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Cuomo Prime Time

U.S. Ramps Up Efforts To Get Americans & Afghan Allies Out; U.S. Military In Direct Communication With The Taliban; Bomb Threat & Standoff Near U.S. Capitol. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired August 19, 2021 - 21:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: The news continues. Let's hand it over to Chris for "CUOMO PRIME TIME." Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: All right, thank you, Anderson.

I am Chris Cuomo and welcome to PRIME TIME.

Here's the good news. The Administration is now on message. All Americans must be evacuated from Afghanistan. But can they make it happen? That question looms as we are learning more about the truth. And the truth is this chaos was not inevitable.

Our Secretary of State was warned by his own people, on the ground, in Kabul, of possible catastrophe in Afghanistan. When was he warned? A month ago. A month ago, he was urged to take swift action to get the Afghans, who've been helping us, out of the country.

CNN has learned about the classified cable to Tony Blinken, signed by more than a dozen U.S. diplomats, in mid-July, which laid out how the State Department could speed up the process of Afghans applying for SIV or refugee status, because they knew Afghanistan was falling fast. Again, they knew Afghanistan was falling fast.

According to Department officials, those diplomats now feel their warnings were ignored. Now, what is the key here? The key is to get better results. But part of that is being straight about where we are, and how we got here.

Yes, there is also a rush to judgment about what's happening there. People are already concluding that it's over that this is a failure. We don't know that yet. It is premature to judge. But the sooner the Administration shows it can get more people out, the sooner, the naysayers will have to shut up.

But be clear, the situation on the ground is getting worse.





CUOMO: This is how the Taliban does things. That is open fire on crowds that aren't doing what they want them to do.

The biggest challenge on the ground for the United States' mission is reach. Listen.


NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: At this point, we don't have the resources to go beyond the airport compound.

ARMY MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM D. "HANK" TAYLOR, DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF THE JOINT STAFF FOR REGIONAL OPERATIONS: At this time, as I said, our main mission continues to be to secure HKIA, to allow those American citizens, and other SIVs, to come in, and be processed, at the airfield.


CUOMO: Again, that may be true. But it can't mean that everyone outside the airport is abandoned. That is unacceptable. So, what is being done? We hear that they are negotiating directly with the Taliban.

Well, what's happening? I don't think - yes, you can say "Look, we don't want to tell you about the ongoing negotiations. It will mess it up." OK. But you need to tell Americans more than you are right now about how you're going to make things better.

The Biden administration must make this a have-to situation, not what we heard today about hope.


JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We believe that we will soon begin to see an opening up of the aperture. And we're hopeful that that means a more consistent increase in the flow.


CUOMO: I don't even know what that means, exactly. "A more opening of the aperture and more hope for the consistent flow," what is that?

The Pentagon says there's still no decision to extend operations through the August 31st deadline, even though President Biden suggested there is a possibility.

Our military said its goal was to evacuate between 5,000 and 9,000 a day. Now, this you have to pay attention to. It is not meeting that goal, OK? It's at about 7,000 in the last five days.

Now, there are dreams coming true here. Let's be clear. People are getting out. This little girl is among those who made it out, draped in a jacket of an American soldier, to help her sleep, on one of the evacuation flights. Look, this is who we are. This is America at her best.

And we know this isn't about the men and women on the ground. We know they're doing their damnedest. We know that they're all about doing the job and overcoming their predicament. We know they care about these people. You're hearing it from veterans all the time, their desperation about this. This isn't about them. This is about the planners.

Can this get better? And if so, what does that look like?

We have the perfect guest, former Chief Counterterrorism Adviser, on the National Security Council, Richard Clarke.

Dick, it's good to see you. Thank you for helping us again tonight. Judge what you're seeing and hearing.



And right now, let's just state the obvious. The people who decide how many Americans get out, and how many former employees of the United States get out, the people who decide that are the Taliban.

The General that you showed earlier said in his press conference today, "We do not have the military capability, to go into the city, and get people and bring them out." So, the people we are allowed to fly out are the people the Taliban is willing to let us have.

And how did we allow ourselves to be painted into that kind of corner? We are the greatest power in the world that's got the largest military, and had spent trillions of dollars on its military, is at the mercy of the Taliban, to decide who we are allowed to rescue?

What did they think was going to happen? The Administration says, "Well, we examined all sorts of scenarios. We had a plan for every scenario." You had a plan for this? What was your plan? Your plan was to let the Taliban decide who gets out?

