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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

G.O.P. Rep. Jim Jordan Confirms He Sent One of the Texts Revealed By January 6 Committee; Court Hearing on Pennsylvania Voters' Personal Info Ends without Decision; Rep. Liz Cheney Fight to Save G.O.P. and the U.S. from Donald Trump; Rep. Liz Cheney's Fight To Save The GOP And The U.S. From Trump; Princeton University, Other Schools, Holding Finals Online; Millions Of Americans Facing Severe Weather Threats; Chauvin Pleads Guilty To Violating Floyd's Civil Rights. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired December 15, 2021 - 20:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: The watch is in effect until roughly midnight tonight. Seven million people now, under threat. This comes as President Biden tonight returns to the White House after touring the devastating damage from Kentucky's tornadoes. The President calls the damage almost beyond belief.

Thanks for joining us. It's time for Anderson.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. What we've learned just this week about January 6 is pretty remarkable. More useful information in just the last three days perhaps than in the 11 months since a violent pro-Trump mob assaulted the Capitol.

Hard facts in three days to rebut more than 11 months now of distortions and apparently willful mischaracterizations of what happened that day, and all that led up to it. Three days of the House Select Committee's contempt presentation against former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows have done all that.

And there is breaking news tonight on one of the Committee's revelations in all the text messages that Meadows has provided, concerns a text forwarded by a lawmaker to Meadows on January 5th outlining an unproven legal theory on throwing out votes in states the former President lost.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): I want to display just a few of the message he received from people in Congress. The Committee is not naming these lawmakers at this time as our investigation is ongoing.

If we could queue the first graphic. This one reads: "On January 6, 2021, Vice President Mike Pence as President of the Senate should call out all electoral votes that he believes are unconstitutional as no electoral votes at all."

You can see why this is so critical to ask Mr. Meadows about. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Now, when Congressman Adam Schiff read that, we did not know who sent that message to Meadows.

Late today, we learned it was Ohio Republican Congressman Jim Jordan, the one who downplays the insurrection and defends the big election lie.

The results of the message cites Federalist Paper 78 and a Federal case from 1915, which might or might not be relevant. But remember, this notion that the Vice President could simply toss out electoral votes was already being pushed at the time by the former President himself.

He was already leaning on Mike Pence in private and on social media. So, it's hard to imagine that Congressman Jordan's text by the 5th of January was all that new to the Chief of Staff. But it is remarkable that a sitting Member of Congress was texting this bunk to aid in the attempted undermining of a free and fair election.

What the Committee has done so comprehensively in these last few days has been to not only raise serious questions about the possibility of Mr. Meadows and the likes of Mr. Jordan aiding in the insurrection, the three days have also exposed FOX News, and I use the word "news" in name only as being completely a part of the fraud.

Their biggest stars we now know were sending text to Meadows begging him to get the former President to call off the mob, suggesting, of course that this was the President's mob to call off. They knew it. And what's more, they knew that Meadows knew it as well.

Here is Committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney.


REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): Multiple FOX News hosts knew the President needed to act immediately. They texted Mr. Meadows and he has turned over those texts. Quote, "Mark, the President needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home. This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy." Laura Ingraham wrote.


COOPER: "He is destroying his legacy," she writes, clearly understanding what the moment is about and the former President's culpability in it. She is writing as though she believes the rioters will listen to him and follow his instructions. That's what she is writing privately that these are his people.

Publicly that very same night, she is saying explicitly to all her viewers that these are definitely not his people.


LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS CHANNEL HOST, THE INGRAHAM ANGLE: I have never seen Trump rally attendees wearing helmets -- black helmets, brown helmets, black backpacks -- the uniforms that you saw in some of these crowd shots.


COOPER: Well, that was the very same night. As for her plea about not destroying one's legacy, well, she clearly didn't heed her own advice because she descended from there repeatedly downplaying the attack until by July, she was mocking the testimony from police officers who nearly lost their lives that day.


INGRAHAM: Pelosi's January 6th Committee held its first hearing today and because of her actions leading up to today, the whole thing turned into -- in the eyes of many -- nothing more than performance art.

There were certainly a lot of violence that day, but it was not a terrorist attack. It wasn't 9/11, it wasn't the worst thing that ever happened to America. It wasn't an insurrection.

God save us from these third-rate theatrics.



