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Sources Say, More Searches For Documents Possible At Sites Linked To Biden; Zelenskyy Says, Deadly Attack On Ukraine Apartment Building A War Crime; Rain And Flooding Concerns Grow As Storms Saturate California; "Black Boxes" Found In Nepal Airplane Crash That Killed 72; Feds Investigating A Frightening Close Call At JFK Airport. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 18, 2023 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We'll also discuss a looming showdown with Republicans over the debt limit and the threat of an economically disastrous default.

And Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is accusing Russia of a new war crime after the deadliest single attack in months, killing dozens of civilians. CNN is on the scene of a powerful cruise missile strike that obliterated an apartment building.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer and this is a CNN SITUATION ROOM special report.

We begin this hour with the growing fallout from classified documents found at President Biden's home and former office. The possibility of yet more searches and more discoveries hanging over the White House tonight.

Let's go to our White House Correspondent Arlette Saenz. Arlette, tell us more about CNN's new reporting.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, CNN has learned that sources believe there are additional locations tied to President Biden that could be searched for more classified documents or government records. So far, the president's personal attorneys have searched his two homes in Delaware and also that former private office here in Washington, D.C. But sources believe that there may be additional locations that could be sourced though it's unclear who exactly would conduct those searches or where they would be. But those are all matters that could come up as the special counsel's investigation gets underway.


SAENZ (voice over): President Biden refusing to answer questions today as pressure mounts.

REPORTER: Will you testify before the special counsel?

SAENZ: Tonight, CNN has learned the president is personally frustrated with how the classified documents saga has unfolded, this as more details about the classified documents at his Wilmington, Delaware, home come to light. The White House on Thursday morning saying Biden's personal attorneys searching a room adjacent to the president's Wilmington garage found one page of classified material. Over the weekend, the president's White House lawyer revealing he traveled to Delaware on Thursday evening, and five additional pages with classification markings were discovered.

It's the latest example of a shifting narrative from a White House on defense, now referring all questions to the Justice Department as the special counsel investigation gets underway.

MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Upholding the rule of law means applying the law evenly.

SAENZ: The president's personal attorney defending their information- sharing approach, saying they're working, quote, to balance the importance of public transparency where appropriate with the established norms and limitations necessary to protect the investigation's integrity. But Republicans promising investigations are sounding off.

REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): The administration hasn't been transparent about what's going on with President Biden's possession of classified documents.

SAENZ: The House oversight chairman demanding visitor logs for the president's Delaware home, but today, the White House and Secret Service say they simply don't exist. The White House Counsel adding, like every president across decades of modern history, his personal residence is personal. Some Democrats acknowledging the situation has been messy.

SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW (D-MI): It's certainly embarrassing, right? I mean, it's embarrassing that you would find a small number of documents.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): I still would like to see Congress do its own assessment of -- and receive an assessment from the intelligence community of whether there was an exposure to others of these documents, where there was harm to national security in the case of either set of documents with either president.

SAENZ: But today, as he celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, the president trying to keep the focus on the future.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: This is a time for choosing. Will we choose democracy over autocracy, or community over chaos, love over hate? These are the questions of our time.


SAENZ (on camera): Now, as Republicans are promising investigations into this classified documents matter, the White House is pushing back, saying that these investigations are, quote, shamelessly hypocritical. What the White House is arguing is that Republicans are painting a different picture and taking approach to what they did with former President Trump when it was discovered that classified documents were found at his home down in Mar-a-Lago, all of this previewing the potential battles ahead as the White House braces for not just the special counsel investigation but also these investigations from Republicans in the House.

BLITZER: Arlette Saenz at the White House for us, thank you very much.

Let's bring in our legal and political experts right now. Andrew McCabe, let's start with our new CNN reporting that it's possible there will be yet more searches for classified documents at other locations connected to the president. What does that tell you?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, Wolf, it tells us we are firmly in the very first part of what is the typical practice in these sorts of investigations, and that is to recover all of the material that's being stored someplace where it's not supposed to be.


So, in a situation like this where you already have materials showing up at two different locations, I would expect that both the president's team of lawyers and the government investigators are going to want to make sure that they have collected up all of that stuff, no matter where it might be.

