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The Lead with Jake Tapper
Biden Speaks After Touring Kentucky Tornado Damage; Former Trump DOJ Official Meeting With Jan 6 Committee; The United States Has Surpassed 800,000 COVID Deaths; Anti-Vaxxers Target German Politician In Assassination Attempt. Aired 4-5p ET
Aired December 15, 2021 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: It may be one of the toughest parts of the job.
THE LEAD starts right now. President Biden touring the historic heartbreaking tornado damage in Kentucky. The devastation so bad in some communities, residents still do not know how many lives were lost.
A terrible milestone: 800,000 Americans gone because of COVID, but as the omicron variant spreads, Dr. Fauci has some good news today about how to fight it.
Then, the assassination plot against a political leader involving anonymous packages, threatening letters and raw meat, and it's all over vaccine mandates.
Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We start today with breaking news. Any moment we expect President Biden to address the nation from one of the towns hardest hit by the string of deadly tornadoes that ravaged several states and the U.S. last weekend.
This afternoon, the president started his visit in Mayfield, part of Graves County, Kentucky, where 21 Kentuckians are confirmed dead so far. Biden promised local leaders that not only is the Biden administration on the ground to help now. They are committed to helping rebuild as long as it takes, he said.
Mr. Biden also saying he's in awe of how these communities have come together in the wake of such destruction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATESE: Just came out of nowhere to help as a community. And that's what we're supposed to be doing. That's what America is supposed to be. There's no red tornadoes or blue tornadoes. There's no red states or blue states when this stuff starts to happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: CNN's Kaitlan Collins is traveling with President Biden in Dawson Springs, Kentucky.
And, Kaitlan, what's been the message on the ground there today, not just from the president to these communities but also from the tornado survivors to President Biden?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's been going and meeting with them individually, Jake. You've seen as he's been touring those neighborhoods.
And that message there saying there's no red tornadoes, there's no blue tornadoes. This isn't a political aspect to this. You just see people coming together trying to help clean up debris, helping people look through the debris for these family mementos. And that's really been the aspect of it, of how hard this community has been working in this -- just the days after this aftermath of this destruction to try to help fix it and clean it up just a little bit. Just to try to make it a little bit better.
TAPPER: Thank you, Kaitlan. I'm sorry to interrupt.
Here's Kentucky Governor Beshear speaking.
GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D), KENTUCKY: Bad things did not happen here until Saturday. If you look around here, or Mayfield in Muilenburg County and a number of other towns, you might think that we are broken, but we are not. In Kentucky, we are good people. We love one another, and we lean on one another.
We open our homes to those in need, not just today but every day. And we will repair our homes, our businesses and we will repair our lives. We will do all of that together. As a people, we're not alone. The generosity and outpouring of love, pure, unconditional love from around this country and around this world has been overwhelming. Millions of dollars and more water, diapers, sweatshirts, household goods than we could ever count have poured in.
As a state, we are also not alone. President Biden and the federal government have offered more aid and acted faster than we have ever seen in the history of the United States of America.
I received three personal calls from the president on day one. First, when he could get through, and then at the end of the day saying what else do you need? We got an immediate disaster declaration, which doesn't happen. And just -- I think on the same day, not even a full day later, a major disaster declaration.
And you know what? Starting yesterday, there were people here in FEMA shirts walking house to house to start processing people's claims to get them back on their feet.
We've gone from looking for our dead to starting to haul away the death and destruction around us. And the steps to start rebuilding have already begun. I cannot thank the president enough.
And I know our federal delegation feels the same way. They have been hugely supportive. Thank you, Congressman Comer, for being strong for this community and for pushing for everything we need in Washington, D.C. You've been a wonderful partner.
I hope the people of Kentucky know that I care deeply about them and the president does, too. He's here, in Dawson Springs, Kentucky, because we're hurting.
And I am so thankful for the full, unwavering support of our federal delegation. I am so thankful for the president that said yes to every ask we've made, and you know he's going to have news about another ask that I make, one that I thought that there was no way that we could get a yes to.
But it's going to mean the federal government isn't just here. Isn't just doing things we've never seen before, but is fully behind every single family that has suffered any loss. On behalf of Britainy and I, to the people of Kentucky, we love you. I never in my life thought I would be able to introduce the president, and I wish there were different circumstances, but I'm still very honored to be able to introduce the president in my dad's hometown, President Joe Biden.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Gov, thank you.
