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At This Hour

Southwest Continues Cancelling Flights As NYE Approaches; Passengers Stuck In Limbo In Wake Of Winter Storm; Death Toll From Storm Climbs To 28 In Erie County, NY; All Major Highways In Western NY Reopen After Storm; Buffalo Couple Opens Home To 10 Stranded South Korean Tourists; Rep-Elect Santos Acknowledges Embellishing Resume; McCarthy Silent On How He'll Address Santos Misrepresenting Bio; Leader Of Whitmer Kidnapping Plot Sentenced To 16 Years In Prison. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 27, 2022 - 12:00   ET



AMARA WALKER, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. At This Hour, departure boards bringing post-Christmas misery to travelers everywhere. One major U.S. carrier is the big source of a nationwide headache.

Plus, incoming Congressman George Santos says, he should get a pass for lying about virtually every single detail of his resume because not telling the truth is not a crime. And new CNN exclusive reporting about why you'll pay less at the pump now but should be preparing for more pain in the spring. This is what we're watching At This Hour.

We begin this hour with the blame game playing out at Southwest Airlines, thousands of stranded travelers just want to get where they are going but bad weather, bad planning and bad systems mean more than 2500 Southwest flights grounded today so far. That's around 90 percent of all flights canceled in the U.S. Southwest passengers can't get through to customer service. And its employees are struggling to speak to the people in charge.


CAPTAIN MIKE SANTORO, SOUTHWEST AIRLINES PILOTS ASSOCIATION: It's just - it's frustrating for the pilots, the flight attendants, and especially our passengers, and we tired of apologizing for Southwest, the pilots of the airline. And our hearts go out to all of our passengers that really does.


WALKER: Our Adrienne Broaddus is standing by a Chicago Midway International Airport, which is one of the worst affected airports. And Adrienne, despite all the anger, frustration, you're still finding some humanity out there among passengers who just want to get home.

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we are. People becoming friends with strangers, despite all of the chaos and even though they left their luggage behind. Some folks we talked to who had been traveling, who even spent the night here said, they are looking on the bright side of things.

Before we tell you more about them, I want you to take a walk with me. Just as far as the eye can see there's luggage, the message board or the information board here also showing lots of cancellations. If you look over on this side, you will notice there's some organization to the chaos.

There are labels in certain areas. For example, that one says San Francisco, that's where that group of bags were supposed to go. And people have told us as well as a representative of Southwest, if Midway is not your final destination, your bag will not be leaving. So, what are people doing, listen it?


ED SHACKEL FORD, STRANDED TRAVELER: think there's providential that was standing next to Mandi and hearing the agent talk to her. I wasn't in line to talk to the agent. I just wanted to hear what other people were hearing. So, then we exchanged our plans.

MANDI ANGELO, STRANDED TRAVELER: I like good stories where people meet each other and help each other out. And I feel like that is what is happening.


BROADDUS: And strangers helping each other out. They are now traveling to Michigan together right now. They were able to secure a rental vehicle. They are also looking into the option to have their flight refunded. That is something Southwest has extended to travelers.

The gentleman you heard from said, the only information he received prior to today was that he could not rebook his flight until December 31. So, he and his wife left their luggage behind, their medication too, they're going to call their local pharmacy and see if they can have those drugs filled somewhere else. Amara?

WALKER: Oh, my goodness. What a mess and what about the people who don't have the resources to stay elsewhere, just horrible. Adrienne Broaddus, thank you so much. Well, CNN reporters, producers and affiliates have been fanning out at airports around America, speaking with passengers who are angry, exasperated, or just fed up after having their travel plans left in limbo.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's very frustrating. This is something I was looking forward to. I feel like they don't have a remedy for it. Oh, we'll give you a voucher. Well, a voucher doesn't replace that I need to be on, you know, on this Christmas, reporting out at three o'clock this afternoon.


ANGELO: I'm traveling with my son, trying to go to a family wedding in Miami. The next flight that was offered was in January, and they couldn't even get us home back to Pittsburgh.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Financially this is going to take a toll, how much could you guys potentially miss out on if you guys don't get on your flight to Colorado.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, probably 30 plus $1,000 for a group of 10.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We come here, and they tell us our luggage is here, but they don't - they can't give it to us. And I said, we have medication, we need it. We can't pull it. We don't have the manpower.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm beyond frustrated and hurt because I can't see my dad. So yes, it's very disappointing.


