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CNN Exclusive Poll Shows Trump Maintains Slim Lead Over Biden Nationwide; Sources Says, Ex-Trump Org Financial Chief In Talks To Plead Guilty To Perjury; Historic Testimony, Michigan School Shooter's Mother On The Stand; Secretary Austin Apologizes For Mishandling Hospitalization; Zelenskyy Expected To Fire Ukraine's Army Chief In Biggest Military Shakeup Since Start Of War. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 01, 2024 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to have more on this story coming up next in THE SITUATION ROOM with Wolf Blitzer.

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Our coverage continues now with Alex Marquardt in Wolf Blitzer's SITUATION ROOM. See you tomorrow.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news, CNN's exclusive new poll shows Donald Trump maintaining a narrow lead over President Joe Biden nationwide, as Biden fights for votes in the pivotal battleground state of Michigan, and both candidates gear up for their potential rematch this fall. Stand by for our revealing snapshot of the race and new reaction.

Also breaking, sources say the former chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, Allen Weisselberg, is in talks to potentially plead guilty to a perjury charge tied to a civil fraud investigation. We'll tell you what that could mean for him and possibly for Trump.

Plus, historic testimony, Michigan school shooter's mother on the stand defending her actions as prosecutors attempt to hold her criminally responsible for the slaughter carried out by her son.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Alex Marquardt and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We do begin with that breaking news, CNN's exclusive new nationwide poll showing how voters view the widely anticipated Trump-Biden rematch right now.

CNN Political Director David Chalian is here with us with those top line results. So, David, how does this result now compare with previous head-to-head polling between Biden and Trump? And how do voters feel about this potential rematch? DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, Alex, it is a remarkably stable race. Let me show you the brand new numbers in this poll conducted by SSRS for CNN, and you can see 49 percent to 45 percent Trump over Biden, just outside the margin of error. Trump with a narrow lead. And look at that into our October-November poll, identical. The race has been frozen in place there.

You asked how do Americans feel about this rematch, not great is the answer, Alex. I mean, both of these men are deeply unpopular. Look here, Trump is at 39 percent favorable, 55 percent unfavorable. Biden is at 34 percent favorable, 59 percent unfavorable.

And then take a look at the different motivating factors for Biden and Trump supporters. I mean, what you see here is that Donald Trump is the factor in this 2024 race. So, among Biden supporters, 68 percent of them say they're casting their ballot for Biden as a protest vote in opposition to Donald Trump, whereas it's an inverse for Trump supporters, 60 percent of Trump supporters are actually casting their ballot in affirmative fashion for Donald Trump. Only 40 percent say they're casting their ballot for Trump to oppose Joe Biden, Alex.

MARQUARDT: So, David, when you dig a little bit deeper, what are voters saying about how they feel about Trump and Biden?

CHALIAN: Well, take a look at Joe Biden's overall approval rating. For the better part of the last year, he has been operating in a four or five-point band here. His approval rating in this poll is at 38 percent approval. But just look how stubborn his approval rating has been and stubbornly low, I might add here.

And then we asked Republicans what their biggest concern about Trump is, Democrats, what their biggest concern about Biden is, among Republican and Republican-leaning voters in this poll, Alex, 19 percent, the plurality, said they have no concerns about Donald Trump as their nominee. 15 percent said their biggest concern is his tact, his mouth, obviously, Donald Trump's behavior. Only 8 percent say the indictments or the legal issues he's facing are their biggest concern about Donald Trump.

Look at the difference, though, when you ask Democrats and Democratic- leaners about their concerns about Biden. 46 percent have one thing that concerns them, his age, obviously, the oldest president to serve. And this is something that the Biden campaign is going to have to address from now, all the way through next November, Alex.

MARQUARDT: All right, some fascinating numbers and lots to dig into. David Chalian, thank you very much.

Let's dig into these numbers with our panel of political experts. Thank you all for joining me tonight.

David Axelrod, I want to start with you. You have been quite vocal in warning Democrats and expressing your concern about President Biden's re-election chances. So, when you look at these new polling numbers, how worried do they make you?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think these numbers are pretty consistent with what we've seen.


