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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Biden Marks 100th Anniversary Of Tulsa Race Massacre; Biden Announces Steps To Close Racial Wealth Gap In U.S.; Texas Dems Suggest Legal Battle To Block Voting Restrictions; Former Trump Adviser Michael Flynn Seems To Suggest A Myanmar-Style Coup "Should Happen" In The U.S.; Moderna Seeks Full FDA Approval For Its Coronavirus Vaccine; State Dept. Demands Release Of U.S. Journalists Held At Myanmar Prison Notorious For Brutality & Torture. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired June 01, 2021 - 17:00   ET



MARTIN LUTHER KING III, GLOBAL HUMAN RIGHTS LEADER: So, today it is being revealed more and more.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And Dr. West, for people who may not understand the significance of the Tulsa massacre, and quite frankly, I did not learn it when I was in grade school or junior high or high school or college. Can you explain why it's so important for a sitting U.S. president to visit Tulsa, memorialize the victims and clarify that it wasn't a race riot, it was a racist massacre.

CORNEL WEST, PROFESSOR OF THE PRACTICE OF PUBLIC PHILOSOPHY, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Absolutely no, brother. In fact, it was a barbaric moment in the 400 years' war against black people. So that Brother Martin is absolutely right, we could talk about Wilmington 1898, Atlanta 1906, Springfield 1908, Elaine (ph) Arkansas 1919, all the way up to Breonna Taylor and George Floyd Jr.

I think what Brother Biden did was at least he cast a lime line. And I'm glad to see that. But if he doesn't understand this as a barbaric moment in a 400-year war against black folks psychically, politically, socially, educationally and also militarily, then he can't conclude the Americans when he says America is not a racist nation, his speech just undercut that.

When he says, we don't have enough black homeownership, well, it was his support for Wall Street that led to a decline in black ownership in 2008. He's got to take responsibility for his own history, or he's living in denial.

And if he thinks that business loans and dealing with housing is going to be enough to deal with the depths, and the breadth of black suffering, the poverty, the inadequate education, not enough health -- access to health care, then, you know, he's playing the flute and we need to hear the whole symphony. So, it's good for him to be in Tulsa.

As you know, I was born in Tulsa, I was born in Greenwood. So, it's a going home. And I'm glad he's there. But we don't need just another pretty speech that hides and conceals the depth of the suffering. He's got to realize America's not just racist, but it's also one that reinforces a poverty, psychic and economic that bombarding black people and others as well.

William Barber (ph) understands this, brother Monki (ph) III understand this, I know Jesse (ph) said he understands this. We've got to hit this head on, my brother.

TAPPER: So, Mr. King, the President, as Dr. West has noted, also announced proposals to close the racial wealth gap. Some of those proposals include directing federal contracts to minority owned businesses, $10 billion in community revitalization funds for cities such as Greenwood. I know, you talked about reparations, but focusing on what Biden has proposed today or had discussed today, is there a possibility for real progress here?

KING: Well, there's a possibility for a start of real progress. When you talk about the length and breadth of what has to be done, it is beyond monumental. And so, yes, this is a -- this is a start.

But you know, the fact is, even when we talk about minority, you know, what does that define too? That does not necessarily mean just black folk. So, you know, historically, in fact, minority businesses, disadvantaged businesses were also women businesses.

And during the time when we had these programs, significantly, a lot of women businesses who happened to be owned by white women, which is good for white women, but you know, we're talking about what's happened to black folks specifically.

We also, by the way, need to be talking about most important, or the first people who are here, our Native American brothers and sisters who have been dramatically did mistreat, almost wiped off the planet. So, we got a lot of work to do in this nation that we call home, which can do the work if we choose to, and people already unable, and the system is there. Well, we got a long way to go.

TAPPER: Dr. West, the NAACP said that President Biden's plans fall short, at least in part because he does not address student loan debt and how that affects black Americans. Do you agree? What do you think?

WEST: I think that's true, but it's not just student loans of both. We need massive investment in poor and working people across the board, such that people can shape their destinies. And how do you do it? By access to capital, access to money, access to status, access to respect.

Brother Martin's magnificent father and mother, too, they call for revolution, a revolution in priorities, a revolution in what you focus on. The least of these, don't begin with Wall Street and income with afterthought. Here's a little loan here. Here's a little extra there.

