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Federal Appeals Court Hears Argument on Trump Files; Mark Meadows to Testify Before January 6 Committee; Omicron Uncertainty. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired November 30, 2021 - 13:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Appreciate your time today on INSIDE POLITICS. Hope to see you back here this time tomorrow.

Busy news day. Please stay with us.

Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now.

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

The pandemic limbo lugs on, and, today, new ups and downs as the world faces Omicron uncertainty, stocks down, unknowns over the variant's threat continuing to spook markets. The nation's top economic leaders now speaking out. We will have more on that in just a moment, but first the ups.

The CDC upping its guidance on boosters, no longer saying adults may get one, now saying they should. Also, Pfizer now expected to ask the FDA to authorize boosters for teens ages 16 and 17, all this as President Biden ups his calls for Americans to stay calm amid concerns.

The president saying a plan is already in place for new vaccines should they be needed. The jury's still out on that, but, today, a potentially promising sign, a doctor in South Africa revealing Omicron symptoms that she's seen so far have been extremely mild to moderate, welcome news.

But will that change as more cases are now being found in more countries? The U.S. still bracing for its first potential case.

We begin with Kaitlan Collins at the White House.

And, Kaitlan, the president is en route right now to Minnesota to talk infrastructure. But the mystery of what Omicron could mean for Americans really is his key focus right now.


And it's certainly looming over everything, even though you are seeing President Biden today continue with business as usual, going on this trip to Minnesota to sell that infrastructure bill, to talk about the perks of it, as it's, of course, going to take time to be actually implemented.

But it does come as right now his top COVID officials are briefing reporters on what they do know about this new variant. And, of course, the big part of that is really what they still don't know, as this is something that scientists are very much still evaluating. And the CDC is still in daily touch with labs across the United States as they wait to see if this variant is here present in the United States, because we know officials have said things from where it could essentially already be here, or, if it's not here yet, it likely will be here soon.

And so what they're doing is going through and sequencing these test samples to see if that is something that has happened, that it is already here, because, of course, how much of it is already here is going to be key to them trying to contain the spread, which is a big factor of what they're doing.

And so as they are waiting to get more details and able to provide further updates to the public about this, the one thing you're seeing the White House do is push those booster shots. And you are right, Ana. They did change that guidance from the CDC last night because it seemed like a small change. Before, they said those 18 and up could, may get a booster, but now they're saying that they should.

And so I actually just spoke to the CDC director during this briefing. I asked if the definition of fully vaccinated has now changed in their eyes, because, of course, you heard President Biden saying yesterday, if you were fully vaccinated by June 1, you need to go and get a booster shot.

The CDC director said right now they have not changed that definition. It is still if you have gotten two shots of those mRNA vaccines -- that's the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccine -- of course, to be considered fully vaccinated. Whether or not that changes in the future remains to be seen.

CABRERA: Kaitlan Collins at the White House for us, thank you.

Let's talk about the economic uncertainty right now.

CNN business reporter Matt Egan is tracking the rattled markets and risks.

Matt, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Fed Chair Jerome Powell both speaking out today on Capitol Hill. What are they saying about Omicron?

MATT EGAN, CNN BUSINESS LEAD WRITER: Well, Ana, the leaders of this nation's economy are acknowledging the sobering reality, that COVID is not over and the economy remains inextricably linked to the path of the pandemic.

Now, Jerome Powell, he outlined three main risks to the recovery from Omicron, one, inflation. There's just a lot more uncertainty than there was just a few days ago about the path of high prices and when they're going to come down. Two, slower job growth. If people are scared to go back to work, that can weigh on the jobs market.

And the other one is the supply chain crisis. If there's not enough workers, that could make the supply chain pressures even worse. We know that markets hate uncertainty, so it's no surprise to see stocks taking another tumble. The markets fell sharply on Friday. They bounced back a bit yesterday, but the Dow is down about 650 points, almost 2 percent.

And, again, that is mostly on concerns about COVID, concerns about the variant, but also Jerome Powell made some surprising comments that help send markets lower. Let's play that clip from Jerome Powell.


