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Millions Hits by Snow, Ice, Tornadoes as Storms Disrupt Travel; Chilling New Audio of Hostage-Taker During Synagogue Standoff; Virginia School Districts Defy Gov. Glenn Youngkin's (R-VA) Mask Mandate Ban. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired January 17, 2022 - 07:00   ET



LINDSEY VONN, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDAL-WINNING ALPINE SKI RACER: And that can affect their performance and, again, in a competition that they have been forward to their entire lives. So, it's definitely a balance, a delicate situation and I don't envy the athletes being in that position.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: Lindsey, Vonn, as I said, you're an inspiration to so many. Thank you so much for what you're doing now. I really appreciate it.

VONN: Thank you. I appreciate it.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. It is Monday, January 17th, as the nation marks Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I'm John Berman. Brianna is working nights this week. Here with me this morning is Kasie Hunt back for hour two.

KASIE HUNT, CNN NEW DAY: Back for hour two, John. Let's keep going.

BERMAN: I did text you over the weekend when I find out you're coming to warn you that I am a monster. And you handled it well.

HUNT: It's been awful so far.

BERMAN: So, I'm glad you put up with me. I did text you that.

More than 50 million people facing winter weather alerts as a powerful and dangerous winter storm batters the East Coast this morning. Thousands are without power, freezing rain, ice, snow stretching as far south as Florida. Governor Brian Kemp is pleading with Georgians to stay off the road. High wind and sleet across Northern Georgia and making driving treacherous, more of the same in North Carolina where conditions have turned deadly. A tractor trailer slid off a highway killing two people, multiple tornados touched down in Southwest Florida. In Lee County, 28 homes were destroyed and dozens more declared unlivable.

In South Carolina, the National Guard had to be called in to assist stranded drivers. Black ice and snow in the state remain a threat this morning. HUNT: And the storm is expected to hit the northeast next. Nearly 3 million people under high wind warnings, including here in New York and Boston, Philadelphia could get some snow, and travel disrupted, more than 1,200 flights were canceled just today.

BERMAN: CNN has every angle covered. Polo Sandoval on the ground in Pittsburgh, Dianne Gallagher in icy North Carolina Meteorologist Jennifer Gray tracking the storm system from Atlanta.

Let's go first to Polo in the middle of the snow.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, it started coming down yesterday afternoon, and it is still coming down. Overnight, there were some pauses, but, nonetheless, it has been accumulating. In fact, National Weather Service now totals suggesting parts of Western Pennsylvania, parts of Ohio, have already received as much as eight to nine inches of snow. The forecast now calling for possibly up to three inches of snow the next couple of hours. So, that translates to really an uphill battle now for city officials as they try to keep the roads clear.

Here in Pittsburgh, here in the downtown area, you can see that, really, they haven't made too much progress, though we have seen them out and about. But the concern is obviously for those who do have to get somewhere this morning, who don't get to stay home this holiday to obviously make those roads as safe as possible could do so, just like much of the country, for the public school system here, they have not had classes scheduled. So, they are hoping that most people will just heed those warnings that they've heard from the state's governor to simply stay at home yesterday and today as well.

BERMAN: Yes. Be careful, Polo. Thank you very much.

HUNT: Indeed, please do.

All right, let's go now Dianne Gallagher in Charlotte, which is, of course, major airline transit hub. How has that all been affected?

DIANNA GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's icy in North Carolina, as it is across much of the country. And we are looking at nearly 1,300 flights that have already been canceled across the country today. And believe it or not, that's an improvement from Sunday when it was more than 3,000 flights. And the majority of that on Sunday was out of Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. 90 percent of the flights from that airport yesterday were canceled. Today, looking a little bit better with more than 400 flights canceled, that's about 30 percent of what they expect on their schedule.

The roadways also pretty treacherous still across the state of North Carolina today, ice making it hard to drive and fly. And officials asking everyone to stay home if you can.

HUNT: All right. Dianne Gallagher down in Charlotte for us, thank you very much.

