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The Lead with Jake Tapper

U.S. Citizen Who Escaped Afghanistan Shares His Story; COVID Deaths In U.S. Now Average 1,000 Plus Every Day. Jan. 6 Panel Wants White House Records For Trump, His Top Aides & Family; Any Communication With Extremists; Former Football Star And Trump Supporter Herschel Walker Launches Georgia Senate Campaign; N.Y. State Revises State COVID Deaths Upward By Nearly 12K People; Hospitals Face Nurse Staffing Crisis As COVID Cases Surge. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 25, 2021 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Our CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports. Questions remain about what happens after the Biden's deadline passes in just six days.



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With a deadline looming Secretary of State Anthony Blinken says there are hundreds of Americans still in Afghanistan.

BLINKEN: Our first priority is the evacuation of American citizens.

COLLINS (voice-over): The U.S. has evacuated 4,500 US citizens so far and 500 in the last day alone. Out of the 6,000 Americans there 10 days ago, he says roughly 1,500 remain.

BLINKEN: We've been in direct contact with approximately 500 additional Americans and provided specific instructions on how to get to the airport safely.

COLLINS (voice-over): The top U.S. diplomat cautioning that some may have left some may not actually be U.S. citizens and some may want to stay.

BLINKEN: We believe the number of Americans actively seeking assistance to leave Afghanistan is lower, likely significantly lower.

COLLINS (voice-over): President Biden has promised to bring home every single American who wants to leave by next week. As Secretary Blinken offers this warning about threats on the ground.

BLINKEN: We're operating in a hostile environment in a city and country now controlled by the Taliban with the very real possibility of an ISIS-K attack.

COLLINS (voice-over): In the last 24 hours, the U.S. and its allies have evacuated approximately 19,000 people.

While the U.S. has until the 31st to leave Kabul, officials say evacuations will end before that so the military has time to pack up and leave. After the 31st, what happens to the airport is up to the Taliban.

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: That won't be an American responsibility.

COLLINS (voice-over): Tens of 1000s of Afghan allies who worked for the U.S. are still waiting to be evacuated.

BLINKEN: We're also committed to getting out as many Afghans at risk as we can before the 31st.

COLLINS (voice-over): As the Pentagon drafts contingency plans to keep troops on the ground if needed, top aides are acknowledging they were caught off guard after two Democratic lawmakers secretly visited Kabul.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They took time away from the mission.

KIRBY: They certainly took time away from what we had been planning to do that day.

COLLINS (voice-over): Seth Moulton and Peter Meijer, who both served in the Middle East have accused the Biden administration of dragging its feet on evacuations. Now top Democrats are blasting their decision.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: So this this is deadly serious. They do not want members to go.


COLLINS: And, Jake, we should note that those numbers that we heard from the Secretary of State earlier today do not include legal permanent residents or green card holders. Those are the numbers for U.S. citizens that they were talking about, about who is still left and who has gotten out so far. We don't have a specific number on what that includes with those figures.

Now, of course, Jake, remember earlier this week, we heard President Biden say he had asked the Pentagon in the State Department for contingency plans if they did not stand by this 31st of August withdrawal. He has now been briefed on those plans. But we are told they are still sticking with this current timeline.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much.

The Pentagon reports about 19,000 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan in just the past 24 hours. But as we've reported, questions remain about who is getting out how many Americans still need to be evacuated, how many legal permanent residents, how many Special Immigrant Visa recipients. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is monitoring the situation. (BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): It was the day that felt like the beginning of the end. U.S. troops and Australian, Italians, Canadians and Turkish had started leaving. In the morning 1000 evacuees on the base, but by afternoon 10, so the Pentagon, the pace of departure was apparently a little slower in the morning. But a stunning 19,000 taken off in the last 24 hour period capping a remarkable three days.

A source said SIV applicants were struggling to get in under the walls these appalling scenes showed the impossible task of picking one from the crowd. Outside the airport, Taliban blocked some, beating this man. So it is a horrific gauntlet through the Taliban then on to the gates and walls and then on to an airfield where the task is soon to rapidly turn from evacuation to withdrawal.

