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Passengers in Limbo as Southwest Cancels 2,000-Plus Flights in U.S.; Trump Pushes Big Lie, Signals 2024 Run at Iowa Rally; COVID Cases and Hospitalizations Plunge in U.S. as Vaccinations Rise. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired October 11, 2021 - 10:00   ET




ERICA HILL, CNN NEWSROOM: A good Monday morning. I'm Erica Hill. Jim is off today.

Chaos at airports across the country this morning, Southwest Airlines has now canceled nearly more than 350 flights today, all of this, as you can see on your screen there, adds to the more than 2,000 -- nearly 2,000 canceled flights over the weekend. Thousands of passengers impacted here.

The company says it's due to air traffic control problems, staffing and weather. But the Southwest Pilots Union is insisting its pilots didn't cause delays. There were questions about that in terms of staffing. And the FAA actually says there weren't any staffing shortages reported since Friday. So what's the real story here?

Let's get straight to CNN Aviation Correspondent Pete Muntean, who's been following all of these developments. He's at Reagan National Airport this morning just outside of D.C.

So, what is the story behind these cancelations?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a big operational mess for Southwest Airlines, Erica. It's not like flipping on a switch to get it back to normal. This is more like the airline needs to unplug it and plug it back in again because it says these problems all started back on Friday when there were weather and air traffic control issues.

But what's so interesting, as you mentioned, the Federal Aviation Administration put out a statement saying there were no weather or agency issues on Saturday and Sunday when Southwest experienced the lion's share of cancelations and delays. It canceled 800 flights on Saturday, 1,100 nights on Sunday, about a third of its schedule overall for the day. So far, it's canceled about 350 flights today, that's about one in every ten flights.

But, really, there is a ripple effect, Southwest says, that put planes and people in the wrong spots. In fact, some flight crews didn't even have hotels and that left tens of thousands of passengers in the lurch in these long lines, scrambling to get on new flights, also waiting on hold for hours 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: I barely couldn't even sleep last night, really, just because we didn't know what was going to happen.

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


MUNTEAN: We have obtained a new memo from Southwest Airlines' management in which it tells employees that this was actually made harder because most of these problems started in Florida, really a central part of Southwest Airlines' network, but also because the airline is a lot smaller now than it was before the pandemic. In fact, transportation statistics show that there are about 7,000 fewer Southwest Airlines workers than there were back in 2019 before this whole mess really started.

You know, the pilots here have become so central to this narrative because they are saying that this is not on them. There were these rumors swirling online earlier in the weekend that there may have been some sort of sickout protest because of the airline's recently announced vaccine mandate for workers. These workers, these pilots, these Southwest Airline Pilots Association says this is not because of them. There were no protests. And they're really saying that the airline is mismanaged and that's what's causing all these problems, Erica.

HILL: Yes. In the meantime, there are a lot of people who just want to get on a plane and go where they need to go, a lot going on there. Pete Muntean, I appreciate it. Thank you.

Well, the investigation into the January 6th insurrection is really ramping up this week. Congressman Adam Schiff says the select committee will receive documents from Trump's presidency, quote, very soon. Meantime, CNN has obtained a letter penned by a whistleblower identified as a former high-ranking official within the Capitol Police Department, and that letter contains scathing allegations, leveling against leadership of the U.S. Capitol Police Department, accusing Capitol Police Assistant Chief Yogonanda Pittman and acting Assistant Chief Sean Gallagher of inaction on the day of the insurrection.

CNN Law Enforcement Correspondent Whitney Wild is following this. And these allegations are damning, Whitney, and also very detailed in the letter. What are the accusations?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, this really centers on two main accusations. In this letter, we should point out, 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 the violence unfolded. The letter also says former assistant chief -- excuse me, former acting chief, now-Assistant Chief Yogonanda Pittman lied to Congress earlier this year.

The whistleblower says in the letter that they are a former high- ranking officer with 31 years at Capitol police. This person came forward because now Assistant Chief Yogananda Pittman and Acting Assistant Chief Sean Gallagher played a role in disciplining officers for actions on January 6th but feels that they were never personally fully held accountable. Some allegations are near conclusions of other reports but this letter takes particular aim at Pittman and Gallagher and also accuses Congress of failing to investigate those missteps.


