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CNN Near Quake Epicenter As Death Toll Soars Above 12,000; Biden Doubles Down On Attacks That Prompted Jeers By GOP; Zelenskyy Makes Surprise Trips To France, U.K. Seeking Fighter Jets; Ex-Twitter Execs Testify Before House On Hunter Biden Laptop Story; Inside LeBron James' Path To NBA's All-Time Scoring Record. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 08, 2023 - 18:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, gut-wrenching images of homes and lives destroyed near the earthquake epicenter. CNN is on the scene as the death toll in Turkey and Syria soars above 12,000.

Also tonight, President Biden is doubling down on a line of attack against Republicans that prompted GOP jeers during his State of the Union Address. He is taking the top themes from his big speech on the road in key presidential battlegrounds.

And Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy is now in Paris on a surprise trip that included a stop in London, a visit with King Charles, and a new appeal to allies for fighter jets.

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

This hour a race against time in the earthquake zone as the window for finding survivors narrows and the death toll grows more catastrophic.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is near the quake epicenter in Turkey right now. Nick, tell us what you have been seeing and experiencing.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is, sadly, Wolf, around about this time that it seems the race against time for survivors is slowly being lost. While 24 hours ago there were signs of hope, of joy, being people rescued alive, we have seen sadly over today mostly bodies being retrieved from the rubble.

Behind me a growing sense of anger at the slow pace of the government response here despite President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey to flying in to make the government's presence better felt, a sense of anger too about what potentially lies ahead.


WALSH (voice over): It is hard to imagine how this rubble gave anyone hope. Yet for 50 or so hours after the quake, it almost did. And when it stopped, when the chances of surviving ebbed, the bodies so near the epicenter here kept coming.

The paralysis of grief when these two parents see their eight-year-old daughter's red hair blood-stained, another four-year-old girl with no parents here to bury here, another father simply walking behind.

It's being constant intense activity desperately trying to save lives, but we are sadly now into the window where so many of the ambulances that arrive will likely be taking away people who have perished.

Up high, hope is strongest, digging furiously by hand here. On the other side of the rubble, medics rushed forward, growing furry at how nothing here came sooner. The stretchers here too late, return empty. Another body pulled out of a Syrian refugee in his 40s as the excavations gain pace. An audience of agony watches, waits.

A hospital volunteer told us over 300 bodies here are unclaimed in the morgue. The numbers rising fast along with tempers. It is chaos and whether any government could have moved faster was the question dogging Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he flew into town briefly.

This stadium suddenly home to possibly thousands of, who knows how long. Many refugees from Syria now perhaps losing their homes for the third time. That's nearly as many years as some have been alive.

They have nothing but the state's generosity to rely on, which for now means 12 people in this tent.


For now, the question is what they could have done to not arrived for so many in tuned here, too late.


WALSH (on camera): Important to point out, Wolf, that the government response was slowed by something we all experienced, the appalling weather, the horizontal snowstorms in the first 24 hours since the earthquake. But the government has responded to the growing sense of anger online to some degree by according to some reports slowing down, if not barring Twitter, a sign of how dissent can sometimes be approached here in Turkey.

But all that I side, the broader challenge as we see the excavations here slow down a little as hope begins to fade is exactly how the thousands, tens of thousands of people, the millions of people across Turkey are actually going to be looked after now they are homeless in the bitter cold of winter with, of course, grief amongst so many of their lives. Wolf.

BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh, on the scene for us, thank you very much.

Volunteers are scrambling to get desperately needed essential to earthquake survivors, the enormous scope of this humanitarian crisis becoming more painfully clear by the hour. CNN Salma Abdelaziz is at an aid center in Istanbul, Turkey, for us. Selma, tell us about the operation there and what's been happening around you.

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's those horrifying images that our colleague Nick Paton Walsh showed you that are motivating, uniting the Turkish community.

