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Calls Now Louder Than Ever for Congress to Tackle Facebook; Democrats Feeling the Weight of Biden's Mounting Struggles; Southwest Airlines Hit by Second Day of Mass Cancellations. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired October 10, 2021 - 19:00   ET




MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: But it's also what ultimately killed her according to both her sons and her brother, who still lives here at Althorp.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Our thanks to Max Foster. The all-new CNN Original Series "DIANA" premieres tonight at 9:00.

I'm Pamela Brown in Washington. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM on this Sunday evening, and it's great to have you along with us tonight.

Frustration, finger-pointing and paralysis. In Washington, the toxic brew is rising to a bubble. Lawmakers now face tremendous pressure to take on Facebook just days after a whistleblower launched blistering and damning accusations against the company that it's allowing extremism to thrive, fomenting national divisions and even harming the mental well-being of children.

And at the White House, troubles new and old weigh down the president. His agenda and his popularity. Even his own party feels the weight. One Democratic candidate is trying to backtrack on his remarks that President Biden's unpopularity is dragging him down in a closely watched race.

Senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns is in Delaware where President Biden is spending the weekend, and CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is following the Facebook fallout.

Suzanne, let's start with you. The social media giant does not seem to be cowering. Instead it's sounding pretty defiant. Here's what fakebook's vice president said this morning on CNN.


NICK CLEGG, VICE PRESIDENT OF GLOBAL AFFAIRS, FACEBOOK: If you removed the algorithms, which is I think Frances Haugen's -- one of her central recommendations, the first thing that would happen is that people would see more, not less hate speech, more, not less misinformation, because these algorithms are designed precisely to work almost like giant spam filters to identify and deprecate bad content.


BROWN: Suzanne, what are lawmakers saying about Facebook today?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pam, despite Clegg's appearances on multiple political morning shows defending fakebook's practices, including the suggestion that Facebook couldn't possibly know whether its algorithm to push popular content helped inspire the U.S. Capitol riot on January 6, members of Congress both Republicans and Democrats, they're having none of it.

Tuesday, the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection heard all they needed to hear from fakebook's whistleblower in her testimony about how its own research showed it allegedly had a toxic effect on teen girls, stoked division, and spread misinformation. Senator Amy Klobuchar, who I've covered over the years, has been leading this charge on the issue. She's been very consistent, going after big social media, calling for greater regulation and accountability. Now she is fed up. Earlier today she said on CNN Congress now is ready to act.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN:): I appreciate that he is willing to talk about things, but I believe the time for conversation is done. The time for action is now. Basically for so long, the social media companies have been saying and the other tech platforms, trust us. We got this. Well, look where we are now.

You know, the guy down the street tells me his mother-in-law won't get a vaccine because she read on social media that it would implant a microchip in her arm. We know that the majority of the people that aren't getting vaccines read stuff on these platforms. We know about the violent content.


MALVEAUX: So what can Congress do? It is a rare bipartisan effort. Republican Senator John Thune, he has sponsored several measures to create transparency that could give the public and policymakers more understanding of how the algorithms work in pushing content to users, and Democrats want to strengthen privacy and competition laws, bolster online protections for children, get full access to research data to create new rules and standards to address consumer harms and illegal content, and limit legal protections for Facebook and other companies for the actions of their users.

Now the whistleblower, for her part, she is calling for an independent government agency to audit the impact of social media. Senators say what is next? Possibly a hearing on fakebook's impact on national security.

And Pam, I know you probably caught that "SNL" skit last night, the parody on the whistleblower testimony. So it is not just in the sterile halls of Congress where this is being debated -- Pam. BROWN: It's certainly not. That was a pretty funny skit with quite the

message behind it.

All right. So let's turn to you, Joe, and basically President Biden's political struggles right now even within his own party. How big of a concern is this with fellow Democrats?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is a concern, and I think it was sort of crystallized with Terry McAuliffe's comments over the last few days. McAuliffe is running for governor again in the state of Virginia. He's already been governor before. It's a very tight race, but the larger concern for Democrats is what this off-year race can tell them about what could happen in the midterms for Democrats next year.


McAuliffe is asking the question whether the stalled agenda up on Capitol Hill for Joe Biden is one of the drivers for his terrible numbers. Listen.


