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Another Memphis Police Offer Relieved Of Duty In Connection To The Death Of Tyre Nichols; Memphis Police Disbands SCORPION Unit; Renewed Calls For Federal Police Reform; President Biden And Speaker Kevin McCarthy To Discuss Debt Ceiling; Secy Of State Blinken Visits Israel Amid Outbreak Of Violence; CNN On Front Lines As Fierce Battles Under Way In East And South; Madison Square Garden Using Facial Recognition To Bar Lawyers Suing The Company; At Least 61 Killed In Mosque Explosion In Pakistan, 150 Plus Injured. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 30, 2023 - 17:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, a sixth Memphis police officer has now been relieved of duty after the deadly beating of Tyre Nichols and the release of chilling videos of his arrest. Our experts are breaking down the evidence and the growing calls right now for federal police reform.

Also tonight, CNN is on the front lines in Ukraine amid fierce fighting in the east and the south. After nearly a year of war, we're told some battles are worse than ever before.

And U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is on an urgent mission in Israel and the West Bank amid a new outbreak of violence, meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and urging a de-escalation of tensions. I'll discuss these high-stakes international conflicts with key White House official John Kirby. 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 the new developments out of Memphis right now. A sixth police officer relieved of duty over the beating of Tyre Nichols. CNN's Nick Valencia has our report which contains graphic content some viewers might find disturbing.


FRANK COLVETT, MEMPHIS CITY COUNCIL: Clearly there were other officers there. I'm curious as to why they have not been disciplined or suspended.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just days after the release of this graphic video showing the brutal beating of Tyre Nichols by at least five former Memphis police officers, all now charged with second degree murder, we've learned a sixth Memphis cop has been relieved of duty.

UNKNOWN: Oh, just stomp his ass.

VALENCIA (voice-over): He's been identified as Officer Preston Hemphill, also a source confirms, a member of the so-called SCORPION unit, now disbanded. In a statement, Major Karen Rudolph says, "He was relieved of duty with the other officers," going on to say, "Remember, we said this investigation is ongoing. More information will be shared as it develops."

The lawyer representing Officer Hemphill says his client, "was the third officer at the initial stop of Mr. Nichols. Video one is his body cam footage, adding that as per departmental regulations, Officer Hemphill activated his body cam. He was never present at the second scene. He is cooperating with officials in this investigation."

This new development comes as questions continue to be raised about the fate of other people who also responded to the scene and the disturbing footage released Friday, you could see Nichols being beaten with a baton. He's also punched and kicked. All the while his hands remain restrained behind his back. In the video you can see other officers standing around after the beating.

COLVETT: I think that there is a record incoming for the police department and for the leadership. There are going to be -- the tough questions are not going to go away.

VALENCIA (voice-over): When asked about additional charges, the Shelby County district attorney says more time is needed, calling it unprecedented how quickly the indictment charges were brought against the five former officers.

STEVE MULROY, SHELBY COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Nothing we did last Thursday regarding the indictments precludes us from bringing other charges later.

VALENCIA (voice-over): In a tweet over the weekend, Memphis City council member JB Smiley, Jr. called for the officer who tased Nichols to be fired, adding, "we must put an end to the culture that allows excessive force and assumes it is commonplace."

UNKNOWN: To see those images revealed is -- that looked like us here in the city. It hurt. But it also gave us just more focus to really look at how are we supporting and training the officers that we have.

VALENCIA (voice-over): We're still waiting to learn more about the fate of two Memphis fire department employees and two Shelby County deputies, all relieved of their duties pending an investigation.


(On camera): And tonight, we're learning the funeral for Tyre Nichols is expected for Wednesday. Those services are expected to start at 10:00 a.m. local time -- 10:30 a.m. local time. We understand Reverend Al Sharpton is expected to give the eulogy, Wolf, in what will no doubt be an emotional day for the family and many others. Wolf?

BLITZER: I'm sure it will. All right, Nick Valencia, thank you very much. For more right now, I want to bring in a member of the Memphis City Council, Dr. Jeff Warren. Dr. Warren, thank you so much for joining us. As you well know, we're now learning a sixth police officer who was also a member of the now disbanded SCORPION unit has been relieved of duty. The district attorney won't say if he will be charged.