I'm at this distribution center. It's essentially a hangar. And I want to show you how it works. They formed a human chain here. These are all volunteers, just Good Samaritans who have come out to help. You can see they are moving along heaters and boxes of goods and they're putting them in the back of this truck. They are going to use every single inch of this truck that they can and then they are going to drive it straight to that quake zone.

You can see again it's packed with the basics, with the essentials, and everything you are looking at has been given by a family, by a resident, by a business, all non-medical aid.

I just want to show you, again, just walk with me a little bit here, we have this young lady on loud speakers. That's how her organizing, again, hundreds of volunteers. She just shouts down the loudspeaker. Take a look at just the sheer number of boxes behind me here, Wolf, all of this donated. And it is packed with diapers, with food, with heaters, with blankets.

And if you speak to these volunteers, they will all tell you the same thing. We could not sit at home just watching those images of our people suffering and sit still. We had to help.

This is a 24-hour operation too, Wolf. I mean, it's 2:00 in the morning here and they are still going, still packing these trucks. But the need is so great. There is absolutely a gap on the ground. Even President Erdogan has acknowledged that. And that's what these volunteers are doing. They are hoping to fill that gap, to make sure that maybe one more family doesn't have to sleep cold tonight.

BLITZER: Please thank those volunteers on behalf of all of us. Salma Abdelaziz, thank you very much for that report.

Let's get some more now on the humanitarian efforts in areas hit by this enormous earthquake. We are joined by the executive director of Doctors Without Borders, Avril Benoit. Avril, thank you so much for joining us. You see the devastation in those reports. So what is the response look like at this stage as hope clearly is fading to find survivors?

AVRIL BENOIT, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS: Yes. As each hour goes by, it becomes less and less likely that the survivors who may lack oxygen, maybe they've had crush injuries that they won't make it through.

And so as the hospitals are overwhelmed, we have been working in Northwest Syria for many years, you know, an area that has been -- had war effects for more than a dozen years, and this is a country, Syria, with more internally displaced people than any other country in the world. And these people in Aleppo, Idlib and other areas in the northwest that are most affected by the earthquake on the Syria side, they have already been so through much.

So, what we're doing with our teams, because we had already a substantial support operation for hospitals and clinics in the zone, is the distributions supporting in the O.T.s. the operating rooms, supporting with all of the medical capacity and logistical capacity that we can mobilize.

BLITZER: So, how much more challenging is the relief effort in Syria specifically after more than a decade of civil war?


BENOIT: Well, people, as I say, have suffered so much already. And the situation is that people are afraid to be in any sort of structure because of the aftershocks. And so people are sleeping in their cars. They, like those in Turkey, are exposed to the elements. It's cold. We have supported numerous hospital and clinic facilities with tent structures and so on. But we know with winter, that's just untenable over the long haul. And the infrastructure is just not at the level.

We are really worried about northwest Syria though in terms of bringing in additional supplies. There is only so much you can purchase in the local market, you know, Aleppo or Idlib or other towns. There is one supply route that is sanctioned by the United Nations, properly monitored going from Turkey into this region, and it is barred for the time being. So much destruction from the earthquake.

So if we can get that open, have the flow of supplies going through, it will make all the difference, life or death difference.

BLITZER: I understand that two of your Doctors Without Borders staffers were actually killed and others have lost loved ones. For the people who survived this deadly quake, how do they cope with the emotional trauma that clearly is going on right now?

BENOIT: Well, this is one of the tragedies of any natural disaster. Our 500 staff have all been affected. They are mostly from that region. They have lost family members. They have lost their homes. And so in the scramble to make sure that their own loved ones are looked after, are okay and in a safe place, they also show up to work, and this is the astonishing level of courage that we have come to know and appreciate from our colleagues in Syria.

And so even we run a burn center. We redeployed them to be able to assist in trauma surgeries, a couple of maternities. We are continuing to deliver babies and so forth, even though one had to be completely evacuated because of damage.

