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The Lead with Jake Tapper

U.S And Allies Expose China For Cyberattacks; Rising Hospitalizations And Deaths Due To COVID-19 In Every U.S. State; President Biden Walks Back On His Facebook Comment; Biden Vs. Facebook Spat Growing Over COVID Misinformation; Insurrectionist Sentenced To Eight Months; Fire Officials: At Least 80 Wildfires Burning In 13 Western States; Amazon Billionaire Jeff Bezos Set To Launch Into Space Tomorrow. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired July 19, 2021 - 17:00   ET




ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): An unprecedented global coalition of U.S. allies joining together today publicly warning China about their aggressive cyberattacks. The U.S., European Union, NATO and others accusing China of destabilizing behavior, calling them out for malicious attacks that have cost governments and companies billions of dollars.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We are actually elevating and taking steps to not only speak out publicly, but certainly take action as it relates to problematic cyber activities from China.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Chinese hacking is well-documented. But the administration accused Chinese intelligence of using criminal contract hackers who engaged in ransomware attacks, cyber-enabled extortion, crypto jacking and rank theft from victims around the world.

JAMES ANDREW LEWIS, CSIS SENIOR VP AND DIRECTOR, STRATEGIC TECHNOLOGIES PROGRAM: This is how you change the Chinese and their way of thinking. It's a good first step. It sends a powerful message to Beijing. Of course there will have to be follow-up.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): These state-backed hackers have enriched themselves in the course of their attacks, the administration said, and have demanded millions in ransom payments including a large ransom request to an unnamed U.S. company.

China was also formerly accused of orchestrating the massive hack earlier this year of Microsoft Exchange, which impacted tens of thousands of computers and networks around the world. The Biden administration says it has raised these actions directly with the Chinese government.

NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Together with our allies, together with our partners we're not ruling out any additional actions to hold the PRC accountable. MARQUARDT (voice-over): The Justice Department unsealed an indictment

of four Chinese nationals for an espionage campaign to hack into the computer systems of dozens of victim companies, universities, and government entities. Prosecutors revealed various ways that stolen secrets were passed including being embedded in photos of a koala and Donald Trump. Those charged allegedly worked for China's ministry of state security or MSS.

FRED SHEPPARD, ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: It's a message to those that are involved in the MSS that going forward we will charge you, we will make it public, and times change.


MARQUARDT (on camera): Now, despite this forceful international condemnation of China, there was nothing concrete in the way of punishment that was announced today. It is naming and shaming, which can be effective. But aside from those indictments by the DOJ there was nothing punitive like the sanctions that we have seen leveled before at Russia.

The Biden administration is hoping that this united international message will get China to reconsider, and if they don't, they say, China could face more action, Jake?

TAPPER: Alex Marquardt, thanks so much. Joining us now to discuss, Seth Jones. He's a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He's also the author of the upcoming book "Three Dangerous Men: Russia, China, Iran, and the Rise of Irregular Warfare."

Seth, thanks so much for joining us. So, when President Biden talked today about this and when they announced this and he had said that the Chinese government is not carrying out these hacks but they're protecting the bad actors, possibly even accommodating them, do you think the Chinese government is actually ordering the attacks?

SETH JONES, DIRECTOR, TRANSNATIONAL THREAT PROJECT, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, it's not clear entirely if they're ordering but I think what's important if you look at the indictment the Department of Justice put out, they identified very specifically that the four individuals that are being charged worked for a front company that worked directly with the MSS, Chinese intelligence.

So there is a direct connection to a front company between the Chinese intelligence and some of these hackers. That's more than just, you know, an indirect relationship. That's a direct one.

TAPPER: So that means that the Chinese government should be held responsible, do you think?

JONES: Absolutely. The Chinese should be held responsible. I think they should be punished for this and I think that's what we're not seeing right now, is the administration is willing to name and shame, but not take any more specific actions, particularly ones that the Chinese may feel some pain because of.

TAPPER: Well, let me talk about that for a second. Name and shame, does the Chinese government feel shame when the United States says these four individuals are, you know, being used by the Chinese government to attack us? Are they embarrassed about that?

