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Travel Restrictions Grow Over Omicron Variant Fears; Countries Reopening Plans Amid Omicron Fears; U.K. Expands Booster Program Amid Omicron Fears; WHO Says Omicron Poses Very High Global Risk; Ukrainian Government Wary On Russia Potentially Posing A Threat Of Invasion; Iran Nuclear Program Talks Resume After Nearly Six-Month Hiatus; Scientists Race To Study Omicron Variant As Anxious Nations Impose New Travel Rules. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired November 30, 2021 - 00:00   ET




JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, coming up this hour on CNN NEWSROOM, the rise of the Omicron variant why travel bans are next to useless and how countries stockpiling vast supplies of COVID vaccine only have themselves to blame for a potentially more contagious and deadly new strain.

Save the date, Ukraine's President says he could be the target of a coup of Wednesday, maybe Thursday, possibly the beginning of a Russian invasion. At least that's what he says.

Jack steps back from Twitter. But why now? Revenue is surging, the user base growing, the company had found a little mojo.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with John Vause.

VAUSE: We begin with the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus and three crucial questions which as yet have not been answered. Is it more contagious than the now dominant Delta variant? Is it more severe or deadly? Will existing vaccines still be effective?

In the next few days, the World Health Organization expects to know more about transmission and severity. But the uncertainty over vaccines may take between two to four weeks to resolve.

After South Africa first detected the new variant, it's since been found in at least 16 other countries and territories from Australia to the U.K. to Canada and Hong Kong.

So far, at least 48 countries and territories in the E.U. have imposed some kind of travel restrictions on countries from Southern Africa. While Israel and Japan have closed their borders entirely.

Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, now testing the effectiveness of their current vaccines against the new variant. They're also developing an Omicron specific shot. In the meantime, the advice from healthcare experts remains the same,

get vaccinated, get a booster shot, wear a facemask, practice social distancing.


DR. TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, DIRECTOR GENERAL, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: Omicron's very emergence is another reminder that although many of us might think we're done with COVID-19, it's not done with us.

We are living through a cycle of panic and neglect. Hard-won gains could vanish in an instant. Our most immediate task, therefore, is to end this pandemic.


VAUSE: The list of countries severing air links with countries in Southern Africa continues to grow, but many health experts say travel restrictions and bans are next to useless by punishing transparency can ultimately do more harm than good.

CNN's David McKenzie begins our coverage reporting in from Johannesburg.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): According to the U.S. president perhaps. But across Europe, parts of Asia, the Middle East, North and South America and even other parts of Africa, world leaders have been slamming the door shut on many African travelers, as cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant continue to spread.

GHEBREYESUS: The emergence of the highly-mutated Omicron variant underlines just how perilous and precarious our situation is.

South Africa and Botswana should be thanked for detecting, sequencing and reporting this variant, not penalized.

We shouldn't need another wake-up call; we should all be wide awake to the threat of this virus.

MCKENZIE: The World Health Organization has warned against hasty travel restrictions, because it says they only offer marginal benefits.

South Africa's President himself describing the measures as deeply disappointing, but scientists still need to determine the basics where the Omicron is more infectious or causes more severe disease.

Some scientists are confident that the vaccines will continue to provide protection. SHABIR MADHI, DEAN FACULTY OF HEALTH SCIENCES AT UNIVERSITY OF THE WITWATERSRAND: We need to adapt our mindset. And we need to start to understand that it's not about eliminating the virus, which is what much of the travel ban is centered around, this misconception that we still got the tools to be able to eliminate the virus. We need to accept that the virus is with us. But we do have the tools to protect against severe disease.


MCKENZIE: The variant was first identified in South Africa, where Omicron appears to be dominating infections.

Cases have now been confirmed across several European nations, as well as Canada, Israel, Hong Kong and Australia.

And while both travel restrictions and national COVID-19 measures are being tightened across the globe, there remain many serious questions over the risks posed by this new variant. And at this stage, very few answers.

David McKenzie, CNN, Johannesburg.

VAUSE: And in Asia, new restrictions are being posed just as many countries were starting to slowly reopen their borders and ease up on entry requirements.

CNN's Will Ripley in Hong Kong with more now has the very latest.

