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Sean Hannity Texts to White House Staff January 6; Search for Suspect that Planted Pipe Bombs 1/5/21; AG Garland To Hold Conference; Domestic Extremist Terrorism within Political Parties; 13 Killed in House Fire in Philadelphia; Chicago School District returns to Remote Learning; Dr. Schaffner Discusses Omicron Variant. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired January 05, 2022 - 10:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: In the days leading up to it, including with the former president.

The committee also revealed how top Fox News Host Sean Hannity was sounding the alarm behind the scenes in the days leading up to January 6 and after. Of course, very different from what he was saying and has been saying in front of the camera to his viewers.

Just a few hours from now Attorney General Merrick Garland is expected to deliver remarks. He will update on the Justice Department's efforts to hold those responsible for January 6 accountable.

Let's begin with the very latest on the January 6 investigation.

CNN Law Enforcement Correspondent Whitney Wild, he has been following the story.

Whitney, there are a whole host of revelations from these texts. I mean, broadly what it shows is that a number of people inside and outside the White House were aware of an effort to overturn the election and reject the votes of states. Among them, Sean Hannity. What do we know about him and how that fits into the broader picture?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, clearly what the committee thinks is that Sean Hannity has a direct line, a direct amount of information that would give very colorful detail about what was going on within the White House and really what was going on within Trump's mind in this lead-up to January 6.

Trump's mindset is a critical fact pattern here that the committee has to establish, so that's why they're going to these people who they really think can understand and articulate how the president was thinking and what he was intending to do leading up to January 6.

The committee released a list of text messages. Here are just a few of them. We can pull up here on a full screen. Among them, Jim, are Hannity saying things like -- like this, "Can he make a statement? Ask people to leave the Capitol." This is a text message between Sean Hannity and Mark Meadows on January 6. Another example of something we've talked a lot about, Jim, which is

there were tons of people in the Trump orbit who were begging Mark Meadows to get the former president to do something and he just didn't do it for hours on end.

Among the other things that Sean Hannity was -- was saying was basically, you know, as of December 31st, OK, so New Year's Eve 2020 he was pointing out to people within the White House that this idea that Vice President Mike Pence could shut down the Electoral College vote on January 6 at the Capitol was ludicrous. And he was trying to warn them that if they lose the White House Counsel's Office they're toast. They're -- this is -- this is a terrible plan, a path that leads to nowhere.

So, Hannity trying to sound the alarm here. But clearly, Jim, the committee thinks that he has concrete information that they can share. And at this point they're subpoenaing Sean Hannity. They are just asking him for a voluntary interview.

Meanwhile, they're also going after another very big fish, one of the biggest fish. That is former Vice President Mike Pence. Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the House Select Committee making clear to CNN that they would like to speak with him again, in a voluntary capacity. So, again Jim, they're zeroing in on the people who know Trump best.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And the idea not so ludicrous in that more than 100 GOP lawmakers voted that night to reject the votes of states, to reject them. Remarkable. Whitney Wild, thanks very much.

As Attorney General Merrick Garland is set to update the Justice Department's criminal probe into the insurrections, CNN is learning more about what is still an ongoing hunt for this person. The person who planted pipe bombs at both the Republican and Democratic headquarters in Washington the night before January 6.

CNN Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez, he has new reporting on this investigation.

Evan, it's been a year. They still don't have someone. Is there progress?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes look, the over -- over the past year, Jim, this has been an extraordinary police and law enforcement operation to arrest one of the 700 people.

But, these two priorities remain for the FBI. Finding the person who placed these bombs outside the RNC and DNC headquarters just a -- just a couple blocks from the U.S. Capitol. Those were found just before the assault on the Capitol. And finding about 250 people who they believe assaulted police in that violent ransacking of the Capitol.

I sat down with Steven D'Antuono who is the Assistant Director of the FBI's Washington Field Office to talk about these priorities.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) PEREZ: So we see in the videos, you know, the hooded sweatshirt, the -- the face mask, the backpack, the Nike shoes. Are you surprised that none of this has yielded the tip that brought this forward?

STEVEN D'ANTUONO, ASST. DIRECTOR FBI WASHINGTON FIELD OFFICE: In prior COVID times in any neighborhood, I think, in the country if you saw an individual hooded, masks, glasses, gloves on it would been a red flag for any -- any individual walking around that day.

In this case it wasn't because of the environment that we're living in during COVID times.

PEREZ: Well one of the things we wonder is why the bombs didn't go off.

D'ANTUONO: The bombs could have gone off. They just did not go off. In this area where the bombs are placed, if they did go off, they could have caused some serious harm or death.



