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Nineteen Dead Including Nine Children In Massive Bronx Apartment Fire; Children's Hospital Los Angeles Sees High Positive Rate Among Kids; Dr. Anthony Fauci Predicts U.S. Could Hit A Million Cases A Day; Novak Djokovic To Appeal Visa Cancellation In Vaccine Standoff; Jan. 6 Committee Considers Asking Pence To Appear Voluntarily. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired January 09, 2022 - 16:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Nineteen people are dead including nine children after a massive fire inside a high rise building in New York City. Fire officials describing the scene in the Bronx as unprecedented with victims in cardiac and respiratory arrest in the stairwells of every floor of the building, that is 19 stories high. Dozens are hurt. The mayor saying this fire will go down in the history books.


MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D), NEW YORK CITY: This is going to be one of the worst fires in our history. We know that we have 19 people who are confirmed dead, as well as several others are in critical condition. And over 63 people were injured in this fire. And in the loss of residency, people have been displaced. This is really a horrific day for us.

We do know that the door was left open, and what happens in cases like that, it allows the (INAUDIBLE) spread and the smoke to spread in a rapid fashion. It appears as though many who were injured in this case was due to smoke inhalation.

I spoke to a young man who was an Uber driver. His loved ones were in the building, and he's seeking information, so I can only imagine the uncertainty that is really engulfing those who have families that are connected. But this tragedy impact -- someone layers apart from each other. And we're going to try to get as much information as possible to all those who are seeking it.


ACOSTA: I want to get right to CNN's Polo Sandoval live at the scene.

Polo, just an awful situation. Is there any word yet on what started this fire, how it spread so quickly through that large building?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and not at this point, too, Jim. That's going to be obviously part of the investigation. That's really going to be a big focus here. But when you just, just to get a sense of what happened here, that fire starting at one of those apartments in the building that you see behind me, about 19 floors. Now, the fire itself mainly contained to that duplex apartment.

But the smoke, as you just heard from the mayor, that was the biggest threat here. That's what led to so much devastation and so many injuries here. And now that we know those 19 fatalities. And this community in the Bronx, Jim, is preparing for news that that number is likely going to get even higher, especially when you hear, for example, from the fire commissioner who says that this will likely be one of the worst fires that their personnel has responded to in over 30 years.


DANIEL A. NIGRO, NEW YORK CITY FIRE COMMISSIONER: Units arrived here this morning within three minutes of the call for a fire that was in a duplex apartment. This apartment spanned floors two and three. They were met in the hallway with this fire. Very heavy smoke, very heavy fire. Units pushed in. This smoke extended the entire height of the building, completely unusual. Members found victims on every floor in stairwells and were taking them out in cardiac and respiratory arrest.


SANDOVAL: Yes, of those 32 that were seriously injured, again we now know 19 dead, nine of them children. And the fire commissioner, Jim, telling me that he fears that once everything is said and done and they continue to tally up these numbers said many of them will be children that have been affected by this.

And just to give you a sense of it, I spoke to somebody who lived up on the 13th floor who said this morning about 11:00 they're about to start enjoying their coffee when they heard the alarm, looked out their door and saw that thick smoke multiple stories up. So that just gives you a better sense of how though the fire may have been contained to that particular unit the smoke, it was everywhere in this building. As the fire commissioner said the amount of smoke that the residents in this building had to deal with was unprecedented.

ACOSTA: Yes, it must be so frightening for the people there. And, Polo, when was the last time New York saw a fire of this magnitude? I mean, they don't have fires like this very often.

SANDOVAL: They certainly don't. And the fire commissioner told me that this was the last time that they saw something that would potentially compare to this is about 32 years ago a fire here in the Bronx. And so it certainly gives you kind of a sense of when the last time was that they had to respond with these numbers. There were 200 personnel that were out here trying to rescue people.

And when you see those pictures of the, of what took place just a few hours ago, you could see those firefighters on those ladder trucks rescuing many people, some of them obviously through windows. And when you see the buildings itself, you see so many windows that were shattered. One of the neighbors here telling me that those were people that actually shattered their windows just to get some fresh air.

Because as we continue to hear those stories, as we continue to hear from first responders, smoke inhalation, that was the biggest threat today, not the fire itself.

ACOSTA: Yes, absolutely. All right, Polo Sandoval, we'll get back to you as this story develops. Polo Sandoval on the scene for us, thanks very much.