TERRY MCAULIFFE (D), CANDIDATE FOR VIRGINIA GOVERNOR: We've got frustration with Washington. You know, why haven't we passed this infrastructure bill? It passed the U.S. Senate with 69 votes two months ago. I have been very straight on television. We're tired of the chitty chat up in Washington. Get in a room and get this figured out.


JOHNS: So what do the numbers actually say? Well, Biden's net approval ratings have gone negative now for more than a month. But if you look at some of the individual polls, particularly the Quinnipiac poll recently, they're just terrible numbers, and it really points to the fact that the people in the White House need to be worried not just about the Virginia governor but about what's going to happen in the midterms if the president does push his agenda through up on Capitol Hill -- Pam.

BROWN: All right. Joe Johns and Suzanne Malveaux, great to see you both. Thank you.

As President Biden's poll numbers continue to slide, as Joe just pointed out there, his weakest issue by far is immigration. A new Quinnipiac poll found just 25 percent of Americans approve the administration's handling of the issue. The White House tapped Vice President Kamala Harris to lead the immigration response back in March, but she has been noticeably quiet in recent weeks, even when thousands of Haitian migrants flooded the southern border.

Joining me now to further discuss, CNN political commentator and former South Carolina state representative Bakari Sellers and former adviser to Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell Scott Jennings.

Why do I feel like this is going to be a lively discussion? I just feel it. I don't know. Something about having you both on a Sunday.

Bakari, I'm going to start with you because you made some news. You said the White House has essentially set the vice president up for failure with her assignment that she has been given. Let's listen to what you had to say.


BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Her portfolio is trash. I mean, her portfolio is just -- you give someone a portfolio that's not meant for them to succeed.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But she has immigration. As a women of color.

SELLERS: Like I said, you give somebody a portfolio -- we cannot forget that this is one of the most difficult and complicated issues. Should she get it on her plate? Sure, OK, that's fine. But you give her that, and then you give her voting rights. Those are the two main issues on her plate. But then you don't come out forcefully in abolishing the filibuster. So how is she supposed to do that?


BROWN: Right. And, look, immigration is a tough issue. There is no doubt about it. But why is it an unfair assignment for a former senator from a border state to take on immigration as part of her portfolio?

SELLERS: I didn't say that the assignment was unfair. But what I did say in the full context, and I think I fleshed it out clearly there, was that you have to have the White House pushing for those things that are necessary to pass legislation around that issue. Whether or not it's immigration or voting rights, which was my main thrust, the president of the United States has to be forceful in reforming, narrowing, limiting the filibuster on issues such as immigration, on issues such as voting rights, et cetera.

Without that, then it's a moot point. And, yes, she's done diligent work. I mean she spoke out on the Haitians that were being whipped or corralled at the border. You know, she's done diligent work in bringing groups to the White House and the Naval Observatory and talking about voting rights. But that's not my point. My point is, until we actually get rid of the obstructionists, until we actually limit the power of Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, until we actually put Kamala Harris and Joe Biden on the road to talk about their agenda, not just one trip to Detroit and one trip to New Jersey, but actually put them on the road, have them calling in to radio every day -- she called into Ryan Cameron last week. Great move, but we have to see that every single day.

This is my main problem and this is a critique that Scott probably doesn't have to say much for. He can just say amen. My main problem is this. When Democrats win elections, we stop campaigning. Donald Trump won an election and regardless of whether or not you think he was promulgating hate or an agenda or whatever it may be, but he was on the road all the time. Democrats win elections and stop campaigning and stop communicating their ideas, and that's the frustration we have.

BROWN: I'm going to get to you in just a second, Scott. I promise. Maybe it won't be as lively as I thought it would be if you're both going to agree. But you're talking about being on the road. I do want to get your response to this, Bakari. And, again, I promise you, Scott, I'm going to get to you. But I recently interviewed Congressman Henry Cuellar, a Democrat, who was critical of the vice president's response to the border crisis when I spoke to him just a few weeks ago. And I want to get your response on the other side of this.



REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D-TX): You know, sometimes all you need to do is just show up. Show, you know, either the immigrants or the Border Patrol or the border communities, which is something I feel that the administration has left that -- the border communities, the mayors, the county judges, even if she just shows up and does what Bill Clinton used to say, I feel your pain, you know, just show up. I mean, I think that would probably send a strong message.


