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Maersk Ship Attacked by Houthi Rebels; James Schultz is Interviewed Iowa Caucuses; Ravens Clinch AFC'S 1 Seed; Putting Humans Back on the Moon. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired January 01, 2024 - 09:30   ET





And we continue to follow breaking news for you this morning. A powerful earthquake has triggered tsunami warnings and evacuation orders in western Japan on this New Year's Day. Japan is sending 1,000 military personnel to the quake zone this morning.

And you've seen this video the moment a building crumbled to dust as the 7.5 magnitude quake struck the coast of western Japan. It's feared that some people are trapped in the rubble.


SOLOMON: Now, this video just came into us moments ago. It's just incredible footage from an office building in the city Toyama, Japan.


SOLOMON: Look at this video, people standing still in shock at a department store in Japan, then rushing to make sure that no one was hurt. Fires broke out in some areas after the quake. Roads are cracked. Some highways are closed. We, of course, continue to stay on top of this breaking news. We're going to go live to Japan in about 30 minutes, so stay with us.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we have news from the Middle East just in. The shipping company, Maersk, is pausing all movement through the Red Sea after one of its vessels was attacked by Iranian-backed Houthis. U.S. helicopters responded to the distress call from the ship as it traveled through the straits near Yemen. And after coming under fire, the U.S. sank three Houthis vessels, killing, they say, everyone on board. The White House says this is not a U.S. escalation. They say they were just responding to what was happening in the water.

CNN's Natasha Bertrand is following all of this for us from Washington, D.C.

Bring us up to speed, Natasha. NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, John, so this

all happened late Saturday night Eastern Time around 6:30 a.m. in Yemen when a Maersk commercial ship, it was posing through a Bab el- Mandeb Strait, going up north towards the Suez Canal. It was in the southern Red Sea. And it was hit by an unknown object according to Maersk. And at that point they were able to continue on. It did not cause any significant damage.

But later on, four small boats carrying these Houthi militants approached that vessel and attempted to board it and they actually opened fire. At that point, this vessel then issued a distress call. It was actually the second distress call it had issued in just under 24 hours to the U.S. Military which then responded with helicopters, as well as a U.S. Navy destroyer that is already in the region, in attempt, of course, to bolster security in the area given all of these Houthi-led attacks on commercial shipping there.

That is when helicopters responded, U.S. Navy helicopters, and the Houthis opened fire on those helicopters according to U.S. Central Command, and that then prompted the U.S. to respond. They then killed all of the Houthi militants that were on board three of those vessels, which were sunk.

Obviously, this is a pretty big escalation that marks the first time that there has been that direct confrontation between the U.S. and the Houthis in a way that has led Houthis to be killed. The U.S. saying that they don't want this to escalate any further and that they don't want a wider regional conflict. But given all of the Houthi-led attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea that have continued, even despite the U.S. setting up a multinational task force to try to combat this, they have not yet been deterred, John.

BERMAN: All right, Natasha Bertrand, obviously this is a developing situation, keep us posted with new developments. Thank you.


SOLOMON: Now, with just two weeks until the Iowa caucuses Donald Trump's legal team is expected to appeal two decisions to remove him from primary ballots in the states of Colorado and Maine. The Supreme Court of Colorado and Maine's secretary of state have each ruled that the former president is not eligible to run for a second term in the White House. They say that his actions on January 6th violated the 14th Amendment ban on insurrectionists holding federal office.

Joining us now to discuss is former Trump White House lawyer Jim Schultz.

Jim, Happy New Year. Thanks for being with us today. So, let's say -


SOLOMON: Happy New Year.

Let's say you're part of team Trump. You're part of his defense team. Make the case for us. What are you seeing in these appeals as you try to make a legal case?

SCHULTZ: So, look, everyone keeps talking about the political ramifications of this and not the legal, right? So, they're going to - the case is - this is going to go -- ultimately come before the United States Supreme Court.


