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At This Hour

Trump Lawyers Argue for Blocking Records in Insurrection Probe; Scientist Who Helped Discover Omicron Says, Most Mutated Virus Ever Seen; Drug Overdose Deaths Hit Record High During Pandemic. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired November 30, 2021 - 11:30   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN AT THIS HOUR: President Trump is still claiming that he's covered by executive privilege in order to keep the records out of the hands of the bipartisan House committee investigating the January 6th attack.

Let's get over to CNN's Evan Perez live outside the courthouse in Washington as this is playing out, as we speak. So, Evan, what has happened in there so far?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, these three judges are hearing this case and they're hearing it quite skeptically. The Trump lawyers are making the case that even though he's a former president, that he still has the power to say what is turned over to this congressional committee, even if the current president, President Biden, has already said that he is not asserting privilege over these 700 pages or so of documents that the archivist was due to turn over more than a week ago.

The fallback argument that the Trump team is saying is that even if the court says that maybe these documents should be turned over, they're saying that the court should look at the documents individually, essentially trying to figure out how to run out the clock for this committee, which, as you know, wants to try to get these documents, they need to try to get to the bottom of what happened on January 6th.

The judges, one of them, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, I'll read you just part of one of the things she said. She said this what boils down to who decides, who decides what is in the best interests of the United States to disclose presidential records, is it the current president of the United States or the former?

And, of course, you know, Kate, that a previous judge, a lower court judge, had already ruled that these documents should be turned over. We'll see how this argument wraps up in the next couple hours.

BOLDUAN: All right. Evan there for us, Evan, thank you so much.

Well, while we wait for that, joining me right now is Attorney Sara Azari for more on this.

So, Sara, Evan lays it out really well that the argument is they think he's covered by executive privilege and it all has continued to come down to executive privilege in the bounds of that presidential power. What do you think of the Trump team's legal argument here that it's executive privilege or, if they allow it, they should go document by document?

SARA AZARI, WHITE COLLAR CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I mean, Kate, I think at this point I just shake my head and chuckle because they're on repeat, these arguments have failed. At some point, an appeal becomes a lost cause. This was a lost cause from the beginning.

Number one, President Trump does not have -- or former President Trump does not have the executive privilege. It belongs to Biden. And Biden has very clearly said that there's no reason to invoke it. And, secondly, no privilege is unlimited under our Constitution. Every privilege has its limits, and the crime exception is one that I think that applies here. We've never had an insurrection, this heinous crime against our democracy, which, frankly, trumps any kind of interest that, you know, Trump might be alleging here.

But we have to remember that Trump's last stop, again, to buy time is the Supreme Court, right? That is his best stop. He thinks that just because he has a very conservative court, 6-3, three of the justices being appointed by him, that somehow he might have a chance there. And the idea here, Kate, is that under our system and our country, we don't get justice from our appointees. This is no different than me appearing before a judge when I helped with his election and expecting that he's going to rule in my favor. It just doesn't work like that.

I think the Supreme Court here is going to obviously first determine the threshold issue of whether he has the privilege to invoke, and, secondly, if that privilege is trumped by the interest of the committee to get to the bottom of this heinous crime. And going through those documents, again, it's a strategy to by time. And I think the Supreme Court needs to decide whether that's even necessary. If he doesn't have the privilege, then there's no reason to go through any documents.

So interesting, but it does seem inevitable at this point that to the Supreme Court is where this does end up. It's good to see you, Sara, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Coming up for us, the lead scientist who helped first identify the omicron variant will be joining us from South Africa as researchers try to answer so many of the questions still out there about this new strain. That's next.



BOLDUAN: Developing this morning, cases of the omicron variant now confirmed in at least 19 countries and territories and five continents. Scientists are racing to learn more about this new coronavirus strain, really across the world, which was first reported just six days ago in South Africa.

Joining me now is virologist Alex Sigal, who leads the team of researchers that first identified omicron. He's a faculty member at the Africa Health Research Institute. Alex, thank you for being here.

I saw that you said that this is probably the most mutated virus that you'd ever seen. What was your first reaction when you saw this variant under the microscope for the first time?

ALEX SIGAL, FACULTY MEMBER, AFRICA HEALTH RESEARCH INSTITUTE: Well, first to set the record straight, I wasn't the one that discovered it. This was discovered by a couple of other groups in South Africa, the group of Penny Moore and Tulio de Oliveira.