JEROME POWELL, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: But, at this point, the economy is very strong and inflationary pressures are high. And it is, therefore, appropriate in my view to consider wrapping up the taper of our asset purchases, which we actually announced at the November meeting, perhaps a few months sooner.



EGAN: So, despite the concerns about COVID, Powell is saying the Fed could actually unwind its stimulus programs earlier than expected. That is a surprise, given the timing.

And that is not sitting very well with investors. So, Ana, whether it's COVID directly or Fed policy, there's a lot of uncertainty right now. And it's not sitting well with investors.

CABRERA: OK, Matt Egan, thank you for that update.

With us now is Dr. Peter Hotez, professor and dean of tropical medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. He's also co-director of vaccine development at Texas Children's Hospital.

Dr. Hotez, we are learning more about what patients with this Omicron variant are experiencing. Take a listen to a doctor on the front lines in South Africa right now.


DR. ANGELIQUE COETZEE, CHAIRWOMAN, SOUTH AFRICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION: The majority of what we are presenting to primary health care practitioners are extremely mild cases, mild to moderate.

And so these patients, it means they don't need to be hospitalized for now. A patient that has been vaccinated so far have no complications.


CABRERA: Extremely mild to moderate symptoms. People who've been vaccinated have no complications.

How promising is this news? Or is it still too soon to be hopeful?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: It's really hard to make much of a physician anecdote at this point. I wouldn't hold that much stock in it.

I would assume -- and from both extremes. I would assume that it's not producing any more severe illness than previous variants, and not necessarily much more mild than previous variants. What we have seen is not a lot of clinical variation by variants. And I would go on that premise.

Here's how I kind of see things potentially shaping out, Ana. One is, when you look at the sequence of the virus in terms of its transmissibility, it looks a lot like the Alpha variant that arose out of the United Kingdom and came to the United States at the beginning part of the year, which was more transmissible than the original lineage, but not more transmissible than Delta.

On that basis, I actually don't think Omicron is necessarily going to outcompete Delta. I think Delta is still going to be with us. But we might have to live with both variants, the Delta and the Omicron variant. The key piece of the Omicron variant is its immune escape potential.

And I don't think it's going to be complete. I'm still hopeful that individuals who get three immunizations, three mRNA immunizations or two J&J, will be protected against the Omicron variant.

But because of its immune escape potential, potentially, this could be a problem for people who are infected and recovered, but not vaccinated on top of that, because they will be partially protected and will get reinfection.


HOTEZ: So I could see a situation where we have both variants in the country, where unvaccinated individuals are highly susceptible to Delta still, but those who are infected and recovered could get reinfected with Omicron.

And that's one possible situation.

CABRERA: So we keep hearing this push to get a booster from President Biden to the CDC. The messaging on boosters has become much more urgent, the CDC now updating its guidance, saying all adults should get their booster, not just may get a booster.

We also learned Pfizer will soon seek FDA authorization for boosters for younger patients, teens ages 16 and 17. And yet we still don't know, right, how effective the current vaccines are against this new Omicron variant. So explain to people, why get boosted right now?

HOTEZ: So, since -- we have been talking since January at least and last year as well. But, since January, we have been talking about why the two mRNA vaccines were always a three-dose vaccine. And you need that third immunization to get a 30-to 40-fold rise, increasing your virus-neutralizing antibodies and more durable protection.

That was always the case.


CABRERA: But what if the mRNA vaccines don't work against Omicron?

HOTEZ: Well, let's take it in stages.

So, the first stage is the fact that you need this for the Delta variant. Right now, overwhelmingly, the Delta variant is the most imminent threat to the United States. We're about to go through another Delta wave, and you need that third immunization for the Delta wave.

In addition, that third immunization is going to -- that big bump in virus-neutralizing antibodies will make it more likely that you're going to get cross-protection to the Omicron variant, or what Tony Fauci calls it, spillover protection.

So, either way, nothing changes in terms of your strategy to protect you and your family. Get that third immunization if you're eligible, meaning you're an adult over the age of 18. And I also support giving a third immunization for the 12-to-17-year-olds.

CABRERA: Is there a threshold in which you would know whether or not the current vaccines are effective against this variant?


HOTEZ: Well, we're going to get there, I think in the next week-and- a-half to next two weeks.