So, this is -- (INAUDIBLE) about most extreme example of these restrictions, talk about Japan, a total ban once again on all international visitors.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Yes, it's not the first time this pandemic that Japan has shut down its borders to all new foreign arrivals.

So, if somebody has an existing visa, and they're a foreigner, and they're already living in Japan, they have an apartment there, they can go back right now just like Japanese nationals.

But anybody with a new visa, whether they have planned to start a new job, or they plan to go to school, all of that is now on hold, it has suspended all new foreign arrivals, banned for the time being in Japan.

And this is partially the result of domestic pressure from the Japanese public themselves. I remember being there during the Olympics over the summer, there was an outbreak of the Delta variant. And people were really concerned in Japan that foreigners were going to bring that in and it was going to get a whole lot worse.

In the end, the Olympic bubble actually held and the case numbers inside the bubble were low. It was the case numbers outside in Tokyo and throughout Japan that were much higher. Questions remain about whether this ban on all foreign entry is going

to be enough. Japan doesn't have the kind of strict quarantine system that is set up here in Hong Kong, or in Mainland China.

Here in Hong Kong, most incoming travelers have 21 days of quarantine minimum 14 even if you're fully vaccinated. In China, it can be up to seven weeks.

But there are growing concerns, John with the Olympics coming up in Beijing, if there were some sort of an outbreak inside that hermetically sealed Olympic bubble, whether it be for the media or the athletes, it could be a major problem. If this new Omicron variant is as contagious as sometimes -- scientists fear.

VAUSE: Will, thank you. Will Ripley live for us there in Hong Kong. Thanks, Will.

In England, it's back to the future with masks once again mandatory in stores and on public transport, and adults will be eligible for COVID- 19 booster three months after their second shot.

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz has the details.


SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER (on camera): The British government is taking steps to slow any potential surge caused by the new Omicron variant. This comes after the Health Secretary confirmed several cases. At least 10 cases in the U.K. He said he does expect that case count to rise in the coming days.

This of course comes with new restrictions that will be rolled out starting Tuesday, masks will be mandatory on public transport and in shops.

Also, anyone arriving in the U.K. will now have to take a PCR test. Travel restrictions have also been expanded against South Africa and several other neighboring states.

But crucially, the British government is looking at expanding its booster program. Its booster vaccination program, now recommending that booster shot to everyone over the age of 18.

The Health Secretary Sajid Javid, saying it's necessary to take steps against this new variant.

SAJID JAVID, BRITISH HEALTH SECRETARY: In this race between the vaccines and the virus, the new variant may have given the virus extra links.

So, our strategy is to buy ourselves time and to strengthen our defenses while our world leading scientists learn more about this potential threat.

ABDELAZIZ: Health officials are also expected to recommend a potential fourth shot to those who are immunocompromised, there's also going to be a second shot recommended to 12 to 15-year-olds and that period between the second shot in a booster shot, which is usually six months is now going to be reduced to three months according to these latest recommendations.

The Health Secretary saying this should buy the country time to understand more about this new variant: it's transmissibility, its severity, and provide a layer of protection across the population.

Salma Abdelaziz, CNN, London.


VAUSE: Joining me now from Los Angeles is Anne Rimoin, epidemiology professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. Welcome back.

(AUDIO GAP) and there is still a lot which is not known about this variant, that there is enough known to be concerned.

Here's Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health in the U.S., listen to this.


DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: What we do know, it has a lot of mutations, more than 50. That's a new record, and some of those we've seen before and some we haven't.

What we don't know is whether this Omicron variant will outcompete Delta in a country like ours or whether Delta, because it's been so successful, will basically just push it aside. That's another unknown.



VAUSE: So, explain why is that number of mutations noteworthy? And what does it mean in a practical sense when it comes to boosters and vaccines and containment efforts?

ANNE RIMOIN, EPIDEMIOLOGY PROFESSOR, UCLA FIELDING SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Well, we become very concerned when we see mutations that affect the spike protein. The spike protein is what allows this virus to be able to attach to cells and to be able to enter human cells, it's what really is a marker for how contagious it is.

And so, because there are so many mutations, there's a lot of concern about how contagious this variant could potentially be.

You know, we have to make it very clear here, there is concern, but there is no -- we don't have the data yet to be absolutely certain how this virus is going to behave, how this variant is going to behave, and what could potentially happen here.