I'm a virologist, so I don't look at -- I don't do the sequencing. I take the virus from those guys and I grow it up to see what it does.

So, I was in Tulio's office, he kind of showed me this stuff, and it was clear it was going to be a problem.

BOLDUAN: What did you see that made it clear to you it was going to be a problem?

SIGAL: Well, there's a whole bunch of mutations there. Some of them are good for escaping the immune response, some of them are good for transmission and some of them we didn't see before. Of course, it looks like a problem, but we don't know to what extent it's going to be a problem. I wouldn't at this point say that this is hugely different from stuff we've seen before.

BOLDUAN: And as I'm beginning, as you know well, as I'm beginning to understand it, it's not as much the sheer number of mutations. It's where those mutations are, what those mutations do. What insight are you gaining into that at this point?

SIGAL: Well, I mean, we know some of these mutations. Like you said, it's kind of a Frankenstein, so we've never seen this constellation of mutations before or this number of mutations, but we've seen those guys in other variants and we've seen them in viruses that were subcritical, right? So, we've seen evolution events in South Africa which we're monitoring that didn't make it to become a variant and similar mutations were there as well. We more or less know what those guys are capable of.

BOLDUAN: You're in the midst of more experiments with omicron samples. What are you focused on right now, Alex, in terms of determining how bad this is, if it's as bad as it kind of looks, to put it very simply?

SIGAL: Yes. We don't know yet how bad test. And, you know, I wouldn't -- you know, I would not say that this can be -- you know, it can be anything in principle but it doesn't have to be kind of this, you know, terrible variant. We just don't know. We're focused on just one kind of simple question to begin with, and that's what does this variant do to vaccine protection? And the answer is, if everything goes well and the virus cooperates in growing for us so we can test it, we'll know these answers fairly soon, in a couple of weeks.

BOLDUAN: And everyone needs to wait for that because it is all part of the process, as we are now learning.

I saw reporting that within 36 hours of discovering this new variant, the teams that you've been working with alerted the world. So, in 36 hours, this information was put out there, that this was something new, this was something different. What do you think of the worldwide reaction since?

SIGAL: I'm a little bit saddened by it because it kind of shows a lack of perspective. So, South African scientists were very open and transparent and so was the South African government, and it seemed like what we're getting is a bit of punishment for that.

Now, luckily, this place allows us to report things as we see them. We just hope as scientists in other places can also report similar findings, you know, without their governments perhaps suppressing it because of what happened here. So, I think, you know, one has to be very careful about, you know, discouraging this kind of open communication.

BOLDUAN: If you've been involved -- others have been involved with identifying very earlier variants, the beta variant of COVID. How many -- and now, obviously, we're looking at the omicron variant. How many more variants do you think that you're going to finding before this pandemic is over?

SIGAL: Well, I don't know, you know, how many kind of very powerful variants, but certainly I think we'll be learning more of the Greek alphabet.

BOLDUAN: So, there is more to come. What do you think it's going to take to finally --

SIGAL: Still more to come.

BOLDUAN: Many more to come. Alex, thank you very much. I appreciate your time, and thank you for your work.

SIGAL: Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, death from opioid addictions are rising dramatically in the United States and the pandemic is a big reason why. Coming up, a close, tragic, and painful look at the human toll of the crisis.


[11:45:00] BOLDUAN: Drug overdoses are breaking records in the United States. The CDC is saying that the pandemic is making the battle with addiction even tougher.

In a new CNN series, United States of Addiction, CNN's Miguel Marquez finds that the drug fentanyl is a big reason why.


KAREN BUTCHER, SON DIED FROM FENTANYL OVERDOSE: I just knew in my mother's heart my son was dead.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Matthew Davidson, 31 years old, died from an overdose on Memorial Day 2020.


K. BUTCHER: But I just remember crying out. I wasn't ready to let you go, and I spent some time alone with him patting his hair and touching his -- his hands. He looked like he was just asleep.

MARQUEZ: Davidson first addicted to prescription painkillers, then heroin, struggled with addiction for ten years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This isn't my first time that I've been in a program.

MARQUEZ: In and out of recovery and overdosing more than once. His death ultimately caused by the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl.

K. BUTCHER: At one point when his girlfriend was asleep, I think that's when he decided he was going to take a dose of what he thought was heroin, but it was a very high level of fentanyl as well.

