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At This Hour

January 6 Committee Releases Slew of Interview Transcripts; Russia Launches "Massive" Missile Attack on Ukraine; Putin Remains out of Public View; Southwest Meltdown Leaves Passengers Angry, Frustrated; Rep-Elect Santos under Fire from Feds, State. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired December 29, 2022 - 11:00   ET




AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello, everyone.

AT THIS HOUR, Russia lights up the Ukrainian sky with nearly 70 missiles aimed at critical infrastructure, part of Moscow's mission to keep Ukraine in the dark.

Plus, Southwest apologizes again after canceling thousands of flights. Passengers are resorting to pay thousands of dollars just to get home.

And a rush to figure out who is to blame in Buffalo amid stories of heartbreak. But the storm giving us a glimpse of our better angels, Good Samaritans saving strangers trapped in cars and delivering hundreds of meals in just hours.

This is what we're watching AT THIS HOUR.


WALKER: Good morning, everyone, I'm Amara Walker in for Kate Bolduan.

Breaking news: a big release of new transcripts from the January 6 committee. The full list includes key interviews with Donald Trump Jr., the former FOX News anchor Kimberly Guilfoyle, former Trump attorney Christina Bobb and people involved in the state level effort to overturn the 2020 election, including defeated Pennsylvania candidate Doug Mastriano.

The list includes the D.C. mayor, Muriel Bowser, and numerous others. CNN will bring you more information as we get it.

All right, turning now to the sound and the fury of Russian rockets echoing across Ukraine today. Smoke hanging in the Kyiv air. Evidence of a massive missile barrage that triggered sirens throughout the country.

The aerial assault mixed cruise missiles and drones pointed at energy infrastructure, nearly 70 projectiles in the sky, fresh signs that Ukraine's defenses held, an intercept of a Russian missile caught on camera.

The military claims it shut down the bulk of the Russian barrage. And yet what eluded Ukraine air defenses shattered ordinary life again, mangling cars and pulverizing buildings. Let's get straight to Kyiv and Ben Wedeman.

Moscow wants to keep Ukraine in the dark, especially during this holiday season.


WALKER: It looks like -- Ben, can you hear me?

It looks like we lost Ben there. We'll try to get him back.

Let's talk more about this and some critical perspective from our long-time CNN Moscow bureau chief Jill Dougherty, as we try to get Ben Wedeman back up.

Tell us more about the significance of this huge barrage of missiles that have been fired into the Ukraine sky but, of course, much of them were thwarted.

How significant is this latest barrage?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, unfortunately, Amara, this is happening on a regular basis now. And I've been watching Ben's excellent reporting. And I was thinking back to the many times that I've been to Kyiv and other cities in Ukraine.

But Kyiv is a beautiful city and it is a beautiful city especially this time of the year. So the new year in that entire area, Russia and Ukraine, all parts of the former Soviet Union, New Year was a big, big celebration. It was huge.

And not to mention, of course, Christmas. So I think the -- in addition to the absolute destruction that the Russian missiles are trying to carry out, you also have this psychological effect of bringing as much devastation to Ukrainians at this particular point in the calendar.

And then also look at the question of, you know, peace. The Russians right now, the foreign minister Lavrov saying, this is delusional, the ideas that Zelenskyy is bringing forth. So I'm hoping we could get Ben up on the air.

WALKER: We do have him. We want to get more analysis. But let's go to Ben because we do have him back up.

Ben, just describe what is happening on the ground and the destruction but also the psychological warfare that Jill Dougherty was mentioning during this holiday season heading into new years.

WEDEMAN: This was expected, that the Russians would strike just before the new year, which as Jill was saying, here, it is considered one of the biggest holidays of the year. Now this morning at around 9:00, we heard several loud explosions here in central Kyiv.

And according to the mayor of Kyiv, there were 16 Russian missiles fired in the direction of the capital. All of them were intercepted.


WEDEMAN: However, in the process of interception, debris fell to the ground and we went to two separate locations where homes were severely damaged, if not destroyed.

At one location there were two men living in the house, one an elderly father and his adult son. And half of their house was utterly destroyed. They escaped with scratches but their car exploded and burned.

At another location where we believe debris fell, there was widespread destruction in one home. A 14-year-old girl was wounded as well as her mother and a man nearby.

But by and large the capital did escape what could have been a far more serious attack because of the success of the air defenses, which did not unfortunately work everywhere. In the eastern city of Kharkiv, two people were killed.

And in the western city of Lviv, which is far away normally from the danger of this war, 90 percent of the power has been knocked out. Amara.

WALKER: Ben Wedeman, live on the ground in Kyiv.

Now back to you, Jill. Now last week in Washington, we heard from president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. And he told Congress that the air defense systems were not enough to deter attacks.

So how loud do you think the calls for other anti-aircraft defense systems will get now, following this attack?

And I'd imagine more are expected during this holiday season.

