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At This Hour

High Alert; GOP Rep Who Voted to Impeach Trump Won't Seek Reelection; Coronavirus Pandemic; Milley Defends Calls To Chinese As Effort To Avoid Conflict; Diplomatic Rift. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 17, 2021 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, I'm Kate Bolduan. Here's what we're watching at this hour.

Capitol threat. Homeland Security says there's a risk of violence at Saturday's far-right rally to support the January 6 insurrectionists. What they're now preparing for?

Decision day on boosters. A key FDA advisory panel is meeting right now to decide whether Americans should get a booster shot against COVID.

And more crisis at the border. Thousands of migrants at the U.S.- Mexico border taking shelter under a bridge. Why this is happening and what is being done about it?

Thanks for being here you guys. We begin this hour with the nation's capitol bracing again for violence on the eve of a far-right rally in support of the Capitol insurrectionists. An unclassified briefing from the Department of Homeland Security is warning of potential attacks hours before tomorrow's rally.

Former President Donald Trump is now defending the very rioters who stormed the seat of America's democracy and beat police officers. Trump claims that these rioters in his view are being unfairly persecuted despite the hours and hours of video that we have seen very clearly so many times with our own eyes showing the actual truth of that horrific day.

Unlike January 6, though, the U.S. Capitol this time is on high alert this morning. A massive fence perimeter is up law enforcement is on alert. CNN's Whitney Wild is live outside the Capitol with the very latest.

Whitney, what are you seeing there? And what are you hearing about the threats ahead of this rally?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're continuing to see a significant law enforcement presence here, right outside the Capitol as well as this fencing. What we know is that Capitol Police is working very, very closely with local and federal law enforcement partners here in Washington as well as in the surrounding suburbs. They've also requested assistance from the National Guard.

So even though they're working with intelligence to suggest there's a small amount of -- be an online, concerning online chatter. This is according to this Department of Homeland Security Intelligence assessment that says there's concerning online chatter about elected officials about threats against Democrats, about threats against liberal churches and members of the Jewish community, even though that's a small amount of chatter, Capitol Police is taking no chances.

The information they're working with right now, Kate, is that hundreds of people may descend into Washington. There is information to suggest that people might want to cause violence today, may want to cause violence tomorrow, and it isn't just among the people that they are concerned may come as part of the protest, but also they are concerned about violence erupting between counter protesters.

So there are -- it is a dynamic threat environment here in Washington. Capitol Police is taking a much more forward leaning approach this time, Kate.

Here's a key line though from this very new reporting from my colleagues, Geneva Sands and Zachary Cohen, is DHS intelligence assessment they're working with, which says, in effect the lone offenders in small groups of individuals can mobilize to violence with little to no warning, particularly in response to confrontational encounters with perceived opponents or, and Kate, here's a key concept from that assessment, calls for escalation by key influencers.

That is one of the things that law enforcement will be monitoring as this -- the two days unfolds. The organizer of the rally, though, Kate, insists this will be peaceful. If that's the case, the Capitol Police chief says that this fence around a Capitol will come down in short order. Back to you.

BOLDUAN: All right, Whitney, thank you for that. Also knew this morning, Ohio Congressman Anthony Gonzalez, one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump for his role in inspiring the interaction says he will not run for reelection next year.

He cites in his words, the toxic dynamics in the Republican Party as a big factor in his decision. CNN's Lauren Fox is live on Capitol Hill with much more on this. Lauren, what else is Congressman Gonzalez saying?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Kate, if you are a member who voted to impeach the former president, you really only have two options. You can either fight against the former president and his statements in his campaign against you, or you can retire and what you have here is a congressman who said he is returning back home in part because of the threats that he feels like he's facing because of his vote after the January 6 insurrection to impeach the former president. And also because he feels like fighting to return to a party that believes in things he doesn't believe in, isn't worth it anymore. Here's what he said in a statement, quote, while my desire to build a fuller family life is at the heart of my decision, it is also true that the current state of our politics, especially many of the toxic dynamics inside our own party is a significant factor in my decision.

And look, he's not the only Republican who's faced heat from the former president. Of course, Liz Cheney from the State of Wyoming, she was booted from her role as a Republican leader after her vote to impeach the former president.


