Return to Transcripts main page

ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Biden Arrives In Milwaukee For CNN Town Hall Tonight, Expected To Address Pandemic, Stimulus, Schools; U.S. COVID Deaths Top 487,000, Mutations Spark Fear; Trump Declares War On GOP In Takedown Of McConnell, Warns Republicans Who Stand by the Minority Leader; Trump, Giuliani Sued Over Deadly Capitol Riot Under KKK Statute; Interview With Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA); Reported Attacks Against Asian- Americans Surge Amid Pandemic. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired February 16, 2021 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Be sure to tune in later tonight for CNN's town hall with President Biden. That's at 9 p.m. Eastern.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, Joe Biden about to touchdown in Milwaukee for his first CNN town hall as President, his first major attempt to shift the nation's focus to the deadly pandemic and his response to it.

Plus, breaking news this hour, Donald Trump tightening his grip on the GOP releasing a new statement tonight that targets Mitch McConnell specifically, leveling a warning to any Republican who stands by Leader McConnell.

And why horrific and even deadly attacks have been aimed at one group of Americans ever since the start of the pandemic. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, Biden about to use the power of the presidency to try and shift America's attention back to his agenda and coronavirus. In just a few minutes, Biden is expected to land in Milwaukee for his first town hall as President. It'll be right here on CNN.

The pandemic will be front and center. As of this hour, the virus has killed more than 487,000 Americans, 74,000 of those Americans died since Biden took office. And now just before Biden left on this, which is his first official trip, he was asked about his nearly $2 trillion COVID relief package, which he is expected to try to sell to the American people tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mitch McConnell said that opposing COVID relief will unify Republicans. What do you say to that?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It may unify Republicans but it will hurt America badly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: The President also will be taking questions on reopening schools and the vaccination rollout. On vaccinating, the Biden ministration today actually pulling back, pushing the timeline back for when everybody can get a vaccine. Here is Dr. Anthony Fauci today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: If you start talking about when vaccine would be more widely available to the general population, I was hoping that that would be by the end of April. That timeline will probably be prolonged maybe into mid to late May and early June. That's fine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: All right. They're being honest, but that is a big push back. It was April and now it could be two months later. Biden also expected to take questions about reopening schools tonight. It's an issue that affects many 10s of millions of Americans, including many in Milwaukee where just recently a few hundred students, a few hundred students only were allowed to return to class.

Now, President Biden had made this promise.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: My team will work to see that a majority of our schools can be open by the end of my first 100 days.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: A hundred days. We are, of course, almost a third of the way there now and there is growing frustration among parents, because as it turns out, the administration's plan to reopen schools does not mean what Americans thought it meant.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: His goal that he said is to have the majority of schools, so more than 50 percent, open by day 100 of his presidency. And that means some teaching in classrooms, so at least one day a week, hopefully it's more.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Well, they're walking a line here dealing with unions. But one day a week, I'm just stating the reality here, that in any way that matters is not opening schools, so there will be questions about that tonight.

Jeff Zeleny is OUTFRONT in Milwaukee at the site of tonight's town hall. Jeff, you're inside the theater now. Obviously, President Biden, I've done a town hall with him, I know that he really, really likes this format. He thrives on the audience, interacting with the people there and their questions. What is his goal for this town hall tonight?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORREPONDENT: Erin, I think without question, President Biden as he really enters his second month of his presidency is trying to seize the spotlight and the megaphone in the bully pulpit, which he has been sharing quite frankly for the last month with his predecessor in office. With impeachment over, now President Biden is trying to focus the country's mind on the challenges at hand.

As you said, first and foremost, he's trying to explain and sell his plan for coronavirus relief, that $1.9 trillion plan. Now, we do know he is flexible to some degree on the numbers.

BURNETT: So I do expect we'll hear some of that flexibility this evening. But also talking about vaccines and vaccination supplies. This is something that a local officials and people living here in Milwaukee, other parts of the country, have seen through their own eyes, having a hard time getting appointments, not having enough vaccination.

So he is president will be, he owns this problem. He realizes that, so taking these questions directly from voters. And Erin, they're going to be about 50 voters or so in this Pabst auditorium, this Pabst Theater. It holds about 1,300. So it will be socially distant. It will be a much smaller forum than normal.

But these questions give him an opportunity to make his case to the American people and in turn the White House hopes the American people push the House and Senate into approving this bill. Time is running short on that. They want to try and get this bill done within the next few weeks.