CUOMO: Well, they say, "It collapsed faster than we thought. We thought there'd still be government infrastructure." But they still didn't have the manpower on the ground. But I guess they were assuming the Afghan government would fill in the gaps.

But where does that leave us? Does the - does America have leverage, Dick, in terms of dealing with the Taliban?

CLARKE: It's hard to imagine what leverage we have other than saying we'll give them money.

We have a lot of Afghan assets. We have probably billions of dollars that belong to the Afghan government, locked away in the Treasury somewhere. But it would be disgusting, I think, to the American people, to think that we would pay to get our people out.

And aside from paying, I don't know what leverage we have. What are we going to do? Bomb them again, you know? We bombed them for 20 years. I don't think that scares them anymore. I don't think we have much leverage.

And what leverage do we have over what happens to the 5,000 terrorists that they let loose, out of the prison, in Bagram? None. We have no leverage about what happens to them? Do they go back to being part of al Qaeda? Do they get back to their home countries, and start terrorist activities there?

The point is, if it is true, that they looked at every possibility, and they had a plan for every possibility, then they found this situation acceptable. And that's not acceptable.

It's damaging our reputation, as a country. Our Allies all around the world, and our enemies, are looking at us as a greatly diminished power, because we weren't able to carry this off properly.

CUOMO: But if you're in there right now--

CLARKE: The process--

CUOMO: --obviously, they can't have it. Or am I wrong? I can't believe that the American government, the Biden administration, would carry the stain of having abandoned Americans in Afghanistan.

CLARKE: Well, they don't want to. And they're saying they'll stay there as long as possible to get them all out.

But they haven't explained how are they going to deal with the fact that it's the Taliban, who decides who gets out, not the United States. There's no answer, been given to that. And I can't imagine what the answer is, because I don't know how you change that situation.

CUOMO: Now, you mentioned the 5,000 people that the Taliban let out, that are assumed to be bad guys, who wanted to do bad things. That plays into the other question.

Now that you're not in Afghanistan, and you've had 20 years of no repeat of a 9/11-scale event, how does America get kept as safe, without the presence there, as we were with the presence there?

CLARKE: Well, the answer is it doesn't. And the CIA Director was pretty clear about that, about six weeks ago, before the Congress, when he said, "If we get out, we will have less capability to know what is going on, to know what terrorist cells are there, to know what they're planning, and frankly, to be able to stop them."

We will have less capability. They talk about having an over-the- horizon capability. Well, I had that in the 1990s. And let me tell you that was not very satisfactory.

If we go back to having an over-the-horizon capability, again, with no Intelligence assets, and no military assets, in the country, which is where we are, we're not going to know. We're not going to know when the terrorist group is plotting another attack on the U.S.

CUOMO: So, we're going to have to hear that plan from them also, about how they deal with that.

And then, you have what we saw today, in front of the Library of Congress. I don't, you know, we don't really understand yet, Dick, what this guy's deal was, why he was there, if he just is emotionally or mentally unstable, or whatever.

But is part of assessing the threat, that there's so much anger about what's happening in Afghanistan, that it can provoke not just lone wolves in cells that are sympathetic to the Taliban, or to terror, here, but to white supremacist and insurrectionist types?


CLARKE: Well, it does convey to everybody, including the insurrectionist types, in their own country, that the United States government is not competent.

And the incident today was just a mentally-disturbed person that what it shows you once again, and we've seen this three times, or four times, in Washington, is that one mentally-disturbed person saying he has a bomb, can shut down the city.

You've seen this happen before. It happened at the Washington Monument. Happens all the time, frankly. It's every other year we have something like this.

But I think the issue that you are pointing to, is that everybody, when they think about, "Oh, what will the U.S. government do to stop me?" they're going to think "The U.S. government can't do anything right."

CUOMO: Well look, it's certainly we need better answers. And that's why I need you for the audience, Richard, so people understand the questions that have to be answered. So, thank you very much for your analysis. I appreciate you, as always.

CLARKE: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: All right, be well.

So, that's pretty depressing, you know? But I'd rather you hear it straight, OK?

And I'd rather talk about it this way, and provoking the questions that play to getting the Americans out, and what keeps us safe, than just, the political blame, and the Trump, and the Biden, and the Bush, and the Obama, because you go on with that forever, and meanwhile, the Americans are trapped there.