You also have Republicans who are now facing primary challengers back home in the state of Washington, in the state of Michigan, who Trump is now backing their primary challenger. So, this is part of a wider problem where Republicans are really needing to decide, is Trump the future of their party? And if so, is there room for anyone who doesn't agree? Kate.

BOLDUAN: Good to see you, Lauren. Thank you so much for that. Joining me now is CNN analyst former CIA and FBI counterterrorism official, Phil Mudd. Phil, let's focus on the rally tomorrow and the threat alert issued by DHS ahead of this, one concern that I've heard you have surrounding this. And just in general with the nature of these -- of the threats is how dispersed the intelligence is. What do you mean by that?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, if you're looking at the classic kinds of intelligence I did, chasing extremist groups around the world, Kate, you're looking at one entity, that entity has leadership, recruiting, training, fundraising, and then obviously the operational command that said send somebody out for an operation. That's a dangerous organization, but at least you know, something that you can target with things like informants, e-mail intercepts.

If you look at the movement, and I use that word advisedly, not group but movement across America, among angry people, including those who think the election was stolen, those who think that January 6 protesters are patriots, that is not a group. So where do you target email collection? Where do you target informants? Even if you're trying to look at social media, how many people are chattering about this event today that you don't know we're out there. So you don't really have anything to target in for an intelligence professional? That's really tough.

BOLDUAN: And then we have to look at kind of the spark and the inspiration behind the violence. The statement from Donald Trump overnight that Whitney Wild was getting at, he says our hearts and minds are with the people being persecuted so unfairly as relating to January 6.

First off, I want everyone just to look at your screen of what Trump is calling unfairly persecuted, this is what's happened in the January 6 investigation by the FBI. 608 defendants have been charged. 70 of them have already pleaded guilty, and there's much more to come. But Phil, what do you think of Trump's words? Are those dangerous words? MUDD: Yes, extremists in my experience require leadership. Most of us as humans think small. There's 330 million Americans, most of us don't think big. Leadership in this circumstance gets people to get their heads out of the foxhole and say, there's a bigger world out there that I should be angry about, their enemies who are stealing elections, their enemies who are erasing American democracy, leadership gets people to say it's not just my local community, it's not just concerns I might have in my local city, you got to go to Washington and protest what's happening nationally. I don't think in any case you would have this kind of movement with this prospect of violence without leadership. And that leadership includes the former president of the United States.

BOLDUAN: When you look at is you call it the movement. I mean, even if this turns out to be 200 people and nothing happens. I'm curious as to does all of this the massive metal fence barrier, the special alert designation, the National Guard at the ready, does this have to be the security posture and approach going forward after January 6, because of the challenges that you lay out?

MUDD: I would be concerned about looking at a demonstration that fizzles as you said with 200 people in drawing a ton of conclusions. First of all, how many people do those 200 represents? We have -- had a major event of deterrence, hundreds of people arrested after January 6, that says to me that there are a lot of people out there who might have showed up tomorrow, but won't -- not because they don't feel that violence is OK but because they want to be careful.

I don't think that will indicate to me that the movement is over. And let me be clear about another issue. Why is this happening? It's happening, I believe, because going into the next election cycle, the message is going to be America is being stolen from you. You need to be more aggressive. I don't expect to see less of this. I anticipate we might see more. So things like fencing around state capitals, or the U.S. Capitol might become more common, not less.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And to your point, I mean, the CNN poll numbers that came out this week that say among Republicans 78 percent say that Biden did not win the election. And 54 percent say they believe there's solid evidence that Biden didn't win despite the fact there is no evidence speaks exactly to what you're saying. It's not going away. That movement, that sentiment, that belief in, unfortunately, lies is growing. It's good to see you Phil, thank you very much.

Coming up for us. FDA vaccine advisors are meeting right now on whether to recommend Pfizer booster shots. A key vote this afternoon. What this means for all of us and the fight against the pandemic. Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us next.



