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Travel Restrictions Grow as Omicron Variant Spreads; Travel Bans Targeting Southern Africa Draw Swift Backlash; Trump's Fight Over White House Records; Former DOJ Official Could Face Contempt Charges; Epstein's Shadow Looms Large in Sex Trafficking Case. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired November 30, 2021 - 04:00   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world, I'm Rosemary Church. Just ahead on CNN NEWSROOM --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Omicron is like a wakeup call, as though we needed another wakeup call.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, U.S. NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: The vaccine is the solution to this, whether it's the Delta variant or the Omicron variant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wait until it gets here into the northern hemisphere with the holidays, with winter.

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


CHURCH: More countries are closing their borders to foreigners, but health experts warn travel restrictions will not stop the Omicron variant of the coronavirus from spreading. Hear what they're saying about how you can protect yourself.

Trump lawyers will make their case on keeping thousands of documents private from lawmakers investigating the January 6th Capitol riots.

And chaotic smash and grab robberies are becoming a trend forcing law enforcement agencies to scramble.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Rosemary Church.

CHURCH: It is Tuesday, November 30th. And we begin with the growing uncertainty about the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus. The top infectious disease expert here in the U.S., Dr. Anthony Fauci, says it could be weeks before we know more about the severity of this mutation. And the World Health Organization says it may take up to a month to tell if the current vaccines are effective against Omicron.

Meantime, the advice from health experts and the president is very familiar. If you haven't gotten the vaccine, get one. If you have, get a booster. Wear a face mask. Wash your hands. And practice social distancing.


BIDEN: Sooner or later, we're going to see cases of this new variant here in the United States. We'll have to face this new threat, just as we faced those that have come before it. This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic. We have the best vaccine in the world, the best medicines, the best scientists, and we're learning more every single day. And we'll fight this variant with scientific and knowledgeable actions and speed, not chaos and confusion. We have more tools today to fight the variant than we've ever had before. From vaccines, to boosters, to vaccines for children, five years and older, and much more.


CHURCH: Dozens of countries and territories have imposed travel bans and new restrictions in response to Omicron spread. But President Biden and his advisers say lockdowns in the U.S. are not on the table right now.


FAUCI: We have every reason to believe, even though this is an extraordinary unusual variant because of the number of mutations, there is no reason to believe that it will not happen, that if you get the level of antibody high with the regular booster to the regular vaccine, that you're going to have at least some effect, and hopefully a good effect on ability to protect against this variant.


CHURCH: Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech, and Johnson & Johnson are already working on possible modifications to their vaccines, to fight the Omicron variant. And sources say Pfizer is seeking authorization for boosters for Americans aged 16 and 17. The company's CEO says he's not panicked about the Omicron variant.


ALBERT BOURLA, PFIZER CEO: I doubt that the results will be that we could find ourselves that we are not protecting at all. We can find ourselves that we are perfectly fine and we are protecting as high as with the Delta, or that 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 risk.


CHURCH: Moderna's chief medical officer calls Omicron a variant of concern. But the company says it could have a specific booster ready within two to three months.



DR. PAUL BURTON, MODERNA CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: This virus probably emerged around early October in South Africa or Botswana, lays relatively low, and then suddenly in early November explodes to become the dominant strain, displacing the Delta variant in South Africa. And as you mentioned as well, it's now in maybe 20 countries around the world. I think all the evidence points to the fact that this is a very transmissible virus and one that we need to take very seriously.


CHURCH: And CNN has correspondents covering the Omicron variant around the globe from Washington, D.C. to Paris, Hong Kong, to Johannesburg. And as countries around the world scramble to react to the new variant, experts are also ringing the alarm, they say Omicron should be a warning for the world until everyone is vaccinated, we're all at risk.


DR. PETER SINGER, SPECIAL ADVISER TO THE W.H.O. DIRECTOR GENERAL: Omicron is like a wakeup call, as though we needed another wakeup call, to vaccinate the world. This issue of vaccine equity, with rate like 60 to 70 percent vaccination in the U.S. and 7 percent, 7 percent on the African continent, we've got to wonder, whether we really love our neighbor. But the point I want to make hear, is that it's the smart thing to do because it is self-defeating not to do it because this is the way to make variants is to let the virus rage.


CHURCH: And that's hardly a new message. In fact, it's something experts have been saying for months now. Here is the director of the World Health Organization back in September.


TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, DIRECTOR GENERAL WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: More than 5.7 billion doses have been administered globally, but only 2 percent of those have been administered in Africa. This does not only hurt the people of Africa it hurts all of us. The longer vaccine inequity persist, the more the virus will keep circulating and changing, the longer the social and economic disruption will continue and the higher the chances that more variants will emerge that render vaccines less effective.


CHURCH: And this map shows just how stark those vaccine disparities are. You can see Africa almost stands alone. In South Africa, just under a quarter of the population is fully vaccinated. That makes it one of the best performers in all of sub-Saharan Africa. And now several of those African nations are being targeted by a new round of temporal bans sparked by fears of the Omicron variant. It's led to swift backlash from officials and health experts in southern Africa. They call the restrictions an overreaction and say they are unlikely to have much of an impact.


