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House Recommends Contempt for Mark Meadows; Geraldo Confronts Hannity over Texts to Meadows; NIH to Release Vaccine Efficacy Data. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 15, 2021 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Kate Bolduan.

Historic vote: the House holding a former colleague and former Trump chief of staff in contempt over his stonewalling of the January 6th committee. Now the Justice Department must decide what to do with Mark Meadows.

Answers on Omicron: the NIH is set to release new data on a key question today.

How do current vaccines hold up to the new variant?

And heading to Kentucky: President Biden arrives in Kentucky. He arrived in Kentucky moments ago to see the tornado devastation firsthand.

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BOLDUAN: Let's begin with the congressional investigation into the attack on the U.S. Capitol. The Justice Department now must decide whether to pursue a prosecution of Mark Meadows.

The House voted last night, as we know, to hold the former Trump White House chief of staff in criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with the panel investigating the insurrection.

Meadows is now the first former member of Congress held in contempt since 1832. The vote was mostly along party lines, with Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger as the only Republicans voting with Democrats on this.

Before the vote, the January 6th committee shared more revealing text messages from unnamed -- that unnamed lawmakers sent to Meadows, as the siege unfolded in real time. Let's get to Paula Reid in Washington with the latest developments on this.

So what now, Paula?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, let's take a few steps back.

How did we get here?

Before he suddenly stopped cooperating, Meadows provided thousands of pages of evidence to the committee. And they are demanding that he come in and at least answer questions about what he's already turned over.

Clearly they believe he doesn't think that's privileged. In the last three days, the committee has become a lot more public in sharing what it is that they got from Meadows and why they think he is such a key witness, why they believe they have to hear from him.

Now among the text messages that they shared last night, one from November 4th. Now this is a text message to Meadows from a member of Congress suggesting a, quote, "aggressive strategy for Republican-led legislatures to just send their own electors to Congress and let the Supreme Court decide who won the election."

So Kate, that's the day after the election; a member of Congress, White House chief of staff, discussing a plan to disenfranchise millions of voters. President Biden weighed in on Meadows and the contempt issue a short time ago. Let's take a listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know enough of -- just what I've seen, I've not spoken to anyone. It seems he's worthy of being held in contempt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: Biden had previously weighs in on Steve Bannon's contempt case, suggesting he should be prosecuted. And there was some criticism of that, for the president to weigh in on a pending Justice Department case.

The Justice Department is, of course, supposed to act independently of the White House. Now going forward, a lot of questions, Kate, about why the lawmakers, who sent these text messages, are not named.

The committee has named FOX News hosts, the president's own son in some of these messages they've shared. But CNN is told by the committee that in the next week or so they'll decide whether they will name those lawmakers.

The committee insists they wanted to put out the content before naming these lawmakers. But we'll be reporting on this, too, trying to figure out who was sending these text messages.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely, Paula. Thank you for the update and all the context.

Here's more of what we know about this. We know congressional investigators revealed text messages this week between three FOX hosts and Mark Meadows as part of the case that they are building against Mark Meadows.

The network's personalities pleading with Meadows to get Trump to condemn the violence as the attack was unfolding and happening.

We also know this news has not been covered by FOX, really, until last night, when FOX host Sean Hannity was confronted by one of his own colleagues on air. CNN's chief media correspondent, anchor of "RELIABLE SOURCES" Brian Stelter is here with me now.

Brian, what happened?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham both defended themselves overnight, saying they've always been consistent, they've always condemned the violence of January 6th.

And that's true. Both hosts did very quickly come out to condemn it.

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STELTER: But then they've spent the past year whitewashing it, trying to blame others and excuse the behavior. Here's what happened on Hannity's show when Geraldo Rivera called Hannity out and tried to hold him accountable.

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GERALDO RIVERA, FOX NEWS HOST: I beg you, Sean, to remember the frame of mind you were in when you wrote that text on January 6th and when Laura did and when Brian did and when Don Jr. did. Remember the concern you had. Remember the frustration you had at our beloved 45th president.

