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Five Ex-Memphis Officers Charged With Murder In Tyre Nichols' Death; U.S. Economy Beats Expectations, Grows By 2.9 Percent In Last Quarter; Sources: Atty Gen. Garland Faces A Difficult Choice On Whether To Appoint A Pence Special Counsel; Ukraine: At Least 11 Killed In New Russian Missile Strikes; New Details On Timeline For Western Tanks Pledged To Ukraine; CNN On Front Lines Of U.S. & Israel Joint Military Exercises. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 26, 2023 - 17:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, five former Memphis police officers now facing murder charges in the death of Tyree Nichols, an African American man who died just days after his encounter with police. The district attorney says video of the arrest should be released tomorrow evening. Law enforcement agencies across the country already bracing for a reaction to the footage, which a top Tennessee official called sickening. This hour, I'll discuss all the latest developments with the executive director of the Memphis NAACP.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN Breaking News.

BLITZER: All right, let's get right to the breaking news out of Memphis. Five officers charged with the murder of Tyre Nichols, the moments before the encounter playing out on dispatch audio obtained by CNN.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got one male, Black running.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Set up a perimeter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, the Scorpion car pulled over to East Range and Ross (ph), we have one running on foot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Run that tag and see what's the address.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's fighting at this time.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Let's get right to our Senior Crime and Justice Correspondent Shimon Prokupecz. He's standing by live for us in Memphis. Shimon, walk us through the charges those officers are now facing.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. And Wolf, serious, significant charges here coming from the Memphis D.A. just a short time ago. And all five officers are now charged with murder in the second degree, aggravated assault, attempted -- aggravated kidnapping, officer misconduct, and officer official oppression. So all of those counts now are with these defendants. These are the counts that they all together now face as this case unfolds.

We also learned some new significant details from the district attorney. Keep in mind, Wolf, that many of the officials here have not been talking about this case, and some basic details have not been released. And so, finally today, we got some new information from the district attorney, who was describing some of the initial encounter that happened here between this officer. Take a listen, Wolf.


STEVE MULROY, SHELBY COUNTY, TENNESSEE, DISTRICT ATTORNEY: There was an initial traffic stop. We won't comment right now on the presence or absence of the legality of the stop, but there was a traffic stop and there was an initial altercation involving several officers, and Mr. Nichols, pepper spray was deployed. The suspect -- not the suspect, Mr. Nichols fled on foot. There was another altercation at a nearby location at which the serious injuries were experienced by Mr. Nichols. After some period of time of waiting around afterwards, he was taken away by an ambulance. Beyond that, I don't really think I -- we should go into any further details.


PROKUPECZ: And, Wolf, there are two very key new pieces of information that the district attorney in there released saying that Tyre Nichols was pepper sprayed in the initial encounter, there was something else that went on there. But then also significant is the fact that it took some time to get him the medical care, as you heard there at the D.A. say.

We also learned that the unit that these officers were part of, it's called a Scorpion unit. It's anti-crime unit. They ride around and unmarked cars, plain clothes. They are -- they don't wear uniforms, but they do have gear on them that would indicate they're police. But that's also significant in how all of this is now playing out.

And now, obviously, the D.A. also saying that there could be more charges coming as this investigation continues, Wolf.

BLITZER: Shimon, I want you to stay with us. I also want to bring in our legal and our law enforcement experts for some more analysis.

And John Miller, I'll start with you. All five of these now fired police officers are facing very serious charges, including second degree murder. What does that tell you about this incident and what must the DA have seen on this video? Let me start with Andrew McCabe, the former FBI Deputy Director. Andrew?


ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Sure. So, Wolf, I think that the severity of the charges and the fact that all the officers are being charged are facing the same charges indicates to me that the video must very clearly show they all participated in the beating, in the activities that ultimately resulted in Mr. Nichols' death, which, as is not a typical situation. You know, you think about some of these excessive use of force situations that we've seen in the past, there's usually one primary actor and then others who maybe participate to a lesser degree and some who do nothing, in this case, all facing the same charges, that the D.A. must have seen a commonality between their culpability and their actions towards Mr. Nichols.

BLITZER: All right, let me bring John Miller into this conversation. What jumped out at you, John?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: The same thing, Wolf. I mean, the idea that everybody is charged with murder in the second degree, everybody is charged with kidnapping, everybody's charged with official misconduct. What we will know when we see the videotape, probably tomorrow evening, is that everybody had their individual actions, which will be separate and probably not all equal to each other.