Do you think he should face criminal charges?

JEFF WARREN, MEMPHIS CITY COUNCIL MEMBER: I think that we need to do like we did at the very beginning of this investigation, Wolf. We've allowed the district attorney to do an investigation to determine what charges should be brought, and I think that that should become, I guess, the national -- the correct way to do this in any further sort of situations like this.

I think what we've done as a council is we've asked for justice and our district attorney has gone and investigated and he's indicted and charged people for crimes that were committed.

BLITZER: Does it concern you, Dr. Warren, that we're just now learning that the sixth police officer was relieved of duty three weeks after this deadly incident occurred?

WARREN: I'm concerned that we got more and I think we'll still see more indictments coming. I think the investigation is still ongoing, Wolf. I don't think we've seen the end of it. And I think we're going to find there's more to this as we go into the trial.

So, I don't think we're on top of this yet. I think the D.A. is investigating. I think the police department is investigating, and I think once we get that completed, we'll know exactly what really happened and how this horrible thing came about.

BLITZER: Indeed. Prosecutors say more charges potentially could be added in this case. What does full accountability look like from your perspective?

WARREN: I think what we have to do is we need to make sure that we go through our police department and see where are we. We're weak. What happened with our procedures? What happened with our oversight? Wolf, we need a complement of about 2,500 officers in Memphis, and we've been running with about 1,800 to 2,000 officers for the past four or five years.

So, our officers are, you know, doing over time. They're tired. It's been very hard to recruit. We've been trying to get people for quite some time. The council has increased salaries. We've been pushing to hire more people, as has the mayor. And it's been very difficult to do.

Two years ago, Wolf, we had a murder rate of 347 or so people in one year. To give you that an idea, that same year, New York with a population of 8.6 million as compared to our 650,000, had a murder rate just under 500. So, you know, the average person in Memphis wants the police to do their job. They just don't want this to be part of their job.

BLITZER: The Memphis police chief --

WARREN: This horrible thing that happened to Tyre.

BLITZER: As you well know, Dr. Warren, the Memphis police chief is being praised by some for swiftly disbanding the so-called SCORPION police unit. But I want you to listen to how one of your local pastors there sees it. Listen to this.


EARLE J. FISHER, MEMPHIS PASTOR: There's been too much, in my estimation, benevolence given to the city and police department for this, quote, unquote, "rapid response." This is the byproduct of aggressive and fierce organizing on the ground for the last several years. And these two entities, the mayor's office and the police department are the ones who implemented the SCORPION unit in the first place. It's almost like starting the fire and then getting credit for trying to put it out.


BLITZER: So, do you agree with that assessment?

WARREN: No, I don't. You know, one of the things that we tried to do here is we've initiated something called a group violence intervention plan. It's about 80 percent social work and about 20 percent directed police work. It was described in a book called "Bleeding Out" by Thomas Abt. He was someone who worked with the Obama administration.

We were trying to figure out how to handle gang violence. You know, we were able, after the SCORPION unit came into being, to lower our murder rate to next year from 347 to 302. Now, can you prove that those 40-plus less murders were a cause of this intervention? You can't. But that particular program in other cities has gradually lowered the murder rate by about 10 percent a year.

And the idea behind the program is you identify people who are actually killing each other and you try to arrest them. But you also go into each one of these groups and figure out what they need. Do they need housing? Do they need a job? How do you get them out of the gang so they don't kill each other?

We have, you know, groups with automatic weapons driving around Memphis all the time shooting each other and killing bystanders in the wake. I think last week I talked to our police department, we're averaging 30 car thefts a day. The day before it was 45. And these are kids with guns going carjacking and, you know, breaking into cars. In Tennessee, you know, we have this law that says your car is part of your house and you can keep your gun in it.

[17:10:01] So, every night, kids just go around and try to break into cars to try to find guns. In my mind, what this is more a problem with, Wolf, is we have devalued black males in our society and it's a systemic problem. It's not just in Memphis. That's why you see it all over the country and it's been going on for decades. It's the residual of slavery.