BROWN: So I know what you were saying earlier about her basically being hamstrung because the president isn't doing enough on the issues in her portfolio. But is she showing up enough on immigration, Bakari?

SELLERS: Well, let me just say that one of the things I want the vice president and the president to succeed. I love -- you won't find anybody who's more adamant about their love and support for Kamala Harris than myself. I love her and her entire family. And so this constructive criticism actually, I'm not sure the inner workings of the White House, that's how I will answer the question. I'm not sure if she's not showing up or she's not allowed to show up. But I think that Kamala Harris needs to be everywhere all the time.

She is somebody who can go out and get support for whether or not it's your agenda on Build Back Better or whether or not it's going to the border, talking about these issues. She's extremely talented, and as you said earlier, she led the second largest Department of Justice in the country, second only to the United States. She's senator from a border state. Let her go do her thing. I mean that is my response.

And so, yes, I somewhat agree, although I'm not sure that criticism should land in the Naval Observatory.

BROWN: So what do you think, Scott? I mean, look, the Trump administration struggled to control the southern border as well. I think it was 2019, there were record numbers, the highest in a dozen years, I believe. I mean, is this issue just a mine field for whoever is in power?

SCOTT JENNINGS. CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it's been a mine field for a long time. I do think it's gotten worse since Biden and Harris have taken over, and I think that they've clearly communicated different policy priorities, specifically around border security and border barriers than the previous administration had.

The problem with Bakari's idea, which by the way I'm a PR guy, too. You know, I think, you know, my first reaction is let's go do some PR but some things you can't PR your way out of it, and this is not one of those. This is really more about policy choices than PR and the problem with an issue like this being on Kamala Harris' plate is that she's dealing with daily images from the border.

So when it's happening like not, you know, in the halls of Congress where you can't exactly see inside, but rather happening on your television screen every night, we can see the drone footage. We see the people coming across. We see the camps. We see the people in cages, if you will. Then, you know, no matter how much PR you do, it doesn't seem like it's getting any better. And so I would respectfully, to Bakari, who I know reveres and loves Kamala Harris, say there's some PR that can be done, but they're going to have to grapple with the policy choices that I think the American people, frankly, are pretty unhappy with right now.

I mean, as you pointed out, Pam, the numbers in the Quinnipiac survey on immigration are just atrocious. And it's because of what people are seeing and because I think they're reacting negatively to the policy choices that have been made.

BROWN: All right. So let's talk about what's going on in the Republican Party here, Scott, before we let you go. I got to ask you about this. A top Republican in the House, Steve Scalise, went on FOX this morning and wouldn't say if he believes Biden won the 2020 election legitimately. Let's listen.


REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA): At the end of the day, are we going to follow what the Constitution says or not? I hope we get back to what the Constitution says. But clearly in a number of states, they didn't follow those legislative --

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: So you think the election was stolen?

SCALISE: What I said is there are states that didn't follow their legislatively set rules. That's what the United States Constitution says.

WALLACE: Last time, I promise. Do you think the election was stolen or not? I understand you think there were irregularities and things that need to be fixed. Do you think the election was stolen?

SCALISE: And it's not just irregular, it's states that did not follow the laws set which the Constitution says they're supposed to follow.


BROWN: I've got to take a deep breath because hearing that makes my blood boil. All of these issues have been litigated in court as we know. Why are top Republicans still misleading Americans on this, Scott? Why is this still happening in your party?

JENNINGS: Well, I mean it's pretty obvious because if you listen to what Donald Trump had to say in Iowa this weekend, you know, he sort of gave two speeches. One was the speech that the Republicans wanted him to give, and one was the speech that he wanted to give. And it's all about relitigating the 2020 election, which he believes was stolen, and these Republicans like Steve Scalise don't -- you know, they don't want to anger Donald Trump and they feel like when they're in the leadership positions that they're in, that it puts them personally, politically in danger to get on the wrong side of him on this topic. And so it's pretty obvious why they answer the questions the way they do.


I think most people know in their hearts that even if there were irregularities and issues that need to be looked into, that Joe Biden won the election. And to say that out loud doesn't mean you like Joe Biden. It doesn't mean you like his policies and it doesn't mean, you know, you're a bad Republican. It just means OK, we lost that one, and what can we do better next time? It's all what it really means to me. So it's disheartening, but I think you're going to continue to see it for the foreseeable future.


