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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Merck Asks FDA To Authorize First Pill To Treat COVID In U.S.; Capitol Police Whistleblower Alleges Leadership Failures On January 6; Grassley Embraces Trump's Support As Former President Spreads Lies; U.S. Delegation Says Talks With Taliban "Candid And Professional"; FBI: Couple Tried To Sell Nuclear Intel Hidden In Sandwich, Southwest Cancels Hundreds Of Flights For Fourth Straight Day. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired October 11, 2021 - 16:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Could this be a COVID game changer?

THE LEAD starts right now.

A new phase of the pandemic. The FDA will soon consider a new pill to fight COVID-19 along with more booster shots and vaccines for young kids.

Nuclear secrets hidden inside a peanut butter sandwich. The stunning details of how a Navy engineer and his wife allegedly tried to sell top secret information to a foreign agent who turned out to be the FBI.

Plus, total meltdown. Thousands of flights canceled in the past few days and a mystery over exactly what is going on.


BROWN: Welcome to THE LEAD.

I'm Pamela Brown, in for Jake Tapper on this Monday.

And we want to start with the health lead. Something brand-new and good is going on right now in this pandemic. Today, the drugmaker Merck asked the FDA for emergency authorization for what could be the first pill to treat the virus. Not a vaccine. Not an infusion of antibodies. This will be a capsule to treat adults who get sick.

Merck says this one is so promising the company stopped a study on it because the drug was working so well. And this new request comes as COVID cases keep ticking down.

As CNN's Nick Watt reports, that's an encouraging sign but as leading experts warned, it doesn't mean we're done with this pandemic.


NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The first pill to treat COVID-19 might be getting close. Today, it's maker's Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics asked the FDA for emergency use authorization.

In trials, Molnupiravir near half the risk of hospitalization and death in people already suffering some symptoms.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Longer term, I think this is going to be huge.

WATT: And unlike monoclonal antibody treatment and remdesivir given as I.V. infusions, these are easy to pop pills.

DR. AMY COMPTON PHILLIPS, CHIEF CLINICAL OFFICER, PROVIDENCE HEALTH SYSTEM: It makes it much more accessible, reliable and really gives us hope.

WATT: The numbers meantime, average daily COVID-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. both down from last week. Patients in the hospital, lowest it's been in more than two months.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISR TO PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We have to just be careful that we don't prematurely declare victory.

WATT: As more vaccine mandate deadlines near, shots in arms just did tick up. Plus, the powerful voice is making a pitch to fellow evangelicals, a somewhat hesitant group.

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: If you have prayed to god to give you protection against COVID-19 and along come these vaccines, created by science, which God has given us the ability to do, and they're incredibly safe and effective, maybe that was the answer to prayer.

WATT: Pfizer vaccine boosters, of course, already a go. FDA advisers will meet Thursday, Friday to talk Moderna and Johnson & Johnson booster shots. Later this month, they'll talk vaccines for the 5 to 12s. Younger kids, still maybe by year's end? Remember, trick-or- treating coming soon to a street near you.

FAUCI: It's a good time to reflect on why it's important to get vaccinated but go out there and enjoy Halloween as well as the other holidays that will be coming up.


WATT: Now back to that potentially game-changing antiviral pill. We don't know yet when, if it will be rolling out, but it's going to be a few weeks at the very least. But what we do know is in mid-June, the Biden administration preordered 1.7 million courses of that pill taking a gamble that they were onto a winner -- Pamela.

BROWN: All right. Nick Watt, thanks so much for that.

Let's bring in Dr. Peter Hotez. He's the co-director of vaccine development at Texas Children's Hospital.

Great to see you, Dr. Hotez. Let's zero in on this new COVID pill from Merck. It's supposed to

prevent severe illness for people who contract the virus.

How does this new pill stack up against other COVID treatments out there right now?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, CO-DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR VACCINE DEVELOPMENT AT TEXAS CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: So, of course, the advantage relative to monoclonal antibodies, with the monoclonal antibody you need to go to an infusion center and get it administered intravenously. These are quite a number of pills but still an oral treatment that goes on for five days. The key, though, this is for individuals who start to get sick who become positive for COVID-19, as -- by PCR.


And if you get it early enough in the illness, it seems to decrease the likelihood that you'll get severe illness or lose your life.