And, you know, we as a society need to get a hold of this and figure out how do we help these people who've been devalued for years and become part of our society and not be victims of police when we're in this type of situation.

BLITZER: Dr. Jeff Warren, thank you so much for joining us and good luck to you, good luck to all the folks in Memphis right now. Appreciate you joining us.

WARRRREN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Let's discuss what's going on. Joining us now, our chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst John Miller, CNN political commentator Van Jones, civil rights attorney Areva Martin and defense attorney SHAN Wu.

John, I'll start with you. So, you heard, of course, (inaudible), the sixth police officer has now been relieved of duty. What are you learning about this officer's actual involvement in this incident and the consequences he has faced at least so far?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT & INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, this is the first officer we actually meet when we start to watch the video. He is the one driving up in the car. You see him here in this picture, actually holding up his graduation certificate from the crisis intervention team, which is a special course the Memphis P.D. actually developed and created an actual model to avoid injuring people in crisis when you encounter an unhinged individual in the street when the police are called.

But he's the guy we see rolling up on the scene when the other officers who were already there are yelling at Tyre to get out of the car, to get on the ground. They're screaming. They're cursing. He comes out of the vehicle, approaches, tries to get involved with taking Mr. Nichols into custody.

At one point, when Tyre Nichols gets up and runs away, he's the one who fires the taser which doesn't connect and doesn't stop him. There's a provocative comment where he's listening to the radio and he hears they are searching for him up closer to where Mr. Nichols lives, and he says, you know, they should stomp on him when they get him. He doesn't go to that second scene.

So, right now he's not in the criminal mix, but he's on the criminal radar. Right now, Officer Hemphill is much more in the administrative mix which is, did he follow procedures? Was it a proper use of the taser? Did he put it over the radio from the body camera? It appears he did. But not going to the second scene is probably what keeps him on the lower rung of this triage, Wolf. BLITZER: Areva, how likely do you think it is that these additional

police officer, Preston Hemphill, will actually be charged?

AREVA MARTIN, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: I think there's going to be tremendous pressure, Wolf, on this district attorney to charge this officer and any of the other officers that were on the scene. I hear what John is saying in terms of Mr. Hemphill, this Police Officer Hemphill not going to that second scene, not being involved in the brutal beating of Mr. Nichols.

But his actions at that first scene, to the extent that there are criminal violations that he committed, I suspect that this district attorney is going to charge him. This community is not going to rest until everyone involved in what happened with Mr. Nichols is actually held accountable, and that includes criminal charges, if there are criminal charges that can be filed.

BLITZER: Van, I'm anxious to get your thoughts. As you know, Tyre Nichols' beating is renewing calls nationwide for federal action on police reform. This is something you've devoted your career to. I want you to listen to how Republican Congressman Jim Jordan sees it. Listen to this.


REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): I don't know if there's any law that can stop that evil that we saw, that is just, I mean, just difficult to watch. What strikes me is just the lack of respect for human life. So, I don't know of any law, any training, any reform is going to change, you know -- that this man was handcuffed, they continued to beat him.


BLITZER: So, what do you say to that, Van? What do you see as Washington's role here because there is legislation out there.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, by that logic we just shouldn't have any laws for anybody because you're going to have people that violate those laws. That's not how you think about laws. You know, the reality is, there's many things that can be done and should be done.

For instance, people say these guys were sociopaths, these guys were psychopaths. Guess what? There is no federal standard that requires any law enforcement department, any place to screen for sociopath, to screen for psychopath. So, maybe we should tie any federal money going forward to at least make sure that you're not hiring sociopath and psychopaths.


In other words, the federal government has been so hands-off in terms of making sure that the federal dollars are not supporting rogue police departments and rogue police officers that you don't even have a screen for psychopathy. So, there's so much room to do something here. I'm surprised that Representative Jordan wouldn't jump at the chance to do something.

BLITZER: Shan, do you think we could see more criminal charges coming down the road?

SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I think so. It's early in the investigation. And things like placing the sixth officer on leave even though he was not at the scene of the beating captured on tape is a really important step, Wolf, to stripping away this presumption, this de facto presumption that police officers are supposed to engage in violence, physical abuse and verbal abuse of members of the community.

And it's only if we start to strip that away that we get a semblance of normalcy and normal laws can apply. I mean, putting on my prosecutor's hat, having lead police misconduct investigations, it's not just police that look the other way. Prosecutors fall into that presumption, too.

And the district attorney said the speed of the indictments was unprecedented. He should be applauded for that speed, but it should not be unprecedented. It should happen quickly all the time when the facts justify it.

BLITZER: All right. I want everybody to stand by. And coming up, we'll get a lot more analysis on all the news coming out of Memphis right now.

Also ahead, key White House national security official John Kirby will join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Major issues to discuss.



BLITZER: We're now in our top story. New fallout right now from the death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis. Let's get back to our experts for more analysis. Van, you write a very compelling article on in which you write this, and let me quote from your article. "I0t is the race of the victim who is brutalized, not the race of the violent cop, that is most relevant in determining whether racial bias is a factor in police violence." Tell our viewers what that means. What matters most, what you're suggesting here?

JONES: Well, what I'm suggesting is some people are saying, well, because you have a black police chief, the majority of the police on the force are black. These are all five black cops, that there's no racial bias here at all. That's not the right way to look at it. The way you look at it is, does this police department tend to single out black people in black neighborhoods for this type of behavior.

And I think you will find in Memphis that that is overwhelmingly true. And so, you can have a police department that in one neighborhood has a warrior mentality and anything goes, and in another has a protector mentality. And it's like you will find in Shelby County, it's the black communities that are being brutalized and the white communities that are not. It's still an issue of racial bias regardless of the color of the cops. BLITZER: Areva, I'm interested to hear your perspective on this. Go


MARTIN: Well, I totally agree with Van. And the bigger issue, what we're witnessing here, is the systemic issues with policing across the country. It doesn't matter if the officer is black or the officer is brown or any race or ethnicity.

It's the issue of the culture, the culture of policing that says black males particularly, their lives don't matter, that you can go into black communities then you can use these kinds of cowboy-like tactics. You can have these strike forces, call them SCORPION. The name itself is meant to put fear in the lives of people as well as the name obviously attracted the kinds of officers that would engage in this kind of aggressive behavior.

And basically, these kinds of police tactics say to black people, you either live in fear of crime or you live in fear of the police. And it shouldn't be a binary choice.

WU: Wolf, I just want to say I agree with that so much. And I think it's a combination not only with what Van is saying about the way that black males are treated. But to Van's point of the warrior and protector aspect of it, that's where you really see that difference. And to -- we at this point, we have to tamp down on the warrior mentality.

It's not just militarization in terms of the equipment. It's the culture and the mentality that they're at war with the populous. You see the enormous rage in that video. Over what? There's just this notion of being very amped up and angry and that's really has to be changed, whether it's through screening or training, whatever it may be.

BLITZER: All right, John, let me get your thoughts because could disbanding this so-called SCORPION unit, right, in this particular case be part of the solution here?

MILLER: Well, it will certainly take some of the pressure off because you can't leave the unit on the street with that name because whatever community they're operating in, when they show up, they're going to have zero confidence of the people. So, the unit have to go away.

The question is, when you rebuild a unit in a city that is beset, that's overrun with crime, how do you rebuild it? And how do you build in these fixes with bias training, implicit bias training, de- escalation training and so on.

BLITZER: Good work. Guys, thank you very much to all of you.

Up next, major developments unfolding right now on the international front in the Middle East and in Ukraine. The White House national security official John Kirby is standing by live. We'll discuss.



BLITZER: It's clearly a crucial week for efforts to fend off a potentially catastrophic default on the U.S. national debt. Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Phil Mattingly, who is joining us. He's got details on a very high-stakes meeting between President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Phil, what is the president's message to the new Republican Speaker?

