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The Lead with Jake Tapper
CDC: "The War Has Changed" With Highly Contagious Delta Variant; CNN: Trump Pressed DOJ In Dec. To Say Election Was Corrupt; Broadway Theaters To Require Vaccines Or Audience & Staff; Frustration Among Those Vaccinated As COVID Rules Return; Red Tide Washes Up 600 Tons Of Dead Marine Life On FL Shores. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired July 30, 2021 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the CDC, telling CNN, "I think people need to understand that we're not crying wolf here. This is serious."
Health officials now saying the Delta variant can spread far wider than initially thought. With each infected person able to infect five to nine others.
KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: It spreads more than twice as easily for one person to another and it's spreading rapidly. It is really just across the country. And that is just the fact.
ZELENY (voice-over): While people who have gotten their COVID shots are far less likely to become seriously ill or hospitalized, the CDC also now making clear the variant can be spread through those who have already been fully vaccinated. Walensky calling the finding concerning and a "pivotal discovery leading to CDCs updated mask recommendation."
JEANE-PIERRE: It was clear that vaccinated people have the ability to transmit and action needed to be taken quickly and that's why they did it.
ZELENY (voice-over): This month is drawing to a close is a turning point in the pandemic, but not in the way the White House had hoped. During the July 4 celebration, when the President proudly held progress in the fight against coronavirus.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus. That's not to say the battle against COVID-19 is over. We've got a lot more work to do.
ZELENY (voice-over): And now, that sounds like a dramatic understatement, with August just around the corner in a dramatic spike in COVID cases and limited progress on vaccinations. After refusing to say the word mandate for months, the President now acknowledging he asked the Justice Department to see if it was legal for businesses to require the vaccine. The answer he said is, yes. BIDEN: They can. Local communities can do that, local businesses can do that. It's still a question whether the federal government can mandate the whole country. I don't know that yet.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
ZELENY: And White House officials are telling us that a national vaccine requirement is not on the table at this time. But Jake, notice the wiggle room that is being used in that. This is a dramatic shift from the beginning of the month here in July when the White House really believed they had turned a corner. Now they know they're confronting this delta variant.
Of course vaccinations handled most of this. You will not get sick or hospitalized most likely with vaccinations. So that simply is the message from the White House. But they know in the month of August, they'll likely have to take even tougher steps.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Alright, Jeff Zeleny, at the White House for us. Thank you so much.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, they're calling it a pivotal discovery that vaccinated individuals can spread the Delta variant as easily as unvaccinated individuals can. As Kristen Holmes now reports for us. These details come from an outbreak in a Massachusetts beach town.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's been called the canary in the coal mine in outbreak in a popular vacation destination, 469 state residents infected, largely, by delta. And most of those testing positive, fully vaccinated.
The cluster of COVID cases in Provincetown, Massachusetts is now driving new guidance from the CDC.
ALEX MORSE, PROVINCETOWN, M.A. TOWN MANAGER: Seventy-four percent of the overall cases are among fully vaccinated individuals. And I think that came as a surprise to many folks that, you know, we were told that if you're vaccinated, you're most invincible and I think we wrongly -- many people wrongly assume that.
HOLMES (voice-over): Local officials say there have been at least 882 cases linked to this cluster overall. The research showing infected people who have been vaccinated held a similar amount of the virus, also known as viral load, as those who were unvaccinated, shedding light on the agency's decision to issue new mask guidance, recommending most fully vaccinated Americans wear masks indoors.
DR. MEGAN RANNEY, ASSOCIATE DEAN OF PUBLIC HEALTH, BROWN UNIVERSITY: Unmasking indoors for fully vaccinated people is no longer a safe choice. Especially if you have people at home like kids or elderly parents who are higher risk who are unvaccinated themselves.
HOLMES (voice-over): This study comes after leaked internal documents showed the virus could spread faster and to more people.
DR. ROBERT WACHTER, CHAIR, UCSF DEPARTMENT OF MEDICINE: We have to get more people vaccinated because this this virus is better at its job than the original.
HOLMES (voice-over): The cluster, highlighting the importance of getting vaccinated. Among that Provincetown group, no deaths and only four instances of hospitalizations, two of which had previous health conditions.