COOPER: Several law officers dead, some maimed, more than 140 injured in all in what she describes as third-rate theatrics.

As I mentioned, she was not alone. Several other FOX personalities also texted Meadows their concerns during the attack. Personalities who like her also went on to downplay it publicly.

Nothing else, the committee this week made it impossible for anyone to overlook their hypocrisy and frankly, contempt for their viewers. But it wasn't just the Committee's revelations these last three days that have greatly expanded our body of knowledge. We also learned a great deal more to dispel the Big Lie about election fraud, which stoked the flames of January 6 and continues to have fallout today.

The Associated Press reviewing every potential case of voter fraud in the six states disputed by the former President. Guess how many they found? Four hundred and seventy five out of 25 million votes cast in those states, fewer than 475 cases actually, not even a fraud, a potential fraud, most never resulting in fraudulent ballots being cast.

In Georgia, for example, the AP found 64 instances of potential fraud, representing about half of one percent of President Biden's winning margin there of 11,779 votes; a margin, you'll recall, the former President seem to believe should all belong to him, plus one for good measure.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So look, all I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state.


COOPER: The former President on that call to Georgia election officials told a number of lies about voting there and elsewhere, which the AP survey is only the latest debunk. He also said this about Pennsylvania, which is also not true.


TRUMP: In Pennsylvania, they had well over 200,000 more votes than they had people voting, and that was -- that doesn't play too well. And --


COOPER: The fact that this and countless other election lies have been debunked, that hasn't stopped the former President of course from repeating them on and on and on, nor has it stopped Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania and nationwide from trying to restrict voter access and/or re-litigate the election.

In a Pennsylvania courtroom today, no decision in the effort by Republican senators seeking personal voter information to use in a partisan audit of the 2020 General Election and 2021 primary elections.

Joining us now is Pennsylvania's Attorney General, Josh Shapiro. Attorney Josh Shapiro, I appreciate you joining us. Can you just explain in layman's terms what happened in court today and how this could fit into efforts by the former President and his allies to undermine democracy nationwide?

JOSH SHAPIRO, PENNSYLVANIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Sure, the State Senate Republicans apparently at the behest of the former President launched an effort to try and audit the vote here in Pennsylvania. I use air quotes, of course when I say "audit" because it's not a real audit.

In fact, we've had two legally required audits that showed that we had a free and fair, safe and secure election that Joe Biden won here in Pennsylvania by about 80,000 votes. In the attempt to go forth and conduct this sham review, the Senate Republicans demanded the private information of nine million Pennsylvania voters including Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers and the likes.

In my capacity as the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I sued to stop them to protect the privacy interests of Pennsylvanians. Indeed, we have both a statutory and a constitutional right to privacy here in the Commonwealth.

Today, we finally had the hearing. Today was the first time that the Senate Republicans couldn't rely on just the rhetoric that they keep spewing on other networks, but rather, they had to present facts and evidence in a Court of Law, and we learned two important things from counsel to the Senate Republicans.

One, they acknowledged that there is a risk in turning this private information over to a third party. They said that it is worth the risk. I don't think nine million Pennsylvanians would agree to that.

And second, they were asked to define by the Court what the purpose was of demanding this private information, and they could not state a purpose in Court. That's what we learned today, and now, it'll be up to the Judges to rule as to whether or not the private personal information of nine million Pennsylvanians can be turned over.

COOPER: How quickly do you expect a ruling?

SHAPIRO: Yes, you never know. But I think the court recognizes the importance here. I'm sure they'll take their time and do what they need to do.

I think they're also being forced to consider the fact that the Senate Republicans are trying to take this information and give it to a third party --


SHAPIRO: A third party, Anderson, that has absolutely no credibility. They didn't exist a year ago. I believe they have two employees last we checked and they have absolutely no experience doing this type of oversight or review, and so I think the Court will be weighing that as well.


COOPER: Well, also, I mean, one of the leaders of the push for this audit, Republican State Senator Chris Dush, said about vendors for the audit quote, "I'm not going to be hiring political activists have become investigators," unquote.

I mean, I have read some of the stuff about Envoy Sage, which is this vendor. Do you think he kept his word?

SHAPIRO: No, of course not. He has made very, very clear that he is doing this at the behest of others. He is clearly trying to undermine our democracy and he continues to chase a lie.

