Return to Transcripts main page
Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
Interview With Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI); NY Times Reports Prosecutors Investigating Donald Trump With Focus On His Finance Chief; Voting Rights Act At Center Of Supreme Court Hearing Tomorrow; Biden Meets With Democratic Senators To Push Relief Bill; Johnson & Johnson Begins To Ship New One-Shot Vaccine; NY A.G. Says She Can Start Investigation Into Cuomo As Second Accuser Says He "Wields His Power To Avoid Justice"; Sen. Romney Injured While Visiting Grandchildren. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired March 01, 2021 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are going to be ramifications for your product.
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Jason Carroll, CNN, New York.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Jason, thank you very much. And thank you so much for joining us tonight. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks. "AC360" starts right now.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. We begin tonight with two big lies about a dangerous boost over the weekend that only increased the threat this week to the Capitol, a familiar one, that the 2020 presidential election was somehow rigged, and the more insidious lie that's been riding along with it from the beginning, claimed by people who should and probably do know better that what we saw on January 6th.
What you're seeing right there and what they saw firsthand was actually not what it seemed, that somehow these Trump supporters QAnon followers and members of far-right militant groups were not responsible for the insurrection and the other hidden forces actually were.
Now, neither that lie nor the foundational election lie have any facts at all to support them. In fact, in addition, one lie contradicts the other. After all, the first is meant to justify what the pro-Trump insurrectionists did. And the second says they didn't actually do it.
But despite being fundamentally incompatible, they are both designed to gaslight, to ask you to not believe what you saw with your own eyes and they both have already stirred people to kill, which is why there's still tight security around the Capitol in advance to the March 4 date that many QAnon followers believe bizarrely, will mark the return to power of the defeated 45th President. As for him, at this weekend's Conservative Political Action Conference
in Orlando, he of course, was back at it, spouting the election lie trying to raise money and using the same kind of language that incited the insurrection.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This election was rigged, and the Supreme Court and other courts didn't want to do anything about it.
They didn't have the courage, the Supreme Court. They didn't have the courage to act, but instead used process and lack of standing.
They should be ashamed of themselves for what they've done to our country. They didn't have the guts or the courage to make the right decision.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: A lot of bronzer. It sounds familiar. That's because in words and tone, it's nearly identical to what he said about the former Vice President quoting now, "Mike Pence didn't have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our country and our Constitution."
By the way, of course, he said that on January 6th, as the Vice President, his staff and family members were being hustled to safety just steps away ahead of -- steps ahead of a mob bent on hanging him.
Now, wherever did they get that idea? Was it from a man who just drew a target on the backs of 17 other Republicans? Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Democrats don't have grandstanders like Mitt Romney, little Ben Sasse, Richard Burr, Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Pat Toomey; and in the House, Tom Rice, South Carolina; Adam Kinzinger. Their new House, Anthony Gonzalez, that's another beauty. Fred Upton, Jaime Herrera Beutler, Peter Meyer, John Katko, David Valadao, and of course the war monger, a person that loves seeing our troops fighting. Liz Cheney, how about that?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Those, of course are the 17 Republicans who voted to impeach or convict the former President and would not validate his election falsehoods. They are also a tiny minority in the G.O.P., the vast majority either believe the former President didn't incite the crowd or they're too afraid to say otherwise.
There's also this explanation from former D.H.S. Secretary Chad Wolf who spoke to CNN right after the ex-President spoke.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHAD WOLF, FORMER ACTING SECRETARY OF DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: I think what the President has talked about and what I think the vast majority of Americans see that there is some fraud inherent in our voting system, and it needs to be addressed before the next midterm or certainly the next presidential election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: This guy. If you're keeping track, the former President isn't really saying what he seems to be saying and turning the gaslight up a notch, there is this, despite all the Trump flags, Trump hats, QAnon symbols and Oath Keeper slogans among the violent mob on January 6th, none of it had anything to do with insurrection, which by the way, wasn't really what it seemed, and that's what they're saying.
The sort of gaslighting that actually dates back to the beginning. It started with a host in the Rush Limbaugh radio show repeating a rumor that it wasn't Trump supporters who breached in Capitol but Antifa and Black Lives Matter.
