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The Lead with Jake Tapper

January 6 Committee Releases Transcripts From 19 Additional Witnesses; Federal, State Agencies Open Investigations Into GOP Rep.- Elect Santos; Russia Launches Large-Scale Missile Attack On Ukraine; Southwest Airlines Cancels 2,300+ Flights On Eighth Day Of "Meltdown"; Italy Urges European Union To Enforce COVID Measures For Travelers Coming From China. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired December 29, 2022 - 16:00   ET



PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN HOST: Quote, just give me five dead voters.

THE LEAD starts right now. New witness transcripts released from the January 6th committee, including one from Donald Trump's own son, and an unusual request from one sitting GOP senator.

Then, officials are calling it the largest Russian missile strike since the war began. Ukrainians say it could have been so much worse.

Plus, some signs of relief on the horizon for tens of thousands of Southwest passenger passengers who have been stuck in the airline's meltdown for now eight days.


MATTINGLY: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Phil Mattingly, in for Jake Tapper.

And we begin with our politics lead and new insight into the January 6th investigation. The committee today released more testimony transcripts from 19 witnesses, including Trump's son Donald Trump Jr., Trump attorney Christina Bobb, former Trump adviser Kimberly Guilfoyle, former Trump White House adviser Stephen Miller and former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham.

There's one key thing that sticks out in many of these transcripts, and that's the role of Mark Meadows. He was, of course, Trump's chief of staff on January 6th and the closest person to the president throughout that day, and multiple witnesses recounting texting Meadows during the insurrection, desperately asking him to persuade Trump to condemn the violence.

CNN's Sara Murray is with us now.

And, Sara, you've been poring over Donald Trump Jr.'s transcripts and probably every other one transcript, too. What have you found and what you've seen so far?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, we've had a whole team that is digging into this today, but the Donald Trump Jr. transcripts are interesting, because like everyone else, he was texting Mark Meadows while the riot was unfolding. You know, he is saying to Mark Meadows, talking about his dad, he's got to condemn this expletive. He says, they will try to F his liar legacy on this if it gets worse.

So, he's imploring Mark Meadows to get his dad to do something and call off the rioters as the attack on the Capitol is unfolding.

The other thing that's interesting about this transcript with Donald Trump Jr. is there's a whole lot he doesn't recall when it comes to direct conversations that he was having with his father, and he lays out why he was in touch with some of the aides around his father after he and his dad were separated on that day. He explained that Donald Trump doesn't use email, he doesn't text. So, he's saying, if I was on a plane with Wi-Fi, my father doesn't text. So, I couldn't reach out to him directly, so I reached out to his chief of staff.

And this is important, Phil, because this is the kind of thing that's been really problem problematic for investigators who look into Donald Trump. The witnesses around him can say, I don't recall these exact conversations and there's not a paper trail, because Donald Trump himself doesn't text, he doesn't use email. At one point, Donald Trump was used about messaging apps, and he said, I don't think my dad even knows about those.

MATTINGLY: Sara, we're also learning about a particular case that you have a lot of insight into. You've broken a ton of news on it. It involves Senator Lindsey Graham. Into these transcripts, he offered to be a champion for President Trump's false claim of election fraud in the wake of the 2020 election. Tell me more about what we saw here.

MURRAY: Yeah, I mean, I think we knew after the election that Lindsey Graham was trying to help the Trump team. You know, he made calls in Georgia, for instance, but this transcript and it's from Christina Bobb sheds more insight into it. He's she's recounting he said, just she's recounting he said, just give me five dead voters. Just give me a very small snapshot that I can take and champion.

So, the South Carolina senator is not saying, show me the evidence you have that there was so much fraud that the election actually could have been swayed in Donald Trump's favor. He's saying, give me a couple of examples so I can go out there and I can be a champion for Donald Trump and claim that he won.

Now, Phil, of course, as you know, after the rioters broke into the Capitol, Lindsey Graham eventually backed off this election challenge and voted to certify the election results.

MATTINGLY: I think you have a lot more reading to do, Sara Murray, you and the entire team. A great team that we have.

Sara Murray, thanks so much.

MURRAY: Thanks.

MATTINGLY: Let's bring in Tom Dupree, former principle deputy assistant attorney general, to discuss.

