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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Justice Stephen Breyer Retiring, Gives President Biden First Supreme Court Pick Of His Presidency; Interview With Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC; U.S. Responds To Russia's Demands; Awaiting Putin Reaction; Committee Votes To Approve Dr. Ladapo As Florida Surgeon General After Dems Walk Out of Hearing; Attorney: Florida Radio Host Cooperates In Federal Investigation Into Rep. Matt Gaetz. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired January 26, 2022 - 20:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: She was told her surgery qualified as non- urgent.


MEGAN BEAUCHESNE, CANCER PATIENT: It gets me so riled up because this isn't an optional surgery for me. This isn't just a shoulder surgery or something like that. This is something that's actually growing inside of me.

We have proof that the chemos have not worked for me.


BURNETT: Megan, I am so, so glad for you and I know you're just waiting to go back home and hug your two children. We wish you every recovery.

AC 360 starts now.



It isn't often that one person paves the way for others to make history. Justice Stephen Breyer's decision to step down from the Supreme Court does just that. A formal announcement could come during a joint appearance with the President at the White House tomorrow, and though it won't tilt the High Court's ideological balance, Justice Breyer's departure allows President Biden to fulfill a campaign promise that may change the face of it.

Tonight, for his first television interview on the subject, we'll be joined by someone else, House Majority Whip James Clyburn who also paved the way by making sure that then candidate Biden made this commitment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOE BIDEN (D), THEN CANDIDATE FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When we talked about the Supreme Court, I'm looking forward to making sure there is a black woman on the Supreme Court, to make sure, in fact get every representation.

I committed that if I'm elected President and have an opportunity to appoint someone to the Courts, it will be -- I'll appoint the first black woman to the Courts. It is required that they have representation now, it's long overdue.

We are putting together a list of a group of African-American women who are qualified and have the experience to be in the Court. I am not going to release that until we go further down the line of vetting them as well.


COOPER: Well, there are plenty of highly qualified candidates, some of whom already vetted and we'll talk about them tonight. We'll speak with Valerie Jarrett, as well, herself a pioneering top adviser to a pioneering President Barack Obama. We will talk about the process of getting any nominee confirmed, which as you know, has produced some memorable and consequential moments over the last several decades and has proved difficult for many candidates.

The Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer reportedly wants a speedy process in the manner of Justice Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation, which took just 30 days at the very end of the last administration. That's what a source familiar with his thinking tells CNN.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who famously deprived President Obama of his final Court pick was noncommittal on the subject today. Now, the first part of that clip we played from President Biden is from when he was candidate Biden at the Democratic presidential debate in South Carolina on February 25, 2020.

They were words my next guest, House Majority Whip James Clyburn was waiting to hear, but had not yet heard during the debate. Here is how Bob Woodward and Robert Costa tell it in their book "Peril." Quote: "During an intermission, Clyburn told a friend he was heading to the restroom. Instead, strolled backstage and pulled Biden aside. 'Man, there have been a couple instances up there tonight where you could have mentioned having a black woman on the Supreme Court,' Clyburn said, 'You can't leave the stage without doing that. You just got to do that.'"

"Of course, Biden said 'You got it.' In his final answer, Biden hit the mark."

The very next day, Congressman Clyburn endorsed candidate Biden who went on to win the primary resurrecting his campaign. He joins us now for his first television interview since the news of Justice Breyer's retirement.

Congressman Clyburn, appreciate you being with us. So, can you just tell us first of all more about that conversation at the debate between you and then candidate Biden about nominating the first black woman to the Supreme Court? Do you feel like this moment may have been made possible because of that conversation?

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): Well, thank you very much for having me, Anderson. As you may know, I'm the father of three daughters and I talk to them a lot and I talk with their friends. And I knew that one of the real undercurrent moving throughout the black community was the fact that no black woman had ever been seriously considered for the United States Supreme Court.

And at the time, there were three women sitting on the Court, and one had already retired from the Court, and that was a real problem. So I maintain, and I said to the then candidate that that was an issue that I thought it would be good for him to address in the campaign, and if he got a chance to do so in the debate, because remember, he had lost three primary campaigns in New Hampshire, Iowa, and Nevada and everybody was saying that his campaign was over.

