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The Lead with Jake Tapper
Biden Renews Outreach Plans As Vaccination Pace Slows, Aggressive Delta Variant Spreads In U.S.; Florida Braces For Elsa As Crews Continue To Search In Surfside; First Friends; Six Months Since Capitol Attack; Afghan Translator In U.S. Faces Deportation For Being Forced To Give Bread To Taliban As A Child. Aired 4-5p ET
Aired July 06, 2021 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: As she said, she thought she was having a private conversation and now it's gone global.
VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Yeah, but also, to say something in front of the camera and then to say something you're caught, allegedly saying something else, that's important.
CAMEROTA: All true.
BLACKWELL: THE LEAD starts right now.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: A race between vaccinations and the variants.
THE LEAD starts right now.
President Biden moments ago pushing for more Americans to get their shot, but will it work, as the delta variant rips through unvaccinated communities?
And then, double trouble in Florida. The urgent search in Surfside as the death toll grows and a tropical storm gets closer to making landfall.
Plus, a possible death sentence for a man who helped the U.S. military. How an incident from when he was 9 could land him back in Afghanistan where the Taliban awaits.
BROWN: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Pamela Brown in for Jake Tapper.
And we start with the politics lead. And President Biden's new plan to get more people vaccinated. He spoke just moments ago at the White House and unveiled a new approach, making COVID vaccines more accessible and explaining why the vaccine is so important.
And here's why his focus may need to change. COVID cases are rising. On average, three times higher in states with lower vaccination rates. You see the map on your screen. And Biden's new plan comes after the U.S. fell short of his July 4th goal to have 70 percent of adults with at least one shot.
And as the aggressive delta variant spreads, Biden today warned that people should think twice about not getting vaccinated.
CNN's Kaitlan Collins starts us off from the White House.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Biden walking a fine line when it comes to coronavirus.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're closer than ever to declaring our independence from this deadly virus.
COLLINS: New cases and deaths are down dramatically nationwide, as more Americans have been vaccinated, but some places are seeing an uptick as the highly contagious delta variant spreads.
BIDEN: Right now, as I speak to you, millions of Americans are still unvaccinated and unprotected. This is an even bigger concern because of the delta variant.
COLLINS: After being briefed by top health aides today, Biden renewed his vaccine push, while acknowledging the challenges still ahead.
BIDEN: Study after study after study has shown that since early May, virtually every COVID-19 hospitalization and death in the United States has been among the unvaccinated.
COLLINS: Sources say Biden has privately questioned advisers about broader impact of the delta variant as officials continue to insist that those who are vaccinated are safe, but those who aren't are at risk.
BIDEN: God bless you all and please, please get vaccinated. It makes a big difference.
COLLINS: Top doctors are pointing to states with low vaccination rates, like Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas as places where outbreaks are more likely.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: There are some states where the level of vaccination of individuals is 35 percent or less. Under those circumstances, you might expect to see spikes in certain regions.
COLLINS: Over the weekend, Biden hosted a thousand guests on the South Lawn for the largest event of his presidency.
BIDEN: Just think back to where this nation was a year ago. Think back to where you were a year ago. Don't get me wrong. COVID-19 has not been vanquished.
COLLINS: But after the nation missed his July 4th deadline to partially vaccinate 70 percent of adults, Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirming he isn't expected to set another goal for now. JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't expect a new goal to
be set today. What I will tell you is that our work is going to continue, person by person, community by community.
COLLINS (on camera): Well, and a lot of that work, Pam, that you heard the president talk about today are steps that the White House are already taking to push vaccinations. They just say that they are going to keep those steps up. And the president did say that he believes that the U.S. will reach 116 Americans fully vaccinated by the end of the week. Right now, we're about 157 millions.
So, getting a little bit closer. But of course, with the rate of vaccinations right now, and just how much lower they are than they were earlier this year, every little million counts according to this White House.
BROWN: Exactly. And it sounds like he is setting a goal for the end of the week.
All right. Kaitlan, stay with me.
I want to bring in the panel now. We have Dr. Jha with us and Jackie Kucinich.
