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Atmospheric River Forces California Residents To Evacuate; Silicon Valley Bank Collapse Becomes Second Biggest Failure In U.S.; Five People Arrested In Deadly Kidnapping Of Americans; GOP Primary Begins Early In Iowa With Florida Governor DeSantis; FOX News Hosts Privately Rejected Election Conspiracy Theories; Dr. Fauci On U.S. COVID-19 Response Three Years Later; Bakhmut Still Hottest Sport On The Frontline. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired March 11, 2023 - 19:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Jim Acosta in New York.

And we begin this hour in California where a series of deadly storms has unleashed massive flooding across the central and northern portions of the state. Mandatory evacuations are underway in Monterey County where a levee breached earlier this morning. California National Guard says this is just one of more than 50 rescues near the breached levee, this is off an atmospheric river as meteorologist call it. The 10th to strike California this winter.

CNN's Mike Valerio joins us from Monterey County.

Mike, give us the latest.

MIKE VALERIO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Sure, Jim. Well, we learned a couple of minutes ago that there have been more than 90 rescues in this tiny post stamp sized town of Pajaro, which is incredible just to see how concentrated these neighborhoods are and to know that there were more than 90 rescues in just a few hours. This is quite amazing.

And we also learned from this news conference that local authorities are bringing in engineers from the state to try to figure out the best fix for this levee which has been breached, which you just mentioned. And that's why, Jim, we have all of this water all around us because around midnight the water from the Pajaro River came over a particularly vulnerable part of this levee and came to the lower point of gravity over here to the middle of downtown.

And why that matters is because the levee officials said it's going to have water that will rain freely, that will flow freely here for the foreseeable future. They are bringing in engineers from the state to try to figure out the best fix because right now it's just sandbags. And why that's important, Jim, is because this is act one. The sun is starting to poke through, but act two is coming into the picture late Monday night, Tuesday, and Wednesday, with the next atmospheric river.

And the sheriff of Monterey County spoke to that point to the citizenry here, telling people don't get tired yet. Don't get complacent yet. Listen to what she told us just a couple of minutes ago.


SHERIFF TINA NETO, MONTEREY COUNTY, CALIFORNIA: Folks, we are not done yet. We are dealing with rain and wind events that I can only describe as a super soaker saturation event, hashtag susosat. Since the beginning of the year we have been dealing with these rain and wind events, and I would like to thank the community for their patience as conditions change sometimes very rapidly.


VALERIO: OK, so, Jim, just to give you the depth of the water. You know, this is starting to recede back into the Pajaro River, but here's a truck with some municipal crews that are coming through. Again, this is the main drag right here. And as we just kind of watch as the demo of what the water is like right now, we'll tell you, Jim, before we go that more and more shelters are opening up. We can tell you as mentioned in the last hour that hundreds of people are going to shelters from here in Pajaro to Salinas.

We're talking about John Steinbeck country in the southern stretches of this area, further down the coast. Also the Salinas River, Jim, could pose a problem Tuesday into Wednesday. That's a bigger river here than the Pajaro River. Officials are waiting for it to crest. Major flood stage Tuesday and Wednesday. They are watching that with a great deal of anxiety -- Jim.

ACOSTA: All right, Mike Valerio. Stay safe. Thanks so much for that report. We appreciate it.

Turning now to the lightning quick collapse of Silicon Valley Bank. It took just 48 hours for SVB to suddenly implode and become the second largest failure of a financial institution in U.S. history. That means some of the companies that relied on what was known as the go-to bank for tech startups are now scrambling to find money to make their payroll.

California Governor Gavin Newsom says he is in touch with the highest levels of leadership at the White House and the Treasury Department to stabilize the situation as quickly as possible.

And joining us now is the host of CNN's "NIGHTCAP," Jon Sarlin.

Jon, you know, a lot of experts are worried about this, but first of all, what does this mean for SVB and the startups that relied on it? I mean, there are some big companies, but also small companies that relied on this bank.

JON SARLIN, HOST, CNN'S NIGHTCAP: There are. I mean, right now it means panic and confusion. There are companies in Silicon Valley that are scrambling to make payroll. The money that they had locked up in SVB is now inaccessible. And so what that means is they are, one, relying on the FDC to make those funds available quickly and, you know, it's unclear exactly what percentage of those funds will be available and when.