It's not uncommon for searches to take place at this phase of the investigation in a kind of consensual manner. So, I could imagine a possibility in which FBI agents and prosecutors would be accompanied by attorneys to conduct those searches, the president's attorneys.

Now, that's possible in this case because the two sides are working cooperatively. That was never really a realistic possibility in the Trump case because they have been at loggerheads with no cooperation from the president's team really from the very beginning.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. Carrie, let me follow up on that specific point. It's not yet clear who would conduct potential additional searches or where they would take place. Should Biden's White House special counsel who has a security clearance and has conducted previous searches be directly involved?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, he can be. I mean, the White House Counsel -- I don't think there's necessarily a significant problem with him being involved in some way, but, really, at this point, this is the special counsel's investigation. And so if he's serving as some sort of liaison to make sure because it is the current president, there potentially could be presidential documents there.

So, I can see an argument why there is some White House equity and presidential equity for having a cleared White House Counsel there, but the special counsel's office really is in charge in recovering the documents and conducting the investigation related to documents that were from President Biden's time as vice president that seemed to have been in these locations for years now.

BLITZER: Yes, good point.

You know, Dana, this comes as we're learning President Biden is being described as personally frustrated with how all of this has unfolded. What political mistakes stand out to you?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Just the process alone. It is at best clumsy and chaotic, just what we have seen in the past week. First, it was -- we learned of a batch of some ten documents found in an office, then it was a home, and then it was over the weekend even more documents found. And, look, there very well could be good explanations for why this happened but we don't know yet.

And, I mean, David will tell you as somebody who understands about political management and about crisis communication, this is -- there's no good way to spin what we have seen so far in terms of the drip, drip, drip, because it definitely gives the appearance that they don't know what they're doing when it comes to, at the very least, dealing with classified information and at the very most with regard to managing the situation.

Now, in their defense, knowing just in talking to sources and also knowing the way that Biden likes to do these things, my understanding is that he's saying, you get it, you get it out, as opposed to maybe waiting, collecting it all, and saying here's what we found. That does make for the messiness that we're seeing, though.

BLITZER: Let me follow up with David Axelrod. This issue, David, clearly, isn't going away anytime soon. How should the Biden administration manage this going forward?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I think now they just have to fully cooperate with the special counsel, and I think they're going to be relatively -- it's interesting to watch what's going on right now because, clearly, there's a bunch of conversations between the White House and reporters about the president's frustration, about the chaotic end of his vice presidency and how the packing happened and so on.

But when these things happen, Wolf, there's always attention between the lawyers whose job it is to represent his legal interests and the political and communications people whose job it is to handle the sort of public elements of it. I'm sure they were counseling, let's move quickly, let's get this story out, let's get it out in full. But the lawyers are saying, we don't have it all yet. Let's be, you know, circumspect about it.

And right now, and Andy and Carrie can speak to this, I imagine his personal lawyers are saying, listen, this may have been an innocent mistake, probably was an innocent mistake, but now you're the subject of a special counsel investigation and everything you say on the public record becomes an issue.


So, let's be as circumspect as possible.

BLITZER: Well, let me get Andrew, first of all, to weigh in on what we just heard from David. What do you think, Andrew?

MCCABE: I think David is absolutely right. I think the Biden team is really in between a rock and a hard place. I think they made some critical errors early on, particularly with their first disclosure that talked about the documents from one location but not the documents from the second location. And since then, it seems that they have tried to be as forward-leaning as they can. That creates this impression of drip, drip, drip, because they don't know exactly what's out there. They haven't completed the full universe of searches.

And I would expect that they are getting probably good advice from the president's personal lawyers to be more careful and more reticent about saying anything now that a special counsel is involved, you know, to protect the president, but also to avoid interfering with the special counsel's investigation, which is important. So, they're really kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place.

BLITZER: Well, Carrie, I want you to weigh in as well. And having covered these kinds of stories over the years, usually, the first rule of damage control is if there's bad news, you get it out, don't let your adversaries or others get it out.

CORDERO: Yes. I mean, I think there is a natural tension here between the president's team and what might be politically advantageous to be as transparent as they can. But I was surprised by the president's comments, even answering a question when he was in Mexico City, and I thought the press secretary's responses to questions was fairly counterproductive before the weekend in terms of managing the investigation.

