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The Lead with Jake Tapper

McConnell On Jan. 6 CMTE Findings: "It Will Be Interesting To Reveal All The Participants That Were Involved"; New Texts To Meadows Show Plans For Coup Began In Nov. 2020; NYT: GOP Govs Spending Relief Funds After Opposing COVID Stimulus; Elon Musk, Sen. Warren Bickering On Twitter; Majority Concerned About Economy, Think Govt. Isn't Doing Enough To Solve High Inflation; Parents Of Detained Former Marine Held Meeting On Capitol Hill And With White House Officials This Week; Parents Of Detained Former Marine Held Meetings On Capitol Hill And With White House Officials This Week; Right Now: 800 Bell Tolls To Mark 800k Lives Lost To COVID In U.S.; NFL; NBA; NHL Teams All Hit By Outbreak Of COVID Cases; Thousands Of Migrants Seek Asylum Near Yuma, AZ, Overwhelming Border Patrol Resources; NYC Mayor-Elect Selects First Female NYPD Police Commissioner; Govt. Releases Previously Classified JFK Assassination Documents. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired December 15, 2021 - 17:00   ET



RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bennie Thompson believes they have built a strong case.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS), CHAIR, JANUARY 6 SELECT COMMITTEE: This isn't about any sort of privilege or immunity, this is about Mr. Meadows refusing to comply with a subpoena to discuss the records he himself turned over.

NOBLES (voice-over): As just President Joe Biden, though he says he hasn't spoken to anyone as the DOJ is independent of the White House.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Seems to me more -- as worthy of being held in contempt.

NOBLES (voice-over): It is a case built on documents provided voluntarily by Meadows. Among them, his text messages, including some from fellow lawmakers.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), JANUARY 6TH SELECT COMMITTEE: On January 6 2021, Vice President Mike Pence, as President of the Senate, should call out all electoral votes that he believes are unconstitutional as no electoral votes at all.

NOBLES (voice-over): That message read by Congressman Adam Schiff was a legal theory that Trump ally Jim Jordan got from a former government lawyer and then forwarded to Meadows Jordan's office tell CNN. The committee did not reveal the names of the lawmaker texting with Meadows in the lead up to January 6, but they did put them on notice.

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY), VICE CHAIR, JANUARY 6 SELECT COMMITTEE: Indeed, some of those text messages, Madam Speaker, came from members in the chamber right now, members who understood that a violent assault was underway at the Capitol.

NOBLES (voice-over): Today the committee met with Ken Klokowski (ph), a former DOJ official who worked under Jeffrey Clark.

Clark pushed top justice brass to investigate unfounded claims on election fraud. He's been resistant to cooperating with the committee and is in danger of being held in contempt himself.

Some Trump loyalists resist, hundreds of others are cooperating, including rally organizer Dustin Stockton. After his interview with the committee, Stockton put much of the blame for that day on Donald Trump.

DUSTIN STOCKTON, ORGANIZER FOR PRO-TRUMP RALLY ON JAN. 6: The Bucs got to stop at President Trump. He knew better and there's no excuse for him sending people down into that situation.


NOBLES: And it appears that the committee is interviewing witnesses at a rapid clip. The Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson telling us this week that they had dozens of interviews scheduled. There are some high profile names scheduled for depositions later this week, among them, Roger Stone and the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Of course, Jake, the big question is, will they show up for those interviews? Jake

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Ryan Nobles, thanks so much.

Let's discuss. Sabrina, let me start with you. So Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Republican Leader of the Senate, was asked yesterday about the committee's work. Take a listen to what he had to say.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: I do think we're all watching as you are, what is unfolding on the House side. And it will be interesting to reveal all the participants who were involved.


TAPPER: Now, we should note, McConnell voted against the creation of this committee. On the other hand, he donated recently to Liz Cheney's campaign, she's running for reelection. She's the vice chair of the committee. What's the angle here? I'm not following.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, there has been an interesting split when it comes to Republican leaders in their response to January 6. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy after initially distancing himself from former President Trump has become once again more of a foot soldier for former President Trump and tried to downplay the events of January 6.

McConnell on the other hand, you know, I think he's happy to see anything that might help diminish Trump's standing within the party. I mean, remember, McConnell has been a key target of former President Trump and his allies, and he has exactly been at the forefront of trying to get to the bottom of January 6, but he is aware that Trump and his allies are also trying to primary a lot of the types of Republicans who McConnell believes should still be serving in Congress.

Now the only challenge of course is that as far as the Republican base is concerned, they're a lot more in line with Trump and, you know, his supporters --


SIDDIQUI: -- or his followers than they are in line with the McConnells and the Liz Cheneys.