The same day, U.S. Congressman, not a talk show host, was citing it as fact.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): Some of the people who breached the Capitol today were not Trump supporters. They were masquerading as Trump supporters. And in fact, we're members of the violet terrorist group, Antifa.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Congressman Paul Gosar, tweeted quote: "This has all the hallmarks of Antifa provocation." There's no evidence, none that Antifa provoked the attack and the vast, vast majority of the more than 300 arrests have involved members of right-wing groups like the so-called Proud Boys, the so-called Oath Keepers, QAnon followers and Neo-Confederate groups.
COOPER: Whatever else you might think of them, they truly believed the lies they were fed about the election. They really did act on them.
With this now it's Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett, impeachment manager and delegate for the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Congresswoman, thanks so much for being with us. Given your role in the impeachment trial, what is it like seeing Republicans continue to push the lies that led to the Capitol attack and try to rewrite what actually happened on January 6th?
I mean, it's all part of their ongoing support for this former President. DEL. STACEY PLASKETT (D-VI): It's enraging to hear this knowing the
overwhelming evidence that not only was the President involved in this, but that the President incited individuals who supported him, stoked them, organized them over a protracted period of time to attack our democracy.
Those were individuals who were there, who were also individuals who, but for the support of the Capitol Police and other law enforcement would have been seriously injured, some potentially killed if the President had had his way.
And the fact that they would continue to perpetrate his lie, and support him, not only is infuriating, because it's a lie, but makes it difficult to work with individuals who are so spineless that they would continue to follow an individual who would rather have them dead than him lose power.
COOPER: You know, we debated whether they even show the President talking at CPAC, given that he is no longer in office, but it's not just him. I mean, these are senators who are currently serving -- you saw one of the jurors, Republican Senator Josh Hawley at CPAC, essentially bragging about his objection to the Electoral College vote and totally misrepresenting it, by the way.
PLASKETT: Yes, as you said, the gaslighting is profound. It's not gaslighting, it is gas bombing that they are doing at CPAC and in other places, spewing lies on the floor of the House and even in the Senate.
It's going to cause additional irreparable harm, I believe, to our democracy in the long run if they are not stopped. This is seditious speech. This is in fact, treason in some ways to say that he is -- that Trump is in fact, the legitimate President of the United States. That's a lie.
We have a President that was democratically elected, and any other individual who says they are the president, is in fact, a threat to the national security of this country.
COOPER: You know, there are a number of Republicans who will, you know, hear any criticism of the G.O.P. and think, well, this is just Democrats, not wanting, you know, just wanting to be a one party state.
But all the Democrats that I've had on this program have talked about the need to have a viable, you know, opposition party that our system works best when there is a, you know, preponderance of ideas and legitimate people arguing based on their beliefs and figuring out a course, somewhere, you know, that comes out of that as opposed to not having --
I mean, right now, the G.O.P. is only at war with itself, but what does seem to be the preponderance in the G.O.P. is that it is just the party of Trump, and it has coalesced around this one person, they don't even have a platform. PLASKETT: It's amazing. You know, you and I have talked about that.
Elections have consequences. And do I applaud the fact that the Democrats have both the House, the Senate and the White House? Heck, yes.
But do I want to have a very serious discourse with individuals who are on the other side of the aisle and come to a middle ground, come to ways in which we can work together? The Democrats attempted to do that.
We did that even during the Trump administration, when we worked with the only piece of legislation that Trump was able to really get across the aisle was some form of criminal justice reform, and that was with the support of the Democratic Party.
And we're willing to do that and work with individuals throughout the next four years, but what is happening in the Republican Party is causing many of us to second guess working with quite a number of these individuals, if they cannot even come to basic truths about what happened in the 2020 election.
And as you stated, Anderson, I have a great fear about what's going to happen at local and at state levels in terms of the Republican Party trying to use elections, and trying to use election laws to keep Americans from the voting booth by closing Sunday voting, by trying to stop mail-in ballots.
PLASKETT: To do those things that would expand the electoral votes in this country and allow more people to happen. We've got to pass the Voting Rights Act to ensure that all Americans have the right to vote.
COOPER: Yes, we're going to be talking to Stacey Abrams in just a moment on exactly that topic. Congresswoman Plaskett. I appreciate your time. Thank you.
PLASKETT: Thank you.
COOPER: We have breaking next on investigators looking to the former President's finances and who they are reportedly focusing on.
And later, the repercussions of the election lie. New efforts across the country to restrict voting, as Congressman Plaskett was just mentioning, we will talk to Stacey Abrams who helped turn the red state of Georgia blue, ahead.
COOPER: There is breaking news that will not make the former President's dinner sit well tonight.
