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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Omicron, The Dominant Variant In South Africa, Variant Of Concern Worldwide; New COVID Conspiracy From Rep. Ronny Jackson; Escalating Feud Between Rep. Boebert And Rep. Omar Over Islamophobia; Pentagon Sued By Former Secretary Mark Esper; Former Defense Secretary Sues Defense Dept. Over Book Redactions; "Smash And Grab" Robberies Challenge Police, Retail Stores Across U.S.; Drug Overdose Deaths Hit Record High During Pandemic; Queen Elizabeth To Be Removed As Head Of State Of Barbados. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired November 29, 2021 - 17:00   ET




SALIM ABDOOL KARIM, FORMER HEAD OF SOUTH AFRICA'S MINISTERIAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE: And based on the early evidence we see in South Africa, it's certainly transmitting faster than the delta variant.

AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Already confirmed in at least 15 countries, it is clear omicron is making its way across borders.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We're going to see cases of this new variant here in the United States.

WALKER: Trying to slow the spread, the U.S. along with almost 50 other countries who have put travel restrictions on countries in southern Africa are sparking criticism.

KARIM: It's outrageous that, you know, South Africa and southern Africa is being punished for having good surveillance and, you know, ensuring that we wanted to be completely transparent and to share this data with the rest of the world as soon as we knew it and confirmed it.

WALKER: These restrictions have already left travelers in limbo.

LAUREN KENNEDY, AMERICAN STUCK IN SOUTH AFRICA: We've probably, what, already had about 10 flights booked that we were either canceled or that we were not allowed to board.

WALKER: But today, President Joe Biden tried to assure the American people that these are precautionary measures.

BIDEN: This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic.

WALKER: And he along with other top health officials continue to echo one main message. Get vaccinated.

FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: Please, folks, if you have been on the fence, I'm not a politician. I'm a scientist. Maybe we can even ask all the politicians to agree on this one. Get your vaccine. Get your booster. It's the best chance we've got to drive this COVID-19 pandemic away.


WALKER: And again, Jake, as we have been saying, there's still a lot we don't know about this new coronavirus, omicron, including whether or not it evades vaccines. In fact, if it indeed does, Pfizer and BionNTech saying that it is prepared to adapt its vaccines within six weeks. Johnson & Johnson also saying it is pursuing an omicron specific vaccine as well.

But as you heard from President Biden and public health officials, your best protection is getting vaccinated. In fact, the CDC just a moment ago strengthening its recommendation for boosters saying anyone over the age of 18 should get boosted six months after their second dose, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Amara Walker, thank you so much. Let's bring in President Biden's chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci. Dr. Fauci, good to see you. You've spoken multiple times with your counterparts in South Africa where omicron has become the dominant variant in just two weeks. What are they telling you about the spread and perhaps more importantly, the severity of cases there?

ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISR TO THE PRESIDENT: Well, with the latter, Jake, they don't know and we are really in virtual constant contact with them. They have a number of patients that they're following in their medical facilities and they assured us that they would know probably in a matter of a week, a week and a half, as to whether or not we're dealing with something that for the most part is more severe, equally as severe or less severe. It could be either of them.

Right now it does not look like there's a big signal of a high degree of severity, but it's too early to tell, Jake. We really need to wait for them to give us the information. They have been extremely cooperative and collaborative and transparent with us about what's going on there. Very helpful.

TAPPER: President Biden said today that he does not anticipate expanding U.S. travel restrictions even though almost 20 countries now have confirmed cases of the new omicron variant. Given what we've seen with this virus, do you expect more travel restrictions if omicron is proven to be more contagious and more deadly?

FAUCI: I don't think so, Jake. I think what was done about the restrictions from South Africa and neighboring countries was merely because when the information came out about the molecular makeup of this virus with all of the mutations that were of concern, we felt we needed to do something right away.

Hopefully those restrictions are not going to be a very long duration until we got a handle as too what's going on, but we do not anticipate any further restrictions. TAPPER: South Africa's president called this new travel restrictions

unjustified. The man considered the Fauci of South Africa said this today on CNN. Take a listen.


KARIM: First, it's outrageous that South Africa, southern Africa is being punish for having good surveillance and, you know, ensuring that we wanted to be completely transparent. So, this kind of early knee- jerk reaction to block travel is probably just going to slow the seeding (ph) slightly at best but it will probably have little if any impact.


