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Don Lemon Tonight
January 6th Committee Examines Text Messages; Trump Loyalists Met On November 9th; NYPD With New Police Commissioner; People Are Urged To Get Their Jabs Against Viruses; Tornadoes Heading To Many U.S. States. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired December 15, 2021 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHEAL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST (on camera): Thank you so much for watching. I'll be back here tomorrow night. DON LEMON TONIGHT starts right now. And here's Don.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: I've got a name for you as well.
SMERCONISH: Tell me.
LEMON: My -- as we call at home hometown boy, Mitch Landrieu I think if -- if there's a possibility of someone else running, Mitch Landrieu is beloved by the party. He's beloved by African-Americans, he's beloved by Democrats, and he is somewhat of a centrist.
SMERCONISH: You know, on some of the election night panels I had the privilege of sitting next to him and enjoying his company and listening to his commentary, and I thought, this is a really bright guy, and when the president selected him as -- I don't know what title is, infrastructure czar, I thought that's a good call. You know, give him a chance to shine on a national stage.
LEMON: Yes. Look, this is all -- this is all different scenarios that you are positing here. I mean, look, it's early on. Who knows what can happen? Remember what happened in 2015 after the escalator, nobody was ready for that ride. So, we don't know what's to come. It's like 30 seconds in a commercial in television, that's a long time, the same thing when you're waiting on an election. But it's good to put those, you know, different scenarios at play.
SMERCONISH: Fun to think about, Don.
SMERCONISH: Fun to think about.
SMERCONISH: Before you know it, we'll be there.
LEMON: Yes. And I got to get to where I'm going as well. Good to see you. I'll see you tomorrow night.
SMERCONISH: See you.
LEMON: This is DON LEMON TONIGHT.
We have spent of time in this show, OK, talking about the threat to our democracy because it is really important. I made a commitment to you the viewer, to the American people, to the people that we serve here to talk about the insurrection, to talk about the threat to our democracy and to do it as often as possible. Also, a commitment to voting rights which we will get to as well.
But we spend a lot here talking about the threat to our democracy. It's really important. This was the week. This was the week that the curtain was pulled back and the fraud was exposed. It's like that moment in the "Wizard of Oz" where they go in, Dorothy and everybody, and they pull back the curtain, and see the guy pulling the levers, the guy doing the talking, not really as scary and as big as you think he was.
Same thing for this. But this is when the big lie was exposed. The big lie, the malignance of the party's dear leader, the echo chamber, sycophants, all of it -- all of them exposed. So, we're going to peel back the layers for you. OK? It's like an onion, let's peel back the first layer here.
An assault on the United States Capitol by violent Trump supporting rioters, an attempt to overturn the results of our free and fair election, an assault on our democracy itself, all because of a lie, a big lie. None of it is true. You don't believe me? Let's give you some facts. OK?
There was no widespread voter fraud, people, none, zero. The Associated Press spent months reviewing every possible case of voter fraud in six battleground states, every possible case, months doing it. Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
Gather your deniers around the television screen. Call them up, tell them to watch. Because guess what the Associated Press found in the months examining every conceivable instance of voter fraud in those six battleground states, they found fewer than 475. You know what that amounts to? Point one percent of Joe Biden's victory margin in those states. That handful of votes could not have changed anything. It's all a lie.
But get this, meanwhile in Florida, three residents of the villages, you've heard of the villages, the retirement community when the then president held a campaign rally the night before the 2020 election. Well, they were arrested on charges of voting more than once in the election. We don't know how they voted. But two are registered Republicans, and all three of them have expressed support for the former president.
That's according to the Washington post. so that's the quote, unquote, "fraud" of which you speak? That's the excuse for the coup attempt? The real fraud, though, is that so many people believe it. OK. Now, let's peel back another layer of this. Why do they believe it?
Why? Because of the people who are selling the fraud, and they know it. The people who are saying one thing in private and another on the air.
I've told you about this before, even before the big lie, I've told you about the people who would say we come on this very network and others, talk to them before the show, see them in the green room, they would say one thing there, and they would get on air and it's like, who are you, it's a whole other person.
But guess the people who are saying one thing behind closed doors in their texts and in their whatever, private conversations, and what they say on the air. Guess what, they know it is a fraud too.
