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At This Hour

Winter Storm Pummels Western U.S., Blizzard Warnings In The Plains; Russia Demands Release Of Spy In Exchange For Paul Whelan; Congress Faces Government Shutdown Deadline On Friday. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 12, 2022 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello there. AT THIS HOUR, a powerful winter storm is cutting its way across the United States, blizzard conditions expected in parts of the country. Plus, the alleged bomb maker that took down Pan Am Flight 103 is now in U.S. custody 34 years later. A widow of one of the Americans killed joins us live. And an embattled L.A. City Councilman gets into a shoving match with a protester. This is just some of the video that's been released. How things so quickly escalated and what it means now? This is what we're watching AT THIS HOUR.

Thank you so much for being everybody. I'm Kate Bolduan. Let's start with that winter weather that is hitting millions of Americans today. A major winter storm just lying in too much of the United States more than 10 million people in more than a dozen states are under winter, are under winter weather alerts. The storm system already dumping heavy snow on western states, Northern California seeing as much as five feet of snow at certain elevations. Blizzard warnings are now in effect for multiple states in the plains. And it's all moving east later this week posing a new threat of severe weather.

CNN meteorologist, Chad Myers, he's tracking it all for us AT THIS HOUR. Chad, which areas are at most risk right now?

CHAR MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Right now, I would say mountain snow, Rocky Mountains, Salt Lake City, up the hills, on the benches into Colorado, even into parts of Arizona, New Mexico. That's where the heavy snow is happening right now. But this has so many facets, Kate. Let me get through what we see here. The clouds are all the way from Des Moines back to Reno. This is a large storm system. You would never see a storm this wide across, like, even a hurricane wouldn't be this large to cover up half of the country.

So this is where the snow is right now. The snow will eventually turn into snow with wind and blizzards across parts of the Dakotas into parts of Colorado even into parts of Nebraska, slowing down or even closing possibly I-70, I-76, I-80, and all the way up even toward the Dakotas. We are going to see winds 40 to 50 miles per hour and visibility's near zero that will shut down roadways. That will happen tonight and into tomorrow.

Now let's work your way now into let's say 6 o'clock tonight, the storms here that will fire haven't done it just yet. But later on tonight, especially after dark, dangerous, possibly overnight tornadoes will occur across parts of the southern plains, and then moving on off toward the east and making that weather even as far east as Florida by Friday. In the meantime, it has been snowing up here to the north where some spots will be picking up another foot or two. And you may not even see it because it'll be in the ditches and the roads will just be just as polished with all of this drifting snow across the north.

BOLDUAN: A lot of people needed to watch out right now and throughout the entire week. Thank you, Chad. We're going to come back to you for sure. I really appreciate it. So now the looming threat of a government shutdown in Washington, one that let's be honest, its ripple effects would be felt all across the country. Congress is struggling right now to reach a deal on a spending bill. But they are not giving up hope yet. They do, though have only days left to figure this thing out.

Let's get over to Lauren Fox live on Capitol Hill for a bit of a reality check on where things are and where things are headed. I mean, where -- they worked all weekend Lauren, but we're in negotiations now.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, 'tis the season for this discussion about government funding. This is what happens. It feels like almost every single year over the weekend. Things did advance, but they still are short of a deal. The holdup right now is that they just cannot agree on how much money to spend next year. They're about $25 billion apart right now, a discussion on going there.

But right now, the reality is when lawmakers get back to Washington today, they're going to have to move on some kind of short term spending bill just to give themselves a few more days to negotiate likely lawmakers are going to be here again next week trying to sort this all out. And once they get through the next couple of days. They're going to have to decide, do they want to come together to find a new funding bill for the next year or is the best they're going to be able to do a short term bill that really funds government at the levels it's been funded for the last couple of months. That is something the Biden administration does not want to see because of inflation because of the flexibility they want to have. They want a new spending bill. But it's just not clear right now, Kate, whether or not they're going to be able to get there.


BOLDUAN: It's not clear but hope springs eternal, Lauren, it always does. We will see. We got a couple more days of late nights to go through really appreciate it. So Brittney Griner's agent, she's telling CNN, Brittney Griner's agent is telling ESPN rather, the WNBA star did her first basketball workout already. Griner just returning really in the last couple of days for being released from Russia in that high profile prisoner swap. And now the Biden administration says that talks are continuing in an effort to negotiate the release of the man left behind, Paul Whelan.