I want to introduce you to a new friend of mine. This is Dane. Dane lived down the street. And Dane and all his -- he has cousins who are all together.
And one cousin, I don't know where she is. There she is. Come on up here, honey. Can you see -- come here.
She is about to graduate from UK on Friday -- on Friday. And -- and I just want you to meet them.
I -- I'm sorry to keep you all waiting, but I got a chance to hang out with the whole extended family down there. And I want you to meet a soon-to-be-graduate who wants to go on to graduate school. Come on up here, honey. (APPLAUSE)
What's your first name?
BIDEN: Abby is here, and we're going to figure something special for her graduation day. But imagine that: This Friday, she graduates from UK.
I kid and say, "The best thing that ever came out of Kentucky was my sister-in-law. And she is -- she's all blue. She went to UK, then she went on to Duke Law School. And she married my brother. We're all thankful to everybody for her marrying my brother.
And at any rate - so, you got to remember me when you're president, right?
THE PRESIDENT: Okay. Thank you. I just wanted you to meet the folks I was just hanging with.
Thank you, honey.
ABBY: Thank you.
BIDEN: Andy -- thank you, Gov, for the introduction. I -- your forbearance is commendable. I -- this has to be an emotional moment for you and the family, for the congressmen - for all of you congressmen. Thanks for the passport into your district. Appreciate it.
And the -- I want to also thank everyone here that took the time to be here. And, you know, one of the things -- back in the 1900s, Dawson Springs was a place where people came to be healed because of the mineral waters. Literally, it was a place you came to heal. Now it's our turn to help the entire town to heal.
You know, I -- I granted the request for the first emergency declaration and the major disaster declaration the moment I received it, because I got to know the Governor's father, and I knew nothing would come if it wasn't real. I mean it, for real.
And, you know, yesterday I also approved an emergency declaration for the state of Illinois and Tennessee. And I intend to do whatever it takes, as long as it takes -- as long as it takes -- to support your state, your local leaders, and -- as you recover and rebuild, because you will recover and you will rebuild.
You know, the scope and scale of this destruction is almost beyond belief. When you look around here, it's just almost beyond belief. These tornadoes devoured everything in their path. And, you know, as I flew over here in the helicopter, you can look down and you see a house 20 yards away from a house that's devastated, and the house is in good shape.
I mean, it's just -- tornadoes are such devastating storms.
Back where I'm from, we're used to hurricanes and floods and high water, but these tornadoes are just something totally different. And they're not -- you devoured -- it devoured everything in the path: your homes, your businesses, your houses of worship, your dreams, their lives.
And, you know, the Governor confirmed there were, I think you said, 74 fatalities so far, Gov, in Kentucky and -- and making these among the deadliest tornadoes to ever strike this state.
Almost 14 people are confirmed dead in other states, with dozens of people still -- still fearful of where they -- where they are.
I met one of them. I don't have permission to use their name, but I met one couple on the way up, said they're still looking for four of their friends. They don't know where they are.
And those who have lost someone -- there's no words for the pain of losing someone. A lot of us know it. A lot of us understand it, especially around the holidays, when everything is supposed to be happy and joyful.
It was a long time ago I got a phone call around the holidays and found out that my -- I was in Washington as a young senator -- not sworn in yet -- about to be hiring staff. And I got a call saying, from a first responder, that there had been an accident. A tractor trailer broadsided my wife with a Christmas tree on top and my three kids inside. My wife and daughter were dead.
But my mother, God love her, used to always say, out of everything terrible, something good will happen. Something good has to happen out of this. It just can't be all bad. We've got to make it better.
And so, folks, those who have lost someone know -- know how tough it is. And you know how tough it is.
You know, in Mayfield, just hours before the storm -- and we just came from Mayfield -- the Gibson Pharmacy had been full of families with children waiting to meet Santa. Now it's completely gone.
And so many businesses that are vital to the community have been so damaged and destroyed in your town as well.
There's a saying in small towns: People know about it when you're born, and they care about it when you die. They know about it when you're born, and they care about it when you die.
Well, in so many places, destruction was met with compassion, neighbors and first responders racing to help and save each other's lives and support. I mean, I asked -- I'm not joking -- I asked, when I got to Mayfield, what the first thing my first -- my first responders -- FEMA and the -- and where -- what they heard. And they said they were amazed.
All they heard was about people just going out, helping one another -- everybody. Everybody just stepping up. It's incredible. It's incredible how you all step up.
And so, folks, you know, the fact is: I'm going to make sure the federal government steps up and make sure we do every single thing.