In the first hours, we treated hundreds of wounded people, and even in the last couple of days thousands in the facilities that we have been supporting. So even though they, themselves, are in mourning in shock, that psychological support for themselves and for the community is something that we really will have to be offering. In the short term, you can do psychological first-aid, which is like an emergency mode, how to just get through the day. Beyond that, it has to be more sustained.

BLITZER: Avril Benoit, we're grateful to you and Doctors Without Borders for all you are doing. Thank you so much for joining us.

And to our viewers, this is important, to find out how you can help earthquake victims go to and impact your world.

Just ahead, President Biden just spoke out about being heckled by some Republicans during his state of the union address. We are going to tell you what he is saying. That's next.



BLITZER: President Biden is taking his State of the Union message on the road a day after he laid out his agenda to Congress and was heckled by some GOP lawmakers.

Our Chief White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly has more on President Biden's trip to a key presidential battleground state as the sparring with Republicans continues.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Folks, I hate a disappointment, the Biden economic plan is working.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): President Biden on the road in Wisconsin, the first stop to sell the message he delivered to the nation last night at the State of the Union.

BIDEN: We've been sent here to finish the job in my view.

MATTINGLY: That primetime moment serving as a platform to sharp on his steadfast message to working class voters.

BIDEN: Folks, my economic plan is about investing in places and people that have been forgotten. Amid the economic upheaval for the past four decades, too many people have been left behind, and treated like they are invisible.

MATTINGLY: And highlight kitchen table issues that appear maul on their face.

BIDEN: We're going to ban surprise resort fees that hotels charge on your bill. Those fees can cost up to $90 a night at hotels that aren't even resorts.

MATTINGLY: But that advisors view as critical to meeting Americans where they are, at the same time moving to draw a clear contrast with a new House Republican majority.

BIDEN: Some Republicans want Medicare and social security to sunset.

MATTINGLY: Drawing a visceral response from Republicans in the chamber and steadfastly claimed entitlement reform is off the table. But the president today, naming names.

BIDEN: I remind you that Rick Scott from Florida, the guy who ran the U.S. Senate campaign, has a plan. I got his brochure right here. He says all federal legislation sunsets every five years. Ron Johnson on social security and Medicare, quote, we should transfer everything, so we have to consider everything every year.

There is a Senator named Mike Lee, a video of him saying, I am here right now to tell you one thing you, one thing you probably never heard from a politician. It will be my objective to phase out social security, pull it up by its roots, get rid of it.

MATTINGLY: But Republican outrage only growing in the wake of Biden's remarks.

REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): People are pissed off and for the president of the United States to come into the people's house and lie like he did about the economy --

MATTINGLY: And speaker Kevin McCarthy seated behind Biden for the first time holding nothing back.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I thought it's probably was one of the most partisan State of the Union speeches I have heard.

MATTINGLY: Even as in the moment he attempted to calm members of his own conference.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): This is what the choices are, chaos or stability.

MATTINGLY: A split screen that one Biden advisor called a quote, dream moment for the White House, coming at a critical moment for an 80-year-old president on the verge of one final campaign.

PELOSI: I think tonight he showed the energy, the empathy, the hopefulness that a presidential candidate would have.


MATTINGLY (on camera): And, Wolf, just moments ago we got the first reaction from President Biden to what transpired in that house chamber last night in an interview with PBS Newshour's Judy Woodruff.


Take a listen.


BIDEN: The vast majority of the public isn't that way. But you know, there is still a significant -- like all the MAGA Republicans, you know, the make America great again Republicans. And I kind of anticipated. The speaker was gracious. And so was, you know, a lot of members.


MATTINGLY: Anticipating some of the heckling which he engaged in, in good faith to some degree but also kind works for Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Something we heard a week ago when the two had a lengthy sit down in the oval office, obviously a critical relationship going forward, the president trying to separate the speaker from some in his conference, Wolf.

