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U.S. Officials Say, Haven't Ruled Out Shooting Down Chinese Spy Balloon; Biden Touts Blockbuster Jobs Report, The Critics And Cynics Are Wrong; Life-Threatening Arctic Blast Bearing Down On Northeast; Russian Strikes Kill Two In Liberated Ukrainian City Of Kherson; Ballistic Expert Testifies In Alex Murdaugh Murder Trial. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 03, 2023 - 18:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: U.S. officials tell CNN the possibility of shooting down the Chinese spy balloon has not been ruled out, this as the secretary of state warns Beijing that the balloon's brazen flight over the United States is a clear violation and an irresponsible act.

Also tonight, President Biden is out touting a blockbuster jobs report, claiming it proves critics of his policies are wrong. We'll break down the political impact for the president just ahead of his state of union address and the expected launch of his re-election campaign.

And a life-threatening arctic blast is bearing down right now on the northeast. Stand by for an up-to-the-minute forecast on the bitter cold and dangerous winds, putting tens of millions of Americans at risk.

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

We begin with the rising tensions right now between the United States and China as that massive spy balloon is still out there flying over the center of the country.

CNN's Alex Marquardt has the latest on this international incident and how U.S. diplomats and military officials are weighing their next move.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, U.S. officials tell CNN the U.S. has not ruled out shooting down the Chinese spy balloon once there's no risk to civilians below, but Secretary of State Antony Blinken telling reporters that China's flagrant violation of U.S. sovereignty forced him to postpone his trip to Beijing. ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: I made clear that the presence of this surveillance balloon in U.S. air space is a clear violation of U.S. sovereignty and international law, that it's an irresponsible act and that the PRC's decision to take this action on the eve of my planned visit is detrimental to the substantive discussions that we were prepared to have.

MARQUARDT: It would have been the administration's highest level trip to China so far. The State Department said that the rare Chinese apology today and their claim that the balloon was for civilian purposes, floating off course, did not change their mind. BLINKEN: I can only imagine what the reaction would be in China if

they were on the other end. And what this has done is created the conditions that undermine the purpose of the trip.

MARQUARDT: The balloon is flying at 60,000 feet up in the atmosphere, equipped with solar panels for power and a surveillance payload. The Pentagon says steps have been taken to protect sensitive intelligence targets beneath it on the ground, which may include silos of Minutemen 3 nuclear ballistic missiles scattered across Montana.

U.S. defense officials have been tracking the balloon closely for several days, debating whether to shoot it down, and advising President Joe Biden it would be too dangerous.

BRIG. GEN. PAT RYDER, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We assessed that it does not pose a risk to people on the ground as it currently is traversing the Continental United States. And so out of an abundance of caution, cognizant of the potential impact to civilians on the ground, from a debris field, right now, we're going to continue to monitor and review options.

MARQUARDT: Satellite and other data indicate the balloon may have originated in Central China, with weather patterns pushing it out over the Pacific Ocean into Canada and down into the United States, where it has been crossing Montana and into Missouri. With current conditions, it could condition east and enter the Atlantic Ocean from North Carolina. It can maneuver itself and has changed course, currently floating over the Central U.S., officials say, while offering little more on its precise location.

RYDER: The public certainly has the ability to look up in the sky and see where the balloon is.

MARQUARDT: And they have, curiously training eyes and cameras towards the skies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What planet is that?

MARQUARDT: Pilots have also reported seeing the balloon as they fly by at high altitude, reporting balloon sightings to air traffic control.


MARQUARDT (on camera): Now, Wolf, unless this Chinese spy balloon is shot down or somehow brought down, the Pentagon believes that it will continue to be in U.S. air space for the next few days. They will continue to watch it, to monitor as it floats across the U.S. and keep all options open.

Meanwhile, back here at the State Department, Secretary of State Antony Blinken says that he will reschedule his trip to Beijing when conditions allow. What those conditions are, they will not say precisely. It is clear, however, that the temperature between the U.S. and China needs to come down dramatically. Wolf?