[19:05:03]

We'll see if that happens. But it also gives President Biden a chance to show empathy. This is something he clearly was elected on and something he likes to show. But Erin, all of these challenges now are his and it's his burden, Erin.

BURNETT: That's right. All right. Thank you very much, Jeff Zeleny.

So let's go now to Gloria Borger and Michael Smerconish. So, Gloria, the White House Press Secretary today, Jen Psaki, also said and I quote her, "Well, certainly the President of the United States owns the response to the COVID pandemic," just like Jeff said. But then she continued to say, "However, it's important for the American people to know what we inherited when the President came into office."

Already, though, Gloria, they've got a bipartisan group of governors complaining about communication from the Biden administration on vaccines. Can they continue successfully to blame what they inherited much longer?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, welcome to incumbency, Erin. They can do it up to a certain degree, obviously, and we know this, there wasn't much of a federal distribution plan for vaccines, when the Biden administration came into office. We know that they have upped the number of vaccines that will be available by like 200 million. They've upped the number of total daily inoculations to about 1.6 million.

But people want to get vaccinated. They want to get vaccinated sooner and now this is a problem that they have and they own, and they have to explain to the American people why it is such a difficult and complex process to get those vaccines in your arms and what they're trying to do to speed it up.

I mean, Tony Fauci today said, well, as you pointed out, it won't be April, maybe it'll be May or June. That's because Johnson & Johnson is going to be slower in producing these vaccines.

So people have to understand that it's not just incompetence, that there are actually problems here that need to be solved and that's something he needs to do tonight.

BURNETT: Right. Right. Really, I think, people do need to understand it's pushing back.

BORGER: Right.

BURNETT: Here's why, explicitly, right?

BORGER: Exactly.

BURNETT: And here's what we can do about it, here's what we can't. I agree that transparency is what really matters.

So Michael, Biden is also seeing - it's not just the vaccine distribution issue, but the schools promise. It was schools open in the first 100 days, unions pushback. Now it's, well, OK, maybe one day a week that would count. How does Biden walk the Line, Michael, of what is increasingly becoming unions versus American families across this country when it comes to schools?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: So I think you've put your finger on exactly what is most important, I base that not only on polling data that I scrutinize, but also Erin anecdotal information from telephone callers to my radio program. People want to know two things, when am I getting a shot and whether the kids going to be back in school.

And on both of those issues, there has been a cloud, there's been some confusion that has come from the administration. I think the administration on the issue you raise is walking a very fine line because there's a tempest brewing now perception that unions have too much of the President's ear and parents who are saying, hey, it's not enough the standard that they've set for that 100 day guidepost to be in school one day, for part of the week is just not enough.

So I think he's very carefully balancing that line already.

BURNETT: Yes. I mean, he is. And Gloria, but it is a huge challenge and they've been trying to walk that. They don't want to be forced to make a choice here. BORGER: Right.

BURNETT: But it is becoming a fault line. I mean, an epidemiologist today writing that, if anyone hasn't read it, editorial in Vox (ph), three children in public school, an epidemiologist saying, I've had enough. I have empathy here, but I've had enough. This is becoming a big issue.

BORGER: Yes. It's a huge for parents. It's a huge issue for women in particular who are dropping out of the workforce in huge numbers, because they're staying home to take care of their kids, because they're not in school. So it has all kinds of repercussions.

And Biden and his people understand this. I think part of the problem, quite honestly, is that the science disagrees sometimes about how safe it is or how safe it isn't.

BURNETT: Well, the union - to your point, what the unions are demanding flies in the face of what CDC scientists and other scientists said are necessary, right?

BORGER: That's right.

BURNETT: So you're pointing out that the issue they have here, if you're going to be the administration of science, then you're going to have to say no to the unions on some of these issues.

BORGER: That's right. That's right. I mean, either you're an administration of science or your administration governed by the unions. And if they disagree, you have to figure out where you're going to stand and you know that the population wants their kids back in school.

BURNETT: So Michael, let me ask you what one other thing here, Republican Governor from Maryland, Larry Hogan, very moderate, oppose Trump, met with Biden in the Oval Office on Friday.

[19:10:06]

Here's what he said he told President Biden.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. LARRY HOGAN (R-MD): And I said that I thought that it was good for his agenda over the next four years if he started out by getting some Republicans on board in a bipartisan way. If you just jammed it down your throat, if it's a take it or leave it democratic bill, we have Republicans that are being obstructionist, you have Democrats that are that are enforcing their will, it's not going to be as easy to get things done like on infrastructure or rebuilding our economy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: And yet we're not looking like anything bipartisan on this COVID relief bill right now, Michael. I mean, how much is at stake for it to be bipartisan? SMERCONISH: So I'm so glad that you raised this, because what I most

want to see in the town hall tonight is who is the audience. In other words to whom is the pitch being made. Is the pitch being made to Republicans, maybe those 10 Republicans who met in the Oval Office not long ago with President Biden or is it two Democrats to try and keep, say, Joe Manchin or Sen. Sinema in the tent.