BLITZER: Phil Mattingly, at the White House, thanks very much.

Let's get more on all of these developments. Joining us now CNN's Senior Political Correspondent Abby Philip, the Anchor of Inside Politics Sunday, CNN Political Commentator, Michael Smerconish, the host of Smerconish, and CNN Political Commentator and former Democratic Congressman Mondaire Jones. Abby, is the president's State of the Union message going to resonate with voters?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we'll find out. I mean, one of the interesting things is that not a lot of it is terribly new. Going into the midterm elections, the message from Democrats actually was also on some of the details of this Rick Scott plan. So they are really just taking something that they road tested in the last midterm cycle to actually great effect considering how well they did considering the political headwinds.

And they are trying it out on the cusp of a potential 2024 run. You are talking about that. You are talking about a real heavy influence, emphasis on pocketbook issues. It really steams indicate that the White House is at the moment trying to really zero in on the things that they know they need to shore up, and that's the sense of the American people, that the president is addressing their real economic uncertainty and pain when they go to the grocery store, when they go to the pharmacy and trying to pay for goods on a paycheck that isn't going as far as it used to.

BLITZER: Michael, didn't Republicans sort of just play into the president's hands with the heckling last night, particularly with the line about sun setting social security and Medicare?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: They unwittingly did him a favor. I don't think the teleprompter is the president's friend. I think he speaks too quickly on prompter. I think he scrambles his words and is often ineffective.

Here last night when he was handed the opportunity to respond in real time and he accepted it, he showed deftness most important for an 80- year-old president and candidate we presume for re-election where there are such concerns about his age.

So the ability to think on his feet and respond in kind I think is the memorable part of the entire evening. And the question that lingers, Wolf, is whether this will now change the way that he campaigns for re-election. You remember, and of course we were in the midst of COVID in the 2020 cycle, he was, you know, limited in Wilmington, spoke to the media in short spurts. Will he now get out on the trail and be more willing to, I can hear them now already saying it, let Biden be Biden?

BLITZER: Good point. Mondaire, does this line of attack from the president sort of undermine his repeated calls for more bipartisanship?

MONDAIRE JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, not at all. Look, for the American people, whether they are Democrats, Republicans or Independents, they are unified in their support for Medicare and for social security.

And I found it interesting that even after this speech, Mike Johnson, a Representative who is the vice-chair of the GOP conference, did an interview with CNN in which he at once disclaimed wanting to cut social security and Medicare benefits, but also talked about reforms.

Well, the Republican conference has come out against lifting the income cap with respect to social security and Medicare. And so how is it that they are going to reform the programs except increasing the age of eligibility or privatizing these benefits, which would not have gone well if we privatized social security leading up to the 2008 financial crisis.

So, I think it's a winning moment for him. It's a winning issue that you will continue to hear Democrats talk about going into the 2024 elections.

BLITZER: Medicare, social security so, so popular. Abby, let me also get your take while I have you on this rather tense exchange between the embattled Republican Congressman George Santos and Senator Mitt Romney on the house floor last night. Listen to how the lawmakers are now responding.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): I didn't expect that he would be standing there trying to shake hands with every senator and president of the United States. He shouldn't be in Congress. And they are going to go through the process and, hopefully, get him out. But he shouldn't be there. And if he had any shame at all, he wouldn't be there.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Are you disappointed that Kevin McCarthy has not called on him to resign?



REP. GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): I mean I think it's reprehensible that the senator would say such a thing to me in the demeaning way he said. It wasn't very Mormon of him.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: So, Abby, what do you make of this?

PHILLIP: Look, I think Mitt Romney is known to be a really generally very nice guy. And so when you see him really going at it with someone in that way publicly, you know that it's coming from a place where he feels like from a moral perspective, and an ethical perspective, the other person is wrong.