"The New York Times" headline reads: "Prosecutors investigating Trump focus on his finance chief." He is Allen Weisselberg, Chief Finance Officer for the Trump Organization, keeper the books. According to "The Times," investigators for the Manhattan District
Attorney is examining possible financial fraud and have asked witnesses about him. CNN political analyst and "Times" White House correspondent, Maggie Haberman shares the byline and joins us now.
Maggie, thanks for being with us. So of all the people in the former President's orbit, how important could Allen Weisselberg be?
MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Allen Weisselberg could be very important, Anderson. He is a very long serving gatekeeper for the President's money for his business, for a lot of deals that he has done. He knows where everything is, and he is one of the people who are so loyal to the family that he has worked not just for Donald Trump, but he worked for Donald Trump's father, Fred.
HABERMAN: Prosecutors have not alleged any wrongdoing by Allen Weisselberg, but they are narrowing in on him and what he did and things related to his two sons, one of whom helps manage one of the Trump properties that the city owns in New York, one of whom worked for or works for one of Trump's former lenders and they have not again alleged that there's any wrongdoing there, but they have asked questions, and it does suggest that they are narrowing in on Allen Weisselberg, as somebody who if they can find any evidence of wrongdoing by him, they would pressure to cooperate.
If Allen Weisselberg were to cooperate, again, this is a big if and no one is accusing him of anything, if anything were to change, that would be a serious problem for President Trump because Allen Weisselberg, again, is so ridden on so many aspects of his life and his business.
COOPER: I mean, this isn't the first time his name has come up. What you're reporting, essentially, is that you have information that investigators have been asking around about Weisselberg, is that right?
HABERMAN: Yes. And it's different, Anderson, when Allen Weisselberg's name came up previously, it was in the context of the Michael Cohen case, which was a different prosecutor's office that was Federal, that was not State and that he was given limited immunity to testify against Michael Cohen. He did not face prosecution himself. This is something different.
Now, again, there is no evidence that they are targets of the investigation. But they are a focus of this inquiry in terms of what Allen Weisselberg is aware of. There have been some questions about his sons. It just narrows the aperture a bit on what Cy Vance's office is looking at as they pursue this case against former President Trump.
COOPER: And is it clear why investigators are suddenly learning more about his sons?
HABERMAN: It's not clear why they are interested other than as I said, these are two people who were, you know, connected to Trump businesses in different ways. One son had some relationship with the Wollman Skating Rink in Central Park, the other son worked for or works for one of Trump's lenders, and so these are just two different avenues.
It's not clear what if any overlap there is or what specifically they're looking for. But this is all, remember, part of a potential financial case that Vance is looking at against the former President related to his businesses.
COOPER: And what's interesting about it is, you know, the former President is a former President, and therefore, doesn't have the power to give pardons anymore. So, you know, I'm not sure how much leverage would he even have at this point to try to encourage somebody not to cooperate if it ever came to that?
HABERMAN: Look, it is a worthwhile point, Anderson, to make that actually there had been a discussion when former President Trump was issuing as we know, this huge wave of pardons at the end of his term, which is customary for Presidents, he just made very broad use of it, and very personal use of it.
There was some discussion about when they were looking at preemptive pardons, possibly for Trump family members, possibly for the former President himself. There was a question about whether Allen Weisselberg should be given one and the decision was, it would not be that idea because he could end up waiving his Fifth Amendment rights and then be forced to testify against the President down the road in some theoretical inquiry, and they didn't want to risk that.
So this is obviously something that people are aware of in Trump's orbit as to just how key a figure Allen Weisselberg is.
COOPER: Any sense of whether or not the former President is concerned or would be concerned about Mr. Weisselberg being scrutinized?
HABERMAN: I don't think that the former President likes any scrutiny on people who work for him and on his business. I think the former President is certainly aware that Allen Weisselberg is somebody who knows a lot about his life and his business.
We know how former President Trump reacted when Michael Cohen was being looked at. So I think take that and, you know, extrapolate out.
He is not happy about this investigation. As we know, he has called it a witch hunt. One, you know, element toward keeping the possibility of another presidential run alive, according to people close to him is that they think it allows him to say these investigations are all invalid against me. They're all political.
I mean, he has been saying that for a very long time, but I expect you will hear more of them.
COOPER: Maggie Haberman, thanks so much. Appreciate it.
HABERMAN: Thank you.