No, we need a revolution in our priorities. We need a revolution in how we look at the world. You got to look at the world through the lenses of Sister Randall (ph). That's what Sister Randall talked about it as a war and even as opposed to just an isolated moment of massacre. [17:05:10]

And when you understand that it's a war, you know, there's a structure, there's a system in place. That's what makes America deeply racist. Its system, it's not just Biden friends who like Negros. So, you have to view the world through a different set of lens in that way. And I think, if we move in that direction, as Brother Martin has noted already, then I think we've got some good reason to be -- to be hopeful.

TAPPER: Dr. Cornel West, Martin Luther King III, thanks to both of you and honored to have you on.

Let's discuss here in panel more about the politics of this, I think, then about the significance of it. Although, you've certainly heard views, very strong views express not only about the nature of how racist America is from Dr. Cornel West, but also how paltry this was to him and to Mr. King in terms of what they think needs to be done.

One of the things that's interesting about, you know, there's this thing called the Overton window, the -- how things become more and more acceptable to talk about reparations a decade ago nobody was talking about it, then Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote that piece for the Atlantic. And now it's mentioned as a conversation point.

I think it's fair to say, Joe Biden is one of the most progressive presidents ever.


TAPPER: But still, you hear from strong progressives like West and King, and he's nowhere near where they want him to be.

KIM: Right. And that's the really difficult position that Joe Biden finds himself in in so many policies, but especially this one. And I thought the NAACP criticism coming out last night ahead of this big, really important symbolic day, and one of the most important speeches that Biden has given so far, so striking, because they're saying that the Biden administration has not gone so far as to really help close the racial wealth gap by not canceling student loan debt altogether. But we know that's a lie, and that so far, President Biden hasn't been willing to cross.

He's told "The New York Times" just a couple weeks ago that he just does not support that idea and underscored that again this week. But also just kind of listening to that speech and stepping back, it shows you the limits of President Biden on, you know, both ends of his party, because not only is he getting progress or criticism from progressives were not going far enough.

But he's specifically called out two members of his own party that votes fairly at a regular clip with Republicans. You know, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, even though she did -- or he didn't name them by name, who are an impediment to a lot of the Biden administration's agenda. So, it's really interesting to see that political dynamic that the President is facing right now. ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, THE NEW YORK TIMES WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Including some of the policies that he discussed during the speech. I mean, some of the agenda items that we're talking about, especially when it comes to racial equity, they're in his infrastructure plan. That's still being discussed on the Hill. That has not passed yet.

He talked about how, even after this massacre, there was a high rise that rises in Greenwood at that time that, you know, fuels some of the disparities in the area. So, and part of his infrastructure plan also would, you know, basically dedicate millions towards projects like that either to reconnect those communities or try and push back against some of the projects that fueled some of the segregation that we've seen in decades. Now, again, that's still in Congress.

It seems like also, this wasn't just an opportunity to, you know, recognize and make up for some of the loss time, to recognize one of the more severe atrocities in U.S. history, but also, as you were saying, it was a selling point. To sell the infrastructure plan, also discuss what his national security officials are doing in terms of white supremacy, and discuss voting rights as well, which we know there's movement to restrict those voting rights.

TAPPER: And it is all on a continuum, though. I mean, you know, this massacre, this racist massacre, the fact that the three of us were talking during the break, we did not learn about this as kids. I'm a little older than you guys, but you didn't either. And all the rest, the need for investment, et cetera.

Thanks so much for being here. Really, really appreciate it.

The fight over new voting restrictions fueled by Donald Trump's big lie and the Republicans standing up to warn the nation, democracy is in danger. Stay with us.



TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead, democracy in peril. President Biden moments ago -- moments ago, again, blasting Republican efforts to limit how and when people can vote the most recent battle taking place in Texas. Measures there, the Democrats say, unfairly target people of color.

If you listen to certain House Republicans such as Liz Cheney or Adam Kinzinger, they're very clearly warning about a separate issue that some of their fellow Republicans are threatening to put democracy in peril in different ways, writing Donald Trump's big lie into the midterms in 2024 in an attempt to steal future elections.

Republican Congressman Peter Meijer, an Army veteran who deployed to Iraq, he sounded the alarm yesterday on Memorial Day tweeting in part, "There are those who take the sacrifice for granted, waxing patriotic while salivating for civil war. Claiming they need to destroy the Republic in order to save it in the ultimate betrayal of oaths sworn. Those treacherous snakes can go straight to hell." Liz Cheney responded to former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, saying over the weekend that the coup that happened in Myanmar, "should happen here," Flynn said. Cheney tweeted, "No American should advocate or support the violent overthrow of the United States."