And it's not -- it's not magic. It will reduce the severity of illness. The most important message that I've been trying to get out there is it's not a substitute for vaccination.

I don't want this to become ivermectin version 2.0, although this one actually works whereas ivermectin doesn't, because it could reduce the severity but it's not nearly as effective as getting vaccinated to prevent you from getting infected in the first place.

BROWN: Yeah, it's always better to prevent the infection than getting it and having to treat it. What does the pill actually do in the body?

HOTEZ: So it belongs to a class of drugs called a ribonucleoside and it seems to inhibit a critical enzyme that the virus needs and actually introduces mutations into the virus, actually catastrophic mutations for the virus so it's no longer effectively replicating. And that use of the mutation word is very important, Pam, because I have a feeling when it is released through emergency use, it will not be authorized for pregnancy until it's better studied and make certain -- that there's no untoward effect on the fetus.

So, for pregnant women, again, it's just another reminder it's going to be absolutely critical that you get vaccinated.

BROWN: And yet pregnant women still at such a high rate are unvaccinated. I think in the U.K. there was a study out recently where 1 in 5 COVID patients in the hospital were pregnant women. What do you make of that? How do you get the word out to pregnant women on how important vaccines are?

HOTEZ: Yeah, it's so important. Pregnant women do not do well with the COVID-19 virus, high rates of hospitalization, and so much loss of life. You can imagine how tragic that would be for any family.

So, you know, getting the word out that these vaccines are highly safe in pregnancy. You know, one of the pieces of disinformation coming out from anti-vaccine groups is they make the statement that it causes infertility. It's nonsense. The vaccines do not do that. They just copy, paste from a false assertion made about the HPV vaccine for cervical cancer and other cancers.

So, these vaccines are safe. They're used in pregnancy. They'll save your life and give you high levels of virus neutralizing antibody which you can pass on to your newborn baby through breastfeeding or placental transplant and keep your baby safe for the first weeks of your baby's life. So, there's so many reasons to do this.

BROWN: And we know how harmful COVID can be to the pregnant woman and the baby.

You brought up disinformation. I want to ask you about what Allen West, a Republican candidate for governor of Texas, has been pushing on Twitter. He has COVID. He is not vaccinated. He's in the hospital.

And he told his 800,000 followers on Twitter, quote, instead of jabbing Americans and not illegal immigrants with a dangerous shot, which injects them with these spike proteins, guess what? I now have natural immunity and double the antibodies and that's science.

So, Allen said he'd rather see more monoclonal antibody infusion therapy. He is not helping make the case for vaccines especially in your home state of Texas, is he?

HOTEZ: No. In fact, we just published a study in collaboration with a group at Yale looking at the state of Texas and Florida. If Texas and Florida had reached vaccination levels similar to what's in the Northeast, 74 percent by the end of July, we could have saved 22,000 lives. So, 22,000 lives were needlessly lost because we didn't achieve high vaccination coverage, in part because of phony rhetoric like this, anti-science rhetoric which I don't even call it misinformation or disinformation anymore, Pam. I call it anti-science aggression because it's a killer. Anti-science is now a leading cause of death in the United States.

BROWN: That is really alarming. I also want to note a troubling number in Friday's jobs report. The health care industry alone lost more than a half million jobs since the start of the pandemic. Nurses and residential care workers made up 80 percent of the losses.

What do you make of that? What are you hearing among the ranks at hospitals there in Texas?

HOTEZ: Yeah, I'm talking to people all the time, including family members who are physicians and health care providers. Part of it is they're exhausted. These last two years just took a lot out of everybody, just seeing so much death and destruction. So many people losing their lives and now, and then, of course, we know the stories where loved ones couldn't be with them in their final hours and having to have that surrogate role.

On top of the fact now we've had 100,000 Americans nationally lose their lives over the summer from the delta variant despite the availability of safe and effective vaccines. So I talked about the 22,000 lives in Texas and Florida, but 100,000 nationally who needlessly lost their lives.


That was -- has been incredibly demoralizing and the fact that when these health care providers get off shift and they have to do food shopping or get some dinner, they see nobody wearing masks and that's also demoralizing.

So, it's trivial to call it burnout. It's demoralization and hopefully we can get some of them to come back into the workforce.

