Return to Transcripts main page

The Lead with Jake Tapper

New Pushback After CDC Cuts Isolation Time For People With COVID; Increasing Number Of Children Hospitalized Due To Omicron; Markets Hover Around New Highs Despite Omicron Concerns; Trump Loyalists Defy January 6 Committee, Curry Favor With Former President; Taliban Ban Women From Traveling More Than 45 Miles Alone; Russian Court Orders Closure Of Prominent Human Right Group. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired December 28, 2021 - 16:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: So join us all of us for a very festive CNN "News Year's Eve". It's going to start Friday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only hear on CNN.

I will also see you tomorrow.

And THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: A new warning from children's hospitals.

THE LEAD starts right now.

In one pediatric hospital, they are seeing a 1,000 percent increase in the number of kids testing positive for COVID compared with the delta surge. But does that necessarily mean serious illness for those kids? Does it mean hospitalization or worse? A pediatrician from that hospital is here to explain his biggest concerns.

And if you are confused by the new CDC isolation guidance, you are hardly alone. Some health experts bashing the CDC and the Biden administration about what they say is really driving the changes.

Then, you won't catch them cooperating with the January 6th committee. You are more likely to find them flying south to kiss Donald Trump's ring.


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

We start today with our health lead and new questions about the CDC's reduced isolation period guidelines as the U.S. nears an all-time record for daily cases of COVID. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now suggesting people with COVID should isolate for five days, that's down from ten, as long as they have no symptoms. The CDC insisting the change is motivated by the science purely. The science which shows you're most contagious in the first few days of your illness if you have COVID, but Dr. Anthony Fuci admitting the new rules were aimed at least in part at getting people back to work more quickly.

The flight attendants union now questioning how much these changes were influenced by pressure from corporate America and in addition, the president of the nation's largest nursing union predicting the CDC's change will only increase the spread of the virus.

CNN's Tom Foreman starts us off today with a closer look at what all this might mean for you and your family as we head into a new year.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Amid the winter weather, the pandemic is roaring across the country with an average of more than 200,000 new cases diagnosed daily.

DR. PETER HOTEZ, DEAN OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: This omicron variant is such a game changer in terms of its high, high transmissibility. It's like this big virus blizzard.

FOREMAN: Hospitalizations are only about half of what they were last winter, but some states are seeing peaks there, too, including among vaccinated medical workers with breakthrough cases. They are being sent home just when demand for their expertise is soaring.

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, ASSOCIATE DEAN OF PUBLIC HEALTH, BROWN UNIVERSITY: That's still an impossible strain on an already strained health care system. So I understand the pressure to get workers back earlier.

FOREMAN: Omicron is spreading so fast, the impact is now going far beyond the widely reported holiday travel problems. All over college and professional sports are dealing with canceled or postponed games and hospitals are seeing a surge in cases among children. Not because omicron is uniquely targeting them but because --

DR. PAUL OFFIT, MEMBER, FDA VACCINE ADVISORY COMMITTEE: We see children who are hospitalized because of COVID or in the ICU because of COVID. They were all unvaccinated. They're unvaccinated. The parents are unvaccinated. The siblings are unvaccinated.

FOREMAN: That's why some medical professionals believe the reopening of schools, especially those with thorough COVID safety measures, could reduce the spread among kids, although others are not convinced.

DR. ALLISON MESSINA, CHIEF OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES, JOHNS HOPKINS ALL CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: I think that what we're going to see is once children go back to school within a week or two of schools opening is when we're going to see our highest numbers.


FOREMAN (on camera): All of this, of course, could be better if simply more people would get vaccinated. But as it stands right now, New York City is saying the doors will open, the bells will ring. They'll expect students back in the classes next week and many schools across the country are expected to follow suit -- Jake.

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

Let's bring in CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.

Elizabeth, the C -- Elizabeth, the CDC says the decision is based purely on the science. So, you looked into the science -- what does it say?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: So the science says that people are most transmissible, most contagious, Jake, in the time before they have symptoms or in the two to three days after. So the CDC's reasoning is, if you have COVID-19, but you're asymptomatic or maybe you're mildly symptomatic and now on the mend, why are we keeping you out of work for ten days when you're probably just transmissible for just two or three days after you have symptoms. Why stay out for ten days?

