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At This Hour

January 6 Cmte Releases New Witness Transcripts; Ukraine: Russia Launches Barrage Of Missile In New Wave Of Attacks; Ukraine: Russia Fires Nearly 70 Missiles At Infrastructure Targets; Air Raid Sirens Blare Across Ukraine As Russian Renews Aerial Assault; Kyiv's Mayor Warns Of Power And Water Outages Amid New Attacks. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired December 29, 2022 - 12:00   ET




AMARA WALKER, CNN HOST: Hello everyone. "At This Hour", a batch of new transcripts from the January 6 panel. What did Donald Trump Jr. tell the Committee? Plus, a message from Moscow, nearly 70 missiles pierced the Ukrainian sky in a massive attack, the target, Ukraine's energy grid, the objective, to force war-weary Ukrainians to spend the holidays in the pitch black. And, the United States revives a COVID travel restriction for passengers traveling from China. That's what we're watching this hour.

Hello, everyone. I'm Amara Walker, in for Kate Bolduan. Developing "At This Hour", the January 6 Committee releasing deposition transcripts from 19 witnesses, many of them, Donald Trump insiders. Now, the list includes the former president's son Donald Trump Jr,; Kimberly Guilfoyle, the former Fox Anchor and Trump Jr.'s girlfriend; Stephanie Grisham, the former White House Press Secretary; Alyssa Farah Griffin, the former White House Communications Director; Stephen Miller, a former top Trump Advisor; Christopher Miller, the former Acting Defense Secretary, and others.

Paula Reid joining us now with the very latest. Hey there, Paula. So, what did Donald Trump Jr. tell the Committee?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Amara, a lot of news in this most recent batch of transcripts. We have a whole team of people pouring over these right now. But, some of the highlights, specifically from Donald Trump Jr.'s transcript, he was asked about money, all the money that was raised after the election, $250 million. Now, about $10 million of that was spent on litigation. But, but he was asked, Hey, where did the other $240 million go? Now, Donald Trump Jr. was not able to answer that. He said he didn't know. So, definitely more questions than answers on that topic.

Then it came to these text messages that he sent to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on January 6. CNN has previously reported on many of these. But, Amara, we're getting new details. According to these transcripts. Donald Trump Jr. acknowledges texting former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on January 6 saying that his father, then President Trump, had to "condemn this expletive" and that Meadows needed to press his father to condemn what was going on at the Capitol.

Investigators pressed Donald Trump Jr. on why he went through Meadows and why didn't just - he just reach out to his father directly. He noted that his father doesn't really text and he couldn't really reach out to him directly. He also confirms that he told Meadows to "go to the mattresses", confirming that is a godfather reference, to try to get his father to condemn the Capitol attack. Now, interestingly, when Donald Trump Jr. was pressed on whether he believed that it was his father's supporters who were carrying out this violence, he sort of demurred and said that he blamed the media for this violence.

But, Amara, one thing that we keep seeing again and again in many of these transcripts, as they're being released, is Mark Meadows, as a central figure in all of this, via these text messages, people trying to get unsuccessfully to the former president, efforts to get pardons. Of course, these other revelations we got the other day about the former chief of staff of burning allegedly documents in his office. He is clearly, based on all these witness transcripts, a central figure in the January 6 investigation, but of course, they didn't get a chance to ask him any questions because he'd declined to sit down across from the Committee.

WALKER: Really, notable details. Paula Reid, we will let you go, and pour over those many, many pages of the transcripts. Thank you so much, Paula.

Also, this hour, a swarm of Russian missiles and drones bombarding targets across Ukraine, all too familiar scenes of devastation in Kyiv, bulldozers clearing debris where homes once stood, after nearly 70 bombs rained down on cities and civilians. Giant swathes of the country are now in the dark.

Let's get right to Kyiv and CNN's Ben Wedeman. Ben, this is all a part of Moscow trying to plunge the Ukrainians into darkness during this holiday season.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Amara. And really, it is part of the fact that unable to score any victories on the battlefield, the Russians have increasingly, over the last few weeks and months, focused on trying to cripple or destroy the country's energy infrastructure. Today, we saw 69 missiles, according to the Commander in Chief of the Ukrainian Army, fired in the direction of Ukraine. 54 of them were intercepted. But, here in Kyiv, for instance, those interceptions, of course, when they intercepted in midair by the air defenses, debris falls to the ground.

