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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

C.D.C. Forecasts More Than 44K Deaths Over Next Four Weeks; New COVID-19 Record Set As Schools Plan To Reopen; Ghislaine Maxwell Guilty Of Sex Trafficking And Aiding In Epstein Abuse; Biden To Speak With Putin Tomorrow At Russian Leader's Request; Trump Endorses Alaska Gov. Dunleavy For Reelection, As Long As He Doesn't Back Sen. Murkowski In 2022; Fight Over Trump WH Records Takes Major Step Forward Tomorrow With House, Biden Admin. Supreme Court Response. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired December 29, 2021 - 20:00   ET


POPPY HARLOW, CNN HOST: Thank you so much for joining me tonight.

AC 360 is now.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: A very busy night of breaking news. Jim Acosta here, in for Anderson.

Ahead tonight, justice for the socialite's daughter accused of helping the late sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein recruit, groom, transport, and sexually abuse underage women. Ghislaine Maxwell found guilty on five counts including the most serious, sex trafficking.

We begin tonight though with COVID and what officials and experts now concede is the start of several very rough weeks. Listen to what the University of Minnesota's Michael Osterholm told me just a short time ago.


MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIRECTOR FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH AND POLICY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: We don't know a lot of the things we wish we'd know, but what we do know and what is emerging here is that this country is going to be in the soup in just in the next few weeks, with so many cases in so many locations. We're going to see critical infrastructure as well as healthcare challenge.


ACOSTA: To that point, new cases are now averaging nearly 300,000 a day. A new C.D.C. forecast out late today predicts more than 44,000 new deaths are possible over the next four weeks. Yes, 44,000.

Meantime, testing remains hard to come by, a former H.H.S. official Rick Bright on CNN this evening, compare it to the "Hunger Games," and as people scramble to get tested ahead of New Year's Eve and Holiday flights back home, schools in some of the hardest hit areas are laying out new guidelines for staying ahead of the rising case curve. As always, lately, it's a lot.

CNN's Tom Foreman starts us off.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Schools in D.C. will require all students and staff to have negative COVID test to come back to class. New York City will require rigorous testing, too. All that as the White House says it expects to sign a contract for a half billion at-home COVID tests next week.

And as the Centers for Disease Control faces sharp questioning over new guidelines for COVID weary Americans.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: It really had a lot to do with what we thought people would be able to tolerate.

FOREMAN (voice over): Recommendation of five instead of 10 isolation days for those testing positive, but showing no symptoms; then five days of masking is aimed at keeping people working, but it is raising alarms, too.

ERIN BROMAGE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: There is absolutely no data that I'm aware about with the omicron variant that supports people coming out of isolation five days after they were first diagnosed with the virus.

FOREMAN (voice over): Nothing in the guidelines mandate testing for these people and the administration has been harshly criticized for the current shortage of test.

So the lack of testing and the new recommendations is also drawing fire even as top health officials push back.

WALENSKY: We actually don't know how our rapid tests perform and how well they predict whether you're transmissible during the end of disease.

FOREMAN (voice over): Add in new questions about the effectiveness of some at-home test in detecting the omicron variant, and it is all becoming a muddle at a terrible time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're right now seeing more cases per day than at any point in the pandemic.

FOREMAN (voice over): Infections among children are rising rapidly in many places.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're seeing here even in New Jersey a four-fold increase in pediatric hospitalizations. We're seeing our daily case rates skyrocket.

FOREMAN (voice over): In Connecticut, the National Guard has been called up to help with testing. In New York City, 17 percent of the police department's uniformed officers called in sick yesterday. In Washington, The Pentagon is tightening its COVID safety protocols,

and all along the coast, authorities are now investigating at least 86 cruise ships for COVID outbreaks.


FOREMAN (on camera): Simply put, the pandemic is raging all around causing confusion and concern everywhere, but the F.D.A. wants you to be clear on this, especially if you are parents with kids going back to any sort of school setting.

Remember, if they're five or older, they can get vaccinated, should get vaccinated, and the F.D.A. is considering booster shots for those 12 to 15.

So stay tuned -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Tom Foreman, thanks. Perspective now from a doctor in one of the hardest hit big cities which happens to be right here, Washington, D.C. where officials today reported a record number of new cases and the mayor announced vaccination requirements for restaurants, gyms, and other gathering places.

