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700+ Charged Nearly a Year After January 6 Capitol Riot; Judge to Decide Whether to Dismiss Prince Andrew Case; Partial Lockdown and Mass Testing in Zhengzhou, China; Omicron Raising Alarm as It Rages Around the World; I-95 in Virginia Reopens After Motorists Stranded for Hours; Millions in U.S. Facing Coldest Temps of the Season. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired January 05, 2022 - 04:30   ET



JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): ... Several of those sentences are expressing remorse. Erik Rau got 45 days in jail after pleading guilty to just one count of disorderly conduct. Federal Judge James Boasberg admonished Rau for trying to undermine the peaceful transfer of presidential power what he called one of the country's bedrock acts.

Rau struggled to speak at sentencing telling the judge, "There is no excuse for my actions on January 6th. I can't tell you how much this has just twisted my stomach every day since it happened."

Another rioter Robert Reeder got three months in jail. During his sentencing, he pleaded with a judge saying he lost his family, his job and his place within his church community after January 6th. "I am embarrassed, I am in shame," Reeder said. "The hurt that I have caused to other people, not just to myself has left a permanent stain on me. Society, the country and I don't want to be ever remembered for being part of that crowd."

Josh Pruitt though still isn't willing to admit guilt or cooperate with prosecutors.

Video of Pruitt pledging to become a member of the Proud Boys in November 2020 went viral. Pruitt says prosecutors are asking him to help make the case against other Proud Boys facing conspiracy charges. But he claims he no longer associates with the extremist group.

JOSHUA PRUITT, ACCUSED CAPITOL RIOTER: I don't have anybody to throw under the bus, nor would I anyway. And I just -- what I'm saying doesn't fit their narrative, because they would like me to come forward and say that it was planned. And I'm like, no, it wasn't.

Everybody thinks that people has all these plans of going in the building, but not to my knowledge. I was in tough some pretty right- winged people and we never heard anything about that.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): While Pruitt waits out his next court date, he spends most of his days inside his Nashville apartment wearing an ankle bracelet and abiding by a 9 p.m. curfew, except when is working as a bartender. Something that is approved by the court. Pruitt expects his case to go to trial and says he still stands by the big lie.

PRUITT: I do believe the election was stolen, for sure.

SCHNEIDER: And do you still believe that?

PRUITT: I still believe it.

SCHNEIDER: And Pruitt isn't the only one. I spoke with several accused rioters on the phone, all of whom declined to talk on camera. They cited their ongoing cases or their desire to step back from the public glare. But the handful I spoke with told me they still believe the election was stolen. Some are even disputing that it was just pro- Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol building on January 6th, falsely telling me members of Antifa were also involved.

Meanwhile the FBI is still trying to identify more than 350 people who they say committed violent acts on Capitol grounds, so still a lot more of this investigation still to come.

Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.


ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR: And, of course, on the anniversary of the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, CNN has a look at the heroes who protected U.S. democracy. Join Jake Tapper and Anderson Cooper for a two-hour special events live from the capital, January 6 one year later. It begins Thursday at 8 p.m. if you're watching, in Washington, D.C., and that is Friday, if you're watching in Hong Kong only here on CNN.

Now, a federal judge in New York says he'll soon decide whether a civil sexual assault case against Prince Andrew will move forward or be dismissed. Virginia Giuffre is suing the Prince claiming he sexually assaulted her when she was under age. The Duke of York denies the allegations, and his lawyers argue 2008-9 agreement between Giuffre and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein shields the Prince from Giuffre's lawsuit.

CNN's Max Foster is live for us outside Windsor Castle this morning. Good morning to you, Max. Of course, the Prince's lawyer is looking to get the case dismissed on the grounds of this 2009 agreement, but the U.S. judge didn't seem very convinced yesterday by those arguments.

MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the judge was listening to all sorts of different arguments there getting into the weeds of whether or not this 2009 agreement is even relevant to this case. But where the judge seemed to veer towards the Giuffre side of the argument, is when he pointed out that this was a secret agreement until Monday this week. It was only meant to be seen by Giuffre and by Epstein, and, therefore, as a result of that context, only Giuffre or Epstein can enforce it. Epstein's dead. Giuffre certainly isn't enforcing it, and Prince Andrew arguably isn't able to enforce it because he wasn't party to that secret agreement. So that seemed to be something that the judge was acknowledging in the hearing yesterday.

