Return to Transcripts main page

Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

January 6 Committee Releases Transcripts From 19 Additional Witnesses; Representative-Elect Santos Facing Federal Investigations As Questions Arise Over Claim Mother Lost Her Life After 9/11; Russia Launches Large-Scale Missile Attack On Ukraine; Kyiv Residents Defiant In Face Of Massive Missile Attack By Russia; Southwest Expects "To Resume A Full Schedule Of Flights With Minimal Disruptions" Tomorrow; Death Toll At 39 In Buffalo Region; Officials Expect It To Rise Further; Good Samaritan Delivers Essentials To Buffalo Residents In Need; Brazilian Soccer Legend Dies At Age 82. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired December 29, 2022 - 20:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The royalties for, "That's What Friends Are For" changed the trajectory of the epidemic in America.

DIONNE WARWICK, SINGER: I did what I could do, and that's the way I move to this very day.


SARA SIDNER, CNN HOST: That's going to be good. Don't miss "Dionne Warwick: Don't Make Me Over" New Year's Day at 9:00 PM.

And thank you so much for joining us.

AC 360 starts right now.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Days before Republicans assume the majority in the House and likely dissolve the January 6 Committee, members released a new batch of testimony involving efforts of those closest to the former President and their attempts to overturn the election.

I'm Pamela Brown, in for Anderson tonight, and included in the new transcripts is testimony by Donald Trump, Jr. and remarks about what he believed was a "sophisticated legal rationale to overturn the election" as in overturn the will of the people. One nearly identical to what his father's allies would soon attempt.

And there was also some rather unflattering testimony involving First Lady Melania Trump's opinion of Trump, Jr. and others in her husband's inner circle.

Also tonight, new details of a purported conversation involving Senator Lindsey Graham, who said he would become a champion of these baseless election fraud claims if the President's allies could "just give me five dead voters."

It is a lot to unpack, so let us start with CNN political correspondent, Sara Murray, who has been digging through these transcripts all week for us.

Sara, what more can you tell us about these new details from Donald Trump, Jr.'s testimony to the Committee?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pam, I mean, this was interesting, because we have, of course, previously reported on the Mark Meadows text, you know, the former Trump White House Chief of Staff who was so important to this investigation, and Donald Trump's testimony really digs into those.

You know, we previously reported that Donald Trump, Jr. had sent a text to Mark Meadows essentially laying out a way to keep Donald Trump in power, keep him in the White House. It was very similar to the strategy that his allies actually put forward, as you just said.

So the Committee is asking Donald Trump, Jr. essentially, why did you send this text? And this is what he says he says, "Perhaps in reading it, it was the most sophisticated, you know, and detailed, and again, about things I don't necessarily, you know, know too much about, but it sounded plausible. And I wanted to make sure that we were looking into the issues brought up in the text."

Now, Donald Trump, Jr. notes in his interview with a Committee that he thought this was like a copy and paste job. He was not the one who wrote it. And that's what his attorney had told CNN originally when we reported on this Mark Meadows text -- Pam.

BROWN: And we are also learning Sara, about with Senator Lindsey Graham's offer to support them President Trump's election fraud claims, what more can you tell us about that?

MURRAY: Yes, I mean, obviously, we know the South Carolina Senator, a Republican has been a close ally of the former President. This really gives us an indication of how much he wanted to be out there supporting Donald Trump as he was trying to challenge the election.

This was from a transcript with an interview with Christina Bobb, who was a member of Trump's legal team at the time and she has recounted in conversation she had with the senator. And the senator says, "You know, just give me five dead votes. Give me you know, an example of illegals voting, just give me a very small snapshot that I can take and champion."

And this is, of course, interesting, because you didn't need five dead votes to overturn the election, you needed a whole lot more votes for Donald Trump to be the victor in this. But what Lindsey Graham essentially saying is, you know, give me something symbolic that I can go out there and talk about and use in Donald Trump's favor.

BROWN: Yes, so I can continue to sow doubt about the election results. All right, Sara Murray, stay with us. I want to bring in CNN contributor, John Dean, former White House Counsel for President Nixon; and CNN political contributor, David Urban, a Republican strategist and former Trump campaign adviser.

All right, so David, you heard Sara lay it out. We all know the former President and his allies were obsessed with finding voter fraud, but now, we're learning more about what was conspiring behind the scenes with a sitting Senator, Lindsey Graham, saying according to this testimony, "Give me five dead voters, that I can go out and champion." Your reaction.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, so what I think Lindsey Graham was saying is give me something credible, give me something plausible that I can go out and take to people not just some hearsay, not some scatterbrained notions that are being flown around the internet.

