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Trump Claims January 6th Criminal Are Hostages; House, Senate Leaders Reach $1.59 Trillion Deal On Government Spending Levels; Three Months Since Hamas Attack On Israel; NTSB Seeks Part Of Jet That Blew Out 16,000 Feet Over Oregon; More Details On Secretary Lloyd Austin's Hospitalization. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 07, 2024 - 18:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Jim Acosta in Washington. Good evening.

We begin the hour with a torrent of bizarre and hateful comments coming from Donald Trump on the campaign trail in Iowa this weekend. This weekend alone the former president mocked the late Senator John McCain for injuries he sustained while serving his country. He taunted President Biden for his lifelong struggle with stuttering, even said the Civil War could have been negotiated.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Civil War was so fascinating, so horrible. I'm so attracted to seeing it. See, there was something I think could have been negotiated, to be honest with you. You know, without John McCain, we would have had it done. John McCain for some reason couldn't get his arm up that day. Remember, he goes like that.

He was stuttering through the whole thing. He's going -- he's a threat to democracy. I'm a -- he's a threat to de-de-democracy. Wow.


ACOSTA: Of course, looming over the campaign this weekend is the third anniversary of the attack on the U.S. Capitol. Yesterday the Justice Department released this never-before-seen footage of rioters confronting two Republican congressmen barricaded in the House chamber, reminding the nation how brutal the mob was on that day. Despite those facts, Trump continues to call those convicted of crimes for their role in January 6th hostages.


TRUMP: They ought to release the J-6 hostages. They've suffered enough. They ought to release them.


TRUMP: I call them hostages. Some people call them prisoners. I call them hostages. Release the J-6 hostages, Joe. Release them, Joe. You can do it real easy, Joe.


ACOSTA: And today prominent members of the Republican Party continue to parrot Trump's incendiary rhetoric.


REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): I have concerns about the treatment of January 6th hostages. I have concerns. We have a role in Congress of oversight over our treatment of prisoners and I believe that we're seeing the weaponization of the federal government against not just President Trump but we're seeing it against conservatives, we're seeing it against Catholics.


ACOSTA: And joining me now is CNN senior political commentator David Axelrod and CNN senior political commentator Adam Kinzinger.

Adam Kinzinger, let me start with you first. I mean, your response to Elise Stefanik referring to January 6th criminals as hostages, parroting Trump's talking points there.

ADAM KINZINGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, I wish I had 15 minutes to address this. And you know, look, there's hostages right now in Gaza. These people broke the law and the crazy thing is, with every one of them, including Elise, you can go back, where they say people that broke the law should be in jail for January 6th as they were trying to defend Donald Trump.

Now all of a sudden they've become hostages. Keep in mind, he plays -- I don't know if it's at all his rallies, but at some of them, with the January 6th prisoners singing "God Bless America" or the national anthem or something along that line. The video you showed with the people standing at the door in that standoff, that's Mark Wayne Mullen and that's Troy Nehls.

Mark Wayne Mullen who said after Ashlee Babbit was shot that he thinks that was a correct shooting, a correct shooting by a law enforcement officer, which it was by the way, even though it was a tragic outcome, and now he's a denier. Troy Nehls who's a sheriff standing there, telling them that they're embarrassing the cause, embarrassing the movement, now a chief denier of it.

It's all about power. It's all about -- they now have determined that they have to win so that history does not write the embarrassment that they are. The only way they can cover up who they were and what they've done and how they've enabled this guy is by winning in November, and that should be a charge, by the way, to the forces of opposition as well.

ACOSTA: You know, and David, on Friday we saw President Biden offer up this very forceful rebuke of former president Trump and his MAGA supporters, and describing them as a threat to democracy and so on. But when you have the -- one of the top Republicans in the House parroting Donald Trump, calling the January 6th prisoners hostages, it just seems that a narrative has taken hold inside the base of the Republican Party.


Does it matter what the president says, how he says it, how he goes off on Donald Trump out on the campaign trail at the end of the day?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think it matters in a general election to some degree. It certainly matters to, you know, core Democratic supporters who I think respond -- responded to the president's speech very favorably, but I'm not sure that it's going to penetrate the Trump base. In fact, I would -- I would gather that Biden's speech probably aroused the Trump base.