BROWN: Just to be clear, you believe it's more that than the vaccine mandates they're leaving because they don't want to get the vaccine? Just very quickly.

HOTEZ: Yeah, I think that's a small minority of health care providers leaving on that basis.

BROWN: All right. Dr. Peter Hotez, thank you so much.

HOTEZ: Thank you.

BROWN: Their bosses looking at the TV as officers fought for their lives. The new allegations in a scathing letter from a Capitol police whistleblower.

Plus, inside the Taliban's so-called justice. CNN's Clarissa Ward looked into what the Taliban say and what's really happening there. That's ahead.



BROWN: In our politics lead, expect a showdown over subpoenas in the investigation into the January 6th insurrection. Over the weekend, CNN learned former Trump aide Dan Scavino was served at Mar-a-Lago. And investigators are threatening to pursue criminal charges against Steve Bannon if he doesn't comply.

Now, as CNN's Paula Reid reports, there's a new scathing letter from a Capitol Police whistleblower accusing leadership of inaction and failing to share vital intelligence with other top officers before, during and after the deadly riot.


PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Growing signs of democracy in peril, top Republicans doubling down on the big lie as they turned to the 2022 midterms. On Sunday, the number two House Republican, Steve Scalise, refused to acknowledge President Biden was legitimately elected.

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA): If you look at a number of states that didn't follow their state past laws.

REID: Republican Senator Chuck Grassley appeared alongside Trump at a rally in Iowa Saturday.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA): So if I didn't accept the endorsement of a person that's got 91 percent of the Republican voters in Iowa, I wouldn't be too smart. I'm smart enough to accept that endorsement.

REID: In February, Grassley rejected the big lie in a statement saying, the reality is, he lost. He brought over 60 lawsuits and lost all but one of them. But this weekend, Grassley looked on as the former president continued to lie about his loss.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: First of all, he didn't get elected.

REID: Representative Liz Cheney shot back at her fellow Republicans tweeting, perpetuating the big lie is an attack on the core of our constitutional republic. As Trump continues to undermine democracy, the House Select Committee wants answers.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): This is the United States Congress demanding their compliance with an investigation that goes right to the heart of American democracy and national security.

REID: Former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and former Pentagon official Kash Patel are engaging with the committee while Steve Bannon says he intends to defy orders.

CNN learned that former Trump aide Dan Scavino was served with a subpoena on Friday after the committee had trouble finding him. It's unclear if he will cooperate.

CNN has also obtained a letter from a Capitol Police whistleblower accusing the two senior leaders of mishandling intelligence surrounding the insurrection. The whistleblower identifies themselves as a former high-ranking officer with 31 years at capitol police and says they came forward because Assistant Chiefs Yogananda Pittman and Acting Assistant Chief Sean Gallagher played a role in disciplining officers for actions on January 6th but feels they were never personally held fully accountable.

The letter sent late last month and first reported by "Politico" claims that two of the top U.S. Capitol police officers failed to act as violence unfolded and that Pittman lied to Congress earlier this year when she told Senate investigators that vital intel was shared with police leadership. The whistleblower writes: This information would have changed the paradigm of that day.

A spokesman denied to "Politico" that Pittman lied to Congress.


REID (on camera): Bannon still faces a subpoena to appear for a deposition this Thursday and is expected that the committee would wait until after that date to move forward on criminal content if he doesn't show. Now, Bannon is citing executive privilege as the reason he could not comply. He wasn't in the executive branch at the time in question and he was also a key player in promoting the January 6th rally. So making this blanket claim of privilege, Pamela, is legally absurd.

BROWN: It's basically insulting to think they'd buy into that.

All right. Thank you so much, Paula Reid. We appreciate it.

Well, the big lie that fueled the insurrection still being pushed by Republicans. How a few in the GOP are now trying to push back.



BROWN: In our politics lead, former President Donald Trump is once again advocating for Ashli Babbitt, the insurrectionist who was killed in January 6th -- on January 6th rather while trying to storm the nation's Capitol. In a new video message sent to her family on what would have been her 36th birthday, Trump called for the Department of Justice to reopen its investigation in her death. The Capitol Police officer who shot Babbitt said he did it as a last resort and has been cleared of any wrongdoing.

