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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Trump Appeals Maine Decision Barring Him from Ballot; Maine Secretary of State Responds to Trump's Appeal of Ballot Ban; Sen. Menendez Charged with Receiving Gifts from Qatar in New Allegations in Corruption Scheme; Harvard President to Step Down after Controversies Involving Congressional Testimony, Allegations of Plagiarism; Hamas Says Senior Leader Killed In Attack In Southern Beirut; Investigation Underway Into Japan Airlines Collision. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired January 02, 2024 - 20:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Tonight on 360, breaking news just days after Maine's Secretary of State kicked him off the ballot, the former president takes her to court. I'll get her reaction tonight.

Also, Chris Christie joins me with the Iowa caucuses growing closer and any challengers' chances seeming to grow slimmer.

And later, you've likely seen the Japanese airliner engulfed in flames. Five people were killed on the smaller plane it hit. New details tonight on how every single one of the nearly 400 people of the airliner got out alive.

Good evening. Thanks for joining us. We begin with breaking news. At the start of a year, which will be unlike any un-American political, legal, and constitutional history. A former president running for office again facing 91 federal and state felony charges, also facing two civil trials and fighting efforts to start in several states to remove him from the ballot. That's where we start tonight.

With his attorneys late today asking a court to overturn Maine's Secretary of State Shenna Bellows' decision to remove him from the ballot because of his role in the January 6th insurrection. We're also waiting for his appeal on a similar case in Colorado and a filing tonight on the question of whether a former president can even be prosecuted for actions taken while in office.

In addition, the former president is also spinning fresh conspiracies about his legal troubles online, all of this with the Iowa caucuses now less than two weeks away. Welcome to 2024. We're going to speak with one of his challengers shortly, former New Jersey Governor, US Attorney Chris Christie, joins us here.

But first, the Maine case. CNN's Paula Reid starts us off. So what more do we know about the former president's appeal?

PAULA REID, CNN HOST: Tonight, they're attacking the Secretary of State of Maine, Shenna Bellows. She is a Democrat, but the process in Maine is that the first stop for any questions about whether someone is eligible to appear on the ballot go to the Secretary of State.

Now, in their appeal tonight, they argue that she was, quote, "a biased decisionmaker" who have should recused herself, had no legal authority, made multiple errors of law, and acted in arbitrary and capricious manner.

I understand her decision was based on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. This part of the constitution and who should enforce it, well, these questions have been litigated now across multiple states. And Colorado and Maine opted to remove Trump from the ballot, but the other states, largely on procedural grounds without getting into the merits, have kept him on the ballot. But they've also left open the possibility that this could be litigated through the general election.

So, Anderson, unless the Supreme Court really steps in here and provide some guidance to the states on the meaning of this section, this is an issue that could hang over the entire 2024 race.

COOPER: When do we expect Trump to file his appeal in the Colorado case?

REID: Well, Anderson, I've been on the phone for a a large part of the day trying to get an answer to that very question. What I can tell you is it's been two weeks since Colorado Supreme Court removed Trump from the ballot. And in that decision, they gave a deadline of January 4th for an appeal to be filed. It said, look, if someone files an appeal here, then this will be stayed. It'll appear on the primary ballot until the Supreme Court weighs in.

Now, Trump has not filed up his appeal, but the Republican Party of Colorado has filed an appeal and that has been recognized as staying the case. It's expected that he will appear on the primary ballot. He is also expected to file his own appeal in that case, but it's unclear when.

Now, again, two weeks have passed by. That's a lot of time because while many people do expect the Supreme Court will weigh in here, Anderson, it's not clear how quickly they will do that. And there' is pressure building for them to give some clarity at least before Super Tuesday.

COOPER: Yes, Paula Reid, thanks very much.

Joining us now is Maine's Secretary of State Shenna Bellows. So Secretary Bellows, what is your response to this appeal from the Trump team, particularly, the accusation of bias against you?

SHENNA BELLOWS (D), MAINE SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, good evening. First and foremost, people need to understand this is the appropriate process, is for Mr. Trump to file appeal on superior court. This process was initiated when five registered Maine voters brought a challenge to Mr. Trump's qualifications after we had approved his signatures for the ballot.

Under Maine law, those challenges were entitled, as was Mr. Trump, to a hearing -- an administrative hearing over which I was obligated under the law to preside and issue a decision in a very tight timeline. Now, the next step is superior court, which Mr. Trump has filed with tonight.

Now, with regards to the accusations of bias, I think it's really important to note my sole obligation is the oath I swore to uphold the Constitution and to follow Maine election laws.


I was duty-bound by Maine election laws, which require this process of holding a hearing and issuing giving a decision to ensure that every candidate on the primary ballot meets the qualifications of the office they seek. I did my duty. Now it goes to the court. That's why I stayed, suspended the effect of my decision pending court appeal, and I will uphold whatever the court determined as appropriate.