SALIM ABDOOL KARIM, COCHAIR, SOUTH AFRICAN MINISTER ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON COVID-19: Well firstly, it's outrageous that, you know, South Africa, southern Africa has been punished for having good surveillance, and you know, ensuring that we wanted to be completely transparent. So, this kind of early knee jerk reaction to block travel is probably just going to slow the seedings slightly at best but it'll probably have little if any impact.


CHURCH: All right, let's bring in CNN's Eleni Giokos. She joins us live from Johannesburg. And this is the problem, isn't it? Because South Africa sounded the alarm and now is paying dearly for doing that. Talk to us about reaction there and of course the low vaccination rate and the spread of this new variant.

ELENI GIOKOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Rosemary. I mean, I have to say that the mood in South Africa is one of anger and that the country is being targeted. And from the scientific community we have heard one thing, that South Africa has advanced genomic sequencing because of skills that it acquired by dealing with the HIV virus. And we're sitting with the situation where the country was able to alert the world to the Omicron virus variant and now sequencing can occur all over the world. And as we know Omicron has already infiltrated so many different countries, almost 20.

But it's southern Africa that's being targeted specifically on travel bans. South Africa and regional countries as well are dealing with these very strict bans which means that it's going to have an enormous impact on the economy. And just hearing from some of the experts and global voices, echoing that this is going to be a catastrophe for the region.

From the Red Cross, we heard that more countries are going to be plunged into poverty, from the U.N. Secretary General, saying that he's concerned about the isolation of southern African countries because of the COVID travel restrictions. That they hold no benefits. The Malawian President said that this travel ban is afro-phobic and it's not based on scientific evidence.

And as we've heard from other experts is that Omicron is already found in so many parts of the world. So, what does this travel ban going to mean in terms of spreading it further?


Look, at the end of the day, we understand that many countries are just trying to ensure that they can protect their populations. But Africa has for a very long time, Rosemary, been talking about vaccine inequities protect their population but South Africa has been talking about vaccine inequity. The whole African continent just has 7 percent vaccination rates. Here in South Africa, we're talking about just under 40 percent. So, there's a long way to go here in terms of getting everyone protected.

Right now, we know that the scientific community, the experts, the researchers, are looking at clinical data, to ascertain what Omicron means in terms of vaccine efficacy, in terms of transmissibility, in terms of severe illness. What is encouraging though is some anecdote evidence that vaccinated people, specifically under 40 seem to be infected with Omicron in South Africa but show very mild symptoms. So, that is one encouraging piece. But is we have already have ascertained, the pharmaceutical companies say they need at least two to three times to figure out exactly what Omicron is going to mean for vaccine efficacy down the line.

CHURCH: Yes, Eleni Giokos joining us live from Johannesburg, many thanks.

To Europe now where France has detected its first case of the Omicron variant on Reunion Island. And Germany has confirmed its fourth case of the new variant. The first where the infected person has not traveled abroad. CNN's Cyril Vanier joins us live from Paris. So, let's tart start with that first confirmed French case of the Omicron variant. What more are you learning?

CYRIL VANIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. First confirmed French case is not here in mainland France but it's thousands and thousands of miles away in the Indian Ocean island of La Reunion. This is a 53- year-old traveler who recently came back from Mozambique. He was traveling from Mozambique, via South Africa, so this is not a case of community spread, this is a case of the Omicron variant being imported from one of these southern African states that many European countries have closed their doors to.

We understand that he came back to La Reunion on November 19th. It's unknown whether he isolated immediately or whether there was time during which perhaps he may have infected others. Regardless, he is now in isolation. He is symptomatic, but only mildly symptomatic. And it's important to note it is not a severe case. And five people who were traveling with that particular passenger also are under isolation -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: And our many thanks to Cyril Vanier joining us live from Paris. Appreciate that.

And still to come, as governments race to get ahead of the Omicron variant, time may be running out. A country that just confirmed its first case, one day after announcing strict new travel rules.

Plus, a court is set to hear arguments over Donald Trump's efforts to block key White House records from reaching the January 6th committee. We'll have the details just ahead.



CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. Well, in the coming hours, a federal appeals court is expected to hear arguments on former U.S. President Donald Trump's request to block the release of key White House records to the January 6th committee. This comes as a former Justice Department official could become the second person to face contempt charges for defying the committee. CNN's Ryan Nobles has the details.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): the January 6th Select Committee making good on a threat. The committee moving ahead with a criminal contempt of Congress referral against former Department of Justice Official Jeffrey Clark.


NOBLES (voice-over): Clark is a Trump loyalist who worked inside the DOJ to peddle lies about the 2020 election results and attempted to convince his superiors to use the power of the agency to investigate the false claims.

Clark will join Steve Bannon as the second Trump ally referred to prosecutors to decide whether to pursue charges. Unlike Bannon, who ignored the committee's request for an interview, Clark showed up but refused to answer questions, citing executive and attorney-client privilege.

STEVE BANNON, FORMER DONALD TRUMP ADVISER: All hell is going to break loose tomorrow.