Well, I said to him, I don't think so. I know of your relationship with the black community, your relationship with South Carolina, and the South Carolina primary could be a turning point in the campaign, and I thought that one way to do that was to address this issue, and he did and addressed it many, many times since and he has put together a list, I'm assuming that this list I saw of seven people that is the list that is coming from his folks that I hope it is because the young lady that I had been pushing him to consider is on that list.


COOPER: CNN is reporting that as far as potential nominees are concerned, your major booster of U.S. District Court Judge, Michelle Childs of South Carolina. IS Judge Childs your top pick?

CLYBURN: Yes, she's from South Carolina. I've known her most of her life and she is an incredibly smart woman. She is President of the Judges Association, and she has the kind of diverse background in life, and education, and work.

She has worked in the state agency to state agency. She has been a State Judge. She's now a Federal Judge. She's a graduate of a public university down in Florida, and a public law school here in South Carolina, an incredibly smart woman that I believe would do well.

You see, I think that people's experiences mean a whole lot, and if you're going to sit in judgment of people, it will do well to be able to empathize with them. And you can sympathize, that is easy to do. But I think that Judges ought to be able to empathize, and I think that she is incredibly prepared to be that kind of a Judge.

COOPER: I want to play something that Justice Breyer said in October of last year, when he was asked by CNN if he gets irked that he still gets questions about being liberal enough and the expectations on retiring to help President Biden. Let's play that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JUSTICE STEPHEN BREYER, U.S. SUPREME COURT: The truth, I think, is there is always your -- you know, you can always hope for your more mature self, which is there sometimes. And this is a country in which every day I see this in this document, that number one, it is called freedom of speech. That means freedom of all. It means freedom of expression.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you think, let them -- let them say what they want?

BREYER: Oh, I do believe that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But are you really -- but you must be irked somehow. This must drive you nuts a little bit, right?

BREYER: If you can -- I mean, please, was that --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I didn't mean to slip into an informal way of asking you a question, Justice Breyer, but I would think --

BREYER: That is fine. I was thinking of Harry Truman, if it's too hot, get out of the kitchen.


COOPER: So what do you make of the timing of this? And as a Democrat, how important is the speed of this process in your mind?

CLYBURN: Well, you know, I live by some of those adages that I grew up with, "Haste makes waste." I want us to be thorough with this process. I want us to make sure that it is a black woman, I want to make sure that it's a woman that will get universal support.

When I say universal, I mean, bipartisan support, and I know that Michelle Childs will have the support of several Republicans, including the two Republican senators from South Carolina.

COOPER: Do Republicans have an obligation in your mind to endorse a history making choice and not let it be only Democrats who vote yes for such a nomination?

CLYBURN: Well, I wouldn't say they have an obligation to do that. I think it would be well for that to happen. As you know, I'm a big fan of Everett Dirksen and that was one of the things I admired about him. He made sure that the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act were both a bipartisan issue, and I really, really admire that about him.

And I would -- I'm sure that Republican senators from South Carolina would do all they can to make this choice bipartisan and I'm sure they will do so because both of them know Michelle real well. She is just our choice.

But I suspect that the others that I don't know as well. I do know Sherrilyn Ifill. Her name is being floated. A very smart, young lady that I think would make a great Supreme Court Justice as well. I just happen to be for Michelle Childs. I'm not against any of the others. COOPER: Congressman Clyburn, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

CLYBURN: Well, thank you very much for having me.

COOPER: We just spoke about Judge Childs, more now on her and several other leading candidates as well as the process of getting any choice confirmed. Details on that now from CNN's Paula Reid.


BIDEN: I made it clear that my first choice for the Supreme Court will make history as the first African-American woman Justice.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A Supreme Court pick can be a President's most lasting legacy. Justices can serve for decades. Their decisions last for generations.


(voice over): Former President Trump solidified a conservative majority with his three Court picks.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have long been told that the most important decision a President can make is the appointment of a Supreme Court Justice.

REID (voice over): For Breyer's spot, Judge Ketanji Brown-Jackson is seen as the front runner, a former Supreme Court Clerk for Breyer. She was vetted recently by Biden and his team and confirmed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to fill the seat left vacant by Attorney General Merrick Garland.

