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Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) Calls for Biden Impeachment Inquiry; Police Say, Fugitive Killer is Armed and Extremely Dangerous; Kim Jong-un in Russia for Meeting With Putin, Potential Arms Deal; State Media: At Least 2,900 Killed in Morocco Earthquake. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 12, 2023 - 18:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is pushing ahead with an impeachment inquiry into President Biden even as some members of his own party raise very serious doubts over a lack of evidence. McCarthy facing intense pressure from hardliners in his caucus to formally launch the investigation.

Also tonight, authorities in Pennsylvania are warning the manhunt for a fugitive killer is growing even more dangerous right now after he stole a rifle from a garage. The search now in its 13th day with around 500 officers involved in the operation.

And Kim Jong-un is now in Russia amid fears the North Korean dictator could strike an arms deal during a face-to-face meeting with Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin says that summit could happen within a matter of days.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.

Our top story tonight, Speaker Kevin McCarthy directing Republican committee chairs to open a formal impeachment inquiry into President Biden without holding a vote on the House floor.

CNN's Melanie Zanona is standing by for us up on Capitol Hill, she's got new details. And our Senior White House Correspondent Kayla Tausche is gathering reaction from the Biden team. First, let's go to Melanie. Give us the very latest, Melanie.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITAL HILL REPORTER: Well, Wolf, Kevin McCarthy is currently meeting with key lawmakers in his office, as we speak. He also just sent a letter to House Republicans encouraging them to attend a special conference meeting on Thursday to discuss their investigations and their new impeachment inquiry.

But, Wolf, even though House Republicans have been trending in this direction for some time, it is clear that Kevin McCarthy is still going to have to work to sell this to his members.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ZANONA (voice over): Kevin McCarthy facing threats to his speakership, giving the green light to an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Today, I am directing our House committee to open a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.

ZANONA: A dramatic escalation of the House GOP's investigations into the president.

MCCARTHY: House Republicans have uncovered serious and credible allegations into President Biden's conduct. Taken together, these allegations paint a picture of a culture of corruption.

ZANONA: McCarthy today repeated several allegations made by some of his GOP colleagues, including that, as vice president, Biden joined meetings with Hunter Biden's business partners, that the Treasury Department has flagged suspicious financial activity by the Biden family and that the president has lied about his knowledge of his family's business deals.

But House Republicans have so far not provided evidence that Biden directly profited off his son's business deals or made any decisions as vice president because of them.

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): There is zero evidence of any malfeasance on the part of President Joe Biden.

ZANONA: The effort has faced resistance from some in the GOP over the lack of evidence.

REP. KEN BUCK (R-CO): But what I wanted to do is look at the evidence. And I said I would go where the evidence takes me. I'm reluctant to agree with Speaker McCarthy.

ZANONA: McCarthy has been facing pressure from the right and former President Donald Trump to move ahead.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): Moments ago, Speaker McCarthy endorsed an impeachment inquiry. This is a baby step following weeks of pressure from House conservatives to do more. We must move faster.

ZANONA: A trio of House committees leading the way. The speaker has not put a timeline on the process, though McCarthy ally Marjorie Taylor Greene said there's no rush.

REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): I'm interested in going as long as it takes.

ZANONA: But marking at McCarthy reversal, no formal vote on the launch, aimed at protecting his most vulnerable members.

REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): That puts a lot of seats up at risk, particularly for Republicans who won Biden districts.

ZANONA: House Republicans believe the public is on their side. According to a CNN poll, 61 percent of Americans believe Biden was involved in his son's business deals as vice president while 42 percent think he acted illegally. But some GOP senators are uncertain about McCarthy's approach.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): The way to make an inquiry legitimate is to have a vote as to whether or not you should have one at all rather than just the leadership deciding.


ZANONA: And Democrats not sweating the threat of impeachment.

SEN. JOHN FETTERMAN (D-PA): It's devastating. Don't do it. Please don't do it.


