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Don Lemon Tonight

Tension In Ukraine; Record-High COVID Cases In U.S.; Life- Threatening Colorado Wildfire; Protecting Democracy After January 6th; Carole King And James Taylor's Sunday Premier. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired December 30, 2021 - 22:00   ET


TOM FOREMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Tom Foreman wishing you all the best and none of the worst in 2022.

LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR: This is DON LEMON TONIGHT. I'm Laura Coates, in for Don. Breaking news on a huge international story. President Joe Biden warning Vladimir Putin again tonight that if he invades Ukraine, the economic consequences will be dire that coming in a 50-minute phone call to the two leaders that Putin had requested with as many as 100,000 Russian troops mass at the Ukrainian border.

A Kremlin official says that Putin told Biden new sanctions against Russia would be what he called a colossal mistake. A senior administration official says the call was "serious and substantive." But the president and his team didn't come away with any clear idea whether Putin has decided to invade Ukraine. More on that in a moment.

But it comes as this country is facing what one doctor calls, the biggest health crisis we have ever seen. COVID rampaging across the country. The seven-day average of new case is soaring past 300,000 pediatric hospital admissions. They're the highest they've ever been over the course of this pandemic.


PTER HOTEZ, PROFESSOR AND DEAN OF TROPICAL MEDICINE BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: We're going to be in for a very rough three or four weeks. I think it's good news that we'll have the boosters for the 12 to 15- year-olds. So that will help a little bit. But this is going to be a very rough time, not only for the kids, but for the adults as well.

And as we head into this New Year's weekend, be conservative, be thoughtful, don't do reckless things, try to keep your gathering small, try to keep surround yourself with those who are vaccinated. You don't want to come out the other end of this weekend hospitalized or very sick.


COATES: A source telling CNN those Pfizer booster shots for kids 12 to 15 years old could be authorized in just a matter of days. But we've got a long way to go. Doctor Fauci says COVID cases could peak at the end of next month.

[BEGIN VIDEO CLIP] ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY & INFECTIOIS DISEASES: I would imagine given the size of our country and the diversity of vaccination versus not vaccination, that it likely will be more than a couple of weeks, probably by the end of January I would think.


COATES: We've got a lot more to come on that. But I want to get right out to our breaking news on President Biden's high stakes call with Russia's Vladimir Putin. See that in the White House Correspondent, Jeremy Diamond is with the president in Wilmington, Delaware tonight. Jeremy, you've been talking to your sources about what happened on this call. What can you tell us took place?

JEREMY DIAMOND, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, as in a senior administration official telling us earlier this evening that the tone of the conversation between the two leaders was a serious and substantive, and making clear what President Biden's priority was on this call. Again, this is the second call that these two leaders have had in just the last month, which is notable in and of itself.

And President Biden really sought to reiterate one of the core messages that he delivered to President Putin during that call earlier this month. And that is to say, to make very clear to the Russian president, what the consequences will be if indeed he decides to move forward with an invasion of Ukraine, making clear that an invasion version of Ukraine will be met with serious U.S. economic sanctions, as well as a stepped up NATO military presence in many of those of former Soviet countries at Russia's doorstep, one of the key things that Russian president Vladimir is trying to avoid at this moment.

On the other hand, the president also making clear that there's an alternative here. And that is meaningful diplomatic engagement, which is set to begin on January 10th as U.S. and Russian officials are set to meet for the first in a series of security meetings happening that week. So again, President Biden, showing that he wants Russian President Vladimir Putin to deescalate. But again, U.S. officials were not expecting that to happen following this call immediately. It's the beginning of a process.

COATES: And Jeremy, I understand that the U.S. actually flew three reconnaissance flights over Ukraine just this week alone, including one of those just a few hours before this very call. What is the message that the Biden Administration is trying to send here with that?

DIAMOND: I think there are two messages that the White House is trying to send with those reconnaissance flights. On the one hand, it's to show that the U.S. is going to continue to, you know, be active in a military sense in that region with the authorization of the Ukrainian government, not going into Russian airspace, of course, but showing that they are a presence in that region and that they will continue to be.

On the other hand, it's also about showing very clearly that the U.S. is focused on seeing exactly what Russia is going to be doing in that region. A senior administration said today, following that call that they didn't necessarily have a clearer sense of whether or not Vladimir Putin intends to invade Ukraine.