And I don't think Romney is wrong about the idea that George Santos really has no shame. He seems to have no remorse, no sense of the gravity of the things that he has done and said. And, yes, it's amazing. He stood in that position so he could shake the hand of the president of the United States when there are real questions about every aspect of his biography.

I think it's an extraordinary moment and just another sign that Mitt Romney, he is not afraid to kind of go after someone if he feels like from a moral perspective they are doing the wrong thing.

BLITZER: You know, Michael, let me get your thoughts as well.

SMERCONISH: Every State of the Union there are those members of Congress who position themselves where the dignitaries are going to walk in, as Abby just referenced. The temerity of Santos to want to be among them, if I were in the position he is in, I would be hiding under a cushion in the back row of the chamber.

So it just shows the tone deafness, I think, to the way he is perceived in the situation that he faces, that he would want to be there in the spotlight.

BLITZER: Good point. Michael Smerconish, Abby Philip, Mondaire Jones, guys thank you very, very much.

Coming up, Volodymr Zelenskyy makes his surprise wartime visit to the United Kingdom and France.



BLITZER: Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy is in Paris tonight say a surprise war time visit to allies Britain and France, his first since the Russian invasion. CNN's Senior International Correspondent Scott McLean has our report from London.


SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Volodymr Zelenskyy's touchdown in the United Kingdom marked just the second time the Ukrainian president has been on foreign soil in almost a year of full- scale war. Greeted by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Zelenskyy's hoping to turn these hugs and handshakes into military hardware and he had plenty of time to make his case on the long drive to Downing Street.

RISHI SUNAK, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We have had a good chat already and we've got lots to discuss over the course of this day.

MCLEAN: With Ukrainian troops already training on the tanks Britain is sending to the frontlines, Sunak is now pledging to train an additional 20,000 Ukrainian troops in the U.K. He also pledged to accelerate weapons shipments, new sanctions on Russia and longer range weapons.

Speaking to lawmakers, Zelenskyy said the new equipment would put victory within reach.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: It will allow us to make the evil, evil completely retreat from our country by destroying its headways (ph) deep in the occupied territories.

MCLEAN: But he didn't hold back in his calls for more, presenting a Ukrainian air force helmet to the house speaker with the inscription, we have freedom, give us wings to protect it.

ZELENSKYY: I appeal to you and the world with simple and yet most important words, combat aircrafts for Ukraine, wings for freedom.

MCLEAN: The prime minister says the U.K. will train Ukrainian pilots to fly British jets, but isn't sending the actual planes, at least not yet. But after the pair met with Ukrainian troops training in the U.K., Sunak said nothing is off the table.

SUNAK: The first step in being able to provide advanced aircraft is to have soldiers, aviators that capable of using them.

MCLEAN: Russia's embassy was quick to vow a response, but either unaware or indifferent, smiling Zelenskyy is leaving Britain without fighter jets, but with plenty of optimism they'll soon be on their way.


MCLEAN: And the Russian embassy this London dismissed this trip as an ex-comedian in a green sweatshirt now on tour around Europe. Well, the tour is new in Paris where Zelenskyy is meeting with the French president and the German chancellor, trying to convince them to send fighter jets. He will have more meetings tomorrow with other European leaders. And if jets are anything like the debate over tanks, he will only need to convince one country to send them for the rest to follow suit, Wolf.

BLITZER: Scott McLean, in London for. Thank you very much, Scott.

Let's discuss this and more with retired Colonel Cedric Leighton. He's a CNN Military Analyst. Colonel Leighton, the U.K. today as you heard said it would begin training Ukrainian pilots. What's the significance of that?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: That's usually significant, Wolf. And the reason it's significant is because this is one of those first steps to a new weapons system. The Ukrainians can't fly these aircraft and you look at what the F-16 can do, for example, it flies at 1,500 miles per hour.