TAPPER: At least as of now.

SIDDIQUI: As of now.

TAPPER: As of now.

Charles, I want to introduce you. Republican Strategist, Charles Blain, thanks so much. Good to have you here.


TAPPER: I want to show you something. Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin, who's on the committee yesterday revealed another text from an unnamed Republican official to then White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. This is on November 4, the day after the election. And it says, "Here's an aggressive strategy. Why can't the states of Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and other Republican controlled state houses declare this is BS, where conflicts and election not called that night, and just send their own electors to vote and have it go to the Supreme Court."

Now, we should know this is -- they were still counting votes. This is a day after the election. They had all those paper ballots because of COVID. And this was entirely just about stealing the election without even any evidence. It was just like, here's a way to steal the election before we've even counted the votes. I mean, he ended up winning North Carolina trial.

BLAIN: Right. And I mean, we have an audit going on in Texas where, you know, he won Texas and we're having that conversation as well. But I think when you speak to Republican activism, folks on the ground, they truly had concerns about what was happening.

I mean, in Harris County, which is Texas's largest county, we had a lot of conversations around what was happening with 24 hour voting, with drive thru voting if there was fraud happening? How we can make sure there wasn't fraud going to be happening. So we had a lot of our representatives stepping up and trying to insert themselves in that process early on to try to make sure that the base was reassured that the process was done correctly. [17:05:19]

And so I think even at the start of this, they jumped out of it, and they were willing to engage with it. Now, I'm not going to say that throughout the entire course everything stayed, you know, aboveboard earnest. But I think at the start of it, there are a lot of folks who were very concerned about some of the things that were saying, particularly, you know, speaking from a Texas perspective in our large counties, and they wanted to make sure that the process of being called through.

HILARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: You know, this is what Republicans always do, with all due respect. They -- you don't want to align yourself with Donald Trump trying to steal the election. So instead, you make up that there were reasons to be concerned about the election, and therefore legitimate reasons for all this extra scrutiny. When of course, the facts showed that the results were actually kind of above scrutiny, but above reproach.

TAPPER: Republicans did great in Texas.

ROSEN: And if there were so many concerns, all of those Republicans who got elected in Texas, you know, shouldn't be in office. And so, I just don't think you guys can have it both ways. You can't say, oh, well, there were all these legitimate problems with the election. But really, you know, we're not supporting what Donald Trump did.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: That text itself is why so many election security experts, why Democrats are increasingly concerned about, you know, fortifying the Electoral Count Act, which is, you know, a centuries old law. And essentially, it would -- if they're able to fortify it, it would help with protecting the certification process. Because election security experts I've talked to say that they are worried that there could be Trump loyalists that gained power in states like Georgia, and then they ultimately decide that they want to send a totally different slate of electors to Congress. And then if there are enough Republicans who we saw that -- more than 100 Republicans voted against certification, that then, you know, in a future presidential election, they could decide to do that again.


BARRON-LOPEZ: It's not just -- they don't even have to overturn any law.

ROSEN: Right. And it's not a crazy congressman sending a text to the Chief of Staff. It's actually them putting pressure on the ground to election officials to do this.

TAPPER: Did you want to say something?

BLAIN: I did. Well, I just want to jump in, because I think there's a common misconception that all of the fraud that Republicans allege is coming from Democrats. In Texas this week, they found three cases of voter fraud that was perpetrated by Republicans. And so, they're prosecuting them now, our city attorney general lays. And so it's not just --

TAPPER: In Florida too.

BLAIN: And in Florida, as well. And the issue --

TAPPER: Also Trump voters is doing it.


BLAIN: And the issue that came up in Texas with the concern over the electoral process was that we were doing 24 hour voting during a pandemic and we didn't have enough poll watchers and election workers to oversee these ballot drop boxes in these locations. And so --

ROSEN: You know --

BLAIN: -- when you're having things and you don't have --

ROSEN: -- you were really worried about this election. You wouldn't be supporting those people who got elected, but you want it both ways. You want to be saying that the election was, you know, fake, and they're all these reason to be concerned --

BLAIN: Well, I never said the election was fake, but I do think there are things --

ROSEN: -- but you don't want the --


ROSEN: -- responsibility of saying that the people elected aren't legitimate.

TAPPER: Another issue I wanted to talk about, the "Times" has a story out today on Republican governors such as South Dakota's Kristi Noem, eagerly spending COVID relief money, even though they oppose the same bill earlier this year. Now, Noem, said she decided not to refuse the money. Take a listen why.