PEREZ: And Jim, later today we're going to hear from the Attorney General. We don't expect that he's going to talk about any specific cases, but I think one of the things he wants to do is address some of the criticism of himself and the Justice Department about what exactly is going on behind the scenes to try to hold people accountable in the Trump administration, perhaps the former president himself, for what is essentially what people consider what was essentially a coup attempt on January 6.

And so, we're going to hear some words about, you know, defending democracy. But again, we don't anticipate in the coming hours when he speaks that he's going to go into too many details about these specific cases. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Yes, Ruben Gallego a Democratic Congressman told me yesterday that Garland was extremely weak, in his words, for not having yet prosecuted the ring leaders. We'll see if there's an update today. Evan Perez, thanks very much.

PEREZ: Thanks Jim.

SCIUTTO: Let's discuss more broadly. We're joined now by former Assistant U.S. Attorney Elie Honig and former Supervisory FBI Special Agent Pete Licata.

Pete, I wonder if I could begin with you, just specifically on this investigation into the person who left those pipe bombs a year ago. You have all that CCTV footage. We know the resources the FBI has here. Are you surprised they haven't been able to make more progress on this investigation in the year since January 6?

PETE LICATA, FORMER SUPERVISORY SPECIAL AGENT, FBI: Good morning, Jim. I am, actually. You know, that device was immediately sent to the FBI laboratory for forensic examination and exploitation.

The fact that there hasn't been any evidence gleaned from those -- both those devices with regard to latent prints, DNA, hairs and fibers, the device construction and how the material was acquired is actually very surprising. Which is -- with all respect to the lab, has nothing to do with their capabilities. It's just not as easy as people think.

The fact that it's taken this long means that they've exhausted a lot of their resources with regard to forensic evaluation or there just isn't anything significant with regard to latents or DNA that's comparable to the potential subjects. You're really relying on the CCTV and potential witnesses or accomplices that finally want to report on this individual.

SCIUTTO: Yes. May also speak to someone who is skilled, right? At avoiding leaving those kinds of clues.

Elie Honig, I want to talk about, of course, the other broader investigation here, and that is the straight up effort to overturn the election, right? I mean the sum total of what we're learning from the committee before releasing its report that strikes me, right, is the number of people who were in touch with the White House by text.

Sean Hannity among them, but he's not alone. Republican members of Congress who seem to be aware of what the plan was here, to straight- up reject the Electoral votes from swing states.

We're a year later, why no consequences legally for those people?

ELIE HONIG, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: Well it's a great question, Jim. And it's what I'm going to be thinking about when we watch the attorney general give his speech later today.

And by the way, I'll tell you right now, four hours in advance what Merrick Garland's going to say, it's no mystery. He's going to say, we will follow the facts and the law without fear or favor and we will pursue those leads wherever they lead us as high as they may go.

And that's good, he should say that. Those words are fine. But I've not seen it yet in Merrick Garland and DOJ's actions. And I'm much more interested in actions than words, two specific things.

First of all, they've prosecuted 700 plus people so far who stormed the Capitol. All people who physically stormed the Capitol. But four different federal judges in D.C. have criticized DOJ for being too lenient or giving misdemeanor pleas when there should be felonies. For giving probationary sentences when there should be jail time.

One judge, the chief judge in D.C. said DOJ has been schizophrenic and baffling. Those are quotes, in its approach to January 6.

And then the second big point is, where is the meaningful investigation of the leaders? Yes, of course, the people who stormed the Capitol have to be prosecuted. But, how about the people behind it? How about the people who came up

with this idea? Who came up with the idea to try to steal the election, to try to obstruct Congress? I've seen nothing from DOJ on that.

SCIUTTO: And by the way, some of them are still bragging about it. Peter Navarro is basically describing on television --


SCIUTTO: -- what the plan was. I want to, Pete Licata, speak about another threat. And that is just what January 6 revealed about the threat of right-wing extremisms in this country here. And to be clear, let's acknowledge the progress. More than 700 people facing criminal charges and more than 70 now sentenced already. But, where does that threat stand today, a year later? Is it still a clear and present danger in your view? Perhaps greater?

LICATA: I -- there's always a threat of extremism on both sides. The left, the anarchist side and the far right. Those threats always exist. They're always going to exist in this country. And honestly, in my 20 -- over 20 years in the FBI the tide has always turned depending on who the administration is at that time.

So, obviously we have a Democratic administration, there's always a surge in right-wing politics and far-right extremism. When we had Republican administrations there's a surge in left-wing extremism as well.


SCIUTTO: But Pete -- but Pete, to be fair, we did not see --

LICATA: So, it's --

SCIUTTO: -- January 6 was unique in its violent attack on the Capitol in the midst of the political process here. Does that reveal something different? The FBI, by the way, your former employer, has identified right-wing extremism as the principle domestic terror threat to this country.