However, as Andy points out, they're acting in concert. If you and me and Andy go to rob a bank and we go in with guns and shoot somebody, the getaway car driver is still charged with murder because they are part of the group committing the same act and doing nothing to stop it.

BLITZER: Let me bring Bakari Sellers into this as well. Bakari, put on your legal hat for us. The addition of aggravated kidnapping charges seems unusual. What does that tell you about the behavior of these former police officers?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it makes me question the legality of their arrest. I know that the district attorney said he did not want to go into that, but anytime you have an unlawful taking, such as a kidnapping. A charge as a kidnapping makes you believe that these officers participated in an arrest that did not have any probable cause.

And something that jumps out at me, Wolf, is the quickness whereby this district attorney made these charges. The only time comparable I've seen in a case of this magnitude was Walter Scott in Charleston, South Carolina where we saw that on tape and it helped tape -- tamp down some of the violence and uprising you may see in respective communities. That was the only time I've seen anything happen as quickly as this in terms of charging the officers.

But that aggravated kidnapping charge, and I believe the others on the panel may agree, means that this arrest and unlawful taking of an individual means that these charges were warranted.

BLITZER: Andrew, how are federal officials right now watching all of this unfold over there? Could we see federal charges added as well?

MCCABE: I think that's entirely possible, Wolf. You know, this -- the federal investigation and the local investigation occur simultaneously in kind of separate tracks. However, we know they're coordinating with each other. We know there's been a sharing of information. Undoubtedly, the federal investigators have seen the video that the prosecutors here seem to be relying so heavily on.

I think it's likely with the direction that we know these charges are going now, with the hints that what -- of what we're going to see on the video when it's released, I think it's -- it would be highly likely that you'll see a following federal charge based on a violation of Mr. Nichols' civil rights.

BLITZER: Yes, I think you're probably right.

Shimon, you're there on the ground for us in Memphis. You've been doing excellent reporting. Has the announcement of these very, very serious charges done anything at all to ease anxiety within the community there as they wait to watch what happens to Tyre Nichols? They wait to watch what happens --

PROKUPECZ: Yes, certainly. I think this is something --

BLITZER: -- I should say, what happened to Tyre Nichols.

PROKUPECZ: Yes. I will tell you that. Certainly, I think in the community, some of the businesses and the people who live here and the restaurant owners, you know, they've been waiting for this, too, as we all have since we've been here, because there's been so many rumors and so much speculation about the DA and whether or not he was going to charge. So I think to get this out of the way is certainly a relief. But of course, everyone is waiting to see what happens tomorrow.

But you know, people here are living their lives, Wolf. I mean, there's no indication that there's any kind of unrest to come. People aren't out here protesting or marching or anything like that. There's nothing to indicate that there's any kind of unrest.

Now, tomorrow when this video comes out, of course, that could change as people start to view it. But right now, I have to tell you, Wolf, you know, things here are pretty much regular, like as if it's just any normal day. But I will say that people here in the community certainly are very happy to see the D.A. and the officials here take this kind of action so quickly.


BLITZER: John Miller, I assume cities all across the country right now, out of an abundance of caution, are taking some preemptive measures right now are worried about what could happen once this very awful video is released tomorrow night. MILLER: So, in cities like Los Angeles, in cities like New York City, they have been planning for the contingency, I guess, for a number of days. In New York City, every officer, whether they were in plain clothes or a detective unit or a specialized unit, was told to report in uniform today in case they need to mobilize a couple of thousand officers beyond what they keep in reserve for events like this. So they're thinking about it, but as Shimon said, all of those officers aren't sitting waiting to be deployed, they all went to their regular assignments today. And we're seeing things like that in Chicago, particularly in Atlanta, where they already have the ongoing protests about the police training school that's being built where a protester was shot after he allegedly shot a police officer, a state trooper.

So, you have places where tensions are already higher. But this has been the result of conference calls that have gone on between major county sheriffs, the National Sheriff's Association, major city police chiefs, all in coordination and sharing information with Memphis.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. And we'll be watching so carefully, indeed.

Everybody, stand by. We're going to have much more ahead just on all the breaking news that's unfolding right now. The executive director of the Memphis NAACP will join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM right after a quick break.