I say deal with the instant circumstance, and the immediate ramification, not play politics. So, you're talking to the Taliban. Does that sound good to you? It doesn't, to me.

We got a great guest tonight, someone who was inside the negotiations with the Taliban, on President Trump's watch. What does she think about the idea that we are working with the Taliban right now? Will that work? And how did we get here? Next.









CUOMO: The Defense Department tells us that Admiral Peter Vasely, the top U.S. Commander in Kabul is in direct communication with the Taliban, trying to ensure security at the airport.

My question is can you make a deal with these guys? Let's ask someone, who's been in the room with them.

Lisa Curtis is the former National Security Council Senior Director for South and Central Asia. And she was part of the Trump administration's negotiations with the Taliban, about this exit.

Thank you very much for your service. And thank you for taking the opportunity tonight.


CUOMO: So, let's deal with the "Now," and then the "How we got here."

The idea that they're negotiating with the Taliban, do you believe that the United States can make a deal to get the Americans out in the current conditions?

CURTIS: Well, I think it's absolutely necessary, that our military leadership is talking with the Taliban, about getting American citizens out of Afghanistan, as well as, all of those Afghans that have partnered with us over the last 20 years. That's absolutely essential.

So, we really have no choice now. The Taliban has taken over the country. We may control the airport. But we don't control the perimeter of the airport, and the corridors coming into the airport. So, it's absolutely necessary.

There are still thousands of Americans, thousands of Afghans that need to get from their homes to the airport. And to do that safely, we have to implore the Taliban, to allow that to happen. So yes, I think it's important that's being done.

CUOMO: All right, so I get it. But help me with this part.

You say, "Implore the Taliban."

They say "No. Get out. We gave you a window. Bye."

Now, what do you do? What's the leverage? Like how do you make them do anything they don't want to do, unless you're willing to put the military might on them?

CURTIS: Well, I think the Taliban is interested in trying to gain international legitimacy.

Look, they now have to run a country. They have to run an economy. They're going to need international assistance. So, they are motivated, I think, to try to maintain that legitimacy, and try to have decent relations with other countries.

So, you can make the argument that they will want to see not bloodshed. They want to see these people get out safely. So, I think there is an argument to be made, that they would want this to go as smoothly as possible.

CUOMO: Now, how we got here. You were in the room where it happened, in terms of negotiating with the Taliban, in Doha, with the Trump administration.

First, was that the right move, negotiating with a terrorist insurgent force, in that country? Was that the right thing for the Trump administration to do?

CURTIS: Well, I think it wasn't wrong to try. And in 2018, the decision was made that the U.S. would engage directly with the Taliban.

The Taliban refused to engage with the Afghan government. They didn't want to grant them legitimacy. So the U.S. made the decision - U.S. decided we're never going to be able to get off the ground any kind of peace talks unless we try.

The problem was how the Doha agreement was negotiated during the Trump administration. It turned out to be a very weak agreement. It undermined the Ghani government.

For instance, the Ghani government was forced to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners, even before the Taliban agreed to sit down with the government. Those 5,000 Taliban prisoners probably contributed to the military campaign we've seen over the last few weeks.

[21:20:00] The second problem was not much was demanded of the Taliban on the counterterrorism front. At the very least, the U.S. should have demanded that the Taliban break ties to al Qaeda, and eject al Qaeda from Afghanistan. That was the whole reason we had gone into the Country.

Instead, the agreement committed the Taliban to not allowing al Qaeda to threaten the United States.

Well, what if al Qaeda doesn't ask permission?

CUOMO: Right.

CURTIS: Before attacking the United States? It was a big loophole.

And unfortunately, I think the agreement weakened the Ghani government. And so, it was a contributing factor. It wasn't the only factor that has led us to this calamity. But it was a major one.

CUOMO: Is it also true that weak as it may be, as you describe it, that there were conditions that the Taliban was supposed to meet, about where it was, and where it wasn't, in order for the United States to pull back its troops? And that those conditions weren't met, and that the United States pulled out its forces anyway?

CURTIS: Well, there really weren't many conditions on the Taliban. Really, the only thing the U.S. got out of the agreement was for the Taliban, not to shoot U.S. forces, on their way out of the country.

The agreement did not get us a peace process. And it did not get a break between the Taliban and al Qaeda. So, it didn't help us with our terrorism, counterterrorism interests, either. So, there really were very few conditions.

