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Wagner Group May Aid Hezbollah; Aaron David Miller is Interviewed about the Hostage Deal; Travel Rush Underway; Altman Returns to OpenAI. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired November 22, 2023 - 09:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: So, the White House released newly declassified intelligence Tuesday suggesting that the Wagner Group, that Russian mercenary group so ever present in Ukraine, is now preparing to provide air defense systems to either Hezbollah or Iran. All of this coming at the direction of the Russian government.

CNN's Alex Marquardt has much more on this. He's joining us now.

Alex, what more did -- does the White House releasing in terms of this intel assessment, and what could it mean if the Wagner Group does start getting involved in (inaudible) right now?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, certainly, as you say, Wagner is an extension of the Russian government. And I think we should look at them as kind of one entity here. And this is really about the battle lines. This is Russia digging in along its axis, supporting Iran, Iranian-backed groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.

What they're -- the White House put out in terms of actual information is rather thin, but it does line up with some information that we have previously reported. The White House is saying that they have declassified intelligence showing that Wagner is -- at the direction of the Russian government, is looking to transfer an air defense system to either Iran or to Hezbollah.

Now, we have reported in the past, my colleague Zach Cohen, Katie Bo Lillis and Natasha Bertrand, that Syria, the government of Bashar al Assad, which is also allied with Russia, was looking to transfer an air defense system, surface to air called an SA-22 or a Pantsir, and give that to Hezbollah.

Now, Hezbollah, of course, has been engaged with relatively low level fighting with Israel. Of course, there are major concerns that - that a second front could open up along the Israeli/Lebanese border. And so it's something like an air defense system, an SA-22, could really help defend themselves and antagonize Israel.

And I think that that's what really this is about, Kate. This is Russia further antagonizing the U.S. and its allies. We see these two very stark sides with Russia, Iran and the other groups on one side, the U.S. and Israel on the other. And to really illustrate that point, Kate, in the days following the October 7th massacre in Israel, less than three weeks later we saw a high-level Hamas delegation go to Moscow.


Now, they didn't meet with Putin himself. They met with a senior Russian official. But the fact that there was a Hamas delegation there at all is really quite extraordinary. We heard the secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin, talking about that earlier today and he called it chilling.


BOLDUAN: Alex, thank you so much for that.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN ANCHOR: So, as the world waits to actually see hostages released, we're learning new details about what happened with the negotiations. The talks, at times, seemed to move painfully slow as each step of the communication moved from Doha, Qatar, or to Cairo, Egypt, to Hamas in Gaza, then back again before being relayed to Israel and the United States. One official saying every step of this is like pulling teeth.

And few people understand how difficult negotiations can be, as well as our next guest. Aaron David Miller, former Middle East negotiator for the U.S. State Department.

So, look, we've got a four day truce, hostages swapped for Palestinian prisoners, Red Cross access to the remaining Hamas hostages. My question here is, I mean you've helped negotiate deals in this region. What's your immediate reaction to what we ended up with here? And do you see this as a one off or just the beginning?

AARON DAVID MILLER, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT MIDDLE EAST NEGOTIATOR: It's a fascinating question. You know, Middle East negotiations generally, excuse me, (inaudible) speeds, slow and slower. This took three weeks to do and it resulted also in - their reporting in a six- page, detailed agreement, which specifies terms and conditions.

I'm reminded of Samuel Goldwyn (inaudible), the Hollywood mogul's famous quip that an oral agreement isn't worth the paper it's written on. There's no trust. There's no confidence. The U.S. is not negotiating directly with Hamas. It puts a lot of stock in the Qatari intermediary or he cutout.

I suspect this deal will hold. Whether it holds in the next 24 hours or not is another matter. But I think, frankly, there are key interests for both Israel and Hamas advanced by this - by this deal. Whether it's a headline or a trend line is another matter.

JIMENEZ: And, look, as part of the concerns here, at least on the Israeli side, is they point to back in 2011 the political -- the current political head of Hamas, Sinwar, was released as part of a huge Palestinian prisoner swap then for an Israeli soldier. Now he's politically leading Hamas and the Israeli government believes he helped mastermind the October 7th attacks. So now one government official said he believes Israel is making a mistake in this prisoner swap for that very reason. Do you agree with that?

MILLER: Look, Hamas took hostages dead and alive for two reasons. Number one, to trade. As you pointed out, in an asymmetrical bargain, 150 for 50 and another 150 for 50. But also to constrain, delay and even hopefully prevent the Israeli ground campaign from going forward. And I suspect that there will be growing doubts within the Biden administration and the - and the government of Benjamin Netanyahu as to whether or not Israeli military activities need to be continued as intensively as they can.