BLITZER: Let's get back to the breaking news here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Five former Memphis police officers charged with murder in the death of Tyre Nichols. Let's continue the discussion right now with the Executive Director of the Memphis NAACP, Vickie Terry.

Vicky, thanks so much for joining us. As I said to you before, I wish we were meeting under different circumstances. Let me first get your reaction to all five of these former police officers now charged with second degree murder, among other charges. What's your reaction?

VICKIE TERRY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MEMPHIS NAACP: Well, my reaction was, this is great. It was what I expected. I knew this would happen and I am just glad all five of them were charged with the same offenses.

BLITZER: Tyre Nichols' family responded in a statement saying these charges give them, and I'm quoting now, "hope for accountability." But that quote -- but they added that, quote, "we will keep saying his name until justice is served." You've been in touch with the family. What will justice look like from your perspective?

TERRY: Well, right now justice is beginning to start being served and that is the indictment of the five. So, as far as that goes, then we're waiting to make sure that they are prosecuted and held, you know, to the fullest extent of the law.

BLITZER: You say you've actually heard -- TERRY: We want to make sure that happens.

BLITZER: You say you've heard from those who have seen the video, you haven't seen it yet, but you've heard that the video is worse than the infamous 1991 Rodney King police beating. What are you bracing for?

TERRY: Oh, my goodness. And you know, if it is worse, and I'm sure it is because even the TBI, the head of TBI investigations, he said so today how bad this video was. And we know that the family said it was bad. The attorneys have said it was bad. Even our own police chief, CJ Davis, said it was horrific.

So, I want to make sure that, you know, we take into consideration the family. We want to consider their feelings and make sure that when we protest, we do it, you know, in order, of course, but we just want to make sure that their feelings are looked at before we do anything. They come first and foremost before anything and anyone else.

BLITZER: What goes through your mind, Vickie, knowing that all five of these former Memphis police officers are African American?

TERRY: Well, you know what, even if they were white or any other color, it would be bad because they are supposed to serve and protect and that's not what they did. But it does break my heart, it truly does break my heart to see these young men, their lives have also been destroyed. They destroyed someone else's life and they have, you know, destroyed their own lives because of the behavior they chose to, you know, enact in on that particular night.

BLITZER: Clearly, the authorities are already trying to prepare the community where you are there in Memphis as well as the nation for that matter, for what is expected to be a very difficult and upsetting video that's supposed to be released tomorrow night. What's your advice to people who may watch this and who may go out and actually start to protest?

TERRY: Well, if they watch it, I would just say to just make sure that, you know, they stay safe if they're going out to protest, that's the most important thing, being safe. And as I said, making sure you do it peacefully and do it in order.

I would also say, I don't know, but I know the NAACP, our state president, we received an e-mail from the national president, Derrick Johnson, about this and we will be holding a press conference as well tomorrow evening regarding this situation after the release of the video.

BLITZER: We spoke yesterday with Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP nationwide, and he had some very important words as well.

Vickie Terry, thank you so much for joining us. Good luck to you. Good luck to all the folks in Memphis.

TERRY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much. Right now I want to turn back to our legal and law enforcement experts for some more analysis. And Bakari, what stands out to you from what the executive director the Memphis NAACP just told me?


SELLERS: You know, I think that the community itself is calm. I think the community itself is resilient. And I know that -- my mom's actually from Memphis, Tennessee, I know it's a very prayerful community, and so I know that they're wrapping their arms around this family.

You asked a unique question, Wolf, and I want to just chime in about all of the officers being African American, because I think that is something that many people would like to have a nuanced answer to. And my response is simply this, for many of us, we haven't been critical of necessarily the race of the officer, whether or not they're white, black, Hispanic, or otherwise, but it's the system.

And what you're seeing again and again and over and over is a system that perpetuates violence against people of color. And until we do something about this system, whether or not in this particular case, it looks like we need to have a conversation about the Jump Out Boys, I think that's what some of us call them. In Atlanta, they were called the Red Dogs. But it's this group of kind of unmarked officers who go out in these communities, these gang task force, and you see incidents like this happen and occur.

And so, regardless of the color of the officer, Wolf, I want people to know that it's a system that we want to have a full, thorough conversation about and how to reform that system so that interactions between officers and people of color are safer for both parties.

BLITZER: Yes, good point.

