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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Biden Addressing Duel Problems: New Variant & Supply Chain Issues; 50+ Nations Including U.S. Restrict Travel Over Omicron Variant; CDC Strengthens Booster Recommendations Due To Omicron Variant; January 6 Committee To Vote On Criminal Contempt For Trump DOJ Official; Jury Selection Underway In Trial Of Actor Jussie Smollett; Trial Of Jeffrey Epstein Partner Ghislaine Maxwell Begins; 50+ Nations Including U.S. Restrict Travel Over Omicron Variant. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired November 29, 2021 - 16:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Now, based on the flight data, temperatures in the wheel well fell by 100 degrees during the flight, so the stowaway would have been hit with subzero conditions. He was taken to a hospital for evaluation and will be detained by Homeland Security.

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We all better start learning how to say Omicron.

THE LEAD starts right now.

With Americans on edge, President Biden trying to calm fears as a new coronavirus variant spreads throughout the world. What might that mean for you and your family?

Plus, another Trump loyalist in the sights of the January 6th Select Committee. Are new criminal contempt charges on the way?

And parents behaving badly, screaming, name calling, fist fights at school board meetings. Some getting so bad some parents are now attacking a board member's child?


TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We start today with our politics lead and President Biden scrambling to combat the two major crises facing the American people. This afternoon, Mr. Biden hosting a group of CEOs at the White House to discuss ways to make sure shelves are fully stocked and prices are reasonable as holiday shopping ramps up. Earlier today, the president addressing the new coronavirus variant now named Omicron saying this new strain first detected in South Africa is, quote, cause for concern, not a cause for panic. Promising new lockdowns are off the table, at least for now. As CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports, President Biden is now planning to

address both of these issues again in a few days including laying out a plan for the U.S. to fight the coronavirus pandemic as we head into winter.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATESE: This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Biden reassuring the nation after a new coronavirus variant set off global alarms.

BIDEN: I'm sparing no effort and removing all road blocks to keep the American people safe.

COLLINS: Biden restricting travel from South Africa and seven neighboring nations which he warned will slow the spread of Omicron but won't stop it.

BIDEN: Here's what it does: It gives us time -- gives us time to take more actions to move quicker.

COLLINS: The leaders of African nations calling it an overreach.

SALIM ABDOOL KARIM, CO-CHAIR, SOUTH AFRICAN MINISTERIAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON COVID-19: Firstly, it's outrageous that South Africans, Southern Africa is being punished for having good surveillance.

COLLINS: The Omicron variant has not yet been detected in the United States but officials say it's only a matter of time.

BIDEN: Sooner or later we'll see cases of this new variant here in the United States.

COLLINS: As scientists race to determine whether concern over the variant is justified, Biden is calling on Americans to remain vigilant.

BIDEN: Most Americans are fully vaccinated but not yet boosted. If you're 18 years or over, and got fully vaccinated before June the 1st, go get the booster shot today.

COLLINS: Top White House officials are in talks with vaccine manufacturers, Moderna and Pfizer, on contingency plans should Omicron's specific boosters become necessary.

BIDEN: We do not yet believe that additional measures will be needed.

COLLINS: Biden is receiving daily briefings from his COVID-19 team and on Thursday, will lay out plans for this winter which he currently says doesn't include more restrictions.

REPORTER: Are lockdowns off the table?

BIDEN: Yes, for now.

REPORTER: Why is that?

BIDEN: Well, because we're able to -- if people are vaccinated and wear their mask, there's no need for lockdown.

COLLINS: With the threat of a new variant looming over the holidays, Biden hosted the CEOs of major retailers at the White House today to discuss tackling supply chain gridlock.

BIDEN: Incredibly busy you all are. Heck of a job you're doing to make sure people aren't disappointed this past Thanksgiving.