COOPER: Just ahead, Stacey Abrams joins us to discuss her fight for voting rights and the new documentary she is a part of to shed light on this struggle as Republicans ramp up their efforts to limit the places and days that people can vote including today in her own State of Georgia.
We'll be right back.
COOPER: Another big theme of the former President's speech, Sunday, minimizing access to the ballot box or he and his allies euphemistically call it election integrity.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We need one Election Day, not 45 or 30. One day. One day.
And the only people that should be allowed to vote by mail are people that can be proven to be either very sick or out of the country or military where they can't do it. One day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: And it's not just a one-term President who never won the popular vote making these arguments. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, there are proposed bills in at least 43 states that would restrict voting access.
This weekend, "The New York Times" reported that mail-in ballots are a particular target in this nationwide effort by Republicans.
Today, in the battle-ground State of Georgia, which narrowly elected a Democratic President and pair of senators, the G.O.P. controlled Statehouse passed a controversial election bill.
Among the effects, new voter ID measures for absentee voters, limitations on drop boxes, and a decrease in early voting on the weekends when many black worship goers head to the polls.
This comes the day before the Supreme Court. Here's a case that could potentially weaken a section of the Voting Rights Act that prohibits laws that result in racial discrimination.
I want to get perspective now from Stacey Abrams, former state representative from Georgia who founded the voting rights organization, Fair Fight. She is also a producer and star of the Amazon Prime documentary, "All In: The Fight for Democracy."
COOPER: Representative Abrams, thanks for being with us. So you hear the former President, you see what's happening in your home state. How do you combat that?
STACEY ABRAMS, FOUNDER, FAIR FIGHT: We combat it first by making certain that Americans are aware of what's at stake.
In the United States, we have a decentralized form of democracy where Congress has the right to set the time, manner and place of Federal elections, but we delegate to the states the authority to determine when, how and who gets to vote.
And the challenge we have in America is that right now, we do not have uniformity. Your place of residence determines the quality of your democracy, which should not stand in the United States of America. And we are seeing it play out in the most grotesque way possible, because across the country, and as you pointed out, more than 40 legislative bodies, we are watching attempts to roll back the right to vote.
Because to put it simply, Republicans believe that too many people voted. They believe that too many eligible voters chose other than their candidate, and because of that they're going to be punished by being denied the right to vote or being prevented from participating in our elections.
COOPER: I mean, it does seem -- it's based on the idea that there was massive fraud, which again, is just not the case. It certainly says something about what Republicans see as a national strategy that there are bills in 43 states that could end up disenfranchising voters, particularly voters of color.
ABRAMS: Their intention is to disenfranchise those voters who have routinely demonstrated they do not share Republican ideology, or at least Republican orthodoxy. And unfortunately, the challenge is that not only are they going to disproportionately harm communities of color, when you break democracy, you break it for everyone.
Republicans actually tend to use voting by mail more often in the State of Georgia. Last year, this 2020 election, 2021 elections, were the first time that Democrats actually outperformed Republicans in both absentee balloting and early voting.
But that means in every election prior to that, since 2005, when Republicans instituted no excuses absentee balloting, it benefited them.
And so the one time they don't win, they not only are taking their ball and going home, they're changing the rules of the game, because they don't want anyone else to be able to play, and that is anti- democratic, small D democratic.
COOPER: One of the sort of the crimes of this election fraud charge that the President has been pushing even before the election took place is that the turnout in the last election was actually extraordinary. And it was actually a really positive thing for the country on Republicans and Democrats turning out.
I mean, there was massive turnout on the Republican side, massive turnout for Democratic candidates, obviously, Joe Biden won the popular vote and the Electoral College vote.
But it was -- I mean, in that sense, it was a victory for both sides of getting their voters out. And clearly the way -- you know, voting by mail, all the ways that there were to vote helped that.
And again, without massive fraud, I don't really understand the argument that they are making.
ABRAMS: Well, the argument they are making is specious at best, an outright lie at worst. They are not fighting to protect elections, they're fighting to preserve their ability to win. That's not what democracy is designed for.
You do not get to rig the elections to your -- the election system to benefit your candidate. When you do so we have laws to make certain you can't do it again, and what happened in 2020 was that we mitigated many of those laws. Those laws that have been put in place since the evisceration of the Voting Rights Act that have made it harder for average Americans to vote.
You know, Donald Trump points out that you should only vote on a single day. Well, the problem with that is we have a diversified economy and not everyone can show up on Tuesday. We also know that voting by mail works when you're in the midst of a pandemic, when it is literally possibly lethal to show up at a polling place.