JONES: I mean, it's probably not ideal, but the issue is that the U.S. has done this many times. It did it after the Equifax indictment in 2020. It identified a number of PLA hackers. So these were government officials doing it. But we see the Chinese continue to do it, the Russians are continuing to do it.

So naming and shaming at the end of the day does not work. What is helpful about this, though, is that this was done in coordination with NATO and the European Union so this is a bit more of a multilateral effort. That's a helpful step.

TAPPER: So, one of this -- a lot of times when a foreign government is accused of something like this, whether it's Russia or China, you hear people say, especially outside of the United States, oh, like the U.S. doesn't do this kind of thing, too. What does the United States do? Do we sanction or approve or allow anything like this as the Russians and the Chinese do to us? Do we participate in any way?


JONES: Well, every government in the world conducts espionage. The difference in this case is that there is a direct relationship in many cases between Chinese intelligence services and Chinese government -- and Chinese companies that are receiving this. I mean, this is what people need to understand. These aren't just organizations in the U.S. and companies that are being hacked.

The information that is coming out of them is then given to Chinese companies to compete with the U.S. and other companies. That's nothing like what we see in the U.S. or the west. In fact, quite the opposite where U.S. intelligence services actually have quite a difficult relationship with companies.

TAPPER: And what do you think, your opinion, would be the most effective way to deal with Russia and China conducting or at least accommodating these cyberattacks on American companies and the American government? What should we be doing?

JONES: Well, I mean, there are a couple of things. One is the information that's given to Chinese companies to make them more competitive, there should be a lot of thought about do we sanction specific companies that are receiving directly working with Chinese intelligence services? I think there needs to be thought about do we conduct some actions against Chinese consulates.

The Trump administration shut down the consulate in Houston. We want to take further action. Do we enact additional sanctions against Chinese government agencies or individuals because of this? Those are at least some initial steps that you could take. TAPPER: What about the idea of an offensive attack? I asked a

congressman of this in the last hour. I want to make clear. I'm not proposing this, I'm not expressing support for it, but if the United States were to do something to turn off the lights in a Chinese city for an hour, just to say don't play with us, would that be effective?

JONES: I think the target becomes important here. I think the U.S. would have to do something on the offensive cyber side that is proportional. So if it's going to conduct an offensive attack, I would stick to the government, the PLA, the Ministry of State Security, government agencies. I wouldn't impact the Chinese population. That's bound to have a rally around the flag effect and maybe incite the Chinese population against the U.S.

TAPPER: In your new book, you argue that while the U.S. is focused on building up military-strength rivals such as Russia and China, have more focused on other kinds of attacks. Cyberattacks, propaganda, disinformation. Is the United States in any way prepared to deal with those threats from the Chinese and the Russians although, and Iranians and North Koreans I imagine as well?

JONES: Yes. I don't think so. I think particularly when you look at the U.S. Department of Defense, a lot of the procurement, a lot of the focus on the war games are a big conventional fight with the Chinese over Taiwan. And I think what these actions really show is where the Chinese are coming after us is not an invasion of Taiwan. Where they're coming after the U.S. is on an economic side, the broader espionage side.

They took islands in the South China Sea not by sending warships in. They sent in boats to create dirt and they built islands --

TAPPER: Yes, architects and engineers.

JONES: Yes, that's what -- and they did it overnight. So that's -- it's asymmetric or irregular activities. And we're still thinking like fill the gap of the inter-German border or the Battle of Midway right now. It's not where the Chinese are coming from.

TAPPER: Interesting. Seth Jones, thanks so much and good luck with the new book. We really appreciate it. "Three Dangerous Men," it's out in September.

Another urge in concern, the rise in COVID cases. Coming up next, CNN's rare access inside a hospital where doctors are struggling to keep up.

Plus, the regret one woman wants the whole world to hear.

Also ahead, flames headed right for their homes and only minutes to escape. We're live out west in the United States where wildfires are just getting worse.