I wouldn't jump to the conclusion that they are foreshadowing what's going to happen because we're a long way away, and there are certain numbers in here that would give one hope for their relative measures on who is mainstream and who is extreme, for example, which runs right into Biden's message.

But there are signs here, and we've seen it consistently, he's not doing as well as he should with younger voters who are even here. He's not doing as well as he should with voters of color. Remember, he won African-American voters with 88 percent of the vote in 2020. He's not nearly there.

Now, I think combined voters of color are 57 percent. He won Hispanic voters two to one. So, these are these are very concerning numbers and he's got a lot of work to do. He's got to throw this thing into a comparative frame and stay there from now until November.

MARQUARDT: A lot of work. Gloria Borger, on the Trump side of things, he, of course, attempted to overturn the 2020 election. He is now facing 91 criminal felony counts. He was just found liable by a jury for sexual abuse. Let's look at these numbers. His unfavorable number, however, is lower than Biden's. You can see right there. And he has a higher favorability rating. So, what do you make of that?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I make the fact that he's very popular among Republicans, and he can do no wrong. When you look at the numbers, for example, about these 91 felony charges and whether they're concerned about it, it's in the single digits. They're not concerned about it. So, he remains usually popular among Republicans, and Joe Biden is usually unpopular among Republicans. And so you have two unpopular candidates here. Let's face it, neither one of them thrills the public, and the matchup, as our polls show, doesn't thrill the public either.

MARQUARDT: And, David, back to you. Sorry, one second Alice, we will get to you in just a moment. David, how do you explain that, what you're seeing on the Trump side of things?

AXELROD: That people -- I mean, look, the indictments, if you're asking me why they are so dismissive of the indictments, these indictments have actually helped Trump with Republicans. They've been the fuel that has propelled him forward toward the nomination because they have bought his narrative that this is political retribution against him, and so they've dismissed this.

It's interesting to me that as many people, Republicans have concerns about his personal behavior as they do, and, ultimately, this could really -- we saw Trump on the night that he was triumphant in New Hampshire acting like a guy who had been beaten in a really obnoxious way. We got ten months to watch the Trump show. I'm not sure how much people are going to like it.

MARQUARDT: Alice, I want to ask you about another set of numbers in this fascinating poll. We asked voters about how they view Biden's and Trump's policies. Take a look at this. 63 percent say Trump's views are too extreme compared to just 38 percent for Biden. Voters say that President Joe Biden's views are generally mainstream.

So, do you see that as a warning sign for Trump and then more broadly for Republicans?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It should be because we all know that general elections are typically won and decided by what we call the mushy middle, the independents, the people in the middle of the voting electorate. The right are key in the primary elections, and the left are key for Biden in the primary election, but in the general election, those people that do not want to see extreme views on either side are going to make up the difference.

So, I think Trump would be better served if he listens to his campaign, who has been very good about keeping him on message and discipline if he reels in some of his extreme rhetoric, because that's going to be the key in this general election.

What I think our poll is significant for one reason is I view this as a snapshot in time. Biden has been ahead in these polls for months, and now it's basically a statistical dead heat. The good thing for Trump is this is a national poll. From the Trump campaign, you look at a lot of the state-by-state polls in these battleground states, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Nevada, North Carolina, Trump is ahead five, six, seven, eight points in a lot of these polls, and that is good news for Trump.

AXELROD: On Alice's point, it is not sufficient for Biden to be tied going into this election. Biden has to win by three or four points because of the way votes are distributed. If he's going to win the Electoral College, remember he won by 7 million votes last time, but only 44,000 in the three closest states.

BORGER: He is concerned about that blue wall and that's why he's in Michigan, right? I mean, these are states he can't afford to lose.

MARQUARDT: We got another set of pretty extraordinary numbers this week, new filings showing that the former president spent more than $50 million on legal fees. We heard from his GOP challenger, Nikki Haley, just a short time ago, she spoke with our Jake Tapper and she commented on it. Let's take a listen.


NIKKI HALE, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is unconscionable to me that a candidate would spend $50 million in legal fees.


It explains why he's not doing many rallies. He doesn't have the money to do it. It explains why he doesn't want to get on a debate stage because he doesn't want to talk about why he's doing it. It explains why he had a temper tantrum, you know, the election night of New Hampshire is because he wants me out of the race and he wants to be the presumptive nominee so that all of that cash starts going to him and he doesn't have to spend anymore. But that's a reality of a real big problem for Republicans going forward.