BLITZER: Alex Marquardt reporting for us, thank you very much, Alex.


Let's take a closer look right now at why the Chinese balloon's presence over the United States is so alarming. Here's CNN's Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, one reason the surveillance balloon attracting so much attention is simply its size. So big, it was visible from the ground, as you could see from this photograph. We know it's the size of about three city buses, big enough that it caused flights to be diverted in the area for safety and also prompted at least a discussion of the possibility of the U.S. shooting it down. In the end, the decision made by the president not to shoot it down.

But we also learned something new today, and that is that this surveillance balloon had some maneuverability, that China had some ability to target its path over the northern part of the Continental U.S. That's key because this was in the flight path of Malmstrom Air Force Base, where the U.S. maintains some of its intercontinental ballistic missiles. That could very much be a surveillance target of a surveillance asset like this.

Now, for context, we should note that China has numerous surveillance assets flying over the U.S. with regularity, particularly in space. In lower orbit, those satellites would go over U.S. territory every 90 minutes or so. They have other satellites at other orbits as well with perhaps equal or even greater surveillance capability as this surveillance balloon, and China becoming only more and more active in space. You look at the number of launches per year. It used to be in single digits, now close to 100, really only competing with the U.S. at this point.

So, that raises the question, why then a balloon? Is it possible it has surveillance capabilities the U.S. is not yet aware of, or, Wolf, could it be simply sending a message? This is the same week that the U.S. announced a new agreement with the Philippines for basing their, in part, in response to the China threat, was this a deliberate message from China to the U.S.? Wolf?

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto reporting for us, Jim, thank you very much.

The U.S. is disputing China's claims about the balloon and what it's doing in U.S. air space. CNN Senior International Correspondent Ivan Watson is joining us now live from Hong Kong. Ivan, tell us what China is saying about all of this.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, China Friday night here in Asia put out the -- an unusual statement, the Chinese Foreign Ministry, in which it did say, look, this aircraft does, in fact, belong to China. It claims that it is a meteorological research balloon. And it then went on to say, quote, the airship deviated from its planned course. The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into U.S. air space and went on to say in this statement that it would -- the Chinese government would continue communicating with the U.S. to help resolve this issue.

I have to stress how unusual it is for the Chinese government to essentially issue a form of an apology. For example, the Chinese government is still standing behind the years of its zero COVID policy where it shut down the economy, large parts of the economy, and locked citizens in their homes and neighborhoods for months at a time. It's still saying that was the right thing to do, even though it put a lot of damage on the economy and onto ordinary Chinese people. So, the fact that it's coming forth and kind of saying this, again, I have to stress how unusual this is.

Decision-making in Beijing is very opaque. So, we're left kind of speculating. Was this, in fact, a mistake, an embarrassing one at that, or is this a deliberate act of provocation? And we have to stress that Antony Blinken's visit to Beijing, which has now been postponed at the very least, was supposed to be building on President Biden's meeting with Xi Jinping in Bali in November, where he was trying to establish guardrails to the relationship between the two -- world's two largest economies, establish lines of communication that had been all but severed. Those lines have been used between the two governments amid the tension of this balloon continuing to fly in U.S. air space, which Washington is saying is a violation of U.S. sovereignty. Wolf?

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

So, let's get more on all of this. Joining us now, the former U.S. defense secretary and former CIA director, Leon Panetta. Mr. Secretary, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

As you know, officials tell CNN the U.S. has not ruled out shooting down this spy balloon once it is deemed safe to do so. Does the U.S. need to bring this balloon down?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: I think the United States has to take control of this balloon. There are two things that are of great concern here. One is that it's been determined to be a surveillance balloon, which means that it's gathering intelligence.


