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Pfizer Tamps Down Concerns; Biden Plan for Covid; Brett Giroir is Interviewed about Omicron; Clark Could Face Contempt Charges; Court Hears Trump's Case; Boebert Doubles Down on Anti-Muslim Remarks. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired November 30, 2021 - 09:00   ET



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JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Tuesday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.


This morning, at least 19 countries and territories have now confirmed cases of this new omicron variant. That includes Japan, which reported its first case overnight. The CDC also updating its guidance, now saying every adult who is currently eligible should get a booster shot.

SCIUTTO: But let's be clear, it is early. As of right now there are still so many things we do not know about the omicron variant. Scientists are saying consistently, be patient, it will take time to answer important questions, including about efficacy of current vaccines against omicron.

This morning, CNN spoke to a top doctor in South Africa who is tamping down concerns.


DR. ANGELIQUE COETZEE, NATIONAL CHAIRWOMAN, SOUTH AFRICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION: I think it was an overreaction. The knee-jerk reaction of closing borders and every and people say,

yes, but I'm trying to protect my people. So then I -- the question would be, how do you know it's not in your country yet?


SCIUTTO: President Biden says he does not anticipate any more travel bans or new lockdowns, that should be clear, assuring the public that both options are off the table for now. The White House is planning more extensive guidance as they learn more on Thursday.

HILL: Obviously, this could have an impact on the markets. We're going to keep a close watch on them this morning. Dow futures down sharply ahead of the opening bell.

Next hour Fed Chairman Jerome Powell will testify about the major threats the new variant poses to the U.S. economy.

CNN's Athena Jones and Jeremy Diamond are covering this for us this morning.

So, Athena, let's begin with you.

Pfizer's CEO also looking to tamp down concerns about this variant. What are we hearing from him?

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Erica. That's right. The big question here -- or all of the questions that we have about the variant, how strong is it, how transmissible is it, how severe is the illness that it leads to, or is it less severe. And one of the big questions is whether the existing vaccines work well on them.

This is Pfizer's CEO Albert Bourla. Take a listen.


ALBERT BOURLA, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, PFIZER: Yes, I'm concerned, but I'm not going to be panicked, as the president said. I think we have been preparing for a moment like that for the last few months. And I think we are now really very well prepared to win this battle.

We can find ourselves that we are perfectly fine and we are perfecting as high as with the delta, or what we are having less protection with -- compared to the delta. But that would be the variant. And in both cases boosters should reduce dramatically the gap.


JONES: And we're hearing similar things from people like Dr. Fauci, who say that the immune protection provided by the booster should help provide some protection from omicron.

And boosters are going to be really the big discussion. Pfizer is about to apply -- to seek FDA authorization to provide boosters for those ages 16 and 17. And you should know that only about 20 percent -- it's just over 20 percent of people who are eligible for boosters in America have taken advantage and gone ahead and gotten that shot. And so you're going to hear a lot from doctors and experts and health officials saying go out, either get vaccinated if you haven't or get that booster. And, as I mentioned, Pfizer saying that they're applying for 16 and 17-year-olds.

And the CDC is now strengthening its recommendations. The previous recommendation has said that anyone over 18 may get a booster shot. Now they're saying that if you're eligible, so six months after your Pfizer, BioNTech second dose, or your Moderna second dose, you should get that booster shot if you're an adult. And two months after a Johnson & Johnson shot.

And this is all so that people can have at least some protection against this variant that we still know so little about during this period of uncertainty that they're doing all this testing (ph).

Erica and Jim.

SCIUTTO: That's right, a lot more questions to answer. And we are told that they expect some data on how vaccines work in the next couple of weeks.

Jeremy, it was interesting yesterday that President Biden made quite clear in his comments yesterday that for now Covid lockdowns are off the table. He's urging instead vaccinations, masks. Tell us what the White House plan is going forward.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Ys, that was an important message that we heard from the president. And that's because he wants to avoid that sense of panic, that sense of alarm in the public and he also wants to try and avoid criticism from Republicans that he's going to suddenly take things too far. We all remember the anti-lockdown protests back last year.

Listen, one thing that President Biden is trying to do here is show that he is on top of this. You'll remember back in the summer, the White House was kind of caught off guard by the delta variant, which really crept up at a time when the administration was saying we were gaining our freedom from the coronavirus.


So we're seeing a very concerted effort to show that the president is on top of this.

And he delivered some key messages yesterday. We saw him talk about the fact that we don't know everything we need to know. We will in the next week or two. He also urged the public to get vaccinated, saying that boosters are what people need to do now in order to get protection from this omicron variant. And he also talked about the importance of continuing with those public health measures like masking, for example.