So, let's kick it off with you, Dr. Jha. You heard the president speak about vaccine access, working more with the private sector, expanding mobile clinics.
Do you think it's enough?
DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Yes, Pam, so thanks for having me back. I think it will help a lot. I think there are still a lot of Americans who are perfectly willing to get vaccinated, maybe not eager. And if we can make it much easier for them in the doctor's office and pharmacies, local community sites, I think it will make it easier, and I think we'll get a lot more people vaccinated.
Enough to get us where we want? Maybe not, but it's going to make a big difference.
BROWN: Just really quickly follow up on that. Why wasn't it done more before? I mean, if this is going to really help the effort to get people vaccinated, why now?
JHA: Yeah, I think the first set of efforts were on the mass vaccinations. We had so many Americans who were eager, who were waiting in long lines, and so getting a lot of those people vaccinated first was the first priority. I think that makes sense.
Now, targeting our efforts towards people who are a bit more on the fence, maybe willing, that's going to be the next game of this. And that's where I think the local efforts are going to help a lot.
BROWN: So, Jackie, COVID will be a defining issue for Biden and his administration. What is at stake politically for him here?
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's everything, right? We already saw what happened when a president -- there was a multitude of reasons why people decided not to re-elect former President Trump. But, the handling of the pandemic was chief among them.
And so, I think that right now he has very high marks on his handling of the pandemic. I think it's something like 60-something percent in a recent poll. But when people are getting back to their lives, people are getting back to their day-to-day normalcy, that's a huge win for President Biden. And any slippage in that, you can just see what would happen.
People would be unhappy. The economy would sink. And if the economy is doing well, if people are doing well, Biden is in a much better position. Both Biden and the Democratic Party are in a better position going forward.
BROWN: When you look at the polls and the breakdown of who's getting vaccinated and who's not, it really stands out along party lines. There's this new "Washington Post"/ABC poll, 93 percent say they got a vaccine or plan to get one, 6 percent said they will not get a vaccine. Those are Democrats.
But look at Republicans, only 49 percent say they got a vaccine or plan to get one and 47 percent say they will not get one.
So, Kaitlan, it's one thing to say, we're going to offer more vaccines in these communities with mobile clinics and make sure doctors have them, but what is Biden's plan to combat this kind of sentiment?
COLLINS: Well, the White House has tried to appeal to that crowd. They know directly appealing to them likely isn't going to work. These aren't people who voted for President Biden. We have seen how so much of this pandemic has become politicized. So they've often pointed back to local leaders and talking about that.
But I think, also, it's just outreach from different -- other members, looking at people like former Senate majority leader, now Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, pushing vaccinations often when he's back home in Kentucky. Or with the former CDC director, Dr. Tom Frieden, said yesterday, reminding people these are vaccines that got started under the Trump administration. They were rolled out by the Biden administration, some of them approved under Biden.
But they are trying to say that this isn't a partisan issue. This isn't political. And so, conservatives who are hesitant to get it because it's now a Democratic president, they're saying that shouldn't be something that you're considering.
But I think this is so much bigger than just what the administration is doing and the chief of staff, Ron Klain, kind of revealed this when he did an interview with "The New York Times" on a podcast with Kara Swisher, saying he confronted Mark Zuckerberg directly over this, because a lot of time when they talked to people about vaccine misinformation and they asked when they get it, he said they often said Facebook.
So he brought this up with Mark Zuckerberg. It gives you an idea of how many different avenues the White House is trying to combat when it comes to people who haven't yet gotten the vaccine.
BROWN: Right. You have all of this misinformation spreading out there and also, Jackie, just a distrust overall of government, right? It makes you wonder, do you think more Republicans would be more inclined to get vaccinated if the Biden administration weren't so vocal about being hands-on.
KUCINICH: You know, I haven't seen any data on that, but what I do know, it's one of the reasons that you see the White House focusing on people who are closer to folks that don't want to get vaccinated, Doctors, local people who they trust saying, go and get vaccinated.
That's why that emphasis is there, because the White House has been very open about the fact that not everyone is going to listen to them, and in fact, people might not want to listen to them and do the opposite, which is why it's so important that the folks who are closest to folks who don't want to get vaccinated give them the information -- the correct information that they need to make that decision.
