Return to Transcripts main page

Cuomo Prime Time

Fallen Capitol Officer's Mother Disappointed By GOP Senators Who Stopped January 6 Commission; Growing Concerns Over "Havana Syndrome" Incidents Near WH; FAA: Significantly More Unruly Passenger Reports In 2021. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired May 28, 2021 - 21:00   ET




ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: We wish everyone a safe Memorial Day weekend.

The news continues. Want to hand it over to our good friend, Michael Smerconish. Michael?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: Anderson, thanks so much.

I'm Michael Smerconish, in for Chris Cuomo, and welcome to PRIME TIME.

So, there will be no 9/11 style investigation into the events of January 6. As expected, there were not 10 Senate Republicans willing to go along with such an inquiry. At first blush, it sounds bewildering, disinterested, even cold.

When the 35 Republican senators, who today blocked the January 6th Commission, go home, for their Memorial Day recess, I'm sure they're going to take a moment to remember our heroes, who gave their lives to protect our freedom, all around the globe.

So, why doesn't that type of reflection translate into honoring the Capitol Police officers, who gave their all, to protect them on January 6, and to the ones still working daily, to keep them safe, like Eugene Goodman, who used himself as bait, for the mob to keep the rioters away from the Senate chamber, still full of lawmakers?

Goodman also rushed Senator Mitt Romney to safety. Bravery like that, it earned Goodman the Congressional Gold Medal.

And no senator could deny his courage that day, including this one.



SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): If not for the quick thinking and bravery of Officer Eugene Goodman, in particular, people in this chamber may not have escaped that day unharmed.


SMERCONISH: Eugene Goodman was on duty, as usual, last night, protecting some of the very senators, who spent hours, stalling and sidetracking, while most of us were sleeping, forcing the final vote to block the bipartisan commission into this holiday, Friday, when the attention of so many Americans is elsewhere.

The direct pleas from the late Officer Brian Sicknick's mother, to GOP lawmakers, went all but nowhere.

Today, she told Jake Tapper that while senators were nice to her, many of the meetings were tense because she didn't think they were sincere.


GLADYS SICKNICK, OFFICER BRIAN SICKNICK'S MOTHER: If they had a child that was hurt, was killed, on a day like that, they would think very differently, or if they were hurt.

I mean, they could have very well - somebody could have been killed, one of the congressmen, one of the senators. But apparently, they just think "Well, you know, we're safe because of the Men in Blue."


SMERCONISH: Here are the six Republicans, who voted to advance the bill, take a look, including Lisa Murkowski, who decided not to grant Mitch McConnell's request for a personal favor because she's not nearly as worried, if at all, about political risk.


SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): To be making a decision for the short-term political gain, at the expense of understanding and acknowledging, what was in front of us, on January 6th, I think we need to, to look at that critically. Is that really what this is about, is everything is just one election cycle after another?


SMERCONISH: Well, that's a fair question. This calculation by more than three dozen Republican legislators is based on the belief that riding the tide of Donald Trump's coattails through 2022 and 2024, well, that's the ticket.

The party has ousted Liz Cheney for this exact reason. She was the final Republican leader, who sought to pull the party onto a different course, one that harken back to an era of tradition, small government, family values.

You can look no further than Lindsey Graham to see that GOP leaders have made a different calculation.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I've always liked Liz Cheney. But she's made a determination that the Republican Party can't - can't grow with President Trump. I've determined we can't grow without him.


SMERCONISH: The GOP made this decision to stick with Donald Trump and his acolytes just before the general election in 2016. And five years, and one lost election, later, they're sticking to their guns.

A January 6 Commission, may turn out findings that will make it impossible for the GOP to go forward with that strategy. It would also require them to relive and re-litigate the big lie. So, that's the state of play tonight. Like I said, it sounds bewildering. But there are explanations.

First, the current GOP doesn't feel compelled to yield to critics, who find the party at odds with democracy, whether that's demanding answers to who knew what on January 6, ensuring ballot access, or riding its - ridding its ranks of conspiratorial theorists.


See, it's a strategy premised on winning. They aren't motivated to investigate the events of January 6 because their base doesn't demand it. They view polling places as locations to gain advantage by limiting ballot access, reducing early voting and imposing ID requirements.