BROADDUS: Yes. It's disappointing and heartbreaking and really putting people in such a helpless situation. Of course, everyone here at CNN is hoping that they will all get to their destinations as soon as possible.

Well, we just got an update on that winter storm in Buffalo. 28 people have now died in Erie County as a result of the blizzard. The city of Buffalo still is under a winter weather advisory until this afternoon. 55 zero inches of snow have fallen in Buffalo since Friday.

CNN's Miguel Marquez joining us now live from Buffalo with more. How are things looking now 50 inches, I'm just trying to wrap my head around that stuff.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is a lot of snow but do keep in mind that Buffalo is used to big storms like this, they are used to moving snow. This one came in such amounts over such a long period of time where there were just whiteout conditions. It was just really brutal.

I want to give you an idea of what sort of downtown Buffalo looks like right now. We're on Pearl Street and looking downtown there. You can just see the massive amounts of snow off to the side. The 28th that are dead in Erie County, they actually subtracted two from the total because the medical examiner said they had died from natural causes, and they added three. So, there were three more individuals announced dead in Erie County today.

So that brings it to 28 for Erie County, 29 for the area because there was one person in Niagara County that was using a generator and the snow around it created a carbon monoxide sort of cave or capsule and that carbon monoxide ended up killing somebody in their home who was using a generator.

So, authorities here warning people to be very, very cautious of all of that. It is amazing to see Buffalo like this, I've been up here many times, this should be a very, very busy area. And to see the city just completely socked in.

The problem now is tomorrow it's going to be almost 40 degrees here. Friday, it's going to be up over 40 - and excuse me, Thursday up over 40, and then by Friday, it's going to be up about 50 degrees and rain. So, all those massive amounts of snow that you see along the roads here, they have to get rid of that because if it blocks up the drains, they're now concerned about flooding. Amara?

WALKER: Oh boy. All right. Miguel Marquez, thank you. Joining me now is Diane Benczkowski. She is a supervisor for the town of Cheektowaga, New York. Welcome to you supervisor. First off, we know the driving ban for your town was lifted this morning. So, it's now just an advisory. I'd imagine that means that conditions are getting better. What is it like there now?

DIANE BENCZKOWSKI, SUPERVISOR, CHEEKTOWAGA, NEW YORK: Yes. Thank you. Conditions (Ph) are getting better in the south part of Cheektowaga. However, we do have a problem in the north part of town. We're asking people not to do any unnecessary travel. We did have to lift the van because there were so many people without necessities like food, water, baby formula diapers, so we had to lift the ban, but we're telling people not to go out unless they absolutely have to.

WALKER: So, stores are open in the area because I'm sure you've heard a lot of stories from people like you just mentioned that people were running out of supplies.

BENCZKOWSKI: Not a lot of store the necessities. For instance, we have the largest mall in western New York in our town that is not open. We're telling people do not just go to a regular clothes shopping if you don't have to. Just the necessities, are small grocery stores, drugstores, things like that, corner stores open.

WALKER: What is your advice to people who are getting out and about now finally, to get the things that they need?

BENCZKOWSKI: Well, they have to use caution because we really have a hundred abandoned vehicles still out on the road that are blocking entrances to neighborhoods. So, if your road is not cleared yet, it's because there's a vehicle blocking it. So please do not leave your house if your road has not been clear. Right now, 99 percent of roads only have (Ph) at least one pathway through, those are for emergency vehicles. But for now, don't leave unless you absolutely have to.


WALKER: I mean, how much longer do you think people will have to stay hunkered down? And what kind of help does your community need the most right now?

BENCZKOWSKI: Well, I will tell you that we have a great operation in place. Our highway department has an additional 160 pieces of equipment out there right now, including some dump trucks, pay loaders, high lifts and bulldozers. They have to actually scoop the snow up and into the dump trucks, then they travel and dump that snow like just like it's dirt to another site.

