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The Lead with Jake Tapper

CDC Vaccine Advisers Vote To Recommend Pfizer, Moderna Vaccines Over J&J's; GOP's Jim Jordan Forwarded Coup Plan To Meadows; Democrats Voice Frustration With Stalled Agenda; Sources: Talks Between Biden, Manchin at a Standstill; Defense Begins in Trial of Jeffrey Epstein Associate; Biden Awards Medal of Honore to Three Army Soldiers. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired December 16, 2021 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The CDC picking vaccine favorites.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking just moments ago, a CDC panel unanimously voting to recommend Pfizer and Moderna over the J&J vaccine.


Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta is here to explain why.

Plus, lifting the curtain on behind-the-scenes efforts to overturn the election. New evidence revealed on how close Trump loyalists came to undermining your vote.

Then, bravery above all else. A moment years in the making. Three American heroes finally awarded the highest honor at the White House.


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

We begin today in our health lead.

Moments ago, CDC vaccine advisers unanimously voted to recommend that Americans should get the Moderna vaccine or the Pfizer vaccine because they say those two are safer than Johnson & Johnson's vaccine. This hour, President Biden is also set to meet with his COVID team to discuss the fast spreading omicron variant as cases are surging across the United States and disruptions to every day life are once again becoming reality.

In the past week, at least four colleges and universities in the northeastern United States have either shut down, shifted classes from in person to virtual or moved final exams online. Multiple Broadway shows have canceled performances and the NFL, NBA, and NHL all had to postpone games or sideline players.

This comes as Dr. Anthony Fauci issues two serious warnings. One, the winter surge is here, and as CNN's Nick Watt reports, Fauci says it is only a matter of time until omicron becomes the dominant variant in the U.S.


NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tina among Broadway shows canceling performances once more after cases among the cast just two months after reopening. Princeton and NYU just joined Cornell and others moving what's left of the semester back online. A depressing dose of deja vu.

Officials in Philly are warning -- don't party with people outside your household over the holidays.

DR. CHERYL BETTIGOLE, PHILADELPHIA HEALTH COMMISSIONER: It's hard and it feels impossible and it feels unfair. These gatherings with friends and family are when we infect each other with COVID.

WATT: Pro-sports teams demonstrating how the virus is spreading. Odell Beckham Jr. scored Monday night and next morning joined the long list of players and staff testing positive and quarantining after exposure.

DR. JEROME ADAMS, FORMER U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Really a window into community spread. And kudos to the sports leagues because they are actually doing a fantastic job of surveillance testing. And the rest of the country, we're driving a car down a dark road with the headlights off while looking in the rear view mirror.

WATT: COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations climbed around 40 percent this past month. Deaths says the CDC forecast to rise in the month ahead. The delta variant still rampant. Omicron on the rise.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Very soon, it is going to be the dominant variant. We've seen that in South Africa. We are seeing it in the UK. I'm absolutely certain that is what we're going to be seeing here relatively soon.

WATT: No need at this point for an omicron specific booster vaccine, says Dr. Fauci, but this variant is now the most complete escapee say researchers in a new preprint study although the vaccines are still highly effective at preventing severe disease or death.

DR. JEANNE MARRAZZO, PROFESSOR OF INFECTOUS DISEASES, UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA AT BIRMINGHAM: It is reassuring that these infections seem to be less severe but that is really only true probably if you are a healthy person who has been immunized and ideally immunized with three shots. If we have enough of these infections which it looks like we are going to, our health care system has again the potential to be really overwhelmed.


WATT: Now, those CDC advisers who just voted to say the mRNA vaccine should be preferred over Johnson & Johnson. They spent hours going through studies that show that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is perhaps less effective and, also, they discussed those rare blood clots associated with the J&J vaccine. Very rare, but slightly less rare than previously thought.

Now, the J&J vaccine will still, they say, should still be available for people who either had an allergic reaction to mRNA vaccine or just can't get an mRNA vaccine, or who despite knowing the risks would just prefer to get Johnson & Johnson.