It is a weapon system that is capable of targeting areas, air defense systems using anti-radiation missiles and it has a 20 millimeter gun along with various missiles such as side winders, which were used capture or shoot down the balloon, and it also is capable of air to air combat as well as air to ground attack.

And that is one of the key things that really make sense when you have weapons systems like this.


They are different from the Soviet-era fighters that the Ukrainians currently have but we can use these if the Ukrainians are trained on them. They can use them to great effect.

BLITZER: The Russians quickly, as you heard, responded tonight by warning that, warning the U.K., that providing fighter jets to the Ukrainians would have military and political ramifications. This as there are major concerns right now about a big Russian military offensive that is about to begin against the Ukrainians.

LEIGHTON: Absolutely, Wolf. So one of the key things to think about here is the map of Ukraine as we see right here. Key areas that we think we would attack and would be the eastern area, we know the town of Bakhmut is of course the center of a lot of Russian activity right now.

There is also a possibility that the Russians will come out of the south, and that is a key element that would require aircraft of this type to actually come in and actually use this airspace.

BLITZER: When you are in this war, it's about to get apparently even worse. All right, thanks very much, Colonel Leighton, appreciated very much.

Just ahead, the Pentagon revealing new details about the Chinese spy balloon. I'll speak with a key member of the house intelligence committee who was just briefed on the situation. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: The Pentagon is revealing new information tonight about the spy balloon now believed to be part of an extensive Chinese surveillance operation.

CNN Senior National Security Correspondent Alex Marquardt is on the story for us. Alex, what can you tell us?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, extensive, years long, far broader than we initially knew. It's global. It goes much broader than the five balloons that we know that transited to the United States over the past few years. The administration today saying that there are examples, instances of these Chinese balloons across five continents, we are told by sources that there have been at least two dozen examples in different countries.

Now, the Pentagon today saying forcefully that this is 100 percent a Chinese spy balloon. We are being told by sources that this program is run by the Chinese Army or the People's Liberation Army, in part out of Hainan Province, which is in the southern part of China.

The Pentagon, Wolf, today pushing back forcefully, saying that last week's balloon crossing of the U.S. was not an intelligence failure. They say they were actually able to collect a lot of intelligence to try to understand what China's capabilities are, what the equipment was onboard and, of course, they hope to learn a lot more by gathering all those different pieces of that balloon and its payload that are now scattered across the seabed off of South Carolina, rhose pieces now being sent to the FBI lab in Quantico, Virginia. Wolf?

BLITZER: Alex Marquardt, thank you very, very much.

And joining me now to discuss, the top Democrat in the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. I understand you were actually briefed on all this today. Do you have a clear sense yet of the scope of this Chinese surveillance threat?

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): Well, yes. As the chairman indicated in our open hearing today, we had just gotten out of a truncated Gang of Eight briefing, which we usually don't say anything about. But in this instance we were able to learn a lot more about the broader effort the Chinese have made around this sort of rather unusual concept of surveilling by balloon.

BLITZER: And did you learn specific details and the nature of the surveillance, what they were looking for?

HIMES: Yes, we did. I did learned quite a bit more about what we were able to observe, what we think this balloon was capable of, a lot of that I can't talk about.

One thing I learned, which is not at all classified though, which I hadn't really thought much about prior to the briefing this morning, is people were, obviously, very concerned about the fact that the balloon was allowed to operate over U.S. airspace.

And I was reminded in the briefing that the concept of an adversary's aerial surveillance over the United States is hardly new. Since the 2002 implementation of the Open Skies Treaty, which is a treaty that allows the Russians to overfly our country and actually deliberately look at our military installations, we have gotten pretty good at knowing how we keep the most sensitive is stuff from adversarial prying eyes.

I had sort of forgotten about that treaty, but it gave me a lot more confidence that particularly given that we were warned that this was coming in, that our most important secrets were, in all likelihood, not violated by this balloon. BLITZER: Did you say, Congressman, that the so-called full Gang of Eight got an intelligence briefing today on this subject?