The Circuit is seen as a feeder for the High Court and the move was meant to groom her for a Justice position if a vacancy came open.

JUDGE KETANJI BROWN-JACKSON, D.C. CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS: When you become a Judge, you take an oath to look only at the law in deciding your cases that you set aside your personal views about the circumstances, the defendants or anything else.

REID (voice over): A close second choice is California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, a former acting Deputy Solicitor General in the Obama administration. She argued a dozen cases before the High Court, while she has not been thoroughly vetted by the administration, she wants clerked for the late Justice John Paul Stevens.

JUSTICE LEONDRA KRUGER, CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT: I think we tend to forget when we're in the outside world that really conversations about these very difficult cases are confined to a very small number of people.

REID (voice over): Other names circulating, South Carolina Judge J. Michelle Childs, Minnesota District Court Judge Mimi Wright; outgoing NAACP Defense Fund President Sherrilyn Ifill; Second Circuit Court of Appeals Judge, Eunice Lee; Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Candace Jackson-Akiwumi; and North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls.

Judge Childs has been championed by House Majority Whip James Clyburn.

JUDGE J. MICHELLE CHILDS, U.S. DISTRICT COURT FOR SOUTH CAROLINA NOMINEE: I have a high regard and sincere appreciation for our legal system, which is the form of order in our Court, in our democracy,

REID (voice over): The eventual nominee will likely face a daunting confirmation process.

Breyer told several people who nudged him to retire that the confirmation process shouldn't be political.

BREYER: If the public sees Judges as politicians in robes, its confidence in the courts and in the rule of law itself can only diminish.

REID (voice over): Some Democrats were worried Breyer would remain on the bench, and with the 2022 midterms looming, Senate Republicans have already raised the stakes around his retirement with five G.O.P. lawmakers telling CNN in December that they would likely oppose any nominee out of this White House if they take the majority in November.

Paula Reid, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: So we want to get some more perspective now about the history about to be made. Joining us Valerie Jarrett, former senior adviser to President Obama.

Miss Jarrett, thanks for being with us. How significant is this moment in your mind?

VALERIE JARRETT, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: Very significant, Anderson, and good evening. It is a seismic historic moment. I am thrilled that President Biden announced two years ago in the course of the campaign that he intended to select a black woman.

Here is the good news, as you just heard from Paula, there are several very qualified candidates who have both the intellectual rigor and discipline, judicial temperament, experience, both professionally and in life, to be a real asset to the Court, and who will contribute to reflecting the diversity of our rich country.

And so, I think this is a great moment, it is historic, not just because the person will be a black woman and make history, but because there are so many really well -qualified choices available to President Biden from whom to choose.

COOPER: I mean, you've seen up close the difficulty these nominations can have. Do you think the potentially historic nature of this nomination would impact Republicans who might otherwise be inclined to oppose it?

JARRETT: Well, I don't know. I think that if they are really focusing on what's good for the country and not what is in their short-term political interest, then they will give the support and it would be great to have bipartisan support for this historic nomination, just as Justice Sotomayor received when she was nominated and confirmed.

So I hope that they will want to be on the right side of history, and I am very confident that whoever President Biden selects will be somebody who is highly qualified for the job and that should be the litmus test as to whether or not they support it, not politics.

COOPER: And there are number of potential candidates being floated right now. We just saw some in that piece. You know, President Biden well. How do you think he is going to ultimately weigh this decision?

JARRETT: Well, they'll look at their qualifications, their track record, their experience, their life story. He will look at how they will fit in with the rest of the court. It has to work well and be a functioning court and that is when judicial temperament becomes really important.

But I think, ultimately, he will also go with who he just instinctively thinks will be the best choice possible. This is something that he will take very seriously. Obviously, his years of experience as Chair of the Judiciary makes him very familiar with the range of qualifications that are necessary. So, I'm confident that he'll make the right choice.


COOPER: So I mean, in the context of the larger political landscape and with the administration's recent, obvious setbacks with voting rights and Build Back Better, do you think this is an opportunity to in some ways, reinvigorate the Democratic base?

JARRETT: I think the base will be very excited about this selection and this isn't just something that will resonate with black people. I think it will resonate broadly not only across the Democratic base, but I'm also hoping around the country.