And what is so deeply disturbing is that we are the world's most durable democracy. And yet we have one of the most fractured approaches to democracy. And worse, we are watching response to insurrection and the challenge of that democracy not be solidifying our belief in who should be able to vote by encouraging as many people as possible.
We are watching a retrenchment to the worst moments in our national history and that is post-Civil War, Jim Crow era laws that intentionally disenfranchised the most vulnerable and marginalized in our society.
COOPER: You know, as you said, elections are, you know, by large and obviously, the prerogatives of the State in terms of how they're run. And in this last election, frankly, that seemed to kind of be a good thing, given that the President was out to, you know, essentially rig the election from before it even started.
I mean, had it been the Federal government's sole purview to run the last election, there's no telling what a President like the former one could have potentially done to try to manipulate things.
Now we're seeing these efforts in 43 states. Is there a Federal role here that something can be done?
ABRAMS: Absolutely. The elections clause in the Constitution guarantees that the Congress has the right to set the time manner in place of elections for federal contest. And by and large, most states aren't willing to run a federal system parallel to a state system. So, the federal system sets the foundation for how our elections happen. And H.R.1, the For The People Act, and its companion bill in the S.R.1 are the exact bills we need to create uniformity and standardization as a foundation for democracy.
I was a former legislator, I believe that states still need to be able to adapt to the needs of their people. But we should have a baseline below which no state should be allowed to deny access to the ballot. That's the reason the elections clause exists. And that's why it's so critical that we not only have H.R.1 and S.R.1. But H.R.4 which is the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, because that's going to be necessary to remedy whatever the U.S. Supreme Court does this coming week, regarding the issue of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
We are at war, fighting to protect our democracy from domestic enemies at this moment. And those domestic enemies should be renounced, they should be pushed back against. Whether they're at the state level or the federal level, it is our responsibility in the wake of January 6 to hold fast to our belief in our democracy, and to ensure that every eligible voter can cast a ballot and have that ballot counted.
COOPER: You're part of a documentary called All In and I know I've been reading, it's been getting a lot of attention and focuses on hurdles to voting. What do you hope to achieve with it?
ABRAMS: Our mission was to talk about the history of voter suppression, so that we remind people that this isn't new. But in every moment in our history in the past, when we have confronted voter suppression, we have corrected for it. But we also want people to understand that it's not just a southern issue, while Georgia unfortunately is once again taking the lead in voter suppression.
We know that voter suppression happens in New Hampshire, as they target students, in North Dakota, where they've targeted Native Americans in Arizona, where they target Latinos and Native Americans. That across the country, people who are afraid of losing elections are using their power to steal elections from the people and that should not stand.
And so all in the fight for democracy is not just about what's happened before and what's happening now. It's about envisioning the kind of democracy we all deserve. When we're the competition of ideas and where the best candidates win, not by stealing the election, but by competing and putting forward their best ideas.
COOPER: Stacey Abrams, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.
ABRAMS: Thank you for having me.
COOPER: Coming up as the White House is pressing ahead on the COVID relief bill, what President Biden saying a year after his Democratic primary victory in South Carolina, that helped propel him to the presidency.
Plus, what's happening with the first doses of the newly approved Johnson &Johnson coronavirus vaccine. We'll tell you that when we continue.
COOPER: Today is a political anniversary that many may not remember but President Biden does. It is a year ago that he won the Democratic primary South Carolina winning after he came up for short in earlier contests and some observers had one final chance. That was until as he put it today, the voters they're quoting him now especially the backbone of the Democratic Party, the African-American community, set him on, of course, the presidency.
He writes, as I look back on what happened in South Carolina one year ago, it's amazing how much can change in a day, never mind a whole year. My hope is that a year from now, Americans are able to look back and marvel at how much has changed in their lives and in our economy for the better.
CNN's Jeff Zeleny is at the White House tonight with COVID relief bill is still at the top of the agenda. So how optimistic is the White House about getting the relief bill through the Senate?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, it is that level of optimism that President Biden has that he pointed out pretty bluntly there. He did not think he was going to win, but because of South Carolina a year ago, it seems like much longer. He is taking that optimism to the Senate.
And the White House is confident about the final passage of this COVID relief bill. But they do realize that this week in the Senate, they believe there are going to be some hurdles, they believe that they're going to be a lot of ideas thrown into the mix. Some senators who met with the president today virtually, were throwing out a lot of things that they want to hear and others want to see that $15 minimum wage. So progressives are not pleased.