At this point, because it's with the special counsel, from an investigative and a legal perspective, this might not be the political answer, but from where I sit, I think the president and the White House podium really needs to not talk about it anymore. Where I think they missed an opportunity was in not communicating with the congressional intelligence committees very early on so that they seem to have been caught quite flatfooted.

BLITZER: Dana, you want to make a point on that?

BASH: Actually, I was going to say something else, but you're exactly right, Carrie. They have no idea about this, at least didn't as of the beginning of the holiday weekend on Capitol Hill. In part, it's because particularly in the House, they're still putting together the intelligence committee, but they definitely wanted to be briefed.

What I was going to say was, last week when the first -- when the reporting came out about the first batch found in the former vice president's -- the then-vice president's office, private office, my understanding was that President Biden was frustrated by the coverage and the notion that, well, this is so different from what happened in Mar-a-Lago. Then, obviously, what Arlette is reporting is that that frustration has changed, not necessarily about the comparison to Donald Trump, but more about the way that his own administration and his own team has handled this because it does obviously have an appearance of being clumsy in a way that, again, once we know the facts after the special counsel is done, might not bear out to actually reflect what really happened.

And that's really the key. We don't know why all of these classified documents ended up in these places where they absolutely should not have been.

BLITZER: And David Axelrod, as you know, the White House is facing criticism for what's being described as its lack of transparency as more documents have been discovered. Is the administration in danger of having a credibility crisis on their hands?

AXELROD: Well, I think that problem has arrived, Wolf. I don't think there's any question about that. On this particular story, they just don't look good because they -- you know, as Andy described, they're between a rock and a hard place, and the critical mistake was, in fact, you know, the drip, drip, drip.

You are absolutely right that the essence of crisis communications is figure out where the story is going, get there as quickly as possible, get there as thoroughly as possible. But, you know, the thing I don't understand, frankly, is if they found these documents on November 2nd, why has it taken so long to search these other properties and look for others? I just don't know the answer to that.

BLITZER: Neither do I. All right, guys, everybody stand by. Thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, we're going to get reaction to the unfolding Biden document drama from the new House Democratic leader, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, there you see him, he's standing b live. We will discuss. This is a SITUATION ROOM special report.



BLITZER: Tonight, some top Democrats are clearly frustrated by the slow drip of revelations in the Biden classified documents probe, including, we're told, the president himself.

Let's discuss the investigation and much more with the new House Democratic leader, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York. Leader Jeffries, thank you so much for joining us, congratulations on your leadership position.

Last week, you said you had full faith in President Biden. But over the weekend, the White House revealed yet more classified documents were found at the president's home and more searches could be coming. Are you and the American people, Leader Jeffries, getting the full picture from the Biden White House? REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): Well, yes, Wolf. First of all, it's great to be on. Good evening, happy King Day. I remain having full confidence in President Joe Biden and his administration on this matter and on all other matters. I think he has led the country forward in a significant and meaningful way through a few tumultuous years.


Now, I think it's important to recognize, second, that this situation appears to be inadvertent, not intentional, and we'll see what is ultimately uncovered, but by all accounts, this was inadvertence, not intentionality, and that should be an important factor as people evaluate this particular situation.

Third, we know that there's a special counsel who has been appointed. And so it's my expectation that the special counsel is just going to simply follow the facts, apply the law, figure out what happened, present that information to the Department of Justice and to the American people, and we should take it from there.

BLITZER: The former House Intelligence Committee chairman, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California, you know him well, he says he wants Congress to also do its own assessment. Does Congress need to investigate?

JEFFRIES: Well, I haven't had the opportunity to talk to Representative Schiff about his views with respect to this matter, and so I'll reserve judgment on that question until I've had a chance to talk to him and other members of the intel committee on the Democratic side.

BLITZER: Do you agree with Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow that this is, quote, embarrassing for President Biden.

JEFFRIES: Those are not the words that I would use to describe the situation. As I indicated, I think this was, inadvertence, not intentionality, and I continue to just have confidence in President Biden. He's a good man. He's been a very good president, and we'll get through this.