There are these classified, secret annexes to the agreement, which doesn't even really make sense, because then how can you keep the group accountable, if they're not public, if the requirements aren't public?

CUOMO: As Senior Director, and understanding the region so well, did you let all of these obvious problems be known to the negotiators? I mean, why was this, allowed to stand this way, with good minds like yours at the table?

CURTIS: Well, there were several people, who thought the agreement should have been tougher, that we should have extracted more concessions from the Taliban, and not pull the rug out from under the Ghani government, the way it was done. But unfortunately, those voices didn't carry the day, in the end.

But I also want to say this. The Biden administration had an opportunity to withdraw from the agreement. They could have reevaluated it, renegotiated it, taken a different path, on Afghanistan. But the Biden administration chose to stick with it. So yes, this is why we are where we are. Now, it's also true, that the pullout was extremely abrupt. We pulled out 16,000 contractors all at once. These are contractors that helped maintain the equipment for the Afghans. They helped keep the air assets in the air.

So, we literally pulled the rug out from under the Afghans. And we sort of played into the Taliban strategy.

CUOMO: Jesus!

CURTIS: On the one hand, they're gaining legitimacy from this "Pretend peace" process. At the same time, they're making military advances on the ground.

CUOMO: Now you got to hope that--

CURTIS: You had--

CUOMO: --pulling out all those contractors, hopefully, the equipment won't work that long, because the Taliban is going to probably wind up being in possession of all of it.

How come there was never any discussion about, "Hey, by the way? When we're pulling out, we're going to get all our people out, and all our Allies, and you're not going to do anything, until we're done with that." Why wasn't that on the table?

CURTIS: Well, look, I think that - you know that our military did not want a complete drawdown of U.S. forces. Secretary Austin, General Milley, they were advising the President to keep a small counterterrorism presence, on the ground.

And so, when the decision was made by the President, to withdraw forces, in mid-April, everything happened very quickly. And I think things just got ahead of planning.

And unfortunately, nobody, I don't care what anybody says, nobody expected the Taliban to be able to collapse the country, and take over, in 10 days' time. If you look at the time, from when the first provincial capital fell, on August 6th, less than 10 days later, the entire country had fallen to the Taliban. Nobody predicted that.

So yes, the Biden administration is behind the curve, in getting U.S. citizens out, in getting Afghans out. But we do have a chance to redeem ourselves. And that is by committing the resources, taking the time, staying there, at the airport, until we get all the Afghans and U.S. citizens out that we can.

It's our moral responsibility to relocate as many Afghans as possible. These are people, who worked with us, on our mission. They believed in our mission. They now have targets on their back. And it's our responsibility to relocate them--

CUOMO: Well.

CURTIS: --out of the country. [21:25:00]

CUOMO: I'll tell you what. I mean, look, we have news today that there was a State Department assessment sent to Secretary of State, Blinken, back in July that they believed this was going to go ugly early.

So, the timing on when they knew that the Taliban - look, we both know that the Taliban, have been making these encroachments, for like 18 months, 24 months now. So, it's not like they just came out of nowhere. But I take your point about this extreme period of movement.

Here's my concern. And just give me a yes/no on this.

Do you believe there's a real chance that the Taliban will say, "No. You've gotten enough. We hear that you have 4,000, 5,000 of your citizens here. We're not letting you get them," and that the United States is forced to take military action to get them out?

CURTIS: I really don't see that happening. Again, I think the Taliban recognizes they've got to run a country now. They're going to need international assistance. They're going to want diplomatic recognition.

We already see them going on this "Charm offensive," where the Taliban spokesman, on Tuesday, promised that girls would be able to go to school, women would be able to go to university, that they wouldn't engage in reprisal killings against former government officials.

Now, that may be all talk. We have to judge them by their actions, not by what they're saying. But I do believe that they understand that they need international assistance. And they are not going to - they don't want to jeopardize that, especially so early, early on, after taking control of the country.

And so, I do think we have a window, to get our people out, to get Afghans out. But we're going to have to push out the perimeter of security. We are going to have to make sure that we can protect people, as they're coming into the airport.

So, all of this is being negotiated, as we speak. And I was glad to hear that President Biden is probably willing to extend the deadline for getting all of our troops out, beyond August 31st.

CUOMO: Right.

CURTIS: Because we may need it. It may take more time.