So, we have a lot of work to do. There are studies that are ongoing that will help us determine whether or not this variant is more contagious due to these mutations. And also, we really start need to start looking at what's happening

globally. We are starting to see in South Africa cases starting to tick up, we're also starting to see some of these other indicators tick up as well, including things like hospitalizations, in certain places.

And so, we just need to be looking to see what's coming next and to be caught -- to be -- to be worried, but not panicked.

VAUSE: 229 days ago, the head of the World Health Organization had this warning about the consequences of global vaccine inequity, here he is.


GHEBREYESUS: The more transmission, the more variants. And the more variants that emerge, the more likely it is that they could evade vaccines.

And as long as the virus is circulating anywhere, the longer the global recovery will take.


VAUSE: So, breaking news, we were warned, but is the Omicron variant a direct result of wealthier nations cornering the market on vaccine supply, and a total absence of a plan for global vaccination?

RIMOIN: I think it's very possible to make that case. You know, nothing is happening in a vacuum. And so, here in the United States and other countries in the West, where we have been very successful at vaccinating our populations, or we've been at least making vaccination available to our populations, you know, we have not been taking care of the global self.

And if we -- we've said -- we've said this many, many times on your program, an infection anywhere is potentially an infection everywhere.

And so, if we want to be able to stop this virus from spreading and from mutating, we really do need to vaccinate the world. We do have an obligation to be able to do that and to make -- and it's more than just giving these countries vaccines. You know, we need to be able to make sure that the countries that need them are able to distribute those vaccines to the populations that need them.

And then, we'll also be able to combat things like vaccine hesitancy, which is a problem everywhere, not just here in the United States, not just in Africa.

VAUSE: The Delta variant emerged from a mostly unvaccinated India, there were four strains, three seemed better evading the vaccines, but Delta was a lot more contagious and Delta won.

Now, there seems to be some data which strongly would seem to suggest that the Omicron is highly transmissible, at least possibly, and there's concern that mutations in the spike protein may give it an edge over the current vaccines that are out there.

So, if this isn't a doomsday variant, more contagious more deadly than Delta, is it only a matter of time before there is one if the coronavirus continues to spread?

RIMOIN: John, I think you bring up a very good point. You know, the first thing you said is if this is a dooms -- if this is not a doomsday variant, what else is out there?

Well, we don't know what this variant is. There are concerning characteristics. We don't want to panic, we want to be concerned and take action.

But it is true what you are saying, sooner or later, if we allow this virus to spread unchecked globally, because we have not vaccinated the world, we eventually will end up with a virus of a variant that could potentially really take give -- could really diminish the effect of our vaccines, of our therapeutics and become so contagious that we will have a very difficult time to contain it.

So, I think it's very important that we remember whether or not this particular variant is the one that we should worry about. It's a warning signal. We've had many warning signals but hopefully, will finally take -- will take heed of these warning signals that we need to vaccinate the world if we want to get ahead of this virus as opposed to constantly chasing behind it.

VAUSE: Eventually, maybe that will be the case. (INAUDIBLE) thank you so much. Anne Rimoin there for us in Los Angeles. Thank you.

RIMOIN: My pleasure.


VAUSE: Well, Israel says Iran is moving ahead with nuclear weapons as negotiations resumed in Austria.

What we're learning about the talks in Vienna and Tehran's harder line on negotiations, that's ahead.

Also, just days away now from that alleged coup that Ukraine's president says Russia is plotting. We'll go to Kyiv where reassurances by Vladimir Putin that it's all hogwash have done little to ease the nerves.


VAUSE: It's taken almost 400 years, but now, Barbados has severed ties to Britain declared itself a republic. 73-year-old Sandra Mason is now the country's first ever president. She was elected by the nation's parliament last month. These are live images from Barbados right now, where there has been a swearing in ceremony.

This goes 65 years to the day since Barbados gained independence from Britain and Prince Charles attended the festivities to reaffirm friendships between Barbados and the U.K. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRINCE CHARLES, UNITED KINGDOM: The creation of this Republic offers a new beginning. But it also marks a point on a continuum, a milestone on the long road you have not only travelled, but which you have built.