Lindsey Graham was looking for proof. What other people were looking for, too. He said, give me some proof and I'll go out and talk about it. And I think later in that testimony, it appears that Lindsey Graham has said that, hey, there is no proof here. I'm not going for it. I never did anything with it.

There was no there, there. So there's a lot of testimony to read here. If the viewers tonight are looking to spend the next couple of weeks reading through things, Sara is doing a yeoman's job reading through all of these transcripts, but there are hundreds and hundreds of pages.

I was reading through some of them today and it's very interesting. There's no acknowledgement on the Capitol Police as far as epic intelligence failures. I mean things that I think a lot of viewers -- Ray Epps' deposition, as you know, a guy who was kind of an FBI plant allegedly.


So lots of interesting things to read in there. But, you know, I think Cassidy Hutchinson was high point of this whole hearings. You know, she should have done a mic drop after she testified.

BROWN: Right. But I want to go back to what we learned today in this testimony, because, you know, David, you're saying, look, he was just trying to say, give me something credible that I can go out, but I mean, five dead voters is not enough to go out and celebrate as he said he would do if they found that.

URBAN: Well, no.

BROWN: I mean, he wasn't asking to find voter fraud on a scale that would impact the election results. It appears, according to this testimony from Christina Bobb that he wanted to be able to use that to sow doubt about the election results. So I'm wondering what you think about this, John Dean, what kind of window does this offer, do you think?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think Dave is right on this one that Graham was toying with this, not sure what to do. He had no solid evidence to go public with and he was looking -- he wanted to help the cause and he did help the cause, he didn't actually get what he needed, but he still started pounding the drum. But, you know, this is so much information that's coming at us from these, it's actually like drinking out of several water hoses simultaneously.

I look forward to studying the Graham interview because he wasn't particularly cooperative and this really wasn't a session, but this is hearsay that we're dealing with. So we really don't know all the details at this point.

BROWN: Right.

DEAN: If somebody was actually called to give much more detailed testimony.

BROWN: Right, and that's why we were emphasizing this was a testimony given by someone else, but I will say it also corroborates what I'm told by sources that many Republicans on both sides on the House and in the Senate, they were trying to -- they were asking Trump's team, look, give us something to verify the claims that you were making publicly.

Now, their motivations for doing so, they could have varied, but that certainly is in line with what was going on behind the scenes.

And Sara, we also learned that former First Lady Melania Trump didn't trust her husband's inner circle and was quite angry about the former President taking meetings at all hours in the residence toward the end of his presidency. What more can you tell us about that?

MURRAY: Yes, I mean, this is interesting. Again, it's not, you know, testimony from Melania Trump, but it is testimony from Stephanie Grisham, who is, you know, a top aide to Melania Trump while they were in the White House, and she was recounting that, you know, Melania Trump really sort of began to distrust advice that her husband was getting from Donald Trump, Jr., his son; Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is Donald Trump Jr's fiancee; Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani -- a whole bunch of people at that point, Melania Trump just felt like her husband was not getting good advice.

And according to the Stephanie Grisham testimony, she was also a little bit peeved, because people kept showing up in the residence unannounced at all hours and you know, Melania is up in the residence trying to live her life. Stephanie Gresham says at one point, you know, she might be in a robe and all of a sudden, one of Donald Trump's advisers would show up totally unannounced. So you could see perhaps why there would be a little bit annoying.

BROWN: Yes, I can understand that. All right, so John, when you put the latest piece of the puzzle in place, along with other pieces we learned this week, like Chief-of-Staff, Mark Meadows telling the White House staff to keep a "close hold on Oval Office meetings," what picture is emerging to you?

DEAN: Well, I'm surprised at how much testimony they actually have accumulated, and I think what facilitated it was the process they used of using things like Zoom and other media devices that enabled them to take countless testimony, and with some ease, so that's one of the reasons we have so much they were able to, we got it so quietly, no one saw witnesses traipsing in and out of executive sessions for all this.

So I think what's coming together is how much support they have. And it's largely Republican testimony for the report, which I am plowing through the 820-some pages of it, and it is extremely well-documented, so I'm now reading the documentation as well.

BROWN: Yes, it is and thank goodness for Sara for highlighting some of the key parts from it. It's a lot to absorb, but it is important to absorb to get all the contacts.