COLLINS (on camera): Now, Jake, of course, we should note that they still say this variant has not yet been detected in the United States. The White House says the government will let us know once they have detected it here given they've largely said it's inevitable that it will be here at some point. And Dr. Fauci has said that, yes, PCR tests can detect this variant and, of course, the CDC right now is working with state labs to try to figure out if it's already here, Jake.

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

Let's discuss all this with CNN senior political commentator, David Axelrod, the associate editor of "The Financial Times", Rana Foroohar, as well as chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

David, let me start with you. So the supply chain crisis Biden is meeting with business leaders, it's been going on for months. Americans are still paying higher prices on everything from groceries to gasoline. So, we see the president meeting with CEOs and gives speeches almost daily about the problem. Is he doing enough, however, to tackle this?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah, well, I mean, the question is, how much can you do? What can you do? This is also, Jake, related to the virus. There have been all kinds of distortions in supply chains as a result of the virus.

So as much as anything, you have the bully pulpit to try and exhort leaders of industry and others to take extraordinary measures to deal with the supply chain, but they have economic incentives to do that as well.


So, look, I think a lot of what today was about was showing that he is responsive to the crises that he's facing, even if he doesn't have great answers right now to the crises that we're facing. We learned in the Obama administration that you can be doing a lot of things behind the scenes but if people don't see you doing things or at least talking about things, then they don't know that you're doing them. I think that's why he was out there so visibly today. TAPPER: And, Rana, how effective is it for the president to convene these meetings with CEOs? Even if they make major changes, how soon would Americans see actual improvements on fuller shelves, lower prices?

RANA FOROOHAR, CNN GLOBAL ECONOMIC ANALYST: Look, I think it's an important message for the president to get out and show the American public that the public and private sector working together, but there's only so much that the president can do. What he can do tends to be slow moving. That's the nature of building out infrastructure, increasing port capacity. These things take time. That's a two-month process before you start to see much in the way of results.

But already, the biggest companies, your Walmarts, Costcos, Targets are actually moving forward using technology to speed up supply chains. I don't think you're going to see a cancel Christmas. But I do think that you'll see big companies doing better than small ones and that's something that plays to existing trends of a winner-take-all economy and that's something that I'm sure the president is thinking about and you're going to hear more about later on.

TAPPER: Right. That's why he did a small business stop for some Christmas shopping a few days ago.

Sanjay, earlier today, Biden spoke about the other major crisis in everyone's mind, the Omicron variant. Many of us just learned about this strain within the last few days. It's been labeled a variant of concern. What do we really know about it?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is very recent and the information sort of unfolding pretty quickly. What we know is that the first specimen that was actually confirmed was taken on November 9th. That gives you an idea how quickly this is unfolding. That was in Botswana in South Africa.

And now, there's some 15 countries -- plus countries around the world, including Australia, Canada, the UK where it's been detected. It's not been detected in the United States yet.

This last line, it has at least 50 mutations. This is what scientists are paying attention to. Some of the mutations here and we can show you a 3D representation of what this looks like. But some of these mutations are mutations the scientists have seen before. And when they see them, some of them have been associated with making the virus more transmissible.

You are looking at the spike protein right now, the new mutations on it. Some of these have been seen with making the virus less susceptible or amenable to protection from vaccines. The question is when you put them all together, does it -- do they add up or does it turn into something else entirely? That's what they don't know right now.

So big question still is it more transmissible? Certainly appears to be. Does it cause more severe disease? We don't know the answer to that yet. How well will vaccines work? That will take a few weeks, two to three weeks before the answer to that question.

And also this last line, Jake if you've been infected before, you have an infection-acquired immunity, how protective is that? There may be some evidence from South Africa that it's not as protective. So, that's something that they're going to pay attention to.

TAPPER: All questions, not answers, at this point really.

GUPTA: That's right.

TAPPER: David, critics accuse the Biden White House of being caught flat-footed by the delta variant given how fast it spread across the U.S. How much of this is driven by the desire not to have a repeat criticism and talk a little bit if you would about that line that White Houses of whoever party have to walk when it comes to not wanting to panic people while also wanting to be transparent and inform them?

