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President Biden: I Do Not Regret My Decision To End America's Warfighting In Afghanistan; Biden Defends Decision To Withdraw From Afghanistan: How Many More Lives, American Lives, Is It Worth?; Record Number Of Kids Hospitalized With COVID As Delta Surges. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired August 16, 2021 - 21:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: All right, thanks Coop.

I am Chris Cuomo. Welcome to PRIME TIME.


It's good to be back. Some of you reached out about my brother's situation. And I do have a note on that.

But first tonight, I want us to deal with the crisis that is coming at all of us.

This is Afghanistan, and it is a nightmare, innocent masses, begging America not to leave them to vicious extremism. But that is what is happening.

This picture is also making the rounds, proof of America saving hundreds on a U.S. C-17 cargo plane. But be clear. 640 men, women and children make for a good photograph. But this is not a good reality. This is a drop of humanity compared to the thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, who will now be subjected to a truly horrible fate.

People there are so scared they're willing to do this. So desperate, they would rather risk death, holding on to an American plane than face the certainty of oppression on the ground. Think about that. The reality is tragic.

The question for us is did it have to be this way? Was there a better alternative for America? Is this America's problem? Look, we know it's a political problem. The scenes are terrible for America's image. They're terrible for Biden's image.

But even the President gave a nod, that what we're seeing is the price of pulling out.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years, I've learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces. But I always promised the American people that I will be straight with

you. The truth is this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.

American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war, and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.

I am President of the United States of America, and the buck stops with me.

I'm deeply saddened by the facts we now face. But I do not regret my decision to end America's warfighting in Afghanistan, and maintain a laser-focus on our counterterrorism mission.

And it's the right one for America.


CUOMO: Is it? Did Biden have a plan to get our allies out, to rescue those who risked their lives, for American troops? Why didn't his plan call for leaving a small force, to keep the peace, to ward off any terrorist development? Doesn't not doing that invalidate the sacrifice of so much and so many?

Now, more importantly, well, more centrally, why didn't we ever have this debate? Why have we never had this discussion? Why didn't Biden bring this to the fore? Yes, we're in the middle of a pandemic, but they always say they can walk and chew gum at the same time. This is pretty big deal, right?

Now, one big reason that we've never hashed this out is because you've made it clear what you want. Roughly six in 10 of you said, in May, they back the decision to withdraw all our troops by September 11.

So, what do we do now? Here's my suggestion. Don't judge this exit in a vacuum. That would be a mistake. It's not as simple as Biden, botching the exit, or Trump pandering to you, the public, by foolishly making a deal with the Taliban, to exit.

America's 20-year war, if you want to call it that, has stretched through four administrations.

Now, you want to deal with the instant situation? Fine. We are here right now, because Biden carried forward with the Trump deal made with the Taliban, to exit, and didn't do it well. The pictures tell that story.

Mike Pompeo wound up cutting the deal with the Taliban, to leave, so no talk from him, about Biden cozying up to the bad guys. You made a deal with them. You met with the lead Taliban negotiator last year, after the Trump Administration had released him from prison.

So, again, enough with the noise, and the politics, and the blame. You made the deal, because the American people were in favor of getting out. But how you do it was always going to matter. And that's the difference between playing to a populace and leading one. So, the bigger question is whether or not this was inevitable. The Taliban has been re-establishing itself for years. And we know why. There is no real will among all the clans and tribes to submit to a single authority willingly.


They call Afghanistan, the place that is a "Graveyard of Empires" for a reason. It's not so much a place. It's a territory. And yes, it's a sovereign, but it's not a united people. It never was, probably never will be. And without the United States there, or some big muscles, the Taliban, or some other strong crew, was always going to take over.

So, you have to remember, judge this through the lens of why we were there. Remember, this was all about 9/11. In the beginning, the mission seemed simple. Bush took troops there to find the bastards who hit us at home.