VAUSE: Barbados will remain part of the Commonwealth it's a 54-member organization of mostly former British territories.

Well, if Ukraine's president is right, his government will be the target of a Russian backed coup attempt by the middle of this week. The Kremlin calls it nonsense. But in Kyiv, they're still worried about threats internal and external.

Here's CNN's Matthew Chance.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, there's certainly some tension in Ukraine. There's been a lot of concern expressed recently about the buildup of Russian forces near Ukraine's borders, potentially posing a threat of invasion something by the way, that's been strongly denied by the Kremlin in Moscow.

And of course, late last week, the Ukrainian president poured even more fuel on the fire by announcing that a coup plot had been uncovered involving Russians and Ukrainians plotting to overthrow the government here in just a few days from now, actually on the first he said or on the second of December.

So, when I got the opportunity to put a question to the country's foreign minister, I asked him about the latest thinking on that coup.

Do you think the threat of a Russian backed coup is still real today, or has that threat now receded?

DMYTRO KULEBA, UKRAINIAN MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS: External military pressure goes hand in hand with domestic destabilization of the country.

So, we look very seriously in the information available to us to the government of Ukraine at this stage when it comes to the potential coup in Ukraine, and we remain extremely vigilant.


KULEBA: Our law enforcement agencies are examining this information. And we will, of course provide our partners with this -- with the updates as they arrive.

But I want to be clear that if, if Russia decides to resort to the last measure of military offensive operation, it will undoubtedly be preceded or accompanied by systemic and bold attempts to destabilize Ukraine from the inside by all means available to Russia.

CHANCE: While the U.S. has also been warning of the Russian threat, but Ukrainian officials complain that the United States has also been resisting calls to reimpose sanctions on Russia's controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

Well, in a rare admission of differences with Washington, Ukrainian Foreign Minister told me that the U.S. and Ukraine was still at odds over how to deal with the pipeline, and how to prevent this important strategic project from Russia from being weaponized to threaten Ukraine and to prevent Europe becoming even more dependent on Russian gas.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Kyiv.


VAUSE: Iran nuclear talks resumed in Austria on Monday with low expectations of any results. Tehran has announced its willingness to reach a deal but only if the U.S. lifts sanctions.

Israel for its part lobbying hard against that, releasing a report saying Iran is preparing to enrich uranium to the level needed for a nuclear weapon.

Here's CNN's Nic Robertson with more on this latest round of talks.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (on camera): Well, it's not precisely clear what was discussed inside the meeting, the Russian representative inside the room said that the negotiations had started off his words, quite successfully. He said that they had agreed further immediate steps to be taken.

He tweeted when the meeting began, he tweeted when the meeting ended, the space in between about three hours. Now that seems like a relatively short period of time for all these partners, Chinese, Russians, Iranians, British, French, Germans to be sitting around the table together for the first time in earnest in over five months now.

The United States, of course, in proximity not in the same room wants to get back into these talks has been putting a lot of pressure on Iran and saying that the test of Iran in these talks will be that they will move forward, not stall, not go back compared to that -- compared to where the talks ended in June.

At the moment, the United States, the United Kingdom, believe that there is a good offer on the table for Iran that the door is open for diplomacy. They recognize that Iran wants sanctions lifted, they want to see Iran come into -- come into the terms of the nuclear deal. Iran at the moment is a long way out of compliance with the terms of the deal.

But at the moment, this seems to be the opening phase. How many more days of talks again isn't clear, this diplomacy is shrouded in an element of secrecy. But it's the Russian diplomat in the room who is posting the photographs and giving the time updates and giving the only analysis that we have so far of how well it's going.

Nic Robertson, CNN, London.

VAUSE: Still to come here, even before Omicron became -- came along, Germany has been facing one of its worst pandemic moments with the healthcare system struggling with a surge in new COVID patients.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Germany has seen massive COVID-19 infection rates for weeks now and a lot of those patients are now winding up in ICUs like this one, and it's driving Germany's otherwise very robust health care system to the brink.




VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody. I'm John Vause, you're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Back to our top story now, discovery of the Omicron variant. It's reviving old fears for a pandemic weary world. It hasn't even been a week since South Africa warned the world about the new variant.

Scientists still don't know much about it or what kind of threat it poses. Yet, dozens of countries have already imposed new rules and travel bans to try and slow the spread.