One major issue raised 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. According to a Senate report earlier this year, Pittman said the department had intelligence that showed as early as December 21st the department knew people were commenting on a blog about confronting lawmakers and about bringing weapons to the rally on January 6th. She said that information was shared with command staff. The whistleblower says that is not true.

Here's a quote, never shared 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 lied to Congress, Erica.

HILL: That is already a lot. I know that's not the end of it though. I mean, 16 pages, there's lot in here.

WILD: That's right. Another significant allegation is that once the fighting broke out, neither Pittman nor Gallagher took specific action. The whistleblower claims to have been inside the command center for some time on January 6th and said, what I observed was them mostly sitting there blankly looking at T.V. 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 points out even in the end not one member of Congress was hurt.

Overall, the U.S. Capitol police executive team, which includes Gallagher and Pittman, told CNN a lot has changed since January 6th, many of the problems outlined in the letter have been addressed under the new Police Chief Tom Manger, Erica.

HILL: Not the last we will hear about this matter, that's for sure. Whitney Wild, I appreciate the reporting. Thank you.

While the investigation into what happened on January 6th is still very much ongoing, former President Trump took the stage at a rally in Iowa over the weekend where he continued to rewrite history and push his repeated false claims of widespread voter fraud while also, once again, teasing a 2024 reelection bid. As the former president, though, won't let go of that already debunked election conspiracies, there's a real question about whether he's hurting Republicans' chances of making major gains in next year's midterms.

Joining me now to discuss, CNN Political Commentator Errol Louis, Political Anchor for Spectrum News, and CNN Presidential Historian Douglas Brinkley. Good to see both of you this morning.

So, Errol, a recent Pew Research poll shows that 44 percent of Republicans want Trump to run again in 2024. You've said though they should be careful what they wish for. Why?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely, because many of the actions that candidate Trump will take -- and I think we have got a preview of it in this rally last night -- it's not going to work to the benefit of the rest of the ticket. Donald Trump is out for Donald Trump and he's pretty good at that, but this is the same person who managed to lose the party's control of the White House and both Houses of Congress in two years. He was enormously unpopular when he was voted out of office. He lost states that Republican hadn't lost in a generation, Arizona and Georgia. He's heading potentially for a repeat of that disastrous performance.

And so those who like the rallies and they like applause lines and they think he's a winning candidate should really look at the numbers and look at where they stand right now in national politics and not just try and rely on past patterns. You know, the past pattern is that the party in power, in this case, the Democrats, will lose a lot of seats in the midterm. That's not necessarily the case. And if they make Donald Trump the central figure in the midterm election, they are really playing with fire.

HILL: There are a lot of -- you think things need to play out, 2022 among them before we see if Donald Trump will make a run in 2024. But even if he did run, Douglas Brinkley, as we're looking at this, look, he could very well win in 2024. And even if he didn't win in 2024, chances are he would once again say that he did. The difference, though, four years later is sort of how much prep work has been to continue to recycle that lie and get people on board and what that could mean come 2024 should he run, should he win or not win and claim he did. And there are real concerns this morning about the future of American democracy.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, Erica, there are. Look, it's clear Donald Trump is running in 2024. Now, something a medical or legal problem might hinder him. Otherwise, it's all systems go. What does that mean? It means Trump is going to use the big lie, he's going to use what seems to be the biggest dent in his armor as his biggest asset.

That's what Vince Lombardi, the great football coach, used to do, who Trump admires so much, which is attack your opponent at their strongest spot. That's what the Republicans did with John Kerry when they swift-boated him.


Kerry had won three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, Silver Star, but the George W. Bush forces went after whether he was a real Vietnam War hero.

Trump can't hide from the big lie, so he's going to try to own it and make that and the border between the United States and Mexico as his big issues. And you're starting to see the rally mania in Iowa beginning this early. I thought it would at least wait until 2023, but, alas, Trump is restless and he is the Republican Party. There is no Republicanism without Donald Trump.

