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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

F.D.A. Expected To Authorize Pfizer Booster For Kids Ages 12 To 15; New York State Reports Record 74K New COVID-19 Cases; Biden Warns Putin On Call Of Dire Economic Consequences If Russia Invades Ukraine; Jan. 6 Panel Plans For Supreme Court Decision, Public Testimony, Interim & Final Reports For 2022; Nearly 600 Homes Destroyed After 100 MPH Gusts Fuel "Life-Threatening" Colorado Wildfires; Carole King & James Taylor: Just Call Out My Name" Premieres Sunday At 9P ET/PT. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired December 30, 2021 - 20:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Well, Sanjay, thank you so much.


BURNETT: So important, of course for everyone and for all of us parents. And I encourage all of you please go to

Also, watch again Sanjay's report, it is a powerful three-part series called "Justice for Rhema."


POPPY HARLOW, CNN HOST: AC 360 starts now.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Back to school meets peak pandemic as millions get ready for better or worse to ring in the New Year. Jim Acosta here, in for Anderson.

That's what lies in store in the coming days as COVID infectious just keep climbing. To give you some idea of how quickly, when we left you last night, the seven-day average was approaching 300,000. Just 24 hours later and it is close to 350,000, and the line is going nearly straight up.

Deaths are also climbing, now jumping about 18 percent this week, and though children are far less likely than adults to become severely ill, or die of COVID, the avalanche of all the new cases this week is pushing the number of kids being hospitalized to new records, all this just as schools across the country get ready to welcome students back from the Holidays.

We'll be joined momentarily by Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, and later by New York Mayor-elect Eric Adams who will soon oversee the nation's biggest public school system.

But first, here's CNN's Tom Foreman.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): With the pandemic clocking unprecedented numbers of infections, the F.D.A. is expected to okay booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine soon for 12 to 15-year- olds. The C.D.C. has intensified its warning against cruise ship travel amid dozens of outbreaks, and health officials are advising caution on shore, too.

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I would not eat in a restaurant now without a mask. I would absolutely not go into a bar. If you go into a bar now, you are very likely to get COVID whether you're vaccinated or not.

If you're unvaccinated and you go into a bar, you will come out of it infected.

FOREMAN (voice over): As predicted, the surge is not hitting everyone equally.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: If you are unvaccinated, you are 10 times more likely to be a case and 20 times more likely to be a fatality.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're still getting the data but what we're hearing from hospitals really across the nation and this is very consistent is that the vast majority of the children who are being admitted are unvaccinated.

FOREMAN (voice over): So many people are being affected, many states are reporting near record highs. Maryland Hospital officials are calling for a limited emergency declaration. In New York City, the Fire Department has so many out sick, they are reminding people to call 9-1-1 only in true emergencies.

And everywhere, the drumbeat for more testing is growing louder, especially with schools reopening next week.

RANDI WEINGARTEN, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS: Testing, testing, testing, testing all the time. So this is what I think we have to do. And you're seeing this in New York, you're seeing this in D.C., you're seeing this in as many places as we can.

FOREMAN (voice over): In the meantime, two new reports indicate a booster shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine significantly lowers the risk of severe illness from the omicron variant, and health officials are pleading no matter which vaccine you choose, make sure you follow through with all the recommended doses and then get a booster, too.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's where you know so many of us are echoing go ahead and make sure that you get vaccinated if you haven't gotten your first or second dose and getting your booster dose. That's really what's going to protect you right now.


FOREMAN (on camera): Many health experts say the majority of Americans who have received their vaccinations are the very reason that the ratio of hospitalizations has remained relatively low compared to this massive surge of the virus itself.

But that said, there are still plenty of people showing up in hospitals where the staffs are already very tired and wrung out after fighting this pandemic for a long time -- Jim.

ACOSTA: A very long time. Tom Foreman, thanks very much.

More now on the dilemma facing schools and parents in the coming days, namely, how to avoid the drawbacks of delaying a return to in-person learning without fueling the fast moving outbreak.

Here to talk about this is the Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona.

Secretary Cardona, thanks so much for being with us. We appreciate it.

There are a lot of concerned families out there tonight, so I'm sure you're aware of that. You say parents and teachers have to make sure to get students into class safely and then stay in the classroom. But given what we currently know about the omicron variant and its high transmissibility rate, specifically, how can parents and teachers best do that right now?

MIGUEL CARDONA, U.S. SECRETARY OF EDUCATION: Thank you, Jim for having me first of all, and yes, we recognize the numbers are climbing across the country. We also know that we have tools now that we didn't have before.

We know what works to keep our schools safely reopened. And we're -- we have more resources aimed at keeping our schools open than ever before. So, it's critical that we do what we can to make sure that our schools stay open full time five days a week.