BOLDUAN: At this hour vaccine advisors to the FDA are holding a critical meeting to debate and decide the future of COVID booster shots in America. The panel will be voting this afternoon on a recommendation relating to the Pfizer vaccine. The Biden administration, as you'll remember, set a target of next Monday to begin rolling out a broader booster shot program. So where's this headed?

Joining me now is Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Siena medical analyst. former Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen.


Sanjay, what do you think is going to happen today?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, right now they're trying to grapple with some of the larger questions around this issue does the safety and effectiveness data around boosters warrant its authorization or its approval for people across the board? 16 and older, that's what they're sort of trying to figure out. Is there a general booster sort of, you know, approval that they're going to make.

There's lots of big questions they're going to have to deal with. But what I think ultimately, and I hate making predictions, but if I had to, what I would say is that they -- they're ultimately going to likely approve the idea of a booster, but make it clear that the CDC should recommend it for certain people, people, for example, over a certain age.

When you look at the data carefully, you can make the argument that there's some benefit of these boosters for people over the age of 60, or 65, for example, but also remind people that as things stand now, the vaccines work really, really well for the majority of us. So that's likely where it's to come down. But I got to tell you, Kate, we usually -- Leana (INAUDIBLE) usually have pretty good idea of how these committee meetings are going to go even at a time. This one, you know, is going to be contentious and a bit of a surprise.

BOLDUAN: That's very interesting. Dr. Wen, when it comes to what happens and how it's characterized afterward. Is there a difference in your mind between recommending boosters, and also just allowing booster shots?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Yes, at this point, I would find it really surprising, Kate, if the FDA does not come out in favor of boosters in some way, at least allowing boosters to be used. And that's because when we look at the Israeli data, and there were scientists with the Israeli Ministry of Health that just presented their data to this FDA committee, I found that to be extremely compelling. I mean, they found, for example, that getting that third booster dose reduces infection by 11-fold, and more than 15-fold against severe infection for people over the age of 16.

And so I think the burden of proof would be on the FDA committee at this point to explain to the American people, why we do not need boosters, as in there are people who are vaccinated who want to get an additional level of protection. Why not allow them to do that? Again, the difference between allowing them and recommending the boosters I think is important. But I think in this case, we just -- we really need to look at the bigger picture. If the Biden administration had not come out earlier last month, and said that boosters are going to be needed at some point, imagine the outcry because we already have Israel, the UK, Germany that are allowing boosters. We really should be following suit here, instead of waiting until hospitalizations and deaths among vaccinated begin spiking. We've been behind in data this whole time, let's not be behind the data again.

BOLDUAN: So this actually gets to something I think is like fundamentally extremely important as we look into this, we're talking -- as Dr. Wen is mentioning Israeli data on infections, right, and immunity. There's a lot being made about breakthrough infection, Sanjay, and how immunity wanes over time. Do you think breakthrough infections are the right metric for judging if boosters are needed?

GUPTA: I think that is such a critical question. I mean, I think even the term breakthrough infection, for a lot of people it sort of denotes that the vaccine failed, right, that you broke through the armor of the vaccine. And I don't think that that's the way to look at it. If you think about how vaccines work. It was always mostly to protect people from getting severely ill. So much of the immunity occurs around the lungs to prevent the virus from getting into the lungs. There's some immunity in the upper airways, but not as much.

So I don't think it was a surprise to the vaccine makers that people would still test positive, even after having been vaccinated. But, you know, if you look at the data that Leana was talking about, you know, 12 days after the booster is rolled out, you did see an increase in the level of protection against infection.

But take a look at Israel just sort of overall throughout this pandemic. And we look at Israel a lot because they've been ahead of the United States. They have about 64 percent of the country that is vaccinated. They've been doing boosters since August. And to your point, Kate, at the same time, they have some of the highest case rates now, since the beginning of this pandemic, despite all that. So many -- the good news is there's not the same proportional hospitalizations and deaths.

So you're seeing a lot of cases still, but not as much severe disease. And it kind of comes down to that fundamental point. What were the vaccines designed to do? Were they designed to actually prevent people from testing positive and having a quote unquote, breakthrough infection? Or were they designed to protect people from getting really sick?

You know, I think that, you know, what we see out of Israel sort of suggests that it's really the ladder and they work well at that protecting people from getting sick.