Listen, Donald Trump is tromping through Iowa doing his greatest hits, you know, about the election, about the hostages. You know, mocking McCain, mocking Biden, praising dictators, the whole nine yards. But the base is eating it up. And his role right now -- his job right now, Jim, is to just stir his base up to come out and participate in those caucuses. So, you know, look, I think that I've said for all the years that Donald Trump has been on the scene that the danger of Donald Trump is that he does not believe in rules and laws and norms and institutions, and that is no -- that's clearer today than it's ever been.

But he does have a following. You know, 66 percent of Republicans in a CBS poll today said that they -- you know, that they support pardoning the hostages, pardoning the folks who were convicted in the insurrection. So he is -- you know, he has masterfully sold his story. He is a master brander. He sold this story to the base.

But Adam's right, the people who I think are most shameful here are the folks who know better. Elise Stefanik was -- I'm old enough to remember when she was a kind of sensible center-right Republican. Adam probably remembers that, too. And then she got the smell of possibility here, of opportunity, and she threw in with Trump with both feet and now she's mimicking his point on -- you know, his characterization of insurrectionists as hostages. It's really depressing.

ACOSTA: Yes. And Adam, I did want to ask you because your work on the January 6th Committee, I mean, this is something that is right in your wheelhouse. ABC News is reporting that Trump's former deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino is speaking to the Special Counsel Jack Smith, has revealed new details about Trump's inaction on January 6th. According to ABC Scavino told Smith's investigators that Trump, quote, "was just not interested" in doing more to stop the violence.

If I'm not mistaken, he did not speak to the committee even though you tried to get him to speak to the committee. How significant is it that somebody as close as Dan Scavino was to Donald Trump is talking to the special counsel's team?

KINZINGER: I think this is almost as big as Mark Meadows because, you know, one of the things I have said is of all the people I wish we could have had a thorough conversation with, Scavino was chief on my list. I mean, he was the Trump whisperer. He's the guy that was monitoring Twitter, that was, you know, putting out a lot of Donald Trump's tweets. He was the one, more than likely, in conversation with some of these nefarious actors out there, nefarious groups.

And if he's cooperating with the feds, Donald Trump's in real trouble. And you know, just with this little bit of information we have, it reaffirms what we've already known but it's very impactful. For 187 minutes, for over three hours Donald Trump sat there watching his insurrection in action and did not act.

So let's say you believe that Donald Trump wanted this to end, and you believe he's some man of action, all he had to do was literally put out a tweet. All he had to do was activate the National Guard. He's the commander of chief, by the way, of the D.C. National Guard. It's not Nancy Pelosi, it's not the mayor of D.C. He did not call people in the Defense Department. He did not activate the guard.

He sat and watched, and only, Jim, when it became obvious that law enforcement was going to take back the Capitol, only then did he meagerly put out a statement to cover his back side. But until then wanted to see if it would succeed. And Dan Scavino is reaffirming what we already know and I'm sure he's got a lot more information, too, that Donald Trump doesn't want him to tell.

ACOSTA: Yes. And --

AXELROD: Jim, you know, I --

ACOSTA: Go ahead.

AXELROD: I agree with everything that Adam said, and he's got an extraordinary perspective on this. I think what may turn out to be the most important question in this campaign is, does that trial move forward during this campaign year or is the president -- former president successful in deferring it until after the election?


Because the last thing he wants is to see Dan Scavino and Mark Meadows and others on the stand testifying, people who were close to him, still are close to him, and who are compelled under oath to tell the truth about what happened. He knows he can't afford that and so this election may actually end up turning on how successful he is in using the tools of the rule of law that he so demeans in order to deflect this trial and put it off until after the election in hopes that he gets elected and he can make the whole thing go away.

ACOSTA: Yes, there's no question. I mean, that is -- I mean, that is the entire ball game for Donald Trump at this point.

Adam, I do want to, if I can, take us to 30,000 feet. I want to ask you about this poll that shows a quarter of Americans, nearly one- third of Republicans believe that the FBI probably or definitely organized January 6th. We heard Donald Trump out on the campaign trail this weekend. He was saying FBI, Antifa, and so on, still peddling these conspiracy theories. Where did -- where did the effort to inform the public, get the truth to the public go wrong? The January 6th Committee did all of that work. It was broadcast to the nation, to the world.

