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Trump Continues To Peddle The Big Lie As GOP Embraces Him; Capitol Police Whistleblower Alleges Jan. 6 Leadership Failures; Merck Seeks FDA Emergency Use Authorization For Experimental Antiviral COVID-19 Pill; Allen West Says He Has COVID-19, Slams CDC & Mandates In Online Rant. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired October 11, 2021 - 15:00   ET




VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST; Top of a brand-new hour. I'm Victor Blackwell.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: I'm Alisyn Camerota. Thank you for joining us on this special holiday edition of CNN NEWSROOM.

We begin with the ongoing threat to democracy unfolding in real time. Donald Trump still trying to sell his Big Lie that the 2020 election was somehow stolen from him, though he was defeated by Joe Biden.

It's not just his rabid supporters going along with this lie. It's also top establishment Republicans.

Seven-term Senator Chuck Grassley standing side by side with the losing ex-president on stage at a Des Moines rally on Saturday.

BLACKWELL: And Trump's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, is defying the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th election. He says he won't cooperate.

Just how aggressive will the committee be in his search for the truth. Here's one of the two GOP members on the panel.


REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL) It gets to a point we're stonewalling, and we're not serious. There's contempt things you can file. You can do it through Congress. You can do it through the DOJ, criminal contempt. I think that's our leaning is to say criminal contempt.

There's going to be some days I pray and hope people wake up from this sort of Donald Trump buzz/hangover/drunken thing going on and realize that the country is actually pretty important.


BLACKWELL: Let's get into it now with CNN senior legal analyst, and former federal and state prosecutor, Elie Honig.

Elie, let's first start with the content here. What the committee can learn from these documents that the members are seeking.

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Victor, so we done know exactly what's in these documents. But we have a couple of hints that suggest this could be a gold mine.

Two things. First of all, the documents in dispute, they're from the National Archives. That means these are documents that show the internal deliberations, conversations within the White House.

You want to go to the heart of what was going on January 6th, how Donald Trump was reacting, that's going to be in the documents.

The second thing is there are 45 pages of documents about that Donald Trump's lawyers have singled out and said we want to block those. We're claiming executive privilege on 45 documents out of thousands.


And the former prosecutor in me is thinking, gee, why those 45 documents?

So this could be a really important fight.

CAMEROTA: So when we hear about Donald Trump's inner circle, such as Steve Bannon, saying they're not going to comply with the subpoena, that's out of order.

I mean, usually in America, we comply with subpoenas. We know how law and order, and law enforcement works. However, they're thumbing their nose at these things.

Really, what teeth do these things have? When you hear the congressman there say, well, there could be a contempt charge filed by Congress, does that have teeth? I mean, what can they do criminally?

HONIG: Yes, Alisyn, there's two things. There's civil charges. As Representative Kinzinger just said, they can go to a judge asking order testimony. That takes forever. That takes more time than the committee has.

They can refer the case to DOJ. But it's DOJ that gets to decide whether to file criminal charges, not Congress.

Alisyn, picking up on the frustration in your voice I share and a lot of people share because there's just no consequences to any of this thus far.

We've seen Congress get slow played. We have seen justice take a gentle path thus far. DOJ, historically, has not charged these kinds of contempt-of-Congress cases.

So the question is, who's going to step up here, who's going to show resolve or backbone? Will it be the committee, DOJ and Merrick Garland, or will it be nobody?

CAMEROTA: Elie Honig, thank you very much.

HONIG: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: So, as Doanld Trump has stonewalled the insurrection investigation, we're learning alarming new details about alleged failures by senior leaders of the Capitol Police in the lead up and the aftermath of January 6th.

BLACKWELL: CNN law enforcement correspondent, Whitney Wild, is with us.

Whitney, we know these allegations are coming from a whistleblower who was a former high-ranking Capitol Police official, right?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And this person has 31 years on the department, so well versed in how the department works and is supposed to work.

This letter obtained by CNN and first reported by "Politico" 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 that former Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman lied to Congress earlier this year.

The whistleblower says in the letter that -- again, they're a former high-ranking officer, they have three decades. They know how this place works.

The person came forward because Assistant Chiefs Yogananda Pittman, and Acting Chief Sean Gallagher played a role in disciplining officers on January 6th, but the whistleblower believes they were never fully held personally accountable.

Some of the allegations mirror conclusions from other reports. Some of the allegations in this lengthy letter --it's 16 pages, extremely detailed.