So, let's discuss all of the happenings from the weekend. So much to start with, but let's go with, shall we, Chuck Grassley, Alice? Trump, you know, is continuing to whitewash January 6th. He was doing so at that rally in Iowa. And the most senior Republican, Republican from Iowa, Chuck Grassley, there on stage, right there on stage with Trump, was clearly right behind him every step of the way.

What do you make of that given Chuck Grassley's past comments about, you know, the insurrection and Trump and the election not being stolen to now this?


ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think there are many Republicans who can say, denounce January 6th and the insurrection at the Capitol but still do what you can to try and thread the needle to keep Donald Trump on board. Having been one of the presidential candidates that has -- or campaigns that has done the full Grassley three times, traveling all 99 counties in Iowa, I'm very well aware of how popular Chuck Grassley is in Iowa and all of us are here.

The key here is that he will do well in Iowa. He also has very strong support amongst Republicans in Iowa. But the motivating factor here is that if you can, in the election like this, if you can keep Donald Trump on board and keep his supporters in your camp and also grow the tent and keep the independents, as well as the undecided voters and the swing voters on board, that's the winning ticket and that's what Chuck Grassley is trying to do and I think he will do so successfully, because he has the institutional knowledge and the reputation in the state of Iowa.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: What I found so interesting about that rally in Iowa though is just how much the establishment Republicans in Iowa lined up behind -- or Donald Trump at that rally. It wasn't just the Jim Jordans and the Matt Gaetzes of the world who gathered and stood behind him. It was Governor Kim Reynolds. It was Congresswoman Ashley Stinson, considered a rising star in the party, and also, Senator Chuck Grassley who has been, you know, from Iowa and has been an Iowa senator as long as I've been alive.

But what was really instructive as to why Chuck Grassley made that appearance over the weekend with Donald Trump, I found these recent polling from the "Des Moines Register" fascinating. If you look at the favorability ratings for Donald Trump among Iowa Republicans, it's 91 percent. That was at 91 percent figure that Chuck Grassley has been talking about. Chuck Grassley's personal numbers, favorability numbers among Iowa Republicans, 81 percent. Still very high, to be sure, but surprising to see that ten-point gap.

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But it's not just a win for establishment Republicans to hug him. Republicans are very much damned if they do and damned if they don't. If they call out his big lie, they could find themselves in a primary and alienating their own base. But if you don't say anything, they are potentially allowing the man in their party who has the biggest megaphone to hijack their messaging for 2022.

I mean, Republicans right now, the house is theirs to lose. Traditionally, they flip the house when one party controls Washington, Democrats controlling Washington. They are very much prized to take the house.

But they want to be talking about Biden, they want to talk about the border. They want to talk about COVID, Biden's dropping poll numbers. If they allow Trump to seize the day and talk about his election grievances and go on about these lies, the big lie, they potentially make 2022 a referendum on Trump and not Biden. That's a disaster for them.

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITCAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely, but here's the problem. They don't have the wherewithal. They don't have the backbone to do what you just said, to do what my friend Alice says in terms of trying to tell the truth about the election and trying to espouse conservative policies and at the same time keeping the base.

For the Republican Party, it's all or nothing. We were at an inflection point I think this past weekend. You all talk about how the establishment is now being sucked up by Trump. There is no establishment in the Republican Party anymore. It is all fringe.

They are so fringy that the '60s and '70s fashions are jealous. I mean, it's ridiculous. You know, you saw it in the op-ed that Christine Whitman wrote along with Miles Taylor because she talks about putting together a coalition with Democrats because there is nowhere to go for establishment Republicans.

BROWN: Yeah, we actually have an excerpt from that op-ed saying rational Republicans are losing the GOP civil war and the only near- term way to battle pro-Trump extremists is for all of us to team up on key races and overarching political goals with our longtime political opponents, the Democratic Party.


STEWART: We're asking Republicans, the key to winning the, quote, civil war within the Republican Party. With all due respect to both of them, they are strong Republicans. But Republicans are not going to win in primaries and certainly the general by voting for Democrats because you can sit there and hate Donald Trump all you want, but it's the policies that bring this Republican Party together. And it's the policies of the Republican Party that --


STEWART: And that's when people hate Donald Trump so much they let that get in the way of good policy and Republicans moving forward, we need Donald Trump's face but we also need swing voters and the undecided voters. That is the only way altogether, not one group, not two, but all three. And voting for Democrats is not the winning formula.