We went to two separate locations on the outskirts of Kyiv where they hit to very close or on top of homes.


Now, we understand at this point that the death toll from today's nationwide barrage was three, two in the eastern city of Kharkiv, and one in the Donetsk region - eastern area of Kharkiv and one in the Donetsk region. Now, here in Kyiv itself, now, the debris falling resulted in the injury of a 14-year-old girl, her mother and a man nearby. But, by and large, authorities are satisfied with the fact that they were able to thwart so many of these missiles. Nonetheless, for instance, here in Kyiv, 40 percent of the city is without electricity. In the western city of Lviv, 90 percent of that city is without power, and it's going to take some time to bring that power back up, and that power is also what provides warmth and heat, and it is very cold in Ukraine at the moment. Amara.

WALKER: Ben Wedeman, appreciate it. Thank you.

Joining us now, CNN Military Analyst, and retired Air Force Colonel, Cedric Leighton. Cedric, first off, tell us more about this massive missile barrage from Russia. Why is it happening?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, U.S. AIR FORCE (RETD.), & CNN MILIRATY ANALYST: So, Amara, the basic idea behind this is, this is part of Russia's strategy to go after the civilian infrastructure. We've talked a lot about this. But, what they're doing now is they're really concentrating on the energy grid. So, they want to make sure that Ukraine, as Ben said, is really pitched in darkness for this New Year's celebration, New Year being an incredibly important holiday, of course, in both Ukraine and Russia.

And, the other thing to think about here is that they're doing this all across the entire country. So, they're trying to show that no matter where you are in Ukraine that you're going to get hit by these missiles, or at least be impacted by them, and your energy supplies are going to be at risk. So, that's what they're doing. They're trying to, in essence, go in after the civilian infrastructure in order to really impact morale, and that morale, then the idea would be that they would impact the Ukrainian war effort. I don't think it is working. But, that's the Russian plan at the moment.

WALKER: Yes. You partially answered this. But, obviously, it has to impact morale, especially, when it's cold out there, and it is dark. It's a holiday season. Do you see any evidence this bomb into submission strategy, being deployed by the Kremlin, is working?

LEIGHTON: Not really. And, the reason I say that, Amara, is yes, you're going to find pockets where people are going to be discouraged in places like Kyiv or Kharkiv that are really impacted by this a lot. However, what it really does psychologically for a lot of people, and we've seen this in other conflicts as well, when they are bombed like this, they redouble their efforts at resistance. And, really what the Russians are doing is they're really making the Ukrainians into a very big resistant force, and that means not only are the people in uniform resisting, but the entire civilian population, everything from zero to 98 plus is going to really go after the Ukrainians - after the Russians that is as long as they're able, and that's really the difference here. It's a very bad strategy for the Russians to use at this point.

WALKER: And, Ukraine's Military says the bulk, the majority of the Russian attack was intercepted by its missile defenses. How significant is that? LEIGHTON: It's very significant. I mean, obviously, there are - there is some damage to what exactly has occurred in Kyiv. There is a damage to the infrastructure. There is damage to the power supply as far away as Lviv in the western part of the country. But, the damage would be far more severe if more - it had more missiles - more Russian missiles had gotten through, then is the case. So, what basically was a difference of 15, if I counted correctly, were the Russians sent 59 missiles and the Ukrainians were able to intercept 54 of them, and that is a really big deal. It shows that the weapon systems that the Ukrainians are using are fairly effective, but they're not 100 percent perfect, and the more Western aid that the Ukrainians can get, the better they will get at defending their airspace.

WALKER: And, lastly, Ukraine's Intelligence Chief, Colonel, told the BBC in an interview that the war "is just stuck, that it's at a stalemate". Do you see anything on the horizon that could shift the situation on the ground in either direction?