BLITZER: On a different issue, a very sensitive issue, I want to get your thoughts, leader, the House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, faced questions from CNN today on Congressman George Santos of New York after CNN reported Republican donors and consultants had concerns going back to last summer. Watch this exchange. Listen to this.


REPORTER: When were you first made aware about some of these allegations around Santos? Was it before it came out publicly in the media? Were you given any indication that there might be something amiss there?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): On which part?

REPORTER: Any of it, his resume, all of the things that he's been accused of.

MCCARTHY: I didn't know all about his resume or not. I always had a few questions about it.


BLITZER: If this was widely known in GOP circles, the Santos background and lies, and all of that, do you have an answer why Democrats missed this? Where was Democratic opposition research?

JEFFRIES: Well, there was some opposition research that was done. It obviously didn't uncover the full scope and breadth of the extraordinary lies that were told. George Santos appears to have made up his entire life. We'll take a look at that process and figure out how it could potentially be tightened up moving forward.

But the big question is why is George Santos still a member of Congress? Why have House Republicans embraced him and not done what the New York Republicans have clearly done, which is to say, enough is enough, he's lied to the people of Long Island and Queens, lied to New Yorkers, lied to the American people as part of an effort to come to Congress and perhaps it's time to move on from him.

BLITZER: So, do you want him to resign?

JEFFRIES: Well, ultimately, he's going to have to make that decision on his own. But it's clear to me that he is a complete and total fraud and is not qualified to serve in the United States House of Representatives at this particular point in time or at any time based on the extraordinary lies that he has perpetrated upon the American people.

BLITZER: While I have you, Leader, I want to turn to another major challenge facing Congress right now. As you know, the United States will reach the debt limit, its debt limit this Thursday and could default on various loans as soon as June. Republicans want spending cuts but listen to the White House stance, listen to this.


KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We will not be doing any negotiation over the debt ceiling.

It is one of the basic items that Congress has to deal with, and it should be done without conditions. So, there is going to be no negotiation over it. This is something that must get done. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, will Democrats need to make concessions to the GOP to avoid a catastrophic blow to the U.S. economy?

JEFFRIES: We are not going to allow extreme MAGA Republicans to hold the American economy hostage, hold social security hostage, hold Medicare hostage in order to do the right thing. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, not as Democrats or as Republicans, but as Americans, need to make sure that we do not default on our debt for the first time in American history, create a catastrophic, economic result and protect the full faith and credit of the United States of America, which is what we should be doing.


BLITZER: To honor MLK Day today, Leader, President Biden became the first sitting president of the United States to give a Sunday sermon at Martin Luther King Jr.'s church. Beyond the bully pulpit, what options do Democrats have over the next two years, from your perspective, when it comes to voting rights and racial justice?

JEFFRIES: Well, we've made a lot of progress in the United States of America as a result of civil rights leaders and heroes like Dr. King and so many others who sacrificed themselves in order to create a more perfect union. It is my hope that my Republican colleagues, both in the House and in the Senate, are building upon the legacy of Dr. King, don't just celebrate this day, but elevate his good work. And part of that good work will be to make sure that the 1965 Voting Rights Act is not eroded, that we can have free and fair elections here in the United States of America, and everyone can participate.

And so I hope that Republicans will focus on issues of consequence. Don't just embark on these investigations as it relates to the current president of the United States as part of some revenge tour. Let's figure out a way to work together, find common ground, get things done, address the kitchen table pocketbook issues of importance to the American people, which were also important to Dr. King, but, of course, lean into racial justice, social justice, economic justice as well.

BLITZER: Important information indeed. The new House minority leader, Hakeem Jeffries, thanks so much for joining us. We will welcome you back soon hopefully. Thank you very much.

Coming up, CNN is now on the scene of the deadly Russian strike on an apartment building in Ukraine, a strike that President Zelenskyy has now called a war crime by the Russians. We'll go there live. That's next.



BLITZER: Tonight, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is calling the Russian attack on an apartment building in Dnipro a war crime. At least 40 people were killed in the airstrike and there are still many people missing right now.

CNN Senior International Correspondent Fred Pleitgen is on the scene for us. So, what are you seeing over there, Fred?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: All right, Wolf. Well, first of all, you're absolutely right, there are still many people who are missing. I just want to get out of your way so you can see the scene here, because it is 1:20 A.M. in the morning here in Dnipro, Ukraine. And as you can see, there are a lot of crews that are really working around the clock here at that building that was just absolutely flattened. You can see from our vantage point here quite well that where that building stood, there is just that gaping hole right now.

