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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Pfizer: Third Doses Of Vaccine Protects Against Omicron; Biden Warns Putin Of "Severe Consequences" If Russia Invades Ukraine; Jury Deliberations Under Way In Case Against Former "Empire" Actor; Opening Statements Begin In Trial Of Ex-Cop Who Fatally Shot Daunte Wright; Jan 6 Committee: "No Choice" But To Pursue Contempt Charges For Meadows; Olaf Scholz Succeeds Angela Merkel As German Chancellor. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired December 08, 2021 - 16:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I heard somebody say this. I just pick it up, it was right. Just dumb luck that.


BLACKWELL: Glasgow, the host city for the U.N. climate conference. So I was saying Glasgow --


BLACKWELL: So that was wrong.

CAMEROTA: But isn't it Glasgow?

BLACKWELL: I thought it was Glasgow. They gave us pronounced.

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.

CAMEROTA: We're going to figure this out.

TAPPER: Boosters may be the hot item this Christmas.

THE LEAD starts right now.

New data that the third time is the charm to keep away the new COVID variant as it pops up in nearly half the states in the U.S.

Verdict watch in the trial of actor Jussie Smollett. Could he go to prison for allegedly staging a phony hate crime against himself? And then lying to police.

Plus, secret Santas and scandals, the UK's prime minister now in hot water for allegedly throwing a Christmas party during peak COVID lockdowns.


Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. And we begin today with the health lead and the first real signs that

existing vaccines might protect against the new Omicron variant of coronavirus. Pfizer today revealing new lab research that finds three doses of its vaccine will provide even better protection. A 25-fold increase in antibody levels compared to just two doses.

President Biden calling the announcement encouraging.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's a lab report. There's more studies going on, but that's very, very encouraging.


TAPPER: Right now, about 72 percent of the adult U.S. population is vaccinated. Only about a quarter, however, have received a booster shot.

And as CNN's Alexandra Field reports for us now, that number will surely have to tick up as Omicron spreads into 21 states.


MIKAEL DOLSTEN, CHIEF SCIENTIFIC OFFICER, PFIZER: To be protected of Omicron, you really need three-dose series of vaccination.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Promising news from Pfizer on the efficacy of its vaccine against the Omicron variant based on early data.

ALBERT BOURLA, CEO, PFIZER: Three doses against Omicron are almost equiv lent to the two-doses effectiveness we had against the wildcard, original variant.

FIELD: The company saying just two doses may still provide protection against severe disease, but adding that a booster increases protection by about 25 times.

Dovetailing with that data, a very small study in South Africa showing the variant can partly evade Pfizer protection and that boosters are likely to better protect people, enough to raise the question of whether the definition of fully vaccinated will change.


FIELD: Just about 25 percent of vaccinated Americans have received a booster shot. The CDC is closely tracking new Omicron cases, now confirmed in at least 21 states, also linked to an anime convention in New York City, involving 53,000 people.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, DIRECTOR OF THE CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: Data from this investigation will likely provide some of the earliest looks in this country on the transmissibility of the variant. FIELD: So far, Omicron cases are generally described as mild. Peter

McGinn, the first confirmed case of Omicron in the U.S., was vaccinated and boosted.

PETER MCGINN, HEALTH CARE WORKER INFECTED WITH OMICRON VARIANT: Light fatigue, a runny nose and sore throat. After a day, those symptoms went away.

FIELD: The delta variant still accounts for virtually all cases in the U.S. now seeing surges in parts of the Midwest and Northeast.

Michigan, New Hampshire and Maine all hitting record high hospitalizations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I really wanted to get the booster. A little stressful, especially with the holidays and stuff coming up.


FIELD: And, Jake, while we're starting to see how the vaccines are holding up against Omicron, there are more questions that still need to be answered about Omicron like whether or not this variant is more transmissible. We could be getting closer to an answer there. The World Health Organization saying that there are studies going on in the UK and in southern African countries right now and they are expected to release some of the data from those studies on Friday -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Alexandra Field, thanks so much.

Joining us now to discuss, CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, right now, only about a quarter of the fully vaccinated population has received a booster shot. And no state can claim more than half of its vaccinated population has gotten the booster.