BORGER: You know these are political contributions also. This is not this is not out of his pocket. These are people who are thinking they're helping Trump 2024, right. And so, instead, it's going to his legal fees.

Now, I don't know whether a lot of them would object to that or not object to that We don't know the answer to that, but there's going to be more money that's got to go to his legal fees We know he doesn't like to pay his lawyers, but when it's not coming out of his own pocket, why not?

AXELROD: The same day these numbers appeared, there was a report that the main super PAC supporting Joe Biden has planned a $250 million media buy later in the year for his campaign. So, this resource thing may end up being a part of the equation.

The thing about Hailey and her comments is that this has been true throughout the campaign. She's kind of getting to -- she's catching up with the story late here. But if you look at this poll, we also talked about her standing and the advantage that Donald Trump has and he'll continue to have through the primaries and to the general is Republicans like him. Republicans like him.

MARQUARDT: They like him. But to Gloria's point, Alice, how do they respond when they see that their hard-earned dollars are going not towards the campaign specifically, but towards defending him in court?

STEWART: Look, it's not unconscionable that he's spending money on these legal fees. What's unconscionable is that people continue to give money to him knowing exactly where it's going. They do not care. They will continue to give him money.

And we're not talking about just big donors. We're talking about small-dollar contributions. People give to him because they buy into his lie that there was widespread voter fraud. He was the duly elected president. And they buy into his lies that all of these legal issues facing him and all of the prosecutions against him are part of the weaponization of the DOJ. He is a victim of an overzealous prosecution and they're coming after him. Next, they will go after the American people. They believe that.

So, they see this as an investment and what they see as democracy.

AXELORD: The fact that this is -- that there's this rumor that he's a billionaire, and I'm kind of wondering if you're a billionaire, why you can't pay your own legal bills.

BORGER: Because you don't like to. You don't like to part with your own money. That's -- he's kind of famous for that.

AXELROD: Yes. MARQUARDT: That's how rich people get rich.


MARQUARDT: Thank you all, I appreciate it. Thanks for joining us.

And just ahead, we will go live to that high-stakes battleground state of Michigan, where President Joe Biden is trying to lock in votes that the former President Donald Trump is trying to peel away.

And next, breaking news on the newest legal turn for the former chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, now in talks to plead guilty for perjury.



MARQUARDT: There is breaking news tied to one of the many investigations of Donald Trump and his business, a key figure now in talks to plead guilty to perjury.

CNN's Kara Scannell has the details from New York. So, Kara, what are you learning?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, sources tell CNN that Trump Organization's former chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg is in talks to potentially plead guilty to a perjury-related charge for testimony he has given in the New York attorney general's civil fraud case.

Now he's in talks with the Manhattan District Attorney's Office led by Alvin Bragg. You know, these talks are early, my sources tell me, and you know, it's possible a deal is not reached. But it is important to note that Weisselberg is not going to be cooperating in the D.A.'s investigation and prosecution of former President Donald Trump, who is set to go to trial next month on 34 counts of falsifying business records.

This is all related to the hush money payment made to Stormy Daniels and the cover-up that is the reimbursement of those payments to Michael Cohen. And Trump has pleaded not guilty to the charges. It is, though, looking like it may be the first criminal trial that the former president will face. It's currently set for next month. So, Weisselberg is not expected to be a witness in this case.

It will, though, be the second time that Weisselberg will be pleading guilty, or may be pleading guilty to criminal charges. He already pleaded guilty to numerous tax fraud charges and did testify in a case against the Trump Organization entities. The entities were convicted.

It is not clear exactly what Weisselberg may say he perjured either, you know, this involves investigative testimony he had given in the New York Attorney General's civil fraud case, as well as his testimony on the stand last month. It's not clear exactly what statements he may be saying were false. And, of course, we are waiting any day now for the judge to issue his ruling on the attorney general's case. They are seeking $370 million from a former president, as well as a ban from doing business in New York. Alex?

MARQUARDT: All right. CNN's Kara Scannell in New York, thanks so much for that report.