ZANONA (on camera): And House Republicans have already taken their first step in this official impeachment inquiry. This afternoon, a trio of house committees sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland asking whether Hunter Biden's attorneys encouraged the Department of Justice to retaliate against IRS whistleblowers who have claimed that the DOJ mishandled and politicized the criminal probe into Hunter Biden.

Now, the DOJ has denied all evidence and claims of wrongdoing, but, no doubt, this is going to be a big topic of conversation when Garland testifies before Congress next week. Wolf?

BLITZER: Melanie Zanona up on Capitol Hill, thanks very much.

Let's get reaction right now from President Biden's team to Speaker McCarthy's latest moves. Our Senior White House Correspondent Kayla Tausche is joining us right now. She's over at the White House. Kayla, how is the White House responding?

KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the White House sees this as an acknowledgement of what is suspected all along ever since Speaker McCarthy made the comments two weeks ago that he would be seeking a formal vote, and that is that the White House believes that McCarthy never had the votes to move forward with that inquiry in the first place, which is why he's making this decision now.

Ian Sams, who's the White House spokesman on oversight and investigative issues, putting this message out on social media today saying, House Republicans have been investigating the president for nine months and they've turned up no evidence of wrongdoing. His own Republican members have said so. He vowed to hold a vote to open impeachment, now he flip- flopped because he doesn't have support. This is extreme politics at its worst.

The Biden campaign also piling on. A statement from the campaign says that Kevin McCarthy cemented his role as the Trump campaign super surrogate by turning the House of Representatives into an arm of his presidential campaign. And a new statement out just moments ago tries to double down on that message, that ties McCarthy to Trump and saying that this inquiry has echoes of the 2020 campaign in which former President Donald Trump sought to bring the Hunter Biden business issues into primetime.

Now, it remains to be seen exactly how the White House takes the messaging from here. We had expected from our reporting with senior Biden aides that there would be a coordinated messaging effort with senior Democratic allies on the Hill, that a playbook was being built and that there were several dozen aides in the White House counsel's office that have been hired specifically for an effort that would see an impeachment inquiry as a crescendo of sorts. You can expect, Wolf, that we'll see the fruits of that labor in the coming weeks and days.

BLITZER: Kayla Tausche, thanks very much. Melanie Zanona, thanks to you as well.

Let's get some analysis right now from CNN Special Correspondent Jamie Gangel and our Senior Political Analyst Gloria Borger.

Gloria, I want to remind our viewers what McCarthy actually said about impeachment just 11 days ago. Let me read it to you. This is what he said. If we move forward with impeachment inquiry, it would occur through a vote on the floor of the People's House and not through a declaration by one person. What does that suggest to you, Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it suggests to me he knows that he didn't have the votes and that he had to do this because he's being held hostage by the right wing of his party who are threatening to shut the government down. So, it's all kind of related. He also probably wanted to save his moderate Republicans from that kind of a vote. So, when he decided to do it unilaterally, I'm sure, when he spoke 11 days ago about this, he fully intended to have a vote but he knew he was going to lose.

BLITZER: Yes, he didn't have the votes. Jamie, Trump spoke with some of the members who actually support this impeachment inquiry, including the house GOP conference chair, Elise Stefanik. What does that say about the state of mind of the GOP as this inquiry begins?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: This is still Donald Trump's Republican Party. He's in there. He's still controlling the levers.

That said, Wolf, there are members of the House Republican conference who are also concerned this could have a political backlash.

Keep in mind, there's that expression, what happens when the dog catches the car. For Republicans who are in purple districts, who are in districts that Biden won, they are concerned that if they are too aggressive and go down this road, they could lose their own seats and the Republicans could lose the House, Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting. Gloria, Democrats are calling the inquiry a ploy, a ploy to damage Biden's re-election chances, which, of course, you'll remember is something that Kevin McCarthy actually admitted doing to Hillary Clinton in 2015 with the Benghazi investigation.


Listen and watch this.


MCCARTHY: Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping.


