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The Situation Room

Russia Launches Deadly And "Massive" Missile Attack On Ukraine; Jan. 6 CMTE Transcripts From 19 Additional Witnesses; Ex-Melania Trump Chief Of Staff: First Lady Didn't Trust Husband's Inner Circle, Including Trump Jr.; Blizzard Death Toll Climbs To At Least 39 In Erie County, New York; Rep.-Elect Santos Claim About Mother & 9/11 Faces Scrutiny Amid Other Lies; Federal, State Agencies Open Investigations Into Rep.-Elect Santos; Chinese Fighter Jet Intercepts U.S. Plane In "Unsafe Maneuver"; Netanyahu Makes Dramatic Return, Leading What Is Likely Israel's Most Right-Wing Govt. Ever; Brazilian Soccer Legend Pele Dies At 82 After Cancer Battle. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired December 29, 2022 - 17:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, civilian target in flames and in ruins after Russia's deadly and massive new barrage of missile strikes on Ukraine. Power facilities in key cities taking a direct hit and leaving residents in the dark and cold.

Also tonight, we're digging through a new batch of just released January 6 transcripts, including testimony by Donald Trump Jr. And we're getting new insight into Melania Trump's mistrust of her husband's inner circle.

And the Southwest Airlines meltdown drags on now for an 8th day with thousands more flights canceled. Will Southwest get back to a full schedule tomorrow, as the company claims?

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin this hour in Ukraine after one of the biggest Russian missile assaults since the start of the Russian invasion. Let's go straight to the capital Kyiv.

Our Senior International Correspondent Ben Wedeman is on the ground for us.

Ben, so what are you seeing and hearing over there?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we heard at about 9:00 this morning local time, Wolf, was several loud explosions. According to the mayor of Kyiv, 16 Russian missiles were fired at the capital. They were all intercepted, but in some cases the interceptions led to debris falling to the ground. We went to two separate residential areas where homes were destroyed, people were injured. This is what some of the residents in those areas told us.


WEDEMAN (voice-over): She was really scared and hysteric Tetyana says. She cried, grandma, the house was hit, it's on fire. She told me, my mother is unconscious under the rubble.

How is it possible that we do this to each other, he asks. I understand that this rocket didn't target this place, but how is it possible to shell peaceful people?


WEDEMAN: And peaceful people, in fact, three people were killed in these strikes. Two in the eastern city of Kharkiv and one in the Donetsk region. And of course, these strikes, this is the 10th round of these massive nationwide strikes conducted by the Russians. And of course, they did in some instances, get missiles through. In the city of Kharkiv, four missiles hit what's being described as critical infrastructure.

And we got a statement just a little while ago, Wolf, from the head of the power company putting a somewhat darker turn to this day when many Ukrainian officials were happy with the amount of missiles that were intercepted. The head of the power company said that there has been significant damage to the power generating system in Ukraine, and he said the company is having difficulty providing electricity -- to restoring electricity to parts of Kharkiv, Kyiv, Odessa, Mykolaiv, Kherson and Lviv. That's basically all the major cities in Ukraine.

So, they may be taking some comfort Ukrainian officials from the fact that they were able to intercept 54 out of the 69 missiles fired today in addition to eleven drones. But clearly significant damage has been wreaked upon the already battered electrical system here in Ukraine, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it's cold over there in winter. Awful situation. Ben Wedeman, thank you very, very much. Stay safe over there.

Let's get some more on what's going on. Joining us now, CNN Military Analyst and Retired General Wesley Clark, the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander. Also with us, CNN Contributor on Russian Affairs, Jill Dougherty.

General Clark, this is one of the biggest missile attacks of the war by the Russians targeting, as we heard, energy infrastructure across the country. What is Russia trying to accomplish at this stage of the war by going after these civilian targets?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I think three things. Number one is to keep the Ukrainian government and people in a state of discomfort to pound them, to show them that Russia is still there while their ground forces are in a strategic defensive posture. I think number two, if they believe that they can knock out the energy infrastructure structure, it will keep Ukraine from rebuilding its military production facilities and make it much harder for Ukraine to be prepared for the next Russian onslaught. And three, I think it shows to the west the powerful Russian attack, the fact that they're relentless, and it's part of trying to discourage the west from supporting Ukraine and making people in the west say, oh, it's hopeless, it's a never ending war. We're we have to get a ceasefire, blah, blah. So it's all part of an integrated Russian plan.