MORSE: This Delta variant is yes, highly transmissible, more contagious, more likely to have a breakthrough infection. But you're not -- it's not likely you're going to be hospitalized and you're certainly not going to die.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
HOLMES: And simply put, Jake, there are two main takeaways here. The first is that Delta is scary. It is far more transmittable than we ever thought before even among the vaccinated, so you need to mask up and you need to protect yourself. And two, the best way to protect yourself is to get the vaccine. The vaccine prevents more than 90 percent against severe disease here.
So, in this fight against the Delta variant in particular, the vaccine could be the difference between life and Death and you don't want to be on the wrong side of that equation.
TAPPER: Certainly not. Kristen Holmes, thanks so much.
Let's bring in Dr. William Schaffner. He's a professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Centre.
Dr. Schaffner, good to see you again. So this new CDC data zeroes in on this outbreak in Provincetown, Massachusetts 74 percent of breakthrough cases where 346 fully vaccinated people still got sick. They had traces of the Delta variant. Was that data along with what we already know about community spread enough justification for the CDC to change its mask guidance this week?
DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, PROFESSOR, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY MEDICAN CENTER: OK. I think the short answer is yes. The CDC has a long tradition of investigating outbreaks of other communicable diseases and often those outbreak investigations by the disease detectives illuminate how a variety of infectious agents are transmitted. This is a very instructive outbreak investigation.
As said, this is a much more transmissible virus. And to everyone's surprise, including my own, people who are vaccinated can have as much virus in their throat as unvaccinated people. And therefore the potential for spread is there.
The two lessons, if you're not vaccinated, get vaccinated. That keeps you out of the hospital. If you're vaccinated or unvaccinated when you get together with other people, put that mask right back on. It's really important.
TAPPER: A study in China found the patients with this Delta variant had viral loads more than 1200 times higher than samples that have been taken in the early days of the pandemic. If the Delta variant is so dangerous, do you think the Biden administration should move to make vaccines mandatory?
SCHAFFNER: Well, first of all, the Delta variant is more dangerous in terms of spread and having so much more virus in your throat accounts for this extraordinary contagiousness. I think we're going to talk about requirements obligations and mandates from the ground up. And my institution, my medical center is moving in that direction, absolutely.
Other medical centers, colleges are doing this for incoming students. I think the military is moving in that direction. Some municipal agencies, New York City is moving in that direction.
I think this will be a groundswell moving up from the ground. And we will get more of this. And I think it's going to be needed in order to control this outbreak.
TAPPER: With all due respect, Dr. Schaffner, if the best protection against hospitalization and death from the vaccine, if the best protection is the vaccine -- I'm sorry, from COVID is the vaccine, does a mask mandate make more sense than a vaccine mandate?
SCHAFFNER: All of those things together help. We can't rely on just one intervention, we use several. It's like those slices of Swiss cheese.
Each intervention is a barrier. Each has some holes in it. The thickest barrier is of course vaccine, it has the few holes. But adding the mask adds another layer of protection, literally, for you and for the people around you. So we've got to do a number of things simultaneously.
Those older people, people with underlying illnesses probably ought to completely stay away from these large indoor group events entirely.
TAPPER: Dr. Jerome Adams, the former Surgeon General under President Trump believes that the Delta variant is so out of control, we're likely going to see more closures in the future. Do you agree?
SCHAFFNER: I hope not. I certainly still am optimistic that we can get ahead of that. Closures in many parts of the country, my own included, I think would be rip resistant very, very fiercely. The idea is to get us all vaccinated.
Most of this virus is now being transmitted among unvaccinated people, there spill over into the vaccinated. But if we can get the people who are unvaccinated to go out this afternoon and get vaccinated, then we could get ahead of this virus.
TAPPER: The internal CDC document urged officials there to move towards requiring vaccinations, requiring masks. What do you make of the current messaging? What do you make of the current communications coming from health officials at the CDC?
It's it seems like people are confused. There are mixed messages. And frankly, there are people who masked up, did everything that they were told to do, got vaccinated who sound -- if you listen to them, sound very resentful of the fact that they're now being asked to put masks on again in order to protect in large part vax -- people who refuse to get vaccinated.