So, everything is still available but they are saying mRNA is now preferred over the Johnson & Johnson. That's their recommendation -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Nick Watt, thanks so much.

Let's talk about this with CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

So, Sanjay, obviously, let's start with this news. The CDC vaccine advisers just voting to recommend the Pfizer vaccine or the Moderna vaccine over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. What is this about? And what do the 16 million Americans who got the J&J vaccine need to know about this?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. So, first of all, if people have received it already, I don't think this is some cause for concern, because we know that the vaccine has been out there for sometime if they were going to have some of these side effects that Nick was just talking about, they typically happen pretty soon after people receive the shot within the first couple weeks or so.


So it's still protective vaccine. But what the advisers have said is two things. One is that if you look at the mRNA vaccines, they are more effective than Johnson & Johnson. Number two is that there is a very small but higher risk of something that is known as these blood clots with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Let me show you the numbers specifically here. Give you an idea how rare this is, we looked at the cases through the end of August and there were a total of 54 of these rare blood clotting sort of conditions out of 14 million doses. And by the, sort of the second week of December, nine deaths out of 17 million. Still rare but this is I think what really drove their decision.

There's 17 million out of some 200 million shots that have been given. 17 million have been Johnson & Johnson. So this is a small percentage over all but I think what they're saying basically is now going forward they recommend the mRNA vaccines.

TAPPER: Let's put the graphic up again if I could, Sanjay. I just want to make sure I'm understanding this correctly. So, you're saying that nine people who got the J&J vaccine died of that rare clotting condition? Is that right?

GUPTA: That's right. That's right. You know, so it's -- that's a concern. Obviously, it's less than 1 in a million but something I think they've been discussing for sometime. They first noticed concerns about these clots even during the trials. And now, you're seeing it in larger numbers overall, absolute numbers. But, still, rare.

We can break it down further if you want, Jake, and look at men, women, look at age groups. This appears to be primarily something that affects women, usually between the ages of 30 and 50 or so. But, you know, that's -- you know, this is the sort of -- it is worth pointing out, Jake, this is the sort of level of detail that these investigators can find.

You know, 9 out of 17 million, that's something that pops up. And they then act on it. In this case saying, hey, look. We're no longer going to recommend this as strongly as we recommend the mRNA vaccines.

It gives you an idea of how they look at these side effects and how specific they can get in this case with these blood clots.

TAPPER: The chart you just showed of cases where it's impacting women in their 30s more than any other group, that's just cases of this clotting condition. It's not deaths from it, am I right?

GUPTA: Correct.

TAPPER: Do we know, the nine people who died, do we have any idea what -- if there was anything that they had in common?

GUPTA: I don't know for certain. I think they were also more likely to be women in that age range but I don't have the numbers in front of me. But, you know, this is something that may be related to something that is going on hormonally with women at that age, that may be exacerbating the issues, could be related to birth control pills, smoking. They are not sure of the risk factors exactly but, again, those are the numbers.

TAPPER: All right. We just heard from Nick about all the Broadway shows and professional sports games being canceled or postponed. The science shows that if you're vaccinated and you test positive, it is highly likely your symptoms will be much milder than if you're unvaccinated and test positive.

I mean, given the new reality is it time for public health officials to update their guidance on how theaters and universities and pro- sports leagues handle COVID surges given the fact that we know that a case of COVID is not the same thing as a hospitalization due to COVID, it is not the same thing as death due to COVID. I mean, we know a lot more about this now than we did a year ago when these kinds of delayed athletic events, et cetera, were starting to happen.

GUPTA: Yeah, I mean, Jake, I think we're going to get to that point where we'll have these discussions in terms of what we are willing to tolerate with regard to COVID. How many hospitalizations, how many deaths? You know, those conversations will happen. But right now, if you look at the map of the country, there are two things to point out. One is there's still a ton of viral transmission out there.