Some of the last troops to leave America's longest war in circumstances the president said were, quote, "inevitable," yet must surely have been a little at least avoidable.


WALSH: Now, listening to a source familiar with the situation, it is very tough for those trying to execute this operation. They talk about the conditions for soldier, staff as they're essentially being the same as it is for some of the evacuees, shortage of food hot temperatures and also the frustration to of getting requests from on high to essentially say can you please go to the gates to get somebody without really realizing it's one of the most fortified zones in Kabul at the moment. Someone says they treat it like it's just a quick walk into the back yard.


So we're now not talking essentially about this closing figure it seems of how many evacuees they will bring on in the day or two possibly ahead until we start to see the actual withdrawal of U.S. troops there that is already underway. It may be a lot faster than we think this 1000 U.S. citizens who are sort of thought to still be maybe needing some kind of assistance.

I got the feeling Secretary Blinken was really playing down how big that number might actually be. We'll have to see essentially at some point, it's going to be clear the evacuations are done. The panic is already building slightly around the airport. We just have to see when we get the first signal that it's switched from evacuation to withdrawal. Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Nick Paton Walsh in Doha, Qatar, thank you so much.

Chaotic scenes outside the Kabul airport have made it virtually impossible for Afghans to make it onto airport grounds. Even with the proper Special Immigrant Visa paperwork.

What most Afghans really need is a connection inside the wire, someone in the airport to help. One group of veterans and volunteers is working around the clock to make those connections. It's being called a digital Dunkirk. That's a nod to the World War II evacuation efforts that commissioned civilian boats to save allied troops stuck in France.

CNN's Kylie Atwood joins us now.

Kylie, tell us more about these digital Dunkirk efforts and how it's working.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so this is an ad hoc coalition outside of the U.S. government effort to try and get these Afghans to safety and, most importantly, to try and get them inside the gates at the airport so that they can get out of the country.

Now, one family that we spoke with who for whom this has been a successful effort, talked about the mother going to the airport about a dozen times and not being able to get in. She has two small children. Her husband, an Afghan, who now has American citizenship after he worked with the U.S. in Afghanistan for years, was able to get a photo of their daughter dressed in yellow to some of the Marines on the inside at the airport. They then were able to look at that picture and tell her to come to the gates during the night.

The Marines used a flashlight, she held up her small child, they were able to locate that small child and get them into the airport and get them on the plane. That is an example of how this ad hoc coalition outside of the U.S. government made up with many veterans who have personal connections to Afghanistan is working.

And when I spoke with a lot of the people involved in this, they say the fact that this is even an effort that is ongoing right now demonstrates just what a logistical failure this has been on behalf of the U.S. government.

Now, we know the State Department has been working around the clock, but their point is that they should have done more to get out a lot of these Afghans and to get them safely to the airport so they don't face the dangers posed by the Taliban on the way. Now we should note that the State Department told us that they don't endorse any third parties claiming to provide any access to the airport in Kabul. Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Kylie Atwood at the State Department, thanks so much.

Coming up next, I'll speak to an American citizen who fought through a mob to get a plane out of Afghanistan this week. But what about some of his extended family members left behind?

Plus, not one and done. New data on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and a possible booster shots. Stay with us.


[17:12:47] TAPPER: And we are back with our world lead. Just six days remain until President Biden's final deadline to end the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

For Afghans who want to escape, time is running out. The Pentagon says it's flying an evacuation flight every 39 minutes out of the airport in Kabul. My next guest was lucky enough to get himself, his wife, and his two daughters onto one of those flights.

Joining us now is Haroon Zarify. He is an American citizen who worked with the U.S. military. He arrived back in the U.S. yesterday morning, though other members of his extended family remain trapped in Afghanistan trying to get out.

Haroon, we're so glad that you got out with your wife and two girls. You were visiting Afghanistan to take care of your father who was ill. You found out your flight home to the states had been canceled. You woke up and essentially heard the U.S. was gone. What went through your mind?

HAROON ZARIFY, U.S. CITIZEN WITH FAMILY IN AFGHANISTAN: As you mentioned, sir, thank you, everyone who helped me.

I went on Afghanistan in June. The reason I went there to take care of my dad that he was sick, though I took him to India to go low while I came back. And I had no idea when I got to move. When -- what's going to happen about the Taliban.