COOPER: So their claim that you had no authority under any Maine statute to consider the federal constitutional issues presented by the challengers in this case, you say it is simply not true.

BELLOWS: Exactly. Article 1 of the Constitution delegates to the state authority to administer elections. And state legislatures may delegate that authority to the secretary of state, which the Maine legislature has done under Title 21-A of illegal gigs (ph) at home.

And under that process, I am prohibited, whether it's placing an 18- year-old on the ballot or a noncitizen on the ballot, or someone who served two terms like Barack Obama or George W. Bush, or someone who does not meet the constitutional qualifications of the office.

And Section 3 of the 14th Amendment is not an option. Constitutional qualifications are not a menu. It -- I was duty-bound to hold that hearing and issue a decision and that report --

COOPER: Right.

BELLOWS: -- is well-determined.

COOPER: The former president, though, is saying that he always -- he's also taking issue with the process claiming he was not given adequate time and opportunity to present a defense.

BELLOWS: That is not correct. So this is very clear in my 34-page opinion, which is on the Maine Secretary of State website for those who may wish to read. So this hearing followed the process, under Maine law, the Administrative Procedure Act which mandates -- and I quote -- that all parties present -- be able to present evidence and arguments on all issues at the hearing to call and examine witnesses, to make oral cross-examination of any person present, and testifying. Mr. Trump was afforded those opportunities at the hearing.

COOPER: So how quickly do you think this would make its way through Maine's court system? And would you be opposed the US Supreme Court intervening sooner rather than later? BELLOWS: We would welcome the US Supreme Court making a ruling. I will

uphold whatever the courts determine and acting quickly to resolve this. I think it's in the best interest.

That being said, our process in Maine is to go through Superior Court. Mr. Trump has filed that appeal tonight. The Superior Court, under statute, must rule by January 17th. And then it can go to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court and then to the US Supreme Court.

We're on a very compressed time line. And that was part of the requirements under statute. I was required once the challengers filed that challenge within five days of certifying the signatures, they had to file the challenge within five days. I had to hold that hearing within five days and issue a decision in a week of the conclusion of the hearing for (inaudible).

COOPER: Madam Secretary, appreciate your time tonight. Thank you. Thank you.

BELLOWS: Thank you.

COOPER: With us now is CNN contributor, former Nixon White House Counselor John Dean, also former Federal Prosecutor Jessica Roth. She currently teaches at the Cardozo School of law here in New York. Do you buy what she says legally?

JESSICA ROTH, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY: I thought the way that she laid out what her responsibility is and authority is under Maine's law was very persuasive, and I read her opinion. It's a lengthy, thorough opinion, which is also quite persuasive on what the authority is that's delegated to her under Maine law to make decisions about who actually is qualified to be on the ballot once there has been a challenge lodged as there was here.

And so, what she has said is she is required to determine whether somebody, in fact, is qualified, and that includes the requirements under -- or the disqualifications under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. So she did hold the hearing that was provided by Maine law. She sets forth in her opinion that she repeated tonight, she provided the process that statute required to the former president and to the other side during that. And there's no suggestion of what, in particular, he was deprived of the opportunity to present by way of evidence or argument.

She gave him every opportunity, including to supplement at the end of the hearing. So I haven't seen anything persuasive from the Trump side about how he was deprived of the opportunity to present specific evidence or arguments before her.

The larger question that looms here as in Colorado and then all the other states is, under the US constitution, do states, whether it's delegated to the Secretary of State in Maine or to state courts, have the authority to make --

COOPER: Right. ROTH: -- these determinations under their state law of who's qualified

or not. Those are questions that the US Supreme Court will have to decide.

COOPER: And, John, I mean, do you believe the former president's argument that the Maine's Secretary of State doesn't have that legal authority?


JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's not clear at all that she does not have that authority. In fact, under the Maine law, it's clear she does as the presser pointed out. And Trump really is just throwing everything he has against the wall to see if anything will stick. It's that kind of very brief, very broad attack on her decision-making. So I don't really expect it to go very far.

Superior Court, the middle level court are will probably going to go to the Supreme Court of Maine to resolve some of the issues if the US Supreme Court doesn't intervene first.

COOPER: I mean, Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, I mean, the sticking point on this is it does not specifically mention the president as one of the officers prohibited from seeking office.

ROTH: Yes, and that's one of the reasons why the trial-level court in Colorado found that Trump was not disqualified.

COOPER: Right.

ROTH: The Colorado Supreme Court disagreed with that.

COOPER: I mean, do you -- where do you stand on this? Because I mean, the argument is, well, you know, they mention all these other people can't. It would seem that the president would be somebody who couldn't do it, but it doesn't specifically say so.

ROTH: The very persuasive argument that actually the presidency is covered. There's actually two parts of the Section 3 that are implicated here in terms of the person who takes the oath as the president, whether that qualifies as an office covered by Section three, and the office of presidency in terms of what you can then be elected to.