HILL: You're also seeing more staunch Republicans jump on board with this big lie and revisionist history. I mean, we just Chuck Grassley there, who, in the wake of January 6th, called that an attack on the American democracy, called out the president for his role in inciting that violence, and yet here he is, you know, courting the president for his own political benefit and standing there on stage with him.

Errol, what was interesting to me too is we have this op-ed in The New York Times today from former Governor Christine Todd Whitman and Miles Taylor calling on Republicans to vote for Democrats, centrist Democrats, giving a list of who would be the smart candidates to support in 2022, and probably specifically any, quote, rational remnants of the GOP.

I wonder if you would envision sort of Democrats and Republicans coming together here in a moment like that. Is that still possible today, Errol?

LOUIS: It's possible, Erica, but it's highly unlikely. You know, the rational Republicans are a small and shrinking tribe. They're all but extinct in many parts of the country. Politics is not just a matter of listing your preferences and then rationally picking the candidate who's going to bring you those items. There's passion. There's personality. There's an element of, frankly, mob sentiment if you look at really how people do politics, in particular, how Donald Trump tries to stir up crowds.

I mean, what happened on January 6th was not a rational outbreak. And yet you see all of these officials who ought to know better pledging allegiance to this big lie and to this notion that January 6th was no big deal.

So, you know, Governor Whitman, I certainly appreciate what she is saying, but that's not how this has played out ever in American history. I'm sure Doug can clarify that. I mean, it's just not the way we do things. When everything is at stake, rationality often goes out the window. We'll see if the party can snatch it back from the brink but I wouldn't be too hopeful about that.

HILL: When we look at historical perspective, I mean, let's look at this turn for the Republican Party and so many embracing, again, I don't think we can say it enough, the rewriting of history, the big lie that former President Trump is pushing and requiring as part of this guilty pledge. If we look at that in a historical context and what it could lead to, is there something you can point to, Douglas, that could serve perhaps as a model for what's coming our way if we don't pay attention?

BRINKLEY: Well, we -- no, there's nothing. We've been using the word unprecedented for about two years right now. We have to realize that Donald Trump is a one-man revolution. You're either with Trump or against him. This idea of a Democrat or Republican is in its own sense a bit antiquated. It's either you're with Trump or against Trump.

The problem is that means he's still controlling our media sphere, our talking points. Joe Biden is now at 38 percent in the polls. Now, I suspect he's going to rise once a big financial package deal on Capitol Hill finally gets pulled together some, but the economy shows woeful signs and that Trump is just licking his lips to go after Joe Biden.

So, we are in a kind of peril in our country. Washington, D.C. is broken and dysfunctional. People don't trust Congress. And it's a ripe environment for an authoritarian like Donald Trump who uses misinformation and lies to kind of rise to the top. That's how fascist dictators around the world have always been able to pull off sometimes just irrational statements and views, but the people are voting on personality, not policy points. And Trump represents nativism and bigotry, which are strong in the country right now.

HILL: Douglas Brinkley, Errol Louis, I always appreciate you joining us. Thank you.

LOUIS: Thank you.

HILL: Still to come, the FDA now considering the first coronavirus antiviral drug for emergency use authorization. So what could that mean in the fight against COVID-19? That's next.

Plus, this one is straight out of a spy thriller. A former U.S. navy nuclear engineer accused of trying to pass classified information to another country hidden on an S.D. card inside, what else, a peanut butter sandwich.


And 90-year-old actor William Shatner talks about the fears and preparation ahead of Blue Origin's latest mission to space later this week. More from my chat with the crew, ahead this hour.


HILL: How about a little good news on this Monday morning? Two trends heading in the right direction in the fight against COVID. Case rates, look at this, that is a whole lot of green on that map.


New cases of over the last seven days in 45 states are at steady or declining compared to the previous week. And vaccinations are up. The latest CDC report shows the U.S. is now averaging more than a million new doses a day over the past week.

Now, that's not the only good news. This morning, CNN learned drug maker Merck has now officially applied for emergency use authorization for its new antiviral drug. Study results from the drug maker suggest it can cut the risk of hospitalization and death in half for people with mild to moderate disease.