I was planning to move back in August 28. You know, everyone heard like what happened and woke up in the morning and under 15 the Taliban took over everything and the flight got canceled. The airport shut -- got shut down. So, we stuck there.

And all my family -- I went through a lot of stuff to get myself to the airport. I have to go on the crowd like other people behind that wall. They all want to scape Afghanistan. They want to get themselves out anywhere. But it's impossible for the people as gate (ph) with them, like two years old and four years old, even the ladies with that many people behind those gates, and they're trying to get in. It was really tough.

TAPPER: What was it like in the streets of Kabul after the Taliban took over? How were the Taliban behaving?


ZARIFY: The Taliban took over. We heard that they're coming the night before. I mean, like the night, but in the morning they got in. So, when we woke up like we saw people were like, the first day I mean, the Taliban got in.

Some people probably start stealing people's cars and hitting people on the street. Like right across my building where we leave, I saw like a guy with a motorcycle was rioting (ph) two police officer and a guy with our motorcycle came and shot one of them and took their guns and run away. It was kind of like a monster, there was like kind of a zombie land that morning. It was crazy. And everyone was afraid and scared. Everyone was trying to get themselves to the airport, which there was no flights. It was a mess.

TAPPER: Let's take a look at some video you took of the crowd outside Hamid Karzai International Airport. Your first two attempts to get inside the airport failed. You were injured, your daughter was almost killed by a flash bomb. Thankfully, she wasn't.

You were then able to reach Republican Arkansas, Senator Tom Cotton's office. How was Senator Cotton and his team? How were they able to help you get in?

ZARIFY: After I interview with the other T.V., so I think he heard my voice. And he knew that I got hurt that day on the airport when I was trying to get in with that many people. Like there was more than 250,000 (ph) people right there. I took my kids there in my first shot I was trying to get in.

So, I mean they were throwing -- I mean, they were doing -- shooting stuff like blindly shooting right in front of the kid base. And they were throwing bombs. I mean, like, it was flash bombs. So, it could hurt. It really hurt.

I mean, you touch your body, which of course it knows (ph) someone's body because it was 1000s, I mean, stuck to each other. So, how you going to choose stuff like that. But they were doing it, they did a lot of stuff. You go into a lot of stuff, they're still doing it.

And even my family right now, I mean, they're behind those walls. They were with me that day as well.

So, my daughter, Ava (ph), my older one, she was in my brother's arms. So when they draw the flash bomb, and he hit it with his hand but still. And right next to her there was another lady, it touched her leg and I saw her she was down and was bleeding from there. And my daughter's going on the other hand of her hair and on the left, because it was too close to her and the hash was all in her face. And she was so scared like I was not able to hear something, it stock for a couple minutes.

It was crazy. It was tough. But after that I did not go in that crowd anymore and not put my child's life in danger like that.


ZARIFY: So, I get the interview with a T.V. and Mr. Cotton's office, they contacted me from -- through those guys and they helped me to get out. They tried like a few times, eventually, they helped me to get out of there.

TAPPER: Yes, I know some people in Tom Cotton's office who've worked really hard to rescue people like you.

Your parents and your brother and your sister and your wife's parents, they're still trying to get out. Your brother shot this video today near the Kabul airport.

You know, they might be targeted by the Taliban. Your parents have the proper papers and requirements. Why can't they get through? Is the process really that flawed?

ZARIFY: The process that they got hurt (ph) my brother, he just told me this morning and I saw on NBC side news too, like the only taking people in. They have a green card, visa and citizenship of United States. So, there -- they don't kind of ignoring the other people for now.

But my brother, he gave me a history of the day like he was back there and for some reason, a guy that he said like we didn't see who was it, they short three people on that. They just said you can see the water (ph). They short three people, they just right away they were down there. So they died.

And everyone was kind of running away. And they have no idea who did it. It was from American side or it was from other forces side, it is what he says. So like it was maybe someone else's. They just shot people and run away.

So, in that case, as you mentioned, it's really dangerous and it's really risky. And my brother, he felt like it's been two days he's behind those walls. He has all those documents that I have right now and the copies in my hand. And my dad's picture with the guy he used to work and they provide him all the documents and stuff.