David Urban, I know you've been reading through it as well, and as you take a step back, I want to know what your observation is of all of this because you used to advise the former President. I mean, what is your reaction?

URBAN: Sure. My takeaway is, not surprisingly, the center this all kind of surrounds Mark Meadows, the Chief-of-Staff to the President of the United States, right? He is the gatekeeper. He is the person who is supposed to make sure that bad people don't get into meetings that Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell don't come in with half-baked ideas that you know, Bill Stepien and Justin Clark and Pat Cipollone are listened to.


And, you know, it kind of all comes down to, you know, Mark Meadows is not a good gatekeeper is. He is not helping the President make good decisions. I think at the end of the day, he's going to be facing the most legal jeopardy out of this whole thing.

I'm not, you know, obviously a prosecutor here, but he seems to me, he is facing problems in Georgia on the Federal front, lots of different areas, and he is the Chief-of-Staff. They can't get the President of the United States, which they're not going to get, they're going to get somebody pretty high up, and I would be, you know, shocked if they weren't, you know, gunning for Mark Meadows, the Department of Justice and State of Georgia at this point.

BROWN: But what do you say to a viewer who might hear that and say, you know, it sounds like you're putting all the blame on Mark Meadows and you're absolving Trump. Doesn't Trump take the blame here? He put Mark Meadows in that role as well. What do you say?

URBAN: I'm not absolving -- listen, I'm not absolving the President or blaming Mark Meadows. I'm just -- this is -- I'm making more of a realistic statement of fact.

The President is not going to end up going down on this here. I mean, it just -- they just withdrew the subpoenas yesterday.

BROWN: The Committee did.

URBAN: A bunch of subpoenas, all of the outstanding subpoenas. BROWN: Right.

URBAN: The Committee did, right, not DOJ. But they withdrew all the outstanding subpoenas. I just don't think, you know, proving criminal culpability is a much tougher thing than proving that somebody or suggesting that somebody did something morally reprehensible. There is a big difference between those two.

And I think what the Department of Justice is going to try to do is get convictions. They are not going to be able to do that with the President, they are going to be able to do that with other people. So...

BROWN: Really quick, John, do you agree with that?

DEAN: I don't necessarily agree with that. I think the overwhelming case, proof beyond a reasonable doubt is out there against Trump. It's really going to be a question of, do we prosecute a former President, not whether we can and have it nailed, which I think they do, and they are blowing away all the privileges that are appearing in this report.

People like Cipollone and others who now have had to testify in front of the grand jury, different game in front of the grand jury.

BROWN: All right, Sara Murray, John Dean, David Urban -- great to have you on. Thank you.

And still to come tonight, Congressman-elect John Santos' latest conflicting statement, this time about when his mother died, was it after 9/11 as he has said, or sometime much later. We're going to have the latest on that and the Federal investigation into his finances.

And then later, we are going to speak with a Good Samaritan in Buffalo delivering food and other essentials to those stranded by that deadly winter storm.



BROWN: As Federal and local investigators examine the murky finances behind the rise of Congressman-elect George Santos, the lies and conflicting statements he told about his education, work and personal life are being exposed almost daily.

The latest, a poignant story he is told about his mother on 9/11.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty has the details.


(CROWD chanting "Shame.")

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Scrutiny is intensifying around Congressman-elect George Santos.

CHUCK LAVINE (D), NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY: We're watching this slow George Santos train wreck take place.

SERFATY (voice over): Federal prosecutors in New York opening an investigation into Santos' finances with big questions over how the Republican made his money and that $700,000.00 he loaned to his 2022 campaign.

Locally, Santos is facing another probe from the Nassau County District Attorney's Office calling numerous fabrications and inconsistencies, nothing short of stunning.

GEORGE SANTOS (R), NEW YORK CONGRESSMAN-ELECT: Did I embellish my resume? Yes, I did. And I'm sorry, and it shouldn't be done.

SERFATY (voice over): And tonight, new questions over Santos' statement about 9/11 having a role in his mother's death. In this tweet last year, Santos writes "9/11 claimed my mother's life."

SANTOS: She was in the South Tower and she made it out. She got caught up in the ash cloud. My mom fought cancer till her death.

SERFATY (voice over): His mother died 15 years after 9/11 in 2016. Santos' campaign says she passed away when she lost her battle with cancer. Many first responders and survivors developed health conditions after the terror attack, but it is not clear if his mother was in the World Trade Center during the attack and representatives for Santos have not yet clarified, this just adding to the whole slew of new fabrications unearthed by CNN's K-Files.