He's going to go away, consider his ruling and come back, he says, very soon. But this is in legal terms, so that could be a month. We don't really know what very soon means. He wasn't being very specific.


But his interest in speaking to U.S. legal experts last night, because that's actually quite an unusual view of these types of agreements which are very common, I'm told us in U.S. courts. And if he does fall on Giuffre's side saying this is a secret agreement, only she can enforce it, Andrew can't, that that actually would set a precedent in U.S. legal agreements. So, it's interesting either way. But Andrew very much focusing all of his efforts right now on trying to get this case dismissed altogether and avoiding going to trial, which could be in September if the case continues.

SOARES: Yes, and if the case does continue, Max, how damaging could this be for the Prince and, indeed, for the royal family here?

FOSTER: Well, the longer it goes on, the more damaging it just is to the brand being associated with these allegations, being associated with the sort of tactics that you do get in court and trying to get the case dismissed is never good for the royal family. The monarchy is meant to be independent, staying well clear of what could be argued to be legal interference, and not getting involved officially. And behind the scenes, of course, they're trying to work out what to do with Andrew. He's not being seen in public at all because they know that those pictures would get in the papers and it will all blow up again.

And he's still got certainly military titles which give him a formal role and there is lots of talk within the military about him having to give them up. The Queen could strip him of those titles. I don't think that's really her style, but there may come a point where Andrew thinks, you know, let's get out of the headlines as much as I can, and resign from those titles, although he may think that's not the right thing to do as long as he's an innocent man. He hasn't been found guilty of anything, of course, yet, Isa, and he denies all the charges.

SOARES: Max Foster for us this morning outside very sunny Windsor Castle there. Thanks very much, Max.

Now, the Omicron variant is shattering records all over the world -- as we told you at the top of the hour. And putting really hospitals under tremendous pressure. We are live for you in Paris and Hong Kong when we come back.



SOARES: Now, the explosion of COVID cases driven by the super contagious, of course, Omicron variant is causing alarm as well as confusion right around the world. France has set an all-time record for daily infections since the start of the pandemic with more than 270,000 on Tuesday. Authorities warn that figure could soon hit 300,000.

Italy, meanwhile, has reported its highest number of daily cases on Tuesday. Some 170,000. But that coincides with the record spike in testing.

In Okinawa, Japan, local officials are debating whether emergency measures are needed after an Omicron outbreak. They are blaming an American military base for the surge in cases. But the U.S. is you are pushing on that.

And another Chinese city dealing with a lockdown after new infections where detected. This time it's neighborhoods in Zhengzhou, which has launched a round of mass testing -- today in fact. That is some 30 million people in Xi'an remain under stay-at-home orders.

Let's put it in perspective. CNN's Ivan Watson is tracking developments for us from Hong Kong. But we begin this hour with Jim Bittermann in Paris. In good morning to you, Jim. We're seeing France really trying to grapple with these record COVID cases. Meanwhile, Macron seems to be battling the unvaccinated with some very unusual and colorful language.

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I would say colorful is kind of an understatement actually, Isa. The fact is that President Macron was speaking to editors from one of the widely circulated newspapers here, "La Parisian," last night. And basically, he told them that he's going on a war path against the unvaccinated. He said they are not great citizens. If they're not, they're irresponsible, and he said that his strategy now is to la merde -- which is a French way of saying piss off, perhaps al merde is a little bit stronger than that. But in any case, to anger the various people that are not getting vaccinated out there. It's about 10 percent of the population still hasn't gotten vaccinated.

And he's going to do that by these changes, the strategy is, these changes in the health pass rules. And basically, the health pass will become a vaccination pass, and it will be required for all kinds of public activity including going to bars, and restaurants, travel, that sort of thing. And people will be encouraged -- if that's the right word -- to get themselves vaccinated if they're not already.

He said, I'm not going to put them in jail. I'm not going to forcibly vaccinate them, but they're going to be on notice that they won't be able to go out for a drink or meal or go see a cinema after the 15th of January when he'd like to see this get into place -- Isa.

SOARES: I like that you said encourage, Jim, there.