BLITZER: Is McCarthy trying to accomplish something similar here?

BORGER: Well, probably. I mean, of course, this is political. But, you know, our poll recently showed that 61 percent, I believe, of the American public already thinks that Joe Biden was involved in some of Hunter's business deals.

So, you know, they don't have as much to prove here to the American public. I think what they want to do is drum it into everybody. It takes the heat off of Donald Trump to a certain degree. But as I was saying before, what underlies all of this is that McCarthy wants to save his speakership and he's got to pass spending bills so the government doesn't shut down.

So, it's all kind of this game of 3D chess. They're trying to figure out how to get advantage and he's trying to figure out how to survive as speaker.

BLITZER: Yes. And it's an important point, Jamie, because McCarthy is announcing this impeachment inquiry as several hard line Republicans have actually threatened his speakership. How does this play out?

GANGEL: So, as Gloria said, this is what happens when every single day your speakership is on the line. And just, you know, a picture speaks a thousand words. Just go back. Remember, it was not that long ago with that 15-round marathon vote to get to be speaker. On the 14th round, Matt Gaetz was holding -- there are the pictures. Kevin McCarthy came running up the aisle to talk to Matt Gaetz because he was holding him hostage.

The problem that we're seeing is, now, what does Matt Gaetz want, what does Marjorie Taylor Greene want? They got the impeachment today, but what are they going to want tomorrow? So, Kevin McCarthy is facing this every single day, Wolf.

BORGER: It's a constant game of whack-a-mole for him. You know, he's got to keep his right-wing happy. He's got to make sure his moderates get re-elected or he loses control of the House. And if the right wing isn't happy, any member can go to the floor and install a motion to vacate. And that means that there would be a vote on his speakership.

BLITZER: Yes. Gloria Borger, Jamie Gangel, guys thank you very much.

Just ahead, I'll get reaction from Republican Presidential Candidate Asa Hutchinson to Speaker McCarthy's push for impeachment inquiry into President Biden.

Stay with us. You're in The Situation Room.



BLITZER: More now on our top story, the House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, pushing ahead with an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.

Let's get reaction from former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson. He's now a candidate for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. Governor, thanks so much for joining us.

And I want to start off by -- get your reaction to some new comments we've just got from Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel. Listen and watch this.


RONNA MCDANIEL, RNC CHAIRWOMAN: Our voters are sick and tired of Republicans getting attacked all the time through the courts, or whatever, and it's time to go after Biden.


BLITZER: Chris Christie just told our Jake Tapper that the move is, quote, cheapening impeachment. And Senator Tim Scott says he supports the move. Where do you stand?

ASA HUTCHINSON (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think it's premature. And I know that Speaker McCarthy is in a difficult position. And I support him as speaker. I want him to navigate through this. And I know he's trying to do his best there.

And there has to be an investigation. Whenever you have the questions about the president's own financing, and whether he had a benefit from his son's dealings, that's a legitimate question and purpose of inquiry. But it's premature to put the label, impeachment, on it. And that is something that could backfire if it's not handled very appropriately.

BLITZER: It's interesting, because just 11 days ago, when we reported this, McCarthy actually pledged to hold a vote on the House floor before they would begin some sort of impeachment inquiry.

And in 2019, when Democrats held an inquiry, he tweeted this, and I'll read to you what he tweeted then in 2019. Speaker Pelosi can't decide on impeachment unilaterally. It requires a full vote of the House of Representatives. Seemingly, McCarthy forgot about that.

HUTCHINSON: Well, and likewise the Democrats forgot about their position that impeachment can begin with a designation, a directive of the speaker of the House. So --

BLITZER: Which would you have preferred? HUTCHINSON: Well, as you look back in terms of when I handled the Clinton impeachment, it began with a vote of the House.

BLITZER: So, you think he should have a vote now, McCarthy?

