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Rep. Cheney: Firsthand Testimony Trump Watched Insurrection On TV; Airlines Cancel Thousands Of Flights Due To COVID-19, Bad Weather; Dangers Ahead For The U.S. Economy; Trump Wields Endorsement Power Ahead Of Midterms; Interview With Gov. Jared Polis Of Colorado And FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell; Melania Trump Reemerges To Sell Digital Painting Of Her Eyes. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired January 02, 2022 - 14:00   ET



FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: But, you know, those safety measures come with a cost. You know, prices --


WHITFIELD: -- for just about everything, right, has been going up. So how much of a role has that played too in your current situation?

BOEHM: Well, yes. I mean everything is difficult right now. First of all, the restaurant business was already difficult. It's like the hardest business in the world.

And so now we're like in the Olympics of trying to make it work. And so, you know, we've been working with Senators Wicker and Cardin and Schumer in the SBA on a new piece legislation for this year but Congress went home and neighborhood restaurants and bars are going out of business.

So yes, restaurants have had to raise prices. But everything is hard right now. There are nights when you just don't have enough employees to field a team. And the word "restaurant" literally means to restore other people. And it's pretty hard to restore other people when you're not restored and your spirit has been kicked.

WHITFIELD: Oh, my. That's sad.

BOEHM: That's where a lot of people sit right now is they're going in to take care of other people and they're worried for their business, for their family.

And so we're just looking for some more help from Congress. And it's bipartisan -- it's got bipartisan support. We just need a few more people to jump on.

WHITFIELD: Ok. Kevin Boehm -- I mean thanks for the hard truth, that's you know, serving up some really harsh reality there, but I think we all understand exactly where you're coming from.

BOEHM: Well, I really appreciate you giving me the opportunity to speak. It's important to a lot of people. We're 16.1 million people who work in the United States in the whole supply chain. We're 4 percent of the GDP. We're an important business and we should be treated as such.

WHITFIELD: Yes. We need you. Yes, we need you. We need our restaurants. And we all need to be restored, as you say. Kevin Boehm, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

BOEHM: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All the best to you. Happy new year.

BOEHM: Happy New Year.

WHITFIELD: All right. Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for being with me. I'm Fredericka Whitfield.

All right. This breaking news, the January 6th Committee says it has critical firsthand testimony about former President Trump's words and actions during the siege on the Capitol nearly one year ago.

Just listen to committee vice chair Liz Cheney.


REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): The committee has firsthand testimony now that he was sitting in the dining room next to the Oval Office, watching the attack on television. We have firsthand testimony that his daughter Ivanka went in at least twice to ask him to stop this violence.

At the same time the violent assault was happening, he's watching television. He's also calling at least one senator urging delay of the electoral vote.


WHITFIELD: All right. Let's go straight to Melanie Zanona on Capitol Hill now. So Melanie, divulge a little bit more here. I mean you know, at the very least this is suggesting that someone very close to the former president is engaging with the committee.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Right. You're absolutely right. This is consequential, Fred.

I mean up until this point the committee has run into some pretty high profile roadblocks with Steve Bannon and Mark Meadows refusing to cooperate, Trump suing in court to prevent the committee from getting access to a number of documents. But they've also conducted hundreds of private depositions. They've collected thousands of documents and records.

And it is clear based on what Liz Cheney revealed this morning that someone close to Trump is talking and revealing some pretty specific information about his actions that day. It's also clear that the committee is starting to zero in on those 187 minutes that Trump was publicly silent while his supporters breached the building. We're starting to learn a lot more about what he did and did not do during that period of time.

Take a listen to what Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the committee, told our Dana Bash this morning.


REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): We have significant testimony that leads us to believe that the White House had been told to do something. We want to verify all of it so that when we produce our report and when we have the hearings, the public will have an opportunity to see for themselves.


ZANONA: The big question of course, is whether that inaction is criminal in any way. Bennie Thompson said that is still something they are working to determine. But if they find that a criminal act was committed, Bennie Thompson said they have no problem making a criminal referral to the Department of Justice.

WHITFIELD: And Melanie, I mean this committee says it's gearing up for public hearings relatively soon. What do we know about the plans in the coming weeks or perhaps months?