On the flipside, you know, those companies are looking at loans and there are reports that there are venture capital companies looking to buy up the accounts for kind of pennies on the dollar. So what does it mean for the companies? It means confusion. But for the workers who are looking for their paycheck this week it could mean devastation.


We haven't seen layoffs yet but if these companies aren't able to get access to funds, that is definitely a possibility.

ACOSTA: And I hate to be a pessimist in all this, but it's a fair question to ask. What is the next possible domino to fall? Will there be another domino?

SARLIN: I mean, that is the question, right? What is the contagion of this? And the truth is, we don't really know. All eyes right now are on a lot of regional banks similar to SVB. One bank that's on people's radar is First Republic Bank, a bank who shares dropped more than 50 percent for being halted. Eventually the stock rallied but it's down around 36 percent for the week. First Republic says that their liquidity position remains strong, but come on Monday we'll see if investors and more importantly the people who have their money in First Republic believe that.

ACOSTA: And finally, Bloomberg reported that billionaire and venture capitalist Peter Thiel had his companies pull their funds from SVB this week. Do we know what kind of role that played in all of this?

SARLIN: Well, Peter Thiel is an incredibly influential figure in Silicon Valley. And right now there is a lot of finger-pointing going on about what caused this bank run on SVB. Peter Thiel is reported by Bloomberg and his Founders Fund pull their money out by Thursday and encouraged his companies to pull their money out as well.

Well, word spreads quickly in the valley, right? You have group chats, you have Slack, people are talking. And we saw tens of billions of dollars of money being withdrawn from SVB, which basically was the kiss of death and caused California regulators to shut it down. You might remember that Peter Thiel was a big proponent of crypto. He was very, very bullish on Bitcoin. He attacked the critics of Bitcoin as enemies.

Meanwhile, Peter Thiel and his Founders Fund sold their crypto and made billions of dollars into profit. So people in the valley know that Peter Thiel is very skilled at moving his billions of dollars to safe harbor when there is volatility in the markets.

ACOSTA: All right. There may be some volatility to come. Jon Sarlin, thanks very much. We appreciate it.

Texas is urging people not to travel to Mexico during their spring break holiday. The warning follows a highly publicized kidnapping of four Americans abducted in the border town of Matamoros several days ago. Two of them were killed. So far Mexican authorities have arrested six people in connection with the case.

CNN's Carlos Suarez is in South Carolina where he spoke with one of the survivors just a short time ago after she was able to return home.

Carlos, how is she doing? What more are you learning about the investigation?

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim, we were able to catch up with Latavia Washington McGee earlier today, and she told us she is back home. She is with her family and that she is doing OK. As you can imagine, the family right now is asking for some privacy as they tried to process this entire ordeal.

As for the investigation, CNN was able to obtain Facebook Live video showing the group of four Americans driving in Mexico. Now according to the timeline that has been offered by the Mexican government, the group of Americans crossed over into Texas -- from Texas rather into Mexico, and they were driving in Mexico for about two hours when members of the cartel began following them.

Now it's unclear what happened from the moment they crossed the border and encountered the cartel. We know that the group was making their way. They were supposed to be going to a medical appointment for McGee. She was expected to have some sort of plastic surgery. And so again right now the investigation is trying to figure out why either they were running late or exactly what happened from when they crossed that border and spent some time driving around town.

Now on Friday the Mexican government announced the arrest of five men. It's equally unclear if the men that they took into custody are the same men that the cartel said they were going to turn over to authorities. You might recall that they issued a letter on Thursday apologizing for the kidnappings and the incident saying that the group responsible, the men responsible for this were going to be turned over.

We've also learned a little bit more information about that initial encounter between the Mexican government and the group that was arrested. They shared some of that information in a twee and we've translated some of that. It does read in part, quote, "Due to the conditions in which five men were found in Matamoros, along with a car and a letter, they were initially treated as victims of crime, but this changed to suspects when they began to report their participation in the events of March 3rd."

Coming back out here in South Carolina, Eric Williams, the other American who survived this, he is still recovering in a hospital in Texas. He was shot several times. The bodies of Shaeed Woodard and Zindell Brown have been turned over to U.S. authorities.