But these Republicans, the Meijers and the Cheneys and the Kinzingers seem to be in the minority of their party in addition to the undermining of fact and truth more than a dozen Republican led states are passing laws since the 2020 election that are very clearly making it harder for legal voters to vote and easier in some cases to overturn election results.

The latest attempt to pass such laws was in Texas. It was blocked because Democrats physically left the building, drama that's full of fueling a renewed push on Capitol Hill to pass sweeping legislation that would undermine some of these more restrictive state measures.


Our CNN's Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju joins us now live.

And Manu, give us a reality check specifically on where negotiations stand right now on Capitol Hill for federal legislation that addresses these concerns about making it tougher to vote that could pass the House and Senate.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the reality is Democrats are still struggling to get on the same page and struggling to get the votes to get it out of the United States Senate. But pressure is going to intensify over the next few weeks as Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, plans to bring a sweeping measure to the floor on the week of June 21.

That bill would overhaul elections in this country, how they're conducted change, how voter registration is conducted, overhaul campaign finance laws as well. But there is some resistance from one key Democratic senator, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has not signed on to the Democratic proposal. He's a lone member of that caucus to do just that.

And just moments ago, Joe Biden is seem to have called out both Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema as he calls -- as he recognized the realities of the narrowly divided Congress and trying to get something through.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hear all the folks on T.V. saying, why didn't Biden get this done? Well, because Biden only has the majority of effectively four votes in the House and a tie in the Senate with two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends. But we're not giving up.

Earlier this year, the House of Representatives passed for the People Act to protect our democracy. The Senate will take it up later this month. And I'm going to fight like heck, with every tool in my disposable first passage.

The House is also working in the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which is -- which is critical to providing new legal tools to combat under assault in the right to vote.


RAJU: Now, the reality is both Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema do vote more with Democrats than they do with Republicans. But they are the two Democrats in particular among a handful of others who are holding out and changes to the Senate filibuster rules. And that is important because trying to get any legislation like this through right now under the rules would require 60 votes in the 50-50. Senate.

The proponents who want to change the filibuster want to do that by a simple majority, but Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, others like Jeanne Shaheen are saying no, they don't want to go that route. Manchin, however, is pushing a narrower measure, called the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to try to deal with the Supreme Court gutting a key provision of that landmark civil rights law.

But even that proposal that Joe Manchin is talking with Senator Lisa Murkowski, that still lacks the necessary votes to get this through. So, prospects have really dire here as pressures bound to intensify in the Senate. Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

Today, Texas Democrats hinted that they might take legal action to attempt to block a slew of new voting restrictions pushed by Republicans in the state. Democrats were able to block the bill's passage on Sunday only by walking out of the Capitol Building, thus denying the legislative body the quorum required to pass any law. But Republicans have already pledged to bring the issue and the law back up during a special session.

CNN's Sara Murray joins us now live.

Sara, what options do Democrats in Texas really have here?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, I think everything for them is on the table right now. Part of the reason this last play worked was because Republicans had mismanaged their time and mismanaged the process.

At the end of the legislative session so poorly, the Democrats were able to essentially walk out and kick the can down the road. But they know that the governor is going to call a special session. And it will depend on when he calls that special session and what else he puts on the agenda.

You know, it's harder to just walk out of the room if there are a bunch of other issues there. Like for instance, redistricting that Democrats they're really going to care about and are really going to want to be a part of that debate. You know, they can also negotiate behind the scenes with Republicans. They could get a bill that is not so extreme, not so conservative. That hasn't been what Republicans in Texas want to see so far.

But to give you an indication of why this isn't going to go away. You know, this is a top priority for Texas Governor Greg Abbott. And just a few minutes ago, former President Donald Trump sent out a statement saying he endorses Greg Abbott. He's facing a primary challenge from the right, so you can see why this is getting propelled forward even from the former president.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray, thanks so much.

Let's discuss with our panel. And Bakari, we just heard President Biden call on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. I wonder if you think his words will actually translate to action on Capitol Hill. I wonder if you think it was smart for him to kind of figuratively poke his finger in the eyes of Manchin and Sinema, the two Democrats who are really opposed to ending the filibuster.

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first, it was a great speech. I think anybody who watches it needs to acknowledge that first. But I think we're beyond the time of speeches in this country.

For many people, for many of those African Americans, for many disadvantaged, for many poor people, for the people who are being targeted by these bills that are passed throughout the country now is not the time anymore for speeches or platitudes, but now is the time for action. And so, yes, he was right for calling out Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.


In fact, I think I do that daily when I'm on CNN, because it's as if we don't want to leave. It's as if we got a majority in both Houses and we have the White House. And now, Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin seem not to believe that democracy is at stake.