It's tough to figure out where to start. We feel like we get these every single day and there's new elements here. But I want to start with Donald Trump Jr. The committee asking him about the $250 million that Trump raised after the election, 10 million was spent on litigation.

But what the committee asked is what happened to the rest of the money. He said, he didn't know. Is it strange to you that he wouldn't have any idea where several hundred million dollars went?

TOM DUPREE, FORMER PRINCIPAL DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes, it is strange to me. And look, every day seems to bring another cluster of mini bombshells from the January 6th committee.


Today's transcript release is no exception. And that particular portion, Donald Trump Jr.'s testimony about where the money went did jump out to me -- I mean, I would put it squarely in the category of things that make you go hmm. It's a lot of money -- it didn't happen that long ago.

And, look, they're presumably going to be aware of this massive amount of money they're raising, they use that, it was being put to. So, again, not saying it's false testimony, but it's the sort of thing, when you hear it on its face, doesn't quite seem plausible.

MATTINGLY: It's an idea that dove tails with the other question I had for you, you read the transcripts and throughout, you hear, or you see, I don't know, or, I can't recall. And I think one of the questions I have -- look, this is a congressional investigation. Obviously, there is a federal investigation going on, as well.

Are those are the type of answers that a federal investigator would look at, the Justice Department officials would look at and say, all right, maybe we should dive a little bit deeper into the things that they claim not to know to Congress?

DUPREE: They definitely would. In other words, if you have a witness who's testifying under oath, they don't recall something, that's not necessarily the end of the analysis. What you can do is you can try to corroborate what actually went on. You can look to documentary records, you can look the emails, you can look to text if they exist.

And you can also talk to other witnesses, who might be able to place a particular witness in a meeting or in an exchange, or something like this was discussed. So, someone saying I don't know can be frustrating from an investigators perspective, but by no means does it shut down the investigation or close that avenue of analysis.

MATTINGLY: Can I as you? Every single one of these transcripts always seems to come back to Mark Meadows, probably much to his chagrin, to some sense. But when you read through this, when you get the sense that everything seems to circle around him, in part, it's because he's the only want to have seem to have a direct line to the president. Do you see a legal liability here? Do you see particular issues for Mark Meadows, as this continues to play out?

DUPREE: Well, certainly, he's got issues here. In other words, to your point, he was at the center of so much action. He had direct communication with the president, you know, the chief of staff at the White House, at ground zero, when so much of this was unfolding in the days leading up to it, and immediately after January six. We learned the other day that he apparently had a habit of burning documents in his office fireplace. I would not have advised him to do that and it could potentially lead to legal realty, if those documents were ones that were required to be preserved under federal law.

MATTINGLY: You know, one of the things, look, these are coming in isolation. You don't always have the full context, you're trying to piece together things. We have no idea what the Justice Department has, what they know, what the process is.

But as you look through these both and the committees work, but also the transcripts that we've seen up to this point, what do you think the special counsel Jack Smith, what do you think they are doing with these transcripts? How are they utilizing them, if they are at all?

DUPREE: I think they're scrutinizing every single word of these transcripts. But the thing to keep in mind here is that these transcripts are part of a much larger mosaic. Investigation of the scope involves hundreds, thousands of witnesses and documents. And the information that the Justice Department has access to may help make sense of some of the committee transcripts.

In other words, they have information we don't have. And so, when the justice department investigators read these transcripts, they will be approaching it with the knowledge base and concepts, and ideas that we, the public, don't have, because we are not privy to that. So, they may be able to make sense of some of these exchanges and attach significance to some pieces of testimony that would elude the rest of us.

MATTINGLY: And attach clear innocence on other pieces that seem to raise red flags. There's so much we don't know here.

DUPREE: Absolutely.

MATTINGLY: It's always good to remind people of that throughout this process.

DUPREE: It's fascinating watching a piece of this puzzle being filled in as time goes on and we have not heard the last bit, that's for sure.

MATTINGLY: No question about it. Tom Dupree, thanks so much for your time. Appreciate it.

DUPREE: Thank you.

MATTINGLY: You can't make this up, unless apparently you're George Santos, who makes just about everything up. The incoming Republican congressman caught in more lies, as investigations are launched. Plus, a terrifying 2020 flashback is now a current reality, as Chinese

travelers arrive in Italy and dozens of passengers tested positive for COVID.