PHIL NATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, just a few moments ago when the president arrived back at the White House from Baltimore, it's the exact question I posed to him. And he said simply, show me your budget and I'll show you mine. And what that statement drew echoes of was a position by both the White House and congressional Democrats saying that if Republicans claim to want to negotiate, they need to put a plan on the table.

Here's kind of the rub though, Wolf. White House officials have made clear there is no desire to have a negotiation. They believe a debt ceiling increase should be a clean increase, one that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle from both chambers decide to pass on their own without any negotiation, without any effort by White House officials to try and make any concessions.

And I think that gives you the best window into what this meeting on Wednesday is going to be. This is a moment where both sides are very dug in. Both sides believe that their positions can win politically. I will say though when you talk to White House officials, they made clear this is not posturing on their part, this is not a bluff on their part either.

They plan to maintain this position. It will be underscored by the president in that meeting with Speaker Kevin McCarthy. And it's one that over the course of the next couple of months as we move towards that deadline of potential catastrophe.


And that's not really overstatement when it comes to how the markets would react to a U.S. default. The White House officials believe they can press the issue and at least politically move Republicans towards their side of things. It remains an open question, very much an open debate as we head into that critical first meeting between the new speaker and the president.

BLITZER: Yes, critical indeed. Phil, President Biden today was also previewing some of his messaging for his upcoming State of the Union address and beyond.

MATTINGLY: Yes, that's exactly right, Wolf. If there's going to be some action here Wednesday, in that meeting between the speaker and the President, outside of Washington is where the President's going to spend most of this week. In Baltimore today, talking about major rail investments from the bipartisan infrastructure law. In New York tomorrow, doing the same exact thing, Philadelphia on Friday, and a joint event with Vice President Kamala Harris. All of this driving towards that State of the Union address next Tuesday, and potentially after that, a reelection announcement and what these events really underscores, what White House officials want to elevate. And that's the accomplishments of the first two years and how they view those legislative accomplishments in particular, as driving clear results, not just in the first two years, but in the year ahead, something the President will be seeking to highlight in front of the entire nation next Tuesday night, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Phil, thank you very much. Phil Mattingly at the White House.

Now let's turn now to the deadly outbreak of violence in the Middle East as the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits the region. CNN's Nic Robertson is joining us live from Jerusalem right now. Nic, the Secretary of State is making his first trip to Israel since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power. So what is his message? What are you hearing?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, his first message when he got off the plane here was to reassure the people of Israel that they have the ironclad security commitment from the United States, but there was a part of --

BLITZER: I think we lost our connection with Nic, we'll try to recreate it. In the meantime, let me get to some other major international news we're following right now. Intense fighting in eastern and southern Ukraine. Our Senior International Correspondent Fred Pleitgen has our report from the frontlines of the war zone.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Ukraine's entire eastern front is now heating up. This is Russian infantry in a massive firefight in the forest near the town of Kreminna. Close by we're creeping through the same forest with a Ukrainian frontline drone unit called Dnipro One, that scouts out Russian positions and direct Ukrainian fire.

Drone operator Ruslan (ph) says working in the forest is extremely dangerous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Old time work in tanks, a lot of artillery from different directions, from eastern and from north.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): But the team is often able to spot attempted Russian advances. Here, Russian infantry are moving through the thick woodland, and this tank leaves cover and opens fire towards Ukrainian positions.

The Ukrainians liberated towns and villages in this area last autumn. But the scars of battle are visible everywhere.

(on-camera): This village like many of the ones in this area was heavily damaged when the Ukrainians moved in here in fall. For a while, it was quiet but now all that is changing, the fighting is coming back. And it's heavier than ever before.

(voice-over): The few people remaining those too poor or too old to flee. I asked Valentina if it's not too dangerous to stay here.

Yes, it is dangerous, she says, but what can we do? Of course, it's dangerous, but we endure. Sometimes we hide, but now it's too cold in the basements.

The Russians have massively beefed up their forces around Kreminna. They believe they have to prevent the Ukrainians breaking through here to sustain their own offensive against Bakhmut, and are now also launching fresh attacks near Vuhledar further south.