I'm persuaded by the arguments that presidency is encompassed within that section, but, of course, there are so many other legal questions involved as well, including what is the definition of insurrection for purposes of Section 3? Did Trump, as a factual matter and a legal matter, engage in insurrection however that is defined?

And then also this question of do states and the state courts, the Secretary of State have the authority to make those determinations, or is that something that only, let's say, federal courts can decide after a conviction for insurrection and pursuant to legislation enacted by Congress. These are all open, novel, legal questions. And as the Secretary of State said, the US Supreme Court really needs

to settle those. But in the meantime, the decision-makers who are authorized by their state's laws to make these decisions have to act. They have to make the decisions in the interim.

COOPER: And, John, I'm sure you saw the ghost of US v. Nixon hovering over the question of whether Trump has immunity for basically anything he did while president. How do you expect this particular Supreme Court would rule on that?

DEAN: This -- I don't think this Supreme Court wants to face that issue, frankly. And they might try to avoid it. I see no basis for the kind of immunity that Trump is calling for. It would be unprecedented. It would be contrary to the rule of law.

It would define -- redefine the American presidency, and it would have made Nixon an innocent man. So I just don't think it's going to go anywhere. It's an overbroad attack on the rule of law. So my feeling is the Supreme Court is not going to buy it.

COOPER: Do you think so, Jessica?

ROTH: I think that on the law, on the merits, that the Supreme Court should rule against Trump's claim of presidential immunity from criminal prosecution, in terms of a prediction of whether this court will rule that, unless comfortable, say that that is actually how they will come out.

COOPER: Do you think they will take it up?

ROTH: Yes, I think they will take it up.

COOPER: All right. Jessica, thank you so much.

ROTH: Thank you.

COOPER: Appreciate it. John Dean as well, Jessica Roth. And coming up next, Chris Christie's take on all this and his role as the former president's only full-throated critic in the Republican primary race at this point.

Later, another breaking story, yet more federal corruption allegations against New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez.



COOPER: Tonight's breaking news, the former president appealing Maine's ballot decision is far from the only item on his legal docket this week. He's also expected to file papers tonight in his federal appeal on presidential immunity. That and the whole string of other legal milestones are coming up even if the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary draw closer.

With me now, one of the challengers, former New Jersey Governor, Federal Prosecutor Chris Christie. First of all, I'm wondering what you make of the Maine Secretary of State's argument about what she did and the Trump filing.

CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, I think that there's an interesting legal argument to be made here. I think the problem is, as a practical matter, excluding people from the ballot in this way is going to cause, you know, more tumult in an already really divided country. And that's why I've said all along.

And I don't want to be interpreted because it's not as a support of Donald Trump as I'm sure you can probably tell. But it's the idea that the voters should be making this call. And when you have something that's as indecisive as what her argument was, I think, I think it's hard to have courts do it. But we're going to see. It's going to go to US Supreme Court at some point. They're going to decide.

COOPER: And as for the legal argument about whether president has immunity for any acts --

CHRISTIE: Outrageous, ridiculous.

COOPER: Ridiculous.

CHRISTIE: It's a ridiculous argument, yes. I think it's going to be dismissed really quickly. I don't think he has any legal basis.

COOPER: Do you think the Supreme Court will take it up?

CHRISTIE: I think they may just even -- just give it the back of her hand and just deny cert and just say, forget it, and go with the lower court rulings because I just don't believe that there's any real argument.

I mean, think about the practicality of it is that a president could literally do anything. And if he wasn't impeached and removed for it, he escapes all type of criminal or civil/legal liability. It doesn't make any sense.

COOPER: Ambassador Haley has said that she would pardon Donald Trump because, in her words, what's in the best interests of the country is -- what's in the best interest of the country in not letting an 80- year-old man sitting in jail that continues to buy the country, what's in the best interest of the country would be to pardon so you can move on as a country.

CHRISTIE: Well, I mean, it's just her, you know, doing what she does which is she doesn't want to offend anyone. The fact is she knows better as a governor. You can't make these decisions on pardons before you hear what the trial is, what the evidence is.

COOPER: You've made the point in the past that a pardon requires remorse or requires acknowledgement what you did is wrong.

CHRISTIE: Acceptance of responsibility is what a pardon requires. He'll never accept responsibility, never has, he never will. So, look, she's pandering. And, look -- COOPER: Do you think she's running to be vice president?

CHRISTIE: I think she'd be more than happy to take it. And my evidence for that, Anderson, is that she won't say she wouldn't.

Now, I mean, Ron DeSantis has said under no circumstances would he take it. I've said under no circumstances would I take it. Why won't she say it? I mean, I think that the only reason -- you've watched politics long enough to know. When one of us doesn't rule something out, they're ruling it in.