Dr. James Phillips is Chief of Disaster Medicine at George Washington University Hospital; also with us, Kathleen Sebelius, former Governor of Kansas and Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Obama Administration.

Dr. Phillips, let me start with you. What are you seeing inside your hospital in Washington right now, where cases are spiking? People are very worried here in the nation's capital. How is this wave different?

DR. JAMES PHILLIPS, CHIEF OF DISASTER MEDICINE, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: Well, thanks for having me, Jim. I'll be honest with you, it's unlike anything we've ever seen, even at the peak of the prior surges of COVID.

What we're experiencing right now is an absolute overwhelming of the Emergency Departments throughout Washington, D.C. All our hospitals themselves, the inpatient wards seem to be maintaining. The Emergency Departments are being flooded with mostly mildly symptomatic patients who are coming in to get tested and it is part of that shortfall of national testing that's occurring.


And it's all falling on the emergency department, and all of our problems are compounded by the fact that while many of us were able to stay safe from getting the delta virus and the previous variants that have come our way, omicron is affecting the staff at our hospitals in an unprecedented way.

We are -- we're really struggling to maintain our workforce, particularly of nurses right now and that makes wait times even longer in the waiting rooms and it is very demoralizing for both the patients and our staff. ACOSTA: Wow, Secretary Sebelius, as the former Health and Human

Services Secretary, when you listen to what Dr. Phillips just laid out there, what do you make of the situation that this country is in right now? And what if anything, do you think the Biden administration should do differently -- could have done differently?

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, FORMER SECRETARY OF HEALTH UNDER OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: Well, Jim, I think we're in the midst of really two viral infections simultaneously. So Kansas still hasn't had many omicron cases. We -- as the last report from the Health and Environment Department said, we have about 25 confirmed cases of omicron, over a thousand cases of delta in the hospitals, so we're still really being pressed by the delta variant.

And people are hospitalized, mostly unvaccinated, and the staff is stretched thin. We have hospitals that are sending patients all over the place. We have yet to have the omicron wave, which is coming, I'm afraid later in January for the middle of the country and we're going to pile that on to a continued delta variant.

No question that we have a testing problem in the United States. We've been talking about testing since March of 2020, and we have not gotten ahead of the curve and that's really not great news at this point in time. So people are making up their own rules.

We're also -- I live in a part of the country where every step that the public officials take at the state level, our Democratic governor has taken to try and put masking protocol in place, put vaccination requirements in place, it has been undone by the legislature.

So, it is a kind of free for all about what are the rules, what are the protocol? What are the -- and I think President Biden is trying to walk through this minefield of having major portions of the country that have undone any of the basic public health guidelines and are finding themselves in a world of hurt as we see this very transmissible variation began to sweep the country.

ACOSTA: Yes, it's the Wild West in many cases, depending on which part of the country you're in. It's not a coordinated response, unfortunately.

And Dr. Phillips, as Tom Foreman was just mentioning in his piece earlier, all students and staff attending D.C. public schools will have to show proof of a negative test before returning to the classroom next Wednesday. I mean, January 5th, it's coming up fast.

Despite that, do you think students and staff in D.C., other cities like New York, with skyrocketing transmission rates should be returning to in-person school? What do you think based on what you're seeing?

PHILLIPS: Jim, there is no right answer. Both answers, have consequences. If we shut everything down again, and go back to virtual, that's going to pull parents out of the workforce. And from my personal standpoint, we're in the middle of the great nursing shortage of 2021. It's affecting healthcare. And if we pull more nurses out of the workforce, and doctors, but

mostly nurses out of the workforce, because they have to stay home to take care of their kids. That's an issue. It hurts the economy. It hurts morale, and it turns everything even more political than it was before.

But going back to school, and I have two kids who are both in school -- going back to school right now without really adequate testing has risk. And even with testing, it has risks.

What we don't really even know is what is the actual sensitivity of these at-home antigen tests? Like I know that a pregnancy test is 95 percent sensitive one week after you miss your period. I have absolutely no idea how sensitive X, Y, or Z test is when you have symptoms of COVID.

Compound that with the fact that people are doing these tests themselves and may not be doing it correctly, or may not even be willing to do it, and COVID is going to slip through into schools.

So if our kids go back to school, it has to happen with an understanding that we are going to see dramatic rises in pediatric cases of COVID. Hopefully, it's mostly omicron which as Secretary Sebelius said, this is a completely different disease.