BROWN: Well, and go ahead, Bakari, then we got to go. Go ahead.

SELLERS: Just briefly, I think that the two segments or the two portions of the segments today display the parties in this country. We had a substantive segment on how we deal with passing infrastructure and dealing with immigration, and then you have the Republican Party that's talking about Donald Trump's dream that he still won the election. And so those are the two different issues we have, and even with my disagreements and constructive criticism, I think I'd much rather be a Democrat today.

BROWN: All right. We do have to leave it there. We're out of time. Scott Jennings --

JENNINGS: Bakari, have you not seen the latest poll numbers? Are you sure you want to --

SELLERS: She's wrapping. She's wrapping. She's wrapping. We've got to watch football.

BROWN: I knew you were going to pull that, Scott, from a fellow Kentuckian. We're naughty as Kentuckians. My goodness. All right.

JENNINGS: By the way, by the way, Bakari. Bakari, Kentucky is -- by the way, Kentucky is 6-0, Bakari. Kentucky is 6-0 in the SEC --

SELLERS: I don't want to talk about that. We're not talking about game (INAUDIBLE). BROWN: You start the lively part right as I'm wrapping and my producer

is in my ear frantically -- all right. We're going to have to you gentlemen on again soon so we can carry this on and talk more about Kentucky. I also (INAUDIBLE). OK, we really do have to go. Thank you so much.

New details tonight on an incredible FBI sting operation. How a couple allegedly hid nuclear sub secrets in a peanut butter sandwich because where else would you hide them?

Also tonight, a second day of mass cancellations by Southwest. CNN now learning the airline is apologizing to its own flight crews who were stranded without hotel rooms.

Plus the director of the National Institutes of Health tells people using religion as a reason to skip the COVID vaccine to hit the reset button. He joins me live.

You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.



BROWN: New tonight, Southwest Airlines is apologizing to its employees following a weekend of widespread flight cancellations, leaving some flight crews without hotel rooms and passengers frustrated. The airline canceled more than 1,000 flights today alone after grounding 800 flights yesterday. What is going on here? Look at these lines. This is video taken by one passenger who was waiting for hours at the Denver Airport.

Southwest blames the cancellations on disruptive weather and air traffic control issues, but the FAA is telling CNN that air traffic control issues are not causing the Southwest cancellations as there have been no staffing shortages since Friday.

I'm joined by Mary Schiavo, she is a former inspector general for the U.S. Transportation Department.

Hi, Mary. So Southwest is blaming the cancellations at least in part on air traffic control issues. The FAA insists that's not the case. What could be going on here?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN TRANSPORTATION ANALYST: Well, I think the Southwest Airlines wants to blame these cancellations and delays on anything other than itself because most airlines, if it's their fault, they have to help the passenger find hotels, et cetera. But if it's the weather's fault or if it's the FAA's fault, then they say, oh, so sad, too bad. All we can do is rebook you. So they might be trying to save themselves some money in the long run.

But the FAA usually backs them. Usually if they say, oh, it's the FAA's fault, it's the weather, but the FAA came out and said, not our fault. So this is a bit of a turn for the FAA, which will usually back up the airline. BROWN: That's really interesting. And it seems that Southwest was

caught off guard to not even have hotel rooms for some stranded flight crews. How unusual is that?

SCHIAVO: Well, that's unusual. And that really poses another problem because that will be a violation of FAA crew rest rules if they can't get them. The crew has to have behind the door. It means you've got to have a hotel room. You can't sleep on the floor or the pilot lounge. The FAA rules changed a number of years ago, and you've got to have eight hours behind the door to get your pilot rest and your flight attendant rest, and Southwest can't get around that.

BROWN: Hmm. I want to bring in a passenger actually, a Southwest passenger whose flight was cancelled. We have Michaela Vincent joining us now.

Hi, Michaela. Good to see you. I imagine you're probably full of frustration right now. I understand you were due to travel to a funeral. Tell us what happened.

MICHAEL VINCENT, SOUTHWEST AIRLINES PASSENGER, FLIGHT WAS CANCELLED: Yes. Yes. Hello, and thank you for having me. I was scheduled for a 6:45 a.m. flight from Atlanta Saturday, yesterday, to Ft. Lauderdale for my 29-year-old relative's funeral. He tragically died in a car accident alongside his best friend. And at 7:45 p.m. Friday night, I was dealt a devastating blow that my flight was canceled, and they sent me a link to rebook. There were no other flights available at all on Southwest or any other airline actually.