Now to the coronavirus pandemic and the nation's healthcare system being pushed to a new limit as Omicron cases just explode, nearly a quarter of hospitals in the United States today reporting a critical staffing shortage. That's the worst it's been since the start of the pandemic.

People who need medical care for reasons other than COVID may now have a big problem. Some of states including New York have stopped all nonurgent surgeries at certain facilities, and a labor and delivery unit was shut down indefinitely at a Florida hospital.

And the wave has not yet reached its peak in many parts of the country. Dr. Anthony Fauci warns the U.S. could soon hit one million cases every day for multiple days. A mind-boggling surge just as kids across the country are heading back to the classroom. More than 300,000 Chicago students are caught in the middle of a tug of war between the schools that want them in the classroom and teachers who want remote learning.

As of now, Chicago parents still don't know if their kids will be in school tomorrow but in California new data illustrates just how much is at stake when deciding how to safely get kids back to school. Children's Hospital Los Angeles reports that roughly one-quarter of children hospitalized with COVID are admitted to the pediatric ICU, some requiring intubation.

Let's go to CNN's Natasha Chen in Los Angeles County.

Natasha, scary situation all over. I know the Los Angeles Unified School District is a big school district, second largest in the country. How are they handling things right now?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jim, it is smoother sailing with this district. I'm actually at one of their middle schools where this is a testing site, one of many that have been opened for the past week, especially this weekend. Testing even 2500 people a day just right here. The line really has not let up since we've been here this morning.

And that's because a baseline test is required from students and employees in order to show up in person on Tuesday. You have to show a negative test. They did this back in August. They also have been implementing required weekly tests for students and employees. And that's been really key in catching those positive cases and keeping those people home. In addition, they have 100 percent vaccinated employees.

Those students 12 and up will have to be fully vaxxed by August, and about 90 percent of them right now are. Masks are required indoors and outdoors during school. So a combination of those things, plus what this spokesperson describes to me as "Ghostbusters" level sanitation have allowed them to keep all 1,000 plus schools open for in-person learning this entire school year. No one has had to go virtual here.

And in talking about the Children's Hospital statistics that you mentioned, Dr. Susan Wu from Children's Hospital L.A. told me that right now that the concern is really those under 5 children who are not eligible to be vaccinated. They're seeing a lot of them come in right now.


DR. SUSAN WU, PEDIATRIC HOSPITALIST, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL LOS ANGELES: You know, we've had several little waves come through, and this definitely has been the fastest. And what's different is we're seeing a lot of babies, a lot of younger kids, and that's been something that we've had to learn from and adjust to if someone tests positive in your household, you isolate for the recommended period of time to prevent transmission.

But we're seeing a lot of young kids who, you know, it's just not possible to do that. And we're seeing a lot of families where everybody in the family has tested positive.


CHEN: I think we all know a family somewhere where there is a person who's perhaps positive and needs to be shut up in their room for multiple days who can't really do that with a baby. So that is a real challenge. She says that's a major reason everyone else in the household should be vaccinated if you've got a younger person to protect.

Right now the positivity rate at that hospital, Children's Hospital L.A. went from 17.5 percent among the children being brought in, in December compared to right now to date in January, 45 percent. So that's more than double, quite a spike right now -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Absolutely. All right, Natasha Chen, thank you very much for that.

I'm joined now by CNN medical analyst and professor of medicine in surgery at George Washington University, Dr. Jonathan Reiner.

You know, it's hard to get your head around some of these numbers, Dr. Reiner. One million cases a day? A real possibility now according to Dr. Fauci. Is there anything left the Biden administration can do to get us out of this hole? Or are we just going to have to ride this thing out?

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, I think a million cases a day is going to be probably a big underestimate. Remember, a lot of people are testing at home now, and very few of those tests are being reported. So, I expect that many more than a million people a day will end up contracting this virus.


Look, I think the Biden administration has focused most of their energy over the last year in trying to vaccinate as many Americans as possible. And they've vaccinated about 210 million people, which is a great achievement, except about a third of the country remains unvaccinated. But they spend less attention on testing, and we're starting to see how we're being hurt by that.

So, going back to, you know, to how you opened this piece, if you want to get kids and teachers back in schools, the way to do that is a multipronged approach, including flooding our schools with testing. Testing kids every week, testing teachers every week, requiring teachers to be vaccinated, and they are in most parts of this country.

