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12 Killed, Dozens Injured In Kazakhstan Plane Crash; Trump Pre- Approved Military Response To North Korea's Threat; 253,000+ Displaced In Northwest Syria As Violence Escalates. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired December 27, 2019 - 13:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST: OK. We'll definitely have to continue this conversation, but I'd also like to go to Brianna. Thank you so much, I appreciate. Thank you for watching Inside Politics. Brianna Keilar starts Right Now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I'm Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, a commercial jet with nearly 100 people on board crashes just seconds after takeoff. At least a dozen people are dead. What we know about the flight.

Plus, a tour helicopter with seven people on board, including children, failed to return hours ago from a tour off Hawaii's rugged NaPali Coast. The Coast Guard is battling challenging weather conditions in their search to locate them.

And it's an American show of force, from bomber planes to military drills, how the U.S. is preparing to respond if Kim Jong-un delivers on his so-called Christmas gift.

Toxic, evil, psychopath, that is how retired Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, acquitted of war crimes, is described by other SEALs who serve with him. See the newly leaked videos of their interviews obtained by The New York Times.

First though, we are learning that the tail of a Bek Air jet hit the runway two times before the plane crashed in Kazakhstan just seconds after takeoff. At least a 23 people are now dead, 50 others are in the hospital after the aircraft, a Fokker 100, lost lost altitude before crashing through a concrete fence and then into a two-storey building.

Joining me now with more on this is CNN's Nathan Hodge. And, Nathan, tell us, do investigators have any idea what might have happened here?

NATHAN HODGE, CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Brianna, just a few hours ago, Kazakhstan's deputy prime minister appearing before reporters said that the initial investigation or preliminary investigation had led to two possible conclusions. One was the possibility of pilot error, and the other of some kind of technical malfunction. Now, that's a very sort of broad definition, but as you noted, he also pointed out that the aircraft's tail hit the runway twice when it was taking off. So it was airborne for only a very, very short time before it plummeted to the ground and broke into pieces, essentially. We saw the pieces of fuselage strewn on the ground where it hit that building and that concrete wall.

But aviation experts and Kazhak officials are saying that the situation could have been far, far worse, noting that the plane did not catch fire after it crashed. So we have at this stage 12 officially dead and dozens of others taken to the hospital. But experts again are saying that this could have been a much worse accident given the number of people on board the aircraft, around 100, as well as how quickly this all went down, Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, that's a very good point, Nathan. Nathan Hodge, thank you for that report.

And now on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, there is a desperate search underway. The U.S. Coast Guard scouring the rocky NaPali Coast. A tour helicopter with seven people on board failed to return from a sightseeing excursion there, and there are two children who were among the missing here.

This is the area where the search is concentrated. And I want to bring in Dan Simon with the latest. Tell us what you're learning.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, Brianna. The whereabouts of this particular helicopter, it remains a complete mystery. I can tell you that throughout the day today, there will be several aircraft and several boats on the water actively searching for this helicopter. There were seven people on board, six passengers, one pilot. Two of the passengers were believed to be minors.

And this helicopter company is owned by a company called Safari Helicopters. They've been in business for about 30 years, family- owned and operated. And according to the reviews that you see on travel websites, they do have very good reviews. Ultimately, what happened here, we do not know. We know that the weather in the area was getting pretty bad when the helicopter went down.

It last relayed with a tower of some sort at 4:40 in the afternoon, and then it was due back to land 40 minutes later, but, of course, it never made that landing. And right now crews doing everything they can to see if they can spot any kind of wreckage. Obviously, Brianna, it looks like we're dealing with a horrific tragedy here.

We'll send it back to you.

KEILAR: All right, Dan. We'll keep an eye on that along with you. Thank you for the report.

And now to the impeachment of President Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer are deadlocked over the question of witnesses. Schumer wants the Senate to call officials that were barred by the president from testifying during the House impeachment investigation. And McConnell argues that it's not the Senate's job to do that.

Congressmen from both sides are holding the partisan line here, and I want to discuss this with Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida.


Thanks for coming on, Congresswoman.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-FL): My pleasure, Brianna. It's good to see you.