So, lots to unpack here with our legal experts, Laura Coates and Elliot Williams. Thank you both for joining me.

Laura, scant details, we're still trying to figure out what happened here, what he may be pleading guilty, may, how he might have perjured himself. But as Kara just noted, this would be the second guilty plea by Weisselberg in as many years. You heard Kara say that he's not expected to necessarily cooperate. So, how significant could this be?

LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, this reduces his credibility now to zero. His usefulness as a witness in any trial, let alone whether he would flip on his boss. There's no real shock that he wouldn't now testify because he's got no credibility.

If you have a perjury charge, again, to a little pleading guilty to it, it means a jury is not going to credit the statements that you've made, that there's very much reason to doubt anything you will say.

It also goes to the heart of the matter in terms of credibility of the overall organization and how nervous Donald Trump and his team need to be. He does have the keys to the castle. He might know where the bodies are buried financially and to have him so unwilling to actually testify honestly and truthfully maybe shows you the scale of deception we're dealing with.


MARQUARDT: And, Elliot, answered that. This just broke. So, if you're Trump or his legal team and you look up and see that Weisselberg potentially going to plead guilty, how nervous should they be?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I don't think they're any more nervous today right now than they were five or ten minutes ago, and here's why. It's not a cooperation deal. So, he's not going to be coming in to testify against the former president or against the Trump Organization about anything meaningful.

Now, look, there's -- as Laura was saying, there's reputational harm here. It doesn't look good for the Trump Organization. It doesn't look good for an insider of the former president, somebody that he's close to and has worked with and, frankly, defended for quite some time.

But in terms of is this testimony that is going to sink the Trump Organization or the former president, not at all.

MARQUARDT: But, Laura, how strange would it be for someone to plead guilty to something like this, to perjury, but then not cooperate after that? COATES: It tells you about the prosecutorial priorities, which frankly shift over time. Initially, it may have been that they sought him as a cooperator, that he may have been the link that they could not get anywhere else. But as time goes on and more evidence comes in and perhaps other corroboration may occur, you get de-prioritized as a witness in the sense that they may no longer need you to actually indict or further their case. Remember, he was indicted even without the cooperation of Weisselberg in the past.

So, his utility as a cooperating witness went down immeasurably. Now, with the perjury, his utility is none, which tells you they have no longer any incentive now to give very favorable plea terms in sentencing. His usefulness is exhausted.

WILLIAMS: One more thing to that point, to put him on the stand, you have to, in effect, vouch for him as a prosecutor. You have to -- he's your witness, he's your case, and you are knowingly putting on someone who, in prior testimony -- so you're putting him on to testify in prior testimony, he lied.

If you're a jury watching that guy, you're going to -- that shoots the prosecution's credibility, it shoots the prosecution's case, and it's just not useful. And as Laura had said, they were able to indict him without, I believe, the testimony of Allen Weisselberg. It's just not that useful.

MARQUARDT: I mean, we don't know at this moment how he might have perjured himself, but given what we know he has said in the past, did he go out on a limb anywhere that would give an indication as to how he might have perjured himself?

COATES: I'm eager to know the details of the nature of the plea charts that he may have. But, remember, even if you're testifying in a civil lawsuit or a civil trial, criminal prosecutors are watching, as it might relate to their own cases. And things you may say there, when you swear that oath, it could lead to you having criminal charges in the other context.

So, I do wonder if it's about his witness testimony in the civil fraud trial, that probe on a civil side, something different, but either way, it gives you just an indication that all ears and all eyes are watching at all times to figure out what exactly is being said in these courtrooms and how it might buttress other charges in other matters.

MARQUARDT: And in that civil fraud trial, we are waiting to hear from the judge to determine whether or not Donald Trump is liable for some $370 million.

When you hear this, that Allen Weisselberg, the former CFO, may plead guilty to perjury, what does that tell you about how seriously the attorney general and the prosecutors are taking these cases against Trump and his business?

WILLIAMS: Look, they're all incredibly serious cases. Now, a case is only as serious as a case that could be held up on appeal. These are -- a lot of subjectivity has gone into these verdicts. Calculating these dollar amounts was often a subjective question. And I think they're going to have questions when these are ultimately appealed by the former president of the Trump Organization.