Listen, I'm the chief law enforcement officer of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. You want to talk about voter fraud, Anderson? I heard that in your lead up, we had a handful of cases of voter fraud that were prosecuted here in Pennsylvania.

And in those cases, by the way, they were trying to cast an extra vote for Donald Trump. None of the widespread voter fraud that the senator leaving this panel or any of the other weak-kneed politicians that continued to pander here in Pennsylvania are demonstrating that there was any type of widespread voter fraud at all.

And I think it's also important to note that we had two legally required mandated audits that were done, again, they confirm the results of this election.

COOPER: I mean, "pander" a good word, because it's -- you know, we all saw what happened in Arizona. Much ballyhoo who about you know, the Cyber Ninjas coming in and using their alleged expertise to find out and nothing -- there was no finding, there was no fraud just as there isn't any nationwide voter -- widespread voter fraud that would impact the results of the election.

Folks from Pennsylvania, I remember you and I discussed, I believe, after folks from Pennsylvania went down there from the legislature to kind of look it over. They are basically pandering either to the hardcore Republicans who believe the former President or pandering to the former President hoping he will, you know, send them an "attaboy" message.

SHAPIRO: Right. I think that's exactly right. I would go maybe a step further. I think they are pandering out of a profound personal weakness. And what I mean by that is, they are willing to trade our democracy, to trade the Oath of Office that they're required to take to try and achieve some sort of short term political gain or "attaboy," as you called it.

That is -- that demonstrates, I think, a character flaw and a real weakness on these individual's parts. And what it really does as well is not just cost taxpayer dollars here in Pennsylvania, but it denies us an opportunity to deal with the serious challenges we face.

People talk to me all about -- all the time about that they're worried about, how they educate their kids and how they go forth and deal with this changing economy. And right now, people are worried about that. They shouldn't have to also worry about the fate of our democracy.

COOPER: Attorney General Shapiro, appreciate it. Thank you.

SHAPIRO: Thank you.

COOPER: Perspective now from CNN political analyst and AXIOS Managing Editor, Margaret Talev; also, CNN anchor and chief domestic correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, you heard the Pennsylvania Attorney General, how does what's happening in Pennsylvania reflect what's going on around the country?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF DOMESTIC CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, what we're seeing, not only in Pennsylvania, but around the country is a fraudulent effort to find voter fraud, is the way this is shaping up. And I think it goes back to you know, we're talking about old texts and so on.

I went back through some old reporting of mine just right after the November election in 2020 when we reported at the time that Trump and some of his allies and associates were having conversations just in the weeks after the November election about whether electors could go rogue in various battleground states.

And for weeks after that, Anderson, there were discussions going on behind the scenes not only involving Trump and Mark Meadows, but lawmakers up on Capitol Hill, Republican operatives, people like Rudy Giuliani, about whether or not alternate slates of electors could be sent to Vice President Mike Pence to be counted on January 6th.

And so, there was just this steady effort that was going on for weeks to essentially overturn the election results and overturn the will of the American people. And Anderson, you know, the way you teed that up at the beginning of the program, I mean, I just think it captures it so perfectly.

Republicans have been on a crusade -- Trump Republicans have been on a crusade to find voter fraud all this time. It turns out, the fraudsters are many of them. They just need to look in the mirror.

COOPER: Margaret, while the former President was in office, he would often keep endorsements to national or statewide races. How is the strategy different this time around?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Wow. We are seeing, Anderson, the former President and his team playing in multiple states at multiple levels of government right now, everything from endorsements in Governor's races and congressional races, which we see every day down to the State level State offices, Secretary of State in a parallel effort through think tanks and other groups to try to machinate around, not just Elections Boards, but Boards of Education in jurisdictions around the country.


So it is a whole of government effort from top to bottom, or last count as of about a week ago is that he'd made around 80 endorsements, let's say dozens because many more are coming. And this is not just shoot from the hip off the cuff, you know, enemies list kinds of stuff. This is a strategic effort to try to ensure that there are loyalists installed at all levels of government who can shape laws, appeals, ultimate decisions, legislation, policy, leadership, and elections throughout the country between now and the primaries, and now in November 2022.

COOPER: Do you think that can actually impact the way future elections are run? I mean, at local levels and at state levels?