BLITZER: Jill, Ukraine's intelligence chief now says this war is at what he calls a stalemate with neither side capable of making substantial gains. What's the mood inside Russia right now as this fighting drags on?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, RUSSIAN AFFAIRS: Well, I think for the people of Russia, sometimes it's very hard to say what their mood is. Some of them support it. Obviously a lot of them do not.

But I think if you look at what the Russian government is doing, and this is -- I definitely agree with the general. You know, this is a time in that region. It's, as you said, cold. These holidays, the New Year's holiday, which is just upon us is really one of the biggest holidays of the year, and keep pounding Ukrainians, remove any type of hope that this is ever going to win.

And then also today we had statements by the foreign minister and the spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry saying, any idea that we are going to agree to, the peace supplement that Zelenskyy has proposed, forget it, it is delusional. And so, I think what they're trying to do is exactly put up that front and say, this is never going to end. And it's a message both to Ukrainians and I think to the Russian people, too, but also to the west. Don't even think that this is going to end, and you will have to keep supporting them. It's -- I totally agree that this is a very organized approach at this point.

BLITZER: General Clark, do you see anything breaking the stalemate right now? Potentially the arrival of even more U.S. and other weapons -- western weapons?

CLARK: I think it's going to be difficult to break out of the -- and break through the Russian defenses that are there without significantly more U.S. military assistance. Most important thing that the Ukrainians need is long range loitering, munitions, something similar to the Iranian drones. They need to be able to go back beyond the HIMARS range and go after the Russian supply depots and command posts that have been moved out of range. And they need the intelligence to go after the improved Russian defenses, the trench system.

I hear some military advisors saying, we know the Ukrainians have to understand they can't beat the Russians with artillery blah, blah, blah. You can't match them tube for tube. Well, you know, that may be what we say, because we don't have that artillery, but this war is rapidly evolving into a World War I, kind of trench warfare where the Russians are really in placing their positions in Donbass. And it is going to take a massive fire support. Not necessarily artillery, could be aircraft, but we're not giving them the aircraft they need. BLITZER: Yes.

CLARK: So, we got a lot to do to help Ukrainians.

BLITZER: Good point. Indeed. General Wesley Clark, Jill Dougherty, guys, thank you very much.

Coming up, a request to find dead voters revealed in the newest batch of January 6 witness transcripts.

And fans are mourning one of the most beloved athletes in the world. Soccer legend Pele has died. His life and legacy, that's coming up.



BLITZER: Tonight, the January 6 select committee is going public with yet another round of interview transcripts, including testimony by Donald Trump Jr. and other members of former President Trump's inner circle. CNN's Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid is joining us right now with details.

Paula, CNN is still going through this new material, hundreds and hundreds of pages, but what are you seeing so far?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Our teams continue to mine these transcripts for any new details.

Let me share some things that stood out to me. First, let's talk about some of these text messages from the former president's son, Donald Trump Jr. There's one text message on November 5, and it's from Donald Trump Jr. to then White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. And it lays out a plan, a way to keep his father in power by subverting the electoral process.

And what's significant is that the plan that he shares and outlines is almost identical to the one that was adopted by the former president and his allies in the months that follow. Now Trump said he was not the original architect of this plan, he can't even remember who sent it to him. But he said he wanted to share this specific idea with Meadows because he said it was, quote, "the most sophisticated and detailed and that it sounded plausible."

Now initially, Meadows didn't respond or engage in this text message exchange. But when Trump followed up, Meadows said, "much of this had merit, working on this for Pennsylvania, Georgia, and North Carolina already. So here, Wolf, you see the seeds of this effort to subvert the election, these being planted two months before the violence at the Capitol. And in this exchange, this involves the former president's son and his chief of staff, talk about inner circle.