MATTINGLY: We are back with more in our politics lead. CNN has learned federal prosecutors are investigating Congressman-elect George Santos's finances amid growing questions over loans he gave his campaign totally more than $700,000.

This comes as Nassau County's Republican district attorney announced another investigation in the wake of Santos's admission that he lied about key parts of his background and resume. Along with this stark warning, quote, no one is above the law and a big crime was committed in this county, we will prosecute it.

As CNN's Sunlen Serfaty reports, these probes come as CNN has uncovered even more lies from the congressman-elect.


PROTESTERS: Shame! Shame! Same!

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Scrutiny is intensifying around Congressman-elect George Santos.

CHUCK LAVINE (D), NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY: Watching this slow George Santos train wreck take place.

SERFATY: Federal prosecutors in New York, opening an investigation into Santos's finances with the big questions over how the Republican made his money and the $700,000 he loaned to his 2020 campaign.

Locally, Santos is facing another probe from the Nassau County district attorney's office, calling the numerous fabrications and inconsistencies nothing short of stunning.

REP.-ELECT GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): Did I embellish my resume? Yes, I did. And I'm sorry. And it shouldn't be done.

SERFATY: All of this is a whole slew of new fabrications previously unreported are emerging from CNN's KFILE. Santos once claiming to have attended an elite private school in New York.

SANTOS: They sent me to a good prep school, which was Horace Mann Prep in the Bronx. And on my senior year of prep school, unfortunately, my parents fell upon hard times.

SERFATY: But that claim is false, according to a school that has no evidence that he ever attended. Santos also, saying that he represented Goldman Sachs at a financial conference, claiming he spoke out against the company for investing in renewables.

But there is no record of Santos appearing on the panel or even attending the conference. And Goldman Sachs had previously said, he never worked there.

CNN also found additional false claims about his family's background. Santos, claiming his mother's Jewish name was Zabrovsky and even appearing to use the name for a charity posting.

SANTOS: We don't carry the Ukrainian last name for a lot of people who are descendants of World War II refugees or survivors of the Holocaust.


A lot of names and paperwork were changed, in the name of survival.

SERFATY: But according to a professional genealogist who helped restrict Santos' background for CNN, there is no evidence of that name, nor Jewish or Ukrainian heritage in his family tree.

SANTOS: My father fled socialism in Brazil, my mother fled socialism in Europe and they came here and built a family.

SERFATY: CNN's review found Santos's mother was actually born in Brazil.

SANTOS: Now it's going to be incumbent upon me to deliver on those results and I look forward to serving.

TULSI GABBARD, FOX NEWS HOST: You are exactly right.

SANTOS: And serving my district.

SERFATY: As Santos attempts to move forward to Capitol Hill --

SANTOS: I'm not a criminal. I committed absolutely no crimes.

SERFATY: The legal road ahead for him could be treacherous.

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Where and how did he get this money?

SERFATY: As the federal probe zeroes in on his finances.

HONIG: If you intentionally make a false statement about your assets or anything else that matters, that, to, could be a federal fall statements crime.


SERFATY (on camera): And another story, Santos is being questioned about this after claims that his mother was at the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001. And that played a role in her death. Santos sent out a tweet last year, claiming that 9/11 claimed his mother's life. Santos's mother actually passed away in 2016. His campaign said that she passed away when she lost her battle to cancer. Of course, many first responders and survivors did go on to develop health conditions after 9/11 and Phil, CNN has asked representatives for Santos for clarification on this. MATTINGLY: Sunlen Serfaty, thanks so much.

I want to discuss, not really sure where to start, but I've kind of been in that place all week so, we will go ahead and give it a shot.

Margaret, I think obviously, the kind of critical issue here, beyond the absurdity of a lot of this, is the state investigations, there are federal -- a federal investigation as well. The chairman of the Nassau County Republican Party is saying they won't support him in 2024. Not from the near term -- longer term, what does this all say about where George Santos is headed?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think George Santos is in a lot of trouble, long term. But in the short term, there is no indication that anything other than him being sworn in as what's going to happen, unless he decides not to go through with it. He's not been convicted of a crime, he meets the age requirement, he needs the citizenship requirement, as far as we know. Kevin McCarthy could decide not to seat him on committees. A lot of other things could have been, but look, ever since January six or before January 6th, we've been talking about how you can't overturn the results of an election.

