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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
Southwest Cancels More Than 2,500 Flights Today, Nearly As Many Tomorrow; Officials In Buffalo Prepare For A Possible Rapid Melt; Interview With Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX); Federal Prosecutors Are Investigating Finances Of Rep.-Elect George Santos; Bidens Make An Island Escape Ahead Of Consequential 2024 Announcement; Russian Tycoon Dies After Falling From Hotel In India; US To Require Travelers From China To Show Negative COVID-19 Test Result Before Flight. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired December 28, 2022 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SARA SIDNER, CNN HOST (voice over): According to the gun archive, at last count, more than 40,000 people have died in gun-related incidents.
SIDNER: It kind of makes you wonder what would happen if we treated gun violence like the cancer it has become, or the raging war that it clearly is. Thank you for joining us.
AC 360 starts right now.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: The travel nightmare that began before Christmas is still not over.
Pamela Brown here, in for Anderson tonight.
And when we left you last night, Southwest Airlines CEO was apologizing to all the passengers stranded by all the flights the company canceled due to the weather and its system meltdown.
Well, 24 hours later, there are about another 2,500 reasons to apologize as in about 2,500 more cancellations today and nearly as many tomorrow, and it has gotten to the point that Southwest has been busing some people from airports as far away as New York's LaGuardia and Denver to Houston.
Details now from CNN's Gabe Cohen.
GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tens of thousands of travelers still weathering Southwest's meltdown without a clear end in sight.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm hungry, I'm exhausted. I just want to go home. COHEN (voice over): The airline canceling more than 2,500 flights Wednesday, 62 percent of its schedule according to FlightAware with a similar wave of cancellations already shaping up for Thursday.
ASHLEY MAYS, STRANDED SOUTHWEST CUSTOMER: This has been a complete nightmare. I trusted Southwest with my worldly belongings and to get me from Point A to Point B, and I just feel like I was robbed at this point.
COHEN (voice over): Ashley Mays says she is stranded in Baltimore with no luggage. Her flight home to Texas canceled Christmas morning. She says she was hoping to get back to spend time at her dying grandmother's side.
MAYS: I couldn't make it, and now she passed away as of yesterday. I will never get that time back to at least hold her hand or you know spend that time with her, and you know she spent her last few days just waiting on me.
COHEN (voice over): Southwest says this chaos began with winter weather, but the airline's antiquated systems struggled to track their planes and crews and connect them resulting in this near weeks' worth of canceled flights and missing luggage as they reposition those crews.
BOB JORDAN, CEO, SOUTHWEST: We reached a decision point to significantly reduce our flying to catch up.
COHEN (voice over): And the airline's own employees want answers.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It has been absolutely horrific. The most despicable working conditions that you can imagine.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is going to continue until there is a sweeping change to the way Southwest operates.
COHEN (voice over): Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg vowing to hold the airline accountable, especially after staffing issues caused problems last summer.
PETE BUTTIGIEG, US SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION: They provided commitments in writing, including Southwest that they would go above the previous level of what you do to take care of customers with things like covering the cost if you get stuck and you need a hotel or a meal, in addition to rebooking you.
COHEN (voice over): Still, thousands of passengers are stranded and struggling.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, I hate Southwest. I hate them.
COHEN (voice over): But amid the chaos, we've seen some remarkable gestures. I met 72-year-old Pam Shelby Tuesday stranded and sleeping at Baltimore's Airport for days.
PAM SHELBY, STRANDED PASSENGER: I'm scared I'm not going to get out of here and I'm by myself.
COHEN (voice over): A Good Samaritan saw her story on TV and bought her a ticket home to Alabama on another airline leaving Wednesday night.
SHELBY: I just want to go take shower and sleep and get this out of my mind.
COHEN (on camera): And that person who bought you the ticket? What did that mean to you?
SHELBY: She was a godsend. She was my angel.
BROWN: And angel indeed. Let's hope that Good Samaritan gets reimbursed by Southwest, right?
All right, so Gabe Cohen joins us now at Baltimore's BWI Airport. Gabe, what is the projection for when things will get better?
COHEN: Well, Pam, that is what everyone is wondering. So no official update today from Southwest Airlines on that, but we can tell you that an official with their pilots union is telling CNN they expect a mostly full schedule for Southwest by Friday.
And in a statement, the Chicago Department of Aviation says based on their conversations with Southwest officials, they are expecting the airline to be close to 100 percent by the weekend.
So relief may be coming, but bear in mind FlightAware is still showing 2,300 Southwest cancellations for tomorrow and we are still talking to so many passengers who are looking for their lost luggage or in many cases still stranded trying to figure out how to get home -- Pam.