Are we in trouble as we head into the holidays?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know how to handle this, Jake, now, with what we've learned over the last two years. The largest problem is still the unvaccinated in terms of potential trouble, in terms of severe illness and in terms of hospitals potentially becoming overwhelmed. If you look at boosters, it's interesting and look at the willingness to get boosters, around a quarter of people have received their boosters.

What we've seen with Omicron, though, is there's definitely been a shift in terms of willingness to get it. You can see definitely will, 37 percent. A lot of reports of being challenging to get boosters right now because there's a lot of people wanting them at the same time.


It's only about 18 percent of the bottom of that that says probably will not or definitely will not.

So there is -- the boosters are available. People should get them now, if they are thinking about it, which a lot of people are. One thing that's a concern, Jake, overall going into the holidays is still delta and just the amount of transmission of this virus that's still happening. So, as you think about holiday parties and things like that, if you are a vaccinated party or vaccinated group of people, a lot less to be concerned about, but testing still important for the reasons that you see on the map there. There's a lot of virus out there.

So if you can add testing into that and improve ventilation, I think that really decreases the likelihood of concern.

TAPPER: So this announcement that Omicron can be staved off, if you have three doses of Pfizer, this announcement comes from Pfizer. They make the vaccine. They make a lot of money from the vaccine.

I assume health experts and officials don't just take as gospel claims by pharmaceutical company CEOs, right?

GUPTA: Yeah, I mean, we need to hear from the CDC on this ultimately. These are laboratory studies where they will take the blood of people who have been vaccinated and boosted and they'll put that in a test tube with the virus and they see what happens. So that's data. It's what Pfizer sort of talked about sort of matched the data that we've seen out of South Africa. But these are small samples so far. There hasn't been a lot of data overall on the impact of boosters on the neutralizing of Omicron.

But Pfizer said this morning when I spoke to the CMO was that it increases your antibody levels by about 25-fold. So, that should be a significant boost and protective against Omicron.

But you're right. We need to hear from the CDC. We need to know the real-world impact of that booster in terms of decreasing the likelihood of illness.

TAPPER: So you asked Pfizer's chief scientific officer whether Americans should wait for an Omicron specific vaccine before getting boosted. Here's what he said to you.


DOLSTEN: Whether we -- or there may be need for additional boosts as we get into spring '22. That needs to be evaluated. We do believe that the third boost will carry you well protected for Omicron through the winter and into the March season.


TAPPER: How likely do you think it is the general population will ultimately have to get a booster shot every three to six months here on out?

GUPTA: Well, you know, Jake, I think we really truly don't know the answer to that yet but I will tell you two things. One is that they did design a delta-specific booster as well, which we didn't end up needing. They designed a beta specific booster which we didn't end up needing.

Many people have said that ultimately, this may just be a three-shot series, period. Kind of like for hepatitis B. You get those shots earlier in life and then you're sort of protected for the majority of your life. Some will need a booster decades down the road. That's one potential scenario that may play out.

Flu is another sort of example that people say, that's a yearly shot but the flu virus actually mutates a lot more than this virus. Even though we talked a lot about variants, it's still a fraction of the number of variants that flu develops in any given year. So I don't think we know. Could be three shots and done, as some have suggested but I think within the next few months, we should know.

TAPPER: There's this chilling new study on the global health security index finding that the whole world, the whole world remains unprepared for the next pandemic. Most countries are underprepared even for small outbreaks of disease. After everything that has happened in the past two years, are you surprised by this report?

GUPTA: I'm not surprised. It's a bit shocking to hear and if you just look at the trajectory of the pandemic in the United States and compare it to the rest of the world, I mean, it's tough to look at that, Jake. I mean, the United States was supposed to be the best prepared country in the world before this pandemic started. And we had the highest rates of infection. The highest rates of death per capita compared to a lot of other countries.

So, it's disappointing. And if you really drill down into that report, I think it was shocking for the authors of that report but it really came down to a significant erosion of trust in government. That's really what drove that blue line to be so much different than the yellow line. It happened in other countries as well but you can clearly see the difference there.

I think one thing that keeps coming up if you talk to preparedness experts is the idea of thinking of potential future pandemics almost like we think of our Department of Defense. You invest in the infrastructure to keep your country safe in a DOD sort of model. Pandemics are a threat to the country.

Instead of litigating all these decisions about masks and vaccines and boosters, if they were all sort of codified in some way through a DOD- type approach, it might make a big difference.