It's going to make its way through the state courts in Colorado and Maine. The Maine supreme court is going to hear it as well. I think it's interesting to note, at least in the Maine case, that the secretary of state, one, is not a lawyer. Two, does have the authority to make these determinations, yet they have to make them -- those determinations in accordance with federal law. So, the Maine -- the person -- the secretary of state of Maine is appointed by the legislative -- elected by the legislative body, not by the people of Maine, by the legislative body, meaning the legislative body that is majority Democratic.

That decision was made. She had the authority to make that decision. Now it moves on to the Maine supreme court where the Maine supreme court will interpret the federal constitution and that will then make its way to the United States Supreme Court. At that time the teams are going to make the arguments at that time that the 14th Amendment does not apply to the president of the United States. That is, there are a number of specific officials that are named in that section, one of them does not include the president of the United States. I think that's going to be the basis upon which they make this appeal. And I do believe that the United States Supreme Court is going to agree with the Trump team on this one at least.

SOLOMON: So, what about the argument, though, that the office of the presidency is so obvious that it doesn't need to be physically written out in the Constitution? Does that carry any weight from your perspective?

SCHULTZ: So, the fact that it's so obvious isn't a real legal argument here, right? They specifically -- the text of the Constitution matters in this instance. And in this instance they're going to make the argument that it was specifically let - that they enumerated a number of officials, but they left out the president of the United States? That's very compelling -- going to be very compelling for the Supreme Court.

SOLOMON: Yes, another issue that the Supreme Court, of course, is going to take up is this immunity issue. The special counsel, Jack Smith, arguing in a new filing over the weekend on Saturday that this type of immunity, quote, "threatens to license presidents to commit crimes to remain in office."

Jim, how do you see this playing out for Trump?

SCHULTZ: So, Jack Smith has a winner on this one, right? I do not believe that the Supreme Court - that the -- it is now the Supreme Court rejected the idea of expediting this, but it still goes to the D.C. Circuit Court. And it's common knowledge in the legal community, D.C. Circuit Court is kind of the warm up act for the Supreme Court. A lot of Supreme Court justices have come from the D.C. Circuit. And this is - this - this is the right tribunal to be hearing it. And I think in this instance the D.C. Circuit Court is going to act swiftly. And I think they're going to knock down this immunity claim, you know, very swiftly.

SOLOMON: Jim Schultz, good to have you. Thank you.

SCHULTZ: Thank you.

BERMAN: The NFL playoff picture getting more clear by the minute. And one thing you can count on, one playoff game is going through Baltimore.



SOLOMON: So, welcome back.

The NFL playoff picture is coming into sharper focus as the top seeds in both the AFC and the NFC have been clinched.

Carolyn Manno joins us now with more.

We're so excited to have a guest in studio, Carolyn.


SOLOMON: Break it down for us. Who made the cut?

MANNO: I'm excited to be with you. I know we were just talking about, like, who's in who's out.


MANNO: This has been the most wild and chaotic playoff scenario with a week left in the season, but we've got nine teams that have clinched right now and there are five berths that are up for grabs. But one thing is for sure, the AFC playoffs officially going through Baltimore. We at least know that much. The Ravens clinching the number one seed and home field advance after routing the Dolphins yesterday. The game went about as well as it possibly could have for quarterback Lamar Jackson. He tied his career high with five touchdown passes, finishing with a perfect passer rating. That performance may have sealed the deal to win his second league MVP award. We'll see. but the final score ended up being 56-19. I only say that because it's a score combination that has never happened before in the history of the league.

BERMAN: Score-a-gami (ph).

MANNO: Score-a-gami. Exactly. Score-a-gami. I love that you just said that.

In the NFC, the 49ers are going to have home field advantage throughout the playoffs and a bye in the first round. Brock Purdy, man, leading the way, a pair of scores in the 27-10 win over the Commanders. The former Mr. Irrelevant also broke the team's single season passing record, entered the day third on the list behind Jeff Garcia and Steve Young and set the new mark in his final toss of the day, a five-yard completion to George Kittle. Panthers shut out 26-0 by the Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina owner David Tepper let his frustrations show.