That's the purpose of surveillance. So, that's what the Chinese are using it for. And, secondly, it's maneuverable, which means that the Chinese basically control the direction of that balloon. It's invaded our air space. It's obviously invaded our sovereignty. I think it's very important for the United States to take control of this balloon, either to intercept or to shoot it down.

BLITZER: So, you would say shoot it down? Is that what you're saying?

PANETTA: I'm saying either intercept it, have the Chinese land it so that we can take control of it, or shoot it down, if that becomes the last alternative.

BLITZER: Do you agree with Secretary of State Antony Blinken's decision to at least postpone his upcoming trip to China because this balloon is flying over the United States?

PANETTA: I regret that he had to make that decision because I think it's important to have a dialogue with China. But it's tough to have a dialogue with China at the same time there is a spying balloon, a surveillance balloon making its way across the United States. So, I understand why he decided not to do it. It would have detracted from anything that he was trying to do in terms of negotiations.

BLITZER: Is it possible, Mr. Secretary, that this balloon has, indeed, some surveillance capabilities that the United States is not aware of?

PANETTA: Well, that's the other thing, that, you know, as former director of the CIA, I think it's important for us to find out exactly what kind of surveillance technology was aboard this balloon. They were using it to gather intelligence. They were able to maneuver this over some fairly sensitive sites in this country. I think we have every right to know what exactly was on that balloon and what is their capability? I would really be concerned if we didn't take control of this balloon and simply allowed it to go out to sea.

BLITZER: The Chinese foreign ministry claims this surveillance balloon's arrival into U.S. air space was unintended and says it is used mainly for weather research. Are you buying that?

PANETTA: No, not at all. Obviously, I don't trust what the Chinese say. I think that would be -- I think that would be wise to remember that they will say whatever needs to be said in order to cover what they're trying to do. It's clear that this is a surveillance balloon. It's clear that they can maneuver it. And for that reason, it isn't just a weather balloon that went astray. This is a spy balloon that is trying to make its way across the United States.

BLITZER: Earlier this week, a top U.S. Air Force general predicted that the U.S. and China, and I'm going to quote him now, will fight in 2025. Is the U.S. heading, Mr. Secretary, toward a major conflict with China?

PANETTA: Well, I don't think that has to be the case. Obviously, our relationship is very tense right now for a number of reasons, Taiwan, their military buildup, their interference in the South China Sea. I think that what we're seeing now is a lot of moving parts.

The United States is moving to the Philippines. They announced that yesterday, to be able to have access to four additional bases in the Philippines. They've expanded our presence in Guam. The same thing is true for Okinawa. And so we are, in fact, improving our position in the event that something should happen in Taiwan. At the same time, the Chinese are making their moves as well obviously with this balloon taking place in the United States.

So, it is a tense relationship. My hope is that, ultimately, as things quiet down, hopefully, the secretary of state will be able to get back to the negotiating table. We need to have a dialogue with China today.

BLITZER: What would the Chinese do if the U.S. flew a balloon like this over China?

PANETTA: I would think, without question, they would shoot it down immediately.

BLITZER: So, does the U.S. look weak right now by refusing at least so far to do so?

PANETTA: Well, you know, I think, ultimately, if the United States takes control of this balloon and does it in a smart way, I think they will have shown a responsible approach to dealing with this. But they've got to take control of this balloon. They can't just simply sit back and let it go out to sea. We need to know what is on this balloon and why they were trying to surveil the United States.


We need to know that from an intelligence and from a security point of view.

BLITZER: Leon Panetta, thank you so much for joining us, and we always appreciate having you here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

PANETTA: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you. Just ahead, the White House is cheering surprisingly very strong new jobs numbers here in the United States. What it means for President Biden just ahead of the state of the union address next Tuesday. We'll have details when we come back.


BLITZER: Today's blockbuster jobs report is easing fears of a recession here in the United States and giving President Biden a much needed boost, the U.S. economy adding 517,000 new jobs just last month.