ZANONA: So the committee has been conducting a lot of this work behind closed doors but they plan to take this into a much more public phase. There's going to be an interim report in the fall -- in the summer, excuse me -- with a final report in the fall.


ZANONA: And they're also planning to conduct public hearings. We could hear from state and local election officials, DOJ officials who tried to overturn the election or were pressured to do so. The National Guard troops.

I think another big question is whether any Republican lawmakers who were in contact with Trump will come and testify. If they don't come voluntarily though, Bennie Thompson said subpoenas are certainly on the table, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Melanie Zanona, thank you so much, from Capitol Hill. Appreciate that.

Let's talk more about all this. With me now, former federal prosecutor Michael Zeldin.

Michael, good to see you. So I mean it's quite extraordinary to hear the words of Liz Cheney.

I mean you know, she said that even Ivanka, the former president's daughter would say stop the violence, which certainly then implies that the former president had the power to end this.

So that whole issue of inaction that the daughter said he actually did have the power to stop what was happening. What does this mean for the --


WHITFIELD: -- the former president's possible legal culpability here?

ZELDIN: Well, so in the days of the -- the hours of the event, we hear that Ivanka and Mark Meadows and Lindsey Graham and Kevin McCarthy were all pleading with the president to call this thing off.

Now, whether his inaction rises to the level of criminal action really depends on his knowledge and intent. So for example, if he knew that the rioters were going to storm the Capitol in advance through the war room at the Willard Hotel and he said, look, you guys go storm it, I'm going to sit back and do nothing, meaning I'm not going to call the National Guard, I'm not going to call the local police, I'm going to let you have, you know, free rein, that inaction really is action and could rise to criminal culpability.

WHITFIELD: Yes. I mean, it would seem like, of course that would be the case. He's the president of the United States. I mean, he has sworn to protect this nation. And to watch something unfold of this magnitude would seem even more than just a dereliction of duty.

ZELDIN: That's right. He has a duty to faithfully execute the laws and take care that the laws are faithfully executed. And if he had any forewarning that this was going to occur, and it seems pretty clear that it was forewarning central in the White House that day, and he did nothing about it, then I don't think it really is as passive as people have been arguing it to be. I think it's really action by failing to act.

WHITFIELD: Are you at all concerned about the timeline, that here we are, just days away from that marker, that anniversary date of January 6th, and this kind of information is coming forward, that Congresswoman Liz Cheney would say that they have information from someone very close to Donald Trump?

ZELDIN: Well, I think it's actually a very positive sign. They're a year into this investigation. They have subpoenaed hundreds of people. They have interviewed hundreds more. They have 35,000 pages of documents.

If they are now finally getting the inner circle of Trump's advisers who were there in the White House on January 6th or know of the events on January 6th, that's a major development. And it's not really very far into this investigation to get this sort of cooperating witness type of testimony. So I think it's actually a positive development for the committee.

WHITFIELD: Do you see -- Melanie said that, you know, possibly these public hearings, you know, this summer. Do you feel like it needs to take place sooner than that? ZELDIN: No. I think that they're going to release reports, you know,

staggered reports based on the various work streams they're working on. And then I expect that they want to have Watergate-like hearings where the country is riveted on all of the testimony that these people come forward with. And that you want to do when you're really ready to do it.

The summer seems like about the right time for that, given the timeline of lack of cooperation by many of these people whose cooperation they really need.

WHITFIELD: Do you see that this kind of information will in any way inspire those who have not been cooperative, those who are in contempt, to change their minds?

ZELDIN: If the Supreme Court refuses to take this case of Trump's assertion of executive privilege, then all of those people who are asserting that they can't testify because of Trump have to come in and testify. That would be the most, you know, important win for the committee, to have the Supreme Court deny the case and have the cooperators, now cooperate -- the non-cooperators now cooperate.

WHITFIELD: All right. Michael Zeldin, thank you so much. Good to see you and happy new year.

ZELDIN: Happy new year, Fred. Thank you.


WHITFIELD: All right. Thank you.

All right. Still ahead, flying this weekend is rather dicey. Flight cancellations are soaring due to COVID disruptions and bad weather.

Plus three people are still missing in Colorado following that devastating wildfire. We'll get the latest from the governor.


WHITFIELD: The U.S. is now in a frightening new phase of the coronavirus pandemic. New cases shattering records now nearing 400,000 a day. The omicron variant spreading rapidly across the country. It's having major impacts on American lives.