CUOMO: Yes. And at some point, United States has to be dictating the terms for its own people.

Lisa Curtis, thank you so much, for taking us inside the room, helping us understand, how we got here, and where we may go from here. Thank you.

CURTIS: Yes. CUOMO: All right. So many heroes, who've helped protect us, are stuck in Afghanistan right now, citizens, interpreters. Now, we've been introducing you to them to kind of get some sense of the urgency, the connection, why we should care.

One of them just threw me for a huge loop. You remember last night, I introduced you to Ismail?


ISMAIL KHAN, FORMER INTERPRETER FOR U.S. TROOPS IN AFGHANISTAN, SIV AMBASSADOR, NO ONE LEFT BEHIND: I split my family in four different location to make sure they are safe. And I'm trying everything to help them out, not only them, only my family, every single family that are in Afghanistan and begging for help.


CUOMO: So, I have an update for you, on the former interpreter that you just were listening to there, for our forces. He's doing something that I advised not to, and I am shocked by. Next.









CUOMO: Last night, we introduced you to Ismail Khan, a man who risked his life for six years, to keep Americans safe. He put his life on the line, as a translator, an interpreter, they call them "Terps," helping the U.S. Army.

For weeks, now he's in the United States, and he has been consumed with trying to help his own family that he had to separate, into different areas, and hundreds of others, to do what he did, escape Afghanistan, live the freedom that was promised them.

Trump added red tape to vetting from Muslim countries, as you remember. It was his end run around his "Muslim ban," not being able to outright ban people of an entire faith. Now, that made it harder for America to keep her promise to those who worked with the U.S.

The State Department then said it was ramping up efforts to process visas, for Afghan allies. But still, folks like Ismail have run into bureaucratic roadblock after roadblock. So, Ismail decided to do one of the most dangerous things I can imagine. As someone who, he knows the Taliban will catch and do bad things too, he has decided to go back.

Ismail sent me an update. Here it is.


KHAN: Hello, Chris. I know you told me not to go to Afghanistan. It's dangerous. But I have to. I have to go to help out. I know I can help out, when I'm on the ground there. I know a lot of people in there that can help out.

I have that moral obligation that I need to keep the American promise that they made it to Afghan people. And the American government is not doing that.


CUOMO: So, an Afghan that helped us, then, came here, is going back, so that he can help America keep its promise.

He's on his way to Abu Dhabi, in the UAE. And then, from there, he's going to try and get into Afghanistan, to Kabul.

Now, his plan is to try to get to the airport, and work out of there. He has connections from his time, but no guarantees. If he is caught by the Taliban, it is not a good scenario.

There are no commercial flights into Kabul. So, he's working connections, to figure out how he's going to get there, to his family. Remember, he has them hiding in four separate locations, trapped in the middle of the so-called Taliban kill zone.


There are thousands of other families that he's been in touch with, and he just believes this is what he has to do.

This is where they all want to be right now, inside this secure perimeter, of the Karzai International Airport, in Kabul. From there, the dream is an American C-17 out. A seat on one of those is what everybody is clinging to. And that hope is diminishing, with every empty seat that flies away.

Getting to a plane is another story. You keep hearing, "Well, we don't have any control, you know?" Even if you're in Kabul, a ride to the airport means running a gauntlet of fear, with a group of people, who are overtaking a country. Many of them aren't even from Afghanistan.

I'm going to give you that report tomorrow night, who is the Taliban? Where are they from? Who made this happen?

The roads are swarming with them right now. And they are there, and they mean, business.

At the airport, take a look at the scenes of chaos.





CUOMO: That's safe passage? This is what the Taliban calls safe passage? The same Taliban, who just months ago murdered Ismail's cousin's oldest son, because of his cousin's work with the United States.

Our government says they're working on it.


PRICE: I'm seeing the same reports on Twitter that you are. And every report of someone unable, for whatever reason, to reach the airport, is something we take very seriously.


CUOMO: I'll tell you who takes it seriously, Ismail Khan, a man who's choosing to leave the United States, the safety of a new home in Seattle, to go to the most dangerous place, for him, in the world.

And he is fully aware of what's waiting for him.


KHAN: I know it's dangerous. I know it's dangerous for me, for my family, for everyone that I know. But I have to do it. I don't have any option. This morning, when I was leaving, my 8-year-old son was crying. He know how bad the situation is.