AXELROD: Yeah, no, look, I think it's really important.

There was a real function here because as Sanjay just said, we don't really know what this is, what the threat is right now. We saw the markets react very badly when news of this variant came up. And I do think there was a role for the president to play in calming people, but there also was a political imperative for him to look like he's on top of it and doing everything that he possibly can.

And I think that's a lot of what motivated the timing of his remarks today. After all, he's going to be speaking again on Thursday. So I think they felt an urgent need to address this both for purposes of calming people and giving people a sense that he was on top of it. If you look at some of the language he used about how he's throwing everything at it and they'll leave no stone unturned and so on, that was clearly a motivation.

TAPPER: And, Rana, the stock market bounced back today after having the worst day of the year Friday. Should we expect the market to be volatile given how little we know about this new variant and the possibility of other variant variants as the winter weather comes?


FOROOHAR: Yeah, for sure. You know, as Sanjay was saying as we learn more, you're going to see the market react. If this is highly transmissible, if you find out the vaccines will not be as effective, then the market is going to go down. No question.

But volatility is going to be the watch word. In a funny way, you're seeing a little mini version of what you saw when we first had the pandemic where the markets tank but then tech stocks come back up because, hey, everybody is going to be working from home longer, you know?

And you have to remember that we did see some of the biggest highs even during the pandemic in the markets. So, you know, it's not all doom and gloom. TAPPER: Sanjay, President Biden said new lockdowns are off the table,

at least for now, he said. Is there a point where you think the White House might have to reconsider that or do you agree with his general proposition that as long as we have vaccinations and masks, we should be okay?

GUPTA: Yeah, realistically, I don't know how that would be implemented again to the point where they'd be effective, he's lockdowns. Masking is something we don't talk about as much. We talk about the vaccines. But the thing about the variants, no matter what it is, if you have a highly effective mask, high filtration mask, that will be very effective. You know, there's been obviously a lot of back-and-forth on masks.

But going into the cooler, drier weather, knowing there's a variant out there potentially more transmissible, we're going to learn the answer to that, besides vaccines and boosters, and I think there's a stronger case for boosters, I think masks, you know, in the physical distancing without the need to shut down can be very effective until we get a hold of what's really going on here.

TAPPER: All right. Sanjay, stick around.

David, Rana, thanks to both of you. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, the travel ban pushback -- how some major airlines are handling the flight restrictions due to the coronavirus variant.

Plus, she's accused of recruiting underage girls for her billionaire boyfriend, a convicted. We're in the courtroom for the trial of Jeffrey Epstein's girlfriend.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our health lead, at least 50 countries, including the United States, have now imposed new travel restrictions in response to the new coronavirus variant Omicron. The closed borders and blocked flights came just after the World Health Organization designated Omicron a variant of concern.

CNN aviation correspondent Pete Muntean is live for us at Reagan Airport just outside D.C.

Pete, some major airlines have had concerns about these restrictions.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, the good news for them, Jake is President Biden says he does not anticipate new travel restrictions, at least for now. We've seen statement after statement from the travel industry calling these new restrictions restricting travel from seven countries and South Africa coming into the United States a bit of a knee-jerk reaction. One of these biggest statements from the U.S. travel association, it's

one of the largest groups representing the travel and tourism industry at large, it says that the administration should respectfully reconsider these restrictions and it points to rules that just went into effect only three weeks ago allowing foreign nationals to travel into the United States so long as they prove they're fully vaccinated and they show proof of a negative coronavirus test.

The U.S. travel association says that is the best way to ensure safe travel, essentially that change in rule ended a 600-day ban on travel of foreign nationals into the United States, a big sign of life for international travel, and travel at large when the numbers are just going up and up. TSA screened 2.45 million people at airports across the country just yesterday. That's the highest number we have seen since the start of the pandemic, about 89 percent of the way from where we were in 2019 on the same day before the pandemic.