The letter really takes particular aim at Pittman and Gallagher. And it accuses Congress of failing to investigate their missteps -- Victor, Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: So, Whitney, explain this. One major issue raised is the allegation that the assistant chief, Pittman, had not been honest about how the threat intelligence was shared.

WILD: That's right. As the Capitol Police chief left, she was in command of the department for several months. So she was acting chief.

In her role as acting chief, she had to testify in front of the Senate and other committees and tell people what happened.

Specifically the whistleblower took issue with what she told Senate investigators. And according to a Senate report, Pittman said the department had

intelligence that showed as early as December 21st people were commenting on a blog about confronting lawmakers and bringing weapons to the rally on January 6th.

That was an important report. She said that very critical information was shared with command staff. Now, 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 lied to Congress, but it's a very startling accusation.

BLACKWELL: There's 16 pages. You say this letter goes on. What else did this whistleblower say in those pages?

WILD: It zeros in on another very specific theme. It's this allegation that, once the fighting broke out, neither Pittman nor Gallagher took significant action.

The whistleblower claims to have been in the command center, at the very center of what the leadership was during.

And during the time that person was in there, the person said, "What I observed was them mostly sitting there, looking blankly at TV screens showing footage of the officers and officials fighting for the Congress."

A law enforcement source defended the two officials, saying they were focused on protecting lawmakers and reiterating the fact that not one member of Congress was hurt.

Overall, the U.S. Capitol Police executive team, which includes Assistant Chief Yogananda Pittman and Acting Assistant Chief Sean Gallagher, told CNN that a lot has changed since January 6th, a lot of the problems outlined in that letter have been addressed under new police chief, Tom Manger -- Victor, Alisyn?


BLACKWELL: All, right, Whitney Wild for us in Washington.

Thank you, Whitney.

Let's talk about January 6th and all that's happened then.

Let's back up and talk about how we got here on the day of the riot, the one that forced lawmakers out of the House and Senate chambers and into safe rooms.

GOP Senator Chuck Grassley condemned it on an attack on American democracy. And weeks later, he told the truth. He said, "The reality is, he lost the election." Speaking of the former president.

He and other Republicans seemed to be questioning Trump's place as the head of the party.

But here is Grassley now, excusing the former president's attempt to twist the Justice Department into overturning Joe Biden's win.


SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA): He listened to the testimony, and in the end, he decided he wasn't willing to do what one of those people in the Justice Department urged him to do.

Which was he wanted them to send letters to all the state legislatures, reactivate your state legislatures, and get a whole new set of intelligence, but he rejected all of that.

And they're trying to make it a scenario that he was trying to get the Justice Department for the state.


BLACKWELL: We learned from a Judiciary report that he rejected it because DOJ officials threatened to resign en masse.

But here again is Senator Grassley and the ex-president this weekend, side by side.

Grassley, who's running for an eighth term, making it clear why he wants to get Trump's support.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm thrilled to announce tonight that Senator Chuck Grassley has my complete and total endorsement for reelection.


GRASSLEY: If I didn't accept the endorsement of a person that's got 91 percent of the Republican voters in Iowa, I wouldn't be too smart. I'm smart enough to accept that endorsement.


BLACKWELL: Let's talk about this with former Republican Congresswoman Barbara Comstock of Virginia, and Dean Obeidallah, an opinion contributor to And he's the author of a new op-ed for, with the headline, "The Most Alarming Trump Rally Yet."

Thank you for joining me, both of you.

And, Dean, I want to start with you.

These allegations, we have heard them before. On stage, you had the Iowa governor, two Republican members of the House, and the senior Senator, the center of the establishment there of the party in Washington, Chuck Grassley/

Why is this, then, the most alarming Trump rally yet?

DEAN OBEIDALLAH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: First of all, Victor, thanks for having me on.

We're amazed we're seeing hypocrisy by Republicans. We haven't seen that before. It's stunning, isn't it?

The reality is every Trump rally since January 6th has been alarming. And Donald Trump is spewing the same lies that radicalized people on January 6th.

The prior rallies they were not the leading establishment Republicans. It was the Marjorie Taylor Greenes. That changed Saturday. In Iowa, you had the governor, Chuck Grassley, members of Congress.

Chuck Grassley, and two other members of Congress condemned Trump around January 6th. Now they're too happy to sit up there and suck in the support from his base. And you don't have to be a story to get this.

It's alarming when the party is defined by blind loyalty to their leader. What's Trump's move next? It's alarming because now the establish has come in and completely endorsed Donald Trump's lies.

By the way, a half hour of his speech was lies about the election, including saying Joe Biden didn't even win the election. This is dangerous talk.