Now also notable from these transcripts, several high profile politicians wanting to help push these false claims about voter fraud. For example, Senator Lindsey Graham. We learned about his efforts in the transcript from the former president's lawyer, Christina Bobb. She testified that Lindsey Graham told, again, Mark Meadows that Graham would become a champion of the president's fraud claims. All he needed was, quote, "five dead voters." She recalls he said, give me, you know, an example of illegals voting. Just give me a very small snapshot that I can take and champion.

And this exchange, Wolf, came just a few days before January 6. But it shows the White House was trying to get some high profile allies to amplify these false claims. But here's the kicker. His legal team actually followed up with Graham. They gave him a memo titled, Chairman Graham Dead Votes Memo for your Consideration.


Now, Bobb testified Graham didn't do anything with that. Graham's office has not responded to our request for comment. But one of the big themes that we've taken away over the past week in all of these transcripts, Wolf, is that all roads go through the former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. A lot of this questionable conduct, these schemes that they were hatching, everything appearing to go through the former chief of staff.

BLITZER: Very interesting, indeed. Paula, we're also learning from these just released transcripts that the former first lady, Melania Trump, didn't trust her husband's inner circle. Tell us more.

REID: That's right. Her former aide, Stephanie Grisham, testified that the first lady didn't trust the White House Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows or his legal team at the time, specifically Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani, and Jenna Ellis. And that is notable because, again, Meadows is at the center of this scheme to try to subvert the election. And certainly that legal team has come under significant scrutiny in the past two years. So it is notable that the first lady, even two years ago, had questions about the kind of advice that her husband was getting.

BLITZER: Paula, I want you to stay with us. I also want to bring in CNN Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig and Defense Attorney Shan Wu.

Elie, according to this new transcript from a Trump lawyer, Senator Lindsey Graham, as we just heard, said, "Just give me five dead voters." That's a direct quote. How desperate were Trump's allies to find anything to back up their false claims of voter fraud?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, one thing that jumps out to me from these transcripts is they knew they had nothing whether it's Lindsey Graham, Donald Trump Jr. These transcripts show us that in the hours and days after the votes were actually cast in November, they realized they had lost. They realized their only hope was to conjure up these claims of voter fraud, and they just couldn't find any. Lindsey Graham says, find me five examples, and apparently wasn't even able to get anything enough to satisfy him on that small ask.

So, the point here is, they knew they needed some evidence of voter fraud. They had absolutely none, yet they claimed it anyway.

BLITZER: Yes, good point.

You know, Shan, what do you make of that exchange we just heard between Donald Trump Jr. and Mark Meadows, the former White House chief of staff under Trump, with Trump's son saying he felt that the most sophisticated plan to keep Trump in power. He said that was the most sophisticated plan to keep Trump in power. What do you think of that exchange?

SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, not sure what else he's referring to, but given some of the things we've heard, might be a low bar of what constitutes plausible and sophistication. But as Paula was pointing out, his message pretty much mirrors what we know was the laid out plan, things like the Eastman memo in terms of how to stop things, how to use alternate slates of electors. So, I mean, he's on the mark there. He sees this as a plan that has some detail. There is a plan to it.

It's not just making up things about the Italian satellites. And Meadows is agreeing with that assessment, thinking that this is something that they think has some legal legs to it that they could make some headway with.

BLITZER: Good point.

You know, Paula, so let's look ahead. What comes next for the U.S. Justice Department's criminal probe of Trump?

REID: Well, this is, of course, now being led by special counsel Jack Smith. He is expected to be back in the United States in the coming days. He's been working abroad after a bicycling accident. And he's going to have access to most of this evidence that has been gathered by the committee.

He wrote to investigators asking them to share all the evidence that they've gathered. His investigators will also have access to these transcripts. This is really going to be a gold mine for them as they assess whether they should bring charges against the former president or his associates related to January 6.

The former president's legal team tells me they are not terribly concerned about this particular criminal investigation. They believe that it's a very high bar for the Justice Department to bring charges. And even though the committee has laid out their case and what they say is a road map for bringing charges, they don't think that the Justice Department will likely agree. So they're feeling pretty confident.

