren alert, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, stay safe over there. Fred Pleitgen reporting from Kramatorsk, appreciate it very, very much.

For a closer look right now at these new Western battle tanks, let's bring in our Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto.

Jim, so what impact will this have actually on the battlefield?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's start with the tanks themselves. This is the German Leopard, very similar to the Abrams, highly capable, certainly more capable than the Russian made T72s, which the Ukrainians have tended to rely on. But here's a key point, also an offensive weapon. With Ukrainians, as you heard from the defense minister, they're hoping that this will help them retake territory that Russia has occupied since the start of this invasion.

So let's look at the numbers though. Here are the tanks by country so far. Any disunity clearly has dissolved. You got America, you got Germany, the U.K., also Poland sending tanks in. But look at these numbers here. That total from these three countries is 59 tanks, with others you get closer to 100.

How does that fit into the broader picture in Ukraine? We don't know how many tanks exactly Russia and Ukraine are using, we just don't trust their numbers. We do know or have a good sense of how many have been lost since the start of the war. These are numbers compiled by Oryx, and they base this on open source, the only what they could confirm via video, seeing tanks destroyed. And so far, more than 1,600 Russian tanks, close to 500 Ukrainian tanks, that's more than 2,000 tanks lost gives you a sense of how many are on the battlefield there.

And then you compare that 59, perhaps it gets up to 100 over the next several months, as even the President granted there. It's going to take time to get them in there. The math doesn't add up in terms of leveling the playing field between what Russia has, what Ukraine has.

And here's one more point I would make. When I speak to US military officials there is a school of thought among U.S. officials that Ukraine is not ideally equipped for a big tank battle. It's much better equipped for smaller, more mobile units. That's where they had all the success destroying Russian tanks in the early stages of the war around Kyiv. That's why this weapon system, which the U.S. has also sanded the Bradley fighting vehicle, which, by the way, has antitank capabilities with the TOW missile mounted here just on the left side of its turret, there are many in the U.S. that believe that's the better path for Ukraine, smaller, lighter, more mobile, requiring less support than trying to beat the Russians at tank warfare in the east.

BLITZER: Those TOW anti-tank missiles are really, really important.


BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, stay with us. I want to get some analysis right now as well from CNN's Katie Bo Lillis and retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark, he's a CNN Military Analyst.

General Clark, how critical is this move to now send both Leopard and Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine? And is the US doing everything possible to address the potential complications associated with the Abrams tanks?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I think these tanks being provided is really, really essential because even as late as last summer, six months ago, the Ukrainians were running out of main gun ammunition for their T72 tanks and there's a worldwide shortage, this 125 millimeter ammunition. So, they needed and they've been asking for our tanks for months. Those tanks still aren't there, of course, and as Jim Sciutto pointed out, they're going -- what's going to be there is a small number compared to what their need is.


So, yes, the tanks are important. They're more important as a symbol of U.S. and European commitment. But in the defense you've got to have some armor for mobile reserves.

So, yes, I hear the talk about the iron fist and taking back the territory, that's good. But we're also facing the prospect of a major Russian offensive. And if that Russian offensive comes, the tanks, even these small numbers of tanks could be very significant if they get to the right spot to cut off the penetration.

BLITZER: Yes, that's a good point.

You know, Katie Bo, you're doing a lot of reporting on this as well. What are you hearing? What does this U.S. decision say about their view of the timeline of how long this war could actually drag on?

KATIE BO LILLIS, CNN REPORTER: Wolf, what I think is really telling is the way that Biden administration officials are framing the decision to send the Abrams, they're framing it as a long term commitment to Ukraine's capabilities, which really backs up what I think we've been hearing from U.S. intelligence and military officials for a while now, which is that they don't see this war winding down anytime soon. Ukraine obviously is not planning on stopping fighting. And I spoke to a senior Western intelligence official last week who said, look, all the indications that we have is that Putin is convinced -- that is still convinced that he can defeat Ukraine militarily on the battlefield.