BROWN: And, Dr. Jha, I want to bring you back in. As Biden aims to get more shots in arms, the Israeli government is sharing this preliminary data that the Pfizer vaccine was slightly less effective against the dangerous delta variant, after Pfizer's efficacy against severe illness dropped from 97 to just -- to 93 percent in just a week.
So, just help us understand, what is the takeaway for you from these numbers?
JHA: Yeah. So I'm looking at a lot of data now coming out about these vaccines and the delta variant, from the U.K., from Canada, from Israel. And if you synthesize all the data, if you don't cherry pick, if you look at all of it, what you see is a pretty clear message that vaccines are holding up very, very well against the delta variant.
We're going to see the occasional study that finds it to be much higher than expected or lower than expected.
And I think of that is like, we've got to look at the whole big picture. And so far, all the data says, we've got -- these vaccines are doing really well against the delta variant.
BROWN: All right. Kaitlan, aside from COVID, really quick, Biden is also looking for a breakthrough on a budget reconciliation deal that includes some of his more progressive infrastructure goals by August. Is that realistic? COLLINS: I think it depends what Democrats on Capitol Hill do and
whether or not they can come to an agreement. We know Democratic leaders want the ball to be rolling by the time members get back from recess, but they still have not agreed on things like what the top line numbers should look like. We've seen massive disagreement on that from more motor Democrats among their more liberal counterparts and more aggressive counterparts.
And so, that's going to be a big thing, whether or not they can thread that needle, on whether or not they actually get the timeline that they're hoping to get right now.
But we should note, President Biden will be on the road, talking about infrastructure, talking about his domestic agenda on the road in Illinois tomorrow.
BROWN: Okay. Kaitlan Collins, Dr. Ashish Jha, Jackie Kucinich, thank you all so much.
JHA: Thank you.
BROWN: A major storm is moving in and the search and rescue operation in Surfside, Florida, is already being affected. I'm going to talk to Florida's lieutenant governor up next.
Plus, could an attack like this happen again? Why some Capitol police officers worry not enough has been done to stop another Capitol attack.
BROWN: In our national lead today, Miami-Dade County's mayor said four more bodies were found in the rubble from the Champlain Towers South condo collapse in Surfside, Florida, bringing the death toll to 32, with 113 people reportedly still missing.
Now, as CNN's Leyla Santiago reports, the search and rescue mission is growing even more urgent with much of the state under a hurricane watch. If wind gusts hit 45 miles per hour, search teams will get called off.
LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today, the search and rescue effort growing more urgent as Tropical Storm Elsa looms closer to Florida, the outer bands of wind and rain already being felt in surfside.
MAYOR CHARLES BURKETT, SURFSIDE, FLORIDA: The wind is hampering the large cranes moving very heavy debris. That's a challenge that they're attempting to work around right now.
SANTIAGO: The teams stopping overnight just once due to lightning. MAYOR DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA (D), MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA: We do
continue to expect occasional gusts and strong showers today. And we're closely monitoring the weather and we now have our weather service embedded within our search and rescue teams
SANTIAGO: Rescue teams now have 100 percent access to the building rubble, in a third of the sight where they couldn't safely explore prior to Sunday's demolition, expediting the discovery of victims, but no sign of life just yet.
CHIEF ALAN COMINSKY, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY FIRE: Unfortunately, we're not seeing anything positive that continues in that sense. You know, the key things we're looking for, all throughout, in regards to void space, livable spaces. You know, we're not coming across that. So we're actively searching as aggressive as we can.
SANTIAGO: Four more bodies discovered overnight, bringing the death toll to 32 while 113 are still unaccounted for, according to Miami- Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.
CAVA: Every single life that has been lost is a beloved family friend, a best friend, someone's child or parent or niece or cousin or grandparent. And we know that waiting for news is unbearable.
SANTIAGO: While the search and rescue effort is still the main focus in Surfside, numerous investigations are happening simultaneously and new federal partners are arriving in the community to assist in the investigation.