GOV. KRISTI NOEM (R-SD): I've had people ask me from time to time in the state, Kristi, why don't you just give the federal money back? It will be spent somewhere else other than South Dakota. It'll be incurred by the country, and our people will still suffer the consequences of that spending.


TAPPER: What do you make of all this? This is -- we're seeing more of this people announcing projects in their congressional district for -- that was funded by a legislation they voted against.

SIDDIQUI: It's somewhat predictable. There are number of Republicans in Congress who have also touted the projects that have come out of the American Rescue Plan or sort of tried to reap the benefits, even though as we know, it was passed by Democrats along party line vote, all Republicans opposed it. And I think you're going to start to see the infrastructure bill as well.

You know, there were some Republicans at the state level who did welcome this assistance. And I think it goes back to the idea that the impact of the pandemic is still being felt very much across the country in terms of its economic impact that the -- what we've seen with the lingering issues with inflation, supply chain, on schools, on hospitals. And so, I'm not surprised there a lot of Republicans still feel the need to try and, you know, express support or act like they're actually, you know, benefiting from these projects are part of helping create these projects, even though of course, they're going to continue to hammer President Biden over the size of that bill.

BARRON-LOPEZ: It's Republicans like Kristi Noem and Governor Ducey in Arizona who also said that he was going to start new broadband projects without really mentioning that they came from the American Rescue Plan, though it's those Republicans that Chairman Yarmuth told me, the Budget Chairman in the House said that he thinks that Democrats need to be hammering Republicans hard for not putting up the votes for those bills but then deciding to go to the American public and tout the benefits and tout them on the stamps (ph).


TAPPER: So one other thing I wanted to note is that the Time Person of the Year is Elon Musk. And he was just a Person of the Year. Senator Elizabeth Warren not happy about that she tweeted out, "Let's change -- so The Person of the Year will actually pay taxes." Musk will actually face a large tax bill this year.

He responded this way, "You remind me," and this is on Twitter, "of when I was a kid and my friends angry mom would just randomly yell at everyone for no reason. Don't call the manager on me, Senator Karen, I will pay more taxes than any American in history this year. Don't spend it all at once. Oh, wait, you did already." This is, you know.

ROSEN: You know, you've got -- he might be the richest man in the world, but he certainly got the least class of any man in the world. I mean, you've got to imagine the Time Magazine had a better role model to find than Elon Musk.

TAPPER: It's not about, I mean --

ROSEN: I mean, this guy has multiple sexual harassment suits against him. You know, he's notoriously a bad employer. Like money doesn't mean everything. And it's just I find it appalling.

It's good for Elizabeth Warren to take him on.

TAPPER: It's not person we admire the most in the -- of the year, right?


TAPPER: I mean, they'd (INAUDIBLE) of the year once. ROSEN: It's most important person, right? And why is he important? Because he's rich.

BLAIN: Well, no, because of the innovation --


BLAIN: -- that he has made. I mean, if you look at Senator Warren's track record and give to Elon Musk, I mean, he has moved this country forward leaps and bounds more than she has.

TAPPER: All right.

BLAIN: His truck record in innovation.

ROSEN: Yes, I don't know if that's true.

BLAIN: It's the wealth that he has generated for individuals, all the work that he --

ROSEN: He didn't invent the electoral -- he also didn't invent space satellite, but he got a lot of government subsidy.

TAPPER: The good match for future pep rep payment (ph). So thank you much and everybody for being here. Really appreciate it.

Coming up next, new CNN polls, revealing Americans are worried about the economy and think President Biden is not doing enough about it. Plus, what an outbreak of COVID cases among NFL players might tell us about the pandemic. Thanks so much. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, a brand new exclusive CNN poll is revealing why America seems to be souring on President Biden's leadership and on the U.S. economy. Despite positive news on the employment front and on Wall Street, for weeks we've been seeing inflation driving up the costs for nearly everything, food, gas, cars. Now, Americans say this is a bigger problem for the economy, inflation, than COVID is.

Let's get right to CNN's Political Director David Chalian.

David, explain where this economic anxiety is coming from?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, we ask people, all these economic issues that are out there, do you see it as a major problem or a minor problem?

Look at this list, Jake, you see food costs, supply chain issues, housing costs, it's all nearly eight and 10 Americans in this poll saying that is a major problem for the economy. In fact, COVID-19, two thirds of Americans see that as a major problem. But in comparison to the rising cost issue, it is way down there. So that's the real concern.

And then of course, we see a huge majority saying the government is doing too little about inflation. Seventy-two percent say that the government response to inflation is simply too little, 22 percent say the right amount, for only 5 percent say the government's doing too much.

TAPPER: And President Biden obviously has a very ambitious agenda. Do the American people feel like these policies from Biden will change any of this?