Let's go to Ivan in Hong Kong. And, Ivan, what we have seen the last few days, in fact weeks, is China's zero COVID strategy really taking a toll, I think it's fair to say, on the population. Who have endured in the case of Xi'an, the city of Xi'an, something like two weeks of lockdown. And now there is a new city facing the same fate here.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean, look, you've France with hundreds of thousands of new cases a day. China, the country with the world's biggest population, it's down to a couple dozen cases nationally a day.

But the hot spot for weeks has been Xi'an, which is had less than 2,000 confirmed COVID cases, zero COVID deaths since the beginning of December, and yet some 13 million residents have been under strict lockdown since December 23rd. They're not even allowed to cross the threshold of their homes to buy groceries. And the numbers are starting to come down, just 35 new locally transmitted cases on Tuesday.

But we are anecdotally hearing really disturbing cases. One, for example, of a woman who tried to get into a's hospital because she was in pain, eight months pregnant. Video showing her bleeding onto the pavement, not allowed into the hospital, according to this post. And then subsequently suffering a miscarriage.

CNN has reached out to the hospital. They have confirmed that the woman was not allowed in, but they are investigating the incident. They turned her away due to the government's COVID-19 regulations. And even though the internet and social media so strictly censored in China, there are many other cases of kind of similar disturbing reports of people who are going hungry because they can't get groceries. Women who can't get menstrual pads, for example, deeply concerning, and that's part of the price that residents have to pay due to the government's campaign to completely eradicate any of the virus whatsoever in mainland China.

SOARES: Very disturbing indeed.


It begs the question, of course, how long a population could go on with this zero-COVID strategy. Thank you very much, Ivan Watson, Jim Bittermann for us in Paris.

Now, hours of icy gridlock finally came to an end. Drivers stuck on the highway in Virginia finally getting moving again. And they've got stories to tell. That's next.


SOARES: Now, Interstate 95 in eastern Virginia is open again after a severe winter storm stranded thousands of motorists for hours overnight -- if you remember on Monday. The state's Transportation Department says all disabled vehicles have been removed. But that's after some drivers had been stuck in their cars in the freezing cold for more than 12 hours, many without food or water.

Truckers came to the rescue. One handed out bottles of water and a bread delivery truck opened its doors to hand out loaves -- as you can see there. Another long-haul truck driver had a two-day food supply and generously shared it with a neighboring motorist. Well, among the stranded drivers was Senator Tim Kaine, this was his view, as his usual two-hour drive into Washington turned into a 27-hour ordeal. He described how he got through it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) [04:50:00]

SEN. TOM KAINE (D-VA): You know, it was kind of a survival challenge. And everybody is doing what -- how do you keep yourself warm? And so, it's kind of -- you have to figure out the strategy. It's like, turn on the heater full blast, heat the car up, turn it off and then try and catch some sleep. In about 20 or 30 minutes it gets so cold in the car you have to do it again.


SOARES: Two hours turned into 27.

Well, the next guest is one of those drivers who was stuck on the highway in Virginia. We spoke to Sean Stratford yesterday while he was stuck on I-95 and he joins me now. And Sean, it's great to finally see you at home nice and warm. Tell us how long your journey took.

SEAN STRATFORD, DRIVER: All told, ended up being 40 1/2 hours from Florida up to New York. But the vast majority of that time spent not moving at all in Virginia.

SOARES: And how long -- give our viewers around the world an idea of how long would that normally take?

STRATFORD: I was looking to do it in about 18 to 20 hours, depending on traffic and, you know, bathroom breaks for the dog or me. But a little longer than I was expecting.

SOARES: And you know, when you and I spoke yesterday, you were pretty positive given the situation, because you were facing, of course, really cold weather, and making sure that you stay warm, that you had enough gas in your tank really.

STRATFORD: Yes, at that point I was pretty positive after we spoke. A glimmer of hope, they let us go and I kind of get to drive and all of a sudden not very well plowed roads. Looked like, all right, we're moving. We moved about 8 miles, and then we stopped again for a number of hours. It was still closed. I'm surprised they didn't usher us off the first exit and kind of let everyone drive ahead. And then it was, you know, another waiting game until the other exit was cleared, exit 133. So, it was -- I felt good right after I spoke to you, and then I felt less good later in the day, let's say.

SOARES: Oh, OK. I'm glad I got you at a good time. But you also -- you weren't driving by yourself. You had a puppy with you. How did you manage in terms of food, drink, go to the toilet even?