And according to the Woodard family, they hope to bring his body back here to South Carolina on Wednesday -- Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. Carlos Suarez, thanks so much. We are nearly a year away from Iowa's presidential caucuses, but the

Republicans like former President Trump, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Trump's former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, the fight for that critical state has already begun. Plus, former chief medical adviser to President Biden, Dr. Anthony Fauci, tells me people talking about prosecuting him for his handling of the COVID pandemic are, quote, "going off the deep end." Much more of my conversation with Dr. Fauci coming up.

And this week FOX News' chief executive calls the Dominion case against the network noise and politics. What else we're learning is still ahead.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


ACOSTA: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis hasn't declared a run for the White House but he's very much acting like a candidate, appearing this weekend in Nevada after a trip to Iowa on Friday where he said this.



GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: I think it's all because of the woke mind virus. It is warping people. We've got to fight if we see it in medicine or the universities or the corporations. You can't just say let it go because then we're going to be living under an oppressive woke autocracy.

We will never ever surrender to the woke mob. Our state is where woke goes to die.


ACOSTA: All right. It's already begun. They're in Iowa. "Vanity Fair" special correspondent Molly Jong-Fast, she also hosts the "Fast Politics" podcast, and Stephanie Grisham, former White House press secretary under Donald Trump both join me know.

Molly, let me start with you. You just heard Governor DeSantis there leaning hard into the culture wars. His so-called I guess war on woke- cracy I think is the phrase he used there in Iowa. I guess it looks like he is running.

MOLLY JONG-FAST, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, VANITY FAIR: Yes. It certainly looks like he is running. I mean, and a lot of Republicans have already got kind of behind him even though he hasn't declared. And the donor class loves him and FOX News loves him, but I just wonder, like, you know, you read the reporting about him and this is a guy who struggles with charisma and connecting with voters.

And I've just never seen that person elected for president. But for sure go all in. And then the other thing that I think is particularly strange is that I am just not convinced that the woke mind virus is the thing to run against. You know, is the thing to run -- I just don't see how swing voters care about a woke mind virus. I don't even know what a woke mind virus is.

ACOSTA: Yes, I don't know what it is either. I hope I don't have it, but, you know, Stephanie -- or virus for that matter. Trump, you've been on the campaign trail with Trump. He will be in Iowa on Monday, another sign that this has started way too early. But DeSantis is really trying to steal this mantle of the GOP culture warrior from the former president it seems. I'm just wondering based on what you heard there, can he pull that off? Does he have the same touch that Donald Trump has? What do you think?

STEPHANIE GRISHAM, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: You know, I would say, you know, I agree with Molly in that, you know, he doesn't have the charisma that Donald Trump has, but I have seen in the last few days, you know, I noticed he was sitting down with the tie off, he was a lot more conversational. He had conversations about his wife Casey and the struggles she went through with breast cancer.

So I've seen him in the last couple of days, I think, try to soften his image. And I don't think it's a bad thing if he's not as a big of a personality as Donald Trump. So those are kind of my first thoughts. I don't disagree, though, that he's got a ways to go in terms of getting his personality out there.

ACOSTA: Well, and there's a lot of time, so I guess that's on his side.

And Molly, there's a lot of talk swirling about a looming indictment out of New York, charging the former president. Do we think that's going to make a dent in Trump's ambitions to be the Republican nominee?

JONG-FAST: Not a dent. I mean, look, I think there is going to be a lot of, you know, indictments and civil -- you know, civil cases and lawsuits. And I don't think it's going to make a dent. I think if anything Trump will use this to run against, he'll say this is proof. You know, his part of the base is so bought into Trumpism that it would really take a lot for them to abandon him, and, you know, and an indictment from a blue state is not going to be it.

ACOSTA: And, Stephanie, Nikki Haley apparently wants to change the retirement age. I mean, this has been an issue for her already in this campaign. That's been drawing some tough questions. Let's listen in.


NEAL CAVUTO, FOX BUSINESS NEWS: At what point would a President Nikki Haley say, all right, we're bringing you in a little later?

NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You keep your promises to those that we have made promises to. Those that have invested in should keep what they have. We shouldn't in any way jeopardize those that are already expecting something. This is about the new group coming in. This is making sure --


CAVUTO: So what's -- I'm sorry, Governor. What is the new group? I'm sorry. What's the new group? Is it -- are you telling those 50 and over you're safe? 50 and under, you're on -- I just use that arbitrary number. What are you saying is a group that what you're saying that's going to change?