HIMES: Well, as it happened, it was just House side, and it was the chairman and myself, again, as he mentioned in our open hearing that followed that. So, yes, we got a private briefing.

BLITZER: The Pentagon confirms this balloon, this Chinese balloon, is part of an extensive Chinese surveillance program. What information can the Chinese gather, let me press you on this, with balloons that they can't necessarily gather from satellites that are constantly flying over the United States?

HIMES: Yes. Well, there is a lot. You know, any engineer will tell you that there are limitations to what you can observe or pick up both from a much higher altitude, where all the satellites are, and also satellites unless, they are in geosynchronous orbit, that is to say hovering over one spot on the planet, they are moving really fast.

And as a consequence, again, it's sort of basic geometry, basic engineering, one of the things a balloon at 50,000 or 60,000 feet can allow you to do is dwell significantly over one spot on the face of the Earth. And, again, because you are closer you might see things and pick up things that you might not be able to pick up from, say, 700, 800, 900 miles above the surface of the Earth.

BLITZER: Yes, important. President Biden called out the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, by name last night in the State of the Union Address. What will it take, Congressman, to reduce tensions after such a high-profile clash?

HIMES: Well, we need to remember what this really represents.


You know, there is a temptation to think that this was immensely aggressive act against the United States. I see slightly differently. This was an act of brazenness, of failure of command and control, because, you know, you really have to scratch your head and say, wait a minute, was this deliberately done by the Chinese, you know, authorized at the highest levels, or was it a mistake, of more junior officers, that sort of thing.

In any evident, it was fabulously incompetent. So as there was an interesting line from General Petraeus in our open hearing today, which was that this incident really illustrated a somewhat dangerous combination of capability but also combined with incompetence. And that's something you've got to be pretty careful about.

BLITZER: Congressman Himes, thanks so much for joining us.

HIMES: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, the dramatic testimony on Capitol Hill where House Republicans scrutinized Twitter executives for their handling of a story on Hunter Biden's laptop.



BLITZER: Tonight, House Republicans are launching their probe into the president's son by grilling Twitter over its handling of a 2020 story about Hunter Biden's laptop. Former Twitter executives admit it was a mistake to limit the story's reach temporarily, but deny any government wrongdoing.

CNN political correspondent Sara Murray has details.


REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): Each witness will get --

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For House Republicans, a high-profile kickoff into the investigation into the president's son and Twitter.

COMER: The Hunter Biden laptop story was published on Wednesday. Twitter did not acknowledge the mistake for at least 24 hours.

MURRAY: Republicans on the House Oversight Committee are making the still unproven case that Twitter temporarily suppressed a story about Hunter Biden's laptop, ahead of the 2020 election at the behest of the federal government.

COMER: America witnessed a coordinated campaign by social media companies, mainstream news and the intelligence committees to suppress and delegitimize the existence of Hunter Biden's laptop and its contents.

MURRAY: But a trio of former Twitter officials testifying, including deputy counsel James Baker, pushed back on that narrative.

JAMES BAKER, FORMER TWITTER DEPUTY COUNSEL: I'm aware of no unlawful collusion with or direction from any government agency or political campaign on how Twitter should have handled the Hunter Biden laptop situation.

MURRAY: The former executives also expressed regret over temporarily suppressing the Hunter Biden story.

YOEL ROTH, FORMER TWITTER "HEAD OF TRUST AND SAFETY": I believe Twitter erred in this case because we wanted to avoid repeating the mistakes of 2016.

MURRAY: The hearing highlighting the catch-22 for social media platforms. After facing criticism for failing to crack down on foreign governments spreading disinformation in 2016, tech companies are back on the hot seat as Republicans accuse them of censorship, despite the bombastic allegations from Republicans --

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): I think you guys got played by the FBI. REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): Twitter was basically a subsidiary of the


MURRAY: The Twitter officials undercut the GOP's claims.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't recall speaking to the FBI at all about the Hunter Biden matter.