TALEV: I mean, yes, I think inherently it can. It will be a test case or many test cases for how. For example, Secretaries of States races have never drawn the kind of money that they are already starting to draw and will draw this year. It's kind of the -- I can't think of a better word than politicization of an office that yes, at times has, you know, Secretaries of State are constantly balancing their party allegiances with their job, but ultimately, it's their job to administer fair and impartial elections and this will become a much more political effort in School Boards. Certainly, that's the case.

I look at this in three parallel things. What's going on with the January 6 Committee right now and the efforts to stonewall testimony, a concerted effort by the President -- former President and his allies to diminish Mitch McConnell's leadership in the Senate and to have people -- have candidates take stances against Mitch McConnell as part of their primary candidacy, and then, of course, this broader effort of trying to install loyalists throughout government.

COOPER: Jim, you know, we talked about this earlier, Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan today confirmed that -- or a spokesman for him confirmed that Jordan was the source of one of the much talked about text messages to Mark Meadows saying: "On January 6, 2021, Vice President Mike Pence as President of the Senate should call out all electoral votes that he believes are unconstitutional as no electoral votes at all."

Jordan's spokesman is claiming that the text was part of a larger chain. It was actually a forwarded text. I mean, does that make it any less egregious, you think in the Committee's eyes?

ACOSTA: No, there is no putting lipstick on this pig, Anderson. I mean, listen, keep in mind, Jim Jordan was one of Kevin McCarthy's picks for the January 6th Committee. So can you imagine the embarrassment that would have been on Jim Jordan's face when they started reading texts, and then looked over at Jim Jordan and said, oh, by the way, I think that was your text?

I mean, we're starting to get into the world, Anderson --

COOPER: I'm not sure that shame or embarrassment is anything -- is something that he feels a lot of right now.

ACOSTA: Well, yes, this is turning into the Spider-Man meme where you've got two guys dressed up as Spider-Man pointing out one another, saying, "No, you're the fraudster. No, you're the fraudster." I mean, this is getting to be almost comical, but the sad reality in all of this, Anderson, is that what we're looking at, and this is a difficult reality to get our heads around, but we're going to have to get comfortable with it, is that there appears to have been a vast conspiracy involving Trump, involving people working under Trump, and potentially and it looks like Members of Congress up on Capitol Hill who were attempting to overturn election results, who were attempting to prevent a constitutional process that was supposed to take place on January 6.

I think that is why it is so critically important what Liz Cheney was saying in the last 48 hour. She was hinting at essentially that a violation of U.S. Code may have occurred. Now, that goes way beyond what we've talked about up until this point in terms of getting to the bottom of January 6th and getting the truth out there and so on.

What we're talking about is potentially a criminal conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election, and I think that is -- that is why you have a lot of Republican members up on Capitol Hill right now, I think quaking in their boots.

COOPER: Jim Acosta and Margaret Talev, appreciate it. Thank you.

Next, our Randi Kaye and author Stuart Stevens on Congresswoman Liz Cheney has taken center stage in all this and is now facing the wrath of her party and the former President. Later, Dr. Sanjay Gupta on boosters and new data showing just how effective they still can be in keeping us all healthy even against this new strain.



COOPER: In addition to everything else the House Select Committee has done in service of the facts, it has also provided a reminder of what true bipartisanship looks like, the kind that was taken for granted during the Watergate hearings, but now exists only in the persons of two Republicans who chose to serve in the current proceedings.

One, Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney co-chairs the committee. Our Randi Kaye tonight takes a look at what drives her.


RANDI KAYE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Love her or hate her, there is no doubt this is Liz Cheney's moment.

CHENEY: For 187 minutes, President Trump refused to act when action by our President was required, essential, and indeed compelled by his oath to our Constitution.

KAYE (voice over): Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney squarely putting the blame on Trump for January 6th.

CHENEY: He did it in an effort to steal an election.

KAYE (voice over): Cheney was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for his part in the attack, and it cost her politically. In May, she was stripped of her G.O.P. leadership role, but she was only more emboldened.

CHENEY: Instead of stopping the attack while it was underway, he was busy calling up senators trying to get them to delay the count.

KAYE (voice over): Trump has called Cheney a horrible human being, insults which only seemed to fuel her determination. It is why she is breaking with her own party, serving as the face of a Democratic-led Committee.