CHALIAN: I think this may be one of the most troubling numbers inside our poll for the President today. Forty-five percent, nearly half of the Americans in this poll say that Biden's policies have worsened economic conditions. Thirty percent say they've improved, 25 percent no affect at all. So 70 percent say they've worsened or no effect at all Biden's policies. If you look back and compare that to Obama in 2009, it was not nearly that that bad of a score on his policies making things worse.

And then if you look at how Biden has handled the issues and his approval on each issue, the economy he's weighed down, he's upside down. Look down there, 45 percent approve of his handling of the economy, 54 percent disapprove. That's the same when you say about helping the middle class. There's only one issue area where he has a majority approval, and that's COVID-19 with 54 percent approval.

TAPPER: That's fascinating. And this is sobering year-end report card for the President and his whole administration. The CNN poll has Biden's approval at 49 percent approval, which remains unchanged from last month, 51 percent disapprove.

But we also have this thing called the CNN -- that's our poll right there. We also have this thing called the CNN poll polls, which includes the five most recent national polls, and we average those together. And that hasn't lower, 45 percent approval, 50 percent disapproval. At what point does the White House start freaking out? Because these are not positive numbers for the midterms nor for reelection, although that's a lifetime away.

CHALIAN: Yes, I lifetime away. But -- and even the midterms are 11 months away, Jake, you talk to White House aides as well. I don't get the sense that this is a team that does a lot of freaking out, but there is clear concern. They understand the political environment as the calendar turns the page into the election year that they're standing right now. And this real economic pinch that Americans are feeling, it creates a real tough terrain for Democrats next year.

TAPPER: Let's bring in CNN's Kaitlan Collins traveling with President Biden in tornado ravaged Kentucky.

Kaitlan, this poll has -- it's just devastating for President Biden, only 34 percent of those polled see Biden as a leader, 66 percent say they have some doubts as we get closer to the midterms. What's the takeaway message for Democrats? Do they need to start distancing themselves from President Biden? [17:20:05]

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think that depends on where they are of course, Jake, where they're running these races from. You know when it comes to the President's actual own poll numbers, the disapproval, the approval, what you and David are just talking about, he has said that he's stopped paying attention to those because they've changed so much. He said he is not paying attention to them anymore.

Certainly, of course, that was not the top of mind for him when he was here in Kentucky today, making those chores, meeting with those local leaders. But it is something that is for concern for Democrats back in Washington, for the President's political aides back at the White House, something that they are tracking and monitoring closely, because of course, they are paying attention to that ahead of those midterm elections.

And so when it comes to these numbers on the economy, which has long been a strong suit of President Biden's ever since he was a candidate, and certainly when he first took office, I think that's probably the most concerning for them, because it's matching those numbers of people's competence in his handling of the economy with their rising concerns about inflation, about the supply chain, all of these issues that people have that go hand in hand together. And I think when you talk to aides at the White House, when you talk to political advisors of this President, they say these aren't quick fixes. These are issues that can be changed quickly, or this isn't something that's going to fade from people's public view or public mind. It's something that is going to stay in the forefront of the news cycle for months to come.

TAPPER: Yes. But Kaitlan beyond the midterms, there is the Biden agenda. There's still that big social safety net spending bill Build Back Better. It's not any closer to getting passed in the Senate. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a Democrat, still not willing to say he supports it. I don't even know if that bill is going to be brought up for a vote to be quite frank anytime soon. And the less popular a president is, the less of his agenda he can get through Congress.

COLLINS: Yes, and the White House had kind of been tying getting that bill passed to his number. Saying that they'd bump up eventually once they got these big pieces of his economic agenda passed the infrastructure bill. Now this big bill that they were hoping, Jake, to have passed by Christmas. But despite multiple conversations that have happened in recent days between President Biden and Senator Manchin, they have not come any closer together. And a lot of the concerns that you've heard from Senator Manchin that he says he has about this bill are ones that he's really been saying and talking about for months, and they have not come to any kind of consensus on that.

And so, the idea that they're not going to do that pass by Christmas seems pretty likely. Whether they try to do it in the new year, what that looks like, because I think one thing the White House does recognize is the closer they get to those midterm elections, you know, it makes it a lot harder to pass big legislation more untenable. So they are trying to get passed as quickly as possible. I do think that will be a big question, because of course, it's not just his approval, it's whether or not they could physically get it done with the votes if they, of course, lose control of the House or lose that very thin margin in the Senate that they have when the Vice President's tie breaking vote come November.

TAPPER: Yes. And David, how long do you think Democrats have to change this narrative to get Build Back Better pass, to get other legislative items through the House and Senate before they get clobbered?