And like it or not, and this guy is not good for democracy and not what voters thought they were getting. But he was duly elected. Unless there's a reason, by law, why he cannot be sworn in, he has the right to be sworn in.

MATTINGLY: Margaret makes a good point. This is something we haven't heard anything from the leadership up until this point. There are some layers so that, including, you know, speaker's race on January 3rd. But Kevin McCarthy is going to be back in Washington on January 3rd. People like yourself are going to be tracking him around the hallways of Congress.

Can he remain silent on this until that is over? Is that the plan? How does this all work?

NICHOLAS WU, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Kevin McCarthy is certainly trying to stay quiet on this. We tried asking him in the halls, he has not responded. The Democratic leader, Hakeem Jeffries, said that McCarthy was looking like he was in witness protection.

But at the end of the day, there's not a whole lot Democrats can actually do to keep Santos from being seated and taking office, short of trying to raise any kind of procedural motion on January 3rd. But that was down to a majority vote and Republicans, at the end of the day, want another member in Congress.

MATTINGLY: Yeah, the majority is not very large at this point in time. We should get to the idea that the speaker's race probably has some bearing on whether or not you hear from Republican leaders. Do you feel like this has any impact on this race? It feels so fluid right now, Doug, in terms of anything that could make any differently. Does this have an effect that all?

DOUG HEYE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Given the margin, it does. It explains why you haven't really heard anything from Kevin McCarthy or other members of leadership yet. We often say in politics, you can't get in trouble for what you don't say. Now, often you get criticized for not saying anything. But if your Kevin which are the and Steve Scalise, other members of leadership, if you say the wrong thing, which actually in this case means the smart, sensible, right, obvious thing about George Santos, that affects one vote for the speakership because he will have a vote for speaker unless he decides not to. And that puts them the House potentially in jeopardy.

If Kevin does not get the majority on that first vote, we go into very uncharted waters. It's not just political parlors and fun to speculate on. Very serious ramifications.

TALEV: It is a political parlor game and for the speculate on. But you're right, once a speculation ends at a certain point, if that vote really does get dragged out, the leadership of the house will be in question.

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, I think there's something here that we are all missing. And that is, what actually George Santos has done. And the outrage that has to be there from the media, from elected officials, from Democrats.


I'm glad we're seeing it from some Republican officials, at least at the local level, clearly not yet on the national level. We know why. But that should be infuriating in and of itself, because this guy, George Santos, if that even is his name, has perpetrated the biggest case of voter fraud, voter fraud, on his constituents, in his district.

That should enrage every single person who voted for him and Margaret is right, there is no law. But maybe there should be a law. If people are not going to police themselves, in terms of what being an elected official means, there should be a law that you cannot lie egregiously. And they were lies.

He talks about embellishments, embellishments are, look, I was maybe not the top of my class, but I graduated from this university. That's an embellishment. What he said and what he continues to say are outright lies.

TALEV: It's hard to find something that's truth.

CARDONA: Exactly and he was and trusted with an elected position. That is a position of public trust. And this guy, if he even is a guy, has completely broken that public trust. There should be some consequences.


MATTINGLY: There are remedies, but there's also a Democratic campaign that ran against him. I want -- shot at all the researcher, or whatever they had, did not have, whatever, paid attention to it money, any of that type of stuff. But come on. Like -- CARDONA: I agree with you.

MATTINGLY: In all honesty, this isn't voter fraud, he ran. There's a campaign that had every over opportunity to bring up all the issues.

CARDONA: I agree with you. I've been the first want to say that that is political malpractice that this was not brought up. But I also understand that it was brought up, that there was some stories about it, there was just not the focus on it. And you are right, as the opposition campaign, that should have not let this go. But that doesn't mean it's their fault.

HEYE: We can focus on the smorgasbord of stupidity with the lies he has told. He could be one of the Madison Cawthorn all-stars. But that's not necessarily relevant to whether or not he serves.

It's whether or not he broke the law. We've seen an invitation -- or House rules. We've seen an invitation for a fund-raiser that's promising in Capitol tour to donors. That doesn't sound like a big deal, that's an official act and an ethics violation. Capital E, ethics.