For years and years, as U.S. senator and then as Vice President, we -- I come from Delaware, and we have a lot of serious storms -- hurricanes, oceans rising, a whole range of things.
But you know what? It always took a long time. There's no reason why it should take any time. We have the wherewithal to get it done. And we're going to get every single thing you need.
And I'm going to make sure the federal government does what's needed. At the state's request, four FEMA search and rescue teams are working here in Kentucky right now. For those without power, FEMA has already provided 61 generators. The Army Corps of Engineers has temporary power install teams to -- ready to assist if needed.
And we've provided critical supplies thus far and a lot more to come -- 144,000 liters of drinking water, 24,000 [sic] meals. You know, I -- I just -- 74,000. And, look -- thousands of cots and blankets. There are seven - seven shelters open in Kentucky, which are now taking care of 300 occupants. But a lot more is going to occur.
Of course, housing is a key. Because of COVID, we want to make sure people are out of those shelters as quickly as they can, because of COVID. And, ultimately, we want to start to provide some certainty for people.
I've been involved in responding to a lot of disasters, and you can see it in people's faces: What they're really looking for -- "And look around," I say to the press -- what they're looking for is just to be able to put their head down on a pillow, be able to close their eyes, take a deep breath, go to sleep, and make sure their kids are okay. That's what people are looking for right now.
But a lot of hard work is going to happen in the next two and three months to bring it all the way back.
And so, folks, the Governor -- I want to -- Gov, I want to provide you the certainty as well. I just approved the request that I wasn't sure I had the authority to do, but turns out I do.
The government is going to cover 100 percent of the costs -- 100 hundred percent of the costs -- for the first 30 days for all the emergency work, from clearing everything to -- every single cost the federal government is going to take care of.
[16:15:06] And it includes debris removal, cost of overtime of law enforcement, emergency service personnel, and shelter. And that'll get you through.
And by the way, I want to thank your wife. She started a toy drive for this part of the state to make sure -- how many -- come here. I'm taking credit for something I have nothing to do with.
BRITAINY BESHEAR, WIFE OF GOV. BESHEAR: How could you?
BIDEN: But tell them you got so far.
BESHEAR: Well, as of this morning, we think that we have around 20,000 gifts donated. And we've got three more days to go.
BIDEN: Twenty thousand gifts so no kid is going to sleep -- wherever they get to sleep tonight -- without a gift.
God love you.
And look, we also need to recognize that people have suffered mental and emotional injuries. The cost of this sometimes are unseen and unknown.
You know, people talk about post-traumatic stress in the battlefield as I traveled through Afghanistan and Iraq. Well, guess what? There's a lot of post-traumatic stress that comes from lying in your house and all of a sudden the roof goes blowing off and you wonder whether your kids are around. I really mean it.
So, you know -- or the shock of losing a home and a business, the grief of losing someone.
It's happening right before the holidays, as I said, and we're going to make sure that you have all the help you need, including the kind of mental help that is needed to help people through difficult times.
And, folks, you know, FEMA has opened Mobile Disaster Recovery Centers in Mayfield and in Dawson Springs. And it has disaster survivor systems teams on the ground here in Kentucky to help people register for assistance.
As I said when I talked to the governor, not only that we're going to get what you need, we're going to make sure you know everything's available, because you don't always know all that is available -- all that is available. And that's what we're going to do.
And, folks, you know, if you live in the affected areas, which all of you are standing here watching me do, you know you visit DisasterAssistance.gov -- DisasterAssistance.gov or call 1-800-621- FEMA. That's 1-800-621-3362.
I promise you: You're going to heal. We're going to recover. You're going to rebuild. You're going to be stronger than you were before. We're going to build back better than it was.
And when I come back, I got one beautiful lady and her husband who promised me a meal. She's apparently a hell of a cook, so I'm coming back for the meal.
So, thank you, thank you, thank you for being here.
And to all of the families here: Keep the faith. We're going to get this done. I promise you, the governor is not walking away. Your county judge is not walking away. Your congressman is not walking away. No one is walking away. We're in this for the long haul.
Thank you very much for your patience.
PRESIDENT: Mr. President, did you say you're going to cover the costs for 30 days?
REPORTER: Does FEMA need more money for Congress in order to fund this response?
BIDEN: Not now. We don't need it yet. We don't need it now.
You know, there has been, because of weather disasters just this year, over $99 billion in losses -- $99 billion in losses.