CHALIAN: I mean, you usually see an electoral environment sort of start to take hold in June, July, and then it's real hard for -- you need some sort of extra on that.

But, Jake, you brought up the leadership points. I just want to say -- you said 66 percent. That's what our poll found of people who have reservations about his leadership. Thirty-six percent of Democrats say they have some doubts or reservations.

He also has this issue of his home team. Democrats, not strongly approving them. There's an intensity gap. There's a rallying around effort that needs to happen here. His legislation would help that but it's totally stalled out at the moment. And so you have Democrats not nearly as enthusiastic at the moment as the President would need them to be heading into next year's election.

TAPPER: All right, David Chalian, thank you so much. Appreciate it. Kaitlan Collins as well.

Coming up next, demanding action, parents of a former U.S. Marine join us live as they demand the U.S. help free their son. He's been detained in Russia for years now. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead, Paula in Joey Reed will likely spend yet another Christmas without their son Trevor. The former U.S. Marine Sergeant was detained in Russia in August 2019 after Moscow police claimed a drunk Trevor attack them. He was initially held without bail in July 2020. Trevor was sentenced to nine years in prison.

Since then his parents have been fighting for his release this week. They brought that fight to Washington.

And Joey and Paula Reed join me now. Thank you so much for being here. It's an honor to have you.

You've met with leaders at the White House on Capitol Hill. I want to get that -- to that in a second.

But first, you have new information on Trevor's health. We know he had COVID We know he was on a hunger strike. How was he doing?

PAULA REED, MOTHER OF TREVOR REED, FORMER U.S. MARINE JAILED IN RUSSIA: He's sick. He still has a productive cough and chest pain, pain in his chest and he's having some kidney issues. He's drinking non potable water at the jail where he's at.

In the regular barracks they're allowed to have water and they boil it. But where he's at in solitary confinement, he doesn't have that -- ability to do that. So, we're not sure if that's causing the problems or not. He's sick.

TAPPER: How did you find out that he's going to the hospital? And how do you stay abreast of his health?

JOEY REED, FATHER OF TREVOR REED, FORMER U.S. MARINE JAILED IN RUSSIA: Well, we had no direct communications with him in 152 days since he went to the prison camp. So we send an attorney every few weeks, a local attorney, to meet with him to make sure he's still alive.


And the ambassador's visited him twice. They try and go every other month. They drive eight hours each way to visit him.

And so that's -- but we learned today from the attorney, he went today, that he's scheduled to go to a prison hospital somewhere Friday.


TAPPER: And tell us about your meeting with lawmakers. I understand you met with the National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and others. Who did you meet with?

P. REED: We met with Senator Cornyn. Just a few minutes before we got here, we met with Senator Jacks -- Sheila Lee --

J. REED: Sheila Jackson.

P. REED: Sheila Jackson and --

TAPPER: You're from Texas?

P. REED: We're from Texas.

J. REED: Right.

P. REED: Yes. And then, of course, we met with our Congressman Pfluger. And we met with --

J. REED: Minority Leader.

P. REED: -- Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

J. REED: McCarthy.

P. REED: And that's where we used to live in touch base. So he was our representative there, but we've met with them. And then I'll let Joey talk about the Jake Sullivan meeting. TAPPER: Yes, I mean, what do you need these leaders to do? And what do Jake Sullivan, the National Security Adviser have to tell you?

J. REED: Well, first of all, we hear numerous rumors that come out of the Russian media about what's happening. The State Department and the S.P. House office, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, they can't tell us anything that's happening. And so we just try and talk to as many government agencies as we can to explain who Trevor is, you know, put a face on the name, on the number and, and find out if they're -- if they were doing something.

And after our meeting with Jake Sullivan yesterday, we feel confident that the government is trying everything they can to bring him home. You know, and all agencies from the President on down are involved. And that's about all we know, but we're very thankful for that meeting with him. And he was very compassionate and open with us.

TAPPER: And what's the best case scenario? I mean, do the Russians wanted a prisoner swap? I mean, what can be done?

P. REED: They do want a prisoner swap as what we hear from their --

J. REED: Yes.

P. REED: -- from their media and everything.


P. REED: And we don't know for sure what the deal is. But if that would be the prisoner swap, we hope that it comes sooner than later because we're worried about the situation with Ukraine. We think that once anything happens there, it's going to be harder for Trevor and Paul.

TAPPER: Oh yes, Paul --

P. REED: Paul Whelan, yes.

TAPPER: Paul Whelan, the other hostage --

P. REED: Yes.

TAPPER: -- that the Russians are holding. And as you mentioned, Joey, Trevor is not the only American being detained in a foreign country right now. There's a whole agency for it that you just mentioned. What do you say to the -- your fellow family members of detainees, the Whelans or others?