HUTCHINSON: Well, I think what's important is that we should not even have gone down the path of impeachment until we get the facts on the table more completely. There's a lot of smoke there. There's a lot of concern and a legitimate area of inquiry that we have to get to the bottom of. But let's wait until we get the facts before we know exactly whether we want to put the label impeachment on it or not.

BLITZER: So, I take it you haven't seen any hard evidence yet that then-Vice President Joe Biden did anything wrong?

HUTCHINSON: Well, I've seen plenty of evidence that he needs to respond to, and he hasn't done that effectively. And I haven't seen the evidence exactly where that money trail goes. But those are legitimate areas of inquiry because we're dealing with our nation's policies and influence of money, and there's a lot of -- clearly, Hunter crossed some lines here. So, it has to be reviewed and it has been doing that.

We've got a special counsel that's investigating. We have the house committees already investigating, doing a good job on that. And now we're over layering this with the impeachment inquiry.


And we've got to get the facts, but the American people want to make sure that we don't get impeachment ahead of the true facts.

BLITZER: You recently said the country doesn't need Trump or a Trump- lite candidate leading the country. Who are you referring to? Are there other Republicans besides Trump you won't support?

HUTCHINSON: Well, I wouldn't say I wouldn't support them but I would certainly campaign hard against them because they're taking Trump's message and his -- they want to make it a 2.0, which is an isolationist view of America. It's taking us away from the principles of our party. And, no, that's not the Republican Party I know.

I'm fighting for the soul of our party, which is about a limited government. It's about getting control of spending. But it's also standing for freedom across the globe and recognizing the leadership role that our forefathers, including my dad's generation, fought for.

And that's important to me. And you got candidates in there that would have been just like Trump, and that's not the direction that we can win in. And whenever you look at Vivek Ramaswamy, he's made that very clear. He wants to be Trump 2.0. He wants to have Trump a part of his cabinet or his administration. And that's not the direction that we need to go as a country.

BLITZER: And just to be precise, you don't think Trump could beat Biden? HUTCHINSON: No, I don't believe he can beat Biden. And even though -- you can look at the polls now and say, well, he's running pretty well against Biden. But others run even better against Biden. And, secondly, Trump's weaknesses are going to manifest even more as this campaign goes on.

And I think everybody is starting to fundamentally understand that Donald Trump is not going to be one that carries us to victory, not just for the White House, but what damage will it do in terms of our Senate races go in terms of our Senate races and our House races. And for that reason, I think everybody say we need to take a fresh look at this. And they haven't decided where they're going to move yet with the other candidates, including myself but I think you will see that this fall and early winter.

BLITZER: We will continue these conversations. Asa Hutchinson, thanks very much for join us.

HUTCHINSON: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, the manhunt for a fugitive killer takes a dangerous twist after an escaped prisoner gets his hands on a rifle. We'll have a live report from Pennsylvania.

Stay with us. You're in The Situation Room.



BLITZER: Pennsylvania law enforcement officials say a dangerous escaped killer who's been on the run for nearly two weeks is now armed with a stolen rifle.

CNN's Brian Todd is on the ground for us in Pennsylvania covering this important story. What's the latest, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a key part of the search perimeter behind me. Some of these officers manning these checkpoints are carrying long guns. Other search teams combing this area over my left shoulder are looking now for a fugitive who has some firepower.


TODD (voice over): Tonight, new urgency in the Pennsylvania manhunt. Convicted murderer Danelo Cavalcante now armed with a 0.22-caliber rifle and shots have been fired.

LT. COL. GEORGE BIVENS, PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE: He's killed two people previously. I would suspect he's desperate enough to use that weapon.

TODD: The escaped convict entered a garage last night and grabbed the rifle from a corner of it. The homeowner was there at the time and shot at the intruder several times with a handgun, but he escaped.

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: With this weapon, that is going to increase the risk of carjacking.

TODD: The rifle he took also had a scope and a flashlight attached.

DANIEL BRUNNER, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: What is most concerning is, with the rifle and the scope, that he could set up an ambush or if he sees the officers coming through the woods, he's able to preposition and get ready.