BROWN: Yes, still a mess. Gabe Cohen, thank you so much.
And as terrible as it is, if flight delays were the only part of this winter weather story, it would be a blessing. Sadly though, it is not.
Upwards of 62 storm-related fatalities nationwide, at least 37 now in the Buffalo area where the fear is, it will continue to climb as emergency crews make their way through neighborhoods that are just now becoming accessible.
CNN's Miguel Marquez is there.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Buffalo digging out. Officials here responding to criticism they should have done more.
MARK POLONCARZ, ERIE COUNTY EXECUTIVE: Thirty-five-mile per hour wind gusts for three hours straight with less than a quarter mile visibility. This was an extreme blizzard, maybe the Category 5 of blizzards.
MARQUEZ (voice over): Casey Maccarone's mother, Monique Alexander died in the storm on Christmas Eve. The Buffalo native who had been through many snowstorms here thought this one was the same.
CASEY MACCARONE, MOTHER DIED IN SNOWSTORM: We were waiting for her to come home. I knew something was wrong right away though.
MARQUEZ (voice over): A simple decision on any other day, life threatening in this storm.
MACCARONE: My kids, they lost their grandmother and that was her most important role in her life was being a good grandmother, and now, they just have memories.
MARQUEZ (voice over): In Erie County alone, at least 37 killed in extreme weather in an area accustomed to major snowstorms.
For every person who died, dozens of stories of those who stepped up and say friends, neighbors, even strangers.
CRAIG ELSTON, OWNER, C&C CUTZ BARBERSHOP: This is something to always do. I hope everybody. There are people out there dying and people freezing to death in a car.
MARQUEZ (voice over): Craig Elston was open for business when the extreme conditions started up.
ELSTON: If you need shelter, come to 707 Fillmore. You can get warm, heat, and electricity.
MARQUEZ (voice over): He ended up hosting up to 40 people over two days at his C&C Cutz Barbershop.
ELSTON: We've got to come together, and a lot of times, people are selfish. So at that moment, I was just thinking about clearly not all this stuff. I was just thinking about just keeping people warm. It was really that simple.
MARQUEZ (voice over): Then there was Sha'Kyra Aughtry who heard a man she didn't know screaming for help.
SHA'KYRA AUGHTRY: His hands had big ice balls on it and then having those ice balls on his hand, we brought him in my house.
MARQUEZ (voice over): Joe White who is developmentally disabled, lost in whiteout conditions. Aughtry didn't know him, but she saved him.
AUGHTRY: We've got to get some help. He has gangrene on his hands. I'm going to -- he is going to lose his fingers.
MARQUEZ (voice over): A driving ban remains in effect for Buffalo as the city recovers from a storm that will be one for the record books. The airport is now reopened as Buffalo comes to grips with a brutal year.
POLONCARZ: The tragic stories, the losses of individuals in our community, and it is heartbreaking. It's a gut punch. 2022 has been a horrible year for our community in so many different ways. I can't wait until 2023 starts.
BROWN: And Miguel Marquez joins us now. So on that note, Miguel, have officials in Buffalo started to analyze what they can learn from the storm and improve on for the next time?
MARQUEZ: They certainly have and this is going to be such a broad discussion about how they can improve the next time. The beginning is the storm itself, those arctic conditions and that Lake Effect snow that they get here combined with the wind creating whiteout conditions where people couldn't see literally just a few feet in front of them.
They have to get better at reinforcing the fact that this is going to be a different storm than others, and then snow removal, everywhere from Buffalo City to other parts, they are trying to figure out how to remove snow better, what machines they can get to remove snow better.
And when a city like this gets locked down, people who need dialysis, people who had food issues, people who can't get out of their homes. How do you take care of those people in a situation that comes on so suddenly, and so severely for so long -- Pamela.
BROWN: You can't always rely on someone like Aughtry who was in your piece, that Good Samaritan. You know, you can't always rely on that for sure.
Miguel Marquez, thank you so much.
And joining us now Buffalo Police Commissioner, Joseph Gramaglia. Commissioner, you called this the worst storm you've ever seen in your life. Tell us an update on the search, rescue, and recovery efforts tonight.
JOSEPH GRAMAGLIA, BUFFALO POLICE COMMISSIONER: Yes. Thank you for having me on.
I've lived here all my life. I've lived through a lot of Lake Effect snow storms, blizzards, and this is something that we have never seen before. It absolutely devastated our community and the response has been very difficult.