I think we'll be able to tell right off the bat to whom he has his focus, because thus far it looks like he's prepared to do it alone with no Republican support. And I guess we can all argue as to whether that's the fault of the Republicans or the administration for a lack of outreach.

BURNETT: All right. OK.

BORGER: But I'm going to argue a little bit with Gov. Hogan, if I might, to say that just because a Republican doesn't vote for the stimulus package and I think that's a tough vote for Republicans, but if they don't, doesn't mean they're going to be against Joe Biden on new bridges and roads in their states. I don't think so.

BURNETT: Right. Well, I hope that's true.

BORGER: Yes.

BURNETT: But, I mean, as we all know infrastructure has been the big fail over multiple administrations, which maybe people are experiencing in places like Texas today. This stuff matters. Thank you both very much.

And don't miss CNN's exclusive live town hall with President Biden. It starts here in a little less than two hours, 9 pm Eastern. We'll check in with Anderson later on this hour.

Next, the breaking news, Donald Trump just releasing a fiery takedown of Mitch McConnell, promising to destroy the career of any Republican who doesn't side with Trump and what is clearly officially a civil war in the GOP.

Plus, a leading house Democrat now suing President Trump for inciting the deadly capital insurrection. Does he have a case? I'm going to talk to a congressman who's joining that lawsuit.

And a new warning tonight for Americans who have already been vaccinated?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:16:00]

BURNETT: Breaking news, former President Trump declaring war in the Republican Party, just breaking his silence, finally, and unleashing a blistering attack here on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. This is a two-page statement that Trump has just released and this is the declaration, very first sentence. "The Republican Party can never again be restricted or strong with

political 'leaders'," in quotes, "like Sen. Mitch McConnell at its helm."

The statement is a nasty and personal takedown of McConnell. Trump also says, "Mitch is a dour, sullen and unsmiling political hack, and if Republican Senators are going to stay with him, they will not win again. He will never do what needs to be done, or what is right for our Country."

And CNN is learning this statement was actually watered down. I mean, that's pretty personal and nasty, very Trumpian. But the original statement was worse. It included saying that McConnell had quote too many chins and not enough brain. Yes, that one was removed by someone before it was issued.

Remember, McConnell, of course, did not vote to convict the former president. The outrage though is because what he said was incredibly damning, incredibly damning and incredibly accurate about Trump after the trial.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Former President Trump's actions preceded the riot or a disgraceful, disgraceful dereliction of duty. President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day. The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Trump apparently finding those words unbearable in his statement saying that the Republican Party is his party and that he will take down any Republican who crosses him. So let me just read this part and this is actually really significant when you talk about the war in the Republican Party.

He says, "Where necessary and appropriate, I will back primary rivals who espouse Making America Great Again and our policy of America First. This is a big moment for our country, and we cannot let it pass by using third rate 'leaders' to dictate our future." Note the word leaders is always in quotes here.

OUTFRONT now our Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju and our Chief Domestic Affairs Correspondent Jim Acosta who, of course, covered the former president.

So Jim, let me start with you. As nasty as this is, dour, sullen, unsmiling political hack, it was the nice version.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It could have been Trumpier, that's for sure, Erin. No question about it. I am told by Jason Miller, one of Trump's advisors, that in his words there was never a consideration of a personal attack in the earlier version. When you talk about how the earlier version was supposed to have a reference to Mitch McConnell's chin, Jason Miller was saying that is not the case.

But setting that to the side, Erin, obviously, there is no love lost between these two men. They now represent two rival factions of the Republican Party. This party is either going to go in Mitch McConnell's direction or it's going to go in Donald Trump's direction. And there are plenty of Mitch McConnell critics out there who will say Mitch McConnell had his chance to break apart, break free from Donald Trump in this Republican Party, and he missed his chance.

But having said all of that, Erin, one of the things that we're, I think, overlooking in that statement from Donald Trump is that he engages in a good bit of Georgia trutherism.

BURNETT: Yes.