So, at this point, U.S. officials don't believe that there is a negotiated settlement on cards anytime soon. They also don't believe that there is a decisive military resolution coming anytime soon, which is exactly what you heard from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley last week telling reporters that he believed it would be incredibly difficult for Ukraine to eject Russia from all of its territory within the next year. So, Wolf, that's the context in which U.S. officials are making this decision on the Abrams, a long, hard slog.

BLITZER: Jim, in that context, what specifically will Ukraine try to accomplish in the short run, in the short term in the coming months, let's say, with the German Leopard battle tanks and eventually the U.S. Abrams tanks arriving?

SCIUTTO: Their hope is to take back territory. That's their intention. They don't want to rest on their laurels. They don't want to sue for peace and grant territory in exchange for peace.

You heard from the defense minister there. He hopes that these tanks will be part of an offensive that can punch through Russian lines, in effect. And we should not diminish Ukraine's ability to do counter offenses. They had enormous success just a few months ago around Kharkiv, surprising everybody, really, with the speed of their advance there.

But the fact is, the battlefield in the east is different now. It's more dug in, it's flatlands, there are trenches, there are artillery pieces, there are tank divisions there, and that's one reason we've seen the casualty count, the daily casualty count there so horrific. So, those are -- Ukrainian hopes, they hope this will make a difference. But as Katie Bo said, from the U.S. perspective, they don't expect this to be winding down anytime soon. The U.S. expects this to be a grinding continuation of months and months of war.

BLITZER: Yes, that's what they expect.

General Clark, what does this say that the Western allies finally took this step today despite all of Russia's very public and private threats?

CLARK: Sure. You know, this is the policy is to slowly ramp up the assistance to Ukraine. And at every step, yes, Moscow is going to object, but not to do it in such an abrupt way that it triggers an escalation, a real escalation to nuclear.

So, this is the administration strategy. Keep the war going, bleed Russia, support Ukraine, hope that Ukraine can win, but don't do enough to totally turn it upside down suddenly so Putin can knee jerk wise use nuclear weapons. And that's the goal of the administration. This is perfectly a part of it.

BLITZER: Dramatic developments indeed. Guys, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, we're following breaking news. We're learning new information right now about a major decision Meta, the parent company of both Facebook and Instagram, just made about Donald Trump's social media accounts. We'll have more on that right after the break.



BLITZER: There's breaking news just coming into CNN right now. Meta, the parent company of both Facebook and Instagram, says it's restoring, restoring the social media accounts of former President Donald Trump. For more on that, I want to bring in CNN's Donie O'Sullivan, CNN's Kristen Holmes, and CNN Media Analyst Sara Fischer, she's a senior media reporter over at Axios.

Donie, let me start with you. First of all, give us the specifics. What are you learning?

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, this is the most politically consequential decision Meta, Facebook's parent company, has ever made. In the past few minutes, Meta announcing that it is going to allow former President Donald Trump back on its platforms, which of course, include Facebook and Instagram. Trump was kicked off both of those platforms in the days following the Capitol attack. Facebook saying at the time that having him there was a risk to public safety.

Facebook said that they would reassess this decision after two years, which they did this month. And they decided, I guess, that the risk to public safety is not what it was in their view in January 2021 and now are putting him back on the platform. He's going to get his accounts back in the coming weeks.

But Wolf, the really, really important thing here for the Trump campaign, particularly as we go into 2024, is in previous campaigns, Trump has spent hundreds of millions on targeted Facebook advertising. That is going to be a very important tool as we go into 2024.

BLITZER: Certainly is. And he presumably could raise a lot of money advertising as well.

Sara, I know you had an exclusive interview with Nick Clegg. Tell us about that. He's the president -- he's President of Global Affairs for Meta. What can you tell us about what he revealed to you?