CAVA: The National Institute for Standards and Technology is leading the federal investigation, and they have been able to tag all of the evidence that has been already gathered. And they are embedded and working with our police department to tag everything that is coming through the pile. The whole world wants to know what happened here.
SANTIAGO (on camera): And, Pamela, I can tell you that they still have quite a bit when it comes to the investigation. Police have been speaking to people survivors, as well as family members. And of those who remain unaccounted for, the mayor today of Miami-Dade said that 70 of them are confirmed to be in the building, but also clarifying that police are trying to check within their own systems to see if other reports that they have received are confirmed actual people who were in the building at the time of the collapse.
BROWN: Okay. Thanks so much, Leyla.
And this search in Surfside is happening just outside the direct path of Tropical Storm Elsa, which is just on the cusp of a category 1 hurricane.
Let's go to CNN's meteorologist, Tom Sater, in the severe weather center.
So, Tom, Surfside isn't expected to get the worst of this tropical storm, but this is still a powerful system.
TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Oh, exactly. And it will become even a little bit stronger. But if we go back to the beginning, when this was first named last Thursday, the track was released by the national hurricane center. And at that time, the cone of uncertainty did include surfside. So that was always the general concern from the beginning. They're not included in any of the watches or warnings.
Now, this is a hurricane warning, first one we've had since 2018 when hurricane Michael moved in, but we have other concerns. And this is where we started talking about those outer bands, the feeder bands. As you see the circulation, well off to areas to the west, from around Ft. Myers, these feeder bands, this energy that is picked up creates these lines of thunderstorms, we call it training, like boxcars of a train, one thunderstorm after another moving into the same region, possibly not only with lightning and heavy rain, but spin-ups and tornadoes, and strong winds.
Now, right now, a wind in Miami is only 13 miles per hour. Closer inspection, and this was the concern, see this band that was moving in north of Miami? Let's get a little bit closer. I think the worst is over for the crews on the site now, because as these bands move in, they also lift northward. So, there's a good dry slot to the south of this.
Now, this doesn't mean we may not see another one spin up, and they're still included in the tornado watch in red. And that goes until 11:00 p.m. but most of the activity we're going to be watching now for Surfside is well to the south, moving just to the east of Key West. So if that picks up and moves into the region, there is a possibility to get more.
But the forecast models, really, Pamela, keep most of the activity now north of them, and again, off in areas to the West, where we're closer to the core of the system. But even toward tonight, they may get a bit of a shower. But as I mentioned yesterday, this is nothing worse than those crews have been dealing with for the past ten-plus days, and speaks volumes about their determination and integrity -- though, again, they're looking good now.
BROWN: They are truly an inspiration to all of us.
Meteorologist Tom Sater, thank you so much.
Now let's bring in Florida's lieutenant governor, Jeanette Nunez.
Thank you so much for joining us.
So we just heard the forecast there. Tropical Storm Elsa is expected to make landfall in the West Coast tomorrow morning. But across the state, you're seeing a lot of wind and rain. What is your biggest concern for Surfside?
LT. GOV. JEANETTE NUNEZ (R), FLORIDA: Well, currently, as you know, the governor has declared, obviously, a state of emergency. He is currently in the state's EOC, where at a level one, we've activated 24/7 operations. We are obviously expecting it to strengthen. It will likely approach hurricane category 1 before it makes landfall.
We are looking at the area north of Tampa, north of Hillsborough County. And, obviously, for us, the concern is the saturation that has occurred in that particular area. We've seen a 100 percent increase in what would be the usual amount of rainfall in the last 14 days in that area. So, obviously, flooding, storm surge, all the things that come with a strong tropical storm and obviously, a hurricane, are going to continue to concern us, and that's why we're asking Floridians to please heed their local emergency manager's warnings.
If your area is under evacuation, right now, there's only a voluntary evacuation for a handful of counties, but that could change as we see the track change and as we see the situation evolve.
BROWN: So there's this video from the collapse site yesterday, where you can see search teams moving through the rubble under that heavy wind and rain. Do you think it's time for the search to be paused until the storm moves away?
NUNEZ: Well, that's obviously something that our fire chief has been looking at very carefully. The safety and well-being of our heroes, really, our first responders that have been on the pile since day one, has been a priority. Not only for him, but for us, as well.