TODD: There is no evidence the fugitive was injured by the shots fired at him.

MILLER: What the state police has put out to the search team is, if you encounter him and he does anything other than surrender peacefully, you have a green light to use deadly force.

TODD: He stole the gun just a few hours after yet another reported roadside sighting. Police responded within minutes but found only matching footprints in the mud and discarded prison shoes. A pair of boots were stolen from a porch. Locals say many residents know how to use firearms against a trespasser.

BILL BEDRICK, LIVES NEAR BARN WHERE FUGITIVE DITCHED VAN: God help him if he tries to, you know -- anything like that.

TODD: Upwards of 500 officers are now involved in the search, working shifts as long as 20 hours. The search area now eight to ten square miles, 20 miles north of the prison he escaped from. Over the weekend, he managed to steal a van from a dairy farm and ring the doorbells of at least two former work associates.

BIVENS: He has spent time in that area in the past. So, he is familiar with it.

TODD: Residents in the search area receiving this warning by phone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lock all external doors and windows, secure vehicles and remain indoors.

TODD: One nearby school district closing today, three others keeping kids inside.

GOV. JOSH SHAPIRO (D-PA): We do not have evidence at this time that there is assistance being rendered to this individual. In fact, quite the contrary. We've had wonderful cooperation from the public. If you do anything, anything to try and assist this individual, we will hold you accountable.

TODD: Cavalcante was sentenced to life in prison without parole for killing his former girlfriend in 2021. He is also wanted in his native Brazil in a 2017 homicide case.

BIVENS: It's a possibility that he'll attack the police to try and get away. It's a possibility he would attack a civilian. It's a possibility it would be a suicide by cop.

(END VIDEOTAPE) [18:30:06]

TODD (on camera): One of the possible advantages that Danelo Cavalcante may have tonight, police say, he has been in this area and is familiar with at least part of it. One of the possible disadvantages, he could be on the move shirtless. Police say that he ditched a green hoodie and white T-shirt at the foot of the driveway of that house where he was fired upon by that home owner. And at last word, they have no reason to believe that he had other clothing on him. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us, Brian, thank you very much.

For more on this story, I'm joined by CNN Senior Law Enforcement Analyst Charles Ramsey and Andrew McCabe. Chief Ramsey, just how much is this search entering new, uncharted, and potentially very dangerous territory, now that Cavalcante is armed?

CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, very much, Wolf. We knew he was dangerous before. There's absolutely no question about that. Now -- I mean, he is extremely dangerous now that he has his hands on a firearm. I mean, this changes everything, the search, the danger to the officers doing the search, the danger to the public. He's desperate. He has absolutely nothing to lose.

He's already sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. And if he wanted to surrender, he would have done it a couple of weeks ago.

This guy is going to either, one, try to get transportation forcefully, maybe, to get out of the area or shoot it out with the cops. I mean, I just don't see him leaving peacefully.

BLITZER: Andrew, the lieutenant colonel, we just heard, he says nothing has gone wrong during this search. But this dangerous killer, convicted murderer, now has a gun after being seen in public many times over the past 13 days. So, is that true?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I think it is true, Wolf. I don't think there's anything specific that we can point to right now that the searchers and the Pennsylvania State Police have done that they shouldn't have done or gaps in their approach. However, they also haven't gotten any lucky breaks, right?

This guy has been able to slip through their perimeter a couple of times. He's gotten lucky breaking into homes, stealing the things that he needs to survive. Now, he's been able to arm himself. But he continues to hide out in a fairly large, very heavily wooded, remote, hard place to search.

So, the job for the state police is not getting any easier. It's, in fact, gotten a lot harder, for all the reasons that Chief Ramsey said. This guy is now armed, and that is going to have an impact on the searchers and how careful they need to be, how alert they need to be and how they go about their business. They just need to start getting lucky. BLITZER: Yes. This is such a dangerous situation.