I mean, there have been people who have come out inside the administration who said they resigned because they condemned what Donald Trump did that day and what he didn't do that day, and yet so many people bought into this lie. What happened?

KINZINGER: So it's a couple things. First off, none of their kids are going to believe this. So this is an emotional reaction. I think some of those respondents say, yes, it was the FBI. For them it's just a tribal tattoo. That's just what you have to say to be part of the tribe. But the failure is in two big areas. Number one, FOX News and other news organizations like that that aren't telling the truth, that are allowing conspiracies to come on television.

And the other big failure is leaders in the Republican Party. Everybody underneath the president, from these candidates for president to members of Congress to even like county chairmen, they all are staying quiet. Elise Stefanik is a great example. She's just trying to play the game now so she can get ahead in power. And when Republican-based voters see everybody they trust telling them it was the FBI, it was Antifa, or not even addressing it, then it really shouldn't be a surprise that they believe it because the voices they trust are too cowardly to go out and tell the truth.

And I think that's where we are. But, look, have no doubt, if we quantum leap to 10 years forward right now, there would be nobody that believes it was the FBI. And I think these people that are answering that to the poll today would be ashamed to admit that they ever believed that. So I think we win in the end but it's going to be a messy year.

ACOSTA: Yes. And David, I mean, you know all too well, I mean, President Obama has been very worried about this siloing of Americans and people being caught in their own disinformation bubbles and so on. And apparently according to the "Washington Post," President Obama went to President Biden and encouraged him to be more forceful, get out there -- out on the campaign trail and talk about this.

And apparently Congressman James Clyburn who was a very big supporter of Joe Biden back in the 2020 campaign, as you know, he's been raising concerns about some of this as well. This is what he said earlier today and it kind of goes to what we've been talking about.


REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): I'm very concerned, and I have sat down with President Biden. My problem is we have not been able to break through that MAGA wall in order to get to people exactly what this president has done.


ACOSTA: David, we have not been able to get through the MAGA wall. That is what James Clyburn said there. What do you think?

AXELROD: Well, look, I think that there's been widespread concern about the sort of pace and urgency of the Biden campaign and the willingness to every day take on Trump, draw the contrast, not just on this issue, not just on the democracy issue but on economic issues that are important to middle class Americans and other issues on which Biden has an advantage. He is not going to win a referendum.

Very few presidents can, frankly, in this kind of environment, win a referendum. It's got to be a choice. And the choice is pretty clear and pretty vivid, but you have to draw it every day. You have to be on the attack every day as a campaign, and he needs to draw the contrast. Not just periodically with a speech on democracy but in everything that you say and do.

And I think that's what a lot of Democrats feel. I'm sure that's what Congressman Clyburn feels, and I do sense that that message is penetrating. And you know, I expect that they're going to pick up the pace here.


You know, one thing that I do -- I would say is that the things that Donald Trump is saying and doing now in Iowa and on the campaign trail may advantage him in a Republican primary. They may disadvantage him in a general election, and his complete obsession with himself and his past and his -- and the 2020 election, that's helpful with the base. And we've seen it throughout this last year.

It's unhelpful with voters outside the base. And so, you know, it'll be interesting to see if he can pivot or if he's so pathological about this that he just can't stop. And if he doesn't, I think that improves President Biden's chances of winning re-election.

ACOSTA: All right. David Axelrod, Adam Kinzinger, really appreciate the conversation this evening. Thanks so much.


AXELROD: Great to see you, Jim.

ACOSTA: Good to see you.

Now to news of a spending deal up on Capitol Hill. It's an important first step. Not the last step, but the first step in averting a government shutdown this month.

CNN's Arlette Saenz is with the president in Wilmington.

Arlette, what are the details, reaction from the White House? What are you hearing?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, President Biden appeared to sign off on this deal. He said in a statement that it moves the country one step closer to averting a government shutdown. But there are still very many questions about whether lawmakers will be able to reach a final agreement and pass some funding bills before that first January 19th deadline.