HALEY: It's the new ones coming in. It's those in their 20s that are coming in. You're coming to them and you're saying the game has changed. We're going to do this completely differently.


ACOSTA: Stephanie, I mean, you've been in that role as the White House press secretary. Do you think that she explained that all that well? And what do you make of getting into this thicket of talking about raising the retirement age and, you know, doing things that will impact people getting their Social Security?


GRISHAM: Yes. I mean, that is something that Republicans have obviously largely turned away from because it's such an unpopular idea. And this is including Trump and even DeSantis. So if I were advising her, I don't think I would have her dive into that very deeply. I know she was asked directly so that wasn't her fault. She clearly did was very light on the details, but I hope that going forward we'll see her talking about things that she can do immediately as president with issues such as immigration, crime, the economy.

ACOSTA: I mean, Molly, I mean, do Republicans really want to have this conversation about Social Security? I mean, there was that big moment at the president's State of the Union speech where he got everybody, you know, to agree we're not going to touch Medicare and Social Security, and despite that moment, which was widely regarded, Democrats and Republicans, as kind of a winning moment for Joe Biden, they're still touching what used to be called the third rail in politics.

JONG-FAST: And it really is the third rail. I mean, voters hate it. It's something that nobody wants. People love Social Security and Medicare. And, I mean, I just don't get it. I mean, I think this is like a really bad thing to run on, and I understand that there, you know, that there's math here and that there -- you know, we may need to fix to figure out how to continue funding it, but I just do not see a way.

I mean, I think what's sort of disappointing about Nikki Haley is here she is struggling in an interview on FOX News, and you know, she just doesn't have the sort of -- you know, she's just not prepared in quite the way that you would think she would be considering all the time she's spent planning this.

ACOSTA: And Stephanie, I have to ask you because you worked in the Trump White House. And there is this Dominion lawsuit against FOX that's been in the news in recent days and what it's really indicated is how the FOX hosts would go out there and say one thing on TV but then say something completely different to themselves about the former president, for example, and his election lies and so on about the 2020 election.

But one of the other things that I remember covering the White House is how -- I mean, there was almost sort of a hand in glove, you know, sometimes FOX and the White House were on the same page with the same talking points, and it almost seemed as you would see hosts Laura Ingraham visiting the White House. It almost seemed as though there's a pretty cozy relationship between the White House and FOX. Is that how you remember it and what do you call from that experience?

GRISHAM: PTSD right now, but yes. A very cozy relationship. You know, I would have Judge Jeanine or Sean or Tucker calling me, and if I didn't get back to them right away they would then call the president and then I would get a talking to for not speaking with them. I remember specifically working on a town hall that the former president did with FOX and me having to talk directly to Suzanne Scott about making sure that it was full in there.

We did work hand-in-hand with them, and that came at the president's direction. If he didn't like something, we would immediately, you know, call FOX and have them fix it or try to make a new story out of it, et cetera.

ACOSTA: Incredible. I mean, that is a lot of what we observed on the outside in the press. You know, you would see Hannity at a Trump rally and that kind of a thing, but just what you're saying right now, Stephanie, I think is some insights that we haven't really heard before about this cozy relationship that was going on between FOX and the Trump White House.

Molly and -- yes, go ahead.

GRISHAM: Just, I was going to say, obviously 20/20 is always -- hindsight is always 20/20. Looking back that was completely unethical, frankly, as a comms person, but -- so I do apologize for that but that is how it worked.

ACOSTA: All right. Very interesting. We'll have to table this discussion, talk about it another time.

Molly and Stephanie, thanks so much for your time. We appreciate it.

Speaking of all this, still ahead, he calls it a lot of noise. We unpack the FOX company CEO's reaction to bombshell after bombshell reveal about FOX and their most popular personalities.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.



ACOSTA: This week a treasure trove of text messages and e-mails shared between FOX News executives and anchors were made public as part of the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit. The internal communications show FOX News hosts including Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham privately rejected election conspiracy theories despite promoting them on the air.

Aidan McLaughlin joins us now. He is the editor-in-chief over at Mediaite.

Aidan, good to see you again. You know, this week we saw Tucker Carlson attempt to whitewash what happened on January 6th, cherry- picking video, flat-out lying about what happened that day. Does this suggest that FOX really hasn't learned any lessons from the Dominion case and they're just plowing ahead?