And experts believe that number is actually being pushed up because that resumption of international travel, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Pete Muntean, thanks so much.

Let's bring back CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

And, Sanjay, the U.S. is restricting travel from South Africa and seven other nations, but U.S. citizens are exempt from those restrictions. So a South African can't come to the United States but an American in South Africa can come from South Africa to the United States.

The virus doesn't care who is a citizen and who is not a citizen. So --

GUPTA: Right.

TAPPER: -- do these restrictions actually stop the spread?

GUPTA: I -- they're not going to make a huge impact, Jake. This is a risk/reward proposition. The benefit of doing this is you may slow down some of the entry of the virus into the country but it's very porous as you're mentioning because a lot of people who are citizens will be coming back as well and could potentially be carrying the virus.

But if there's not really any of the variant detected here right now, the impact will be greater because you're creating more of an impact on slowing down the entry. But overall, I think it's hard to make the case that the travel ban will have much of an impact long term. It is quite likely over the next day or so we'll hear that this variant has been detected in the United States and that should surprise nobody.

If you go back and look at last year, there were lessons, Jake. I believe the ban on European travel was March -- middle of March some time of 2020, March 13th, I believe. By March 18th, significant clusters all over the country.

So, you know, the virus is likely already here. Likely already spreading, we just haven't detected it yet.

TAPPER: Yeah, I remember when there was that revelation that some poor senior in a rest home in Kansas or Missouri had died of it. This was just a week -- a couple of weeks after and it was clear this virus was everywhere, whether it or not we want it to be.

We just learned the CDC is now going to strengthen its recommendations for boosters saying all adults should get boost understand six months after their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or two months after getting the Johnson & Johnson single dose vaccine.

How significant is this as we wait to hear how severe cases may be because of the new variant?


GUPTA: This is the clearest language that we've had. There's been a lot of back and forth. So, the change now is they were saying that people over the age of 50 should get a booster. People under the age of 50 could or may get a booster they said before. Now they're saying all adults should get a booster.

And I think that's an important message because I think the thing that we think about with vaccine escape immunity, this idea that the variant is somehow escaping the immunity of the vaccine, it's more like you have a cushion effect. So, right now, there's a significant cushion effect of these vaccines against the circulating virus.

With this new one, there may be less of a cushion. So, less of a sort of buffer effect there. If you have a booster, you'll increase the buffer, if that makes sense. More of a cushion and when we're dealing with something that's unknown, we're still trying to figure out how transmissible, how severe the disease this Omicron will cause. Having more of a buffer, more of a cushion is helpful. So, I think that's where that recommendation is coming from.

TAPPER: Sanjay, Omicron has become the dominant variant in South Africa. Less than two weeks since it was first detected. One doctor treating patients in South Africa said cases have been mild for those infected with the Omicron variant.

Does that give you less concern, less worry?

GUPTA: I hope that remains true. There is -- a lot of epidemiologists talk about this pull and push of as a virus becomes more transmissible, it may becoming less lethal, causing less severe illness at the same time. Somehow these may trade off. It's not a guarantee but that is a possibility here that is it becomes more transmissible, it becomes a less severe disease.

One thing I want to show you, if we have these numbers, so far, we've heard most of the patients from south Africa have also been young and they're likely to have more mild disease as it is. But we can look at what happens when a virus becomes 50 percent more contagious versus 50 percent more lethal, I guess we don't have those numbers. But, basically, if you get a very contagious virus going into an unvaccinated population, especially of people who are vulnerable because of age or pre-existing disease, it can be a real problem. A bigger problem than if the virus just becomes more lethal.

That's why vaccines and now boosters are so critical. A contagious virus can be a real problem, obviously, in people who don't have immunity.

TAPPER: Yeah, I just got my booster, no big deal. It was only the end of October when the Biden administration announced a $70 million investment to make more of those at-home COVID testing kits.