So, yes. You know, there may be milder cases overall with Omicron, but when you have that much viral spread, compounded by the fact you have 90 million people who still have not been vaccinated, that's a prescription for some real problems.

I should point out, Jake, as well, when you think about the idea of how much immunity exists in the community, it's a question that comes up with vaccines, with previous infections, how much immunity really exists? Well, sometimes the way to know that is to see what is happening as the virus sort of spreads. Hospitalizations are going up.

So while there may be immunity out there, it's not enough, because people are still getting really sick. You know, 1,300 people are still dying every day, you know, right now, on average.


If you do the math, that's over 400,000 deaths a year if those numbers sort of crept up. So, yes, I think at some point the policies have to change and say, look, is a -- should a mild breakthrough case be treated the same as a severe breakthrough case? We -- I think those conversations will happen. But I don't think we're there yet.

TAPPER: Is it fair to say you don't quarantine a workplace or school when the flu is spreading, which it does pretty much every winter. Why do we need to quarantine when COVID is spreading? Is that fair?

GUPTA: Yeah. I think it's fair. But I think, you know, it's the same sort of thing. What are we willing to tolerate as society? So, we pulled some flu numbers. We can put those up. You know, how many cases of flu, how many hospitalizations, how many deaths.

Well, look, in a given year, flu can also kill 60,000 people a year. I feel like it is a difficult, uncomfortable conversation, but in a way, in the United States, we have sort of gotten to the point where we accept that. Less than half adults were less than half adults were getting a flu shot before this pandemic as well. We sort of got to the point where we say we'll accept that.

With COVID, we are nowhere near those numbers. It's well over 400,000. You know, 1,300 people dying a day.

What are we willing to tolerate? I think ultimately, it'll settle into a place where we say, okay, this is -- this is -- we are no longer going to quarantine, we're no longer going to do things because we can tolerate this.

One thing that I think drives that more than anything else, Jake, is hospitalizations. You know, we have some 67,000 people in the hospital right now. If you look at the COVID hospitalizations, the vast majority of them are unvaccinated.

TAPPER: Right.

GUPTA: You can -- you can look at the unvaccinated versus the vaccinated. So if the country was more like the green line, than the red line, we'd probably be having the conversation you're talking about. Yeah, there's a lot of breakthrough cases out but they're not getting sick, they're not overwhelming hospitals. We can start to pull back maybe on mitigation measures like quarantines, but not yet, Jake, for all the reasons I mentioned.

TAPPER: All right. Sanjay, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, the Republican lawmaker now admitting he sent a plan for a coup or forwarded it at least to Donald Trump's chief of staff. That's the day before the insurrection.

Plus, one ethics expert claims it's like saying let them eat cake. The outcry over a comment from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about members of Congress and stocks. That's ahead.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, Republican Congressman Jim Jordan of Ohio now admitting he was the lawmaker who sent a coup plan, who forward one at least, to then Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows on the day before the insurrection. The text further revealing the intense pressure campaign put on Vice President Mike Pence by Republicans and Trump supporters to overturn the results of the election.

CNN's Ryan Nobles joins us now live to Capitol Hill for more on this.

And, Ryan, Jordan is trying to defend the text that he forwarded. What is he saying?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, his office is really downplaying the motivation behind Jordan forwarding that text message to Mark Meadows on the day before January 6th and suggesting that perhaps he wasn't endorsing the content of that text message but was instead just passing along this legal theory from a former government lawyer who had texted the information to him and then his office saying that Jordan then just forwarded the text on to Mark Meadows, the then White House chief of staff.

But to be clear, the contents of the text message are still pretty alarming. It was a legal theory that suggested that Vice President Mike Pence had the sole authority to determine whether or not votes were constitutionally cast and he could cherry pick which ones he thought were and weren't and just toss out the rest, essentially interrupting the certification of the election results. It goes to show the intense pressure campaign that was being put on the White House and specifically Pence to do just that. Find a way for Pence to stand in the way of the certification process.

