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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Russia Launches Massive Missile Attack On Ukraine; At Least 16 People Killed In Fire At Cambodia Hotel-Casino; Prosecutors Probe Finances Of GOP Congressman-Elect George Santos. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired December 29, 2022 - 05:30   ET



BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: -- by Ukrainian air defenses, hit right next to their house, as you can see, massively destroyed -- this massive hole. The man -- apparently, they emerged largely unscathed just with slight scratches. They managed to escape.

The man we spoke to, however, ran out. He was barefoot. Neighbors gave him some boots.

He said that the wind -- they heard a huge explosion. The windows shattered. The walls crumbled. And shortly afterwards, to the left of this house, you can see their car exploded as a result of this falling debris.

Now, according to the mayor of Kyiv, three people have been injured at another location about four miles from here -- one of them a 14-year- old girl who is currently in hospital.

Now, the mayor of Kyiv said that 16 missiles were fired at Kyiv. They were all intercepted by air defenses. But as a result of this, 40 percent of the capital is now without electricity. Now, normally, they'd turn off the electricity in these situations in order to avoid any damage in the event of a direct stroke, but it appears Kyiv, with the exception of this location and that other location where three people were injured -- the air defenses worked.

But in other parts of the country -- for instance, in Kharkiv, four missiles hit what are called as critical infrastructure sites. We don't know exactly what that is.

But in other areas -- for instance, in the city of Lviv in the west of the country, 90 percent of the electricity there is no longer working.

So this is by far the largest strike as far as we can tell. One hundred twenty missiles and drones hitting the entirety of Ukraine -- Whitney.

WHITNEY WILD, CNN ANCHOR: It's amazing that anybody got out of there alive, Ben. The images are just shocking.

Thank you so much.

Coming up, horrific scenes in Cambodia as people jump from a burning hotel to escape a fire. And, what caused a 200-car pileup that turned deadly?



WILD: Welcome back.

At least 16 people are dead after a huge fire ripped through a Cambodian hotel and casino. Police say hundreds of people were inside. Some victims jumped to their death to escape the flames.

CNN's Manisha Tank is live in Singapore. Manisha, what do we know about what caused the fire?

MANISHA TANK, JOURNALIST: So far, it's not entirely clear, Whitney, what caused it. But we know from rescue teams that it's probably come from a restaurant on the lower levels of the hotel and then it has engulfed the building from there.

I have seen some of the eyewitness videos that were sent to us in our newsfeeds and you can see that there are Christmas decorations on one side of what looks like a restaurant. There are lots of, sort of, communal tables and on the other side, slot machines.

I mean, let's just put it in context. This is in the town of Poipet, which is on the border of Thailand and Cambodia. It sits in Cambodia but it's really popular with a lot of Thai gamblers. And you imagine going for a weekend in Atlantic City or something like that, or in Vegas, you would never imagine that this kind of thing would happen to you or your friends. And there are a lot of big groups of gamblers that go from Thailand to these sorts of resorts.

We do know, in fact, that around 700 Thais have been rescued and taken to hospitals. So that gives you a sense of how full this building must have been at the time.

And what is -- what is worse about fires like this is we know that the smoke that rises from these sorts of really harrowing amber, orange, and fierce fires -- that is very deadly.

We know from authorities there are about 58 people still unaccounted for. But these rescue teams have this really harrowing task of going and knocking down doors of rooms where people would have been trapped. And they expect to find people who would have died as a result of smoke inhalation.

So this is very much a situation which is still moving, but it certainly gives us a great deal of reverence for what those rescue teams are going to have to go through and what they'll encounter, Whitney.

WILD: Manisha Tank, thank you.

Pope Francis is calling for prayers on behalf of his predecessor. He says that 95-year-old Pope Benedict is "very sick." Reporter Barbie Nadeau is live for us in Rome this morning. So, Barbie, what do we know about former Pope Benedict's condition? What is the latest from there?

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the last we heard from the Vatican was about 24 hours ago when they responded to that call for prayers by Pope Francis, saying that Pope Benedict -- in fact, retired pope -- was worsening. He's 95 years old. And, of course, he resigned 10 years ago because he said he was too frail mentally and physically to carry out his duties of leading the Catholic Church.

So at this point, we are not expecting, necessarily, regular updates from the Vatican but we may hear something a little bit later on about his condition.

But, of course, he's a 95-year-old, very frail man. And Pope Francis said that he should be accompanied with prayers to the end -- Whitney.

WILD: Barbie, thank you.

All right, let's get some quick headlines from around the globe now.

A court in the Dominican Republic has convicted 10 people in the attempted murder of Red Sox legend David Ortiz who was shot in the back in 2019. Three people, though, were acquitted.

Extreme fog is being blamed for the 200-car pileup on a major bridge in the Chinese city of Zhengzhou. That happened Wednesday. Chinese media is reporting at least one person has died.