You know, John Miller, these police officers of Memphis were part of what's called a Scorpion unit. What can you tell us about that group?

MILLER: So the Scorpion unit was formed in December of 2021 after a very tough crime year. In 2020, Memphis was the most violent metropolitan area in the United States among big cities. And in 2021, with 346 murders in a city that size, they broke their own record.

So they knew something needed to be done about crime and about guns, they formed the Scorpion unit. It was a handpicked unit officers that had a record of being able to make arrests, work in high crime areas, get guns off the street, and they got off to a raucous start with 338 arrests in their first three weeks. Think about that. That's a high level of activity, 90 -- 195 of those were felony arrests, 95 weapons were seized. So they were out there getting the job done.

What this incident raised is what Bakari had raised about the nature of these units, which require great experience among the officers. And yet none of these officers had more than six years on the job. Some of them only had three years on the job. Very tight supervision, a supervisor with every squad. You've got 50 officers in the squad, four teams, but there's no indication of a sergeant being on the scene for any of the event that led to these arrests.

So, it came with a lot of the ideas about a crime reduction team without some of the safeguards. And I think that's something they're going to be looking at right now if the unit survives this scandal, which is doubtful.

BLITZER: Yes, very important information.

Andrew, how are police using the time between today, when they announce these formal charges against these five police officers, and tomorrow when the actual video, the awful video of this incident, will be made public?

MCCABE: Well, Wolf, you know, as John mentioned a few minutes ago, I'm sure the preparation for the release of this video has been going on long before today. So the Memphis city officials who have seen the video understand just how volatile it could be and sort of the effect it could have on the population. So I would expect that they began that process by really standing up or bolstering their outreach to the faith based community, to community organizers, to the civil rights community, just to open lines of communication to understand, hopefully in advance whether there are significant, you know, protest activities that are planned.

Now, let's be perfectly clear. Law enforcement cannot, should not, in this country, take any action to suppress people's peaceful express first amendment right. So they're in a tough spot here. They want to be there to ensure that things don't turn violent or become criminal acts, but they've got to let these people speak their peace at the same time.

BLITZER: Andrew McCabe, Bakari Sellers, John Miller, guys, thank you very much. We, of course, stay on top of the story.

Up next, though, President Biden heralding better than expected economic numbers here in the United States, while the investigation into his handling of classified documents seems to be intensified right now. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: The latest just released economic numbers show little sign of an imminent U.S. recession with economic growth up, stocks on the rise and unemployment down. Let's go to CNN's Chief White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly. He's over at the White House for us.

Phil, first of all, how is President Biden reacting to this encouraging economic news?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, there was particularly timely economic news given the President was already scheduled to give a speech most -- primarily directed at his economic efforts up to this point and his economic proposals going forward.


It was a speech that was expected to and ended up doing exactly that in terms of drawing a very sharp contrast with House Republicans. It was, to some degree, a roadmap of messages you're going to hear the President deliver over the course of the next couple of weeks in visits to multiple places in the lead up to the State of the Union address.

But more than anything else, what you've heard from the President is the belief that despite turbulent, first two years, despite inflation that has been high in many kind of minor crises on the economic front over the course of those first two years, there's evidence things are coming together. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Economic growth is up, stronger than expert expected at 2.9 percent we're going. Jobs are the highest in -- number in the highest in American history, and wages are up and they're growing faster than inflation. I don't think it's unfair to say that this is all evidence that the Biden economic plan, because you all, is actually working.


MATTINGLY: And Wolf, that sounds like a pretty tailored message. It is to some degree. One, their data points White House officials have been touting and pointing to for several months. As the inflation issue has started to decelerate, they've been able to elevate them even higher.

The fact that the economy, despite claims or predictions of recession, has been able to maintain its resiliency up to this point, only adding to their message that they believe the economic recovery has not only been extraordinarily robust, but it's also durable.

That is a message you will hear going forward in the weeks ahead, certainly at the State of the Union address as the President weighs whether or not to run for re-election, something officials say he is very much pushing toward at this point in time. It's a message you're probably going to hear throughout the course of 2023 and maybe into 2024 as, Wolf.

BLITZER: I suspect you're absolutely right. Phil Mattingly at the White House, thank you very much.

At the same time the FBI director speaking out about the discovery of classified documents in the homes and offices of former President Trump, former Vice President Mike Pence, as well as President Biden.