BLACKWELL: Barbara, let's talk about that dangerous talk that Chuck Grassley seemed to put to the side when he said, listen, 91 percent of the Republicans in Iowa -- and we saw that from the latest "Des Moines Register" poll --support the former president, the smart thing to do would be to accept that endorsement.

Your reaction to seeing Grassley on stage with the former president.

BARBARA COMSTOCK, (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN FOR VIRGINIA: As you know, I'm in the camp of Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney in terms of supporting the January 6th committee.

I tweeted, and I was seen on TV on January 7th saying, let's subpoena all of Trump's records, his phone records, text records, everything immediately.

So, yes, it's frustrating for me to see this go on, and each rally is worse.

And what's also frustrating to me is how slow it is taking this January 6th committee to operate.

If I had been in Nancy Pelosi's shoes, and I remind everyone I am a Republican, I would have been putting that committee together immediately. I would have been having whatever standing committee subpoena all those documents of Donald Trump. [15:15:03]

BLACKWELL: But, Congresswoman --

COMSTOCK: The committee is so important, and Democrats need to --


BLACKWELL: Let me jump in here, Congresswoman.

I hear you saying the committee is slow. But the documents, the testimony that's requested, they're slow walking it. They're not responding.

So is that really the fault of the committee?

COMSTOCK: No, but it's incumbent Democrats now, because Republicans aren't going to do it, except Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger and the like.

But you need to hold -- the contempt report for Steve Bannon should have been written. I would have already filed it and set the date for the committee to vote on it and get it to the floor.

And Nancy Pelosi should be saying, yes, I will speed that right to the floor and get it over to the Justice Department. They need to be subpoenaing all of those records.

And I think your earlier guest, who talked about some of the good records that are going to be in those archives, I think there will be good records there.

Because I think those people in the counsel's office are probably going to cover themselves well by saying, we warned the president this was illegal or unconstitutional.

They're going to have made a record, I expect, I think. I certainly hope that they made that record, and those records will be there.

But the committee, unfortunately, has to do this themselves with the help of a few of the Republicans.

BLACKWELL: Let's remember that Republicans had the opportunity to support a 9/11-style commission. They did not. Republicans who were put on this committee then said they would not join the committee.

So you have two Republicans. There have been Republican obstructionists on this committee.


BLACKWELL: Congresswoman, let me stay with you.

And, Dean, I'm going to come back to you.

Five months ago, we were having a conversation, and you were one of 100 Republicans who signed on to this letter saying that you were calling it, "the forces of conspiracy, division, despotism in your party."

"And if you "could not reimagine the party to the founding ideals, you would hasten an alternative."

What happened to that? Was that just a press release or were you all going to make that real?

COMSTOCK: You have seen people come out today, Miles Taylor, and former Governor Whitman had an op-ed talking about some of the candidates they're going to support.

I have served on a board to elect Republican women where we specifically did not and will not support a Marjorie Taylor Greene or Lauren Boebert. And we're looking for --


BLACKWELL: This was about changing the party or starting another one. It's five months, and it's worse.


COMSTOCK: Listen, the Democrat Party is kind of a mess right now, which is why you look at a state like Iowa, where Biden has cratered, because they're moving so far left.

What I'm trying to do --


BLACKWELL: But this is about the Republican Party. That's what your organization was about, changing the Republican Party --


BLACKWELL: -- or starting another one. It's been five months, your party's worse. There have been no changes from those folks.

Dean, let me come back to you in the time we have left.

COMSTOCK: Well, listen, we have people on the committee who are trying to get to the truth. And I think that's important to do that.


All right, Dean, the near common denominator -- no offense, Congresswoman -- was that the people on that list are not in power, with the exception of Liz Cheney or Adam Kinzinger, Mitt Romney, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, pushing against this part of the party.

As we get closer to 2022, where are these voices coming from that we're going to stop what we're watching?

OBEIDALLAH: There's nothing. And 91 percent of Republicans in Iowa, in the polls you mentioned, love Donald Trump. The GOP is the party of Trump.

This GOP is now democracies die. It is embracing authoritarianism. It has embraced violence.

A CBS poll, in July, said 55 percent of Trump supporters view January 6th as an act defending freedom. That should send shivers down the spine of anyone who believes in our democracy.

This GOP has been politically crushed to save our democracy. That's the blunt reality. Historians are saying this.

People are yelling at us to look at this for what it is, an authoritarian/Fascist movement. It can happen here. People don't think it can. It's happening, Victor.