BERMAN: Where is it all going now? Let's get to Jennifer Gray in the Weather Center. Jennifer, where is this storm?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, John, this is making its way up the I-9 5 corridor, heading to the northeast, New England. You can see just massive amounts of snow, still snowing across the Appalachians and them of course, Northern New England. Now, it looks like the I-95 corridor is really the dividing line between the rain and the snow. Most of the snow is well inland. And just a cold miserable rain for all the big cities along the I-95 corridor, and then, as you mentioned, add in the wind on top of that, and it is going to make for just a brutal, raw day across the northeast, Philadelphia, New York, Boston all in the rain.

We could get a quick shot of that frozen precipitation. On the backside of this, you can see those areas shaded in pink across Philadelphia, New York, could get a quick hit of that. But I don't think we will see anything in the form of accumulation. It's not going to amount to much.


Most of the snow is going to be interior sections of New England and then this is going to quickly wrap up by the time we get into the late evening hours.

As far as accumulation goes, you can see across Northern New England, of course, the higher elevations getting quite a bit more, could see well over a foot. But we could see anywhere from, say, four to six inches across the higher elevations of the Appalachians and then interior sections of New England about two to four inches. John?

BERMAN: All right. Jennifer Gray up in the hills, they are going to want that for skiing, elsewhere, maybe not so much. I appreciate it.

11 hours of terror, this morning, new details about the hostage crisis that unfolded Saturday at a Texas synagogue. The FBI identified a British citizen as the man who held four people hostage before a rescue people entered the building and he was killed. Law enforcement sources tell CNN the suspect arrived legally in the U.S. five weeks ago and he wasn't on a U.S. government watch list.

During the standoff, the suspect told hostage negotiators that he was not going to leave the synagogue alive, that's according to a source. Audio from inside Beth Israel Congregation reveals a terrifying situation as the suspect can be heard speaking on this Facebook live stream from the Sabbath morning service.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE). I've got (INAUDIBLE) in the synagogue and I'm surrounded by (INAUDIBLE). So I don't want to hurt them, yes? Okay, are you listening? I don't want you to cry. Listen, I'm going to release these four guys once they (INAUDIBLE). But then I'm going to go in the yard, yes? And they're going to take me, all right? I'm going to die at the end of this, all right? Are you listening? I am going to die, okay? So, don't cry over me, okay? Don't cry over me. We cannot (INAUDIBLE). (END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Joining me now is Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who survived the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018.

Rabbi, I have called you America's rabbi before. And it's always a pleasure to speak with you. But I always regret that so often it has to be in situations like this. So, your reaction this morning?

RABBI JEFFREY MYERS, TREE OF LIFE SYNAGOGUE: Well, I could say that at least today I'm doing better, but this certainly has shaken not just me and not just my community, but Jews throughout the United States to the core, with, how do we say, oh, no, not again, not another.

BERMAN: Oh, no, not again. And to hear from the rabbi there, Charlie Cytron-Walker, who said this, he said, without the instruction we received, we would not have been prepared to act and flee when the situation presented itself. I encourage all Jewish congregations, religious groups, schools and others to participate in active-shooter and security courses. I mean, is that what it has come to for synagogues, where they have to spend a big part of their time preparing for this?

MYERS: Yes. I have done the same thing. And it's because of the training that I had that I'm alive. So, yes, it has come to that. All synagogues and, quite frankly, not just synagogues, all houses of worship, if we look at the landscape over the past decade or so, we are talking about the Sikh temple, we're talking about a black church in Charleston, we're talking about a church in Sutherland, Texas. All houses of worship are no longer the sanctuaries that we would hope they would be. That means all have to engage in these forms of practice to be prepared. God willing, they never have to use it. But if they do, they can instantly call upon what they've learned and respond appropriately.

BERMAN: Rabbi, you're right to point out that there had been attacks on places of worship and other faiths as well, but you also know that over the centuries that Jews have been targeted, have been attacked. And I know that you must have faced this question in 2018, and I know you must face it constantly from people in your congregation who ask you, why us? And what do you tell them?