But they feel confident that they'll be able to continue, and I can assure you, that if you ask any one of those men or women on that pile that are searching right now for victims, they'll tell you that they want to continue.
So we'll, of course, make decisions that are in the best interests of our first responders. But right now, it seems like they're going to continue and they're safe to be able to do so.
BROWN: Yeah, they have been tireless since the very beginning of this. So, the Miami-Dade mayor says teams have now searched every section of the debris field. In your view, how much longer is the search going to continue or should it continue?
NUNEZ: Well, I believe that we're going to continue until we're able to identify either survivors, through what we hope will be a miracle, or if we are able to uncover, obviously, every single individual that's unaccounted for. That information, as you mentioned at the outset is fluid. We understand there are still people where we're trying to get information as it relates to missing persons or police detectives are working around the clock in order to be able to assure or identify all of that information.
But we really obviously owe it to the families to be able to uncover, if their loved one is, indeed, in that pile. We want to be able to make sure that we identify each and every individual. It's been a tragic circumstance all around. And so, for us, it's an important priority to make sure that we get those families answers. BROWN: There is a federal investigation underway, looking into how the
building collapsed. Today, the mayor said more teams have arrived to assess the situation.
What can you tell us about that?
NUNEZ: We've had investigations going on since day one, as you can imagine. People want answers, and so do we. So we've had engineers, structural engineers, we've had seawall engineers, all of the experts since day one. We've had the National Institute for Standards and Technology that's been embedded, as well, which is a federal organization that is dedicated to building failures. They were on site and obviously instrumental through 9/11.
We also have the state attorney that will be presenting to the grand jury to see if they will take on that as an investigation. But at the end of the day, we want to get to the bottom of it. We want it to be a thorough analysis of what occurred. How it was -- how it happened.
We want to make sure that there are steps that need to be taken at the local level or the state level, that those are done expeditiously. But understanding that we are blessed here in Florida with miles and miles of coastline, a lot of buildings along our beaches, and so we want to make sure that we're proceeding methodically, and also recognizing that there are probably a number of issues that we're going to have to contend with, both legal and obviously through the investigation.
BROWN: All right. Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nunez, thank you so much for your time.
NUNEZ: Thank you.
BROWN: Brand-new video just in from the insurrection, as we learn officers worry not enough has been done to keep them safe. New CNN reporting up next.
BROWN: Just in to CNN, brand-new video of the insurrection released moments ago by the FBI showing an officer trying to get away from pro- Trump rioters after being attacked.
Federal investigators are looking for the people in this video. The video release comes exactly six months after the Capitol attack, an attack dozens of officers, lawmakers and aides tell CNN could happen again because not enough has been done to fix the failures that allowed the insurrection to happen.
CNN's Whitney Wild reports.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Six months after dramatic breakdowns by Capitol Police during the insurrection, officials say the agency is changing.
They have purchased more equipment, offer new training and now share intelligence with officers, something glaringly absent before rioters attacked the Capitol.
But officers tell CNN they're worried the changes amount to marginal differences and fear they're no better prepared today than they were in early January. Since the insurrection, at least 75 officers have resigned.
TERRY GAINER, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Providing security is done by people. Those officers have to be rested, trained, sharp, with good information and well-led. The -- when morale is bad, that makes it more difficult.
WILD: Terry Gainer is a CNN contributor and the former chief of Capitol Police, as well as a former Senate sergeant at arms. He worked on the first review of Capitol security that generated more than 100 recommendations, from hiring hundreds more officers to ramping up intelligence operations.
GAINER: We thought some of the recommendations could take upwards of a year or two.
WILD: Physical security around Capitol Hill is slimming. The National Guard, once a large presence, is gone, the outer perimeter fence taken down. And, in coming days, the inner perimeter fence will likely be folded up too, according to reports.
Long-term fixes will ultimately require Congress to pay for them.
ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: This is a department that we all know needs to change fundamentally from -- in every way, from the way that they understand and disseminate intelligence, to the way they equip and train their officers, so, the people they are hiring, bringing on more officers.