I'm joined now Dr. Amy Compton-Philips, she's the chief clinical officer at Providence Health System in Seattle. Always good to have you with us.

When we look at those headlines, it feels great, right, especially the Merck news. How important do you think an EUA for that pill would be in the fight against COVID?

DR. AMY COMPTON PHILLIPS, CHIEF CLINICAL OFFICER, PROVIDENCE HEALTH SYSTEM: It would be such a bright light to have a pill you can take orally. We have had now for a little bit two different treatments for COVID or in the earlier stages, both the Remdesivir, one of the very early drugs that we had last fall or last spring and then the antibody therapies. Both of those have to be given I.V. And so they're a lot more complicated and people tend to be a little sicker before you actually give them.

This drug, though, it's by mouth. And so you can give it to anybody who has any kind of risk for having severe disease so it makes it much more accessible, much more reliable and really gives us hope.

HILL: So, That's the great news. It's also good that we're seeing an uptick in vaccinations. Your message though to folks who may say, okay, well, soon there is going to be a pill. So if I get the virus, I don't really need to worry about a vaccine because I can just take a pill. Is that really the right approach?

PHILLIPS: No. The right approach is to get the vaccine. I mean, can you imagine, think back to the '50s, if we said, we have got treatments for polio, don't worry about it, well, there's all kinds of complications that come with having a virus that doesn't get treated. So, why take that risk? If you get the vaccine, don't get the virus in the first place. If you do somehow either get the virus before you're vaccinated or if you have a breakthrough infection and you're at high risk, well, then the pill is a great backup treatment.

HILL: FDA advisers are meeting at the end of this week to talk about applications from Moderna and J&J for booster shots. There's also been a lot of talk about whether you could ultimately -- right, if all three shots or vaccines, rather, are authorized for booster shots, could you mix and match? How much of a focus do you expect that to be at these meetings?

PHILLIPS: I do think it will be really looking at lot of data from other countries. And so in places like the U.K. and Canada and Israel, they have had a mix and match strategy, and they've shown that there's good effect from that. And so the question is what will the data finally show in the analysis that look at whether or not you get better, worse, or the same kind of benefit from mixing and matching the various types of vaccines.

HILL: There's a lot of focus coming up on the holidays, which are coming at us very quickly, I should say, and where we're going to be as a country. I mean, what's your best guess at this point in terms of how we should be planning for the months ahead?

PHILLIPS: Well, my guess is that people should absolutely protect themselves. If you're going to be traveling, make sure you get vaccinated, make sure that you -- if you happen to get vaccinated last spring, and it was well over six months ago, and you are in a high risk category, if you're over 65, or if you have a chronic condition and you're over 50, get a booster, right?

So there's ways you can protect yourself before you go, wear an N-95 mask on a plane if you're going to be around a crowded situation with a lot of people. Wash your hands a lot and go get back to your life, enjoy your family, enjoy being together again, because now we have the tools that can allow us to do that.

HILL: Dr. Amy Compton Phillips, thank you.

PHILLIPS: Thank you.

HILL: Still ahead, how the FBI went undercover targeting a former U.S. navy engineer and his wife and the classified information they're now accused of trying to steal.



HILL: A yearlong undercover FBI investigation has led to the arrest of a U.S. navy nuclear engineer and his wife for allegedly to sell U.S. nuclear secrets to a foreign country in exchange for cryptocurrency.

Joining me now is Devlin Barrett, National Security Reporter for The Washington Post, who first reported on the alleged espionage plot.

It's got all kinds of interesting things in here. I told you briefly in a break, the peanut butter sandwich made me think of encyclopedia brown or something. But the reality is it is -- this engineer had access to information, very sensitive information on nuclear-powered warships. What specifically was it at risk here?

DEVLIN BARRETT, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: So, it's the design and function and sort of all the U.S. government data they have about how these high-tech nuclear submarines work. And what's amazing about what's contained in the court papers is they say he secretly squirreled these pages out of government installations over a period of years, a few pages at a time, until he had thousands of pages to offer.

HILL: And did it in that specific manner so as to avoid detection because he had sort of learned in the course of his job, right, what he should be looking out for to find someone who was doing exactly that.