TAPPER: Finally, Sanjay, you interviewed President Biden's new drug czar, Dr. Rahul Gupta today just as the U.S. marks this hideous record, 100,000 overdose deaths during the pandemic. Tell us what he had to say to you.

GUPTA: I think there's two things that jumped out. One is the emphasis on harm reduction, which is a shift in thinking. The idea of protecting drug users, trying to save their lives. It's a controversial issue, but also that fentanyl, illicit fentanyl has far and away become the drug that's driving this overdose epidemic. Sixty- plus percent of overdose deaths were in some way related to fentanyl.

Here's what Dr. Gupta said.


DR. RAHUL GUPTA, DIRECTOR, OFFFICE OF NATIONAL DRUUG CONTROL POLICY: We are seeing a crisis for which harm reduction has to be one of the very important tools in our toolbox. It is for that very reason that this administration has made harm reduction for the first time part of its federal policy.

And as an evidence-based position, that has been --


TAPPER: Go ahead, Sanjay.

GUPTA: Sorry, that is a shift in thinking, really, Jake. This idea of really leaning into the idea of reducing harm even if it may potentially enable drug users to use more drugs. It's controversial. But you heard his point of view on that.

TAPPER: And we're going to have more on that later in the show.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks.

The one thing President Biden says is not an option if Russia invades Ukraine.

Plus, Instagram accused of being a cesspool when it comes to teenage girls and cashing in on it. Right now, Congress is demanding answers from the Instagram CEO.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, right now, President Biden is in Kansas City, Missouri, pitching his domestic agenda, talking roads and bridges on the heels of some good economic news, including a forecasted plunge in gas prices from their November peak, at an average of $3.39 a gallon, down to a predicted $3.01 in January.

But President Biden is also focusing on fears of a pending additional invasion of Ukraine by Russia.

As Jeff Zeleny reports, today, Biden gave us firsthand insight into his crucial two-hour conversation with Vladimir Putin.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BIDEN: I am absolutely confident he got the message.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Biden striking a cautious yet confident tone today that Russian president Vladimir Putin understands the grave fallout from invading Ukraine.

BIDEN: No minced words. It was polite, but I made it very clear. If, in fact, he invades Ukraine, there will be severe consequences, severe consequences. Economic consequences like none he's ever seen or have ever have been seen in terms of being deployed.

ZELENY: One day after a two-hour tense meeting between the two leaders, Biden ruling out sending American troops to Ukraine.

BIDEN: That is not on the table.

ZELENY: But vowing to backstop European allies threatened by any Russian provocations.

BIDEN: We would probably also be required to reinforce our presence in NATO countries to reassure particularly those on the Eastern Front. I made it clear that we would provide the defensive capability to the Ukrainians as well.

ZELENY: But Biden also opening the door to a potential diplomatic off ramp to address Russia's concerns about Ukraine ever joining the NATO military alliance. Today, Biden shining a light on domestic achievements, visiting Kansas city on his tour touting the bipartisan infrastructure law.

The White House unveiling a new logo, Building a Better America, to help explain and implement the $1.2 trillion spending program designed to upgrade transportation and water systems, build roads and bridges and far more.

BIDEN: Here I'm talking about rebuilding America, investing in America, building a better America.

ZELENY: It comes as the White House is eyeing optimistic news on falling oil and gas prices, and early signs of easing inflation.

In Congress, a bipartisan agreement is also at hand to raise the debt ceiling to avoid default. The president also signing an executive order today aimed at cutting the government's carbon emissions 65 percent by the end of the decade, on a path of net zero emissions by 2050.


ZELENY (on camera): Now even as President Biden talked about what he called an infrastructure decade ahead, Jake, he did pause at the beginning of this speech to pay tribute to Bob Dole, of course, longtime Republican senator from neighboring Kansas. He called him an American giant with moral and physical courage -- Jake.

TAPPER: Jeff Zeleny in Kansas City, thanks so much.

Let's turn to our world lead and the growing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. CNN's Kylie Atwood is live at the State Department for us. But let's start with CNN's Matthew Chance who is in Kiev.

Matthew, given what we heard from President Biden today, how does what his version of events and that phone call with Putin square with what the Kremlin had to say about that conversation?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There are some areas of overlap, some parts which, obviously, the Kremlin are emphasizing more than the U.S. side.