STRATFORD: He was in there. He was actually pretty calm. Occasionally, the one bright side to your car not moving at all is you just get out and walk the dog as much as you need. No one is going to honk at you because there's nowhere to go. Luckily, I had some water with me. I had some energy drinks that kind helped me stay awake. And I was able to -- as Senator Kaine mentioned -- (INAUDIBLE) I believe I ended standing next to him on U.S. Highway 1 at one point. I looked over and like I'm pretty sure that's Senator Kaine. OK. but then I was a little upset. Because we all got ushered off exit 133 on to Highway 1, and we were kind of left on our own.

There was no police presence, let's say like waving us to get us back on, or kind of tell you where the highway was open again. So, you had some people you could see turning down roads that they ended up finding out, no, you can't get on 95 yet. You had to go, you know, roughly 30 miles. And it took quite a while. It was, you know, it tried all of my patience, I'd say.

SOARES: I'm glad you are home and warm and your puppy is well. He's gorgeous.

STRATFORD: Thank you.

SOARES: Thank you for taking time to speak to us and, you know, it could have been worse. You could have been traveling with children.


STRATFORD: Yes, but I did it on my own.

SOARES: Sean Stafford there for us. Thanks very much, Sean. Great to hear from you.

STRATFORD: Thank you very much. That's in 6.

SOARES: Now, some of the coldest air of the season is about to impact millions across the United States, and another round of snow is headed for the northeast. Let's check in with meteorologist Pedram Javaheri. Good morning, Pedram.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Isa, we're watching what happening across the Great Lakes region is a big system here potentially in the works over the next couple of days. And the winter weather alerts certainly support it here with the very cold air in place. Supporting not only heavy snow showers, but even blizzard-like conditions across parts of the Dakotas.

Look at this. Western areas of Michigan, into the UP of Michigan, parts of Wisconsin as well as Minnesota. Widespread coverage of 2 to 4 inches of snowfall. A few pockets taking you as high as 18 inches of snow over the next 24 to 36 hours. That's just one element of the wintry weather we have in store. The gusty winds certainly going to be in place, at times gusting to 45, maybe 50 miles per hour underneath these advisory zones.

But the arctic air is going to be the talk of town. Because I'm here to tell you, this is one of the coldest air outbreaks of the season so far. Not just for areas of the Great Lakes, but even potentially into the northeast by the time we get to, say, Friday and Saturday afternoon.

But how about this. Look at the temperature trend. In Chicago, the high of only in the lower 20s on Wednesday, 17 and eventually 15 degrees. Those are the afternoon highs across this region before we warm it up come Saturday. Eventually that cold air does arrive across the northeast. New York

City may be the subfreezing territory as we get into Saturday afternoon.


Even Atlanta, temperatures down into the lower 40s after they were touching 80 degrees this time last week. So, again, big changes in store over the next several days. That's one element.

There is a secondary system that we are also following that is pushing in across portions of the South. We think this will develop sometime, say, Thursday into Friday. Could bring with it another round of snow showers across a lot of these areas around the mid-Atlantic region that were very hard hit in recent days.

Right now, our model is not in perfect agreement about the placement of this storm, the amount of snow it will produce, but we do think it will have a chance to produce snow a little farther to the north. So, some of these areas like New York and Philly didn't see much in the way of snowfall could pick up a couple of inches as early as Friday afternoon and into Saturday. Is, we're going to watch that carefully. The temperatures, they're look as such here for today, 44 in Louisville, 24 across Chicago. Tampa, Florida, not too bad, around 75 degrees -- Isa.

SOARES: Thank you very much, Pedram.

Now, the winter weather in the U.S. is contributing to even more flight cancellations. FlightAware says more than a thousand flights were canceled on Tuesday. It is the 10th consecutive day we've seen that many cancellations, taking the total number since just Christmas Eve to nearly 20,000. Now, airlines aren't just battling the elements. They've also faced staffing shortages due to COVID-19 as well as high demand, of course, over the recent holidays.

And that does it for me here on CNN NEWSROOM. Thanks very much for joining me. Let me know what you thought of the show. Tweet me or send me a message on Instagram. Our coverage meanwhile continues on "EARLY START" with Christine Romans and Laura Jarrett. They'll have much more, of course, on the January 6 investigation. I shall see you tomorrow. Bye-bye.