This video near Vuhledar shows Russian armor getting hit by Ukraine's artillery. The soldiers run away, a wounded comrade tries to crawl to safety. In all these places, drones are critical to detect and to destroy the enemy.

Dnipro One has its own drone workshop where NATO issue grenades are literally sawn and have to be carried on drone. Yuri (ph) can manufacture drone munitions in 20 minutes, and they've proven very effective in the conflict.

Drone operator is one of the most dangerous jobs, the boss says. As soon as they locate a drone operator, they use all kinds of weaponry, artillery, MLRS, tanks. We have a high rate of casualties among drone pilots.

In the forest Ruslan's (ph) mission is now over. But he sees a long battle ahead in a contest of wits and brute force.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mostly last month, our army goes state, but last I think two weeks, maybe we stop and Russians making counter attack.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): And all the time drones will shape the way this war changes.


PLEITGEN: I think you could hear there, Wolf, that there was a lot of really heavy fighting going on around us as we were there with that frontline drone unit. And that's really something that we've seen increasingly and heard about increasingly, along the entire eastern front here in Ukraine.

And the Ukrainian say, of course, one of the reasons for that is that Russia drafted those around 300,000 people at the end of the last year, and a lot of them are now arriving at those front lines. And, of course, the Biden administration says one of the things that they fear is that Russians might be launching or could launch in the spring of big offensive. This is probably not that just yet, but it could be a prelude to a very brutal spring coming, Wolf.

BLITZER: It looks like what's coming indeed. Fred Pleitgen in Kramatorsk for us. Fred, stay safe over there. Thank you very much.

BLITZER: I want to get back to the Middle East right now. We've reestablished our connection with CNN's Nic Robertson. He's joining us live from Jerusalem. Once again, Nic, let's get back to the Secretary of State Tony Blinken's visit there. I want you to update our viewers on what we know so far.

ROBERTSON: Yes, he made a commitment, a security commitment and ironclad security commitment he said to the security of the people of Israel. He met with the Prime Minister, with the President, with the foreign minister. His message though, his real message here was to try to reduce tensions that are spiking at the moment.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: We're urging all sides now to take urgent steps to restore calm, to deescalate. We want to make sure that there's an environment in which we can, I hope, at some point, create the conditions where we can start to restore a sense of security for Israelis and Palestinians alike, which of course, is sorely lacking.


ROBERTSON: And he said the most important thing was to keep alive the idea of a two-state solution. He said any moves that moved away from that would show the international community, show the world that Israel perhaps losing some of its democratic values.

And that I think, a hint at Prime Minister Netanyahu's government. This was always going to be a prickly meeting. It is a far-right government, the message there stick to democratic values, Wolf?

BLITZER: That's at stake right now. Nic Robertson in Jerusalem, thank you very much.

Let's discuss all the latest international developments. Joining us right now, the National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, retired U.S. Navy Admiral John Kirby. I want to start with Ukraine, John. Russia, as you know, is slowly but steadily, seemingly a gaining ground near Bakhmut and an eastern Ukraine for that matter. Did the U.S. and the West act far too slowly in agreeing to send battle tanks to Ukraine?

JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: No, we don't think so. I mean, you have to remember, Wolf, that the decision on the tanks and it wasn't just as U.S., it was the Germans as well and the Brits before that was really designed to help Ukraine get ahead of the fighting that we think is going to be -- everybody's going to see come spring.

So this was actually one of those cases where we are trying to forecast the kinds of needs that Ukraine is going to require, again, when the weather turns better. And we can expect that the Russians will try to go on the offensive then.

BLITZER: Yes, that's what everybody's anticipating. Ukraine, as you know, is renewing its pleased for Western jets and long-range missile systems. But President Biden today said no, he's not sending, he says, F16s to Ukraine. How is the President making those determinations now? Why not provide the Ukrainians with these fighter jets?

KIRBY: Well, I don't have anything to add from the President's comments today. What I can tell you is that, you know, there's a lot of capability that is being sent and will be sent in coming weeks and months, Wolf. The kinds of capabilities that we know, will be critical to helping the Ukrainians again in the fighting now in the wintertime, as well as the kind of fighting that we expect that they're going to be doing in the spring.