(CROSSTALK)

RIVERA: Why doesn't he say something?

(CROSSTALK)

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: -- but the point is he did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: So Hannity at the end saying, "but the point is he did," he did come out and tell the rioters to go home. Of course, the former president did that way too slowly. He allowed it to go on for hours; apparently watched TV, enjoying the sights that horrible afternoon.

This is a classic example of what Trump did for four years in office. He'd set fires, run around setting fires then he'd say I don't like fire, I don't like fire. So he'd have it both ways. He'd both cause destruction and then claim he was against it.

And that's what happened on January 6th as well. So Hannity there is trying to let Trump off the hook, continuing to claim Trump was not responsible. And I think, Kate, that speaks volumes about where Trump is, continuing to lead the GOP.

Figures like Hannity and Ingraham do not want to get on Trump's bad side. They suspect he'll continue to be the leader of the GOP and possibly run for office in 2024. So you see these FOX hosts trying to cover up the past, even though they know just how horrible January 6th was.

BOLDUAN: Brian, thanks for the reporting. Appreciate it.

Joining me now on the big question now facing the Justice Department and the attorney general, former attorney general himself under George W. Bush, Alberto Gonzales.

Thanks for being here. Let's focus on Merrick Garland, the questions before him and what he'll do about Mark Meadows. In the past you were represented by the same attorney representing Meadows now.

But what do you think Merrick Garland is considering in deciding whether to pursue charges against Meadows?

ALBERTO GONZALES, GEORGE W. BUSH ADMINISTRATION ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think he's going to be looking at a wide range of issues.

One, he's going to look at, well, what is the evidence?

Of course, it's one thing for Congress to make this referral.

But does the evidence support the claim of contempt of Congress?

So a fundamental question that has to be answered.

I think he's also going to be looking at the likelihood that the Supreme Court will take up the issue as to whether or not this is executive privilege. He may wait a bit to see if the court does, in fact, do that, because that will answer the fundamental question, whether this is a valid assertion of executive privilege by the former president.

As we all know, the assertion of executive privilege is a qualified privilege. Even an assertion by a sitting president, it's a qualified privilege.

So I'd argue it's probably even more qualified when the assertion is made by a former president, perhaps even more qualified when that's made in the face of a contrary position by the sitting president and perhaps even more qualified when the assertion is made in comparison to the need for the information.

And I think you can make a very strong argument that the need for the information here, in the face of what we saw on January 6th, possibly an interruption, the blocking of the, you know, the constitutional counting of electoral votes, I think all of that, in my judgment, places a heavy burden against the assertion of executive privilege.

BOLDUAN: That's a lot of qualifiers, makes it all the more interesting.

This is a former member of Congress, a former colleague, that they held in contempt, a former White House chief of staff. Does that factor into the AG's decision that he's making here?

GONZALES: I'm not sure that his position as a former member of Congress will factor into it. I think the fact that he's a former chief of staff to the President of the United States will be a valid conversation because, here, we're talking about the chief adviser to the President of the United States.

The executive privilege exists to ensure the closest advisers to the president can speak with candor to the president, without fear of prosecution or criticism, public ridicule of that advice. And so, yes, I think that will be a consideration for the attorney general.

BOLDUAN: And there's much more, obviously, to be known.

But based on public record, so far, do you see enough to bring contempt charges against Meadows?

GONZALES: I don't have all the information; the attorney general has. And we never have all the information that a prosecutor has in making this kind of decision. So I would hesitate to reach a judgment on that without having all the information that Merrick Garland surely has.

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BOLDUAN: President Biden was not asked about the attorney general's decision but was asked specifically this morning for the reaction to Congress holding Meadows in contempt.

And the president said that it's worthy, that, in his view, it's worthy of being held in contempt.

What do you make of that, as a former attorney general, you know and the president weighing in on this at all?