Ukrainian chess player Sara Khadem is competing at an international tournament this week without the mandatory hijab. She is the latest high-profile Iranian to appear without the hijab since protests against the regime broke out in September.

Next, federal prosecutors investigating the finances of Congressman- elect George Santos as calls grow for him to resign. And a big milestone for the new "Avatar" movie. All that, next.


Clip from 20th Century Studios "Avatar: The Way of Water."




WILD: Federal prosecutors in New York now investigating the finances of Congressman-elect George Santos after the Republican admitted to lying about his background and education on his resume.

CNN's Eva McKend has more from Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) REP. TULSI GABBARD (D-HI), GUEST HOST, FOX NEWS "TUCKER CARLSON TONIGHT": These are blatant lies. My question is do you have no shame?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER (voice-over): Incoming Republican congressman George Santos facing his most contentious interview yet as he tries to explain lies he told about his life while campaigning for Congress.

GEORGE SANTOS, (R) NEW YORK CONGRESSMAN-ELECT: Well look, I agree with what you're saying, and as I stated and I continue, we can debate my resume and how I worked with firms such as Goldman Sachs. It's very -- it's very debatable.

GABBARD: Is it debatable or is it just false?

SANTOS: No, it's not false at all. It's debatable.

MCKEND (voice-over): Santos trying to minimize his lies as mere embellishments in an interview with Fox News. His answers getting strong pushback from host Tulsi Gabbard.

GABBARD: It's hard to imagine how they could possibly trust your explanations when you're not really even willing to admit the depth of your deception to them.

MCKEND (voice-over): And tonight, CNN's KFILE uncovering even more of Santos' falsehoods, claiming he attended an elite prep school.

SANTOS: They sent me to a good prep school, so -- which was Horace Mann Prep in the Bronx. And in my senior year of prep school, unfortunately, my parents fell on hard times. I left school four months to graduation.

MCKEND (voice-over): But a spokesperson for Horace Mann telling CNN there is no evidence Santos ever attended the school.

And further fabrications about his family heritage.

SANTOS: We don't carry the Ukrainian last name for a lot of people who are descendants of World War II refugees or survivors of the Holocaust. A lot of names and paperwork were changed in name of survival, so I don't carry the family last name. That would have been Zabrovsky.

MCKEND (voice-over): A genealogist previously told CNN there is no sign of Jewish and/or Ukrainian heritage and no indication of name changes along the way. But Santos appeared to use the alias Anthony Zabrovsky for fundraising for a pet charity.

Santos insisting despite the controversy that he intends to serve in Congress.

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

GABBARD: You're exactly right.

SANTOS: -- and serving my people -- my district.


MCKEND (voice-over): House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy remaining silent on the matter, even as fellow incoming GOP House members from New York issued statements criticizing Santos' lack of transparency. The most recent one, Congressman-elect Mike Lawler, urging Santos to cooperate with any investigations and called on him to apologize, calling the whole controversy a distraction.

Santos also under scrutiny for how he made his money and how he was able to loan his campaign more than $700,000. Santos telling news outlet Semafor he earned his money in the capital introduction business and did deal building and specialty consulting for high-net worth individuals.

MCKEND (on camera): And the Nassau County district attorney Anne Donnelly, who I should note is a Republican, has pledged to get to the bottom of this. She characterized the fabrications from Santos as stunning in a statement, adding, "The residents of Nassau County and other parts of the third district must have an honest and accountable representative in Congress. No one is above the law and if a crime was committed in this county, we will prosecute it."

So, multiple law enforcement officials looking into this matter.

Eva McKend, CNN, Washington.


WILD: Yes -- certainly, only the beginning of that story.

Coming up on "CNN THIS MORNING," pediatric cancer medications are now in short supply. How one mother is fighting back.

And next, right here, Israeli's new government about to be sworn in. What to expect from Netanyahu's cabinet, next.



WILD: Welcome back to EARLY START. I am Whitney Wild. Almost 5:50 now this morning.

Israel's Knesset holding a vote and swearing in for Benjamin Netanyahu's new government today. Israel's longest-serving prime minister returns to power after being ousted last year. He has vowed to govern for all Israelis, even as this will likely be the most right-wing government in Israeli history.

Reporter Elliott Gotkine live in Jerusalem outside the Knesset for us. But, Elliott, there's a little bit of a political nuance here. So Netanyahu, though, largely expected to be among the most liberal of this highly conservative new government.

Can you explain the political nuance there and what impact that may have on the policies moving forward?

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, CNN REPORTER, JOURNALIST: Very much so, Whitney. This isn't a position that Netanyahu is accustomed to being in because his party. And he is right-wing, but he's also secular right-wing and a lot of his partners not only are more to the right of him on the political spectrum but most of them are to the right of him in terms of their level of observance in terms of religion. So this isn't a position that he's used to being in.