SARA FISCHER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: Yes, well, for one thing, Wolf, he did not talk to Trump or any of his associates before this decision. So, they are learning about this in real time at the same time as CNN's viewers are learning about this. He also did not talk to the White House or any other stakeholders. So we're all learning about it at the same time.

A couple of other things to note, he takes full responsibility for this decision, not Mark Zuckerberg. Part of the reason that they elevated him to that president of global affairs role is so that he could take some of that responsibility, take some of the heat off of Mark Zuckerberg.


And I think the last consequential thing is that there's going to be instances where Donald Trump might post something that doesn't explicitly break their rules, Wolf, but they're going to want to do something about it. And so, Meta has rolled out some new things that they're going to do to take control in those situations.

For example, they might limit the ability of a post to be reshared, but keep that post up. They also might say, all right, Donald Trump, we're not going to take your accounts away, we're not going to suspend them, but you no longer can run ads against them. And to Donie's point, that's a huge deal.

And so, these are new things that their engineering teams are going to have to reconstruct. And, Wolf, that's why Nick Clegg told me they're not reinstating his accounts today. They're going to need some time technologically on the back end to build this out before they let him back on.

BLITZER: Interesting. You know, Kristen, how is Trump reacting to this breaking news?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, as Sara said, no one was giving a heads up. So, the people I'm talking to are very happy. But we have yet to have a formal statement from Trump world because they are learning about this in real time. We know that no one in Trump's team was contacted early, given an early heads up. They're actually contacted for a meeting just before 5:00.

They're still, as what I'm hearing in that meeting, are still trying to understand the details of what this means for them. On their end, what are these restrictions exactly? What exactly does this timeline look like? But they are very excited. As we reported last week, they sent a letter to Facebook trying to expedite this process.

As Donie said, a lot of this is about financing. They need that money going into 2024 and they have complained privately that being off Facebook has stopped them from getting new donors, from picking up donors, from advertising in Trump's voice, which, again, leads to more money, leads to donors, et cetera. So this is something that they are very much looking forward to.

And the other thing I do want to point out here, we know that he has already been reinstated on Twitter, but it is likely that you are actually going to see him tweet in the near future. We know, and this is from sources around Trump world, that he has been workshopping what his first tweet might be, even members of the campaign asking outside advisers, what do you think it would look like if Trump got back on Twitter?

Now, of course, he still has his own platform Truth Social, and there are legal implications there, but it does sound more and more likely that we're going to see him active on Twitter as well.

BLITZER: Certainly. He used to be very active on Twitter with his billions of followers out there.

Donie, how did Facebook -- you got some more specifics, how did Facebook wind up making this important decision?

O'SULLIVAN: Yes, Wolf. Like many things with Facebook and their explanation, it's a bit wishy-washy. They claim that they were put in place a kind of framework that we've reported on the past few weeks where they considered quite a subjective issue, which was, is Donald Trump on our platforms a threat to public safety? We're still going through Meta's exact reasonings on all of that yet, but it doesn't seem to be particularly clear.

Look, obviously there are other considerations as they made this decision as well. I also think what is quite notable here is, you know, we -- Sara just mentioned once the name Mark Zuckerberg, the person who runs this company, has kind of given Nick Clegg, the former Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, who lost his election in the U.K. in 2017, a failed politician, this huge power, kind of to be the fall guy to take this decision. So this is taking a lot of heat off Zuckerberg himself.

BLITZER: How dramatic, Sara, is this decision?

FISCHER: It's huge, Wolf. And it has implications that are broader than just U.S. politics. You'll recall that Facebook has taken action on other world leaders, Bolsonaro in Brazil when he was sort of denouncing COVID vaccines. And so, what this means is that moving forward, Facebook is not going to be the same type of public square that maybe Twitter is, which has much more relaxed content policies under Elon Musk. They're going to take a much more cautious approach.