J. REED: Well, first of all, other families like the Whelan family, they gave us a lot of advice and guidance, because they had -- we're already in the system. And you -- every country is different, but within our own country, there's multiple agencies that you're dealing with in these situations. And there's no real guidebook on how to navigate through all those issues to end -- like you're one of the reasons that we're here is that we try and find news agencies that will cover the story -- TAPPER: Oh yes.

J. REED: -- and keep it in the public eye which keeps, you know, the focus on it by government officials and elected officials.

TAPPER: Yes, we're going to keep covering this. I mean, look, and I told you this during the break, but like, I -- we covered this, we covered Alan Gross when he was taken hostage in jail by the Cubans. There will be a day that we're covering the good news of him being released. But I know it's easy for me to say, how do you stay optimistic? How do you keep the faith?

P. REED: Mostly, when we were able to communicate with Trevor, he just made it very clear that we should not worry even though, of course, we're parents and we're going to worry, but he has a really good attitude. He's strong. And I just tried to look to that and keep myself together. I do have bad days. And everybody does.

It's not just affected me. It's his sister, our extended family, everyone. But I just have to be faithful. And after, like Joey said, after our meeting with Jake Sullivan today, we feel more hopeful, so.

TAPPER: Yes. Do you feel more hopeful today?

J. REED: Oh, absolutely. And I try and stay focused on, you know, keeping his name out there and speaking out on his behalf, you know, to try and get him home. Do everything we can, make our contacts in Russia. And on Trevor's attitude -- and I know they won't want me to say this, but your training in Marine boot camp is essentially prisoner of war training.


J. REED: And so that's what's probably we helped him get along this far.

TAPPER: I do worry about you guys, though. I mean, it's your third Christmas without him. And I know you love him so much.

P. REED: We do.

TAPPER: How are you going to celebrate Christmas? And what's your message to people out there? How can viewers right now watching, how can they help?

J. REED: Well, several things. So you can go to the and --

TAPPER: .gov, I think, right?

J. REED: .gov, I'm sorry, yes.

P. REED: Yes, .gov.

J. REED: And thank you. And send a message to the President each day. And you just say these basic things, bring Trevor Reed and Paul Whelan home from Russia. And, you know, when, you know, the President not going to see the message, but he's going to see, I had 5,000 people do this every day.

And so that's one of the main things we urge people to do. Contact your congressman, your senators, although we have bipartisan. One of the few things in America right now, we have bipartisan agreement --

P. REED: Bipartisan support.

J. REED: -- in both houses of Congress to bring Trevor home. There's resolutions from Democrats and Republicans holding hands on this issue.


And so just keep calling them, keep writing them, keep sending those messages. And also we're looking for letters and cards to send to him at Christmas. Actually we won't be able to send them but the ambassador, hopefully, will read to him after Christmas.

TAPPER: OK. Well, that's special. And we're going to keep covering this and I hope not for much longer.

P. REED: Yes. I hope not too.

TAPPER: God bless both of you. And we're going to, you know, keep the faith. We're going to keep shining the light on this for you.

P. REED: Thank you, Jake.

J. REED: Thank you and thanks CNN. Thank you all.

TAPPER: Thank you so much.

P. REED: Thank you pretty much.

TAPPER: Dozens of NFL players have tested positive for COVID just this week. And now the league's top doctor has just waiting. That's next.


TAPPER: Right now in the health lead, you're listening live to 800 bell tolls at Washington's National Cathedral, marking the 800,000 lives lost to coronavirus here in the United States.


Moments ago, top NFL officials addressed a recent COVID outbreak, plaguing the league including the Cleveland Browns Star Quarterback Baker Mayfield who, today, was placed on the reserve COVID-19 list. This after the team's Head Coach Kevin Stefanski tested positive for COVID and this has 65 NFL players tested positive for COVID this week alone. We should emphasize this is just testing pilots, this is not hospitalizations, and most are asymptomatic.

Let's bring in CNN's Coy Wire. Coy, it's notable that the NFL brought out its top doctor to address this uptick in cases, what do you have to say?

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Yes, uptick certainly occurring and while this is certainly about more than just the players and coaches involved, no hospitalizations have been reported in this latest wave, Jake. However, remember early November, Minnesota Head Coach Mike Zimmer said that a vaccinated player on his team was rushed to the hospital after experiencing shortness of breath due to COVID.