NOBLES (voice-over): The case against Bannon is making its way through the courts and a podcast host has vowed not to stay quiet.

BANNON: We are going on the offense. We are tired of playing defense.

NOBLES (voice-over): Prosecutors in the case have asked a judge to limit what Bannon can reveal about the case publicly, arguing he is attempting to try the case in the media instead of the courtroom. Allowing the defendant to publicly disseminate reports of witness statements will have the collateral effect of witness tampering because it will expose witnesses to public commentary on their potential testimony before trial.

Meanwhile, questions remain about former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. The committee has threatened to seek criminal contempt charges against him as well but have yet to take that step.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): I think we will probably make a decision this week on our course of conduct with that particular witness.

NOBLES (voice-over): What that decision is remains an open question. But the committee has not ruled out any option.

REP. PETE AGUILAR (D-CA): This was an assault on a peaceful transfer of power and we do need to hear from these individuals and we're going to use every means necessary to compel them to speak to the committee.

NOBLES: And all this comes against the backdrop of a major court hearing on Tuesday. The former President Donald Trump's legal team arguing at the appellate level to have a decision by a lower court reversed that would allow the committee to access thousands of documents from the Trump administration during his time in the White House. The former president believes that that information should be protected under executive privilege.

The committee arguing it is in the public interest for them to have access to that material, in order to get to the bottom of what happened on January 6th. It is a position that is also held by the Biden White House.

Ryan Nobles, CNN, on Capitol Hill.



CHURCH: Federal prosecutors have indicted three alleged U.S. Capitol rioters including one who is accused of assaulting a police officer. They're accused of planning violence on January 6th, communicating under the name "Patriots 45 MAGA Gang."

Meantime, the Justice Department has released new video from the day of the insurrection. It shows several police officers running down a flight of stairs in the Capitol, as chairs are being hurled at them by rioters.

A feud between Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and Lauren Boebert is getting uglier. On Monday, the two lawmakers had a tense phone call that ended after Omar hang up on Boebert. Remember their feud escalated after a recent video surfaced online with Boebert making bigoted anti-Muslim remarks suggesting Omar had been mistaken for a terrorist. Take a look.


REP. LAUREN BOEBERT (R-CO): And I see a Capitol police officer running hurriedly to the elevator. I see threats all over his face. And he's reaching, the door is shutting, like I can't open it, and what is happening? I looked to my left and there she is, Ilham Omar. And I say, well, she doesn't have a backpack, we should be fine.


CHURCH: Boebert was condemned by Democrats and Republicans for those remarks and apologized on Friday to the Muslim community via Twitter. But in another video recapping their phone conversation, Boebert said, quote, rejecting an apology and hanging up on someone is part of cancel culture 101. And she said this.


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


CHURCH: Omar issued this statement, saying Boebert refused to publicly acknowledge her hurtful and dangerous comments. She instead doubled down on her rhetoric, and I decided to end the unproductive call.

And Omar tweeted: There is only so much grace we can extend to others as humans before we must learn to cut our losses or hang up on someone in this case.

In Chicago, actor Jussie Smollett's trial is now under way. It comes nearly three years after he claimed he was the victim of a violent hate crime outside his apartment. Authorities accused the former "Empire" actor of paying two acquaintances to stage the attack and have charged him with making false reports to the police. Smollett has pleaded not guilty.

In another U.S. trial, prosecutors in the state of Pennsylvania are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review Bill Cosby's overturned sexual assault conviction. The actor and comedian was found guilty of aggravated assault in 2018. He was released from prison in June after the State Supreme Court overturned his conviction. The judges have ruled his rights were violated during the trial, based on statements from a previous district attorney. Cosby's spokesman called the appeal a pathetic last-ditch effort.

Well, 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 victim for Epstein to sexually exploit. Maxwell's lawyers argue she is being used as a scapegoat for Epstein's abuse. More now from CNN's Brynn Gingras.


BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN U.S. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Later this morning the government's first witness will again take the stand. That is a 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 property, 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 Jeffery 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. [04:25:00]

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


CHURCH: Thanks for that report.

Well, critics of the new U.S. travel ban call it an illusion of protection. And as U.S. travel picks up for the holidays, will it make a difference? Not even the U.S. president believes they're enough to keep the latest variant at bay.


BIDEN: I think it's almost inevitable it will be at some point that that strain here in the United States.



CHURCH: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM, I'm Rosemary Church. If you're just joining us, let me bring you up to date with our top stories this hour.

America's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, says it could be weeks before we know more about the severity of the Omicron variant. He is telling Americans to get vaccinated and for those who already are, get a booster shot for extra protection.

Meanwhile, vaccine makers are testing the effectiveness of currents vaccines against the variant. Moderna's CEO says it could be two to three months before an Omicron-specific vaccine is tested and produced.

U.S. President Joe Biden says additional travel bans are not on the table right now. But if the Omicron variant starts to spread in America, it could be a possibility. But Dr. Anthony Fauci says one of the best ways to prevent the variant from spreading is to keep wearing a face mask, especially when traveling.