SANTOS: They sent me to a good prep school, which was Horace Mann prep in the Bronx.

SERFATY (voice over): Including Santos' claim to have attended an elite private school in New York when he did not, that he represented Goldman Sachs and spoke out against them at a financial conference he never attended, that he used his mother's Jewish name, Zebrovsky when there was no evidence of that name and his family tree and claimed his mother emigrated from Europe when she was born in Brazil.

SANTOS: Now it's going to be incumbent upon me to deliver on those results and I look forward to servicing my district.

SERFATY (voice over): As Santos attempts to move forward to Capitol Hill.

SANTOS: I'm not a criminal. I committed absolutely no crimes.

SERFATY (voice over): The legal road ahead for him could be treacherous.

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Where and how did he get this money?

SERFATY (voice over): As the Federal probe zeroes in on his finances.

HONIG: If you intentionally make a false statement about your assets or anything else that matters, that too could be a Federal false statements crime.

SERFATY (voice over): Sunlen Serfaty, CNN, Washington.


BROWN: Perspective now from CNN senior political commentator, former Governor John Kasich, a Republican who was a Congressman from Ohio for 18 years and Shan Wu, a defense attorney and former Federal prosecutor.

Governor Kasich, starting with you, Republican lawmakers I've spoken to privately have been quick to pounce on Santos saying this is a really bad look for the GOP, but they are reluctant to do so publicly in large part because House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy hasn't said anything publicly. Do you think he needs to address all that's been uncovered about Congressman elect-Santos

JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Of course, he should, Pamela. He ought to be condemning how this guy was able to basically lie his way into office.

You know, people say he won't do it because it could jeopardize his Speaker's job for him. Well, that's kind of nonsense actually. If Kevin McCarthy were to come out and say look what this guy did was reprehensible assuming that he doesn't have deep, deep behavioral problems, Pamela, nobody is talking about that. I wonder about that.


KASICH: But what McCarthy ought to say is, it is reprehensible and he is going to be immediately referred to the Ethics Committee, and through that process, he could face expulsion. And then people would take another look at McCarthy and say, well, you know, sometimes you need to put the institution and principles ahead of your own personal gain. And if he did it, I think he'd be admired for it, probably would still get to be Speaker if he is to win.

And so of course, he should be out condemning it. It is absolutely outrageous and the party should do it. There is no reason to be hiding on things like this. The country needs leadership, and sometimes leadership demands that you take risks, you make a sacrifice for the good of the Republic.

BROWN: Yes, you know, it's interesting, though, because I was speaking to a donor tonight, before the show, who was introduced to Santos through Elise Stefanik, who was in Republican leadership. This person feels duped and really disappointed that they donated to Santos' campaign under false premises, and I'm wondering, Shan, is there any legal recourse for those folks?

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Probably not. I mean, I would love to see some creative lawyering come up with some theories like a consumer fraud kind of notion, but it is mostly political recourse.

Now, there are instances where campaigns return contributions, but those are usually if, for example, the donor is exceeding their limit or if the donor is kind of questionable or shady, then that donation gets returned, too.

But as the Governor's bailiwick, if all these big donors began lining up publicly saying they want refunds, even though they may have no legal mechanism, that could have some effect.

BROWN: Yes. So Governor Kasich, when you look at the options here, as someone who served in the House for nearly two decades, tell us more about the recourse for members to potentially hold Santos accountable?

KASICH: Well, I think he's got to be referred to the Ethics Committee. You know, first of all, you think about the fact should they not cede him? I mean, it crossed my mind and I've had discussions with people. The problem was that, Pamela, is the people did vote for him, and if you were to begin to say, well, we're not going to cede him, because he misled people, I mean, think of how politicians at times in elections mislead people, where does it stop?

So the best process is to let the process work, and that is to refer him to the Ethics Committee. And at the same time, there are a number of investigations going on, and did he violate some law in the process of this?

Look, he is not going to be there for long. There is going to be so much pressure on him to leave. And at some point, I think he will leave. I just hope, when all that happens, that he is able to leave cleanly, and hopefully not harm himself in the process.

When you think about all the things he is saying, he is a very disturbed individual, a very disturbed man , and I think we have to keep that in mind. But that doesn't mean that we don't go forward, we have to go forward. And that Ethics Committee, which is a bipartisan committee, if they can once act in a bipartisan way, could be able to resolve this, you know, inside the House of Representatives.

BROWN: You mentioned the investigation. Shan, we know, Santos is facing investigations into his finances. I'm told by source familiar that DOJ is looking into that. Also looking into his fabrications. In your view, where is he most vulnerable legally, from what we know?