And in less, they begin to understand the ramifications of their inaction than poor people, black people, Hispanic people. People who need them in this country will continue to suffer. And right now, Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin just don't give a damn.

TAPPER: S.E., I think that if Sinema or Manchin were here, and of course, they're always welcome on the show, they might argue that their concern is what happens when Republicans take control of the Senate. And then, thus, the 60 vote threshold is then gone and they can pass sweeping abortion bans or sweeping, you know, anything they want, the sweeping tax cuts that don't require 60 votes only require 50.

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, of course, and it's always dangerous to change rules to benefit you while you're in power. And then, you know, assume that the next guy in won't also take advantage of that. But I think also Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema might be thinking about states' rights or issues like that and changing, you know, federal legislation. You know, Washington telling different states how to vote might be a problem for them and some Republicans too, for that reason, and also the sort of intransigence that Bakari was telling, you know, talking about.

I think, if you really care about the Republican assault on democracy, and in particular voter access, you have to focus on what's happening at the state level. And that means getting off your ass. And voting in midterm elections, every four years we seem to be surprised to learn that the parties have moved farther to the extremes, the very far extreme in the case of Republicans. And that's because people don't vote in midterm elections, and the politicians running in midterm elections know that.

They know only the base voters are coming out. And so, they pander to them and then go ahead and act extremist when they get elected. So, we need people, you know, who care about voter access and other assaults on democracy to get out and vote in the midterms to protect the right to vote. It's not irony. It's reality.

TAPPER: And Bakari, one of the things that's so interesting about this fight in Texas is that it is not a bipartisan measure, but also, the fact is, Texas had a very successful election in 2020 where Republicans picked up and won a bunch of seats that Democrats thought they were going to win.

And yet still, and this happened in Florida, too, that isn't enough. Apparently, they feel like they need to have more voting restrictions. And when you ask Republicans, they say -- Republican officials, they say it's because our voters are convinced that there is widespread fraud.

SELLERS: Yes, I mean, it's a big red herring. I mean, this is the epitome thereof. And it shows you that you really only have one party in this country any longer because the Republican Party is now run by someone who sits in Mar-a-Lago peddling lies.

I mean, if you think about the fact that Greg Abbott was once a serious character in the Republican Party is now taking his cues from Donald Trump who believes that there are, you know, bamboo particles on ballots in Arizona because those ballots were imported from China.

I mean, you have to talk about the seriousness of the Republican Party right now. But the problem is, as S.E. said, quite eloquently and matter-of-factly, Republicans control the overwhelming majority of governorships and a state legislatures. And so, in these midterm elections and the State House election, State Senate races, you're seeing the result of that today.

And that's why I don't understand, going back to Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, I simply don't understand other than maybe some self- preservation is surely not state's rights. I can't believe it would be that. But just making sure that we have something in place to preserve democracy, and for them, that appears to be too much of a valid across.

TAPPER: And S.E., we're going to talk more about this in the next -- in the next block. But Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser to President Trump, suggested very clearly and we'll run the -- we'll roll the tape, that he thought that there should be a Myanmar-style coup in the United States.

He has previously talked about martial law, about the military going into states and like redoing elections. And yet, when you turn on other channels and look at what's going on on the Republican side of the aisle they're upset about Kamala Harris putting out a tweet saying, have a good long weekend.


CUPP: Well, if anyone is familiar with what's been happening in Myanmar and not just the coup but before that years of the persecution of the Rohingya, I encourage them to look that up and tell, you know, tell anyone, that's what we should be doing here.

That military coups and ethnic cleansing is something we should be parroting. Coming from a former member of the military is horrifying, and disgusting. And anyone that takes that person seriously, I think is taking those ideas seriously. And that's a very disturbing trend.

TAPPER: S.E. Cupp, Bakari Sellers, thanks to both you as always.

Much more on Michael Flynn now trying to backpedal and pretend that he didn't say what he said, when he said that there should be a coup in the United States. That's next.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, former President Trump's first National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, is now denying that he told a group of QAnon conspiracy theorists and big lie believers that a Myanmar style coup, quote, should happen in the U.S. unquote, after also publicly calling for months for martial law to reverse the election.

Flynn, who is seen as a hero in the QAnon movement, which by the way, believes that a satanic cabal of cannibalistic pedophiles secretly rules the United States, Flynn is trying to backtrack as important comment but as CNN's Donie O'Sullivan reports, it was all caught on tape.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to know why what happened in Myanmar can't happen here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No reason, I mean, it still happen with no reason.