But what they are going to continue to do is to rely on Russia's actions and to rely on U.S. intelligence about those Russian military movements. And that's where those U.S. surveillance of flights come into play, especially given the fact that one of those flights happened just hours before this conversation clearly the U.S. want and president Biden's have the latest, the most up-to-date information about those Russian military movements.

There are still more than a hundred thousand Russian troops on Ukraine's border. And no sign as of yet that Russia is planning to deescalate. So if indeed that is the goal that the U.S. is seeking, it needs to be aware of whether or not Putin is ratcheting up the tensions or perhaps considering scaling back.

COATES: Jeremy diamond, thank you for your reporting. I appreciate it so much. I want to turn now to CNN Global Affairs Analyst, Susan Glasser. Susan, you've just heard the White House, their take on the Putin call. Did President Biden in your mind, Susan, do what he needed to do today?

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, the problem more, right, is that this is a completely manufactured crisis on the part of Vladimir Putin, right? So he has sent 100,000 troops to the border with Ukraine, not because of any action that the United States took or didn't took in the last few months.

This is not about president Biden fundamentally. And I think that's what has America's experts on the region so concerned actually is because this is a constructed, almost out of thin air of Vladimir Putin is talking right now, for example, about NATO and guarantees that did not move eastward. Well, guess what, you know, Ukraine is not really any closer to joining NATO now than it was in 2014 when Putin invaded Ukraine the first time. So it's really questionable what exactly it is that President Biden can do to stop Putin from wherever it is he intends right now?

I do think the scheduling of the January 10th talks between the United States, and Russia, and Geneva suggests at least, you know, over the next couple of weeks, there is a possibility of finding a path forward with Putin. But what really worries me is that there's really a mismatch. Putin is demanding things that it's really not within Biden's power or the U.S. has power to give. And so, you know, how does that give him a rationale for walking away with all these troops on the border?

COATES: Give me an example of what one of those things would be, Susan, the idea of the demands being made and placed upon say President Joe Biden not being able to be met? What are the examples of those? GLASSER: Well, first of all, Joe Biden is being asked by Vladimir Putin to negotiate about the security and safety of an entirely third- party country. The future of Ukraine is at stake without Ukraine participating in that conversation with Putin and Biden. And the United States clearly is not in a position to nor is going to give written guarantees about what Ukraine does or doesn't do in the future, number one.

Number two, Putin is asking for written formal documents security guarantees that the EU-NATO and the United States will not operate in what Russia considers to be its fear of influence. That is obviously not something that the Biden Administration is going to agree to and that NATO is going to agree to.

And even if there were serious negotiations over a new long-term security treaty between NATO and Russia, that would take months if not years to hammer out. And military experts have said that this enormous invasion force gather on the border between Russia and Ukraine, you know, there's a relatively limited window over the next few months when they would have to move. And there's no way that a treaty is going to be negotiated and proceed in that time.

COATES: And as you said earlier, this is a manufactured crisis on Putin's part. I mean, he's got to be calculating. On the one hand, how much economic pain he's willing to take to get what he actually wants and giving Biden's options. I mean, who has the upper hand here in these talks at all?

GLASSER: Well, first of all, you know, Putin is a bully. And he's operating on his turf. So, you know, there are very short-term limited options. If the Russian military wants to roll through Ukraine, it would suffer a certain amount of damage. But even the Ukrainian military acknowledges that Russia could successfully invade. And remember, Ukraine is not a member of NATO.

We are not obliged to come to the defense. It's not a treaty ally of ours. And so Russia unfortunately is like the proverbial nightmarish neighbor who actually does have the ability militarily to roll into Ukraine should it choose to do so. So that's, I think, an important factor. But they would be a large price to pay.

And I think right now, that's the best argument that the U.S. and European diplomats have to throw at Putin is that this is not worth it. This is a cost that you don't want to pay, that the Russian public doesn't want to pay.


COATES: And yet, Putin were hearing told Biden that sanctions would be a colossal mistake. Do you agree with that?

GLASSER: Well, I mean, you know, that's what Putin would say. And, you know, experts have told me over the years that in fact, we could -- the United States could very significantly increase the pain point1 for Vladimir Putin by going, for example, after his personal assets, by going after the personal assets of the corrupt circle that surrounds Vladimir Putin. That would be a significant escalation trying to cut Russia off from the international banking system.