CNN's Athena Jones breaks down how the variant became so troubling so quickly.


ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The President calling for calm.

BIDEN: This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic.

JONES: As Omicron a new coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa spreads around the world.

DR. PAUL BURTON, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, MODERNA: This is a new wrench that's been thrown into the fight against COVID.

COLLINGS: But certainly not good news.

JONES: Raising new, urgent questions.

DR. JEANNE MARRAZZO, PROFESSOR, INFECTIOUS DISEASE AT UAB: We don't know everything we need to know about this new variant yet. DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We don't know yet what the level of severity will be.

JONES: Omicron has at least 50 mutations, including some share with the highly contagious Delta variant that drove a deadly summer surge in the United States. The new variant has become the most dominant strain in South Africa less than two weeks after it was first detected.

The strain now confirmed on five continents in more than a dozen countries, including Canada. The U.S. joining the European Union and other countries in restricting travel from certain Southern African nations, a move health experts say may slow down the variant's spread but won't stop it.

FAUCI: When you have a virus that has already gone to multiple countries, inevitably, it will be here.

JONES: U.S. federal health officials are bracing for Omicron to be detected here with the CDC sequencing coronavirus genomes and working closely with state health officials. But it won't be clear for a few weeks how transmissible Omicron is, whether it causes more severe illness, and whether it can evade the immune protection offered by vaccines.

SALIM ABDOOL KARIM, CO-CHAIR, SOUTH AFRICAN MINISTERIAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON COVID-19: The reality is we've only known about this virus for just over a week so we don't really have the kind of data required to answer those questions definitively.

JONES: Scientists and pharmaceutical companies are working to get those answers.

ALBERT BOURLA, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, PFIZER: I don't think that the result will be that vaccines don't protect. I think the results could be, which we don't know yet, that the vaccines protect less.

JONES: Vaccine makers like Pfizer and Moderna stressing they are ready to respond quickly if changes to their vaccines are needed.

BURTON: We think within weeks to maybe two to three months we would be able to have an Omicron-specific vaccine booster available for testing and then for administration.

JONES: And until more is known about the new variant, health officials say the best way to protect yourself is for the still unvaccinated to get vaccinated and for those eligible for booster shots to get them.

COLLINS: We expect that most likely the current vaccines will be sufficient to provide protection and especially the boosters will give that additional layer of protection.

JONES: Athena Jones, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE) VAUSE: The wave of new travel bans targeting Southern Africa has drawn a swift backlash for those countries targeted, saying the restrictions are unjustified and unscientific. And there are now concerns that punishing travel bans may deter other countries from coming forward if they discover a new variant in the future.


MARIA VAN KERKHOVE, WHO COVID-19 TECHNICAL LEAD: We are worried -- we are worried about the stigma associated with countries that report this information so forthcoming.

You know, it's really critical that that continues and that countries don't feel that they will be penalized for reporting this information.


VAUSE: The United Nations Secretary-General echoed those concerns in a statement, saying, well, "The people of Africa cannot be blamed for the immorally low level of vaccinations available in Africa, and they should not be penalized for identifying and sharing crucial science and health information with the world."

Germany has already detected a fourth case of the Omicron variant, as it battles a massive COVID-19 wave. Experts say while the key reasons for the surge is the country's low vaccination rate, relatively speaking, as cases spike, intensive care units in Germany are reaching their limits.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen has more, reporting from Berlin.


FRED PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Another tragic day in this ICU near Germany's capital, Berlin. This 82-year- old woman's husband just died of COVID here. Now doctors and nurses are fighting for her life.

When we asked if she's surprised that she got the virus, she shakes her head. "No," she says.

That's because Germany is currently suffering through the worst COVID outbreak since the pandemic began, and most of those who end up in ICUs are unvaccinated, or might have waning immunity, because they're in need of a booster.

This ICU's head says she fears things will deteriorate even more with the Omicron variant already detected in Germany.

"We are extremely concerned," she says. "We fear December, January and February, and believe things will become a lot more difficult."

The State Department has warned U.S. citizens against traveling to Germany, as the country struggles to contain the latest wave of infections. (on camera): Germany has seen massive COVID-19 infection rates for

weeks now. And a lot of those patients are now winding up in ICUs like this one, and it's driving Germany's otherwise very robust healthcare system to the brink.