But they're serious cases. And the prosecutors did their best, I think, based on what we've seen, to bring as airtight lawsuits as they could have. And so we'll see where things go from there.

MARQUARDT: Laura, we only have a couple of moments left, but Weisselberg already pled guilty. He spent a hundred days in Rikers Island. So, if he were to plead guilty again to perjury, what kind of time could he be looking at?

COATES: It depends if it comes from that same what they call nucleus effects, something that actually already had the same overlap and could it be already sort of time served or would it be additional time. If it's additional time, you've got a different carrot now hanging in front of the defendant who might not initially want to cooperate but might be trying to avoid lightning striking twice.

MARQUARDT: All right, some incredibly insightful analysis on this breaking news. Elliot Williams, Laura Coates, thank you very much.

And Laura will be back tonight at 11:00 Eastern for Laura Coates Live.

Just ahead, how President Joe Biden is dealing with multiple challenges in the key battleground state of Michigan. CNN is on the ground and a top Michigan Democrat will be joining us.

Stay with us.



MARQUARDT: And we are back with breaking news. CNN's exclusive new poll shows Donald Trump holding a narrow lead over President Joe Biden among registered voters nationwide. The poll underscoring challenges for the president as he's campaigning in a state that could make or break his re-election bid, Michigan.

Let's get straight to CNN Senior White House Correspondent M.J. Lee, who is in Detroit. M.J., this is such an important state for the president. What's his message been in Michigan?

M.J. LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alex, this was clearly a victory lap of sorts for the president, really wanting to celebrate that UAW endorsement that he received last week, and also very much a thank you visit, campaign officials saying that nothing speaks louder than actually physically traveling and being on the ground to show that appreciation.

And when we saw the president visiting a UAW union hall earlier and giving brief remarks, those remarks were clearly tailor-made to try to appeal to these working class union voters that he is going to be fighting for heading into November. He again described himself the most pro-union president.


He gave the sort of populist-made comments that were sort of populist in the theme, saying, you know, the Wall Street didn't create the middle class, it was the labor movement. And he also tried to tout the economic recovery under his watch. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: We now have, in large part because of you and organized labor, the strongest economy in the whole damn world. We do. We do, the whole world. Inflation is coming down. Jobs are growing. We created 800,000 manufacturing jobs.

Remember, they told us we were dead, manufacturing is dead in America. China was going to eat our lunch. Well, guess what, man? We don't taste that good.


LEE: And the campaign, Alex, is very cognizant of the fact that Donald Trump is going to be courting these very same voters when you talk to campaign officials and allies of this campaign. They'll say the next nine months are going to be really, really hard. The race is going to be very, very close. And I think that's why they recognize, obviously, that courting some of these very central and core supporters of the president's base, people who turned out for him back in 2020, that that really is going to be so important to him having a victory going into November.

MARQUARDT: M.J., he may be taking a victory lap on the labor front, but at the same time he's facing this major erosion of support among Arab-American voters. How is he handling that?

LEE: Yes. And that erosion, obviously, is so critical and important here in Michigan, where there is such a sizable and significant Arab- American community and population. And that kind of discontent has been pretty visible these days when the president has hit the road. And, in fact, he is currently making his third stop of the day here in the Detroit area to meet with more UAW members. And you can see their protesters across the street making their frustration and their anger at the president quite visible.

And, you know, Alex, you know this better than anyone else. The White House has been really trying to push this idea that they are doing everything they can to work with the Israeli government, to coach them, to coax them to work differently as they have proceeded with this war. And this is also why I think we saw the emphasis on the executive order earlier today, targeting some of these Israeli settlers who have engaged in, they say, violent acts against Palestinians in the West Bank.

So, these are some of the ways in which they are trying to deal with this issue. And they realize that it's going to be important to continue having these conversations with Arab and Muslim American leaders. That wasn't the case today, but they say that those conversations will continue in the months coming. Alex?

MARQUARDT: Yes. We'll see if that executive order helps at all with that crucial voting bloc.

M.J. Lee in Detroit, thank you very much.

Joining us now, a prominent Michigan Democrat, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell. Congresswoman, thank you so much for joining us tonight.