TAPPER: Do you disagree with what he just said? I mean, he's saying it's probably not going to have much of an impact.

FAUCI: It's not going to have an impact in the big picture of whether it gets here or not, but what impact it will have, Jake. It will buy us maybe a couple of weeks of getting better prepared.

You know, whenever you do something like give travel restrictions, you don't do it just for no reason. You do it to allow you to get a leeway, a little bit period of time of maybe a week or two to intensify your preparedness and to understand what's going on better.


And that's the reason why the president said at the press conference today, now is the time to say, what can we do about this? The unvaccinated need to get vaccinated and those who are eligible to get boosted should get boosted. Because we know from experience, Jake, that even with variants that are not specifically directed at by the vaccine such as the delta variant, if you get the level of antibody high enough, the protection spills over to those other variants.

So we have every reason to believe, even though this is an extraordinary, unusual variant because of the number of mutations. There's no reason to believe that it will not happen that if you get the level of antibody high with the regular booster to the regular vaccine that you're going to have at least some effect and hopefully a good effect on ability to protect against this variant.

TAPPER: You said that PCR tests, coronavirus tests, should detect cases of this new COVID variant. But what about those who instead use this popular at-home rapid tests? Could omicron be much more widespread than the ability to track it because those tests don't work on omicron?

FAUCI: You know, it's interesting. I asked that question just yesterday because I was on a prolonged Zoom call with our African -- South African colleagues. And they said at least some of the rapid antigen tests would pick this up. He couldn't guarantee that all of them would but the ones that they were using, he didn't specifically say what they were, is that the mutations did not interfere with the ability to recognize the antigen by the antibodies that were used in the rapid test. So that is a good thing. The PCR tests that are used can pick it up. Lucky for us that that's the case.

TAPPER: Do you expect that the omicron variant will become the dominant variant in the United States at some point?

FAUCI: Jake, we just can't predict that. We don't know. And that's the reason why we are looking at what the pattern is in South Africa. You know, it's unfortunate that South Africa has been sort of the epicenter of at least the recognition of it, but the good news is they are as good as it gets when it comes to scientists and public health people. So they'll be able to give us some very important information hopefully within the next week or two.

TAPPER: Today, New York City made masks highly recommended. We're now in the thick of holiday gatherings, people spending more time indoors because of the cold weather. Would you urge cities and states to reinstate mask mandates and social distancing measures? And what do you say to those people and I've seen, you know, Republican members of Congress say they don't think masking does anything.

FAUCI: Well, masking certainly does something. I don't think there's any doubt about that. The idea about mandates again, it depends on where you are and what the circumstances you're in. One thing for sure that if you are in indoor congregate setting where you don't know their vaccination status of the people around you, you should wear a mask.

We're going to be traveling soon. People will be traveling for the upcoming holidays. You're going to be in airports that are generally crowded. Keep that mask on. I know when people go to eat at the food courts, to the best of your ability, stay away from that and keep your mask on. You have to have a mask on when you're on the plane. But make sure you have it on when you're at the airport.

TAPPER: So do you think cities should have mask mandates?

FAUCI: You know, I'm not going to speculate on that. I want to see what happens right now. Right now we should be focusing on what's going on in our own country. We have a delta variant that is overwhelmingly dominant. We have 60 plus million people who are eligible to be vaccinated who are not yet gotten vaccinated and we want get a lot more people who are eligible to be boosted, boosted. Vaccination is going to be the solution to this. Whether it's the delta variant or whether it's the omicron variant. Vaccination is going to be the solution.

TAPPER: Dr. Anthony Fauci, thanks so much. Good to see you again. Could yet another House Republican face censure. The bigoted remark that's sparking new outrage, next.

Plus, a new wave of masked smash and grab incidents. Massive groups of thieves hitting everything from luxury stores to Best Buy. Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our "Politics Lead," Republican Congressman Ronnie Jackson of Texas who is also a physician and served as former President Donald Trump's doctor and President Obama's doctor as well, he's now pushing a crazy new COVID conspiracy theory linked to Trump's big lie. Jackson posted Twitter, "Here comes the MEV, the Midterm Election Variant. They need a reason to push unsolicited nationwide mail-in ballots. Democrats will do anything to cheat during an election but we're not going to let them."