SCHAFFNER: Well Jake, let's take a deep breath and step back. You are pro in communicating. We know how difficult these messages are.
There are people who've told me, why don't you decide on one thing and stick with it? Well, if you're wildfire certainly suddenly moves in a new direction, you're not going to keep doing the same thing. You have to move with the wildfire. And that's what we're doing with COVID.
Now that the Delta variant is here, we have to alter what we're doing. But we all have to do it together. And yes, I can understand that people are getting a little grumpy with the unvaccinated, let's all extend them a hand of friendship and try to get them in and persuade them to get vaccinated. We need them to be vaccinated. That will tamp down the spread of this virus.
TAPPER: Dr. William Schaffner, thank you so much good to see you, as always, sir.
Coming up these stunning new handwritten notes detailing how then President Trump tried to overturn the election. We'll show you what he said, next.
Plus, this is how some flight attendants are preparing for your next flight. The unruly passengers, too many are encountering.
TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead. A new details about just how far President Trump wins in his efforts to try to overturn the results of the free and fair presidential elections. Today we learn that during a phone call at the end of December, President Trump pressured his acting Attorney General to declare that the presidential election was, quote, "illegal and corrupt," even though of course, it was not.
The Acting Deputy Attorney General, Richard Donoghue, who was on the call, he turned over his notes to the House Oversight Committee. Those notes say that Trump told acting A.G. Jeffrey Rosen quote, "just say that the election was corrupt" and "leave the rest to me." And the congressmen, are for Republican.
CNN Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez joins us now live.
Evan, how did the senior Justice Department officials respond to Trump's deranged request?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, you know, these notes that were written down, they were handwritten notes by Rich Donoghue, who was the Acting Deputy Attorney General, really show you that even though we know how much Trump was pushing the -- his big lie, it still shows you how much he was trying to do behind the scenes.
And so, what these officials were doing, were pushing back on the president, telling him that they had investigated. There were hundreds of investigations, they had done all of the work, and they could not find any of the evidence that he was talking about. And as you said, just now, the president said, you know, you don't have to do anything, you just have to say that the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.
And when he was told that the -- all of these claims that he was hearing, that the president was hearing, were false. Some of them were conspiracy theories about some Italian behind -- being behind altering voting machines around the country. The President responded, you guys may not be following the internet the way I do.
It goes to show you, Jake, that for all the things that the president said that we all saw behind the scenes, these were officials who were pushing back, and they were telling him what, frankly, that he was wrong, that he was wrong about the election claims that he was making.
TAPPER: Evan, these notes were released as part of a House investigation into President Trump's efforts to overturn the election. What do we know about the status of the investigation?
PEREZ: Well, the -- we know that there are two committees, the Oversight Committee in the House and the Senate Judiciary Committee that have been working on this, Jake, and they say that they are now working to schedule interviews. We heard earlier this, we reported earlier this week that the Justice Department has said that these people, a number of these former Justice Department officials can speak to these committees. They are not invoking executive privilege. So they're free to do that.
I'm told that some of those interviews could begin in the next week or so. So, we expect that these officials were able to tell a little bit more beyond these notes, some of their conversations, any text messages, any other communications that they had with other officials beyond the president.
TAPPER: All right. Evan Perez, thanks so much.
Let's discuss with my august panel.
And Sabrina, we've learned a lot in recent months about just how far Trump went to try to overturn the election and try to subvert democracy. To tell the acting Attorney General to, quote, "Just say that the election was corrupt," and "leave the rest to me" and the Republican congressmen, presumably the types like Jim Jordan, and the rest. I mean, it's still stunning, I have not lost my capacity to be shocked.
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. It may not be surprising, but it is still stunning, because as you point out, we have seen evidence of the former president's attempts to exert pressure on state and local officials, on members of Congress on his own vice president, Mike Pence, and then now you have these really striking conversations that we're hearing about with top leaders at the Justice Department. And you know, it does reinforce just the lengths to which he was willing to go to subvert the will of the American people and overturn the outcome of the election.
But it's not just really about what happened in the past, because he still really is the de facto leader of the Republican Party. And a lot of these Republicans, even those who have condemned his rhetoric on January 6, and his efforts to overturn the election, many Republicans in Congress would still gladly take his endorsement. And he is still mounting this campaign using his platform to try and spread the false notion to lie that the election was stolen. So there are very real time implications for this entire story and it's certainly not the end of it.