Now this agreement was struck by House Speaker Mike Johnson and Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer. The two men agreeing to these top line spending numbers totaling about $1.59 trillion for the next fiscal year. The breakdown of that includes $886 billion for defense spending and $704 billion for nondefense spending. There is also another about $70 billion that is part of a side deal that would include additional funding for nondefense issues.

Now these numbers track very closely with what President Biden and then House Speaker Kevin McCarthy agreed to last spring. That is something that set off a lot of frustration within the Republicans in the House, and tonight we are hearing from the House Freedom Caucus who was calling this agreement a total failure, they are frustrated that it does not include more spending cuts.

And there are some concerns going forward about whether conservatives will try to use this government funding deadline as leverage to try to enact and impose stricter immigration and border policy changes. That is something that we have heard recently from some Republican members. Of course there's also the timing issues, whether the lawmakers in relevant committees will be able to actually write these funding bills, a lot -- all of the funding figures before that first January 19th deadline where some group -- will some agencies will start to lose funding, including Veterans and the FDA. And there is that next funding deadline on February 2nd.

President Biden in his statement tonight said that it is time for Republicans to act. He said, quote, "Congressional Republicans must do their jobs. Stop threatening to shut down the government and fulfill their basic responsibility to fund critical domestic and national security priorities, including my supplemental request." That supplemental request is relating to aid for Ukraine, Israel, and border security.

That funding has been caught up in those border security negotiations. And so many questions remain for where they could actually avoid a government shutdown, but some are hoping that this will be the first step in doing so.

ACOSTA: All right. Arlett Saenz, thank you very much.

A programming note. Just five days before the Iowa caucuses, a make- or-break night for Republican presidential hopefuls. The CNN Republican presidential debate live from Iowa moderated by Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. That is going to be Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Still ahead, today marks three months since the horrific Hamas attacks which sparked the war with Israel. I'll speak with former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta about the next phase of the conflict. Plus -- there he is right there. We'll talk to him in just a moment.

Plus headrests and cushions ripped from an Alaska Airlines plane when a part flew off midair leaving a gaping hole in the plane. Stunning new details emerging about this incident. We'll have a live report. And another major winter storm to tell you about, about to impact millions this coming week. It might be here sooner than you think. What you need to know. That's next.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.



ACOSTA: Today marks three months since Hamas's devastating attack on Israel sparking an ongoing war that has created a dire humanitarian crisis and stirred fears of a larger conflict. This weekend Secretary of State Tony Blinken is in the Middle East to try to de-escalate tensions after Hezbollah fired a barrage of rockets from southern Lebanon into Israel.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: This is a conflict that could easily metastasize, causing even more insecurity and even more suffering. So from day one, among other priorities, we have been intensely focused on working to prevent the conflict from spreading.


ACOSTA: Meantime, it's believed 130 people, including eight American citizens, are still being held hostage in Gaza. The families of those Americans have released a TV ad to press for action on getting their loved ones home.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These same terrorists are holding Americans hostage. Sons, brothers, fathers. Americans, brutalized and murdered. Act now or more will die. Every second counts.


ACOSTA: Let's discuss more now with former Defense secretary, Leon Panetta. He also served as director of the CIA and the White House chief of staff.

Great to see you again always, Secretary Panetta. Really appreciate it. What more needs to be done, do you think, to get these hostages home safe and sound or are we locked in a situation here where it might be a while?


LEON PANETTA, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, I hope Secretary Blinken is able to work with the Israelis to kind of define what the direction of this war is going to be. We've obviously concluded an important chapter in that war in terms of Gaza, and the real question is, can they transition to a more targeted approach to continue to go after Hamas leadership? That would allow humanitarian aid in, it would allow probably a little more room to try to get our hostages out, and they've also got to focus on the day after. What kind of governing mechanism will there be in Gaza? And what kind

of security will be provided? If we could kind of define that kind of direction, I think we could make some progress. Otherwise, there is the danger, as the secretary pointed out, that this war could, indeed, escalate.

ACOSTA: And, Mr. Secretary, I mean, as we mentioned, Blinken is in the Middle East right now. He met with the Emir of Qatar today. He says he's focused on preventing a wider conflict. One thing that we've heard in the last day or so is that the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he is -- he is very determined to continue with this approach, to root out Hamas, take out their leadership, but isn't there a larger issue here?