MYERS: I wish I had an easy answer to say why us. There's an old joke that goes that if Jews didn't exist, the anti-Semites would invent us so they would have someone to pick on. I don't have a why us answer. All I can say is that I'm proud to be Jewish. And the more anti- Semitism, the more Jewish that I do because I'm proud of my faith and what it represents and what it teaches the world. And anti-Semites are not going to stop me or the Jewish community from continuing on to make the world a better place because that is our calling and it's not going to stop us.


BERMAN: It will not stop us. Rabbi, what is your advice to the people in Texas who went through this as they go back to their synagogue and place of worship? How can they expect to feel in the coming days and weeks?

MYERS: I would anticipate that their feelings in response would be no different than the responses here in Pittsburgh. You're talking about layers of trauma, not merely the people who were held hostages. Thank God they're all alive. But the families of those held hostage, the congregants who say and heard were on Facebook live, the congregants who were just members. But not just the congregation. This will impact the entire community of Colleyville and beyond. It impacts the Jewish community of the entire United States. There are Jews who are afraid to go into synagogues. There are ones who now think where do I sit? Do I sit near the emergency exit? Where is there a pew that might be safe to hide behind? Where can I quick get out to?

So, how to comfort a community, there is no immediate instant formula. There is the knowledge that you are not alone, that you have an entire world of good, decent people who are abhorred by this attack who surround, who embrace you, who lift you up and say, we will help you get through this together, just as they did for us in Pittsburgh. So, too, Pittsburgh will reach out to Colleyville so that we can all get through this together.

BERMAN: You are not alone. Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, you become a friend to us. Thank you for being with us. You're a friend to the entire country. You make us all feel better even when things feel bleak. So thank you.

MYERS: Thank you, John.

HUNT: Very strong, calming message from the rabbi.

BERMAN: Lovely.

HUNT: All right. Let's go now to Virginia, where, this morning, some school districts are defying the new governor, Glenn Youngkin's executive order, that bans mask mandates in K through 12 schools. They argue state law requires they follow federal guidance, which recommends masks in schools and on buses.

CNN's Eva McKend joins me now with more. Eva?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Hi. Good morning, Kasie. Youngkin's executive order says that parents, not the government, have the fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care of their children. He blasts mask mandates for kids in Virginia schools as ineffective and impractical. And if you read the four-page executive order, he says the state has not kept up with the science, that 5 to 12-year-olds can now get vaccines.

Well, several school districts in Northern Virginia not having it, arguing kids wearing masks in school is a key mitigation strategy. And their masking requirements will stay in place. Youngkin is also adamant about schools staying open. Well, these essentially schools argue this is what allowed us to stay open. Listen to what Youngkin had to say when asked about Arlington County's decision. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GLENN YOUNGKIN (R-VA): The fact that that tweet came out from Arlington County within minutes of my executive order, what that tells me, is they haven't listened to parents yet. If there's one thing that hopefully everybody heard in November, it is time to listen to parents. So, over the course of this week, I hope they will listen to parents. Because we will use every resource within the governor's authority to explore what we can do and will do to in order to make sure parents' rights are protected.


MCKEND: Now, we are also hearing from the superintendent of Fairfax County Schools who say, we know our students are best served by in- person instruction. Adhering to our layered prevention strategies, especially universal masking, keeps our schools open and safe places for students to learn.

So, this potentially could pit parents against parents who might have one parent showing up with their kid without a mask saying to the school, the governor saying this is okay, another parent saying something else. There could be a potential for chaos there.

I just want to read a text from that I got from a Henrico County parent, her name is Monica Hutchinson. She desperately wants her kids to stay in school. She does not like the virtual learning format. But she says, as adults, we should be leading by example. She supports the mask mandate for kids. And she says a mask mandate should not be a political ping pong.

Now, Democrats say the Virginia legislature passed a law last year and they argued that law requires Virginia schools to follow federal guidance that recommends masks in schools. Kasie?

HUNT: Eva McKend, thank you very much for that.