I recognize there are going to be some bumps along the way, but the goal for all of us, I know educators across the country know, we don't want to go back to how it was fully remote. We don't want to go back to hybrid.


CARDONA: Our students learn best and our schools thrive when students are in person.

ACOSTA: Dr. Peter Hotez, who is a pediatrician, a Professor and vaccine expert. He's on CNN a lot. I'm sure you've seen him. He says schools in areas where they have, quote, "screaming level of transmission" like New York City and Washington, D.C. right now should push back the return to in-person learning.

And so after this Holiday break or after this Holiday break resumes, and in fact, New Jersey -- Jersey City Public Schools announced they will be virtual next week and return to in-person learning on January 10th.

What do you think? Should more districts be considering, you know, these kinds of temporary measures not going full blown, you know, virtual and so on, but maybe pushing things back a little bit?

CARDONA: You know, oftentimes those decisions are made when there is a concern about staffing shortages. Again, the goal is to make sure our students are safe and our staff are safe. But I believe with surveillance testing, with mitigation strategies, we should -- our default should be to have our students come back in.

We recognize that there, as I said earlier, are going to be challenges with that and in some places, a short term closure may be necessary in order to safely return students back and have adequate staffing.

But we really need to learn how to thrive during this pandemic. We opened schools when delta was ramping. We have the tools, we have the resources. States and districts have access to resources, and I know they're working hard.

I know they're doing everything that they can. I know staffing shortages are an issue. We recently sent a letter to states reminding them that the American rescue plan funds could be used to address some of the staffing shortages.

So we're working with them. We recognize this as a challenge. I think everybody across the country want to see our children in schools full time and I think that's our goal. We're going to continue to support our states to get that done.

ACOSTA: Dr. Anthony Fauci said today that he thinks the omicron surge could peak by the end of January. What do you think? Should schools that are able to offer a hybrid model until the surge is over, should they think about that? What do you think?

CARDONA: You know, as an educator, and as a father, I can tell you that the hybrid model is probably the most disruptive and we don't know that we're keeping our children any safer when they are not in our schools.

We know schools provide structure. Masks are required. Students get meals, they have connections with peers and with their teachers. So in my opinion, our default model should be full time, five days a week in-person, recognizing that there may be times due to increase in cases and spread and inadequate staffing, that short term closures might be needed.

But our mentality should be that our students suffered enough. We have the tools, we have the resources, they should be in the classroom.

ACOSTA: And when it comes to testing in Washington, D.C., public schools are providing at home tests and requiring a negative test result before students can return to the classroom on Wednesday. While this may work for next Wednesday, what about the following days and the weeks to come?

Is testing going to become sort of a permanent feature in our schools in terms of keeping students safety, do you think? And should schools be preparing for that? To not just have tests available when kids are coming back to the classroom, but maybe on a weekly basis, maybe on a regular basis?

CARDONA: I'm glad you brought that up, Jim. You know, in March of this year, in the American Rescue Plan, there was $10 billion allocated for surveillance testing in schools, and we've seen districts across the country set up really robust systems of surveillance testing to make sure we keep COVID out of our schools.

And those districts that have those systems are employing those systems now. We've recently sent information to states about the Rockefeller Foundation and what they're doing to set up contracts to assist districts in setting up surveillance systems.

So again, we believe surveillance system -- a good surveillance testing system, vaccination efforts, and mitigation strategies are critical to successfully keeping our schools open.

ACOSTA: And you were just saying a moment ago that schools are requiring masks across the country. That's just not the case, though. There are a lot of places where they're not really requiring that sort of thing.

CARDONA: Unfortunately, we have seen where districts are not requiring that cases go up. We're seeing hospitalizations go up in those places. So, I think with this increase in omicron and higher cases, I hope those districts really take a look at their policies.

I think parents have had enough of school closures due to poor policy. So, let's protect our students. Let's protect our staff. Let's keep our communities thriving. It's unfortunate that the numbers are going up, but we know how to continue during the pandemic. We shouldn't have shutdowns, we shouldn't have our schools closed for a long period of time.

If we know what works, we should employ it. We have the resources there. We need to come together for our students. They deserve that.


ACOSTA: But just to press you on that very quickly. So you're saying under no circumstances will the administration advice shutting down schools, no matter how bad it gets?

CARDONA: You know, we're monitoring the omicron. I am very pleased with C.D.C.'s recent guidance that shortens the length of quarantine, that's going to help keep our schools open and have our staff in the classrooms.

At this point, I don't believe that we should be thinking about closing schools long term. Things can change. But at this point, we have the tools, we have the resources, Jim, and we have to have the will to make sure we do everything in our power to keep our children in the classroom learning with their peers, with their teachers.