And it's not just -- you know, the act of fighting right now is in the Donbas and certainly around Bakhmut. But you can expect that things could, in fact, get a little hot down in the south part of Ukraine again, once the weather warms up and once the conditions are more permissive.

BLITZER: While I have you, John, I want to turn to the Middle East right now, tension escalating dramatically. We're seeing some of the worst violence among Israelis and Palestinians in years right now. Secretary of State Blinken is urging all sides to deescalate. How concerned is the Biden administration right now about the potential escalation of violence there?

KIRBY: No, we're very concerned. And as you heard Secretary Blinken say this serves nobody's interest. This increased violence and tensions between both sides and we really do call for calm. We call for a reduction in the violence here, and we call for some time and space so that these tensions can be worked out peacefully and so that a viable two state solution can remain still the goal.


BLITZER: According to various U.S. media reports that you've probably read them, U.S. officials believe Israel was behind the drone attacks at a military plant in Iran over the weekend. Is that true? Are those reports accurate?

KIRBY: I don't have anything to speak to specifically with those press reports, Wolf. I would -- there was that -- not the kind of thing that we would have any comment on here.

BLITZER: The U.S. and Israel just finished, as you know, their largest ever joint military exercise, the U.S. military Central Command and the IDF the Israel Defense Forces.


BLITZER: Was that a message to Iran?

KIRBY: I think that's a message to anybody in the region, that wants to support terrorists, that wants to develop a dangerous ballistic missile program, that wants to challenge or threaten security in the region. So we're delighted to be able to do this exercise. We're going to continue to work in lockstep with our Israeli Defense Force partners, to face common threats and challenges. And without question, the most common threat and challenge in the region right now, the most dangerous emanates out of Tehran.

BLITZER: In a new memo, a top U.S. Air Force General is warning of a potential conflict with China, the U.S. and China in 2025. Is that accurate? Does the administration agree and was there such an assessment by this top Air Force General?

KIRBY: You know, we've addressed the challenges coming out of China here for quite some time. It's very plainly in our national security strategy. It's in the Pentagon's national defense strategy. They call it the pacing challenge.

And we need to make sure that in every sphere of government we can meet that challenge head on. The President believes that we are -- should be in a competition with China. And that should -- it should not devolve into conflict. And there's no reason for it too, Wolf. There's no reason for the bilateral relationship, the most consequential bilateral relationship in the world to sort of erupt into some kind of conflict.

But we do believe, and the President has made clear, that we are in a competition with China, a competition that he believes the United States is well poised to win.

BLITZER: John Kirby, let's hope that word does not develop. Thanks so much for joining us.

KIRBY: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: Just ahead, how New York's famous Madison Square Garden is using facial recognition technology to keep out lawyers who are suing the company.



BLITZER: The head of the Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corporation in New York is defending the use of facial recognition technology and its venues to bar lawyers suing the company from attending various events. CNN's Omar Jimenez reports.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've come up on matching somebody on their facial recognition list.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He was recognized on facial recognition cameras then confronted.

BENJAMIN NOREN, LAWYER: My name is Benjamin Noren.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. JIMENEZ (voice-over): This is how lawyer Benjamin Noren from one New York City Law Firm was greeted by Madison Square Garden staff while trying to attend an event in the fall.

NOREN: The ticket has been revoked, and then we're not permitted in the building.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): It's because Noren works for a law firm representing ticket brokers in a lawsuit against Madison Square Garden entertainment. All the roughly 60 lawyers at his firm are also banned until the litigation is resolved.

JOE POLITO, COMMERCIAL LITIGATOR, DAVIDOFF HUTCHER & CITRON: We received a letter from MSG, stating that all attorneys in our firm even those attorneys who have nothing to do would be barred for the duration of litigation.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): The firm's co-founding partner has been a season ticket holder for 47 years. He believes here, he's being retaliated against.

