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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Biden Wraps Meeting With Dems, Says "We're Going to Get This Done"; Nearly 4k Federal Workers Furloughed After Congress Failed To Extend Highway Funding; Judge Hears Biden Admin Challenge To Texas Six-Week Abortion Ban; New Poll Shows Lowest Approval Rating For Supreme Court In Decades; New Bodycam Video Shows Distraught Petito Describing Dispute With Fiancee Two Weeks Before She Disappeared; California Will Require COVID-19 Vaccine For Students; NYC Not Expecting Teacher Shortage From Vaccine Mandate; Merck Touts New Anti- Viral Pill To Treat COVID-19; "Europe's Last Dictator" Says He Has "Nothing To Apologize For"; Mick Jagger Swings By North Carolina Bar Unnoticed. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired October 01, 2021 - 17:00   ET



LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And no one's really been willing to budge. So the President coming today speaking for just about a half an hour up here on Capitol Hill, and he did offer to take questions. But I'm told that members in the room sort of deflected, got up and gave him a big applause. And some members encouraged him not to take questions in kind of a joking manner, because of how long things could go.

But, you know, this was the President trying to bring folks together. I'm told that the mood was positive, that people were feeling optimistic, but he definitely tried to lay out a few parameters around exactly what members should be expecting, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Lauren Fox.

Jeremy, at the White House, what do you know about the White House calculations for sending President Biden to the Hill today? I mean, it seems like a risky thing unless a deal is imminent, but he came out and it does not sound like a deal is imminent.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And certainly a big part of the calculation in terms of what they were hoping to accomplish is what Lauren is reporting there in terms of the President laying out the stakes for a caucus that is very divided at the moment, trillions of dollars apart in facts. And to kind of paint a bigger picture for these members as they delve deeper into these negotiations. But certainly, the timing is no mistake.

Over the course of the last week, we have been hearing that there were discussions about the possibility of President Biden heading to Capitol Hill. And today, that decision was made for the President to go now. Why now? Listen, over the last 24 hours, the White House has been a central part of building up a lot of that pressure around the potential for that infrastructure vote last night. When that vote was delayed by the Speaker of the House, you know, the White House officials and others on Capitol Hill said that it did seem to help perhaps crystallize things for the different parties involved in negotiating this deal.

And so now, it appears that with the President's message here, talking about the fact that whether it is six minutes, six days or six weeks, that something is going to get done appears to be an effort to kind of relieve -- release that pressure valve a little bit, and to allow some space now for those negotiations to happen in more detailed fashion. But certainly, the -- I asked a Press Secretary Jen Psaki earlier today about why the President was doing this now. And ultimately, it comes down to the fact that this is crunch time, and that they feel that this was the point where the President could perhaps have the most impact on all of these members as they continue with these negotiations.

TAPPER: So Lauren, as those who have been following the story know, the reason the bipartisan infrastructure bill is in trouble is because Progressives are using it as leverage to make sure that Democrats, more Moderate and Conservative Democrats, go along with this larger social safety net spending program. You can't have that if -- you can't have infrastructure if you don't vote for that, they're saying. So the infrastructure vote, it's supposed to be today -- it was actually supposed to be Monday -- but it's supposed to be today. Now, what's Pelosi going to do?

FOX: Well, I think that's the question coming out of the meeting. And, you know, some folks that I've been talking to, members coming out of this said that they are still a little unsure about exactly what the plan forward is at this moment. You know, if you ask Progressives, they're still feeling very confident that a vote will not happen today. But I think that there was still a little bit of confusion about what the next steps are.

And again, Jeremy made a good point, that this was a little bit about releasing the pressure from this Democratic Caucus, which had a deadline of Monday than a deadline of Thursday, then they were going to pass it today. I think that part of this meeting was about giving a little bit of space and trying to explain to people that everyone wants the same thing. But in terms of clarity about when a vote is actually scheduled or actually planned, I think there were still some questions and a little bit of uncertainty coming out of this meeting, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Lauren Fox and Jeremy Diamond, thanks to both of you for your excellent reporting.