We know, of course, that Pence refused to do so but the anger surrounding Pence's lack of cooperation with some of these people looking to basically end run the democratic process is part of why we saw a riot on Capitol Hill on January 6th.

TAPPER: Yeah. And, let's not forget that House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy tried to put Jim Jordan on the committee investigating January 6, talk about the fox guarding the hen house. Ryan, we knew that the committee was going to call conspiracy theorist

Alex Jones and Trump ally and conspiracy theorist Roger Stone to testify. Are those depositions still going to happen?

NOBLES: So, they are still scheduled, Jake. Roger Stone is set to appear tomorrow in front of the committee. Alex Jones' deposition scheduled for Saturday. At this point, the committee has not said that either will be postponed. Roger Stone in particular is signaling he will actually show up. He has said he will plead the fifth when asked any questions. The committee has made it clear you can't just send a letter and plead the Fifth. That you actually have to come in and answer questions and in a statement to CNN, his attorney making it seem that is exactly what Stone will do.

We have no idea what Jones' plans are. He is scheduled to be here on Saturday. And even though there has been some defiance with some of these witnesses that have been close to the former President Donald Trump, the committee is still getting cooperation. We learned to Jake that they spoke for several hours with former Department of Homeland security official Ken Cuccinelli. Ken Cuccinelli said that he answered all of their questions, did not talk about any specific conversations that he had with President Trump, but said that he was asked questions about the Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

Cuccinelli, of course, was -- "The New York Times" reported at one point pressured by Rudy Giuliani to ask whether or not the DHS could seize voting machines, something they did not do. But it's clear the January 6 Select Committee casting a wide net as part of their investigation.

TAPPER: All right. Ryan Nobles, thanks so much.

What has Democrats, quote, frustrated and disappointed with their own party?

Stay with us.



TAPPER: We are back with our politics lead.

And tensions in the Democratic Party boiling over today with Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois telling CNN that his fellow Democrats are frustrated and disappointed about their failure to get a key part of Biden economic agenda passed this year and pointing a finger of blame at the one senator he says is holding it all up.

Let's bring in CNN's Phil Mattingly at the White House.

And, Phil, give us a reality check. Is this a setback or the end of Build Back Better?


And who exactly is Durbin talking about?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, look, Senator Durbin is talking about Senator Manchin. I think everybody is talking about Senator Manchin at this point.

But I haven't talked to any Democrat either on Capitol Hill or here at the White House who believes this is the end of things, that things are dead with this $1.75 trillion cornerstone of President Biden's domestic agenda.

I think there is a recognition this obviously won't get done this year. It hasn't been publicly announced yet but it will take a number of weeks further and probably will have to be fairly significant changes to what the president and Democrats envisioned for the final proposal. Even White House officials who are careful in how they talk about Senator Manchin have made clear they believe he wants to get to the finish line and get something done.

The real question is, can they construct something that satisfies both Senator Manchin and the rest of the Democratic caucus, Jake?

TAPPER: And Biden has been meeting privately with Manchin in person, on the phone, however they can meet to try to get this bill over the finish line. That's how the president wants. But now, a source says the negotiations are very far apart.

What happened?

MATTINGLY: Look, I think there are a range of issues. Senator Manchin to his credit has been very public with his issues about the proposal for the better part of the last several months. I think President Biden and Senator Manchin have spoken an awful lot over the course of the last 11 months. But in the last six or seven days, they've had multiple conversations by phone where it has become abundantly clear that Senator Manchin has significant issues with the proposal as it's laid out, particularly one issue specifically and that is the child tax credit.

In this proposal, it would extend the child tax credit which has driven down childhood poverty significantly since it was put into place by the American Rescue Plan. Senator Manchin thinks it is too large in terms of the fact it is extended one year. He wants it extended for a full ten years or pulled out of the bill entirely. That is a nonstarter for President Biden. It's a nonstarter for Democrats.