You'll remember. It was called "Operation Enduring Freedom." President Bush launching it October 7, 2001, we all watched the missiles landing, less than a month after 9/11, to stop the Taliban, the guys that yes, Trump just negotiated with, from providing safe haven to al Qaeda.

Then, Bush went to Iraq with all that "Yellowcake" controversy, and what became seen as such a mistake, that getting out of Iraq, powered Barack Obama in the polls against John McCain.

But then Obama made the controversial decision to stick America's hand deeper into the hive.



BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would send two to three additional brigades to Afghanistan.

Now, keep in mind that we have four times the number of troops in Iraq, where nobody had anything to do with 9/11, before we went in, where in fact there was no al Qaeda before we went in. But we have four times more troops there than we do in Afghanistan. And that is a strategic mistake.


CUOMO: Now look, that was a good point, although it put him in a situation that we've been living ever since, which was to get deeper into Afghanistan. But, just so you understand, it was a Republican, and then a Democrat, who put us deep into Afghanistan after 9/11.

And we would spend over a trillion dollars, over 20 years, lose more than 2,400 fighting men and women, many, many more thousands injured, in that graveyard, looking to avenge 9/11, by getting bin Laden, and al Qaeda, the base. That's the reality. We were attacked by real bullets and bombs and bad guys. And I say

yes, I'm a journalist. But we're Americans. And we were hit. And I lived it that day, and I lost people I knew and cared about.

But while we've been on the ground fighting, in Afghanistan, they've been trying to beat an invisible enemy. Extremism covers the whole region in pockets. It would never be one place, one group, or one-time effort.

It was clear when I was there in 2009, hospitals filled with victims of extremism. Patrols could find the enemy everywhere, forward operating bases, in these wildernesses, filled with Tales of Terror. Everywhere, there was poverty, a lack of education there was an opportunity for extremism.

All that pain in Afghanistan was made more pointed, when it turned out the guy that America was hunting, Osama bin Laden was being hidden somewhere else. Bin Laden was found in Pakistan, 10 years later, less than a mile from the country's elite Military academy. Coincidence?

Look, the hunt for bin Laden revealed that there are people across the whole region that don't see good and bad, as America does, when it comes to terror.

In 2007, I went to Pakistan amid early suspicions that bin Laden and Co. were crossing in and out of that country with impunity. The President then, of Pakistan, was Pervez Musharraf, supposedly America's major ally in the region.

And yet, listen to how he spoke about this singular purpose that America had.



CUOMO: If you knew where Osama bin Laden was, would you go in and get him and turn him over to the United States?

PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, PRESIDENT OF PAKISTAN: Well, no, let's not go into the semantics, but we will get the target. Yes, indeed. Absolutely.

CUOMO: Even if it were Osama bin Laden?

MUSHARRAF: Absolutely.

CUOMO: And you would turn him over to the U.S.?

MUSHARRAF: Let's not talk about whether we will turn him over to the U.S. or we'll do something here?

CUOMO: It's a big question, you know, Mr. President.

MUSHARRAF: How will we behave with him? We'll treat him very well or we'll beat him up or something? Why get into that? CUOMO: But it's a big question certainly to the Americans. This is enemy number one for them. They want to know that their friend in Pakistan is on the same page, and that if he caught Osama bin Laden, he'd turn him over.

MUSHARRAF: I think the people who need to know, know it.


CUOMO: Yes. What we know is that he wound up being found in Pakistan. So what was the point? Look that was supposed to be our big ally in the region at the time, Pervez Musharraf, President of Pakistan.


It's that it's never been as simple as we've wanted it to be, back here at home, one place, looking for one face. Fighting terror means chasing an idea. It means poverty. It means religion. It means dealing with societies and clans. It's complicated.

And it moved, Taliban, al Qaeda, ISIS, now, Taliban again, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Levant across Syria, who knows where next? It's never been as simple as we wanted it to be. So, start tonight with clear eyes on how we got here.

And the reality is this. Now what? We were there for one reason, to stop another 9/11. And we did, until today. Think about that.