Let's talk about this now with one of the people in the room where it happened, Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego of Arizona, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Congressman, what's your understanding about what's going to happen with the infrastructure bill now? Is it going to be pulled until both bills are ready and there's an agreement on both of them going forward? REP. RUBEN GALLEGO (D-AZ), CONGRESSIONAL PROGRESSIVE CAUCUS: From our conversation is what the President wants, he would like to see both of them move at the same time, or at least have an agreement of framework that would make, I'd say, both sides comfortable. And at this point, you know, the price (ph) of caucus has taken that to heart. We are looking at ways to move the needle and the direction that he asked. But we're very happy that we are now, you know, have at least gotten rid of this artificial timeline that really had nothing with the actual passage of this legislation.

TAPPER: Well, we did hear that something like 3,700, 3,800 employees of the Department of Transportation might be furloughed because spending that is in the infrastructure bill will not be going out the door. Is there going to be some attempt to fund at least these federal employees?

GALLEGO: Yes, there's a conversation happening about passing a surface transportation C.R., continuing resolution for 30 days, so that would take care of that. And again, alleviate the pressure and give us time to actually negotiate and really come up with a compromise.


And remember, the compromise right now isn't with the Democratic Caucus, it's with two particular senators, that the President actually, you know, spoke about that one being very clear about what they want in the end. So, we're going to try as a caucus, both the Progressive Caucus and the caucus, in general, to show our priorities and try to negotiate in good faith. But, you know, there was clear frustration that was coming from the President about the opaqueness and also just like the moving the goalpost is occurring with the Senate.

TAPPER: You just met with Progressives after the meeting with President Biden, what was the mood in the meeting? What was the message?

GALLEGO: The mood was very hopeful. People felt very positive about it. They felt that the President understood where we were coming from. We feel that he understands that we're on his side. And more importantly, we're on the side of the everyday American that really wants to see a strong recovery to make sure that women and parents can actually have affordable childcare, child tax credit, you know, real investments in climate change legislation. These are the things that we're very excited about, and the President is with us on that.

TAPPER: President Biden, we're told from the reporting we heard just now from Lauren Fox, is that -- said basically, that he would like a $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act on social safety net programs, such as Medicare expansion, daycare, and the like. But the two senators you're talking about are not there. And he suggested maybe a number more around $2 trillion. Could you and your fellow Progressives go along with that?

GALLEGO: Well, I didn't hear that specific number that what he wanted to hit. I think that's some projection upon Congressman Cuellar (ph). What he said is like we need as a caucus, and both the caucus and Democrat Caucus, to build a number around our policy priorities, and look at that first and see what we can actually live with and what more importantly, the American public can succeed with. And once we kind of build around the policy, then we could add a number to it to see we get there.

And that's his biggest complaint about the Senate is that there is no policy numbers, there's no policy goals. And whenever there is any type of pen put to paper about policies and budgets, it changes very quickly. So we're not going to do that in the House and Progressive Caucus, we're going to focus on actually policy and the outcomes of how affects Americans and then we'll try to figure out how to build a budget around that.

TAPPER: So you talked about the two Democrats in the Senate who need to be convinced too are essentially holding this deal up. The one of them is your senator, as I don't need to tell you, Kyrsten Sinema who I believe is back in Arizona with a family emergency of some situation. Have you talked to her? Do you have any idea what her issues are other than the increase in corporate tax cuts? I mean, an increase in corporate taxes, rather.

GALLEGO: No. From what we know, and what we know so far is her opposition to corporate tax increases and competition pricing when it comes to prescriptions. But other than that, we haven't. But it's not just her, and I think it's unfair just to put on her. Both senators I think have been opaque to the point where it's hard for us to understand where we could compromise because the numbers move so much. And their positions move so much. I hope they will change that.

We're surely going to come in there -- coming to this position from an earnest situation. And we will work within the parameters of what the President asked us to do. And I hope that they will actually work in the same manner.