I've talked to experts who support this. I've talked to experts who don't support this. What they all agree is that the way the CDC wrote these guidelines, you need probably a degree in law, medicine, public health and maybe even discourse to understand what they are saying. It's very, very difficult. We've tried to boil it down.

So if you have COVID-19, if you actually are infected, if you are asymptomatic or you have had symptoms but they're resolving, you have isolated -- the CDC guidelines say isolate for five days and then for five more days, you should wear a mask when you're around other people. Now some of this, a lot of this, is really going to be on the honor system. Are people going to own up to being sick, not own up to being sick? Are they really going to isolate for five days?

There are a lot of question marks around this, but we'll note as you were talking about corporate influence, certainly delta airlines, other companies asking the CDC for this change so that workers could get back to work -- Jake.

TAPPER: Elizabeth, what are the guidelines specifically say about people who have gotten their boosters?

COHEN: Right. So that -- where that comes in is for people exposed. So, let's say a family member of yours or a colleague or whomever has COVID-19. You have been exposed. You don't know if you have COVID-19, but you've been exposed.

If you've had a booster or if you're less than six months away from your second shot, the CDC says no need for you to quarantine, although they do recommend wearing a mask for ten days. Now here's the reasoning behind that. The CDC says that a booster, having three shots, including the booster, is 75 percent effective at fighting omicron infections. So again, you know, economic concerns here, too.

The thinking is, why are we keeping people out of work if they have been boosted? They're 75 percent protected, why are we keeping them out of work? That's the reasoning there.

TAPPER: All right. Elizabeth Cohen, thanks so much. Here to discuss is Dr. Larry Kociolek. He's a pediatric infectious

disease physician and scientist at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.

Dr. Kociolek, thanks for joining us.

I understand you're seeing, pardon me, a massive surge in the number of kids testing positive for COVID at your hospital. How many positive tests are you seeing, and I guess what's most significant, how many of them have to be hospitalized?

DR. LARRY KOCIOLEK, PEDIATRIC INFECTIOUS DISEASE PHYSICIAN, ANN & ROBERT H. LURIE CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF CHICAGO: Yeah, thanks, Jake, for having me. Yeah, what we've seen around the world and country, Chicago is really no different. And, last year, about a year ago, we were seeing about 20 new cases a day. Over the past week and a half, we've seen about 70 new cases per day and those numbers keep rising everyday. We expect them to rise over the next few weeks.

Just compared to a few weeks ago, during our delta surge, we're up roughly 1,000 percent in the number of cases per day. Hospitalizations have also surged. Not surprisingly, during our peak we were seeing maybe 20 hospitalizations a week. We've seen 40 in the past week. We were only seeing about six a week during the delta surge.

And so, the number of kids being admitted to the hospital has gone up quite a bit.

Fortunately, the number of children needing the intensive care unit is the same that it's been over the last several months and throughout the pandemic. And so, the proportion of infections required the ICU is not increasing. But we would anticipate those numbers will go up as we continue to see more cases in children.

TAPPER: The kids who are hospitalized, how sick are they? What are their symptoms?

KOCIOLEK: It varies depending on the child. We only maybe 10 percent of the children right now in the hospital require the ICU. And so, 90 percent have mild or moderate infections. Seven percent are hospitalizations of children admitted to the hospital for reasons other than COVID, without COVID symptoms, are testing positive for COVID.

So, there's a lot of asymptomatic infections in the community as well. Normally, that's been less than 1 percent.

TAPPER: How many of the kids being admitted to the hospital are already fully vaccinated against COVID?

KOCIOLEK: So that's another silver lining to this, is that what we're seeing is real time evidence of how effective vaccines are. We have, so far, only seen, since we started vaccinating children, one child who was fully vaccinated admitted to the hospital and that was a patient with multiple co-morbidities and risk factors for severity. And so, about 75 percent of our cases and 50 percent of hospitalizations currently are children under the age of 5. So children that aren't eligible to be vaccinated yet.