LEIGHTON: Well, one thing that I'm looking at is in the northeastern part of the country, a - in the town of Kreminna, which is an area that is occupied by the Russians. It is part of the Luhansk Oblast in that the northeastern part of the region and northern part of the Donbas region, and that area is something to watch for. It could very well be a place where something could happen in favor of the Ukrainians.

WALKER: Cedric Leighton, always appreciate your analysis. Thank you.


And, still ahead, the U.S. is now imposing new rules for travelers from China amid a massive COVID surge there.


WALKER: The Southwest Airlines chaos continues now for the eighth day, more than 2,000 flights canceled again. That makes at least 16,000 in just about one week. And now, a Southwest executive is offering a new apology.


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 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.


WALKER: The Department of Transportation and Congress, both vowing to investigate what went wrong here, as passengers were left stressed and stranded over the holidays. CNN's Adrienne Broaddus is at Chicago's Midway Airport. Hello to you again, Adrienne. Yesterday, the travel mess was illustrated by the piles of luggage at baggage claim. What's the situation today?

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Amara, I don't know if you hear those bells going off. That's an indication bags are about to start coming down, one of these carousels behind me. Carousel Seven is open. But, this time yesterday, we couldn't even walk through this area because it was filled with bags. If you're new to this story, just check out your screen and you can see what this area looked like for the past several days. The majority of those bags were moved to a secure location on site here at the airport. We are told that the luggage will be transported to its original final destination. It's unclear whether or not the bags will be loaded onto planes going out or if the bags will be shipped.

Meanwhile, Southwest laying out steps for travelers who were impacted to take when it comes to reimbursement. The airline says they don't want travelers calling because the phone lines are overloaded. Instead, they want everything done online. For example, if you're missing your luggage, if you want to request reimbursement for your flight or canceled flight, you can do all of that online. And, they have forms for you to fill out.

Some travelers say it doesn't help them at all because they didn't get to where they needed to be. For example, a woman we heard from in Baltimore, was trying to get to her sick grandmother. Her grandmother died on Tuesday, and she didn't make it. That's time she will never get back. That's a one sad story someone shared with us. On the flip side, we have seen people rejoicing here at Midway. See for yourself.


PATRICK KEANE, SOUTHWEST PASSENGER: I just haven't had this bag in a week. I've been wearing other people's clothes. I want to wear my wardrobe. It's New Year's Eve, and I'm going to go out and I'm going to party, like, it's 2023 because it's going to be, and this bag, when I go back to Denver, is not getting checked. It stay on right here with me because I'm not losing it again.


BROADDUS: Relief from one passenger, but the journey to reunite with their bags continues for some others. Amara.

WALKER: He was overjoyed, understandably. Adrienne Broaddus, thank you so much for your latest reporting.

Well, another big change for travelers, the U.S. will start requiring all travelers coming from China to show a negative COVID test before their flight. The policy goes into effect January 5. COVID cases have exploded in China after the country lifted the bulk of its zero COVID policy restrictions.

Joining me now is Dr. William Schaffner. He is a Professor for the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Thanks for your time Dr. Schaffner. So, what's your reaction? Is it the right call, the decision? DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, PROFESSOR, DIVISION OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: Amara, I think it's a very prudent thing to do, and the main reason the CDC has made this new obligation of testing people coming into this country is that we're concerned about new variants cropping up in China. With all of the spread of the virus, the virus keeps multiplying, and that's when new variants can crop up, perhaps worst case scenario, a variant that could evade the protection of our current vaccines and therapeutics.

But, the Chinese government is not sharing the genetic information about these viruses with the rest of the world. So, at the moment, what we're saying is, should a new variant crop up in China unless we're testing? Well, we won't be able to find it. So, at the moment, prudence rains. I think, if you'd like to come from China into the United States, you have to have a negative test.

WALKER: I hate that we have to be concerned once again about another possible variant that could evade vaccines. Doctor, one aspect of this that's interesting, unlike earlier travel bans enacted under former President Trump, this testing requirement applies to everyone coming from China, not just Chinese citizens. Do you see that making a difference?

SCHAFFNER: Yes. I think it's important that this requirement extend to everyone who is traveling, because a person in the United States who travels to China and then returns back to the United States could be carrying a variant also. So, yes, you have to apply it to everyone. This is not a perfect system but it is something that we can do to buy us more time and give us a measure of protection.