And, John, I mean, she's right, Eva is right that this is going to create a lot of tension between and among parents. And we have also been grappling so much lately with the shortage of staff in schools because they have been sick, right? So, if you're protecting teachers to allow students to stay in school, I think that is part of what some of these school districts are looking at here.


BERMAN: Yes. And I think there are a lot of parents, and Glenn Youngkin, who ran on this -- this should be a surprise to nobody. This was the main part of his candidacy. He is delivering on what he promised. And he says this is for parents to decide. I think a lot of parents, in some areas at least, are waking up this morning, saying, hey, what's going to happen tomorrow when they go back to school? There isn't a lot of clarity there about what is going to happen and I think they're just waiting to see.

HUNT: I do think one thing it does underscore is the potency of this as an issue heading into the midterm elections especially. I mean, Republicans, we know they have had Republican governors in the past in Virginia but there was still a level of surprise when Youngkin was elected. And it really was this issue of students and schools that had suburban parents up in arms about all of this. And I think that's going to be something we're going to be talking about that all the way through.

BERMAN: I think you're right to highlight. If the goal is to keep schools open --

HUNT: First and most. And that's what we talked to Dr. Offit told us just an hour ago.

BERMAN: Keep them open. Figure out a way to keep them open. Who knows, or there may be a middle ground there were maybe masks are the best way to keep them open. It's something that I'm sure it will --

HUNT: All right. Up next, are Ukraine and Russia on the brink of war? And what are President Biden's options? CNN is live on the ground.

Plus, who is really the king of Florida? We are dying to know here. Is it Donald Trump or is it Ron DeSantis? Why their close-knit friendship is ripping apart at the seams.

BERMAN: And breaking overnight, North Korea conducting a fourth missile test this month. Does this signal a rise in tensions in the Korean Peninsula?



HUNT: U.S. intelligence is suggesting that Russia could potentially be creating a false flag operation in Eastern Ukraine to justify an invasion in the near future. Tensions continue to escalate after months of Russian military buildup along the Ukraine border.

CNN's Matthew Chance joins us live from Ukraine. Matthew, what's the latest there?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, Kasie, on that false flag operation that the United States exposed a few days ago, the Russians have said there's no truth to it whatsoever. I mean, we expected this. Whenever they are presented with the possibility that they could be responsible for some kind of malign activity, that allegation is almost always met with a categorical denial. And that's what happened this time.

The problem we've got though is that, last week, there was a week of intensive negotiations involving U.S. and Russian officials meeting face-to-face, along with NATO as well, to try and, you know, meet those demands or address those demands that Russia put forward for an end to NATO expansion and for guarantees that Ukraine, this country here, would not ever join the military alliance, but those negotiations ended in deadlock. And so the big question as we start this week is what will Vladimir Putin do, the Russian president. What will be the next step in this standoff? One option is more diplomacy. And there's been a suggestion from the Ukrainian side that the Ukrainian president, President Biden and President Putin should get together on a conference call and try to work something out. There's been no response from both the Americans officially or from the Russians at all.

Another possibility, of course, what we're all bracing for, the possibility of a Russian invasion. Remember, there are tens of thousands of Russian troops that have gathered near to the Ukrainian border that have invaded Ukraine in the past. And there's a school of thought. There's a lot of suggestions that it could be poised to do that again. There are other possible options as well, possibly on the Russian side, the possibility of deploying forces or missiles into Western Russia, possibly into other areas they control as well, like Crimea, to really ratchet up those tensions.

The truth is, Kasie, there is only one man that's going to be able to decide, and that's Vladimir Putin sitting in the Kremlin.

BERMAN: Matthew, it's interesting, to an extent, the Ukrainians have been relegated to the role of being spectator in all of this as their future hangs in the balance. I'm wondering to what extent you are hearing from people on the streets there about how concerned they are about what's going on.