Do you think there's a larger issue here in that Iran is just sort of looming over everything and -- I mean, this has been a problem for the U.S. as well. How do you -- how do you solve that?

PANETTA: Well, there are a number of problems that we've seen over these last few days. I mean, the killing of the Hamas leader in Beirut has opened up the possibility of a greater conflict with Hezbollah. The fact that obviously close to 100 people were killed in Iran, although the United States and Israel were not involved, ISIS clearly conducted that attack, but it makes Iran even more nervous about what do they do to respond to the attacks that have taken place?

In addition to that, you've got continuing concerns about Iran having a warship in the Red Sea and the continuing attacks by the Houthis, supported by Iran, on those ships which could impact on our economy, it could impact on peace in that part of the world. And, lastly, there are continuing attacks on U.S. forces. We've had five or more attacks since the new year, and it's affected our troops in both Syria as well as Iraq. We did an attack on a militant leader in Iraq, so there are a lot of balls in the air here.


PANETTA: And the real challenge is going to be whether or not we can avoid a total escalation of this war in a number of areas and find some clear direction about where we're headed. That's going to be the challenge, it seems to me, in these next few days.

ACOSTA: And then given all that, do you think the U.S. needs to take a firmer approach with Iran and these proxy groups?

PANETTA: I don't think there's any question that the United States has to have a firm approach with regards to the Iranian proxies, whether they're in Syria, whether they're in Iraq, whether it's the Houthis who are attacking in the Red Sea, whether it's Iran itself. I think they have to know that the United States will respond if we feel that our forces are being threatened. And, indeed, right now those forces are being threatened.

ACOSTA: And let's turn, if you don't mind, to what's happening over at the Pentagon. The one I guess item in particular, spokesperson says Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin remains hospitalized at Walter Reed. He's apparently recovering and in good spirits. Of course, we all wish him well. But there has been some pretty intense criticism because the secretary did not notify senior officials, including the president, secretary of state, other Pentagon officials about his hospitalization.

That notification came days after he went into the hospital. What's your response to all of that? I mean, should he have been notifying folks sooner?

PANETTA: Jim, look, there's no question that Lloyd Austin has done a great job as secretary of Defense at a pretty trying time, you know, a lot of crises he's dealing with and he spent a lot of time on the road. But I think it's fair to say that he made a mistake by not acknowledging to the public and certainly to White House officials that he was hospitalized.


And, frankly, he himself has acknowledged that and taken full responsibility and said he could do a better job of informing the public with regards to what happened here. Look, he is a key part -- secretary of defense is a key part of the chain of command when it comes to national security, not only dealing with all of these crises in the world but also dealing with, you know, the nuclear trigger.

He's a very important part of that chain of command. I think the most disturbing thing I heard is that neither President Biden or members of the National Security Council were informed that he was hospitalized until Thursday. He went in New Year's Day, I guess which was the Tuesday, but did not inform the White House or the president until Thursday. That's not acceptable. I think we have got to be able to make sure that the chain of command remains solid and people who are responsible for protecting our national defense are in place or have people that are in place to deal with it.

ACOSTA: And I do want to get your thoughts on political question. Maybe you heard a little bit of the conversation I was having with David Axelrod and Adam Kinzinger just a short time ago, but the stuff that Trump has been saying out on the campaign trail about, you know, what took place on January 6th. He's been referring to the January 6th prisoners and defendants as hostages. Let's listen to a little bit of that.


TRUMP: They ought to release the J-6 hostages. They've suffered enough. They ought to release them.


TRUMP: I call them hostages. Some people call them prisoners. I call them hostages. Release the J-6 hostages, Joe. Release them, Joe. You can do it real easy, Joe.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ACOSTA: Secretary, I mean, you were in Washington for a long time and you dealt with a lot of people around the world. People around the world saw what took place on January 6th. They know that the people who are in jail for what took place on January 6th are not hostages. What happens if Trump gets back in the White House and he's voted in there when the rest of the world knows that all of this is a lie that Trump has been saying?

PANETTA: Look, I think there's little question we're dealing with somebody who's very irresponsible with regards to the truth, irresponsible with regards to really the policies and the Constitution of our country, but that's Trump. And the reality is, he continues to use that as a way to reinforce the space that he has out in the country.