TAPPER: And think about this, just leave the rest of me and the Republican congressmen. What if the Republican congressmen had controlled Congress? What if he was leaving it up to Jim Jordan, who was a chairman, Kevin McCarthy, who was the speaker? I mean, that is what people are afraid about. That's what the Liz Cheney's of the world are warning us all about.
FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHYDC: Well, and that's part of what this investigation will look into is not just what happened in January 6, if they could potentially bring some of these people before them. We could hear more about this. But already, Jake, what we know from just reading those notes is, it painted a picture of a president who was desperate to win, who was desperate to cling on to power, who was looking for any possible opportunity to say the election was stolen from him, even as Department of Justice officials were telling him that they looked into all these instances, they were doing their job.
But what another thing we did learn is that the Department of Justice was telling him that --
CHAMBERS: -- behind closed doors, and that they were independent, and that the agency was working the way that it should with that independence.
TAPPER: And this is an important point because the notes also show that both men push back against Trump telling him, quote, "We are doing our job, much of the information you're getting is false."
But Bill, what if somebody else had been in that job? Right? I mean, right now, there is a big effort. Again, this is about the future, not just the past, there's a big effort to take some of these people who were guardrails, Governor Kemp in Georgia, whatever you think of him, he was a guardrail, Secretary of State Raffensperger in Georgia, there is an effort to replace them with sycophants who will do what Trump wants.
BILL KRISTOL, DIRECTOR, DEFENDING DEMOCRACY TOGETHER: Right. And it came closer than we realize, who -- the conversation was December 27, I believe. It was with the acting Attorney General Rosen. Why was he acting Attorney General?
KRISTOL: Because as Bill Barr had quit or been fired 10 days before because Bill Barr, who was not a shrinking violent in terms of helping Donald Trump and pushing the edge of the envelope in terms of using the Justice Department in a pretty White House friendly way knew he couldn't stay because of what he was about to be asked to do. Rosen almost gets fired and replaced by another lower level assistant attorney general who would Trump thought would do his bidding.
Mark Esper, the Defense Secretary had been fired the week after the election. So the degree to which the key -- a thick of this foreign country. The defense secretary is fired, a bunch of cronies put in there. Attorney general fired or quit, someone's put in there.
It's lucky that even though Esper was gone, Mark Milley held the line of defense, it's lucky that Jeff Rose, that deputy -- acting Attorney General Rosen seems to have the line of justice. But the degree to which this was a genuine attempted usurpation of power by a sitting president is just something we can't forget.
And then, it does make it amazing that he's still the leader of the Republican Party, and is going about purging the people at the state level who also checked his usurpation, the Secretary of State of Georgia officials in Michigan and others.
TAPPER: Yes, I mean, but the guardrails held, the guardrails held this time.
DANIELLA GIBBS LEGER, EXECUTIVE V.P., COMMUNICATIONS AND STRATEGY, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESSS: Right.
TAPPER: This time.
LEGER: And that's what's terrifying to me. If this was any other country, as you know, intimated, we would launch an investigation, we'll be talking about what's happening overseas, but it happened here. I think sometimes people are comforted that the guardrails held.
And so, like, well, let's move on. Let's talk about something else now. But we can't do that. Because the only way that we can guarantee that this doesn't happen, again, is that there are actual consequences for the President of the United States and for members of the major party, the Republican Party trying to overturn election, there has to be consequences of these actions. TAPPER: You know, it's a strange though, we've all been talking about this now four months, and Liz Cheney, basically sacrificing her political career about for this, Adam Kinzinger, et cetera. I have heard no Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, Donald Trump, anyone, say we would never try to steal an election. We're not trying to change the rules, so that next time we can get away with it. That's nonsense. I've never heard anybody pushback on this.
CHAMBERS: Well, they are saying that they are trying to change the rules so that next time they can try and prevent what they're saying was the voting fraud, which is, as we've discussed at length --
CHAMBERS: -- unsubstantiated --
CHAMBERS: -- but they are. This goes into the issue of voting rights legislation, which I know we could have a whole other roundtable on. But that is what is happening in some of these states and what Democrats on Capitol Hill are trying to push through federal legislation to stop from happening.