Russia's demand, there may be one that though is completely out of the control of the Biden administration. Let's get more on this. Fred Pleitgen is live in Berlin with the very latest. Fred, what are you learning about this former Russian spy that's being held in Germany, and how it plays into all of this?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly plays into all of it in the big ways. His name is Vadim Krasikov, he's known here in Germany, Kate, as the Tiergarten killer because he assassinated a Georgian national right here in the center of Berlin in 2019. As someone who had fought against the Russians in Chechnya in the 1990s. And the Germans say that it is proven that Vadim Krasikov acted on orders of the Russian government and was also a Russian spy, as well.

Now, of course, it makes it very difficult for Vadim Krasikov to be part of any sort of swap because he is in German custody and not in American custody. And that's also something that the spokesman for the National Security Council John Kirby talked about this this weekend. Let's hear what he had to say.


JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: We are still negotiating for Paul Whelan's release, there was a very serious specific proposal made to the Russians to try to get both of them out together. And it just didn't land anywhere, didn't go anywhere with the Russians. And then as we progress through the summer, and into the fall, again, the conversations ongoing with the Russians, it was clear, Martha, that they were treating Paul very separately very distinctly because of these sham espionage charges they levied against him.


PLEITGEN: Now, Kate, we do know from a source high within the German government that the U.S. did make an inquiry about Krasikov earlier this year, but it was never really taken seriously by the German government and definitely not disgust on the highest levels of the German government. Certainly, if you ask here in Berlin, the Germans are obviously saying this is someone in German custody, and definitely not someone that they're willing to deport to Moscow, Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right, much more to come on that. Fred, thank you. Joining me now, for more on this, CNN chief political correspondent and co-host the State of the Union, Dana Bash. Dana, I want to talk first about what's happening on the Hill this week, because it is almost easy to make light of how ridiculous this annual exercises of a threatened shut down, as they talk about spending. But it is entirely serious and has the potential of hitting every aspect of Americans lives if this really doesn't get worked out. What's notable about the debate this time to you? DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That this is a bit different, probably more like it would have been, could have been back in 2010 at the end there when the party that is in the minority is about to be in the majority. So a lot of the jockeying that is going on in both parties is in preparation for that.

And there are different sort of points of view, for example, there are some Republicans you talk to who will quietly privately say they just want the Democrats who are still in charge across Capitol Hill to get a long term spending bill done so that they -- the Republicans can blame Democrats for high spending, but not have to actually deal with it for a little bit while -- for a little while.

And on the other hand, you have the Democrats who are saying that they do have sort of a last chance to fund as much as they can have what they haven't been able to fund. So that's why they are holding out. And that's one of the reasons there is no big, big deal. But Kate, I think you and I probably have this conversation, like once a December, which is important to underscore that this is not the way it is supposed to work in Washington. The way it is supposed to work is that the so called Appropriations Committee has -- is supposed to pass 12, 13 bills individually. And that is supposed to be done by September 30th.

None of that gets done almost annually. And so they shove it together in a big bill called an omnibus, and it makes it very difficult to get negotiations done and it bumps up against a government shutdown deadline. It happens every year. And it is not the way it is opposed to work.

BOLDUAN: No. And I venture to guess it's going to take a lot to convince them to do it -- to get their act together and to actually do it. And that's a collective problem. It's a Democratic problem. It's a Republican problem, well, no matter who's in charge. But Independent Senator Angus King, he was on CNN this morning and asked about the other possibility here. Lauren was getting to it a little bit in the show, the possibility of kicking the can down the road for a year, which we, of course, have seen this before. Let me play what he said about it.



SEN. ANGUS KING (I-AZ): The worst outcome would be a shutdown. If that's the option, but a one year continuing resolution would be terrible. We couldn't fund Ukraine. We couldn't fund any of the new initiatives.


BOLDUAN: And if this gets pushed off, then the funding debate will happen in a very different -- with a very different power dynamic in Congress. You will have Republicans in charge of the House, you have the, I guess the additional wildcard of a now independent Kyrsten Sinema in the Senate. Is there any chance that a government funding discussion or debate gets any easier then?

BASH: No. It won't, unless and until the people who are in Congress again, they were elected to do constitutionally, this very thing. Congress has the power of the purse, this is arguably their most important if or if not one of a handful of the most important jobs that they do. And so the answer is no, it will not get any easier. It will get harder, which is one of the reasons why this month, this December, this deadline feels different than it has in several years.

BOLDUAN: I agree. On the efforts to bring Paul Whelan home from Russia after Griner's release, you had the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs on your show yesterday. It was a really interesting discussion. He was really candid with you. I want to play a bit of what he told you about kind of going forward their efforts to get Paul Whelan home.


BASH: What options realistically do you have to bring him home?