I want to talk about Arab-Americans in your home state in just a moment, but I want to start with this new CNN poll. He is campaigning, President Biden campaigning in Michigan today. Our new poll shows that he has higher unfavorability ratings than former President Donald Trump, who's facing, as you know, 91 criminal charges, and was just told to pay more than $83 million for defaming E. Jean Carroll.

So, why do you think the former president has such a low favorability, such a high unfavorable rating of President Biden?

REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D-MI): So, I think it's very complicated, but I'm going to start with why today was so important, because I think he has done a great deal and people don't know it. I think a lot of other people take credit for road money, bridge money, getting leads out of pipe money, water, that was done at the federal level, money comes into the state, and everybody else takes credit for it, but it was Joe Biden's leadership that got that.

While the president, I said to him today, Mr. President, we have to do a better job of telling people what you've done. We need you to come a little more and help tell that story.

But I plan on getting into every union hall throughout this state that I can between now and next November, because I think President Fain today, President Fain, when he did the endorsement last week, drew the contrast that people don't know. He gave states the facts. Too many workers don't have the facts, and we've got to do a better job of communicating that.

MARQUARDT: I want to ask you about your -- the Arab-American voting bloc in your state. It is the largest in the country They are furious with President Biden over his handling of Israel's war in Gaza, the support for Israel in terms of weaponry and political and rhetorical support. So, what do you think the president should be telling Arab- Americans in Michigan to change their minds?

DINGELL: Well, first of all, I'm just going to be candid.


They're looking for a ceasefire. And I think that what so many people need to understand -- look, I lived in Dearborn for 40 years. I know these people. They have all had families that have died. They've got families that are trapped there. They're getting -- I get these calls that put me in tears of people that their families don't have food. They can't get health care. They're down to saltwater. And they don't even have saltwater.

So, I think I had a very candid talk with the president today and I think there are things that are happening that you got to -- when you're doing diplomacy, aren't always publicly stated out there, I think his policy people have got to spend time with this community and talk to the leaders. And I think this -- it's a very important discussion that has to be had.

And then when they see that policy, they see what's happening, then they got to go back and remind themselves of all the things that Donald Trump has said about them and really do a comparison, but not until some real groundwork has been laid.

MARQUARDT: And when you spoke with the president, did you tell him that he needs to call for a ceasefire? Do you have any sense that that is something that he may do?

DINGELL: I think conversations are private, but anybody who knows me knows that I tell people exactly what I think and what's happening. And I was candid, like I always am.

MARQUARDT: All right. Congresswoman Debbie Dingell of Michigan, thank you very much for your time tonight.

DINGELL: Thank you.

MARQUARDT: And coming up, the mother of a Michigan school shooter takes the stand in her own defense in a historic trial. She tries to avoid criminal liability for her son's heinous crime.



MARQUARDT: We are following breaking news out of Michigan where the mother of high school shooter Ethan Crumbley took the stand in her own defense today in what is a historic case that is testing the limits of criminal liability for a mass shooting.

CNN's Jean Casarez has been following this trial for us. So, Jean, update our viewers on what Jennifer Crumley said today.

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the prosecution is trying to show that Jennifer Crumbley caused the death of those four students that died in the Oxford School shooting because she was a grossly negligent parent. Well, she tried to show the other side today in her testimony that they really had a normal family with a 15-year-old teenager son.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who is responsible for storing the gun?


CASAREZ (voice over): Testifying for the first time the mother of the Oxford Michigan shooter who killed four high school students in 2021.

CRUMBLEY: I just feel comfortable being in charge of that, it was more his thing.

CASAREZ: On the stand, Jennifer Crumbley, who's charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter after she and her husband got their 15-year-old son a gun just days before the massacre.

Crumbley has pleaded not guilty.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was your thing?

CRUMBLEY: Not really, no.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Okay. But you have awareness about guns within your home?


CASAREZ: Crumbley on the stand for hours today testified, though, that she went to a shooting range with her son just days before the massacre. The defense doing its best to portray Jennifer as a normal mother.

CRUMBLEY: Every year, around Thanksgiving. I was cooked Thanksgiving dinner the day after we'd go cut our Christmas tree down.

He was a big history buff. We can play trio with Pursuit and he would get me in history every single time.