And while there's been no discernible effort to grow the GOP tent in years, the party is likewise loathed to throw anybody out, for fear of alienating any part of the base, hence the tolerance of Marjorie Taylor Greene.

CNN's Donie O'Sullivan was at the latest Matt Gaetz and Greene traveling roadshow, and talked to some of those following their lead.

Donie, what did you find?


Yes, I mean, look, that event last night, that Greene-Gaetz event took place in Dalton, Georgia. And the last time we were in Dalton was actually 48 hours before the Insurrection. And last night, it was a bit like returning to Oz, in The Wizard of Oz.

There has been a new president inaugurated now. But so many other people, I spoke to, were telling me the same things last night that they were telling me on the 4th of January, earlier this year, when they were saying that Biden is not the fairly elected President of the United States.

And people are still clinging on to this belief that Trump could, in some way, come back. And they are looking to the Arizona audit. They're looking to what's happening in Georgia, also in their own states, and saying - clinging on to that belief that Trump in some way could come back, which of course, it's being egged on by the former president. And look, I think it's easy for folks to look at this and to look at statistics that have - came out, in the past few days, about how many Republicans and how many Americans believe in conspiracy theories like QAnon.

But when they are watching a set of essentially MAGA media, and when they are listening to the President's allies, on social media that is their reality, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Donie, I'm curious to know, do you sense that there's a love for Marjorie Taylor Greene in settings like you were visiting last night? Or is that they so despise, who they perceive her enemies to be that they sign up with her?

O'SULLIVAN: Yes, look, I mean, obviously, we heard a lot this week about the atrocious comments - comments that Greene made about the Holocaust.

But I asked many people, who were going into that event last night, which was in Greene's constituency, by the way, what they thought of those comments. And they like Greene, not, despite those comments, they like her because of those comments. They view it as her speaking her mind.

And I actually spoke to one woman, who was on her way into the event last night. And here's what she had to say.


O'SULLIVAN: A lot of people don't like Greene.

SANDRA CAMPBELL, REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE SUPPORTER: That's OK, because you know what? A lot of people didn't like Jesus Christ.

O'SULLIVAN: Do you think she should apologize?

CAMPBELL: Actually, I don't know exactly what was said that about the Holocaust, as to what she said.



O'SULLIVAN: She compared COVID restrictions to the Holocaust.

CAMPBELL: Well, I can understand that with Mengele, the Nazi, and how he used children and people to experiment with experimental drugs.

O'SULLIVAN: So, you're talking about the vaccine?



O'SULLIVAN: And, obviously, we should just point out what I was speaking to that lady about afterwards that the Nazis weren't testing experimental drugs on themselves. The vaccine has been taken - the vaccine has been taken by Trump himself. So obviously, the comparison is totally ridiculous.

But Michael, finally, I would just say that, this all ties together the big lie, these Holocaust comparisons, the anti-vax stuff, everything, it all ties together. It's all part of this one big conspiracy.

I think sometimes we talk about QAnon, as if it's detached from the election lies, as if it's detached from the comments, and anti-vaccine conspiracy theories. But it's not.

It is all, for many of the people, I meet, out on the trail like this, it's all part of the one conspiracy, and it's all part of the one set of beliefs. And it's all part of a set of beliefs that, frankly, Republican leaders are not calling out.

SMERCONISH: So Donie, the woman that you interviewed, who was dressed like Evel Knievel wasn't aware of Marjorie Taylor Greene having said those things because the channel she watches doesn't cover her saying them.

Thank you so much for your report, as always.

O'SULLIVAN: Thanks, Michael.


SMERCONISH: Donie is too young to know the Evel Knievel reference, I fear.

Let's break it all down.

Brendan Buck was a top aide to former House Speakers Paul Ryan and John Boehner.

And CNN Senior Political Analyst, Ron Brownstein is back.

Brendan, let me begin with you. It's not a complicated vote today. Why would the Republicans vote for it when it could yield nothing but bad information for them just on the cusp of the midterm election?

BRENDAN BUCK, FORMER TOP AIDE TO HOUSE SPEAKERS RYAN AND BOEHNER, PARTNER, SEVEN LETTER: Yes, bad information about Donald Trump, bad information about their own roles in leading up to it.

Look, we can talk about how they are trying to avoid a midterm surprise, right before the election. We could talk about Donald Trump's sway over the party. And I think both of those things are a big factor in what's taking place.