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A former U.S. Army Lieutenant General and former National Security Adviser appearing to endorse a military coup here in the United States.



FLYNN: He won the popular vote and he won the Electoral College vote.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Comments Flynn now calling twisted a new message posted to a parlor account used by Flynn says, "Let me be very clear, there is no reason for any coup in America, and I do not and have not at any time called for any action of that sort". But that denial doesn't cut it for some elected officials.

REP. ELAINE LURIA (D-VA), VICE CHAIR, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: General Flynn's remarks border on sedition. There's certainly conduct on becoming an officer. Those are both things that can be tried under Uniform Code of Military Justice. And I think that as a retiree of the military, it should certainly be a path that we consider.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Michael Flynn spent Memorial Day weekend at a conference in Dallas attended by QAnon supporters so too did Sidney Powell, who was part of the former president's election legal team. Powell, who was represented Flynn said Monday that the media had grossly distorted Flynn's comments. She denied Flynn had encouraged violence or in military insurrection, but she didn't explain what Flynn had meant. Powell herself spoke of removing Biden from office over the weekend.



POWELL: -- uncharted territory. There are cases where elections have been overturned. But there's never been one at the presidential level, which everybody jumped to point out. That doesn't mean that it can't be done, though. It should be that he can simply be reinstated that a new inauguration data set. And Biden is told to move out of the White House.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): The heavily criticized Republican led audit in Arizona has given followers of QAnon and the big lie hope that the election could still be overturned. And some are finding inspiration in the deadly military coup in Myanmar as a way to put Trump back in power.

Flynn's comments were seen as an endorsement of a coup by some QAnon followers. They were welcomed by a prominent peddler of QAnon, who has more than 70,000 followers on telegram writing, General Flynn says the quiet part out loud, former President Trump reportedly adding fuel to the fire.

According to New York Times, Maggie Haberman, "Trump has been telling a number of people he's been in contact with that he expects he will be reinstated by August". Earlier this year, Trump supporters in California also cheered on the coup.

BETH, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Biden is just -- he's like a puppet President. The military is under charge. It's going to be like Myanmar, what's happening in Myanmar. The military is doing their own investigation and at the right time, they're going to be restoring the Republic with Trump as president.

LEIANNE JENKINS FORTMYER, TRUMP SUPPORTER: What's going on in Myanmar right now? The government took over and they withdraw (ph) in the election, correct? That could possibly happen here, possibly.

O'SULLIVAN (on-camera): Would you like to see it happen?

FORTMYER: Absolutely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would like to see it happen.

O'SULLIVAN (on-camera): Really?


FORTMYER: You know why? Because the election was stolen from us.


O'SULLIVAN: And, Jake, you know, all the conspiracy theories we hear from Trump supporters when we're on the road and online, I really think this talk about coup is the most frightening to hear from Americans who want to see a coup happen in this country. Of course, now, Michael Flynn is trying to walk back what he said, but it may be too late and we're already seeing as we showed in that piece online. His comments on Sunday are being celebrated. Jake?

TAPPER: Being celebrated in complete context, they're consistent with what he's been saying for months. Donie O'Sullivan, thanks so much.

Let's talk about this with Daniel Ziblatt, he's a professor of Government at Harvard. He's the author of the sadly relevant book, "How Democracies Die".


Daniel, thanks so much for being with us. So Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney tweeted, "No American should advocate or support the violent overthrow of the United States". In direct criticism of what Michael Flynn said, which we all heard. We should note that we have not heard a similar criticism of what Flynn said and his call for a coup from any House or Senate Republican leaders. What do you make of that's all (ph)?

DANIEL ZIBLATT, PROFESSOR OF GOVERNMENT, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: You know, in our book, "How Democracies Die", one of the points we make is that one of the key actors who can kill a democracy are the semi-loyal opposition, that is people who play both sides of these issues. And so whether you are silent in the face of violence, like a violent

insurrection on January 6th, or silent in the face of a threat of violence like this, this can kill a democracy because if those who are in power are silent, this normalizes. The great Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once defined norm breaking as defining deviance down. What we've just seen here is a clear display of political deviance.

TAPPER: Right. So what you seem to be suggesting is that people like Kevin McCarthy, Mitch McConnell, people who are not calling for a coup, by not criticizing it the way that Liz Cheney and others have, in your view, they are trying to straddle both the pro-coup and the anti-coup worlds, which is dangerous in your view.

ZIBLATT: It's rare for anti-Democrats to have a majority of the vote. The way that electoral autocrats get to power, though, is by working with the establishment or key segment of this establishment, who often think that they can ride a demagogue or an outsider to power. We saw this in 2016 and I think we're seeing evidence of it once again now.