Friday, we worked very diligently. Our police officers with our plow operators, our frontend loaders, they go out and do rescues of people that were stranded, but once Friday night late into the night came, we were completely debilitated. We couldn't move.
Heavy plows were getting stuck. You just couldn't move anywhere. It was complete absolute gridlock for days. You couldn't drive through this. It was a different kind of snow. Once the snow started to subside a little bit, we were able to get our search and rescue teams and unfortunately, recovery teams. We used our scuba dive team because of the equipment that they have and the warm weather gear, our SWAT team. We worked very collaboratively with the New York State Police with their SWAT team.
GRAMAGLIA: We got other -- Rochester Police brought their dive team and a lot of State agencies, State Police agencies and then the Guard, and we organized a very calculated, organized, collaborative effort to go out and respond to 9-1-1 calls for stranded vehicles, for dead bodies, check the welfares of houses, and we've been doing that nonstop for days.
BROWN: Have you been able to go through all the 9-1-1 calls that came in during the storm and wellness checks to make sure all of those are accounted for?
GRAMAGLIA: So we have. It was a tremendous effort. We were backed up over 1,100 calls. We had dispatchers in, not only at a Dispatch Center, but actually at some of the District Houses.
We have police officers that were former dispatchers and before they became police officers, and we got them reactivated in their dispatch mode because they knew how to work the computer system and it was a team effort.
All five of our Police Districts worked through all the calls. Our search, rescue, and recovery teams handled all of the check the welfare calls, all the car searches, and the recovery. It's a grueling, gruesome task that they had to do, but they recovered a substantial amount of bodies and it is terrible.
BROWN: That is just so sad.
And now you have to look ahead to what's coming down, right? I mean, temperatures are expected to rise in the coming days. How is your department preparing for potential ice jam flooding?
GRAMAGLIA: You know, so, you know, I think the one thing is that the lake and the river have not frozen yet, that actually is the cause of the Lake Effect snow. But when it is frozen or thaws out, that causes the ice jam flooding. But we're obviously going to deal with a lot of runoff from the melting snow and then, you know, the other unfortunate reality with the melting snow is that we fully believe that we're going to find more victims in the snow.
There were 9-1-1 calls for bodies that when our search and rescue and recovery teams finally got to those locations, you know, they couldn't find anybody because you've got larger areas and you've got anywhere from four or five, six, ten-foot snowdrifts covering large areas.
When the snow melts, we know we're going to have another gruesome task ahead of us. We know we're going to find more. BROWN: Clearly, the city was unmatched for the storm, but what do you think could have been done differently, if anything, to help save lives? It's just -- it's so devastating all around that, as you said, it is the worst storm you've ever seen. You've been in Buffalo all of your life.
But as you look back and reflect, is there anything that can be done differently the next time?
GRAMAGLIA: You know, I think the community has to take us seriously when we say there's a driving ban in effect. You know, we've been out for days in this, you know, getting through the best we can and the amount of people that were still out driving it just -- you know, it's unfortunate.
But when we say there is a driving ban, when we give out the warnings to not go out, it has to be taken seriously. And you know, unfortunately, you know, we have to do driving bans at times, and they're not always adhered to.
So it just hampers our rescue and recovery efforts, but it also hampers the plowing efforts. It's like a serpentine of abandoned cars in some areas. So we've been out towing for days. Our DPW workers with the high lifts have been out there trying to clean up the streets. They have made a significant impact.
And you know, for the first few days that we were able to actually get out there, our DPW workers in the plow trucks, and the high loaders, the frontend loaders, they weren't out there looking to clear streets, they were actually clearing the way, paving a way for our search teams to actually get to bodies and get to rescues and get to these check the welfare calls.
They have had a solid effort for the last two days of clearing streets. I've been all over the city for the last several days and they have done a very good job of clearing.
BROWN: Well, Commissioner, thank you for all your efforts, as well as a law enforcement member. We appreciate it.
And up next, a live report from the Southern border where they are bracing for the impact of more border crossings in the wake of one key Supreme Court decision and perhaps a final ruling shortly.
And then later tonight, new reporting on potentially serious legal trouble for the New York Congressman-elect with the unbelievable resume and life story as it literally, it cannot be believed.
BROWN: Repercussions on the Southern border tonight in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling leaving Trump-era Title 42 restrictions in place for now.
The decision leaves thousands of migrants in limbo and many more asylum seekers in Mexico waiting to cross.
CNN's Leyla Santiago is in El Paso for us tonight.
So Leyla, what are you hearing about the Supreme Court decision from the people who are trying to seek asylum in the United States?
LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, you can hear the anxiety in their voices, the disappointment by just saying the number 42. I mean, people here are definitely aware of what that is, and still, there are still a lot of questions as to what the impact will be. A lot of them are seeking clarity, trying to find out how they can move forward with their future plans.
And you know what's really interesting is, I've spent time talking to single men here, as well as families with children and toddlers. Many of them will tell you about their journeys and months and months trying to get to this very point and now feeling like they don't know exactly what the next step will be because they still feel very much in limbo here -- Pamela.
BROWN: Clearly, there is a lot of activity around where you are, just if you would, paint a picture for us what it is like and what are the cities like El Paso doing to try to deal with this surge of people on the border.
SANTIAGO: Right. So where we are right now, it is a church. There was a shelter right behind me and you will see sidewalks that are lined with folks, women, and children, waiting to be let into this shelter right here for the night, but not everyone will be let in.
So there will be families that you will see under blankets. There will be individuals here that will try to kind of set up an area to stay overnight and it is definitely -- the temperatures are dropping. It is getting very much windy.
So you know, the City of El Paso has pretty much seen this and seen that this necessarily isn't a deterrent what was announced yesterday, so they are moving forward with their contingency plans.
SANTIAGO: They are working to turn two vacant schools into makeshift shelters, and you also have Customs and Border Protection that are setting up temporary facilities to try to increase capacity for processing some of these migrants.
BROWN: But of course, none of this is a permanent solution to this.
Leyla Santiago, thank you so much.
And perspective now on that note from Texas Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar who represents the border district of Laredo.
Congressman, thank you for your time tonight. Do you think this was the right decision by the Supreme Court? And what kind of impact will this have on the border in the near term?
REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D-TX): Well, you know, the decision by the Supreme Court only buys the administration time to come up with the right policy. They're not there -- the Supreme Court has not the job to legislate. That's really up to Congress and to the administration.
I will say this, President Obama did not have Title 42 and he was able to manage the border without Title 42. So there's a way of doing this.
Anyway, I'll give you three points, three things that have to be done. We need better efficiency at the border so we can process the migrants in a more efficient way at a one-stop center, number one. Number two, you've got to have the increased engagement with foreign countries, so they can be returned, because we don't have the facilities that keep all the people. I mean, the viewers can see what's happening in El Paso.
And the third thing is, you've got to provide incentives so they can go to the port of entries and disincentives if they don't do it the right way. For example, we did that to the Venezuelans a couple of months ago, there were about sixteen hundred, eighteen hundred Venezuelans that would come to the border in a day. Now, it's been reduced to about sixty-five, eighty-five a day.
So there are policies that can be implemented. President Obama did it without Title 42 and I would like to remind people about that.
BROWN: And as you know, the White House has said, look, this is a problem for Congress to solve. Both sides of the aisle are calling for immigration reform, yet it seems like nothing can get done. Are there solutions that both Republicans and Democrats can agree on here?
I know you laid out some, but what are the roadblocks that keep causing agreements to break down?
CUELLAR: Look, immigration reform, I support immigration reform. Look, our Republican friends are not going to come to the table on that, because they want to have the border secure. I understand that.
But keep in mind that we've added moneys. If you look at what President Trump got on appropriations on Homeland, he got about $42 billion in discretionary funding. This last appropriation bill that we just passed last week, it is more than double the amount, over $86 billion.
So we can put moneys in there, but you've got to have the right policies and those three things that I just gave you, the administration can do that. President Obama did that without Title 42 or without immigration reform. The administration needs to stand up, they need to do the right thing and they need to understand that we, at the border, the border communities like El Paso, Eagle Pass, and other parts, we are taking the stress because of the inaction of the administration.
I laid out three things that they can do right now, if they just had the fortitude to do it.
BROWN: Last week, you said that the administration is going to do something on this "very soon." Can you elaborate on that? What if any executive action specifically can the White House take at this point? What were you alluding to then?
CUELLAR: Well, what I'm alluding to is they are actually -- I think, they're looking at something the way I've laid it out, something similar, but I think there is a debate between White House staffers that are a little bit more progressive than the Homeland Department.
If they let the Homeland Department do what they need to do and do their job, I think they can implement a policy like this, where you can treat the migrants with respect and dignity, and give them their day in Court at one of these joint processing centers and at the same time, enforce the law, which means that if they have to be returned, they have to be returned. I mean, that's what the law is, otherwise, why have laws on the books?
So we can be compassionate and still enforce the laws at the same time.