The swift system is something that's been talked about before, but never done even after Russia illegally annexed Crimea. So there are ways to make Putin and his immediate entourage feels significantly more pain than they have in the past, which may be why you here to just stride warning from the Russians tonight about a rupture and relations.

COATES: So Susan, I mean, American and Russian diplomats are going to be meeting on January 10th in Geneva to discuss this ongoing crisis. What can we expect if anything from these talks given the idea of the advantage point of this being a manufactured crisis, the idea of the leverage points being very different, what would possibly come out of this discussion?

GLASSER: Well, I wouldn't get your hopes too high up for that reason more. I have to say, I mean, first of all, Vladimir Putin is the main and really the only decider on an international issue like this in the Russian system as it exists today. So that's why that phone call with Biden was so important. And remember that those negotiations in Geneva will take place at the level of the deputy secretary of state.

The President of Russia will not be involved in. And Biden will not be directly involved in it. So I wouldn't have the world holding its breath and expecting that the crisis will simply evaporate after this meeting on January 10th, unfortunately.

COATES: Well, Susan, on that point, you know, it makes people wonder hearing your analysis here, and I don't have any reason to doubt that it's spot on, why would President Biden take this call? I mean, he doesn't have the leverage, it sounds like. It's not on his turf. He doesn't have the ability to make decisions. It's not as if he has to be subservient to Vladimir Putin. Why the call?

GLASSER: Well, the White House has said, and I think, you know, people largely agree with this rationale that, you know, President Biden is a big believer that there's no substitute, especially in a crisis for face-to-face or you'd assume diplomacy as the case may be. And you know, diplomats, of course, are big believers that, you know, as the saying goes, jaw-jaw is better than war-war. And right now, I think the real focus is on, you know, maintaining alliance solidarity.

There's a lot of calls back and forth between the state department and their counterparts in Europe and with the Ukrainians. You know, jaw- jaw, when there's 100,000 troops on the border of Ukraine, I do think there's a real urgency to the negotiations. And, you know, it's one thing to talk. It's another thing to make concessions. As far as we know, that has not occurred.

COATES: Susan Glasser, thank you so much for your analysis. I appreciate it.

GLASSER: Thank you.

COATES: Now, I want to turn to the latest on the pandemic that's reaching across this country. CNN's Alexandra Field has more. [BEGIN VIDEOTAPE]

LEE SAVIO BEERS, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN ACADEMY of PEDIATRICS: This is probably not the time to have the NEW YEAR celebrations, you know, really dial things back.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A New Year bringing in new COVID records. As for the big party in New York's Times Square.

JONATHAN REINER, PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: We're in the public health crisis of our lifetimes. Frankly, it should have been canceled.

FIELD: But this ball will drop despite the highest numbers of new daily cases the city has ever seen and without LL Cool J who called off his performance after testing positive for COVID.

BILL DE BLASIO, MAYOR OF NEW YORK: It's going to be outdoors vaccination-only, mass-required, socially distance. But we want to show that we're moving forward. And we want to show the world that New York City is fighting our way through this.

FIELD: The city insisting, again, party safely, even while navigating staffing shortages affecting EMS, the fire department and the subway.

SYRA MADAD, SINIOR DIRECTOR, SYSTEM-WIDE SPECIAL PATHOGENS PROGTAM NYC HEALTH + HOSPITALS: You know, staff for this, it's a real issue both from a prehospital standpoint. So from EMC, you know, bringing patients into the healthcare system, as well as with healthcare worker for just -- And not just in New York, but around the nation.

FIELD: Atlanta is canceling its annual New Year's celebration, the beach drop. In Washington, DC, the Smithsonian temporarily shutting down five of its museums. Another thousand flights canceled today with airlines still crippled by staffing shortages. And JetBlue announcing they're canceling nearly 1,300 flights through the middle of January.

Testing lines are still stunningly long. The pressure only rising for hospitals across the country. Ten states and Washington DC are seeing some of the highest hospitalization numbers of the pandemic. In Georgia, six major health systems report collectively seeing a 100% to 200% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations. Unvaccinated adults remain the most likely to be hospitalized. But pediatric hospital admissions for COVID are now at a record high.