GONZALES: Well, again, this wasn't a statement, as I understood, giving an opinion as to what he thought the Department of Justice should do.

BOLDUAN: Right.

GONZALES: That's different than his views about what Congress has done or should do. And, you know, the fact that he was in the Senate for so long, I think, maybe gives him the basis to offer an opinion that may be worth something.

I don't think that opinion will carry any weight -- and certainly shouldn't carry any weight -- with respect to the Department of Justice. And again, in my opinion, that statement did not relate to what he thought the department should do but his opinion about the actions of Congress.

BOLDUAN: Yes, which isn't the -- an important distinction when talking about this.

Given the text messages that have now been made public, do you think the congressional committee should be seeking to interview or subpoena, if necessary, Don Jr. and the FOX hosts who have been named?

GONZALES: It appears to me so, Kate, honestly. But again, I don't have all the information that the committee has. They may have other information that may make the need not as great as it might appear to us sitting here this morning.

So I don't know. But you know, I certainly would be interested as a public citizen about what might be -- what might be or might not be included in these other texts and email messages.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. As we've noted, the committee has clearly identified Don Jr., has clearly identified and named the FOX hosts but did not name the lawmakers, who also texted Mark Meadows, who they read the texts from. They haven't given really a specific reason why, only promising that lawmakers' names will eventually be revealed.

What do you think of that, strategy or special treatment?

GONZALES: Oh, I have no idea, Kate. I wouldn't hazard a guess what congressional leadership is thinking with respect to this particular issue. Listen, they've indicated that those names will be revealed in the future. I don't know why there's an absolute need to know that information at this particular point in time.

BOLDUAN: Other than the public just wants to know more, as always, as well as journalists.

Liz Cheney has now said repeatedly that Meadows must testify because, at least in part to -- it leads to answer what she calls a key question and what -- and how she has described it a couple of times now is this.

Did Donald Trump through action or inaction corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress' proceedings?

And that language is very similar to the actual federal statute on obstruction of Congress.

What would it take to prove that?

GONZALES: Quite honestly, Kate, I think that you have to prove intent. Obviously, intent will be critical in this kind of charge.

And so getting into the mind of what was said is an indication of what someone is thinking, what someone intends. And that's why access to this kind of information is so very critical, if you're talking about possibly pursuing some kind of obstruction of Congress charge.

BOLDUAN: Yes, and that would be far down the road. Attorney general, good to see you. Thanks for coming on.

GONZALES: Thanks for having me.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, new warnings about a surge of coronavirus in America as the NIH is about to release data on how effective vaccines are holding up against the Omicron variant. Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us next.

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BOLDUAN: Happening now, we are waiting for the White House pandemic response team to hold a briefing. The NIH is expected to release data on how well current vaccines hold up against the Omicron variant.

It comes as the seven-day average of new coronavirus cases is up nearly 50 percent in the last month. And, more importantly, COVID hospitalizations are up almost 43 percent in the same time period. Joining me is CNN chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta on this.

Sanjay, we're waiting to hear the latest data from the NIH about how that current vaccines fare against Omicron.

But how much do we know about how it's spreading?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It does appear to be spreading more quickly than we've seen with previous variants. That's been the big question.

When Delta started to spread in May, it was around 1 percent of the overall new cases. But by the end of summer, it was the dominant variant. It had a doubling time of roughly every two weeks or so.

Let me show you, now in the country, the vast majority of cases are still, in the United States, Delta. But we also know that the numbers have been increasing over the last couple of weeks; 0.4 percent to 3 percent now for the country.

But if you look at New York, New Jersey, some of the data there shows a very significant uptick just over -- the last two weeks.

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GUPTA: That's something that, you know, has been anticipated.

We saw evidence of that in Europe as well. So this should not be a surprise. And I think it's pretty more clearly more contagious.

In terms of severity, one question is, look at the total number of cases and determine what proportion of those people are getting severely ill, needing to be hospitalized. And there, the news appears to be better.