Hosts at the Fox propaganda network saw exactly what was happening on January 6th, and they begged Mark Meadows to get the then president to put it to a stop.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): Multiple Fox News hosts knew the president needed to act immediately. They texted Mr. Meadows, and he has turned over those texts. Quote, "Mark, the president needs to tell people in the capitol to go home. This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy." Laura Ingraham wrote.
"Please, get him on TV. Destroying everything you have accomplished," Brian Kilmeade texted. Quote, "can he make a statement, ask people to leave the capitol," Sean Hannity urged.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): That's what they were saying in private. That's what they were texting, right? But on the air? Sean Hannity called for the perpetrators to be arrested and prosecuted. But he also dug into the big lie on the very night it exploded in the capitol, calling the election a train wreck, and citing millions of people, he said, don't have faith in the results, claiming quote, "you can't just snap your finger" and those hope that goes away after he created -- helped to create the lie.
Why are people so upset? Why can't you just make them stop thinking that way? Because you created that. And you knew it wasn't true when you were doing it. Every bit of intelligence, every person that had anything to do with the election, every court, there's no fraud. But yet you are on television telling people there is fraud, and then you wonder why they're so upset because you're lying to them.
And then there's Laura Ingraham who called the assault on the capitol disgraceful, but also suggested that the rioters were some kind of left-wing agitators.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LAURA INGRAHAM, HOST, FOX NEWS: I have never seen Trump rally attendees wearing helmets, black helmets, brown helmets, black backpacks, the uniforms that you saw in some of these crowd shots.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): Well, you saw it that day. This summer, she downplayed what we saw with our own eyes at the capitol and mocked the hero officers who risked their lives defending it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
INGRAHAM: There was certainly a lot of violence that day but it was not a terrorist attack. It wasn't 9/11, it wasn't the worst thing that ever happened to America. It wasn't an insurrection.
God save us from these third rate theatrics.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): Gave out awards, said that they were actors, the heroes who protected our democracy. Those are the facts. Liz Cheney tweeting today, Fox News host Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham have now reconfirmed their views that the violence on January 6th was unjustified and unacceptable.
Mark Meadows turned over many texts he received to the committee. Hannity and Ingraham are standing by the texts they sent to Meadows on January 6th, urging that President Trump take immediate action to stop the violence.
As we know, for multiple hours President Trump chose not to take the specific and immediate action many urged as a violent mob besieged and invaded the capitol, attack injured scores of capitol police, and instructed Congress's count of electoral votes. This was a supreme dereliction of the president's duty, and the January 6th committee is examining these issues in detail.
And the idea that what we saw on January 6th was somehow not a concerted coup attempt, an attempt to overturn our free and fair election, well, that is a fraud too, on you, on we the people. We all saw it, we all saw it that it was an attack on our democracy, and it didn't work that time. Yet.
The attack was forged in a fraudulent political ideology founded on complete bull. Founded on lies. On the big lie. Built on filthy to a liar, buttressed by the weakness of the elected officials who sent frantic texts that day when they were hiding behind the barricades, but in public, either hid the truth or shunned and purged the few in their party who were willing to telling it.
The shame of this fraud will live in history. That's the best-case scenario, best case. The worst, the worst-case scenario is that if it happens again in the future and we'll all have to live with the consequences. That is the worst case.
A lot to discuss, Preet Bharara is here. David Axelrod, and David Gergen.
Good evening, gentlemen. Thank you so much.
Preet, I want to start with this new reporting and it's from the New York Times. They're reporting new details tonight about how Trump loyalists on Capitol Hill fought to keep him in power. And this is what they recount, a crisis meeting on November 9th when Congressman Scott Perry, and Jim Jordan meet with Mark Meadows, Stephen Miller, campaign manager Bill Stepien, and Kayleigh McEnany.
And here's what they say. According to two people familiar with the meetings which have not been previously reported, the group settled on a strategy that would become a blueprint for Mr. Trump's supporters in Congress. Hammer home the idea that the election was tainted, announce legal actions being taken by the campaign, and bolster the case with allegations of fraud.
At a news conference later that day, Ms. McEnany delivered the message, this election is not over she said, far from it. Jim Jordan said this meeting was about media strategy not to overturn the election. How does this sound to you, Preet?
PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It sounds bad. You know, a lot of folks keeps trying to separate the events of January 6th, the insurrection that happened on January 6th, the violence that happened on January 6th from all the days that came before, and you can't do that.