TAPPER: Flynn seems to have made these comments at this event attended by QAnon conspiracy theorists, believers in the big lie, I mean, people who just believe things that are not accurate. It's not matters of opinion, the government is not run by a satanic, cannibalistic, pedophile ring. But we saw on January 6th what lying to the American people, to this segment of the American people can do.

ZIBLATT: Yes, again, you know, throughout history, there's always been people who believe crazy ideas. I mean, go back to the 1920s, 1930s. Henry Ford had a huge following. He was an anti-Semite, Father Coughlin, the right-wing radio personality had millions of listeners.

What's different today is that you have one of our two major political parties not distancing themselves from this kind of nonsense. And that's really, again, when democracies get into trouble, there's always going to be people who find kind of insane ideas plausible. What's unusual is to have people in positions of responsibility, advocating for the stuff or even remaining silent in the face of it is just as dangerous, I think.

TAPPER: We all watched as Trump and his supporters, his -- who were in government or in the campaign, tried to overturn the election. They did it through the platform of Fox and other channels with just spreading lies. They did it in courtrooms before election boards. Ultimately, they did it on January -- they tried to -- January 6th.

What we kept hearing throughout the Trump era was that the guardrails are there, the guardrails are there, it didn't matter what Trump was going to say, what he was going to do, the guardrails are there. We now see an effort to change the guardrails, to remove guardrails, to defeat Republican officials in places like Georgia or Arizona who upheld the law. How confident -- how worried are you about the guardrails?

ZIBLATT: Extremely worried. You know, I think a lot of us felt that at least our electoral institutions worked in November 2020. And as painful as the transition was in January, there was a transition of power. But I think what we've seen since January 2020, is that Republicans haven't suffered anything from their base. And in fact, they've been rewarded for supporting the big lie.

And so what they've learned, they've discovered that there's a new level of power, which is at the state level control of elections at the state level, and now that they've no longer control the federal government, they searched vet -- searched out a new venue and realize that, you know, if they regained power in 2022 in the House of Representatives, by the time we get to the 2024 election, my fear is that election will be sent to the House of Representatives to decide if there's disputed electors, and you could very well imagine a situation where 2020 and the 2021, January 2021 crisis was a dress rehearsal for what's to come in 2024.

TAPPER: Yes, I asked Liz Cheney if she thought Kevin McCarthy as speaker, would stand by upholding the rule of law in the U.S. Constitution, or if he would accede to Trump's will and she basically said, accede to Trump's will, she said, you judge somebody by their past actions. On a scale from one to 10, how worried are you about democracy? Terrified is 10.

ZIBLATT: I would say eight. I mean, I think the good news is that a majority of Americans don't support this stuff.


I mean, we have to remember that a majority of Americans have never supported Donald Trump. The problem is, our institutions are set up and there's an effort to increase the importance of these institutions and blocking the majority from being able to actually speak.

And so as long as the majority can speak, democracy is safe. I think the thing that we have to worry about is that the institutions are being manipulated in a way to try to create a much more even playing field that would be very dangerous for democracy.

TAPPER: Yes. Daniel Ziblatt, thank you so much. Appreciate it. We'll have you back.

Imagine shots to stop some birth defects or even shots to stop cancer. Next, how the brand new technology that brought us coronavirus vaccines could change our medicine and our health for the better. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Let me bring you some good news now in our health lead. Moderna says it is applying for full FDA approval instead of the current Emergency Use Authorization for its COVID vaccine in adults, ages 18 and up. It's now the second time company after Pfizer to seek such approval.


CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta takes a look now at how the remarkable technology used by Moderna and Pfizer using what's called messenger RNA is now being tested to treat HIV and cancer and other diseases.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As I sat there waiting to get my COVID vaccine last December, I remember thinking, just how ordinary and extraordinary this moment was, at the same time. It wasn't just that the vaccine had the potential to protect you and me and end this pandemic, but also, the possibility that this vaccines technology could fundamentally change medicine.

It all starts with this tiny strand of genetic material known as messenger RNA, mRNA. It's made in our bodies all the time, directing ourselves to make different proteins. And it's also the backbone of Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna's COVID-19 vaccines.

In this case, instructing our own bodies to first make the coronaviruses signature spike protein which then in turn prompts our immune system to create antibodies to that spike protein. Think of it like this, it's essentially turning our bodies into our very own vaccine making machines.