Our Chief White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly has details for us. Phil, President Biden is touting this new report at a key DNC meeting right now.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, it's a pretty good message for the president to take to the national Democrats, Democrats he's going to need to be behind him when and if, and right now it looks very much like when, he announces a re-election bid in the weeks or months ahead. And it's something that he'll also be able to talk about in a couple of days, the state of the union address on Tuesday night. Not much better data you can have than 517,000 jobs added, 3.4 percent unemployment rate, both of those, according to economists, not just critics, economists that I was talking to today, one called it stunning.


And I think it underscoring a reality that the president believes not only is the economy or his economic plan working, he has a very real record to point to for the next two or, perhaps, six years as he laid out at that meeting in Philadelphia. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: You know, as of this month, we've created 12 million new jobs. We created more new jobs in two years than any president did in their entire term. That's because of you.


MATTINGLY: Now, Wolf, the president has repeatedly said what you've seen in economic data, including the deceleration on the side of inflation, is showing that his plan is working. And if you take a look just over the course of the last several months, when it comes to unemployment, you'll notice the steady kind of decline while still jobs grow. The administration was really targeting until this month, where you see a very clear pop based on that 517,000 number. In terms of the unemployment rate, you've seen a pretty steady decline that started very sharp and has remained extraordinarily low, the lowest since 1969 at the 3.4 percent rate.

What you know right now when you talk to Biden administration officials is they are confident in where the economy stands. They think that will be critical for the political world going forward. And it's something the president seemed to allude to tonight in Philadelphia when he asked -- he told the people that were around him, I have one question for you, are you with me? That crowd immediately started chanting, four more years. These are obviously partisans, Wolf, but this is a record that they believe they can take beyond just the partisans to the broader country.

BLITZER: Yes. Clearly, the president is a very happy guy on this day with these new numbers. Phil Mattingly at the White House for us, thank you very much.

Let's discuss this and more with CNN Political Correspondent Maggie Haberman. She's a senior political correspondent for The New York Times. Maggie, thanks for joining us.

The strong January jobs numbers give President Biden some good news to tout as he addresses the Democrats, as he's doing right now, and just ahead of next week's state of the union address. Is he a stronger candidate now than he was even just a few months ago?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, Wolf, that's right. They absolutely give him good news to tout as he is heading into what, by all indications, Wolf, is going to be another campaign for the presidency. Most people who are currently in the White House, at any point in the White House, continue running again. I don't expect that he's going to be different.

He had a good midterms. The Democrats overall had a good midterms. He does have policy items that he can point to. The economy is what presidential races are fought and won on. And a stronger than anticipated jobs report is exactly what the White House was hoping for.

BLITZER: Yes. As James Carville once said, it's the economy, stupid, going into an election.

Why do you think we're seeing Democrats support President Biden more enthusiastically right now? Do you think it's based on his economic success, shall we say, or a look of options for that matter?

HABERMAN: I think that he's the incumbent president. And I think that it's difficult for a party to challenge a sitting incumbent. I don't think that this is any different. And I think there's going to be a lack of desire to have division especially heading into yet another presidential cycle that will likely be fought along narrow margins, as the last two have.

So, I think Democrats want to be united as a party. I think they want to be united as a candidate. There are options. I just don't think there's anybody who wants to take on the incumbent right now.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. You've been doing some very interesting reporting, and I read everything you write, about the Republican 2024 contest. Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is teasing a special announcement she says she's going to make in a couple of weeks, followed by visits to Iowa and New Hampshire. Is it risky to be Donald Trump's first official challenger?

HABERMAN: Look, there is definitely a danger in being the first person in the water. Donald Trump has been looking for somebody who he can attack. He is hopeful, especially with Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, out there looming as a potential consolidating challenger to Donald Trump. The former president and his advisers have been hoping that there will be multiple candidates who will get into the race.