WU: It is in the finances, Pam. That's where he would be vulnerable legally, because the big question, the $750,000.00 question is, where did that money comes from? And ironically, for him, that probably would have escaped any scrutiny if it wasn't for all these apparent lies he has told about his biography.

And among those is, you know, it turns out maybe he didn't graduate from college, didn't graduate, Horace Mann, didn't really work for Goldman Sachs. How does he get this money? That's what raises the issue.

And if it turns out that the source of that money is questionable, that was an improper loan to him and then channeled into the campaign, that's going to be a fairly clear path to criminal liability for him.

KASICH: Pamela, let me say --

BROWN: Right. And of course, he says -- go ahead.

KASICH: Let me just say one other thing, and that is, look, if there is anything this country needs, its leadership and its leadership across many different sectors of how our country works, whether it is business or sports, but in politics, this is a golden opportunity for somebody like Kevin McCarthy, to be a real leader, and to say we're not going to deface the House of Representatives.

We will let the process go forward, but frankly, at the end of the day, if it we jeopardizes me, that's frankly, okay, if I don't have the votes, because there is something more important than just winning. And I think we all have to reflect on that as we move forward into a brand new year in 2023.


BROWN: John Kasich, Shan Wu, thank you so much.

Coming up tonight, explosions shocked Ukraine today in what Kyiv is calling one of the most massive missile attacks from Russia since the war began. We're going to have the latest on that, up next.


BROWN: Tonight, several cities across Ukraine are left with limited power supply after a massive barrage of Russian strikes today. The attacks damaged key power facilities just before the New Year and in the dead of winter. At least three people have been killed in what Ukraine is calling one of the largest attacks since the invasion began.

CNN senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman has all the details.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Dawn breaks and the strikes begin. Phone video captures a Russian cruise missile heading toward Kyiv.

Russia fired nearly 70 missiles, plus drones at targets across Ukraine. Air defenses manage to take down most of them, but this Kyiv suburb did not escape unharmed.

(on camera): The Mayor of Kyiv says that all 16 missiles fired in the direction of the capital were successfully intercepted, but as a result of those interceptions, debris fell to the ground in this location, massive destruction.


A 14-year-old girl was injured, as well as her mother and a man nearby.


WEDEMAN (voice-over): Tetyana was at work. That girl her granddaughter Angelina called her desperate for help.


WEDEMAN (voice-over): She was really scared in hysterics, Tetyana says, she cried, Grandma, the house was hit. It's on fire, she told me. My mother is unconscious under the rubble.

Not for the first time, the crews worked to clear the rubble of homes and lives shattered by war. Sergey lives just down the street.


WEDEMAN (voice-over): How is it possible that we do this to each other? He asks. I understand that this rocket didn't target this place, but how is it possible to show peaceful people?

In another part of Kyiv, 79-year-old Leonid is still in his bathroom. He was jarred awake when missile debris smashed into the ground next to his house. Setting his son Alexander's (ph) car on fire, shattering windows and walls, ripping trees out by the roots. Yet he remained stoic.

I was born in World War II. So, I'm very calm about explosion, Leonid says. Today I was only worried about my son. His son's fine.

Ukrainian officials insist Russia's target yet again was the country's energy infrastructure. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko is blunt.

VITALI KLITSCHKO, KYIV MAYOR: The Russians want to bring depression, especially right now, Christmas time, New Year. The Russians want to bring us to black time to without lighting, to without heating.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): For now, Ukrainians just clear away the wreckage and carry on.


WEDEMAN: In his nightly address, President Zelenskyy conceded that Thursday's Russian strikes have caused problems in the supply of electricity to the regions of Kyiv, Lviv, Odessa, Kherson and elsewhere. But he said that was nothing compared to what could have happened if Ukrainian air defenses hadn't been able to intercept so many incoming drones and missiles. Pamela.

BROWN: All right. Ben Wedeman, thank you so much for that.

More perspective now from CNN military analyst and retired Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. General Hertling, you heard what the mayor in Kyiv said as to why he thinks Russia is doing this. I'm curious what your thoughts are. Why do you think Russia is launching such an aggressive, wide scale attack right now?

MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: We've talked about this from the very beginning, Pamela. It's because they are attacking the infrastructure of the country, because they are having difficulty attacking the Ukrainian military. This is their strategic goal, to cause as much terror as possible within the civilian population of Ukraine, to attempt to affect the will of the population and cause President Zelenskyy to give up. But what we've seen from the very beginning, it's causing just the opposite reaction in terms of the resilience of the Ukrainian population and standing up to this.