CASAREZ: Also revealed in court before Crumbley took the stand, journal entries of the shooter just days before he opened fire, killing four classmates. He writes, I have zero help for my mental problems, and it's causing me to shoot up the effing school. My parents won't listen to me about help or a therapist.

The journal seen here was found in the shooter's backpack that he brought with him that morning, spilled out on the school's bathroom floor. Jennifer Crumbley testified her son, however, never asked her to get help for mental health issues.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you recall there ever being a time where he asked you to go to a doctor or to get help and you said no?




There was a couple of times where Ethan had expressed anxiety over taking tests, anxiety about what he was going to do after high school, but not to a level where I felt he needed to go see a psychiatrist or a mental health professional right away, no.

CASAREZ: Court opened today with Crumbley breaking down in tears as the lead investigator describes the minutes before her son killed Madisyn Baldwin, Tate Myre, Justin Shilling and Hana St. Juliana on November 30, 2021.

LT. TIMOTHY WILLIS, OAKLAND COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE: At the very end, you can see the beginning, that's Madisyn Baldwin walking up the hallway.

CASAREZ: The prosecution this week retracing Jennifer Crumbley's steps as she made her way to the sheriff's department after her son was arrested.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.

CASAREZ: On Thursday, Crumbley described what her son said back to her.

CRUMBLEY: When we were at the substation, I asked my son why, and he said, because I just did.

CASAREZ: Jennifer's husband, James Crumbley, is scheduled to go to trial on the same charges in early March. He too has pleaded not guilty.


CASAREZ (on camera): And court will reconvene first thing tomorrow morning.

Now, it's cross-examination by the prosecutor to Jennifer Crumbley. It is going to be aggressive. It could be scathing. Will she stand up to that prosecutor, because it will be the other side of the story?


MARQUARDT: Just an extraordinary case. Jean Casarez, thank you very much for that report.

And just ahead, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin taking questions from reporters for the first time since his controversial hospitalization. The latest details on his health and his apology to President Biden, that's next.


MARQUARDT: The Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin took questions from reporters today in his first news conference since being hospitalized earlier this month with complications from prostate cancer treatment.

CNN's Oren Liebermann has our report from the Pentagon.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At 10:30 in the morning, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin walked into the Pentagon briefing room. He moved slowly, visibly limping.

In his opening remarks, Austin took full responsibility for the lack of transparency around his prostate cancer diagnosis and hospitalization.

LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We did not handle this right. And I did not handle this right.


I should have told the president about my cancer diagnosis I should have also told my team and the American public. And I take full responsibility. I apologize to my teammates and to the American people.

LIEBERMANN: Austin last two questions from the media on board the USS Gerald R. Ford, more than a month ago. It was two days before he first went to the hospital. He says his diagnosis with prostate cancer shook him and he didn't want to his problems.

AUSTIN: It was a gut punch. And frankly my first instinct was to keep it private.

LIEBERMANN: Austin was admitted to Walter Reed Medical Center on New Year's Day for complications from the procedure on December 22. In a 911 call, an aide asked for discretion.

CALLER: Can I ask, can an ambulance not show up with lights and sirens? We're trying to remain a little subtle.

LIEBERMANN: Austin says there was no order given to keep the hospitalizations secret.

AUSTIN: To answer your question on whether or not I directed my staff to conceal my hospitalization from anyone else, the answer is no.

LIEBERMANN: Austin says he apologized directly to President Joe Biden for not telling him about his diagnosis. But he says he didn't consider resigning. On January 8, Austin's chief of staff, Kelly Magsamen, ordered a 30 day review of notification procedures.

The 30-day review is due in a matter of days now, I think less than a week if I'm not mistaken. Do you commit to making that review public?

AUSTIN: I commit to being as transparent as possible. There'll be elements of this that are classified. But we're committed to sharing as much as possible as soon as possible.

LIEBERMANN: Austin's press conference comes as the administration promises to respond to a drone attack Sunday that killed three U.S. service members in Jordan, as well as more than 165 other attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East.

The White House said it holds around ultimately responsible for arming and supplying the militias that have launched the attacks. The U.S. has promised a multi-phased response one that officials say will be more powerful than previous strikes in Iraq and Syria.

AUSTIN: I don't think the adversaries are out of a one and done mindset. And so, they have a lot of capability. I have a lot more.