ROGER CARSTENS, U.S. SPECIAL PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY FOR HOSTAGE AFFAIRS: I would love to tell you about it because to me, they're very exciting and interesting. But we have to in these negotiations, because they're ongoing. We usually have to keep our cards close to --

BASH: But are there cards?

CARSTENS: There's always cards. The options are always being evaluated.


BOLDUAN: And he said that he told Whelan when he spoke with him that they are going to get him home and to keep faith. But how, Dana, what do you think?

BASH: We don't know how. But the fact that he insists that there are cards, that there are options was noteworthy. And he was more candid, frankly than I thought he was going to be on that. It was also interesting that he said that he -- we know that our colleague Jennifer Hansler got a phone call from Paul Whelan from Russian prison late last week, he too, got that phone call. And Whelan was very upset that he was obviously happy for Brittney Griner but very upset that he has been there much longer four times as long and is still sitting in a Russian prison.

And what Roger Carstens said was, we will get you home. He seemed very optimistic about the notion of doing it, how they're going to do it. I guess probably we shouldn't know, because that would blow up a deal. But we don't know how. But it does seem, according -- you talk to Fred Pleitgen before coming on with me. It does seem at this moment that the exchange for that prisoner in Germany is not at the table.

BOLDUAN: Yes, he -- resolute was kind of what I took from the conversation that he at least very much was not even close to giving up hope. Which there are a lot of families all around the country who have their loved ones wrongfully detained abroad who were looking for that kind of resolute leadership for sure, because they don't want to lose hope as well. It's good to see you, Dana. Great stuff, thank you.

BASH: Thank you. Thanks Kate.


BOLDUAN: So the man accused of building the bomb that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 decades ago, he will appear in a Washington courtroom today. The widow of one of the victims joins us next.


BOLDUAN: A Libyan intelligence operatives accused of building the bomb that brought down Pan Am flight 103 nearly 34 years ago, he is now in U.S. custody. In less than two hours he will appear in a federal courtroom in Washington to face charges for the attack that killed 270 people on board and on the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland. Nic Robertson has long followed this tragedy, and he joins me now. Nic, what does this mean?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: This means that the families may get closer to justice. This means they may get more details about how and why the bomb was placed. We know that this agent has already confessed to setting the timer on the bomb to 11 hours to being congratulated at the time for the successful mission in bringing down Pan Am 103, congratulated by the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. So there is an opportunity here for a lot more discovery.


ROBERTSON (voice-over): Almost 34 years since the deadliest terror attack in British history, and the man accused of building the bomb that killed 270 people, mostly Americans, is finally going to face justice in a U.S. court, a huge moment for victims' families.

KARA WEIPZ, BROTHER KILLED IN PAN AM FLIGHT 103 BOMBING: It has been one of our -- it has been the top priority to find the truth and to hold these people accountable. And the fact that this is now going to happen in the U.S., it's monumental.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Libyan Abu Agila Mohammad Masud Kheir Al- Marimi was arrested for his alleged role in blowing up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, 38 minutes after it took off for the U.S. from London, killing everyone on board and 11 people on the ground. The U.S. first charged Al-Marimi for his involvement in the attack two years ago, while he was already in custody in Libya for unrelated crimes.

MICHAEL SHERWIN, FORMER ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY: It is alleged in the criminal complaint the indictment that at that time all co- conspirators work together to arm the explosive device in the suitcase.

[11:20:07] ROBERTSON (voice-over): For years, the only person convicted in the Lockerbie bombing case was Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi. Al- Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence official was accused along with another Libyan man who was acquitted for planting the explosive inside a portable cassette player in a suitcase on the plane. Al-Megrahi was sentenced to life in prison. But eight years after his conviction in 2008, he was released from a Scottish prison with terminal prostate cancer.

Arriving home in Libya, he received a hero's welcome. In 2011, following the revolution that toppled Libya's dictator Muammar Gaddafi, I visited al-Megrahi at his home in Tripoli. He was near death, his family as he always had protesting his innocence.

(on camera): Has he been able to see a doctor?

KHALED AL-MEGRAHI, SON OF CONVICTED LOCKERBIE BOMBER: No, there is no doctor and has nobody to ask. And we don't have any phone line to call anybody.

ROBERTSON: What's his situation right now?

AL-MEGRAHI: He stop eating and he sometimes is come in coma.

ROBERTSON: Coma, he goes unconscious?


ROBERTSON (voice-over): He died the following year without ever proving his innocence. Al-Marimi trial will likely revisit parts of Megrahi's defense, particularly alleged inconsistencies about how the bomb came to be in the plane.