SIDDIQUI: And I was going to say that's where the cognitive dissonance is, because even some of the Republicans who acted as guardrails, even some of them are using, you know, these claims, false claims about election fraud as the basis through which they are going to now advance or already are advancing legislation to crack down on ballot access. And so, that effort really extends beyond just the Trump loyalists, and to a lot of the Republican establishment,
But you mentioned Liz Cheney, the reality is that this is not the party of Liz Cheney, it's the party of Donald Trump. And so, I think that is really the fight that you're going to continue to play -- see play out within the Republican Party in the coming months.
TAPPER: These notes came from the Oversight Committee in the House. It's chaired by Carolyn Maloney of New York. She said in the statement, Bill, "The Committee has begun scheduling interviews with key witnesses to investigate the full extent of the former president's corruption. And I will exercise every tool at my disposal to ensure all witness testimony is secured without delay."
What is the endgame here? They can't impeach him. I don't know that any of this rises to the level of criminal. What's the endgame? Just bringing it to the attention the American people?
KRISTOL: Yes. And I think it's, as you said, really, it should disqualify Trump as a potential candidate for the presidency --
TAPPER: When added to the list. KRISTOL: -- next time. Well, but this is pretty fundamental. I mean, if he gets elected, he is going to put in more pliant people at justice and the defense. If they can't get confirmed, he'll put them in on some acting basis. He'll fire the chiefs of staff and get military people from the ranks, we think so.
I mean, if you are really looking at a fundamental crisis, and the idea that one of our two major parties hasn't just said, you know, they don't have to go as far as I go and all this, but they haven't said thank you former President Trump. Thank you, goodbye.
KRISTOL: You know, Richard -- think of Richard Nixon who did less than Trump, much less in terms of his fundamental usurpation of power, in my opinion. I mean, people weren't impolite to Nixon. But no one thought, hey, let's have Richard Nixon come back in 1980 and be the candidate. And that's really what we're looking at.
TAPPER: Yes. I want to ask you about today, the Justice Department told the Treasury Department that it must, must turn over Trump's tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee that the committee requested more than two years ago. Speaker Pelosi said access to the tax returns is a, quote, "matter of national security." How is it a matter of national security?
LEGER: Well, for years, people have been curious to see what are inside of Donald Trump's taxes because there have been lots of conversations about where did he get some of his money from, where did he get some of these loans from? Are there undue influences over him and his family and his business holdings? So you know, being the first president and how many years to never release his taxes, I think it would be really good for the American people to actually see what's in there and where his income is, is coming from.
And I just want to say one thing about the Republican Party, like, they are reaping what they sow. The reason why they are doing all of this is because they are afraid of the base. They are afraid of getting primaried. And they allowed this to fester over years. And so, now they are afraid to stand up to Donald Trump, because they know that if they do, he will come out in support of their primary opponent and that terrifies them.
TAPPER: Well, what's also so self-defeating about this, Sabrina, is like, anyone who thinks that Donald Trump isn't going to ultimately turn on you, any Republican leader. You know, I think again, I'm sorry, I just realized we have to go.
Francesca, Sabrina, Bill, and Daniella, thank you so much for being here. I have a great weekend.
They did the right thing and now they're angry. The vaccinated Americans frustrated that the joy felt just weeks ago now seems to be slipping away. Stay with us.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [17:32:23]
TAPPER: In our health lead today in New York City, Broadway theater owners and operators announced a new vaccine requirement for audiences and casts and staff. In Washington, D.C., the mayor announced that as of tomorrow, a new indoor mask mandate is going to effect for everyone, everyone older than two. As stricter rules and mandates return, the frustration is building especially among those who did their part and got vaccinated.
CNN's Dan Simon reports from Los Angeles where similar rules in place for a few weeks now have some feeling punished for the inaction of others.
MICHAEL BURN, EDUCATIONAL SHOW HOST: The stakes of this seems so different to different people.
DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 36-year-old Michael Burns is angry, not because he contracted COVID but how and why he got it.