CARDONA: And this is why you're a brilliant Republican strategist but the Republican Party does not look like the Republican Party that you worked in, Alice. And that's the problem, because Donald Trump is not leading the Republican Party on its policies. He is leading it on the big lie. He is leading it on focusing on anti-democratic issues. On something that is very, very dangerous to democracy. And when you have former establishment, now fringe Republicans like Chuck Grassley cuddling up to him and making his bed in the big lie, in the conspiracy theories, in anti-democratic and dangerous thought processes, that is when you not just -- you don't just have a danger moment for the Republican Party, you have a danger moment for the country.


And that's why I think it's so incredibly important for anyone in the Republican Party who has a backbone left, like Christine Todd Whitman, like the others who are with Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for them to continue to speak up.

And you're right, it might be a losing strategy for them, but you know what? The importance of holding up truth and democracy and the constitution and trying to focus on saving our democratic institutions and, frankly, our electoral processes for the country should be more important than winning an election.

STEWART: But the key is, it's not the Republican Party -- the only message we have and the only issue we're talking about is not just January 6th. We're not focused on the past. We're focused on the future, like Rachael said. Republicans are focused on the policy.

BROWN: Trump is. He's the de facto leader of the party. There's plenty of material, frankly, for the Republicans, as you pointed out, Rachael, to talk about in terms of the Democrats. We had this op-ed by a "New York Times" columnist where he said Democrats have been unable to deliver much to make their voters happy and their major agenda items have been stalled in Congress for so long that many of those voters are growing impatient and disillusioned. BADE: Yeah, Democrats have had a tough couple of weeks, too. They are

fighting right now and can't get anything passed through Congress, Biden's poll numbers continuing to drop, and COVID still a big issue. These are things that a lot of Republicans want to be talking about and I think the problem with that op-ed that former Trump officials anonymous as he calls himself, saying just turn to Democrats and elect Democrats is it only in many ways empowers Trump more.

You know, you do have Republicans -- you can't paint the whole party as people who are spouting the big lie. I mean, talk to Mitch McConnell, he has been very careful about trying to thread a needle here. A lot of critics would say he's not doing enough to call it out, but in saying -- but in saying that all Republicans -- if you are a Republican that doesn't support the big lie, you should vote Democrat. I think Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger would disagree and by doing that you end up washing that away.

SEUNG: Right, right, and also just going back to that Charles Blow piece. I mean, It's a difficult time for Democrats. My colleague, Bea Woodson (ph), talked to a lot of activists and voters in Georgia. They are unhappy with a lack of action in Washington on top Democratic priorities like police reform, voting rights. This is why that $3.5 trillion reconciliation package is so important for Biden and the Democratic Party.

BROWN: All right. Thank you all so much.

CARDONA: Thanks, Pam.

BROWN: Well, the Taliban claim they have changed. What is the reality on the ground, though? Our report from Afghanistan up next.



BROWN: In our world lead, quote, candid and professional. That's how the State Department is describing their first meeting with the Taliban since the chaotic U.S. exit from Afghanistan. One U.S. official says this weekend's meetings in Doha were not about legitimizing the Taliban government.

As the Taliban insists they're taking a less oppressive, gentler approach.

CNN's Clarissa Ward went to Afghanistan to find a very different picture. Vulnerable Afghans tortured and shamed with medieval techniques.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONLA CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the image the Taliban want to project, friendly and pious, bringing peace and security. On the streets of Ghazni City, Taliban official Marlovi Manzor Afghan goes from shop to shop, talking to the owners. He asks how the security situation is with the Taliban in charge. The

situation is good. Praise be to god, the man says.

It may well be a performance for our cameras, but it is telling. The Taliban wants to show they have changed.

When you're talking to the men and some of them don't have long beards, are you saying anything to them about their beards or does it matter right now?

We tell the people that this is the Prophet Muhammad Sunnah and make them aware, he says. But we don't want to force the people to do this.

In another part of the market, the newly resurrected, much-feared religious police are also keen to show they are taking a lighter touch. They gather the shopkeepers to introduce themselves and warn them about the importance of following the Sharia.

Make sure your women cover themselves, one Talib tells the crowd. They should not travel without a close male relative.

A man stands nearby, casually smoking a cigarette. A punishable offense under the previous Taliban regime, but no one says a thing.