You're seeing an old lady in the film that Ben Wedeman just showed, talking about her home that has been attacked. These are not military targets. There are no military targets around here. And yet it's attempting to affect the Ukrainian people. And it's failing miserably, because, as the man with the cigarette was saying, I've seen this before, and it's just the horror of the way the Russians conduct warfare.

BROWN: How much do you think all the weaponry that the U.S. has given to Ukraine helped in this situation in terms of it not being as bad as it could have? Because we know the U.S. has given over the Patriot defense system, but my understanding is it'll be a while until they're trained up and can actually use them. So, tell us about your perspective on that.

HERTLING: Yes, the Patriot won't be up and operational for months, Pamela. And even President Zelenskyy said that in his address the other day, which is something we've been talking about. But what we have seen is small arms weapons shooting at drones. We've seen shoulder fired Stingers shooting at ballistic missiles, like the film just showed. You see short and long r excuse me short and medium range air defense going after targets that are shooting both the Shahad drone coming into theater, but also missiles being shot from airplanes and the Caspian Sea as far away as that. And they have -- the Ukrainians have become very effective at knocking those targets down.


Phenomenally, you know, 70% to 80% in terms of their kill rate, in terms of incoming missile. But what you're talking about is a system that truthfully isn't integrated within Ukraine. These are individual actions. And as Ben Wedeman talked about, missiles are going after Odessa, Kharkiv, Kherson, when you plot those areas on a map, it's all the four corners, all the four quadrants of Ukraine. This country the size of the state of Texas, where missiles are going everywhere. The Russians aren't even massing the missiles, they're just going after targets to try and affect the infrastructure. And it's not having the effect that they think it should be having.

BROWN: The Washington Post today had an extraordinary look at just the offenses from Kharkiv and Kherson, how the Ukrainians were able to take back some of the land that it really was interesting in that it reinforced western support and helped make the case for western support. And every time there is something like this that happens, a battle like this, when Ukrainians are able to use the weaponry, they've been given to push the Russians back so they're not as successful, I imagine it continues to do so.

Mark Hertling, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

And coming up tonight, can southwest airlines get grounded passengers back in the air tomorrow after thousands of canceled flights. We're going to go live to Denver for a report, up next.



BROWN: Tonight, the transportation Secretary warned Southwest Airlines about substantial fines, perhaps tens of thousands of dollars per violation per passenger, if it doesn't quickly remedy the chaos surrounding its thousands of grounded flights. Last night at this time, Southwest had already canceled more than 2,300 flights for today. Tonight, only 39 flights are canceled for tomorrow, according to FlightAware.

CNN's Lucy Kafanov has the latest eight days in.


LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): (INAUDIBLE) and finally, Southwest is planning to return to normal operations Friday, issuing a statement saying, with another holiday weekend full of important connections for our valued customers and employees, we are eager to return to a state of normalcy. But today, it's still chaos for Southwest passengers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The anxiety level has become crazy.

KAFANOV (voice-over): One of the country's biggest carriers canceling nearly 2,400 flights Thursday, capping a week of travel misery that stranded thousands more.

KATIE DEMKO, STRANDED SOUTHWEST CUSTOMER: It is very devastating. Southwest actually booked me on a flight for January 2nd. My wedding is tomorrow, December 30th.

KAFANOV (voice-over): Soon to be married, Katie Demko was scheduled to fly out of St. Louis with family for her own wedding. But Southwest cancellations meant she had to miss meeting her fiance at the altar in Belize. For some customers, the most emotional reunions seen at airports have been between people and their bags.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just haven't had this bag in a week. I've been wearing other people's clothes.

KAFANOV (voice-over): Southwest first placed all the blame for stranded flyers or lost bags, and it's an ability to get people new flights on bad weather. But airline CEO Bob Jordan admitted the company's systems were too outdated to deal with any big disruption.

BOB JORDAN, SOUTHWEST AIRLINES, CEO: The tools we use to recover from disruption service well, 99% of the time. But clearly, we need to double down on our already existing plans to upgrade systems for these extreme circumstances so that we never again face what's happening right now.

KAFANOV (voice-over): Southwest Pilot and Flight Attendant's Unions say they've been ringing the alarm about the outdated system for years.

MICHAEL SANTORO, SOUTHWEST AIRLINES PILOTS ASSOCIATION: We've been harping on them since 2015-ish. Every year we've seen some meltdown happen.