BURNS: But before we get into it, we --
SIMON (voice-over): The Los Angeles YouTube post lives in a state with one of the highest vaccination rates in the country. At least 75 percent of Californians have had a single dose. But like much of the country, health officials say vaccine holdouts are causing a spike here with the highly transmissible Delta variant. And that has led to widespread frustration among those who have gotten their shots.
BURNS: You know, there are people who have been flaunting not being vaccinated or not wanting to be vaccinated in both Los Angeles and Southern California more generally, and it's extremely frustrating.
SIMON (voice-over): Michael says he'd been cautious during the whole pandemic. In April, he got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But two weeks ago, he had at least three friends came down with the virus after attending a crowded maskless concert which became a super spreader event.
(on-camera): You were thinking, I got vaccinated, I can go everywhere without a mask, things are fine.
BURNS: It was kind of our first big, you know, social outing since we'd all been vaccinated. First concert, you know, any of us had been to in a year and a half. And definitely the point where I think we were all feeling like things were getting slightly more safe and normal.
SIMON (voice-over): A few days later, he came down with minor symptoms. First, testing negative, then the symptoms worsened and got tested again with the positive result. He's now recovered.
GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): California is open again. SIMON (voice-over): Last month with the confetti flying, California Governor Gavin Newsom heralded a new day for the state's 39 million population. Six weeks later, the state along with much of the nation, finds itself in a different spot. Last month, California hit a low of around 1,200 hospitalizations. Today, there are nearly 4,000.
And state health officials saved more than 90 percent of California's population are living in an area with substantial or high levels of transmission.
NEWSOM: Right now, over 90 percent of the people who are currently hospitalized with COVID, over 90 percent are unvaccinated. And more than 97 percent of the people dying from COVID are unvaccinated.
As I've said many times before, you'll either get the vaccine or COVID. And I'll tell you which one of those can kill you.
ANN RODARTE, LOS ANGELES COUNTY RESIDENT: There's no joy. I'm not joyous anymore.
SIMON (voice-over): The euphoria felt just weeks ago is evaporating.
RODARTE: I do think it's disappointment because it was a time for people to come together and they're not.
PAULA STEWART, LOS ANGELES COUNTY RESIDENT: Angry and just disappointed and scared, you know, this is not going away.
SIMON (voice-over): The case is causing worrying about school and office reopenings and many of the vaccinated fearing for their children who are too young to get the shot.
BURNS: I feel like there's been enough time for everyone to learn the stakes of the pandemic. And I find it frustrating to see that people aren't thinking of themselves getting vaccinated as something that's responsible to do as a member of a community and to approach health in a community whether just thinking about it as a, you know, and it really selfish terms.
SIMON: And Jake, as we head into the weekend, a number of bars here in Los Angeles and throughout the state will be requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test for entry. Of course, with a Delta variant, it's unclear how effective that mitigation will be but health officials, of course, also saying that the mask is highly effective and mask once again required indoors in L.A. County. Jake?
TAPPER: All right, Dan Simon, thanks so much. Appreciate it.
Coming up, toxic water and a bunch of dead fish now the center of a political battle. That story, next.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [17:40:36]
TAPPER: In our Earth matter series, dead fish piling up in Tampa Bay. The water they're full of red tide, a toxic algae that kills marine life and has gotten noticeably worse more than 600 tons of carcasses washed up on shore. CNN's Nick Valencia finds out how it got so bad.
NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fishing boat Captain Dustin Pack says he's never seen the red tide in Tampa Bay this bad.
DUSTIN PACK, FISHING BOAT CAPTAIN: I hope that it's the worst is behind us in Tampa Bay. Pray that it is, but I'm not holding my breath (ph).
VALENCIA (voice-over): The toxic algae blooms which cause fish kills and can be harmful to humans, happen almost every year in and around Florida's coast. But for the lifelong fishermen, this year is different.
PACK: Typically what happens is red tide happens offshore. With currents and tides or wind direction, it can be blown into the beach. What's different about this one is this started inside a Tampa Bay. We have the worst fish kill red tide we've ever had.
VALENCIA (on-camera): Back in the spring, 215 million gallons of wastewater were released into Tampa Bay from this former phosphate plant to relieve pressure on a leaking reservoir. You can see cleanup is still underway. Environmentalist say the disaster that happened at Piney Point is fueling the red tide that we're seeing in Tampa Bay.