In Chicago, about 70 percent of children between age 5 and 11 are not yet vaccinated. So that's an opportunity for us to expand vaccination in our community and further reduce hospitalizations.

TAPPER: So you're seeing real time evidence that the vaccines prevent children from getting serious COVID and having to go to the hospital?

KOCIOLEK: Absolutely. We think because the majority of our infections that we're seeing mild infections are in children not yet vaccinated. We're seeing real time evidence that the vaccine is showing protection against the omicron variant for mild or moderate infections in this age group and substantially effective for preventing hospitalizations in the pediatric age group.

TAPPER: Something else we've been talking about is the long-term effects of COVID.


Tell us about the long-term effects for children who get sick. I understand you're also concerned about this surge in the multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children which is a serious COVID-related condition.

KOCIOLEK: Correct. Oftentimes that multi-inflammatory syndrome in children or MIS-C is the driver of morbidity of children in this infection. That's something that we typically see two to six weeks after an initial surge. During the delta surge, we were lucky we didn't see an increase in MIS-C. We don't really know why. We don't know yet if we're going to see a rise in MIS-C but I think over the next few weeks, we'll learn a whole more about that.

In terms of long COVID symptoms, things like brain fog, and fatigue, muscle pain and other things that can be debilitating for adult patients are much less common in kids, that fewer than 10 percent of children will develop symptoms of long COVID. It's been shown in adults that not only do vaccines prevent infection but in those that do get breakthrough infection from their vaccine, they're about half as likely to get those long COVID symptoms. So, again, another reason to get vaccinated.

TAPPER: They also say doctors have told us on the show that even though it is possible to get COVID, that even if one is fully vaccinated and has had a booster, you are less contagious than somebody who is unvaccinated who gets COVID.

The people who are -- the kids who are under 5 who can't get vaccinated, who have contracted COVID and are -- a lot of them are -- a lot of the kids hospitalized, you say, are under 5. I don't know if you do contact tracing there, but who -- do you know who they caught it from? I mean, is there any evidence that the unvaccinated are infecting kids under 5 who can't even get vaccinated?

KOCIOLEK: You know, I don't think we have a great data yet with omicron to know who is infecting whom. We know these infections shot up significantly just really in the past ten days, in children who are out of the home -- I'm sorry, out of the school setting and in home and gathering with other people that are infected, whether it's their siblings or caregivers. We know that people are going to, you know, holiday parties and concerts and, you know, a lot of events they weren't doing even several months ago.

So there's a lot of opportunity for spread both in the home and outside the home. We're fairly confident and reassured that we've not seen a whole lot of transmission in schools, particularly schools that are really taking those risk mitigation measures very, very seriously.

TAPPER: And when you refer to that, you're talking about testing, you're talking about masking and obviously you're talking about vaccines. Given what we know about how contagious omicron is and how many kids remain unvaccinated, is it safe for parents, do you think, to send their kids to school in the New Year based on what you've seen?

KOCIOLEK: Yeah, I think, one, that's a personal decision that some parents are going to have to evaluate based on their child's risks for severe COVID and the risks of other people in the home. I think generally, schools are very, very safe and oftentimes safer than the community.

We saw last year in Chicago that cases spiked between Thanksgiving and the New Year and as soon as school started, cases in children declined. And when our research team went into schools in Chicago and looked, we saw very little to no evidence. Now since -- of transmission that is.

Since that time there's been the delta variant and now the omicron variant. So we'll have to see what happens over the next several weeks. But based on what we know, the masks, the contact tracing, the testing, all of those things prevent transmission and should be just as effective for omicron as for other variants. So I'm confident that school is very, very safe and as a parent, I plan to sending my children back to school without concerns of transmission.

TAPPER: Yeah, not to mention, of course, the damaging effects of keeping kids out of school in terms of academics and emotional and psychological damage.

Dr. Larry Kociolek, thank you so much for your time. Thank you for the important work that you do.

KOCIOLEK: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: COVID can stay in your heart and your brain for more than a half a year according to a new study. Why that is concerning for America's economic recovery.