Requiring students to be vaccinated. Only 25 percent of kids between 5 and 11 are vaccinated. Only 63 percent of children between 12 and 17 are vaccinated. So there's a lot we can do. And I think in communities with a lot of viral spread right now with really high cases of -- levels of the virus that we need to start thinking about some smart community containment before you close the school. So if we're struggling to keep schools open, it's amazing to me that the bars are still open.


ACOSTA: Right. It's true, yes. Where are our priorities?

REINER: We need to be able to do, you know, to do some difficult things, maybe close down some things in the communities and prioritize keeping schools open, prioritize keeping our hospitals functioning.

ACOSTA: Yes. Well, and that brings me to this tweet that resonated with a lot of folks in capturing some of the frustration of the moment. "Stay indoors, but also return in person. Wear a mask but not that one. The expensive one, the one you can't find. Take rapid tests which you also can't find. But if you find them, don't buy them. Rapid tests don't work, you need PCR. There are zero appointments in your area."

And on and on and on, I suppose you could say with that tweet. But what do you think? I mean, we still don't really have our stuff together, if I can avoid using salty language on a Sunday, when it comes to being prepared for any of this.

REINER: Right. And what's so frustrating is that we know what works. So, first of all, masks work to lower community spread. But we still don't have sort of a ubiquitous supply of N95 masks in the community. This should've been a priority over the last year to build these community supplies. They should be, you know, really available at a nominal cost or basically free to everyone.

The notion that people still walking around with bandannas or flimsy single-ply masks is just hard to understand. We should have, again, ready supplies of rapid tests. You should be able to pick them up basically at the corner store for nothing. We should have prioritized boosting this country. We've only boosted a third of the people who have been vaccinated in this country.

ACOSTA: Right.

REINER: And less of the total population. So we've had the tools to contain even this very aggressive variant. We've just not put all the pieces together.

ACOSTA: But, you know, there's another piece of this, and that leads me to this next question. Unfortunately, Dr. Reiner, it's become a tradition for you to come on here and clear up Tucker Carlson's COVID nonsense.

REINER: Right.

ACOSTA: Here's his latest involving Viagra, if you can believe this. Let's watch.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX HOST: Amazingly there appear to be growing connections between Viagra and treatment of the coronavirus. A nurse in the U.K. just woke up from a 28-day coma after she got a big dose of Viagra. Probably her first. One healthcare company is providing coronavirus tests along with their E.D. medication. Who thought Viagra would save us from the pandemic? Well, as you said, if you're taking, and I'm quoting, a massive quote of Viagra, you wake up. So I think it's pretty obvious. Is there anything it doesn't cure?


ACOSTA: I mean, Dr. Reiner, I suppose some people will justify those prescriptions with just about anything. But, you know, his show really should come with a surgeon general's warning for disinformation. I mean, that's the problem here.

REINER: Well, here's the thing. That show has propagated myth and fallacy and the phrase that you sometimes use on this show which I won't use, it starts with bull, repeatedly. What they have not done is told their audience what we know works to prevent mortality in this country, which is simply to vaccinate people. They have promoted Ivermectin, they've promoted hydroxychloroquine. Now they're promoting Viagra.


You know, he's the king of anecdotes, not the king of data. And, you know, I challenge Mr. Carlson, why don't you have a legitimate expert on your show to discuss some of these fringe whack-job opinions that you seem to spout nightly. And he does it in a very, very sort of cynical way.

He raises -- he doesn't say necessarily that vaccines are bad, he says, what do we know about the safety of vaccines? Or he won't necessarily promote Viagra, but he says, well, there's a report in London that Viagra might work. But there's never seem, you know, magically there's no one ever available to basically vet these comments. It's become basically the repository of nonsense.

ACOSTA: Yes, and there are plenty of experts available. And he always puts it in the form of a question, which is, you know, we're just raising questions over here on this program, and I guess the big question to him is, why are you killing your own viewers? Because that's what he's doing on almost a nightly basis with this craziness.

REINER: Right. And he has never leveled with his viewership about whether he's been vaccinated. You know, my sense is that he's almost certainly been vaccinated, and I would be shocked if he wasn't boosted. But yet he hosts this continuing parade of clowns that propagate this nonsense that, you know, that somehow vaccines are harmful or that this is somehow a liberal plot to somehow subjugate the masses. And what he doesn't tell his viewers is that virtually everyone dying in the United States right now of COVID-19 is unvaccinated.