Now, we will hear more from the president on Thursday as he visits the National Institutes of Health in terms of the strategy for confronting this variant and also for the potential of another delta surge in the winter. Expect that to be doubling down on some of the measures we've seen so far. Vaccinations, boosters, and also perhaps some new initiatives, some new messaging perhaps from the White House to achieve those ends.

But the White House certainly wants to show that they are on top of this. That's what we're seeing from the president. And he will continue to be getting briefed on this new variant every single day.

Jim. Erica.

HILL: Jeremy Diamond and Athena Jones, thank you both for your reporting.

Joining me now to discuss, Admiral Brett Giroir, former assistant secretary for health in the Department of Health and Human Services. He, of course, also led the federal government's Covid-19 testing response under the Trump administration.

Sir, good to have you with us this morning.

As we look at where we're at, the message from President Biden yesterday, be concerned, but it's not a moment to panic. Do you agree with that tone and with that message?

ADMIRAL BRETT GIROIR (RET.), FORMER HHS ASST. SECRETARY FOR HEALTH UNDER PRESIDENT TRUMP: I do agree with that tone and that message. We should be concerned because the number of mutations on omicron, but we should not panic. Our testing still works perfectly. It is very likely that our vaccines will provide some immune protection. And I agree, it's very important to top off your tank, top off your immune tank by getting that booster. Independent of omicron, it's very important to get it just for delta.

Third, we have new oral medications that are up to the FDA today that will be completely effective against omicron as they are against the others. So we have a lot more to learn. We should be concerned, but we should not be panicked.

HILL: So take it all, wait for the information, let's see what's coming down the pike.

I want to drill down on a couple of things that you mentioned. Boosters, as you say, you're agreeing there with the new guidance from the CDC, you should get the booster, although, as you said, it shouldn't just be about omicron, but just in general.

When we look at testing, Andy Slavitt recommending that all Americans should actually have a supply, he thinks, of rapid tests and antiviral meds at home, sending out a tweet last night saying, six months from now, if every American had access to instant tests and a prescription for a highly effective therapy, it would ease concerns a great deal.

We know testing is really still not where it needs to be in this country in terms of access. And that also limits, frankly, what public health officials know about the spread of this disease, about current disease levels. Do you think we can ever really get a handle on this virus in the United States without adequate testing and tracing?

GIROIR: So, number one, yes, I do. I believe we can do that. But we absolutely need more testing. As you know, testing plummeted sort of towards the midsummer to less than 50 percent of its rates in January. And there was a lull in the production of antigen tests. I think the administration is trying to reverse that.

But I do agree with Andy Slavitt, that one of the things you can do, aside from getting boosted, is get those home tests. You know, I literally just went to Walmart yesterday and picked up two boxes of home tests, just to be prepared and for my family to be prepared. Everyone should be able to do that and I think the federal government should send home tests to all those who are underserved or in at risk communities so they can test themselves.

Whether you need an antiviral medication at home or not, I do think our system works. We have a great system of pharmacies, home deliveries. But it is very important. And that Merck (INAUDIBLE) drug that's up to the FDA today is a powerful weapon, it's pills that you take for five days, and it dramatically reduces the risk of hospitalization.

HILL: It is not, though, we should point out, an antiviral pill is not a replacement for a vaccine.

GIROIR: Oh, absolutely not. Look, you know, we're going to war with this -- with this -- with this virus and we've been going to war with it for almost two years. At first we had no weapons. The only thing we could do was, you know, really reduce social interactions. Now it's all of the above.

Vaccines are the most important. Please, if you're not vaccinated, get vaccinated. Get your booster. We have monoclonal antibodies. We have oral antivirals. .We have testing. And we still have mitigation measures, like masks. If you're in a rate of -- a high risk of transmission, indoors, please wear a mask.

HILL: We have those mitigation measures. But as you know, look, people are tired of this virus. They're tired of a nearly two-year pandemic. People want it to be over. I heard that around the Thanksgiving table, I'm thankful that this is almost over. It's not.

How do you encourage people to put their masks back on at this point?

GIROIR: Well, I think we need to be reasonable about it. I still see people, you know, riding their bicycle in the street wearing a mask and not wearing a helmet.


You know, we have to be, you know, really rational about our risks. If you're in an indoor crowded space in a rate -- in an area of high transmission, it's a reasonable idea to wear a mask. It can -- it doesn't -- it's not perfect protection, but it does help. But, you know, we shouldn't be having people wearing masks outdoors or in low risk situations. Use common sense. But they do add a layer of protection. And until we know more about omicron, you know, put your warning level up just a little bit more. I think that's a wise idea.

HILL: In terms of omicron, one doctor who has treated patients, again, not patients who were hospitalized, but patients who came in, who were vaccinated, had this to say about those patients earlier this morning.

Take a listen.