And this is the problem with her now is that she wants to be everything to everybody. And what's so exposed with the slavery question last week exposes a much bigger problem. If you want to beat Donald Trump, you have to take him on. When is that coming?

If -- you can't say you're going to pardon him. You can't refuse to deny you'd be his vice president.

COOPER: They're running attack ads right now, but -- Haley and DeSantis against each other.

CHRISTIE: Right. And that's what I said on the debate stage in the fourth debate was like these guys are pretending that the race is between them. I mean, what's this, the race for second place?

What's going on between DeSantis and Haley right now is the race for 2028. That's what it is. They're both trying to position themselves best for 2028. And I think four more years of either Donald Trump or Joe Biden as president would be disastrous for this country. We have to win now.

COOPER: Do you -- I want to play a little bit what Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire said. He endorsed Haley, but he said about your candidacy over the weekend.


GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Chris Christie is a friend, but his race is at an absolute dead end. He's going to say anything he can.

This is a two-person race, all right? It's between Trump and Nikki Haley. Everyone understands that. He knows his voters who want to see Trump defeated are all coming over to Nikki Haley. In fact, the only person that wants Chris Christie to stay in the race is Donald Trump.


COOPER: Whenever somebody says (inaudible) is a friend but, I've always wondered what you say about that and --

CHRISTIE: Yes, the night is about the great pea stuck in, right? Look, it's -- since Chris started to work for Nikki Haley and become an employee o Nikki Haley, it's not the same Chris Sununu anymore.

Chris Sununu, as you'll recall, was one of the most vocal Donald Trump critics in this country. In fact, he went to one of those big media events in Washington DC and used incredible obscenities that I can't repeat on the air here to describe what he thought of Donald Trump's mental state, if you remember. This is a guy who has said Donald Trump is unfit -- all things that his candidate is unwilling to say.

Chris Sununu has said that the states should decide abortions. Nikki Haley is in favor of a six-week ban. He's abandoned that as well. I mean, the shame of this is that Chris has now abandoned his principles in order to try to, you know, get himself some political favor inside of his own state. So like, look, I get it. I understand what he's doing.

COOPER: You don't think he's picked her because he thinks she is the one who can win?

CHRISTIE: No, I don't think that. I think he picked her based on a set of polling at that moment. But if you base it -- if you base your choice, which is with I believe you should do, who do you think is the person who can really beat Donald Trump and who wants to beat Donald Trump?

I'd ask Governor Sununu what indications does he have that she wants to beat Donald Trump? And by the way, how does Chris Sununu defend what she said on the civil war? You know, I don't understand it.

I mean, look, at the end of it, she gave an answer that is typical of someone who has been pandering to a certain constituency in South Carolina for most of her political career. If you go back, Anderson, to what she said when she was running for governor in 2010, she said the civil war was an argument between change and tradition.

COOPER: Right.

CHRISTIE: Right. What's that tradition -- enslaving people? I think it's between right and wrong. And our party was founded on that basis.

COOPER: She does point out -- I saw that video, too, but she points out she took down the confederate flag.

CHRISTIE: She took it from one part of the state house grounds, and she put it in the museum. Congratulations. Okay, I'm not saying she's a racist. Let's be clear. She's not. I've known her for 13 years. There's not a racist bone in her body.

What she is is a panderer. And in this context, that's just as bad.

COOPER: Let me -- Bob Menendez, you clearly know him.


COOPER: What do you make of this? I mean, a watch like if the price of --

CHRISTIE: Look, he's --

COOPER: If it's the -- if the allegations are true, the price of bribing somebody --

CHRISTIE: Anderson, when I was US attorney for seven years in New Jersey, the -- one of the things that shocked me the most was how cheaply you could buy a politician. I mean, $5,000 in cash in an envelope could get most elected officials.

COOPER: Is that right?

CHRISTIE: Oh, yeah. I mean, it was amazing to me. When the FBI would say, I mean, let's start with $5,000, I'd say who would throw their whole life away for five grand?


CHRISTIE: Oh, they know. So you look at Bob Menendez, let's make this clear. He has been a completely unethical, unprincipled politician for the entire time I've known him, and I've known him now for over 20 years.

He's never new principles. Think about what he said after he got a hung jury in the last trial. He went out and said, I know all the people are out there trying to dig my political grave, and I know who you are, and I'll remember. I mean, this was a guy who wasn't, like, grateful over the fact that he had just dodged a bullet. And his conduct afterwards indicates that's exactly what he meant, but he went right back to, according to the indictment, committing crimes and selling out this country as the chairman of the Senate of Foreign Relations Committee.

Look, the thing I'm disappointed about in the Democratic Party is, you know, at least the Republicans removed George Santos. Where are the Democrats in the United States Senate with removing this guy? This is now a second superseding indictment, so it's a third set of charges, where he was using his position of leadership and intelligence information in the United States Senate to enrich himself and his wife.