[17:10:00] TAPPER: In our "Health Lead," there is a rise of new COVID cases in

every single state in the United States. And 97 percent of the COVID patients in the hospital right now are unvaccinated individuals. Let's bring in CNN's Leyla Santiago. She's live from the University of Florida Health Jacksonville. That hospital is seeing COVID patients at rates they have not seen in months. And Leyla, you got rare access inside. You even spoke to a COVID patient. What did she have to say?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, she has a warning for everyone, Jake. And listen, where this patient was, we visited that area today. The nurse told me last week they had one patient. This week every single room is filled with COVID patients. Some have two patients. The hospital telling us that they have seen numbers double in just the last week, and there is clear concern and a lot of frustration.

So let's start with the concern. The director of infection prevention tells me that they are seeing cases rise very fast and that is being driven by that highly contagious delta variant. His concern is that if they continue the way they are going now, it'll just be a matter of days before they reach capacity and have staffing shortages not just because of burnout but also because of unvaccinated staff.

Now, as far as the frustration goes, I can really see that coming from the nurses who said they felt like they were in the clear, and now they're going right back to some of those peak numbers that they saw earlier in the pandemic. A lot of those patients, as you mentioned, are unvaccinated -- 90 percent unvaccinated.


I had a chance to speak to one of them. We spoke for safety through a glass window and over the phone. Her name is Debra Wells, 65 years old. Here's what she said.


DEBRA WELLS, COVID PATIENT: No taste, no smell, no nothing. Couldn't eat and I could barely sleep because I was coughing so bad. It's the worst feeling you could ever have.

SANTIAGO: What would you tell someone who's not vaccinated right now?

WELLS: Get vaccinated as soon as possible because as soon as I get out of here and get well, I'm going to get vaccinated.


SANTIAGO: She was very blunt, Jake, in saying that she felt like she was going to die. And while we were here, Jake, this afternoon, we learned this hospital did have one person die while we were visiting that COVID ward. The one thing that every single person said to us, people need to get vaccinated.

TAPPER: All right, Leyla Santiago in Jacksonville, Florida, thanks so much. Let's stay in Florida and bring in Dr. Hany Atallah, chief medical officer of Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. Dr. Atallah, last week there were 66 COVID patients in your hospitals. I'm told today more than 135, that's a doubling, more than a doubling. What's driving this now?

HANY ATALLAH, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, JACKSON MEMORIAL HOSPITAL: I mean, as has been mentioned, Jake, it's really the unvaccinated, about 95percent of the patients in our hospital are unvaccinated. And that's really what's driving the increase in volume.

TAPPER: Why are they not vaccinated? I mean, are they resistant? Are they hesitant? Have they just not been able to put it into their schedules? Do you have any read on that?

ATALLAH: You know, I think the answer, Jake, is sort of all of the above. You know, people have hesitancy around the vaccine. People have different beliefs. Obviously when they come to us, our primary concern is making sure we take, you know, great care of them and making sure that we get them well.

I think we are kind of asking them if they have any questions that we can help answer about the vaccine to encourage them to get the vaccine. But I think that the reasons people don't get vaccinated are a little bit all over the map. Again, we're trying to educate them to encourage them it's not too late.

TAPPER: What's your message to those who are unvaccinated?

ATALLAH: You know, it's not too late to get your vaccine. You know, there are people who we're seeing who had the infection and they think they might still have some immunity. We have seen that immunity wane. You should still go get your vaccine.

So, it's never too late to get your vaccine. And I think we are seeing this surge because of it's almost a pandemic of the unvaccinated is what we're seeing. And so, not too late to get your vaccine, go and get it as soon as possible.

TAPPER: President Biden has singled out Facebook as one of the main sources of misinformation, lies about the vaccine. Has that been a problem for you in Florida?

ATALLAH: You know, I think people get their information from a variety of places. I think, you know, there are things that we know for a fact work and they've been proven to decrease these surges. Wearing your mask, getting vaccinated, hand washing, social distancing, all those things work.

And so, you know, if we're going to help manage this peak again, I think we're going to have to do those things again, right, which are going to help keep that surge down and help shorten that surge and get us back to normal as soon as we can.