And as I flew over -- I was telling folks here -- as I was out with the governor of California and Idaho and other states, as you fly over those territories for the better part of an hour, looking down, every single solitary thing is leveled because of the fires. Nothing there -- the forest, the homes, the businesses.
And guess what? So much area has burned this year because of weather and climate changes that is larger than the entire state of New Jersey -- the entire state of New Jersey. That's how much land has been burned to the ground.
So, we got a lot to do. We got a lot to do, but the American people are ready to do it. This is the United States of America, there's not a darn thing we can't do.
TAPPER: You have been watching President Biden in Dawson Springs, Kentucky, speaking about the damage he saw today from the devastating tornadoes in the state. He was introduced by the governor, Andy Beshear, whose father is a two-term governor, Steve Beshear and Dawson Springs is his father's hometown.
Let's go back to CNN's Kaitlan Collins who is traveling with President Biden.
And, Kaitlan, President Biden says the federal government will be covering the cost of the cleanup.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. That's part of that disaster declaration he put in place over the weekend. The president in those remarks talking about destruction meeting compassion. That's the case of what we've seen here in Dawson Springs today where there is a lot of destruction. You can see it all behind me. But there's also been a lot of compassion of neighbors helping other neighbors look through, trying to find family pictures, dishes, any kind of memento that's been completely destroyed or lost as a part of this destruction that they've seen.
And, of course, a big part of this going forward, Jake, is going to be housing, which is a huge issue here of people who have lost their houses, and there aren't a lot of places for them to stay nearby because there's damage to other facilities where typically you'd be able to put someone in a situation like this. And so, just where I'm standing here in Dawson Springs, we should remind everyone about one- third of the city's population lives beneath the poverty line.
And the average median household income Jake is just over $25,000. That's according to the city's mayor, Carson Smiley. So that is going to be a big aspect of this going forward. How to make sure people can get housing back, because if they don't have insurance, what do they do to get this back? And what do they do going forward?
And so, President Biden emphasizing that. It's going to be a huge aspect of it. Also to talk about what people are going through, looking for these things, looking through the rubble that's left behind us as they do start to clean up this debris as you heard Governor Beshear talking about.
TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins in Dawson Springs, Kentucky, thank you so much.
Let's go to Mayfield, Kentucky, now, President Biden's first stop today. We're finding temporary housing and where power outages are a real problem for survivors of these tornadoes.
CNN's Brian Todd is on the ground there for us.
And, Brian, how are the recovery efforts going there in Mayfield and how is the community holding up?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The community is really hurting now, Jake. This is not untypical in the aftermath of a tornado. You know, the first couple of days afterwards, you see people picking through their homes, very stoic. Don't show much emotion. They're in shell shock.
Right now, four to five days afterwards when the pain and loss really start to take hold and I spoke to a gentleman whose home, apartment was destroyed, Jimmy Henley, a short time ago. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: This happened just a few days before Christmas.
JIMMY HENLEY, TORNADO SURVIVOR: Lived here all my life. I couldn't even recognize some of the roads. I'm sorry, but I've known these people all my life. They're helpless. I don't know what to do for them, but we're trying.
(END VIDEO CLIP) TODD: And another lady we spoke with just said there is no Christmas this year and then started crying. As we survey the damage in downtown Mayfield, we can tell you the salvage officials conducting the operations here, the clearing, one of them told us it will take two to four months to clear all of this debris from the Mayfield area.
We got an updated word on some casualties here. The mayor's office told us 21 people confirmed dead just in Graves County where Mayfield is, the ages of the dead range from 2 months to 98 years old -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Brian Todd in Mayfield, Kentucky, thank you so much.
Joining us now to discuss Mayfield city councilman Barry McDonald who met with President Biden during the president's visit to Mayfield today.
Councilman, before I ask you about your visit with the president, I want to ask you if it's okay, is your family doing all right? How are they?
BARRY MCDONALD, MAYFIELD CITY COUNCILMAN: Yes, sir. Thank you for asking. We're fine. My wife and I. We're at home, and we're safe. Our home is about three quarters of a mile from the first building that was on the ground.
I think the destruction, the path of destruction is just hard to believe that it would happen and it could happen and be a tornado of this size.
TAPPER: What can you tell us about your conversation with President Biden today, sir?
MCDONALD: Yes, he was supportive, obviously. You can see the care and concern for the community and the victims. And the message he brought that the federal government is -- Homeland, FEMA, they're rolling everything we've asked for. The governor has asked for.