BEERS: The vast majority of the children who are being admitted are unvaccinated. And there's small numbers who are vaccinated, but the fast majority are unvaccinated. And so being unvaccinated increases your risk for hospitalization significantly.

FIELD: Twelve to 15 year-olds could become eligible for a booster shot as soon as next week if the FDA signs off according to a person familiar with the agency's plan. That's the same time many students will be heading back to the classroom. After the holidays and emit a surge, the likes of which we've never seen. Princeton University already announcing they're pushing back the return to campus by one week. Alexandra field, CNN, New York.


COATES: Alexandra field, thank you so much. I want to bring in Doctor Mark McClellan, a former FDA commissioner under President George W. Bush. Doctor. McClellan, these numbers are pretty scary. I mean, the U.S. now averaging 300,000 cases a day. I know there's a lot being made about New Year's Eve celebrations. So what does this actually mean as we head into the New Year, Doctor?

MARK MCCLELLAN, FORMER FDA COMMISIONER: Well, Laura, we're going to see an unprecedented surge in cases, as you said, over 300,000 average in the past week close to 500,000 today alone, and those numbers are going up with more people getting together over the holidays when we expect that would add to it. We really have two surgeons coming together, Laura. One was the Delta surge, which is still active in many parts of the country.

On top of that, Omicron is now spreading very widely. The good news in the Omicron surge is that the hospitalization rate, the severe case rate looks to be considerably lower. Laura, we've also gotten more people vaccinated than ever before. We've got better treatments available than ever before. Hopefully, that will keep the hospital surges down below the case surges. But it's going to be a very challenging few weeks to a month.

COATES: Now I'm thinking about the numbers here. And I'm wondering, do you think that the numbers are actually much higher, Doctor McClellan, with so many people taking these at-home rapid tests, those people who can actually find those that is, and maybe not reporting their results, are these numbers may be skewed?

MCCLELLAN: The numbers are almost certainly low. Some estimates suggest the true case numbers are 20%, 30%, 40%, maybe more higher. That goes along to, Laura, not just with more home testing, but with many of the cases of Omicron being mild or not causing symptoms, especially in people who have been previously vaccinated and are much better protected against serious illness.

With the big increase in cases, even if there's a lower rate of severe cases, that still means a stress on the hospital system. Again, if there is a little good news here, it's not only that the cases tend to be less severe, especially in people who are vaccinated and boosted, if they're high risk.

But also this peak seems to be happening fast in parts of the world, like South Africa and England that had a big increase in Omicron starting a few weeks ago, they may be already starting to peak or head back down. So hopefully, we'll be over this pretty quickly too. But again, tough few weeks to a month ahead.

COATES: I appreciate. And I am hearing the optimism. I think it does really informed the public to understand where we are contextually on these things, Doctor McClellan Cleland, excuse me. And I want you to bring up this map here. We look at this map of community transmission in the United States. I mean, it's a sea of red. It's virtually all red, frankly. If particularly a person who is not vaccinated is around a lot of other people, should they assume that they're going to get Omicron or maybe the Delta variant?

MCCLELLAN: With the rate of cases that we have in the United States now, chances are, if you're in a room with 20 or 30 people, at least one of them is COVID positive and transmitting right now. So that's a very good reason just like you said in the introductory segment, or just like your reporter said, to keep the gathering small over this New Year's holiday, especially if you're not sure that everybody is vaccinated and preferably boosted, especially if they're in a higher risk group.

So small groups, keeping a distance, doing things outside of the weather permits, if you can get access to a test testing before and then a few days after, all of those things can help. And again, this is temporary. We're going to get through this, but it is a very tough time for COVID transmission with that sea of red that's going to get reder.

COATES: I can't help, but think about children. Of course, I'm a mother of two. They're going to go back to school hopefully in the next week. And there's a big push to keep in-person learning when schools do reopen next week. I'm wondering, is that the right move though given these numbers? Should we be concerned as parents of school-age children?

MCCLELLAN: It is. There are several things that have changed. I'm not sure, Laura, how old your children are. But as you also mentioned in the introductory segment for kids 12 and over the vaccines available now, boosters available for 16, 17, and they will be available in all likelihood as soon as next week for kids 12 and older, that's going to help with transmission. We also know that masks work and that other steps at schools are taking around ventilation, and keeping kids together in smaller groups or pods, all of those things are helping. And there's so many advantages to in-person learning.