But at the end of the day, the White House believes at the end of this week, possibly the beginning of next week, they believe this bill will be passed. It may not be pretty in the words of one official, but they do believe it will get passed because they promised the American people they would do it.
COOPER: There's good news about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine being approved. But the White House is also facing an uphill battle trying to convince skeptical Americans to take it there's a perception issue when it compared to other vaccines. Is -- does the administration have a plan to address that?
ZELENY: The administration is going to be rolling out a variety of public relations campaigns and, you know, these mass vaccination things, but for right now, they still are focusing on the supply of this. They believe that so once more people get this vaccination, more people will want to get the vaccination. Yes, there are skeptics out there.
But for now, at least, the administration seems to be focusing on just trying to get more people vaccinated. And there are still, you know, some concerns about the number of Johnson & Johnson shots going to be available. Yes, there are a few million being sent out this week. But there are unexpected next week. So by the end of the month, there will be almost 20 million, but they still are below their goal.
So right now, they're focused on just getting the supply up, but there will be public relations campaigns. And the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has one big benefit. It's one shot. So look for states directly to put this to people, you know, who are frontline workers, et cetera. So the administration is not as concerned about people being skeptical. They want to get those shots in the arms of people who want it to worry about the others after that factor.
COOPER: Jeff Zeleny, thank you.
After final government approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine boxes and the doses began moving out of a Kentucky assembly plant bound for delivery across the country into people's arms as soon as tomorrow or the next day. Still, the head of the CDC urged continued vigilance and warned that new data is showing an increase in coronavirus case loads.
Joining me now is Dr. Leana Wen, CNN medical analyst and Baltimore's former Public Health Commissioner, and Dr. Paul Offit, the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital in Philadelphia.
So, Dr. Wen we saw the Johnson & Johnson vaccine rolling out on the trucks today. Aside from the obvious benefits of having pre vaccine on the market, how can the administration make sure that Americans (ph) don't see this vaccine is sort of second tier?
LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think it's really important to Anderson for all of us, including physicians, pharmacists, and everyone to be sending the right message. And that right message is that we are so fortunate that we now have three highly effective and very safe vaccines. If he had told us a year ago or a few months ago, that this is what we would have by March 1, I think all of us would have said, that's really incredible and fantastic news. And that's what we have.
I think the administration is doing the right thing. They're saying that they want to distribute the Johnson & Johnson vaccine also equitably across all 50 states. And so, they are saying, look, there probably going to be some individuals who would benefit from a windows vaccine, who may not come back for a second dose or who just liked the one and done approach.
Also, there are a lot of settings, for example, community pharmacies or health centers, doctor's offices that may not be able to use the ultra cold storage, but it by having something that can be stored in refrigerated temperatures for months at a time, this really opens up many more points of distribution, allowing a lot more people to have access.
And so, I think it's important to focus on the highly safe and what the highly effective a very safe vaccine part and also the advantages that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine really brings. COOPER: Dr. Offit, the governor of Connecticut announced today that residents will be able to see which vaccine is associated with reservation slots in the state's online system, meaning residents may be able to book their appointments based on which vaccine they prefer to get. Is that a good idea especially given the uphill battle with the perception of the J&J vaccine?
PAUL OFFIT, DIRECTOR, VACCINE EDUCATION CTR, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA: I think you should get whatever vaccine you can, you know, the J&J vaccines, a single dose vaccine, it's refrigerator stable. It's been tested in South Africa where the South African variant was common, and was shown to be effective at preventing hospitalization and death. It was tested in Brazil, where the Brazilian variant is found to be common. And it was effective at preventing hospitalization and death.
You can't say that for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines which were both tested in the United States. So I think they two would be equally effective. But at least you know that for the J&J vaccine. I don't see any distinction among these vaccines get whatever you can.
COOPER: Do you think states though, should give people a choice?
OFFIT: Do I think that they should give people a choice?
COOPER: Yes. I mean, they do think it's a good idea to advertise. OK, well, if you're the 9 a.m., you're going to have the Johnson & Johnson, if you're a 10, or, you know, wait next week, you're going to have there -- may be the Moderna.
OFFIT: I think that's fine. But I do think that, you know, that there is a tremendous appeal to a single dose vaccine, I would think, because then you don't have to come back later to get that second dose, which you know, you hope is going to be there. I mean, the problem that we face right now is vaccine shortage.