But I can't. There are thousands of kids, they're out here. They needed someone's support. I'm going to go there. I'm not sure that if I'm going to make it back or not. But I owe them a lot. And I'll do whatever it takes.


CUOMO: How can our military and our government not match the gumption of this man, willing to do whatever it takes?

We'll keep you updated. God willing, he's safe, he gets somewhere safe, and he can communicate with us.

All right, I also want to talk to you about what's happening back here at home. Does it have any connection to what's happening abroad, this scare near the U.S. Capitol today?

Police arrested this guy claiming to have a bomb. It's a long standoff. The guy was like broadcasting live, while he was there. He rambled about politics, and some of its going to sound ugly and familiar.

So, how does this drama square with our warnings about domestic terror? Are we getting ready for a new wave, based on what's happening over there? Are the wrong people getting riled up?

We have a former Deputy Director of the FBI, for his assessment, next.









CUOMO: It took five hours for police to arrest a 49-year-old man, who threatened to set off this bomb, allegedly, near the U.S. Capitol. We're still learning about him. But he live-streamed, his standoff, outside the Library of Congress. That got him attention.

He was ranting in a way that you will find familiar and obnoxious that President Biden's policies on health care, immigration, and the Afghanistan withdrawal, were unacceptable. Listen.


FLOYD RAY ROSEBERRY, U.S. CAPITOL BOMB THREAT SUSPECT: I'm just warning you, Biden. Don't pull the trigger on this truck because I'm not responsible for it.

It's my land. It's your land. We're the people. We're taking a stand, Joe. You got all them people dying in Afghanistan, all them kids being raped, just let Taliban run right through.


CUOMO: Now a lot of that, especially about Afghanistan, and he went on about "How you're letting all these illegal immigrants from Afghanistan," a lot of that are fringe right-wing and Fox talking points. Nobody's talking about having some massive influx of Afghan people coming here. It's about getting them out, getting them somewhere safe.

Now, he didn't have an actual explosive. Police say he did possess "Possible bomb making materials" in the truck.

So, are we going to be seeing more of this? Is this one of the potential areas of fall-out from what's happening in Afghanistan? Deputy Director of the FBI, former, Andrew McCabe, joins us now.

It's good to see you. What's your assessment of this guy straight-up?

ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER FBI DEPUTY DIRECTOR: Well, Chris, I think the thing that surprises me most about him is that we haven't seen more people like him, doing things like this, particularly here in the Capitol, and up on the Capitol grounds.

I think, also, the DHS Terrorism Threat Bulletin that DHS put out, only six days ago, which calls out all the terrorism issues that they're most concerned about, specifically talked about people, just like this guy, violent extremists, motivated by personal grievance.

People, who've consumed conspiracy theories on - in certain online forums, and places on the internet, are motivated to take matters into their own hands and strike out violently. That's what you saw today.

With as deeply divided as we are right now, and with as many conspiracy theories, and false theories that we have rolling around out there, I think you are going to see more of it.


CUOMO: Is there a principle of conflation, or combining that with people, who see what's happening in Afghanistan, whether they're veterans, or they're just sympathizers for the American military, and they say, "Look how you did them dirty, look how you let us lose there," and that that can become some kind of fuel for action here?

MCCABE: I guess it's possible. But I would really be hesitant to draw a direct line between people like, former Afghan veterans, motivated by what they see happening in Afghanistan, this week, because frankly, we haven't really seen that so far.

What's much more common, what we have seen, over the last several months, certainly, on January 6th, is people who are motivated by these false theories, propagated in right-wing media sites.

CUOMO: Right.

MCCABE: "Stop the Steal!" Losing the country, trying to take things back to the way they were motivated to take matters into their own hands.

CUOMO: Yes, that's what I'm pointing to, not the veterans themselves. I understand their disappointment. I understand the incredible, being dismayed about what's happening to the Allies there.

But people who believe they're carrying the flag, in the name of America's military and patriotism, and then lashing out, because they don't like what happened in Afghanistan? That would be the concern.

Andrew McCabe, thank you very much for the analysis. Appreciate it.

MCCABE: Yes. CUOMO: So, three more U.S. senators, did you hear this, tested positive for COVID. Now, this isn't a shock, OK? We're going to see this. They're not different human beings. They were vaccinated.

Breakthrough cases are becoming more common. That's why they're talking about booster shots, but also the need to be vaccinated, because unvaccinated people can get vaccinated people sick.