(voice over): It was Liz Cheney who read those damning text messages during the recent contempt hearing, exposing the former President, FOX News hosts, and others as frauds. And Cheney wasn't afraid to suggest Trump may have committed a crime.

CHENEY: Did Donald Trump, through action or inaction corruptly sicced to obstruct or impede Congress's official proceedings to count electoral votes?

KAYE (voice over): Liz Cheney's fortitude may come from her father. CHENEY: There is one man in particular, we all know, who certainly has taught me what it means to have the courage of your convictions.

KAYE (voice over): That was Cheney back in 2010 talking about her father, Dick Cheney, and how the former Vice President shaped her political views.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything about Liz Cheney is baked into what her father did before her.

KAYE (voice over): Liz Cheney was born to Dick and Lynn Cheney in 1966 in Madison, Wisconsin. She attended Colorado College as an undergraduate. Then before going to University of Chicago Law School, she worked for the State Department for five years. Later, she ran for the Senate.

CHENEY: Today, I am launching my candidacy for the United States Senate.

KAYE (voice over): In her 2014 run, she spoke out against same sex marriage, despite the fact her younger sister, Mary, married a woman.

CHENEY: I do believe in the traditional definition of marriage.

KAYE (voice over): She has since changed her position.

CHENEY: I was wrong. I was wrong. I love my sister very much.

KAYE (voice over): Liz Cheney ended up dropping out of that Senate race, but in 2016, she won Wyoming's House seat and quickly became the most powerful woman in the House leadership.

Her place in history is still being written though. She is vowing to keep her House seat, despite Trump's endorsement of her key opponent, and the Wyoming Republican Party, calling for her resignation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is nothing Liz Cheney loves more than a good fight.

KAYE (voice over): Randi Kaye, CNN, Palm Beach County, Florida.


COOPER: Someone else who doesn't mind a fight joins us now. He is a political consultant, former Republican and writer, Stuart Stevens, author of eight books. Most notably in this context, "It Was All A Lie: How the Republican Party became Donald Trump."

Stuart, Congresswoman Cheney, obviously one of the very few Republicans standing up to the Big Lie. Do you think what she is doing is resonating with Republican voters in her district or anywhere across the country? I mean, can she break through the polarization?

STUART STEVENS, AUTHOR AND POLITICAL CONSULTANT: Well, I think Liz Cheney will be re-elected. I think she'll be re-elected easily. People follow courage in the same way they follow cowardness. I mean, that's how mobs are started and that's how mobs are stopped. This is an extraordinarily courageous moment of hers. And it's also a very conservative moment.

You know, when William Buckley launched "The National Review," he said that sometimes conservatism should play the role of standing to thwart history and saying, "Stop." And that's what Liz Cheney is doing here to what used to be a party that that I belonged to, that said, if it believed in anything, the Constitution and it's become any constitutional movement.

COOPER: It is, I mean, as somebody who grew up interested in politics in the 1980s, you know, coming of age in the age of Ronald Reagan, it is stunning to see the Republican Party, essentially that the Republican Party that was is really represented now by two holdouts in the House, I mean, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger.

STEVENS: Yes, I don't really think we've seen a collapse of a moral center of a party like this in certainly modern American history, and probably not American history.

You know, I think there has always been these two strands of the Republican Party in post-World War II. There was an Eisenhower strand, which was governing, boring, sane, and a Joe McCarthy strand -- paranoid, often racist, conspiratorial, non-governing.

A lot of us, certainly I thought that we were the dominant gene, that we belong to that Eisenhower wing. It was what compassionate conservatism was all about.

But I don't know any conclusion to come to, Anderson, and on a personal level, it is incredibly painful that I was wrong, and that we were the recessive gene, and that this crazy gene that you see represented now by the Republican Party is what the Republican Party wants to be.

COOPER: Well, it is also, you know, there have always been Marjorie Taylor Greene's or Lauren Boebert or Paul Gosar's, but the fact is that they have now been elevated by their peers, not condemned by House leadership, and Liz Cheney, you know, agree with her or disagree with her on her politics, truth -- she is, you know, telling a truth and essentially been excommunicated.


STEVENS: Yes, you know, I, I would give a lot if I could say, but then in kind of honesty that Liz Cheney was the future of the Republican Party versus Marjorie Taylor Greene. But I don't know how you can look at the party today and say that.