Let's not forget the emotional impact last year had on our students and our educators and in our families, our parents. We can do better. We have the resources, we have the science. We need to make sure that we're doing everything in our power to keep our classrooms open for our students, where they learn best, and where they get the support from adults not only academic support, but also that emotional support that we know our students need after experiencing the trauma of the pandemic.

ACOSTA: All right, Secretary Cardona, thanks very much for your time.

I want to drill down on more of this with someone who is on the forefront of research into kids COVID in schools. Joining us, Dr. Danny Benjamin, co-chair of the ABC Science Collaborative and Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics at Duke University.

Dr. Benjamin, thanks so much for your time.

I want to ask you about the research you're conducting. But first, what do you make of what the Secretary of Education was just telling us a few moments ago?

Do you think the Federal government should be doing more? And are they perhaps relying on too much of an optimistic scenario where they can keep classes open across the country without any kind of hybrid learning?

DR. DANNY BENJAMIN, CO-CHAIR OF THE ABC SCIENCE COLLABORATIVE AND PROFESSOR OF PEDIATRICS AT DUKE UNIVERSITY: So Jim, thank you, I think the Secretary was spot on in his emphasis on keeping schools open. And Jim, this is an important concept that I'd just like to extend perhaps on the Secretary's comments.

Paradoxically, kids are safer in school, even if the only outcome you are looking at is COVID. Now, this is in the masked environment at school.

So let me explain that to you, Jim.

First of all, that's based on data that we and others have published, where the chance of infection is only one or two percent if I'm exposing you. That data has been replicated repeatedly by a number of investigators across the country. That's a much lower transmission than in restaurants or other places that children hang out if they're not in school.

The second important thing is families that want to protect children can protect them unilaterally by vaccinating them. But Jim, this part is very important. When children are not in school, they're not in a magic bubble, learning haiku. They are doing all sorts of things in the community and engaging in the community in all sorts of ways, as evidenced by the widespread transmission that's going on right now when schools are closed right now.

And so when we come up to January 3rd, those five days of Monday through Friday, schools will have a choice. Do we want for the 80 waking hours of Monday through Friday to be 40 hours where children are in a very regulated environment with universal masking, where we have shown compliance exceeds 90 percent, if people adhere to that, or do they spend 80 hours a week in an unregulated environment, in an unmonitored environment, where there's not as much masking and where there's widespread transmission?

ACOSTA: Let me ask you something, Doctor.

BENJAMIN: If our only outcome is COVID, Jim, they are safer in school.

ACOSTA: Yes, and I hear what you're saying. But should School Districts consider perhaps delaying that return to in-person learning next week? I mean, especially in these areas where you have really high transmission -- Washington, D.C. and New York City, for example.

BENJAMIN: If they delay opening, the best data that we have, is that that will contribute, Jim, to spread.

ACOSTA: Because they're not home. I mean, because they're not at school in their home is what you're saying?

BENJAMIN: Well, oftentimes when children are not in school, they don't just stay in their household 16 or 24 hours a day. They do other things outside of the home. And when they do that they're oftentimes less masked when they are in schools that have a universal masking policy.

So paradoxically, their risk out of school, even if COVID is the only outcome is likely to be higher if they're out of school. Exposure in a restaurant or in a movie theater or in a Walmart or in a grocery store. That's going to be higher typically on average for schools if their district for children -- if their school districts are masking.

ACOSTA: So it sounds like what you're saying is that testing is going to be critical in all of this, but we don't have the testing infrastructure in place at this point.


BENJAMIN: Testing, as far as screening testing is concerned, can be a little bit difficult to manage. Test to Stay, Jim, however, can be a very effective way to manage the pandemic in schools, and the C.D.C. and we and others have shown that in recent research.

ACOSTA: All right, Dr. Danny Benjamin, we know your research has been critical in all of this. Thanks very much for your time. We appreciate it.

BENJAMIN: Jim, thank you so much for having me.

ACOSTA: All right. Good to talk to you. Coming up next, New York's Mayor-elect on the New Year celebration that's still going to happen, the nation's largest school system still resuming classes next week and what it will take to keep the city running in the face of this latest COVID surge.

Also tonight, hundred-mile-hour winds and wildfires out in Colorado, what the combination is doing right now to that state as tens of thousands of people there get the word to get out now. We will have a live report on that next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: As we look at live pictures of New York's Times Square courtesy of EarthCam, some breaking news. Just moments ago, the Governor's Office reported that more than 74,000 new cases of COVID statewide there in New York, that's up 82 percent from just three days ago as you might expect, densely populated New York City and Long Island are far outpacing more rural areas in new cases.