And we still don't seem to be any closer to doing that because it's an uncomfortable political reality for some folks on the Hill.
WILD: In theory, come August, Capitol Police officers should get a little bit of a break because Congress takes a break.
However, there are still these conspiracy theories swirling out there that President Trump is somehow going to come back to the White House. There are also federal officials who are warning of a ramped-up potential for summer violence.
So the potential that they get this break, Pamela, seems to be slim. Capitol Police officers are trying to figure out what the plan is. So they have asked security officials at Capitol Police, what are we going to do about this potential August threat? What they heard back from security officials, according to one person who was in this meeting, was that the situation was being monitored, but there were no definitive plans yet.
To some Capitol Police officers who heard that, they are fearful that that is just more of the same.
BROWN: Yes, absolutely.
I interviewed the Senate sergeant at arms, Karen Gibson, who said she had recognized that there was a morale problem and asked for the rank and file to hold on that. There will be new leadership in the Capitol Police soon, likely in August. So we will see how this plays out.
CNN's counterterrorism analyst, Phil Mudd, who worked at the FBI and CIA, joins me now.
Great to see you, Phil.
So I want to start with these 11 new videos the FBI just released of the Capitol attack. The FBI says there are still 300 unidentified people out there who committed acts of violence. Does that number surprise you?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: It doesn't, for a simple reason. And that is multiplication tables.
If you go back to the to the January insurrection, and you look at the hundreds of people who have been charged, arrested, multiply those by you have to look at all their cell phones, all their laptops, you have to interview them, interview their friends, people from the groups they're coordinated with.
That's a lot of work. Then you fast-forward six months and say now there's, let's say, last I checked, 400-plus cases that involve prosecutors and investigators. Now add 300 more to that caseload. This has got to be one of the -- maybe the biggest FBI investigation ever.
And if you add in cell phones, laptops and interviews, man, that is a lot of work.
BROWN: We're just watching this video now, the new video coming in on the six-month anniversary of the insurrection, these rioters just attacking law enforcement.
How much does releasing these videos help?
MUDD: I think it helps at the margins.
Look, I think I'm still concerned mostly for the ideological reason.People in these movements have validation from political leadership, including the Congress, that says, don't trust government. Government is deep state. Government lies to you about vaccinations. Government lies to you about elections. [16:35:08]
Ten years ago, these people would have been viewed as fringe. Now they're viewed as somewhere closer to mainstream. The reason that I think we have made a little bit of progress is deterrence.
Anybody who's thinking of coming to the Capitol had seen or at least read about those who are arrested who said, I kind of was stupid. I kind of make it made a mistake. I have no sympathy with those people, but at least they're sending the right message. They did something stupid. They're going to jail.
BROWN: So, let's go back to Whitney's reporting about Capitol police saying failures haven't been fixed six months later, after that insurrection. What is your reaction?
MUDD: Not even close to fixed.
I mean, excuse me, but we're talking about simply what's happening with the Capitol Police. For example, do they have the right equipment? Let me ask some bigger questions.
One of the biggest questions was, what was political interference on that day? How did the Department of Defense interfere on the deployment of National Guard? How many training exercises have we had between the Capitol Police and the Pentagon?
Because the Capitol Police leadership is still in flux. One final huge question that we cannot resolve, and that is, how comfortable is the Congress in saying, we want to spy on these people? You good with that, Pamela? I'm not sure.
BROWN: All right, Phil Mudd, we will leave it there. Thanks so much for joining us.
And coming up, a look at the powerful unelected influencers who are in the ear of our presidents.
Stay with us.
BROWN: Turning to our politics lead now, President Biden spent part of his holiday weekend golfing with longtime friend and adviser former Senator Ted Kaufman, who served as Biden's chief of staff for nearly 20 years, before taking his Senate seat when Biden became vice president.
Our next guest is looking very closely at these presidential pals who have had a ton of influence in the Oval Office over the years.
Gary Ginsberg is the author of "First Friends: The Powerful, Unsung (And Unelected) People Who Shaped Our Presidents."
And he joins me now.
Great to have you on the show, Gary.