This viral video showing Tepper throwing his drink in what seems to be the direction of a fan from his open-air suite has gone very viral. The NFL telling CNN it's aware of this video. It has no further comment at this time. A team spokesman for the Panthers also declining to comment. But it does not look good.

As we turn the calendar to 2024, one of the most beloved traditions in sports returning in Seattle. It's the NHL Winter Classic, the annual hockey game played in the great outdoors. And this year it's the Kraken hosing the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Vegas Golden Knights inside T-Mobile Park, the home of baseball's Seattle Mariners, of course. So, fans looking forward to this event every year, but the players do, too.


JACK EICHEL, VEGAS GOLD KNIGHTS CENTER: I think whenever you play outdoors, I mean it's the purest form of the game. When go start playing outside, you get different uniforms on and some eye black and I'm sure it brings back a lot of memories for guys about growing up, playing - playing on ponds in their neighborhoods or in their towns.


MANNO: The puck drops this afternoon at 2:00 Eastern. You can watch all the action on our sister channel TNT. You can also stream it on Max. Very nostalgic for hockey fans who love outdoor hockey on the pond. It kind of evokes that sense of childhood for so many.

SOLOMON: Super cool.


I also want to say, I appreciate -- it was a very exhaustive sports report. I appreciate you not mentioning the Eagles.


MANNO: Oh, man.

SOLOMON: We don't - we don't need to talk about that.

MANNO: I know you're an Eagles fan. But you were making like all kind of hand gestures during the Brock Purdy --

BERMAN: Well, I can't believe that he has the passing record for the 49ers. Joe Montana's team. I mean all these -

MANNO: Oh, it's unbelievable. I know.

BERMAN: He's great, but I had no idea.

MANNO: Just quietly is having this incredible sort of career that has come out of nowhere. It's amazing.

BERMAN: Very surprising.

SOLOMON: Thanks, Carolyn.

MANNO: Happy New Year, guys.

SOLOMON: Happy New Year.

BERMAN: All right, the space race in 2024 has NASA shooting for the moon, literally. Big predictions for the year ahead.


BERMAN: Happy New Year, once again, everyone.

And 2024 promises to be a spectacular year for space watchers. NASA's Artemus II mission is expected to send humans back the moon's orbit for the first time since the Apollo 17 landing way back in the banner year of 1972.


A lot of great things happened that year. This will be a very different kind of mission with a long-term presence on the moon plan, even establishing asteroid mining in heavy industry. At least that's the goal. The mission could also pave the way for another moon landing potentially - a landing potentially by 2025 or 2026.

Leland Melvin is an engineer, a retired NASA astronaut who has been on two space missions. And Adam Frank, a professor of astro physics at the University of Rochester and author. His latest book is called "The Little Book of Aliens."

Leyland, I noted 1972 was such a greatest year. It happened to be the year I was born. But do you think that this will be the year that we get back at least to the moon's orbit?

LELAND MELVIN, FORMER NASA ASTRONAUT: Well, you know, John, thank you for having me on and Happy New Year. This is a really exciting year because we're going to send people back to the moon, since '72, Gene Cernan on the moon, the last person on the moon. And now we'll have a diverse group of astronauts, Canadians, African Americans, women, and, you know, Reid Wiseman, the commander. So, I think this is the time where we're going to start getting everyone to see what is possible for their mission.

You know, we talked about in your opening, you know, mining the moon, but we're going to have people living and working on the moon for the first time for extended stays. And Artemis II this year is going to be that first journey around the moon to get people to see what it's like to get back on another vehicle heading back to the lunar surface.

BERMAN: Yes, Adam, if you will, talk more about that? I mean the Artemis mission is an interesting sort of franco mission on a, you know, Frankenstein-type rocket here. Why is this so important looking forward because a cynic might look at it and say, you know, we kind of did this, including before I was born in 1972.