Back then, if you were old enough to have lived it, if someone had told you that they'd be able to stop that from ever happening again, it would have been hard to accept as anything, but fantastical thinking. And yet, there hasn't been another hit.

So, what does that mean about the time and the dedication? Does that mean it was worth nothing, when there wasn't another major attack here? I think the hardest question that has to be answered now is, are we as safe tonight, as we were six months ago, meaning before this pull-out?

Let's take that question to a better mind, who knows the reality, former CIA counterterror official, Phil Mudd. He was part of the diplomatic team that helped build a new Afghan Government, after 9/11.

Did I set it out right?


I think people are making this too simple because they see photos that you talked about in images that make them think of Vietnam. Chris, we've been there 20 years. It's not that simple. So, let's talk about it.

CUOMO: So, when you see this, people say, "Oh, this is horrible. This has been a complete failure. It's a disaster." What do you say?

MUDD: Well, they're asking the wrong question. It is horrible, because we're asking the question of whether the pull-out has gone smoothly. It hasn't.

And President Biden ought to answer questions about that, fundamentally different question about whether U.S. Military, CIA, and others, who lost their lives and served for 20 years, served successfully? I'd say they did.

I sat there, 20 years ago. It was really cold. It was raining, 20 years ago, when we raised the flag of the embassy.

The embassy was a time capsule Chris, 20 years ago, because we had left so quickly. I cleared a bird nest at the CIA office. There were still pinup calendars in 2001, because they'd left so quickly. There was a cigar and an ashtray. We raised the flag again.

And let me tell you two things. The mission we had was to ensure there would never be another catastrophic event. If you had told us 20 years later, there'd be fewer, fewer than 200 people killed, in international terror events, in America, over the next 20 years, we'd say "You're nuts."

If you'd asked a second and final question, the debate we'll have in 20 years is whether we were successful building a nation in Afghanistan, and that's the debate Americans will hinge their judgment on, I'd say, "You're nuts."

We did. Americans, the Military, the Agency, the State Department, the American people, who funded this, we did what we were told to do.

Enough with people saying this was a disaster. Chris, it was not.

CUOMO: We were there to stop another 9/11. So now, if we leave--

MUDD: Yes.

CUOMO: --the question is, are Americans as safe now as they were six months ago?

MUDD: They are not. But they're being told that this is a catastrophic event, an epic failure for America. It's not for a few basic reasons that I can tell you, as a counterterrorism professional.

We collect Intelligence that we could never have collected and collated 20 years ago, because we have a lot of people, a lot of money, a lot of technology and lot of focus.

We have a willingness in the Congress, at the White House, to act on that Intelligence, that is send a drone or a plane in and kill people. You could not have done that, 20 years ago, 21 years ago, ever.

We have partners, people like the Saudis, maybe even the Pakistanis, believe it or not, the Iranians, who are more focused on this than it would have been 21 years ago.

And one last thing, Americans won't like this, but it's a reality. We still have relationships with warlords, people who murder other people, but warlords who have the ability to collect Intelligence, to tell us where the foreigners are.

I'm not saying it's great. It's not. We're not as safe. But it's not a horror show. And the media characterizations of this, the pundits are wrong.

CUOMO: So, what is the most important thing to do next?

MUDD: To ensure that we have the capability to continue collecting information that identifies people, who want to attack a city in America.

The question is can we keep an American family safe? It is not, can we ensure that a capital, Kabul, halfway around the world, is safe? It's going to be a humanitarian disaster.


If we're supposed to be responsible for every humanitarian disaster, we should move into Yemen. We should move into famine areas, in Africa. We should move into North Korea. We have to collect Intelligence and act on it, with partners, to stop a catastrophic event. That's what we got to do, Chris.

CUOMO: Phil Mudd, thank you for your service to the country. Thank you for the perspective on where we were, and where we are today. Appreciate you.

MUDD: Thanks, Chris.