ACOSTA: And let's just say right now a challenge to Tucker Carlson as we're talking about this from yours truly and from Dr. Reiner, Tucker Carlson, tell the American people if you have been double vaccinated and boosted. Just come clean. Tell everybody if you've been boosted. We know the truth. We know you have been, but just tell us. Tell everybody the truth. That's all we ask.

REINER: Right.

ACOSTA: All right, Dr. Reiner, great to see you, as always.

REINER: My pleasure, Jim.

ACOSTA: And coming up, tennis star Novak Djokovic faces a high-stakes hearing amid a vaccine standoff with Australia. Will he get to compete in one of the biggest tournaments of the year, or will he be deported? That's next.



ACOSTA: In less than two hours, the number one tennis player in the world, Novak Djokovic, will make an appeal to an Australian court not to deport him because he's unvaccinated. Djokovic wants to stay in order to compete in the Australia Open and his lawyers say he flew to the country because he received a medical exemption. But since his arrival the multimillionaire has been confined to a hotel that houses refugees and asylum-seekers, although we're told he's now getting access to gluten-free meals and exercise equipment. How nice.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is in Melbourne to follow this story.

Paula, it doesn't sound too bad for Djokovic, but how's he doing in the court of public opinion right now?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's an interesting question, Jim, because when it comes to many Australians, they have had these incredibly strict immigration and border controls the entire time that COVID has been here. I know people who have suffered because of that, everybody does. One friend was unable to leave the country to attend his own mother's funeral.

So there is many stories of heartbreak when it comes to the restrictions going in and out of Australia during COVID. So, sympathy, I should say, is fairly thin on the ground. But there are others who do believe that Novak Djokovic should not be in this detention facility behind me. There's certainly been supporters outside this facility protesting every single day. And the question is, where did the miscommunication come? Whose fault was it?

And there have been plenty of fingers of blame being pointed. Tennis Australia saying that they believed he had a valid medical exemption and that the government had given very contradicting and confusing advice. Whereas the government says back in November they had pointed out to the tournament organizers that a previous COVID-19 infection, which lawyers claim Djokovic had, was simply not enough to gain access to the country if he were unvaccinated.

In just under two hours, we will start that hearing, we will find out a little more as to exactly what happened -- Jim.

ACOSTA: And I guess the Australians were upset that Djokovic appeared maskless at events right around the time he said he tested positive for COVID in December, or at least that's something that they're focused on. And for our viewers here in the United States, Paula, people need to understand. Australia has been very tough on COVID, but it has had some results in that country. They've been able to keep the number of deaths down substantially compared to the rest of the world.

HANCOCKS: Well, certainly at the beginning they did, and they did have about two years of very strict controls. Here in Melbourne, for example, they had well over 250 days in lockdown. It was one of the most locked down cities on earth. So their sympathy is fairly thin for Novak Djokovic. But recently we are starting to see record highs of Omicron cases here and the hospital is starting to overflow once again. So certainly, the situation is deteriorating here.

ACOSTA: All right, Paula, thank you very much for that report. We appreciate it.

And coming up, the length some Republicans are going to, to capitalize on Trump's big lie, including firing at fake Dominion voting machines.


RON HANKS, REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE FOR U.S. SENATE: I'm Ron Hanks and I approve this message.




ACOSTA: Back to our breaking news. 19 people dead including nine children after a massive fire at a high-rise building in New York. Fire officials describing the scene in the Bronx as unprecedented with victims in cardiac and respiratory arrest in the stairwells of every floor of the building that is 19 stories high.

Let's go back to CNN's Polo Sandoval who's still on the scene for us.

Polo, what more can you tell us?

SANDOVAL: Yes, the big question here is what caused that fire, Jim. It originally started in one of those duplex apartments, it's about 19 floors. A neighbor telling me that there's about 120 units roughly in this building. Again that's according to somebody who actually lives here. And it was about 11:00 this morning when fire broke out in that apartment, and that's what initially caused obviously the situation that we've seen now.


Now, in terms of the damage, we understand that fire itself was actually contained mostly to that apartment, but the smoke, that's actually what led to a majority injuries here. Now, perhaps all of them, you know about over 60 people who were hurt today, about half of them were transported in a critical state to hospitals.

And we now know 19 people confirmed dead, nine of them children, and that is adding just another layer of heartbreak here. And the Fire Commissioner telling me that that is particularly hard for so many of these first responders to deal with right now. Of course, not to mention the families that are in the middle of it right now, many of whom don't know where they'll be sleeping tonight.