ADAM FRANK, AUTHOR, "THE LITTLE BOOK OF ALIENS": Well, Leland -- I love what Leland said is that this first step back into - onto the moon because the moon is the gateway to the solar system. And, you know, the human -- the future of humanity, if we make it through climate change, if we don't blow ourselves up, right, it's the solar system. And from, as you talked about, heavy industry, asteroid mining, the future of humanity is the solar system. And the moon is the gateway because it's so close. And so what NASA is trying to do, this very ambitious plan, they called it Generation Artemis, is set the infrastructure to begin to really have a human presence, permanent presence in space, not just going up and coming down, you know, after a couple of days. So, it's really exciting. And, you know, we have the capacity now to do this.

BERMAN: All right, Adam, I know you're excited about the Europa Clipper. What's that?

FRANK: Well, the Europa Clipper is a mission to one of the moons of Jupiter. You know, and we're very excited about life of the universe. Obviously, as an astrobiologist, I want to know whether there's life anywhere else in the universe. And Mars usually gets most of our attention when it comes to thinking about life in the universe. But there are these moons orbiting the gas giants, Jupiter and Saturn, that have huge amounts of water in them. And we believe water is central to allowing life's shenanigans to happen. Molecular shenanigans.

So, Europa has a hundred mile or sixty mile deep ocean, more water than all the oceans on earth, and it's covered by a layer of about maybe six miles of ice. And so that is a prime place we should be looking for life. And the Europa mission is, we're going to send a probe that is going to orbit Jupiter and do these fly-byes past Europa and give us a better view of what's going on in there. What - you know, is there any possibility for life. What's that ocean like. So, it's really exciting.

BERMAN: I'm not sure Jupiter or Saturn like being called the gas giants, but, still, I understand what you're saying there.

Leland, if you will, I understand you're the executive producer of a new National Geographic documentary called "The Space Race" coming soon. What can we expect from that?

MELVIN: John, it's an incredible movie about what - the person that would have been the first black astronaut, chosen by John F. Kennedy. His name was Ed Dwight. He was a captain in the Air Force, who then, when Kennedy was killed, he was no longer allowed to be in the program. And, you know, after this happened, he was resilient and turned into a world-renowned sculptor. His name is Ed Dwight. It comes out in February. It shows this journey of Ed Dwight, but how it led to all the other black astronauts. And one of those of which is Jeanette Epps, who's launching to this International Space Station this February on her mission, her six-month mission, on ISS.

BERMAN: I did not know the Ed Dwight story. That sounds fascinating. I can't wait to see that.

And, Leland, while we have you here, what else beyond Artimus are you most excited for when you - when you look up for 2024?

MELVIN: Well, you know, we're going to be launching an Axiom crew, Axiom space. They're going to be launching with Commander Mike Lopez- Alegria to the Space Station this year with three private citizens. And eventually we're going to be building another space station to replace the current space station.


So, John, you can go up and have your vacation up there, have an extended honeymoon or something and hang out on a -- on a private space station. So, these are some of the things that are coming in the - in the years. And - and, Adam, we're going to be looking for aliens out, which is incredible, because we don't know really what is out there. We have to look up and, you know, engage the universe.

BERMAN: The truth is out there, as I've been reliably told by "The X- Files" for some time.

Adam Frank, Leland Melvin, great to see both of you. Happy New Year to both of you. And I can't wait for documentary series that you're talking about, Leland. Thank you.

MELVIN: Thank you.

FRANK: Thanks, John.

MELVIN: Thanks, John. Happy New Year.

SOLOMON: And, John, I can't wait to see you in space. I think -

BERMAN: I know. Well, a honeymoon in the space station sounds romantic? Question mark.

SOLOMON: No, that was a great segment.


SOLOMON: All right, well, still ahead for us, of course we are following breaking news in Japan where officials are still assessing the threat after a major 7.5 magnitude earthquake rocked the country. We are live in Tokyo coming up next.