CUOMO: All right. Look, there's no doubt that this is a bad-looking botched situation. And the President, and his team, they'll say, "Well, this went badly faster than we thought." It's like a line out of a bad movie. But it is reality, and it looks bad.

Let's bring in Fareed Zakaria to talk about the sobering realities, where the White House is right, and where it is wrong. Next.









CUOMO: The images of armed Taliban fighters, patrolling the streets, are disturbing. This doesn't look like victory. And it's a long way from what you were promised.

Remember this?


TEXT: DECEMBER 15, 2008.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a strategic interest and, I believe, a moral interest, in a prosperous and peaceful democratic Afghanistan.

TEXT: JUNE 6, 2009.

OBAMA: More peaceful and democratic Afghanistan.

TEXT: JUNE 19, 2013.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Peaceful, democratic and unified Afghanistan.


CUOMO: Not peaceful, not really democratic. That's the reality.

Let's bring in Fareed Zakaria to help us see the whole picture.

And look, as we both know, brother, you've been mentoring me on this, for years. It is no coincidence, that administration after administration echoes the same rhetoric. Now, you could say, "Hey, there hasn't been another 9/11. Thank God! That's a win."

How do you see it?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: Well, I think that's a very important win. That was the original purpose for going in.

And in fact, the Taliban has not sponsored or participated in any international terrorist activity. They've done a lot of terrorism in Afghanistan. But over the last 20 years, all the stuff you've seen in Paris, and London, and New York? That has not been the Taliban.

But you put your finger on it, Chris. We kept saying to ourselves, that this was a peaceful and democratic country.

Well, here's the reality. In 2017, this is when Trump comes into office, half of the population of Afghanistan lived in an area that was either controlled by the Taliban, or was contested between the government and Taliban forces. That's the peaceful part.

Democratic, the last election that Ashraf Ghani sort of won, 1.8 million Afghans took part. This is a country of 39 million people.

So, it wasn't really peaceful or democratic. The Taliban had been making advances, really, for 10 years.

I guess, the best, simplest way to put it is, Chris, we had lost the war in Afghanistan, if by war, you mean, our effort to defeat the Taliban. We had failed. The Taliban was resurgent.

What Joe Biden did was he pulled the bandage off, and he pulled the veil off from the failure. When you do that, it's very messy. And he screwed up the withdrawal, no question about it. But the truth is there's no elegant way to lose a war.

CUOMO: Do you think he gets what went wrong here?

ZAKARIA: My experience of when you talk to people in government at that level, when they've had those many pressures on them, they get very defensive. And they believe there are - so I don't think he's putting on an act.

I think they believe that they did the right thing that the choices were horrible. But there's no question in my mind, this was botched. This was poorly planned, poorly executed.

Look, if you had decided you were going to leave, first of all, you should have made contingency planning for everything, a rapid collapse or slow collapse.

And one would have thought what you would do at that point is say, "We're going to build up forces, so that we can have control of what we know we are going to need to do," which is evacuate people.

CUOMO: Right.

ZAKARIA: Which means sending forces to the airport, secure the airport, make a list of all the Americans and Afghans, who need to be up, process their visas, in advance, get them all cleared, make it - make it so that if this has to be done in two days, or three days, we can do it, have the flights, the planes ready all that.

Instead, it does feel like, understandable that the whole thing collapsed much faster than anyone expected. And that itself is something we should talk about. But to have not made contingency plans for that, and do not have a--

CUOMO: Right.

ZAKARIA: The evacuation part is the most important thing. And if he can still get that right, Chris, if eventually he manages to get out, not just the Americans, but the thousands, tens of thousands of Afghans, who worked--

CUOMO: But how do you do that, Fareed?

You know you got these guys on the ground now, who are going to be hunting them. They say it's going to be gradual, the Taliban commander, we've never seen that. They have been making encroachments everywhere they can, for years, as you pointed out earlier. I really believe that we've got to discount the talk. "Hey, yes, we're going to try and get them out." They're being hunted right now, in the middle of the night, in Afghanistan. You and I both know it.