Plus, Russia trying to sweep away some of its ugly past by silencing a major human rights organization. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our money lead now, a complicated picture for the U.S. economy. The stock market is up. So are holiday sales.

But with omicron surging, airlines are canceling thousands of flights. Restaurant reservations are slowing. Many businesses are, frankly, struggling to keep employees at work. All of which could slow what's been, up until now, a decent economic recovery.

Let's bring in Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's Analytics.

Mark, we have seen some good economic news, without question. How much do you think omicron is going to stop or even reverse that?

MARK ZANDI, CHIEF ECONOMIST, MOODY'S ANALYTICS: Well, it's going to hurt, Jake. You know, delta, when that hit back in the fall, that shaved about 4 percentage points off of growth, GDP growth. That's the value of all the things we produce, in the third quarter. It bounced back when delta started to fade later in the fall. That's why we had a really good Christmas buying season.

So, I expect omicron to do about the same. I think Delta is a pretty good case study here. So, I'd expect Q1 growth, the quarter in the beginning of 2022 to be on the soft side. I don't think we'll get a negative number, but it will be soft. The omicron wave passes and hopefully passes through quickly here, we'll bounce right back in the spring quarter of 2022.

So, you know, the general picture here is an economy that generally is improving but it's kind of trying to navigate through these waves of the pandemic and each wave does some damage to the economy in the recovery.

TAPPER: Right. And the Biden administration taking, I guess, you could call it a lighter touch when it comes to how to handle this new variant. They've reduced quarantine times. Some cases they've foregone restrictions on social distancing, presumably focusing on keeping the economy moving.


Do you agree with those measures, and as an economist, and is that going to be enough to keep the economy moving in the right direction?

ZANDI: Yeah, of course, Jake, there's tradeoffs. I don't have all the information to know what the best tradeoffs here are, but I do think it does make sense to try to keep the economy moving here as best we can. I think it's fair to say that we're doing a pretty good job.

You know, you think back, you know, we've been at this for now two years. Each wave that hits us does damage but a little less damage than the previous wave. And that's because we adjust. We adapt. Make changes. We learn.

And I think the CDC change here in the isolation period is just one more adaptation that will make the economic pain and suffering here a little less significant.

You know, the other thing I think we'll see is businesses will be better able to manage their supply chains. You know, delta did a real -- real havoc for supply chains around the world. We've seen shortages here and inflation take off. But I suspect with that experience, businesses will know where the bottlenecks are and manage them a little better.

We'll still see some shortages, as a result of this. Supply chains will still be disrupted but so I think we're making progress here. With each new wave, the disruptions to the health care system and economy are less significant than the previous wave. I expect that to continue.

TAPPER: All right. Mark Zandi, thanks so much. Happy New Year to you.

Researchers are looking into a new study from the National Institutes of Health that finds COVID can spread to the entire body within days and stay in the heart, the brain and other organs for as long as eight months. This is what you've heard some experts referred to as long COVID. And there's still so much to learn about long COVID symptoms and impact.

Let's discuss now Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly. He's chief of research and development at the V.A. St. Louis health care system in Missouri.

Doctor, this is study has not been peer reviewed yet but you've called this remarkably important work. Explain what the long-term effects of COVID are and how vulnerable the general population is to getting it.

DR. ZIYAD AL-ALY, CHIEF OF RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT, VA ST. LOUISA HEALTH CARE SYSTEM: Well, we've known for some time now, first of all, thank you for having me. We've known for some time that a lot of people after they quote, unquote recover from acute COVID, the first 30 days of COVID or infection, they go on -- some of them go on to develop, you know, continued weakness or lingering fatigue, brain fog. We've also found that people are coming down with new onset kidney disease, diabetes and heart disease.

What this study is telling us is this virus that we thought of as a respiratory virus, a lung virus or respiratory -- produces respiratory infection is really more of a systemic virus that affects nearly every organ in the body. So whatever they look, they look at the brain, the lung, pancreas, kidneys and liver. There was evidence of damage in those organs and evidence of lingering virus weeks and months after the initial infection in those organs.