Over the next few months, we do expect that Jack Smith and his investigators will pour over everything that this committee has gathered, and that will help to inform their ultimate charging decision.

BLITZER: Yes, the special counsel Jack Smith getting a ton of new information.

Elie, how will Justice Department prosecutors be using this new information?

HONIG: Well, Wolf, like Paula says, this is a goldmine of new information. And let's remember, we've only seen a fraction of what the committee got, a handful of hearings, a couple of hours each. And now -- even now, we've only seen less than a quarter of the total transcript. So, I assure you, prosecutors are going through these transcripts very carefully, looking for evidence like what we've been talking about.

But defense lawyers, of course, are mining this as well. They're looking for inconsistencies. They're looking for ways to attack the credibility of witnesses. They're looking for differences between what difference -- what witnesses said and they're looking for evidence that may even help their client, whether it's Donald Trump or anybody else. So, this is a really crucial field of play right now. I guarantee you both sides are looking at it very carefully.


BLITZER: I'm sure you're right.

What do you think, Shan? How much will these new transcripts bolster the Department of Justice's criminal investigation of Trump?

WU: Well, it has the potential to bolster a lot, but it certainly bolsters their workload. I mean, as Elie is saying, they're going to have to scour this, as will defense counsel, but now they have to go through all of this to make sure it's consistent with what they're finding. There may be new leads that they have. And for DOJ, who's been asking for these transcripts for a long time, it's a double edged sword. Because when you have this kind of presentation before congressional committee versus a grand jury where you can really kind of curate the testimony of some, they've got the good, bad and the ugly in there.

And there certainly could be pieces of it which might be exculpatory or at least confusingly ambiguous to it. So, it could be helpful for the defense as well.

BLITZER: Good point. Guys, thank you very much.

Up next, we'll have the latest on the travel nightmare that's left tens of thousands of would be airline passengers stranded. Some are taking very desperate measures right now.

And the death toll climbs in western New York as the region reels from a historic blizzard. We'll go their live.



BLITZER: This is the 8th night of a holiday travel nightmare that's seen almost 16,000, 16,000 Southwest Airline flights canceled in the last week. Today's meltdown saw another 2,300 flights canceled so far today. CNN's Nick Valencia has more now from Hartsfield Jackson International Airport in Atlanta.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This has been a crazy time.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, Southwest Airlines aiming for a turnaround by tomorrow, expecting to have normal operations with minimal disruptions on Friday. Airline staffers already informed.

CAPT. MIKE SANTORO, VICE PRESIDENT, SOUTHWEST AIRLINES PILOT ASSOCIATION: Mostly full schedule come Friday. That's what we're hearing.

VALENCIA (voice-over): And while Southwest has seen more than 2,300 cancellations so far today, another sign the airline is finally recovering after a week of travel nightmares.

This Southwest Airlines customer ecstatic after finding his lost luggage.

PATRICK KEANE, PICKING UP LOST LUGGAGE: I'm just glad to be here, and I'm glad I have my bag and they better give me some compensation for a week.

VALENCIA (voice-over): Similar scenes playing out in airports across the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our luggage has arrived, so we're very excited about that.



VALENCIA (voice-over): Amid the mess, stories of compassion with Southwest passengers coming together to help one another. Like the three strangers from Wisconsin stuck at the airport in St. Louis who ended up carpooling to Milwaukee.

ALEX TICK, TRAVELER, CARPOOLED WITH STRANGERS: He had seen my packer hat and, you know, nice Wisconsin guy assumed I was going to Milwaukee.

VALENCIA (voice-over): Or the Denver couple stranded in Minnesota, struggling to rent a car who ended up hitching a ride with a stranger.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And she jumped right up and she said, if you guys want to join me on going to Denver, I'd be happy to take you guys.

VALENCIA (voice-over): Sadly for some, the outcome is a little more heartbreaking like it is for this St. Louis bride forced to cancel her wedding in Belize.