Now you mentioned Browns Head Coach Kevin Stefanski, he says he feels fine. He would not comment, Jake, on the status of any of his players. They're going to have to produce two negative tests within a 24-hour period ahead of their game on Saturday against the Raiders, or they'll be forced to sit out. Here's Dr. Sills addressing this latest uptick in cases.


DR. ALLEN SILLS, NFL CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: As you know, we have about twice as many staff as we do players who are testing. And so typically, we've run a higher ratio of staff cases to player cases. Over the past four to five days, we've seen that ratio inverted. So far more players affected than staff. Most importantly, a very, very large percentage of asymptomatic or mild illness.


WIRE: Now, Jake, I talked to one player who said, you know, we're used to this after what they went through last year. The Browns, they're accustomed to navigating this type of situation. Stefanski missed the Browns first playoff game in 18 years, you might remember, after testing positive for COVID last season.

TAPPER: And Coy, we should note it's not just the NFL with an outbreak of COVID cases.

WIRE: Yes, that's right. The NBA experiencing a surge in COVID cases right now, Jake, over the first six weeks of the season. 16 players entered the league's health and safety protocols. And right now, there are 31, that's according to CBS Sports.

Now, the league postponed two Chicago Bulls games this week after an outbreak on the team. I was sidelined at least 10 of its players. We're talking Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo, the reigning finals MVP. He is out for the Milwaukee's game tonight against the Pacers. The Los Angeles Lakers, they had to cancel their practice yesterday though they will play their game tonight.

The Brooklyn Nets, Jake, they were nearly forced to cancel their game against the Raptors last night with seven players in COVID protocols right now including superstar James Harden. So COVID cases certainly surging across pro-sports even in the NHL, Jake.

Finally here, the fourth Calgary Flames game was just postponed today after a team added seven more players to their league COVID protocols and that brings their total to 16. Tonight's hurricanes wild game also called off because of an outbreak, one Carolina team. There have now been 10 NHL games postponed this season, Jake. Five just this week.

TAPPER: Wow. Coy Wire, thanks so much.

Secret documents about the JFK assassination just declassified by the government. We'll show you what they say, that's next.



TAPPER: In our national lead, an escalating humanitarian and border crisis. Last week, the Biden administration reinstated a Trump era border policy after a lower court ruling that forces migrants seeking asylum to wait in Mexico until their U.S. immigration court date. This comes as thousands of migrants from Central and South America are illegally crossing into a desolate area in Arizona.

And to CNN's Priscilla Alvarez reports now from Yuma, this is putting additional stress on already strained Border Patrol agents.


PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN REPORTER (voice-over): It's the moment they've been waiting for. These migrants are turning themselves over to Border Patrol. There are no guarantees, but Carlos, a migrant from Venezuela is grateful to finally come face to face with federal agents. This is his shot at asylum.

CARLOS GARCIA, MIGRANT: There may have been them in turn (ph).

ALVAREZ (voice-over): His family back home depends on him, he says. He is one of thousands of migrants who have descended on this part of the border in the last few weeks. Overwhelming Border Patrol and prompting the federal government to send more help.

(on-camera): This is where migrants primarily from South America have been waiting for hours for Border Patrol to pick them up. An agency that's already been under immense strain. We're seeing now three Border Patrol vans who are coming to pick up these migrants and take them to the station. Many say they've been waiting for hours setting up these fires just to stay warm.

(Speaking Foreign Language)

And the buses have come, they've just left what's next?

GARCIA: (Speaking Foreign Language).

ALVAREZ (voice-over): He says the people here have waited for years to come to the U.S. They have no other choice.

Economic and political instability in much of Latin America has driven more and more migrants north. Yuma has become a destination where migrants can cross easily and turn themselves into Border Patrol.

MAYOR DOUGLAS NICHOLLS, YUMA, ARIZONA: This is highly unusual. This is ground we've never really tried before.

ALVAREZ (voice-over): Yuma Mayor Douglas Nicholls issued a local emergency to help the situation in his city.

NICHOLLS: This is a very out of the ordinary level of traffic for you.

ALVAREZ (voice-over): Migrant surges along the U.S.-Mexico border have happened before. But now it's the remote areas like this that are being hit hard. In October, Border Patrol arrested nearly 22,000 people crossing the border in Yuma, that's up from 1,600 in January, an increase of 1,200 percent.


BRANDON JUDD, NATIONAL BORDER PATROL COUNCIL PRESIDENT: We're busy everywhere. We're not slow in any specific location. So when you take resources from another location, another busy location, you're just depleting those resources to deal with an issue that can be dealt with through policy.

ALVAREZ (voice-over): Brandon Judd is the President of the Border Patrol Union. He says smugglers and cartels contribute to the greater numbers.