And that's when I just began to cry. I was just devastated to know that less than 12 hours from my flight, I was told I could not go and attend and join my family for such a sad time. So I did what I know to do, and I tweeted Southwest Airlines and Ft. Lauderdale Airport. Southwest did get back to me in a rather short amount of time, and they told me in a DM, a private direct message, that due to air traffic control and operational challenges, my flight was canceled, and they offered me a refund along with a voucher.


BROWN: Wow. I am -- first of all, I am so sorry to hear about your relative. That's so young, and to not be able to make it to the funeral, I just -- I'm so sorry to hear that, Michaela.

VINCENT: Thank you.

BROWN: Given the response from Southwest, is that sufficient to you?

VINCENT: You know, Pamela, there's nothing I could have done, you know, about it. And after I cried, I felt a little better. They were very professional in their communication with me. So there's nothing that -- you know, there was no other option.


VINCENT: But, again, there were no other flights on any other airline from Atlanta to Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, West Palm Beach, nothing.

BROWN: Wow. That's just a horrible situation. Oh, my goodness.

So, Mary, other major airlines did not appear to be as severely impacted. I mean American Airlines, for example, canceled only 2 percent of its flights. Does that suggest anything to you? I mean if this was an FAA issue, wouldn't they have been impacted just as much?

SCHIAVO: Yes, they would. And if it was a weather issue, airlines would be impacted similarly. And so what has happened is many airlines have taken out excess capacity. In other words, they've gotten the extra flights, the extra seats, the extra planes, and they've reduced their flight schedules to the point where the flights are very full. And of course that helps them make more money, particularly in a pandemic when it was bad.

But that also means that if anything happens to your flight, rebooking is going to be quite a fiasco. It could be days out. It's the excess seat capacity in the system that allows you to rebook, and that's sadly largely gone.

BROWN: Wow. And we do want to note that Southwest said this of the cancellations, quote, "With fewer frequencies between cities in our current schedule recovering during operational challenges is more difficult and prolonged."

All right. Thank you, Mary and Michaela. Again, my condolences to you. Thank you for coming on and sharing your experience with us.

VINCENT: Thank you. You're welcome.

BROWN: Well, stats say that COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are all heading in the right direction, but what does that actually mean? Dr. Fauci says it's too soon to declare victory over the pandemic.

When we come back, I'll ask Dr. Francis Collins, the outgoing director of the National Institutes of Health, if he thinks we're seeing light at the end of the tunnel.



PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Vaccine hesitancy has a lot of faces in this country. Anti-vaxxers may say we don't know enough about what's in them, even though we do, according to doctors. They may cite conspiracy theories that COVID-19 vaccines have tracking chips even though they don't.

But some cite religious reasons, saying their faith will protect them.


TOM WILDER, REFUSING VACCINE DUE TO RELIGIOUS BELIEFS: I believe if the good Lord wants me right now it doesn't matter if I take the vaccine or I don't. And I know -- I know a lot of people would say, well he also give you common sense and you ought -- you ought to go get the shot.


WILDER: But that's just -- you know -- that's just the way I look at things.


BROWN: Joining me now Dr. Francis Collins Director at the National Institutes of Health. Thank you so much for being here with us Dr. Collins. I want to start today with this topic, because you say you're an evangelical Christian yourself.

You are also a scientist who believes in getting vaccinated. What do you make of people using religion as a reason not to get the shot, as we just heard there in that clip?

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR AT NIH: Well I am a person of faith and I'm sympathetic with people's reliance on their faith and on prayer. But I think somehow this has gotten twisted around in a way that doesn't make as much sense perhaps as people are making it sound to.

If you've prayed to God to give you protection against COVID-19 and along come these vaccines created by science, which God has given us the ability to do and they're incredibly safe and effective, maybe that was the answer to prayer.

I do have a little trouble understanding why that doesn't make sense to some people. There's an old story about the guy who was -- his house was caught in flood and he had to go up to the second floor because the water was rising and somebody came by in a boat and said, "Hey get in the boat." He said, "No, no I'm praying to God. God's going to take care of me."