TAPPER: It's certainly not just her, but she happens to be your senator that's why I asked you about it. And as --

GALLEGO: Yes. I know she's my senator.

TAPPER: I'm sure you are because there's a new effort launched by a progressive Super PAC that wants you to challenge her in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in Arizona in 2024. There's even a website Run Ruben Run, that's collecting money from voters with a message, help Ruben launch strong on day one, make a contribution today. And if Ruben Gallego runs for Senate against Kyrsten Sinema, he will get the money the day he announces. Are you considering that race, yes or no?

GALLEGO: No. This is 20 -- we're dealing it first with 2022 and more importantly we're dealing with 2021 right now. And the most important race that we have to worry about is the race to make sure that we get the aid to American families. And that's all I care about. I know that's all that Sinema cares about and Manchin cares about. So let's just get together, get this done. Let's not worry about electoral politics. And if anything, I got to worry about 2022 first. TAPPER: All right, Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego of Arizona, thank you, sir. Good to see you. Have a great weekend.

GALLEGO: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: We're following a hearing on the controversial Texas abortion law. Will a judge block it? Plus, more clues about Gabby Petito's final days as so many wonder, how did police let Brian Laundrie walk away? We'll talk to two experts ahead.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, we are standing by for a federal judge's decision on whether to temporarily block that controversial Texas six- week abortion ban. The law signed last month allows anyone in the country to report an alleged violation which essentially means something like vigilante abortion bounty hunters, reporting someone who even just helps a woman in Texas get an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. Often a woman, of course, does not even know she is pregnant by then.

Today, a federal judge questioned how Texas would enforce the law asking, "If the state is so confident in the constitutionality of the limitations on women's access to abortion, why did it go to great lengths to create this unusual cause of action rather than doing it directly?"

Let's bring in Katie Watson who is an attorney and associate professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University. And Professor Watson, it's an interesting question. If you want to ban abortion, why not just ban abortion, why create these vigilante squads? What did you make of that question?


KATIE WATSON, ASSOC. PROFESSOR OF MEDICAL SOCIAL SCIENCES, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY: Well, the answer is because it is unconstitutional to ban abortion before viability which is at approximately 24 weeks. And in I believe eight other states that have passed six-week bans, the federal courts have just immediately enjoined those laws because they're so obviously unconstitutional. So Texas tried to do an end run with this ridiculous procedural enforcement to try to avoid constitutional review. And in the DOJ lawsuit, that's exactly the point they homed in on.

TAPPER: We had you on The Lead right after the Texas law went to effect and you noted how this law puts up a wall of sorts between a pregnant woman and people that they might seek advice from such as a pastor, a friend, even a doctor. Is that essentially what's at issue here, private citizens cut off from basic rights because of this fear of penalty against them, that could be invoked in a way by almost anyone?

WATSON: Well, yes, I think the most important block is if the physicians doing the abortions. I mean, what's so important to understand is it bans abortion after approximately six weeks. And let's be clear, when we call this a six-week ban, that's because doctors count pregnancy from the beginning of the last period, you get pregnant in about the middle of the month. So really, in reality, it's a four-week ban.

So, it's telling doctors, you can't do abortions after this. And if you do, private citizens can sue you and when 10 -- a minimum of $10,000 if they win, you pay their legal fees, but they don't pay your legal fees. And the reason Texas structured it that way is because if it was state enforcement, like every other law, it would just be struck down as unconstitutional immediately.

And what Attorney General Garland has done is a simple and elegant suit that says this is a clear violation of the supremacy clause. States don't get to just make up new rules that contravene the U.S. constitution or federal law. Texas tried to get cute and the federal government is not going to stand for it.

TAPPER: The judge also asked Texas attorneys, who would an injunction (ph) go to if one were needed? If a Texas state official cannot even be sued here, then what? The Texas Attorney General's Office wasn't able to answer the question. You think that's a key question in this case?