People should celebrate this historic moment, and if they do so, I think it will energize people to take another look at not just the Supreme Court, but government and be engaged and participate turnout and vote, care about who is running for office.

Elections have consequences, the Supreme Court lifetime appointments, and they make decisions that affect every single American. This is really important. And so it's a teaching moment as well for people to understand what is at stake in elections. What are the responsibilities that go along with being on the Supreme Court, and I hope everyone tunes in, everyone is engaged in this process.

I look forward to having a very thorough review of the candidates. I think the process should not be jammed through the way President Biden's predecessor did. It should be done in a thoughtful and serious way, where the public has an opportunity to see exactly what it is that President Biden sees in this person, have open hearings, open debate, and hopefully a successful court. COOPER: Well, Valerie Jarrett, appreciate you tonight. Thank you so much.

JARRETT: You're welcome, Anderson.

COOPER: And coming up next, a close friend of Justice Breyer's, constitutional law scholar Laurence Tribe joins us. We will also look at confirmation hearings that have left an indelible mark on history, and perhaps the Court as well.


JUSTICE CLARENCE THOMAS, U.S. SUPREME COURT: From my standpoint, as a black American, as far as I'm concerned, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves.


COOPER: Later, Senator Chris Murphy who recently traveled to Ukraine on where things stand now that the administration has delivered its written reply to Russia's demands.



COOPER: We are talking tonight about Justice Stephen Breyer's retirement from the Court and who might succeed him because Supreme Court choices make history, sometimes in the simple fact of who is chosen, in this case, the first black woman for the Court, frequently for the decisions they go on to make especially the unexpected ones.

Often though, nominees begin making history memorable moments and all, before they even reach the High Court.

More than that now from our Randi Kaye.


RANDI KAYE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In September 2018, a defiant Judge Brett Kavanaugh --

JUSTICE BRETT KAVANAUGH, U.S. SUPREME COURT: I will not be intimidated into withdrawing from this process.

KAYE (voice over): Instead, Kavanaugh spent days at his Supreme Court confirmation hearing defending his beer drinking and challenging decades old claims of sexual assault.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): You're saying there's never been a case where you drank so much that you didn't remember what happened the night before or part of what happened?

KAVANAUGH: You're asking about, yes, blackout. I don't know. Have you?

KLOBUCHAR: Could you answer the question, Judge, to you, that's not happened? Is that your answer?

KAVANAUGH: Yes, and I'm curious if you have.

KLOBUCHAR: I have no drinking problem, Judge.

KAYE (voice over): The Committee postponed its vote to hear testimony from two of Kavanagh's accusers. Before it was over, this happened.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): If you wanted an F.B.I. investigation, you could have come to us. What you want to do is destroy this guy's life, hold this seat open, and hope you win in 2020. You've said that, not me.

KAYE (voice over): Decades earlier, in 1991, Judge Clarence Thomas defended himself against claims of sexual harassment.

ANITA HILL, CLARENCE THOMAS ACCUSER: He got up from the table, at which we were working, went over to his desk, to get the Coke, looked at the can and asked who has put pubic hair on my Coke?

THOMAS: From my standpoint, as a black American, as far as I'm concerned, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves.

KAYE (voice over): Tensions spilled over to Committee members.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somebody in a sleazy way wrote the rules.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No wait, let me just finish.

BIDEN: I'm going to let you finish and then I'm going to cut you off real quick.

KAYE (voice over): On display during Judge Samuel Alito's confirmation hearing in 2006 a racism charge. Senator Ted Kennedy quoted from a 1984 letter from a Princeton alumni group Alito was believed to have joined.

TED KENNEDY, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: It cited the fact that admission rates for African-Americans and Hispanics were on the rise.

JUSTICE SAMUEL ALITO, U.S. SUPREME COURT: I have always deplored any form of racial discrimination or bigotry.

KAYE (voice over): Disgusted, Alito's wife walked out of the hearing.

GRAHAM: Are you really a closet bigot?

ALITO: I'm not any kind of a bigot.

GRAHAM: Judge Alito, I am sorry that you've had to go through this.