Our state FEMA director has asked for. Everything congressman has asked for is -- has been approved. And that's all we can do and continue to expect that we will get that support, and I believe we will.
TAPPER: Were you able to talk to President Biden and the other officials there about what your city needs the most right now? And what is that?
MCDONALD: Well, cleanup, infrastructure, the support from people outside the community is just overwhelming. The amount of supplies, food, water, clothing, those type of things brought in -- oh, my gosh, just great.
We just need to keep moving forward every day because we have an opportunity here to -- it's not going to be the same, but we have an opportunity to rebuild and now is the opportunity to make it even better than it was.
TAPPER: So we've heard from Governor Beshear and other state leaders that they believe at least 100 Kentuckians remain missing after the tornadoes.
Do you know if everyone who lives in Mayfield or Graves County has been accounted for?
MCDONALD: I have not been told or I wasn't told today of any numbers of anybody that's still missing. I'm not -- I don't have an accurate count on that. So I would night answer that.
TAPPER: It's been almost five days. How are people in Mayfield holding up right now in this new reality?
MCDONALD: Right. I think a lot of people, the reality is setting in, as you said, day five. And it's easy to remember the first couple of days were kind of numbing. Every day is a new challenge. But you continue to see people press forward. And I know there's so much support here right now.
I worry about two weeks from now when Christmas and New Year's is coming fast or it's cold weather, I worry about two months from now. I heard the president speak about the emotional support that we're going to need or people that really have lost loved ones or their homes in this community, in Dawson Springs are going to need six months from now or whenever because it's going to have made an everlasting impact on their life.
TAPPER: Yeah. That's an important point and you'll have to stay in touch with us so we can make sure. Attention on this site five days later is one thing but attention five months later is another and we'll make sure to keep bringing the news from Mayfield to our viewers.
One of your fellow council members said on CNN earlier today that your community is dealing with some housing issues. Are there places to stay for everyone who needs one?
MCDONALD: I believe there are. I know they've opened state parks. We have four or five regional state parks close to us, and those facilities, those hotels have opened up. They have other shelters in Paducah and in part of maybe some churches here in Mayfield.
So I believe temporary housing, it's what we worry -- I already see the need. I was in a different part of the city this morning where I didn't realize how many houses were definitely destroyed, not going to be reparable, and there's going to be a huge need for new housing in our community.
TAPPER: Mayfield, Kentucky, City Councilman Barry McDonald, thank you. God bless you. Please stay in touch so we can continue to shine a light on what the good citizens need in the weeks ahead.
MCDONALD: Thank you, Jake.
TAPPER: And for more information about how you can help tornado victims, go to CNN.com/impact, CNN.com/impact.
Coming up -- they helped organize the January 6th rally. Now they're talking to house lawmakers investigating the insurrection.
Plus, an assassination plot foiled. Lawmakers in Germany getting a package of raw meat and threatening letters with a warning about vaccine mandates.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: In our politics lead, the January 6th committee investigation is in overdrive right now after last night's vote to hold former President Trump's chief of staff Mark Meadows in criminal contempt of Congress for not testifying before the committee.
Today, the committee is meeting with Ken Klukowski, a deputy to former Trump Justice official Jeffrey Clark. Clark, as you might helped Trump devise one of many plans to overturn the election. This one included ousting then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, I believe.
CNN's Whitney Wild joins us now live with more on this.
Whitney, what is the committee hoping to learn from Clark's former right-hand man?
WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: I think they are trying to learn what efforts Jeffrey Clark made to overturn the election and who was directing it. The reason Ken Klukowski is so important is because we know that there have been other people within DOJ who already testified. Former attorney general -- Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, other deputies.
But the reality is the committee has not heard from Jeffrey Clark. So anybody who is very close to Jeffrey Clark at the time can give a real firsthand account of the efforts he was making. And his interviews especially important because Jeffrey Rosen and other members of DOJ have been questioned about him in the past, and their testimony showed they don't know that much about Ken Klukowski.
So, this is an opportunity for the community to know a lot of information that really can only come from one person, Jake.
TAPPER: And a short while ago, you spoke with a January 6th rally organizer who met with the committee yesterday. What did he tell you?
WILD: Well, he said he met with the committee for about seven hours. He called it an extremely substantive review. He described this meeting as investigators walking in with stacks of paper that he had provided. So, they went through methodically what he knows.
And he maintains this is an extremely thorough investigation. And he told us a lot about what was going on behind the scenes leading up to January 6th and specifically what happened on that day.