Indeed, in the run-up to the swearing in, which still hasn't happened -- he's still prime minister-designate for now. He's due to be sworn in shortly.

Because of all of the controversy surrounding his coalition partners, he's been forced to come out and he's launched a bit a charm offensive. He was giving interviews to U.S. networks and the like. And he's been adamant to say that look, no one, whether they are from the LGBTQ community, whether they are from the Arab community, or whether they are secular is going to find themselves discriminated by this government. Because many of his new allies who are going to be in this government still espouse or have espoused in the past views which have been racist.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, his new interior minister, has a conviction for incitement to racial hatred against Arabs and also for supporting terrorist groups. One of his new allies from the Shas party -- they had to put a new law through Parliament here in order to allow him to serve as a minister because he was convicted for tax fraud earlier this year. So a lot of controversy around his partners.

But when Netanyahu got up earlier today in a speech punctuated by applause from his supporters and heckles from his opponents, at least five of them were physically ejected from the chamber.

He laid out some of his priorities, including ensuring Iran doesn't get a nuclear weapon, strengthening Israel's defense, boosting public transport, lowering house prices, and more peace agreements.

And one final note, Whitney, is that the outgoing prime minister said that Israel is further along in the way to forming some kind of peace agreement with Saudi Arabia, so that will be one to watch.

WILD: Absolutely.

Elliott Gotkine, thank you.

New fallout from the Southwest Airlines meltdown. Why the situation was so much worse in Denver. That story ahead.



WILD: "Avatar: The Way of Water" cruising right past a billion dollars in global ticket sales.


Clip from 20th Century Studios "Avatar: The Way of Water."


WILD: That milestone was reached in just 14 days. Only three films hit the billion-dollar mark in 2022. That was "Top Gun: Maverick" -- did it in 31 days -- and "Jurassic World Dominion" accomplished that in just more than four months. Only six movies in history have cleared the billion-dollar mark in their first two weeks of release.

The NFL and its Players Association launched a review of the league's concussion protocol after Dolphins starting quarterback suffers another head injury.

Coy Wire has this morning's Bleacher Report. Coy, what's the latest?


The review -- it's going to focus on why Tua Tagovailoa was not checked for signs of a concussion after hitting his head on the turf during Sunday's game against the Packers. Now, he did not leave the game after this hit you'll see here, or any other hit. And the league's chief medical officer said that he didn't display any signs of head injury during the game.

But Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel told reporters that he and other coaches had some questions about the 24-year-old's health during a film review the next day. So, McDaniel told Tua to see the team doctors. And yesterday, he was diagnosed with a concussion. It's his second diagnosed concussion this season.

McDaniel says backup Teddy Bridgewater will start Sunday at the Patriots and that Tua's status is still uncertain. He remained non- committal about whether he would return to the lineup even if he is cleared to play.


MIKE MCDANIEL, HEAD COACH, MIAMI DOLPHINS: I'll do what the medical experts advise me to do, and I'm quite certain they're not going to advise me in the wrong direction when it has to do with his health. His health is the first, foremost, and only priority.


WIRE: All right, to the NBA now. And we can expect the league to hand out some stiff punishments after a big brawl during last night's Pistons-Magic game. Just before halftime, you saw Moe Wagner there of Orlando being shoved by Pistons' guard Killian Hayes into the bench. And then, Wagner got shoved by Hamidou Diallo.

Both benches would clear but you can see that at a closer look, Wagner appears to lose consciousness temporarily there after getting hit by Hayes in the back of the head. Once things got sorted out, Wagner, Hayes, and Diallo were all ejected.

The Pistons win by 20. And yes, these two teams still play each other two more times this season.

LeBron James taking his talents back to South Beach for a match-up between the Lakers and the Heat. And it wasn't exactly a happy homecoming for LeBron. He turns 38 years old tomorrow and he's showing frustration after his team lost for a fifth time in six games.


LEBRON JAMES, FORWARD, LOS ANGELES LAKERS: I'm a winner and I want to win, and that has always been my passion and it's always been my goal since I entered the league as an 18-year-old kid out of Akron, Ohio. And I know it takes steps to get there but once you get there and you know how to get there, playing basketball at this level just to be playing basketball is not -- it's not in my DNA.


WIRE: All right. Finally, if you changed the channel thinking last night's Liberty Bowl was over -- Arkansas had an 18-point lead over Kansas late in the fourth -- well, you ended up missing one of the most chaotic bowl game endings ever.

Sparked by an onside kick recovery, the Jayhawks scored two touchdowns and a 2-point conversion in the final 65 seconds to force overtime. Actually, three overtimes. And that's where Kansas tried to go with a trick play. Backup quarterback Jason Bean -- his pass grows wings and sails out of the back of the endzone. So, Arkansas finally ends up winning 55-53.

Only three bowl games in history had more combined points than this one, Whitney.