ACOSTA: He tries to blame Mitch McConnell for what happened in Georgia and not himself. And you talk to people even inside the Trump campaign or what is left of the Trump campaign, the President's current team of advisors, aides and associates and so on, they will tell you that Donald Trump is largely responsible for what happened in Georgia. And so it's Donald Trump alone who feels that way.

But make no mistake, this statement that Trump put out, I talked to an advisor earlier this evening, who said he had no choice but to make that kind of response.

[19:20:02]

Mitch McConnell's op-ed in The Wall Street Journal required a response and Donald Trump gave one and I think we're going to see much more of this to come. This is a sneak preview of coming attractions, no question about it.

BURNETT: Yes. I mean, yes, certainly could have responded. But as usual to expect him to take out personal denigrations, dour, sullen, unsmiling would be asking for a personality change. All right. So Jim, thank you.

Manu, what about McConnell now? I mean, because like I said at the beginning of the statement, the Republican Party can never be respected or strong with political leaders like Sen. Mitch McConnell at its helm. It is a clear declaration of war on McConnell and that his arm of the party.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And it's remarkable given the fact that Mitch McConnell was a central ally of Donald Trump for the past four years. I mean, McConnell rarely criticized Donald Trump and was central in getting his Supreme Court nominees confirmed and pushing his agenda. And even as late as December 15, he would not criticize Donald Trump's rhetoric about a stolen election.

I asked him on December 15th, the day after the Electoral College declared Joe Biden the victor whether or not he has any concerns with Donald Trump saying the election was stolen. At the time, Mitch McConnell said I don't have any advice to give the president. And then on January 6th, his tune changed.

He became much more critical about the efforts to overturn the elections, even before the riot occurred. And afterwards, we heard his voice get louder and louder up until Saturday after he voted to acquit Donald Trump on a constitutional concern, but then later said that Donald Trump was responsible morally for what happened and also saying that he could be in legal jeopardy as well.

Now, this is all going to play out Erin in the primary fights for this control of the Senate over the next two years. McConnell will want to ignore this, but he will come up in the Trump loyalty test of sorts for Senate candidates in key races across the country, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you. So let's go now to former Republican Governor and Congressman from South Carolina, Mark Sanford and Chief Washington Correspondent for Politico and co-author of Politico playbook, Ryan Lizza.

Governor, let's just be clear here, this is a declaration of war we already knew what was going on. But this is clear, the Republican Party can never again be respected or strong with political 'leaders' like Sen. Mitch McConnell at its helm. Going on to say that he will back primary rivals who espouse Making America Great Again.

MARK SANFORD (R), FORMER CONGRESSMAN FROM SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, I have rather firsthand knowledge of that given that Trump came against me in the primary. So, yes, I mean, this is further declaration of a war that has been brewing for four years. It's a further lockdown as to how Trump is going to behave going forward and it's a continuation of political doublespeak.

I mean, it's astounding to me that in the text of what Trump sent forward was among the other hits on McConnell was a personal hit saying you can really say nothing about China based on your wife's holdings with regards to China. This is, I mean, the master of doublespeak because this is a guy who appointed Elaine Chao, McConnell's wife, to be Secretary of Transportation. He hasn't mentioned that. It's, again, I could go through paragraph after paragraph of the doublespeak that I think is incredibly damaging.

BURNETT: And we should remind everyone, of course, Elaine Chao resigned when that insurrection happened and so that's, I guess, what she gets for that.

Ryan, what about the point that Jim Acosta just mentioned? He brings up Trump, Georgia because he can't get past it and he blames Mitch McConnell for the loss in Georgia when everyone knows, of course, the loss of Georgia happened because of President Trump. Republicans were likely to keep both those seats. They lost them both.

He goes on, many Republicans in Georgia voted Democrat or just didn't vote because of their anguish at their inept governor, the secretary of state and the Republican Party for not doing its job on election integrity during the 2020 presidential race.

RYAN LIZZA, POLITICO PLAYBOOK CO-AUTHOR AND CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I mean, obviously that's just revisionist history and he's just coming up with a counter narrative of what happened in Georgia. This is lesson 976 about what Donald Trump requires from Republican officeholders is complete loyalty. And if you are completely loyal to Donald Trump, you can remain in his good graces for as long as that lasts.

Now, I know a lot of people who are not fond of Donald Trump are saying of Mitch McConnell, he sort of getting what he deserved here. They will argue he made a Faustian bargain with Donald Trump, thought he could make some conservative policy during the four years of his presidency, will defend the judges that Trump got through.

[19:25:02]

But once McConnell broke with Trump, this kind of statement, of course, was inevitable, right?

BURNETT: Yes.