Congressman Jackson completely discarding the physician's hypocratic oath, the first do no harm. But it's also worth noting, South African medical experts first identified this new variant, not Democratic politicians. The World Health Organization named it and labeled it a variant of concern, not Democrats. And there is absolutely zero proof of widespread election fraud in vote by mail. Let's discuss.

Ramesh, let me just start with you. So setting aside the political nature of this for a second, there is so much about this new variant we don't know and we're waiting to hear. And I feel like health officials, it's frustrating for them to say we don't know, we need a couple more weeks. But they are trying to be transparent. It seems incredibly irresponsible for a doctor of note like Dr. Ronnie Jackson to pretend that this is a manufactured crisis.

RAMESH PONNURU, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it's irresponsible for a doctor. It's irresponsible for political leaders. He manages to be irresponsible in both ways at the same time.


You're right. There are a lot of uncertainties about this. We don't know how deadly it is. For example, maybe the most important question mark we've got here, one thing we can now say with pretty much certainty is that we will not get enlightenment from Congressman Ronnie Jackson.

TAPPER: I think that's fair. I mean, I don't know if he believes this or not. He --

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's the thing. I do hope real journalists will report this out. Maybe he was joking. Maybe give him the benefit of the doubt, but he seems -- I fear he's not, right. I don't know if he believes it or if he's just trying to manipulate gullible supporters. I just don't know.

But, you know, physicists are always working on a unified field theory to pull together all the forces of the universe into one theory. He's coming close to a unified fraud theory of all the nonsense -- the mail-in ballots are perfectly state. I think the entire state of Utah votes by mail.


BEGALA: There's no fraud there. Colorado does, other states. So he combines the big lie about election fraud with this really eccentric belief that somehow, you know, I guess Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama and I were like hiding out, cooked all this up and then got South Africa -- it's just -- its nuts.

PONNURU: Nobody believes just one conspiracy theory. You got to collect them all.

TAPPER: Right.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: What's so damaging about this, too, beyond the multiple falsehoods just in that one tweet is that he does have the title of doctor. Doctors, nurses, medical professionals are broadly, widely regarded and they are trusted by the public. There's a reason why earlier this year or some time last year Republicans -- the Republican Doctors Caucus did kind of a PSA ad, wearing doctors coats, encouraging people to get vaccinated because the public trusts doctors.

So, when you have that additional title on top of elected official, on top of a politician, it is especially egregious for him to be spreading these conspiracy theories.

TARINI PARTI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: I think beyond obviously the falsehoods in that tweet, what it seems he's trying to do here are sort of hone in on two things. One, you know, voter fraud which of course we know not to be true in 2020. But what we're seeing from Republicans as they think this motivates the base.

So we're seeing him sort of go after that. And then also there's clearly an exhaustion from the pandemic and we're seeing some Republicans through tweets kind of point that out with this new variant and sort of dramaticize (ph) what President Biden is trying to do.

We also saw the president sort of carefully, when he was asked about lockdowns and masking mandates, he sort of carefully responded to that. So, he's clearly trying to stroke the Republican base here through, you know, many falsehoods that clearly don't make sense.

TAPPER: Speaking of which, not one Republican leader has denounced Ronnie Jackson. Not one Republican leader has publicly denounced the horrific Islamophobic comments made by Republican Congresswoman Lauren Boebert of Colorado last week, which I think they also have a very strong vote by mail thing in Colorado by the way.

She suggested that her Muslim-American colleague, Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, maybe she was joking, but it's not funny, might be a suicide bomber. The two congresswomen spoke today. If you were hoping that this was going to bring a moment of reconciliation, here's what Lauren Boebert had to say about her conversation.


REP. LAUREN BOEBERT (R-CO): I never want anything I say to offend someone's religion. So I told her that. She kept asking for a public apology. So I told Ilhan Omar that she should make a public apology to the American people for her anti-American, anti-Semitic, anti-police rhetoric.


TAPPER: Congressman Omar responded with a statement saying in part, "Instead of apologizing for her Islamophobic comments and fabricated lies, Representative Boebert refused to publicly acknowledge her hurtful and dangerous comments. She instead doubled down on her rhetoric and I decided to end the unproductive call. I believe in engaging with those we disagree with respectfully, but not when that disagreement is rooted in outright bigotry and hate."