WATSON: It's a key question and a red herring at the same time of what Judge Pittman has to do. I'd be shocked if the DOJ didn't get their injunction. Their suit was outstanding. But it's -- he has to write a delicately crafted order that orders the state of Texas to do the things that would block private citizens from suing, such as closing its courts to their suits. And that was one of Texas's arguments that the parties -- that the judge would be trying to enjoin are not part of the case, private citizens.

So it's a little procedural not, but I think the DOJ's argument is this is a straight up Supremacy Clause issue, and you can't fall prey to the procedural smoke and mirrors.

TAPPER: All right --

WATSON: And so he has to (INAUDIBLE) order carefully.

TAPPER: Professor Katie Watson, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

And the politics lead, a noticeable series of rare public opinions these days from Supreme Court justices who, historically, have been very guarded. It's also the tone of these remarks that are so extraordinary. The most recent was just yesterday from Justice Samuel Alito who was taking on critics who accused the court of being sneaky and sinister with late night decisions.

CNN's Jessica Schneider has the very public ways that five justices are now voicing their frustrations.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The start of the new Supreme Court term is Monday, but the justices have been unusually outspoken in the weeks leading up to their return to the bench. Five of the nine justices have made public appearances in recent weeks, speaking out about the divisions that have been deepening behind the scenes.

JUSTICE CLARENCE THOMAS, SUPREME COURT: I think the court was thought to be the least dangerous branch and we may have become the most dangerous.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The danger in his mind is that the media and the public portray the court as political. Clarence Thomas is the senior most justice on the court. He spoke to students at the University of Notre Dame, insisting he is driven by the law, not his own opinion.

THOMAS: They think you're anti-abortion or something personally. They think that that's the way you always will come out. They think you're for this or for that, they think you become like a politician. And I think that's a problem.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The Supreme Court ignited a firestorm last month when it allowed a restrictive Texas abortion law, essentially banning the procedure after six weeks to take effect. The 5-4 decision came down in the middle of the night without a hearing, causing critics to slam the action as part of the courts so-called shadow docket.

A new Gallup poll conducted right after shows a plummeting approval rating of 40 percent, the lowest in 20 years. The liberal justices lashed out with stinging dissents when the decision came down and some have spoken out since then, off camera and on.


Justice Sonia Sotomayor was blunt about what she thinks lies ahead. "There's going to be a lot of disappointment in the law, a huge amount. Look at me, look at my dissents." Justice Stephen Breyer, who had been pushed by Progressives to retire last summer, mince no words on the Texas decision in an interview with CNN.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The Conservative justices have been pushing back. The newest Justice Amy Coney Barrett appeared in an event with the top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell and declared, "My goal today is to convince you that this court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks".

Justice Samuel Alito was even more forceful in his speech yesterday, at times blasting the media for portraying the now Conservative- leaning court as "A dangerous cabal, deciding important issues in a novel, secretive, improper way. In the middle of the night". Alito calling that criticism very misleading. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Now, all of these competing comments, they come right before the start of what is likely to be an explosive Supreme Court term. In early November, the justices will hear a case involving a New York gun law. And then December 1st, that's the case on the Mississippi law that restricts abortion at 15 weeks. A case, of course, that is leading people wondering, will the court ultimately overrule Roe v. Wade? Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Jessica Schneider, thank you so much.

CNN has obtained more body cam video from that August altercation between Gabby Petito and her fiancee, Brian Laundrie. We're going to talk to an FBI profiler about this troubling exchange and more.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where did he hit you? Don't worry, just be honest.

GABBY PETITO, YOUTUBER WHO DIED: He like grabbed my face, just like this.




TAPPER: In our national lead, new body cam video shows what Gabby Petito told police about a dispute she had just had with her fiancee. This occurred weeks before she was killed. And her fiancee Brian Laundrie disappeared. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He just grabbed you.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did he hit you though? I mean, it's OK if you're saying you hit him and then I understand if he hit you, but we want to know the truth that he actually hit you.

PETITO: I guess --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because you know --

PETITO: I guess, yes, but I hit him first.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where did he hit you? Don't worry, just be honest.