BROWN: All right, Congressman Cuellar, thank you again.
Up next, on top of the by now almost countless false claims Congressman-elect George Santos has been tied to, there is now something far more serious. I have just learned from speaking to a source tonight that he is now under Federal investigation. We're going to have details on that, up next.
BROWN: New reporting just in tonight spells trouble for New York Republican Congressman-elect George Santos. The man with almost as many lies on his resume as lies on his resume.
He is now under Federal investigation by the US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York. A source familiar with the matter tells me tonight that prosecutors are looking into his finances.
The Congressman-elect as you know has faced questions about his wealth and loans totaling more than $700,000.00 he made to his 2022 campaign.
We have asked for a comment from a representative for Mr. Santos, but so far have not heard back. And again, this is merely the latest of many shoes to drop.
We've learned as well about a criminal charge he faced in 2011 in Brazil for alleged embezzlement. It was put on hold when authorities couldn't locate him.
Santos told "The New York Post," "I am not a criminal here, not here or in Brazil or any jurisdiction in the world." He did not say whether he'd ever been charged.
And he also answered some other especially tough questions last night in a venue he might have thought was friendlier, until he found himself on the defensive again.
More on all of this now from CNN, Eva McKend.
TULSI GABBARD, FOX NEWS CHANNEL HOST: These are blatant lies. My question is, do you have no shame?
EVAN MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER (voice over): Incoming Republican Congressman George Santos facing his most contentious interview yet as he tries to explain lies he told about his life while campaigning for Congress.
GEORGE SANTOS (R), NEW YORK CONGRESSMAN-ELECT: Look, I agree with what you're saying, and as I stated, and I continue, we can debate my resume and how I worked with firms such as Goldman. It is very debatable.
GABBARD: Is it debatable or is it just false?
SANTOS: No, it's not false at all. It's debatable.
MCKEND (voice over): Santos trying to minimize his lies as mere embellishment. In an interview with FOX News, his answers getting strong pushback from host, Tulsi Gabbard.
GABBARD: It's hard to imagine how they could possibly trust your explanations when you're not really even willing to admit the depths of your deception to them.
MCKEND (voice-over): And tonight, CNN's K File uncovering even more of Santos's falsehoods, claiming he attended an elite prep school.
SANTOS: They sent me to a good prep school, so and which was Horace Mann Prep in the Bronx. And on my senior year of prep school, unfortunately, my parents fell on hard times. I left school four months to graduation.
MCKEND (voice-over): But a spokesperson for Horace Mann telling CNN there is no evidence Santos ever attended the school and further fabrications about his family heritage.
SANTOS: We don't carry the Ukrainian last name for a lot of people who are descendants of World War II refugees or survivors of the Holocaust, so a lot of names and paperwork were changed in name of survival. So, I don't carry the family last name that would have been Zabrovsky.
MCKEND (voice-over): A genealogist previously told CNN there's no sign of Jewish and/or Ukrainian heritage and no indication of name changes along the way. But Santos appeared to use the alias Anthony Zabrovsky for fundraising for a pet charity. Santos insisting, despite the controversy that he intends to serve in Congress.
SANTOS: Now, it's going to be incumbent upon me to deliver on those results, and I look forward to serving --
GABBARD: You're exactly right.
SANTOS: -- (INAUDIBLE) my district.
MCKEND (voice-over): House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy remaining silent on the matter. Even his fellow incoming GOP House members from New York issued statements criticizing Santos's lack of transparency. The most recent one, Congressman-elect Mike Lawler, urging Santos to cooperate with any investigations and called on him to apologize, calling the whole controversy a distraction. Santos also under scrutiny for how he made his money and how he was able to loan his campaign more than $700,000. Santos telling news outlet Semafor he earned his money in the capital introduction business and did deal building and specialty consulting for high-net-worth individuals.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Eva McKend joins us now. So, Eva, in addition to the Justice Department, congressman-elect Santos has also caught the attention of the Nassau County District Attorney. Tell us about that.
MCKEND: He sure has, Pam. The Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly, who I should note is a Republican, has pledged to get to the bottom of this. She characterized the fabrications as stunning in a statement, adding, the residents of Nassau County and other parts of the third district must have an honest and accountable representative in Congress. She says no one is above the law and if a crime was committed in the county, it will be prosecuted. Multiple law enforcement officers now looking into this matter. Pam.
BROWN: Eva McKend, thanks so much.