So that resolved absolutely nothing. In fact, made it worse. And in fact, I wonder, I don't know how much you were following this behind the scenes, but -- or in front of the scenes, Boebert put out or maybe somebody on her staff put out like almost a contrite tweet and then Marjorie Taylor Greene, not to be outdone, basically shamed her for being conciliatory on this. I guess the Trump lesson is never apologize, even if you are 100 percent bigoted and wrong.

PARTI: It definitely seems to have gotten way worse than before the phone call. And there's no one here, no one from leadership really stepping in to tell either congresswoman really here what to do. So it seems like this is just going to keep spiraling out of control. And we're going to see more Republicans, you know, perhaps take this type of tone because they're not really facing consequences.

We heard from the Republican leader Kevin McCarthy say that even Republicans who have lost their committee memberships may get reinstated if Republicans win their majority in the House. So, if there are really no consequences here, you know, public apologies or private apologies really might not matter.


KIM: Right. I think Tarini touches on a really good point and you're saying they face no consequence because they get all the benefits of, you know, outrage and stoking their base, but Kevin McCarthy has done nothing to stand up and say these comments are wrong.

And I think all of us around the table are old enough to remember when Kevin McCarthy punished Steve King for his comments being sympathetic to white supremacy because that was only two years ago. It was in 2019. But right now, Kevin McCarthy is focused really only on, you know, one thing, winning back the majority and making sure he has enough votes to become speaker and that means he has to kind of appease that crowd.

PORRUNU: It's the Donald Trump effect, but it's also the Ilhan Omar effect. Let's not forget, she has made a series of remarks that were accused of anti-Semitism. Democratic Congresswoman Eliot Engel said that she had made a vial anti-Semitic smear and she's essentially faced no consequences for that. She made a non-apology apology.

Pelosi didn't make her -- didn't insist on anything more than that. And I think if you are the Marjorie Taylor Greenes and Boeberts of the world, you're saying, wait, why should we be the ones who back down when they never do?

BEGALA: She was called out by the senior most Democrat on the foreign relations committee, Eliot Engel, right. So, she was called out by lead -- he is -- he was.

PORRUNUI: Yes. Who is still in power in Washington, D.C.? It's not Eliot Engel.

TAPPER: No, but I think -- I do think -- correct me if I'm wrong, but I think Pelosi and others called her comments anti-Semitic.

KIM: Right. Their leadership released statements.


PONURRU: And then Pelosi accepted her non-apology saying she had clarified her remarks, which, you know, I'm sorry if you took offense, right?

BEGALA: But can we take -- talk about the news, not the history. The news here --

PONURRU: The history is relevant.

BEGALA: -- is that -- well, but the history is the Democrats did call out Congresswoman Omar for them. They should have and they were right to do so. Crickets from -- I have to say, I laugh every time I hear the phrase Republican leader applied to Mr. McCarthy because he's a moral and political invertebrate. He is not a leader. It's an oxymoron. Jumbo shrimp, adult male. You know, these words just don't go well together. Republican leader tragically has become one of them.

TAPPER: Why are the House Republican leaders so quiet on this? Is there just no upside?

PARTI: It seems to -- there seems to be no upside, one, because of the Republican base. You know, that's the trump effect here. And then, of course, with you know, Kevin McCarthy's ambitions to become speaker of the house if Republicans do win that majority. They're really trying to figure out this balance between making sure the moderates in swing states have the cover that they need from these controversial comments, but also not alienating the base and the Republican members who, you know, support and make these comments.

PONNURU: Just one more thing, which is that if McCarthy denounces Boebert, Trump will denounce McCarthy and McCarthy understands that perfectly.

TAPPER: Right.

PARTI: Right.

TAPPER: Right. And there is some new reporting in "Politico" saying, "Some Democrats, particularly allies of Congresswoman Omar don't see Boebert's apology as authentic, but other Democrats privately worry if they punish a lawmaker who admits a mistake and tries to make amends, they'll be setting themselves up for similar treatment, or worse, under a future GOP majority."

This is reporting from before she put out her video that seemed to not be rather apologetic at all. But there was a moment where it looked like Lauren Boebert was approaching contrition.