But what you've just been talking about is actually, I think, the much more troubling aspect. And what Republican senators were doing voting against this commission was reflecting their constituents. This was an easy no-vote for them. Their constituents don't - there's a poll out this week that shows

most Republicans think that that Riot was led by left-wing activists, trying to make Donald Trump look bad. This is the reality that a lot of voters have. Those senators are reflecting their voters.

And that's not to say that the elected officials don't have a responsibility here. But it is the reality that these - that so many base Republicans live in, and senators, frankly, are prisoners to it. And so, they're reflecting the voters that they have back home.

SMERCONISH: Ron, there's no love lost between Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump. This was an opportunity, where he could have allowed--


SMERCONISH: --a commission to do his dirty work, right?


SMERCONISH: Impanel the commission. Let them do an investigation, find out exactly what went down at the White House, the afternoon of January 6, but he didn't go that Machiavellian route, why?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Well, I think for the reasons that Brendan said. I mean, as I wrote, in February, the extremist wing of the Republican Party has become too big for the party leadership to confront.

I mean, the big reality we are facing, I mean, the macro story that we are facing, is that the fear of demographic eclipse is eroding the commitment to democracy, among a significant share of the Republican electorate.

90 percent of Republicans say that Christianity in America is under assault. Two-thirds to three quarters, depending on the poll, say that Whites - discrimination against Whites is now as big a problem as discrimination against minorities. And all of that is feeding an atmosphere of maintaining power by any means necessary.

And when you add up all the pieces that are happening, this vote today, on the commission, being one just small piece of the picture, with the voter suppression laws that are advancing, these audits in Arizona and Georgia, the challenges to Republican officials, who certify the election, I agree with those analysts who say we are facing the biggest challenge to small "d" democracy, in the country, since at least the Civil War, and maybe at any point in our history.

SMERCONISH: Brendan, do you accept that?

BUCK: Well, I certainly think there are demographic or, I'm sorry, challenges to our democracy. And I see it in Congress all the time. We can't get basic things done, because both sides, at least their voters, hate each other.

Look, my former boss, John Boehner, worked famously with Ted Kennedy to do No Child Left Behind. Paul Ryan worked with Senator Patty Murray to do big deals. Big deals are almost impossible now, because that is treason to a lot of - to a lot of voters.

And I think that is the real erosion of democracy, our ability to come together, have any middle ground, because when you think the other side is trying to ruin your way of life, there's not a lot of incentive to work together.

Now, I will challenge that I don't think that the - some of the voting laws, particularly in Georgia, my home state, I think that those have been wildly exaggerated, the effect of those. And I think that there's a lot of hyperbole going on. So, I don't think that necessarily democracy is at risk in - through some of those laws right now.

But it doesn't mean that there aren't efforts underway that we need to be cautious of, particularly, as we've seen in Georgia, you have people running for Secretary of State like Jody Hice, who's running on the concept that the election was stolen. And so, those are the things that I'm worried about.

SMERCONISH: Ron Brownstein?

BROWNSTEIN: Can I just add?

SMERCONISH: Quick final observation.


SMERCONISH: Another - another brilliant piece in "The Atlantic," in which you wrote about what the Republicans are up to, out on a grassroots level. We'll put it up on the screen.

"Reducing access to mail balloting and early voting, imposing new voter-identification requirements, purging voters from registration lists, limiting the use of ballot drop boxes, blocking state-court oversight of voting laws, and increasing Republican state officials' authority to override the decisions of local election officials," who are Democrats.

All that is taking place and you say, "Hey, Democrats, you're running out of time."


SMERCONISH: Explain quickly.


BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Look, both - it may be true that both parties view the other as a threat to the country. But only one party is acting on that in a way to reduce, systematically reduce, access to the ballot, and to increase its leverage, to try to overturn democratic victories in 2022 and 2024.

And there is a great deal of anxiety, among voting rights groups, civil rights groups, others working in kind of the democracy space, that Democrats are simply not putting enough priority on what is happening in the Red states now, and what it might mean for, again, small "d" democracy, in 2022 and 2024.

They have 49 votes in the Senate for sweeping democracy reform. They don't have Joe Manchin. And they don't have the votes, even if they had the 50, to roll back the filibuster, in some way, to create an opportunity to pass that legislation.