The other really important thing about this decision is that they're going to change the way that they think about content that's considered newsworthy. So in the past, a criticism of silencing Donald Trump has been, well, doesn't the public deserve to know if he says something crazy, even if it's crazy, now they're saying, yes, we do think that they should know about it, we might just not promote it as much as we used to in algorithms.

BLITZER: All right. Sara Fischer, Kristen Holmes, Donie O'Sullivan, guys, thank you very, very much.

Up next, we'll have more on the Biden classified documents saga. We're now learning new details about measures the U.S. Justice Department was prepared to take if the President didn't cooperate with a search of his home.



BLITZER: New developments, just in to CNN in the Biden classified documents investigation, sources now tell us the US Justice Department was prepared to seek a warrant if President Biden had not consented to a search of his home. Our Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez has been working as sources for us. What's the latest, Evan?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what we're hearing is that, you know, obviously the Justice Department and the Biden administration -- the Biden legal team, rather, had a lot of discussions over the last few weeks after the discovery of those documents in November. There was a period where the Justice Department was prepared to try to seek a search warrant if they did not get the consent from the President's team. We're told that the possibility of this was not explicitly and wasn't raised directly with the Biden team.


And in the end, obviously, the two sides did come to an agreement and you saw that very extraordinary search by the FBI with 13 hours that happened last Friday at the Wilmington home of the sitting President, something that obviously is very extraordinary for the FBI to do. But obviously behind the scenes, you know, you had a lot of these discussions going back and forth.

In the end, that the Biden team viewed what they were doing as very cooperative, they viewed as themselves trying to follow whatever instructions they were receiving from the Justice Department, even if, on the other end, they had to make sure that they were handling things exactly the same as they were handling the Trump investigation, Wolf.

BLITZER: Evan, I want you to stay with us. I also want to bring in our Senior Political Correspondent Abby Phillip, CNN Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig, and CNN Senior Law Enforcement Analyst Andrew McCabe.

Andrew, you're a former Deputy Director of the FBI, what does this new reporting reveal to you about the dealings behind the scenes between the Department of Justice and the Biden team?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: You know, Wolf, it's a little surprising, I think, that sources in the Justice Department would engage in these kind off the record statements. Of course, the Justice Department and the FBI were prepared to seek a search warrant. That's what they do. It's a bit like saying, you know, the fireman was prepared to spray water on the house until he got there and saw that there was no fire.

The important thing is that we know there wasn't a search warrant. And now from Evan's reporting, it sounds like they weren't even really threatened with one. It's not clear to me from the public record that they would have been able to get one, because, of course, you need probable cause that there's -- to convince a judge that there's probable cause to think that there's evidence of a crime in that location. I'm not sure how they would have established that in this case.

BLITZER: Let me get Elie's thoughts. What do you think, Ellie?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: So, Wolf, this tells me that the Justice Department was not fully comfortable with Joe Biden's team doing the search on its own and was prepared to take whatever steps it believed were necessary to recover all these documents. There's three ways this could have gone from easiest to hardest. One, DOJ, could have said, we trust you Biden team, you do the search, you give us the documents, that's good enough. They were not satisfied with that.

That's why they went -- they talked to the Biden team and worked out what we call the second option a consent search. Meaning, you agree, we'll come in and search. That happens quite a bit in law enforcement.

This new reporting tells us that had Biden's team not agreed to that, DOJ was prepared to take the extra step of going to seek a search warrant. As Andy said, it's not clear they had enough to get it. But the fact that they were willing to do that tells us they were going to get these documents no matter what they had to do.

BLITZER: A good point. You know, Abby, as you well know, the Biden administration has been so adamant that it has been fully, fully cooperative with the Justice Department. Can it continue to say that now?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR, INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY: Look, Wolf, I do think that the Biden administration is cooperating to the extent that you would expect. The only thing that I think is problematic for the Biden White House is the timeline from November to December, and then also their public disclosures in January. They have not really explained why they did a first search in November and then waited, you know, six weeks or so to do a second search and to search other properties.