Short-staffed airlines along with winter weather forcing the cancellation of thousands of flights again today.

CNN's Ryan Young is in Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. So Ryan, we've been seeing this massive disruption of flights for weeks now. When's it going to end? People need to get where they want to go.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean look, Fred, you understand that during the holiday's, we're always actually talking about the backups anyway. And you add COVID to that and you can really see people getting sort of upset and frustrated by the idea their planes have been delayed, canceled and sometimes some folks have been getting in cars to drive home because they can't wait any longer.

If you look on the inside, if you're seeing this video, you can see the lines that are pretty long here. But they are doing this as best they can, especially when it comes to the precheck and the TSA to make sure people can get through.

The cancellations though just today so far over 2,300. Yesterday over 2,700 flights that were canceled. And in the last ten days you're talking about some 14,000 plus flights.

But when I talked to one traveler and her husband just about an hour ago about what's going on, listen to the frustration in her voice and what they've been through.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I tried to leave on Thursday. And then they canceled it. And then we tried to reschedule for Saturday night and they rescheduled it again and canceled it. And then today, they canceled it on the way to the airport. And then now we're rescheduled for tonight.

YOUNG: Have they given you guys any kind of lodging or anything at all?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, not yet. So, yes.

YOUNG: That's got to be frustrating.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is. But as long as we can get back to us, we'll be good.


YOUNG: You've got to understand a lot of people are timing their vacations so they can get back to work on Monday. Look, I've even talked to people who work for the airlines and they are dealing with -- obviously with people who are out because of COVID.

Especially after everyone got together for the holidays, had a good time, and now people are testing positive. So you understand when you arrive here at the airport, there could be some cancellations.

The thing that's really hitting some people really squarely is the fact that they've budgeted for the idea that they'll be going home sometime soon. And you add in the extra cost of having to get another hotel or to spend another night in another city, or calling out, you can understand why the frustration is mounting.

Fred, we've been going through this for about two years now with the way we've been dealing with COVID. At least everyone on the inside so far has been wearing masks but do understand that still doesn't make them not feel the pain of being able to not get home on a day when they planned to fly out. Some many who will travel so far, you can't just drive home every time

your flight gets cancelled, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Oh, my gosh. There's a lot of frustration. Ryan young, thank you so much.

And frustration among those who are working at the airports and airlines who unfortunately are not feeling well enough to be at work. And that too is part of the big problem.

All right. Thank you so much.

Joining us now to talk about more about all of this, Dr. Jorge Rodriguez. He's a board certified internal medicine specialist and viral researcher. So good to see you.

I mean frustrating times on so many levels for the travelers, for the people who work at the airlines who are also, you know, getting sick and are feeling the strain of COVID.

So now we're seeing on top of all of that the huge rise in COVID cases. How concerned are you about not only the family gatherings, which has also helped with the spiking numbers, but now people who are stuck in airports, you know, who are stuck in places gathering together because they can't get from point A to point A. And that, you know, with this big umbrella of COVID and the omicron variant.

DR. JORGE RODRIGUEZ, BOARD CERTIFIED INTERNAL MEDICINE SPECIALIST: Sure. First of all, thanks for having me on and Happy New Year, Fred.

You know, the thing is that first and foremost, what is going to slow this pandemic down is if we vaccinate the greater majority of Americans. We can't stop saying that.

So yes, I am concerned because people have been warned, people have been told that getting together and flying is going to spread this.

So, you know, at the end of the day, sometimes we have nobody else to blame but ourselves. But yes, I am concerned and so are almost anybody that is looking at the exponential rise of this, that the next few weeks are really going to be very difficult.

WHITFIELD: And what do you mean, what are you anticipating over the next few weeks?

DR. RODRIGUEZ: Well, seriously, I think a few days ago when there were already statistics showing that we had gone up to 400,000 -- this virus, this variant doubles every two to three days. So I wouldn't be surprised if over the next couple of weeks we have at least a million new cases every day. And that's of the people that are measured.

Imagine the people that are getting tested at home and that doesn't get reported. So what's going to happen? People are going to get sick, they're not going to be able to go to work. Already 20 percent of the medical workforce in this country is sick and unable to do, you know, their job. And more people are going to the hospital than ever. So this may affect supply chains as far as groceries and things like that. So it could be very difficult.