Yes, there are multiple resources that are being offered to them. In fact, there's a school right next to this high rise, the sort of serving as a warming shelter right now as the Red Cross is making sure that those families have everything that they need. But the big question is exactly again, what caused that fire.

And when you see some of these pictures of the scene of what it looked like hours ago, when the fire initially broke out, and get a sense of just how many people were on the scene here, but really, that's the very latest here. And it is so far based on what we're hearing from not just the Fire Commissioner, but also from New York City Mayor Eric Adams that this is likely going to be one of the worst fires that his -- that their first responders have responded to, at least in recent time.

ACOSTA: All right, Polo, we know that the mayor of New York, Eric Adams is going to give an update on this fire in the next hour. We'll be standing by for that as well. Polo Sandoval thanks very much.

This week in Atlanta, President Biden will deliver a speech on the importance of voting rights. But across the country, supporters of the former president who pushed the big lie are still pressuring local election officials to revisit the past and recount the 2020 vote.

With me now, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Professor of History in New York University and author of the book STRONGMEN: Mussolini to the Present. She also has a newsletter, Lucid on threats to democracy. And also with us, Larry Sabato, Director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

Larry, Ruth, great to have you both. I really appreciate it. Larry, just how widespread nationally, do you think this platform of running on the big lie really is? You know, you see this anecdotal evidence here there of various candidates, but it seems as though they're in just about every section of the country in a lot of battleground states that might be critical in the upcoming elections?

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR POLITICS, UNIV. OF VIRGINIA: Jim, they're in battleground states, and there are dozens and dozens of them running for key offices like State Secretary of State, and also for Congress in districts where the Republican nomination is tantamount to election. That's where it's really dangerous.

And look, this is serious business. You know, Trump really thought he was going to win in 2020. That's why I think this planning for a coup failed, in part because they only had a few weeks to really consider it. Well, now he's got years and his gang around him has years. What are they doing?

They are preparing to at least in races that are close to ignore the popular vote, they really want to turn the electoral college into a division of Trump University. That's what everyone needs to fight. And you have to start now, with the midterm elections of 2022. You don't start to fighting this after the elections over in 2024.

ACOSTA: Right, I mean, the time is now, no question about it. And Ruth, let's read -- this is something that is very striking, former President Jimmy Carter, whom as we know, monitors elections around the world, or has done that for years around the world.

This week released an op-ed in the New York Times, he writes in the New York Times, our great nation now teeters on the brink of a widening abyss without immediate action, we are at genuine risk of civil conflict and losing our precious democracy. Americans must set aside differences and work together before it is too late. Do you share that view, Ruth? What do you what do you make of those comments? And what are your thoughts?

RUTH BEN-GHIAT, PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, NYU: It's very important and significant that former President Carter is speaking out right now in such strong terms.

Also, retired generals did the Washington Post op-ed, warning of an insurrection. And all of these people know what happens when the democratic order breaks down. They also know that once you lose freedom, it can take years to get it back. And what we're seeing now is the kind of more momentum after January 6 in the radicalization of the of the GOP, and the type of people who are coming forth and populating the system are extremists who have shown that they're willing to commit violence.

Some of them were in January six, that they will propagate the big lie that they'll turn a blind eye to corruption, whether that means fixing elections or Trump's own corruptions. So, we're in this mode of acceleration of extremism and populating the system and it's very dangerous.


ACOSTA: And Larry, let's paint a picture of what happens if Republicans, if the Trump Republican Party what we described yesterday is the Trump own party wins control of the House in the November midterms, over in the Senate, Ted Cruz, who's had a rough week, as already said that there's a chance that Biden could be impeached. You know, they're talking about impeachment. If they get control of the Congress, I guess he may have to ask Tucker Carlson for his permission first, before moving on, that sort of thing. But what do you see happening?

SABATO: Well, the Republicans are currently favored to take over the House of Representatives. I don't think anybody really disagrees with that, though. It's 10 months to the election, strange things can happen. The Senate is closer, and the races are always more idiosyncratic. There's maybe a small edge to the Republicans, but that can be reversed depending on what happens in the next 10 months.

But again, Jim, this is serious business, people need to focus on this. Because the people who control are the party that controls the House and the Senate, and the party that controls the state legislatures in the swing states, and there are a handful of swing states that will determine the election in 2024, just like they determined it in 2020. And those state, secretary of state positions that often run the elections and can determine whether these votes should be discounted and whether these votes should be counted.