And I guess the real challenge here is with regards to President Biden and how he confronts this because in many ways you can't out demagogue a demagogue. You just can't. And I think ultimately the president is going to have to find a way to shift to a more positive vision about where he wants to take the country. We know there are concerns about democracy. We know there are concerns about Trump, but I really feel in order to kind of get the message across to the people who are out in the country and want to know where this country is going in the future and not that we're just going to fight over the past, at some point he's got to develop a more positive message about where he wants to bring the country in the next term of the presidency.

ACOSTA: And do you share the president's view that Trump is a threat to democracy?

PANETTA: Look, I don't think there's any question that Trump is a threat to democracy. He was a threat when he was president. He was a threat on January 6th when he failed to do anything to stop what was happening on the Capitol when he incited a mob to attack the Capitol. Look, a president signs -- swears an oath to protect, defend, and preserve the Constitution of the United States. And we're dealing with a candidate who really doesn't stand by that oath of protecting the Constitution. And that is a threat to democracy in the future.

ACOSTA: All right. Former secretary of defense, Leon Panetta. Thanks so much for your time tonight. Always a pleasure. Really appreciate it.

PANETTA: Good to be with you, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. Thank you. We'll be right back.



ACOSTA: Many air travelers are facing delays and cancellations today after the FAA grounded most Boeing 737 MAX-9s in the U.S. The groundings follow a terrifying incident on board an Alaska Airlines flight Friday night. A part meant to plug a door in the cabin blew out at 16,000 feet over Oregon, leaving a gaping hole, which you can see right there. After a walkthrough of the disabled plane, investigators say it's fortunate nobody died. Federal officials are now asking for the public's help finding the part of the plane that fell to the ground.

And CNN's Mike Valerio is following all of this for us in Portland, Oregon.

Mike, what's the latest?

MIKE VALERIO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, you know, investigators are really homing in on the community of Cedar Hills, Oregon. It's about a 15-minute drive away from here. But there are two theaters of activity, Jim. Here at the Portland airport is the primary one. So as we take a view, zoom in about -- across two runways, this is the plane in question.


The door -- the door plug, the hole in the fuselage faces away from us. We're looking at the right-hand side of the aircraft, it's on the left-hand side, that hole. But as we zoom in, you'll start to see yellow tape surrounding the aircraft. So throughout the day there have been NTSB personnel going in and out of it. We know that there have been media teams that have been recording what has been seeing, like those oxygen masks that are still dangling from the ceiling of the aircraft, headrests that are missing.

In terms of the second theater of activity, that's Cedar Hills. Again a very short drive away from here. And, you know, for people, Jim, who don't know the area around Portland too well, this area, it's not like endless forests. This is a densely populated suburban setting where there are hundreds of homes, dozens of subdivisions. It's like out of a Norman Rockwell painting part of the area. And there is a lake in the middle of Commonwealth Park.

We asked the NTSB, hey, are you guys going to need divers to investigate this lake to see if that's where the missing plane portion is located? They said, at this time no divers as of yet. We're going to get a news conference after 6:00 p.m. local time at some point this evening. We heard from the chair of the NTSB, though, talking about what her impressions were when she went inside the aircraft. Listen to what she told us.


JENNIFER HOMENDY, CHAIR, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: The headrests are gone on 26A part of the seats -- back of the seat is gone. There's some clothing items in the area. We can see that the stop portions of the door are still intact on the door.


VALERIO: It's still pretty astonishing to imagine, Jim, what all of the passengers must have gone through. But, you know, after that sound bite, a couple seconds later the chair of the NTSB made it a point to say that at this juncture of the investigation she does not see this as an issue with the entire MAX-9 flight. That is still within the realm of possibility. But the evidence so far is militating towards this being an issue, she said last night, with just this single aircraft. That is their primary focus at the moment.

So, you know, when we asked, should we be worried about this plane, she said at this point the entire fleet is not our concern, but we should get more information later tonight -- Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. Mike Valerio, thank you very much. And a quick note for our viewers. Next hour Captain Sully Sullenberger will join me. We'll get his take on what happened during those terrifying moments in the sky. That's coming up.