As we stand here, Wolf, the death toll is at 40. However, the Ukrainians do fear that that could increase to a certain extent. If we pan up a little bit, you can see just the utter destruction of that building that was completely flattened by that missile.

Now, Wolf, the Ukrainians say that the missile that was used in the strike is a missile that was actually designed to destroy aircraft carriers. And, obviously, if it hits a residential building, it causes exactly what we see right here. We do have to note that the Kremlin denies that Russia was behind this. They claim that this was a Ukrainian air defense missile trying to shoot down a Russian missile that went astray and landed in this building. Ukrainians say that that is absolutely not true.

And you were alluding to the fact, Wolf, that the Ukrainians say that they do want an investigation. In fact, they have launched an investigation. Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the president of Ukraine, has said that he wants to bring those who are responsible for an international tribunal. Right now, of course, though, what's first and foremost on the minds of Ukrainians is waiting to see if they can, by some miracle, save anybody from underneath the rubble.

But as you can see behind me, this is turning more and more into a cleanup operation. The Ukrainians themselves are saying it would take a miracle that anybody would still be alive here. In fact, they don't believe that they are going to find more people who are still alive. They did manage to pull some people from the rubble over the past couple of days. But as this day went on, it was really the death toll that was going up.

What we're seeing on the ground here, Wolf, is the residents, the people that we have been speaking to, there's a lot of grief, there's a lot of anger in Russia. But they also say, the Ukrainian leadership, that they want more antiaircraft weapons to try and prevent something like this from happening as this war progresses, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. These were residential apartment buildings with a lot of men, women and children inside. Fred Pleitgen on the scene for us, stay safe over there, Fred. Thank you very much.

Let's get some more on what's going on. Joining us now, CNN Contributor, the former CNN Moscow bureau chief, Jill Dougherty, and CNN Military Analyst, retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton.

Colonel Leighton, you see the devastation there in fred's report, the video, the pictures are horrific. What does this horrific on civilians in a residential apartment complex with a cruise missile, the Kh-22, say about Putin's brutal strategy right now?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Wolf, it's a strategy of annihilation and coercion. And basically what Putin wants to do is he wants to destroy Ukraine from the bottom level up. In other words, he wants to go into the societal structure and destroy the society. He also wants to destroy the institutions of government and keep them from functioning. And one way to do that is to very brutally attack the civilian population, and, unfortunately, that's exactly what we're doing right now.

BLITZER: Yes, those live pictures we're showing are totally devastating, how the attack on this apartment complex.


Look at the destruction that the Russians committed.

Jill, Putin says the dynamics of this fight, from his perspective, are positive. Does he still harbor grand ambitions for what his military can accomplish in Ukraine, because, so far, he seems to be losing?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, it depends on what his objectives are. If you look at this, and you just heard from the colonel, if the objective is to utterly destroy physically Ukraine and then also to destroy the will of the Ukrainian people, then this is a way to do it. It's a horrible way but it is a way that he could try to achieve those goals. So, I think, you know, it's very hard to climb into the mind of Vladimir Putin and figure out what does he want to do ultimately. What is he trying to do?

We know geopolitically, but this almost goes beyond geopolitics. It is now an obsession, it appears, and he's not giving it up. So, I think it bodes very poorly for the future because if he's not going to give up this type of war, which is really just extraordinary, you know, where do we move from there? The only thing you can do possibly is, of course, for the Ukrainians to be as well armed as they could to defend themselves and then to hopefully push back.

BLITZER: And on that point, Colonel Leighton, Ukrainian troops have now arrived here in the United States to begin training on the Patriot air defense missile system. But what more support is really needed nearly a year into this war?

LEIGHTON: Well, Wolf, it goes well beyond, I think, the training of as good as it is of the Patriot missile battery that the Ukrainians are training on at Fort Sill. Really, what you need is more weapons systems like the Patriot, like HIMARS, like some of the attack drones that we have and potentially air assets, such as an F-16 squadron or something like that. It requires a great deal more defensive capability than what we're seeing right now, and the west has not been willing up to this point to provide all of that offensive capability. Of course there's a lot of training that used to go into that, but that is something that needs to happen right now.