In terms of like who really is at risk of long COVID, it can affect nearly everybody. It can affect, as you point out in earlier segment, it can affect children. It can affect adults. It can affect older adults, males and females. Nobody is spared long COVID.

TAPPER: How many Americans do you think are suffering long COVID right now?

AL-ALY: So, we estimate that it's in the millions. The estimates are anywhere between 4 percent and 10 percent of people who got COVID now are having symptoms or sequellae related to long COVID. Because COVID affected so many people, we estimate that at least three 3 or 4 million Americans at the very least have long COVID.

And what we really worry about is that long COVID is not only weakness and fatigue that might resolve with time. It is resulting in some people in heart conditions or heart disease, diabetes and kidney disease. Those things last a lifetime. Those things will literally scar people for lifetime. Naturally we think has really huge consequences and we need to be prepared for that.

TAPPER: So far, the science has been telling us that omicron has a lesser degree of severity than previous strains. Does that mean there's less of a chance of getting long COVID if someone tests positive for the omicron variant?

AL-ALY: That is possible. That's a plausible hypothesis, but we're just still learning about omicron and still also learning about the long-term consequences of omicron. So it's possible a less severe acute infection from omicron will reduce the risk of long COVID but that remains to be tested yet.

TAPPER: Do vaccinations or boosters play any role in preventing long COVID as they do in preventing COVID in general?

AL-ALY: Well, what we know about long COVID now is that the best way to avoid long COVID is to avoid COVID in the first place.


So, if people have not been vaccinated, please go get vaccinated. If you haven't gotten boosted, please go get boosted.

The best way to avoid really what we think is the horrible long COVID. It's really a horrible condition, that that may scar people for a lifetime is really to avoid COVID in the first place. We think that's really enormously important.

When it comes to, like, if you've already gotten COVID and gotten long COVID, we've seen some evidence anecdotal evidence, which means really only smaller reports, suggesting that some people are reporting amelioration or improvement in symptoms after getting vaccinated. So vaccination helps.

TAPPER: All right. Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, thank you so much for your time. Really appreciate it.

Coming up, they won't accept an invitation to testify before the January 6th committee but send them an invitation to a certain private club down in Florida? Well, they might show up there.

Stay with us.


[16:30:40] TAPPER: In our politics lead, we finally have something of a timeline for when the House Select Committee investigating the deadly Capitol riot will reveal what its members have been working on behind closed doors for so long.

CNN has learned that the panel is aiming to have an interim report with its initial findings out by summer with the final report likely out before next year's midterm elections. Meanwhile, Trump's fiercest loyalists continue to refuse to cooperate and tell the truth. They are defying subpoenas and stonewalling the committee's investigation, even under threat of potential criminal prosecution for contempt of Congress.

And as CNN's Sara Murray reports for us, many of these Trump acolytes have decided they don't want to risk their often lucrative standing with Donald Trump, especially as he teases another possible run for president.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: Dan Scavino, everybody, the famous Dan Scavino.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Defying Congress, evading questions and praising the former president, a consistent strategy emerging among some Trump loyalists when it comes to January 6th.

As the House Select Committee struggled in October to serve Dan Scavino with a subpoena, Scavino took to Twitter: The dangerous and false narrative of me trying to avoid or evade a subpoena is a disgrace. Not one attempt was made to contact, serve me when I was at Mar-a-Lago for six days.

Scavino who was eventually served hired a lawyer quietly engaged with the committee and still has not testified. His status as a witness is in limbo. Scavino's allegiance to Trump on full display. In a December jaunt to Mar-a-Lago, at game four of the World Series in Atlanta and at an October rally in Iowa.

TRUMP: Hello, Iowa. I'm thrilled to be back.

MURRAY: Where Trump railed against the committee.

TRUMP: The left's new obsession is the unselect committee. They have an unselect committee.

MURRAY: As the committee seeks information about roles Trump allies played up to or during the events of January 6th, some loyalists like Scavino are slow walking, stonewalling or snubbing the committee. All while doubling down on their allegiance to Trump as he ponders another run for office.