And so, I think there is a great deal of anxiety among all of these groups about whether Biden and Democratic leaders are taking this seriously. Chuck Schumer said today, he's going to bring it up the last week of June.

By the way, speaking of democracy, one last fact, the people who voted for the Commission today, if you assign half of each state's population, to each senator, represent 191 million people, Americans. The people who voted against it--


BROWNSTEIN: --represent 105 million Americans. And the 105 million prevail, which gives you a sense of kind of the threats the majority rule that we are now living through.

SMERCONISH: Gentlemen, thank you, Brendan Buck, Ron Brownstein, as always, have a great weekend.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: More than 50 percent of adults now fully vaccinated, heading into Memorial Day weekend. But how do we make sure that the holiday is both safe and fun? What if we're vaccinated, but our loved ones aren't?

You've got questions. Dr. Leana Wen has the answers, on the new phase in the pandemic, and that's next.









SMERCONISH: So, let's take a breath before this holiday weekend, and appreciate exactly where we are.

More than 165 million Americans have now received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine. Cases are down, and dropping. We've waited so long for this moment, for a return to normalcy, to see family and friends, to go to the pool, go to a barbecue, without a mask, for the vaccinated.

But let's remember where we were a year ago. Fear and isolation were the norm. This was the front page of "The New York Times" over Memorial Day weekend 2020, the incalculable loss, nearing 100,000 then. And while we've lost five times that number now, there's clearly light at the end of the tunnel.

I want to bring in Dr. Leana Wen, an ER physician, and former Baltimore Health Commissioner, and talk about the state of play.

Dr. Wen, you say that the key factor, in terms of determining "Well, what can I do this weekend? Where can I go and how can I do it?" is whether you are vaccinated. Explain.

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST, FORMER BALTIMORE HEALTH COMMISSIONER, ER PHYSICIAN, PUBLIC HEALTH PROFESSOR, GWU: Well, we are at so much of a better place than we were last year, at this time.

Last year, we were talking about hunkering down with your family unit. And we didn't know what was coming ahead of us. We just knew that it was going to be really grim. And it was.

And now, we're at a totally different place where we're actually telling people, if you're fully vaccinated, go out and see your friends and family, go travel, do the things that you've been missing for the last 16 months. And so, it's a totally different place.

But it is a totally different place, for those who are fully vaccinated. Those individuals are very well protected from becoming ill, from spreading Coronavirus to others. But the risk to those who are unvaccinated remains really high.

Actually, a "Washington Post" analysis done last weekend found that the risk for those unvaccinated is similar to their risk in the middle of the worst surge in January.

So, for those individuals, if they're traveling, they should still wear N95, KN95 masks or double mask. They should really try to avoid crowded indoor gatherings. But those who are vaccinated can really enjoy and have a great time.

SMERCONISH: How concerned should those who are vaccinated be about mingling with those who are not?

WEN: Yes, so it really depends. And I think we're in this in-between phase of the pandemic, where there aren't any clear-cut answers. The rate of breakthrough infections, meaning infections, if you're fully vaccinated is really low, but it's not zero.

And so, somebody who has chronic medical issues, or lives at home with somebody who is immunocompromised, or young children, who are not vaccinated, they might still want to be careful, because they don't want to accidentally become infected, be asymptomatic, but somehow be transmitting Coronavirus to people that live in their household. And so, I would say if everybody in your household is fully

vaccinated, don't be very concerned, you can really go about many aspects of pre-pandemic normal. But if you're living with somebody who is at high risk, you might still want to take caution.

And that's what I'm doing. I've got two little kids. And so, my husband and I will socialize with others outdoors. We'll definitely be happy to see anyone who is also vaccinated indoors. But we're not going to indoor crowded gatherings with unvaccinated unmasked people.

SMERCONISH: Dr. Wen, have a great Memorial Day weekend, and thank you.

WEN: Thank you, you too.

SMERCONISH: The Biden administration taking a harder look at the theory that COVID may have leaked from a lab in China. But 15 months into this pandemic, why are we so short on answers? My next guests say much of the blame lies with efforts to bend the facts and turn the lab leak theory into a potent political weapon.

Olivia Troye, and David Frum take it up next.









SMERCONISH: There are two headlines this week that, you might have thought, conflict with one another, President Biden, directing the U.S. Intelligence community, to redouble its efforts, to investigate the origins of the COVID pandemic, while also shutting down the State Department's efforts to do the same.