KAYE (voice over): It was Robert Bork's failed 1987 nomination that gave rise to the process's partisan divide. By the time Ronald Reagan nominated him, Bork was well known for his beliefs.

KENNEDY: In Robert Bork's America, there is no room at the end for blacks, have no place in the Constitution for women. And in our America, there should be no seat on the Supreme Court for Robert Bork.

KAYE (voice over): In the end, Bork was defeated by a vote of 58 to 42, the largest margin in history, and his name symbolized outrage for conservatives. To Bork soon was defined in the dictionary as to obstruct by systematically defaming or vilifying a person.

Randi Kaye, CNN, Palm Beach County, Florida.


COOPER: Well, in addition to being a distinguished legal scholar and Supreme Court litigator, Harvard Law School's Laurence Tribe is also close friend of the outgoing Justice Breyer. He joins us now.

Professor Tribe, you've known Justice Breyer for a long time, what do you make of his decision to retire?

LAURENCE TRIBE, PROFESSOR, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: I think it was the right decision. It is really important to give President Biden the chance to put the first African-American woman on the Court and all of the nominees that are being bandied about are extraordinarily well- qualified by experience, by temperament, by brilliance. So I think that Justice Breyer really helped his legacy by not holding on any longer.

COOPER: The fact he is announcing his retirement in January, which is very early by court standards in a midterm election year, what does it say to you in terms of concerns he may have about the politics of the looming confirmation process?

TRIBE: Look, if he were as concerned as I wish he had been about the politics of the process, he would have resigned sooner still. He would have resigned before this term began last October because he's already waited, even though it's early in the year, he's waited well enough into the process so that Mitch McConnell, who is known for taking every opportunity to squelch initiatives of the opposition party is likely to pull out all the stops to make this difficult, and I think that's unfortunate, because I think all of the nominees will make history in a very positive way.

COOPER: How difficult could Mitch McConnell make it?

TRIBE: Well, he did strike a deal with majority leader Schumer back in February of 2021 to have an equal number of senators of both parties on the Judiciary Committee. Some people have said that that would enable a solid Republican vote to put the nomination on hold, but I think if you look at the Senate rules that were passed at that time, it would be possible for Senator Schumer to discharge the nomination, even if it was equally divided in the Committee, and then a mere majority vote is all it would take in the Senate.

And I think given that several of the senators, if the nominee happens to be Ketanji Jackson, for example, several of the senators on the Republican side have already voted for her. That really could be fairly smooth. I think that it is possible for a number of the other nominees to go through quite smoothly.

But I think it's important that the hearings be careful, be thorough, the nation become familiar with the nominee, and I think the national groundswell in support of the nominee President Biden selects is going to make it very hard for McConnell to obstruct as is his want.

COOPER: Randi Kaye mentioned in her report the contentious defeat of conservative nominee Robert Bork back in 1987. You were one of the witnesses who testified against Judge Bork. I want to play a clip of what you said to the Senate Judiciary Committee.


TRIBE: A lot of attention is focused on Judge Bork's quite scornful dismissal of the Supreme Court's long line of decisions from the 1920s to the present, upholding the rights of individuals and families to decide for themselves basic matters of marriage, childbearing, and child-rearing.

Judge Bork has basically said that nothing in the Constitution authorizes Judges to treat a married couple's intimacies in the bedroom any differently from a business enterprise's economic decisions in the boardroom.


COOPER: Do you agree with the consensus that Bork's defeat was a watershed moment in Supreme Court nomination fights?

TRIBE: Well, I have to say, first of all, I wish I had as much hair as I did back then. I do think it was a watershed moment, but not for the reasons everyone tends to state. It was a watershed moment because it was an opportunity for the country to hear competing views of basic constitutional questions like the one I was testifying about there, about whether the Constitution even though it doesn't say anything about bedroom privacy or sexual choice, or the right to raise your children or any number of other rights is broad enough to encompass them.

That was the first time the country on national television heard all of those ideas ventilated, and the fact that Judge Bork was ultimately rejected because he rejected all of those rights and in that way frightened the American people, many of them, about his philosophy represented a kind of turning point for gratification of a broader view of the Constitution than the current far right Court even with a younger nominee replacing Justice Breyer is going to take.