That makes the appeal of a single dose vaccine. But I don't have a problem people give people giving given a choice. I think that the however, I wouldn't make a distinction among them. I think they're both remarkably effective and safe.
COOPER: Yes. I mean, Dr. Wen looking in New York for a vaccine, I mean, everybody I've talked to who's, you know, been lucky enough to get one has found it to be an extraordinarily difficult and cumbersome process. You know, looking at the various websites, the state one the New York City one. I mean -- what do you think of the whole choice idea? Dr. Wen?
WEN: Yes. I think that right now, supply is the limiting factor. And I don't have a problem with transparency. I think similar to Dr. Offit, if people can find out in advance, I don't think that that's a bad thing. But I don't want people to turn down a vaccine and say, oh, I'm going to wait until I get that vaccine, because that's somehow the perfect vaccine for me.
We don't have that kind of subgroup data. Maybe in time, we'll find that people of a certain age or with certain underlying conditions may benefit from a certain vaccine. We don't have that information. So, I really agree with Dr. Offit that people should get whatever vaccine they first have access to.
And I just want to say right now, I think there's so much talk about vaccine hesitancy, and that is an important conversation. But I think for so many minority communities, vaccine hesitancy is being used as an excuse, when actually the problem is access. And I think we really need to change our narrative.
Yes, we need to focus on hesitancy and the reasons why people may be may not be confident about vaccines, but we also really have to break down the barriers. And for many people, the barrier is transportation. The barrier is, as you mentioned, Anderson not being able to navigate all these complicated websites and phone numbers, and we really have to have a dedicated approach to addressing equity.
COOPER: Yes, or they're just not vaccine there. And so there's no appointments available.
Dr. Offit, the director of the CDC, Rochelle Walensky said today that she's deeply concerned that while over the past several weeks, the numbers of overall cases has been declining in the past seven days, the number of cases and deaths has actually tick back up a little. She went on to say at this level of cases with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the harder and ground we've gained. Is that a real possibility here?
OFFIT: Sure. I think you should probably never make a prediction about this virus because you're generally always wrong. But I think that's a lot of things working in our favor right now. We have about 25% of the population has already been exposed to this virus. So 25% of the population is immune. We have another 10 or 15% that now has been getting the vaccine. So you're up to 35, 40% of the population that is immune are on the road to immunity.
The weather's getting warmer, more and more vaccines getting out there. I think that those numbers of hospitalizations, cases in desert and continue to decline, which worries me actually, is that as you move into the summer months when it's warmer, and it's more difficult for this virus to spread, that people may get complacent and think, great, I'm good. I don't really need this vaccine. But this is a winter respiratory virus, and I think we're going to need and it'll be back next winter. It's not going away between now and next winter.
I think we need to get to about at least 80% population immunity either from the disease or vaccine. So when next winter comes, it will just be a bump instead of a major surge. But I think things are going to get better in the short term.
COOPER: Dr. Offit --
OFFIT: (INAUDIBLE) I think, you know, put that in context.
COOPER: All right. We'll take that into account. Dr. Offit, thanks, Dr. Wen as well.
(voice-over): More breaking news ahead. when New York's Attorney General saying bad investigation, as Governor Andrew Cuomo faces more allegations of sexual harassment.
COOPER: The New York State Attorney General said she can now formally begin an independent investigation into what are now multiple sexual harassment allegations against Governor Andrew Cuomo. In a statement, Letitia James said the referral she received today from the governor's office gives her the authority to begin the investigation. Also, that the findings will be disclosed in a public report.
We're now in the allegations from CNN's Brynn Gingras.
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): Good morning to everyone.
BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New York Governor Andrew Cuomo trying to stem the fallout after a new sexual harassment allegations surfaced, the second in a matter of days, calls for an investigation coming from the biggest names in Cuomo's own party House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and even the White House.
JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The New York Attorney General will oversee an independent investigation with subpoena power, and the governor's office said he will fully cooperate. We certainly support that process.
GINGRAS (voice-over): The most recent accusation first reported by the New York Times 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett, a former aide telling the paper the Governor asked her personal questions in a one-on-one setting last year, like had she been with an older man or if she had been monogamous in her relationships, quote, I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared, she said.
JESSE MCKINLEY, NEW YORK TIMES: She had actually gone to Governor Cuomo's chief of staff had lodged a complaint. So this was documented and known inside of the Cuomo administration.