(voice-over): So bad that the German military has been called up to fly patients out of hard-hit areas. One reason for the disastrous numbers, experts say, despite having scientist Angela Merkel as its leader, Germany has some of the lowest vaccination rates in all of western Europe.

Anti-vax groups are extremely strong here, and a recent study found that infection rates are high in strongholds of Germany's ultra-right- wing AFD Party, which opposes measures to combat the pandemic.

While the government has now made booster shots widely available, medical professionals are calling for more drastic measures.

DR. TOBIAS KURTH, INSTITUTE OF PUBLIC HEALTH, CHANTE-BERLIN UNIVERSITY OF MEDICINE: I'm afraid we have to go into lockdown, hopefully a hard, short lockdown, with a clear vision of what to do after.

PLEITGEN (on camera): And of course, Germany is about to get a new government. Angela Merkel, on Tuesday, is going to meet with the incoming chancellor, Olaf Scholz. And he has specifically not ruled out a lockdown for Germany, especially as the Omicron variant is looming in the midst of this devastating outbreak here in Germany.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Berlin.


VAUSE: Well, sex offender Jeffrey Epstein's shadow looms large over the trial of his longtime companion. Was Ghislaine Maxwell his partner in sex trafficking, or a scapegoat for his abuses? The latest from the courtroom, when we come back.



VAUSE: The sex-trafficking trial of Jeffrey Epstein's longtime companion resumes just hours from now in New York. Prosecutors are portraying Ghislaine Maxwell as a predator who created a network of underaged victims for Epstein to sexually exploit.

Maxwell's lawyers have argued that she's been used as a scapegoat for Epstein's abuse.

More details now from CNN's Bryn Gingras.


BRYN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Later this morning, the government's first witness will again take the stand. That is the former pilot of Jeffrey Epstein. This was after a full day of jury selection and opening statements

from both the government and the defense. And in those opening statements, of course, both sides were laying out their cases to the jurors in this federal courtroom.

And essentially, the government alleging that Ghislaine Maxwell recruited these women and groomed them to exploit them to Jeffrey Epstein. Essentially, saying anything that happened behind closed doors on Jeffrey Epstein's properties, Ghislaine Maxwell knew it. That she was the lady of the house, and she played a part in the manipulation of these women, and then in part, was very much aware of what was going on with Jeffrey Epstein.

Now, the defense says that she herself is a victim, and that she is being vilified for the crimes that Jeffrey Epstein committed. So we're getting, really, a sneak peek of what both lawyers are going to lay out in this what's supposed to be a six-week trial for the six federal charges that Ghislaine Maxwell now faces.

And again, testimony will pick back up later this morning with a former pilot of Jeffrey Epstein. And we are expected to hear from the government four witnesses, alleged accusers, who said -- who will talk about the part that they played, the part they believe Ghislaine Maxwell played in their victimization.

Back to you.


VAUSE: Well, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is stepping down from the company he cofounded more than 15 years ago. The change, effective immediately, with Twitter's chief technology officer, Parag Agrawal, taking over as CEO.

Dorsey says it was a difficult decision, but he believes Twitter is ready to move on from its founders. He also said he loves it.

His legacy is a mixed bag. Twitter was profitable and saw steady user growth during Dorsey's tenure. But he also faced years of scrutiny over Twitter's handling of user content.

Well, for more, we're now joined by Mike Isaac, technology correspondent for "The New York Times."

Mike, welcome back.


VAUSE: OK. So 2021, it was a banner year for Twitter. Revenue was way up. The number of users was growing. And after some difficult years, there was a -- you know, there was a feeling that Twitter had found its mojo. So that leads to the question, which was posed by this headline in "Vanity Fair": "Did he quit, or was he fired?"

I guess the fact Twitter's stock price went up after the announcement, not exactly an endorsement of Dorsey as CEO.

ISAAC: You know, it's interesting because I think you're -- you know. What you pointed out was right. He actually did a lot of what folks kind of wanted him to do, coming in.

If you remember back in the 2015, that was when Dick Costolo was the CEO. The company couldn't turn a profit; it was bleeding users.