LIEBERMANN (on camera): Just like President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made it clear that a us response is coming. You wouldn't give way exactly what that response would look like, except to underscore that part of the goal here is that the us has already taken away some capabilities from these militias.

Now, given the attacks we've seen and that deadly drone attack on Sunday, it's time to take away more of those capabilities. Also, sources familiar with U.S. intelligence say there are signs that Iran is growing nervous by the actions of its proxies in the region, including the continued attacks on U.S. forces. The real question, though, Alex, does Iran have the leverage over these proxies to get the attacks to stop? And that is a major question.

MARQUARDT: Yeah, it certainly is.

Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon, thanks very much.

Coming up, major questions about the war in Ukraine, as President Zelenskyy is expected to fire his top military commander.



MARQUARDT: A major shakeup is expected at the top of Ukraine's military leadership amid questions and criticism of the top commander who's running Ukraine's war against Russia.

Brian Todd is following the story.

So, Brian, this would be a major development at what is really a critical point in this war.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Alex. The springtime phase of the war is coming up. Ukraine is strapped for military resources and now, some maneuvering at the top which could tip the balance.



TODD (voice-over): Ukraine's charismatic president, apparently engaging in some palace intrigue, amid tensions with his top commander on the battlefield. Two sources familiar with the matter tell CNN, Volodymyr Zelenskyy is pushing out his popular army chief, Valerii Zaluzhnyi after Zaluzhnyi was called to a meeting the president's office on Monday. Zelenskyy spokesman denies that Zaluzhnyi is being fired, but sources tell CNN a presidential decree could come within days. It would be the biggest military shakeup by Zelenskyy since Russia's full scale invasion, almost two years ago. The reasons, analysts say it could be a political move.

PROF. HENRY HALE, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: The possibility that Zaluzhnyi could be a presidential candidate sometime in the future and he's the only person in Ukraine right now that potentially rivals Zelenskyy in public trust ratings.

TODD: Why is the 50-year-old Zaluzhnyi so popular in Ukraine?

HALE: He was the military leader of when Ukraine rebuffed Russia's all-out invasion of Ukraine back in February of 2022. And he was able not only to save Kyiv and mobilize the national defense, but also to push back on a lot of Russian military advances.

TODD: Aside from the politics, experts also say Zelenskyy could be simply holding Zaluzhnyi accountable for the fact that Ukraine's counteroffensive launched last year has not gone as well as many had hoped.

PROF. KEITH DARDEN, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: This is a way for Zelenskyy not to take the blame for the lack of progress in the war over the last year.

TODD: Zaluzhnyi even described the war as a stalemate in November essay in "The Economist" magazine, which was said to have displeased Zelenskyy and his circle. In a new opinion piece for CNN, Zaluzhnyi wrote that Ukraine has to adapt to getting less military aid and rely more on technology in the war.

Who could replace Zaluzhnyi as army chief? Two candidates are prominently mentioned. Ukraine's land forces commander, General Oleksandr Syrskyi and Kyrylo Budanov, the young ambitious head of the defense intelligence directorate, who just spoke to CNN's Frederik Pleitgen about his plans to strike inside Russia.

GEN. KYRYLO BUDANOV, HEAD OF UKRAINE'S DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE DIRECTORATE (through translator): I believe that plan includes all major critical infrastructure facilities and military infrastructure facilities of the Russian Federation.

TODD: According to "The Washington Post", Budanov's plans to strike at Moscow last year made us officials nervous. Ukrainian officials say the Russians have tried to assassinate Budanov at least ten times. Recently, Budanov's wife and bodyguards became ill from what Ukrainian officials said was a poisoning.

DARDEN: I think that the Russians see him as a capable military leader, as a threat and they've tried to take him out.


TODD (on camera): One of the biggest, most immediate concerns for Ukraine's next army chief, the analysts we spoke to say, they'll have to make some crucial decisions regarding the upcoming spring time phase of the war. You'll have to inspire confidence among Ukraine's people. And they'll have to not be seen as a political plant of Volodymyr Zelenskyy's -- Alex.

MARQUARDT: All right. Brian Todd, thank you very much.

I'm Alex Marquardt here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thank you very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.