On the whole, Putin described the tone of the video call between him and the U.S. president as open, substantive and constructive. He said he hoped the U.S. side thought of the talks in the same way. Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, confirmed it would be a series of meetings going forward and a special diplomatic structure set up to discuss security issues, particularly security in eastern Europe and Ukraine in particular. So that's something that is obviously substantial and concrete that's come out of these talks.

But Putin pushed back on this idea that he, Russia, was poised to invade Ukraine.


He said it was provocative. Russia is pursuing a peaceful foreign policy. He says it has the right to defend itself. And he went on in his conversations today and his statements today about how NATO poses a threat, an existential threat to Russia, and must be kept back from Russia's borders -- Jake.

TAPPER: And, Kylie, you have new reporting on how U.S. officials say Russia's military is preparing for a potential invasion of Ukraine.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Jake, no doubt about it. Russian forces have assumed an aggressive posture here, right? Just yesterday the top three State Department officials told you that Russia has forces on all three sides of Ukraine's border. She said the U.S. has never quite seen something like this before. And before her testimony, during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, she said that what Ukraine is facing now is a Russia that is using forces that are more aggressive and more lethal than they were using in 2014.

She compared the playbook but essentially said what they're doing now is more aggressive. And she said that is why the Biden administration, of course, with its allies in Europe is preparing for all contingencies, even though the U.S. still doesn't know the intentions or the timing of what Putin will do here.

TAPPER: And on that subject Matthew, the Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland told me yesterday that Russia might try to use Belarus to get into Ukraine.

How big of a concern is that for Ukrainian officials?

CHANCE: It's a big concern. That threat from what would be their northern border is a very real one for Ukrainian security services. I put the question actually about a month ago to Alexander Lukashenko, the leader of Belarus himself, and he said, no, we'd never be used in that way.

But Ukrainian intelligence sources tell me here in Kiev that there are joint patrols, air patrols being held now from November the 25th between the Russian air force and Belarusian air force. And most concerning, a lot of the troops that could be used to invade Ukraine are very close to the Belarusian border. It's opened that concern up.

There is an invasion, although Russia says there isn't going to be one, they could use Belarusian territory to come in through the north and put pressure in Ukraine in that way, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Matthew, how are Ukrainian leaders reacting to the U.S.' involvement?

CHANCE: Well, I mean, they haven't formally, properly reacted yet in the sense it's going to be a conversation on the telephone tomorrow here between President Biden and President Vladimir Zelensky, the Ukrainian leader. He has made some initial remarks to its reporters, saying he thought it was positive this call took place because it meant that President Biden was now personally involved in resolving the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. He also thought it was a victory for Ukraine, the United States was still supporting its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

TAPPER: Kylie, what are the next steps for the U.S., for the Biden administration?

ATWOOD: Well, listen, the White House said President Biden and President Putin ordered their teams to have follow-on discussions. We heard the similar from the Kremlin earlier today indicating that they are both invested in the possibility of a diplomatic path forward. We watch to see what the results are of those conversations.

TAPPER: Kylie Atwood, Matthew Chance, thanks to both of you.

Video of the incident sent shockwaves across social media and took a nation closer to the edge. Today opening statements begin in the trial of the police officer who shot and killed a man while shouting "Taser, Taser".

Stay with us.



TAPPER: A pair of significant court cases in our national lead now.

First up, jury deliberations are under way in the trial of actor Jussie Smollett. The former "Empire" star faces six counts of disorderly conduct related to accusations that he staged a fake hate crime against himself and then lied to Chicago police about it. This took place in 2019.

CNN's Sara Sidner joins us live from outside the Chicago courtroom.

Sara, closing arguments wrapped up a little while ago. Tell us the message from both sides.

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The jury, as you know, Jake, is now deliberating in this case after a seven-day trial. We heard quite a bit. Both the prosecution and the defense standing in front of the jury and giving them their final word on what they believe a jury should take into consideration.

The prosecution going after Jussie Smollett. This is all about that January 19th, 2019, incident that Smollett reported to police that he claimed he was attacked by men wearing MAGA hats who were screaming racial and homophobic epithets at him in the middle of the night during a polar vortex here in Chicago.

The prosecution basically laying out their case again to the jury saying this: In January 2019, Mr. Smollett developed this secret plan to carry out a fake hate crime. He falsely reported it and, I told you, that is a crime.

Mr. Smollett failed to tell the truth and made many false statements. He lied under oath to you the jurors. He lied to police. He lacks any credibility whatsoever. He was tailoring his testimony.