BEGALA: Yes. And it was, I thought, well phrased. Very often in Washington they do this. If you were offended or something, she just said, I apologize to Muslim-Americans who I've offended, I think. It was like -- it's very often in Washington couched in much weaker language than I saw coming out of Congresswoman Boebert, and good for her. But now you're right. She seems to be craw fishing that, maybe under pressure from more -- I don't know if there are more extremist wings of her party, but currently it never ends.

TAPPER: Can I just say that I think contrition and acceptance would be a good thing in Washington, and people say stupid things and, you know, if they apologize and they're sincere and they don't it again, maybe there are lessons to be learned? Is that crazy for me to say?

KIM: It would be good but I think that you might be setting the standard a little bit too high.

TAPPER: That's what (inaudible). Appreciate it. The former secretary of defense under Trump is taking the current Pentagon to court. Secretary Mark Esper will join us live. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our "Politics Lead," former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, who was fired via tweet just days after former President Trump lost the 2020 election is suing the current Defense Department. The lawsuit which was first reported by "The New York Times" is over the current Pentagon's demand that Esper take out, "significant parts of his memoir about his time as secretary of defense."

The book is titled "A Sacred Oath." It is set to be released this spring. Joining us now is former Defense Secretary Mark Esper in his first interview since filing the lawsuit. So, Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us. What does the Pentagon seem to be so worried about that they would edit out or block out, what is it, up to 60 pages?

MARK ESPER, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE UNDER TRUMP: Well, first of all, good afternoon, Jake. It's good to be with you. And let me just say, the -- my view is that the American people deserve a full and unvarnished history of the last presidency that the Trump administration. And what I aim to do was to provide important insights and anecdotes and color to what was arguably one of the most tumultuous second halves (ph) of an administration in history.

And so what I did was follow the law and my personal commitment to protecting national security and filed my manuscript last May for what's called pre-publication review. I got the document back nearly six months later and the report that I received in early October, DoD told me that items, material on nearly 60 pages would need to be redacted.

Now, it's important to say that DoD doesn't do all the redacting. In this sense, they actually had to farm it out, if you will, to at least a dozen plus other agencies and departments.


So, I really don't know who all is marking up the document, but I would say this much. I submitted what I believed at the time and still believe is an unclassified manuscript. And the DODs and others continued redactions are simply arbitrary and unfair, and they should redact (ph) and allow this manuscript to be published as I wrote it.

TAPPER: The lawsuit, your lawsuit cites, "Significant taxes being improperly withheld from publication in Secretary Esper's manuscript under the guise of classification. The withheld text is crucial to telling important stories discussed in the manuscript." This is a topic we've talked about a lot on the show over the years, the over classification by the U.S. government under presidents, Democratic and Republican. Do you have any idea what they are redacting?

How much of it is about Donald Trump, President Trump's actions? How much of it is about China or Ukraine or Russia? Do you have -- do you know?

ESPER: Well I know exactly what they're redacting because they give you feedback as to what it is. What I don't know is why. And I also don't -- or the clear reasons why, and the people I've talked to at DOD at least, have been reluctantly, even state that it is classified.

What I often get is that these are sensitive items that may affect international relations that may -- that are sensitive, that they've asked me to exclude quotes, to exclude conversations with foreign leaders. You know, I was -- I tried to work with DOD informally, between the time that I received my first results back from review and over a month long period, which ultimately resulted in me having to write a personal letter to Secretary of Defense Austin.

But during that time, I tried to work informally and what they were telling me there were highly classified items. I would go back online, and within a couple minutes, find the DOD x report, the material themselves. So, I don't know what the reason is. But again, it's arbitrary, it's capricious, and it just does injustice to this important part of America's history that the people need to know about and need to understand in depth. And so that's why I'm committed to getting to the end of this and making sure that we publish the manuscript in full so that the American people know, you know, the full story of what happened, the good and the bad during those last couple years of the Trump administration.

TAPPER: Do you think this is the Biden administration not wanting to you to report favorably on anything you think Trump did right? Do you think there is political considerations at play here? Oh we don't want Esper to insult world leader too because we're still trying to deal with them. Or do you think this is just a bureaucrats bureaucrating (ph)? ESPER: Well, I think it's a combination of bureaucracy, maybe some laziness on the part of the reviewers. I think there's also -- I know for a fact that there are folks in the policy world at least at OSD policy, maybe other -- maybe the State Department who are concerned about international relations and the diplomacy about all. But look, this is very simple.