WALKER: But, Dr. Michael Osterholm, he told the New York Times that this requirement creates a "false sense of security that transmission is being reduced". Do you agree with that?

SCHAFFNER: Yes. Well, Mike and I will agree, this is not a perfect measure, but it's prudent. Certainly, if we didn't do it and a variant showed up in China that was really disastrous, and we had not had this recommendation in place, then everybody would be criticizing us for not doing it. I think we have to be prudent at the moment, recognizing that it has its limitations, but it's something that we can do to help protect the citizens of the United States.

WALKER: And, back to your point about variants, I mean, is it inevitable? Is it just a matter of time before we're dealing with yet a new variant?

SCHAFFNER: Fingers crossed, that so far this virus has become a little less virulent, a little less serious. The Omicron is less apt to produce serious disease than did Delta. I hope it continues in that direction. But, there is no guarantee. Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst.

WALKER: And, just quickly, why are we seeing this sudden surge in cases in China? Is it simply about the lifting of restrictions, or are their vaccines and treatments just not as effective?

SCHAFFNER: Yes to both of those, Amara. Yes. We - they're removing their restriction so this virus can now have an opportunity to spread, and their vaccines were not as good as the mRNA vaccines, and even those vaccines were not displayed in the population as well as it could have been.

WALKER: Dr. William Schaffner, thank you for your time.

SCHAFFNER: Thank you.

WALKER: Still ahead, new information is coming out of Buffalo. The death toll is rising, and new information on the blame game between city and county officials.




WALKER: Right now, Erie County officials announcing an updated death toll in last weekend's blizzard, 39 people now dead from the storm. The Erie County Executive is also apologizing for some of his comments in yesterday's news conference.

Let's get straight to Athena Jones in Buffalo. A lot of news in this news conference. What's the latest?

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Amara, and a lot of sad news, as you said, 39 deaths now confirmed by the medical examiner of Erie County. That's countywide. 31 of those deaths occurred here in the city of Buffalo. And, here is the important thing that we heard the Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz say. He said additional bodies believed to be related to the blizzard have been found, but they have to be autopsied before they know where they can deem (ph) them, deaths from the blizzard. We know that of the 39, 11 were found in a house. So, that - that's really telling in terms of houses losing power, and the like.

You also spoke about the apology we heard Mark Poloncarz deliver to the Mayor of Buffalo, Byron Brown. He had been criticizing him publicly, saying that he wasn't doing enough coordinating, that he hadn't been on the calls with the county and other municipalities. He did something really, really interesting. We don't often see this from politicians. He apologized not once but several times about losing his focus, and these families who are having to deal with deaths and even missing loved ones, they don't deserve to have him change the focus to a conflict like that. And so, he says, he apologizes for losing focus.

But, citywide, I should tell you that the city is now getting back to normal. The driving man is over. There is still an advisory in effect. The mayor said this morning there were over 600 pieces of equipment out removing snow. We also heard some good news from the county executive. We've been talking in the last few days about concerns about flooding, and he said that it appears that those - that the flooding concerns are going to be minimized. Meanwhile, they said they spent $5 million just for contractors to help clear the snow, $1 million of it yesterday alone helping the City of Buffalo clear these roads. Amara.

WALKER: All right. Athena Jones, appreciate the update. Thank you.

Turning now to the crisis at the southern border, the city of El Paso is building a new temporary processing center to host up to 1,000 migrants. Officials there are preparing for a large migrant surge should Title 42 be rescinded.

CNN's Leyla Santiago live in El Paso with the details. Leyla, how is this facility going to help officials handle the migrants who are arriving in El Paso?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Amara, that is such a big question, is how will they handle this and the days moving forward? I am just outside Sacred Heart Church which is one of the shelters here. Take a walk with me so I can kind of show you what it looks like here and talk to you about what I'm hearing from these migrants. What's interesting is, I've spoken to two groups here, and you can see that many of them are just outside on the sidewalks, and those two groups told me that they arrived last night. So, interesting to hear that these migrants are still coming in despite the Supreme Court's decision on Title 42.