DR. ANGELIQUE COETZEE, CHAIRWOMAN, SOUTH AFRICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION: The majority of what we are presenting to primary healthcare practitioners are extremely mild cases. So, mild to moderate. And so these patients means they don't need to be hospitalized for now.


HILL: She said, look, these are early days but everything she's seeing is pretty mild. We've also heard from a number of folks that this is omicron from everything we know now. This is not delta. This is not delta, which took over as the dominant variant in the U.S. in a matter of weeks, is more contagious, does leads to more serious disease. What are you seeing early on in terms of what we know about omicron and how is that influencing your reaction to it?

GIROIR: Well, first of all, we have no evidence that omicron is more severe. I would love to believe that South African doctor, but, remember, the patients that were treated there were primarily young patients, college-aged patients and we really don't know how omicron is going to affect the elderly or those who have chronic conditions.

So, we have no evidence that it's worse, but I don't want people to assume that it's just mild and we can blow this off. We do need to be concerned as President Biden said.

And, again, it's likely here already. We don't see it taking over. It doesn't mean that it won't. But, you know, we just need to remain calm. There are things we can do, get vaccinated, get boosted, get tests at home, make sure your elderly are protected. Wear a mask when that's appropriate for you. And, again, very importantly, the oral medications, Merck and ridge (ph) back up today, Pfizer will be up later on within a month or two to the FDA. These are very important, powerful tools that will work against omicron, delta and all the other variants.

HILL: Admiral Brett Giroir, good to have you with us this morning. Thank you.

GIROIR: Thank you.

HILL: If you have questions about the omicron variant, let's be honest, you are not alone. The good news is we're going to get you some answers.

You can join Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta, along with Dr. Anthony Fauci, for an all new CNN global town hall, "Coronavirus Facts and Fears." That's tomorrow night at 8:00 Eastern right here on CNN. SCIUTTO: (INAUDIBLE) to keep communications from January 6th secret.

They are back in court. We're going to have a review -- a preview, rather, of those arguments.

Plus, a call that was supposed to smooth tensions between Congresswomen Lauren Boebert and Ilhan Omar actually did the opposite. It ended with a hang-up and two fiery, public statements.

HILL: Plus, Tiger Woods answering questions this hour about his path forward as he reveals it will not include a return to the professional golf full time.



HILL: Moments from now, a three-judge panel in D.C. is set to hear arguments in former President Trump's latest attempt to keep key documents from the January 6th Committee.

SCIUTTO: Yes, there's been a lot of attempts. Trump's attorneys are appealing a lower court's decision that the former president cannot claim executive privilege to keep those documents secret.

Now we have learned that the House select committee could vote tomorrow to refer a former Justice Department official, Jeffrey Clark, on contempt charges.

CNN law enforcement correspondent Whitney Wild joins us now.

So, Whitney, a lot of progress here, but let's focus at least on this hearing this morning. What are we expecting and in what time frame?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, this should kick off here in about 15 minutes. Each side will get 20 minutes to make their case to this three-judge panel here in D.C. The Trump side arguing that the pursuit by the House select committee to get these records is so broad, so aggressive, that it could permanently damage the presidency, and specifically damage the concept of executive privilege, of confidentiality enjoyed by the president. You know what, their argument is basically much beyond the presidency. So they think that President Trump has this privilege even though he is no longer in office.

We know that the house select committee, as well as now President Biden, disagree with that argument. President Biden has waved Trump's right to executive privilege. Basically many people, including a district court judge, have said that decision is up to Biden. Biden decides if those records should go to the House select committee.

Now, obviously, the Trump side arguing against that. Biden's argument here is that eventually these records are going to be public anyway because of how the National Archives records keeping works. And so this is such an extenuating circumstance, transparency is critical here, so it makes sense and it is important that these records go to the house select committee in very short order. Other big news, Jeffrey Clark possibly becoming the second person that

DOJ could possibly charge for not following through with this subpoena request.

Jim. Erica.

SCIUTTO: We'll be watching.

Whitney Wild, thanks so much.

Joining us now to discuss, CNN legal analyst Elliot Williams. He's a former federal prosecutor, former deputy assistant attorney general.

Elliot, good to have you.


SCIUTTO: So will this be the final word today on whether the committee gets those documents?


WILLIAMS: Oh, this is not going to be the final word, Jim, because, look, at the end of the day, the president, or whomever can appeal this, either to the full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that's all 12 judges I think --


WILLIAMS: Or the Supreme Court. This is not the final word. This is a very, very important word and a very, very influential court, but I don't think this is the last word today.

HILL: You know, the next question, I think, Elliot, that a lot of people have here is, OK, so this will not be the final word. Do we have any sense of the timeline, the ultimate timeline?