That is what the prosecution wants the jury to hold onto as they look through the evidence. But the defense got up and talked about Jussie Smollett for a bit. But then they hammered away at those two brothers, one of whom was Jussie Smollett's trainer.

And here is what the defense had to say about those two brothers who testified that, indeed, they were paid by Smollett to carry out this fake hate crime on Smollett so that he could get more media attention. Here's what the defense said about those two brothers and their testimony: The blame the victim scam. It's better than the African prince scam. Don't fall for it.

That's coming from Smollett's attorney, Mr. Uche, who is Nigeria, as are the Osundairo brothers. He said, I can say this. I am also from the country they are from.

He said the friendship is a one-way friendship. They are not who they say they are, the Osundairo brothers. The brothers are like wolves who are disguised as sheep in a hen house.

So those are the two main arguments. Basically trying to say many people lied on the stand about Jussie Smollett. Smollett maintaining his innocence, the jury now has all the evidence and will deliberate.

TAPPER: Sara, what sort of penalty is Smollett facing if he is convicted? SIDNER: So disorderly conduct for false crime is a class 4 felony. It

means either $25,000 in fines or up to three years in prison. But that is very much up to the judge. It's to his complete discretion.

So we'll see what happens, whether this jury comes back with guilty or not -- Jake.

TAPPER: Sara Sidner, thanks so much.

SIDNER: In Minnesota, opening statements in the trial of a former Minneapolis police officer who killed an unarmed black man during a routine traffic stop. Kim Potter claims she mistook her gun for a Taser when she fatally shot Daunte Wright in April. The incident was caught by her police body cam. We should warn viewers this video is rather graphic.


KIM POTTER, POLICE OFFICER: I'll tase you! Tase you! Taser, taser, taser!

I shot him. Oh, my god! Oh, my god!


TAPPER: CNN's Adrienne Broaddus joins us now live from outside the courthouse.

And, Adrienne, Potter faces first and second-degree manslaughter charges. What did lawyers say about those charges today?

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, defense attorneys said when officers fired those shots that killed Daunte Wright, she was trying to protect her partner. They also said those officers were doing legitimate police work. By contrast, prosecutors say officers like the former Police Officer Potter took an oath to protect life, not to take life -- Jake.

TAPPER: And Wright's mother gave emotional testimony today you say. What did she have to say?

BROADDUS: She was the first witness the prosecution called to the stand. She talked about the final conversation she had with her son via Facebook messenger. He called her when he was pulled over by the officers and he asked his mom what should she do, what should he do? She tried to comfort him and here's a little of that conversation.


KATE BRYANT, MOTHER OF DAUNTE WRIGHT: I heard the officer telling Daunte no. I heard Daunte say, no, I'm not. Sounded like he said don't run. Daunte said, no, I'm not. And then I heard them say, somebody tell somebody to hang up the phone. And then that's all I heard.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BROADDUS: And she said she called back repeatedly. She was unable to get an answer from her son, of course. So she FaceTimed the person that he was with and during that FaceTime call she was able to see her son. She says a neighbor took her to the scene where the shooting happened and he was lying in the middle of the road. His body covered with a sheet. She was able to identify him based on his sneakers, which she could see from beneath the sheet. And she called that the worst day of her life, Jake.

TAPPER: Adrienne Broaddus in Minneapolis, thanks so much.

Another former White House official could soon be facing jail time for trying to protect Trump. That's next. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our politics lead today, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows may soon find himself in the very same legal fight as Steve Bannon. Today, January 6th Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson announced he has no choice but to move forward with contempt of Congress charges after Meadows stopped cooperating with the committee.

Joining us now to discuss, CNN's Ryan Nobles.

Ryan, Meadows' case is different from Bannon's because Meadows actually provided the committee with some documents, right?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. 6,000 documents in total, and he also has expressed a willingness to come before the committee and answer their questions before an abrupt about-face in the last 48 hours where he then sent the committee a letter and said he could no longer cooperate because he was concerned about things like executive privilege. But the committee in this letter back to Meadows where they warn him he'll now face criminal contempt referral talk about how they would like to learn more about some of these documents that Meadows did provide the committee.

Among them, a November 6th, 2020, text where he said to a member of Congress that I love it, in response to discussing alternate electors around the January 6th certification.