I think people have to unite, regardless of party affiliation. If you're pro-democracy, stand up against this anti-democratic movement.

BLACKWELL: All right, Dean Obeidallah, and former Congresswoman Barbara Comstock, thank you.

COMSTOCK: Thank you.

OBEIDALLAH: Thank you.


BLACKWELL: So the FDA is now considering the first coronavirus antiviral drug for emergency use authorization. What that could mean in the fight against COVID-19.


BLACKWELL: This morning, Merck applied for FDA emergency use authorization for its experimental antiviral pill to fight COVID-19.

In a clinical trial of more than 700 volunteers with early stage COVID, half were given the drug, half given the placebo.

And of those folks given the antiviral pill, just 28 ended in the hospital. No one died.

CAMEROTA: Compared to 45 people who were hospitalized after taking the placebo pill, and eight deaths.

Merck says this pill cuts the risk of hospitalization and death in half among participants.


If authorized, this pill would become the first at-home treatment for COVID.

CNN medical analyst, Dr. Leana Wen, joins us now.

This is promising news. But we've thought we had other promising news. Where are you on this antiviral?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I think this is a big deal. And the reason, Alisyn, is that we have to come to terms with the fact that we will be living with COVID-19 for the foreseeable future.

We're not going to get rid of it. And so we have to figure out how can we reduce the harm that COVID-19 can cause.

We know there are some people who are just not going to get vaccinated. And to prevent them from overwhelming the hospitals, if they take a pill that reduces their likelihood of being hospitalized, that's really important.

Also, breakthrough infections can and will happen.

If this pill ends up getting authorized by the FDA and it does what it says it does, which is that it reduces the chance of hospitalization or death by half, that's really significant.

And we should say this is not replacing the need for vaccination, but rather it adds one more really important tool as we figure out how can we live with COVID-19.

BLACKWELL: You make the point it does not replace the vaccine but do you believe there's potential as significant negative impact on getting people vaccinated if there's a pill, if I get COVID, I can take and it will keep me out of the hospital and keep me alive, I'll just wait in case I need it.

WEN: I think that already is the mindset that many people have when it comes to other aspects of medicine, which we should use that analogy.

I mean, I don't think it's a good idea for people to say, well, we can get a quadruple bypass if I end up having bad heart disease, I'm not going to watch my diet or take medications for high blood pressure and diabetes. Obviously, prevention is still going to be the best medicine.

While there are some people who probably are not going to get vaccinated anyway or might use this pill to justify their reasoning, I don't think that that is a reason for us to not have this pill that, potentially, saves a lot of lives.

CAMEROTA: That leads us to former congressman, now Texas gubernatorial candidate, Allen West, who appears happy to use precious hospital resources this past weekend.

He contracted COVID, along with his wife. He was unvaccinated. She was vaccinated. She's been released from the hospital.

He got the monoclonal antibodies. Might both have gotten them. He got the monoclonal antibodies at the hospital.

And he had an interesting lesson that he took away from this. He tweeted, "I can attest that, after this experience, I am even more dedicated to fighting against vaccine mandates." "Instead of enriching the pockets of big pharma and corrupt bureaucrats and politicians, we should be advocating the monoclonal antibody infusion therapy."

But isn't the monoclonal antibody infusion therapy also made by big pharma? What do you think of his logic here?

WEN: Yes, it really doesn't really make sense.

I mean, I'm glad that he's doing better. I'm glad he's a proponent for monoclonal antibodies, which is an infusion therapy that costs thousands of dollars. And it also requires extensive resources.

You can't infuse yourself. You have to go into a health care setting, a clinic or a health care setting in order to get this treatment.

Ideally, though, you want to prevent from contracting COVID-19 in the first place. This is where things have just gotten so confused.

Ideally, you want to get the vaccine to prevent from contracting COVID. The vaccine substantially reduces your risk of being hospitalized or dying.

I think a lot of us believe, on top of that, if you were still to get ill, you still want to get the best treatment possible.

So monoclonal antibodies a good option right now. Also this oral pill made by Merck and others that are coming. But this really should be used together. Treatment does not replace the need for prevention.

CAMEROTA: Thanks for explaining all of that.

Dr. Leana Wen, great to talk to you.

BLACKWELL: Thank you, Doctor.

CAMEROTA: Not this incredible story. A 3-year-old Texas boy is back home after somehow managing to survive several days in the woods without food or water or shelter.

As you can see, these are just from a little while ago, getting hugged by his mom. He also just got a deputy sheriff's badge. So we have his miraculous survival story, coming up.