You know, Haley risks incurring the wrath of Trump, which can be pretty ugly in these campaigns, even for people who think that they're able to tolerate it. She clearly knows what she's dealing with. She worked for him, she's watched him, she knows who he is. We will see how she navigates it, and other prospective candidates will be watching to see how she navigates it, too.

BLITZER: I've interviewed her, she's an impressive lady, indeed.

Trump, as you know, is raising what some see as a nightmare scenario for Republicans if he loses his primary race. Listen to what he said yesterday. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you're not the nominee, will you support whoever the GOP nominee is?

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: It would depend. I would give you the same answer I gave in 2016 during the debate.


It would have to depend on who the nominee was.


BLITZER: So, what do you think that means for his challengers and for his party?

HABERMAN: I think Bill Barr, the former attorney general, referred to this as extortion last year, the way that Trump approaches his party. And I think that's essentially what you're seeing. He's suggesting that he will take the bull and go home with his third of the Republican Party that will be with him no matter what polls show if he is not the nominee and they could stay home or he could run a third- party candidacy. It's a challenge for Republicans.

BLITZER: It certainly is. Maggie Haberman, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, we'll have more on our top story. What exactly is a spy balloon? And just how severe of a threat does it really pose to the United States?



BLITZER: Right now, we're following new warnings from Washington to Beijing about the Chinese spy balloon now flying over the United States. U.S. officials are not ruling out the possibility of shooting down the balloon.

Brian Todd is working the story for us. Brian, what are you learning about spy balloons like this one and how they actually work?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, analysts say spy balloons have been used in war as far back as the 1700s through the American Civil War and up to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Experts say they may look unwieldy but don't let that fool you.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just floating there. That's what's the weirdest part about it.

TODD (voice over): That tiny white dot in the sky can seem deceptive. This suspected Chinese spy balloon, experts say, is a vehicle that's more impressive than you might think.

CAITLIN LEE, MITCHELL INSTITUTE FOR AEROSPACE STUDIES: Balloons have a long history in the warfare of being used for intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance and this is no different.

TODD: U.S. officials say this balloon, now moving over the Central U.S., is the size of three city buses and appears to have solar panels on it as well as surveillance equipment. Analysts say since the balloon likely has no motor, the solar panels would help power the balloon and --

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: To allow for an operator to steer the balloon, because any steering mechanism would require some degree of power as well.

TODD: Experts say these balloons can fly at altitudes of 60,000 feet to 50 miles above the Earth.

We asked analysts what kind of surveillance equipment this vehicle might have and the capabilities of that equipment.

LEE: They'll have cameras for imagery of sensitive sites. They can have other sensors that can collect signals intelligence. So, think about eavesdropping on your cell phone. These balloons have been around for a long time. And we ourselves in the United States have used them simply to monitor the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.

TODD: But with military satellites having such sophisticated surveillance capability, what would a spy balloon have that a satellite wouldn't?

LEE: One, they fly at lower altitudes. And the other big advantage I think they have is the persistence. They can just kind of hang out and loiter over sites, whereas satellites, of course, in low Earth orbit are rotating around the Earth.

TODD: And experts say balloons are much cheaper to deploy than satellites. But the spy balloon, as possibly evidenced in this case, isn't infallible.

LEE: One of their biggest drawbacks historically is that they can just get carried away by the wind. We tried to use them to spy on the Soviet Union during the cold war and that was our big problem.

TODD: So, if it's not shot down, how would a balloon like this eventually come down? Would it just be allowed to crash somewhere?

LEIGHTON: If they steer them properly, they can just like you would in a hot air balloon over Santa Fe, New Mexico, they would bring them down in a very controlled descent.


TODD (on camera): Experts say the spy balloon has a future and possibly an ominous one. They say it could be used as a weapons platform, possibly to attack cities or static formations of troops. As one analyst said, there's no limit to the kind of technology you can stick on the bottom of a balloon. Wolf, look for it in warfare maybe in the future.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. Brian, thank you very much for that report.