There are two pandemics now and hopefully all those cases are omicron because they do seem to amount to little more than an upper respiratory infection for healthy people.


ACOSTA: And Secretary Sebelius, the C.D.C.'s new guidelines reducing isolation and quarantine times from 10 to five days for some people with or exposure to COVID, but not recommending a negative test before seeing people again, what do you make of that? Do you think that was based solely on science? Or were there some practical pragmatic considerations, you know, being taken to consideration there?

I mean, is that the kind of policy you would have pursued as the Secretary of Health and Human Services?

SEBELIUS: Well, let me just start, Jim, by saying none of us have ever been through this kind of situation where we have a global pandemic and variations of the global pandemic presenting themselves across this country.

So would that be wise guidance if the majority of cases going to present were delta? Probably not, because delta is a much more serious variation. Is it a wise guidance for omicron? Probably, because people are trying to balance between vigilance and normalcy. What does it look like and particularly for asymptomatic folks with the omicron variant? Very little indication that there is much danger and having lots of people dropped out of the workforce, lots of people keep their kids home from school, lots of people go into some lockdown mode may have a lot worse consequences than the guidance that C.D.C. has put out. So I think guidance is based on what they are seeing, what the best

health science is about. Nobody wants kids to be out of school again. We all know now what an enormous deal -- Dr. Phillips talked about parents who then have to stay out of the workforce. I think we're just beginning to look at what has happened to children who had to stay out of school, what the long term traumatic mental health issues are that kids are going to be dealing with long beyond COVID in the rearview mirror.

So we know we don't want the economy to shut down and we know we don't want kids out of school. So balancing those issues as we're dealing now with two variants throughout the country and a situation where locally, public health is being undermined at every step along the way. We've dismantled any opportunity to do effective track and trace programs, any opportunity to have some kind of universal standard.

So, I think C.D.C. is doing a great job in a very complicated situation.

ACOSTA: Very complicated, and it's going to get very difficult over the next several weeks. Secretary Sebelius and Dr. Phillips, thanks to both of you. We appreciate it.

Coming up next, the Breaking News and the very latest behind the sex trafficking verdict that could send sex offender Jeffrey Epstein's former confidant, Ghislaine Maxwell to prison for the rest of her life.

Later, with Russian troops threatening Ukraine and Europe on edge in ways not seen since the Cold War. Vladimir Putin now wants to talk with President Biden. We'll talk about what he is really looking for and what the options are for the President dealing with the challenge.



ACOSTA: Four women are being praised for their bravery tonight, their testimony about what happened to them as girls convinced a jury late today to convict sex offender Jeffrey Epstein's confidante, Ghislaine Maxwell of sex abuse charges that could send her to prison for the rest of her life.

The trial lasted three weeks. Deliberations went on for more than six days. Jurors had plenty of questions sending 16 notes to the Judge. Details on all of it now from our Randi Kaye.


RANDI KAYE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A British socialite in a trial focused on her twisted behavior. Ghislaine Maxwell now guilty of five of the six counts against her.

The three-week trial included key testimony from four women who alleged Jeffrey Epstein sexually abused them, and Maxwell not only helped facilitate, but in some cases participated in that abuse between 1994 and 2004.

The women at the time were younger than 18.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maxwell was among Epstein's closest associates, and helped him exploit girls who were as young as 14 years old.

KAYE (voice over): Maxwell was found guilty of the most serious charge of sex trafficking a girl named Carolyn between 2001 in 2004 when she was a minor and just 14 years old. Carolyn had told the court that she was paid hundreds of dollars every time she engaged in a sexualized massage with Epstein and recruited other young girls for him.

Carolyn recalled on the stand how Maxwell groped her naked body on one visit when she was just 14 telling her she had a great body for Epstein and his friends.

In court, defense attorneys tried to suggest Carolyn made inconsistent statements about her timeline, but it seems the jury didn't buy that.

Another woman identified at trial only as Jane testified she was 14 when she endured abuse that included oral sex and intercourse, testifying that sometimes Maxwell took part in the sex acts.

Another girl named Annie Farmer told the court back in 1996 when she was 16, Maxwell massaged her bare chest at Epstein's New Mexico ranch.

Overall, the defense argued that women were misremembering or lying for personal gain, or adding Maxwell to their stories only at the government's suggestion.

Epstein's former pilots also testified. Larry Visoski flew Epstein for nearly 30 years. He called Maxwell, Epstein's number two, his quote, "go-to person."