So, the question becomes like, what is next for them, but also for Americans and their safety?

ZAKARIA: Well, I think most Americans are secure. But I think that - I may be wrong about that. But the reporting I've seen suggests that most Americans are secure.


The issue is the Afghans, who have worked for the Americans, who have supported the Americans. I think there should be a huge moral, political, strategic cause.

Look, the Taliban has not attacked Americans. It has not attacked American forces. And so, maybe there is a way to explain to the Taliban, "You let us get out the people, who worked with us. And we will honor this deal."

CUOMO: Do you think you can get that done?

ZAKARIA: "But if you don't?"

CUOMO: That deal done here, though Fareed?

I mean, because, unfortunately, it seems that these people, even though they put their lives on the line, they're getting caught up in what I call the "Brown Menace," which is this Trumper right-wing fear of "People coming into the country from Central and South America."

These people seem to be getting swept up into that xenophobia. "We don't want them here."

ZAKARIA: Oh, yes. Stephen Miller's response, one of Trump's closest aides, Stephen Miller's response to the collapse of Afghanistan, the fall of Kabul, the takeover of the Taliban was "Look at Biden, he's trying to - he's trying to get Brown people to come into the country." It's sickening, and it's pathetic.

Look, Joe Biden has done something brave. It has not gone well, in terms of its tactical implementation. Here's an opportunity to do something brave, that is the right thing to do that will go down well in history.

When we took in the Vietnamese boat people, it was not popular. We took in 1.5 million boat people. They turned out to be some of the most amazingly productive immigrants in America, amazingly successful. It is one of the things that we can be proudest off in that whole sorry episode of Vietnam.

CUOMO: And if we don't keep our--

ZAKARIA: This is an opportunity to do something like that. CUOMO: And if America doesn't keep her word, to these people, we've lived this before, that's why Pervez Musharraf, someone you know, well, that's why he was so slow on trusting America, because America has left before, and left people behind, in extreme need. We'll see if we learn the lessons of the past.

Fareed, thank you very much for setting the table of context for us, as always, brilliant, and a gift to the audience. Appreciate you.

ZAKARIA: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: Now, this part of this that you can't ignore, we lost so much in America, in our commitment to Afghanistan. So many lives were changed forever. So many people, who put it all on the line for us, never came home, or if they did, they're different.

And I want to bring in my friend, after the break, P.J. Rieckhoff. He came back home, and he did everything he could, to help the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans.

And he was there. He knows the situation. And he has to speak to that because we have to remember what the commitment was, and how those men and women feel about this, matters, next.










BIDEN: So I'm left again to ask of those who argue that we should stay: How many more generations of America's daughters and sons would you have me send to fight Afghan's - Afghanistan's civil war when Afghan troops will not?

How many more lives, American lives, is it worth? How many endless rows of headstones at Arlington National Cemetery?


CUOMO: The price of blood, let alone treasure, is not in dispute. It's about what this move now means to all that has been expended in the effort to this point. Let's discuss that with a veteran, put his life on the line, for this

country, in Iraq, the Founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, P.J. Paul Rieckhoff.

It's good to see you, brother.


CUOMO: What did you make of the withdrawal and Biden's handling of it?

RIECKHOFF: The withdrawal is something I supported, Chris. I think most of America supported, and most veterans supported. But the withdrawal has been a catastrophic failure.

Getting out of any Military operation is always the most dangerous part. And the Biden administration has let us down, has let the Afghan people down, and has let the world down. It didn't have to go down like this.

I don't support staying forever. But that's not what this is about anymore. Today's speech from the President was more about making his case for withdrawal, and explaining the last 20 years. And it was about recognizing the tragic, devastating reality, on the ground right now, and explaining what the heck are we going to do next?

Failing to plan is planning to fail. And it's clear that the President did not have an adequate plan to withdraw from Afghanistan. So, the question now, what is he going to do, right now, to try to stabilize that situation?