I want to bring in our Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez. He's working the story for us. Evan, I understand you have new reporting on the choices the Attorney General is facing when it comes to possibly appointing yet another special counsel?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, that's of course, at the top of the minds of everyone, including people at the White House who think that -- certainly the comparisons with the discovery of documents in the President's home and private office really show that perhaps, maybe there should be a special counsel appointed in this case with former Vice President Pence.

And, you know, and talking to people at the Department of Justice, you know, you get the sense that they view it differently. They see that the decision to do a special counsel is not exactly clear, it's not exactly the same issue. And part of it is because Mike Pence is not a declared candidate for President.

Obviously, a lot of people think that Mike Pence is going to run for President, but he has not yet declared that. And for the Justice Department, they viewed the appointment of special counsels in the Trump case and the Biden case as a matter of an appearance of conflict of interest for Merrick Garland, the Attorney General and the Department.

In the case of Trump, obviously, he's declared that he is running for President against Merrick Garland's boss. And of course, the fact that Joe Biden appointed Merrick Garland to this job meant that there was disappearance of conflict and that's the reason why they felt that it was necessary to appoint special counsels.

Now, in the case of Pence, so far as what we know is, you know, these limited number of documents that have been turned over to the Justice Department, this is being handled by the National Security Division and by the FBI and they'll determine whether -- this will determine whether what next steps they'll take.

BLITZER: Speaking of the FBI, Evan, we did hear from the FBI Director Christopher Wray today speaking out on this.

PEREZ: Absolutely, Wolf. And he really just said exactly what he thinks should be happening with the treatment of classified information here.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: Obviously, I can't comment on any specific investigation, but we have had for quite a number of years any number of mishandling investigations. That is unfortunately, a regular part of our counterintelligence divisions and counterintelligence programs work. And people need to be conscious of the rules regarding classified information and appropriate handling of them. Those rules are there for a reason.


PEREZ: And you can hear a strict message from the FBI Director. This is exactly how you should be handling these classified records.

BLITZER: It's a very serious issue indeed, because if people who are not authorized to see those documents, top secret documents, that could compromise what are called sources and methods and potentially even endanger some U.S. sources that are out there. So it's a very --

PEREZ: It's an important message for him to send.

BLITZER: A very important indeed. Evan, thank you very much.

Let's get some more in all of this. The defense attorney, former federal prosecutor Shan Wu is joining us and CNN Legal Analyst Norm Eisen is with us as well. Shan, you have argued that the Attorney General Merrick Garland has painted himself into a corner with special counsel appointments. What do you make of what Evan just reported?


SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I think that distinction, if Garland tribes rely on it, of declaring the candidacy, that's a silly distinction. That's not the way to trigger it. Garland is always asserting his confidence in the department's ability to be independent, and I completely agree with that.

I think it's important to notice here that we're not at the stage of an indictment or even much a public predicate for criminal charge here. It's really more in the line of a preliminary investigation, trying to understand what documents there are, how they got there.

And at this stage, I don't think you normally would need to have a special counsel. You don't have that type of issue going on. But Garland really has painted himself into a corner by using this candidacy declaration as the trigger. And if that's the case, to be consistent, he'll have to appoint one.

BLITZER: Yes, because presumably Pence is at least thinking of running for President. Norm, what do you think?

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it would be strange to base it on the candidacy declaration, Wolf, because imagine if Garland decides not to do it, and then Pence suddenly declares, are they then going to pivot over and start a new one? I think you have to treat like cases alike.

And the Pence case is very similar to the Biden one. You have the low single digit number of documents that are found. You have all the indicators in both cases of inadvertence. Of course, strong contrast with Donald Trump's apparently intentional conduct here. So they'll be weighing and balancing.

We may not get a fast answer. Remember, it took them from November to January for Chicago U.S. attorney Trump appointee Mr. Lausch to recommend a special counsel. So probably we'll have a little time while the AG and his team decide what to do.

BLITZER: We'll see what they decide. Norm Eisen, Shan Wu, guys, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, Russia unleashing devastating new strikes across Ukraine just hours after President Biden pledged to send battle tanks to Ukraine.