Add to that, the fact that we've got more tests available and we have new evidence now that if kids have been exposed, especially if they've got some of these protective steps in place like vaccinations, if they're old enough or mask, that can keep down the transmission. You can keep the kids in school just by testing more regularly. And Laura, we are going to have much more tests available in the coming weeks. I wish we had them now just like you and millions of Americans do. We're trying to look for them right now. But they are coming and that's going to help school stay open to.

One last thing, we know a lot more than we did before. Now, over 8 million kids have been vaccinated with a very, very good safety record. The CDC just released some more data on that. The biggest risk to kids today is if they're not vaccinated and they are exposed, they can go on to get very serious consequences for that 99% of the kids who have been hospitalized according to recent CDC data had no vaccination before. So those are all important things to keep in mind. And I think we are going to be able to keep kids mostly in school if we take these steps towards safety.

COATES: I mean, it sounds like this is all going to be enveloping into what we think about in terms of being in America these days, the idea of, you know, at this point, we are --when tests become more available, hopefully we'll be able to get people tested at a larger scale. As I know, President Biden is particularly hopes to do so. But I'm wondering, what do you recommend on how often people should use these tests? And how well do they actually work when they are able to get them?

MCCLELLAN: Well, they're not perfect. And no step to prevent COVID is. We know that mask, especially good mask, the N95s or KN95 masks provide very good protection. We know that testing the PCR tests that you can't do yourself, you have to go to a lab to get done and take a while to get the results back, those are very good, but they're hard to get. The test that you can do at home are not perfect. But we've seen that in cases where there are lots of people together, like in schools, doing tests repeatedly can help detect outbreaks early. Not perfect, but along with those other steps, distancing, masks, having good ventilation, that all adds up to really good protection.

And Laura, if you couple that going forward with the fact that we are going to get through this surge and another month or so, depending on how well we do over these coming days, and the fact that we've got better treatments coming, we've got more people vaccinated than ever before, 85% of American adults, despite all the controversy you've heard about have had at least one shot, that's all very helpful for future protection and keeping -- We're not going to get rid of COVID, but we can really keep the series cases down and with some modifications go on about our lives after we get through this big surge.

COATES: Doctor McClellan, thank you for your time. I appreciate it.

MCCLELLAN: Thank you. Happy holidays.

MCCLELLAN: Happy holidays to you. Unfortunately, there are wildfires raging in Colorado tonight. And it's leaving hundreds of buildings absolutely destroyed and entire towns evacuated. And my next guest is one of those evacuees.




COATES: Breaking news out of Colorado tonight, Governor Jared Polis declaring now a state of emergency in Boulder County and met with the national weather service calls life threatening wildfires. Nearly 600 homes are destroyed. Thousands of people forced to now evacuate. And according to the sheriff, one fire burned at least 1,600 acres and spread east across two whole towns. At least six people are being treated for injuries. And there are no reports of casualties so far. But officials warn that that would not be surprising given the magnitude of the fires in such highly populated areas. And believe it or not, by morning, the weather service is predicting the entire region will experience whether whiplash going from fire to snow. They say an advancing cold front and expecting to push into the area, bringing snow showers by sunrise and 5 to 10 inches of snow by Saturday. Now, I want to bring in Congressman Joe Neguse of Colorado. He joins us now on the phone. Congressmen, I heard that you and your family were evacuated tonight. How are you doing? Are you all safe out there?

JOE NEGUSE, REPRESENTATIVE FOR COLORADO'S 2ND CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT: Oh, well, it's got to be with you. We're fine. We evacuated as a precaution. Clearly, it's just a devastating day for Boulder County for our communities, for Lewisville, and for superior, and for the people of our state. As you said, these are unprecedented wildfires that have just created a level of devastation and destruction that our state has not experienced before.

COATES: No, the video we're showing right now is a terrifying scene in Colorado. You've been traveling around the area trying to get to different evacuation sites. What conditions are you seeing out there on the ground? We're seeing blazing fires from our advantage point.