And tomorrow night in Times Square, a scaled back 15,000 gathering is being scheduled for the ball drop, plus one, of course. New York's incoming Mayor Eric Adams is that plus one. He has decided to take the Oath of Office tomorrow night shortly after the clock strikes 12.

Mr. Mayor-elect, I guess we can call you Mayor-elect for one more night. Thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it.


ACOSTA: Let's get right to it. You know the New Year's Eve celebration is still going forward even as other cities across the world are canceling their festivities.


ACOSTA: Last week when Mayor de Blasio announced plans to move forward with the celebration, you released a statement praising that decision. You said he's made the right move to take precautionary measures. Do you still feel confident that this is a good idea? Given everything that's happening right now?

ADAMS: Yes, yes, I do. And I want to commend the Mayor. And when you speak with the business leaders in this city, particularly in the central business district of tourism, what happens on New Year's, Broadway, it's a major economic driver. And he's been responsible by stating everyone there must be vaccinated, and they must wear a mask.

He cut down the crowd and ensured that we could do it in a safe way because we're sending a signal across the entire globe that New York will be safe. We will be responsible, but we will continue to open in a safe way. We have to do that to ensure our financial ecosystem continues to thrive.

ACOSTA: New York City had to shut down though an entire subway line today because of short staffing due to the COVID surge. The NYPD has 21 percent of their staff out sick. The Fire Department of New York says 30 percent of Emergency Medical Services are out because of COVID and everything that is going along with it.

You know, can you really pull this off safely with that kind of a staffing crunch?

ADAMS: Yes, I believe we can. This is an amazing city with professionals. Remember, I was one of those police officers and I know during the times of crises and tragedies, we respond. Remember what happened when our center of trade collapsed, where our

two World Trade Center's buildings collapsed. On 9/11, we got up on 9/12 and we responded, and we're going to do it over and over again because this city is made up of professionals and we're going to send the right signal to this entire country. We're going to get through COVID.

Let's be clear, we spent $11 trillion on COVID. We can't continue to think that we can spend trillions of dollars, we must learn to live with COVID, adjust and pivot at the right times and we're doing that in New York and I'm extremely optimistic on how the city is going to respond.

ACOSTA: But what about the schools, Mr. Mayor-elect? I think it's fair to say every parent would like their child to be in the classroom, but given you know, these cases that are just skyrocketing in your city right now, and how contagious this variant is, do you think it may be a good idea to delay some of this until you get a handle on it?

ADAMS: Well, I think about this far more, and I think your two other guests really touched on this. These educational professionals that understand the imperativeness of having our children in the classroom.

We lost almost two years of education. Each variant, do we decide to delay again and have our children out? We're dealing with a crisis, not only of what happened in reading and writing, but even math, which is a real indicator of the success of a child.

My schools are going to be open. My children are going to be inside their schools. They are going to wear their masks. We're going to take precaution. We're going to extend and have additional testing that's going to take place.

The safest place for our children is inside a school building and it is going to take a lot for me to close my schools.

We must deal with COVID in real time, and we have to educate our children and also protect them.

You heard it, it was clear, having our children not in the school is not the protection that they need. It is a safe place for them.

ACOSTA: Right, but Mayor, you know, as you were just talking about this at the beginning of the segment, this is on you after midnight tomorrow night. You're the Mayor.

And if we see cases explode after the Times Square festivities after the opening of schools, when you had the chance to be more cautious about it, are you willing to take that responsibility? Are you going to say that's on me as the new mayor of the city?

ADAMS: I want it to be on me. You know, I say this over and over again. Winners want the ball when the game is on the line. The game is on the line for our city, and I want the ball in my hand just as I had the ball during the mid-80s when crime was high, and I put on that uniform. I wanted to be there to protect my city and I want to be here now to serve and protect my city.

So yes, I'm the leader of the city, it starts January 1st and I'm going to lead our city in the right direction, and I know the resiliency of New Yorkers because it lies in the spirit of the resiliency of Americans.

Americans are going to show the globe how we respond to crisis and we know it's going to be difficult. It's going to be hard. But it has been hard before and we have always stood up to the occasion.

So yes, I'm responsible for what happens to the people of this city as the Mayor of the City of New York and I'm going to lead us in the right direction.

ACOSTA: All right, Mr. Mayor-elect, almost Mayor of New York City, Eric Adams. Thanks so much for your time. We appreciate it and congratulations on taking office here in about what -- 12 -- 16 hours from now. Thanks for your time

ADAMS: Yes. Thank you. And have a happy and safe New Year's.


ACOSTA: I should say, more than 24 hours from now. I have my math off a little bit. But thank you, Mayor. Appreciate it.