COOPER: Yes. (INAUDIBLE) appreciate your time tonight. Thank you really fascinating.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you Anderson. COOPER: The breaking news in the Russia-Ukraine conflict after U.S. sends a letter to Russia addressing the crisis. I'll talk about details for Senator Chris Murphy, who recently returned from Ukraine, next.


COOPER: We got breaking news in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The United States is waiting for reaction from Russian President Vladimir Putin after delivering a high stakes response to Russia's demands.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: Today, Ambassador Sullivan delivered a written response in Moscow. All told it sets out a serious diplomatic path forward should Russia choose it. The document we've delivered includes concerns of the United States and our allies and partners about Russia's actions that undermine security, a principled and pragmatic evaluation of the concerns that Russia has raised and our own proposals for areas where we may be able to find common ground.


COOPER: Well, Blinken also reiterated NATO's open door policy rejecting Moscow's demands to ban Ukraine from the organization. Following Blinken statements, the Ukrainian presidential adviser said the U.S. response to Russia quote, is the right strategy, the Russians to take the opportunity to use diplomacy to avoid a negative scenario in his words.

Joining us now is Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee who recently returned from Ukraine.


You just heard the Secretary of State, I'm wondering what your assessment of the U.S. response to Russia today was?

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): Well, I'm glad that the U.S. is engaged in this intensive diplomacy, I'm hopeful that it will bear fruit. At the same time, it is based upon a set of concerns articulated by Russia that are imaginary. The Russians believe that NATO presents a territorial threat to Russia, that's simply not true. We are for deployed to protect ourselves, we have absolutely no intention of ever setting a foot on Russian soil. It's in fact, the Russians who have put their own troops inside Georgia and Ukraine.

And so, if Putin wants guarantees that NATO isn't going to move on Russia, we can give him those guarantees. But we simply can't give him and the Kremlin veto power over who becomes part of NATO. So, let's hope that there's some breakthrough on the diplomatic front. I think ultimately, if Putin decides not to invade Ukraine, it will likely be more so because he sees the cost of invasion of an invasion as much more serious than he had originally anticipated. COOPER: And Indian I mean, it just boils down to what Vladimir Putin decides to do. It's not necessarily I mean, it's his decision in his decision alone.

MURPHY: Yes, in the United States, if President wants to invade a foreign country, they've got to get authorization of Congress normally, if you want to sign a treaty with a nation, you've got to get the consent of Congress, not in Russia, but Putin will decide what he wants to do on his own. And the worry is that he has been sort of holed up cloistered maybe speaking to only a handful of people who may be telling him that he's going to be greeted as a liberator if he enters Ukraine, of course, nothing could be further from the truth, he's going to meet a pretty fierce resistance from the Ukrainian army, supplemented by U.S. weapons. And he is going to ultimately have a long term insurgency on his hands from the Ukrainian people that could last for years, if not, decades, and that could bring down the Russian government, just like the invasion of Afghanistan in 1980, contributed to the downfall of the Soviet Union.

COOPER: I mean Russia has said it's engaging diplomacy throughout the -- throughout this process, but they've continued to move troops and weapons to the border. How can you tell when progress is being made, and when they're just stalling for time?

MURPHY: I think Russia is sort of hoping to do two things here. They're hoping to engage the West and the United States in a way that ultimately gets us to agree to these ridiculous demands. That's not going to happen. We are simply not going to move our troop levels in side the NATO alliance back to 1990s levels, nor are we going to allow Russia to decide whether Ukraine ultimately joins NATO or not.

I think the other thing they're trying to do is just rattle the Ukrainian government. Putin doesn't want to have to march in army and he'd love to have this government fall and a Russian friendly government installed instead. So, you know, we have to both support Ukraine militarily, but also politically to make sure that, you know, the people of Ukraine understand that they should stick with his Alinsky government and that they shouldn't let these threats from Putin end up in there being instability inside Kiev. That's exactly what Putin wants.

COOPER: There just seemed to be this sort of disagreement words of, you know, the White House is used the term imminent, the potential of a Russian invasion. The some Ukrainian officials have not used that word or said it's not imminent. Where do you see -- how do you describe the threat?