Of course, that probe was led by then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Is that good reason enough to do away with their work?

My next guest knows firsthand why there may be good reason for it. Olivia Troye's a former aide to Vice President Mike Pence, and was a Senior Adviser on President Trump's COVID Task Force.

Also David Frum has written extensively on the Right's push for the lab leak theory.

Olivia, let me start with you. You say you had a front-row seat to the politicization of the Intel on COVID. Explain. OLIVIA TROYE, FORMER AIDE TO VICE PRESIDENT PENCE, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER, CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE: I did. So, early on in the spring, I was watching the trends, of what was happening in China. We were trying to get access on the ground, early on. And this is we're talking, mid-to-late January, and early February.

But what was concerning to me is that the Intelligence community had been briefing on the situation. And what we publicly know now is that they had come to the conclusion that they didn't know, precisely, they weren't sure completely. They didn't have a holistic picture of where the virus had originated from.

But what's concerning to me, though, is that repeatedly, I was asked about whether it came from a lab. And then what was more concerning was the fact that it was - the questions more leaned towards, was it being - was it done on purpose? Was it a bioweapon?

And I kept refuting these responses because I would say, "Look, I'm having the Intelligence people tell me this. I'm working on this on myself." I - we have refuted these responses.

But it was upsetting when there was a "Washington Times" article, which later, by the way, was corrected. Two months later, they walked it back and said like, "We don't really have the facts on it."


And it was - it was - it's about the lab, and this kept surfacing along the way. It was clear to me that the pandemic response was not going well. And I think that they were looking for an answer, where they could shift the blame.

And it was just fundamentally, I was concerned about it, because I was concerned about the kind of messaging that would start to surface from the White House. And as we saw, that's what happened along the way.

SMERCONISH: But Olivia, what if it ends up being true? I mean, it seems like there're as, as equal an opportunity that that may have been true as if it had been false.

TROYE: Right. And here's the thing. We do need to get to the bottom of it, if we can.

I don't know whether we'll ever have full transparency and really understand the origin of it. That is a mystery. And yet, there may be some more information that we've seen in the reporting, where Intelligence - the Intelligence community is continuing to dig on it.

And President Biden is within his full right to really actually ask the questions, now that we are under a different administration, in a different time. And so, I think that it's - we need to press China. We need to continue to kind of figure out what happened here and understand the facts.

But the truth is I was more concerned because it was being politicized in a way, and I'm watching people, like Senator Josh Hawley, who are asking the questions where they're asking for the declassification, solely on a lab.

And I just want it to be a holistic narrative, not a narrative that pushes disinformation, or conspiracy theories, or something like that, that is fundamentally more dangerous to push that out to citizens.

SMERCONISH: But David, speaking of the politicization, of this whole analysis--


SMERCONISH: --so many among us simply wrote off the idea that it escaped from the lab, because after all, that's what Donald Trump was saying. And if Trump is saying X, then everybody else feels like they need to be saying Y.

FRUM: Well, Trump spent the first two months of the pandemic saying "Nothing is happening. Everything's under control. The Chinese are doing a great job. I love China, I trust China.

China - and my top priority with China is to get them to let me out of the crazy trade war I started that is depressing the stock market, at the end of 2019, and pushing the country to recession."

Only after the pandemic began to spread in the United States, to a point where Trump began to worry, it might affect him politically, did he and people in his party begin to take up the idea that this is an attack on the United States. That was the language President Trump used. He compared it to Pearl Harbor and to 9/11.

Now that's plainly wrong where - and that's one of the reasons why we - people didn't listen to him at the time, is that what they say - they launched an attack on United States by first dropping into on their own people, inside the City of Wuhan. How does that make sense?

So when the - what we are talking about is a very different version of the theory, from that which President Trump advanced. And the important question with that is the one you asked Olivia just a minute ago. What if it's true? And this is where you see the real folly and self-harm of the Trump point of view.

If it's true, if there was a negligent or careless accident in a Chinese lab, and a terrible disease spread outward from there, we were blindsided because President Trump had blinded the United States. He had removed people - the Americans from China.

If a virus like this, a pandemic like this, can spread from a lab, if that's what happened, it shows we need more international cooperation, more American eyes inside China, better sharing of information between scientists. And the way we're going to have to pay for that is by giving China better access to what's going on inside the United States.