Can those COVID testing kits detect this variant?

GUPTA: The antigen test cannot. Those are really not going to be able to detect the variant but the PCR tests that some are done at home now, they can. They can at least detect there's a signal this is likely the variant and still needs to be confirmed.

So a lot of those are out there. There frankly should be more of them out there still. This has been a constant topic of discussion that we still have not had enough testing out there. People should be able to test every day, every week, whatever within their own homes. And that's still not happening enough. But, yes, the answer to your question. It could give you a signal that you are dealing with the possible variant. It would then need to be confirmed.

TAPPER: So, Dr. Fauci said it will take two weeks to know more about the omicron variant. What indicator are you watching to see if it's spreading here in the U.S.? Mostly hospitalizations?

GUPTA: I think that's the truest measure. After two years of reporting on this, cases, they're going to be more variable. People can develop breakthrough cases. We know people who have been vaccinated.

I think the real question is are those people getting sick and are they getting sick enough to be in the hospital?

I can tell you, Jake. I was spending some time last night looking at the South African health ministry reports and they do see that in Gauteng province, Johannesburg is in that province, they have seen an increase in hospitalizations over the last three weeks. It's their late spring there. They're coming out of flu season.

So are those increased hospitalizations due to this or due to something else? Again, we don't know. But it's that same granularity of data that people should be looking at here in the United States. Are we seeing evidence the virus is spreading, and it's making people severely ill?

TAPPER: All right. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks so much.

Breaking this afternoon, the Trump ally looking at criminal contempt of Congress charges just like Steve Bannon. Who is it? Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, the committee investigating the deadly January 6th insurrection is going to pursue criminal contempt charges for another subpoena-defying Trump official. This time it's former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark.

You might remember Clark. He rose into Trump's good graces by pushing false election fraud claims and trying to weaponize the Justice Department to help Trump undermine the 2020 election.

CNN's Ryan Nobles joins us now.

Ryan, Clark did actually appear for an interview with the committee, unlike Steve Bannon. So why is the committee moving forward with this vote to hold him in criminal contempt of Congress?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, it's what happened behind those closed doors when Clark appeared for the deposition. He basically didn't answer any questions. He told the committee he didn't have to citing executive privilege and attorney/client privilege because of his relationship with the former President Donald Trump.

But the committee just isn't buying it. They believe that Clark has no privilege protections and that he needs to answer their questions and provide the documents that they are looking for. That's why they are taking this step of referring him for criminal contempt to the Department of Justice.

Now, this will play out pretty quickly. The committee is set to meet on Wednesday. They will vote on a resolution from that committee. It will then be voted on, on the entire house floor. That could happen by the end of the week. It will be up to the department of justice to decide whether or not to prosecute.

Unlike the situation we have with Steve Bannon, we now have some precedent to lean on because the Bannon process is making its way through the courts. So, the Department of Justice will have to deal with this, a bit different of a situation than that of Steve Bannon, but it's likely that Jeffrey Clark could be facing prosecution of criminal contempt of Congress, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Ryan, we're also hearing that Trump's former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows could be next in terms of a vote on criminal contempt of Congress charges. How soon would that be?

NOBLES: Yeah. So, there's a lot up in the air as it relates to Mark Meadows. The committee has been threatening a possible criminal contempt referral of Meadows, the former White House chief of staff, for some time. But they've also acknowledged the situation with Meadows is much different than it is with Bannon. Also different than the situation with Clark in the fact that he was working in the executive branch at the time in question. Still, they have been very strict with Meadows saying they want this

information regardless of what privilege claims he thinks he has. They say they're prepared to move forward with some sort of action against Meadows this week. They aren't clear what this is going to be. It does not seem at this point that it's going to be a criminal contempt referral but they're leaving that option on the table. Jake, we're hoping to get clarity as it relates to Meadows later this week.

TAPPER: All right. Ryan Nobles on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

She's accused of recruiting underage girls for Jeffrey Epstein. Now that she's on trial, will we finally learn more about Epstein's associates?