And one of the things that I think the select committee of January 6th is doing very well as you pointed out in the opening, is telling a story that all the things that happened from the election up until January 6th are a seamless narrative that makes sense.
And so, things happen on January 6th, sure, but the foundation that was laid for January 6th, you know, lay in some of the things that have just been reported by the New York Times that you mentioned but even further back, you know, there was a plan to lay a foundation for a lie even before the election results came in, and all of that goes together.
There are a lot of people who have been complicit, and what I find remarkable is we're sitting on this TV show, you know, with some understanding of what we were going to discuss, and there's breaking news still, fully eleven -- eleven months and change after January 6th.
That's how much information there is out there about who did what and why and for what reasons, and it's amazing that we're finding out this information so late, and one wonders how much more information we're going to find out that shows how many people should be held accountable for the activities of January 6th.
LEMON: Mr. Axelrod, in that vein, beyond that meeting, the Times describes how members of the conservative House freedom caucus acted as foot soldiers for Trump, all familiar names, by putting pressure on the Justice Department to investigate fraud claims, pressure state legislators to conduct audits and plot to disrupt the certification process.
This was a deliberate campaign to overturn the election from the get- go.
DAVID AXELROD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: There's no question about it. And as Preet said, it's something that the president himself was laying the groundwork for months before the election. It went into high gear after the election, and this group of six members of the house freedom caucus, the seditious six were very, very active in trying to promote it.
This is, you know, it's been interesting to watch the committee work because they are putting the puzzle pieces together, and there is a focus as there should be on the violence that took place at the capitol because that was historic and unthinkable.
But we really should focus on what happened before. That was all in service. I don't know who thought that this was going to turn out the way it did at the capitol. I don't know. What I do know, it's very clear, they were from the start to finish trying to pressure Congress, pressure the vice president to overturn a free and fair election, and that is the definition of a coup.
One thing I want to say, Don, about the, you know, we're focused on the text that the Fox News personalities, and Don -- Donald Trump Jr. sent to Meadows telling him to tell the president to call off the dogs.
I think that we're focusing less -- we should focus less on the people who sent the texts than the man who received them. For hours, the President of the United States sat there even as his closest, some of his closest advisers, and let's admit that the Fox News people were among them, told him that he had to stop this. He did not stop this. And that's the second part of the story.
LEMON: Yes. David Gergen, listen, he's right, David Axelrod is right about hat. It's really about Trump, you know, how he reacted. There were people who were there who said that, you know, they tried to get him to do something to intervene, and he just sort of looked and said and just went back to watching television and just a blink of an eye just went back to watching television.
It does offer, these texts do offer an insight into what the president was doing that day, and how long it took him to react.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You're absolutely right. To go back to what you said at the beginning of the program, Don, what's significant here is that this really -- we've had a whole cottage industry of books which has suggested all sorts of things by the president. But we haven't had things as concrete as what's coming out in these
memos. I think these memos are like what you said about drawing back the curtain, and now we can see the harsh realities of what was going on.
The conspiracies have not been on the left. The conspiracies have been on the right, and we now see through these text messages that it was occurring not only, you know, with the various advisers of the president all gathered around these conspiracies but they were working hand in glove with Fox News, and people in Fox News became their foot soldiers, it became their -- an arm of the Trump campaign, the Trump presidency.
So, this is -- this is -- and the frightening thing is that so far, they have gotten away with it. They're not paying a big price. They have convinced a solid majority of Republicans that the election was stolen.
They're going into the '22 -- the midterm elections next year looking like they night win. If that happens, that will confirm in the minds of the Republicans and may well confirm for Democrats if you just lie enough, you can bully your way through it. And that is really straightened for democracy.
LEMON: David Gergen, listen, you have advised four presidents of both parties.
LEMON: You have witnessed fights over policy, but I mean, this is -- this is different.
LEMON: What happens to our democracy when one side is willing to toss out ballots or anoint electors before races are even called.
GERGEN: Well, sometimes usually in American history we've stuck together. We were under a lot of pressure to pull apart in the revolutionary war, we were at huge pressure in the Civil War, and again, pressure in the Second World War and afterwards. And most of the times we held together but you always have to look at the Civil War example that it can fly apart.
You can have people at each other's throats. We could have a conflict over this. If our states were contiguous, if Florida and Texas were next to each other, I can tell you, you might be hearing a lot of cries for independence.