Let's take the state of play to the former FDA Commissioner, and talk about approval, what that means for getting kids vaccinated, and where he sees us headed two months, three months, five months. Next.









CUOMO: I believe that the big divide in this country isn't Red and Blue, Left/Right, Democrat/Republican. It's time for more than two parties. But it's going to be the Vaccinated and the Unvaccinated.

Look at the 10 states with the highest vaccine rates in the country.

Now compare them to the 10 states with the lowest vaccine rates. None above 41 percent. The numbers show you that in these states, you are four times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID, and nearly six times more likely to die from it.

How do we change this? What is the best bet? Is it FDA approval? How important is that?

Former FDA Commissioner Dr. Mark McClellan joins us.

Good to see you, Doc.


CUOMO: FDA approval, I've been banging on it. I don't understand how we developed the vaccine so fast, but it's taking like almost as long to approve it. I don't understand why it can't be happening faster. And we keep seeing in polls that it is really important to the vaccine-hesitant, especially when it comes to their kids.

And now you have boosters that you can't get until the FDA approves the underlying drug.

What's your take?

MCCLELLAN: Well, Chris, I think that approval, at least for the Pfizer vaccine, is going to come very soon, probably by the end of the month, or right around there.

And this is a process, Chris that's designed for when we are not in a public health emergency. So, the vaccine that's available now is not experimental.

There have been very large, randomized clinical trials done. There's been a lot of follow-up of now hundreds of millions of people, who have gotten the vaccines. So, we know a lot about their safety and effectiveness.

What the full approval process does is give FDA a chance to dot the I's, cross the T's, look over all the extra data, look at things that just don't matter in a public health emergency, like is the vaccine going to be stable on a freezer, for a year, or something like that?

So, what we will know though, is that people will know that FDA has gone this extra mile, the agency is trying not to cut corners on it. But it's still going much faster than a usual approval process takes, instead of six months, just a couple of months. So, people should and, I think, will be more confident about the vaccines with the approval.

But we're really not going to learn anything new about the safety and effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine. And there'll be approvals coming along in the months ahead, in all likelihood, for the Moderna vaccine, the J&J vaccine after that. So hopefully that will add to the confidence that people have about the vaccine.

CUOMO: But I'm told one of the reasons that boosters are going to be available in mid-late September is going to be because they need to get the FDA approval of the underlying drug first. That's why I'm just saying it obviously matters on different levels.

Now, I got two other things I want to check boxes with quickly. One is people hear that you need a booster shot.

People hear that there are breakthrough infections, even if you've vaccinated, and it makes them suspicious of whether the vaccine is really that good. Then they're told, "Oh, no, no, the problem is not the vaccine. It's the unvaccinated."

What's your take?

MCCLELLAN: Well I think there are several things to unpack there.

First off, ever since the beginning, we've had concerns that the vaccines would wear off, after a while. That's really common, especially when you have two doses close together. That's essentially like getting one infection.

Getting the two doses fast is a good way to boost immunity fast. But there was an expectation that that might decline, and we're seeing that happen--

CUOMO: Right.

MCCLELLAN: --as time goes on.

Second, Chris, as you know, we're now facing the Delta variant, which is way more contagious than the previous Alpha variant, and then the original COVID virus. And so, that's leading to more breakthrough infections as well. So, those are a couple of things that we've been watching over time.


And we're seeing more data, like you just talked about, more breakthrough cases. What we also know is that people, who have been vaccinated, are very unlikely to have serious cases. More like, a flu, or a cold, or something like that that last just for a few days.

The vast majority of people hospitalized with serious consequences are people, who haven't been vaccinated.

So, it's really important to remember two things.

One is vaccinations are safe and effective. We're going to have even more data on that, continuing to come out, or more data on the boosters coming as well.

And number two is watch that recommendation, so the people who are need to get boosters first, are the ones who have the most issues with their immune system--

CUOMO: Right.

MCCLELLAN: --the ones with the highest risk, and the ones who got vaccinated earlier. So, there's going to be time to work through this, in the weeks ahead.

CUOMO: Dr. Mark McClellan, thank you very much.

MCCLELLAN: Thank you.

CUOMO: We'll be right back with the handoff.







(END VIDEO CLIP) CUOMO: All right, thank you for watching.

"DON LEMON TONIGHT" starts right now with the big star, D. Lemon.