I don't understand how Chuck Schumer can't to go Mitch McConnell right now and say, look, we need to have a vote to kick him out because to have him in there and have him -- have access to that kind of information, who knows what he's doing now to try to pay his legal fees?

COOPER: All right. Chris Christie, thank you.

CHRISTIE: Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: More on Senator Menendez coming up.

Also, Claudine Gay was the first black woman to serve as president of Harvard, and after her disastrous appearance on Capitol Hill and allegations of plagiarism, she is out after only six months on the job. Details of her downfall, next.


COOPER: After weeks of controversy over testimony on Capitol Hill about antisemitism at Harvard and a separate affair involving allegations of plagiarism, Claudine Gay says she now plans to step down as president of Harvard University. She was only on the job for six months. She's the second Ivy League president to resign in the wake of congressional testimony last month that critics believe did not speak out sufficiently enough against antisemitic harassment. She later tried to make out for what she felt to say on Capitol Hill, but the damage was done.

In a letter she released today, she called the decision to resign, quote, "difficult beyond words." She also said the controversy had subjected her to, quote, "personal attacks and threats fueled by racial animus.

Miguel Marquez has more.



MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Multiple allegations of plagiarism over the past three weeks in Harvard, President Claudine Gay's writing came to light with eight of her papers found to have instances of it, according to the Free Beacon. Conservative media had been unearthing them in Gay's path worse. One example an entire paragraph lifted almost verbatim in her 1997 PhD dissertation without citation. Another example first reported Monday, several sentences from a 1999 book appeared in a 2001 article written by Gay but she failed to use quotation marks or cite the work in two passages.

The plagiarism accusations came amid controversy over Gay's handling of antisemitic incidents on Harvard's campus and a widely criticized congressional hearing about it on December 5th. Gay along with the presidents of UPenn and MIT gave an answer that was widely considered to legal and completely tone deaf.

REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): So the answer is yes, that calling for the genocide of Jews violates Harvard Code of Conduct, correct.


MARQUEZ (voice-over): Fallout from the hearing also resulted in the resignation of UPenn's President Liz Magill, House Republican caucus leader, Elise Stefanik, wasting no time responding to today's events.

STEFANIK: As a Harvard graduate myself, we have seen a failure of leadership from Claudine Gay, a failure of moral leadership. This accountability would not have happened were not for that congressional hearing. MARQUEZ (voice-over): Stefanik underscoring that her investigation will continue. Gay's tenure as president was the shortest in Harvard's nearly 400 year history. She was also the school's first black president, and only the second woman at the helm. In a letter to the Harvard community this afternoon Gay wrote that her exit came with a heavy heart. It has become clear that it is in the best interests of Harvard for me to resign so that our community can navigate this moment of extraordinary challenge with a focus on the institution rather than any individual.

Harvard announced late today that Alan M. Garber, who currently serves as provost at the university will step in as interim president while acknowledging Gay's commitment to the school. It is with that overarching consideration in mind that we have accepted Gay's resignation that Harvard leadership wrote adding, we do so with sorrow.


COOPER: And Miguel joins us now. What more did Harvard say about its decision to accept her resignation?

MARQUEZ: That she will stay on the faculty at Harvard. They also said a source close to a Dr. Gay told our Matt Egan that she had made the decision to resign last week before this latest tranche of claims of plagiarism came out, so all of this was sort of in the work. But look, the university clearly felt torn by this. They said that she suffered enormously just racist vitriol coming her way via phone calls and e- mails. They felt very badly for her. She will stay on at Harvard. They say that the search for a new president will occur in due course.

COOPER: All right, Miguel Marquez, thanks very much.

Earlier you heard former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, quote, completely unethical, unprincipled politician. That's in the wake of more legal trouble for the embattled Democratic senator with prosecutors alleging a new superseding indictment that Senator Menendez is bribery and extortion scheme went on longer than prosecutors had originally believed. Kara Scannell joins us now with details. What are the newest allegation?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So not only did it go on longer than they believe, but it also held another a second foreign country that --

COOPER: Not just Egypt.

SCANNELL: Not just Egypt, which was the basis of the first indictment. Now they're alleging that Menendez took steps that were favorable to Qatar. And they alleged that he did this to help a New Jersey real estate developer, who was the codefendant, in this case, obtain multi million dollars investment from the Qatari Investment Fund. And so among the things that prosecutors allege Menendez did is that they say that he set up introductions between a member of the Qatari royal family and this developer that he then heaped praise on the Qataris. And then in an encrypted message, text this to the developer saying, I'm about to issue this press release, it's really fair, but you should tell the Qataris. And then prosecutors allege that the Qataris did learn that this, you know, favorable praise was coming. And then in addition, when this developer was going to London, going to meet with one of the Qatari investors to try to seal this deal, Menendez reached out to the Qatari, you know, imploring on him that he thought it would be great if they were able to work this out. So it's all part of this scheme that prosecutors say Menendez did or to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes.