MURRAY: This as the Democrats witness a former Twitter employee turned whistle-blower indicated the Trump White House requested the removal of an expletive-laden tweet by celebrity Chrissy Teigen.

ANIKA COLLIER NAVAROLI, FORMER TWITTER EMPLOYEE: I do remember hearing that we had received a request from the White House to make sure that we evaluated this tweet and that they wanted it to come down because it was a derogatory statement directed towards the president.

MURRAY: Something Democrats pointed to as a sign of hypocrisy.

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): They made that request.

MURRAY: While Democrats slammed the premise of Wednesday's hearing --

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): It's just an abuse of public resources and abuse of public time.

MURRAY: -- House Oversight Chair James Comer making clear this is just the beginning.

COMER: I can assure you this committee will succeed in holding the Bidens accountable. So much of the evidence of wrongdoing from this family is located in that hard drive that you all led the American people to believe was Russian disinformation.


MURRAY (on camera): Now we've heard a lot about Republicans including comer meeting privately with Twitter CEO Elon Musk. If they got a lot of new information that was not on display in today's hearing, Lauren Boebert, the congresswoman, suggested that Twitter's staff had given her more information about steps to suppress her personal account in 2021. But that was effectively it.

BLITZER: Sara Murray, thanks for the report. Appreciate it very much.

Just ahead, LeBron James breaks a decades-old record to take the NBA scoring crown..



BLITZER: It was a moment made for history. LeBron James claiming the NBA's all-time scoring record in front of a packed crowd on his home court in Los Angeles.

Brian Todd is joining us right now.

Brian, LeBron James has the title, and he isn't done yet.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he seems to have a lot more basketball left in him. But right now, the focus is on the journey that got LeBron James here and on how significant this new record really is.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Turn, shoots, scores! There it is! All hail, the new king in town!

TODD (voice-over): With a mid-range fade-away jumper that he says is one of his signature shots, LeBron James became the greatest scorer in NBA history, breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's record of 38,387 points that had stood for almost four decades. Tuesday night's game in Los Angeles paused at that moment for the king to take a bow and acknowledge his family, the fans, and the man whose milestone he surpassed.

LEBRON JAMES, NBA ALL-TIME LEADING SCORER: To be able to be in the presence of such a legend and great as Kareem, it means so much to me. It's very humbling. Please give a standing ovation to the captain, please.


TODD: After embracing James on the court, Abdul-Jabbar was characteristically gracious in praising James' accomplishments and leadership.

KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR, PREVIOUS NBA SCORING: When he gets out there on the court and gets things done, guys want to get behind him and see that that happens because they have that much respect for him and his talent.

TODD: Jeff Benedict, author of a forthcoming biography of LeBron James puts into perspective just how monumental this new record is.

JEFF BENEDICT, AUTHOR, "LEBRON" (APRIL 2023): We're talking about a record that's probably only matched by the home record in baseball. These are set and broken maybe once in a century.

TODD: This record will only fuel what's become one of the fiercest debates in sports talk circles, who is the greatest NBA player of all time.

DAVID ALDRIDGE, SENIOR COLUMNIST, THE ATHLETIC: Of all the people I see, Michael Jordan is the best I've ever seen. LeBron's really close.

TODD: Jordan won six NBA titles to LeBron James' four. Jordan was the league's most valuable player five times. James has captured that honor four times. But in pro basketball, the overall scoring title is iconic. And to Benedict, James stands apart in another way. BENEDICT: He became a very strong voice for social activism on

everything from gun violence to voting rights for people of color. Those are the things, to me, that over the test of time, that's what's really going to stand out I think with LeBron James.


TODD (on camera): And Jeff Benedict points out that at a very healthy age, 38, LeBron James might be nowhere near being finished with his pro career -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.

And to our viewers, thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.