Now, five organizations are suing the governor, the Acting Secretary of Florida's Department of Environmental Protection and the owners of Piney Point. They want the plant cleaned up and closed down safely so disasters of this magnitude never happen again.
(voice-over): But Governor Ron DeSantis claims the science is pointing in a different direction.
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): The scientific consensus is clear, it didn't cause the red tide. The red tide was here.
VALENCIA (voice-over): The Governor saying it was Hurricane Elsa in July and not Piney Point's wastewater which led to this year's historic fish kills. Asked if he might be playing politics by not declaring a state of emergency over the red tide in Tampa Bay, DeSantis was defiant.
DESANTIS: How did I politicize red tide? They were the ones who were saying, you're going to declare a state of emergency and so we asked them, why? Well, they didn't know why.
MAYA BURKE, TAMPA BAY ESTUARY PROGRAM: The data are really clear that this algae bloom that was occurring in Tampa Bay started well before Hurricane Elsa passed by. VALENCIA (voice-over): Maya Burke with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program says, while money made available so far by the governor's office has helped clean up the bay, they need more of it now. She says not only has the water not look this bad since the 1970s before there was a Clean Water Act, but the Governor's timeline for what's causing the red tide is way off.
BURKE: What Hurricane Elsa did was it changed the wind patterns and it put all those, you know, thousands of tons of dead fish right up along the Downtown Waterfront in St. Petersburg and it was an assault to the senses.
VALENCIA (voice-over): Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat who just announced her run for governor, things based on the neuro toxin levels in the water, the red tide and fish kills could be a recurring problem in the bay for months.
NIKKI FRIED, FLORIDA AGRICULTURAL COMMISSIONER: We saw the emergency, we saw the Governor are able to come out there at the very front end of Piney Point. And then he forgot about it and kind of moved on to the next issue. And instead of continuously having resources and support, it got, you know, brushed under the rug.
VALENCIA (voice-over): Back on the water, Pack says some fishermen and guides he knows have had to leave for work elsewhere, while the bay deals with an unprecedented fish kill. Its conservation group, Tampa Bay Waterkeeper, is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
PACK: We keep doing that, you know, and we keep having these year in and year out. I don't know if we're going to have a bay left. You know, we'll have water here. Nobody's going to want to swim in it. And we want to fish in it.
VALENCIA: According to scientific measurements conducted by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, an estimated 40 percent of the wastewater from the Piney Point disaster is still in Tampa Bay. Environmentalists we spoke too say that means ultimately the red tide issue here could get worse before it gets better.
We did reach out to Governor Ron DeSantis to see if he wanted to clarify the comments he made about the cause of this year's unprecedented red tide. His office did not get back to us. Jake?
TAPPER: Nick Valencia in Tampa, thanks so much for that report.
Coming up, Disney calling a lawsuit from one of its top stars, callous. The battle over a blockbuster, next.
TAPPER: It's the "Black Widow" versus The Mouse. Actress Scarlett Johansson is suing Disney accusing the company of breaching her contract by releasing "Black Widow" on its streaming service, at the same time, they release it in theaters. Johansson claims that that breaks her agreement that the company made with her and will hurt her box office haul. Disney responded saying, "Disney has fully complied with Ms. Johansson's contract and furthermore, the release of "Black Widow" on Disney Plus with premiere access has significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20 million she has received to date".
Joining me now, Dominic Patten, Senior Editor for Deadline Hollywood. Dominic, good to see you again. So Disney also blasted the lawsuit saying it's, "especially sad and distressing and it's callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID- 19 pandemic." What do you make of Disney's response here?
DOMINIC PATTEN, SENIOR EDITOR, DEADLINE HOLYWOOD: I think Disney's response is basically the Hollywood equivalent, Jake, of shock and awe. Usually when I cover stories like this when big companies like Disney have a lawsuit, their responses, we do not comment on ongoing litigation, or we have no comment. It's not what Disney did here. They waited a couple of hours, and they came back with a full, I'd say, Praetorian Guard, if not more attack on Scarlett and her lawsuit.