BLITZER: That's what the Ukrainians want. Colonel Cedric Leighton, thank you very much. Jill Dougherty, thanks to you as well.

Just ahead, California endures yet more rain in a series of brutal storms that have killed at least 19 people. We're live on the scene. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: There's no real let up for California tonight. Parts of the state are finally getting a break from days of record rainfall. But the latest in a series of storms is dumping a new deluge on Central California.

CNN National Correspondent Natasha Chen has the latest on this deadly rain and flooding.


NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In California, another big storm after a series of atmospheric rivers ravaged the state. 8 million people still under flood watch. One storm after another overflowing rivers, flooding farms, roads and neighborhoods, causing landslides, more than 500 in the last two and a half weeks.

LT. GOV. ELENI KOUNALAKIS (D-CA): We have seen damage from down in Santa Barbara and Montecito, all the way up north on the coast, in the valley, in the mountains. It has really hit us hard from one part of the state to the next.

CHEN: After three years of extreme drought in California, the state received about a year's worth of rain in a matter of weeks.

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): By some estimates, 22 to 25 trillion gallons of water have fallen over the course of the last 16, 17 days.

CHEN: At least 19 people have died as a result of the storms. Hundreds more were rescued across the state from a man who drove off a cliff, his SUV dangling over crashing waves, and a woman air lifted from a creek after clinging to a tree amid rapidly rising waters in Southern California, to families evacuated from a mobile home park that flooded in the northern part of the state. A coastal road west of San Jose collapsed as the ground saturated by rain gave way.

LINDA CRIVELLO, NOVATO, CALIFORNIA, RESIDENT: It's really devastating. It just breaks my heart, just the flooding. It's almost unbelievable.

CHEN: But now, relief for the state's water supply and lingering drought, an overflowing reservoir near the San Francisco Bay full for the first time in almost four years, and the Sierra Nevada mountains expecting another two to three feet of snow, though the snow and high winds are making travel treacherous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sliding all over the road, you know, you got to know what you're doing in the snow or at least have a plan.

CHEN: For this Santa Cruz County community, a unique plan, a zip line to cross their local creek after the bridge washed out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, if you live in the woods, you know, you just got to kind of be prepared. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CHEN (on camera): The rain may be gone for a short while, but the threats are still here. In fact, Caltrans just tweeted that they had to remove a large boulder after a rock slide this afternoon hit Highway 1 south of San Francisco at a place called Devil's Slide. Wolf?

BLITZER: Natasha Chen on the scene for us, Natasha, thank you very much.

Coming up, new developments into the investigation into the plane crash that killed all 72 people on board. Will the so-called black boxes reveal what caused the disaster?



BLITZER: Authorities in Nepal say they've recovered critical components from the wreckage of a plane crash that killed all 72 people on board, and that information could provide key details of the disaster.

CNN's senior international correspondent Ivan Watson is working the story for us.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A family in shock. Their son was on vacation in Nepal with three of his friends when their plane suddenly crashed on Sunday.

We lost our family's only breadwinner, says his father in India. He was an accomplished, educated boy.

An eyewitness happened to record the doomed Yeti Airlines plane, abruptly banking seconds before it crashed. The aircraft slammed into a deep gorge carrying 72 passengers and crew. A difficult search and rescue operation forcing emergency workers to use ropes and cranes.

Most of those on board were Nepalese, as well as 15 passengers from India, Russia, Korea, Australia, Argentina, Ireland and France.


Authorities say they lost communication with the plane 18 minutes into what was supposed to be a 25-minute flight from the capital Kathmandu to Nepal's second largest city, Pokhara.

GEOFFREY THOMAS, AIRLINERATINGS.COM: It's a short flight, but the workload is higher on the climb. Only cruise for a minute or two if that. And then you're descending.

WATSON: Nepal's prime minister announced a national day of mourning on Monday and formed a five-person committee to investigate the cause of the crash. Experts say the aircraft itself, a French Italian made ATR 72 twin engine turboprop, has a decent track record for safety unlike the aviation industry in Nepal.