JUDD: We're seeing so many people put themselves in their hands.

ALVAREZ (voice-over): At the request of Governor Doug Ducey, Arizona's Department of Public Safety has deployed to these remote parts of the border to monitor for criminal activity.

MAJOR DAMON CECIL, CHIEF OF STAFF, CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS DIVISION AT AZ DEPT. OF PUBLIC SAFETY: Out here, we're watching the desert looking for movement, looking for any signs that that we have a group coming through.

ALVAREZ (voice-over): On this 75-mile stretch of the border, Major Cecil and his troopers try to fill in the gaps.

CECIL: What we're seeing here is a surge of illegal drugs. Because Border Patrol is tied up and they know that that manpower out here is limited.

ALVAREZ (voice-over): This week, the Biden administration is expected to send 100 agents here. For Carlos and this group of migrants, getting on the bus is their best bet for a better future.


ALVAREZ: Jake, you may have noticed in our story that a lot -- Jake, you may have noticed in our story that a lot of families were carrying suitcases and luggage. That's because these are middle class families from South America who are flying to a nearby airport in Mexico about 30 miles from where we are and they're crossing at the border gap behind me to turn themselves over to Border Patrol, cutting their journey that is often months down to just days. Jake?

TAPPER: Priscilla Alvarez on the U.S.-Mexico border for us. Thank you so much, appreciate it.

In our national lead, a historic choice in New York for the first time in that city's history, a woman will lead the nation's largest police department. Mayor Elect Eric Adams himself, a retired police captain, announced he is selecting Keechant Sewell as his pick to head the NYPD. Sewell is currently the chief of detectives in neighboring Nassau County on Long Island. She spoke about the significance of her selection earlier today.


KEECHANT SEWELL, INCOMING NYPD COMMISSIONER: As the first woman and only the third black person to lead the NYPD in its 176 year history, I bring a different perspective. Committed to make sure the department looks like the city it serves. To all the little girls within the sound of my voice, there was nothing you can't do, and no one you can't become.


TAPPER: Sewell says her focus will be on stopping violent crime as the city struggles with a sharp rise in gun violence and murders. The Biden administration releasing secret documents today that some historians hope could provide new insight into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

CNN's Tom Foreman dug into the nearly 1,500 pages to see if any new information is being revealed.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ask not what your country can do for you.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The nearly 1,500 documents are filled with intriguing details. A Polish driver in Australia saying he listened in on Russian passengers talking about five Soviet submarines carrying 400 to 500 Soviet soldiers on their way to Cuba. There was a plot to pay $100,000 to kill President Kennedy.

A Nicaraguan claiming he saw the President's killer Lee Harvey Oswald being paid $6,500 by Russians and endless reports like this. Oswald entered Mexico claiming he was a photographer, phoning the Soviet embassy to ask for a visa so he could go to Odessa USSR. Little of the information is entirely new to the public. Many of the leads were long ago dispensed with or disproven.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To the White House in Washington comes the final verdict on the fateful tragedy which engulfed the nation 10 months ago.

FOREMAN (voice-over): But ever since the Warren report, every tiny bit of information pulled from the shroud of government secrecy has fed conspiracy theorists who believe Oswald did not act alone and may have been backed by Cuba, Russia, the mafia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And (INAUDIBLE), I saw a flashlight in Bushes and then shots fright (ph) me off.

FOREMAN (voice-over): And these latest papers are fascinating, serious historians too, even when they aren't all about Oswald.

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I learned some things today, more details about how the the mafia were used in an attempt to kill Castro. Now I sort of understand much better that the technique that would have been involved and why it was a serious effort which did not actually succeed, as we know.


FOREMAN: That sort of information, interestingly, is what has driven a lot of the secrecy around the Kennedy files. As intelligence officials have wanted to keep it under wraps, their methods and their context used in that far-ranging investigation even decades later. And it's worth noting that about 10,000 documents remain either redacted or totally off limits. Jake?


TAPPER: All right, Tom Foreman, thanks so much.

Coming up next, a rare fish only spotted a handful of time. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Maybe we'll call this the sea world lead. Check out this exotic sighting off California's coast, that's a sea through fish also known as a Barreleye fish. A dive team with the great Monterey Bay Aquarium spotted the fish this month what appears to be its eyes on the front. They're actually sensory organs.

Marine biologists say that the fishes realize are the green, bright green orbs in the forehead and that they can rotate forward as the fish eats. Researchers discovered the existence of the Barreleye in 1939 but sightings are extremely rare. This dive team said of the 27,000 hours, it is spent underwater. Its divers have spotted the Barreleye only nine times.

Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." I'll see you tomorrow.