LICATA: That's correct. And that's -- that's currently it. And I'm not denying it, I'm just saying that there's extremism on both sides. So, the domestic terrorism, and regardless of side, is always going to be a major threat to the political process and the safety and the security of the civilians of this country.

SCIUTTO: Elie Honig, you've been a former federal prosecutor. You've read the FBI reports, how they identify where the primary domestic terror threat is coming from? Do you agree that this is a both sides problem?

HONIG: No, I don't agree at all. All respect to Special Agent Licata and the work he's done. But I disagree here. I mean, what's different in this case is the power base, where this was coming from was inside the White House. I mean, look at those texts that we've seen just in the last couple days from Sean Hannity, the text before that involving the White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. That's what's different here.

You're always going to have people committing acts of extremism, of course. But, this is different because this one came from the power center, this one came from the White House and this one resulted in an attack on the Capitol. That is fundamentally different from anything we've seen before and hopefully anything we see going forward.

SCIUTTO: Elie Honig, Pete Licata, thanks very much to both of you.

LICATA: Thank you.

HONIG: Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: We are following other breaking news, this out of Philadelphia. It's sad news. A deadly fire broke out this morning and the death toll just shocking here. CNN's Brynn Gingras, she's been monitoring it for us.

How many deaths have we been able to confirm? And where do things stand now?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes Jim, my colleague Mark Morales was able to confirm with a source 13 people killed in that fire.

It is a very hectic scene still, as you can see in Philadelphia. What we've learned so far is that call for this fire came in at about 6:40 this morning and the fire was able to be extinguished 50 minutes later according to the fire department, which you can image is an incredible feet, considering how cold the temperatures are right now outside.

That is a three-story home that was converted into several apartments that we've learned. And again, 13 people though inside were killed.

Now, what we're learning from the fire department, the police departments who are still there on the scene, is that they haven't yet been able to get into the building to try to figure out what may have started this or anymore details.

However, we are waiting on a news conference from the fire department to give us a little bit more finer details. But as you said, tragic news coming out of Philadelphia this morning about this fire. And as soon as we get more information, of course, we'll pass that on to you.

SCIUTTO: Brynn Gingras, a sad story. We know you'll stay on top --


SCIUTTO: -- of it. Thanks so much.

Still to come this hour a late night Union vote leads to cancelled classes in the nation's third largest school district. We're going to be live in Chicago as teachers there say they are now locked out of their remote platforms. And the uncertainty of the pandemic partnered with the sudden school

changes have taken a major toll on kid's mental health. CNN speaks to families struggling to find balance in the midst of all this. Maybe it will sound familiar to some of you watching.

Plus, Democrats make a new push for voting rights, but may sound familiar, swing vote Senator Joe Manchin may have just stopped that effort before it even begins.




SCIUTTO: Tens of thousands of children in Chicago are not in their classrooms today, as the third largest school district in the country went back to remote learning.

Over night the Chicago Teacher's Union voted to teach virtually, citing concerns over the fast-spreading Omicron variant. That prompted district officials to cancel classes today. Of course, it conflicts with what the surgeon general is saying, is that mitigation in the classroom, including masking and ventilation makes them safe.

CNN Correspondent Omar Jimenez following all of this.

Omar, you now have new reporting this morning that even as they're trying remote learning that the teachers have been locked out of their remote platforms. That -- that's on purpose?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. So, the Chicago Teacher's Union is reporting they are hearing from their teachers that they have tried to log into their remote teaching platforms and have been locked out.

It's a possibility we knew could happen as the school district has threatened this in the past under similar circumstances. And when we reached out to them about this, they didn't specifically confirm it, but did reiterate this is a work stoppage.

And referred us to the statement they released last night, saying, teachers will not be paid for this. That they called this vote, to go all virtual by the teachers, an unfortunate decision. And that they now worry for the wellbeing of students.

But, of course, part of what the Chicago Teacher's Union has been asking for in this, is they say that the current measures in place for in-person teaching are not safe enough, especially amid record number of COVID-19 cases among students, staff and the city of Chicago over recent weeks.

They want more access to testing, a greater portion of the student population to be vaccinated. It's around a third right now, though the rate for the teachers are much higher. And leadership at the Chicago Teacher's Union has said that this is their only option they feel to carry on safely. Take a listen.



JESSE SHARKEY, PRESIDENT, CHICAGO TEACHER'S UNION: We've been failed by the mayor. We've been failed by the Public Health Office. And teachers and the school staff have decided we have to be -- the only thing that we get control is whether we go into the buildings.