The pilot also testified he flew Maxwell and Epstein along with some very high profile passengers, but never saw any sexual activity onboard the aircraft.

In court, the defense tried to paint Maxwell as a scapegoat for a man who behaved badly, that man being Epstein, who Maxwell dated in the 1990s. The two remained close after the relationship ended.

Epstein himself later faced charges of running a sex trafficking ring. He took his life in prison while awaiting trial in 2019.

So now, it is Ghislaine Maxwell's turn to answer for the crimes and having just celebrated her 60th birthday in prison, she could spend the rest of her life behind bars.



ACOSTA: Randi, It seems the jury really took their time to get this right, but they did reach that verdict just before the New Year. KAYE: Yes, Jim, it was a long deliberation, 40 hours over a six-day

span and she now faces up to 65 years in prison. She could have faced more had she not been found not guilty of that one count. She was found not guilty of enticing a minor to travel to engage in criminal sexual activity. That charge was related to the victim known as Jane in court.

No sentencing date has been set yet, but her attorneys, the defense attorneys are already talking. They spoke after court today. They said they believe in her innocence. They're already working on her appeal. They are confident that she will be vindicated.

But they spent really the most of the trial trying to separate her from Jeffrey Epstein to try and unwind her connection and put some distance between the two of them. But clearly, Jim, the jury felt that she was not an innocent bystander in all of this, that she wasn't a bit player. But in fact, a key player in the abuse of these girls -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Absolutely. All right, Randi Kaye, thank you very much for that. For more now on what might have moved the six women and six men on the jury, we are joined by jury consultant, Alan Tuerkheimer; also with us, CNN legal analyst and former Federal prosecutor, Jennifer Rodgers.

Jennifer, let me start with you. You called this quote, "a good day for justice." Tell us why.

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Jim, you know, this was a long, hard road for these victims. And until today, no one has gone to prison for this. You know, there was a ridiculous slap on the wrist down in Florida for Jeffrey Epstein a number of years ago, but he died by suicide in prison. So he'll never be held responsible for this.

So for these women -- girls at the time -- who came forward under oath, spoke in court with one of their abusers, Ghislaine Maxwell right in front of them, the jury believed them. They credited their testimony.

And so today, having learned that and having learned that Ghislaine Maxwell will go to prison for some still undetermined number of years, I have to think it's a good day for them and a good day for all of us, it is a good day for justice.

ACOSTA: Yes, they should be commended for their bravery, and their cooperation, no question about it. And Alan, this jury deliberated for 40 hours over six days. They sent a number of notes to the judge asking to examine testimony.

I think the defense was perhaps optimistic that that was moving things in their favor. What does all of that tell you?

ALAN TUERKHEIMER, JURY CONSULTANT: Certainly, this was a meticulous jury, and I think each and every member wanted to get it right. And so they essentially recreated what they felt were the significant and key moments of the trial and so they went over it. They talked about it. Look, memories aren't perfect, and so when jurors start to deliberate,

sometimes they have disagreements about what was said or what was done. And so I think what they wanted to do was make sure they got it right. They wanted testimony. They wanted all different pieces of evidence.

And so moving forward, they just wanted to be sure they were on the same page and they were for five of the six counts.

ACOSTA: And Jennifer, in a lot of ways, this trial was about Jeffrey Epstein as the primary abuser. That being said, there was evidence of Maxwell being present during the abuse. The defense tried to, you know, make her out to be a placeholder for Jeffrey Epstein during this trial, and so on.

What stands out to you though as the most critical piece of evidence that really sealed her fate?

RODGERS: I think Jim, you know, it's hard to pick one piece of evidence. There were four victims who testified and the counts kind of broke down along those lines. Certain counts were tied to certain victims, and they found guilty as to five of those six counts, so they believed all of these women.

I think the critical thing here is the consistency in what they told the jurors. You know, it wasn't as if these four women are telling four completely different stories, and it doesn't sound like they went through the same thing.

In fact, what they said was remarkably consistent in the way that Ghislaine Maxwell approach them, dealt with them, and lured them into this. The actual abuse they suffered at the hands of Jeffrey Epstein, all of it sounded like they had gotten in a room together and talked about it and of course they didn't, which means that it was truthful.

And so I think that was really striking and that's what really convinced the jurors here.