And most of all, as you've discussed, to get out as many as 80,000 or 100,000 of our allies, who stood up with us, and put their lives on the line, who are connected to millions of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans, around this country, and are right now being left to slaughter?

He didn't answer that question right now. And that's the question America needs answered immediately.

CUOMO: But P.J., can he? I mean, look, you were on the ground in Iraq. But the situations are very similar. And you've heard so many stories of people, who were there.

And not being there in force anymore, and the Taliban, as everybody should know, is really a predatory group, what's the chance of getting out that many people?

RIECKHOFF: Well, we need to find out. We need to give it every effort that we possibly can.

We haven't really given a good effort yet. I mean, he announced the withdrawal, back in April. And back then, Iraq and Afghanistan Vets, a bipartisan coalition of Congress, pushed him to lay out a comprehensive plan to save our allies. He didn't do it. And even now, they don't have a place to send them. They're playing

this game of Mother Mae-Eye. Maybe they'll send them to Kazakhstan. Maybe they'll send a couple to--

CUOMO: Well, do they have buy-in from Congress? Do you think that this is Left and Right, ceding the way to reasonable?

RIECKHOFF: I do. I do. I think this--

CUOMO: To get these people in?

RIECKHOFF: I do. I think this part of it is actually very popular. And that's where Biden's got a blind spot here. We're not talking about whether or not to withdraw.

We're talking about whether or not to get people out, who are going to get slaughtered. And that's what's on our hands right now. And that's what's really wrecking so many Afghanistan Vets, across this country, in it right now.

If you look at my cell phone, Matt Zeller's, so many other people that have been in the media, for the last couple of weeks, we're getting messages from friends, inside Afghanistan, saying "Where do I go? What do I do?"


And Afghan veterans, here at home, American Afghanistan veterans, who say, "How do I get my friends out? Where do I send them?"

There's developed kind of an underground railroad, since 9/11, for Iraq interpreters, and Afghanistan interpreters.

And this is not just a Military breakdown. This is a bureaucratic breakdown, Chris. I've described it as the DMV line from hell. And if you don't get to the front of the line, you die. That's what's happening in Kabul, right now, and it's what the President needs to address, and save as many as we can.

We can't unwind the last 20 years, but we can save as many as possible, who may come back here, and go on to thrive. And we'll send a message to our future allies, that signing on with America is something we will honor.

If we don't honor these people now, and honor that sacred obligation, who's going to stand up with us if we need someone to fight Russia, or North Korea, or an enemy down the line? It's not going to happen.

CUOMO: For all the optics, and all the ugliness, right now, I hope that Veterans understand, especially if they were in theater, they are in any of the attendant conflicts in theaters, that the idea that we didn't have another major attack on our soil, from Islamic extremists, after 9/11, is the success, is an unprecedented, and nobody - I mean you and I are old enough to have been there.

We would have never believed that men like you, and the men and women, who served in Afghanistan, would keep us as safe as we've been all along. And that is a victory. That could have never been imagined at the time of 9/11.

So please, spread the word to the brothers and sisters that their sacrifice is always appreciated. We would not be who we are today without them.

P.J. Rieckhoff, thank you for your service and your perspective.

RIECKHOFF: Thanks, Chris.

CUOMO: All right, we got trouble abroad. We got trouble at home. OK? We turn the show into the COVID Command Center, because we knew what was coming, OK? And yes, the numbers are getting scarier and scarier. But it's not just how much. It's where.

We are not going to get school right, at this rate. These fights about masks or not masks, they are distracting us from having the right kinds of planning community-by-community, to figure out what to do.

We have a new record for kids in the hospital. And the worst of it is again happening in Republican states, where governors are blocking mask mandates. How do we get to a better place?

The former Trump White House COVID Czar, for Testing, here, next.









CUOMO: Hospitalized kids, is a problem, especially as we're just starting to head back to school. 1,900 kids in hospital beds, with COVID, over the weekend. There are few signs that this surge is going to subside anytime soon.