And after a while he's up on the roof. Another boat comes by and he says, "No, no, I'm going to be fine." God's going to take care of me. And, you know, he drowns and he goes up to heaven. And St. Peter's there and he says, "You know, what happened you were supposed to save me?" And St. Peter says, you know, "God tried twice and apparently you had some other idea. Didn't you get it?"

OK, same with vaccines --

BROWN: And (ph) --

COLLINS: -- we have answers to prayer. Come on people, think about that a minute. This might just be what you're waiting for.

BROWN: Wow. And right now we're seeing the numbers all trending down. You have new cases, hospitalizations, deaths. Look, everyone wants this to be over, but is it? What is your --

COLLINS: Oh, yes.

BROWN: -- view (ph)?

COLLINS: Well, it is trending downwards and let's be happy about that because we've been through a terrible fourth surge and this Delta variant has been the reason. But we are still seeing almost 100,000 people new cases every day and we're losing to vax -- to unvaccinated people are losing about 1,700 lives every day. So it's not time to let down your guard.

It's kind of like if your house was on fire and Delta had set it on fire. And now we can say, OK, the fire is under control. It's not time to run back in and pretend like nothing's going on. We still have some work to do here.

So we all have to be thoughtful and careful, do the right things, get the vaccine, wear the mask when your indoors even though you're sick of it in a crowded place, because that's the best way we can actually have this downward turn go down all the way.


And not end up, once again, sort of flattening off and then, oh my gosh, starting back up again. Because we have cold weather and we have reasons to worry about that.

BROWN: What do you expect to ultimately see in the U.S. in terms of vaccine mandates?

COLLINS: Well, I'm personally sorry that mandates had to be brought forward, but I think it was the right thing. As a scientist, as a doctor, as not a politician, as a person of faith, I'm kind of surprised that will all the data that supports the value of these vaccines that people weren't ready to line up and say, of course I want this. And of course 187 million people have been and are fully vaccinated, but there's still about 68 million who haven't started that process.

If a mandate is the only way to get there and if that's the way we can actually end this pandemic, then I think that's what needs to be done. Because as long as there's still a highly vulnerable group out there the virus is going to continue its party and it is still partying today. And so, maybe that's what we have to do.

BROWN: Do you think that there should be vaccine mandate for air travel?

COLLINS: I think that's worth discussing. I'm not the kind of person that ought to be making that decision. That's a very significant issue that relates to industry and economy and people's rights. But, you know, sometimes I feel like we have taken this issue of freedom, which I believe in, I'm an American and I'm proud of that. But freedom carries with it rights but also responsibilities.

Let me turn this another way. For people who say it's up to me to decide whether I'm going to get a vaccine or not. Well, that's not entirely true. If you're unvaccinated and you get infected you're at high risk. You had a high risk of passing that on to somebody else who maybe can't get immunized because they've got cancer or they've got an organ transplant or it's a child.

So, this is a moment to think not just about your own freedoms, but also about your responsibilities to others. This is a love your neighbor kind of moment. And people of faith are supposed to think about that too.

BROWN: Right. But I guess on the -- and I know you're not in charge of making that kind of policy, but is it safe right now to travel on say airplanes with small children who aren't vaccinated if there is no vaccine mandate? I know people have to wear masks, but what do you think?

COLLINS: Well the data would say that actual transmission of COVID-19 on flights is actually quite uncommon. That because people are being very careful and masks are mandated and there's good ventilation, we're not in a situation where it's a particularly high risk situation. But if you wanted to reduce it even further, of course, a vaccine mandate would get there.

It's a benefit versus a risk like everything else that we're trying to sort out right now.

BROWN: All right, Dr. Francis Collins thank you so much for joining us on the show.

COLLINS: Glad to be with you. Have a lovely evening.

BROWN: Thank you. You too.

This is such a crazy story. A gigabyte drive wrapped into a peanut butter sandwich. That is how the FBI says a Navy nuclear engineer and his wife were trying to pass secrets to who they thought was a foreign agent. That story ahead.




BROWN: A Navy nuclear engineer and his wife are under arrest and accused of espionage. Court documents claim the man used his top secret clearance to send secrets about U.S. nuclear submarines to a foreign country.

FBI agents intervened posing as spies for that foreign country and arrange for a hand-off of more secret materials. And this is where James Bond meets Austin Powers meets Jif. Stay with me here. The Justice Department says FBI agents retrieve, quite, "An S.D. card concealed within half a peanut butter sandwich at a pre-arranged dead drop location."