KATIE DEMKO, MISSING WEDDING DUE TO SOUTHWEST ISSUES: We were in -- I was in shock. We tried to rebook and there was nothing. Southwest actually booked me on a flight for January 2. My wedding is tomorrow, December 30.

VALENCIA (voice-over): Wednesday, the airline's chief commercial officer released a video apologizing for the debacle.

RYAN GREEN, SOUTHWEST CCO: My personal apology on behalf of myself and everyone at Southwest Airlines for all of this. You know by now all the flexibility and planning that we put in place to deal with the storm just wasn't enough.


VALENCIA: And as this travel saga closes out on its 8th day, Southwest Airlines officials telling passengers to hold on just longer, saying in an e-mail that they anticipate to get back to normal operations with minimal disruptions as early as tomorrow of the roughly 4,000 flights that they fly daily, just 39 are canceled for now. Wolf.

BLITZER: Nick Valencia, thank you very much for that report.

Now let's go to my hometown, Buffalo, New York, reeling from a truly historic blizzard that's claimed at least 39 lives. CNN National Correspondent Athena Jones is on the scene for us right now.

So Athena, how is Buffalo doing tonight?

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. The city is doing much better in terms of getting back to normal. You can see the work going on behind me clearing snow. There's a huge mound of snow just down the street from us. In fact, there are two other mounds of snow, about 50ft apart from each other up this same block. That is the work they've been engaged in.

The mayor saying that at least more than 600 pieces of equipment are out clearing the snow. The city hall was opened. At Erie County government offices were open, the courthouse was open, and the driving ban has been suspended. And we just learned from the mayor, Mayor Byron Brown, that trash pickup will resume tomorrow. So, very much getting back to normal.

But what is still going on is assessing the number of dead. We got an update earlier today from the Erie County Executive wide, 39 deaths confirmed by the medical examiner, but Mark Poloncarz said that number is almost certain to rise. Listen.


MARK POLONCARZ, ERIE COUNTY EXECUTIVE: There are additional bodies that have been received that are believed to be blizzard deaths, but they do need to have an autopsy and additional wear worked up, including a four month old who died on Christmas day.


The medical examiner's office is still trying to terminate the death.

(END VIDEO CLIP) JONES: And so, certainly the work of the medical examiner isn't over. And there are still large piles of snow around. Authorities have said that there's still a chance they could find people in cars or people trapped under snow banks, because just of how horrific this snow was.

Now, I can tell you there was some good news also earlier today, in part because of the melt that's already happened and the clearing that's already happened, but they were concerned about flooding come tomorrow when the temperatures are expected to reach about 50. They said this afternoon that's not as big of a concern right now.

They think that the waterways will crest, but that it won't -- flooding won't be a major concern. Either way, the governor has ordered material and personnel to be in place just in case sandbags and the like, in case there is any flooding that does arise. Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right, let's hope for the best. Athena, thank you very, very much. Athena Jones in Buffalo.

Just ahead, a questionable claim from a congressman-elect already under intense scrutiny. What the GOP's George Santos said about his mother and 9/11. Plus, new tension between Beijing and Washington as a Chinese fighter jet intercepts an American military plane with what's being called, and I'm quoting now, an unsafe maneuver.



BLITZER: New questions and controversy surrounding New York Representative-elect George Santos, who now claims his mother was at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and that it played a role in her death. CNN Capitol Hill Reporter Melanie Zanona is here in THE SITUATION ROOM working the story for us.

Melanie, Santos is already facing lots of allegations of falsifying his resume, his whole biography. Tell us the latest. What's going on?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes, so his web of lies is continuing to unravel. The latest claim that is coming under scrutiny is that his mother was in the World Trade Center on 9/11 and that it played a role in her death. He said in a tweet that 9/11, quote, claimed my mother's life.

But on his website, it says that she survived the attacks and that she died years later from a battle with cancer. And then there's also an obituary that shows she actually died on December 23, 2016, more than 15 years after the terrorist attacks. Now, obviously, a lot of first responders have developed health conditions after 9/11. So we asked Santos for comment to clarify these discrepancies. We have not heard back.