BLITZER: A new barrage of Russian missiles has killed at least eleven people in Ukraine today, as Kyiv's western allies are pledging to bolster its fight against Moscow by sending desperately needed battle tanks. CNN Senior International Correspondent Fred Pleitgen is in eastern Ukraine for us tonight. Fred, first of all, what are you seeing there on the ground.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Wolf. Yes, we were around that embattled city of Bakhmut, which right now is most probably the most dangerous place in all of Ukraine, and we saw some immensely dangerous and tough fighting going on there.

The Ukrainians believe the Russians are trying to encircle that town right now. And certainly, we were on the ground, there was no let-up in the fighting at all. There were heavy weapons that could be heard and seen in use the entire time that were on the ground there. The Ukrainians say they don't want to allow that to happen.

And what we saw, Wolf, was that they certainly do seem to be putting up some pretty stiff resistance to the Russians and really trying to hold ground as good as they can. You mentioned those missile barrages that took place today really throughout the entire country once again, and the Ukrainians say, by and large, they actually did quite well.

They say of 55 missiles that were shot by the Russians. They were able to take down 47. However, in the ones that did hit, 11 people were killed, and a lot of other people were wounded and angry Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the President of Ukraine, he came out later and said, look, Ukraine needs more advanced air defense systems to try and take down even more of these Russian missiles.

The Ukrainians, of course, want a lot of advanced weapons from the U.S. and its allies. And we did get an update, Wolf, on those Abrams main battle tanks. The U.S. now saying that it's the more advanced version of those tanks, the A1, A2 version that the Ukrainians are going to be getting.

Also got an update from the Germans and the Brits as well, both those countries saying that the main battle tanks that they've pledged, the Leopard 2 and the Challenger 2 are probably going to arrive here in Ukraine by the end of March. So certainly, a lot more firepower coming from the Ukrainian or for the Ukrainians then.

Once again, the Russians talking about this, they've obviously been threatening to destroy these tanks before they even get on the battlefield. Spokesman for the Kremlin, Dmitry Peskov, he came out and he said the Russians view all of this as direct involvement by the nations that are delivering these weapons in the conflict in Ukraine. Obviously, these countries say that is absolutely not the case, Wolf.

BLITZER: Fred Pleitgen in Kramatorsk for us on the scene. Fred, be careful over there. Thank you very, very much.

Let's go in depth right now on this issue, this Ukraine development. CNN Military Analyst Retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling is joining us. General, are these strikes that -- are these latest strikes by Russia, its answer to western allies starting to provide these battle tanks to Ukraine?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think the, Wolf, you know, you have to plan this ahead before you actually conduct a targeted strike like Russia did today. But truthfully, I think they certainly were circumstantial, let's put it that way, that they occurred immediately after the further contributions were announced. So yes, I consider it connected. There's certainly a correlation.

BLITZER: We're learning that the United States will send the more lethal brand-new model of the Abrams battle tanks with upgraded capabilities. Can you give us some context on this?

HERTLING: I can, Wolf. It is a tank that I used to have under my command. There are a lot of little things that make the M1A2 different than the M1A1, but two big areas of improvement. One is the addition of a second generation forward looking infrared Commanders Independent Thermal Viewer, something called a CITV. That's a lot of word salad for you.

But in civilian terms, what this is a small house site system right in front of the command's hatch, outside of the tank that allows the tank commander to observe their surroundings with extremely high magnification, high resolution, clear sight. And the commander can scan, track, and designate additional targets, all while the gunner inside of the tank is engaging one target.


So you can quickly flip from one target to another and it just contributes to the lethality of this tank. The other feature is something called improved chalbum (ph) armor. It has depleted uranium inside of the armor itself and it provides increased protection against antitank guided missiles. And the tank has the ability to strap on what's called reactive armor. You've used that term before. So this tank is much greater in lethality, survivability and mobility than the M1A1.

BLITZER: And General, what do you make of the timeline we're learning with the German Leopard and the British Challenger tanks potentially making it to Ukraine by the end of March?

HERTLING: Expected, Wolf, it's going to take that long to train the Ukrainian crews and the support systems for all of those tanks. And we'll see the same thing with a much longer timeline for the M1A2 Abrams.

BLITZER: Good point. Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, thank you so much for joining us. We're staying on top of this story as well.