BOLDUAN: Yes, consistent and honest and candid messaging around this. I think going forward is really critical. I know you both have been kind of hammering on that, and it's very true especially with these booster shots because it's been so confusing. It's good to see you, Sanjay. Thank you, Dr. Wen. GUPTA: Got it.


BOLDUAN: Coming up for us. In a new interview, America's top military officer is defending his calls with China in the final chaotic days of the Trump presidency. What General Mark Milley just said, that's next.


BOLDUAN: Developing right now the top U.S. military officer in the country, defending calls he made to China in the final months of Donald Trump's chaotic presidency. General Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs tells the Associated Press that his actions were quote, perfectly within the duties and responsibilities of his job. Milley says the calls as reported first in Woodward and Costa's new book were, in his words, routine and done to ensure strategic stability, says Milley in this new interview.

Joining me now for more on this is CNN's Fareed Zakaria, host of Fareed Zakaria GPS. It's good to see you Fareed. Milley says these calls are routine. What do you make of the fact that there still seems to be a debate here between the military and some lawmakers and analysts if that is the case?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: Look, I think it is likely that Milley is acted appropriately. What General Milley is saying is that he made these calls to create an atmosphere of trust and reassurance, making sure there was no miscalculation that took place.

This idea of confidence building measures among adversaries really comes out of the Cuban missile crisis. That was a period when the United States and the Soviet Union almost went to a nuclear war. And since then, what happened after that, what happened was people put in place a hotline between Moscow and Washington and started to meet and talk more regularly to make sure that there weren't these kind of accidental launches or miscalculations in that context. What General Milley did was perfectly appropriate. He did exactly the right thing and in the way he described it, as far as we know.

The one odd part is that in the book, it says that he assured his Chinese counterpart that were the United States to attack China, he would give them a heads up, that strikes me as just likely wrong. I cannot imagine a U.S. general doing that. I think that probably is a slightly garbled or misunderstood version of what he might have said, which was something like, you know, we are just -- we want to be sure that we are communicating well that there's no miscalculations things like that.

And some of the subsequent reporting has suggested that. So my gut, you know, at the end of the day, my bottom line is I think General Milley is right, he acted appropriately.

BOLDUAN: And we're going to hear more about it because Milley even says in this interview with The Associated Press, he's ready to answer all the lawmakers questions on this one. He testifies before them and a couple weeks from now.

Fareed, I was want to ask you about this new security deal announced between the U.S., UK and Australia which will eventually give Australia a nuclear powered submarine. The French are furious. I mean, the French Foreign Minister even saying in an interview, this unilateral sudden and unforeseeable decision resembles a lot of what Trump is doing. This whole thing is really about China. So why is France so openly outraged and taking it to kind of like the Trump level?

ZAKARIA: It's a lot of money. It is a very, very big deal. A very big blow to French industry, France has a defense industry is very proud of. Look, this is a big, bold strategic move by the Biden administration. I think it is fundamentally the correct orientation. The United States needs to focus on a deterrence strategy in Asia. This gets other countries involved like Australia, most importantly, and Britain, it provides a kind of reassurance and deterrence. That's important, particularly to Taiwan.

If you look at the way the Taiwanese have responded, you can see that this was a strategic move that has real benefits in terms of stabilizing that -- that very uncertain situation between Taiwan and China. Could it have been communicated better to the French? Could there have been more diplomacy around it? Probably perhaps. I do think though this was a pretty big move. The French were going to be angry no matter what, perhaps they could have been mollified a little bit more.

BOLDUAN: And finally, Fareed, Joe Biden has also just signed an executive order authorizing sanctions against anyone prolonging the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia. And this follows the reporting by our colleague Nima Elbagir. And her reporting on the just atrocities unfolding there. You can see it in her all of her reporting. What do you think this move by Biden will do?

ZAKARIA: I don't think it will do much honestly. There has been pressure on the United States to kind of do something. It's a horrendous situation. It's a, you know, it's a tough one. And, you know, the United States tends to impose sanctions, honestly, when it doesn't really know what to do. It's a relatively painless way to do it. Americans don't feel it. It appeases a group or two in Washington.