THOMAS: Since 2000, there's been 33 serious incidents in Nepal of which 21 had been fatal. So, the track record is not good.

WATSON: High in the Himalayas, Nepal is home to some of the world's tallest mountains. The country saw deadly plane crashes in 2016, 2018 and as recently as May of last year. Nearly ten years ago, concerns over safety standards prompted the European union to ban all Nepali airlines from flying to Europe. Those details of little concern to family members waiting outside a hospital in Pokhara, waiting for the final return of their loved ones.


WATSON (on camera): Now, Wolf, in a tragic twist of fate, it turns out the co-pilot for this doomed flight is actually a widow. Her husband had been a pilot with the same airline according to a spokesperson, who died in a plane crash in 2006. She used insurance money to get training in the U.S. to become a certified pilot and she is a victim of this disaster. The spokesperson said she was a brave woman with courage and determination. She's gone too soon.

BLITZER: So sad, indeed.

All right. Ivan Watson, thank you very much. We'll have more news right after a quick break.



BLITZER: A very frightening close call between two planes at New York's Kennedy Airport is right under investigation by federal officials.

CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us.

Brian, these two planes I understand came within 1,000 feet of each other and one of them had to avoid takeoff.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, and at those speeds, Wolf, a thousand feet, is a dangerously close distance. We have new information tonight on this near miss and the investigation.


TODD (voice-over): The air traffic controller yells at a Delta passenger plane to abort takeoff as it's accelerating toward an American Airlines jet crossing its runway.

JFK TOWER: (EXPLETIVE DELETED) Delta 1943, Cancel takeoff plans. Delta 1943, cancel takeoff plans.

PILOT: Rejecting. TODD: This incident, which occurred Friday evening at New York's JFK International Airport, is under investigation by the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board. The Delta Airline 737 with more than 150 people on board successfully aborted its takeoff. No one was hurt, but the aviation safety community is still taking a collective gasp.

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: It was very frightening for the pilots in the plane because they're already going over 150 miles an hour and they have to stop before they get to him.

TODD: The FAA says the Delta plane stopped within 1,000 feet of the American Airlines 777 that was crossing its path. That's a little more than three football fields.

SOUCIE: A thousand feet is not as far as you think. It might be about a city block or so. But when you're going those speeds and trying to stop an airline of that magnitude at that speed, it's very, very scary.

TODD: After the incident, an exchange between the crew of the American Airlines plane and air traffic control showed apparent confusion. Someone in the American plane's cockpit asked the controller this.

AA106: The last clearance we were given, we were cleared to cross. Is that correct?

TODD: The controller replies they'll have to listen to the tapes. It's not clear if the American Airlines jet did get permission to cross that runway. This incident is known as a runway incursion and experts say it's reflects the most dangerous part of any flight.

SOUCIE: You're on the ground. You're susceptible to everyone around you. You're reliant to everyone around you because you're very close proximity to a lot of big airplanes going very fast, landing and taking off is definitely the most hazardous portion of your flight.

TODD: The FAA says this were more than 1,400 runway incursions in 2022. Experts say most were not as serious as this one, and not all involved commercial planes. But the overall rise of these near misses in recent years is alarming.

MARY SCHIAVO, FORMER INSPECTOR GENERAL, TRANSPORTATION DEPARTMENT: Runway incursions, in other words, it's two planes on a runway or taxi way when they aren't supposed to intersect, have a risk of intersecting, it had been up 92 percent from 2011 until 2018. So this is a huge issue with the government, with the FAA.


TODD (on camera): Why has the number of these incidents gone up so drastically? The expert CNN spoke to point to a number of factors. The increase in the overall number of flights is one, but they also say new safety measures that have been proposed like detection systems and sensors often take several years to implement and not all aircraft are equipped with them yet. They've got to find some answers here and make this a little bit safer on the runway.

BLITZER: Yeah, let's hope they do. Brian Todd, thank you very ,very much.

And this is the 37th annual celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day honoring the slain civil rights leader and Nobel Peace prize winner and his call for social justice. President Biden marked what would have been Dr. King's 94th birthday yesterday by traveling to Atlanta, becoming the first sitting president of the United States to speak at a Sunday service at his historic Ebenezer Baptist Church.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. You can tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.

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