So, how they reconcile that while keeping it within the $1.75 trillion top line is the biggest outstanding question right now. There are a series of issues they still need to resolve. But that's probably the biggest one right now, that White House officials and congressional Democrats are working on, Jake.

TAPPER: Phil Mattingly, thanks so much.

Joining us now to discuss, Democratic Congressman Mondaire Jones of New York. He's a deputy whip for the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Let me start off by saying this appears to be what Progressives had

worried would happen if you went along to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill, that ultimately, Manchin would not be there to pass Build Back Better. Do you resent how this is playing out? Do you feel played?

REP. MONDAIRE JONES (D-NY): Well, look, I think the American people resent how it's playing out, Jake. This is something that is so broadly popular across the ideological spectrum when you do polling. We are seeking to cut costs for the American people at a time when inflation has been rising.

This is something that is going to continue to be -- to extend the middle class tax cut known as the child tax credit, which as Phil just mentioned has been cutting child poverty in half over this past year.

So, this is common sense stuff. It's obviously fully paid for, and this is something that I'm hopeful the president will be able to fulfill his promise on when he promised Progressives and the House Democratic Caucus writ large that he would secure the 50 Democratic Senate votes required to get this over the hurdle that is the United States Senate.

TAPPER: So, CNN's Manu Raju just got with West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and asked him about the criticism that he is demanding changes at the last minute. Manchin's response is, quote, everybody has demanded changes in the last few weeks. Is that true?

JONES: No, it's not true. The fact is, 90 percent of this bill was pre-conferenced, and pre-conferenced, these days, means Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema signed off on it.

Now I understand that the senator has consistently raised objections about, A, family leave. That's unfortunate because we are simply trying to catch up to the rest of the developed world.

But as of late, he's been raising objections that he only recently began to raise after signing off on this as part of the 90 percent that was pre-conferenced. So, you see someone continuing to move the goal post, and I'm so hopeful and optimistic that we can get this done this month and we also need to do voting rights.

TAPPER: President Biden has been privately negotiating with Manchin for months. It sounds like to a degree you blame President Biden for this not getting over the hump, given the fact that he gave you his word as a Biden that he would get the 50 votes and doesn't seem to be able to do it.

JONES: Well, look, I think the president is able to do it. I just hope that he gets it done this month because the American people are hurting. Now, folks are going to stop seeing those monthly expanded child tax credit checks stop next month if we don't do something about it right now.

I don't think any of us want to be known as folks who doubled poverty right after we cut child poverty and, of course, now, Senator Manchin is saying that he supports the child tax credit, but is only going to vote for it if it's over ten years instead of one year. I would love to increase the size of this package if that is his proposition.

TAPPER: The hold up right now appears to be the child tax credit as you note. Manchin says he does support it. It's just not how it's being written in the bill.

Is there any thought to removing the child tax credit from Build Back Better and passing it as a standalone bill and then continuing to work on Build Back Better, given the fact that Manchin says he would support that?

JONES: I don't think there is any thought that that is going to happen and it is also something that doesn't need to happen. Again, this was pre-conferenced.

And so I am hopeful that the president of the United States can fulfill the promise that he made and that the leadership in the Senate will get this over the finish line as well. I mean, House Democrats have been doing the lion's share of the work of building an economy that works for everybody. My goodness, would we like to see some help from the White House and the United States Senate.

TAPPER: How do you respond to the argument and some of it comes from Democratic economists, that there has been so much money infused into the economy this year that that is why there is inflation at least partly and that is why I'm sure when you go home your constituents talk about how expensive everything is a the grocery store and the gas station. Some people, including people like Larry Summers, former Democratic White House economic adviser, say that's because so much money has gone from the Biden administration and the progressive Congress into the economy?

JONES: The fact is, it is well-established and leading economists understand this. That as demand for goods increased, we saw a supply either stagnate in some instances or decrease at the same time. And so, that's why you see the prices increase.