Coming up, a violent and deadly day in the West Bank as Israeli forces killed Palestinians during a raid. And we'll, of course, have more on our top story. Former Memphis police officers in jail tonight charged with the murder of Tyre Nichols after a traffic stop. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BLITZER: Today was the deadliest day for Palestinians of the West Bank in over a year following a raid by Israeli forces in the city of Jenin. CNN Correspondent Hadas Gold is covering the story for us. She's in Jerusalem. Hadas, so what's behind this deadly violence in the West Bank right now?

HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, at least nine Palestinians were killed in an intense and unusual daytime Israeli military raid in Jenin in the occupied West Bank. The Israeli military saying they were targeting Islamic Jihad militants who they say were about to carry out what they called an imminent attack.

But at least one civilian, a woman in her 60s, was killed during the firefights. And as you said, it became the deadliest single day for Palestinians in the West Bank in over a year. In response, militants in Gaza just actually fired some rockets into southern Israel. No injuries reported.

And the Palestinian Authority took the drastic step to cut off security cooperation with the Israelis, something the U.S. State Department said it's not the right step at this time, especially as Israel and the West Bank are soon awaiting the arrival of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is coming for a visit this week, Wolf?

BLITZER: You know, separately, Hadas, I understand you were granted exclusive access to the largest ever joint military exercise between the United States and Israel. Tell us about that.

GOLD: Yes, this joint weeklong exercise, dubbed Juniper Oak, is unprecedented in its scale and size, and among its target audiences for the messaging is Iran.


GOLD (voice-over): CNN granted exclusive access to the danger zone on the supercarrier USS George H. W. Bush to see part of the largest ever American and Israeli joint military exercise covering all aspects of warfare from the air, on land, to the sea, online and even in space.

The timing is no accident meant to send a clear signal to Iran and other adversaries in the region, that despite the attention on Ukraine and U.S. concerns over the new right wing Israeli government, the Americans remain deeply aligned and committed to a military partnership with Israel.

(on-camera): For the Americans and the Israelis, these types of exercises are a show of force, a show of partnership, and a way for the both of them to show the world that they can walk and chew gum at the same time.

GEN. MICHAEL "ERIK" KURILLA, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: Only through a firm commitment to this partnership are we able to plan and organize such an incredibly complex, high-end operation, with so many elements across such a large geographic area against all aspects of war fighting, some of which are seen, some of which are not.

GOLD (voice-over): For the Israelis, the exercise is crucial. They've long opposed a return to the Iranian nuclear deal and have argued that a credible military threat needs to be on the table to deter Iran from fully developing a nuclear weapon.

LT. GEN. HERZI HALEVI, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES CHIEF OF GENERAL STAFF: Israel and the US share the same values. The IDF and the U.S. CENTCOM see eye to eye the threats on this area.

(on-camera): More than 6,400 American personnel joined 1,100 Israelis as part of this exercises that utilize more than 142 aircraft, including these FA teams.

(voice-over): And while the Israelis and Americans regularly carry out joint exercises, this one shifted the focus more on the offensive rather than just defensive capabilities. It also came together in just two months, incredibly quickly, especially for something of this scale compared to the typical year or so of planning.

While officials shy away from drawing a direct connection between the speed and recent events in Iran and the breakdown last year of negotiations over the nuclear deal, it is hard to ignore the context.

COL. JOE BUCCINO, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND SPOKESMAN: I think it's fairly clear that we can very quickly move assets in the region to respond to crisis, and we can do so alongside our partners, and we can fight and conduct offensive operations in every domain alongside our partners.

GOLD (voice-over): The military option, which President Biden called the last resort to deal with Iran, seems to be on loud display.


GOLD: Wolf, more than 180,000 pounds of live munitions were used during this exercise.


And one thing that officials I spoke today pointed out to me that was, especially for them, exciting and interesting about this exercise was really how it covered absolutely all aspects of modern warfare from the typical planes and boats and on the ground, but also including cyber warfare. And this time they said space. Wolf?

BLITZER: Very important, excellent reporting, Hadas. Thank you very much in a very significant signal message to the Iranians right now. That was the intent. Thank you very, very much.

Coming up, we'll get back to all the breaking news out of Memphis, Tennessee. Murder charges for five former police officers involved in the death of Tyre Nichols. Our coverage continues right after this.


BLITZER: Happening now, five former Memphis police officers charged with second degree murder. The District Attorney unveiling the indictments today in the death of Tyre Nichols, an African American man who died soon after being arrested this month.