President Trump wanted the lab leak theory to be a justification for national selfishness and egotism and stoking rage and resentment against others, when in fact, if it's true, and we don't know that it isn't, it may not be, but if it is, it shows it with - this is a smaller planet than we ever imagined. And we need more cooperation, not less.

SMERCONISH: OK. But Olivia, final word to you. The Trial Lawyer in me says that if there was negligence on the part of the Chinese, I have no suspicion that they did this deliberately. But if there were negligence, and they covered it up, they need to be held accountable and compensate us, no?

TROYE: Look, the truth is we don't know. We have no evidence that I had seen, back then, to believe that it was done on purpose. They have been studying the virus. How - what happened there? I mean, we should be asking, and we should be having accountability here.

And look, fundamentally, there was a lack of transparency very early on from China. And we did try to get access on the ground. CDC tried. We were trying to really understand the virus firsthand on what was happening, early on in the pandemic.

So, I think the questions - and Biden is right, to continue to press China, and say you - what really happened here, so fundamentally, so we can learn from it as well, so that we can understand these types of situations, so that we have faced a global pandemic like that. And it's important to have the facts early on because it's certainly affected the world.

SMERCONISH: OK, I agree with all that. But there needs to be accountability and maybe compensation as well.

FRUM: What does that mean?

SMERCONISH: Thank you both. Olivia Troye - what does that mean?

FRUM: Yes.


SMERCONISH: Well, that means that if they - if they covered - I'm not saying this happened, because I don't know. But if they covered up knowledge that there was negligence on their part that allowed it to leak, and if hundreds of thousands of Americans paid a price--

FRUM: Well I don't know that.

SMERCONISH: --as a result, because of the delay in treatment, they need to pay for it.

FRUM: How? What does that mean?

SMERCONISH: It means compensation for what the United States went through that the United States would not have gone through, had we known sooner what the truth was.

I truly wish I had more time to pursue this, but I don't. Thank you both, Olivia Troye, and David Frum.

It's straight out of a movie plot, a mysterious illness striking government officials, near the White House. Diplomats and spies complaining of nausea, headaches, hearing loss, what is it? And who's behind the strange attacks?

We'll take it up with a former CIA officer, who suffered crippling symptoms, and an investigative reporter, digging into the so-called "Havana Syndrome." Stay with us.








SMERCONISH: Imagine an attack on American diplomats, spies, troops and national security officials that sounds like this. Nothing!

It's silent. And there's no visible wound. But the effects can be debilitating, nausea, vertigo, numbness and more. Maybe you heard about this happening to Americans in Cuba, hence the name the "Havana Syndrome," then in Russia.


And what about right here on U.S. soil? Investigators, now looking at two NSC officials that came down with a mystery illness, late last year, right near the White House, no less!

I've got two perfect guests to talk more about it. Former CIA officer Marc Polymeropoulos, who came down with a mystery symptom in Moscow, and "The New Yorker's" Adam Entous, who's written extensively about this.

Marc, how did it feel?


It was December of 2017. I was - I woke up in the middle of the night in a Moscow hotel room, and I had an incredible case of vertigo. I couldn't stand up. I was falling over. I had splitting headache. I had tinnitus ringing in my ears.

Look, I'd spent a lot of time in the war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I've been putting myself in great peril. But this was the most terrifying experience in my life.

SMERCONISH: I know that now you're retired from the CIA. Are you retired on some form of disability? In other words, does the government recognize, formally recognize that you suffered an injury on the job?

POLYMEROPOULOS: Well, in fact, it's quite to the contrary. I retired at age 50, because I could at the time, but I had to. I mean, I couldn't go through a single day of work without a splitting headache. I've actually had a headache for three straight years.

And the fact of the matter is, is I was - it was denied by the CIA medical staff, and CIA seniors, that anything happened to me. And so, I left there, at a certain time at 50, but with the clear understanding that my leadership, who I really trusted before, didn't believe that anything had happened to me.

SMERCONISH: Adam, how many are there, like my guest, Marc?

ADAM ENTOUS, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Well, I mean, there is a - nobody really knows, frankly. First of all, nobody knows the real numbers. That's the first thing we should stress.

The number that they're tracking of possible cases is over 130, of which, of that 130, about 50 of which are CIA officers and family members, so gives you a sense of the scale.