All right, for more on what it's like on the receiving end of any policy change, we are joined now by Dr. Craig Spencer, Director of Global Public Health in Emergency Medicine at New York's Columbia University Medical Center.

Dr. Spencer, thanks so much. You just heard from the incoming Mayor a few moments ago. You're in the emergency room. What do you make of the decisions that New York City officials are making right now with regards to Times Square, with regard to opening up the classrooms?

You're going to have a lot of people, you know, coming into contact with one another with his very highly transmissible variant that is just showing no signs of letting up at the moment.

DR. CRAIG SPENCER, DIRECTOR OF GLOBAL HEALTH AND EMERGENCY MEDICINE AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER That's a good question. I first want to start by thanking the incoming Mayor for laying out today, really the policy that he is going to pursue, the six points including keeping the vaccine mandates for private businesses, for increasing mask distribution, and laying out next steps for how they're going to respond to the incoming administration in the next few months. I look forward to working with him.

I will say that, you know, we are in triage mode. As an Emergency Medicine doctor, I look at everything as an emergency. And right now, it's not about flattening the curve. It's flattening the columns.

We have a hospital system where healthcare workers are getting sick, testing positive themselves. We have as you pointed out, NYPD, FDNY, the MTA that runs the subways and buses here with record high number of people calling out sick.

I do think that right now, we need to double down on our essential activities and services, which is making sure people are safe and keeping people and kids in school. That is why I think that having a party tomorrow night in Times Square, although we all want it and don't need it is probably not the best thing right now.

It is not essential. Millions of people watch us around the world. Now, having 15,000 people together unfortunately means that some will be sick, some will sicken others and every infection averted at this point is perhaps another essential worker that's allowed to stay on the job.

ACOSTA: Do you think city officials are being irresponsible?

SPENCER: No, look, at this point, it is two years and there are a lot of people that are just tired and want to have fun. And last year, we promised them if you get vaccinated, and if you wear a mask, and if you're outdoors, you can do all of these things.

Omicron has thrown all of us, including me in the Emergency Department for a loop. This has been a big surprise. We saw 44,000 cases here in New York City today. This is incredible and a record setting amount.

We know that the majority of those thankfully are going to not end up in the hospital, are not going to end up dying from this. We've learned a lot about treatments, how we are able to manage this disease.

But what we need to focus on right now is keeping the things open that matter, making sure that my three year old can go to school on Monday, where I intend on sending her because I do think it is a safe space for her. And it's an important space for her because I'm working five shifts in the Emergency Department next week, and I can't do that if she is not in school during that time.

So it's critical that we try to do everything we can to keep people out of the emergency room and keep our kids in classrooms, and I want to make sure that we make the right decisions right now to do that.

ACOSTA: And you heard what Mayor-elect Adams said about his plan for schools, and I know you think we should be doing everything to keep kids in schools. You were just saying it a few moments ago.

Do you think the plan in New York is enough? For example, here in Washington, they're requiring students to have negative tests before they show up for school next week.

SPENCER: I think a negative test is fine. You know, if someone tests two days beforehand with an antigen test, and it's negative, and they get exposed the next day, I'm not sure that it does that much to keep COVID out of the classroom by itself.

I would like to see more Tests to Stay. So for kids who may have been exposed, having them test and if they test negative allowing them to stay in the classroom. We've seen that that works. The C.D.C. and other schools have proven that that works.

We need to do everything we can to focus on the most vulnerable in our communities, those older, those needing booster shots, those that have a higher likelihood of getting sick and dying from this disease and the youngest in our community, including our kids.

So get vaccinated. It protects you, the older people, the younger people, get your kids vaccinated, we still have a huge proportion of the five to 11 and older age group that hasn't yet been vaccinated. That is the safest way we keep them out of the hospital and them in the classroom.

ACOSTA: All right, Dr. Craig, Spencer, thank you very much for your time. We appreciate it.

SPENCER: Thanks for having me.

ACOSTA: Up next, the details from what that call this afternoon between President Biden and Russia's Vladimir Putin and what this means for the military building along the border in Ukraine.

Plus, it's a terrifying scene in Colorado where wildfires -- here is a video that has just come in from Boulder County, Colorado -- these wildfires have destroyed hundreds of homes and forced a whole town to evacuate. Just some stunning images we need to show you and some very disturbing details of what's happening out there.

We'll have the details next.



ACOSTA: More breaking news tonight as tension rises over Russia's military buildup along its border with Ukraine. We have the first details of a 15-minute call between President Biden and Russia's Vladimir Putin this afternoon. The White House released a statement saying President Biden urged Russia to deescalate tensions with Ukraine. He made clear that the United States and its allies and partners will respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine. A Kremlin official also said that during the call, Putin told Biden that new sanctions against Russia would be a quote, colossal mistake.