ZARIFY: And there was like nine or 10 pages of all the requirements for SIV, Special Immigration Visa. All the documents are ready and they're all legit. Like people from here recently they gave him - who knows my dad for American citizens who works with them. They provide them recommendation letters, all the stuff.

It's just an example my dad and my father-in-law, all the paperwork with me, all the requirements which I passed this process, I can do Special Immigration Visa.


TAPPER: All right, Haroon --

ZARIFY: But there is the --

TAPPER: Go ahead.

ZARIFY: Yes. And back there when they go through these documents, Americans are ignoring it because they're provide -- I mean they give priority for the systems now, which they should done that earlier the past days so they didn't and they were taking everyone. Now they're doing that thing.

So like -- now what about the people has the SIV cases? People are -- their lives in danger now like my dad, my father-in-law and 1000 other SIV holders. So like, what's going to happen to them? In six days I'm pretty sure they're not going to be able to evacuate all those people.

Do they have any plans for that? If not, I'm calling on everyone from here. Please help these people that help you for -- my dad, he works like for 10 years, he provides security outside the compound that makes -- that help American to complete their mission and sleep, relax inside and focus on their mission.

So, this is what they're going to deserve being on that crowd and get killed or after you guys leave someone there and kill them in their house or take away from their child or their ladies? This is what you want him to go through after serving you guys for these many years?

TAPPER: Haroon Zarify, stay in touch. I know lots of American soldiers and veterans and others who are working hard to get Special Immigrant Visa applicants and accept these out. So, stay in touch and let me see what we can do to get those -- that documentation into the right hands so that they can get into the airport.

Coming up, the search to find out how coronavirus started. Why some experts worry time is running out to figure it out. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Tonight in our health lead for the first time in eight months, the U.S. is averaging 150,000 daily COVID cases. Today, hospitalizations reached 100,000 in the U.S. That number has tripled in just one month.

And sadly on average, the U.S. is losing about 1000 people every day to COVID again. That number has not been that high since the spring.

I want to bring in CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay, really depressing and troubling trends. What stands out to you when you hear these new numbers all going in the wrong direction?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: First that jumps out to me, it didn't have to be this way, Jake. Maybe that's a broader conversation. But so much of what I'm about to tell you is preventable.

Take a look at the map. We know we are basically a wash in virus right now. Most of the country, 97 percent of the country is now in high transmission. Few areas, very few one to 2 percent, low moderate transition.

But the numbers, Jake, that you just mentioned, let me give you a little context here in terms of where we were at our peak and how high these numbers are compared to that, cases, 60 percent of all time peaks, hospitalizations at higher, 71 percent. That's concerning. Hospitals are really getting filled up and deaths in large part because of the vaccines still too high but 32 percent. Vaccines have made a dent there, but we know most of the people in the hospitals, most people who are dying, obviously, Jake, are the unvaccinated. So that's a real issue. Hospitals are becoming full. I can tell you the hospital I work in goes on diversion, meaning it's not just COVID patients I can't care for but other patients as well. They're just filling the up, Jake.

TAPPER: Another striking trend is the number of COVID cases among children, which is now at more than 180,000 in the past week, up fourfold in a month. The doctor in Alabama describes to CNN what he's seeing in this hospital.


DR. DAVID KIMBERLIN, PROFESSOR OF PEDIATRIC INFECTIOUS DISEASES, UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA AT BIRMINGHAM: We're seeing many more children admitted who are very sick from this than we've seen at any point prior in the pandemic. We're seeing a broader age range as well. We've had one week olds admitted with symptomatic COVID. We've had 18 and 19 year olds admitted with symptomatic COVID. This unfortunately is highly likely to get much worse before it gets better.


TAPPER: Now, we should make clear, kids that are infected does not mean that they are getting deathly ill or dying, but some of them are. And to what do you attribute the rise in these pediatric cases? And how soon can we get this vaccine for kids under 12 years old?

GUPTA: Well, I think it's the reason kids are getting more infected, it's a very transmissible virus. I mean, people are either going to be vaccinated at some point or they're going to encounter this virus and likely get infected. It's that transmissible, Jake. It's hard to describe that.