LEMON: I've got a lot more questions for Preet and David, and David. So, gentlemen, stay with me, we've got a lot more to talk about. I want to know whether you think the next time a plot against our democracy could succeed.
LEMON (on camera): So, tonight, the Justice Department reviewing the criminal contempt referral of Mark Meadows by the House as the big lies exposed piece by piece by the January 6th committee.
Back with me now, Preet Bharara, David Axelrod, and David Gergen. Preet, you first.
So, we see the abject lying and deception involve at all levels and there's been zero accountability. Should Merrick Garland be doing more to hold the planners and the organizers of the insurrection accountable?
BHARARA: Well, you know, we don't know what all he's doing. We don't know what's happening behind the scenes. What we do know is a process that began before he even was in office was to arrest, investigate, prosecute hundreds of people who were involved in the insurrection at various levels.
There is some concern that the Department of Justice may not be looking at the highest-level individuals, Mark Meadows, Donald Trump, and others, but we don't know that because there may be a lot of things going on behind the scenes, may be evidence collected from, you know, some of the other people who have been arrested and maybe cooperating, so we don't know.
The other thing by the way is, you know, two things can happen at once, the Department of Justice is in the business of prosecuting people and holding them accountable and that's important. They're not in the business of issuing reports about what happened.
So, in that regard, the 1/6 select committee remains fundamentally important, and that's why we're talking about it a lot in part because their work is public, and we hear about it, and there's information that flows and transparently becomes known to the folks who vote in elections but you need, you know, both things.
You need to understand the narrative of what happened that day, make public e-mails and documents and communications as is being done including the famous PowerPoint that we haven't yet talked about. So I'm not prepared yet to judge Merrick Garland and what he's doing with respect to the high level folks, in connection with what a lot of people think was a seditious conspiracy, but hopefully we'll know more about that soon.
LEMON: Well, talk about, what do you want to say about the infamous PowerPoint, apparently laying all of this out, Preet?
BHARARA: You know, so, some people have said it's both under hyped and over hyped. Under hyped in the sense that in a different era, people's heads would be exploding, and maybe some heads have exploded but you have a PowerPoint that's being circulated, 36 or 38 pages as the case maybe among high level people in the government, including the chief of staff to the sitting President of the United States including talk of declaring a national emergency.
What I think is most compelling about the fact that that was circulated is what action was taken about it. So, Mark Meadows' lawyer says, well, he received the PowerPoint, he didn't do anything with it. He didn't make this -- he didn't, you know, respond in any way so they produced it, by the way, and said it wasn't privileged as if it's, you know, they're dismissing the document.
If you're the sitting chief of staff to the President of the United States, and you get a document like that but has that kind of language in it and those kinds of proposals in it, I think you go on the record in some way for posterity to make clear you distance yourself from it.
That's not something that's being espouse by or the administration or the president, and you disclaim it in some way. And none of that happened either. And to me, that's crazy.
LEMON: David Axelrod?
AXELROD: Yes. Well, I want to make a slightly. I agree with Preet, but I want to make a separate point based on something that he said. It is astonishing to me that Mark Meadows at once turns over these 9,000 documents as he should have, and then -- and then tries to claim executive privilege.
And clearly what happened is he got spanked by Trump for cooperating and he pulled back. But in the meantime, he's turned over some obviously revealing documents that are going to advance the investigation.
But there's a larger point here that I really want to make. This democracy of ours, you were asking questions of David before. This democracy of ours we learned depends very much on the goodwill of people who hold these offices and their willingness to follow the law, rules, laws, and institutions. You know, norms in institutions.
And what's clear here is that -- and this has been true, and this is my problem with Donald Trump, apart from any position that he takes on an issue, he has no regard for rules and laws and norms and institutions. And this what was going on throughout those months and on January 6th, was an effort to shred the rules and laws and norms in institutions of our democracy.
And what we see now are efforts to do it all over again, and do it better and learn from what happened before, and try and subvert the election processes beforehand so that they don't run into these kinds of obstacles next time. This is a very, very challenging moment for our democracy. People need to be aware of that.