One of the key points I thought he made in our interview was when he was talking about the rally organizers waiting to hear basically directly from the former president about what to do, what statement should they make because he was advocating for making a statement out of the gate and speaking a lot. But he says there were rally organizers waiting to get their cues from the White House.
Here's what he told me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DUSTIN STOCKTON, ORGANIZER FOR PRO-TRUMP RALLY ON JAN. 6: They were absolutely looking for his Twitter account for guidance. I mean, they were looking to hear instructions from the president. And they weren't getting it, so they continued to do what they were doing, it seemed like.
And it's -- man, that was the point for me. It feels like when you get conned, right? Like when you finally realize and the shade is pulled from your eyes. You just look back at all the different warning signs you should have picked up on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILD: And what he meant by this being the moment was that he felt like there was an opportunity for the president to exercise leadership here. He thought Don Jr.'s text to him saying this is the time to lead, texted Mark Meadows saying this is the time to get the president to lead and he didn't do it. That's the moment he realized he felt he had been conned. He looked for leadership in the president and it never came.
TAPPER: All right. Whitney Wild, thank you so much.
Now the decision to charge Meadows is in the hands of Attorney General Merrick Garland.
CNN's Evan Perez joins us now live from the Justice Department.
And, Evan, how long do we expect it to take for the attorney general and the U.S. attorney for D.C. to make a decision about whether or not to prosecute Mark Meadows?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Justice Department is not saying right now, Jake. But, you know, there are all the indications we're getting is that this is probably not going to take -- this is going to take longer than the 21 days it took for the prosecutors and the U.S. attorneys office in D.C. to study that matter to investigate that case against Steve Bannon, which they believe was a much more straightforward case.
In this case, Meadows has filed a lawsuit, for instance. So that case is now in front of a judge and it is possible that that could add some time for prosecutors to have to consider what to do about Mark Meadows' case.
TAPPER: What sort of complications does this case present? It's worth pointing out, unlike Steve Bannon, who they are prosecuting, Mark Meadows was not just a government employee at the time. He was White House chief of staff and unlike Bannon, Meadows has cooperated, at least a little bit. He has turned over documents, even if he has refused to testify.
Is there a chance that Meadows -- I'm sorry, that Merrick Garland will not prosecute Meadows?
PEREZ: I think there is a chance. And I think what you just laid out are exactly the complications that make this not exactly a straightforward case. And there is decades of legal guidance from this building, from the Justice Department, that says, you know, there's a special kind of executive privilege that is provided, cover essentially, protection that is given to close advisers of presidents, including former presidents. That they don't necessarily have to show up to testify.
That is years of guidance from this building. So that is going to come into play, Jake, as well as the fact that you can say he did provide some assistance.
TAPPER: All right. Evan Perez at the DOJ, thanks so much.
If you thought the delta variant spread quickly, the head of the CDC has a startling warning about the omicron variant. That's next.
TAPPER: In our health lead, Dr. Fauci providing some hope today if you get your booster shot. You'll have protection, he says, against the rapidly spreading Omicron variant. That clear picture taking shape as the U.S. passes a sad benchmark that no one wanted to reach, 800,000 Americans have been lost to coronavirus since the pandemic started in early 2020.
And to CNN's Alexandra Field reports for us now, hospitals are still strained for beds and for critical staff.
ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The grim milestone as delta's destructive toll continues across the country and omicron cases spread quickly. The new variant now detected in at least 36 states.
DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: We expect to see the proportion of omicron cases here in the United States continue to grow in the coming weeks. Early data suggests that Omicron is more transmissible than delta with a doubling time of about two days.
FIELD: One in 6 hospitals in the U.S. is already reporting critical staffing shortages with patient numbers still climbing.
ELIZABETH MURRAY, PEDIATRIC EMERGENCY MEDICINE PHYSICIAN: I think this is an opportunity to remind people the importance of testing before they visit with family. Testing before travel to make sure they're not bringing the omicron variant back to their home states or home communities.
FIELD: New data from the National Institutes of Health Finds a third dose of Moderna's vaccine offers protection 20 times greater than the two-dose regimen, while Pfizer is 75 percent effective against symptomatic infection, a strengthening case for boosters while new restrictions are set to take effect. California implementing a month- long indoor mask mandate today.
DR. ROHAN RADHAKRISHNA, CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH DEPUTY DIRECTOR: The last thing you want is timely and high-quality hospital services and not be able to get that because of something we could have prevented.