ROBERTSON: Now, Al-Marimi has also known as Masud in the court documents has a lot of evidence stacking up against him. One of the questions for the court is this testimony that was taken from him by a Libyan law enforcement agent 10 years ago. Is that going to be admissible in court? That's a question mark. What is unchangeable and what is fact in evidence is Masud's fingerprints are on a ticket stub that placed them at the scene when the bomb was put on that aircraft. This is damning evidence.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Nic, thank you for laying that out for us, I really appreciate it. And again, he's going to be in a courtroom in the United States today. A very big moment for everyone involved. Nic, thank you. Joining me now is one of those people I'm talking about a very big moment for her as well. Victoria Cummock, her husband, John, was killed in the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing. She's the founder and CEO of the Lockerbie Legacy Foundation. Victoria, thank you for being here. What does this moment, what does today, what does this news mean to you and your family?

VICTORIA CUMMOCK, FOUNDER & CEO, LOCKERBIE LEGACY FOUNDATION: Well, the U.S. apprehension and arrest of Libyan terrorists suspect Abu Agila Masud is the first tangible step made by the U.S. Department of Justice in 34 years to hold any suspect accountable in U.S. courts. You know that U.S. federal courts have jurisdiction to prosecute crimes on board U.S. flagged aircrafts, regardless of the location.

So aside from issuing the 1991 criminal indictments against two Libyans, al-Megrahi and Fhimah, and then the 2020 criminal charges against Masud, U.S. authorities have never arrested or prosecuted any suspects in 34 years. And to the American victims' families, this really has felt like a betrayal by U.S. authorities to the thousands that regularly pledge allegiance to America and its flag.

Today's arraignment of Masud in a Washington courthouse is a significant step, first step to address this three decades long miscarriage of justice. It's the victims' families fervent wish that the U.S. criminal trial proceedings could begin immediately since justice delayed is justice denied. The victims' families are keenly aware that after 34 years, informants and witnesses die, memories fade, and evidence can deteriorate or disappear.

So really, on behalf of my family and the Pan Am 103 Lockerbie family members, I want to express the gratitude -- my gratitude, our gratitude to President Biden, who he himself is a Syracuse University alumnus and there were 35 Syracuse University victims on the flight. We also want to express our gratitude to the U.S. authorities for today, putting actions behind their 34 years of pledges. The type of justice like for us is now.

BOLDUAN: You'd mentioned that many of the families yours included have long felt betrayed by how this has all transpired over 34 years. So does today give you a sense of relief, have you allowed yourself after so long and as you say, miscarriage of justice happening. Do you -- how does it feel today for you?


CUMMOCK: It feels hopeful that we will finally get to hear a little bit about the truth of who ordered this attack, who was involved, and perpetrated the attack and bring not only Masud, but other co- conspirators to justice. You know, this pledge is one that the family members, you know, we began 34 years ago, a regular people like you and me began a Stallworth quest to ensure justice would be served, you know, by identifying and holding accountable those responsible.

This was the second most deadly terrorist attack against America in U.S. history. And so the victim's families pledged to pursue justice. And it's personally my three decade old promise to John Cummock, my 38-year-old husband, my best friend and the father of our three, three children. So that's what I established the Pan Am 103 Lockerby Legacy Foundation.

BOLDUAN: Thirty-four years, it bears repeating just how long you have been fighting for justice and for answers after losing your husband and losing the father of your children. I mean, next week, December 21st is the anniversary of the bombing, the anniversary of your husband John's death is, you know, after three plus decades, is this one going to be different now, now that this process has begun there is this Masud is in U.S. custody will be in an American courtroom today.

CUMMOCK: Well, it's -- we're hopeful that having this process begin, will renew our hope in the U.S. justice system. And in our country, you know, in 1988, so many American families like my, like my own family with my three small children and I were waiting for the arrival of Santa and for their daddy, John, to come home from a London business trip. And then four days before Christmas, John, among 259 passengers and crew boarded Pan Am 103 which was a U.S. flag Boeing 747 flying from London to New York.

And like you said, 38 minutes into the flight at 31,000 feet, the terrorist bomb exploded, scattering the 259 souls, the airplane content and debris over 845 square mile area on the serene countryside and town of Lockerbie, Scotland. So at that moment, 270 lives were shattered and thousands of victims loved ones from 21 nations were left to pick up the pieces. We really want to make sure that that justice is served in order to avoid further attacks on the flying public and on the American people.

BOLDUAN: Victoria, thank you so much for coming on. A very important step towards the justice that you're seeking, but it's still a long road ahead for sure, but I really appreciate you coming on, thank you so much. We will be right back.


CUMMOCK: Thank you for your interest, very grateful.