I think some of that could be explained in a lot of different ways. You could explain it by looking at the political calendar at the time. You could explain it by, you know, some people in the Biden world believing that perhaps they didn't need to do searches of other areas and then realizing it too late, but that's the part that doesn't make a lot of sense. But on the question of are they cooperating? I mean, they are reaching out to the DOJ when documents are found, they're giving those documents back expeditiously, and that is from the perspective, I think, of whether they are obstructing this investigation. I think that seems to me to be a very significant part of the cooperation here. That that is the huge distinction between what happened with Biden and what happened especially in the Trump case.

PEREZ: Wolf, I think what Abby is raising is exactly the reason why, if you're the Justice Department and you're watching this play out beginning in November, and then you get an outreach from the Biden team at December 20 that they found documents in another location, that you know, that they were completely surprised about. And then, of course, you see the story come out and the Biden team only discloses one of the batches of documents. You can see why the Justice Department had some unease, and perhaps there was definitely, in some areas, in some places, some frustration.

So I think perhaps Andy is doubtful that maybe they would have gotten a search warrant. But I think that if you're the Justice Department and you're the FBI, this is something that you have to consider, it is something that you have to game out because certainly the idea that you're getting documents in different batches in different locations and you now have some doubt as to whether you have all of the documents, if the team on the other side is not consenting, of course you're going to go get a search warrant. That seems to be something that is very routine that the -- that certainly the prosecutors and the FBI would have to consider. If they weren't doing that, then certainly they wouldn't be doing their jobs, and certainly there could be accused of treating Joe Biden differently from the way they treated Donald Trump.


BLITZER: Well, let me get Andrew to weigh it. Andrew, from your perspective, what was the FBI seeing, right, as they were beginning to decide how to do this?

MCCABE: So, Wolf, I think it's important to remember kind of along the lines of what Elie just mentioned, getting the search warrant to conduct. There's no question they want to know that this search has been done completely and that there are no more classified documents in that place. So they're negotiating with the Biden team.

Getting a search warrant is always the ultimate step. That's always going to be under consideration. But you don't go there if you get consent that satisfies -- in a way that satisfies your concerns about the documents. I have conducted investigations of high level political officials in the past in which search warrants and looking in computers and in locations were hotly contested. And I can tell you that not until the actual threat of a search warrant is communicated to the other side are you really at the brink of doing that.

So, hearing that, they were considering it but they never actually threatened that tells me a lot about the fact that they ultimately got the consent and the cooperation they were looking for.

BLITZER: Yes, they wanted the FBI to do the search, not the President's private lawyers, most of whom did not have, I don't think any of them really had the top secret security clearances that would be needed for a search like this. All right, guys, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, an autopsy revealing new information about how an African American man died after a confrontation with police in Memphis, Tennessee.



BLITZER: Tyre Nichols, the African American man who died after a confrontation with Memphis police, suffered what a private autopsy calls, and I'm quoting now, "extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating." And now the city is bracing for the arrest video to be made public. CNN's Nick Valencia is joining us with the latest.

So, Nick, first of all, when could this video actually be released?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, if it's anticipated, any day now, sometime this week, perhaps as early as tomorrow or Friday, if not later this week. The district attorney in Shelby County guaranteeing, though, it's not a matter of if, but when it is released.

And earlier today, we also heard from the U.S. attorney's office in the Western district of Tennessee saying that it is ultimately up to the local district attorney's office of when that video is released, but making the point that the federal government cares deeply about what happened to Mr. Nichols, saying that they care deeply about potential violations of civil rights. Listen to Kevin Ritz make the point, not just to the family, but to the public, that the feds are taking this seriously.


KEVIN RITZ, U.S. ATTORNEY FOR WESTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE: This federal civil rights investigation will be thorough, it will be methodical, and it will continue until we gather all the relevant facts. As with any other federal investigation, we will go where those facts take us.