FIELD: New York City moving forward with a vaccine for the private sector later this month.
MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY: This new variant moves fast. We have to move faster.
FIELD: Professional sports are yet again suffering COVID setbacks. Players pulled and games postpone as cases spike in highly vaccinated and regularly tested leagues.
The NFL reporting dozens of positive tests among players since Monday alone. The Rams hit hard along with the Browns, whose head coach is among the latest to test positive.
DR. MYRON ROLLE, NEUROSURGERY RESIDENT AT HARVARD, FORMER NFL PLAYER: The omicron variant is incredibly transmissible. It's hitting every state. Players are still traveling to go to different states to play and so they are being exposed. The delta variant is still ravaging communities and hospitals as well.
FIELD (on camera): And, Jake, all of this comes as so many people are getting ready to travel for the holidays to spend some time with extended family members that they didn't get to see last year. Well, Philadelphia's health commissioner is throwing some cold water on that idea, advising people not to gather with other households, citing a rise in cases after Thanksgiving celebrations. That might just be too big a sacrifice for some and she says those people should at a bare minimum take a rapid test first -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Alex Field, thanks so much.
Joining us now to discuss, CNN chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Sanjay, at today's White House COVID briefing, Dr. Fauci said, at this point, there is no need for a variant-specific booster, unquote. He cited data the current booster dose does a good enough job protecting against severe disease with the new omicron variant, as well as other variants.
So, what is your message to those who are eligible but still have not gotten their boosters?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the data is starting to tell a pretty clear story here, Jake. Let me show you some of what we're seeing out of the UK here, looking at the protection against the variants. You know, we've shown this data all throughout the pandemic, at least since the vaccines in terms of the effectiveness. So, delta, omicron, delta is yellow, omicron, blue.
In the first few weeks to night weeks, you have really good protection against both after two doses. But this is what's caused all the concern. How much drop off there is in the blue omicron as time goes on. But with the boosters that exist now, you can restore a lot of that protection just -- this is two weeks after the booster, that far right graph, and you can see a significant amount of protection is restored.
So, I mean, that tells the story. I think that's why there's been so much emphasis on boosters and less than one-third of the country that's eligible has received those boosters. The larger story is the one we keep talking about as well which is just simply those people who have not been vaccinated at all. If you look at the tens of thousands of people in the hospital with COVID, what you find is there remains a very clear difference between unvaccinated in red and vaccinated in green.
That's still the most important part of the vaccine story right now, Jake.
TAPPER: So, CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, she's been hesitant to give an answer on whether the definition of fully vaccinated will change to include not just the first two shots or first one shot if you get the J&J but the booster as well.
What do you think of that? Is it a mistake to not change the definition of fully vaccinated considering it's so clear that boosters help so much with immunity?
GUPTA: I think so at this point. I think it is very clear. The data is there now. In the beginning, I think there's two points. One is that the two shots still work very well.
I just showed you the difference in hospitalizations between unvaccinated and vaccinated. But at the same time, it's very clear the booster offers a significant benefit.
Dr. Fauci said it's no longer a question of if but when they change that definition. People like Dr. Peter Hotez said this should have always been thought of as a three-shot sort of thing.
So, yeah, they should probably do it. There's enough hesitancy around this as it is, just making it clear that this is a likely to be a three-shot vaccine. Just like other vaccines, like hepatitis, for example. This is not unusual, but I think the messaging around this has still been muddled.
TAPPER: Sanjay, you have some new data on what our world would look like if we never had the vaccine.
Show us that.
GUPTA: Yeah, this is -- this is -- it's amazing data to look at and somewhat terrifying. Let me show you.
Basically what they did, this is from the Commonwealth Fund, they looked at how many cases, how many hospitalizations, how many infections, how many deaths I should say, have been averted because of the vaccine. We can show those numbers. Basically, you look at this graph shows again a red line and green line in terms of the differences here. What happens if you don't have vaccines is where we would be right now, that big surge of red line in the middle. Up to 21,000 deaths per day, they say, would be occurring if there weren't vaccines.
You can see on the left side of the screen there, these are the numbers now, how many deaths prevented, 1.1 million, which is amazing to think about. 35 million infections prevented because of the vaccines. And that's what the current vaccination sort of uptake. If we had higher vaccine uptake, we would have obviously been able to draw even a greater distinction in terms of the number of deaths and cases and hospitalizations prevented.