TALEV: He may have broken the law, may have violated ethics. All that may take a while to play out and that is why he's on track to be sworn in. He may not be on track to serve for two years. All of that is going to be --

MATTINGLY: I do want to turn to the latest transcripts. And, Nicholas, I want to get you in a second because you're basically my cliff's notes on Twitter when these transcripts come out, because you read all of them.

Margaret, I want to start with the idea of we have testimony from former White House aide, Stephanie Grisham. She made some interesting comments about how Trump viewed the riders who say they were there to support him. Quote, he was kind of reveling in the fact that these people were fighting for him. He also didn't like how they looked. His comments were that the people looked very trashy, but also look at what fighters they are.

We should point out that Grisham heard this second hand, not from Trump directly. What can you make of this? Actually sounds very on brand for the former president.

TALEV: I was going to say, it sounds exactly what you would expect him to say. The funny thing is other ports already out, but as these transcripts come out, you do get a little more granularity to all of these conversations. Don Jr., where did the money go? I don't know. I mean, if you are still giving to Donald Trump by the end of his presidency and you thought you knew where the money was going, wow.

What's surprising is how much it matches how much we knew about the final days of his presidency.

MATTINGLY: To some degree, Grisham also testified that Melania Trump did not trust much of Donald Trump's inner circle, even his own children, quote, when it came to the kids, especially Don Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle, she never trusted that they were doing things in the best interest of Don Jr.'s father.

Now, Melania didn't even trust Trump's own children to give him good advice. Again, kind of tracks with I think what a lot of us assume. But like, what's your take on that when you see it?

WU: One thing that really stood out to me these transcripts was actually a little bit, Kimberly Guilfoyle's testimony, where she basically described a lot of this infighting around Trump world, around January 6, and leading up to it as, like, the movie "Mean Girls", right?

I think, like, we've read plenty about this reported before. We've seen some of these speakers talk about it. But this is where we really see what the January 6th Committee was able to do. Add something like this, from these figures of Trump's inner circle, on the record, in transcript for the public to see.

MATTINGLY: Yeah, "Mean Girls" kind of seems like an understatement. It's like "Mean Girls" is kind of the norm sometimes. It's a little bit above that.

Guys --

TALEV: Trying to make that --

MATTINGLY: No shortage of news. Thanks so much for coming out. I appreciate it.

CARDONA: Thanks.

MATTINGLY: It's one of the largest Russian missile strikes to target Ukraine since the war began. We have a look at the damage and destruction in Ukraine's capital.



MATTINGLY: In our world lead, major damage cleanup today across Ukraine, as cities and villages were hit in what Kyiv is calling, Russia's largest missile attack of the war. Ukrainian President Zelenskyy says, Russia launch more than 120 missiles targeting infrastructure in many cities, including Kyiv and Odessa.

CNN's Ben Wedeman reports at least three people died in the attacks, thousands more are struggling without power.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dawn breaks and the strikes begin. Phone video captures it Russian cruise missile heading toward Kyiv.

[16:30:03] Russia fired nearly 70 missiles, plus drones, at targets across Ukraine. Air defenses managed to take down most of them.

But this Kyiv suburb did not escape unharmed.

The mayor of Kyiv says all 60 missiles fired in the direction of the capital were successfully intercepted, but as a result of those interceptions, debris fell to the ground. In this location, massive destruction. A 14-year-old girl was injured, as well as her mother and a man nearby.

Tetyana was at work. That girl, her granddaughter, called her, desperate for help.

She was really scared and hysterics, Tetyana says. She cried, grandma, the house was hit, it's on fire. She told me, my mother is unconscious under the rubble.

Not for the first time, the crews worked to clear the rubble of homes and lives shattered by war.

Serhii lives just down the street. How is it possible that we do this to each other, he asks? I understand that this rocket didn't target this place, but how is it possible to shell peaceful people?

In another part of Kyiv, 79-year-old Leonid is still in his bathrobe. He was jarred awake when missile debris hit next to his house, setting his son Alexander's car on fire, shattering windows and walls, ripping trees out by the roots. Yet he remains stoic.

I was born in World War II, so I'm very calm about explosions, Leonid says. Today, I was only worried about my son. His son is fine.

Ukrainian officials insist Russia's target, yet again, was the country's energy infrastructure.

Kyiv Mayor Vitalii Klitschko is blunt.

MAYOR VITALII KLITSCHKO, KYIV, UKRAINE: The Russians want to bring depression, especially right now, Christmas time, New Year. The Russians want to bring us to black time, to -- without lighting, to -- without heating.