WHITFIELD: So then it sounds like you would be in agreement with the many school districts that have decided to impose in-person learning, at least for the first week after the holiday break, because of the potential of the spread.

DR. RODRIGUEZ: I think if possible, the school districts should for the next month try to see if they can do at-home learning, because of that spread, because it's going to increase so exponentially, and because of the fact that so many of the new cases in hospitals are children.

WHITFIELD: Oh, my goodness. I mean, yes, so we're letting that sink in for a lot of folks, not just to get used to the idea of a week of in- person learning, but you're saying a month would be sufficient.

There have been some medical experts that were anticipating there's going to be yet another peak toward the end of the month. Is that what you're anticipating?

DR. RODRIGUEZ: That is what I'm anticipating. And again, I'm not an expert in education, but I think that a couple of weeks to a month is probably going to be appropriate.

Listen, what has gotten us into the most trouble during this pandemic is when we act too quickly and lower recommendations too soon like we did in July about mask-wearing. We need to see what the viral weather is like before we go outside.

WHITFIELD: Great point. All right. Dr. Jorge Rodriguez, thank you so much. Have a Happy New Year.

DR. RODRIGUEZ: Thank Fred. Likewise.

WHITFIELD: We keep telling ourselves that. Make it happy. Make it happy. All right, thank you.


WHITFIELD: All right. Colorado officials, well, they're giving an update on the wild fires that tore through Boulder leaving hundreds of houses turned into piles of ash. Three people remain missing. I'll speak with the head of FEMA and the governor of Colorado, next.


WHITFIELD: The U.S. is starting the new year with a booming economy. Early holiday sale numbers show Americans continue to spend and the major stock markets are all around record levels. But there's no shortage of potential pitfalls ahead.

Here is CNN's Matt Egan.

MATT EGAN, CNN REPORTER: Fredericka, first we have to acknowledge the fact that the U.S. Economy ended the year in pretty good shape. Weekly jobless claims are near the lowest level in 52 years. The unemployment rate down to 4.2 percent. And GDP growth is accelerating.

Now, the hope is that this rapid recovery continues, allowing the jobs market to get back to full employment in 2022.

But we've also got to think about what could go wrong. Not to be pessimistic, but to be aware of the risks. Now obviously we have to start with COVID. Hopefully, the omicron wave is short-lived. But if it's not, or an even scarier variant emerges, that would obviously be a threat to the recovery.

Also in that front, supply chains. The delta variant really made things worse on the supply chain front by getting workers sick and making them scared to go to work. It's too early to say whether or not the same thing will happen with omicron, but that bears watching.


EGAN: Relatedly, we've got inflation. The cost of living is very high right now in the United States. The good news is that economists do expect inflation will cool off later in 2022. That bears watching because right now, high inflation is really eating into Americans' paychecks.

The Federal Reserve is aiming its emergency support for the economy by planning to raise interest rates three times in 2022 and shutting down its bond buying stimulus program. The risk is that the Fed endangers the recovery by moving too quickly to get out of this emergency mode.

And then there's Washington. After pumping in nearly $6 trillion of support in 2020 and 2021 the federal government is withdrawing support. Fiscal stimulus and spending is expected to slow dramatically in 2022. And that makes given the economic progress but it's also something the economy is going to need to adjust to.

Lastly, we've got to talk about surprise events. Everything from a major cyberattack to a natural disaster because, Fredericka remember, very few people in 2018 and 2019 were talking about the risk of a global pandemic that upends the economy. And now that's all we talk about.

WHITFIELD: Right, Matt. So please, no more surprise events.

All right. So the economy, it is top of everyone's mind. A recent poll shows 29 percent of Americans say it's the most important problem facing the U.S. today. That's twice as many who think health care is the top concern.

With us now, Julian Zelizer. He's a CNN political analyst, historian, and professor at Princeton University. And Meg Jacobs. She isa a research scholar at Princeton University and author of the book "Panic at the Pump: about the energy crisis in the 1970s and how it transformed U.S. politics".

And by the way, they're married, they're a couple, a power couple indeed. Good to see bot of you and Happy New Year.