Remember, even if everybody were getting immunized, vaccinated, you're still not going to have immunity right away. This is going to go on for weeks, at a minimum.

High transmission rates still plague most of the country. The top doctor at the NIH says he does expect things to get worse.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: So, I will be surprised if we don't cross 200,000 cases a day, in the next couple of weeks. And that's heartbreaking, considering we never thought we would be back in that space again.


CUOMO: It's no wonder why, when you look at places like Texas, and Florida, the two states lead the nation in new hospitalizations, accounting for 40 percent of the nation's numbers.

Recent headlines show where state leaders are placing their priorities, waging war with local counties and schools, over masks, rather than fighting the real enemy, which is the virus.

Retired Admiral Brett Giroir, the COVID Testing Czar, under President Trump, joins me now.

Good to see you, sir.


CUOMO: Am I missing something about the Abbott and DeSantis fights with local communities, and threats about what they'll do, if they try to put in masks, after they've been told not to? I mean, what is the basis for this kind of resistance to masks, if not political?

GIROIR: Well, I want to highlight something that Francis Collins said. He said, pretty soon, we'll be over 200,000 cases.

Because, our testing has gone down, we're only detecting one out of every four. So, the reality is about 500,000 people every day, get COVID in the United States.

Last week, we had 125,000 children, and 1,100 of them put in hospitals. And only 23 states in New York City actually report the number of children in hospitals. So, Texas and Florida, where the cases are so high, we have no idea the numbers of children in hospitals.

And it's not just Red states. It's the same as true for Oregon and Illinois and Michigan. So, talking about flying blind relative to children, we need better data. And that's got to be the basis for action.

CUOMO: But what do you say to the families in local communities, kids are getting ready to back to school?

They're in states, Florida, Texas, and they're hearing their leaders say, "You get to decide the mask thing. Nobody can tell you. We don't even know that they work that well. They'll never be mandated here."

What do you say? GIROIR: So, let me start with the public health. The public health says, and we don't know how few masks we can get away with, in schools, but we have a raging pandemic.

And we do know with good data that if children wear masks in school, they can be safe. They could be - actually be safer, than in the community. And I've been vocal about this.

Look, I like these governors, a lot of things they do. But I do believe local communities need to make the decision. There are local communities, where mask mandates can be very helpful. There are probably local communities, where there could be harmful. And I believe the parents and the local community should be making that decision.


But the data show right now that masking in for children is a very reasonable public health measure. It shouldn't be for months. It shouldn't be forever.

But right now, when people are coming back in, masking is a reasonable public health step. I support it, and encourage parents to encourage their children to do it.

CUOMO: There is no data that masks can hurt, right?

GIROIR: Well, it is a question, right?

There are issues. That's why the WHO recommends that children under 5, don't wear a mask, under any circumstances, and that, children between 6 and 11, only in circumstances of high transmission.

So, there is some concern, right, about social and emotional development. There's concerned about skin problems. That's why I'm saying we should do this over the short-term, find the data.

Because clearly, we know that 1,100 children a week being put in the hospital, even though children are at much lower risk, you are going to see childhood mortality. And we're seeing anecdotal reports of this. So, why not be safe?

Masks are not perfect. Even the CDC says it only provides you about 25 percent protection from getting, 50 percent chance for spreading. But if I can improve my kids' chances by 75 percent--

CUOMO: Right.

GIROIR: --I'm going to do that.

CUOMO: Right. I'm saying there's no science that says you're more likely to get sick, if you have a mask.

I want you to hear what we--

GIROIR: That's true. CUOMO: Right, of course. But I'm saying sometimes people suggest otherwise, which is just crazy.

I want you to listen to Dr. Osterholm, from Sunday, on NBC, and a point he made that I think is very relevant.


MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH & POLICY, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: If even everyone got vaccinated today, this surge would go on, as it is right now, for the next 4 weeks to 6 weeks, because these people would not yet have immunity. So what they can do today though is mask. But get effective masks.