WILLIAMS: You know -- no, I don't think we do. Now, look, the fact that we're even here today on November 30th is lightning fast in the arc of how federal appeals courts rule. They expedited this. They have gotten it briefed very quickly. I would assume that the parties, or at least one of the parties, has an interest in moving very, very quickly when this comes up. So, whether it's days or weeks I just can't (INAUDIBLE). But I will say, having worked on an appeals court before and in a trial court before, often judges, you know, will have the skeleton of an opinion written if they want to get it out there and then after argument will try to get the whole thing out.

SCIUTTO: So, Elliot, in our experience, as president, as former president, as, you know, interim president on the way out, Trump has claimed executive privilege on virtually everything, right? Where does the law stand on this?

WILLIAMS: Right. Look, it's not clear. And I think people want to believe that because this is Donald Trump, this bombastic political figure that, oh my gosh, he doesn't have any point whatsoever, there simply isn't settled law as to whether a former president and a past president -- and a current president, when they come into conflict, conflict over documents, what to do about that. So, to some extent, he's got a little bit of a point.

But, look, we've been to this party before, Jim, and we know that the president -- the former president has a huge interest in delaying and slowing this down.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes.

HILL: That is definitely the -- that is definitely the playbook as we saw long before he entered the White House.

So want to get your take, really quickly, on Jeffrey Clark, as Whitney was just laying out for us. I mean what do you think the chances are that we see some real movement there and what are you anticipating?

WILLIAMS: You know, so it's really interesting because Jeffrey Clark, Erica, came in to testify, which normally would cut against bringing charges against him, because at least he complied. Now, look, it's pretty clear that he didn't -- he wasn't particularly helpful when he showed up. He was there for about an hour and left after not answering many questions.

So, you know, I think they could certainly proceed on moving forward with charges on him. It will be interesting to see, number one, what they document on Wednesday, one, at their hearing, they'll be meeting to talk about this, and, two, if they put out a report saying exactly how unhelpful was Jeffrey Clark. But it is quite significant that a senior Justice Department official was asked to come in and seemed to really not be helpful here.

SCIUTTO: Goodness. And big, hard questions to be answered.

Elliot Williams, thanks so much.

WILLIAMS: Thanks, Jim and Erica.

HILL: Up next, Republican Congresswoman Lauren Boebert doubling down on her anti-Muslim rhetoric after a phone call that was supposed to, I guess, start to smooth things over with her Democratic colleague, Representative Ilhan Omar. Details on that tense conversation.

SCIUTTO: And we are moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Stock futures are pointing down not dramatically so far as investors deal with the uncertainty over the new Covid variant. They will be watching closely as the Fed chair and the Treasury secretary testify before lawmakers next hour. Jerome Powell is expected to say the omicron variant could -- could make supply chain and inflation issues worse, as well as potentially hurt job growth. We'll see what he has to say.


[09:28:00] SCIUTTO: Well, a phone call did not do much to diffuse tensions between Republican Congresswoman Lauren Boebert and Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. The call, which can certainly be described at the very least as contentious, came after Boebert suggested that Omar was mistaken for a suicide bomber in a Capitol Hill elevator. This is a sitting member of Congress.

HILL: And here is how Boebert described the conversation with Omar on Monday.


REP. LAUREN BOEBERT (R-CO): I never want anything I say to offend someone's religion. So I told her that. She kept asking for a public apology. So I told Ilhan Omar that she should make a public apology to the American people for her anti-American, anti-Semitic, anti-police rhetoric.


HILL: At that point, Omar reportedly hung up on Boebert.

CNN Capitol Hill reporter Melanie Zanona and CNN editor at large Chris Cillizza joining us now.

So, Melanie, let's start with you. What happened after that point? Because we saw that very forceful reaction that Boebert posted on her social media after Ilhan Omar also talking about the conversation after.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Right. Ilhan Omar put out her own statement and said she's absolutely willing to engage with someone as long as it's done in a respectful manner. But this call was not that. Omar says Lauren Boebert refused to apologies, that she said she would not give a more acceptable public apology. And so Ilhan Omar decided to end the call when she realized it was not productive.

Ilhan Omar also said that Boebert doubled down on her rhetoric and continued to repeat the same bigoted lies that she said initially. And we heard some of that yesterday from Lauren Boebert's own Instagram page. Take a listen to what she said.


REP. LAUREN BOEBERT (R-CO): Make no mistake, I will continue to fearlessly put America first, never sympathizing with terrorists. Unfortunately, Ilhan can't say the same thing.


ZANONA: Omar, of course, is not a terrorist sympathizer. This is a lie. But Boebert showing absolutely no remorse yesterday.

And so the big question now is whether she will suffer any consequences.


But Democrats are saying the onus should be on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to punish his own members and there is a real reluctance by Democrats to have to constantly