WHITFIELD: All right. Julian, you first. We just, you know, heard from our Matt Egan, the economy is booming but this poll clearly shows Americans are not feeling it. So how does the Biden administration flip the script?

ZELIZER: Well he has to deal with the real problems that exist. In a good economy, that ranges from continuing to deal with COVID and making sure there's no more closures, to dealing with inflationary pressure. But he also has to explain to the public, there's a very good side about where things are right now and he has to be there, talking about it 24/7.

WHITFIELD: Meg, so in a recent "New York Times" op-ed, you argue that the most direct path to fighting inflation is for the Biden administration to take on corporations who are experiencing this boom, and this booming economy.

So you conclude by saying "Mr. Biden needs to get tough." What do you mean by that?

JACOBS: That's a good question. As Matt said, inflation is eating into the paychecks. But at the same time, corporate profits are going up. So I think Biden has an opportunity to talk to the American public and to publicly talk to American corporations to say, now we're in the middle of a crisis, this is a time that we need to all be thinking about the public good, and moderate price increases where we can.

WHITFIELD: Julian, how have Biden's predecessors dealt with moments of economic crises on this scale? I mean no one has the kind of COVID, you know, crisis related economic crises like this, but what do the history books say about how his predecessors have handled -- or what do the history books say about how his predecessors have handled crises?

ZELIZER: Well now, I mean look, Democratic presidents have used all sorts of tools. Some have grown government, like FDR, as a way to not deal with inflation in the 30s but to make sure the economy was sound. In the 60s, Lyndon Johnson agreed to raise taxes in 1968 when inflationary pressures were happening. So Democrats tend to turn to government.

Ronald Reagan, on the other hand, a transformative Republican, relied on the federal reserve and cutting government as their solution.

WHITFIELD: Meg, this week Congressman Gerry Connolly addressed one of the Democrats' shortcomings ahead of the midterms. Listen.


REP. GERRY CONNOLLOY (D-VA): We passed a $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill in March. Huge. It cut child poverty in America in half. But we stopped talking about it.

And I think, you know, that's got to be addressed. Democrats have to really have a finely-honed message that actually we're doing a lot for the average American, and it's working.


WHITFIELD: Meg, is he right?

JACOBS: I think that he is, and I think that Biden has to get out and be bolder about claiming the victories that they have had from the relief packages to the infrastructure bill.


And at the same time, also make the case that he understands why Americans don't like to see gas prices at the pump going up, why they don't like to pay more for their Christmas turkeys. He has to articulate that he understands their pain and he can also point to previous moments when presidents directly intervened to try to do something on the price front, from FDR to Harry Truman, including also Richard Nixon, who imposed price controls when meat and gas prices went up in the '70s.

WHITFIELD: Julian, do you agree or dare to disagree?

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think all of those are good. I just don't know what effect it will have on the midterms. Midterms for first time presidents tend to go poorly. There is rare exceptions to that. Given the state not of the economy but of the pandemic, I think it's really difficult to expect significant Democratic gains if not to avoid big losses.

So I think all the tools are 100 percent correct but I don't know if it will make a difference in 2022.

WHITFIELD: I wonder, Julian, do you see this president as working so hard to be optimistic that perhaps it's undermining his messaging too, because Americans are feeling the pinch of so much, whether it be, you know, inflation or COVID, and this White House likes to be as optimistic and hopeful as possible, but is it time that this president or this administration I guess maybe get more real, you know, really kind of underscore the hard truths and the pains that people are feeling?

ZELIZER: I think he can. I mean, I think he can talk about the good in the economy without simply replicating Ronald Reagan's morning in America message again. I think he is a naturally empathetic president who could speak about why people are scared going into the New Year with the COVID pandemic still very real. And so I think that balance is achievable. He actually is pretty well positioned to talk that way to the public.

JACOBS: He -- I think he -- one of the virtues of him being in politics for so long and being of the generation he is, I think he can still speak that New Deal language, where government is the solution to our problems. And I think he can authentically sort of position himself that way.

And he reflected that he got that when he came out early in his administration and said we need shots in arms and money in pockets. And I think that's a message that he can continue to play up as we get closer to the midterms.

WHITFIELD: All right. Power couple, happy New Year. Meg Jacobs, Julian Zelizer, come back, please.

ZELIZER: Perfect, happy New Year.