ACOSTA: And Alan, what do you make of the jury not finding Maxwell guilty on count two, enticing a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts? Did that surprise you? Because she was found guilty on all these other five counts? Why not that one?

TUERKHEIMER: Right. And I think with a lot of juries, there is horse trading where someone might think, look, we'll find her guilty on this count, if you find her not guilty on that count, but I don't think that's what happened here. I think they were very careful to look at the law, and I think they just felt when they looked at the law, look what happened after reviewing it, that the prosecution didn't prove their burden on that count of enticing.


And look, this was a lot of evidence by the prosecution and the jurors did not buy this defense that this was all about Jeffrey Epstein, and he and only Jeffrey Epstein was responsible for the abuse of these young girls now women. I also think that as was alluded to, that going after these accusers is risky, and I think it backfired.

I think questioning the memory and the motivation really hurt the defense, and I'm not sure that was such a good strategy. And then lastly, and I'm sure this was talked about, while Maxwell certainly has a right -- a constitutional right not to testify, I think some of the jurors were probably wondering, well, if she is really innocent, why doesn't she get up and tell the world about it?

ACOSTA: Yes, all right. Well, Jennifer and Alan, thanks so much for your time. Appreciate those insights. Fascinating case. So, we'll see what happens next. Thanks so much for your time.

And up next, why Russia's Vladimir Putin asked for a phone call with President Biden and whether they'll talk about the military buildup along the border with Ukraine.


ACOSTA: As the U.S. and its allies worry about the massive buildup of Russian forces along the country's border with Ukraine and with memories of the 2014 invasion of Crimea still fresh, the White House today announced that President Biden will speak by phone tomorrow with Russian leader Vladimir Putin and that the call was requested by the Russian President.

Joining us now, CNN White House correspondent Jeremy Diamond. Jeremy, what more are we learning about what is going on behind the scenes and how this call came about?


JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, Jim there is that critical piece of information that this call was requested by the Russian President and it comes just three weeks after President Biden and President Putin held that video conference together and less than two weeks before the next round of talks are expected between U.S. and Russian officials.

A senior administration official said they don't know exactly why the Russian President requested this call. But at a moment of crisis, which are the words that the senior official used to describe the current situation, they said that they didn't see any downside to having this conversation.

And crucially, we know that President Biden sees a lot of value and a lot of importance that he places in these leader to leader conversations, he often says that there's no substitute for those kinds of conversations, particularly when it comes to autocratic countries like Russia, and China.

ACOSTA: And what's the goal for the Biden administration going into this call? Do officials believe that Biden can affect Putin's behavior get him to reverse course and this buildup on the border with Ukraine?

DIAMOND: Well, they're not setting high expectations for this one phone conversation. Instead, they see it really in the context of that, a video conference that happened three weeks ago, and those upcoming talks coming in the next two weeks. But officials do see it as an opportunity for President Biden to once again make clear that while he is willing to engage in meaningful diplomacy, and he hopes that that is where things stay, he also wants to make clear to Vladimir Putin what the cost will be if indeed, he decides to move forward with an invasion of Ukraine. And that is to say, crippling economic and financial sanctions that U.S. officials say go well beyond what the U.S. did in response to Russia's invasion of Crimea back in 2014.

And of course, crucially, this is also about setting the table for those talks that are set to begin on January 10th. And to begin to kind of set expectations for what exactly can be achieved in those conversations.

ACOSTA: All right, those are some high stake talks that are coming up. Jeremy Diamond, thank you very much for that.

Let's now bring in Jill Dougherty, a former CNN Moscow bureau chief and a global fellow with the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. Longtime colleague of yours truly.

Jill, great to see you. Thanks, as always.


ACOSTA: And what are your expectation? I mean, this is, you know, Jeremy Diamond was alluding to this, what are your expectations for this call between the President Vladimir Putin tomorrow? And the fact that, you know, Putin requested the call? I mean, usually the Russians like to say, you know, oh, Washington reached out to us and, you know, that sort of thing.

DOUGHERTY: Right. I mean, I think it is significant that it was President Putin, who asked for this. And I was asking myself, OK, why exactly would he want this? And the only thing I can really come up with, you know, there's always the possibility that he has a surprise, but I don't think -- I don't think he has a surprise. I would go back to about six days ago, when he had his news conference. And he was very, very insistent.