KEILAR: Good to see you as well. And I'm sure that you have heard what is going on with the president's Twitter feed. He's been seething about the speaker. He's been seething about her decision to hold onto the articles of impeachment. Do you see that response -- he's clearly very unhappy with this. Do you see his response as validating her decision to do this?

SCHULTZ: Absolutely. I mean, it's been very clear throughout the president's tenure as president that he has no interest in actually the rule of law, of following the rules at all, fairness and justice. I mean, this is a president who the House impeached a week or so ago because he abused his power, he broke federal appropriations law by withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in vital foreign aid that was needed by Ukraine in order try to pressure the Ukrainian president into investigating his political rival and interfere in the 2020 presidential election.

And now, he is essentially coordinating with the majority leader, Mitch McConnell in the Senate, to try to rig the outcome of a trial in which every single United States senator will raise their hand, swear an oath of impartiality and Mitch McConnell has already admitted that he's going to violate that oath.

So no question that Speaker Pelosi is correct in the way she's handling this.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about that, because Mitch McConnell has taken a lot of heat for those comments that highlight what you're talking about, the fact -- and this is something Chuck Schumer has jumped on, Democrats have, even Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski said she's disturbed by this, saying he is in close communications with the White House and he's an impartial juror.

But during the Clinton impeachment, Schumer actually said something pretty similar to Larry King on CNN before the Senate vote. Let's listen to that.

Actually, let me tell you what he said. We don't have the sound. He said, this is not a criminal trial, but this is something that the founding fathers decided to put in a body that was susceptible to the whims of politics.

And Larry King asked, so therefore, anybody taking an oath tomorrow can have a pre-opinion, it's not a jury box. And Schumer responded, many do and then they change. In fact, it's also not like a jury box in the sense that people will call us and lobby us. You don't have jurors called and lobby the things like that. I mean, it's quite different than a jury and we're also the judge.

The criticism that you are making, that Chuck Schumer is making to Mitch McConnell is almost verbatim the criticism that the RNC made to Chuck Schumer for saying this. How do Democrats expect voters to take this argument seriously when Chuck Schumer is making a very similar one that I guess you could say McConnell has made during the Clinton impeachment?

SCHULTZ: Brianna, it's very simple. The American people understand the basic tenets of a trial like the trial that will take place in the Senate. They include the calling of witnesses. It would be unprecedented for the United States Senate in an impeachment trial that will decide on whether the president is convicted and removed from office to not hear any witnesses, Andrew Johnson's impeachment, 41witnesses, President Clinton's impeachment, three witnesses.

So Chuck Schumer is rightly insisting that witnesses who have never been spoken to, because the president withheld them and forbid them from testifying in House proceedings and because we don't have a similar investigation like Ken Starr led leading up to the impeachment of President Clinton, making sure that the senators can get access to documents that are important, that have evidence that they need to review, listening to witnesses' testimony. That's a basic component of a trial in the United States of America under our Constitution.

And when you swear an oath to be impartial, you're supposed to mean it. Everyone brings their own opinions to the table, but then the reason that you have a trial and you hear testimony from witnesses and review documents is so that your initial opinion can be shaped by that evidence. And that is the very minimum that Mitch McConnell should be putting into the components of this trial.

So far he's not, and Speaker Pelosi is right to guard jealously the congressional authority that we have over impeachment, as well as our Constitution.

KEILAR: And Schumer's folks have said, essentially, that by this point, even though it was before the vote, they've heard from a lot of witnesses, which seems to be the case that you are making, that there was more information that was out there that we didn't see the White House saying people can't testify. I mean, is that what you're saying?

SCHULTZ: Yes. I mean, the witnesses that were heard from in the Clinton impeachment were heard from in a grand jury and on multiple occasions.


The witnesses that we need to hear from, that senators need to hear from in this trial have never been heard from because the president has forbidden them from testifying. I mean, let's look at what we're talking about here. Right after the White House impeached Donald Trump as president, an email chain came out that showed that they broke federal appropriations law, withholding hundreds of millions of dollars from Ukraine because the president had just hung up 90 minutes before after pressuring President Zelensky to investigate his political rival and interfere in the 2020 election.