LIZZA: We all knew that. And let's be honest, given Trump's record, he may finish off Mitch McConnell's career. We all know that Donald Trump is a stronger player in the Republican Party than Mitch McConnell is and has a stronger grip on the Republican base.

Look what he did to Mark. I mean, and Mark, you in 2016 right before the primary in South Carolina hedged about whether you supported Trump or not. And once he took power, he just rode through people like you, once you broke with them, made fun of you for your affair with your girlfriend and made personal attacks on you. I mean, you know firsthand what happens when you cross this guy.

BURNETT: And, I guess, here's my question, though, from that, Ryan, I mean, Governor, I've talked to a lot of Republicans who say that they believe that the McConnell wing will win. And they might not even like McConnell, but they believe in what he said in that 20-minute speech, which is the best speech of his career.

But the numbers don't show it. The numbers show that three quarters of the Republican Party wants Trump to have a big role. It was in the poll today that showed that people disapproved of what he did, didn't want him to be at the helm of the party anymore. There was a big drop and then it's right back up to where it was before now that he's been acquitted.

SANFORD: Again, I don't have a clue. I can't figure it out. I'm disappointed, I'm disillusioned, I'm discouraged, but it is what it is. Those numbers, I think, are amazingly accurate based on the conversations I've had with people at home. And until this fever breaks continue, I mean, you'll see crazy continue to rain.

BURNETT: All right. Well, I appreciate both of your time very much. It's sobering, but thank you.

LIZZA: Thanks, Erin.

BURNETT: And next, Trump's longtime attorney, Rudy Giuliani, I guess now he's no longer representing the former president. Why my next guest says though that this could be now that it's finally happened one of Trumps biggest problems.

Plus, why a leading epidemiologist is now warning of another spike in COVID cases in the coming weeks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:31:24]

BURNETT: All right. Air Force One just landing in Milwaukee as you can see. President Biden is there going to the CNN town hall with Anderson Cooper.

We're going to check in with Anderson in just a few moments at the Pabst Theater. But you see Air Force One there. So, we'll let you know as the president disembarks and heads over to our town hall.

This comes as former President Trump is facing his first lawsuit related to the attack on the U.S. Capitol. Democratic Congressman Bennie Thompson accusing Trump and his attorney Rudy Giuliani of conspiring with the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers to incite the riot.

The lawsuit cites the federal statute passed after the civil war to protect the KKK, prevent the KKK from intimidating lawmakers. It says, quote, defendants Trump, Giuliani, Proud Boys and Oath Keepers plotted, coordinated and executed a common plan to prevent Congress from discharging its official duties in certifying the results of the presidential election.

OUTFRONT now, Democratic Congressman Hank Johnson of Georgia, who will be joining this lawsuit.

Congressman Johnson, I appreciate your time. You are a lawyer, nearly 40 years of experiencing practicing law, 12 years as a judge in Georgia. So you know the merits of the case.

Why are you confident that you can win this one?

REP. HANK JOHNSON (D-GA): Well, I mean, it is clear that President Trump in public, I mean, out in your face at his rally on January 6th incited insurrectionists to come to the Capitol to disrupt our proceeding and that fits squarely within the confines of this statute that he is accused of conspiring with Rudy Giuliani and others to violate. That is the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, which as you said was put in place to stop the intimidation and violence against Southern congresspeople, often black, who traveled to Washington, D.C. for official business.

And so, this is exactly what Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani, consorting with the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers did. They tried to stop us from doing our constitutional duty, which was to count those electoral votes and certify the winner of the presidency and vice presidency. BURNETT: So, Congressman, there is something significant in here which

is very significant. The lawsuit accuses Trump of delaying his speech that day, for a specific reason. So that members of the Proud Boys can advance to the Capitol and overcome the police presence there.

Do you have evidence, timeline evidence to support that?

JOHNSON: Yes. No question about it. The Proud Boys split off from the rally about a half hour early and started walking towards the Capitol at that time and when they got to the Capitol, they created a pretty much a diversion, which then allowed the larger crowd to approach at which time they were able to gain entry into the Capitol. And so it was a carefully coordinated event.

There were -- while the president was speaking, while President Trump was speaking, the Proud Boys were marching. And then when the main crowd approached, Donald Trump was tweeting and there were bullhorns and radios in use telling the public who was approaching the Capitol what the president was saying to further incite the crowd.

And so, it was a carefully coordinated and staged event and effectively pulled off.

BURNETT: So you know, obviously, you knew that Trump was not convicted, right? You only had seven Republicans. But there were seven Republicans who stood up, courageously, and said that Trump did what he did.