GINGRAS (voice-over): In a statement late last night, the second one issued since then it came forward, Cuomo apologized for what he perceived as quote, playful comments. I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments given my position made others feel in ways I never intended. I acknowledged some of the things I've said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation to the extent anyone felt that way. I am truly sorry about that.
Cuomo's words also in response to accusations made last week by a different former aide Lindsey Boylan, who an immediate posts that she received an unwanted kiss from the governor in 2018. Which Cuomo has denied multiple times. Boylan and Bennett did not discuss their claims with CNN.
The governor is now asking the New York Attorney General to hire a private lawyer to investigate. But that was only after relenting to pressure from the AGM lawmakers who said his earlier proposals of who would investigate weren't acceptable because none of them allowed subpoena powers.
REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): If these investigations bear out, it really starts to I think, call into question. The leadership that we currently have.
GINGRAS (voice-over): For the governor once praised and admired globally for his pandemic response, mounting pressure and an increasingly uncertain political future.
MCKINLEY: The condemnation of these remarks has been bipartisan. Democrats are very upset. Republicans were upset even before this with the nursing home scandal. So, Governor Cuomo is in a very precarious political position at this hour.
COOPER: Brynn, joins us now. So, what are the next steps in the investigation?
GINGRAS: Yes, Anderson. So as you said, it is now in the hands of Letitia James and she is going to appoint a private attorney to investigate these claims. And the key here is those a subpoena powers. This means that the attorney will be able to compel witnesses get their hands-on particular documents, recordings.
And this is something James and quite frankly, other lawmakers were criticizing Cuomo over the weekend about because he was allegedly trying to limit those powers at least that's what they were claiming. So that is certainly key, but we do know that Cuomo has said that he will fully cooperate with this investigation. Anderson.
COOPER: Brynn Gingras, appreciate it. Thanks.
Up next, why Republican Senator Mitt Romney was rushed to the hospital over the weekend.
COOPER: (INAUDIBLE) top of the program the former president lashed out again at Republican Senator Mitt Romney among others during his CPAC speech last night. But Senator Romney was busy dealing with the bigger problem when they caused him to go to the hospital.
CNN's Ryan Nobles joins us. So what happened? RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, today Senator Romney came back to Washington Anderson and he was visibly beat up a black eye, several cuts to his lips. And he told reporters that it came after a fall with his children in Boston over the weekend. Romney said that the fall was serious enough that he was knocked unconscious and had to be taken to the hospital.
He was given a number of stitches from his eyebrow all the way through his eyelid. But he said he's doing OK, he was not admitted to the hospital did not have to stay overnight. He was eventually released. But you can see the remnants of this accident all over his face. As I said before he was beat up pretty bad.
COOPER: And I heard he still has a sense of humor after the fall.
NOBLES: Yes, as a sign that he is recovering from this quickly. He was able to joke about it. When reporters first asked what was wrong, Romney joked that he had made the mistake of attending CPAC and as you notice, and as you know, he was attacked pretty relentlessly at CPAC over the weekend. He actually didn't go to CPAC, that was just a joke. But clearly, the Senator from Utah still has a sense of humor despite this injury.
COOPER: And he still is able to work.
NOBLES: Oh, yes, definitely. He was -- he came to work and was able to cast votes and everything today, so no problem there.
COOPER: Has Romney -- I mean, all with all the attacks and CPAC and from the from the former president continue, there seem face that at home as well. I mean, it's he's still popular in his state.
NOBLES: He is Anderson, in fact, there was a bit of a push by the Utah Republican Party, at least some elements of the Republican Party to censure him, much like we'd seen with other senators in some other states because of his vote to convict President Trump, but that actually didn't go anywhere.
In fact, the Utah Republican Party made note of the fact that both of their senators voted differently. Senator Mike Lee voted to acquit the former president. Well, Senator Romney voted to convict and they noted that that's an example of how there's a wide range of ideas and philosophies within the Republican Party, and that they embrace that.
And of course, Romney and his family have a long history and connection to the state of Utah. And that seems to continue of course. He's not up for reelection until 2024. So, it's a while off before there'd be electoral consequences for that vote to convict.
COOPER: Yes. Ryan Nobles, appreciate it. Thanks.
Reminder, don't miss "Full Circle", our digital new show. You can catch it streaming live 6:00 p.m., Eastern, cnn.com/fullcircle or watch it there on the CNN app and On Demand anytime. The news continues right now. Let's hand it over to Chris for "CUOMO PRIME TIME". Chris.