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Southwest Passengers in Limbo over Cancellations; Dr. Megan Ranney is Interviewed about a new COVID Medication; Whistleblower on Capitol Insurrection Pens Letter; Schiff Says Committee will Receive Trump Documents Soon; Trump Pushes Big Lie and Signals 2024 Run. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired October 11, 2021 - 09:00   ET




John Berman, smiling after a big Boston win is what I love to see.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it was like five hours. It was -- it went on forever. I'm in bed at the end of the game. You know, it was lunchtime when I started watching it and I was in bed at the end of the game. It was just -- it was -- it was so fulfilling. So fulfilling.

WIRE: It was magical stuff.

BERMAN: All right, Coy, thank you very much.

And CNN's coverage continues right now.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Erica Hill. Jim is off today.

Happening right now, thousands of passengers are stranded at airports across the country after Southwest Airlines canceled hundreds of flights this morning. And that, of course, only adds to the chaos of the past 48 hours.

Take a look at this video. These are passengers last night at the Denver Airport. You see just waiting, looking at phones. Over the weekend, Southwest canceled more than 2,000 flights. Now, the company is blaming air traffic control problems, staffing and weather.

Let's get straight to CNN aviation correspondent Pete Muntean, who's been following all of this. He's at Reagan National Airport today.

So what more are you learning about these cancellations and what's really behind them, Pete?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica, this is a huge operational mess for Southwest Airlines. And this is not like they can get back to normal with the flip of a switch. This is really more akin to unplugging something and then plugging it back in again. You know, these problems that Southwest says started back on Friday because of air traffic control and weather issues prompted a rare statement from the Federal Aviation Administration saying that there were no such issues on Saturday and Sunday when Southwest experienced the lion's shares of its cancellations, 800 flights canceled by Southwest on Saturday, 1,100 flights on Sunday, about 30 percent of its total schedule.

So far we've seen about 348 cancellations so far today. That's about one in every ten flights. But this is really caused by a ripple effect, according to Southwest. It says that it left planes and passengers -- sorry, planes and crews out of position. In fact, some crews didn't even have hotel rooms when they got to where they needed to be, and that cascaded onto passengers.

The bottom line, thousands, tens of thousands, maybe 100,000 passengers stranded, and they are not happy about this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no explanation for this problem. So, I suspect that Southwest isn't being totally honest with us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Literally couldn't even sleep last night really just because we didn't know what was going to happen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Started looking through and there's just nothing, nothing, nothing for like the next few days.


MUNTEAN: Southwest says this is really compounded in a way by the pandemic. In a memo it sent to its employees, it said that flights are actually drawn down during its fall schedule and that planes have been packed with people. There are fewer planes flying right now, which is making it harder for this operation to recover all the way back to normal.

One more thing that's important to note here, Erica, is that there have been rumors flying online that Southwest pilots either did a sickout or a walk-out because of the company's recently announced vaccine mandate. And the Southwest Airlines Pilots' Association, its union, says that is not the case. No unofficial or official protests of any kind over the weekend. It says that really this is on Southwest and it says the company is being mismanaged.

HILL: Wow. And that is rough for travelers to hear as well as they continue to wait.

Pete Muntean, appreciate it. Thank you.

HILL: Also new this morning, significant developments in the fight against coronavirus. Drug maker Merck has just applied for Emergency Use Authorization for its new experimental antiviral drug. According to the company, a test result showed the drug cut the risk of hospitalization and death in half for people with mild to moderate disease.

Now, if approved, this would be the first oral medicine to fight viral covid infection.

Let's bring in now Dr. Megan Ranney, she's professor of emergency medicine and associate dean of public health at Brown University.

Always good to see you. So when we look at this news, how important could this pill be in the fight against COVID?

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, ASSOCIATE DEAN OF PUBLIC HEALTH, BROWN UNIVERSITY: This is one of those tools in the toolbox that we have just been lacking so far. You know, we have a couple of treatments right now that we can give to people who get sick with COVID, but they're either difficult to access and require IV infusions, like those monoclonal antibodies, or they are things that you have to wait until you're sick enough to be put in the hospital to get, things like Remdesivir and Dexamethasone. So having a pill that people can take at home when you know that they're high risk and they've caught COVID, that has the possibility to be transformational.

Now, there's two caveats here. The first is, is that it has so far been tested only in unvaccinated, high risk people. So we don't know how it's going to work for people who have been vaccinated and happen to catch COVID, although they're less high risk anyhow because of the vaccine, or how it's going to work in people who are not high risk.

The other caveat is that it's expensive and there's not going to be a lot of it.