LEMON: Yes. Listen, and speaking of that, the attack on the institutions, David Gergen, we talked a little bit about this, but I want you to weigh in more to dig a little bit deeper here. Because David Axelrod said look, we should be focused on the man and what he did with the text messages. We're talking about what's happening over at the Fox propaganda machine. The former president attacked the institution of journalism because
the truth, facts were not on his side, so what did he do, he attacked the truth tellers, right? He said we were fake and that were lying when we weren't.
So, the folks over, you know, the propaganda machine over at Fox they pushed this disinformation out -- disinformation -- disinformation on the election. They suggested it wasn't Trump supporters who attacked the capitol, and yet we see those text messages imploring Meadows to get Trump to stop the violence, and worst of all, this is the worst part, the fraud that's being perpetrated on the American people.
Millions of people believe their lies. How is this ever going to be reversed, David Gergen?
GERGEN: I don't know. Don, I think this is one of the toughest questions that arises from this whole set of controversies. The disinformation works -- the disinformation campaigns work far better than anybody could have imagined.
I mean, these are facts that have been before us, you know, for months now, as has been pointed out, 11 months have gone on, Preet was saying this, and we still have people, it's like vaccination. People don't want vaccinations; some people just don't want to hear the truth. They want to believe in the other.
But I don't think we as a collective society know how to deal with this, unless we create or recreate a civic culture in which we all agree we have some responsibilities, as well as having the privilege of living this this country. And right now, we don't have that kind of civic culture.
But I want to make the point, Don, if I might.
GERGEN: And that is in politics, as you know so well, frequently we talk a lot about something that has happened, and try to dissect with what we're doing tonight, and should be what we're doing. But I worry that in politics, too, people in journalism are following what the leads were back here out front in front of the curtain.
Behind that curtain, there are a lot of things going on that are really quite dangerous about the future. And trying to steal our future right before our eyes. We don't have our eyes open to it but what we see is that the Republicans are burrowing into various states and grabbing control of the apparatus within those states, which could turn the elections that coming up, and the frightening thing is that it actually could work again. They've gotten this far. What is to say that they won't continue and be successful.
LEMON: Yes. Right on. You are right. David, David, and Preet, I enjoyed our conversation. I hope you gentlemen come back. We would love to have you back on this network. BHARARA: Thanks, Don.
LEMON: Whoever hired you guys, they're really smart people.
GERGEN: Thank you.
LEMON: Thank you, gentlemen. I'll see you soon.
GERGEN: Thank you.
LEMON: Dr. Fauci is saying it's almost inevitable we'll see an Omicron surge in the U.S. So how is he telling everyone to prepare and stay safe. That's next.
LEMON (on camera): Troubling signs about the Omicron variant just a day after the U.S. passed a grime milestone of 800,000 COVID deaths. Dr. Fauci saying the Omicron surge is almost inevitable and hammering home the message today, get your booster.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Our booster vaccine regimens work against Omicron. At this point, there is no need for a variant specific booster. And so, the message remains clear, if you're unvaccinated, get vaccinated, and particularly in the arena of Omicron, if you are fully vaccinated, get your booster shot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): Obviously this is some discussion. So, we have Dr. Megan Ranney, a professor -- Ranney, excuse me, a professor of emergency medicine and the associate dean of public health at Brown University.
Doctor, good to see you.
So, let's talk about what Dr. Fauci is saying there. He said don't worry about the definition of fully vaccinated, just go get boosted because it raises the level of protection dramatically. But do you think people can still consider themselves fully vaccinated if they aren't boosted?
MEGAN RANNEY, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF EMERGENCY MEDICINE, BROWN UNIVERSITY: In the face of the Omicron wave, I'm not sure that they can. You know, every day, more data is coming out, showing that two doses of Pfizer or Moderna don't protect, not just from symptomatic infection, but also are not as effective at protecting against hospitalization, severe disease and death.
If you have not gone out and gotten your booster yet, today is the time to do so. I will say I actually forced my own husband to go out and finally get his booster yesterday in anticipation of this Omicron wave hitting us over the next weeks.
LEMON: OK. So, you said in anticipation of this, listen, you're out and about, you're a doctor, I do this every day. We see the numbers that are coming in, right, we see the writing is on the wall, as they say, Cornell has shut down their main campus after more than 900 students tested positive.
Many of the Omicron -- many of the cases are Omicron, and they are considering requiring boosters for students, but their provost today telling CNN many of the students aren't eligible for boosters, because they had their second shots in the last six months. Do you think the booster time line should be shortened?