CUOMO: How do we get people to just see a mask as a mask, again, and not some kind of capitulation to the man, or to some opposing political force?

GIROIR: Well, I think both sides need to get off the political agenda, and understand that a mask is not a - is not a symbol of courage. And it's not a silver bullet. It's something that helps.

And right now, when we have - we'll soon have over 1,000 Americans dying again per day. That's going to happen in the next week or two weeks.

500,000 cases, that means 50,000 to 100,000, Americans will get long COVID, meaning for months, they'll be in pain, they'll be fatigued, they'll have brain fog, because their memory centers in their brain shrink. We know that.

So, it's not perfect. But it is, to the best of our public health knowledge, as a short-term measure, until we get herd immunity, it's really helpful, and I urge everyone to do it.

Even those who were vaccinated, I think the data are still unclear, whether vaccinated people, if they get COVID, can spread it. We need that from the CDC. CDC needs to follow-up. But right now, with inadequate data, it's the safest thing that we can do.

CUOMO: I just keep thinking to myself, I just want to keep living my life. And if I'm able to do that with a mask, and it doesn't start limiting where I can go, and what I can do, I'll take the trade.

Admiral Brett Giroir, thank you very much. We'll continue the conversation. I appreciate you. Thank you.

GIROIR: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right, we'll be right back.








CUOMO: Before we wrap up tonight, there's one more thing I do want to say, about me, my brother, my family, and you.

First, thank you. Thank you for reaching out. I appreciate the concern and the support. I really do.

My brother, as you know, resigned, as Governor of New York, and will be stepping down next week.

There are a lot of people feeling a lot of hurt, and a lot of pain right now. And my hope is that ultimately everyone involved can get to a better place that some higher good will be served in all this.

As for me, I've told you, it's never easy being in this business, and coming from a political family, especially now. This situation is unlike anything I could have imagined. And yet, I know what matters at work, and at home.

Everyone knows you support your family. I know and appreciate that you get that. But you should also know I never covered my brother's troubles, because I obviously have a conflict. And there are rules, at CNN, about that.

I said last year that his appearances on this show would be short- lived. And they were. The last was over a year ago, long before any kind of scandal.

I also said back then that a day would come, when he would have to be held to account, and I can't do that. I said point-blank, I can't be objective when it comes to my family. So, I never reported on the scandal.

And when it happened, I tried to be there for my brother. I'm not an adviser. I'm a brother. I wasn't in control of anything. I was there to listen and offer my take.

And my advice to my brother was simple and consistent. "Own what you did. Tell people what you'll do to be better. Be contrite. And finally, accept that it doesn't matter what you intended. What matters is how your actions and words were perceived."

And yes, while it was something I never imagined ever having to do I did urge my brother, to resign, when the time came. There are stories and critics saying all kinds of things about me,

many, unsupported. But know this. My position has never changed. I never misled anyone about the information I was delivering, or not delivering, on this program.

I never attacked nor encouraged anyone, to attack any woman, who came forward. I never made calls to the press about my brother's situation. I never influenced or attempted to control CNN's coverage of my family.


And as you know, back in May, when I was told to no longer communicate with my brother's aides, in group meetings, I acknowledged it was a mistake. I apologize to my colleagues. And I stopped. And I meant it.

It was a unique situation, being a brother to a politician, and a scandal, and being part of the media. I tried to do the right thing. And I just want you all to know that.

As I've said, we have rules, here at CNN that prevent me from reporting on my brother. They remain in place, and will continue to.

Tonight, I simply wanted to address something that given what's happened, I just felt it needed to be said. This will be my final word on it. And I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to do so.

Let's take a break. We'll be right back.








CUOMO: Thanks for being with us tonight. It's time for the big show, "DON LEMON TONIGHT" with its big star, Don Lemon.

I'll tell you, the pictures look bad.


CUOMO: There's no question about it.

LEMON: Wait, hold on. Hold on. Hold on. Hold on.