So at least for the short-term, it's going to be in short supply and difficult to get. Longer term, I think this is going to be huge.

HILL: All right, so we'll keep an eye on that and also keep an eye to see what happens with that Emergency Use Authorization.

After weeks of slumping numbers, some good news on vaccinations. The average is now back up above a million shots going in arms a day. That's an important move forward. If we look at the eligible population, those 12 and older, more than 76 percent have had at least one shot. Hospitalizations are down. These are, you know, the bright spots that we all like to point to because, understandably, we all want to find that bright light at the end of the tunnel that tells us this pandemic is nearing an end.

You're more cautious, though.

RANNEY: I am. I feel like we have been trying to declare mission complete since Easter of 2020. Every time we do that, the virus evades us, gets stronger and causes another surge.

The wise thing to do today is to be proud of where we are. These statistics about vaccinations are terrific. We are certainly on the downward slope of the delta surge in many states, but still to stay wary. We're seeing increasing case counts in the mountain west and in some states in the northeast. We know that there are still a lot of folks who are unvaccinated in the U.S. And there are even more people who are unvaccinated across the globe.

So, the best thing for now is to keep our guard up but to feel very excited about where we are and hopeful for the future ahead.

HILL: I also do want to get your take on these studies that we saw involving pregnant women.

So a pair of new studies found that women who develop COVID-19 symptoms have a greater risk of emergency complications and other problems with their pregnancies as opposed to those who were infected and asymptomatic. And it also found that the children, that their unborn children could be put at risk here.

In England, unvaccinated pregnant women made up nearly a fifth of the most critically ill COVID-19 patients. We've been told that vaccines are safe for pregnant women. Do you think it's these kind of studies that could encourage more pregnant women to get the shot if they haven't already?

RANNEY: I'm hopeful. You know, I think back to when I was pregnant with my two kids, and I would have done anything to make sure that I had a healthy pregnancy and had healthy children at the end of it. I hope that these sorts of studies will help move the needle for some pregnant women who have been kind of on the fence and worried. But equally important is for them to hear personal stories from people who have been pregnant and gotten the vaccine during pregnancy or people who weren't pregnant, got the vaccine and got pregnant and had a healthy pregnancy anyhow. Facts are great. Stories also matter for those people who are still holdouts against getting the vaccine.

HILL: Dr. Megan Ranney, always great to have you with us. Thank you.

RANNEY: Thank you.

HILL: This morning, scathing new allegations leveled against the leadership of the U.S. Capitol Police Department. CNN has obtained a letter, penned by a whistleblower identified as a former high ranking official within the department. That 16-page document accuses Capitol Police Assistant Chief Yogananda Pittman and Acting Assistant Chief Sean Gallagher of inaction on the day of the insurrection.

CNN law enforcement correspondent Whitney Wild is following this for us.

So, Whitney, this whistleblower letter has some really damning allegations.

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: And very detailed as well, Erica. This report -- this letter, rather, was first reported by "Politico," and it claims that two of the top U.S. Capitol Police officers failed to act on January 6th as violence unfolded. The letter also says that former assistant -- excuse me, that former assistant chief now -- excuse me, former acting chief, now assistant chief, Yogananda Pittman lied to Congress earlier this year. And I know I stumbled a little bit over her title, but her title at the time was important because once the Capitol Police chief left, she assumed that role. So for a while she was in charge of the department.

The whistleblower says in the letter that they are a former high- ranking official with 31 years at the department. This person came forward because Assistant Chief Yogananda Pittman and Acting Assistant Chief Sean Gallagher played a role in disciplining officers for actions on January 6th. But this person feels they were never personally held fully accountable.

Some of the allegations mirror conclusions of other reports. But this letter takes particular aim at Pittman and Gallagher and further accuses Congress of failing to investigate those missteps.

One major issue here raised is that the allegation -- is the allegation that Assistant Chief Pittman hasn't been honest about how threat intelligence was shared. Specifically the whistleblower takes issue with what she told Senate investigators.

Let me bring you back a couple of months because, according to a Senate report released earlier this year, Pittman said the department had intelligence that showed as early as December 21st people were commenting on a blog about confronting law makers and were saying that they would consider bringing weapons to a rally on January 6th. Again, that information they had as early as December 21st.

Pittman told Senate investigators earlier this year that critical information was shared with command staff.


The whistleblower says that is not true.

Here's a quote from the letter. Never shared it with the rest of the department, particularly those commanders with real operational experience. If provided, this information would have changed the paradigm of that day.

A spokesman denied to "Politico" that Pittman denied to Congress, Erica.