COOPER: Can you -- you actually --


COOPER: -- you wrote a while ago and correct me if I'm wrong, that we would be lucky if Liz Cheney was the leader of the Republican Party. You wrote, it was in it was a book about the 2000. Bush campaign you wrote, called the Big Enchilada. And I just got the quote, you said, if Republicans are lucky someday, Liz Cheney will run for president. That was in 2000.

STEVENS: Yes, you know, I work closely with Liz Cheney and debate prep for her dad, and she was incredibly impressive. And I wrote that because it was true, it's rare that you run across someone that impressive. And now, I mean, if you said to me in 2000, that Liz Cheney would be voted out of the Republican Party by the Wyoming Republicans, you know, I would have said that this is like insane. But we're at that moment where the unimaginable, tends to become inevitable. You know, we have to just accept this.

COOPER: And you said that if Republicans win in 2022, and 2024, there's ever reasonably the democracy will no longer exist as we know it. I mean, you really believe that?

STEVENS: Yes, I don't think it's a truism. I mean, look, how many Republicans have denounced the PowerPoint, to stop the peaceful transition of power. In fact, we really didn't have a peaceful transition of power because people died an attempt to stop it. All of these efforts, that the Republicans are trying to change these laws and are changing these laws in the States, pay attention. I mean, there are these buffoonish characters out there, like we're talking about, like, you know, the Marjorie Taylor Greene's, that's not who represents the real core of this movement. And it is an autocratic movement. And it is driven by the fact that the Republican Party exists now in America that is rapidly changing, and it has failed on a widespread level, to be able to attract non-white votes.

So, that's their reaction to it. If you can't change demographics, which they can't, if we can't change who, as Americans, we can try to change who which Americans can vote. And that's what this is about. And they're very comfortable with this. They admit it, they say it, listen to them, believe them, and it's up to the rest of us to fight it because if we don't fight, they will win.

COOPER: Stuart Stevens, I appreciate you joining us. Thank you.

STEVENS: Thank you.

COOPER: More colleges, universities are making changes to the end of their fall semester due to rising COVID cases and the spread of the Omicron variant. Plus, we'll have more than that. Plus new data on the effectiveness good news of booster shots when it comes to Omicron. We'll talk it over Dr. Sanjay Gupta



COOPER: The rising COVID cases and concerns over the fast spreading Omicron variant is forcing at least two more colleges and universities to cancel -- four more excuse me to cancel end of the year events and recommend or call for final exams online. Princeton University, NYU and Middlebury College are among those making the announcement just as Cornell University did yesterday.

Meanwhile, new data from the National Institutes of Health shows a third dose of Moderna is vaccine offers protection against Omicron. That's 20 times greater than the two dose regimen. And Pfizer's booster shot is 75% effective against symptomatic infection.

So there's lots to discuss with our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay, just tonight Dr. Fauci said he thinks Omicron surge is, quote, almost inevitable. I often ask you this near the beginning of our COVID town halls, where do you think we are now in the course of this pandemic?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are still very much in the middle of a Delta surge here. And you know, Anderson, we knew as we were going into the cooler, drier months, the spread, the numbers were going to increase always it was just a question of how much. But let me show you this graph we put together sort of give you an idea. This is looking at the cases in England, looking at Omicron and Delta.

Now, what we're seeing here is sort of how these both started. So the blue line is how Delta started, you can see it was a group pretty quickly, but it took a little bit of time to get there. With Omicron, just a few days after the first case was identified, you can see it's a much more upward trajectory, that that line looks like it may be plateauing a little bit there. But there's no indication of that overall, in terms of the numbers. So, Omicron is certainly growing a lot.

If you look more specifically at the country as a whole, we knew a couple of weeks ago that if you looked at all the new cases that were being diagnosed Omicron made up about 0.4% and now it's closer to 3%, within two weeks. In New York and New Jersey, where you are Anderson over that same two week period from 2% to 13%.

So, that's sort of where we are, it's still very much about Delta. But those graphs sort of paint the picture of why Omicron is a concern.

COOPER: What do you most want to know about Omicron that you don't at this point?

GUPTA: You know, I think that there's still three main questions here, you know, we are getting -- it's coming into clear focus, but really, will this out compete Delta? And I just showed you the graph that shows just how much faster it potentially is growing at least at the start. The severity of this, you know, how severe is it -- this is still an open question. You know, if you look at South Africa, for example, you find that the risk of hospitalization was about 29% lower than with previous strains. So that's good. And then I think the final thing is ultimately how well do the -- does the immunity work?