And joining us now, former New York democratic Congressman Steve Israel, who once represented most of the same Long Island district to Santos. He's also the author of a new piece in the Atlantic, How a Perfectly Normal New York Suburb Elected a Conman. And he currently directs the Cornell Institute of Politics and Global Affairs. Also, with us tonight, CNN senior legal analyst, Elie Honig, a former assistant U.S. attorney.
All right, so, Elie, I'm told tonight that federal prosecutors in New York, they are investigating Congressman-elect Santos and his finances. What do you think they'll be looking for, and how does this work with the DA also investigating?
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: So, Pam, in my experience as a prosecutor, fraud tends to come in batches. It's rare that you see someone just commit a one-off fraud. When you have someone who's been so willing to tell such outrageous lies, there's a reasonable basis to think he might have lied elsewhere. Now, it is not a federal crime or a state crime to lie to the public when you're running for office. I don't recommend it, but it's not a crime. However, it could be a crime if he obtained any of his money by fraud. And he went from reportedly very little worth to multimillions of dollars of worth in a very short time. It could be a crime if he made false statements about his financial situation or other material false statements on his financial disclosure forms that have to go in to federal authorities. And it could be a crime if he used these false statements or false corporations in order to get around to evade campaign finance rules.
So, I think there's a lot of basis for the Feds to be involved. And as your second question, Pam, the Fed should be what we call deconflicting with state and local authorities, meaning make sure you're not stepping on each other's toes, make sure that you understand who's looking at what, so you avoid any conflict situation.
BROWN: So, Congressman Israel, how does a federal investigation into Santos finances now complicate his situation politically even more that, you know, that all the lies already have?
STEVE ISRAEL (D-NY) FMR REPRESENTATIVE: Well, everything about Mr. Santos house has been complicated. He managed to pull the wool over the eyes of an entire congressional district. I represented this district for 16 years, Pam. I chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for four of those years. I can tell you, Long Islanders, they will tolerate disagreement with their Member of Congress. They will not tolerate dishonesty. And his dishonesty thrived in a climate of complacency. Nobody thought that this guy could win. The opposition research on him was there. The local media didn't pick it up because they thought it was a tree that fell in the forest.
Well, guess what, by the time they picked it up, he won, and the tree is thunderous. He's going to be sworn in on January 3rd. Kevin McCarthy cannot risk having one less Republican vote. He will be sworn in one of the most ironic moments on the floor of the House of Representatives. He will take his oath office, and immediately after that will trigger investigations by the Congressional Ethics Committee and by the Office of Congressional Ethics.
BROWN: But Elie, does the fact that federal prosecutors are looking into him and the DA investigation, is there anything that could prevent him from taking office? What else can you tell us about how his position in Congress could impact these investigations?
HONIG: Yes, Pam, this is a bit of a blind spot in our legal system. So, first of all, you cannot impeach. There is no impeachment of a member of Congress even if somebody is charged with the crime. Even if a member of Congress is convicted of a crime, that doesn't necessarily get rid of them, kick them out office. The only legal way this can happen is by expulsion. Meaning the House of Representatives itself would have to vote by a two-thirds majority to essentially kick him out. Now, that's not going to happen without at least some bipartisan support, including substantial support from Republicans, who, of course, soon will be the majority. So, it's really a political issue as much as a legal one here.
BROWN: And I want to talk more to you, Congressman. You just offer so much insight into this because as we just were talking about, you represented much of the district where George Santos was elected. If you would expand on your intimate knowledge of the district and the voters who live there and how you think he was able to get away with running a campaign based on lies. I know you touched on it with, you know, the media, didn't picked up some of the (INAUDIBLE) research. The bottom line is, I mean, look, let's not forget the culprit here is Santos himself, right?
ISRAEL: Well, of course the culprit is Santos, but I have to say there were some co-conspirators. For example, the Republican Party, that nominated Mr. Santos that put his ideological extremism ahead of any research as to whether he was fit for office. You know, our democracy is so frayed, right now that fundamental questions of fitness and truth are just put in the background as long as you are extreme enough. And so, the Republican Party locally, which spans three counties on Long Island, nominates this guy, knowing nothing about him, and frankly, not even caring all that much about him.
The second problem is opposition research was done by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The red flags were there, but we were in a climate, as I said before, of complacency when Mr. Santos's opponent, Robert Zimmerman, Pam, tried to share that opposition research, many people said, what difference does it make? He's not going to win. This is a Democratic district, Joe Biden would have won it by eight points. We are not going to spend attention and bandwidth investigating this guy when he's going to lose. Because he got away with that, because he was able to perpetrate this fraud on the not only constituents of New York Three, but the American people, he ends up winning.