Economists also say that the best way to deal with the crisis of inflation we're facing right now, and I do feel for struggling Americans who are experiencing this, is to make sure that we cut costs, right? So putting money in the pockets of Americans through extending the expanded child tax credit, making sure that the costs of health care and housing go down, which is what the Build Back Better act will do, talking about capping insulin at $35 a month.

That is an extraordinary achievement among other things in this incredible bill like making child care affordable for literally every family in America. That is how we are going to overcome this temporary crisis of inflation. And that is what I want Senator Manchin to understand.

TAPPER: Democrats in the Senate as you noted are considering switching focus and making one more push on voting rights legislation. That doesn't have the votes either it seems. We're about to enter a midterm year. Do you think that Democrats' failure to pass what you've promised from

police reform to voting rights to Build Back Better, do you think that that will be a reason if you lose your majorities in the House and Senate?

JONES: Well, there is nothing as important as saving our democracy, which faces its greatest test since Jim Crow. We see that in the voter suppression that has been enacted in so many states particularly but not exclusively in the South.

And so, we've got to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and we've got to pass the Freedom to Vote Act. I'm proud to have co- authored provisions of both of those bills. But time is running out and people who incited the insurrection at the Capitol are gerrymandering their way back into power.

And my goodness, I think most Americans shudder to think of what will happen if people like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Jim Jordan are running the show.

TAPPER: Democratic Congressman Mondaire Jones of New York, if I don't see you, merry Christmas. Thanks for joining us today.

JONES: Happy holidays.

TAPPER: It's the defense's turn in the trial of Jeffrey Epstein's long time associate. The judge has already delivered one defeat.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our national lead, the defense of Jeffrey Epstein's former associate Ghislaine Maxwell started today but in a potential blow to the socialite's strategy three of the potential defense witnesses will not be allowed to testify anonymously. Maxwell faces a number of federal charges including sex trafficking.

CNN's Kara Scannell is live for us outside the courthouse.

Kara, what did we learn today about the defense's strategy? This was the first day they tried to call witnesses.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, that's right. Today is the first day the defense is putting on their case and the strategy is to attack the credibility of these four accusers both looking at their financial motives as well as their memory. They called four witnesses today.

The most important for them, a UC Irvine professor who is a memory expert. She testified that even false memories can be vivid. That emotion is no guarantee that a memory is authentic, and she said even traumatic events, your memory of those events can be influenced by external factors like movies and it can cause them to be exaggerated and distorted.

Now, on cross examination, the prosecutors tried to point to this defendant, excuse me, the witnesses for testifying in multiple criminal trials. They held up a book she had written that was called "Witness For the Defense" and they asked if she had ever written a book called "Impartial Witness."

Now, she did agree -- the witness did agree on cross examination that witnesses and victims tend to remember traumatic events, remember them at their core. That was the most important for the defense today.

They also called one of Maxwell's former assistants who testified she never saw anything inappropriate in the six years that she worked for her -- Jake.

TAPPER: Who else do we expect to hear from? Do we know if Maxwell herself is expected to testify?

SCANNELL: No word from the defense on whether Maxwell will take the stand. She does intend to call several character witnesses. Those are the ones you mentioned before where the judge said she will not let them testify using pseudonyms that something that the defense had wanted because they said some of the witnesses would not want the publicity that would be associated with testifying for Maxwell -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Kara Scannell, thanks so much.

Let's take a closer look at this case now with Renato Mariotti. He was a federal prosecutor for nearly a decade, specializing in white collar crime.

So, Renato, the defense spent a lot of today trying to undermine the testimony of Jeffrey Epstein's alleged victims. Could that be effective?

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, it can be effective. It's often what the defense does when there is a case of identification, where that is what it comes down to. I've had those cases. It can be in the case of violent crimes, more traditional violent crimes where, you know, a bank robbery or something, there can be identification experts. It's often a hot topic of debate.

It's really what they have here. Realistically, if the victims in their testimony is correct, Ms. Maxwell is certainly guilty so they have to do that but it could back fire because I think everyone on the jury is going to be sympathetic to those victims as well.