When you put all of this together. It just reminds me of another dictator. Ruth is focused on Mussolini and others. I like Joseph Stalin, no, I don't like him. But I like this. He said, those who pass the votes count for nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything. And we need to remember that before it's too late, there are plenty of elective dictators throughout the world. Look at Hungary.

ACOSTA: That's exactly right. I mean that is how strong menses power, Ruth, you know that all too well. And, you know, let's switch to the former president, because there's been some reporting in the last week or so that people who were in the same room as Trump last January 6, describe what you might describe as a classic, strong man moment, the former president kicking back, loving the chaos that he created. This is how Stephanie Grisham, the former White House Press Secretary described it.


STEPHANIE GRISHAM, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY UNDER FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP: All I know about that day was he was in the dining room, gleefully watching on his TV, as he often did. Look at all of the people fighting for me, hitting rewind, watching it again. That's what I know. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: And we should point out that description matches what we've heard in our reporting from other former officials, people who were around Trump at that time, how does that fit the profile of an autocrat of a dictator want to be?

BEN-GHIAT: So, what people need to understand is that men like Trump, and who has an autocratic personality, they don't leave office quietly. It's like kind of a death for them. They need the adulation. They need the immunity from prosecution. So, they do desperate things.

And as we know, Trump tried everything he tried to get the military to play his coup game, tried to fix elections, nothing worked. So, we got a kind of, you know, custom army of thugs, to assault the Capitol. And then, of course, he was behind the insurrection in my view, and it makes perfect sense. And he was not saying anything to call them off because he was waiting to see if he could claim his prize.

All of this is very consistent with the autocratic mentality. And the idea that Trump tells a very good stories, a wonderful storyteller, and propagandists that this compelling idea that he's been robbed of something that's rightfully his, so he's the big victim, all strong men are victims.

And as you see, people have been willing to go and assault the Capitol on his behalf. That's the ideal situation for the strongmen. Others put themselves at risk, and you stay in your nice, White House and you watch everything on television.

ACOSTA: Right. And when he was asked just the other day by one of his propaganda outlets, you know, for his reflections on January 6, he was talking about his crowd size, which is just I can't think of anything that could be more repugnant than that.

Professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Larry Sabato, both excellent experts on this topic. We'll have you back. Thanks so much for being with us. We appreciate it.

SABATO: Thanks, Jim.

ACOSTA: Great to talk to both of you.

And a programming note, join Fareed Zakaria for a brand new special, The Fight to Save American Democracy airs tonight at 9:00 Eastern, really important viewing for everybody out there.

Coming up, he had to hide from the mob on January 6. Now House committee is considering asking Mike Pence to testify. Will the former Vice President come in voluntarily? Our cross-exam segment with Elie Honig is next.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ACOSTA: January 6 Committee expects to ask former Vice President Mike Pence to appear voluntarily this month, the chairman of the committee, Congressman Bennie Thompson tells NPR, Pence's appearance is critical because of the pressure the former Vice President face from Trump on January 6 last year to reject the election results and the fact that he ultimately decided not to bow to Trump's pressure.

Thompson says the Committee will meet next week behind closed doors to firm up final plans about asking pens to appear voluntarily. CNN Senior Legal Analyst and Former Federal Prosecutor Elie Honig joins us now to answer your legal questions.


This is a tantalizing story and aspect of all this, Elie, you know, whether Pence would testify. It looks like they're going to forego a formal subpoena for the former Vice President. One viewer wants to know, what are the legal options for the January 6 Committee if it invites a witness to testify like Mike Pence, but that witness refuses? I suppose a subpoena could happen. But subpoena former Vice President, that would be something else?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: That is the question, Jim, yeah. We've been seeing a lot of these informal invitations to testify lately. But the question is, what does the committee do when these people politely decline those informal invitations? And the answer really, the committee's recourse here is to issue a subpoena that is not informal, that is a formal command to testify. And then if people still don't testify, the Committee has the option to vote to hold these folks in contempt of Congress, send it over to DOJ for potential prosecution.

Of course, that's exactly what happened with Steve Bannon. He's now being prosecuted by the Justice Department, and potentially with Mark Meadows. He's been held in contempt. DOJ has now been looking at whether to charge him for coming up on a month, they could decide that soon.