DR. DREW WEISSMAN, PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: Once you've got the sequence, it's a one step reaction to make RNA.

GUPTA (voice-over): Dr. Drew Weissman began investigating the potential of manipulating mRNA in the mid-2000s.

WEISSMAN: Back then we were thinking of using it for vaccines, for therapeutic proteins.

GUPTA (voice-over): Fast forward, two decades, and these ideas are reality, and they are growing. Moderna is now testing that technology for cytomegalovirus. That's the leading infectious cause of birth defects in the United States. Another company CureVac is utilizing the technology for a potential rabies vaccine, and everyone is seemingly focused on flu.

Currently, it takes about six months to develop a flu vaccine, meaning, researchers have to make an educated guess on what's going to be the major flu strains circulating next season, even before the current flu season is over. And mRNA flu vaccine could shorten that timeline to about a month.

What you may not know is much of this began with the love story. The husband and wife team of doctors Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci. I spoke with them months ago for my podcast, "Coronavirus: Fact versus Fiction".

What is the future now, do you think of mRNA technology?

OZLEM TURECI, DOCTOR: It is a very versatile technology and you can also use it to combine multiple antigens, for example, of cancer.

GUPTA (voice-over): So remember that idea of turning our bodies into vaccine making machines? Well, they are now in the early stages of doing that for cancer. But instead of the spike protein for coronavirus, they find cell markers for an individual's cancer and essentially train the immune system to fight it. It is highly specific and very fast. It's this agility that Pfizer is also now relying on to fight potential new variants of the coronavirus.

MIKE MCDERMOTT, PRESIDENT, PRIZER GLOBAL SUPPLY: Our goal is to do it in three months, be able to develop a new variant, get it through production and bring it to patients.

GUPTA (voice-over): In a year where so much went wrong, it is worth truly celebrating the things that went right.

MCDERMOTT: 3 million doses pumping through here.

GUPTA (voice-over): Mike McDermott of Pfizer got a little emotional when I asked him to reflect on the moment.

MCDERMOTT: As a kid, my dad worked for NASA, he worked on the Apollo program. And the day when we shipped the first doses out of this site, it rushed over me like that was my own. That was our moonshot.

GUPTA (voice-over): A moon shot that we were not only incredibly lucky to witness.

GUPTA (on-camera): By the way, as a surgeon, I'm also a little bit afraid of needles,


GUPTA (voice-over): But to actually experience ourselves.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN reporting.

GUPTA (on-camera): You are really good.



TAPPER: It's fascinating. Coming up, a U.S. journalists waiting at the airport to go home is arrested and hauled off to a prison, notorious for torture. Details of a human rights outrage, that's next.



TAPPER: In our world lead now, the U.S. State Department is demanding the immediate release of two U.S. journalists, Nathan Maung and now Danny Fenster. Fenster was picked up just last week as he was about to leave Myanmar. Maung has been held there for months.

Both are in a prison, notorious for brutality and torture. Their unexplained arrests are yet to more outrageous in a country where the military overthrew a freely elected civilian government in February, and is in the midst of a bloody crackdown on dissent and the truth as CNN's Anna Coren reports. ANNA CORREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, American journalist Danny Fenster still hasn't had access to U.S. consular officials, despite being detained now for over a week in Myanmar's most notorious prison. The U.S. government is demanding his immediate release. But so far those calls are falling on deaf ears.


COREN (voice-over): A curious mind with an empathetic heart driven by wonder lust. Danny Fenster knew that journalism was his calling.

DANNY FENSTER, JOURNALIST WHO IS IMPRISONED: But it might be interesting to show kids how I commute around Yangon.

COREN (voice-over): So when the opportunity arose to move to Myanmar and cover this complicated country in Southeast Asia, the Detroit native jumped at it, eventually landing a position at the independent online news outlet Frontier Myanmar as the managing editor.

But when the military staged a coup on February 1st, sparking wide scale protests, followed by a bloody crackdown, Danny and his colleagues soon realized their profession made them a challenge.

BEN DUNANT, FRONTIER MYANMAR EDITOR AT LARGE: There is no safe way of doing journalism. It is a job that you do inside the country at extreme risks, but it's kind of an extremely important one. And I think for a long time in Myanmar, being our national was seen as a protection.

COREN (voice-over): Not anymore.

FENSTER: I love you so much. Miss you so much. I can't wait to get home and see you.

COREN (voice-over): When 37-year-old Danny tried to board a flight to Kuala Lumpur, then onto the United States just over a week ago, authorities arrested him.