Obviously, kids under the age of 12 don't have the option of getting vaccinated. Pfizer says they're going to have data for five to 11 year olds in September, younger kid shortly thereafter, but we'll see what the FDA does with that. Remember, in the past, they've said, we need to add more kids to the study, we need to look for other potential side effects like myocarditis, that was a concern for kids. So we'll see.

You know, everyone's guessing at this point. But maybe by the end of the year, maybe sooner, it could even be in the 2022 we've heard from a couple of experts. But I think the FDA has made it very clear that they're trying to go as quickly as they can on this.

One thing as well to point out, Jake, we talked about hospitalizations and deaths, the long term consequences on someone being infected with COVID even kids, we still don't know that. Point being that we got to do everything to keep kids safe, not just say, hey, look, they don't get as sick. We're not sure what the long term effects of this virus are.

TAPPER: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you so much as always.

Former football star, Herschel Walker is now running for the U.S. Senate at Donald Trump's urging. But not all Republicans are exactly doing a touchdown dance. We'll discuss next.


TAPPER: In our politics lead today, the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, sent out a request for an enormous number of documents. CNN Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider has been going through the list. Jessica, the huge request includes records from Donald Trump's presidency and records pertaining to his grown children, Jared Kushner and top White House aides?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake. This is a very wide-ranging list of demands. It targets eight different agencies including the DOJ, the FBI and the National Archives. And the archives here could be key since it has custody of all the presidential records from Trump's time in office. So this committee wants records relating to January 6th and the 2020 election. Now that includes communications not only from top White House officials at the time like Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, but also as you mentioned, Trump's family members.


Lawmakers want the call logs and schedules from January 6th from Melania Trump, as well as the former president's three oldest children there, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who of course was special adviser. So the committee is also demanding specifics from what unfolded inside the White House that day, January 6th. They want all of the White House visitor logs, the records of the movements of the former president, and communications from the Situation Room that day, plus any information pertaining to Trump's mental health. And any efforts to use the insurrection act to stop the transfer of power to now President Joe Biden.

So the committee wants all of this, plus any details on discussions that occurred between Cabinet officials ranging from Election Day 2020, through the inauguration, about possibly invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. So Jake, the committee is asking for a lot of documents from the archives. This could be subject to executive privilege, and the committee is asking for all of it within the next two weeks by September 9th. Jake?

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

Let's discuss. Olivier, I mean, I'd love to see those documents, too. I don't know anybody who wouldn't --


TAPPER: -- but what's the likelihood that they'll get any of them?

KNOX: Well, I don't know how the executive privilege claim would hold up in court. We've already seen this administration declined to defend the previous administrations records. But it is really stunning to see how far up the chain they're gone, and it's fairly clear that they're looking for any signs of coordination. Well, hidden coordination, because we had months and months and months of the president publicly, casting doubt on the election. And then on January 6th, of course, sending them down to the Capitol, to try to convince Mike Pence to overturn the election.

But this is all the secret coordination stuff. That's I think really interesting to see. The scope of the officials and relatives involved is, I think, unprecedented.

TAPPER: And what do you make of this 25th Amendment information that they're looking for? Anybody talking about invoking the 25th amendment between November 3rd and January 20th, anybody talking about forcibly trying to remove the president from office?

RAMESH PONNURU, SENIOR EDITOR, "NATIONAL REVIEW": I think that you're going to hear a lot of Republican critics of this commission say this is a sign that that's a fishing expedition. But what it really underscores is how broad the congressional subpoena power is. One other interesting thing here is the focus on official documents. This was a White House that I think operated less formally than a lot of White House has had.


PONNURU: And I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of the information they really want is going to be contained in personal records, personal cell phones and texts that have not yet been subpoenaed.

TAPPER: And also probably just phone calls, I would think, I mean, although they are going to the National Archives, which is legally has the custody of all the president's records, from his time in office. And I -- this reminds me of that time that there was somebody in the White House, whose job it was, was to go into Donald Trump's wastebasket after he would rip up documents and tape it back up for the National Archives.