NEGUSE: Well, yes. I mean the snow can't come soon enough. We're, again, keeping all of the first responders and the firefighters who are bravely sacrificing right now to keep our community safe in our thoughts and our prayers. They are working around the clock to save lives. They have saved many lives throughout today. And of course, thinking of the many neighbors, and constituents, and friends who we've visited with over the course of the last several hours, many of whom have lost their homes and all of their personal belongings. Upwards of a potentially 600 homes and perhaps even more of that had been lost due to this terrible unprecedented wildfires that are raging through our neighborhoods.

COATES: I mean, it's just happening so fast. Is there an action plan in place? Have you been talking to people on the state level and federal level trying to get assistance in someway?

NEGUSE: We're in close contact with law enforcement and the first responders here in the county and the community, as well as with the governor. Earlier tonight, the governor announced that FEMA had approved a fire assistant management grants to help Boulder County officials and law enforcement here fight the flames, which we are very grateful for. We appreciate FEMA's swift authorization. And we know from the wildfires that we've experienced as a community in the past that this is going to be a long road to recovery. And we certainly will be there to work with our state and local partners to ensure that there are federal resources to bear, brought to bear rather, to help. Again, you think about just the volume and the scale of the damage and the devastation that our community has experienced, there is going to be a real significant need for federal resources. And we stand ready to work with the Biden Administration with Governor Polis to make sure that that's reality.

[22:30:24] COATES: And congressmen, as you mentioned, we're hearing that around

600 homes have reportedly been destroyed. I think your home may be safe. But what are you hearing from friends and neighbors about their experiences and those who have evacuated out of precaution or added necessity?

NEGUSE: It's heartbreaking to visit with folks who literally lost everything in a moment. The fire metastasized so quickly today due to these unprecedented winds that our community was experiencing that many folks literally had minutes, seconds to leave, and to left with nothing more than the clothes on their back. And it is very harrowing for a lot of families that have lost so much. I will also tell you that not withstanding all of that devastation that our community is experiencing, I see a lot of hopes in terms of neighbors helping neighbors at the evacuation sites, folks dropping off supplies, and really rising to the occasion in terms of working together to address what is clearly the most consequential challenge that our community has faced in quite some time.

COATES: It's hard to imagine that there's going to be snow coming tomorrow. A huge change in weather. Will that be a help or a hindrance to the efforts to try to salvage anything possible?

NEGUSE: It'll certainly be a help. And as I said, the snow, you know, can't come soon enough. Again, one of the main drivers of this fire into our communities was the record breaking winds that we were experiencing earlier today. We're hopeful that those winds will begin to die down here in the evening. And as you mentioned to the forecast call for heavy snow to commence, and we're just helping us out will commence soon, to give our firefighters and our first responders some relief as they work to try to protect our communities.

COATES: Congressman Neguse, thank you so much for sharing the story as for us today. I mean, this is unbelievable. You really cannot take anything for granted. They woke up this morning in very different circumstances. Thank you for taking the time. You know, the threat to democracy in this country is very real and nothing showed that more than January 6th. I'll make my case next.




COATES: We are one week away from the one-year anniversary of January 6th, a day that shocked our nation. Frankly, it shocked the entire world. And the nation is still waiting for answers to the questions that remain on the mind of every voter. Who is responsible? Could it have been prevented? And how can we ensure that history does not repeat itself? But one question sets the stage for the rest, does America have free and fair elections? Well, that answer is a resounding yes. And 2020 was no exception. It here we are nearly 365 days later and still waiting for answers to rest.

Now for the last six months, the January 6th select committee has been investigating what happened that day. And perhaps more importantly, the events that led up to that day. To date, they have had more than 300 interviews, reviewed over 35,000 pages of documents, and issued more than 50 subpoenas. Now, some have complied others have stonewalled and been referred for criminal contempt, or have taken it to the courts to plead their cases. And the panels first and only public hearing. We heard riveting testimony from Capitol and metropolitan police officers who fought valiantly for hours against a violent and angry mob.


MICHAEL FANONE, FORMER DC METROPOLITAN POLICE OFFICER: At some point during the fighting, I was dragged from the line of officers and into the crowd. I heard someone scream, "I got one." As I was swarmed by a violent mob, they ripped off my badge. They grabbed and stripped me of my radio. They seized ammunition that was secured to my body. They began to beat me with their fists and with what felt like orb metal objects. At one point, I came face-to-face with an attacker who repeatedly launched for me and attempted to remove my firearm. I heard chanting from some of the crowd, "Get his gun and kill him with his own gun."