LYN MONTGOMERY, SOUTHWEST FLIGHT ATTENDANT'S UNION: This executive should have committed to ensuring that our IT infrastructure would be able to handle that growth and change in the way we operate our flight.

KAFANOV (voice-over): Southwest has promised to reimburse customers, but good luck reaching an agent on the phone, let alone in person.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're still in line, and nobody's giving up any direction.

KAFANOV (voice-over): Southwest is busing some passengers from airport to airport in order to bring some relief amidst a total meltdown.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm still stranded. I need to drive nine more hours. My feet are swollen, I'm upset, I'm stressed, I'm tired, and I hate them.


KAFANOV: And Pam, while the airline is operating roughly at a third capacity today, they are promising to get back to normal more or less tomorrow. But take a look behind me. This sea of luggage, this mountain of suitcases, is just one symbol of the cascading effects of all these cancellations and delays. I will say some of those folks who see on the phones behind me, those are some of the unsung heroes at Southwest. These are employees who are not necessarily getting paid any extra to be here to be on the phone helping passengers reunite with their luggage. But they are here trying to help folks get their suitcases back again. It's probably going to be a bunch of days before people get reunited with their bags, but the flights, at least should be continuing as normal tomorrow. Pam.

BROWN: Wow, that is a sea of bags behind you there, Lucy. Thanks so much for your reporting there.

Well, the death toll from that winter storm and the hard-hit Buffalo region of New York state has risen once again. It is now at 39, and officials expect it to rise further.

CNN's Miguel Marquez has more on the trauma in this tightknit community.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The death toll rising as Buffalo continues digging out the scope of this disaster still coming into focus.

MARK POLONCARZ, ERIE COUNTY EXECUTIVE: Unfortunately, there are families in this community who still have not been able to identify where a loved one is. They're missing. And we do have still John Doe's. And eventually those family members are going to find out the worst news possible.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Enock Rushikana lost his nephew, Abdul Sharifu.

(on-camera): I assume it's a big Congolese family here. What have you lost?

ENOCK RUSHIKANA, ABDUL SHARIFU'S UNCLE: An angel. We lost angel in our community. Lost in angel.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Sharifu was married last year. His wife due to give birth to their first child next week, a son. He was working two jobs, saving up to buy a house. His uncle overcome with grief.


RUSHIKANA: I'm sorry.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): He says Sharifu went out in the storm to help another family. His car got stuck. His body found over a mile from it. It appears he was trying to walk home and got disoriented.

RUSHIKANA: Abdul was known as a helper in our community.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Violeta Quinones' husband died after shoveling snow.

VIOLETA QUINONES, HUSBAND DIED AFTER BLIZZARD: He walked to the bathroom, and there when he collapsed.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): But emergency crews were not able to immediately help, says CNN affiliate WKBW.

QUINONES: I call the police. I call nothing like guard. I call everybody to try to help me, nobody showed up.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): In Buffalo neighborhoods where stores were looted.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Give me another toothbrush.


MARQUEZ (voice-over): The community handing out food, making do until grocery stores can reopen.

JAMES GILES, PASTOR, BACK TO BASICS OUTREACH MINISTRY: They crippled the community in doing that. Now the people that could walk around the corner or walk across the street to a store to get services, much needed food items and those kind of -- they don't have that anymore. That is the fallout from all of that, you know, and that's trauma on top of trauma that's taking place in our community.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MARQUEZ: So, Buffalo is a city that is getting back on its feet now. The driving ban across the entire area has been lifted the flooding that they were concerned about, the temperatures have really come up. It's actually a really nice evening now. It's going to get hotter in the next couple of days as well. The snow is going to melt. That is not going to be as bad as they were concerned. And right now, it's just a matter of identifying those last individuals in the morgue and letting families know that their loved ones are there. Pamela.

BROWN: Miguel Marquez, thank you.

Still ahead tonight, to meet a man who put his own life at risk to help others who were stranded in Buffalo. Just a great story of selflessness and heroism, and I bet you'll be inspired. We'll be right back.



BROWN: As stories of survival and rescue emerge from the holiday weekend's deadly storm, so are stories of selflessness and community. One man in Buffalo dedicated his time and his resources to help hundreds of people who were stuck in their homes, some in the cold, with no food or power. And he is here with us now, Mark Johnson.

Well, Mark, thank you so much for joining us. What was it that made you decide to start helping people after the storm?