JACOBS: Thanks for having us.

WHITFIELD: Thank you so much.

And this quick programming note. Carole King and James Taylor in an unforgettable film, "Just Call Out My Name," tonight at 9:00 p.m. right here on CNN. Here is a preview.


ANNOUNCER: Friends, collaborators, legends, the music shaped a generation. They came together for the tour of a lifetime.


ANNOUNCER: James Taylor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His songs were amazing, his voice was amazing and his demeanor.


ANNOUNCER: And Carole King.

TAYLOR: Carole King, one of the greatest songwriters of all time. I asked her to be a part of my band.

Forty years have passed since the first time we played.

CAROLE KING, SINGER: I loved every experience we have had together.


ANNOUNCER: "Just Call Out My Name", tonight at 9:00 on CNN.




WHITFIELD: All right. There's one kingmaker in the Republican Party. And former President Donald Trump isn't afraid to pick and choose who he wants running in the midterms, even when others in his party don't particularly care for his choices. Here is CNN's Sunlen Serfaty.


SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Former President Donald Trump making it clear he's using his endorsements to take on his political enemies, endorsing Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy for reelection only if he does not endorse Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski for reelection. Murkowski has been in Trump's sights since she voted to convict him on an impeachment charge for inciting the insurrection at the Capitol.

SENATE CLERK: Ms. Murkowski?


SENATE CLERK: Ms. Murkowski, guilty

SERFATY: This is just the latest in a long string of controversial Trump endorsements, fueled by getting revenge and settling political vendettas.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: The warmonger, a person that loves seeing our troops fighting, Liz Cheney, how about that?

SERFATY: In Wyoming, Trump throwing his support behind Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney's primary opponent, Harriet Hageman.

TRUMP: Hopefully, they'll get rid of her with the next election.

SERFATY: After Cheney voted to impeach him and has continued to call out his dishonesty.

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): We cannot be dragged backward by the very dangerous lies of a former president.

SERFATY: In Georgia, Trump endorsing David Perdue for governor as a way to get back at Republican Governor Brian Kemp for not doing enough to undermine the will of Georgia voters and turn the 2020 election for Trump.

TRUMP: And your RINO Governor Brian Kemp who has been a complete disaster.

SERFATY: Trump also using his endorsement to preserve his own political brand, attempting to stack the party with loyalists even if those candidates come with controversy.

In Pennsylvania, Trump endorsing former Army Captain Sean Parnell.

TRUMP: He's a real hero, a real tough guy, and he'll never let you down, Sean Parnel.

SERFATY: Parnell went on to suspend his campaign in November after a messy and contentious custody battle.

In the Georgia Senate race, Trump recruiting and endorsing political newcomer Herschel Walker.

TRUMP: You know, Herschel is not only a Georgia hero, he is an American legend.

SERFATY: Even as the former-football star has faced allegations of threatening multiple women over a span of a decade.


Walker has spoken openly about his violent past, but his campaign denied a more recent allegation of threatening behavior from 2012.


SERFATY: And in Ohio, Trump is backing former-senior White House adviser Max Miller for Congress, even as he faces allegations of abuse from his ex-girlfriend -- former White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham. Miller has denied the abuse, and filed a defamation suit against Grisham.


SERFATY (on camera): And it's not only these marquee races. Trump has also endorsed several down-ballot candidates, those who are run for secretary of state and attorney general in statewide races, as well as some local election pockets. Even down to the precinct level. Trump clearly helping to place his allies in more prominent roles ahead of the next presidential campaign.

Sunlen Serfaty, CNN, Washington.

WHITFIELD: And Colorado officials just now finishing up on an update on the wildfires that tore through Boulder. I'll speak with the head of FEMA and the governor of Colorado right after this.


WHITFIELD: Welcome back.

A Colorado official is giving an update just moments ago on those fast-moving wildfires that tore through Boulder County. They say two people remain missing after a third person was accounted for today. Colorado authorities say they fear the worst for those two missing residents, since they lived in homes that were destroyed by the blaze.


The fires leveled entire subdivisions within minutes and destroyed nearly 1,000 homes since Thursday.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis surveyed damage today with FEMA and this is what he had to say after that tour.


GOV. JARED POLIS (D), COLORADO: This is a difficult time in your lives, if you've lost everything or you don't even know what you've lost. But what's important is to reach out and see what we as a community can do to help.