WEDEMAN: For now, Ukrainians just clear away the wreckage and carry on.


WEDEMAN (on camera): But they're going to be carrying on, many of them, without electricity. We just got a statement from the head of the Ukrainian power company, conceding that significant damage was done to the power system and saying they're having difficulty to restore power to regions of Kharkiv, Kyiv, Odesa, Mykolaiv, Kherson and Lviv, those are basically all the major cities in Ukraine -- Phil.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN HOST: Remarkable resilience. Unspeakable tragedy. Ben Wedeman in Kyiv, Ukraine, thanks so much.

Also in our world lead, for the third time, Benjamin Netanyahu is Israel's prime minister. His new coalition government was sworn in today. It includes far-right and ultra religious parties alongside Netanyahu's center-right Likud Party. In all, the government only had a four-seat majority in the Knesset after November's closely divided national election. Sounds somewhat familiar.

Southwest Airlines says its schedule should finally be back to normal tomorrow, but it will be too late for one bride, who is missing her own wedding.



MATTINGLY: We're back with our money lead and pressure mounting on Southwest Airlines, after a disastrous -- may be an understand statement -- week. The airline canceled more than 2,300 flights today. Passengers and baggage stranded around the country.

But as CNN's Lucy Kafanov reports, the airline pledges tomorrow will be much better.


LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Eight days in, and finally, Southwest is planning to return to normal operations Friday, issuing a statement saying: With another holiday weekend full of important connections for our valued customers and employees, we are eager to return to a state of normalcy.

But today, it's still chaos for southwest passengers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The anxiety level is -- has become crazy.

KAFANOV: One of the country's biggest carriers canceling nearly 2,400 flights Thursday, capping a week of travel misery that stranded thousands more.

KATIE DEMKO, STRANDED SOUTHWEST CUSTOMER: It is very devastating. Southwest actually booked me on a flight for January 2nd. My wedding is tomorrow, December 30th.

KAFANOV: Soon to be married Katie Demko was scheduled to fly out of St. Louis with family for her own wedding. But Southwest's cancellations meant she had to miss meeting her fiance at the altar in Belize.

And when Southwest told her she may be able to rebook --

DEMKO: They did tell us that once it would go in the system, that it would not actually come to me, we wouldn't be able to book those, because they had overbooked.

KAFANOV: But for some customers --


KAFANOV: -- the most emotional reunions seen at airports have been between people and their bags.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just haven't had this bag in a week. I've been wearing other people's clothes.

KAFANOV: Southwest first placed all the blame for stranded flyers, their lost bags and its inability to get people new flights on bad weather.


But airline CEO Bob Jordan admitted that the company's systems were too outdated to deal with any big disruptions.

BOB JORDAN, SOUTHWEST CEO: The tools we use to recover from disruption serve as well, 99 percent of the time, but clearly, we need to double down on our already existing plans to upgrade systems for these extreme circumstances, so that we never again face what is happening right now.

KAFANOV: Southwest pilot and flight attendants union say, they've been ringing the alarm about the outdated system for years.

MICHAEL SANTORO, SOUTHWEST AIRLINES PILOT ASSOCIATION: We've been harping on them since 2015-ish. Every year, we've seen some sort of meltdown happen.

LYN MONTGOMERY, SOUTHWEST FLIGHT ATTENDANTS UNION: These executives should've committed to ensuring that our IT infrastructure would be able to -- growth and change in the way we operate our performance.

KAFANOV: Southwest has promised to reimburse customers, but good luck reaching an agent on the phone, let alone in person.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And nobody is giving us any direction.

KAFANOV: Those unable to fly home are finding creative solutions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I actually went up to the attendant and I said, is there anybody going to Denver?

KAFANOV: Andy Brunner and her wife, Meghan, were stranded in Minnesota, unable to find a flight or rental car to get home, until a complete stranger offered to drive the couple back to Denver.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think people are hesitant in this day and age to kind of lean on a stranger. In our case, it could've worked out any better.

KAFANOV: Southwest is busing some passengers from airport to airport, in order to bring some relief amidst a total meltdown.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm still stranded. I need to drive nine more hours. I'm upset, I'm stressed, I'm tired, and I hate them.