MARK JOHNSON II, GOOD SAMARITAN HELPING PEOPLE IN BUFFALO: It was a number of things, but I'd say, like, the number one thing was that I lost a friend who was very close to me and we called him Yoda, but I lost him and I knew how scared he was. I just couldn't imagine how scared he was, like, when he was actually murdered. So, there was a couple of things that made me just think, like, I never want to have anybody that scared or that alone by themselves.

So, if anybody, if I could help anybody, that's what I want to do. And the type of spirit that he had, he'd want to help everybody. So that's exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to channel my emotions and put it in that way, because Buffalo, it's a city of love.

BROWN: It's just incredible what you've been doing and all the generosity you've shown. Tell us more about what supplies you've been handing out, how you've been able to get these donations as well.

JOHNSON: So as far as supplies, it honestly ranges from peanut butter to (INAUDIBLE) to inhalers to driving people to dialysis to digging out their yard so that they can get to their other family members who've been trapped or they haven't heard from. We have diapers. We have -- I've learned so much about diapers. And another thing that we did was yesterday I decided, well, you know what, everybody that wanted to contribute, everybody's like, oh, well, start to go fund me or do this. You know, we want to help you. Thank you for it's not about monetary gain. It's not about trying to get a dollar off somebody's desperation. You know, that's not what it's about. So, I wanted to try and push that.

So, everybody that wanted to contribute, I just said, call in the Kensington Pizza. Call in and say you want to donate to the Dream and you'll buy a piece of pizza or a slice of pizza or whatever you can afford for somebody else. We donated, I think, maybe over 200 pizzas.

BROWN: I see a lot of baby supplies there. You actually helped a mother and her baby, right?

JOHNSON: That's correct. It had a huge impact on me specifically because when I got there and I've seen that a mother was handbag imbuing her baby for 72 plus hours, switching on and off with her husband to keep her baby alive in such deplorable conditions. It was it was freezing cold. You could see your breath. You can see how they didn't have anything that was available to them. The snow was probably waste deep for a quarter of a mile walk and just to get to a road. So, there was no, why would you take that chance? It was better for her, and I applaud her 100%. The strength and the will of a mother I could never, ever doubt ever again.

She was having an asthma attack while she's walking her baby through waist deep snow with no shoes on, because they fell in the snow, and she just kept going. So that's when I was like, you know, what, gather your breath. Give me the baby, I'll imbue he baby while we get there. And I'd probably walk the baby maybe, like, seven minutes through the snow. As soon as she gathers her breath, she went right back to imbuing her baby, and I'm still gathering my breath, and that's what really drove me. I'm like, you know what? If she can do this, and I'm in a situation where I'm fortunate enough to help other people, then I should be doing that.

BROWN: How do where to go, what to do every moment of the day, where to find these families in need?

JOHNSON: So, there's actually a group that I'd like to emphasize. It's called the Buffalo Blizzard Group 22. And it saved a lot of lives. The only reason why I knew is because somebody said, hey, post this inside this group, you'll be able to find more people to help. And I'm like, all right, send me the link. And they added me, they invited me to it. And it has 15,000 people. And n there's people saying, hey, my neighbor can't get out. I can't get out. Could somebody please dig me out? I'm losing electricity. People are like, I'm freezing cold. You know, my battery is going to die. I feel like my kids are going to die. Could somebody help me?


You know, so these were the things that I'm reading. It was God's will. It's like driving through the snow. I didn't get hurt. I didn't get into any accidents, I didn't get stuck. This group was like pushing me and pushing me to just say, hey, if I have a warm house, if I have something that, you know, I can donate, why am I not donating? But this is life or death. Nobody's going to help us right now. It's really just us. It's a community.

BROWN: Wow. In such a remarkable way, the way that you have just impacted so many of these families in need and just the fact that you're doing this interview in your car says everything. Thank you for your time, Mark.

JOHNSON: Thank you. I really appreciate it.

BROWN: Up next, we remember of Brazilian soccer legend and global sports icon, Pele.


BROWN: A global sports icon is gone tonight. Brazilian soccer legend Pele has passed away at the age of 82. He died from complications relating to colon cancer. Pele transformed the world of football as it's known outside the United States, the only player in history to win three World Cups and play in four. And the youngest player ever to score in the World Cup at age 17. He'll forever be remembered in his native Brazil as a national treasure, and he'll be remembered around the world as the king of soccer, perhaps the greatest ever to play the game.


The news continues, so let's hand it over now to Alisyn Camerota for "CNN TONIGHT."