Early in January of 2021, he had texts to organizers of the January 6th rally and then on January 5th, 2021, an email with a 38-page PowerPoint briefing that was entitled election fraud, foreign interference and options for 6 Jan.

Now, even though the committee says they have this information, they obviously want to know more about these text exchanges, these conversations that Meadows was having and if it contributed to the riots here on January 6th. They're not going to get that opportunity right now because that deposition scheduled for today, Meadows skipped, which is one of the reasons criminal contempt seems to be the next step.

TAPPER: And, Ryan, how soon could the committee refer Mark Meadows to -- for a vote for contempt of Congress on the House floor?

NOBLES: That's right, Jake. It's, of course, a process. The committee has to vote it out. It has to be voted on by the entire House of Representatives.

I asked the Chairman Bennie Thompson about this last night. He told me it wouldn't take long but suggested perhaps the formal process won't take place until next week.

Remember, Jake, the committee has already voted out of committee a criminal contempt referral against former DOJ official Jeffrey Clark. The full house has yet to vote on that as well pending another deposition opportunity for Clark. So the committee has a lot of work to do as it relates to this particular line of enforcement as they try and get information as it relates to January 6th.

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

Britain's prime minister getting a visit from the ghost of Christmas past after a video no one was supposed to see is made public.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead, it's something like rules for thee but not for me. At least one adviser to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has quit today after a leaked video showed her joking about the prime minister allegedly throwing a Christmas party for Downing Street staff during last year's coronavirus lockdown in that country.

As CNN's Salma Abdelaziz reports, Johnson is now promising a full investigation but some rivals are already calling for his resignation.



SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Allegra Stratton, spokesman for Downing Street, became a household name overnight in the UK.

On Wednesday, she resigned on her doorstep.

STRATTON: My remarks seemed to make light of the rules -- rules that people were doing everything to obey. That was never my intention.

ABDELAZIZ: The senior British government official made headlines, appearing to mock COVID rules and joking about a Christmas party last year. STRATTON: I went home. This fictional party was a business meeting.

And it was not socially distanced.

ABDELAZIZ: If true, it would be a brazen violation of COVID restrictions.

This video obtained by CNN affiliate ITV shows aides rehearsing for a briefing four days after the alleged party. But while Downing Street staff giggled on the video about cheese and crackers, the UK was in the grips of a deadly rise of COVID-19 cases.

Safiah was caring for her elderly father that day. She says he contracted coronavirus during the Christmas period and later died of the virus.

SAFIAH NAGH, COVID FAMILIES FOR JUSTICE: We had five people at my dad's funeral. I was able to actually be with my dad when he died. Me, my mom and my brother were able to be there which I consider a huge privilege because so many other bereaved family members didn't have that opportunity.

ABDELAZIZ: On December 18th alone, the day the downing street party allegedly took place, more than 500 people were reported dead from COVID-19 in the UK.

And this is how police handled other festive gatherings, cracking down and handing out spot fines.

For days, the prime minister maintains that no party even took place.

BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: That all guidance was followed, completely.

That's not true.

I can tell you that all the guidelines were observed.

ABDELAZIZ: On Wednesday, the prime minister told parliament he would launch an investigation, but admitted no wrongdoing.

JOHNSON: I was also furious to see that clip. But I repeat, Mr. Speaker, that I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that -- and that no COVID rules were broken.

SIR KIER STARMER, BRITISH OPPOSITION LEADER: So the British people put the health of others above themselves and followed the rules. Isn't the prime minister ashamed that his Downing Street couldn't do the same?

ABDELAZIZ: The day after the alleged party, Boris Johnson effectively canceled Christmas for the entire nation limiting gatherings. Two days later, most of the UK was back under tier 4 restrictions, essentially a full lockdown.

Now as the country once again is fighting a variant, Omicron, many are asking if the prime minister has the moral authority to lead the country.


ABDELAZIZ (on camera): Now, Jake, the prime minister has promised an internal investigation into exactly what happened but I can tell you in the court of public opinion, he's already losing hearts and minds.

I want to paint you a picture of what was going on in this country around that date. That alleged date the party took place December 18th.


On that date, this city was in tier 3 rules, meaning no mixing indoors. A day later, December 19th, that's when the prime minister took to the airwaves and said, you have to cancel your Christmas plans. If you care about your loved ones, sacrifice Christmas this year so that you can see them safe and healthy next year. I'm paraphrasing but that was the message there. And a few days later the country was in full lockdown.