Chief Ramsey, you're the former Philadelphia police commissioner. You know this area, the perimeter, well. How difficult will it be to track Cavalcante in this wooded area with such a large underground tunnel system?

RAMSEY: Well, I mean, it's going to be difficult. And he seems like he moves at night, which just makes it even more difficult. And now that we know he's armed, they're going to rely very heavily just not on people searching -- and they'll certainly do their grid searches and so forth -- but they'll be using dogs, they'll be using drones, they'll be using whatever they can to try to locate this individual.

The biggest concern has got to be him forcing his way into a home somehow, barricading himself in somewhere, carjacking a person in order to get the transportation to get away from there. And so time is critical. But at the same time, he can't be sloppy. They have to be careful trying to find this guy. He's extremely dangerous to everyone.

And if they do find him, again, he doesn't surrender peacefully, then there's only one thing that the officers are going to be able to do to resolve this issue.

BLITZER: Charles Ramsey, Andrew McCabe, guys, thank you very much.

Also tonight, other important news we're following, five former Memphis Police officers involved in the beating death of Tyre Nichols are now facing federal charges. That's on top of the state level charges they're already facing.

Let's bring in CNN's Nick Valencia. Nick, what is the Justice Department alleging about these former officers?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good evening, Wolf. Big news out of Memphis today. And a word of caution to our viewers before we start this report, the images you're about to see are graphic and some may find it disturbing.

But as you can see in this body cam footage from the night of the incident of Nichols' arrest, the DOJ alleges that these five former officers were unlawful and unreasonable in their use of force against Nichols. They go on to say that they failed to render medical aid, denying him basic human rights, and all together engaged in a conspiracy to cover up what they did by providing either false or misleading information to investigators and to their superiors.

Here are the four charges as they're laid out in this federal indictment, which was handed down earlier this afternoon. One, deprivation of rights under color of law, excessive force and failure to intervene, deprivation of rights under color of law, deliberate indifference, conspiracy to witness tamper, obstruction of justice, witness tampering.


The first two counts carry up to life in prison if they're found guilty of those, and the last two carry up to 20 years in prison.

This hour, we're also hearing from Civil Rights Attorney Ben Crump, who's representing the family. And it was earlier, just a short time ago, in fact, that Tyre Nichols' mother took the podium and said, it is so important to hold these five former officers accountable for what they did.


ROWVAUGHN WELLS, MOTHER OF TYRE NICHOLS: This is something that I'm going to have to deal with for the rest of my life, that I will not have my son. But if my son had to leave this earth in this manner, I'm hoping it was for the greater good.


VALENCIA: It was in late July that the Department of Justice announced that it was opening a patterns and practices investigation into the Memphis Police Department for its interactions with black motorists. That is separate from this criminal investigation, but they will run parallel.

And meanwhile, Wolf, this is all while state charges are going on. These five former defendants have been charged with second-degree murder in the death of Tyre Nichols as well as aggravated kidnapping. They're due in court later this month. Wolf?

BLITZER: Nick Valencia, thanks for that report.

Coming up, Kim Jong-un makes a rare trip outside North Korea for a face-to-face meeting in Russia with Vladimir Putin. Their discussions could have huge implications for the war in Ukraine.

Stay with us. You're in The Situation Room.



BLITZER: The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, arrived today in Russia for an expected meeting with Vladimir Putin.

CNN Senior International Correspondent Will Ripley is covering this important story.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): When North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un rolls into Russia, he carries on the Kim dynasty's train-traveling tradition, riding the rails on a relic from the former Soviet Union. The aging train symbolic of Moscow's fading influence and the possibility of Pyongyang's rising power.

Just a few short years ago, this moment would have been unthinkable, the Russian president asking a North Korean leader for help to resupply Moscow's once-mighty, now-broken army? Kim Jong-un could become the first in three generations of his ruling family to stand alongside the president of Russia, respected as an equal, something his father and grandfather never achieved.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It increases his sense of security. It increases his ability to intimidate.