So, I just telling people that it'll be a little while we still have. This is a very important piece of the puzzle. One million cubic yards of snow still need to be removed, knows from the roads, I'm sorry - one million cubic yards of snow have to be removed. So, please use caution. The abandoned vehicles, sometimes you can't see them, but they are blocking the road to some neighborhoods.

WALKER: Yes. Very important to keep that in mind that there are blocked vehicles or vehicles blocking the road and you got to keep an eye out for that. Diane Benczkowski - they're all covered with, right, exactly. Yes. And it's hard to see obviously. Diane Benczkowski, appreciate you joining us this morning and all the best to you. Thank you.

Well, plenty of people joined together during the storm to help others in need, including one Buffalo couple. I love the story. They told CNN this morning, they heard a knock at their door and were soon hosting a group of stranded tourists for the weekend.


ANDREA CAMPAGNA, HOSTED TOURISTS STRANDED IN BLIZZARD: We heard a knock at the door around 2 pm right when this storm was really starting to kick up. And two gentlemen were there asking for shovels. They said we need help. And my husband went out to help them. He got about 10 feet out and realized he couldn't see anything. The snow was coming down really heavy. And then they said we're part of a tour group. And soon 10 people were in our home and freezing cold.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love, one of the girls in the group sent you this note, and she wrote thanks to your help, I was able to survive. Thanks to you. I'm bringing special memories. I will never forget your kindness. Thank you so much. Merry Christmas. I mean, talk about a Christmas gift and a miracle that they needed.

CAMPAGNA: That was so heartwarming. She was unsure of her skills with English. And so, she handed me this written on a napkin and it brought me to tears. It was really our pleasure to help them.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And so, you guys, what did you do during those two days that they were staying with you? I know you had luckily some food, that you had pork, I think you said you had bought, I'd say I'll put in the freezer and you guys just started cooking together?

CAMPAGNA: Yes. And I think that that was really comforting for all of them, especially because during a blizzard, there's not much to do. They had found out that we actually had our first date at a Korean restaurant. And so, all the women in the group got to cooking and they found out the dish that we had on our date and they recreated that dish for us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wow. Do you think you guys will keep in touch?

CAMPAGNA: We will. We really feel we've made lifelong friends and several of them have invited us to visit them in Korea.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WALKER: How about a heartwarming story. A Republican Representative elect admits to lying about his resume but says he will still serve in Congress. So, will the potential future speaker Kevin McCarthy take any action. That story is next.




WALKER: New evidence today of what passes for just fine in the Republican Party not being a criminal. Incoming New York Congressman George Santos says, he didn't break the law here or anywhere and he apologized for misrepresenting virtually every piece of his biography to voters.


REP. ELECT GEORGE SANTOS, (R) NEW YORK: I'm not a criminal. Not here, not abroad, in any jurisdiction in the world have I ever committed any crimes. To get down to the nitty gritty, I'm not a fraud. I'm not going to make excuses for this, but a lot of people overstate in their resumes, or twist a little bit or any Grand Jake (Ph) themselves. I'm not saying I'm not guilty of that.


WALKER: Well, you be the judge. CNN's Eva McKend has been tracking this story for us. So, Eva, please break down the fabrications along with Santos's explanations.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: So, after about a week of silence on this, Santos now admitting key details in his resume aren't true. But it still falls short of a robust explanation of why much of what he has touted as part of his personal biography is false. He often claimed to work for Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, he did not.

He tried to explain it away by arguing he work for them through another company, calling it a poor choice of words to say he worked directly for the financial firms. Santos also conceded he never graduated from any college or university after previously claiming he received degrees from both NYU and Baruch College.

The New York Post reports, he admitted to lying when he claimed he owned 13 different properties. He does not only own any property. But he maintains he is not a criminal and says he still intends to serve in Congress. Take a listen to his explanation.



SANTOS: The reality is, is I'm human, I'm flawed. I'm not perfect. But I challenge all 434 members of Congress aside myself in the House to go through the same litany tests, I just went through last week. Open yourselves up to the media. Let them dig deep and pull in your deepest secrets. If we did that, we wouldn't have a single congressman in the House. And I bet you, we wouldn't have a single senator in the Senate. It's complicated, we're flawed human beings.