ALYSSA FARAH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's 100 percent of the calculation. What is the death grip on the Republican Party right now is the idea of Donald Trump running again in 2024. And people not wanting to risk losing their stature with him.

MURRAY: Roger Stone, a longtime Trump ally and sometimes political adviser pleaded the fifth rather than answer the committee's questions.

ROGER STONE, ALLY OF FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP: I did my civic duty, and I responded as required by law.

MURRAY: After Stone's last appearance before lawmakers in 2017, during the Russia probe --

STONE: The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

MURRAY: He was convicted on charges of lying to and obstructing Congress and witness tampering. Trump pardoned him.

Recently, Stone popped up at a Mar-a-Lago, and posted about chatting with Trump. Donald Trump is my first, second and third choice for 2024.

For someone would-be witnesses, their fealty to Trump comes at a higher price. The House recommended contempt charges for former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows who is now suing the committee.

MARK MEADOWS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: This is about Donald Trump and about actually going after him once again.

MURRAY: Despite Meadows work to curry favor with Trump, a source tells CNN their relationship has been strained. Both from embarrassing revelations in Meadows' book and the fallout from some documents he gave the Select Committee before he stopped cooperating.

STEVE BANNON, FORMER TRUMP ADVISER: If you think they'll give you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken.

MURRAY: Right wing firebrand and Trump ally Steve Bannon was charged with criminal contempt of Congress, after defying a committee subpoena. He pleaded not guilty and appears to be wearing his resistance as a badge of honor.

BANNON: I have a previous engagement I can't get out of. Peter, you'll be talking about --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The master of the understatement.

BANNON: You're going to be talking about --


MURRAY: While Bannon's relationship with Trump often runs hot and cold, Bannon is still clear about his loyalty.

BANNON: We're going to hit the beach. You had the landing teams and beachhead teams, all that nomenclature when President Trump wins again in 2024, or before.


MURRAY: Now roughly a dozen folks have filed lawsuits already challenging the committee's legitimacy. But a spokesperson for the committee points out what they are trying to do here is provide the American public answers about a violent attack on democracy and they note that hundreds of witnesses have complied voluntarily or to subpoenas and provided testimony to this committee, Jake.

TAPPER: Sara Murray, thanks so much.

Coming up, the new rule from the Taliban, returning women in Afghanistan to something of the Dark Ages.


Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our world lead, the harsh aftermath of the U.S. exit from Afghanistan and subsequent Taliban takeover continues. The repressive, misogynist government of religious zealots has now banned women from traveling long distances alone, demanding that a close male relative accompany them, if the trip is longer than 45 miles.

One Kabul resident telling the BBC, quote, the Taliban captured our happiness from us.


I have lost both my independence and happiness.

Joining us now to discuss, Republican Congressman Peter Meijer from Michigan. He's an Army reservist who served in Iraq and he worked with aid organizations in Afghanistan. He sits on the House Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, good to see you as always.

So, President Biden just signed the National Defense Authorization Act, the big Pentagon spending bill that includes a multi-year independent Afghanistan war commission to examine the war in Afghanistan after the U.S. withdrawal.

What do you hope to learn from this report? What do you want to know?

REP. PETER MEIJER (R-MI): I personally want to make sure that we never repeat those same mistakes when it comes to aligning our intelligence, defense, diplomatic and development communities. I think we saw over the course of that 20-year conflict, you know, 21-year wars being fought back to back to back, very little institutional knowledge being carried on and an ever-changing mission set that really undermined what we were hoping and relying upon through the withdrawal, is that there was a stable government that had some legitimacy. And the rapidity with which it collapsed was evidence of the failure of that entire 20-year project. TAPPER: Take a listen to what your fellow veteran and fellow

congressman, Democrat Jason Crow, told us yesterday.


REP. JASON CROW (D-CO): There's got to be a very different model for promoting democracy overseas but not doing it using the military as our primary tool.


TAPPER: Do you agree that there's a larger lesson here beyond just the specifics of the Afghanistan withdrawal in terms of how the U.S. wields power internationally?