RIPLEY: The Kim Dynasty spent decades creating a cult of personality. The ruling family revered almost like living gods inside North Korea.

Fast forward to 2023, North Korea and Russia, two rogue nations on the verge of a potential arms deal, a deal that could help Moscow and Pyongyang defy western sanctions, the U.S. warns, giving Russia desperately needed weapons and ammunition for Ukraine, giving North Korea cash and know-how to take Kim's missile program to new heights.

CLARK: He gets a lot out of this, Kim does, if Putin delivers this kind of technology.

RIPLEY: For the North Korean leader, a comeback from failed U.S. diplomacy. For Putin, a humiliating fall from president to pariah, the price of waging a brutal war with no end in sight, paid in blood on the battlefields of Ukraine, plunging the world deeper into crisis.

GEN. PAT RYDER, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We would call on North Korea to meet its previous stated public commitments not to supply weapons to Russia.

RIPLEY: Putin's pain perhaps Kim's gain, at least for now. The North Korean leader may become the biggest winner in this bizarre new world order. When Kim Jong-un leaves Russia on that green and gold train, it could mean more than an arms deal. It could be the beginning of a new reality, a world forced to accept North Korea as a nuclear power.

CLARK: We've kept the peace in the Korean Peninsula for 70 years by basically the threat of nuclear annihilation. We were invulnerable to North Korea. Now we're not.


RIPLEY (on camera): This is Kim Jong-un's first trip outside of North Korea since the COVID pandemic. And he did say, Wolf, that the reason why he is doing this is to show the importance of this strategic partnership with Russia. So, he gets economic support from China, now military support, ballistic missile intelligence, from Russia. He even brought the general that is in charge of his ballistic missile program. They're there to learn, and they're there to provide Russia with weapons that they need on the frontlines in Ukraine.

So, you have these two pariah leaders coming together, joining forces, and the west certainly will have quite a lot on its hands dealing with this, Wolf.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right. Will Ripley reporting for us, thank you.

Coming up, I'll ask one of the House Democrats who led the impeachment of Donald Trump about the new Republican push to impeach President Biden. Congressman Adam Schiff is standing by. We'll discuss when we come back.



BLITZER: We're following new developments on Capitol Hill right now. The House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's announcement today directing congressional committees to formally launch an impeachment inquiry into President Biden.

Let's discuss this and more with Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California. He's a key member of the Judiciary Committee. He's also a candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

As all of our viewers will remember, you led the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump back in 2019, which was also started without a full House vote.

What do you make of Speaker McCarthy's move today to launch a new inquiry into President Biden without a full House vote?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Well, this is really based on two things. It's based on the weakness of Kevin McCarthy's speakership, the fact that he doesn't have the moral authority with his members, doesn't have good control over his conference. And is beholden to the most extreme elements who want an impeachment of Joe Biden, an impeachment without evidence.

And second, this is, again, Kevin McCarthy doing the bidding of Donald Trump. Donald Trump wants to somehow dilute the stain of his impeachments. He wants to try to weaken Joe Biden going into the presidential election. So, this is Kevin McCarthy doing what Donald Trump says, once again.

And I'll tell you what it's not. It's not impeachment based on high crimes or misdemeanors or any evidence of such things. This is essentially evidence-free impeachment, and it is purely politically motivated by McCarthy and Donald Trump.

BLITZER: But do you not have any concerns about the questionable business dealings of Hunter Biden and possible ties to the president when he was vice president?


SCHIFF: Well, there's been no evidence of ties to the president or any evidence of any wrongdoing on the part of Joe Biden.

Look, I don't think any presidential family member should traffic on the family name. I didn't think so of the Trump kids, and I don't think Hunter Biden should've either. But that's a long cry from saying that the president has engaged in any wrongdoing. He hasn't. This is, of course, nothing to do with evidence.