In fact, I mean, some of the quotes, he was saying, I want the West United States to provide these security guarantees. And then this is actually a quote, you should give us guarantees, you right away right now. So it may be that he wants to reiterate that and just say, I am serious, I really want these guarantees. And what will happen is, you know, they're going to discuss those guarantees that Putin wants at those meetings coming up in January.

But the thing is, really, I think, you know, the United States has made it clear that any progress there is going to depend on deescalation by the Russians. And so far, it doesn't look as if they're deescalating.

ACOSTA: Right. And I know, you've been monitoring Russian media today, how are they framing this call? What are you seeing? I mean, one of the things with Vladimir Putin is he always wants to put himself on, you know, on an even playing with the United States, and he uses that for domestic political purposes. But is any of that reflected in what you're seeing in Russia?

DOUGHERTY: Well, you know, there was one announcement about this, there was a report in Russian media, in which they use the phrase, the two powers, kind of like the great powers reminded me very much of the old Soviet days, you know, big --

ACOSTA: Right.

DOUGHERTY: -- scary USSR, the great powers. And then tonight on TV, there was a very long discussion about this. And one person says something that I think actually is true. Or at least this is the way the Russians look at it. He said, you know, three years ago, we couldn't even have thought of doing this. But now we're a lot stronger. And now we can stand up to the west. And I think that might be Putin, Russia, feeling their oats and feeling that they can actually do this.

But I think you're going to have to watch that every time they have said something, Biden has come back with the same thing, which is, we're prepared to respond. If you know you don't invade and by the way we're coordinating with our allies and by the way there will be severe costs. So we'll just have to see him.


Again, I think there, this is high stakes, and President Putin usually takes advantage of those, at least to get some attention on himself, and to make Russia and himself look powerful.

ACOSTA: Yes, you know, putting the theatrics of the, you know, puffing of the chest out aside, Russia's military buildup on the border with Ukraine is front and center, a senior administration official told CNN, that the U.S. has not yet seen any effort by Russia to lower tensions to decrease tensions here. How do you think that is going to play out on this call? Because, you know, we might write all of this office, Putin playing as usual games and so on, but the possibility of an invasion? I mean, that would just send shockwaves across the region?

DOUGHERTY: Well, I think, you know, President Putin often says, you made me do it. And in this case, that's kind of what he's saying, you are coming too close to my borders. This is a threat to Russia. And I have to protect Russia's interests. Therefore, I am prepared to do this is all in quote, what I have to do to protect Russia. And I think that is the approach that he's going to take. It's your fault. NATO is too close to our borders. And that's where you get into these discussions.

Now, can they come up with something? What the Russians want, you know, is a big re -- revamping of European security. But that's very complex, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right, Jill Dougherty will be watching, we know you will as well. Thank you so much.

The former president is backing Alaska's governor for reelection. But his endorsement you might have guessed, comes with a catch. We'll have the details next.



ACOSTA: Former president is endorsing Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy for reelection as he did four years ago, but this time his backing comes with a very important catch. In a statement released Tuesday, the former president said Dunleavy quote, as is complete and total endorsement, but this endorsement is subject to his non-endorsement of Senator Lisa Murkowski, who has been very bad for Alaska. In other words, if Mike endorses her, which is his prerogative, my endorsement of him is null and void and of no further force, or effect. Sounds like a lease on an apartment I signed back in the '90s.

In the meantime, Murkowski was one of seven Republican senators and the only one running for reelection in 2022, who broke party lines, voting with Democrats to convict the former president for inciting the January 6 Capitol insurrection.

And joining us now to talk about this, former Republican congressman from Virginia, Scott Rigell, and CNN senior political analyst, Ryan Lizza.

Congressman Rigell, first of all, it sounds like, you know, used car salesman, the, you know, got to read the fine print here on this endorsement, I suppose. Have you ever heard of this kind of conditional endorsement before, and such a display of it as well? This is the kind of thing I suppose that happens behind the scenes with the former president, but he did kind of say the quiet part out loud. This is how he operates.

SCOTT RIGELL (R-VA) FMR CONGRESSMAN: Well, he's, he has a track record of using intimidation to advance his political goals. But this is clearly the most egregious example of basically a quid pro quo and the negative that is if you do something, I'll take something away. It's really deeply offensive to me, and I think it's it'll breach the governor's conscience if he lets Trump influence them in this decision.