TAPPER: The governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, has been celebrating how Florida has responded to the pandemic with a bunch of, well, a slogan that says something like "Don't Fauci my Florida," "Freedom versus Fauciism," et cetera. I'm wondering what you make of that. ATALLAH: You know, I think there's always an opportunity. I mean,

we're having the surge again for a reason. You know, again, I'll go back to the answer that we know there are things that work. They have been proven to work, they are scientifically proven.

Those are the things that we have to go back to, to help keep everyone well and keep people out of the hospital and get us back to normal as soon as we can. I think everyone wants to get back to normal, but we have to do the things that we know are right and that really starts with getting a vaccine.

TAPPER: Does the governor attacking Anthony Fauci, one of the senior health advisors to President Biden and before that, senior health official for the Trump administration, does that send a message do you think? Do you fear that might be part of the reason why a lot of people are turning away from science and health officials?

ATALLAH: I mean, I think it's certainly a possibility. I mean, the disinformation is always a concern and it is just that, its incorrect information.


I think when we listen to scientists and we listen to research that has been done and we look at the object of scientific evidence of what works and doesn't work, it helps inform the right thing that we should do so --

TAPPER: Go ahead, I'm sorry.

ATALLAH: No, it's just that, you know, we know that these vaccines work, and we know that your risk from the vaccine is lower than your risk of getting COVID and any sequela that may happen because of that. So, those are the reasons why it make sense to get the vaccine.

TAPPER: The American Academy of Pediatrics released new guidance suggesting that everyone over the age of 2 should wear masks in schools including staff. Do you support that recommendation?

ATALLAH: You know, I know that there are people who are vaccinated, I do support that recommendation. There are people who are vaccinated who still wear their mask. When I'm around others, I'm vaccinated. I wear my mask because I know it's the right thing to do and I know it's going to help prevent any sort of infection so, I would support that because it just helps keep us safer.

TAPPER: Dr. Hany Atallah, thank you so much and good luck with the important work you and your staffs are doing to protect the good citizens of Florida.

ATALLAH: Thanks so much, Jake.

TAPPER: President Biden today walking back his accusation that websites such as Facebook are "killing people." What Biden says he really meant, that's next.



TAPPER: In our "Politics Lead," the public spat between Facebook and the White House continuing today, although President Biden retreated a bit from his Facebook is killing people comments from Friday. This afternoon he said this.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My hope is that Facebook instead of taking it personally that somehow I'm saying Facebook is killing people, that they would do something about the misinformation, the outrageous misinformation about the vaccine. That's what I meant.


TAPPER: I love this idea that somehow they took the impression that I was saying Facebook are killing people. The reason Facebook took Biden's remarks as an accusation is because last Friday quite specifically the president said this.


UNKNOWN: What's your message to platforms like Facebook?

BIDEN: They're killing people.


TAPPER: Pretty clear there. Facebook punched back this weekend saying that Facebook is not responsible for the fact that Biden was not able to reach the July 4th vaccination goal.

Joining us now is Tia Mitchell, Washington correspondent, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, CNN political analyst Zolan Kanno-Youngs and CNN political commentators Ashley Allison and Alice Stewart. What a great crew we have here.

Has -- I'd love to start with you because, you know, White House, beyond the heated rhetoric, what has the White House done when it comes to regulating Facebook or regulating social media to take away false health information?

ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a great place to start this because regardless of the president walking back these comments today or even the comment on Friday, I was there when he said that they are killing people. And what we should know here is that that is really almost the exclamation point of what has been weeks of building tension between this administration and Facebook.

You know, our reporting have shown that the administration in meetings with Facebook officials, officials at Facebook have tried to get some sort of data to try and find out just how much is -- what is Facebook doing to push back on this misinformation.

TAPPER: Right.

KANNO-YOUNGS: How far does the misinformation go as well? And they weren't able to get that data. And even in those meetings you had Facebook officials saying, in turn, well, wait a minute, what exactly are you doing here to really combat this misinformation as well? So, I mean, the comments that we've heard both today and Friday is just coming after boiling frustration.