RANNEY: I would say at this point other countries are shortening the time line to four or four and a half months. It certainly would make sense giving the accumulating data around Omicron that shortening the time line herein the states as well would make sense.
There's also questions about that 12 to 16-year-old age group who have not been approved for boosters. Many of those kids did get vaccinated back in April and May when the vaccines first became available. We're waiting for more data on them on safety and efficacy. But I suspect that boosters for them as well are on the way.
LEMON: As I said, look, we -- we, the writing is on the wall, you see COVID hospitalizations up 43 percent just from a month ago, that's according to the HHS, an alarming one in six hospitals already reporting critical staffing shortages, even if Omicron cases cause less severe illness, I mean, could it still end up overwhelming our health care systems, is that where we're headed?
RANNEY: You know, Don, our health care sisters -- systems are already overwhelmed. My own hospital system today delayed or cancelled almost all elective surgeries requiring an overnight stay and many of the day surgeries as well are being cancelled, those are things like gallbladders, joint surgeries, things that people have been waiting for, for months.
We are in the midst of a Delta wave here in Rhode Island right now, not yet an Omicron wave, so absolutely things are going to get worse before they get better at health systems around the country.
And I will say as an E.R. doc, this is the time to follow the girl scout model -- motto and be prepared, if you don't already, buy rapid tests at home, have ibuprofen, chicken soup, possibly a pulse oximeter.
Again, if you're fully vaccinated, you're almost certainly going to be OK, but expect that over the winter holidays, you'll likely have an exposure to someone who tests positive just given the way things are going in the country, and you don't want to end up in an E.R. right now if you can help it.
LEMON: All right. Well, I want to -- you talked about the girl scout motto, I mean, it's interesting because it's almost, it's like a routine, like I got up, you know, had some work meetings, did coffee, I did my home test, and then I went in for the PCR. It's like, it's just kind of, like, when is the last time, OK, it's time for another test.
So how critical is testing going to be with Omicron and does the U.S. have the capacity to keep up?
RANNEY: We don't currently have the capacity to keep up. I am hearing reports from across the country as well as in my own state, that times at state and pharmacy testing sites are dramatically increased. People are waiting in line for 30 to 60 to even longer minutes in order to get that test.
Rapid tests are critical but we don't have enough of those either. That said, if you can get your hands on them, keep them around for before you have get-togethers. So, my daughter is having a birthday party and we're going to rapid test everyone right before they walk in the door.
Those types of small measures will help keep you and your family a little bit safer.
LEMON: Dr. Ranney, great advice. Thank you very much. Be safe.
RANNEY: Thank you. You too.
LEMON: New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams formally naming the city's first female police commissioner, Keechant Sewell. She says that she's got what it takes to tackle New York's biggest problems, including an increase in violent crime.
LEMON (on camera): New York City will get its first female police commissioner next year. Mayor-elect Eric Adams has picked Keechant Sewell to take over the nation's largest police department.
CNN's Jason Carroll has more on Sewell and what she's up against.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Today, Keechant Sewell stepped in front of cameras and made history.
KEECHANT SEWELL, NYPD POLICE COMMISSIONER-ELECT: It is with a humble heart and clear eyes about the task and challenges ahead that I accept the position of New York City Police Commissioner.
CARROLL: Sewell will be the first woman and just the third African- American to become police commissioner in the department's 176-year history.
SEWELL: I am mindful of the historic nature of this announcement. I bring a different perspective, committed to make sure the department looks like the city it serves, to elevate women and people of color to leadership positions.
CARROLL: Sewell's name a surprise to some in the rank and file as she was not on the short list of potential candidates.
How is it going, man?
CARROLL: Mayor-elect Eric Adams said he made the decision to choose Sewell after a nationwide search, confident she is the one with the skills to transform the NYPD.
MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D-NY): I'm so proud this day to tear down barriers. This amazing law enforcement professional, she carried with her throughout her career a sledge hammer, and she crushed every glass ceiling that was put in her way. And today, she has crashed and destroyed the final one we need in New York City.
CARROLL: Sewell is a native of Queens, she's 49 years old, and has spent the past 25 years in the Nassau County Police Department, most recently as the department's chief of detectives. She will be leading the country's largest police force of roughly 50,000 officers and civilians during a critical time, as the city faces an increase in violent crime.