BROWN: And when you talk to people in your district, the -- your old district that you used to represent, what are they saying to you about this?
ISRAEL: They're just stunned. You know, people say, we just never thought this could happen. Again, it's a very moderate district. Pam very moderate. People are generally left of center on social issues, right of center on taxes and spending. They kind of land in the center. They didn't believe this could happen because it's never happened before. And I think we have to go way back in the history books. I've not yet found it to find a level of deceit as deep and as widespread as we saw from Mr. Santos.
BROWN: Yes, I mean, from what we know, he created a totally different human being, and that is what the voters were voting on.
Steve Israel, Ellie Honig, thank you so much. The story will no doubt continue.
So, coming up, when is an island getaway not just a chance to relax? Well, when you're the President of the United States and you're there to make a very big decision about 2024. Coming up, two Democrats with two very different opinions about whether the President should run again. Up next.
BROWN: Well, the first family is hitting the beach in St. Croix, a longtime favorite vacation spot for the Bidens enjoying the warm air, sandy beaches, and the calm before the 2024 storm. Sources tell CNN that the President has made his decision he will run again. That a top priority of this trip for the Bidens, family and top advisers is to recharge and strategize ahead of his reelection announcement.
Perspective on that now from on this consequential decision from two CNN political commentators, democratic strategist, Paul Begala and former Democratic South Carolina lawmaker, Bakari Sellers. Great to see you both.
Paul, starting with you. When you think about what a 2024 run might look like for President Biden, how different is the political landscape now?
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, he's the incumbent, and you know, we just came through an election with everybody thinking we're moving in the wrong direction, and yet we reelected all the incumbents, 96% of governors who ran for reelection won, 97% of members of the House who ran won, and 100% of senators never happened in American history. So actually, people right now, I think, are afraid of extremists and comforted by incumbents. So, in that sense, plus, he's really done a terrific job. He's done more in two years than somebody half his age could have done in four. So, I think he's got the windows back that way. I mean, I like his odds for reelection.
BROWN: Of course, a big difference this time around would also be the fact that he would be doing the job that he would then also be running for, which is a lot more on his plate.
Bakari, you've said that Biden was the perfect foil for Trump in the last election cycle. Can he transcend that perception moving into the primaries and beyond if Trump is not his opponent.
BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's going to be very difficult. And I agree with Paul Begala. I mean, we agree 97% of the time since throwing out these random statistics tonight. So let me say we agree 97, 98% of the time. I don't know if that's accurate. Somebody will fact check us later. However, this is actually going to be a more arduous task. I think one of the things that he and his advisors are talking to, his advisors don't necessarily talk to me, but I will tell you, one of the things they're talking to the President, people like his sister, his wife, et cetera, that they're asking the President is, can you actually take on a full campaign? That is the biggest difference between 2024 and 2020. 2020 was an abbreviated campaign, we had COVID there weren't as many events the primary cycle was cut short. There weren't as many public events necessary during the general election cycle. I think the President of the United States deserves, based upon his
successes. Everybody will tell you this has been probably objectively, one of the more successful presidents we've had in American history throughout his first two years. But the question that people are going to ask is if it's Donald Trump and Joe Biden, do you want two octogenarians running for President against each other? I think he wins that matchup. If it's something new versus something old, then the President has to ask himself. Joe Biden literally has to ask himself, I ran for President to be a bridge. Did I do that job successfully? Is it time for me to move on? Is there somebody to take my place? These are all questions he has to ask and answer. Hopefully he answers them while he's in St. Croix, because I'm jealous because I'm in Charlotte.
BROWN: St. Croix would be lovely, wouldn't it? So, you mentioned the age, you know, Paul, Biden would be what, 82 years old in November of 2024. Do you think that should give voters pause or factor in at all.
BEGALA: They're going to ask about it, especially Democrats. You know, we made John Kennedy president, who was 43, and Bill Clinton who was 46, and Barack Obama is 47. Carter was the old man of my lifetime. He was 52. Joe will be 82. So, I think it's a fair question, but I think his answer is going to be like what the kids say. By the way, a little respect, Bakari, I was Coach of the Year for my kids youth basketball league scoreboard, right? What's he done, what's he put up on the board. And it's a lot. But Bakari points out to the conversation that I hope they are having.
You know, I've known a lot of people run for president. They ask two questions, am I better than the other knuckleheads running? And can I win? And those are important questions they need to get to the steeper level that Bakari is steering them to, right. Can I go through the heartbreak of the investigations they're going to have into his son, Hunter. It'll help him politically candidly, but it'll break his heart. I think, personally, every family has wrestled with addiction. Second, is he up for the very arduous task of running for president? Much more aggressively, I think, than he had to, as Bakari points out, because of COVID. And then third, by the way, he's got a day job running the greatest superpower in world history during a time of war and inflation.