I want to bring in CNN's Fareed Zakaria right now. He is the host of Fareed Zakaria GPS. Fareed, thanks for joining us.

As you know, White House officials have viewed U.S./China relations as improving following President Biden's November meeting with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping. How has the president's of the spy balloon abruptly, seemingly changed that?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: Well, it points to the central dynamic between U.S./China relations, which is domestic politics. Look, Wolf, the whole spy balloon aspect reminds me of that scene in Casa Blanca. Are we really that shocked the Chinese are spying on us? We spy on the Chinese every day.

The Chinese have very sophisticated military satellites that spy on us all the time. There are spy planes that do so. I myself doubt very much this is as sophisticated as people are saying. If it was, why the hell did it veer off course so dramatically as it did here? There's very little as far as intelligence people I've talked to don't believe that there is much additional capacity you gain.

This is, as your report pointed out, something that was used in the French revolution. This is not exactly cutting-edge technology. But more importantly, of course the Chinese spy on us. We spy on them.

The purpose of Antony Blinken's visit to China was precisely to stabilize a difficult relationship, a competitive relationship. The reason we have relations with other great powers is not as a gift to them. It's to secure our interests, to preserve the peace, to preserve the stability. I don't understand the purpose of canceling the trip. The presence of a spy balloon, let us assume it is that, is even more reason to have a conversation with them to figure out what guardrails we can have for a very difficult relationship.


BLITZER: So, you think Secretary of State Blinken made a major blunder in canceling that trip?

ZAKARIA: I think Secretary Blinken and the administration are not reacting to China. They are reacting to Kevin McCarthy and Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, who have all used this as a way to attack the administration. Donald Trump is saying, shoot down the balloon. So, you have, you know, basically a bunch of people on the right who want to go to war because the Chinese have -- they suddenly discovered China spies on us. And the administration feels compelled to in some way be tough.

It's a very bad dynamic because it fundamentally stops, as you said, the whole point was to try to have some kind of serious conversation with the Chinese about the many issues on which we have serious disagreements and problems. I mean, we met with the Soviet Union all the time. They were spying on us throughout the cold war. We still met with them.

BLITZER: So, what should the U.S. response to this balloon flying over the United States have been?

ZAKARIA: I think Blinken should have done there, discussed it with them, talked about -- we need a lot more arms control measures with the Chinese. We have a lot of procedures with Russia still all over from the cold war. We have arms control treaties. We have confidence- building measures. We have a hotline between Moscow and Washington, all to make sure there aren't accidental events like this, there isn't a miscalculation.

Just remember, China is also a nuclear power. It has intercontinental ballistic missiles, it has nuclear weapons, and we want to stabilize the relationship. We want to make sure nobody is miscalculating. So, it feels to me like that's all the more reason to go and have serious conversations with them.

You know, we're not talking to them as a gift to them for some kind of good behavior. We're talking to them because they're the second largest economy in the world and essentially the other bulging superpower in the world.

BLITZER: Fareed Zakaria, as usual, thank you very much for joining us.

An important note to our viewers, be sure to watch Fareed Zakaria GPS on Sunday 10:00 A.M. and 1:00 P.M. Eastern only here on CNN.

Just ahead, emergency measures are kicking into gear as millions in the northeast face dangerously cold blasts. We'll bring you the latest on the brutal wind chills right after this.



BLITZER: Right now, an arctic blast is tearing across the Northeastern United States, plunging wind chills to the coldest levels in decades for millions of Americans.

CNN's Athena Jones is joining us live from Boston right now. Athena, how concerning is the threat from this brutal, brutal, awful weather?

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, it is extremely concerning. We're talking about extremely dangerous temperatures. Right now, it's in the low single digits, about 5 degrees at last check, and the wind chill is in the teens.