Those meetings also involving the surgeon general as well and Dr. Murthy, you saw the frustration from him as well both on Thursday and over the weekend when he came back at some of Facebook's comments.

TAPPER: Fauci told Jim Acosta over the weekend that if there had been social media and some of the other networks on cable during the polio vaccine and the Dr. Jonas Salk's fight that we never would have eradicated polio.

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION: Yes. I think what social media has shown us is it's not just misinformation and disinformation, it's the lack of a consistent message. It's all this different opinions that of course we see on our feed, and that is what feeds to the hesitancy because you've got people who can cherry-pick who they trust and who they listen to, and some of these people are listening to people who are discouraging getting vaccinated.

TAPPER: Yes. You know, I personally have discomfort when any White House starts talking about what private companies should allow in terms of information, but this is a problem.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It certainly is and I think government censoring social media is a huge problem. But what we've seen more than anything is this shows that Facebook and social media, for all intents and purposes, are the de facto public square. This is where people go to talk and share information.

The key here, and I think what the administration should focus more on, is educating people on the factual information, making sure we get proper information out there, and spreading it that way. And I think, I will say this, hats off to them because words matter but actions matter more.

And I do, you know, applaud the administration for the way they've handled this from the beginning, through the campaign with wearing masks and social distancing and showing people by example, but I think going after Facebook which is spreading information that a lot of people do is not the way to go about doing it, but calling attention to the people that did spread this misinformation, I think that's important too.

TAPPER: And there's this group that put out a study about that more than 60 percent of the vaccine misinformation is from 12 people.


One of them Robert Kennedy Jr., who has been an anti-vax propagandist for years now. Would it help if the White House were, instead of to call out Facebook or to at least also call out the individuals, or does that just give them a bigger platform?

ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I wouldn't recommend calling out the individuals but I do think Facebook, Twitter, all the social media platforms have a responsibility to stop disinformation. The vaccine is just one example of disinformation on Facebook. On around the census and the citizenship question around critical race theory, there are like 10 people pushing out these disinformation campaigns on these issues.

And Facebook historically, when I was in my advocacy world, have -- has not taken these issues seriously and said, oh, we're just -- we want to protect the First Amendment, but what about protecting people's lives? What about protecting democracy they have continued to falter and civil rights groups, progressive groups, and now the administration is calling them to test (ph)?

TAPPER: You know, one of the complications of this, for example, it was not long ago that I think Facebook was taking down posts about the lab leak theory that it actually came from a lab in China, the virus, those were considered disinformation, misinformation. And it turns out, that's now considered a credible theory. That's not definitively proven, but it's a credible theory. So I think one of the problems that First Amendment absolutists bring up rightly so is like, you know, yesterday, it's misinformation, today, it's consensus.

MITCHELL: Right, the same thing about mask and when you wear them and how you wear them. And I think, you know, like Ashley said, this is a way bigger issue than just about vaccinations. And we have seen Congress grappling with it. How do you regulate these social media companies that have become our public square, that have become the way we communicate with each other? And how do you determine what's inbounds? How do you determine what's free speech and a way for us to debate the topics? And what crosses the line to becoming harmful?

And I don't think there are any easy answer.

STEWART: And I think Congress is taking steps in that direction, looking at Section 230 of the Communications Act, where these social media platforms are just that, their platforms for free speech for people to speak freely, as opposed to like CNN and news outlets, that are publishers that do need to be factually accurate and are held accountable. So I think this is a situation where we don't need government to tell these social media companies what they can and can't put on, but there does need to be a responsibility for all people to make sure that putting out factually and safe information.

TAPPER: Although -- and one of the other questions is not just what gets determined to be false or not, but who gets to make that decision.


TAPPER: I mean, one of the reasons why you don't have the FTC going -- get involving itself or the FCC involving itself in a lot of these decisions when it comes to like one American news is whatever is the whole idea of like, who makes that decision? Who makes that decision? Because you might be -- not you -- but the viewer, a viewer might be happy with Biden appointing that commission, but then guess what, President Palin (ph) gets to approve that commission, too. I mean, and vice versa.