So, you worked on presidential campaigns in the Clinton administration. And one of the catalysts for writing this book was when you learned Al Gore didn't have friends? What happened?
GARY GINSBERG, AUTHOR, "FIRST FRIENDS": Well, I wouldn't say Al Gore doesn't have any friends.
What happened was, I was vetting him for the vice presidency. And I went to see a wise old hand in Washington, who asked me a series of questions before we went for the final interview. And he said that I don't really care about his views on the M.X. missile or about noxious greenhouse gases. I care about whether he has close friends, because if you don't have close friends, you can't be an effective president.
So, he went to the interview. He asked for to kind of list his friends outside of a couple of members of Congress or his brother-in-law. And the senator then just kind of stumbled. And we came out of the interview. Harry was just really concerned that somebody who couldn't kind of list a series of close friends might be more challenged as president, having watched Johnson, who he thought was basically friendless, struggle in his final years as president.
BROWN: So, what with -- so, you say friends can speak more bluntly than any aid could. And perhaps that is most evident in President Clinton's friendship with Vernon Jordan.
You say Clinton wouldn't be president if it weren't for Jordan. Why is that?
GINSBERG: Well, I say that in part because of what happened right after Bill Clinton lost his reelection for governor of Arkansas in 1980.
He was distraught, he was lost, and he started to seriously entertain the idea of working outside of politics, taking jobs in the private sector or leaving Arkansas altogether. Vernon Jordan calls actually Hillary and says, I'm coming down, make me some grits, and I got to do a little talking to bill.
He flies down a couple weeks later. And over a two-and-a-half hour really hard, difficult conversation, he convinces Clinton to stay in the game. And two years later, Bill Clinton is re-inaugurated as Arkansas' governor in 1982.
BROWN: Do we know if those grits were ever made for him?
GINSBERG: They were.
Hillary told me that she had to go to a store and buy instant grits, which probably didn't satisfy Vernon.
BROWN: That's totally my -- that would be my M.O. as well. Interesting little tidbits there. I also found this really fascinating. So, about former President Harry
Truman, you write -- quote -- "Truman would become known for his endless contradictions, someone with deep-seated insecurities, yet outsized ambitions, the most powerful leader in the land who never earned a college degree, a man who used racial and anti-Semitic slurs, but who recognized the state of Israel."
And you credit Truman's friend Eddie Jacobson with Truman's stance on Israel. Tell us about that.
GINSBERG: Well, I think it's the most powerful example of how a lifelong friendship can change the course of history.
Eddie and Truman ran a haberdashery together for three years in Kansas City before it failed in the early 1920s. But they -- still, they stayed best friends as Truman rose to become a senator, then V.P., then president.
And because of their then-45-year friendship, it was a relationship that was built on total trust and candor. Jacobson could march into the Oval Office one day in March of 1948 and essentially convince the president to do what he knew was right, and had to be done, even though he was essentially -- there was some anti-Semitism in his family.
But he knew that this was right, which was to recognize an independent Jewish state. No aide could have spoken to him that way, no Cabinet secretary, only someone who had known him intimately well, had an equal relationship with him.
And before that meeting, in fact, Jacobson neither asked for or wanted anything from Truman.
So, two months later after Jacobson confronts Truman in the Oval Office, Truman is the first world leader to recognize the independent state of Israel, 11 minutes after it's declared.
BROWN: Wow, fascinating.
And you also have these anecdotes about JFK and Nixon, Abraham Lincoln. But when it comes to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, his influential best friend was a woman. Daisy Suckley. And you write, quote, Daisy Suckley was in reality FDR's most trusted confidant, the respite for a lonely and overworked president navigating the Great Depression and World War II.
It is remarkable to think in 1933, a woman who wasn't his wife, would have such an impact on the president of the United States.
GINSBERG: Well, the reality is that Truman actually felt much more comfortable around women than he did around men. He had the first kind of staff secretary who was a woman, Missy LeHand. He had the first female cabinet secretary, Frances Perkins, who was a secretary of labor. He liked being around women. He really liked being around Daisy. He was just the right chemistry
for him. What I found what you just said so interesting about FDR, is that even though he's fighting a war, fighting a depression, he is intensely lonely. He says to her once, I'm either exhibit "A" or left entirely alone.