JIMENEZ: Now, over the last year the school system has received more than $1 billion in federal money to help address COVID in school and in the surrounding community. And the school district has maintained it's worked, that being in-person, in class is safe and that the majority of this transmission of COVID is not happening in classrooms, but instead in the surrounding communities.

And leadership at the school district side has said, any district-wide move to remote learning just isn't practical, like what we're looking at right now. What they've suggested is doing school level metrics for remote learning. For example, if 50 percent of the student population has to either isolate or quarantine.

Now moving forward, the Union has indicated this vote doesn't just apply to today, but that these teachers are planning to refuse in- person learning until at least January 18 or until both sides can come to an agreement on what's safe in-person classroom instruction looks like. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Omar Jimenez thanks so much for following.

All right, let's talk more about all of this with Dr. William Schaffner, Professor in Infectious Diseases Division at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Dr. Schaffner, always good to have you on.


SCIUTTO: So first, let me ask you as a doctor what you think of what we're seeing in Chicago right now. The fact is, most school districts they're going back to school. New York City, for instance, they're going back. The mayor said you got to go back. And the surgeon general, as you know, says with mitigation masking, ventilation, et cetera, it's safe for kids to go back to school, particularly as many people are vaccinated now.

Is it a mistake? Is it an overreaction for schools to be going remote?

SCHAFFNER: Well Jim, I would think that schools could open really at very, very low risk if everybody does everything. You can't just rely on one thing. The first is, that every adult having anything to do with the school building should be vaccinated.

The second thing is, we need to get obviously the students vaccinated. Where are these parents? Why haven't they brought children in for vaccination, age 5 and up? They're all eligible. And then wearing masks, good ventilation, doing social distancing to the degree that you can, good hand hygiene and environmental sanitation. If you put each of those things together you're in pretty good shape.

SCIUTTO: OK, let's talk now about the new CDC COVID-19 isolation guidance. They moved it from 10 days to 5 days. And, by the way, as we were discussing last hour, this follows the science here.

Because if you look at the graph, your transmissibility declines very quickly after that first positive test. Now, the confusion is not just that time change, but whether you need a test, a negative test to get out.

And now they're basically saying, you don't need it but if you can find one do it. I mean, is that -- I know what they're trying to do here, right. They're trying to get as many people tested in the midst of a shortage of testing, but would it have been better just to leave this aside and say no need to test?

SCHAFFNER: Well, I think many of us in public health would put the testing requirement aside. You know, you have to interpret the results of the test. Let me just tell you about one difficulty, and that's that fancy best test, the PCR. You know, it can remain positive for a very long time and you're perfectly fine.

What the test is doing is detecting remnants, pieces of the --


SCHAFFNER: -- of the virus, but you're no longer contagious. So, if you get a positive PCR test that can result in more confusion than help. And that's why the CDC has been cautious about that.

Let's stick with the time elements and wearing the mask and I think we'll be in the best shape.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you then a bigger picture question here because you're not the first doctor to note this. That those PCRs can pick up remnants, you know, dead cells in effect, after -- long after you're actually transmissible. Do we need to look at testing differently, more broadly?

SCHAFFNER: Well, you know, all of us in medicine know every test has to be used very carefully and you have to interpret it with caution. And I think that's where we are. Both the rapid test and the PCR are wonderful tests, they can be useful, but their results have to be interpreted with a degree of care.

To beyond that we'll talk for an --


SCHAFFNER: -- hour about the tests.

SCIUTTO: I hear you. And listen, by the way, you know, what one sort of lesson of all this is people aren't comfortable with any uncertainty what so ever. The fact is pandemic comes with uncertainty. We're learning as we go.

All right, we're on January 5 today. Other countries that experienced Omicron, South Africa and elsewhere peaked and they peaked early and then burned out early.


For folks looking for relief, right, to get to the other side of this latest surge, what's your best guess? What does the data show as to when we get past that peak?

SCHAFFNER: We're a much broader country, a larger country. It's much more diverse than the -- than, for example, South Africa. And I think, obviously, the peak has gone up but I think it will come down more slowly here in the United States as Omicron gets out into our rural areas. But, by early February I'm cautiously optimistic that we may get ahead of this if -- if there's no --


SCHAFFNER: -- new variant that shows up somewhere in the world.

SCIUTTO: All right. I'm not going to start talking about that, Dr. Schaffner, because I got to sleep at night. But, we'll look forward to early February in the meantime. Dr. William Schaffner, thanks so much.

SCHAFFNER: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Coming up next, nearly 150 mayors from across the country are urging Congress to take action on voting rights. My next guest, a Republican, sign that letter, which argues that our very democracy is at stake. You'll want to watch this. It's coming up.