VALENCIA: Given the nature of this video, you do get the sense that officials in Tennessee are very nervous about the public's reaction. And to that point, official details have been very murky. Those details that have been released so far, we do know that Tyre Nichols was transported from the scene of his arrest in critical condition to the hospital where he died three days later.

The family saying that they hired their own pathologist to do an independent autopsy, saying that these are preliminary findings, but so far this is what they had to say in a statement. We can state that "preliminary findings indicate Tyre suffered extensive bleeding caused by severe bleeding" and that his observed injuries are consistent with what the family and attorney's witness on the video of his fatal encounter with police on January 7, 2023.

And just very quickly, Wolf, it is worth noting that CNN has not seen a copy of this independent autopsy. Ben Crump, the family attorney, says that they are still actively working on it. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Nick Valencia reporting for us. Thank you very much.

Let's discuss what's going on with Derrick Johnson. He's the president and CEO of the NAACP.

Derrick, thanks so much for joining us. We're still awaiting, as you know, the actual release of the video of this arrest. But after an autopsy showed Nichols suffered extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating, what questions do you need police to answer about this? And when do you want them to answer these questions?

DERRICK JOHNSON, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NAACP: Well, first of all, I want to commend the city officials for acting swiftly with these officers. The officers who were fired on Friday, there was no delay. The citizens of Memphis, through the elections in August, elected a D.A. who would be more responsive to the needs and interests of communities and not protect police.

And so, I think the biggest answer we must, as a nation, not only in Memphis answer, when will we have a standard to hold police officers accountable, enhance the trainings of police officers so we won't continue to see this type of incident repeat itself across the country?

BLITZER: The U.S. attorney, as you know, is pledging a thorough civil rights probe. What do you want to see from that investigation into Nichols death?

JOHNSON: Well, you know, accountability for the family. The family has a right to understand what happened. They should be made whole for the loss of their loved one. But this incident is one of many.

And so, for the NAACP, we want to see some policy reform. That was an aggressive attempt during the last Congress. The House did the right thing. Former Congresswoman Karen Bass, who's now mayor, put forth a great effort. It was stalled in the Senate.

At some point, as a nation, we must get police reform so we can stop having families grieved the loss of a loved one as a result of a traffic stop. A traffic violation should not be a death sentence.


BLITZER: As the city of Memphis as you know, Derrick, and indeed the whole country for that matter, is bracing for the release of this video. We're hearing calls for peaceful protests. What is your message to those who are on the edge tonight?

JOHNSON: Well, accountability must be had in this case. And so, I think the city officials did the right thing by firing those officers. Now they need to be brought to justice.

Street violence and protests, although it could be emotional, will not solve this. I think that things are in place so that the family can see justice and these officers can be held accountable.

With the voters in Memphis, they put in place a district attorney who's done a great job. He went against the culture of the last district attorney who would have covered this up for the police officers. City officials got rid of these officers. Now these officers need to be brought to justice so this family can know that the system will work in their favor for the loss of their child, their husband, their loved one.

BLITZER: As you noted, Derrick, the five police officers in this case have already been fired. We're now learning one of them was actually a defendant in a lawsuit over alleged inmate beating. Is that evidence of a systemic problem, in your view?

JOHNSON: Well, not only evidence of a systemic problem. One of the reforms we must have is a database of police misconduct so individuals cannot go from agency to agency causing harm to communities. And we find this that many law enforcement officers are actually good people doing a great job. But you have those individuals who have infractions from one agency only to get terminated or leave and go to another agency. There should be a national database of police misconduct, so if a police officer cause harm, that person is not allowed to go to another agency and continue to terrorize communities.

BLITZER: Derrick Johnson, the President and CEO of the NAACP. Derrick, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for all the NAACP is doing as well.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, there are new questions emerging right now encircling the embattled Congressman George Santos. This time around, where hundreds of thousands of his campaign dollars actually came from.