BRITTANY SHEPHERD, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, YAHOO! NEWS: Yes, Jake, it's going to be really interesting to see what if anything, the Biden White House can get or the Congress can get. And if the Biden White House says, actually, no, we really don't want you to get any of that kind of information. And --

TAPPER: Are you talking about the Biden White House or the Trump White House? Because the Biden White House, obviously, there's an idea of what they want to set that price (ph)?

SHEPHERD: Well, that's kind of what I'm saying.


SHEPHERD: I'm saying, are they going to allow that President to come in because in the -- not nonzero chance that Democrats lose the House and/or the Senate and Republicans go, oh, well, we want an investigation on this, that, and the other and Biden that kind of puts them their back against the wall. And they certainly have folks who are fighting, certainly not ripping up his documents and throwing them into the trash. So there's a lot more of a paper trail in the Biden White House. So they have to be really cognizant of what they do from here forward (ph).

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: But I think, if it actually shows something, that goes to how active anyone in the White House was, whether that was his kids, whether that was his chief of staff, anyone around Trump and/or Trump himself, because they were so willy-nilly and not careful. I do think they might be selective like they have before and perhaps not wanting to protect that executive privilege, because of how dangerous everything surrounding the January 6th insurrection was. And that, I think, holds it apart from any other incidents of wanting to protect the executive privilege. So we're going to have to see exactly what's in those documents. That's what I'm interested in.

SHEPHERD: Well, and speaking of danger, we had three Capitol police officers die by suicide. I think a big question that we haven't addressed is how much did the Trump White House and the Capitol Police know about who on Parler was going to come to D.C. and present threat soon? We're seeing new evidence come out. I think it was early this morning, 5:00 a.m., 6:00 a.m.

That there was definitely --

CARDONA: And not seriously for them.

SHEPHERD: Correct, that's correct. And I think that's going to be another big question hopefully answered by getting these documents in the next two, three weeks.

CARDONA: But on the phone calls, let's remember that McCarthy called him, right?



CARDONA: During it. So clearly he knew that Trump knew something.

TAPPER: Well --

CARDONA: What was that?

TAPPER: He wanted Trump to call the people off, right?


CARDONA: Well, right but why did he think he had that power? I mean, is there something else there that we don't know, right? Obvious -- then more than the obvious about his public, you know, calling for people going down the path.

TAPPER: Now meanwhile, his -- Trump's hold on the party, in many ways, is still very strong. You see this in Georgia, which former football star Herschel Walker announcing he's going to run for the Senate as a Republican, challenging Raphael Warnock, the incumbent Senator and Reverend. And Trump's been very vocal about pushing him. You know, Trump, of course, was a big USFL booster for those of us old enough to remember the USFL. This will help Walker, I assume, when it comes to winning the primary.

PONNURU: The primary yes, maybe not the general election. But there's something else about Trump that I think really helps Herschel Walker, which is if you look at the kind of opposition he's drawing from Republicans, it all takes the character of this guy can't win. There are too many things that are going to drag him down. And he's going to help the Democrats win that office.

And a lot of Republican voters were inoculated against that kind of criticism, by the fact that everybody said it about Donald Trump in 2015 and 2016 and he went on to win anyway. Doesn't mean it's wrong now.

TAPPER: Right.

PONNURU: Doesn't mean he can win. But it does mean that they've got to branch out beyond that line of attack if they want to take him down.

TAPPER: And you're including, of course, members of the Trump campaign who thought that in 2016.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, that's right.

TAPPER: Conservative Radio Host, Erick Erickson, who lives in Georgia, he tweeted, "On Herschel Walker, I don't know a single significant GOP operative who thinks Walker will lose the primary. I don't know a single significant GOP operative who thinks Walker will win the general. There's a lot of frustration out there".

KNOX: Yes, there is and it goes to some Ramesh was saying, which is that this has been a push pull between Donald Trump and prominent Republicans in D.C. and Mitch McConnell was known not to be especially fond to the idea of Herschel Walker running. I've heard from a few GOP consultants, when some of the news about some of the items in Walkers past have come out and say, see, this is exactly what we mean, that he's going to get -- this is going to be hung around his neck, it's going to be hard for him to win in the general.