BUDDY FENSTER, IMPRISONED JOURNALIST'S FATHER: Their efforts to squelch journalism, it kills life and it kills freedom, it kills truth and I think that there -- they just need to let him go immediately. He has not committed any crime there.


COREN (voice-over): He's the full thorough national among the more than 80 journalists who have been arrested since a coup began.

Another U.S. journalist Nathan Maung was also detained back in March when his offices were raided. A family friend of Nathan's told CNN that the editor in chief of cameo (ph) media was tortured for two weeks after his arrest.

The 44-year-old and his local producer was severely beaten around their heads, burnt on their stomach, buttocks and thighs with cigarettes and made to kneel on ice while their hands were handcuffed behind them during interrogations. The Committee to Protect Journalists has described the abuse as unconscionable.

Both Danny and Nathan are being held in the notorious insane prison, a monument to brutality, housing more than 10,000 prisoners, of which hundreds are political prisoners. The squalid conditions and acts of torture behind these gates are well-documented from those who survived to tell their stories.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are many, many people in that prison who are going through hell right now and they've done nothing wrong.

COREN (voice-over): Owen (ph), we're not using his real name due to safety concerns, was one of Danny's closest friends in Myanmar. He left the country back in April as the crackdown against journalists escalated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The longer you stayed on, the more risk you were taking of them one day coming into your own house and taking you away as well.

COREN (voice-over): According to the human rights group, Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, more than 830 civilians have been killed in Myanmar, also known as Burma, in the last four months. And more than 4,300 have been arrested. Danny's wife remains in Myanmar, while his family back in Michigan worked tirelessly to keep his detention in the headlines.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to miss you so much.

COREN (voice-over): Hoping and praying that the U.S. government can negotiate their son's release.

ROSE FENSTER, IMPRISONED JOURNALIST'S MOTHER: It's a total nightmare. It's a total feeling of no control. It's heart-wrenching, and I just want my son home no matter what it takes.


COREN: We asked the U.S. State Department about claims that Nathan Maung has been tortured, but they refuse to comment. He's now been charged under the military's newly adopted fake news law, which can carry a sentence of up to three years in prison. Jake?

TAPPER: CNN's Anna Coren, thank you so much.

Also in our worldly today, horrific video out of Belarus, a political activist cut his own throat during a court hearing today saying authorities told him that his families and neighbors would face prosecution if he did not falsely plead guilty. This is according to a local human rights watchdog.

Let's get right to CNN's Fred Pleitgen. Fred, that the video we have is graphic. Tell us what happened.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you're absolutely right, Jake, it is absolutely graphic. We do have to warn our viewers that some of the images that you're about to see are extremely troubling. And all this happened in the men's courtroom as this man Steffan Latypov was on trial there and his dad had just given witness testimony. And that's when Latypov said that the authorities had been pressuring him, had been saying that they would go after him, would go after his family. He then took a pen and stabbed himself in the throat.

And one of the things that you see on that image is that the defendants on those trials are actually in cages, so it took a while for the court helpers to actually get to them. He was then taken out on a gurney carried out. We do -- we have heard from an opposition human rights group that he was then later in surgery and that his injuries are non-threatening or non-life-threatening.

However, Jake, it does show, the ongoing and accelerating crackdown that's going on in Belarus, of course, all this comes only a few days after the Belarusian authorities forced an international flight to land to then take an activist and journalist Roman Protasevich off that flight and arrest him and his Russian companion as well.

The Belarusian opposition, obviously, up in arms about this latest incident. They are calling the dictatorship of Alexander Lukashenko, a terrorist state and specifically calling on the Biden administration to take tougher action against Lukashenko. Of course, all of this, Jake, happening only a few days before that summit between President Biden and Vladimir Putin.

Vladimir Putin, the last big backer of Alexander Lukashenko, the two leaders met only a couple of days ago and the opposition certainly saying they demanded that the Biden administration take stronger action, especially as we see this crackdown really accelerating and the scenes that we saw there today in that courtroom extremely troubling, Jake.

TAPPER: Fred, we only have about 20 seconds, but briefly summarize, what does this mean about what's going on in Belarus?

PLEITGEN: Well, I think what it really means is that Alexander Lukashenko does not fear any of the repercussions that are happening. You've had sanctions coming in from the European Union. You've had the U.S. saying that there's going to be additional sanctions as well.

But one of the things that I think we can see is that as long as Lukashenko has the backing of Vladimir Putin, he certainly seems to believe he's in the driver's seat and does not fear any repercussions. So that summit certainly going to be very interesting to see, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Fred Pleitgen, thanks so much. The news continues right now.