But there were - there were a big group of people that were injured in Havana. I mean, the number - the number there that was studied, at the University of Pennsylvania, was 40. And that wasn't the - that wasn't the all-inclusive number. So again, the numbers are really hard to pin down.

SMERCONISH: Adam, what is the working hypothesis?

ENTOUS: From the very beginning, the working hypothesis has been that this was a directed energy device, maybe, that was designed to spy or to block communications, and that it had this other effect of actually injuring the people.

But again, this is a hypothesis. The Intelligence hasn't been collected to make that hypothesis, anything more than that.

And what's really kind of remarkable about this is in the four years, since this, you know, since we started tracking this in Havana, there really hasn't been much of a change on the Intelligence collection side of it. But the number of people who are coming forward to say that this is what happened to them has increased dramatically.

SMERCONISH: Marc, what do you think happened to you?

POLYMEROPOULOS: Well, clearly that it was something pretty dramatic happened.

And one of the - one of the biggest things is, after I finally got after battle - battle with the U.S. government, for health care, when I finally received treatment, in Walter Reed's National Intrepid Center of Excellence, I received a diagnosis of, of a traumatic brain injury, suffered from an external exposure event. So, the doctors know that something happened. What that is remains to be seen. But make no mistake, both myself, other colleagues in the CIA, really,

a lot of colleagues in the State Department as well, something pretty, pretty awful happened there. And for myself, and many others, it's been an absolutely debilitating injury that's caused, not only the need to retire, but incredible mental health issues that because ultimately, this is a silent wound.

A colleague of mine, during some art therapy sessions, at Walter Reed, had made this incredible painting. It's a blank canvas. And there's a red splotch on it, looks like blood, and he called that the gunshot. And what that means is we all wish we had been shot. We wish we had a more visible wound.

And so, it's a - it's been a pretty awful experience, and a journey that I certainly never expected to be on.

SMERCONISH: Adam, in "The New Yorker," recently, you detailed the story of a 30-something, working in the waning days of the Trump administration, leaves the Eisenhower Executive Building, headed to his car at the Ellipse, and is stricken with what Marc is describing.

Begs the question, is the President safe?


ENTOUS: Yes, I mean, in fact that - before that episode, there was a - there was an earlier episode, involving another White House staff member, who was walking her dog in Alexandria, Virginia, near her home, where she saw a van, parked across the street, and a guy get out of the van, and then she felt this extraordinary pain and sort of doubles over in pain.

And when she reports that to the security staff, at the White House, after that, O'Brien, who was the National Security Advisor, at the time, convened a series of kind of security briefings, because people were worried, who else could be targeted.

And what's interesting was that O'Brien concluded that senior officials, cabinet members, people like himself, were not at high risk, that the risk seemed to be more junior people, if you will, people who had direct access, because of their jobs to information- sensitive Intelligence, that maybe the perpetrators of this were targeting with the - with whatever they were doing.

But frankly, they - the amount of knowledge is very limited, because they haven't caught anybody in the act. They haven't found a device. So they basically have to make these assessments based on the testimony, of patients like Marc. That's what they have to go on at this stage.

SMERCONISH: Hey gents, I'm out of time. But Marc, I just want to say this. Everything I know about your business, I learned from Jason Bourne. But I wonder if we're trying to replicate it. Maybe that would help us figure it out.

Quick yes or no? Do you know if the CIA is trying to see, can we do this? I don't mean to harm somebody, but to try and understand better what may be happened to you.

POLYMEROPOULOS: Look, I'm confident that the CIA, and in the Intelligence community, the Department of Defense is pulling out all the stops on this.

I think it's a national security concern now that this is - this has to do with the protection of our personnel overseas. So, I'm sure they're doing everything possible to get to the bottom of this. No doubt.

SMERCONISH: Wish you good things.

ENTOUS: Yes. I can answer that one.

SMERCONISH: Adam, thank you. Great - great report.


SMERCONISH: Oh, you can?

ENTOUS: Right.

SMERCONISH: Tell me, quickly.

ENTOUS: Yes. They are doing - they're, right now, starting a program to reverse-engineer it, so they want to see what it takes to build something like this.

And their intention is to at a military laboratory expose non-human primates to this kind of radiation to see whether it, you know, this kind of exposure, to pulse microwave, would reproduce the sort of brain injuries that you're seeing in the human patients as well. So, that - that's something that's getting underway, as we speak.