CHANCE: Yes, they are very concerned. People on the street are concerned. The Ukrainian government is concerned as well. One of the big mantras of this whole crisis is that we are not going to discuss anything about Ukraine without Ukraine. But, in fact, what we are seeing is exactly that happen. There have been one-on-one meetings between President Biden and President Putin, online meetings. There have been face-to-face meetings with U.S. representatives and Russian representatives, NATO and Russia as well. Ukraine has been out of the mix.

And I think it's very easy to forget that this is a country that has been fighting a war with Russia for seven years and with Russian- backed rebels as well. It has had large sways of its territory that has been occupied and annexed by Russia as well. And so they are deeply concerned about what the next few weeks and months may hold.

HUNT: And, of course, U.S. reaction to the annexation of Crimea or lack of reaction also playing a significant role in this crisis. Matthew Chance, thanks very much.

BERMAN: Joining us now, Clarissa Ward, CNN Chief International Correspondent. Clarissa, thanks so much for being with us.

The status quo is white-hot tension in one of the most dangerous regions of all in Europe. I'm just wondering how long the status quo is tenable. If this is the best case scenario, how long can it last?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the question that everybody is asking. And as Matthew just illuminated, there's really one man who has the answer to that, and possibly a small coterie of people around him, and that's President Vladimir Putin.

No one can really claim to have any strong insight into his thinking or his intentions right now, which is exactly how he wants it.


He likes to keep people on the back foot. He likes to keep people guessing. And he likes to have an element of surprise, which is why we find ourselves in this scenario having no idea whether tomorrow we could be looking at a full scale military invasion of a sovereign country in Ukraine, the likes of which we haven't really seen since 1939, Hitler invading Poland. I mean, this would be a momentous occasion. Or we could see continuation of diplomacy. We could see President Putin find some kind of an off-ramp, some kind of way to deescalate tensions, although that doesn't seem likely right now.

The U.S. and NATO going through five or six different possibilities of what an invasion would even look like, which makes it so difficult for the west, for NATO, for the U.S. specifically to come up with and formulate a substantive response for how to deal with this when there is so little understanding of where it's actually going.

HUNT: Clarissa, just to pick up on that very point that you're making, I mean, it doesn't seem as though the White House necessarily has any good options here to potentially deescalate. Do you get the sense that whatever is going to happen next has basically already been decided by Vladimir Putin, or do you think that actions that President Biden takes here in the next couple of weeks could actually have any impact at all? I find myself wondering that.

WARD: Yes. I think it's a really good question. If you take the Kremlin at their word, if you take Dmitry Peskov, who is President Putin's closest spokesman, at this word, there is an opportunity here for diplomacy to play out if -- according to Peskov, if the U.S. showed that it had real, genuine political will to make those negotiations move ahead.

But we have seen the demands from the Russian side. We have seen the U.S. say that those are a nonstarter. So, it is difficult to see how we could really expect a reasonable continuation with a sort of prospect of success of the diplomatic process, which then leaves the U.S. in a kind of an awkward position, because they have already telegraphed what their pretty draconian response would be if Russia decides to invade Ukraine.

But until there is a stronger sense of what is going to happen, the U.S. is in the sort of unenviable position of having to essentially prepare itself for any eventuality, so, trying to keep the diplomatic path going while trying also to maintain a strong stance on some of the demands that it has rejected already categorically, but at the same time looking into the possibilities of a cyberattack, of missiles being moved, not just to Western Russia potentially but even to Cuba or Venezuela. And we heard this from the national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, last week when he was talking about how they can respond to things. He said, listen, beyond that, being ready, all we can do is get ready, and we are ready. But that doesn't give us, you know, as Americans, as people watching all around the world, to see what happens next, a huge amount of insight into what the U.S.'s response would be if this continues to escalate.

BERMAN: It really doesn't seem like anyone is trying to sugar coat it or make people feel better about it. And that really tells you where the situation is. Clarissa Ward, thank you so much for being with us this morning.

So the magic words that Donald Trump is dying to hear from Governor Ron DeSantis.

HUNT: And the latest move in macron Macron's to tick off the unvaccinated in France. Is it working?