Then, Dr. Anthony Fauci will join us to answer your questions about the new Omicron variant, including when we will know more.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: A couple significant court cases in our national lead. Jury selection is under way in the trial of actor Jussie Smollett. The former "Empire" star is charged with six counts related to making false reports to authorities that he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack in 2019. Police say that the incident they say was actually a hoax and accuse Smollett of paying two men to stage the event.

CNN's Omar Jimenez joins us now live from outside the courthouse in Chicago.

And, Omar, you've been in the courtroom today. What's happening inside there?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Jake. So, the jury selection process is well under way. We've got six jurors seated so far, and about the over 30 that have faced questions from the judge up to this point. The judge is the only one doing the questioning of these jurors, and he's been asking things like, have you heard of this case, which some prospective jurors have said they haven't.

He's also heard if they've seen the show "Empire." Of course, the show he used to be a star of. Some have answered yes. Some have said no and also whether they've been a part any of civil rights organization. So, that process is ongoing but this goes back to January 2019. That's where things began with Jussie Smollett told police he was attacked by two men in downtown Chicago, that they hurled racial and homophobic slurs at him as a black and gay man, that they poured a chemical substance on him, they put a noose around his neck. Chicago police investigated and they said it was a hoax.

So, charges were filed. Those charges were then dropped. A special prosecutor was appointed to investigate why those charges were dropped and then a grand jury found that six new disorderly conduct charges would be put against Jussie Smollett and that is why we are here right now.

So, it's been a years long process to get to this point. And Jussie Smollett is in court seated alongside a number of defense attorneys as we've seen throughout the day.

TAPPER: Omar, how long is this trial expected to last?

JIMENEZ: Well, in short, the judge wants it to be speedy. He said he wanted it to last no more than four to five days. This morning, he said potentially as late as the beginning of next week and as I mentioned, we're already six through the jury selection process on this day one. He has said he wants to get into evidence today, after a jury is selected.

And he also has advised the attorneys and others sitting in the courtroom that these proceedings could spill into the evening potentially as late as 7:00 p.m. local time here as well. It does appear that the Judge Lynn, Judge James Lynn here knows the extent to which things have gone through to get to this point, years in the making and wants to try to get through this in a matter of days, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Omar Jimenez, thank you.

Another highly anticipated trial, this one involving the alleged accomplice of accused sex trafficker and pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Ghislaine Maxwell, a longtime companion of Epstein, is charged with recruiting and grooming underage victims as young as 14 years old for Epstein to sexually exploit. She faces six counts and up to 70 years in prison if convicted of all charges.

CNN's Brynn Gingras joins us live now with more.

And Brynn, opening statements begin today. What's happening in court?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Jake, actually, the first witness for the government is on the stand, a former pilot of Jeffrey Epstein. And that is after we heard the opening statements from both the government and the defense in this case.

The government taking about 35 minutes to lay out its case in front of these jurors in this federal trial, essentially saying that Ghislaine Maxwell knew very well what was going on behind closed doors in Jeffrey Epstein's multiple homes. That, in fact, she was the lady of the house is what the government was calling her, saying that she recruited these underage women for Jeffrey Epstein to multiple locations where he lived. Even took part in the massages that were sort of a cover of this abuse.

So, lots of details there about sort of the conspiracy that they are alleging that Ghislaine Maxwell was all a part of. For the defense's part, they spent about an hour or so talking to jurors essentially saying that she's taking the fall for the crimes that Jeffrey Epstein committed. So that is one of the first defenses that they are going with. Also saying this trial is all about memory, manipulation and money, basically saying there that they believe that some of these victims who will take the stand don't exactly remember the facts as clearly as they should. This trial expected to last about six weeks, Jake.

TAPPER: What do we know about some of the witnesses prosecutors are expected to call? That defense argument isn't completely off base. There are a lot of men, deviants, predators, pedophiles who have not been charged with anything.