PETITO: Just he like grab my face. He's like, like this. He didn't think hit me in the face, like (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did he slap your face or what? PETITO: Well, like, he like grabbed me like with his nail and I guess that's why I definitely have a cut right here because I can feel it.


PETITO: When I touch it, it burns.


TAPPER: That was on August 12. That was after a witness in Moab, Utah reported seeing the couple in a fight. Officers did not file charges that day. The couple did, however, take the advice of police and separate for the night. Laundrie stayed in a hotel, we're told. Petito took the van.

Let's bring in Criminal Defense Attorney Mark NeJame along with Candice DeLong, who's a retired FBI profiler and host of the podcast, "Killer Psyche", which just launched an episode dedicated to this case. Candice, first, let me start with you. What's your reaction to this new police body cam footage? Does it tell you anything about the couple, and notably, the fiancee who's still missing until this day?

CANDICE DELONG, RETIRED FBI PROFILER: It doesn't tell me anything new. I don't see it as adding anything to what we saw I guess in the last week. She appears to me, she's not hysterical but she's acting as many female victims of domestic abuse do act. They're afraid to tell the police exactly what happened.

And on the other hand, we've seen Brian in this tape be very cool, calm and collected and telling the police, well, she gets wound up. I have to get away from her. And, you know, she's crazy. Eye roll, wink- wink. And sadly, we all know what happened.

TAPPER: And Mark, you famously represented the parents of Casey Anthony, Casey Anthony, of course, the Orlando area mother at the center of the missing Caylee Anthony saga. When you look at Brian Laundrie's parents here, documents obtained by CNN show that on August 24th, his mother made a camping reservation for two people for September 1st, 2nd and 3rd. Then on August 31st, she canceled that reservation.

The very next day, Laundrie returned to his parents Florida home without his fiancee, Gabby. Then two days later, the mother makes another camping reservation for three people to start on Labor Day, September 6. Not to mention, of course, they reported their son missing three days after he had left the house. Do you find this behavior by Brian Laundrie's parents suspicious, odd?

MARK NEJAME, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I find it consistent with parents who know that their son is OK. They're not acting like parents who would be really concerned about their child being missing. I need to point out that I terminated my representation of Casey Anthony's parents when they wanted me to do bidding because I thought she was quite guilty. And that was not my task.

And I believe that she did not act like a parent whose child had been found dead. And I believe that these parents are similarly acting like parents who are not overly concerned that their child is really missing or is no longer with us

TAPPER: Interesting. Candice, as a former FBI profiler, what questions would you have for Brian Laundrie's parents if you got to sit down with him right now?

DELONG: If I could only ask them one question it would be, why haven't you spoken with Gabby's parents? Gabby was living in their home with their son for many months. And she didn't come back and his parents won't even talk to her parents.

I can only ask myself, Jake, why not do -- one would think as one parent to another, especially now we have one child dead and one child missing. They would want to help each other. But that's not happening, is it?

TAPPER: No, it's not. And Mark, going back to that August 12 incidents, neither Petito nor the fiancee, were charged that day with assault or anything. There is a federal warrant out for Brian Laundrie's arrest, accusing him of illegally using someone else's debit card on August 30th and on September 1st, that was around the time that Brian Laundrie showed up at his parents' home in Florida without Gabby Petito, without the fiancee that had lived with him at his parents. Should police have named Laundrie a suspect in his fiancee's homicide by now?

NEJAME: Well, of course, but it's a matter of police strategy. I mean, there's been a lot of errors that appear to be have occurred already. When you grab somebody like that, it might not be a hit, but it's a battery and the police there should have taken further action against him.

And as far as Brian Laundrie's parents staying silent, they are potentially facing criminal liability if the FBI questioned them, and they ended up not telling the truth, then there's an offense there. Aiding, abetting or being an accessory, all those are issues. So they're getting good advice because their attorney is representing them. And that is you can't catch a fish if its mouth is closed and for them to be quiet.