SMERCONISH: Marc, we wish you good things.

Adam, great reporting in "The New Yorker." Appreciate you being here.

Thank you both.


ENTOUS: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: By the way, Marc Polymeropoulos is the Author of a great new book called "Clarity in Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the CIA."

Airline travel back, but so is a disturbing surge in air rage. We're talking passengers punching flight attendants, in one case, knocking out their teeth. Union Leader Sara Nelson says she's never seen misbehavior this bad, and it's got to stop.

So pack your patience, people. We'll be right back.









SMERCONISH: Memorial Day weekend finally here, more than 37 million people expected to travel. That's a 60 percent jump from last year, and more than any other time since the pandemic began.

But more passengers has meant more unruly passengers, according to the FAA, and that means more danger for flight attendants.

And here's the proof.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are going to sue you.






UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are going to sue (BLEEP).


SMERCONISH: That flight attendant lost two teeth, and the passenger has now been banned from Southwest Airlines. But why is this happening?

We're going straight to the pro, the International President of the Association of Flight Attendants, Sara Nelson.

Sara, what the hell?


This is unacceptable. This is more than 20 times more incidents in the first five months of this year than would occur in a regular entire year. And so, and what flight attendants are seeing out there is a constant combative attitude. This has been inconsistent information, so that people are not clear

about what the rules are. They're ready to get out. People are thinking that, are coming to the door of the airplane, taking on the issues of safety procedures, as though they're a political decision, rather than a public health necessity.

And it's really got to stop. It's got to stop, because the only way that aviation works is when we come to the door of the airplane, with the spirit that we're all in this together.

We tell you to put your seatbelt on. We don't say "If you believe that your seatbelt's going to help you, you should put it on."

We tell you to put it on because we know that clear-air turbulence can not only throw you to the ceiling. When you land, you can fall on someone else and hurt them too. So, this is about keeping everyone safe on the plane.

And flight attendants are just begging the public listen to our instructions. Our instructions are there to keep everyone safe. We can all check our patience, as we go on our trips, and then we can try to get back to some sort of normal.

SMERCONISH: Is the punishment sufficient for these incidents?

NELSON: So, since January 13th, the FAA Administrator Steve Dickson has said he's taking a zero-tolerance policy approach to any unruly passengers. And so, what that means is that you are subject to $35,000 for each incident and jail time.

This is a federal offense. So, these are very serious consequences. There was someone, who was charged over $63,000 last week. So the fines are severe, and they can be very severe, but so are your actions. Little problems on a plane can become big problems very quickly.

One thing I want to make really clear though, is that I've been a flight attendant for 25 years. And people come on our planes. They're a microcosm of our entire society.

And they come on, because they're celebrating, they are grieving, they are going to a big business deal. They are traveling to connect together. You have unaccompanied children going to different family members.

All of these people coming on board guess why, because they want to come together. Aviation is about bringing people together, not tearing them apart.


And the vast majority of people come to the door of our airplane with kindness in their heart, and a desire to have a safe, uneventful flight. What we have to do now is really lift that up, and encourage that kind of attitude, and understand there are severe consequences, if you don't just act like an adult. SMERCONISH: I'm limited on time. But one thing I'm taking away from this discussion is that you think better direction need be given to the traveling public to avoid the tension that builds and creates these circumstances.

NELSON: We have to be very clear in the instructions about what is expected of each traveler. And Secretary Mayorkas made that very clear, yesterday. FAA Administrator Steve Dickson has made that clear. The TSA has made that clear, and so has President Biden. Everybody needs to listen up. We need to repeat that messaging.

And let me just say this. No drinking alcohol in the airport. We need to pause alcohol sales in the airport and on the airplane. And everyone just needs to focus on getting along, wearing your mask, get vaccinated, and then come fly with us, and let's regain our freedom.

SMERCONISH: Sara Nelson, that was excellent. Thank you so much.

NELSON: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: We'll be right back.








SMERCONISH: Thank you for watching. I'll be back in this chair, in 11 hours. Join me tomorrow, and every Saturday morning, at 9 A.M. Eastern, for "SMERCONISH," right here, on CNN.

"DON LEMON TONIGHT" with Laura Coates sitting in starts right now.

Laura, the SiriusXM POTUS Channel takeover of CNN continues--