ACOSTA: Ryan, out of the words of Trump and quid pro quo in the same sentence there, as I mentioned, Senator Murkowski voted to impeach the former president over January 6. Is this all just another loyalty test for Trump? I mean, you know, the loyalty test for him is, of course, the loyalty goes in one direction. And that's towards him.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, very lucky. Trump has made a lot of endorsements so far, about 50. And Murkowski is probably the one that is the most important to him, because, as you pointed out Jim, it's the one senator who voted to and convict him in the impeachment trial earlier this year, who's actually up for reelection. So he's trying to find every lever he can in Alaska politics, and he's put the governor in a very strange position.

You know, as you pointed out to Jim, this is usually the kind of thing that happens behind the scenes, right? That it happens quietly and classic Trump, he's, you know, saying it out loud. It's all out in public and now Dunleavy, he's got to make a decision here. Does he address this? Does he say no, that's not the way we do politics in Alaska? And he's going to have to make a calculation about who's more important to his reelection, you know, Donald Trump or Lisa Murkowski.

ACOSTA: Yes. And, Congressman, how much currency does a Trump endorsement mean for Republican candidates these days? What is your sense of it? I mean, as you know, in Virginia, in that gubernatorial race, Glenn Youngkin, and he had Trump's endorsement, but he held Trump at arm's length kept him out of the state, he ended up winning, which I guess Alaska, it's going to be very different, I suppose out there.

RIGELL: It depends entirely on the how the district itself is constituted. I know, for example, in Virginia, second congressional district, we are basically, we could elevate a Democrat or a Republican. And I don't think that a Trump endorsement would really help a Republican candidate and our district, but in some districts that clearly the farther you could run to the right, and in a deep red district get the President's endorsement. That could be the path to a not only the nomination, but they're going up and serving in Congress.

ACOSTA: And Ryan, the former president is not just endorsing Republican candidates to help flip seats or state houses. He's also been actively trying to unseat incumbent members of his own party people like Congressman Liz Cheney, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, the list goes on and on. How sustainable is this for the Republican Party as a whole right now you think?

LIZZA: Well, he's -- he cuts different ways in different places. Remember, in Virginia, he was not welcomed by the Republican gubernatorial candidate. And if he had come into that state and campaigned for him, and if the candidate Glenn Youngkin had embraced Trump, a lot of people think he would have lost. In other places, he's absolutely especially in Republican primaries, his endorsement is the whole ballgame and he's endorsing early in a lot of places. Partly to clear the field, you know, he's endorsing early in some of these races, and then some of the potential challengers to his, the people who didn't do or are just giving up and not running at all.


So, the deep red districts he's got a lot of clout. And, you know, he's driven no harshly by revenge, right? So he is making some decisions that are not strategic and not in line with what other Republicans like, say Mitch McConnell think is best for the party. Because mostly what he's driven by in a lot of these endorsements is his personal preferences. I think the most worrisome endorsements and the most interesting and the ones that we really need to pay attention to are the Secretary of State endorsements in some of the states that did the right thing and certify the election results. There are candidates now running for secretary of state that Trump has embraced and endorsed, who basically said they would not have certified the election results in places like Arizona, Georgia and Michigan. And that is very, very scary to see what would happen if some of those folks were in place in the next presidential election.

ACOSTA: Well, in many ways, Ryan, I mean, that that is by design. I mean, that is something that Republican Party operatives, especially in Trump world, they have laid this out as their blueprint for the upcoming midterm cycle and the 2024 presidential election. Very worrisome indeed.

All right, Scott Rigell, Ryan Lizza, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

Just ahead --

RIGELL: Thanks Jim.

ACOSTA: -- a big day for the January 6 committee tomorrow, as its fight for the former president's White House Records heads to the Supreme Court.



ACOSTA: The January 6 committees fight for the former presidents White House records takes a major step forward tomorrow. The committee and the Biden administration plan to file a response to the Supreme Court after the former president asked the justices for a full review of a case involving the release of more than 700 pages of White House Records to the committee. Lower courts have already decided in favor of the House panel and now the committee which is hoping to produce an interim report by summer wants an expedited decision from the court two weeks from tomorrow.

Joining us to talk about this now is Jeffrey Toobin, CNN chief legal analyst and a former federal prosecutor. And John Dean, former counsel to President Nixon and a CNN contributor.