KANNO-YOUNGS: We saw a glimpse of how he did that conversation can be when the White House came out and just said -- just recited the statistics from that group that you were talking about, Jake, that said that 12 people on Facebook are responsible for 65 percent of the disinformation on that platform. When Jen Psaki went out and said that, you saw that the White House was immediately met with backlash and people raising concerns and questioning well, wait a minute, what do you mean that you're flagging these posts to Facebook?

TAPPER: Right.

KANNO-YOUNGS How far does that go? So, that just gives even a glimpse of how kind of charged this topic can be and how delicate the balance is between managing one's First Amendment rights but also ensuring that, you know, messaging and speech that may undermine public safety doesn't go unpunished.

ALLISON: I will just say this though, Facebook has these community principles that many advocates advocated for. And so often they don't even follow their own principles. Whether it -- right now we find information that is up there about the election or the big lie that had been a little closer to an actual election, they would be taking it down, and they're not. So they like to play both sides of the fence. It is very dangerous. And I think that we have, as advocates, have to continue to hold them accountable, and Congress needs to act on this.

MITCHELL: And I just want to say like Facebook, in the social media platforms, you know, their business is letting people -- they want engagement.

TAPPER: Right.

MITCHELL: And so, unfortunately, some of these misinformed or, you know, provocative posts are what creates the engagements --

TAPPER: Right.

MITCHELL: -- so that creates a business model for them that makes them perhaps more resistant to regulation or oversight.

TAPPER: And this is an old lesson that we know from politics and also from journalism, which is hate sells, anger sells.

STEWART: Oh sure. And titillation -- information sells as well and the problem that we have with social media is that a like and get all the way around the world before the truth can put its pants on, right?

TAPPER: Right.


STEWART: So by the time something gets out there, we have these, quote, credible news outlets also reporting it. And it's by then it is out there, it's in the public square, people are talking about it and really just needs to get back to individual responsibility to put out factual information.

TAPPER: Well, this was so great. I didn't even get to the Phil Rucker or Carol Leonnig book, but this is the first time we've had four panelists on set since the pandemic talking about something like this. So I want to do a little round robin. It's officially Trump book summer as the Washington Post, Paul Farhi puts it. Three books all with wild revelations.

Let's go around the table. Will these books change any Trump supporters' minds on Trump? Will they do anything, any of these books, and any of these horrific stories about Donald Trump, especially the last days of his presidency, to affect the 2024 election cycle?

STEWART: Trump's base knew there was chaos and confusion in the White House, this isn't going to change that. I'm encouraged by all the books, seeing the guardrails that he did have in place with the different staff, people that push back on a lot of the nonsense he put up.

TAPPER: What do you think?

ALLISON: Not at all. They know who he is, they love him for it. I think what it will do is continue to keep elected officials on alert of what is possible and how fragile our democracy actually is and the steps that need to take to continue (INAUDIBLE).

KANNO-YOUNGS: We're already -- and we're already seeing, you know, we're already getting a bit more informed as these excerpts come out about how the origin of the big lie was so early on --


KANNO-YOUNGS: -- by people that were closest to the then president as well. You know, Rudy Giuliani already on election night saying we'll just say we won this.

TAPPER: Just claim we won that state.


KANNO-YOUNGS: Just say we have it.



TAPPER: And by the way, it suggests in the book, it is -- I think this is in the Rucker-Leonnig book.

KANNO-YOUNGS: This is from (ph), yes. TAPPER: That Rudy -- people around him thought he had a couple glasses of wine. We should just note that too when he came up with this theory.

KANNO-YOUNGS: I believe that was in there as well, right, right. Now, how much that goes to changing the minds of voters? I think you'll need reporting to show that, but already, we're starting to see some information about just the planning that was in place when it came to an effort to undermine the results of the election.

MITCHELL: I just think these books are probably going to be cited in some of these court proceedings and investigations because it really starts to make the connection of what the former president was saying about the election and about January 6, and it doesn't always line up with what has been, you know, some of his defenders how they've explained his actions around in.