GENE BUTCHER, STEPSON DIED FROM FENTANYL OVERDOSE: Was in the heroin, and it doesn't take any of it to hardly kill you.

MARQUEZ: Fentanyl and synthetic opioids like it accounting for 64 percent of the record 100,000-plus deadly drug overdoses from April 2020 to April 2021.

L. BUTCHER: Did the pandemic kill Matthew? No. It just intensified. I think he was more emotionally fragile during that time.

MARQUEZ: What did the pandemic for places like Kentucky?

ALEX ELSWICK, CO-FOUNDER, VOICES OF HOPE: Yes. There was a clear and obvious use in use in overdose, in any metric that you want to use.

MARQUEZ: Alex Elswick, a former opioid addict, now dedicates his life to studying, understanding and working with the addicted and recovering at Lexington's Voices of Hope. He says the pandemic and the isolation that came with it devastated the addiction community.

ELSWICK: What addiction is in your brain is downregulation of dopamine and what social interaction is upregulate dopamine. So, it's literally organic medicine for the recovering brain.

MARQUEZ: Add to the mix, cheap and plentiful fentanyl, 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, whether in pill or powder form, injected or snorted, dangerous even in tiny amounts.

How did fentanyl first come into your life?


MARQUEZ: Your first overdose. How many overdoses have there been?


MARQUEZ: Shearer says he was clean for 19 months, then last December, his grandfather died. Grief drove him to relapse, he thought he was using heroin. It was fentanyl.

How much did you use?

SHEARER: Very little. I wouldn't even less than a tenth of a gram.

MARQUEZ: Less than a tenth of gram?

SHEARER: Less than a tenth. And I found out it was straight fentanyl.

MARQUEZ: I mean, that's a tiny --

SHEARER: That's tinier than tiny. It's like barely a sprinkle of salt.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to welcome everyone tonight.

MARQUEZ: Social interaction important for the addicted, their families too. Jean Carey Butcher founded the Kentucky chapter of POW, parents of addicted loved ones. Over the years, they've heard it all as they struggled to free their son, Matthew, from opioids.

G. BUTCHER: Well, send him and fix it, or fix her. But iIt doesn't work like that.

K. BUTCHER: Why don't they just stop?

G. BUTCHER: Why don't they just stop? Don't they know they can stop?

K. BUTCHER: You would think they would know what they are doing to their children.

G. BUTCHER: But you see, drugs take over the brain.

MARQUEZ: Matthew's brother, Glenn, says there is no easy way to recover and money alone won't solve the problem of addiction.

GLENN DAVIDSON, MATTHEW DAVIDSON'S BROTHER: Addiction isn't something that you can just turn off. For a lot of these people it's not a choice. They are addicted to these drugs, and I think the only way they can get off is through support and love. K. BUTCHER: This is his wallet. He didn't have much.

MARQUEZ: Karen Butcher now clings to the few physical reminders of her son, Matthew. Her favorite, a quilt made from all of his favorite shirts.

K. BUTCHER: Sometimes I would think, okay, I've got Matthew's arms wrapped around me.

MARQUEZ: It includes the last photo they took together in his most favorite shirt.

K. BUTCHER: If the house caught on fire, I would probably grab that quilt. I call it my Matthew quilt.

MARQUEZ: Matthew Davidson, one victim of America's opioid epidemic, wrapped in the pandemic of COVID-19.


BOLDUAN: You know, Miguel, every one of these stories is just as tragic and more tragic as the next. I mean, is there any hope in terms of, I don't know, as the country is opening back up? Is the number of drug-related deaths like this, has it leveled off at all?

MARQUEZ (on camera): There is some indication there going down. The CDC has some predictive numbers for 2021. It is below, fairly well below the numbers they were in 2020. It's heading in the right direction, but we have a very, very long way to go. Kate?

BOLDUAN: What do you say when you're -- it's impossible to say anything with what these families are going through. I mean, just to say to get through this, you need love and support. God, there has to be more than this, right, Miguel?

MARQUEZ: And each family. These stories, they are so similar, and each story is so difficult to take in but so many families going through this at all levels of society.


BOLDUAN: At all -- that's exactly right, and I think that's such an important thing to point out. It's good to see you. Thank you so much for reporting and thank you for putting a spotlight on this. We'll continue to report on this.

In the meantime, thank you so much for being here, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Much more to come especially with the omicron variant and all that is unknown with that.

Inside Politics with John King begins after this break.