DOUGHERTY: Well, obviously, you know, Ukraine wants as much as it can get. Because if this is a regular thing, which it already has begun, they will need the defense to protect from some of the drones used in the attacks as well.

And the issue when could this end, could there ever be a peace agreement?

President Zelenskyy did bring forth a plan with 10 points in it and some of them are Russians pulling out their troops and reparations to Ukraine for the destruction that has been carried out by Russia, et cetera.

And now, today -- and you could see the organized answer, the spokesperson for the foreign minister, was saying this is an illusion that this is going to happen. Russia will never go for it. And also blaming the United States. It's always -- I think at this particular point it is Ukraine that

immediately becomes "the United States." The United States is supposedly orchestrating all of this.

WALKER: Also Putin has been unusually quiet right. I mean, he's been relatively out of public view. He didn't give his usual year-end press conference and the war seems to be at a stalemate right now.

What is Putin up to?

DOUGHERTY: Well, today, the latest that I noticed is that he's signed a law that would have life imprisonment for sabotage. So you're seeing more and more really serious laws coming on the books for what obviously is some type of reaction, people who are opposed to this sabotage, criticism, et cetera.

So I think he's toughening up the laws. And also on a human basis, I've been watching the media. And in Moscow and other cities, they're weaponizing Christmas and New Year's.

And the Santa Claus is running around in an armored personnel carrier and the Russians have their Z, for their war. But it is the special military operation, as President Putin calls it. And so there are these symbols that used to be a peaceful celebration for Christmas have been weaponized and it is all over the country.

WALKER: And, look, I know that you're quite in touch with what is happening in Moscow and what people are feeling. I know you also keep track of what is being broadcast on the news there.

How do you feel, like how the Russians are feeling regarding this drawn-out war right now?

DOUGHERTY: It is so hard, because there is a little bit of polling that -- we've been saying this over and over again, in the circumstances of a war, it is very difficult to carry out any kind of polling that makes sense. And especially in the time of severe repression, for anyone who doesn't agree with the war.


DOUGHERTY: So that said, it appears -- and it is my impression is -- that people are tired of it, want it to end but they kind of give up and say, I can't change it; it is my country, maybe let's continue. It is very sad.

WALKER: Jill Dougherty, appreciate you joining us this morning. Thank you so much.

All right. Coming up, the travel nightmare that just won't end, as Southwest Airlines cancels thousands of more flights today.





WALKER: It is now day eight of the Southwest Airlines implosion. At least 16,000 flights canceled so far. That includes more than 2,000 today as the airline system fails to meet demands.

Those numbers are staggering and so are the very human stories behind those numbers. Countless families missed out on holiday time together, time they can not get back. Others struggle to afford alternate ways to get home. And a bride who missed her own wedding.

Nick Valencia is at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport.

You're hearing so many heartbreaking stories.

Is there any relief in sight for at least the Southwest passengers?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just when they think they're getting some relief, they're hit with more bad news. And we saw the arc of emotion play out with two passengers yesterday.

They had their flight to Mexico cancelled twice. They get here late last night, they check their bags and by the time they get to the board and look up, they see the flight is canceled.

This is part of the problem, their bags are getting on the flight but some people are not. So they're stranded in cities far away from their homes and they're without personal belongings. So this is something that they're continuing to shell out money and continuing to have expensive days stranded far away from homes.

And this is an issue that came up late last night in a Twitter post from the airline, talking about reimbursements. Listen to what he had to say about the issue.


RYAN GREEN, CHIEF COMMERCIAL OFFICER, SOUTHWEST AIRLINES: First, my personal apology on behalf of myself and everyone at Southwest Airlines for all of this. Second, a pledge to do everything that we can and to work day and night to repair our relationship with you.

And third, offer some specific new resources that we have to get you the fastest information and fastest service possible.


VALENCIA: It is a bit of "Groundhog Day" here, another day and another avalanche of cancelations. And the line behind me tells the story. There is nobody in line because there is no flights to get on here.

The CEO telling passengers to just hold on a little longer. They say their operations will return to normal by sometime next week. But for the passengers that are going through their eighth day of this nightmare, it is just lip service. And this mea culpa really falling on deaf ears.

WALKER: It is tough and cruel waiting game. Nick, appreciate your reporting from Atlanta. Thank you.

With me now is Kyle Arnold, from "The Dallas Morning News."

Kyle, good to see you. You have some new reporting, good news on Southwest schedule. Tell us more.

KYLE ARNOLD, "THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS": Yes, if everything goes well today, Southwest Airlines has told employees that they hope to have a normal airline schedule up and running sometime on Friday.

Now that all depends on if they could execute on all of their plans today. But we could kind of see a beginning of an end of this nightmare, maybe by the start of this weekend.

WALKER: But that huge backlog of humans, right, to get on airlines, so we're not talking about everyone being able to rebook their flights, right?

ARNOLD: Yes. Hundreds of thousands of people a day and there is -- right, there is a line of people waiting to get on flights across the country. So it is going to be booked for days and days.