These are models, Jake, so it's a little bit harder to say for sure, but there's no question that the vaccines as they stand have made a huge difference and that they would have made a bigger difference if we had higher uptake at this point.
TAPPER: Sanjay, in about ten minutes, the National Cathedral is going to ring its mourning bell 800 times, one time for each of the thousand Americans who have died of COVID.
I wanted to get your reflections on this horrific milestone. You've been covering the pandemic coming on my show to talk about it since the very beginning, since February, March, 2020. How are you taking stock of all this loss?
GUPTA: It's a -- it's a gut punch still, you know, Jake. I mean, as much as we celebrate the scientific achievements around vaccines and monoclonal antibodies and therapeutics and testing, we've learned a lot about this virus, there's no question that so many of these deaths have been preventable. I mean, there's a lot of families who lost loved ones.
I know people -- families who lost loved ones. I still talk to people on a regular basis. It's tough to reconcile. I also think about the fact that even short of the vaccines, you look at a country like South Korea, their first patient, Jake, I remember talking to you about it at the time, their first patient was diagnosed on the same day, the first patient was diagnosed here.
They are a country smaller than ours, about one-sixth the size. They've had around 4,500 die. 4,500, where we've had 800,000 people die. So, it's tough. I mean, it's hard to, again, reconcile what we would have been able to do with these vaccines in particular and what has unfolded over the last several months.
TAPPER: All right. Sanjay Gupta, thanks so much.
In our world lead, a plot to assassinate a governor and suspicious packages filled with raw meat. That's how some anti-vax extremists are behaving. It's a small but vocal minority opposing the new German chancellor's vow to squash their protest with coronavirus restrictions.
CNN's senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen is in Berlin for us.
And, Fred, tell us about this deranged plot to murder a German governor?
FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDNT: Yeah, you're absolutely right, Jake. It's a small group but one that's becoming more vocal and more violent as well. And it's interesting, the police were saying this group was communicating on the messaging app Telegram.
The police got word of this. They found out about this. And essentially what they said is that this group talked about killing the governor of the state of Saxony because of his stance on vaccines, because he was -- he is pro-vaccine. Also talking about killing other senior members of that local government as well.
But what set off the raids that happened today, Jake, is the fact this group also talked about being armed. So there were raids in several locations around the town of Dresden that happened today and the police did say that they found several crossbows and other weapons as well.
It's unclear whether or not those were firearms but the police are saying this potentially was an extremely dangerous situation within a situation here in Germany where more and more of these groups apparently are becoming more violent, Jake.
TAPPER: And, Fred, the German chancellor, the new German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, he is only a week into his new job. How is he handling this?
PLEITGEN: Yeah. Well, he certainly says he's going to crack down on people like that. It's quite interesting because he says there's certainly going to be a lot less tolerance of people who first of all don't want to take vaccine and then also these conspiracy groups and anti-vax groups as well.
He called it an unhinged tiny group of extremists. Now, I want you to listen to what he said in German parliament today. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OLAF SCHOLZ, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): What exists today in Germany is denial, absurd conspiracy theories, deliberate misinformation and violent extremism. Let's be clear, a small extremist minority in our country has turned away from our society, our democracy, our community and our state, and not only from science, rationality and reason.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PLEITGEN: And all that, Jake, on the same day that in addition to that plot to kill a governor, packages with raw meat and threatening letters were also sent to politicians and media organizations saying that parcels like that would continue to be sent if there is a vaccine mandate here in this country, Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Fred Pleitgen, thanks so much.
Coming up, it is fueled tons of conspiracy theories. Today, secret government files about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy were finally made public. Will this new information put any of the wild theories to rest?
Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
This hour, secret documents revealed. The U.S. government releasing today previously classified files about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Plus, new CNN polls showing Americans don't feel so great about the state of the economy. Not good news for President Biden.
And leading this hour, this afternoon, the Justice Department received a criminal contempt of Congress report for Mark Meadows after the U.S. House of Representatives voted to refer Meadows for failing to testify before the January 6th committee.
CNN's Ryan Nobles reports for us now. This is a significant move from the January 6th committee, as they get closer and closer, it seems, to Donald Trump.
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The fate of former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows now in the hands of the Department of Justice.
REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX): The resolution is adopted. NOBLES: Speaker Nancy Pelosi signing the resolution late Tuesday
night after the House voted to hold Meadows in contempt. The Department of Justice received the report at noon and will now decide whether to prosecute.
The Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson believes they built a strong case.
REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): This isn't about any sort of privilege or immunity.