And, you know, slowly but surely, Jack actually chipped away at a lot of those problems. But I think now, you know, we're in a sort of era of less about, you know, can you make money, which is still important, but more about how do you handle some of these really important content moderation decisions that I think played Twitter and Facebook and other social media companies these days.

And that's like one of probably the most defining problems of his era and going forward, as well.

VAUSE: He became a bit of a punching bag in the end, it seems. And he posted some weird stuff on Twitter on Monday, including this from an internal email. "I've worked hard to ensure the company can break away from its founding and founders. There aren't many companies that get to this level, and there aren't many founders that choose their company over their own ego."

I say it's weird, because mainly, his point is essentially still the perception, or the criticism that many had of Dorsey as CEO. Isn't it?

ISAAC: I -- it's funny, because I do think that that was absolutely -- I think there are different eras of Jack, to be perfectly honest. I think he was very self-obsessed a long time ago and that he has changed over the past, let's say, five to six years. And has become slightly less attached to the idea of always having to be CEO at two companies, not just Twitter but Square.

But I also kind of read that comment as a thinly-veiled sub-tweet if Mark Zuckerberg and his reign over at Facebook, and his absolute unwillingness to every step down from Facebook, at least anytime soon. Which I thought was funny.

Mark -- Jack and Mark have had a long-standing sort of rivalry together.

VAUSE: That's like CEO/CEO violence or something, I guess.

ISAAC: Exactly.

VAUSE: So as Jack steps back, the new guy, Parag Agrawal, steps up. He's a long-time Twitter techie. He started there in 2011, I think.

On Monday, he posted his goals to employees. Basically, he said he wants to improve working conditions and helping Twitter actualize its ambitious goals.

But, in an interview last year, when he was asked about dealing with misinformation, he seemed to say that Twitter should focus less on free speech. Here's part of his answer to that question.


PARAG AGRAWAL, TWITTER'S NEW CEO (via phone): One of the changes today that we see is speeches easy on the Internet. Most people can speak. Where our role is particularly emphasized is who can be heard.

And so increasingly, our role is moving towards how we recommend content, and that sort of is a struggle that we're working through, in terms of how we make sure these recommendation systems that we're building, how we direct people's attention is leading to a healthy public conversation."


VAUSE: Which gets back to your earlier point, that Dorsey kind of fell when it came to managing the content. But read between the lines here of what Agrawal was saying. What does that actually mean? And what could it mean for the platform under his watch?

ISAAC: Sure. This is, I think, really key, probably, to the future of Twitter. And it's something very technical because, you know, Twitter has kind of tried to explain what it wants its future to be to people for a while. But no one quite understands it.

I think it's -- essentially, they want to kind of put the choices of what to see in our timelines, or our -- you know, our own individual Twitter -- Twitter apps that you and I might look at. Put those choices back on ourselves.

And instead of working like Facebook algorithm, let's say, that it's maximized towards engagement and getting you to use the app as much as possible, perhaps the future of Twitter would be developing different types of algorithms that, you know, make people, you know, kind of seeing the timelines they want to see; see the types of feeds they want to see; see the types of content that they want to see.

Instead of maximizing for engagement, and often outrage, that might be profitable on other platforms. And it's a real hard problem.

VAUSE: What becomes interesting is tweets can be as a long as you want, and you can erase them at any time.

Mic drop there.

Mike, thanks. Good to see you.

ISAAC: Thanks for having me.

VAUSE: Pleasure.

Monday was a big day for Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter. The Turkish native officially became a U.S. citizen and changed his name to in Enes Kanter Freedom.

Before the ceremony, he explained why the name change holds such an important meaning.


ENES KANTER FREEDOM, CENTER, BOSTON CELTICS: When I came to America, to me, it was so amazing, because you know, here there is freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and freedom of press, which I didn't have any of those in Turkey. So that's why I wanted to make that word a part of me.


VAUSE: Mr. Freedom is known for speaking out on human rights issues, drawing the ire of both Turkey and China. He repeatedly criticized the Turkish president, and in return, had his social media accounts block in his country.

Most recently, he's spoken out against the 2020 Beijing Winter Olympics, calling for the games to be moved to another host country.

Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause. Please stay with us. WORLD SPORT starts after a very short break, and then I'll see you again, at the top of the hour.