I have a lawsuit pending. I can't go into too much detail about that. But if this is not about politics, if the administration shares my view that we should have transparency in government as much as possible without compromising national security, which I remain convinced I have not done, nor will I ever do, then the White House -- and I think it's it really lies at the White House now, because this extends beyond DOD to multiple agencies and departments. The White House can simply come down and say, look, if it's classified, let Secretary Esper know, allow him to review it, I retain my clearances, and if not, then remove the redactions and allow him to move forward and publish this book as written.

TAPPER: Might you just do what John Bolton did and just publish it and let the chips fall where they may knowing that ultimately, government suits like this, when they are as weak as you describe this one ultimately fail?

ESPER: Well, I could. But, look, I want to do it the right way. I want to set the proper example. I follow the process diligently now for nearly six months. I've engaged with them both formally and informally. And the next step, regrettably, has been the lawsuit step. And that said, again, I'd say the White House can come in, step in and say allow it to move forward, and go from there.

But we'll see what happens. We'll take this one day at a time. Again, I think it's important that American people understand their history, our history, and what it means because I wrote this memoir for a number of reasons. One is not just to tell a good story about what happened during those tumultuous times, but also for history, for students of government, for policymakers today, to give them some insights into what I was thinking how I tried to work my way through, you know, day to day activities.

What were the core principles that guided me and, you know, where did I succeed, where did I come up short? I think these are all important things that that I think people will find very interesting when they read my memoir, a sacred oath.

TAPPER: Just -- as long as I have you, I know you weren't Secretary of Defense during the insurrection on January 6, but has the January 6 committee reached out to you to talk to you? I've just wondering as long as I have you here.


ESPER: Yes, they have reached out to me. We haven't been able to connect yet. And you're right, I wasn't there at the time. It was a terrible, tragic event. And it, obviously, struck all of us pretty deeply. But we'll see where that goes. I did not focus on that. I tried to focus on my tenure as both Secretary of the Army where I think we made very, very important strides in terms of modernizing that state's army. And then, of course, my tenure, my 18 months as Secretary of Defense where, again, I covered the most controversial or important elements of that time.

TAPPER: Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us. We look forward to the book being published and you coming back and talking to us all about it.

ESPER: Sounds good, Jake. Thank you very much.

TAPPER: Coming up next, law enforcement across the country on edges large groups of thieves on mass target stores as the holiday shopping season heats up.


TAPPER: In our national lead, the recent wave of mass smash and grab robberies at stores across the country appears to be getting worse just in the last few days.


Police in Minnesota say at least 30 people robbed at Best Buy store there. Multiple incidents have been reported in California including one where as many as 10 thieves made off with sledgehammers and crowbars from a Home Depot. CNN's Josh Campbell is live for us in Los Angeles. Josh, what are police departments doing to try and stop this, his flurry of organized mass burglaries?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well surging additional resources is certainly topping that list. We know that various departments around the country have been increasing patrols at areas near these retail locations again to try to prevent these follow on type of brazen robberies. Here in the city of Los Angeles, the department has placed their officers on tactical alert, which means that there are additional officers available to respond should they see another one of these incidents.

Up in Oakland, we just received a statement from them. They say that OPD will have additional staffing to address the increase in violent crime. Several tactical teams will support the patrol officers who are responding to armed caravans, illegal sideshows and other violent crimes. The tactical teams are highly skilled in deescalating incidents.

Now, just to tell you about some of those incidents that we've seen truly brazen. As you mentioned on Friday, they're in Minnesota to Best Buy's rob, over 30 people carting out merchandise. Here in the city of Los Angeles, recently, a Nordstrom was robbed by several individuals carting off over $25,000 worth of merchandise. A security guard was hurt during that incident.

We've seen many more but the one that really has law enforcement concern here is the one that you mentioned at the top that is this home depot in the Los Angeles area that was robbed right in front of employees and shoppers. Up to 10 individuals carting away hammers and other items that could be used for additional robberies. That's why they are of so much concern.

One development on that case we're hearing over the weekend, the Beverly Hills Police Department stopped the vehicle, arrested four people that were believed to be suspects involved in that Home Depot incident. That, of course, very important, because in order to try to stop the next one of these incidents, authorities want to interview the suspects to see if there's anything that they can glean about what might be coming next. Jake?