MURPHY: There's I think this is a delicate dance, you have to, when talking to our allies make clear what we've seen in our intelligence, which is the potential for an imminent attack. And it's no secret that our allies have not always shared our assessment of the threat. So, in order to build this set of sanctions against Russia, that are multilateral, along with our European partners, we've got to make sure they understand how serious we see the intelligence. The same time again, inside Ukraine, you don't want to build unnecessary panic. You don't want to bring down this government. And so, I can see why the Ukrainians are being you know, a little bit more delicate in how they advanced this intel. You also have to understand inside Ukraine, they've had Russians on their soil for the better part of the decade. They've lost 14,000 Ukrainian soldiers in the fight against Russia. So, sometimes they worry that the rest of the world doesn't know that that they've actually been at war with Russia and that this would just be a new front in that war.

COOPER: Yes. Senator Chris Murphy, appreciate your time. Thank you.

MURPHY: Thanks.


COOPER: The confirmation hearing for Florida Surgeon General got contentious today when the doctor asked five times by lawmakers refused to say the vaccines work, what happened next coming up.


COOPER: Well Joseph Ladapo is one step closer to being confirmed as Florida's Surgeon General. Today state Republican lawmakers on a Health Policy Committee voted to recommend the doctor for the position, that came after Democrats walked out of the hearing and protest. Democrats were frustrated with Ladapo for his unclear responses didn't directly answer questions about his background and the state's response to the pandemic. Our next guest Democratic Florida State Senator Lauren Book question Dr. Ladapo several times the vaccines worked against coronavirus as he skated around the question.


JOSEPH LADAPO, PHYSICIAN: The question is a scientific one and it's one that is answered with data.

LAUREN BOOK (D-FL) STATE SENATOR: Just a yes or no, do vaccines work?

LADAPO: As a scientist you know, I am compelled to answer the scientific question.

BOOK: Scientifically, do vaccines -- does the -- do the vaccines work?

LADAPO: Yes or no questions are not that that easy to find in science. So I will -- I understand I think I have better clarity about your question at this point. So what I would say is that the most commonly used vaccines in the United States which would be the Pfizer product and the product that was developed by Moderna have been shown to have relatively high effectiveness for the prevention of hospitalization and death. And over time, relatively low, low protection from infection.



COOPER: Florida State Senate Democratic leader Lauren Book and joins us now. It's fascinating to watch that. Thanks for joining us.

Did the last change lasted more than three minutes you asked the doctor if he believed vaccines working are effective five times. How concerning is that to you?

BOOK: Thank you so much for having me. It is terrifying that we are in a place and an estate where this is the top doctor in the third largest state in the country or hopes to be once confirmed. That's why my colleagues and I came today prepared to ask questions of the doctor. This is a man who calls mask wearing an extreme measure who stood frontlines with America's frontline doctors to talk about and condemn unsafe or to condemn common sense safety measures related to COVID-19. He could not answer any question strangely or squarely whether it was related to vaccines, mask wearing or whether or not he regretted really putting our colleagues Senator Polsky's health and safety at risk by not wearing a mask as she was a cancer patient undergoing cancer treatments. The list really does go on and on. We came prepared and he simply was not having it and not answering any of the questions.

And so, we decided that we had other business to attend to on our agenda and did not want to continue to listen to the nonsensical niceties that he was choosing to spew forward instead of answering squarely questions that Floridians deserve to have answers to.

COOPER: Is it clearly why Governor DeSantis put this particular doctor in that job other than he was known for voicing skepticism about vaccines and other COVID precautions?

BOOK: I think the really dangerous thing is that the governor has put this individual in place as a political measure as a mouthpiece. And that is not what this should be. At the end of the day, again, this is the top doctor in the third largest state of the country. He has a responsibility to care for 21 million Floridians and their health, safety and well-being, this should not be a political position. This is somebody who should ensure that we're making sound smart data driven decisions to keep Floridians safe. And that's not what this individual has done. He's falsely claimed to have treated COVID-19 patients when he was at UCLA. That never happened. The list goes on and on and on.

And at the end of the day, we asked more questions than just about the COVID-19 pandemic, we asked about other outbreaks that the state has had. We talked about other issues related to HIV, minority communities, again, got a lot of niceties a lot of verbal jujitsu and got no real answers to the questions that we were posing. And quite frankly, it was beneath the dignity of the Florida Senate. He was making a mockery of what we were doing and there to do. And that's why we decided to walk out on that vote, because at the end of the day, we had a lot of work to do and wanted to get to -- get to those issues that were in front of us.