And Michael Duffey specifically said, let's keep this quiet, AKA, cover-up, because they knew they were breaking federal appropriations law and they knew what they were doing was wrong. And that's an example of a witness that the Senate needs to hear from because we need to get to the bottom of the president's abuse of power and violation of federal law and his oath of office.

KEILAR: Congresswoman, thanks for coming on. Happy Holidays. Happy New Year, a new decade to you.

SCHULTZ: Yes, all of the above, my best to everyone.

KEILAR: Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, thank you.

And bomber airplanes over the Korean Peninsula, military drills, the U.S. says it's ready to respond if North Korean delivers on its so- called Christmas gift with another missile test.

Plus, Navy SEALs who served under disgraced SEAL Eddie Gallagher describing him in terms like psychopath, evil, toxic in newly leaked videos.

And a wave of immigration judges leaving the bench in protest of the president's immigration policies, I'm going to speak with one of them.



KEILAR: Christmas is over, still no sign of that Christmas gift that was threatened by North Korea, but the U.S. is not taking any chances. CNN is learning that the Trump administration has pre-approved a series of military options that could be quickly used if North Korea decides to engage in a provocative missile launch.

CNN's Kylie Atwood is joining us now. And, Kylie, tell us about these show of force options.

KYLE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes. So what the Trump administration did in the last few weeks was pre-approve a series of military operations. These are show of force operations. They are not direct military confrontation that the U.S. would partake in against North Korea, they are essentially to demonstrate the strength of the U.S. military specifically in the region that North Korean is. So they could include things like bomber aircraft flights over the Korean Peninsula or ground drills in and around the region, demonstrating the U.S. strength. But, again, Brianna, the U.S. isn't looking, no matter what North Korea does over the next few days, to build any direct confrontation with North Korean.

And the other thing is, even though this was a Christmas gift that was promised by North Korea, it doesn't mean that this Christmas gift is no longer coming just because Christmas has passed. We should remember that Kim Jong-un's birthday is in early January, and he likes to do something to commemorate that day almost every year, so we should expect some activity around that date.

The other element of this discussion is the fact that North Korea pays very close attention to what's happening in domestic politics here in the United States. I traveled to North Korean with Secretary Pompeo last year, just over a year ago, and North Korean officials were consistently asking me about domestic politics, about specific senators, about how Trump was being perceived. They are taking into consideration the fact that President Trump has now been impeached by the House, and they are playing some games here given the fact they haven't launched this weapons test that they promised they were going to launch as a Christmas gift.

KEILAR: The Christmas gift. The vase, potentially, as the president called it sort of facetiously. Kylie, thank you for that report.

And joining us now to talk more about this is CNN National Security Analyst Samantha Vinograd. What's your reaction to what the U.S. is perhaps planning? Would this be an effective deterrent?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATINAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Brianna, this is just good housekeeping. The military's job is to have con-ops or concept of operations ready to go for any likely military scenario. So having a range military options, going from a direct strike on North Korea, which is not likely, to any show of force, again, it's just basic good housekeeping by the military.

But let's remember, there is a lot of runway in between launching a military strike against North Korea and active conventional armed conflict in doing something like a joint military exercise with an ally like South Korea. In November, the secretary of defense was in East Asia and said that we have postponed yet another military exercise as, quote, an act of goodwill to keep negotiation space and time. So in the New Year, we could see the United States and South Korea resume those exercises to just to calibrate our own show of force while North Korea likely prepares for another test.

KEILAR: And North Korea -- and how will North Korea respond to these potential actions or potentially joint exercises?

VINOGRAD: Well, North Korea can dish it but they can't take it. They are totally fine conducting tests. And whenever we do something, which, by the way, our joint military exercises, from the U.S. government's standpoint, are defensive in nature, they are not offensive. So North Korea launches missile tests that directly threaten Americans on the Korean Peninsula, in Japan and elsewhere, our defensive military exercises are viewed as offensive by North Korean. They will likely view it as provocative and will likely turn to allies like China and Russia to decry any U.S. defensive measures.