And the temperature in Boston has been falling steadily all day. Early this morning, it started out just below freezing at about 6:00 A.M. and it's been falling steadily and it is going to continue to fall all night, very, very dangerous temperatures here affecting, of course, not just Boston but the entire corner -- northeastern corner of the United States, with nearly 25 million people facing a wind chill warning or advisory. And so officials at the city and state level, in all of these states being affected are urging people to stay inside and to bundle up if they do go outside.

I'm wearing three hats, eight layers on top, four layers on bottom. Here in Boston, public schools were closed today in order to protect the children so they wouldn't have to commute. And their warming shelters have been opened, warming centers, and train stations being kept open all night so the people who have no place to go can at least find a place of warmth inside.

Now, these temperatures are expected to get worse late tonight into the early morning hours of Saturday. And we could see wind chills that bring the feels-like temperature down to negative 36 degrees. So, very, very dangerous weather out here. So, take precautions. Stay inside if you can. Check on neighbors, check on pets and the like. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Athena, go inside. Thank you very, very much. Let's get an update right now, an updated forecast from our Meteorologist Jennifer Gray. She's joining us from the CNN Weather Center. Jennifer, just how cold is it going to get?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It's going to get very cold. We're talking about wind chills as low as 20, 30, 40, even 50 below zero. It's really that wind causing the wind chill that's making it feel dreadfully cold. Where Athena is, Boston, feels like 13 below zero right now. We're looking at temperatures feeling like 4 degrees in New York, and that temperature is really going to drop. We're talking about frostbite settling in in as little as five minutes for those temperatures at 50 below zero. Ten minutes for 30 below, and this is the wind chill, of course.

So, frostbite in minutes. We're talking about Portland, ten minutes, temperatures at 40 below zero. 36 below in Boston, this is by the time we get into the overnight hours. Tonight through tomorrow morning, Wolf, that's going to be the coldest temperatures we'll see. And then temperatures will finally start to warm up gradually Sunday, and especially into Monday. But Boston, 21 below zero. This is Saturday at 10:00 A.M., just really remarkable how low these temperatures are going to go, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, bitter cold, indeed. Jennifer, thank you very much.


Coming up, we'll go live to the front lines in Ukraine where Russia is now unleashing a brutal and fiery wave of new attacks that experts warn will only get worse from here.


BLITZER: Right now, we're following deadly Russian strikes in Ukraine, which some officials worry could be Moscow's opening salvo in a spring military offensive against the Ukrainian people.

Our senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen is joining us right now from the war zone. He's got details.

What more are you learning, Fred, about these latest Russian attacks in both the east and the south? FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah,

first of all, that's absolutely correct. This is happening on several fronts really here in Ukraine. If you look at the south, for instance, we're looking at the area around the town of Kherson that of course was taken back by the Ukrainians a couple of months ago, Wolf.


And what the Russians are doing now is they're shelling that town and the surrounding areas pretty much every day in a pretty heavy form.

We had 18 attacks happening there just in the past 24 hours in the Kherson region. One person was killed. A lot of people also were wounded there in Kherson, really a dire situation for the people who are still down there on the ground. And then, of course, you also have the eastern battlefield as well, Wolf.

And there, the Ukrainians believe that the Russians really are amassing armor and also personnel on various areas on that front and believe that that's where that offensive could already be taking place or could already be starting. That's what the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said a couple of days ago.

One of the main areas or the main area really, Wolf, is the area around the town of Bakhmut. We've seen some severe shelling there going on from the Russians over the past couple of days. Of course, that big missile attack on the town of Kramatorsk where now we know that a fourth person was killed in attack, confirmed to have been killed.

The Ukrainians are holding on in Bakhmut. They say that they've stabilized the situation somewhat. It's really a town that the Russians seem to want to take at all cost. However, Wolf, today, the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said that the Ukrainians will not give up an inch without a fight. Here's what he said.


PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE (through translator): No one will surrender Bakhmut. We will fight as much as we can. We consider Bakhmut our fortress.