KAFANOV (on camera): Now, Southwest is operating roughly a third of its schedule today. They are promising a return to normal, with minimal disruptions tomorrow. But the cascading affects are still being felt. I'm going to get out of the shot, Phil, to show you this mountain of luggage, these suitcases behind me. I have friends who are still in town, who still have not been reunited with their bags.

Here at Denver airport, Southwest has hired extra staff to help people sort through the suitcases. But of course, with this amount of luggage, it's going to take days for folks to get reunited with their bags -- Phil.

MATTINGLY: Yeah, I don't understand how they fix that anytime soon. What a mess. Lucy Kafanov, great reporting as always from Denver, thanks so much.

In our world lead, a familiar scene from the early days of the pandemic is playing out across the globe, as countries begin to impose COVID measures for travelers coming from China.

U.S., Taiwan, India, and Japan have all announced testing requirements and now Italy has become the first European country to take action.

CNN's Barbie Nadeau is in Rome.

And, Barbie, just this week, Italy had an alarming situation involving airline passengers that felt very familiar. What actually happened?

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yeah, you know, two flights coming directly from China to Milan, 50 percent of the passengers on both of those flights tested positive for COVID-19.

Now, Italy, as you said, is the first country to impose such measures. But you have to remember, Italy was the first country back in the beginning of this pandemic now nearly three years ago, that was at the epicenter outside of China. So, they feel they have the right to impose these tests, Phil.

MATTINGLY: Yeah, I think the biggest question, particularly when you think back, is should we expect, at this, point European Union to announce COVID measures for travelers coming from China? Will this be something that has a bit of a domino effect?

NADEAU: Well, it doesn't sound like a European Union leaders met today and it is just such disparity. A country like Italy is not going to budge on this mandatory testing and other countries, including France, are not going to budge on not testing.

So, there is no way to meet in the middle. You've got 27 countries are trying to come up with a cohesive plan when you've got such extremes. I think it will be every country to themselves. Much like we saw at the beginning of the pandemic, nearly three years ago. And everybody is hoping it does not play out quite like it did back then. MATTINGLY: Yeah, certainly a very different time. A lot of eerie

familiarity here.

Barbie Nadeau in Rome, thanks so much.

I want to bring in CNN medical analyst, Dr. Jonathan Reiner.

Dr. Reiner, I want to start with that kind of feeling of familiarity. Again, with the caveat that this is a very different moment in terms of what's available to test vaccinations, different measures around. But nearly half the passengers, two flights from China, testing positive for COVID. One, does that surprise? You too, should we expect similar situations to start playing out across the world right now?

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Yeah, hi, Phil. It certainly seems like deja vu all over again. It does not surprise me that flights from China are packed with folks with COVID. The Chinese have basically stopped reporting the number of cases and what they were reporting, they're reporting only about 5,000 cases per day when international estimates are closer to over 1 million cases per day, or more in China. So, as China opens up, people with COVID will be exiting out of that country.

But it's important to understand that these variants that people are concerned about are already circulating around the world.


They're already in the United States. And it is impossible to keep this virus in any kind of, you know, geographical jail. You know, we learn this over the last few years and it's sort of distressing to see governments act like they've learned nothing.

MATTINGLY: You know, one of the things, in talking to U.S. officials, they've made clear they have not, they're not aware of any new variants at this point that are coming out of China, that they are not familiar with. Giving the explosion of cases, the low vaccination rates, it's got to be the most palpable concern to some degree.

What level of concern do you have about the variants?

REINER: Well, the more virus we have circulating in this country and around the world, the more opportunity there is for the virus to mutate. It's important for people to understand that we actually have a program in this country to look for variants of concern entering the United States.

We test about 10 percent of arriving passengers at seven airports around the United States and this gives us actually some surveillance on the pattern of virus entering the United States. So, we are looking.

Unfortunately, the U.S. plan to test passengers two days before they depart China just will not work. If you are going to limit transmission, what we've learned is that you really have to test passengers with rapid (INAUDIBLE) basically as they're getting on board the airplane.

If you're testing them two days before departure, you are missing many, many people who are infected. So, I think this is mostly performative. I think it's also probably intended to try and pressure the Chinese to be more cooperative and release more of their genomic surveillance data.

And if it succeeds in doing that, then perhaps it's beneficial. But I do have concerns that it's just going to increase, you know, the level of anxiety about Asian travelers around the world.