COOPER: Are they saying what he got from the Qataris or from for this part of the scheme?


SCANNELL: So in this part of the scheme they're saying that he got tickets for Formula One Grand Prix races in 2022 and 2023 which Menendez had requested and had given to a relative of his. That doesn't sound like that's a lot of money. But they also say that the developer had given Menendez gold bars. This was part of the broader Egyptian scheme as well. And then, you know, in in, there's a suggestion that he was also offered a watch that could have been worth as much as $24,000. But the indictment doesn't say whether or not Menendez had received that.

COOPER: And what kind of, I mean, what kind of responses the senator made?

SCANNELL: So nothing from the senator himself yet tonight, though, he has vigorously defended himself. His attorney, Adam Fee, did issue a statement saying that the senator had acted appropriately, saying despite what they've touted in press releases, the government does not have the proof to backup any of the old or new allegations against Senator Menendez. What they have instead is a string of baseless assumptions and bizarre conjectures based on routine lawful contacts between a senator and his constituents or foreign officials.

I mean, Menendez took part in this legislation while he's on the Senate floor Intelligence Committee for most of the time, including it to 2023. He was chairman of that committee and he still was receiving classified information. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and he's set to go to trial in May.

COOPER: All right. Kara Scannell thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Just ahead, a major blow against Hamas after says a strike and Beirut, Lebanon has killed one of his senior leaders. Israel not taking responsibility, details of the strike ahead.

And later a deadly car crash after New Year's concert in upstate New York killed two people. Authorities working on a motor for the now deceased suspect who'd purchase canisters filled with gasoline prior to the crash.


COOPER: So far Israel is not taking any official responsibility for these images you see here. A strike in the suburbs of Beirut today that Hamas has killed one of his top officials as well as other members of the organization, Saleh al-Arouri is the most senior leader of Hamas killed since the October 7th terror attack. He's one of the founders of Hamas's military wing and has been designated a terrorist by the U.S. since 2015.

After the strike, Israel's finance minister wrote on social media that all enemies of Israel would, in their words, perish. I'm joined now by the New York Times magazine's Ronen Bergman, author of Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel's Targeted Assassinations. Ronen, do you think Hamas was taken in by surprise by what happened today?

RONEN BERGMAN, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE: Yes, for two main reasons. One is the location. And the second is the timing. The location is the Dahieh quarter of Beirut. This is the stronghold of Hezbollah, the Shiite organization, another member of the so called Axis of Resistance, Java Bukoba (ph), in which the policy of Islamic Jihad and Iran and others, the Houthis, are also a member. Hezbollah are hosting Hamas. The late Mr. al-Arouri relocated from Damascus to Beirut for exactly the reason of fearing the nation from Israel.

And I think they believe that Israel would not their reforms such an assassination, long ago, unwritten rules of the game were drawn between Israel and Hezbollah, in which Israel can attack, convoys of arms in Syria, kill Iranians in Lebanon or Syria, but not killing Hezbollah operative. In fact, after Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister, threatened to kill exactly the same, Mr. al-Arouri in August before the attack on the background of other competition with Hamas, Hezbollah said we would not accept this.

This is a crossing of red line, so this is one. And the second I think, the Hamas leaders believe that this longest Hamas is holding Israeli hostages. They are safe, Israel would not go to this long quest of killing them, as it swore to the vow to do until this is over. And apparently they were wrong. And Israel went to this.

COOPER: It is. I mean, it's worth noting the sort of the precision of this attack. I mean, it was I believe three people in that apartment, all of them linked together, not killing, as far as we know, any Lebanese civilians. That's critical, isn't it?

BERGMAN: Yes. I think that we, Israel, did not accept responsibility, though. U.S. officials told "The New York Times" my colleague Eric Schmitt, that it was Israel and Israel updated the U.S. that it was it behind, there is only one, the first among many of future assassinations. But it seems that someone took very good care of making sure that no Lebanese or Hezbollah operatives are killed, trying to signal Hezbollah. This is not about you. It's not about the confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah, this is about Israel and Hamas trying to lower the tension existing anywhere.

And I think that there are also people in Israel who feel or believe or assess that this assassination inside Beirut will put some more pressure on countries like the U.S. and France who are trying to mediate between Israel and Hezbollah, to find a political solution to the tension there. And basically signaling that this could arrive to Beirut, a city that was left aside of the confrontation so far.

COOPER: What was the role of this of this senior leader? I mean, didn't -- he played a big role in the West Bank, didn't he?