And -- but yet in this lawsuit, obviously, it's Democrats who have signed on board. Are you concerned that that could make something which should be non-partisan partisan?

JOHNSON: Well, you have to keep in mind that this lawsuit is filed by the NAACP, which has a history and a legacy of protecting black people and the rights of black people and it was -- this was a race riot. It had as its basis racism.

I mean, this whole big lie that Trump told to incite the insurrectionists was based on the alleged theft of votes in places like Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia, Milwaukee. This is where black voters are. And he wanted to stop the steal, incentivizing his people to go attack based on them thinking that black folks had taken something from them.

And so, this whole affair was built on racism and that's why the NAACP came in to file this lawsuit along with Congressman Bennie Thompson, and I look forward to joining it.

BURNETT: All right. Well, I appreciate your time. Congressman Johnson, thank you very much.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

BURNETT: And I want to go now to Harvard Law School Professor Laurence Tribe. So, Professor Tribe, you know, look, we talked about whether Trump

will be held accountable. Mitch McConnell said he hasn't been held accountable yet. Implying there should be accountability. That implies people should bring cases. This is the first one that has come forth.

What do you think of it?

LAURENCE TRIBE, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL PROFESSOR: I think it's a very powerful lawsuit. I agree with every word that Congressman Hank Johnson uttered. I agree with the complaint, which I've studied carefully. I see no reason why people like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger and others ought not join in. I suspect they might.

This is the very lawsuit for which the Ku Klux Klan Act in 1871 was designed. It's a lawsuit built on the federal law that says that if people conspire to interfere with the performance of federal official functions and surely the counting of the electoral votes by Congress on January 6th was the most official of all functions, then they can be held liable.

This lawsuit is extremely powerful. The evidence is strong. The law is clear. There was an 1883 Supreme Court decision that in a scattershot way --

BURNETT: Yeah.

TRIBE: -- negated some parts that this was a part. But they never took I'm at this statute. This statute is strong. It will be upheld. It will be a basis for liability.

BURNETT: Okay. So then in that case, you get to appoint where you will have discovery and depositions and all of those things. What happens next? I know the lawyer for NAACP says they want to depose both Trump and Giuliani.

Are we ever going to get a deposition of the former president? Can you vote the executive privilege because he was president at the time? Or is it possible that we actually do get a deposition from him and we all get so see it?

TRIBE: He is being sued in his private capacity. Not at president. There is no version of the job description as president that includes interfering with the smooth transition to the next president.

You know, it takes a while to enforce these subpoenas. But he has no legal basis whatsoever for resisting a deposition. His day will come, and it's right around the corner.

BURNETT: All right. So let me ask you about the legal issue here, because Trump's long-time personal attorney Rudy Giuliani is not representing Trump in any legal matters. That's the quote from Trump adviser Jason Miller. Any legal matters?

We saw the lawyers who just represented him in the Senate. It was an embarrassment. They won. But they won because the senators had made up their minds, themselves, right? That -- is he going to get lawyers to represent him? I mean, people can say what they want about Giuliani, but at least he was there.

TRIBE: When you say they won, I mean, it was a 57-43 verdict in favor of guilt.

[19:40:04]

BURNETT: Yes, I understand.

TRIBE: They need to have two-thirds. No, they embarrassed themselves. I don't know if Alan Dershowitz or Jonathan Turley or somebody else will come out of the woodwork to defend the president here. It can't be Rudy Giuliani because he's one of the co-conspirators who is a defendant in this lawsuit.

They're going to have to dig pretty deep to find lawyers that will defend this president. Maybe they can find someone.

But the point is, not the lawyers. The point is that there is no good defense. As Mitch McConnell, himself, said, having delayed the trial to the point where the clock ran out. He said, oh, too bad, it was too late to try the president.

But, of course, he was guilty. That's what Mitch McConnell said.

BURNETT: Yes.

TRIBE: It seems to me that when the people who vote for you say that you were guilty, are you in trouble.

BURNETT: That's true. He said both morally and practically, and he laid it out.

TRIBE: Right, right.

BURNETT: Thank you very much, Professor, as always.

TRIBE: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, Joe Biden just arriving in Milwaukee for our town hall. Anderson is there. He's going to be moderating it. We'll be talking to him in just a couple of moments.