LARRY HUTCHER, CO-FOUNDER, CO-MANAGING PARTNER, DAVIDOFF HUTCHER & CITRON: The office (ph) of their ban is to dissuade people from suing Madison Square Garden. If you have to think about the why have the choice of being banned. And representing somebody somebody's going to say, I don't need that aggravation. I'm not going to take that to date (ph).

JIMENEZ (voice-over): Their firm is among dozens temporarily banned from MSG properties including Radio City Music Hall while they represent clients suing the Garden. New York Attorney General Letitia James believes they may be violating state and city laws writing to them in part, "Forbidding entry to lawyers representing clients who have engaged in litigation against the company may dissuade such lawyers from taking on legitimate cases."

Days later, Madison Square Garden emphasize it's a private business and in compliance with all laws, writing in part, "The attorneys were prohibited from attending include ambulance chasers and money grabbers whose business is motivated by self-promotion and who capitalize on the misfortune of others. This includes attorneys representing ticket scalpers, personal injury claims and class action litigations, but does not include claims related to sexual harassment or employment discrimination."

JAMES DOLAN, CEO, MADISON SQUARE GARDEN: You get to say who you serve, and if it's somebody who is suing you and trying to put you out of business or take your money from you, right, et cetera, you have a right to be, yes, a little unhappy about it.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): Some experts believe it's a slippery slope, and not just the discretionary power of who else could be flagged in the future, but one method being used to enforce it, even if it is legal.

DAVE MAASS, DIRECTOR OF INVESTIGATORS, ELECTRONIC FRONTIER FOUNDATION: I have read their privacy policy. They explicitly say that the biometrics they capture from you can be used for any purpose that would benefit their economic interest.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): Some don't believe it should be used at all.

ALBERT FOX CAHN, FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, SURVEILLANCE TECHNOLOGY OVERSIGHT PROJECT: And I am terrified of the day where we allow companies to use so many forms of tracking and surveillance that, you know, we ended up in the middle of one of the largest cities on the planet, without a place we can actually go while keeping our privacy.


JIMENEZ: Now Madison Square Garden says they've been using facial recognition technology to help provide a safe environment going back to 2018. But that's also part of what New York Look Attorney General James is asking about that technology, plus how it's being used or what it's being used to enforce.


Now that law firm we showed who I don't think would characterize themselves as ambulance chasers or money grabbers, they actually sued MSG and were able to get some access back as a judge wrote, there seems to be no rational basis for the policy except to dissuade lawsuits but obviously, an ongoing battle, Wolf.

BLITZER: Continues. Omar Jimenez, excellent report, thank you very much.

Coming up, dozens dead and more than 100 injured in a mosque attack, the latest of the rescue operation and the investigation, that's next.


BLITZER: We're following the blast at a mosque at Peshawar, Pakistan that's left at least 61 people dead and more than 150 people injured. CNN Senior International Correspondent Ivan Watson has the latest.



IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dazed worshippers pulling themselves out from the rubble. A deadly blast hit this mosque during afternoon prayers partially collapsing the building. The suspected attack targeting a police compound in Pakistan's northwestern city of Peshawar. The victims likely mostly law enforcement caught off guard in a place of worship.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): We took out the injured and send them to hospital. The dead bodies should all be inside the mosque, buried under the rubble.

WATSON (voice-over): Dozens are confirmed dead, Pakistani police say, with more than 150 injured. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif condemned what he's calling a suicide blast, saying quote, "The brutal killing of Muslims prostrating before Allah is against the teachings of the Quran. Terrorists want to create fear by targeting those who perform the duty of defending Pakistan."

Monday's blast was the worst the city has seen since March of last year when a suicide bombing that ISIS later claimed responsibility for, killed at least 61 at a Shiite Mosque during Friday prayers.

Leaders of Pakistan's rival political parties condemned the latest mosque bombing. A country with a long history of deadly political violence now bracing for the threat of more possible suicide attacks.


BLITZER: CNN's Ivan Watson reporting for us. Ivan, thank you very much.

Up next, we're getting breaking news out of Memphis right now about the deadly beating of Tyre Nichols.