COOPER: He was also pretending that his answer is a scientific answer to that to that question, but I mean, his final, you know, the way he phrased the final -- the answer that we just played there, he chose to focus on the most negative aspects, which is that, you know, in his, I'm paraphrasing him that long term the vaccines did not show over top over a certain period of time, a effectiveness, which is certainly true over a long enough period of time the vaccines are not as effective.

But phrasing it that way is a very strange way to phrase it when in fact, the most direct answer is the vaccines are very effective. And the booster shows great efficacy as well as opposed to well just over an undisclosed, undisclosed long period of time they're not.

BOOK: Absolutely Anderson, you are 100% correct. Again, to the point that this is become a political mouthpiece for the governor and extremely dangerous measure for Floridians, 21 million Floridians deserve more than a mouthpiece for the governor, then talking sound bites that sound good and suit a narrative. At the end of the day, we know that vaccines work at the end of the day, we know that mask wearing works and prevents the spread of COVID-19. These are not -- these are not very difficult to understand. And the top doctor in the state of Florida should be able to answer very simple yes or no questions when it comes to the health safety and well-being of Floridians across the state.

Again, somebody who wanted to continue to spew falsities and niceties isn't going to get the job done.

COOPER: Yes. Lauren Book, appreciate your time. Thank you.

BOOK: Thank you.

COOPER: Up next, we have breaking news and investigation. Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, who's facing accusations of sex trafficking and obstruction of justice and other key figure in his orbit or once in his orbit is now apparently talking to the feds.



COOPER: More breaking news tonight, a Florida radio host formerly and Congressman Matt Gaetz's orbit is now cooperating with the Justice Department's investigation into the Congressman. A reminder the Republican lawmakers facing allegations of sexual contact with the minor, sex trafficking and obstruction of justice.

CNN's Ryan Nobles joins us now from Capitol Hill. So who is this third person? He said at one time to have been in the Congressman orbit and he's -- how is he cooperating?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, his name is Big Joe Ellicott, that's what he described himself when he was a radio host. And he is someone that is talking to the Feds right now. He's worked out a plea agreement. And the reason that his cooperation is significant Anderson is because he could serve as someone who can corroborate the testimony of Joel Greenberg. He's the former tax collector from that part of Florida who was a very close associate with Matt Gaetz and is expected to be at least a part of some of these crimes that they're investigating that Matt Gaetz could be linked to. [20:55:05]

Now, Ellicott's lawyer says by his own admission was not necessarily close himself with Gaetz. But he did run in some of the same circles. They partied together at times. And it seems as though Ellicott is going to serve as a corroborating witness as this investigation plays out.

COOPER: And how is Congressman Gaetz's office responded?

NOBLES: Well, you know, from the beginning, Anderson, he has claimed that he did nothing wrong. In the past, he said that he's never had sex with a woman under the age of 17 while he was not above the age of 17. And his office put out a statement today, continuing along that line, saying, quote, after a nearly a year of false rumors, not a shred of evidence has implicated Congressman Gaetz in wrongdoing, we remain focused on our work representing Floridians. So despite this new development, Gaetz is not at all changing his story that he has done nothing wrong.

COOPER: And is there any sense of what kind of a timeline this investigation is operating on? Because it has been going on a long time?

NOBLES: Yes, it has Anderson and that remains a mystery. You know, keep in mind that the federal government has never officially said that they're investigating Matt Gaetz, this is all been uncovered through reporting, through various sources. And of course, we do know about the activity that's been involved with Greenberg, and some of these others that are tied to Matt Gaetz.

So there is no timeline as to how long this is going to take. It could play out for much longer, but obviously the fact that they are now getting some of these witnesses to cooperate and be a part of this investigation, that shows that they could potentially getting -- be getting closer to wrapping the investigation up.

COOPER: Ryan Nobles, appreciate it. Thanks.

We'll be right back.



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News continues here on CNN with Jim Acosta in "DEMOCRACY IN PERIL." Jim.