HILL: There is -- there is so much in there, as you point out, and the details, and there's such a focus here on what this whistle-blower is saying this morning because of the concerns raised.

WILD: That's right. And as I said, there were so many details. As you point out, this is a 16-page letter. Another significant allegation is that once the fighting broke out, neither Pittman nor Gallagher took significant action. The whistleblower claims to have been inside the command center for some time on January 6th and said, quote, what I observed was them mostly sitting there blankly looking at TV screens showing real-time footage of the officers and officials fighting for the Congress.

A law enforcement source defended those two officials, saying they were focused on protecting lawmakers and, in the end, not one member of Congress was hurt. Overall, the U.S. Capitol Police executive team told CNN a lot has

changed since January 6th. Many of the problems outlined in this letter have been addressed under the new police chief, Tom Manger.


HILL: A lot in there to process, though.

Whitney, appreciate it. Thank you.

Congressman Adam Schiff says the January 6th committee will receive documents, meantime, from Donald Trump's presidency, quote, very soon. This as the Biden White House refused to assert executive privilege over those items.

CNN congressional correspondent Jessica Dean is with us now.

So, Jessica, do we know specifically what type of information the committee could soon receive?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica, we know that they want to look at these documents because they span the time leading up to the January 6th insurrection, and they want to get their hands on this as they start to piece together and in very specific detail all the moments, all the days leading up to what happened here on January 6th.

So they had requested these documents. It is important, as you noted, that President Biden has decided not to exert executive privilege over those documents. That means that they will be released to the January 6th committee. And in terms of timing, we learned recently over the weekend, Congressman Adam Schiff, who was on that committee, said that they do believe they'll be getting these soon. So this is all very important as they continue to work and move forward all of their work, trying to wrap this up as quickly as possible and going through a tremendous amount of detail.

Now, additionally, we did see Trump aide Dan Scavino finally served his subpoena. Erica, they have been trying to find him for some time now and had trouble subpoena him. But we're told that that was delivered to Mar-a-Lago. He was at home in New York, but allowed someone to accept it for him. We're told that he will be going through that with his lawyers and responding in a matter of days.


HILL: We will look forward of news of that response as well.

Jessica Dean, appreciate it. Thank you.

Still to come, President Trump quadrupling down on the big lie this weekend in Iowa of all places. By his side, as you can see there, top Republican Senator Chuck Grassley. What all of this says, what this picture says about not just 2022 but 2024.

Plus, a real-life spy story. A husband and wife duo arrested in an FBI sting operation, accused of trying to sell U.S. nuclear secrets to a foreign country. How a peanut butter sandwich figures into that story.

And, blastoff delayed, but William Shatner still very excited and a little nervous about his upcoming trip to space. I spoke with him and the Blue Origin crew this morning. That's ahead.



HILL: Former President Donald Trump back at it Saturday night, holding a campaign-style rally in Iowa signaling another run in 2024, repeating debunked claims of widespread voter election fraud and attacking members of his own party, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: First of all, he didn't get elected. OK, forget that. But some people said, oh, sir, it was COVID.

Hillary conceded. I never conceded. Never.

When you hear these numbers of swing states, there was no reason to concede. They should have conceded.

Mitch McConnell should have challenged that election, because even back then we had plenty of material to challenge that election. He should have challenged the election.


HILL: He should have challenged the election.

Joining me now to discuss, Republican strategist Doug Heye and Kirsten Powers, columnist for "U.S. Today" and CNN senior political analyst.

Good to see you both this morning.

So, Doug, as we --


HILL: Good morning.

As we -- as we look at and as we listen to what we're hearing from Donald Trump, I mean he's really just recycling his greatest hits at this point. But I think what really stood out on Saturday is the establishment -- more of the establishment getting on board.

So you have Chuck Grassley standing there with him. It's tough to forget that in the wake of January 6th, he called the insurrection, the riot on the Capitol, quote, an attack on democracy itself, and called out the role of Trump.

But now it seems that the platform for the party is to re-write history and, in effect, attack democracy, Doug. HEYE: Yes.

HILL: It's a -- it's quite a change.

HEYE: Well, it's quite a change. It's, obviously, troubling. And I'll tell you, having worked in Iowa politics myself on the 2012 caucus, if we go back to 2016, we see that Donald Trump said that that process was rigged. And what I would council Republicans, who are always hustling to pick up points with Donald Trump is, Donald Trump doesn't give points, he only takes them away one at a time. If you want to play Donald Trump's game, you've got to back him up constantly, which is what we're seeing now.

But if Donald Trump doesn't run for president in 2024, we could see 10, 15, maybe 20 Republicans running.