MCKEND: So, if all that wasn't enough, there is this other fabrication as it pertains to his alleged Jewish heritage in the past. He is claimed to be a Latino Jew, half Jewish. He said his grandparents fled the Holocaust. But CNN learned that claim was contradicted by genealogy records. Now the Republican Jewish Coalition, they say they were deceived, and he won't be welcome at any future RJC events. Amara?

WALKER: Incredible. Just hearing that excuse that pretty much, everybody else in Congress does it even though that is not true as well. Eva McKend, appreciate it. Thank you. A looming question, will Santos suffer any consequences for lying to voters and his future colleagues?

CNN congressional correspondent Lauren Fox joining us now with more. Hi, Lauren, so do we have any read on whether Kevin McCarthy the top House Republican? Well, he punished Santos for lying.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Amara, it's not for lying, of trying up here on Capitol Hill. Many of my colleagues last week tried to ask this question to Kevin McCarthy. What is he going to do about the fact that he has this incoming congressman and these incoming issues coming with him to Congress, and McCarthy refuse to answer that question.

So, what we're left with is what we know the options are, one of the options for Kevin McCarthy at this point is one Santos comes in, he could be referred to the Ethics Committee. They could do their own investigation, their own probe and make a decision about how they wanted to go forward. That committee it's evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats.

Another option for McCarthy is he could just choose not to seat Santos on any of the committees at his disposal. Now, typically, a freshman member coming in, to office wouldn't have their choice of select committees. But that could be another way to punish him.

Of course, if you don't have committee work, what are you going to tell your voters back home that you're working on for them. Those are some of the options that McCarthy has. But we just don't know how he is going to move forward at this point.

WALKER: Yes, Lauren. As we know, the Republicans have a very slim majority in the House. So, could the Santos issue complicated McCarthy's already difficult pathway to becoming speaker?

FOX: This is one of the challenges for McCarthy right now is the fact that he has just a four-vote margin. That means he can just lose a handful of members. And already he has five conservatives who are saying they will not back him next Tuesday when this vote goes to the floor of the House. So that is a complicating factor.

If you frustrate Santos now before he comes into office, if you claim that you're not going to see them on committees publicly, what does that do in terms of your vote count for the speakership. Right now, that has to be McCarthy's focus going into next week, knowing that he just doesn't have the votes right now, Amara?

WALKER: All right. Lauren Fox, appreciate your reporting. Thank you. And still ahead, migrants in limbo as we wait for a Supreme Court decision on immigration and Title 42.




WALKER: New today the leader of a 2020 plot to abduct Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has just been sentenced. Adam Fox was convicted on two charges kidnapping, conspiracy, and conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction. CNN's Jean Casarez has the details now. Jean, what do we know about the sentence?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judge Robert Jonker, a federal judge in Michigan just issued the sentence of 192 months or 16 years in federal prison. And he went on the record for quite a while seemingly to justify this sentence, so everyone understands.

He said it was extremely serious situation here that it needed to be a sufficient sentence, but also a necessary sentence, talked about that the public needs to understand that there needs to be a deterrent aspect here. So, others will not think that they can do this, that you can plot, and you can have training sessions and you can conspire together of how to kidnap a public official.

In this sense, the governor of Michigan. And he said the victim is the governor and the emotional baggage that she will keep with her for the rest of her life. And also, the emotional baggage of other elected officials in the public capacity are those that want to do something like that.

Let's look at the charges right here because there was a great spans for this judge. It was a term of years up to life in prison. Count one the conviction was kidnapping, a conspiracy to kidnap the governor of Michigan. And he talked about how that, it was justified that the Adam Fox was the leader.

He was the one that orchestrated this in all capacities from generating money to practice sessions to recruiting and then count to conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction. Terrorism was an aspect of an enhancement of all this, and the judge said that that was justified right there. Also, the fact that this was an official victim. It was the governor of Michigan, also an enhancement that he was the leader in all of this.

Now, here is some other aspects of the sentence. Look at that, not only 16 years in federal prison, but it will be concurrent on both counts so the sentence will be served together