Very, very noticeably not only coming across with her character, comment about her, someone saying the attack is her agent Bryan Lourd at CAA said, but also outing her salary of $20 million. So basically saying, you're cold hearted, and you're incredibly well paid, what's your problem? And that means that this is more than a civil war. This is an all out DEFCON-I war.
TAPPER: If Scarlett Johansson is ultimately successful in this lawsuit, though, how do you think that might change the movie business?
PATTEN: I think it'll change the movie business like it always changes the movie business, which is a very flexible and fluid thing over the years. You and I are old enough to remember when VCRs were going to destroy Hollywood and that didn't happen. But the big thing here is Hollywood is in a massive flux right now. Streaming is where it is at for everyone.
The pandemic sped that up, but it did not bring something new to the table. So what's going to happen here is they're going to have to be new ways of looking at what compensation is. The things where people receiving back-end profit participations, like for instance, what happened with the "Walking Dead" in the $200 million lawsuit at the former showrunner NCAA I just recently against AMC, those kinds of things are going to be over.
This is going to be money on the table. Might in fact, in many ways, it'll be returned even more to what we saw in the 1940s and 50s with the studio system. What is going to happen though is stars and their representatives are going to start looking at a whole new avenues. And streaming the revenue and what is going to be lost at the theaters, that is going to be the sticking point for almost everyone. TAPPER: Dominic, what a legal experts tell you about Scarlett Johansson's odds of beating Disney in court?
PATTEN: Well, honestly, they're not great. Look, she's got some very good lawyers, lawyers of Donald Trump by my dad has used successfully in the past quite often. But the fact of the matter is, she's going up against the giant, against the empire. And they are going to say simply, as their statement already laid out, which was kind of their defense without their own filing of a rebuttal, is we had to do this, circumstances were changing. In so many contracts with people you will find things like act of God type stuff.
I'm not quite sure they're going to use the pandemic like that. But it's going to be very hard for Scarlett to say, yes, you did change the goalposts but you did it in a way that was unfair. They're simply going to say the world's goalpost change, we had to make a move with it.
TAPPER: Interesting. Dominic Patten, thanks so much. Appreciate it as always.
Amid a spike in unruly passengers, flight attendants are training and asking for more serious punishments for those who are abusive in the air. Stay with us.
TAPPER: In our national lead, we've all seen videos of airline passengers getting out of control and violent. It's gotten to the point where the TSA is offering self-defense classes for flight attendants. Now their union reports roughly one in five has encountered an unruly passenger this year and now they want to do more than just get physical.
Joe Johns is here. Joe, they also want to send in the lawyers?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they do, but the question is which lawyers? Now, the FAA, Jake, has levied civil fines but has no authority to bring criminal charges but the U.S. Department of Justice does, of course. Flight attendants say this year could break records for incidents involving unruly passengers.
Flight crews have reported more than 3,600 incidents to the FAA, the country's largest flight attendant union says, of 5,000 members who took its internal survey, 85 percent had dealt with unruly passengers in the first half of the year. 58 percent reported at least five incidents and 17 percent reported a physical interaction. Now between disagreements over COVID and the disputes about wearing masks, plus people drinking too much in airports before boarding planes, the hope is the threat of jail time will have a deterrent effect.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARA NELSON, PRESIDENT, ASSOCIATION OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS: When people are facing jail time for acting out on a plane, we suddenly see some sobering up and we need some sobering up because as our members told us, at least 57 percent of these incidents are alcohol related to. So we believe that the criminal penalties are critical to making it very clear that there are severe consequences for this type of action.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNS: Only 16 people were prosecuted in 2020 and only 14 so far this year. DOJ says it applies discretion on whether to prosecute based on things like the severity of the offense, and whether lives were threatened. Part of the problem also is that airlines sometimes need the help of state and local law enforcement to lock somebody up for behaving badly on a flight. Jake?
TAPPER: All right, Joe Johns, fascinating report. Thanks so much.
Join me this Sunday. We got a great show for you on State of the Union. We're going to talk to Senators Joe Manchin and Susan Collins, Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ohio's Republican Governor Mike DeWine, and the Director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins. That's at 9:00 a.m. and noon Eastern.
And you can follow me until then on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter, on the TikTok at JakeTapper. You can tweet the show at TheLeadCNN. Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer next door in The Situation Room. I will see you Sunday morning.