During the past two years, shootings have doubled, murders up 45 percent, the statistics not lost on New Yorkers.
UNKNOWN: It's really hard to love a city and have to constantly look over your back for fear of random attacks, which is nonstop.
CARROLL: Internally, the department grappling with challenges of its own. The NYPD battling federal lawsuits, alleging gender discrimination within its ranks and the in the wake of massive protests, continuing questions about police use of force when dealing with communities of color.
UNKNOWN: If they're going to decrease the crime rate, you know, without harming the black community as a whole, that's fine. But as soon as they start targeting us, that's an issue.
CARROLL: Nassau County acting district attorney Joyce Smith has worked alongside Sewell and says she is up to the challenge.
JOYCE SMITH, ACTING DISTRICT ATTORNEY, NASSAU COUNTY: I can tell you that she starts ready, she begins ready because she has done the hard work and preparation that goes into being a leader in law enforcement and in the criminal justice system.
CARROLL: And for those questioning whether Sewell and the department can fix what ails New York, the city's next police commissioner says this.
SEWELL: Well, if they don't believe me, tell them to talk to me in a year.
CARROLL: Jason Carroll, CNN, New York.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: All right, Jason, thank you very much.
Devastating storms in the Rockies to the Midwest, toppling semitrucks, ripping off roofs. We're tracking where the danger is right now. That's next.
LEMON (on camera): A tornado watch is in effect in multiple states as severe weather stretches across the country. High winds taking down semi-trucks on Colorado's i-25 highway, where there were gusts of up to 107 miles per hour.
For the latest let's go to CNN's Pedram Javaheri in the CNN weather center.
Pedram, good evening to you. Where should people be concerned about tornadoes and high winds tonight?
PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, Don, across the upper Midwest hat is definitely the place we're watching so carefully right now. An incredible storm system, Don. When you think about this it has all the elements of a significant summer storm, a winter storm, an autumn storm. All of it put together within just a matter of a few hours.
So, as you noted here, we're talking about massive area power outages because of the incredible amounts of winds in space spanning well over a 1,000 from California all the way across towards areas of Wisconsin. So, 300,000 customers, not people, 300,000 customers that are without power right now across this large area.
At one point we had 80 million people underneath wind alerts that spanned about 2,000 miles, and still right here, across portions of the eastern areas of the upper Midwest and portion of Iowa, Wisconsin, into Minnesota, wind gusts with storms right now still pushing 75 to 85 miles per hour.
That's the storm system here. It has had a serious a history of producing significant tornadoes, and an incredible storm system, really the top of the food chain, Don, when it comes to a land-based system, meaning a non-tropical system and the winds it has procured so far.
So of course, we've seen school closed because of just the winds, trucks, trucks toppled across this region. Power outages, and as I noted, you'll notice the tornado watches across this region go on at least for the next hour and a half to two hours. We do have a tornado warning. This is across portions of say, eastern Iowa into parts of parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota. A confirmed tornado in Minnesota happened in the past hour, first time in recorded history, Don, that we've a tornado in Minnesota in the month of December. Think about that in what it takes to produce a tornado and to do so across one the coldest areas in the U.S. into this time of year.
In fact, a level four severe weather warning in place today going into Thursday morning. Again, eastern areas of Iowa into portions of say, eastern Wisconsin into western Minnesota. This region here winds can continue up to 75 miles per hour. Strong tornadoes, Don, we've seen at least 19 reports of tornadoes so far in the past few hours.
Keep in mind we had 50-plus reports just five days ago. In the past five days, that is triple the December average, essentially three years' worth of December tornadoes put into five days have taken place across the U.S. And this is the area of concern for later on tonight.
LEMON: And this time of year is really where usually it's warmer. So, someone who grew up in Louisiana I'm like, wait a minute, it is, you know, it's December now and we have tornadoes that are happening. This weather is extremely unusual.
Pedram, thank you very much. I appreciate it. We'll check back in and see what's happening with you.
The big lie exposed but the threat to democracy still as real as ever.
LEMON (on camera): The January 6 committee exposing the big lie piece by piece. The DOJ reviewing Mark Meadows' criminal referral after the House votes to hold him in contempt of Congress.
Growing fears tonight of a surge from the Omicron virus. Dr. Anthony Fauci telling CNN it's almost inevitable due to its high rate of transmissibility.