And with what we've seen from Trump's rhetoric after the Iowa caucus in 2016 and what we're seeing now is Republicans may be incentivized to deny ever losing, that the Iowa caucus is rigged, that the New Hampshire primary is fixed. That's going to cause major problems for the party, for the RNC, also for our republican democracy abroad as well.

HILL: And, look, I think, realistically, if he did decide to run in 2024, he could win, legitimately. And if he doesn't, he would likely still say he did. So there's also that part of the equation.

Kirsten, as we look at all of this, it's this sort of slow moving disaster, which should be lighting a fire under Democrats, right? They're rightfully concerned about the erosion of voting rights and access in a number of states. And yet what we have, really from Democrats, is this very public infighting. Should they be more engaged in this case?

KIRSTEN POWERS, COLUMNIST, "USA TODAY" AND CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that they are engaged. And, you know, infighting would be one way to put it. I would call it negotiating. You have different parts of the party that have different priorities, and they're negotiating to get their priorities included.

So really you have finally 48 Democrats who have come around and said that they support the president's agenda. They support the president -- the bill that the president wants, and you have two Democrats saying that they don't. And so I would say there's actually a lot of cohesiveness in the party, there's just two senators who are holding everything up. And so that's the hand that Joe Biden was given, but I don't think that that, you know, 48 senators agreeing on something is disarray. I think the problem is, is that he doesn't -- the president doesn't have 50 people that go along with him no matter what or, you know, ideally even more than that because of the filibuster.

HILL: But do you think there's enough concern within the -- but, separately, do you think there's enough concern within the Democratic Party about what we're seeing in terms of this narrative, right? You know, what if January 6th does turn out to be practice, right, of a failed coup? The consistent message that is eroding and really threatening democracy in this country, are Democrats paying that enough attention?

POWERS: I mean every Democrat I know is absolutely hair on fire concerned about it. So I think that it's certainly something that -- whether it's rank and file Democrats or whether it's people who are in power, absolutely. It's a grave concern. It's why there's a January 6th committee. They're trying to prevent something like that from happening in the future. It's not just to investigate what happened just to say Donald Trump incited this. It's to actually prevent it. To find out, how did this happen and how can we prevent it from happening in the future.

It's -- and it's not just Democrats. I think many people who -- you know, many Republicans, many independents are very, very concerned about the state of this country and the fact that democracy is so clearly under attack by the former president.

HILL: To that point, there is an op-ed in "The New York Times" today from former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman and Miles Taylor. And, Doug, they write, that it's going to be tough for many lifelong Republicans, but they are urging Republicans to elect Democrats, moderate Democrats in 2022, saying democracy is not a game, which is why when push comes to shove, patriotic conservatives should put country over party.

HEYE: Yes, look --

HILL: How effective do you think that will be, Doug?

HEYE: Not terribly.

Look, this is a bleak election outlook for Republican -- for Democrats right now. They're already nervous about what the midterms are going to be. If Terry McAuliffe loses in Virginia, they're going to be hitting panic -- panic buttons.

And we saw Terry McAuliffe just yesterday with Dana Bash ducking her tough questions on when he called the 2000 presidential election stolen. Stacey Abrams is talking about stolen elections too. Donald Trump is the biggest megaphone, but Democrats are also weakening our confidence in elections as well.

But, again, back to the midterm elections, this is -- this looks to be very bad for Democrats. It's a year out. It's a long time. But Joe Biden's numbers continue to go down, down, down, and Democrats are increasingly nervous about a House pickup for Republicans and potentially a Senate as well.

HILL: Doug Hyde, Kirsten Powers, we have to leave it there. But, obviously, a conversation we are not really done with. Thank you both.

HEYE: Thank you.

POWERS: Thank you. HILL: Still to come, a paraplegic man is pulled violently from his car by police. This happened in Ohio. That disturbing video, you're seeing some of it now, and what police are saying now about the arrest. That's next.

Plus, we are moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Stocks set to open lower this morning as investigators mull signs of inflation, particularly when it comes to the price of oil and gas. Analysts are concerned supply chain issues that are spread throughout the world will shrink profits and limit demand due to the holiday. Investigators won't really get a good reading on Treasury yields, which have been driving stock market action in recent days.



HILL: A black paraplegic man from Ohio has now filed a complaint with the NAACP after body cam video was released showing Dayton Police officers pulling him out of his car by his hair and arms during a traffic stop last month. In the video, 39-year-old Clifford Owensby can be heard requesting a, quote, white shirt.


Now that's shorthand for a police supervisor. The officer, though, says he'll only call one after Owensby gets out of the car.

I'm going to show you part of that encounter, but I do want to