But our KFILE team has uncovered a number of other false claims and fabrications that Santos made. That includes that he went to a fancy private school in New York and was forced to drop out when his family fell on hard times. The school says no record of him actually attending the school.

Another claim he made was that his mother had a historically Jewish last name. He used that same last name to set up some GoFundMe accounts. But genealogists, working with CNN, found that there's no evidence of that last name in his family tree. In fact, no evidence whatsoever of Jewish or Ukrainian heritage.

So this is all coming, of course, as the legal scrutiny is starting to intensify around him. There are both local and federal investigations, including the Nassau County District Attorney's office. And the District Attorney there said in a statement that these false claims are, quote, nothing short of stunning. So just some remarkable stuff here, Wolf.

BLITZER: So what's been the reaction so far from the Congressional Republican leadership going forward as members are getting ready in the coming days to return to Washington?

ZANONA: Well, there's been none. We've been asking them repeatedly. They haven't said anything. But I don't think that they're going to be able to avoid this for long. They're returning to Congress next week to swear in the new members, including Santos. And reporters like myself are going to be pressing Republican leadership on this question.

But you know, Wolf? We have heard from some New York House Republicans in the freshman class who have come out and rebuked him. That includes Nick LaLota, a freshman congressman-elect who has said there needs to be a House Ethics Committee investigation, potentially law enforcement involvement if necessary. And so, while leadership not standing up to Santos yet, there is some members of the freshman class, which is quite the juxtaposition there.

BLITZER: Very interesting indeed. All right, Melanie, thank you very, very much.

Let's get some more on all of this. Let's bring in CNN Legal Analyst Joey Jackson and CNN Political Commentator Charlie Dent. He's a former Republican Congressman. Joey, as a New Yorker yourself, what goes through your mind hearing there may be reason to question Santos' account of his mother's death being linked to 9/11?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Quite a bit, Wolf. You know, you're talking about, obviously, a day that will go down in the history, right, for all that it meant, for all the losses, for all the tragedy, for all that people endured, for the real people who live through that, you know, for everyone, not only New Yorkers, but the country in general.

So what goes through my mind is that I think people certainly need to have and deserve a representative who is honest, who is straightforward, who tells a story that relates to people, and who obviously represents people in a way that they could know, has integrity and has character. And here, I think, you know, there's very little of that. Wolf, briefly, I think there's three ways this resolves itself. Even the way -- the first way, of course, would be the honorable way, and that is that he would step aside knowing and understanding that he gained the position because of a gross mistrust, really, that stems from his really fortune telling.

And the second way would be political. I doubt there are two-thirds of the House that would vote to expel him and then the legal, and that's -- those investigations that are coming forward. He might have many more problems than just being not in Congress. He could have legal, practical problems that could lead to conviction and more.

BLITZER: We shall see. Charlie, how much longer can Leader McCarthy in the House ignore these mounting lies?


CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think he's going to -- they're going to have to probably address this sometime around January 3 or shortly thereafter. Clearly, they want his speaker vote right now, but again, they can't avoid this forever.

But I think the bigger problem for George Santos will be I see at least five potential investigations awaiting this guy when he comes to Congress. You know, welcome to Congress. I mean, he's going to have likely a federal investigation over these financial disclosures and the $700,000 campaign loan.

The state Attorney General is probably going to look at this nonprofit that dealt with animal welfare, but it seems to be fictitious, the organization. He's also got the local district attorney. She apparently is looking into things. There's going to be a House Ethics Committee investigation, you know, very quickly, I suspect.

And probably an FEC, Federal Election Commission investigation and maybe others for all I know. I mean, this is what's awaiting him. This is going to cost him a pile of money. He will be under tremendous pressure to resign the moment he is sworn in.

So I'm not sure how this guy gets through this, but this is going to cost him a pile of money in the House. You know, if he resigns, that would get rid of the House ethics investigation. But, you know, he's apparently a serial liar. If he came into contact with the truth, there'd probably be a mighty collision.

BLITZER: Joey, what do you -- you're the lawyer, what do you think prosecutors are digging in on right now?