In the meantime, snow is still falling from that massive nor'easter this weekend. But already another even more powerful storm is right behind it, threatening to bring blizzard conditions, even tornadoes across the country starting tomorrow.

CNN's Elisa Rappa is timing it out for us.

So, Elisa, what are we seeing?

ELISA RAFFA, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We're seeing pretty much everything. We've got that severe risk, we're going to have the possibility of some blizzard conditions and winds that will just howl. You're looking at the severe risk for tomorrow. We've got that orange there, that enhanced risk. It's a level three out of five. We're looking at a couple of tornadoes possible, maybe some on the strong side and damaging winds also a concern. That's on the warm side of the storm.

On the cold side, that oranges, that blizzard warning where the gusty winds will meet the heavy snow and drop that visibility. And then in the pinks you've got the winter storm warning up into Omaha. Chicago will also have alerts by the time we get to tomorrow. So we're taking a look at this system that will really start to flourish going into tomorrow. You have the heavy winds and the strong thunderstorms along the Gulf Coast.

The snow starts to pump in the Central Plains bringing that heavy snow up to Chicago as we head into Tuesday. The heavy rain continues to shift across the southeast. And then everything works into the northeast, posing a flood threat as we go into Tuesday. Again, coming with some gusty winds, the wind gusts here will cause some of these blizzard conditions over parts of the Central Plains just knocking around that snow. Could be a couple of power outages, too. So a couple of busy days ahead -- Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. Elisa Rappa, thank you very much.

And breaking news coming into CNN. We're getting new details on the circumstances surrounding Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin being hospitalized. Our Arlette Saenz joins us now.

Arlette, what are we learning?

SAENZ: Well, Jim, we're getting a little bit more of a clear timeline of how exactly Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ended up in the hospital on New Year's Day. He had an elective medical procedure on December 22nd. That is according to the Pentagon press secretary, Major General Pat Ryder. He then after that procedure went home on December 23rd but on January 1st he started experiencing severe pain and was transported by hospital to Walter Reed Medical Center.

Ryder said in a statement that he, quote, "was placed in the hospital's intensive care unit to ensure immediate access due to his medical needs but then remained in that location in part due to hospital space considerations and privacy reasons."


They did not give other explanations for what those privacy reasons were. But it starts to give us a little bit of a picture into the timeline of when Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived in the hospital. We know that he was also on a call with President Biden on who was in the Virgin Islands on vacation. They had met with the national security team that day, on January 1st, earlier in the day to talk about national security matters, including the conflicts in the Middle East.

Now there are still a lot of questions about what took so long to notify not just the public but also the White House and other top Pentagon leaders. The Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks began assuming some of the duties of Austin and the Defense secretary on January 2nd but she was unaware that it was because he was hospitalized. She did not learn that until Thursday which is the same day that the White House, National Security adviser Jake Sullivan, learned about it and then told President Biden himself.

Now President Biden has spoken with Austin. He did so last evening. That was a conversation that was described to me as being a warm call and the White House continues to say that they stand behind -- that the president maintains confidence in Austin at this time. But there have been a lot of questions and some criticism about the fact that they had delayed disclosing this publicly. We have heard from the highest-ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee who called it unacceptable and also said that it erodes trust in the Biden administration.

There is also over on the House side in the Armed Services Committee over there, both the Republican and Democratic leaders on that committee have also expressed concerns about this. So certainly there are still a lot of questions to be answered over at the Pentagon about what exactly delayed the disclosure of his hospitalization. But we are learning a little bit tonight about what exactly sent him to the hospital. There are still other many details that we are still waiting to learn as well.

ACOSTA: All right. Arlett Saenz. Thank you very -- and we talked to the former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta earlier this hour. He said it was a mistake for that notification to not come sooner but, again, the breaking news that Arlette was just talking about, that the Defense secretary was transported to Walter Reed after experiencing, quote, "severe pain after an elective procedure" and he was placed in the hospital's intensive care unit, we are told by a Pentagon spokesman.

So of course we'll stay on top of all of that as it develops and we'll be right back.



ACOSTA: Another big loss for the New England Patriots today again fueling talk that the Bill Belichick era with the team could soon be coming to an end. By the way, today's loss was at Foxborough, in the cold, with wind and blowing snow. New York Jets 17, New England 3. A miserable game all around. Post-game, Belichick faced even more misery from the press.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Coming off the field today, did you have any different feelings about the end of today coming off that field?