GINGRAS: Yeah, that's right. We're supposed to hear from four of these alleged accusers are who are going to detail how they met up with Ghislaine Maxwell. What were their interactions with them, what they did when they spent time with her and then also, of course, I'm sure we'll learn about what happened behind closed doors in all those houses with Jeffrey Epstein.

And, yeah, the defense is trying to say that she, Ghislaine Maxwell, was a victim herself. So, we'll be hearing right now the prosecution from these women but also their family members, how it affected them, these years of alleged abuse and also members of the staff who the government says knew very well what was going on and were told to be quiet about it. Look away. Don't say anything. Don't talk about it, according to Ghislaine Maxwell giving these instructions.

So, again, we're expected to hear a lot, not only about Ghislaine Maxwell's involvement but more about the alleged occurrences behind closed doors at the hands of Jeffrey Epstein.

TAPPER: Yeah. Brynn Gingras, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up, usually, politicians' kids are considered off limits. But up next, how one local meeting of a school board got so ugly that they began attacking the chair's 8-year-old child.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our national lead, throwing punches, name-calling, screaming matches, more and more angry parents have taken aim at school board members across the country, usually over mask mandates.

As CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro reports, the debate got so ugly one town, parents even began targeting the child of the board chairwoman.


EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kelsey and Chris Waits and their kids Abby and Kit live in their dream house in Hastings, Minnesota, for a few more weeks anyway.

CHRIS WAITS, PARENT: Look at the steam on that one.

When I left the Navy, when I left active duty, I had a job opportunity here and I flew out. Kelsey said, well, I hope the interview went well because we're moving here. This town is great. This town is perfect. This is what I want.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: How do you feel about Hastings now?

KELSEY WAIT, PARENT & OUTGOING SCHOOL BOARD CHAIRWOMAN: I can't unsee the things that have been sent to me. I think with time I will find forgiveness.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Kelsey is one of those school board incumbents defeated this year by parents angry over mask rules.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Masks should be a parent's decision.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: And diversity and inclusion programs.

K. WAITS: This community was very split.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: She voted for masking. She supported diversity and inclusion programs. Choices that energize parents in a Facebook group opposed to pandemic restrictions.

The group was formed in July under the name Conservative Parents of Hastings. A few weeks later the name was changed to Concerned Parents of Hastings.

It's a small town. She knows a lot of the parents in this group.

K. WAITS: I'm fine with that. That's politics.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: One day, a parent wrote a long post complaining about Kelsey and masking. And the replies, things got ugly.

K. WAITS: Someone responded to that post by saying Kelsey needs to be in jail because her youngest "daughter" is a boy.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: A parent outed Kit because of Kit's mom's politics.

K. WAITS: This was my most precious secret. The thing I protected most and the thing I was most afraid of ever being used in a political way. I dropped to the floor and I cried.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Other parents soon piled on. One attacked the Waitses, calling them woke parents. Another wrote my heart breaks for any child who has parents that push the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) on them.

One moderator of the group hid some of the ugly posts but another moderator posted more. It kept going.

C. WAITS: It's just a kid trying to impress their woke parents. And I'm like, my God, I voted for Bush, but every time he was on the ballot. My wokeness, if you want to say that my understanding of what it is to be transgender makes me woke, it's because Kit woke me up. Kit taught me not the other way around.

[16:50:01] MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Kit is 8 years old, uses the pronouns they/them. The Waits have asked we not show their face on camera.

C. WAITS: I like that your socks never match. You got style, kid.

K. WAITS: For Kit's fourth birthday, Kit asked for one thing. They really, really wanted the Kit Kitridge American girl doll. Now, I was standing right there in the kitchen and Kit walks up to me. And goes, mom, can you call me Kit. And I said, sure. Still my little boy? And Kit goes, no, your little girl. And I was like absolutely, sweetie, you got it. And then I ran into the other room with a panic attack and called daddy in Japan and said, what the heck just happened?