The graph you're looking at on the screen now, Anderson still paints the picture of vaccinated versus unvaccinated. So as much as we talk about Omicron competing Delta and everything, the red line, you know, is the unvaccinated.


GUPTA: If you have COVID you end up in the hospital. It is not even close.

COOPER: That's startling (ph).

GUPTA: So, you know -- yes.

COOPER: That's incredible.

GUPTA: It is. Yes. I mean, you know, we should talk about boosters, we should talk about Omicron. But what is happening still in the United States is that picture on the screen that the unvaccinated are still largely accounting for the most severely ill in this country.


COOPER: How critical do you think -- I mean I know a number of people who have not had boosters who have now contracted it just in the last week or so. I spoke with infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm last night, he warned that even if Omicron causes more mild illness, the reality is that huge numbers of infections would still strain the healthcare system.

GUPTA: Yes, I mean, that's the thing, you know, I think sometimes have a hard time sort of getting the proportionality of things here. So, you know, if you look again, at that graph that we're talking about, if you start to extrapolate that you say, OK, Omicron is so contagious, that it's everyone's going to be touched by this, at some point, if you are vaccinated, and you're boosted, the likelihood you're going to have significant symptoms is much lower. But the idea that you have such a significant percentage of vulnerable people in the country still, even with milder illness, if you get 0.5% or 1%, even of those people becoming ill, ill enough to see their doctor or go in the hospital, you're going to severely tax hospital systems all over the country at some point.

COOPER: And just very briefly, I mean, it's someone who's already, you know, had two vaccines and things getting boosted is just like, icing on the cake. It's, I mean, is that true? Or is this really it is necessary? I mean, I've been boosted is it its necessary, isn't it?

GUPTA: I've been boosted as well. Well, let's just put up that graph. Again, I can just show you. Again, we've pulled these numbers for you, Anderson to make the case, because I think the numbers do tell the story. If you look at the effectiveness Omicron versus Delta, in the first several weeks, two to nine weeks really good, right against getting sick with COVID-19 any kind of illness mild or severe.

Went down significantly for Omicron, you know, by week 14, and even more so by week 19. But if the booster is given --


GUPTA: -- and within two weeks after that booster, it really does restore that protection. We don't know how long that's still last. COOPER: Right.

GUPTA: But I think it's important to point out Anderson, we're still trying to control if we can get the numbers under control and keep people relatively safe during that time, hopefully the boosters will last long enough to make that happen.

COOPER: Yes. Sanjay, appreciate it. Thank you.

Millions of Americans under weather alerts tonight is extremely high winds and potential tornadoes threaten parts of the U.S. Our meteorologist Tom Sater tells us what we should expect, next.



COOPER: Right now across parts of the U.S., millions of people are facing the threat of severe storms high winds, potential tornadoes, and wildfires as Kentucky and several other states still recover from last weekend's devastating tornadoes.

Tonight, more than 80 million people in the central U.S. are under the threat of hurricane force winds and according to the National Weather Service, it's been a historic day after a moderate severe storm risk was issued for parts of the upper Midwest and a severe fire risk is in place over the southern and central plains. First time those risks in these locations ever been issued in December.

CNN's meteorologist Tom Sater is monitoring it all, joins us now. So how many states are seeing rough weather and how bad might get?

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well it started just 24 hours ago, Anderson, in California dropped into the desert southwest across central rockets all the way to Great Lakes, two thirds of the country. I've been doing this 30 years and we're seeing things today in the CNN weather center, we have never seen before. How bad could it get? The U.S. could be looking at it second billion dollar weather disaster in less than a week.

Let me break it down, started with an atmospheric river a firehouse of rainfall into California. That's rain they seen all year and heavy snowfall, but they got too much in Southern California we had debris flows. Six to eight foot snow amounts in the Sierras with avalanche warnings. Ninety one mile per hour winds brought this snow in toward Boulder and it looked like a sandstorm. Oh, when we had that too, four states from the Southern Plains, Texas up toward Nebraska, zero visibility with a dust storm that was blowing tractor trailers over behind that numerous wildfires they never see this time of year, they were going to get in to the mess up to the north, which we have never seen.