MEIJER: One hundred percent. I think the way in which we've been operating with the military first approach is fine if it's a problem that can be solved by dropping bombs. What we've seen over the past two decades of the war on terror is that dropping bombs is not enough. That's a tactic and a tactic, absent a strategy is just pointless effort being expended.

If we look at the way that China is using their One Belt One Road initiative to expand their reach into parts of Latin America and Africa and to other parts of Asia, that has been tremendously effective by leveraging economic and trade might. And that's an area where the U.S. has really been lacking.

When we prioritize hard power, soft power falls by the wayside. And that's really where we have tremendous ability to catch up to what China has been doing but surpass them in the 21st century.

TAPPER: The BBC also reports that the Taliban have banned showing women in TV dramas in Afghanistan. They're now requiring female journalists in Afghanistan to wear headscarves. Do you feel as though all of the American effort, particularly, by the way, during the Bush administration which really made it a priority, to embolden women, to get them roles in the military in Afghanistan, to have prominent jobs, to be, if not equally respected members of Afghan society, at least to make progress in that direction.

Do you think that's all been completely undone?

MEIJER: I don't think it's been completely undone. There are still some green chutes there. There were plenty of protests, female activists in the streets pushing back against the Taliban, showing the type of courage and bravery that's incredibly hard to fathom.

I think there's a generation that's been raised with differing expectations and the new Afghan government, the Taliban, they have to reconcile with them.

Now I think there's still an opportunity for that reconciliation to be ultimately positive. Again, not the world in which we would have hoped it to be. We're not living in a good and bad scenario. We're living with bad and worse. One of the challenges is the Biden administration in choosing to

completely forget Afghanistan and wanting to leave it in the rear view, they're not just leaving some of the mistakes that were made in the past, but they're also consigning these female activists to a darker, harsher future than if the U.S. was engaged, trying to make sure that what next phase in Afghanistan, what that next phase looks like, is one that is the best of the worst scenarios that we're seeing rather than just accepting the worst case, you know, bar none.

TAPPER: Fourteen hundred fifty Afghan children were evacuated without their parents we're told. It's unclear how or if those families will be reunited. The Department of Homeland Security and State Department have not responded to CNN's questions about the process for family reunifications for these Afghan children.

What does the Biden administration need to do right now to kick-start these reunifications?

MEIJER: Show an ounce of political will. Have President Biden make this a priority. Again, we've been working with the State Department, with the Department of Homeland Security throughout the interagency process on not just the evacuations that took place but the ongoing evacuations that need to occur, and they have been a stymieing, slow force that every turn.

And it all flows down from the fact that at the top, in the Oval Office, with the president. There is no sense of urgency. There is no sense of compassion or concern for those that were left behind.


And until that changes, we're going to continue to see the delayed, drawn out and frankly deadly process that we've seen so far.

TAPPER: And the remained Afghan allies stuck in increasingly unstable country, do you get any sense that the effort to evacuate them has stalled?

MEIJER: It is -- if this isn't stalling, I don't know what it is. It's been incredibly difficult. There's one case, a personal friend of mine that I've been working on for almost four months now, and it's been pulling teeth. And that's what the member of Congress who sits on the committee that oversees the State Department, you know, hitting that brick wall.

So it is -- again, we're not seeing anything happening that we need to see happening. We're hearing the right words. We're getting the right promises but that's not translating into action or at least action at the pace that it needs to because of a lack of political will from the Biden administration and specifically from President Biden himself.

TAPPER: All right. Congressman Peter Meijer of Michigan, thank you so much. Good to see you as always. Happy New Year to you and your wife.

MEIJER: Thank you, Jake. Happy New Year. TAPPER: Sometimes the truth hurts. A group fighting to expose Russia's brutal past is the latest victim of Vladimir Putin's crackdown.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead today, the U.S. and Russia say they will hold high-level discussions as tensions between the two countries rise over Moscow's military build up along its border with Ukraine. The White House says these talks are scheduled for January 10th.

Meanwhile, the Putin government is ramping up its crackdown on its own people.