Early days but, if you look overall at the data, the proportion of people who end up in the hospital with Omicron versus with previous variants may be lower. That could be because the virus itself is not making people as sick. Could be there's more existing immunity in the community. They're not

sure. If you look specifically at the vaccine, against Omicron, with two doses, OK, this was data that came out of South Africa, significant dropoff in terms of effectiveness against infection.

Still pretty good, although lower effectiveness against hospitalizations, 70 percent. That's two doses. We need to see data on what boosted sort of protection looks like and whether or not there will be sort of a need for an Omicron-specific booster in the future. That's going to be a big question coming out of this briefing today.

BOLDUAN: Sanjay, yesterday I asked the Pfizer CEO about just that, about the need for a new vaccine specifically targeting -- targeted toward Omicron. Let me play what he said.

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ALBERT BOURLA, PFIZER CEO: I don't know if we will need an Omicron vaccine. We cannot take chances with that. So we are moving full speed in developing one.

And I know from the studies we've done so far that, if we need to make one, that one will be very effective against Omicron and that likely will be ready in March and that will be ready to manufacture in very big quantities.

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BOLDUAN: He says they'll be ready.

But based on what we know now, do you think we're going to need it?

GUPTA: Well, it's hard to say. Keep in mind that they did do the same process for Delta and for Beta. They created boosters specific for those variants as well. And then they basically realized that the existing vaccines were working pretty well. So it's sort of the same process.

I think there's two points. One is that the existing vaccines, especially with the booster, do seem to be quite protective against what they are designed to do, which is prevent people from getting sick. I think that's an important point.

But there was something else that came out of the data in South Africa and that is the protection that people might have from infection- inquired immunity.

The idea that you had it in the past, how well does that protect you in the future?

With Omicron, they do see the reinfection rate is definitely higher than with previous variants. So this virus, this variant seems to be distinctive enough that your previous infection-acquired immunity may not be as protective.

With the vaccines they may offer broad enough immunity to protect not only against Delta but against Omicron. But we have to see. That's going to be a big question.

Will there be an Omicron-specific booster needed in the future?

We know they're working on it.

But how necessary will it be?

BOLDUAN: And there are so many people who are eligible for a booster and haven't gotten it yet, even with the current vaccines, we're talking about.

Is it clear to you how much more vulnerable someone is now, if they've had two shots but not the third, compared to someone who has had all three?

GUPTA: Yes, I think that it's pretty clear, if you look at the data, that two things emerge. One is that two shots is still very protective. But it does wane off.

If you look at Israel, look at that data, for example, you can look at what sort of was happening in Israel -- and this is going back to late summer. End of August is when boosters really started to begin.

You can see the numbers were going up at that point. Still low numbers so even though you are looking at a zoomed-in graph and they were going up, they were still doing pretty well overall.

But clearly, after boosters sort of came on the scene you can see a dropoff. So there was a real correlation there. That's cases.

Let's look at overall deaths as well in terms of the impact of boosters there. Again, we marked where boosters began. And this is -- this tells a more important story that there was a significant dropoff in terms of the death rate after boosters.

Again, I want to point out that, two shots, we're doing pretty well. Even though that's zoomed in and the numbers were going up, they're still relatively small.

But if the question is, do boosters make an impact?

For sure. Based on that data out of Israel, it was pretty clear.

BOLDUAN: It will be interesting what comes out with this new NIH data as they'll be announcing it any moment. Good to see you, Sanjay. Thank you.

A quick programming note, everyone. We have a new installment of Sanjay's award-winning "WEED" series. A closer look at how families with autistic children are finding hope in cannabis.

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BOLDUAN: But for some it's hope that comes at a risk. Watch CNN Special Report "WEED 6: MARIJUANA AND AUTISM" Sunday night at 8:00 pm. Coming up at this hour, the former Minneapolis police officer

convicted of murdering George Floyd has just changed his plea to federal charges. The breaking details in a live report, next.