At the time a variant, the Kent variant, was sweeping through the UK. Thousands of people were in hospital. You can imagine the frustration people feel that the rules did not seem to apply, if this is true, to those in power -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Salma Abdelaziz, thank you so much.

In Germany, the end of an era. For the first time in nearly 16 years, Angela Merkel is not the chancellor of Germany. Today, Olaf Scholz succeeded her as the new leader of the German government after serving as vice chancellor and finance minister for the past four years.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen joins us now live from Berlin.

Frederik, the new chancellor has really big shoes to fill and is already facing some difficult challenges.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, facing some immense challenges, Jake. One of the things about Germany is the transition of power really was very smooth. You could see Angela Merkel today after the 16 years in power handing over power to Olaf Scholz, wishing him all the best and saying that she would stand by his side if he needed any help along the way.

One of the interesting things that Olaf Scholz has done is he really started trying to tackle the most important thing he's going to have to deal with which is the coronavirus pandemic here in Germany. Right now, the numbers in Germany not good at all. In fact, today they had the highest death toll since February.

And Olaf Scholz already started working on stricter COVID measures together with Angela Merkel before he even took power and so he's definitely trying get a strong start. The other thing is the economy but then also foreign policy is a big issue for this government. And right now, especially that threat in eastern Ukraine with Russia,

amassing those forces there, and one of the things Olaf Scholz has pointed out is that he wants a strong transatlantic relationship. He's a big fan of U.S. President Joe Biden and really values the new multilateralism as he put it yesterday and today that President Biden has brought into U.S. relations with its allies in Europe.

TAPPER: So, Merkel exits just shy of the record for the longest chancellorship. I believe that was set by Helmut Kohl. What kind of legacy do you think she's leaving behind?

PLEITGEN: She's nine days shy of Helmut Kohl. So, yes, he is still the record holder.

You know, I think that her main legacy is really bringing Germany to the world stage and making it a big power in the world, really using a lot of soft power. If you look at the things Angela Merkel will be remembered for it's crisis management. When you look at the Greek debt crisis, you look at the euro crisis. She quite possibly single handedly saved the common European currency.

And then if you look back to 2015, definitely the refugee crisis where you had more than a million people coming into Europe and Angela Merkel essentially opening the doors of Europe and letting people in. Those are definitely the things that she's going to be remembered for.

And the other thing for a lot of Germans, of course, is the fact that Germany had a strong economy in that time as well.

TAPPER: All right. Fred Pleitgen, thanks so much.

It's been called toxic to teenagers. Now Instagram is rolling out new safety measures. But are these just empty promises? The head of the social media company is testifying before Congress right now.

Stay with us.



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

This hour, what to do, if anything, about Congresswoman Lauren Boebert, who continues to spew anti-Muslim bigotry. Democrats are divided as one progressive introduces a resolution to strip Boebert of her committee assignments.

Plus, the record surge in drug overdoses in the U.S. We're going to talk to a congressman who lost his nephew to this epidemic and is pushing for one very specific change to help save lives.

And leading this hour, right now, the head of Instagram testifying before a Senate panel. Adam Mosseri facing tough questions about the negative impact of the popular app on kids. Mosseri defending the platform saying he believes Instagram can be a positive force. As lawmakers allege, the app does not do enough to protect its young users.

As CNN's Donie O'Sullivan reports for us now, the Instagram chief's testimony comes after months of scrutiny over the harmful effects of Instagram and Facebook, particularly on young users.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): Self-policing depends on trust. The trust is gone.

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRRESPONDENT (voice-over): The head of Instagram facing a disturbing picture of his platform in and the harm it causes especially among kids.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): Do you view the kids as a feeder way for people to get into your product? Have you not -- have you not done things to get more teenagers interested in your product? Are you not worried about losing them to other platforms? You better tell the truth. You're under oath.

O'SULLIVAN: It's the latest round of tough questions from lawmakers for Meta, formerly Facebook, which owns Instagram.

BLUMENTHAL: Shouldn't children and parents have the right to report dangerous material and get a response?

ADAM MOSSERI, HEAD OF INSTAGRAM: Senator, yes, I believe we try and respond to all reports. And if we ever fail to do so, that's a mistake that we should correct.