As CNN's Melissa Bell reports, one of the country's oldest and most prominent human rights organizations has been ordered by Russia's highest court to shut down -- a move that is sparking worldwide condemnation, including from the U.S. State Department, which is calling on Moscow to end its harassment of independent voices.


MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Alexey Yeks, this is history. The little things that survive the Gulags and that will have been treasured all the more by those who had lost everything.

ALEXEY YEKS, SCREENWRITER: We want to live. We want to remind, to remember the house. Remember the normal life.

BELL: People like Gregory Ivanov (ph), Alexey's great great- grandfather who never made it back from the gulag he was sent to during the Stalinist purges of the 1930s.

Here in the basement of Memorial in Central Moscow, he explains that was thanks to the organization which specializes in investigating Soviet-Era crimes that he was able to learn the truth about his family and why that matters. History, he says, is cyclical.

YEKS: Because our situation today was in the past a few times and such things can come back and this is awful, I think. So we should remember it and keep it in our minds, I think.

BELL: But Memorial is under threat. Protesters may have turned out last time the case against it went to court but the government wants it shut down. It accuses it of breaking the foreign agent's law, which has increasingly been used to close down organizations that are not in line with the government's thinking.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Unfortunately, Memorial has repeatedly committed violations. And as the document given to me reads, it did so defiantly.

BELL: At risk, the 100,000 boxes of archives the organization has gathered since it was created as the Soviet Union began to crumble.

ALENA KOZLOVA, HEAD OF ARCHIVES AT MEMORIAL (through translator): In each of these boxes is someone's story. So many letters were destroyed but thanks to the ones we have here, we can learn more about life in the gulag was like from those who were there.


BELL: But it isn't just documents. Memorial also takes people on tours from the Lubyanka building that once housed the KGB to this courtyard behind another secret police building where 15,000 executions are believed to have taken place.

STAROSTIN: The stories, the histories are huge, like social trauma and you can get past that but that trauma, if you talk about it.

BELL: The author and journalist Andrei Kolesnikov, says the problem is that Memorial has become an obstacle to the current government's determination to glorify Russia's past.

ANDREI KOLESNIKOV, SENIOR FELLOW AT CARNEGIE MOSCOW CENTER: Indeed, old memories, which has struggling with official memory, because there are a lot of families which suffered from Stalinism. And they are keeping that memory. They are grateful to Memorial.

BELL: Families like Alexey's, where there had been shameful silence, he says, now there is truth.

YEKS: I think history is not just the history of the state and politics. History is the history of families, of people and this is the real history without final cuts.

BELL: Melissa Bell, CNN, Moscow.


TAPPER: Also in our world lead, today marks three years since American Paul Whelan was falsely imprisoned by Russian authorities. Whelan, a former U.S. marine, was detained by visiting a Moscow hotel in December 2018, arrested on bogus espionage charges. Charges he vehemently denies. He was convicted and sentenced to 16 years in prison in June 2020 in a trial which U.S. officials denounced as completely unfair.

The U.S. State Department today marked this horrible anniversary saying in a statement that Whelan's release, as well as that of Trevor Reed, quote, remains of vital priority for the United States.

Coming up, it's not easy to find at-home rapid COVID tests. We're going to talk to one scientist who said she created a rapid test weeks after the pandemic started, but you know what? You still can't get it.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD.

We start with our health lead and this dire warning. January is going to be a, quote, really, really hard month, as the omicron variant continues to explode. Those words coming from Brown University's Dr. Ashish Jha who says Americans should brace themselves, ourselves now, for many, many more COVID infections. While Dr. Jha notes most who are vaccinated and boosted will not get severe illness, that will not be true for many of the unvaccinated.

Despite being nearly two years into this pandemic, scenes such as this one are still playing out across the country. This new video showing dozens of people waiting in a line that stretches around a strip mall in New Jersey. All of those individuals hoping to just get a COVID test.

Moments ago, Connecticut's governor announced that he is calling up nearly 100 national guard soldiers and airmen and women to help distribute COVID at-home tests and N95 masks over the next few weeks.

Today, there is new pushback as well after the CDC shortened the isolation period for some people who test positive from COVID from ten days to just five.