Back at their headquarters at the ministry for the propagation of virtue and prevention of vice, the men are still settling in.


Up until recently, this was the ministry for women. The man now in charge seems leery of my presence and refuses to meet my eye. He says their mission is to help Afghans embrace Islamic rule.

And what do you do if they're not following your interpretation of Sharia law?

MAWLAWI ABDULLAH MOHAMMED, TALIBAN'S MINISTRY OF PROPAGATION OF VIRTUE AND PREVENTION OF VICE (through translator): We act with accordance to Sharia law. Firstly, we inform people about good deeds. We preach to them and deliver the message to them in a nice way. The second time, we repeat it to them again. And the third time, we speak to them slightly harshly.

WARD: If his words sound like talking points, that's because they are. As we leave, he hands us a newly issued Taliban booklet outlining the group's gentler approach.

So he says that this book contains the rules for how they should carry out their work.

But old habits die hard. And back in Kabul, it's clear not everyone is following the new guidelines.

It's badly bruised.

In a secure location, Wahid shows us the ugly marks left behind after he says he was whipped by Taliban fighters. We've changed his name for his protection.

He tells us three fighters stopped him at a busy traffic circle wearing Western-style clothing. They took him into a guard hut and demanded to see his cell phone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I had photos on my phone related to gays. Also the clothes I was wearing were a gay style. They took me and covered my mouth. Two of them held each of my hands and the third hit me. First, with a whip and then with a stick.

WARD: What reason did they give for doing this to you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): When they were beating me, they kept saying I was a gay. I should be killed. They had very scary faces. They were enjoying beating me.

WARD: That lurid brutality was on full display weeks earlier in the western city of Harat when the bloody bodies of four men were hung in public for all to see. The Taliban said they were kidnappers, killed during a raid. On one man's chest, a grim warning, abductors will be punished like this.

Remarkably, many in the crowd seemed to approve of the Taliban's medieval display. People are really happy about this decision, this man said. Because people believe that by doing this, kidnapping can be removed from this province.

In other grotesque display, two alleged criminals, their faces painted, were humiliated before a jeering crowd. A punishment the Taliban favors for petty thieves. After the corruption of the former government, the group has seized on a frenzied desire for swift justice.

But they are savvy enough to know how it looks to the rest of the world. Back in Ghazni, our attempts to see the justice system in action are repeatedly stonewalled. We're told that the Sharia high court is closed, despite the people waiting outside.

We're trying to show that you have --

As we try to persuade the Taliban to let us in, we see two men head into the court. Our Taliban minder relents and lets us follow them. But in the courtroom, the judge makes it clear we are not welcome. Tell them to stop, he says. We are quickly ushered out.

We've been trying all day to get into the Sharia court. They're not legislate us, but they also won't give us a reason.

It may be that what happens behind closed doors here doesn't fit the Taliban's new carefully cultivated image. And that the movement born in conflict is still brutal at its core.


BROWN: Clarissa, such a powerful and important report. And we didn't see many women in your piece. What is life like for women and girls in Afghanistan right now?

WARD: Well, I think it depends where you are. For women in urban areas who have seen huge improvements to their quality of life over the last 20 years, life is very difficult at the moment. Girls are not allowed to go to school after sixth grade. Women are being told to stay at home, not to go to the office. Women are being told in some parts of the country to cover themselves up, to wear a burqa.


We saw signs everywhere outside beauty salons that have images of women's faces that have been defaced, covered in spray paint and graffiti.

And we heard today from the U.N. secretary-general again saying that this is a real problem that the Taliban are not living up to some of the promises that they made with regard to women and girls.

And that's a big part of why the U.S. and others are not going ahead and unfreezing that aid that the Taliban so desperately wants to try to prevent an economic collapse, Pamela.

BROWN: All right. CNN's Clarissa Ward in Islamabad, thank you, Clarissa.

Coming up on this Monday, dead drops and alias secrets hidden in a sandwich? How a Navy engineer and his wife allegedly tried to sell nuclear secrets, up next.



BROWN: In our national lead, a sticky situation for one Maryland couple. The FBI says they were caught trying to sell classified nuclear secrets by smuggling memory cards into a peanut butter sandwich and a pack of gum.