TAPPER: Imagine that. Tia, thank you so much. And thanks to this great panel.

Tune in Wednesday for a CNN Presidential Town Hall. President Biden will join CNN's Don Lemon, that's Wednesday night at 8:00 Eastern.

Coming up, prosecutors hope the prison sentence today for a Capitol Hill attacker would send a message loud and clear to anyone contemplating a sequel but the judge -- well, the judge had a message of his own. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, what's the penalty for being part of a violent mob that sought to stop the counting of the electoral votes in the January 6 insurrection? Eight months, eight months. That's how long an insurrection is to guide inside the U.S. Senate chamber during the Capitol Riot will have to spend in prison. Paul Hodgkins pleaded guilty to a felony, specifically obstructing congressional proceedings. Prosecutors had asked for 18 months.

CNN Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider was at the courthouse for today's sentencing. Tell us why this specific case is so important.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, this could really be a bellwether case for the hundreds of other Capitol defendants. But this particular case could serve as a real bellwether for those defendants who don't have a criminal record and also who weren't violent or destructive on January 6th. And the judge really wrestled with the appropriate sentence here.

You mentioned prosecutors, they wanted 18 months. So they told the judge this, they also wanted to set a standard for future sentencing. They said, an 18-month sentence would send a loud and clear message to other would be rioters that if and when they're caught, they will be held accountable. And people who might be contemplating a sequel to the January 6 -- to January 6 will stand down and there won't be a next time.

So the defense asked for probation, prosecution asked for 18 months, the judge here trying to find that middle ground with eight months, Jake.

TAPPER: What does it mean for the dozens, if not hundreds of other insurrectionists whose prosecutions are in the pipeline?

SCHNEIDER: Yes, more than 500 Capitol riot defendants, and the judge here really was cognizant of the fact that this sentence could really set a standard. So he denounced Hodgkins' actions, but he also gave them credit for coming forward to plead guilty, also for the fact that he wasn't violent or destructive.

So the judge saying this, "He was staking a claim on the floor of the United States Senate, not with the American flag, but with a flag declaring his loyalty to a single individual over the entire nation. But I don't consider him to be a threat or see him as an evil person".

The judge there making reference to the fact that Hodgkins was carrying this giant red Trump 2020 flag in addition to goggles, rubber gloves and rope. So that's why the prosecution said that he deserved that way to your (ph) sentence. Hodgkins did speak out on his own behalf for about 10 minutes. He said that he's repentant. He also acknowledged the Joe Biden is the rightful president. He said he only came to Washington, D.C. to serve a president he loved, former President Donald Trump.

The judge here, though, giving him eight months, but also 24 months after that supervised release, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jessica Schneider, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, the accelerating evidence that scientists say will likely only get worse in the near future. Plus, we're in California, where people had just minutes to escape a wildfire headed right for their home. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our earth matters series today, a dangerous mix of heat and a lack of rain and the climate crisis is all to blame for this. What you're seeing on your screen, at least 80 active wildfires burning right now in the western United States. Wildfires in California alone have scorched three times more land this year than all last year's record-breaking fire season. The Tamarack Fire is burning just south of Lake Tahoe and it's zero percent contained, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, zero percent.

One man in that area told CNN he had only minutes to escape his home.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you have any time to grab some belongings? BILL BEIDLER, FIRE EVACUEE: I was told, don't worry about it, everything's going to be OK. And then that evening, it was like, you have 10 minutes get the heck out of here. I had just enough time to grab all my dirty laundry. All right. It's like, OK, I just start but I got to go.



TAPPER: There's wildfires out west raging flooding in Europe, the extreme conditions in the U.S. and around the world are all a result of a worsening climate crisis, a crisis that needs a global response as Bill Weir reports.


BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is becoming more obvious by the year as humanity overheats Earth at a terrifying rate. Our planet's atmosphere now holds way too much water in some places, not nearly enough in others. And from the U.S. to Europe, corners of the so-called first world are getting their first taste of what fossil fueled wealth could ultimately cost.