So those are the deeper questions. I don't know if they're getting to them. I think they are, but generally my experience has been they ask those other two questions, can I win? Am I better than the other jerk?
BROWN: So, Bakari, if you were there, if you were one of his advisors talking to him, what would you say?
SELLERS: I mean, the first question I'd ask him is, are you up to it? I mean, let's have an honest conversation. Are you up to running for President of the United States? You run for president multiple times before and lead the United States of America, you know, through inflation, through these other issues, through war, negotiating, Ukraine and Russia. Can you do those things? I mean that's the first question. And can you do them all extremely well? And the second thing is, what is necessary on your legacy? I mean that's a question that I think Joe Biden it will resonate with Joe Biden. Like, what do you want your legacy to be? I mean, for a long period of time, people, you were very -- you were a guy we all loved. You were Uncle Joe, you were somebody who made some gas, but you ran for president a lot. You were vice president for Barack Obama. And then oh, my God (INAUDIBLE) Donald Trump. You were the person who took down xenophobia, racism, et cetera.
What do you want your legacy to be? And I think you have an amazing opportunity to continue that legacy and build upon it by passing the torch. Or do you actually want to run against to Ron DeSantis or do you want to run against somebody else who poses a significant risk to your legacy? That's the question you have to ask.
BROWN: All right. Bakari Sellers, Paul Begala great conversation. Thank you both.
Still ahead tonight, the mystery surrounding the death of another wealthy Russian since Putin began his war in Ukraine. CNN's Melissa Bell has the details, up next.
BROWN: Another suspicious death of a wealthy Russian with ties to Vladimir Putin. Local police believe he died by suicide, although no postmortem report has been released. And it happened just two days after a friend and travel companion died of a heart attack. It's one of a number of suspicious deaths among high profile Russian businessmen since the war in Ukraine began.
CNN's Melissa Bell has the details.
MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRRESPONDENT (voice-over): They were part of the Russian elite, some at one point critical of the war in Ukraine, several died after falling through windows. At least 13 dead in suspicious circumstances this year. The latest Russian tycoon to plunge to his death, Pavel Antov who died on Saturday in India. Over the summer, Antov denied criticizing the war in a WhatsApp message. His death and that of a friend he was vacationing with, now under investigation by Indian authorities. Another tycoon to fall from a window, this time in Moscow, was Ravil Maganov, the head of Russia's oil giant. In March, Lukoil released a statement calling for the soonest termination of the armed conflict.
Maganov was just one of several Russian energy executives whose deaths have raised questions. Some of the insiders who've died have done so alongside their families, like Sergey Protosenya and Vladislav Avayev, both of whom were said to have murdered relatives before killing themselves.
The Kremlin has remained tight lipped, but Vladimir Putin's message has been chillingly clear.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translation): It's safer at home. Those who decided to ignore this obvious call lost hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars in the West. This is how much of a so-called safe haven fortunes it turned out to be.
BELL (voice-over): Some of those who've stayed at home, like oligarch Oleg Deripaska, have been more fortunate without mincing their words about Ukraine.
OLEG DERIPASKA, RUSSIAN OLIGARCH (through translation): We have a ban that what was achieved in the we're waiting for victory, winning what? This is, of course, a colossal mistake.
BELL (voice-over): The outspokenness of some of those closest to the regime, a measure of what they stood to lose. And while no ties between the Kremlin and these deaths have been proven in court, for many, they stir fears of Russia's reach.
BELL: Now, suspected political assassinations, both inside and outside of Russia are nothing new. Pamela. What is different is the pace with which those suspected incidents have been happening. It is, of course, tempting to link those to criticism only of the war in Ukraine. The truth is, some may be more linked to the economy and the need for the Kremlin to keep its hands on those most precious assets, those oil and gas revenues that continue to bring so much into Moscow. Pam.
BROWN: All right. Melissa Bell, thank you. Coming up, details on the decision to require COVID testing for travelers from China.
BROWN: U.S. officials today said all travelers originating in China will be required to show a negative COVID test before flying to the States. China has been battling a surge since it dismantled its strict zero COVID policy. And the new U.S. rule will take effect January 5th.
Coming up next, all the best and worst moments of 2022, a "CNN SPECIAL REPORT ALL THE BEST, ALL THE WORST," starts now.