Again, this is Donald Trump exerting his will over Kevin McCarthy. Kevin McCarthy, beholden to his MAGA elements in the conference, trying to cling onto the speakership for one more day, one more week, maybe one more month.

BLITZER: In our recent CNN poll -- and I suspect you probably saw it -- 42 percent of voters say they do believe President Biden acted illegally when it comes to Hunter Biden's business dealings.

How do you respond to that?

SCHIFF: You know, look, there are huge media enterprises like Fox, Newsmax, OAN, that continue to traffic falsehoods. It's why Fox was forced to pay three-quarters of a billion dollars for deliberately pushing out lies about the last election. So, yes, their viewers are going to believe the worst because that's what they're going to hear from these propaganda outfits.

But, nevertheless, in terms of evidence, in terms of what the founders had in mind, evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors, it is completely lacking. And, you know, once again, we see, I think, a degradation of the House of Representatives under Kevin McCarthy brought yet one step lower again. There were the bogus censures like I had to go through. Now they appear ready for a bogus impeachment.

And, you know, this is, unfortunately, what we can expect from a speaker who has, essentially, no ideology, no agenda, except self- preservation in that office.

BLITZER: Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz is threatening to introduce a motion to remove Speaker McCarthy. Would you, Congressman, would you support that?

SCHIFF: You know, it's going to be up to the Republicans to decide who they want to govern their conference. But I do think that all of these issues are interwoven because it is that fragility, that weakness in the debate over the budget. McCarthy has reneged on the deal he struck with Joe Biden. The conservatives want him to renege even further. And as a sop, this appears to be the bargain, I will give you impeachment.

Now, an impeachment is a serious thing. It's not something that should be a bargaining chip for Kevin McCarthy to give the Matt Gaetzes of the world to try to buy them off for another week. And it will just bring down this institution even further if this is the road they go down.

BLITZER: Congressman Adam Schiff, as usual, thanks so much for joining us.

And we'll be right back with more news.


[18:57:07] BLITZER: At least 5,300 people are presumed dead and as many as 10,000 believed to be missing in the aftermath of floods in Libya. Local rescue teams are searching for survivors, the missing and the dead, in valleys under rubble and out at sea.

In Morocco, meanwhile, the death toll from its worst earthquake in decades has increased now to more than 2,900.

CNN's Nada Bashir has our report.


NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER (voice-over): High in the Atlas Mountains, this solitary village of Denis (ph), seemingly abandoned and almost entirely flattened. It is hard to imagine how anyone could've survived the destruction here. But amid the rubble, signs of life.

At the gates of what once was their home, Fatima and her 11-year-old daughter Zina (ph) tell me that they can only thank God that their family was uninjured in the quake. But ongoing aftershocks mean there is little peace for those who survived.

Zina says that a lot of her friends died in this earthquake. She can still see her school up at the top of the mountain. But she is still afraid of the potential aftershocks that could happen. Of course, the memories of her friends who have passed away is something she thinks about constantly.

Above the crumbling remnants of this now destroyed village, more than 40 victims lie buried. Each grave left unmarked.

The smell of death is still heavy in the air. The overwhelming loss of life in this village, too much for anyone to bear. She tells me her best friend is buried here, too. But she doesn't know which grave is hers.

Getting aid to this village has taken days. And supplies are minimal. There are, of course, no homes to return to here. Instead, families take shelter amid the sprawling olive groves. There aren't enough tents for all of the families impacted so they're not able to have. There are about three to four families now sharing a single tent.

And, as you can see, they're still trying to build new ones to deal with the sheer need here in the village.

It's too early to tell what's next for these families. It could take years for their homes to be rebuilt, if at all. And there are so many more villages just like this one devastated and cut off with little hope in sight.


BASHIR (on camera): And, look, Wolf, we've been speaking to aid workers on the ground. They tell us there are still villages in the mountains that they haven't been able to reach. So you can imagine the scale of the devastation for those who have lost so much already. BLITZER: Nada Bashir, thank you very much.

And to our viewers, thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.