TAPPER: Josh, this is certainly organized and it's certainly crime. I don't know if it is considered organized crime. But either way, is this something that the FBI can or should get involved in?

CAMPBELL: Well, we know the FBI is certainly paying attention to what is happening. I heard from an official just a short time ago says that the bureau is in communication with local law enforcement. They're working to determine if there's any type of federal nexus in which case they would take a more active role.

Right now, these investigations are being handled by the various different local jurisdictions. But it's important for our viewers to know that across the country, there are -- on any given day, these task forces involving the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service, local law enforcement that regularly work together to try to stop crime.

Of course, in this situation where you see these incidents, we don't know if they're connected. But they certainly are using the same tactic that is overwhelming force, rushing into these retailers with a large number of people trying to overwhelm security, carve out merchandise causing violence and smashing, again, that's something that local law enforcement around the country is certainly taking note of. We can expect to this continue, we will probably see a greater role by the federal government, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Josh Campbell, thanks so much.

The number of drug overdoses skyrocketing during the pandemic. And many of those deaths are being caused by one home (ph) drug in particular. That story next.



TAPPER: We're back now with the first installment of our new series "United States of Addiction." Today, a look at fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is driving rising overdose deaths, more than 150 a day, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Fentanyl is up to 100 times stronger than morphine. It's often mixed with other drugs to make them cheaper and more powerful and more addictive. And as CNN's Miguel Marquez reports for us now, the pandemic has made it even harder for those struggling with addiction. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Matthew Davidson, 31 years old, died from an overdose on Memorial Day 2020.

K. BUTCHER: That I just remember crying it out. I wasn't ready to let you go. And spent some time alone with him. Patting his hair and touching his hands. He looked like he was just asleep.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Davidson first addicted to prescription painkillers then heroin struggled with addiction for 10 years.

MATTHEW DAVIDSON, DIED FROM FENTANYL OVERDOSE: This isn't my first time I've been in the program.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): In and out of recovery overdosing more than once, his death ultimately caused by the powerful synthetic opioid, fentanyl.

K. BUTCHER: At one point when his girlfriend was asleep, I think that's when he decided he was going to take this dose of what he thought was heroin. But it was very high level of fentanyl as well.

GENE BUTCHER, STEPSON DIED FROM FENTANYL OVERDOSE: Fentanyl was in the heroin. And it doesn't take any of it, hardly kill you.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Fentanyl and synthetic opioids like it accounting for 64 percent of the record 100,000 plus deadly drug overdoses from April 2020 to April 2021.

K. BUTCHER: Did the pandemic kill Matthew? No. It just intensified. I think he was more emotionally fragile during that time.

MARQUEZ (on-camera): What did the pandemic do for addiction in places like Kentucky?

ALEX ELSWICK, CO-FOUNDER, VOICES OF HOPE: Yes, there was a clear and obvious increase in use and overdose in any metric that you want to use.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Alex Elswick, a former opioid addict now dedicates his life to studying, understanding and working with the addicted and recovering at Lexington's voices of hope. He says the pandemic and the isolation that came with it devastated the addiction community.


ELSWICK: What addiction is in your brain is down regulation of dopamine and what social interaction does is upregulate dopamine. So it's literally organic medicine for the recovering brain. MARQUEZ (voice-over): Add to the mix, cheap and plentiful fentanyl, 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, whether in pill or powder form injected or snorted, dangerous even in tiny amounts.

(on-camera): How did fentanyl come into your life?


MARQUEZ (on-camera): Your first overdose.

SHEARER: Yes, first overdose.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): How many overdoses have there been?

SHEARER: Fourteen.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Shearer says he was clean for 19 months. Then last December, his grandfather died. Grief drove him to relapse. He thought he was using heroin. It was fentanyl.

(on-camera): How much did you use?

SHEARER: Very little. I wouldn't even say less than a 10th of a gram.

MARQUEZ (on-camera): Less than a 10th of a gram.

SHEARER: Less than a 10th. And I found that it was straight fentanyl.

MARQUEZ (on-camera): I mean, that's a --

SHEARER: That's --

MARQUEZ (on-camera): -- that's a tiny.