If we have accelerated weapons, especially long-range weapons, we will not only move away from Bakhmut, but we will also begin to de-occupy Donbas, which has been occupied since 2014.


PLEITGEN: And, of course, one of the things that the Ukrainian president is talking about there are those ground launch small- diameter bombs that the Ukrainians say are going to help them a great deal. They had wanted longer-distance weapons like, for instance, the ATACMS, to really attack some of those supply lines that the Russians have possibly also on Russian territory itself. Nevertheless, Ukrainians are saying a big step in the right direction for them, Wolf. BLITZER: Fred Pleitgen in the war zone, stay safe over there. Fred,

thank you very much.

Just ahead, new revelations unveiled in the trial of a disgraced South Carolina attorney accused of killing his wife and son.

Plus, this programming note. Be sure to tune into the new CNN film "American Pain," premiering this Sunday 9:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Here's a preview.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The George brothers did not start the opioid crisis. But they sure as hell poured gasoline on the fire.

They became the largest street-level distribution group operating in the entire United States. Nobody put more pills on the streets than they did. Nobody. They created a blueprint for how this is to be done. And they were operating in broad daylight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The scale of this enterprise was enormous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You had addicts streaming in from all over the country, thousands of miles, just to come to Florida to get drugs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you see what's going on inside that clinic, your jaw just falls to the floor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't be sniffing your pills in the parking lot, don't be shooting up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had been on the job as a special agent for over 20 years. I've seen a lot of crazy. And this was just bat (EXPLETIVE DELETED) crazy.




BLITZER: Prosecutors in the Alex Murdaugh murder trial turned their focus late today to ballistic evidence. This after testimony about Murdaugh's alleged financial crimes.

CNN's Randi Kaye is covering the trial for us in South Carolina.

Randi, what is the prosecution trying to show now?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they're trying to help the jury connect the dots on the firearms and the finances of Alex Murdaugh. First of all, for the firearms expert who testified late this afternoon, he discovered shell casings all over the property, not only at the murder scene but all over the Murdaugh property. And he then matched those casings to casings from weapons that he says were often used at the Murdaugh home that would have come from the Murdaugh home.

Now he does say it's inconclusive. They didn't know if they collected the murder weapons because they didn't seize as many guns from the Murdaugh home. That part is inclusive. But he did say that these casings would have come from weapons that had been used on the property before because there were so many of them and they were so widely spread out.

Now, on the issue of the finances, they are trying to -- the prosecution is trying to show that Alex Murdaugh killed his wife and son because he was trying to distract from these alleged financial schemes that he was involved in. He was already confronted by the CFO of his former law firm telling him that funds were missing nearly $800,000 in funds.

And there was also the issue of this woman Gloria Satterfield. She was a longtime housekeeper for the Murdaugh family. She had allegedly fallen down the stairs at their home. And Alex Murdaugh, wolf, had arranged for himself to be sued. But instead of giving that money after it was settled to family, he kept it for himself. And her son was on the stand today. Listen.


MICHAEL SATTERFIELD, SON OF MURDAUGH HOUSEHKEEPER WHO DIED IN 2018: If I remember correctly, one time he was trying to give each of you at least $100,000 apiece.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Each of you and your brother?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did he tell you that they had already gotten a settlement for $505,000?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tid they tell you that they had gotten a settlement for $3.8 million?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Had he ever told you that there was a policy for $5 million?



KAYE: And, Wolf, that case of the housekeeper has already been settled in court. Alex Murdaugh admitted what he had done, and he gave the family $4.3 million.

BURNETT: Randi Kaye, thank you very much. Finally, this is National Wear Red Day. And as you can see from my

tie, I think it's very important. The American Heart Association has dedicated this day to raising awareness about the elevated risk of heart disease and stroke for millions of women.

I urge you to join me in doing what you can to support heart health for women, and for everyone for that matter. It could save your life or the life of someone you love.

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

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.