So, if I had to pick a winner, the winner, obviously, the hostages who are being released and their families. It's a piece of good news amidst a parade of horrors. The bad news is, I think, that Hamas' tactics are working.

JIMENEZ: And, look, for these negotiations, they had to be involved, Hamas had to be involved, of course, laying out their perspective. But it obviously wasn't just them. Israel, Egypt, the U.S., Qatar, all at the table as we sort of laid out beforehand.

In your experience - I know you said there's two speeds, slow and slower, but what does it take to get everyone on the same page when the stakes are as high as they've been?

MILLER: Negotiations usually succeed for three reasons. Number one, you have two parties who want a deal. Number two, there's a sufficient amount of urgency in order to push each side to make a deal. And, number three, you have a trusted or at least semi-trusted interlocutor to make the deal.

I think in all three of those -- all three requirements, frankly, were present. Whether or not that holds for the next round - and, remember, the next round after that, Hamas will still have 100 hostages. And they'll hold them in order to trade for additional bargains or respites and/or cease-fires down the road. We're weeks or months away from any sort of resolution of the hostages.

JIMENEZ: And even just to get to this point, a significant breakthrough. But, of course, we will see if this becomes the beginning of something or just a first significant step for people.

Aaron David Miller, thank you so much.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, police have made another arrest in that death of a young high school student in Las Vegas. We have an update on that investigation. That's coming up next.

And also, traffic around Los Angeles, it's rough on any good day and even a good day.


Here's a live look at the roads now on one of the busiest travel days of the year.

We'll be right back.


JIMENEZ: New today, a ninth person is under arrest, accused of taking part in the beating death of a Las Vegas teenager. Seventeen-year-old Jonathan Lewis died earlier this month near his high school when a fight broke out over stolen items. Lewis' family says he was just trying to help one of his smaller friend who was being bullied. And cameras caught the suspects in the act. They range in age from 13 to 17, and they're all students at the high school.


Also new this morning, a pilot is dead after a small plane crashed into a parking lot at a Texas shopping center. The pilot was the only person on board the Mooney M20 plane, which crashed in Plano, just a mile from the airport -- Dallas Airport last night. And authorities aren't revealing any possible cause for the crash, but witnesses say the plane, quote, "didn't look right" in how it was flying in the moments just before the crash.

And a court hearing for a former NFL player set to begin in just minutes. Sergio Brown is charged with killing his own mother and hiding her body. Myrtle Brown and her son lived together in a home just outside Chicago. They were reported missing in September. Just a couple days later, a former neighbor found Myrtle's body wrapped in a sheet close to the home. Weeks later, prosecutors say Sergio admitted to going to Mexico with his mother's belongings.

BOLDUAN: Today is one of the busiest travel days of the year. This time around, Thanksgiving travel could break records. It always sounds like good news but also bad news, right? Add into this mix some rain and even some snow this morning for millions of people.

Here's what some of you are contending with right now. On the left you're taking a live look at Manchester, New Hampshire. It's - is that - it almost looks like snow. Is that snow on the ground?

JIMENEZ: I think so. Yes. Yes. Yes.

BOLDUAN: There you go. Thank you, weatherman, Omar.

On the right you can see across the country, here's what the forecasts are looking like. Midwest, the east, some of the places out west, of course, you want snow, but I don't know if you want it right now. They've been dealing with all of this since Monday. Good news, the storms should taper off tonight.

Let's get over to CNN's Jason Carroll, who's at New York's LaGuardia Airport.

This is important for asking for a friend, the man sitting next to me, how's it looking - how's it looking there today? JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's looking good. I mean

you guys have been to this airport countless numbers of times. I mean looking behind me here, you guys can see this. This is what it looks like on a normal day, forget a holiday weekend. And also consider, as you were talking about, the weather, that a weather system moved through here this morning. Despite all of that, despite the predictions from TSA saying it's going to be probably one of the busiest Thanksgiving holiday weekends they've had on record, we're seeing few delays, we're seeing even fewer cancellations.

We just took a look, a roundup, of LGA, LaGuardia, Newark and JFK. And at LaGuardia, just 24 delays, Newark, 31, JFK just 63 delays. This despite the fact that the TSA says on one day alone they're expecting today to screen some 2.7 million people coming through the airports. But, guys, it looks pretty clear. And the folks that we talked to this morning, one of them said she was shocked to walk inside. She said, where are all the people?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am shocked. There is nobody here. It is empty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was early. It was the earliest flight I could actually get out because usually this -- I don't think I ever remember traveling on this day because of all the horror stories I've heard.