And joining us now strategic analyst and author and U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters. Col. Peters, great to talk to you.

From the details that we've learned about so far from the call, what do you make of what transpired? It sounds like President Biden put Putin on notice here.

LT. COL. RALPH PETERS, (RET.) STRATEGIC ANALYST & AUTHOR: It was a standoff. And the perceptions on both sides are a bit different. Now, it does look like Biden stood his ground. Putin apparently really did hit hard and repeatedly about, you know how he huff and puff and blow the house down if we impose more sanctions on him regarding the sanctions would be in response to a Russian attack. What was interesting was to me, was it the Russian media is now reporting that the one of Putin's press spokespersons has said that and stress that well, Putin got Biden to agree not to put strike weapons in Ukraine or weapons used for attack. We have no intention and had no intention of putting attack weapons in Ukraine. The few weapons we've given them were purely defensive.


So, it sounds as though Putin was trying to take home an imaginary deliverable for his own people and he seemed just based upon that reading the Russian press and what's what they're leaking out. He seems very, very frustrated. And that's not necessarily good.

ACOSTA: Right. And as we mentioned, Putin told Biden today that any new sanctions against Russia would be a, quote, colossal mistake. How much weight does a statement like that from Putin carry? I mean, as you were just saying a few moments ago, if he invades Ukraine, of course, we're going to respond with sanctions, he must know that.

PETERS: Well, yes, he does. And he's really at a loss for how he could respond effectively, to, to really massive sanctions, that took Russia out of the dollar trading system, et cetera. And yet, that may well not be enough to deter him, because we refuse to understand much about Putin. We're real snobs when it comes to Putin. And Putin, one of the first things you've got to understand is he doesn't care about Russians. He cares about Russia. We may mock him. But Putin believes that he is a man of destiny, in a long line of Russian heroes from Alexander Nevsky down to Ivan the Terrible to Peter the Great and yes, Stalin. And men who have protected and restored Russia's greatness. And Putin sees his mission on this earth as restoring Russia, his greatness and some of its territory at least. And we make light of that at our peril, because it does not matter, Jim, what we believe what matters is what Putin believes.

And for him, Ukraine, that's the highlight. He has, again, I'll use the word we don't usually use connection with Putin. Putin has a mystical or near mystical attachment to Ukraine. In his view, Ukraine and Russia, are truly -- they're twins are truly inseparable. The roots of Russian culture are in (INAUDIBLE) and what's now Ukraine. And Putin wants Belarus because that's important. But Belarus has a booby prize. Putin wants Ukraine, he doesn't know how to get it. He probably has not made up his mind about whether or not to invade, he wait and see how the January 10th talks go.

But my message to American decision makers do not -- just because Putin didn't go to the right schools, just because he doesn't have great table manners. Don't take him lightly. Here's a man who's punked three U.S. presidents in a row working on a fourth. He's -- he was dealt a pair of eights. We have a royal flush, and we followed it again and again. So Putin is an extremely talented, a brilliant man, sometimes a crude man, but never underestimate the genius of the outsider.


PETERS: We were establishment people who is the outsider. And it's the outsiders that changed the world.

ACOSTA; Yes, he wants to build a new establishment for Russia. That's there's no question about that. All right --


ACOSTA: -- Ralph Peters, Col. Peters, thank you so much for your time. Those insights are terrific --

PETERS: Thank you, Jim. Happy New Year.

ACOSTA: Happy New Year to you.

And a member of the January 6 committee will join us next to discuss the taking the fight for the White House Records from the Trump administration to the Supreme Court, and about this very busy year ahead for the committee. That's next.



ACOSTA: January 6 committee began its existence six months ago today and will begin the new year much as it's ending this one with a date with the Supreme Court. Today the house and the by the administration presented its arguments for why it needs more than 700 pages of the former president's White House Records. They're hoping for an expedited decision two weeks from tomorrow and committee members have a full year ahead with plans for an interim report in the summer, and a final report before next year's midterms.

Plus, the possibility of more public testimony. The one public hearing they held this year was chilling, you might remember it a clip of that. Now we will warn you in the testimony you hear one officer mentioning a racial epithet that was heard on that day.


MICHAEL FANONE, DC METROPOLITAN POLICE OFFICER: I was grabbed, beaten, tased all while be called a traitor to my country, as I heard chance of killing with his own gun.

HARRY DUNN, CAPITOL POLICE OFFICER: That prompted a torrent of racial epithets. One woman in a pink Maga shirt yelled. You hear that guys, this nigger voted for Joe Biden.

No one had ever, ever called me a nigger while wearing the uniform of a Capitol police officer.