So, our group, our vaccine group -- and the way you do that is you take either experimental animals or individuals who've been vaccinated with your vaccine, and you measure the virus-neutralizing antibodies against the original lineage, because that's how the vaccine was made. And you compare it to the virus-neutralizing antibody made against the Omicron variant.

And, almost certainly, you will see a decrease. But we have seen that before. We have seen it with the Beta variant that came out of South Africa last year, the B1351, and the Lambda variant.


HOTEZ: It still will cross-protect, just maybe not as well. And we will get a better sense of that.

So if there's a dramatic drop, that means one thing. If it's a modest drop, it means that the third immunization is still going to hold and we will not need to make a specifically designed booster.

CABRERA: OK, I'm keeping my fingers crossed and maybe holding my breath just a little bit that that's the case.

HOTEZ: We all are, right.

CABRERA: Dr. Peter Hotez, thank you. Good to see you, and appreciate your expertise.

HOTEZ: Thank you.

CABRERA: Breaking news in the insurrection investigation: The January 6 Committee has reached a cooperation agreement with former President Trump's White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows after floating the prospect of criminal contempt.

We have details on this just ahead.

We also have breaking news on Trump's fight to keep records from that committee, a federal judge moments ago appearing very skeptical that Trump has the power to block those records.

And what is going on in Congress? A new childish feud erupts in public view, after Republican Nancy Mace calls out her Republican colleague for being a bigot.



CABRERA: Just into CNN, the House select committee investigating January 6 will hear testimony from Mark Meadows.

The panel has reached an agreement with Trump's former White House chief of staff after floating the prospect of a criminal contempt referral. Now, Meadows is considered a central witness. He is now providing records and he has agreed to sit for an initial deposition.

Let's get reaction from CNN legal analyst and White House special counsel for ethics under President Obama Norm Eisen, and also with us, law professor and former federal prosecutor Kim Wehle.

Guys, this is big news.

What's your take on this, Norm? Why do you think Meadows is willing to cooperate now?

NORMAN EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Ana, thanks for having me back.

Meadows is willing to cooperate because he's feeling the pressure of the committee's full-court press. They're winning in court and the criminal contempt against Bannon. And that one two-punch, Meadows is buckling under the pressure.

CABRERA: Kim, Meadows agreeing to provide records and to appear for an initial interview. I called it a big deal. But I guess the question is, what substantively are they going to get from that? Do you have confidence they will get anything that's really a groundbreaker?

KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSOCIATE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: Impossible to know, Ana. But, of course, Mark Meadows was close to the president and others that were involved in what we now know publicly was some efforts to plan the January 6 insurrection. And that's what's really what this committee needs to get to. Whereas there have been hundreds of insurrectionists prosecuted, nobody on the front end.

They will get some information. My guess is that they won't get everything. That is, Mr. Meadows will continue through counsel to claim privilege, executive privilege, as to certain communications. And then the committee will have to decide whether it's worth pressing those specific questions before courts. That's normally how it goes.

You sit for a deposition or an interview, and then your counsel raises objections question by question. So, Mr. Meadows, is doing what and his lawyer are doing what professional lawyers tend to do, which is very different from Mr. Bannon, who really has no legal right to completely say, I'm not even showing up for any questioning, notwithstanding a congressional subpoena.

But I agree with Norm. It's absolutely crucial that Congress is now flexing its legal muscle to actually enforce its oversight prerogative here.

CABRERA: OK, stand by, guys, because as this news about Meadows was breaking, Trump's lawyers were in court trying to keep Trump White House records secret. And this is regarding the National Archives documents that the January 6 Committee wants to see.

Today, a federal appeals court heard oral arguments. And that hearing just wrapped up.

CNN senior justice correspondent Evan Perez is live outside the courthouse.

Evan, what did we hear in the courtroom today?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, we heard quite an uphill climb for the Trump legal team.

This hearing lasted just over three hours. And there was a lot of skepticism from the three judges about this idea that the former president can essentially overrule a decision by the sitting president, who said that there was no privilege to be asserted here over documents that the House committee which is investigating the January 6 Capitol riot says are key to not only figuring out what happened, but to prevent it from happening ever again.