Stop by the 1755 South Public Road One-Stop Center if you need emergency assistance, unemployment, if you need SBA help. And of course work with your insurance company as quickly as possible.

I know for many it seems like a sure real experience surreal experience, a few days ago you were hanging your stockings and now home and hearth have been destroyed. It's a shock and the reality, I know, hasn't set in for so many folks who lost everything and for those who still aren't able to return to their homes.

But I want the community to know, you're not alone. The full force of the United States of America is here with the FEMA administrator, the county, the commissioners, the state, all working together. It's a long road ahead. We built back from other disasters like the 2013 flood. And we will build back stronger from this one, because we are Colorado strong.


WHITFIELD: All right. Let's bring in now Governor Jared Polis and FEMA's Administrator, Deanne Criswell.

Good to see both of you.

Administrator Criswell, I mean, what a huge, colossal undertaking. What have been your observations and how are you able to help people there?


Yeah. You know, being able to see it firsthand today, on the ground, and see the absolute devastation that these communities have experienced is shocking, right? I've been watching the pictures over the last day, and it really doesn't do it justice until you see it firsthand.

President Biden did quickly authorize a major disaster declaration which includes individual assistance. Individuals who have damage not covered by their insurance can register for assistance with FEMA and they begin to see what they're going to be eligible for, and they can go to or they can call 1800-632-FEMA.

WHITFIELD: And I wonder, Ms. Criswell, what about for the immediate need of where to put people? Where do they go, you know? This just happened within minutes. Some folks just really had the clothes on their backs and nothing else.

So how do you immediately assist them in at least getting a roof over their heads, you know, food, sustenance, what?

CRISWELL: Yeah, it's a series of things. We know that everybody's individual needs are going to be unique to them. Some people are still in shelters that are run by the state. And some are staying with family and friends.

But we know they're going to have some immediate sheltering and housing needs. We're going to work closely with the state and see what we can do through our non-congregate sheltering program, that's part of the disaster declaration, as well as other tools in our toolbox to look at what the long term options that we have available to meet the specific needs of these communities.

WHITFELD: And, Governor Polis, what can you tell us about the ongoing search for the two who remain missing?

POLIS: Well, first of all, it's rather remarkable that there's not a much larger number of missing people and fatalities with this disaster. We have literally thousands of families packing everything they had into their car, often fleeing through an inferno with flames on one side or both sides of the road. We see burned-out cars. Nearly everybody made it out.

There are still two folks missing. Searches are under way, but certainly hope diminishes with time.

But look, for those who made it out and lost everything they had, you have your loved ones, you have your family. And we're going to do everything we can to help you rebuild.

WHITFIELD: Yeah, and what can be done? I mean, the emotional and the mental trauma that comes with this. I know that many people are just grateful, you know, to have their lives. But, I mean, this just happened in an instant, Governor, that for a lot of people, they can't even process it. I remember our interviews with a young lady who said she couldn't even put into words what she experienced. Now a few days later, upon reflecting, emotions are just kind of flooding for a lot of people.

How do you offer assistance, mental assistance, mental health care assistance to the many people who have gone through so much?

POLIS: Yeah, we have through Boulder County health partners offering mental health assistance to anybody who needs it. Please reach out, talk to somebody. It's hard to digest what you just experienced.


You know, many people lost their homes, many people lost their pets. People are mourning their dog or cat was locked in and they were away and they weren't able to get there in time. Animals were evacuated, people were evacuated.

This is a very difficult thing for anybody to go through. But know that you're surrounded by friends, by loved one, by community, by a state that cares about you. The United States of America here is in full force with the Administrator Criswell within 48 hours of the tragedy and know that we're going to do everything we can to help you restore your lives.

WHITFIELD: And then I wonder, Governor, I understand that yesterday the Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle told reporters a search warrant was executed at a property that may be tied to the fire. To what extent? What can you share with us?

POLIS: There's no news yet on the ongoing investigation into the source of the fire. It's being done professionally in conjunction with the FBI, with forensic expertise around it. If there was, of course, anybody responsible for the start of this fire, we expect that they will be held fully accountable under the law, but we expect that investigation to be done professionally and we look forward to the results.