TAPPER: As Kara Scannell reported, the jury also heard from a former assistant of Ghislaine Maxwell, who said she never saw anything inappropriate. Is that potentially a strong defense for her?

MARIOTTI: I don't think so. Those sorts of folks come out of the wood work all the time. In all sorts of cases where I didn't see anything that was going -- that was potentially criminal and what ends up happening, the cross examination by the government is, well, did you know about this? Did you know about that? They'll show them pieces of evidence.

And inevitably, the person engaged in say child exploitation or some other crime did not, of course, let that person know about all sorts of details that are impossible to dispute. And it just shows the argument for the government is going to be this shows Ms. Maxwell knew what she was doing was wrong and that is why she hid it.

TAPPER: The jury just finished listening to these horrific accounts of abuse from victims of Jeffrey Epstein. If you were in the position of having to defend Ghislaine Maxwell who allegedly helped Jeffrey Epstein in these horrific crimes, what would your strategy be?

MARIOTTI: Wow. That's tough one. I think, certainly, they have to blame Epstein. They have to make the jury blame him, portray her as somebody who was duped by Epstein. And I think they have to portray her almost as an unwitting accomplice.

The problem with that is there are victims who testify that she participated in the abuse of those underage victims so that is why they have to go after those victims and their credibility which is difficult to do in a way that isn't going to make the jury hate you and why I imagine there's certainly at some point some plea negotiations that were occurring here.

TAPPER: Are you surprised that -- I mean, Jeffrey Epstein allegedly did this with a lot of very wealthy, powerful men, are you surprised that we don't know would they are yet?

MARIOTTI: I think the prosecution is probably trying to remove that element from this case. They want to make it about this particular defendant and what she did rather than focusing on details that are going to distract the jury from that evidence and potentially cause the jury you could imagine a juror really liking one of those famous or wealthy or important people and choosing to disbelieve the evidence.

So, I think the prosecution is doing the right thing by keeping the focus on Maxwell. You always have to remember as a prosecutor focus on the person who is the defendant in this case as opposed to all of the other evidence around it.

TAPPER: That makes sense. If Jeffrey Epstein was a sexual trafficker of underage girls which he was, he did this for people. Do you think the prosecution is going to bring cases forward or maybe even Ghislaine Maxwell to flip or something so some of these abusers in addition to Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell allegedly are punished?

MARIOTTI: I think you're on the right track, Jake, when you said flip her. They really want Maxwell to flip. It would take the testimony of someone like Maxwell most likely for that to happen because thus far, we haven't seen those charges and I would expect if they had sufficient evidence without Maxwell's testimony, that some of those charges would have already been brought.

TAPPER: All right. Renato Mariotti, thank you so much. Good to see you. Coming up, bravery, devotion, now a medal of honor, actually three.

Hear the stories of the heroes given a spotlight at the White House. That's next.



TAPPER: In our national lead today, President Biden presented the Congressional Medal of Honor, the most prestigious decoration in the U.S. military, to three American heroes. Two were presented posthumously. The third honoree was joined by the families of the fallen soldiers.

And as CNN's Oren Liebermann reports for us, these recognitions were long deserved.




OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kasinal Cashe White always believed this day would come even if she had to wait 16 years. When her little brother Sergeant First Class Alwyn Cashe got the credit many felt he deserved.

BIDEN: No soldier is going to be left behind on his watch.

LIEBERMANN: But she would trade today a million times to redo October 17th, 2005.

KASINAL CASHE WHITE, SISTER OF MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENT SGT. ALWYN CASHE: June, 2005, the last time I saw him, I told him, I need you to duck, don't be a hero, and come home.

LIEBERMANN: Cashe had deployed to Iraq before, but this time his fighting vehicle hit a road side bomb. The car was engulfed in flames and soon so was Cashe. But he went back to the car again and again to pull out six of his men and an Iraqi interpreter.

Does it ever get easier?