TAPPER: All right, thank you to both you. Appreciate it.

You can hear more analysis from Candice and her podcast, it's called "Killer Psyche". Candice DeLong and Mark NeJame, thank you so much to both of you. Appreciate it.

Could this change how the U.S. fights COVID? A brand new pill may soon be available, a brand new pill. That's next, Stay with us.



TAPPER: And breaking news in our health lead, moments ago, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor denied a request from a group of New York City teachers who asked the court to block the city's vaccine mandate for all public school employees. The deadline for those teachers to get vaccinated was 5:00 p.m. Eastern today, just 36 and a half minutes ago.

Meanwhile, California will become the first state in the nation to mandate that all eligible K through 12 students get vaccinated against COVID. Dr. Jonathan Reiner joins me now, he's a cardiologist and a professor at George Washington University. So what is your reaction to the new mandate for all eligible K through 12 kids in California?

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I hope that's the start of every state adopting that. Every child going to school anywhere in the United States has to be vaccinated for about 10 different diseases. So, every parent who sends their children to school is accustomed to vaccinating their kids.

So, what's different about this disease? Why would we not vaccinate our children once, in particular, once the vaccine is available widely free for younger children? I think it should be mandated across the country. And I expect it will be. It may take a little while but I expect every state will eventually adopt a COVID vaccine mandate.

TAPPER: So I'm vaccinated, my 14-year-old is vaccinated. My son, as you know, is about to turn 12 and he's going to get vaccinated. But let me just play devil's advocate.


TAPPER: One of the arguments we hear is, well, this vaccine is just so new, and those other vaccines, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, et cetera, et cetera, they were -- it was a much longer process.

REINER: Every vaccine is new when -- once it's first introduced. You know, if you look at photographs from the 1950s, what do you see -- Americans lining up down the street, you know, as far as the eye can see to be vaccinated for polio. This country has a long history of embracing innovation. Unfortunately, this vaccine has been politicized. It's incredibly effective, it'll prevent kids from getting sick.

Right now kids are being infected at a rate of about 200,000 children per week. How amazing once we can vaccinate and keep kids out of the hospital. So, I think we just need to take time to educate parents. The problem is that the folks who are going to be most resistant to vaccinating their kids or people who are themselves unvaccinated. So it's going to be a difficult barrier to break, but I think we can do it.

TAPPER: So you've expressed empathy for teachers in the past. I believe your mom was a teacher, right?

REINER: Right.

TAPPER: So, we've just passed the 5:00 deadline for New York City teachers to get vaccinated or find a new job. Do you agree with that mandate, and do you think these mandates are working? REINER: Well, mandates are clearly working. Let's look at the United Airlines example. United instituted vaccine mandate, strict vaccine mandate. And as of yesterday, 99.5 percent of United's employees chose to get vaccinated rather than be terminated. So I think when faced with the loss of your job, most people will make the decision to get vaccinated.

As for teachers, this spring, I strongly advocated to treat teachers as essential personnel.

TAPPER: And have them get early vaccines, yes.

REINER: And have them be prioritized in vaccines.


REINER: That's right. But the reverse is just as true. If you entrust your child particularly now where a lot of kids can't yet be vaccinated, you entrust your child safety to that teacher. And part of that responsibility is making sure that the teacher has done what they can do to protect the child from illness. And now that includes being COVID vaccinated. Every teacher should be vaccinated or face the loss of their job.


TAPPER: I want to ask you about the new drug from Merck.


TAPPER: The pharmaceutical giant. Merck says they have a new antiviral medication that will cut the risk of hospitalization and death in half, from mild to moderate cases of COVID. Help us understand what this drug does and why it is so effective. And we should point out, this doesn't prevent you from getting COVID. This is a treatment if you get COVID.

REINER: Right. So this drug is a nucleoside analogue. And basically, what it does is prevent the virus which is an RNA virus from replicating. It creates basically an error in its genetic code, preventing it from replicating. So it's an active antiviral drug.