WHITFIELD: And, Administrator Criswell, seems there's so many crises taking place right now in this country. Of course, Kentucky is still trying to pick up the pieces after a horrible string of tornadoes and then recently Kentucky, Tennessee, even Georgia being hit again with tornadic activity and now, of course, this, the wildfires.

How do you prioritize the needs?

CRISWELL: You're right, Fredricka. We have seen so many catastrophic events this year.

We have a workforce, I think some of the best federal government workers out there that are committed to our mission of helping people before, during and after disasters, and they are ready to respond as soon as we have a disaster declaration. And we have already over 100 people assigned to this disaster here in Colorado and that number is going to continue to grow.

And so, as these events unfortunately happen, our team is ready to support.

WHITFIELD: Governor, is there a way to, you know, share with people what folks need most? I mean, there are a lot of viewers who are watching who want to help in any way that they can. How might they be able to do that?

POLIS: You can go to and you can click on the link the Boulder Community Foundation put together a wildfire recovery fund, Certainly if you know people in the area, reach out, text them if they want to talk, let them know that you're available.

WHITFIELD: Well, our prayers are with you all there. Governor Jared Polis, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, thanks to both of you. I really appreciate it.

CRISWELL: Thanks, Fredricka.

POLIS: Thank you, Fredricka.

All right. Still ahead, we'll explain why doctors are calling the current and massive influx of COVID-19 patients unprecedented in this pandemic.


WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back.

After months of relative public silence, former First Lady Melania Trump stepping back into the public eye with a new project. It's a watercolor close-up of her eyes in the form of an NFT, non-fungible token, entitled Melania's vision.

CNN's White House correspondent Kate Bennett has more.


KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Since leaving the White House almost one year ago --

MELANIA TRUMP, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Being your first lady was my greatest honor. Thank you for your love and your support.

BENNETT: Melania Trump retreated into her standard comfort zone, privacy. Only recently emerging promoting her new NFT business on an almost-daily basis since its announcement, and tweeting what slightly more frequency than her normal silence about national anniversaries, tragedies, and a holiday visit with the Florida coast guard.

But it is the release of her non-fungible token, or NFT, that has been unexpected. NFTs are Blockchain-encrypted digital artworks or other collectibles that are purchased through cryptocurrency. Trump's features a close-up of her eyes drawn by a French artist.

Purchasing Melania's vision, the title of her NFT, includes the drawing, as well as a brief audio clip.

M. TRUMP: My vision is look forward with inspiration, strength, and courage.

BENNETT: Plenty of celebrities have embraced the NFT craze mostly because they can be super-lucrative, into the hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars in profit, via the world of cryptocurrency.

Releasing limited-edition pieces that fans can buy has already lured not only Melania Trump, Tom Brady has one. So does Snoop Dogg. The singer Grimes is a fan. As are Lindsay Lohan and Mark Cuban.

And what is a pop-culture trend if it doesn't include Paris Hilton?

PARIS HILTON, MEDIA PERSONALITY: That's hot. That's hot. That was hot.

BENNETT: Who has released several NFTs and also counts herself as a collector.

But a former first lady, not exactly what most do after leaving the White House. Laura Bush has dedicated her work to helping others on a global scale.

LAURA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Free people around the world must stand with Afghan women.

BENNETT: Michelle Obama has used her platform and popularity to push various projects, including voting rights.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: The truth is that registering to vote just isn't hard. It doesn't take long.

BENNNETT: Melania Trump has yet to establish a post-White House foundation or outline an agenda of work.

She did say in her NFT announcement that a portion of the proceeds would go to help foster children. But questions from CNN as to how much and which programs have gone unanswered.

One person in her corner on the venture? Her husband and crypto critic, Donald Trump.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I never loved it because I like to have the dollar. I think the currency should be the dollar, so I was never a big fan.

BENNETT: Now, embracing his wife's latest and somewhat unusual project.

D. TRUMP: She's going to do great. She's -- does -- she does really -- she's got a great imagination.


WHITFIELD: Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

All right. There are growing concerns among U.S. health officials as the country grapples with a troubling surge of COVID cases. Daily cases are now at an all-time pandemic high, nearing 400,000 infected every day. Almost every state is dealing with this rapidly spreading disease fueled largely by the omicron variant.

The accelerated spread having far reaching impacts on American lives.