SHEARER: That's tinier than tiny. It's like barely a sprinkle of salt.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to welcome everybody tonight.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Social interaction important for the addicted, their families too. Gene and Karen Butcher founded the Kentucky Chapter of PAL, parents of addicted loved ones. Over the years, they've herded all as they struggled to free their son Matthew, from opioids.

G. BUTCHER Well send him somewhere and fix him, our fixer. Well it doesn't work like (INAUDIBLE).

K. BUTCHER: Why don't they just stop?

G. BUTCHER: Why don't they just stop? Don't they know they can stop?

K. BUTCHER: You think I know what they're doing to their children?

G. BUTCHER: But you see, drugs take over the brain.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Matthew's brother Glenn says there is no easy way to recover and money alone won't solve the problem of addiction.

GLENN DAVIDSON, MATTHEW DAVIDSON'S BROTHER: Addiction isn't something you can just turn off or it's not -- you know, for a lot of these people, it's not choice. They're addicted to these drugs. And I think the only way they can get off is through support and love.

K. BUTCHER: This is his wallet and, you know, this - he didn't have much.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Karen Butcher now clings to the few physical reminders of her son Matthew. Her favorite, a quilt, made from all his favorite shirts.

K. BUTCHER: Sometimes I'll -- I would think, you know, OK, I've got Matthew's arms wrapped around me.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): It includes the last photo they took together in his most favorite shirt.

K. BUTCHER: If the house caught on fire, I probably grab that quilt. I call it my Matthew quilt.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Matthew Davidson, one victim of America's opioid epidemic wrapped in the pandemic of COVID-19.


MARQUEZ: Now, many, many thanks to the Davidson-Butcher family for speaking to us. It is not easy. They do it because they hope it will help other people.

There's any bright spot here, Jake, it's at the CDC. Does have some predicted numbers for 2021 of over drug overdoses and they are below where they were at the worst of the pandemic in 2020. They're still high, but they are better where they -- than they were a year ago. Hopefully, the worst is behind us. Jake?

TAPPER: Miguel Marquez, thank you so much for that report.

Tomorrow, our series, "United States of Addiction" continues with a look at the surge of meth use in America.

Coming up, Queen Elizabeth will rule one less place, one fewer place. Is that one of them, is fewer or less. Either way, starting at midnight tonight.



TAPPER: In our world lead, a changed nearly 400 years in the making. Later tonight, the tiny Caribbean Island of Barbados will officially ditch its colonial ties to Britain and remove Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state as it becomes an independent republic for the first time ever. CNN's Max Foster has somehow managed to score this gig. He is live from the capital city of Bridgetown. Max, Prince Charles is there, he's expected to speak tonight?

MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: He is and it's actually going to be a big moment, I think, because Prince Charles, I expect to say something about the atrocity of slavery and how that is a stain on Britain's past and Britain has never gone as far to say things in those terms. Not as far as many would like here. Frankly, they'd like a full apology, they'd like reparations.

But this is all inextricably linked to Barbados's colonial power. So they became independent from the U.K. 55 years ago. As you say, the Queen will no longer reign over this island as of midnight tonight. Prince Charles is here representing the Queen. He'll watch as the Royal Standard is lowered for the last time and replaced by the Barbadian flag.

So it's a big moment for this island. It does depend on who you speak to. A lot of older people do look back on this very dark past and they're angry about it. And they want to get rid of the British monarchy and they want reparations for what was done here by the Brits. Back in the 1620s, when they settled here, made huge amounts of money from the sugar trade and from the slave trade.

But younger people, I think, the ones I spoke to today are feeling very positive about this moment. They want to move on. They will look forward to a brighter future and that's what tonight's about.

Behind me, you can see the celebrations just starting, an epic steelband. They're going to be playing behind me soon. And then we're going to have that moment at midnight.

When Barbados gets his first president, a Barbadian president, a Barbadian head of state appointed by the Barbadian parliament, it seems like just a symbolic moment, that it's a huge moment in Caribbean history. And other countries like Australia and Jamaica, who also have the Queen has had assayed looking very closely. And I think those Republican movements are celebrating as well tonight. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, centuries late, but at least it's happening. Max Foster in Barbados, thanks so much.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the TikTok at JakeTapper. You can tweet the show at TheLeadCNN. If you ever miss an episode of The Lead, you can listen to the lead wherever you get your podcasts.

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