CNN's Jessica Schneider has all the details of how the FBI uncovered the plot.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Some of the country's most closely guarded nuclear submarine secrets inside a peanut butter sandwich. Over the weekend the FBI and U.S. Navy arresting Navy nuclear engineer Jonathan Toebbe and his wife Diana for attempting to sell classified information to a foreign government, alleging the couple used methods out of a spy novel to pass the information to an undercover FBI agent. After messaging with agents for months, the couple allegedly left a memory card at a dead drop location in West Virginia in June where the FBI found it wrapped in plastic and placed between two slices of bread on a half of a peanut butter sandwich. Allegedly inside, details of militarily sensitive design elements operating parameters and performance characteristics of Virginia class submarine reactors. Virginia class submarines are some of the most advanced stealth

submarines in the world, capable of staying under water for months at a time. They can engage targets at sea and on land, as well as gather intelligence and deploy Navy SEALs. The Toebbes allegedly conducted two more dead drops, the final one in August, with a memory card in a chewing gum package that allegedly contained schematic designs for the Virginia class submarine.

The FBI says that Jonathan Toebbe has been a Navy employee since 2012. He worked at a lab in Pennsylvania on nuclear propulsion where he maintained a top secret security clearance. His wife Diana is a teacher in Annapolis, Maryland, who allegedly acted as a lookout for her husband during the dead drops. In one of his messages, Jonathan Toebbe allegedly wrote he was extremely carefully to gather the files I possessed slowly and naturally in the routine of my job. We received training on warning signs to spot insider threats.

DAVID SANGER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It was a mix of some very sophisticated methods used by Mr. Toebbe and his wife and some really sloppy ones.

SCHNEIDER: The couple wrote they were seeking a total of $5 million in crypto currency. The FBI says they paid the Toebbes $100,000 over the course of the investigation.


SCHNEIDER: But the biggest mystery remains, who did this nuclear engineer think he was selling the government secrets to? The FBI is only referring to it as country one in the court records and that country did alert the FBI which began that year-long undercover investigation.

Pamela, Toebbe and his wife, they will appear in court tomorrow. The government is seeking they be detained pending trial. They say they are a flight risk. Also worrying they could destroy evidence here.

BROWN: That's a good thing that government alerted the FBI.


BROWN: Wow, what a story. Jessica Schneider, thanks so much for that.

Well, thousands of flights canceled, angry, stranded passengers and still no clear answer as to why so many Southwest flights aren't taking off.



BROWN: In our money lead, a disastrous holiday weekend for Southwest Airlines. For the fourth straight day, the world's largest low-cost carrier canceled hundreds of flights adding to a total of more than 2,000 since Friday. Many travelers, even flight crews, were forced to camp out in airports after being left without a hotel room or a way home.

One passenger telling CNN they had to drive 900 miles after being stranded by the airline.

CNN's Nick Valencia joins us from the airport in Atlanta.

So, Nick, what is Southwest saying about the cause of all of these cancellation cancellations?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Pamela, this is just a mess. And Southwest Airlines says they have staffing shortages which has contributed to this mess. It's a issue they've known about for months but have not been able to resolve. In fact, their COO released a video statement saying they're making no guarantees that they're going to be able to stop these cascading cancellations saying they simply aren't where they want to be when it comes to staffing and when you compare the numbers, they have 7,000 fewer employees when compared to pre- pandemic. Union representatives for flight attendants say about 1,000 of those 7,000 employees took early retirement buyouts in the early days of the pandemic.

So, you had passengers showing up here over the weekend and even still today expecting to get on their flight only finding out at the ticket counter that they weren't able to do it.

We did find out, though, there was a couple who had their flight rebooked. They said this seems to be exclusively a Southwest problem. Southwest is their primary airline.


JOSEPH WARD, PASSENGER OF CANCELED SOUTHWEST FLIGHT: It's been extremely frustrating. I mean, it's disrupted my work schedule anyway, and for sure and plans that we had.


VALENCIA: We mentioned that this is a staffing shortage over the weekend. That was exposed by Florida problems, weather and air traffic control problems, significant amount of their flight crew is based in Florida. Southwest has a huge problem at their hands that they haven't been able to wrap their hands around yet -- Pamela.

BROWN: Thanks, Nick.

And thank you for joining us for the special edition of THE LEAD.

Our coverage continues now.