There are so many fires burning out west, there's now a fuel shortage for the planes used to fight them. And there's so much dry vegetation to burn, in part because of the mega drought now covering over 90 percent of the American West. Scientists estimate it will take 10 rainy years to refill reservoirs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just really a bad time to be a Christmas tree farmer, probably the worst year we've ever had.

WEIR (voice-over): But while people from San Diego to Siberia have been praying for rain, Western Europe spent the week praying for to stop. Parts of Belgium, Austria and Germany are reeling, understanding (ph) water and mud after some of the worst flash floods in memory.


WEIR (voice-over): It is horrendous, Angela Merkel said, after touring towns and lives crushed by walls of water.

MERKEL (through translation): The German language doesn't really have words for this devastation.

WEIR (voice-over): When the E.U. released its ambitious climate plan last week, many saw Germany's entrenched manufacturing base as a blocked progress. But now, as elections near, politicians from the Chancellor on down are calling for climate action. But what will it take to move American politicians in ways that climate marches and strikes have not? Sadly, the data tells us we are about to find out.

RUSSELL VOSE, CHIEF OF CLIMATE MONITORING, NOAA: The last seven years have been the warmest on record, and they really stand out from the record that preceded it. In fact, to me when I look at them, it almost hints that a bit of an acceleration in the rate of warming we're seeing globally.

WEIR (on-camera): That's horrifying. And is it safe to say then it's a flip, it's in a more alarming way, these were the coldest seven years for the rest of our lives?

VOSE: Well, that's an interesting question. My line is not so much making predictions. We tend to look back and -- but having said that, I don't expect 10 years from now that will be cooler than we are today. If you're a betting person (ph), it's probably a safe bet to assume will be warmer in the future, barring say some major volcanic eruption.

WEIR (voice-over): Which means that in addition to stopping the source of the problem to avoid cascading pain, we must brace for the pain that is already on the way.


WEIR: We just landed here in Montana near Yellowstone a short while ago and you couldn't even see the mountains because of the smoke from four different states including California, Jake, where Cal Fire just announced the most staggering numbers. So far, there has been over 5,200 wildfires in 2021 burning over 200,000 acres. That's five times more than of California that is burned than last year's record wildfire season.

TAPPER: Climate change is real and it's here. Bill Weir keeping tabs on all of it for us, thanks so much.

From the extreme conditions on Earth to the curiosity of space, here, the comeback from billionaire Jeff Bezos to critics calling his big launch tomorrow a joy ride for the super rich. Stay with us.



TAPPER: For our out of this world lead today, the latest installment of what's becoming a continuing series, billionaires in space. A little over a week after, Richard Branson's rocket powered joy ride, Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame is preparing for launch tomorrow. CNN's Kristin Fisher is at the launch site in Texas. Kristin, how's it looking?

KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, once this thunderstorm passes, hopefully, the weather will be all clear for this big launch 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time tomorrow morning. And right now, all systems go for that launch in this remote stretch of desert in West Texas. And this is a moment that Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin have been preparing for for 21 years, the first time that people will actually ride on top of one of those rockets.

And these four crew members, they've been training here at launch site one for the last two days. Tomorrow morning, they're going to be going up in the New Shepard reusable rocket system. So, this means that we're going to see not only a rocket launch, but also a rocket landing, something that had really never ever been done before until just a few years ago. Which is when Jeff Bezos did that, Elon Musk followed suit just a month later.

And now fast forward a few years and we saw this race between Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos. And, you know, Jeff Bezos essentially said this morning in this couple of interviews that he gets the criticism. He understands why some people are upset that all these billionaires are going to into space. He calls it just a joy ride, but he says that this is important for humanity in the grand scheme of things and that's what this launch is all about tomorrow, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Kristin Fisher, thank you so much. Good to see you.

In this programming note, Anderson Cooper will lead the live coverage from Texas tomorrow morning starting at 8:00 a.m. right here on CNN.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the TikTok at JakeTapper. You can tweet the show at TheLeadCNN. Our coverage continues right now. Jim Acosta is in "THE SITUATION ROOM."