BILL BELICHICK, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS HEAD COACH: Disappointed about the way the game turned out, sure. Yes, let's leave it at that.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you expect to be coaching the team here next year?

BELICHICK: It's disappointing the way the game finished, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Those are your references to come back next season and coach the team?

BELICHICK: Yes, so I just finished the game here with the Jets, put everything I had into it and I'm am disappointed in the results.


ACOSTA: "Bleacher Report's" Morgan Moriarity is here. She joins us now.

I mean, I don't know if anybody does dead pan better than Bill Belichick. I mean, the way he responded to all that, it reminded me of that old viral video of him saying, on to Cincinnati. We're on to Cincinnati. Forgive me if I am dating myself with that reference there, but this does look like the end.

MORGAN MORIARTY, COLLEGE FOOTBALL REPORTER, BLEACHER REPORT: Yes, and it's -- I mean, it's shocking to imagine Bill Belichick not on New England's sideline, right? He has been there for years. He's won six Super Bowls with them, and it's obvious that this isn't the same franchise that it has been since pretty much Tom Brady left. And Patriots owner, Ron Kraft does know that. So he's obviously going to have to make a decision on Belichick.

He hasn't really said anything publicly regarding his future in New England as the head coach. I wouldn't be surprised obviously if he moves on from him, but it's fascinating to consider the fact that a six-time Super Bowl winner could be booted out of his job at the end of the season.

ACOSTA: Yes, and lots of rumors around where Bill Belichick could land next. I mean, I've even heard Washington mentioned, I mean, Ron Rivera's team is on their way to losing another big defeat to the Cowboys as we speak, and it sounds as though he could be out soon, so the coaching carousel will be spinning pretty furiously this week.

What do you think? Do we know where Belichick might end up?

MORIARTY: I mean, the biggest question is whether or not he is done in New England. I will say with the loss to the Jets today, the Patriots secured the number two overall pick in the NFL draft. So Robert Kraft is going to have to decide whether or not he wants to get a franchise guy, quarterback, either Caleb Williams at USC, Drake Maye, maybe even a Bo Nix or Michael Penix, Jr. from Washington.

If he can get a franchise quarterback that he can rebuild around, the question is, does he want Belichick to be the head coach to do that, and obviously if Belichick does go elsewhere, any team would want to snap him up immediately.


The Chargers is open, the Raiders are open right now, Carolina Panthers. The Atlanta Falcons job here might be opening in a few days. They had bad loss, too. The New Orleans Saints today. So I mean, it's pretty mild to kind of throw Belichick into that coaching carousel mix, but just depends on what the Patriots do obviously first.

ACOSTA: Yes, and just finally very quickly, I mean, you mentioned Washington. What do you think about tomorrow night, the big college football championship, Michigan and Washington? I mean, people aren't really betting on the Huskies, but wow, they look really good in their game.

MORIARTY: So I like Washington in this game. I think they just have to really do what they have been doing all year. Penix was phenomenal against Texas. 430 yards passing, two touchdowns. Texas didn't register a single sack on him all game, and even when the pocket was collapsing, he (INAUDIBLE) a couple of times sidestepped defenders, keep his eyes downfield, that's NFL-level type of stuff, and it's a reason why his stocks been fully rising as he has been playing in these big games.

I think that he will be -- these Washington receivers, although they're some of the most talented in the country, Rome Odunze, Jalen McMillan, Ja'Lynn Polk, Michigan's defensive backs do play the ball a lot harder and better than Texas did. That's going to be a challenge. The Wolverines are also third nationally in passing (INAUDIBLE) defense. So it's going to be a challenge, but I like Washington in this one.

ACOSTA: Yes. All right. We'll see about those Huskies. All right, Morgan, we'll circle back with you on that prediction. Thanks a lot. Appreciate it. Still ahead, what went wrong when a part of an Alaska Airlines flight

ripped off at 16,000 feet in the air, leaving a gaping hole in the plane. We'll speak with Captain Sully Sullenberger, the legendary pilot who landed a plane in the Hudson River 15 years ago this month about what goes through a pilot's mind during a midair emergency, that's coming up.