He didn't have much of a relationship with his wife, Eleanor, who was gallivanting around the world on behalf of her causes. So Daisy was the antidote to that loneliness. She gave him this emotional ballast that that sustained him during his most trying moments. And one historian said to me in the book, FDR would have been a much more unsettled and less natural president had he not had Daisy in it.
BROWN: Sounds like daisy gave him that emotional fulfillment he was missing at the time. What a fascinating story.
Such an interesting book. Gary Ginsberg, thank you so much, author of "First Friends: The Powerful, Unsung and Unelected People who Shaped Our Presidents."
Thank you so much.
GINSBERG: Thank you.
BROWN: Well, he risked his life for the U.S., now his life is at risk. And it might be because of a piece of bread from decades ago. We're going to explain this, up next.
BROWN: In our world lead, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is more than 90 percent complete, according to U.S. Central Command, which means time is running out for thousands of Afghan allies who helped the U.S. military over 20-year war.
While the Biden administration considers evacuating these Afghans, many of whom are being targeted right now by the Taliban, we're learning about one man, who managed to leave, establish a home in Iowa, and may now face deportation because of a piece of bread.
CNN's Omar Jimenez has his story.
ZALMAY NIAZY, FORMER AFGHAN INTERPRETER: You have engaged in a terrorist activity.
OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a short sentence that could end up being a death sentence.
How did that make you feel?
NIAZY: It blows my mind. How can they say that? Just should have told me that you don't deserve to live in this great country. JIMENEZ: Zalmay Niazy, or "Z," as he's known, worked as an Afghan
interpreter for the U.S. military for roughly two years starting in 2007 and came to the United States in 2014, making a home for himself in Iowa.
NIAZY: I just want to be alive.
JIMENEZ: But his story started much earlier, when the 33-year-old was just 9, and he says, he and other kids were forced by the Taliban to get them bread.
NIAZY: A motorcycle stopped right by our house and there was five, six of us, and said, every one of you are going home and bringing a piece of bread. Otherwise, we will burn this house and we will do this. And I was scared. I had to.
I thought I was a hero. I protected my family. And the bread was not bigger than a cell phone.
JIMENEZ: Z told that story during his asylum interview with U.S. officials and now the United States says he engaged in terrorist activity. Niazy says he suspects they're referring to the bread incident.
NIAZY: I applied for political asylum. It's my right. I want to be alive.
JIMENEZ: His future in the U.S. is in question. Years after that interview, the Homeland Security Department sent him this document saying, this is not a denial of your asylum application, but your asylum application has been referred to an immigration judge for adjudication and removal proceedings. The immigration judge will evaluate your asylum claim independently and is not required to follow the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services evaluation that Niazy had engaged in terrorist activity.
KEITH HERTING, PARTNER, HERTING LAW: What they do is, instead, say whether or not you meet all of the statutory requirements for asylum, we're going to say that you weren't eligible to walk into the country in the first place.
JIMENEZ: Back in Afghanistan, Z says the Taliban still threaten his family. They killed his uncle.
NIAZY: I couldn't see that picture. It was always a shock for me.
JIMENEZ: Now he fears he may suffer the same fate if the Biden administration deports him back to Afghanistan.
NIAZY: By the U.S. government, I got tagged a terrorist. By the Taliban, I got tagged as a U.S. spy is -- I am human, too.
I want to be alive.
JIMENEZ: If you were sitting across from President Biden right now, what would you say him?
NIAZY: You are the leader and promises made, but promises have to be kept.
JIMENEZ (on camera): Now, when we asked U.S. citizenship and immigration services about Niazy's case, they told us that it's confidential and that they don't discuss what's inside those applications. Moving forward, Niazy awaits a court date with an immigration judge, but his attorney says even if they lose, they'll appeal, because they believe his life is worth more than a piece of bread -- Pamela.
BROWN: What a story. Omar Jimenez, thank you so much, live for us from Iowa.
Well, police are revealing new clues about the murder of a golf pro at a country club. That story, ahead.