WHITE: When people say time heals all, they have not walked in my shoes. So, no. It never gets easier. It gets a little -- you don't cry as long, I just say, you know? So, it doesn't get easy.

LIEBERMANN: Cashe was awarded the Silver Star. But his men and his sister always felt he earned the Medal of Honor.

BIDEN: A warrior who literally walked through fire for his troops.

LIEBERMANN: A dream that came true. Perhaps more special than the award is the company in the White House on this day.

Katie Celiz is here for her husband

KATIE CELIZ, WIFE OF MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENT SGT. CHRISTOPHER CELIZ: I would ask him before every deployment, just please don't be a hero. Just go and do your job and come back. He always told me he couldn't make that kind of promise.

LIEBERMANN: Sergeant First Class Christopher Celiz was his second deployment to Afghanistan. On July 12, 2018, Celiz led a team to clear out enemy forces when they came under heavy fire. Celiz put himself in the line of fire to protect a Medevac helicopter.

CELIZ: I think for him to step back and not deploy or even get out of the Army was in a way abandoning his fellow soldiers and for him I don't think he could ever do that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Attention orders.

LIEBERMANN: It's a common theme in this group. Never abandon your fellow soldier because they would never abandon you. Master Sergeant Earl Plumlee had been in fire fights before during deployments around the world but never like this.

MASTER SGT. EARL PLUMLEE, MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENT: Usually, you are not hip deep in suicide bombers, you know, next to the chow hall. We typically do it differently.

LIEBERMANN: On August 28th, 2013, suicide bombers attacked his base in Afghanistan wearing Afghan national army uniforms. Plumlee moved toward the attack, armed at first only with a pistol. He withdrew only to advance again and again to stop the attack.

PLUMLEE: I, you know, read about medal of honor stories throughout my career.

LIEBERMANN: You are one of those stories now.

PLUMLEE: Yeah and I -- I don't know. I haven't wrapped my head around it.


LIEBERMANN (on camera): It was an incredible opportunity to speak with Master Sergeant Earl Plumlee and the families of the other two honorees. Perhaps one of the most impressive parts of Plumlee's story he came off deployment for the ceremony and will go back in just a few weeks. Because he is Special Forces when I asked him where are you deploying to, he said, I can't tell you that -- Jake.

TAPPER: Where do we get such men and women?

Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon, thank you so much.

Coming up, everyone from the White House to one of the world's largest banks warning about what one person described as, quote, the most dangerous weapon in the world.

Stay with us.



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

This hour, new evidence the American people are not all that worried about COVID even with the many unknowns of the omicron variant.

Plus, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejecting the idea of banning lawmakers from trading stocks. We'll talk to an ethics expert who said Pelosi might as well have said let them eat cake.

And leading this hour, a shocking revolution from the January 6 committee. Republican congressman and Trump loyalist Jim Jordan was part of the pressure campaign to urge Vice President Pence to prevent Joe Biden's win from being certified.

Jordan forwarded a text from a former Defense Department inspector general to then chief of staff Mark Meadows outlining an unproven legal theory Pence could toss out electoral votes. This text means Jordan could be targeted by the very committee that Kevin McCarthy wanted him to join earlier this year.

As CNN's Whitney Wild reports for us now, the January 6 Committee is charging forward with new interviews even as Washington reels from all of these new revelations.


WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The House Select Committee investigating the insurrection is filling in the picture of how Donald Trump and his allies tried to overturn the 2020 election and pleas for him to try to stop the violence at the Capitol on January 6th.

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): Did Donald Trump through action or inaction corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress's official proceeding to count electoral votes?

WILD: The committee focusing on the role of Republican members of Congress like Representative Jim Jordan who forwarded a text to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, outlining a legal strategy for then Vice President Mike Pence to stop the certification of the electoral votes.

REP. STEPHANIE MURPHY (D-FL): It was a far more malicious effort to find ways to corrupt our democracy, to overturn the votes of the people. And that to me is so scary.