Take a look at the winter storm watches and warnings up into areas of North Dakota and Minnesota that's to come later on. But when you look at the system right now, we've had 82 mile per hour gusts in Sioux City, Dodge City 84, 91 in Boulder, as I mentioned, a numerous tornado warnings already we're up to 70 tornado warnings. And on Friday's event, we had 100. So we're on our way there. Notice in red, a tornado watch until 11 o'clock central time. This is the first time in history we've ever seen a tornado watch in the state of Minnesota. In fact, going back over 100 years, they've only had one warning and that was a severe thunderstorm warning.

The tower in the airport in Kansas City had to be clear, there was debris, they were able to come back. Once this line moves through, people are going to see the wind still pick up it won't be severe like we had on Friday in Mayfield where they had two rounds of this. This is the first tornado warning ever in the history of Minnesota that runs between November and February. It's never happened before in history. If we get a tornado, that'll be the first time.

On a grand scale, we had severe wind reports from the desert southwest with power outages all the way to the Great Lakes. So it's going to take a while to go through all the damage assessments. But this is unprecedented, a critical level extreme for fire damage, and we talked to a number of the offices yesterday, they've never seen this and there have been a number of fires that have been scorching buildings. In fact in Guymon, Oklahoma they had to evacuate the town as the winds were picking up. And of course they were hosing down their buildings. But this is unprecedent never before a level four out of five in the Upper Midwest, Anderson.

COOPER: Amazing. Tom, appreciate it. Thank you.

Well, many parts the nation under severe weather threats right now, President Biden traveled to Kentucky today surveyed the damage from last weekend storm. He announced that the federal government would cover 100% of the emergency work costs for the first 30 days of recovery. He also promised to do quote, whatever it takes as long -- as it takes to support Kentucky. Officials in the state revise the death toll downward today to 71 people and as of yesterday, there are still 18,500 power outages in the state and the people of that region they remain in our thoughts.

Up next, former police officer Derek Chauvin has changed his plea in the federal civil rights case over the death of George Floyd. Details ahead.



COOPER: Months after being convicted of murder former police officer Derek Chauvin pleaded guilty to violating George Floyd civil rights in federal court today. Chauvin was convicted of all three charges against him in April for Floyd's death. The new guilty plea represents the first time that Chauvin admitted to his role in Floyd's death after pleading not guilty and exercising his right not to testify at his trial.

CNN security correspondent Josh Campbell has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the first time since the murder of George Floyd last year, former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin is admitting responsibility. Pleading guilty Wednesday, the federal civil rights charges that he violated Floyd's constitutional rights. It's all part of a plea deal for the man convicted of killing Floyd last year by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes.

In addition to the more than two decades, Chauvin was sentenced to by the state prosecutors have asked for a concurrent sentence of 25 years on federal charges, adding fewer than three years to his overall prison time, far less than the life sentence he could have received. In court, prosecutors asked Chauvin as Mr. Floyd lay on the ground handcuffed and unresisting, you kept your knees on Mr. Floyd's neck and body even after Mr. Floyd became unresponsive. Correct? Correct, Chauvin said. When asked if he agreed the offence resulted in Floyd's death he gave the same one word response. Afterwards Floyd's brothers had mixed reactions.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wish it would happen on the first day we had to stay trial. I want to hear that at the very beginning so right now it just -- it don't mean nothing. It don't hold wait.

PHILONISE FLOYD, GEORGE FLOYD'S BROTHER: To me, this is big because blue wow feel and it never falls. Cops do they are solid, but they're opening up and they all say that that was wrong.


CAMPBELL: Now Anderson, it was a powerful day in court today. What we saw was the coming together of multiple people impacted by the actions of this former officer. There were members of the Floyd family in court. There was also a juvenile who Derek Chauvin pleaded guilty to assaulting back in 2017. At the end of this hearing, after Chauvin's guilty pleas, George Floyd's brother turned to this boy and said, it's a good day for Justice. Anderson.

COOPER: Josh Campbell, appreciate it. Thanks.

We'll be right back.



COOPER: Quick note before we go if you ever missed the show and you want to find the latest episode surely after it airs on our podcast you can find the show at and all major podcast platforms, just search for Anderson Cooper 360.

News continues. Let's hand over Michael Smerconish in "CNN TONIGHT." Michael.