I'm sorry, I don't mean to be laughing, it's serious. A quirky twist in what could be a deadly, serious betrayal. This story, we should note, was first reported in "The Washington Post."

And I want to bring CNN Analyst Phil Mudd. He's a former CIA Counterterrorism Official. Great to see you Phil. I mean, look --


BROWN: -- think about it, they're handing it over in a peanut butter sandwich.

MUDD: Yes.

BROWN: That's funny, but I mean look these were specific details about the Virginia class nuclear submarine reactors. I mean, if that information got into the wrong hands that's not good.

MUDD: It is. I mean there's the funny part and we can talk about that. But remember, and I think a lot of people looking at this would look at the first half. What are they revealing about American nuclear submarines?

I would look at the seven -- the second half, that is, when the -- when the Russians or the Chinese or the Iranians who whoever was receiving this gets the information they can look at this and say how do we design our submarines in save potentially years of design work like the Americans do.

So it's not just about following the Americans and following American engineering. It's about taking that engineering and saying, we don't have to do it anymore. We can look at the plans that they have and design our submarines the same way. That's what I would worry about.

BROWN: I know just from reporting, I mean getting a security clearance, a top secret security clearance can take a long time. There's a very thorough background check that goes into play. I mean, what is the institutional response to something like this? Is it reviewing who has clearances, limiting access, adding more safeguards? I mean --

MUDD: Boy, impossible.


BROWN: Right? Yes.

MUDD: Look, if -- you've got multiple levels. I mean, taking you behind the scenes, this is a reference to a top secret clearance, the same clearance I have, that's pretty tough to get. The question is not when you get the clearance, the question is afterwards.

So let's say this couple and it is a couple, a husband and wife, let's say they get a clearance and they're clean. That is the Feds look at their financial records, they look at their travel records and they say they're OK for a top secret clearance.

Two years later, five years later, ten years later the couple and I don't know this case, we don't have a lot of detail, but the couple gets into financial difficulties and they say we've got to sell stuff to pay for the mortgage or to pay for the car. That is not uncommon in the case of spy situations like this. But it's not just about how you get the clearance, it's about how do

you follow millions of people who have these clearances who years later decide --

BROWN: Right.

MUDD: -- we need a few thousand dollars, what do we do? What do --

: I mean, is there any process in place?

MUDD: Yes.

BROWN: To --

MUDD: Oh, Pam -- I've been there Pam. I've been there --

BROWN: It's a bureaucratic process.

MUDD: -- don't take me -- don't take me --


BROWN: Don't take me down that memory lane.

MUDD: So what you've got to do and when I was as the senior level, same thing at the junior levels, for example you file a financial disclosure every year. That financial disclosure says how much money do you have, how much debt do you have. It's not only that the counterintelligence people can look at that and say is it true. They can look at that if they ever start picking you up --

BROWN: Right.

MUDD: -- and say is he lying.

BROWN: Right. Is something going on here?

MUDD: And then you're really in trouble. Yes.

BROWN: So how -- I mean, I'm sure you have plenty of espionage stories from being in the CIA and --

MUDD: Bad ones.

BROWN: -- and FB -- and -- like what?

MUDD: Oh, you want -- you want a bad one?

BROWN: I want a bad one.

MUDD: Oh yes. OK, so we're sitting around the table one morning, I shouldn't tell this, the attorney general --

BROWN: Show it (ph)?

MUDD: -- yes, there's nobody watching. The attorney general is there, the FBI director is there. So we had meetings ever morning with the FBI director and then we went down to meet the attorney general. This is an Al-Qaeda case. We used to have what's called poison pen, in other words you write in something to get somebody else in trouble.

Somebody writes in something, he writes in something that says my girlfriend, former -- this lady, her boyfriend is an Al-Qaeda guy. My ex-girlfriend, her boyfriend -- what's he saying? What's he saying -- what he's saying is my girlfriend dumped me. I want to get her new boyfriend in trouble by claiming that he's and Al-Qaeda. Let me tell you the end of the --

BROWN: Oh my gosh.

MUDD: -- no -- the end of the story, postmark prison. The guy's in prison --


MUDD: -- his girlfriend's out. She's picked up a new guy. He's teeing up the new boyfriend because the new -- I mean, you can't make that up Pam.