WALKER: And it is New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

Can Southwest return to normal after all of this?

ARNOLD: I don't think they'll ever go back to what they did before. They've been dealing with this problem on and off for 1.5 years. They had hoped that they would improve things over last couple of months.

But pilots and flight attendants were worrying this could happen again. And there'll definitely be some changes at headquarters and in their operating strategy going forward.

WALKER: And Kyle, the scope of the Southwest cancellations, I mean, it is staggering, right. Because we're talking about 16,000 flights in about a week.

Just put that into perspective for us.

Have other recent airline meltdowns been this bad?

ARNOLD: No, nothing of this magnitude. Sometimes, 1.5 years ago, October 2021, there was 2,000 flights over a couple of days at Southwest. That was considered a huge magnitude of problems.

You know, other than, you know, during the COVID outbreak when they canceled, you know, tens of thousands of flights because demand disappeared, or 9/11, where you saw flights disappear, there is really nothing to compare this magnitude over a couple of days. And that has really left Southwest reeling.

WALKER: I'm just trying to understand the problems that Southwest, that are unique to Southwest Airlines.


WALKER: It really stuck out to me when Pete Buttigieg, the Transportation Secretary, said that Southwest is unable to locate their own crews, let alone passengers and baggage.

Is this a software issue?

Is it just so slow that everyone logs on it is crashing?

What exactly is happening?

ARNOLD: It is a little bit of a combination of everything. They have systems to rebook their flight attendants and their pilots when there is some kind of a weather problem. But when you get too many of those things happening, you're trying to move things around on a chess board.

And it is tens of thousands of different moves; people are trying to reschedule and find a place to go and people were getting diverted to new destinations. And meanwhile, they're trying to get these planes staffed and there are people sitting on hold for hours and hours.

Flight attendants and pilots trying to get on a plane somewhere. Meanwhile, there are planes sitting waiting, without crews. And you know, it just all breaks down at a certain point. This is more than their software system could handle.

WALKER: And it is heartbreaking because thousands of people, their holidays have been ruined. It is time with families that they missed out on, that they're not going to be able to get back.

When it comes to how Southwest Airlines is going to be making it up to these passengers, Southwest did say it would honor reasonable requests for reimbursement for meals and hotels -- reasonable requests.

Are refunds guaranteed?

ARNOLD: You know, that is one of the big questions and I think that is really where the Department of Transportation is going to crack down on them here. There is no guaranteed refund for a weather related event. And that is what the airlines have done.

It is clear that, after the first couple of hours, maybe the first day or two, this was not a weather-related event, this was a breakdown this their system. So the Department of Transportation is going after Southwest to give full refunds to anybody.

And then to reimbursement them if they showed up at the airport or needed to get a hotel or transportation or food. They're going to be shelling out hundreds of millions.

WALKER: Kyle Arnold, appreciate your time. Thank you.

Still ahead, George Santos facing investigation on the state and federal levels after he admitted to lying about his background.

What is at stake?

We'll break it down.





WALKER: Congressman-elect George Santos now facing multiple investigations into his finances and lies he told about his background and experience. Federal prosecutors say they're looking into Santos' financial dealings as the New York Republican faces questions over his wealth and loans he made to his campaign.

That is on top of a separate state probe run by a fellow Republican in the Nassau County district attorney's office, looking into his fabrications about his education and job and history and ancestry. Joining us is Sunlen Serfaty.

What can you tell us about this?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In addition to the two new probes, there are many new fabrications unearthed by our KFile team here at CNN.

First he claimed he attended an elite private school, Horace Mann prep. He says he had to leave when his family's real estate assets fell on hard times. But that is false according to the school. They have no evidence that he ever attended.

And he also said that he represented Goldman Sachs at a financial conference, saying there he spoke out against the company for investing in renewables. That is also false as we've previously covered. He did not work at Goldman Sachs.

But there is not only no record of him appearing on the panel but no record of him even attending the conference.

There is additional false claims about his family history. Santos claims that his mother emigrated from Europe to Brazil but CNN's review found that she was born in Brazil.

And Santos also said that his mother had a historically Jewish name but genealogists found no evidence of that name, no evidence of Jewish or Ukrainian heritage at all in their family tree.

Now this all comes, as you noted off the top, that federal prosecutors in New York are investigating specifically his finances. And the Nassau County district attorney's office is looking into it, saying "the numerous fabrications and inconsistencies associated with Congress man-elect Santos are nothing short of stunning." So certainly the scrutiny is intensifying around him. All the while it

has been complete silence from Republican leaders on Capitol Hill.

WALKER: Sunlen, thank you.

For more on this, let's bring in Elie Honig.

It seems the main question is, you know, where did he get this money to fund his campaign?

Right. Because from what I understand he loaned his campaign more than $700,000.

What exactly will they be looking into?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think the first question is going to be where and how did he get this money?

He went from somebody who essentially had no assets, to somebody who was reportedly had substantial assets.