JACKSON: Yes, I think you have to file the money, Wolf. I think when you file the money, you make a determination as to what really is going on here. What do I mean? When there are certain disclosures that you make when you run in 2020 concerning your financial circumstances and they differ significantly from 2022.

Yes, people do get into good fortune. People uplift their lives. Where there anything that was told on those forms that were false. Where there are other types of tax or other documents, Wolf, that were submitted that have misrepresentations. Are there other filings regarding his assets or were there misrepresentations as to his assets to secure other loans?

I think all of those things will be ripe for subpoena. I think all kind of banking and tax in every other document. And goodness forbid that there are lies that were told on those documents and you swore out under penalty of perjury, then I think there's something significant here. And again, we could be looking at an issue far more significant than your congressional seat and that relates to your liberty interest. That is, are you convicted, prosecuted and ultimately convicted? Do you go to jail?

BLITZER: Good point. All right, we'll see what happens. Joey Jackson, Charlie Dent, guys, thank you very much.

Coming up, striking video of a Chinese jet getting dangerously close to an American military plane. We'll take a look into the troubling encounter over the South China Sea. And we'll also have a look at the life and legacy of the Brazilian soccer star Pele, who passed away today at the age of 82.



BLITZER: We're learning tonight that a Chinese fighter jet intercepted a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft over the South China Sea and performed what American military officials are calling, and I'm quoting now, an unsafe maneuver.

Our Pentagon Correspondent Oren Liebermann is working the story for us. So, Oren, what do we know about this encounter?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: This all unfolded over the South China Sea last Wednesday on December 21. Take a look at this video. You see a Chinese J-11 from the People's Liberation Army. And you see it from the cockpit of a U.S. aircraft, an RC-135 Rivet Joint, which is a rather large reconnaissance aircraft with a crew of about 30 people inside.

You can already see how close you are, then you see the two aircraft drifting even closer together. That's when Indo-Pacific Command says, this was an unsafe maneuver by that Chinese J-11, the RC-135 Rivet Joint, the U.S. jet descended away. You can see as they go farther apart there so that there wasn't any closer interaction between the two or the risk of a collision there.

And that, of course, is the great concern here. This only adding detention between Beijing and Washington, and there's certainly already enough of that here. Here you see the tension also around the South China Sea. China insisting that most of the disputed body of water is its sovereign territory.

The U.S. not recognizing that claim, insisting it will fly and sail wherever international law allows. Wolf, there are generally interactions between aircraft as different militaries in the air that are safe and professional. A defense official says this was certainly not one of those and they will raise it with China's military through the appropriate channels.

BLITZER: Yes, very worrisome indeed. Oren, so what are the Chinese saying about this incident?

LIEBERMANN: We haven't seen a response -- in response to this particular incident from China, but we can see what they would say. For example, almost exactly a month ago there was a U.S. Navy ship that sailed through the South China Sea again for the U.S. international waters where it's allowed to sail.

China called that an illegal maneuver and said it was the U.S. that was disrupting peace and security in the region. So there you see the tension. We are likely to see much of a similar sentiment from China on this as well.

BLITZER: Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon for us. Thank you, Oren, very much. Now to Israel where Benjamin Netanyahu is Prime Minister again after being sworn in for an unprecedented 6th term. He's already though under fire more than 100 former Israeli diplomats, including ambassadors, warning that the Netanyahu government's extreme far-right policies could hurt Israel's standing in the world.

Elliott Gotkine has more from Jerusalem.

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, CNN JOURNALIST: Wolf, he's done it again. Benjamin Netanyahu is Prime Minister of Israel for a record-breaking 6th time as the head of what is the most right wing government in Israel's history. Earlier on Thursday, he outlined some of the plans for the government preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons, boosting security, lowering house prices, and expanding on the Abraham Accords peace agreements with countries in the Arab world.

What he didn't focus on was his government's stated plan to build more settlements in the occupied West Bank, something that's considered illegal under international law. He also didn't specify something that was due to allay some concerns about this government by saying in the government's agenda yesterday that there would be no change to the status quo at holy sites such as the Temple Mount known as Haram al- Sharif to Muslims.