BLITZER: Defiant New York Republican Congressman George Santos filed several amended reports with the Federal Election Commission yesterday. The freshman representative is under intense scrutiny right now after multiple news outlets, including CNN, found he lied extensively about his resume. CNN's Eva McKend joins us now with more on what's going on.

What's the latest, Eva? What are you hearing?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, Wolf, it is these questions about Santos's finances that are really the most consequential. These filings really raising a lot of eyebrows this evening. Campaign finance, experts we speak with tell us they haven't seen anything like it.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Why did you amend your FEC reports to say $500,000?

MCKEND (voice-over): New questions surrounding Congressman George Santos's campaign finances.

REP. GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): Let's make it very clear, I don't amend anything. I don't touch any of my FEC stuff, right? So don't be disingenuous and report that I did, because you know that every campaign hires fiduciaries.

MCKEND (voice-over): Santos trying to dodge reporters after his campaign filed updated finance reports with federal regulators late Tuesday. The New York Republican previously claimed he lent his campaign more than $700,000 from his personal funds. Those revisions would appear to indicate most of that loan didn't come from him after all. But he is still listed as a source of the loans elsewhere in his filings, deepening the confusion about the source of the substantial sum.

RAJU: What was the source of your funds, sir? Sir, why can't you divulge as a source of the money?

MCKEND (voice-over): In two of the new filings, one related to that loan of $500,000 and one for $125,000, boxes previously checked indicated they had come from. Personal funds were now left unchecked, confounding campaign finance experts.

JORDAN LIBOWITZ, CITIZENS FOR RESPONSIBILITY AND ETHICS IN WASHINGTON: Either this is incredibly sloppy bookkeeping or he's saying this wasn't really his money. And in that case, there's a legal question of whether this an illegal pass through contribution. Is this an illegal corporate contribution? There are a number of ways he could have pushed money that was not actually his to his campaign but they aren't legal.

MCKEND (voice-over): And while it's not unusual to update a campaign finance report, Santos has routinely amended his filings multiple times.

LIBOWITZ: This week in one very short period, he amended 10 filings from, I believe, they were the last 10 filings his campaign made. The filings date back to, I believe, April of 2021. So, something clicked and they went back and read it. Everything.

MCKEND (voice-over): Other pressing questions remain about the dozens of disbursements just under $200, one penny below the threshold above which campaigns are required to retain receipts. And just how Santos acquired so much wealth in such a short amount of time remains a mystery and something Santos has declined to answer.

SANTOS: It's the equity of my hard working self and I invested inside of me.

MCKEND (voice-over): Federal officials have launched an investigation into his finances.

LIBOWITZ: If there's anyone whose books needed to be audited, it's probably George Santos.


MCKEND: In new filings today, campaign officials listed Thomas Datwyler as the treasurer of several of Santos' committees. But Dotwyler's lawyers told CNN he declined that role and did not authorize the filings made by Santos' team. So, this treasurer, they listed on documents today telling us he isn't the treasurer, Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting indeed. All right, Eva, thank you very much. Eva McKend reporting.


Coming up, we'll have more on our top story tonight. President Biden pledging to send top of the line battle tanks to Ukraine. I'll ask key White House official John Kirby why the administration is now taking this very dramatic step.

Also ahead, there's breaking news we're following. Former President Trump's Facebook and Instagram accounts will be restored, but there's a catch. We'll have more on that. That's coming up.


BLITZER: Happening now, President Biden makes it official, the United States is now preparing to send highly sophisticated Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine. This hour, I'll get reaction from a key White House national security official, John Kirby.

Also tonight, we're getting new insight into the Biden classified documents probe. Sources now tell CNN investigators were prepared to seek a search warrant if the President refused to allow a search of his Delaware home.

Plus, Memphis is bracing for the release of body camera video showing the arrest of a man who died just days later.