Plus, why doctors are pleading with people who have been vaccinated to keep wearing your masks, keep social distancing, and all of it?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Tonight, a warning for anyone who has received the coronavirus vaccine. A Harvard epidemiologist warns the virus could mutate if it infects people who are getting sick of it, mutated to a variant that could be much harder to stop.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL MINA, EPIDEMIOLOGIST, HARVARD T.H. CHAN SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: The more opportunities we give the virus to come in contact with somebody who is near, the more opportunities there are for the virus to find a way around that level of immunity and those antibodies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, Dr. Jonathan Reiner, who had advised the White House medical team under President George W. Bush.

[19:45:02]

So, Dr. Reiner, you know, I think what he is basically saying here is we know the vaccine can prevent you from getting really, really sick, but it does not prevent you from being infected. So, if you got infected, the virus has a chance to mutate and, you know, possibly become -- by the way, Joe Biden there getting off Air Force One, heading to our town hall in Milwaukee where he's going to be talking about this and all of the coronavirus issues we now face, Doctor.

But that's a big question, because if it mutates, it could mutate so it could evade a vaccine or get people a lot sicker. What do you say to this? Is this something you are worried about?

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, what Dr. Mina is saying is viruses make mistakes when they replicate. And some of these mistakes and the replication are not advantageous to the virus. Some don't matter at all. But some present an opportunity.

And if the virus mutates in a way that can evade the antibodies that you have from your vaccine, or from your prior exposure to the virus, that then becomes an opportunity for the virus to take hold in you, and then become a viable variant in the community.

So, the notion is that while there is still virus in the community and there is still plenty of virus in the community --

BURNETT: Yeah.

REINER: Even if have you natural immunity or vaccine immunity, wear a mask to keep these variants from forming. That's the notion. It makes a lot of sense. We can be wearing masks for a long time.

BURNETT: All right. So, that's, you know, significant thing to say.

Let me ask that other thing, Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist, warning about the U.K. variant. And his point was -- I will quote him, to not be deceived by cases dropping. There's actually a surging underbelly of B117 cases that is much more transmissible and will cause another surge soon in March and April.

And, obviously, there is questions on some of these variants, not just on transmissibility, but whether or not they are, in fact, more deadly.

Do you share that concern that there may be this surging case load of the more transmissible, I'm sorry, variant? REINER: Not necessarily. We have to ask ourselves, why are cases

dropping right now? And it's probably multi-factorial, you know, because we are better at masking and social distancing. There is not a lot of travel this time of the year, and maybe we are starting to see just the fringes of enough people in the community who have had the virus and now with almost 40 million people vaccinated, we are starting to see just the outer reaches of some community-acquired immunity.

So even if the variants become the predominant strain in the community, I don't know it's a done deal they are going to result in a massive surge. We're not seeing that yet. There is no sign of uptake.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Dr. Reiner, as always, I appreciate your time.

And here you see, President Biden in that motorcade, heading toward the town hall in Milwaukee, Wisconsin tonight, over the ice and snow like so much of this country. The president just landing moments ago, you saw him get off air force one.

The town hall is going to begin in just over one hour. Anderson Cooper joins me next with what we can expect from the Pabst Theater.

Plus, a grandfather assaulted, businesses vandalized. Why one specific group of Americans have found themselves a target of a growing number of hate crimes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:51:14]

BURNETT: President Joe Biden is now in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on his way to the theater that you see on your screen where he will be at a town hall fielding questions here on CNN in just about an hour.

Anderson Cooper is there hosting tonight's town hall.

So, Anderson, look, this is a significant thing. The first formal trip for the president as president coming there to take questions from people that you're going to have in the theater, 50 people in a theater that can fit 1,000. So, all coronavirus, everything is compliant. Who is going to be in the crowd asking questions?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It's a variety of people. There is people that voted for the president. There are people that did not vote for the president, that voted for former President Trump. So a variety of people and we wanted a variety of topics.

But, obviously, we're getting a lot of questions about the pandemic about vaccines and school openings, a lot of questions about the divided country and concerns about that. Obviously, also the stimulus bill. There is a whole range of questions that we're hoping that everybody in our audience gets a chance to ask their questions to the president. BURNETT: That's great. I mean, that's one of the things from having --

I know it's socially distant but imminent because you only have 50 people in the room with you and the president.

So what can we expect to hear? I mean, on a lot of these issues, Anderson, he has a challenge, right, a vaccination rollout that's slowing down a little bit from what they'd hoped a few weeks ago. Lots of questions about schools and the pandemic.

COOPER: Yeah, I mean, there is a lot of interest here from people about, you know, their children going to school, about their kids getting vaccinated, family members when they can get vaccinated. It's the questions really I think that many people throughout the country have on their minds.