COATES: We've now learned a text messages to Mark Meadows, please from Fox news hosts, sitting members of Congress and even President Trump's own namesake, begging him to stop the mob. Memos outlining ways to refuse certification of Electoral College votes. And that's just what's been released publicly, by the way. But let me cut to the chase here. Yes, next week's anniversary is a very big deal. But I want to take you back to one year ago today, before the insurrection, before the scaling of the walls, before the gallows erected on the lawn, before the flag being used as a weapon against our public servants, before states would codify the big lie into their legislation and rollback some of the most important gains of the civil rights era. Let's go back to a year ago today.

Did you know that democracy was really in danger then? Did you know that you were just days away from an organized, violent effort to derail it? Did you think that it would all come down to a vice president refusing to yield? Did you think that there was a red line in the sand where people now pretend to see an ink blood test, unable to clearly decipher the obvious because honesty, it might not translate to votes?

A year ago, did you think there was a ceiling to the madness? I mean, you knew democracy was pressing. But I'll bet you didn't know that it was so fragile. But now, you know. And the epiphany ought to be a catalyst.

When you know something is fragile, you do everything you can to protect it. You fortify it, you legislatively codify what will protect it. You ensure that votes are counted. You ensure that redistricting lines are geometric, not gerrymandered. You honor the people who are willing to stand as the last physical line of defense to our democracy by telling them the truth of what happened and giving them the means to prevent it.

And not just because you're concerned about how history will one day judge us, but because you understand that the present needs you to do it now.


Now, this year is coming to a close. It's been a monumental one. But will it be remembered in the history books? We'll look at that next.


COATES: An insurrection, pandemic, multiple climate disasters, fierce political divisions. 2021 was a rollercoaster of the year. But just how will it be remembered in the history books? I want to discuss now with Dave Blight. He's a history professor at Yale University, excuse me. David, nice to talk to you tonight. And what a tumultuous year it has been. I wonder of all the things that have happened, what could possibly define it the most?

DAVID BLIGHT, STERLING PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, YALE UNIVERSITY: Well down the road in the history books, it would seem to me that what has to define 2021 is its first month. The coup of January 6th, which you've just focused on is unprecedented. It's never happened to any other time in our history that a literal coup d'etat was attempted by an incumbent president who lost an election.

And then that followed, let's not forget, by the second impeachment of the same president. So all within one month, in fact, within two weeks, you had a coup d'etat that almost overturned an election and the impeachment of the sitting president.

Now, there are many other things that happened in this year, which was that we thought the demise of cope COVID, but now, it's resurgence, in ways that have us all utterly conscious of it. All kinds of climate disasters are racial reckoning that we were having, in 2020, one might say went off the rails in certain ways in 2021.


But above all, this has been a year when our democracy has shown, not only that it's fragile, but that it is in very great danger of both a disintegration from within and a destruction from without by the American right, which has now become in effect a mass movement.

COATES: You know, it's extraordinary to think about that. And also the idea that, you know, you have people who are even within Congress who are trying to facilitate that or have some role we're learning more and more about in that very notion, it's a new form of the Trojan horse in many ways.

So I think we'll be exploring for many years to come. But as you also mentioned, I mean, January would have been enough to cover very historic occasions and write volumes in textbooks for years to come. But then, you also have the pandemic. And as you said, people thought of 2020 was the worst year that 2021 would be the end of the pandemic. I mean, you've got vaccines that are available throughout the year.

Did you think we would be where we are right now, ending the year with another massive surge of cases and packed ICUs? I mean, what does this say about the health system in the United States of America in terms of how it will be viewed?

BLIGHT: Well, I'm not an epidemiologist and nor am I a doctor. But no, I did not think we would be where we are with COVID. I think the most remarkable thing on a social and even political level about COVID though, is what we have learned about the anti-vaccine phenomenon in the country.

I mean, every day now, we hear the statistics, that 85% or 90% of all people hospitalized were unvaccinated. We hear that only, you know, 50% or 55% of some states are vaccinated, 60%, 65% is supposed to be a good number.

Well, what about the millions who are not? And I think I have, for one, been surprised at the level of distrust, a science of medicine. And for that matter, have a whole other range of institutions like the CDC for that matter, I think we've learned a lot from Trumpism for five years and more.