And Jim, we have other potential conflicts looming, not just with the Vice President, but with other representatives, Scott Perry and Jim Jordan. They've been informally asked. So, the question is, will the Committee just sort of say, OK, hey, we tried, thanks for thinking about it, or will they go to court and fight to get that testimony?

ACOSTA: Right, and another viewer wants to know, could the Department of Justice prosecute Trump or others close to him for crimes relating to January 6, how likely is that to happen? I mean, that is the big gazillion dollar question and all of this.

HONIG: It sure is, and it was very much on people's minds this week. Look, I absolutely see potential crimes here, election interference, obstruction of Congress, I think are the more clear-cut ones, arguably incitement and sedition.

Now we know DOJ is prosecuting over 700 people who stormed the Capitol. These are ground level people. Now this week, Merrick Garland made a speech on the eve of the anniversary, and he assured us, we are looking to prosecute people, "at any level," good rhetoric, but I don't see the actions there thus far in terms of what's publicly available to back it up.

We've not seen any subpoenas, any search warrants, certainly no charges that seem aimed at anyone above the ground level, anybody at a real power source. It's possible Merrick Garland is doing this in super-secret with no subpoenas and no grand jury and no searches and no charges. But I think based on what we've seen so far, it's very unlikely.

ACOSTA: And Trump has asked the Supreme Court to block the release of hundreds of documents from his White House to the Select Committee, another viewer wants to know, do you think the Supreme Court will take the case? All signs point to yes, at this point, right? It's such -- it would be such an important case for them to take on.

HONIG: I'm not so sure, Jim. I actually wouldn't surprise me if the Supreme Court declined to take this. I do think either way, Trump is going to lose and the committee is going to win here.

Now, that's what happened in the lower courts. District Court and Court of Appeals ruled against Donald Trump's executive privilege claim in favor of the committee. Why would the committee take the case? It's what you said, I think, Jim. This is a unique constitutional question. Why might the Supreme Court not take the case?

Well, there's no disagreement in the lower courts. And if you look at those rulings below, they're really pretty clear cut. The law is fairly straightforward here, even though it's a novel question, Jim, it's not a particularly close question legally. So, I think it's in play that this week, the Supreme Court says no thanks. And if so, then that's that.

ACOSTA: And then the records have to be turned over?

HONIG: Yes, absolutely. And if they do take the case of Supreme Court, then it will take several months while the case gets argued in the Supreme Court. But ultimately, I think that's inevitably where they end up anyway, records do have to go over.

ACOSTA: All right, Elie Honig we'll be watching. Thanks so much. I appreciate it.

HONIG: Thanks, Jim. All right.

ACOSTA: All right. And we'll be right back.



ACOSTA: The Duchess of Cambridge is marking a milestone birthday today with some stunning new portraits, Kensington Palace has released three new photographs of Kate Middleton, one in color, two in black and white for her 40th birthday. Through the year they will be shown at different locations before being put in a permanent spot at Britain's National Portrait Gallery in London. The Duchess is celebrating her birthday privately with family.

A U.S. figure skater is going for Golden making history at the Olympic Winter Games. Timothy LeDuc is set to become the first openly non- binary winter Olympian. LeDuc and their partner have qualified to represent the U.S. when the Winter Games kick off in Beijing next month. It's not the first time in the history books. He was the first openly gay athlete to win gold and a U.S. Paris event that was in 2019 next month. There'll be a trip to China for the first winter Olympic appearance.

And Uber drivers being praised and go -- for going above and beyond during a stressful situation. Devonte Williams (ph) was one of the many drivers stuck for hours on Interstate 95 in Virginia after a severe winter storm except Williams had a teenager in the backseat of the car. Williams had picked up the teen in Washington D.C. after her train was cancelled and was taking her home to Virginia.

After hours stuck in this traffic, Williams asked the teens parents for permission to take her back to D.C. and book her at a hotel with his own money. The teen made it home safely the next day. Williams was reimbursed and Uber is calling him a hero.

And now to a sad update on the search for missing skier rescuers say they have recovered the body of 43-year-old Rory Angelotta near a California ski resort. Angelotta had been missing since Christmas day when he told friends he was going skiing before meeting them for dinner. He never showed search crews, bad days and heavy snowfall and whiteout conditions but turned up empty handed. Rescuers believed, Angelotta got lost in the extreme snow and cold.


Coming up, six former Biden advisors deliver a stinging critique, urging an entirely new coronavirus strategy. I'll talk to one of those advisors about the new normal we now face.