We will hear just a little bit of that skepticism from Patricia Millett, one of the three judges who heard this argument today. Take a listen.


JUDGE PATRICIA MILLETT, D.C. CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS: You're going to have to come up with something more powerful that's going to outweigh the incumbent president's decision to waive, right? You're going to have to change the score on that scoreboard.



PEREZ: I will say, though, Ana, that, despite that skepticism -- again, this is a three-hour hearing -- you also heard some discomfort by the judges just to say that the former president has no right to claim or to at least go to court and fight over this.

So I think you heard a little bit of a mix there from the judges on this panel.

CABRERA: OK, Evan Perez, thank you.

Let's bring back Norm Eisen and Kim Wehle.

And, Norm, you were a part of a friend of the court brief opposing Trump's argument here for executive privilege. And all three judges today did show skepticism over Trump's assertion of executive privilege, since he's not in the White House. And, of course, the current occupant of the White House has not exerted that privilege.

Do the questions the judges asked, does that comment we played indicate how they're likely to rule?

EISEN: I think it is a strong indication.

I know Kim will agree with me. It's always perilous to predict the outcome based on oral argument.

But, Ana, it's not just the judges' questions. It's the extensive briefing, the lower court opinion. And, fundamentally, it's the idea that is at stake in this litigation. Judge Millett, who we just heard from, made another comment just before the one that we heard that I thought was very telling.

She told Trump's lawyers that the current occupant of the executive branch is in -- of the White House -- is in the best position to decide these kinds of claims. And that's the core idea here. We only have one president at a time. It's Joe Biden. He's ultimately the one who makes these calls.

And I think, for that reason, Trump is going to lose.

CABRERA: And, again, he chose not to assert executive privilege.

Today's hearing comes about three weeks after the original district judge ruled against Trump. Kim, how soon do you expect a decision from this court?

WEHLE: Well, this court understands that this is an urgent matter, really.

And it's urgent because of the timing of the political system. That is, we're less than a year away from the midterms. And I think that's the long play here from the Trump team. I agree with Norm. You can read Article 2 of the United States Constitution, and it creates one president.

And the judges here are not only concerned with having former presidents be able to supersede the one president under the Constitution, but they're being asked to supersede that president. They're being asked to weigh in on executive privilege. And I don't think they want courts to have that kind of power.

But I agree also. I think this panel is going to affirm the lower court. That's, I think, legally the correct decision. But then team Trump will probably appeal to the full court, all of the D.C. Circuit judges, and then from there to the Supreme Court.


WEHLE: So we could see the clock run out to the point where the committee basically dies in the next Congress, if the House goes to Republicans.

CABRERA: To that point, Norm, I guess Trump could skip the full court in D.C., right, and just go straight to the Supreme Court and ask them to take up this case.

What if it gets to a conservative Supreme Court? How could that play out?

EISEN: Well, we have seen other high-stakes matters involving the former president that went to the court that includes conservatives and three of his own appointees that went against him, Ana.

The biggest ones were his phony claims that he had actually won the 2020 election. They rejected that out of hand. These are lousy legal claims. You heard that from the panel today. As Judge Chutkan, the lower court judge, said, presidents are not kings, and Donald Trump is not president.

These powers that he's seeking to use, executive privilege, to block the release of documents just don't exist. The court did note that former presidents have certain abilities to raise questions. That's happened here under the law.

I think the Supreme Court will do the right thing. They have to move quickly. Courts can move quickly. In Watergate, it was less than four months from the initial subpoena to the Supreme Court ruling. And let's hope that the fast pace maintained so far, if the Supreme Court does take the case, is maintained there.

But perhaps they will agree that it's a lousy claim and they won't consider it.

CABRERA: OK, we will see.

Norm Eisen and Kim Wehle, thank you both very much.

EISEN: Thanks, Ana. CABRERA: Travel bans piling up in the wake of the Omicron variant, but do they work?

My next guest says no.



CABRERA: The new coronavirus variant has the world on edge, but China says one thing is certain: The fast-approaching Winter Olympics will proceed on schedule in Beijing.

CNN is monitoring developments on the Omicron variant across the globe.

Let's take you to our reporters, starting in Asia.