BROWN: Stooges, just I mean --

MUDD: It's awesome.

BROWN: Oh my God. All right. Let me say, I shouldn't tell this. Like, yes you should.

MUDD: I'm sorry.

BROWN: Thank you so much Phil.

MUDD: You're welcome.

BROWN: Great to see you. Well, it is still unclear whether we should note this couple in this case, this most recent case, has retained a legal counsel yet.

Hate crimes against people of Asian decent have risen sharply during the pandemic and sadly it's not new in America. It is the focus of this week's episode of "This Is Life with Lisa Ling." And she joins me next.




BROWN: Well tonight CNN brings you an all new season of "This Is Life with Lisa Ling." And this time Lisa tackles some of the most challenging issues of the past year by taking a deep dive into our collective past. And she uncovered some hard truths. The first episode looks at the spike in hate crimes against Asian-Americans and how it's rooted in a long history of discrimination. Here's a preview.


LISA LING, HOST ON CNN "THIS IS LIFE WITH LISA LING": So Mr. Chang (ph) this is where your car was parked here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, so it burned right here. Plus (ph) you see -- you can see black.

LING: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can see like burn on the street too, black, yes, and dirty. See.

LING: So when you come out of your house and you see this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think, you know, what happened my car? Who do my car? And fire department coming, but too late.

LING: Makes you sad?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I sad right now.

LING: So the only cars that burned that night was your car and another Asian man's car?


LING: Do you think it may have to do with the fact that you are Asian?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know, 100 percent (ph) I don't know who (ph) did find (ph) the car. We don't know.


BROWN: Lisa Ling joins me now. Hi Lisa, great to see you.

LING: Thanks Pam.

BROWN: This premier episode is a very personal one for you. Tell us a little bit more about it and what you learned working on this.

LING: Well Pamela, this season of "This Is Life," our eighth season, we're doing something a little bit different. You know, our show in the past is one that's been very immersive and experiential.

We had to pivot because of COVID and we decided to explore moments in American history that didn't make it into the history books. Because I've always believed that we have to know where we've been in order to know where we're going.

And so, our first episode that airs tonight is -- we take a look at the anti-Asian hate that has been happening over the last year and a half since COVID got rooted. But it's really a pattern of discrimination and scapegoating that Asian-Americans have been dealing with for more than a century.

And we look into this story of a man Vincent Chin who was in Detroit in the 1980s, Chinese-American man who was out at a bar celebrating his bachelor party and two out-of-work autoworkers -- and this was a time when there was an economic downturn in Detroit, which was the automobile capital of the world.


And so many workers were getting laid off because fuel prices were so high. So, so much of the blame was being placed on Japanese automakers because they were producing these fuel efficient cars.

So Vincent Chin's at a bar and these two men, they get into an altercation, they leave the bar, they chase Vincent Chin down and the beat him to death with a baseball bat and they accused him of being Japanese. His killers never served a day of jail or prison in their lives. And they were -- they were -- they had to pay about $3,000, spent a couple of months on probation.

But when you think about it in the context of what's been happening over the last year and a half, Asians have been scapegoated since COVID got rooted here. The attacks against the community have increased over 1,000 percent. And so, again, this pattern has been ongoing for more than a century and it's only until we recognize it that we can figure out how to stop it and move forward.

BROWN: You had noted earlier in the conversation that you can't know where you're going unless you know where you have been. What do you want your episode, this episode coming up to reveal to viewers? What do you want the takeaway to be?

LING: Well, every episode this season is on a different moment in history. But with regard to the episode tonight, I mean as Asian- American, I never studied Asian-American history in school. Most of the people I know didn't either. It just was absent from our U.S. history classes.

And when you don't have any frame of reference for a community's inclusion it becomes so easy to overlook and even dehumanize and entire population. And that applies to so many immigrant communities in this -- in this country.

And so, my hope is that people will watch these episodes with a better understanding of our paths so that we can apply what we've learned, the mistakes that we've made so that we can move forward.

BROWN: Well Lisa Ling thank you so much. That is an inspiring message for sure. An all-new season of this is life with Lisa Ling premiers tonight at 10:00 only on CNN. Thanks so much Lisa.

Well she says the governor of Oklahoma has hijacked the GOP in her state, so now she's getting onboard with the Democrats. Still ahead, a lifelong Republican joins us t explain why the Grand Old Party is over for her.