BERGMAN: Yes. So he was the deputy political leader, the deputy or of Ismail Haniyeh, but his more important role was the military commander of the West Bank. So the equivalent of the -- of Mohammed death was number one, military commander in Gaza and the most wanted by Israel, in a pack of cards that Israeli intelligence printed, imitated with the U.S. military has done in the Gulf with the pictures of Hamas leaders. He's the Joker, the latest ruler, just to give a hint of how important he was. He was the POC for Hamas vis-a-vis Hezbollah and Iran. He was in charge of trying to inflame an Intifada in the West Bank. And he was at the core of the military activities in the funneling of military gear equipment and funding from Iran to Hamas. An aid that Hamas would not be in the position to attack Israel the way it is without him.


COOPER: Does this impact hostage negotiations?

BERGMAN: Hamas already said it severe that it will severe any kind of negotiation following that. And I saw that this will affect the negotiation. I think that and hoping of course, Hamas will not do anything horrible to the hostages. I think but at the long run, Hamas is not running those negotiation, because it likes Israel because it wants to do any favor to Israel. If it has interest to reach some kind of final settlement or negotiate on the hostages, that they will go back it will present the Hamas interest to finalize it and stop the Israeli occupation, ongoing invasion inside Gaza.

And if there's a will from Hamas and show that there will be a will from Israel. I think both sides of the end now have an interest to reach a final deal on hostages in return or the final retreat of Israeli soldiers from Gaza.

COOPER: Ronen Bergman, thank you so much for your reporting. Appreciate it.

Now to the investigation of this deadly crash that killed two people injured nine more as a crowd was leaving in New Year's Eve concert in upstate New York. The 35-year-old suspect that cause the deadly crash has died. Police and FBI investigating a possible motive. Tonight this photo of the girlfriend and boyfriend who died was released 28-year- old Justina Hughes and 29-year-old Joshua Orr. Shimon Prokupecz joins us now with details. Where does the investigation stand?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It's a big mystery, right, the motive here. And there's still a lot of questions as to why this individual chose this area. It's 90 minutes from Syracuse to come there. And it's very clear. There's been some planning and he got to the area around Wednesday. He was in a hotel. He then rented a car he had his drove his own car. But then he went ahead and rented a car, this SUV that he used in this attack. He bought gas these gas, these gasoline canisters and then he filled them with gas.

So he spent several days planning this but it's not entirely clear yet to authorities why he was targeting this theater where this concert was going on why this area, family members of this individual have been caught -- has -- they've been cooperating with police and they said that he's suffering from some mental illness. So perhaps there's some motive there. But certainly there's still a lot more work for authorities to do here. But it certainly raised a lot of concern and fears of terrorism coming into the New Year's Eve night. So far, authorities say they have no indication that this is any kind of terrorism.

And what do we know about the victims. So the victims were best friends, they went to this concert, they were there celebrating, the parents, the family members of them said that they love music. They're artists, Joshua Orr who's 29 interestingly enough, family says he was an advocate for those struggling with mental illness. Justina Hughes who was 28, she was an artist, she loved the music.

And the families say that they have found peace and the fact that they were together, the best friends were together in their last moments. And the other thing that they're saying is that in many ways, they're heroes because they prevented a worse attack. You know, something worse could have happened here. Have they not been in that car, in the Uber that they hire to take them home, in a way that cars shielded many other people from getting hurt. So it was just the family really remarkable statements here from the families tonight.

COOPER: Yes. Our thoughts are with them.

PROKUPECZ: Yes. A lot of questions here as to why this happened I'm sure.

COOPER: Yes. Shimon, I appreciate it. Thank you.


Two planes collide, burst into flames at an airport in Tokyo. Five people killed on a Japanese Coast Guard plane that was supposed to deliver earthquake supplies. Amazingly, all 379 people survived on the other plane. We'll have the latest in how they got all those people off so quickly, coming up.


COOPER: At an airport in Tokyo investigators are trying to determine why Japan Airlines plane collided with a Japanese Coast Guard aircraft that was helping with earthquake relief efforts. Both planes burst into flames the moment of impact as you see then the passenger plane careened down the runway in a fireball and finally stopped the flame spread even further. Inside the Airbus A350, passenger stayed calm amazingly, as the cabin filled with smoke. Authority said they had just 90 seconds to get everybody off the plane which they did, all 379 passengers and crew members including eight children under the age of two safely evacuated. Passengers said some exits weren't working, everyone went down an emergency chute near the front. About a dozen survivors had non-life threatening injuries. Five people on the Coast Guard plane were killed. The pilot is hospitalized with injuries. Japan Airlines says its crew was cleared to land by air traffic control before the collision. CNN's Richard Quest joins us now with more. It's just extraordinary.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, extraordinary. But let's look at the pictures and go through it and you see first of all the way in which the Airbus, the A350, hits the dash eight. Now you know at nighttime would they have seen that plane on the runway, they -- the dash had been cleared to go to the runway. They'd been cleared to land. Would they have seen it? I don't know. It's a very small aircraft. The 350 is a very large aircraft. It's almost impossible to be able to say in that regard.