Jeff, let me start with you. Do you think the Supreme Court is going to take up this case? And how important would this be for the committee if it were a fast track of you something?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I do think they'll take the case. This is just a major separations of -- separation of powers issue. It's never been settled in the Supreme Court before you have this very unusual situation of the executive branch and the legislative branch in agreement. President Biden thinks these records should be turned over. But former President Trump does not think they should be turned over. And the Supreme Court has held in the past that former presidents do have the right to exert executive privilege.

What the courts have never addressed is what happens when there's a conflict between the current executive branch and the former president. And that's what this case is really about.

ACOSTA: And, John, obviously, much of what the January 6th committee is doing has been handicapped behind or has been happening behind closed doors, I should say that's expected to change in the New Year, the committee is planning to hold more public hearings. How important will that be do you think not only for their case, but for the public at large? I mean, we all recall, it was your presence at the Watergate hearings in front of the American people that turned the tide, in many ways against Richard Nixon.

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think it's going to be very important. It serves an educational purpose. And I think people -- the public doesn't realize how much goes on behind the scenes. These are like icebergs, and the bulk of it is under the water. That certainly happened during Watergate, there were executive hearings or closed hearings or depositions of virtually every witness before they appeared in public. That's what's happening today, it with the select committee on January 6. So they're direct parallels, and they know then when a witness appears, and they call a witness what the witness is going to say. They know how the witness will perform.

I didn't -- I had a very brief executive session. But I spent almost six weeks in secret meetings with the chief counsel. So he knew very well what my testimony was before it. And that's why I think it builds up to the point it did.

ACOSTA: That's interesting. And Jeffrey Toobin, as you know, then President Trump appointed very conservative justices to the court three very conservative justices to the court. Do you think that anyone on the bench is going to be sympathetic to his argument? Because the former president has made no secret about his expectations when it comes to loyalty? I mean, we saw that when he was challenging the election results, so it was they were, you know, he's practically saying why put you on the Supreme Court make me president?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, it is worth remembering that the four judges who have decided this case so far, one district court judge and three Court of Appeals judges have all been Democratic appointees. So now it's going up to a court with six conservatives, including three Trump appointees. I don't think it's necessarily a question of loyalty. I don't think these justices are thinking, well, I have to repay the president for appointing me.

However, I do think that the conservative justices, especially the 3d (ph) appointed, have a very robust conception of executive power. And they believe that if a president can't speak frankly, with his advisers, and can't exchange memos and e-mails, that will chill the operation of the executive branch. So I suspect at least some of those six are going to be sympathetic to the President Trump's arguments, whether that mean, it's it he'll get a majority five, I don't know. I think this case is going to be a close one. And I would, I don't think the -- you know, the Congressional victories that we've seen so far, necessarily mean they're going to win to the Supreme Court.

[20:54:58] ACOSTA: And John looking at legal precedent want to comes to executive privilege obviously the 1974 Supreme Court decision ordering then President Nixon to turn over the Watergate tapes, I mean that that is going to loop over some of this. We mentioned your role a moment ago, but I want to play a portion of what you said and what became the John Dean moment. Let's watch.


DEAN: I began by telling the President that there was a cancer growing on the presidency. And if the cancer was not removed, the President himself would be killed by it.


ACOSTA: I mean, do you see any potential John Dean's out there? I mean, it's a different time now. What do you think?

DEAN: Well, you know, I've looked, and I don't think anybody's going to do it. It is not a pleasant route. It's not a route most people decide to take, as Bob Woodward described it, I decided to blow myself up. And that's exactly what I did. And in the long run, it's been -- it's made life a lot easier for me. I'm not somebody who believes he could have ever carried the lie.

And so, I wasn't willing to play the game. But I hope there's some people who will certainly come forward, whether it's going to be at the level, I got knowledge, which was pretty high. I didn't have I wasn't a big deal. I had a big title and a middle level job. But I don't know if anybody in this administration is going to come forward with that same kind of knowledge, hope so.

TOOBIN: But there's one other factor, Jim, which was that John Dean was proved truthful by the White House Tapes. Everything he said was verified when the tapes came out later. The -- I don't think they're going to be any tapes here. So I suspect most people will hear what they want to hear when the more facts come out about January 6.

ACOSTA: All right, well, we'll wait to see what the January 6 committee unfolds because, you know, we've been surprised so far. They have had some blockbusters so far.

Jeffrey, John, thanks so much. We'll be right back.



ACOST: Thanks for joining us. A "CNN SPECIAL REPORT: WEED 6, MARIJUANA AND AUTISM," starts right now.