ACOSTA: It's important we never forget what happened that day. And joining us now a member of the January 6 committee, California Democrat Pete Aguilar. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

I want to start with the news that I mentioned earlier of the case that may be in front of the Supreme Court soon. The House has been arguing that the January 6 investigation outweighs the former President's request for confidentiality and executive privilege and so on. What can you tell us about where that stands? And what's the argument that that your team is making?

REP. PETE AGUILAR (D-CA): Well, the main argument that we're making is the argument that was successful in the appellate court. We've asked for an expedited hearing before the Supreme Court, we've submitted our briefs. And those briefs are very clear. What we want are documents that are related to our investigation, documents related to the president's -- former presidents activities, leading up to January 5th and January 6th, rallies. We want to know the facts and circumstances to make sure that this violent attack on democracy never happens again.

That's our legislative intent and our focus. We've asked for a series of documents from the National Archives that will help shed light on those details. They have submitted those and the current president holds the privilege and has said that they are compelling need of these documents outweighs anything else.

And so, they have agreed to give them over to us. But obviously, the former president has challenged those. So we will argue that now and the briefs have been submitted and are lengthy and we look forward to an expedited hearing.

ACOSTA: Yes. And we just heard some of the testimony and the only public hearing the committee has had this year, your committee announced that in the new year, you plan to have more public hearings. Can you explain what was behind that decision, what can the public expect to see in these public hearings?

AGUILAR: Well, I think you're going to see us laid lay out the case. And so we're still in the investigative phase right now. We will continue and we will notice those public hearings. But I think what you'll continue to hear are themes about how we protect democracy, how fragile our democracy is, and the steps along the way that led up to January 5th and January 6th of the rallies, but also the pressure campaign that the former president put on through his own Department of Justice to other states in during the counting process and how those state's efforts held up.


So, I think that's one of the themes that you'll continue to hear is just how fragile our democracy is how close we came, and to again, make sure that this never happens again, but we want to report the facts and circumstances. This is a nonpartisan investigation, and we're going to carry it forward in that manner.

ACOSTA: And in an interview Wednesday, the chairman of the House Select Committee said an invitation is on the table, Bennie Thompson said an invitation is on the table for the House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy. Do you know if he's been formally asked, and what do you expect? AGUILAR: I'm not going to get into the individuals that we have had interviews with or have asked to come before us. But what I can tell you is anyone, especially a lawmaker who has taken an oath, like I have to protect and defend our Constitution and our democracy, but should come forward with any facts or any conversations that could be helpful to aid in our investigation. It was --

ACOSTA: But Kevin McCarthy has not -- he's not cooperating with the investigation. Has he hasn't spoken with, with your committee as he?

AGUILAR: He has not. And so but what I'm saying is, it's going to be important for anyone with details of the facts and circumstances of January 5th and January 6th, to share them with the committee. People, especially lawmakers should be willing to do this voluntarily. But as we've seen --

ACOSTA: Do you think it would behoove Kevin McCarthy to do it voluntarily? I don't mean to cut you off. I'm very short on time. Do you think it would behoove him to do it voluntarily?

AGUILAR: I think anyone committed to upholding our constitution should come forward and share those details voluntarily. Yes.

ACOSTA: All right, Congressman Pete Aguilar, thank you very much for your time. We appreciate it.

AGUILAR: Thanks, Jim. Happy New Year.

ACOSTA: And you as well.

We want to turn out to the wildfires outside of Denver that have destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands to evacuate. The details of what's been called a life threatening situation. You're looking at pictures now coming in from Boulder, Colorado. We're going to have much more on this very dangerous, fast moving situation in just a few moments. That's next.



ACOSTA: We've been talking about this throughout the evening, this terrifying scene that is unfolding outside of Denver, Colorado at this moment. For those of you haven't seen this take a look at what's happening, in Colorado nearly 600 homes in a heavily populated area, destroyed by a wildfire fueled by high winds and fires have forced thousands of evacuations. The National Weather Service calls these fires life-threatening. No lives reported lost as of yet, but Colorado's governor has declared a state of emergency for Boulder County.

And I'm joined now by our meteorologist Karen Maginnis from the CNN Weather Centre in Atlanta.

Karen this is a -- this is very scary what's happening in Colorado right now truly historic windstorm, according to the National Weather Service that fueled these fires. What's the latest from this region? And how weird is it to see something like this, this time of year?

KAREN MAGINNIS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Jim, it's been a tragedy in a week that has already been tragic across Colorado with the mass shooting. What we're looking at here is not really a radar, there's no rain there. It's all down sloping winds and they're gusting at times to 100 miles an hour. There you can see some of the images now hundreds of homes destroyed. Entire subdivisions wiped out. Two cities the city of superior and the city of Lewisville were told to evacuate. This is about eight hours ago, we start to see the winds really kick up rather fiercely to the equivalent of hurricane force winds and above category three.