Then you've got the plane careering down the runway, and you've got the cabin starting to fill up with smoke. This is the terrifying part --

COOPER: And we'll see inside, where they can actually see the fire.


QUEST: Yes. And what's interesting of course is everything in the aircraft, part of the aircraft is made to be non-flammable. So it's not going to burn itself. But of course you've got the people with that duty free. You've got the bags. So the plane will set on fire. But the nature and structure of the aircraft is, it won't burn very fast in its own right.

Interestingly, you say about the number of exits. Some people say that, that 90 seconds that you talk about is the international standard. You have to be able to evacuate an aircraft within 90 seconds with half the exits inoperable.

COOPER: Oh, really?

QUEST: Yes. Now in this case, they were deliberately not using the rear exits, because that was where they feared the fire was remember behind the engine.

COOPER: Right.

QUEST: So they didn't want to use those rear exits, everybody was funneled through to the front. And I can be blase and say, this is how it's supposed to be. This is the system at work, but just like the Miracle on the Hudson, that's how it's supposed to be but it isn't achieved.

COOPER: But the fact that -- I mean, the fact that people remain calm, didn't try to stop to grab baggage or put on their shoes.

QUEST: That's the killer.


QUEST: That is absolutely.

COOPER: And there have been past incidents of where people have died because people stopped to get bags.

QUEST: They -- people stopped to get bags, people stopped to get their passport, their phone. The one famous incident of somebody taking video, you know, to getting the phone out to take some sort of snaps. No, I think what happens here, obviously, here it's Japan and it's well ordered and it's well structured. But I think here you have a very clear direction. The flames were not in the cabin during that evacuation. The smoke was there but was not overwhelming, none of which detracts from the fact that they got everybody off exactly as the regulators.

You know, when they do these tests. There's a famous test where they put everybody on a plane, and then they thrown down the emergency exits quite quickly, when they do them. The Airbus A380 is a famous one. You got to be very careful because people break legs when that happens. Oh, absolutely.

COOPER: But I mean, you just think how long it takes to board an aircraft and all the --

QUEST: Yes, I guarantee Anderson.


QUEST: Flames, smoke, noise. Somebody at the front shouting, get down, come off, get done. You'll be off in 90 seconds.

COOPER: Richard Quest, thank you. Again, the Coast Guard plane involved in that collision was helping out with earthquake relief efforts. The magnitude 7.5 quake hit Japan's west coast on New Year's Day. At least 62 people are now confirmed dead. CNN's Hanako Montgomery joins us now from the quake zone. What have you been seeing there?

HANAKO MONTGOMERY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Anderson. So we just experienced one of the very powerful aftershocks of course, there was a really shocking initial earthquake on New Year's Day but ever since locals here in Ishikawa prefecture haven't been able to sleep because of these very powerful aftershocks. I myself was woken up multiple times last night because of these major tremors. But for locals here who call this place home, we experienced that initial 7.5 earthquake.

This has just compounded the trauma for them. We spoke to several survivors at a nearby emergency evacuation center and woman, one woman told me how every time an aftershock happens, she gets brought back to that moment, that moment when she thought she and her children were going to die. She says that she starts to shake that she can't eat, that she can't sleep. And we know that these aftershocks aren't going to happen anytime soon. We literally just experienced one.

And authorities have warned that a really large one could happen any day now in the coming days. Now I also just want to show you why tens of thousands of people have been taking shelter at these centers rather than going home. We're just outside what we think used to be a warehouse. But as you can see the roof has come down. All these walls have collapsed, the furniture inside. It's just completely destroyed, completely wrecked.

And you know these traditional wooden Japanese homes don't stand a chance when it comes to an earthquake of this magnitude. That's why tens of thousands of people are taking shelter at the centers, but they're running out of essential items like diapers, they don't have running water, there's no central heating. So they're crying out to authorities for any assistance that they can get.

Now the death toll is currently in the 60s but Japanese authorities fear that this could be much, much higher as the window to find people in the cold shortens and as incoming rain means potential landslides, Anderson.

COOPER: And there are there still people missing?

MONTGOMERY: Yes, there are still people missing. Japanese authorities are currently trying to find those people missing. Last we heard, last we confirmed at CNN, 120 people are still stuck underneath their homes. Now a lot of Japanese self-defense forces have been dispatched and trying to find these people stuck in their homes or trying to cut through the wood, trying to cut through these homes.

But of course it's just been very difficult because all the roads leading to the worst affected areas have been blocked, have been destroyed by this powerful earthquake so the Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida has dispatched all means necessary to try to get these people out. But again because it's so cold here, because incoming rain could mean landslides, we don't know how many people are going to survive.



MONTGOMERY: We don't know if we can get them in time.

COOPER: Hanako Montgomery, I appreciate you being there. Thank you.

The news continues. "THE SOURCE" starts now. See you tomorrow.