Ultimately, though, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said, this government will be judged not by the personalities that it contains or by its words, but by its actions. Wolf?

BLITZER: Elliott Gotkine in Jerusalem for us, thank you very much.

Tributes, meanwhile, are pouring in tonight following the death of one of the world's best-known athletes. The Brazilian soccer legend Pele died today of multiple organ failure brought on by colon cancer. He was 82 years old.

CNN's Don Riddell takes a closer look at Pele's life and legacy.


DON RIDDELL, CNN HOST, WORLD SPORT (voice-over): When the world knows you by just one name, you have truly succeeded. Pele is regarded by many as the greatest footballer of all time. His humble demeanor and generous spirit have guaranteed his legacy as a global icon.

PELE, BRAZILIAN SOCCER LEGEND: This would be his responsibility, you know. I feel very comfortable because something I cannot answer was why God gave me this, you know, this gift. This was a gift from God. And I tried to be in my best. I tried to respect people. I tried to prepare myself. I try to be always in good shape, you know? The most important, respect the people.

RIDDELL (voice-over): Raised in the slums of Sao Paulo in the 1940s, Edson Arantes do Nascimento discovered football at a young age. He made his debut for Santos at the age of just 16. And within a year, he was scoring goals for the Brazilian national team. By this time, he was better known by his nickname Pele.

And in 1958, at 17, he became the youngest man to play in a World Cup final, scoring twice as Brazil beat Sweden. It was the first of three world titles he'd help win for his country. He electrified audiences with his fancy footwork and ability to score seemingly impossible goals. So it was something of a disappointment that his 1000th goal was a penalty.

PELE: Friend of mine, he's a comic guy in Brazil. He said, listen, God stopped the game because everyone has to see your 1,000 goal. That's the reason it was the penalty kick.

RIDDELL (voice-over): After his goal, the game against Vasco da Gama was stopped for several minutes to celebrate his landmark achievement. In 1967, Pele learned that he and his team had the power to stop other things too, when their visit to Nigeria prompted warring factions to call a 48 hours ceasefire in the country's civil war.

PELE: We stop war because the people are so grateful for football. They love football. They stopped the war to see some display in Africa. This is a fantastic moment. Something we cannot explain.

RIDDELL (voice-over): By the time Pele retired as a footballer in 1977, playing his final years for the Cosmos in New York, he'd amassed a career total of 1,281 goals. For Pele, that was half a lifetime ago. But his infectious love of the game ensured that he remained relevant.

He served as a U.N. ambassador for ecology and the environment. He rubbed shoulders with state leaders all over the world, and he received an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth in 1997. And who could forget his appearance in the cult movie "Escape to Victory."

PELE: After giving me ball, here, I do this, this, this, this, this, this, this goal. Easy.

RIDDELL (voice-over): When he starred alongside Michael Caine and Sylvester Stallone playing a prisoner of war who scored a spectacular morale boosting goal in a game against the Germans.

PELE: I think, first of all, is a gift from God. Second, I think it was a lot of work, hard work and training. And I have to say thanks to God because my father was a football player, was a center forward and then my father was a very known perfectionist, you know.

And then everything who I used to do, I tried to do. He used to say, listen, you know, you must do better than that.

RIDDELL (voice-over): He's always been a global icon but in his native Brazil, he will always be regarded as a national treasure. His passing is cause for national mourning and as he so humorously put it himself there will never be another Pele.

PELE: To be the new Pele will be very difficult because my mother and my father, they closed the machine.



BLITZER: Coming up, CNN is now digging through newly released January 6 transcripts including testimony by the former president's son, Donald Trump Jr. Plus, fascinating new insight into what Melania Trump really thought about her husband's inner circle.


BLITZER: Happening now, new revelations from the January 6 investigation as another round of transcripts is released. Witnesses describing a key Trump ally's request to find dead voters and underscoring distrust within Trump's inner circle. I'll talk with a member of the House Select Committee, Representative Zoe Lofgren this hour.