Here are some of the wind gusts that we've seen 115 mile an hour winds and the Sheriff of Boulder County said you can't fight these fires. They started out as grass fires and then they swept across the region. You cannot send firefighters or firefighting measures out to get this under control because it is moving so rapidly. Now there's one hotel that is in the superior Colorado area that's about 20, 25 miles to the northwest of Denver. It has been leveled to the ground.

And we're not finished yet. There's going to be a swift turnaround as far as the weather is concerned. I won't mention we don't have any reports of fatalities yet. But they are anticipating that. We had six injuries reported earlier in the day. There are reports that there were some fire or burns associated with those injuries. But beyond that we don't have any other reports. Jim.

ACOSTA: And any relief tomorrow do you think?

MAGINNIS: That is the ridiculous part of the story is there's a winter storm that is brewing across this region. Now the winds are going to back off, they'll remain breezy. But now this fire has take on, taken on a life of its own. So now even with the breezy conditions, this is going to continue to full -- fuel the flames across this region. Will see the wind start to die down. And then for Denver, in particular, those temperatures are going to drop to single digits wind chill factor, and it looks like in the next 24 to 48 hours, we could see between four eight, possibly 10 or 12 inches of snowfall.

ACOSTA: Wow. All right. Thank you very much, Karen Maginnis. Hope the folks there stay safe. Appreciate that information.

Just ahead, the director and producer of a new CNN film about Carole King and James Taylor talks about the reunion concert and friendship between these two icons that he captured on tape more than 10 years ago. And that is airing this Sunday night.



ACOSTA: This Sunday, CNN is airing a new film on the creative partnership and friendship of iconic singer songwriters James Taylor and Carole King. The new film "CAROLE KING AND JAMES TAYLOR JUST CALL OUT MY NAME" shows is what happens when these two musical giants join forces. The director and producer of the film, Frank Marshall sat down with our very own Anderson Cooper to discuss the inspiration behind the project.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST (on-camera): Frank, thanks so much for joining us. Carole King and James Taylor, their friends, they've been writing and performing music together for half a century. What was it about this project that that really attracted you?

FRANK MARSHALL, DIRECTOR: Well, for me, it was kind of a dream come true, because I was a amateur folk singer back in the '60s. And, of course, all the songs that I did were James and Carole songs. And I think lucky for the world. I ended up buying a camera rather than a microphone. And --

COOPER (on-camera): I won't ask you to sing a few a few bars.

MARSHALL: Yes, please don't.

COOPER (on-camera): But what about their relationship? Did you find that go was sort of the focus?

MARSHALL: Well, I think what was really interesting is they're genuine friends. And they never toured before 2010, which is when the Troubadour Reunion Tour happened, but they were great music collaborators. And I think James says in the piece, that they kind of had the same DNA. And I think you see that when they're playing together, they just weave in and out. They know what each other is thinking. And for me, trying to explore how that comes about was fascinating.

COOPER (on-camera): What -- I mean capturing this, that that capturing chemistry, capturing that kind of relationship is a difficult thing, I would think in a film.

MARSHALL: Yes, and this is really more of a concert film Anderson, they shot 28 of their 50 shows. And so, we have all this footage. And so, it's put together in a way that you see the full songs, it's a concert, film with little bits of documentary in between every once in a while. So you sort of get the setup of how they met when they first played together, which was at The Troubadour in 1970. Then there was this reunion concert in 2007. And they had so much fun at that with the same band from 1970 that they said, hey, let's go on the road and do a tour, which they did in 2010.

COOPER (on-camera): What do you think their biggest impact has been? I mean, they're they've influenced so many different artists over the years.

MARSHALL: No, I think it's their songwriting. It's the stories they tell. They tell stories in their songs. And I think people connect to that, their feelings. It's a really soulful kind of writing and then the performance becomes kind of the soundtrack of everybody's lives. So, no matter what age you are, you know, your parents are playing it in the car on the way during, you know, carpool to school but also there's those of us who have lived with them for all 50 years


COOPER (on-camera): Yes. Well, the new film is "CAROLE KING AND JAMES TAYLOR, JUST CALL OUT MY NAME." Frank Marshall, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us.

MARSHALL: My pleasure, Anderson, great to talk to you. Thanks for having me.


ACOSTA: And again, CNN will premiere "CAROLE KING AND JAMES TAYLOR JUST CALL OUT MY NAME," Sunday at 9:00 p.m.

Thanks for joining us don't miss the and as recap of the year with all the best all the worst of 2021 starting right now.