KEILAR: I want to turn now to a report on The Washington Post that President Trump is actually searching for a replacement for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. We know Pompeo had potentially been eyeing the Senate seat in Kansas. But what would this departure mean, first of, for his prominent role in the Trump administration and more broadly for national security?

VINOGRAD: Well, Brianna, having been on the inside of an administration, these personnel rumors happen all the time, unfounded rumors, often, and a lot of times people that are angling for cabinet positions see these ideas in the media. So we have to take all of this with somewhat of a grain of salt.

Now, in any other scenario, Secretary of State Pompeo's departure could be a good thing for the State Department. Morale is at a low and he has really failed to defend the core of the foreign service for this impeachment inquiry and even before that. So if he departed and President Trump named somebody who had credibility and form the diplomatic community and is frankly willing stand up for the diplomatic community, that could be good for national security. That is unlikely.

So if Pompeo were to leave and President Trump names another stalwart ally of his own, that could do further harm to national security and introduce more uncertainty during this impeachment cycle.

KEILAR: Very good point. Samantha Vinograd, thank you so much.

KEILAR: And coming up, leaked video testimony about retired Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher. It's raising questions about his recent acquittal. The men on his team painting a disturbing picture of Gallagher in confidential interviews just published by The New York Times. You're going to hear some of the never before seen interviews, next.

And then a mass exodus in Northwest Syria, hundreds of thousands are fleeing the latest round of bombings. We'll have a live report.



KEILAR: Constant displacement has become a terrifying reality for hundreds of thousands of Syrians as airstrikes and barrel bombs pound men, women and children trying to outrun them. President Trump warned the Syrian regime and its Russian and Iranian allies against carnage in the Idlib Province, adding that Turkey is working hard to stop it.

Let's bring in CNN's Arwa Damon. She is joining us now from Istanbul. You tell us what's happening there, Arwa.

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, I mean, look, Turkey and Russia have extensively been trying to negotiate some sort of durable situation there with numerous ceasefires. They tried a so-called safe zone, a demilitarized zone, a safe belt around the province. None of this has worked. It has consistently fallen apart.

And at the core of it, those who are suffering the most, as always, is the civilian population.


DAMON: Abu Samari's (ph) children don't need an explanation anymore. They have done this so many times that the notion of a home, a warm bed to feel safe and snug, that ceased to exist long ago.

We go, we come back, Abu Samari (ph) says. We don't know where to go or where we will end up. It's an existence on the move, trying, praying that the bombs won't catch up to them or when they do that they will somehow survive.

But this time, it feels different. The bombing is more intense, final, deliberate. Entire areas in and around Idlib Province are emptying out again. Reports of 230,000 people are on the move.

The children couldn't sleep through the night. They were crying every hour, Abu Usama (ph) says, holding his daughter so young. This is all she knows. It's a cycle they all know well, one that starts with the renewed intense bombings, then the panic packing up, the overwhelming sense of feeling lost, not knowing where to go but having to flee, finding some sort of makeshift shelter.

I'm taking my family and we're heading to a tent, Ibrahim Alta (ph) says. Whether or not we can have a tent is still unknown.

The province Syria's last rebel stronghold has never been able to meet the humanitarian needs of the growing displaced population. One of the organizations, the Turkish IHH that operates them at Idlib says they don't have the resources.

The first night we came, we slept on the ground. We didn't even have blankets, this woman says, begging for a tent, a stove, anything.

Many end up just establishing themselves along the road once they think they have reached safety. But as the regime with the Russian backing closes in, that might not be far enough.


DAMON: And, Brianna, Idlib Province has a population of roughly of about 4 million, and more than half of them are displaced, either from outside of the province or from areas within the province that are already under bombardment. And what this bombardment is doing is crushed that population into an ever shrinking space.

And the problem is that as that space shrinks, Brianna, there is nowhere for them to go. They can't go into other parts of Syria. Turkey's border has been closed for years with Turkey saying it can't handle another humanitarian influx.