What's exciting about it is that it appears to be super effective. So, in this pivotal trial that was just announced, the drug reduced hospitalizations by 50 percent. But also intriguingly, and importantly in this, you know, relatively small study, no one who got the drug died. Eight people who got placebo died, no person who got active drug died.

And in just, you know, in contrast to the monoclonal antibodies now, which are also used to reduce the severity of disease, keep people out of the hospital, shorten the duration of illness, this is an oral pill. So --

TAPPER: As opposed to through an IV. REINER: Right. And Merck is now manufacturing the drug at risk so that once it's approved, it'll be immediately available. The United States government has an advanced purchase 1.7 million courses of the drug. So I expect -- you know, I'm not sure I would call it a game changer, but it's really maybe the beginning of having active drug to prescribe to a person and keep them home prevent them from getting sick.

TAPPER: Yes. Dr. Jonathan Reiner, thank you so much. Have a good weekend.

He has been dubbed Europe's last dictator. CNN sat down exclusively with the President of Belarus. How did he respond to our questions about the widespread human rights violations under his watch? That's next.



TAPPER: In our world lead, Alexander Lukashenko has been called the Europe's last dictator. He runs Belarus, one of the Eastern European republics that started going its own way after the Soviet Union broke up. Now, for Belarus, Lukashenko's way has been the only way. He supposedly is freely elected, but last year's election was so corrupted through worldwide scorn and provoked huge protests in the capital of Minsk. Protests that Lukashenko's forces brutally put down.

And now in a CNN exclusive, our Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance sat down with Lukashenko for an enlightening and frankly, bizarre interview.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is what the brutal crackdown in Belarus looks like. Opposition activists detained then beaten by police. After disputed elections last year, the mass protests that followed were crushed. Human rights groups called it a catastrophe. And widespread reports of torture, even killings in police custody.

Now, CNN is confronting the man responsible, dubbed Europe's last dictator.

(on-camera): Would you take this opportunity now to apologize to the people of Belarus for the human rights abuses that they've suffered at your hands?

PRES. ALEXANDER LUKASHENKO, BELARUS (through translation): No, I would not like to take this opportunity. I don't think this is even a relevant question. And in principle, I have nothing to apologize for.

CHANCE (on-camera): Well, you say you've got nothing to apologize for, but Human Rights Watch says multiple detainees have reported broken bones, broken teeth, brain injuries, skin wounds, electrical burns. Amnesty International speaks of detention centers being becoming torture chambers, where protesters were forced to lie in the dirt, stripped naked while police kicked and beat them with truncheons. You don't think that is worth apologizing for.

LUKASHENKO (through translation): You know, we don't have a single detention center, as you say, like Guantanamo or those bases that the United States and your country created in Eastern Europe. As regards to our own detention centers, they are no worse than in Britain or the United States. I suggest you discuss concrete facts, and not the views or statements of some dubious human rights organizations.

CHANCE (on-camera): Well, I don't think Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are dubious. They're internationally recognized, you know, standards and human rights activism. And they all got testimony a former detainees in your prison camps, in your prison detention centers, both men and women who spoken of sexual violence against them, including rape, and threats of rape. Are you saying that that is just made up, that it's fake?

LUKASHENKO (through translation): Everything that you've just said is fake and fantasy.

CHANCE (voice-over): For the past 27 years, you Lukashenko, the former Soviet collective farm boss has ruled Belarus with an iron fist, is its first and only president. He's known as a maverick who makes controversial remarks on issues like COVID-19.

LUKASHENKO: (Speaking Foreign Language)

CHANCE (voice-over): What he famously dismissed as a Western psychosis to be battled with vodka and saunas.


He told CNN those remarks were just a joke, but only after he'd become infected himself and more than 4,000 Belarusians have died, according to official figures. Quite (ph) and no one's laughing on the streets of the capital Minsk, where people are reluctant to speak out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I can't (ph).

CHANCE (on-camera): Why? What do you think about Lukashenko? Are you happy with your president?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's very interesting question. I can't tell you the truth.