CARROLL: Now, I don't know where you guys are heading. I don't know where Omar is heading. Kate, I don't know where you're going. You're probably going home. But I spoke to my colleague, Miguel Marquez, CNN colleague Miguel Marquez. He was going through LAX. He said, clear sailing through LAX as well.

But if anyone knows the roadways, if the lines don't get you at LAX, the 405 freeway probably will. So, you should pay attention to that and make sure that you still heed the warnings and try to get to your destination. When you're going to an airport, two hours for domestic and always allow three hours for international because, once again, if the lines here don't get you, the roads probably will.

BOLDUAN: I mean, I have to call your bluff on this. You showing up to an airport two hours before a flight, Jason, impossibility.

CARROLL: Not me.

BOLDUAN: No way.


BOLDUAN: No way. And do you -

CARROLL: No way. No way.

BOLDUAN: You guys, tell me if you agree, but doesn't it feel like slightly like when we're taking about this and we're like, it's all good, and I'm glad it is all good. It feels a little bit -- I'm a little paranoid we're like jinxing everybody.

JIMENEZ: I know. Jason, if it doesn't look like that when I am there this afternoon -

CARROLL: I don't want to jinx. I don't want to jinx.

JIMENEZ: I'm going to find your live shot and I'm going to find you and you're going to (inaudible).

BOLDUAN: Whoa, this just escalated.

CARROLL: We'll see. We'll see.

BOLDUAN: This just escalated to a really dangerous place.

Great to see you, Jason.

JIMENEZ: Thank you. Thank you.

Now, we've got a lot of news we're following coming up here. Sam Altman heading back to OpenAI just days after he was fired. Details behind the bizarre twist and what's going to happen next.

Plus, we are over 17 hours away from the beginning of this truce between Israel and Hamas, but what does that truce and the subsequent release of hostages actually look like? CNN is learning new details.



JIMENEZ: All right, new this morning, in yet another twist in this drama, Sam Altman is returning to OpenAI just days after his ouster. Now, the artificial intelligence agency is also shaking up its board of directors, bringing in two new members. Altman's rehiring averted a major revolt as nearly the entire workforce at OpenAI threatened to leave if he wasn't reinstated.

So, we've got CNN's business and politics correspondent Vanessa Yurkevich with us now.

All right, Vanessa, break it down for me. How did we get here? What do we know?


JIMENEZ: A little bit.

YURKEVICH: Because - because mine is. So, in less than a week you have Sam Altman fired from the company. Now he is back as the company's CEO. He confirm it in a tweet overnight, as well as OpenAI. Also as part of this deal, there's a new board. there's one remaining board member, Adam D'Angelo, who is still in place, but two new board members. The others have now resigned. And this is the beginning of what's going to be an expanded board. A

lot of people are saying there's probably going to be nine or ten board members. And a lot of analysts believing that this is the start of a really strong board, a board that's more tech focused.

You also have Greg Brockman, who was the co-founder of OpenAI, who left for a hot second with Sam Altman to go to Microsoft. He's coming back, too. And he tweeted this picture of himself with all of the employees of OpenAI. And this picture really helped set the scene of what went down in the last 48 hours.


Remember, you have hundreds of OpenAI employees, nearly the entire company, sending a letter to the old board saying that we are going to leave if you don't get rid of yourselves and bring Sam Altman back. A lot of people thought, it's a done deal. He's at Microsoft now.

JIMENEZ: Yes. Yes.

YURKEVICH: Why would he come back. But in working with Microsoft, this deal came to be. You remember Microsoft owns 49 percent of OpenAI.

And, you know, for the consumer, why does this all matter? Artificial intelligence touches all of our lives, whether we know it or not.


YURKEVICH: Health care, e-commerce, online customer service chats. It's in all of our lives. And the big issue around why he was ultimately ousted, Sam Altman was ultimately ousted, was there was a discrepancy in vision. Do we move artificial intelligence forward and faster, or do we pump the brakes? That's what the old board wanted. This really gives us our answer. The employees, Sam Altman and Microsoft, all around the vision that artificial intelligence needs to move forward. And that is what we're seeing today. Hopefully this is end scene.


YURKEVICH: But we are, of course, going to wait to hear about new board members joining in the next couple days, weeks.

JIMENEZ: We will see. And, look, AI can't replace that incredible report you just did. So, come back any time.

YURKEVICH: Yes, ChatGPT, don't come for my job.

JIMENEZ: Yes. Thanks, Vanessa.


BOLDUAN: It's coming for all of us.

All right, coming up for us, we are just about 17-hour away from that agreed upon truce between Israel and Hamas to secure the release of dozens of hostages. We are getting new details this morning about what this deal means and when you can start to expect to see the first hostages released.

We'll be right back.