But also, during COVID we've learned a great deal about how large swaths of this country have I either avoided and forgotten the education they have, or have pursued their information from sources that simply are outside of legitimate education.

That's a profound problem for a democracy because it means those people are not going to trust institutions. And the phenomenon on Trumpism comes from many sources. But one of them is this distrust of authority in the country, this distrust of institutions, this distrust, even hatred, of government. And above all in a way, we really are not fully living in a democracy, Laura, if you actually think about the fact that within our constitution, we have several undemocratic institutions, especially the U.S. Senate and the Electoral College. One could go on with it constitutionally.

But until this country finds a way to alter or abolish the Electoral College, very difficult to do by constitutional limits, and until it ever finds a way to make the U.S. Senate more democratic, which cannot be amended in the constitution, we will never fully have majority rule.

We do not have majority rule in United States now. The Democrats represent in the U.S. Senate in a 50/50 Senate. The Democrats represent 41 million more people than Republicans do, but it's a 50/50 Senate. Two of the last six presidential elections have been won by the person who did not win the popular vote. How long can a democracy function with its institutions operating in such ways?

Probably for a long time, we've operated for a long time already this way, but we now have this acute issue because our politics is so divided, so polarized, so separated into completely different information systems that we really do wonder how many more elections we can sustain under this system, and now the greatest worry of all. The greatest worry of all is whether the Republican Party is organizing at the state and local levels sufficiently to ring the next elections in their favor. That may be our greatest worry above all.


COATES: Professor, that I'm afraid is just volume one of a recap of the year of 2021. It's so much there and so much more to talk about with you. Thank you so much. We'll be right back.


COATES: Singer songwriters, James Taylor and Carole King's 50 year personal friendship and professional partnership has had a truly remarkable impact on American music. Now, in this exclusive joint interview recorded for the new CNN film, Carol King and James Taylor, Just Call Out My Name. The music icon share the story behind one of their most famous songs. Here's a look.


JAMES TAYLOR, SINGIR, SONGWRITER, AND MUSICIAN: It was one of those songs that writes itself really fast. And you know, as soon as I heard it, I said, "Man, that's just, it. That's a great, great song." Peter sort of asking you, you know, "We want to put this on the album. What do you think?" And you were generous enough to say, "Sure." This fantastic tune, she's recording herself. And she allows me to have the first shot at it.

CAROLE KING, SINGIR, SONGWRITER, AND MUSICIAN: And I'm assuming your rendition of it for the first time, it was like, "Oh my God, it's perfect," really.

TAYLOR: It's funny. It was one of those things that was -- We've been in the studio. I think we had this extra time leftover. We all knew the song because we heard you play it because we were at the Troubadour doing that gift giving you were playing it every night. You know what? It was so loose. And, you know, at least playing all over the place on that. I mean, it's the most noti bass part in the history of popular music. It's like, he's playing like arpeggios, you know, in the bass.


And, you know, Russ just laid down a Congo part to it, and Cooch (ph) was playing -- Everything was very, very loose. For one thing, I didn't assume that we were going to be able to release it because we -- I'm asking permissions. But that story to the backstory anyway.

KING: Right. And then, you know, also, when we play it together, when we played in the Juvenile Reunion Tour, it's basically your arrangement pretty much, which is not that different from mine. But it is because my piano, I had to change some of the chords to meet your arrangement, but it was perfect. Perfect. I wanted to do that. But the way you are a guitar lens with my piano part is just -- it's like that first time we played together. It's that --

TAYLOR: That's a good thing,

KING: We did that, buddy.

TAYLOR: Hit that thing.

KING: We did that.


COATES: Be sure to tune in the all new CNN film, Carol King & James Taylor, Just Call Out My Name. Premier at Sunday at 9:00 PM, only on CNN. And before we go, I want to let you know that I have a new book on the way. It's called "Just Pursuit: A Black Prosecutor's Fight for Fairness." It's available for preorder wherever you get your books. And in it, well, when you want to speak truth to power don't you first want to know what the truth really is?

I write about the stories that need to be shared from people who are most impacted by our justice system. And I'm very excited for you to read it and get to know me on a more personal level. Thank you all for watching. We hope you have a very happy and healthy New Year. Think of the chance to grace, your screens, hopefully it was just that. And I appreciate your time. Happy New Year, everyone. Our coverage continues.