So -- but when I related it back to Ramesh, it is the case that he benefits from a lot of these attacks. Absolutely. And in a razor thin race like the one that's coming up, I think all bets are off.

TAPPER: What do you think?

SHEPHERD: Well, there's only two points to gain and lose. I think that it's important to look at where early polling is and we know how reliable early poll can be.

TAPPER: Right.

SHEPHERD: He has Walker like doing pretty well against Warnock, but we still talk about what's happening in Georgia. And one of the reasons that maybe Democrats saw a boost during the special was that Trump essentially doing an all-out civil war on his own party saying --

TAPPER: Right.

SHEPHERD: -- like everyone else jumped ship, it's my way or the highway. But if you look at the actual crucial counties for these swing districts, they're not just in Atlanta, they're in the south too. Even the ones that went LaFleur (ph) moved more Democrat from November to the special than I think people think. So, of course, it's like two points, but I think that the GOP has a lot to sell to African Americans in this time.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, thank you so much. Sorry, the next time (INAUDIBLE).

New York's Governor -- New York's new Governor say is promising transparency. She's apparently delivering what did she just reveal about COVID in the state under her predecessor, Mr. Cuomo. That's next.



TAPPER: Topping our national lead, the state of New York is now clarifying today that nearly 12,000 additional people had been omitted from their state's official COVID death toll. Newly sworn in Governor of New York Kathy Hochul promising today the, quote, transparency will be the hallmark of my administration. The revised death toll aligns with the numbers that the CDC has, the CDC had clashed until now with former Governor Cuomo's widely criticized calculations which seemed to undercount the number of COVID deaths in nursing homes.

CNN's Brynn Gingras joins me live. And Brynn just to remind our audience, why did this discrepancy omitting these nursing home deaths exist in the first place?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, that's a question. I think there's a lot of families who have lost loved ones are still asking to this day and still wanting answers to and I'll get to that in just a minute. But first, let me go through those numbers. The Hochul administration is releasing the state's COVID death total, like you said Jake, consistent with death certificate submitted to the CDC. So that means anyone in New York, anywhere in the state who died of COVID or may have died of COVID are counted in this tally. Hochul said in an interview, there are presumed and confirmed deaths people should know both.

Now, up until his very last day in office, earlier this week, Cuomo's administration was releasing death totals from the state's internal system, which tracks the deaths of people who were confirmed COVID positive and died in the nursing home hospital or adult care facility. So that's how Hochul's administration is getting that extra 20 -- or 12,000 deaths.

Of course, the undercounting, like you pointed out is a criticism that plagued to the Cuomo administration, which has been accused of reporting that conservative number of deaths in the state to keep the number low comparative to the rest of the country. The discrepancy in numbers also, of course, goes back to that March 25th, 2020 directive when Cuomo issued an order telling nursing homes they couldn't deny admission of COVID positive or presumed patients. You revised it weeks later, but the argument of course is that contributed to spreading the virus among the state's most vulnerable.

And this is a new trigger, this number as you can imagine, for many New Yorkers, Jake. Even today as Cuomo is no longer in office and Hochul is promising transparency. In addition to that transparency, I'm told, by at least one family, they want accountability for what they see as a massive failure by the Cuomo administration, including the state health department, which of course is still under Hochul at this point.


So, even as Hochul is, just a few days in office, this is an issue that she now inherits from the Cuomo administration. So we'll have to see how she answers those family's questions. But, of course, it is good to get those updated numbers finally, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, some honesty and transparency from the empire state, interesting. Brynn Gingras, thanks so much. Appreciate it.


TAPPER: Coming up, a critical shortage. Nurses quitting after being pushed to the breaking point amid a crush of COVID patients.


NICHOLE ATHERTON, NURSE, SINGING RIVER OCEAN SPRINGS: You have to decide which room you run to.




TAPPER: And we're back with our health lead. More than 100,000 people are currently hospitalized with COVID in the United States, nearly tripling in the last month. We're also learning that more than three quarters of ICU beds are currently in use. But it's not just beds in short supply right now, nursing shortages are frustrating hospitals across the country. As CNN's Erica Hill reports for us now, many nurses are overworked and feel burned out as the pandemic strains them as never before.


ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Ocean Springs, Mississippi, the ICU is full

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, two bring in and another top (INAUDIBLE). HILL (voice-over): Every patient here battling COVID, every one of them on the ventilator. 15 miles east, it's the same story. The nursing staff at a breaking point.

ATHERTON: I come in here and it's war. It's sometimes chaos.

HILL (voice-over): Just 38 percent of Mississippi's population is fully vaccinated. Along the Gulf Coast, it's even worse, hovering around 30 percent, pushing new cases and hospitalizations higher. Officials warned there aren't enough beds. But on the front lines, the focus isn't space, it's staff.

LEE BOND, CEO, SINGING RIVER HEALTH SYSTEM: There's not a bad shortage. There's a nursing shortage.

ATHERTON: We have had situations in here with COVID, with people this critical where two people start to go bad at once. And you have to decide which room you run to. That's a hard decision to make.

HILL (voice-over): The stress of those decisions of the growing number of young COVID patients and preventable death brought Nicole to a breaking point earlier this month.

(on-camera): You made the decision to resign. Why?

ATHERTON: Sometimes it feels like we're fighting a losing battle.

HILL (voice-over): Yet a week after that conversation, Nicole was still in the ICU.

ATHERTON: I realized as I was saying goodbye to these nurses here that I couldn't leave them in the middle of this.

HILL (voice-over): Nicole is cutting back her hours. For now, her resignation is on hold.

BUDDY GRAGER, NURSING MANAGER FOR PERSONAL CARE, SINGING RIVER OCEAN SPRINGS HOSPITAL: That's where a nurse's heart comes in, you know. You don't want to see your co-worker suffering as much as you don't want to see a patient suffer.

HILL (voice-over): While it helps, one nurse choosing to stay isn't enough. Mississippi has at least 2,000 fewer nurses than it did at the beginning of the year.

ATHERTON: It looks heroic and it looks -- but that's not what it is. It's sweaty, and hard and chaotic and bloody.

MELISSA DAVIS, NURSE, SINGING RIVER PASCAGOULA: I didn't even know really what burnout meant as a nurse until I hit COVID.

HILL (voice-over): Melissa Davis has worked in the ICU for 17 years. It's never been this bad.

DAVIS: I've seen a turnover nurses I never would have thought would have turned over because I they take anymore. HILL (on-camera): Do you feel that you're close to a breaking point?

GRAGER: I think we're already broke.

HILL (voice-over): Burnout, stress, gruelling hours. There are multiple reasons career nurses are choosing to leave.

DR. RANDY ROTH, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, SINGING RIVER HEALTH SYSTEM: We've been seeing it probably hit a peak recently. We have over 120 nursing vacancies open right now.

HILL (voice-over): When they do, that experience is also lost.

DR. SYED ABDULLAH WAHEED, SINGING RIVER OCEAN SPRINGS: It takes years of training to get to the point where you can actually take care of a COVID patient. This is nothing like we've seen before.

HILL (voice-over): The head of Singing River Hospital System is now urging the state to use some of its $1.8 billion in COVID relief funding for retention bonuses.

BOND: We need to give them an incentive to want to stay and continue to be a nurse.

ROTH: I think every little bit helps. Do I think it's going to fix the problem. A lot of nurses have told me it's not about the money at this point. It's about I need to recharge my battery.

HILL (voice-over): Yet with fewer staff and a surge in patients, that chance to recharge increasingly difficult to find.

DAVIS: It's hard to see a 34-year-old, the family not make it. You can't describe that.

ATHERTON: To have friends, colleagues who understand that, it's the only way we're all getting through this, is because we have each other.


HILL: Jake, on Tuesday, Governor Reeves announced that more than 1,000 healthcare personnel would be coming to Mississippi to help Singing River, tells me the state has committed 59 nurses, 18 respiratory therapists to its three hospitals. They'll be on 60-day contracts. And the hope is that the first could be into arrive as soon as Friday.

TAPPER: Erica Hill, thanks so much for that important report.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the TikTok at JakeTapper. You can tweet the show at TheLeadCNN. Our coverage continues with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM". I'll see you tomorrow.