MATTINGLY: Yeah, you know, with the 30 seconds we have left, one of the big questions I've had, because officials made clear repeatedly, they have offered the Chinese government access to mRNA vaccines. They've been clear they're willing to help on that front. They've repeatedly been told, thanks, but no thanks.

Does that need to change? As we look at kind of China opening up, this very confluent strategy that they're currently pursuing, do you hope that changes? Do you think that will change?

REINER: Boy, that's where I put all my effort. Now, you are going to see a humanitarian disaster in China with maybe in the next few weeks, maybe 200,000 to 300,000 Chinese dying over the next year, over 1 million Chinese dying.

We should be pouring mRNA vaccine into that country. The Chinese were resistant all of their vaccines were made in country with technology that turned out to be inferior, and they didn't vaccinate very well people who are most vulnerable, particular their elderly. Thirty percent of people over the age of 16 in China had not been vaccinated and 60 percent of people over the age of 80 have not been vaccinated.

So, that's where I would be putting my money, getting mRNA vaccines to them.

MATTINGLY: We love to see how it plays.

Dr. Jonathan Reiner as always, sir, thanks so much.

REINER: My pleasure.

MATTINGLY: A mother springs into action when doctors cannot get a hold of the lifesaving cancer medication for her daughter. That's coming up next.



MATTINGLY: In our health lead, the story of a desperate mother who refused to take no for an answer. One doctor calls her an angry mama bear. Her daughter is battling leukemia, could not get access to a drug that's critical for her treatment.

CNN's senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen shows us, it didn't mean giving up.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Abby Bray was a healthy little girl in Tampa, Florida, when one month after her ninth birthday, troubling symptoms.

LAURA BRAY, FOUNDER, ANGELS FOR CHANGE: She said, it feels like there's knives in my bones.

COHEN: After her pediatrician run some tests, a phone call to her parents, Laura and Mike.

BRAY: There's a bed waiting for her at St. Jones pediatric oncology unit. Pack a bag, plan to stay, get there immediately.

COHEN: Abby had acute lymphoblastic leukemia. To save her life, she would need a rigorous regiment of chemotherapy including a drug called Erwinaze. But then --

BRAY: A few months into treatment, we were told, okay, you have to go home. We can't get this medicine today. There's a shortage.

COHEN: Abby wanted answers.

BRAY: She knew she needed to take all of her medicine, like what happens now, does this mean I die?

COHEN: That's when Laura sprung into action, assembling a group of friends called Abby's Angels. She made a list of children's hospitals and the U.S., and everyone pitched in to make phone calls.

BRAY: Just a few hours later, we had gone through it and we found some medicines, one of my friends made the call.

COHEN: Over the next nine months, Laura needed to step in again to get to other drugs in the hospital couldn't find because of shortages.

BRAY: Never once did I contemplate that I would also have to be navigating the largest global supply chain in the world, in order to keep her alive.

COHEN: Laura is a business school professor, so she had the skills to do that, but she knew other families weren't so fortunate.

BRAY: It really haunted me.

COHEN: A study last year shying that of 19 essential agents to treat cancer in children, 74 percent have experienced one or more shortages since 2016.

Pediatric oncologist, Dr. Yoram Unguru, says there are several reasons for the shortages including --

DR. YORAM UNGURU, PEDIATRIC ONCOLOGIST: When you look at the drugs, overwhelmingly there in short supply, they are not your blockbuster drugs. They are not the drugs that pharmaceutical companies generate huge profits from.

COHEN: So, Laura took matters into her own hands, forming Angels for Change, raising about half 1 million dollars she says, in less than three years. To pay a small drug manufacturer to make essential drugs and offer them up to any hospital that needs them.


BRAY: Since may, they have been accessed more than half 1 million times for patients all over the U.S.

COHEN: Earning praise from experts.

UNGURU: You just look at what her organization has accomplished in the past two years, I think it speaks for itself. There's something to say about that adage, hell hath no fury like an angry mama bear.

COHEN: This mama bear advocating for the global supply chain for children all over the country with cancer.

Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, reporting.


MATTINGLY: Our thanks to Elizabeth Cohen for that great report.

Our coverage continues with the one, the only Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" with the greatest athletes ever passes away. A look at the legend, Pele leaves behind.