Those are the questions we have been seeing. We've been going through them all day and we really do want this to be as much as possible a conversation between the president of the United States and the people here in the audience and, obviously, the people who will be watching at home.

And you're right, this is a 1,300-seat theater. There's 50 or so people here and as you can see, there is still a few more coming in. But they are socially distanced. Family members are allowed to sit together.

We've given each of them this KN95 mask so they will be wearing them throughout the presentation when they are asking questions.

BURNETT: All right. Well, really looking forward to it, Anderson, and interesting to see how the president will respond as we know, this is a format that he very much likes. He likes being able to talk to people directly.

So we look forward to watching you in just a little bit. Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: Thanks.

BURNETT: All right. So, we'll see Anderson in one hour with President Biden.

Next, though, the spiking disturbing attacks on Asian-Americans now sparking calls for immediate action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You need to leave.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (EXPLETIVE DELETED) Asian piece of (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my God.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:56:21]

BURNETT: Tonight, San Francisco police arresting a man for allegedly assaulting an Asian man because of his race. It comes after an alarming rise in unprovoked violent attacks against Asian-Americans amid the pandemic.

I'll warn you some of the video you're about to see in the special report is upsetting.

Kyung Lah is OUTFRONT.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(SINGING)

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Turning 84 was a milestone for Vichar Ratanapakdee and his family.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Happy birthday, grandpa.

LAH: The San Francisco grandfather had just received the vaccine and stayed healthy through the pandemic, walking for an hour in his neighborhood every morning. It was on his walk when an unprovoked attacker ran across the street.

How did you find out what happened to your father?

MONTHAUS RATANAPAKDEE, VICTIM'S DAUGHTER: The officer answered the phone and then he told us like, they followed him, got assaulted. He got injury very bad by his brain, bleeding. And he never wake up again. I never see him again.

LAH: A 19-year-old subject is charged with murder and elder abuse. But Ratanapakdee's family calls it something else.

ERIC LAWSON, VICTIM'S SON-IN-LAW: This wasn't driven by economics, it was driven by hate.

LAH: Ratanapakdee's death is part of a surge in reported attacks against Asian-Americans during the pandemic. In Oakland, a man walked up behind a 91-year-old man and threw him to the ground. One of more than 20 assaults and robberies like this one, in Oakland's Chinatown.

In Portland, more than a dozen Asian-owned businesses in recent weeks have been vandalized.

These incidents are not new. In New York, the MTA retweeted this video of what they called racism. This man sprayed Febreze at an Asian- American on the subway at the start of the pandemic, prompting an NYPD hate crime investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (EXPLETIVE DELETED) Asian piece of (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my God.

LAH: A coalition has tracked more than 2,800 anti-Asian hate incidents between March and December of last year, like this one at a California restaurant. Before the election, this man invoked President Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trump's going to (EXPLETIVE DELETED), you (EXPLETIVE DELETED), you (EXPLETIVE DELETED) need to leave.

LAH: The then-president's words --

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: China virus. Kung flu.

LAH: -- have lasting impacts as Professor Russell Jeung who tracked those 2,800 hate incidents because no governmental agency would.

PROF. RUSSELL JEUNG, STOP AAPI HATE: Mainstream society doesn't believe that we face racism. And we needed to document what was happening.

LAH: Identify and change them, says this group of Bay Area volunteers, offering escorts for the elderly, and offering a bridge to those who may not even know how to talk to the police.

DEREK KO, COMPASSION IN OAKLAND VOLUNTEER: We want to take that rage and like let's do something. What can I do?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Uh-huh.

KO: And this is what we're doing.

LAH: Vichar Ratanapakdee's daughter spent the last year ignoring what people said to her.

RATANAPAKDEE: You bring the COVID, screaming, spit on us, but we just walk away.

[16:55:03]

LAH: She won't do that anymore.

RATANAPAKDEE: He got to be proud about, we protect a lot of the another people in this city or the whole country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAH (on camera): Now, the police have not charged the suspect in her case and what happened with her father because it's so difficult to prove that it is indeed a hate crime. He's been charged with murder and elder abuse.

Something important to remember, Erin, is that activists believe the real number of hate incidents nationally may be higher because we're dealing with an immigrant community who is often fearful to report -- Erin.

BURNETT: That is just a horrific watching that. Oh my gosh. All right. Kyung, thank you very much.

And thanks for joining us.

"CUOMO PRIME TIME" is on now, special time tonight because of the town hall.

Let's hand it over to Chris Cuomo.