CHANCE (voice-over): It's understood here. Openly criticizing the regime can have life-changing consequences.

(Speaking Foreign Language)

CHANCE (on-camera): Do you think it's a free country?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Foreign Language).

CHANCE (voice-over): It was a lesson passengers on board this Ryanair flight flying over Belarus in May learned the hard way. It made an emergency landing in Minsk after local air traffic control told the pilot there was a bomb threat. Once on the ground, Belarusian police arrested a dissident on board along with his girlfriend, before allowing the aircraft to depart.

(on-camera): Do you continue to insist that there was a genuine bomb threat, or do you now admit that the whole incident was manufactured by you and your security forces in order to capture a critic that you wanted in jail?

LUKASHENKO (through translation): Matthew, I'm not going to admit to anything in front of you. I'm not under investigation. So please choose your words carefully. But if this had been a premeditated action planned by our security services, you would be flattering me. Because for security services to carry out such an operation without breaking a single international law, or even instruction, well, that would have cost a lot. So this is your fantasy.

CHANCE (on-camera): But it's not just me that doesn't believe your story. Most airlines in the world have stopped flying here. Isn't it true that you will do anything even violate international laws in the skies in order to get the people you want to get your critics into custody? That's the truth, isn't it?

LUKASHENKO (through translation): If you are afraid to fly over our territory, I can personally guarantee your safety. But if I or the law enforcement authorities see any threat to the Belarusian state, we will force any plan to land, be it from the United Kingdom or the United States.

CHANCE (voice-over): There's growing evidence of international norms being violated on the ground as well. European officials accusing Belarus of using migrants as a weapon, encouraging them to cross its borders with the E.U. An act of revenge they say for sanctions and support for dissidents,

LUKASHENKO (through translation): Do you take me for a madman? Only weak people care about revenge, and pardon my modesty, but I don't consider myself a weakling.

CHANCE (voice-over): But it is weakness that Lukashenko's critics is pushing him ever closer to another strong man next door. Vladimir Putin of Russia has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in financial aid. Kremlin support like that is likely to come with string.

(on-camera): This talk of closer integration, closer economic, political as well as military ties. Isn't that the real price of Vladimir Putin support that this country of Belarus will be slowly absorbed into Russia? Is that what you've agreed to pay?

LUKASHENKO (through translation): To say that Belarus would become part of the United States, Britain or Russia, is an absolute fallacy. Putin and are intelligent enough to create a union of two independent states that would be stronger together than separate. Sovereignty is not for sale.

CHANCE (voice-over): But it's unclear if Belarus under Lukashenko has much of a choice. Already, Russia is stepping up joint military drills and adding to its permanent presence in the country. Using concerns that with Belarus, Russia is gaining a new western outlook (ph)


CHANCE: Well, Jake, this was the first major interview Lukashenko has given since those disputed elections last year. Since then, his country's lurch into further isolation. It's been hit by tough U.S. and European Union sanctions. But as we saw tonight, Europe's last dictator is prepared to do anything he can to cling on to power, Jake.

TAPPER: An excellent and gutsy interview by Matthew Chance. Thank you so much. Appreciate that.

Coming up, do you know this man, the celebrity that was able to sneak under the radar? Next.



TAPPER: Please allow me to introduce the man in this photo. He's a man of wealth and taste. In our pop culture lead, Mick Jagger walks into a bar and no one notices. Yes, that's the Rolling Stones frontmen, sneaking under the radar in a baseball cap, just waiting on a friend apparently. Not sure if he was looking for some satisfaction or for someone to give him shelter or a Honky Tonk woman.

But on tour in North Carolina, the Midnight Rambler stopped by Charlotte's Thirsty Beaver Saloon to grab a beer. I guess proving, sometimes, you can get what you want.

Be sure to tune into State of the Union Sunday. Dana Bash will talk to Senator Dick Durbin and Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, that's at 9:00 to noon Eastern. You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the TikTok at JakeTapper, or tweet the show at TheLeadCNN.

Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." See you Monday.