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: It was a journey for these parents.

C. WAITS: I remember a conversation I have with a family member that said, you know, have you ever just considered doing more manly things with Kit and less nurtury things. And at that moment it was kind of a, well, wait a minute, what am I trying to do here and what is really -- what's wrong with this?

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: The waits decided the right course was love your kid. They let Kit be Kit.

K. WAITS: We lost our friends when Kit first came out and we lost family.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: The family kept all of this a secret from most people, for a simple reason, safety.

K. WAITS: You out a kid before they're ready, you're subjecting them to that sort of behavior that's going to increase their risk of suicide. This is not about my parenting practices. This is about the lives of kids.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: After kit was outed online, Kelsey realized the family might not be safe. She wrote a letter to the local newspaper. She appealed to decency.

K. WAITS: I basically said there's still a line. Don't cross the line. And then I continued my later saying, here are the great things. Here's how we come together as a community.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: On Facebook, some parents responded, with glee. We made the paper, one parent wrote.

K. WAITS: They are proud of what they did.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: CNN reached out to parents in the group. We reached out to the moderators. No one responded. But Concerned Parents of Hastings blocked us.

She knows these parents. She sees them in the grocery store. They know each other. And yet when it came to a political debate, they chose to out her child.

How do you see that happening? Where does that come from? What's going on?

NINA JANKOWICZ, AUTHOR, "HOW TO BE A WOMAN ONLINE": I think there's been a behavior like that that's been modeled by a lot of politicians in the United States over the past several years. And I think normal people who are looking at these small issues at their school board, in their local elections say, well, there's not a consequence for those people and I'm just a small fry so there's not going to be a consequence for me.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: This family is not sticking around this neighborhood to find out what comes next. They are moving.

C. WAITS: That's where we're at right now, that there are people that we know that are not safe for our kids in our neighborhood. And that we can't trust our kids alone at the bus stop waiting for the bus. Not because of the kids necessarily but because of the parents.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Evan McMorris-Santoro, Hastings, Minnesota.


TAPPER: And our thanks to Evan McMorris-Santoro for that piece.

Coming up, will there be new lockdowns? Will the vaccines work? Can we travel? Dr. Anthony Fauci will join us on the new Omicron variant.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

This hour, former Trump Defense Secretary Mark Esper will join us live for his first interview since suing the Pentagon over censoring his upcoming book saying the Defense Department under Biden is blocking parts about Donald Trump.

Plus, the United States of addiction. A special look at how the cheap and powerful drug fentanyl is driving the record number of overdose deaths in the U.S.

And leading this hour, President Biden today attempting to reassure the nation with the world on edge as a new coronavirus variant emerges. Omicron has been named a variant of concern by the World Health Organization because of how quickly it seems to be spreading, though we still do not know if Omicron causes more severe illness or if it evades vaccines.

In the U.S., federal health officials are bracing for the first official Omicron cases in the U.S. so they say there are likely far more infections across the globe than currently reported.

In just moments, Dr. Anthony Fauci is going to join us live to answer all of our questions on this new variant. But, first, as CNN's Amara Walker reports, the rush to get ahead of

this new variant already is happening in the United States before experts know for sure if it's here or how widespread or how severe.


AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Omicron is a stark reminder this pandemic is not yet over.

MR. MARGARET HARRIS, W.H.O. SPOKESMAN: It's just got more of things that we don't like the look of. But we don't have enough information about whether it's more transmissible, whether it's going to cause more severe disease, and critically, is it able to escape the effects of the vaccine?

WALKER: While it will take weeks to have any definitive answers, South Africa, the country that identified the variant, is offering clues.

SALIM ABDOOL KARIM, CO-CHAIR, SOUTH AFRICAN MINISTERIAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON COVID-19: This new variant Omicron has mutations that are common to the other four previous variants of concern. So it has mutations that are similar to the delta variants.