AIDAN MCLAUGHLIN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, MEDIAITE: I think that's a good point. I think what it shows the most is that what we really have to remember is in the aftermath of the 2020 election there was this real war at FOX between the opinion side of the network with hosts like Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and primetime hosts taking a lot of viewers, and the news division of the network with reporters and anchors that were kind of desperately trying to fact check a lot of disinformation that was coming from Trump and his allies.

And I think what we've seen in the years since is that the opinion side won. The news division at FOX News has gotten smaller in the last couple of years. The hours of news that are aired per day versus opinion on the network have gotten fewer. So the opinion side has really triumphed here. And the fact that Tucker Carlson is airing these false claims about January 6th, he is also continuing to air false claims about the 2020 election being perhaps rigged. That only shows that the opinion side is beating up the news side at FOX News.

ACOSTA: Right. And the non-reality side. I mean, they are just not dealing with reality when they put forward that kind of information.


ACOSTA: And Lachlan Murdoch, the chief executive at FOX and the son of Rupert Murdoch, was very dismissive of the Dominion case. He said, let me put this up on screen, "I think a lot of the noise that you hear about this case is actually --


He said -- and let me put this up on screen: "I think a lot of the noise that you hear about this case is actually not about the law. It's not about journalism. It's really about the politics."

What do you think of that?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I think to some extent, to be a little bit generous to Lachlan Murdoch, he is correct that a lot of the debate that we're having around what happened at FOX News after the 2020 election is about the lies that were spread about Trump's claims. That doesn't necessarily pertain to defamation against this private company, Dominion. So there are two buckets basically that we're looking at. There are the stolen election claims, and then there's defamation against Dominion. That said, it does not help him at all that there still are plenty of claims that were aired on the network, both by guests and by hosts that led viewers to believe that the election was stolen, even though those claims have been dispelled countless times.

And now, we have a majority of Republican voters that believe those false claims from President Donald Trump, and FOX News is one of the news outlets that is directly responsible for that.

So I don't think Lachlan Murdoch dismissing this helps FOX News' case at all. You know, we'll see whether or not when this case eventually goes to trial in April, unless we have a settlement by then whether or not Dominion will be able to prevail. It's a steep hill to climb in defamation cases, as you know, Jim, but that doesn't excuse the way FOX behaved in the aftermath of this 2020 election, which we now know, they aired false claims that the election was stolen, often by guests sometimes in the form of questions from hosts, and they knew those claims to be false and admitted that privately.

ACOSTA: And I guess we don't know yet, because we haven't seen and heard everything in this case how much of this damaged Dominion and so on, but I suppose would you agree, it does help to establish that there was this sort of, you know, talking out of both sides of their mouth thing that was going on over at FOX and that they were telling viewers one thing and saying something else to one another?

I mean, I think if you're a Dominion's lawyers, you do want to establish that as part of the process of laying out the case. But I mean, do you think this has any chance of making any waves inside FOX?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I think it's definitely made waves already within FOX, and I know just from the reporting that I've done this week that FOX is taking small steps in getting its news division a little bit more accustomed to certain processes around, you know, making sure that their reporting doesn't cross any lines, any legal lines.

So I think as far as changing the culture, FOX might button itself up a little bit. But just given the fact that this week we had Tucker Carlson claiming that the January 6th riot at the US Capitol was mostly peaceful, while he aired video of it being quite clearly violent, and also claimed that the protesters that were there had good reason to be there because they were right that the election was not on the level.

I think it shows that at least the loudest voices of the network, are not changing the way that they cover the news. And I think that's striking, especially given the fact that Rupert Murdoch, in his deposition, admitted that FOX News did not handle the coverage after the 2020 election well, and in fact, condemned the way that the coverage was handled and said that top hosts of the network actually endorsed false claims, something that he said there should be consequences for at any other network.

So it's kind of astounding that despite all of what we've heard, in the last couple of weeks, we still have top hosts at the network going on air and pushing these false narratives. It gives me a little bit of -- it sort of removes my hope that there's going to be any changes at the network at this point.

ACOSTA: Right. Unless something happens with this Dominion case, I mean, you would have to think that they are not going to change the culture, not at this point, it has been a culture of lies.

Aidan McLaughlin, thank you very much.

Three years since a pandemic was declared, and we still don't have the consensus on the origin of COVID-19.

Still ahead, I talk to Dr. Anthony Fauci and he weighs in on the theory that it came from a lab leak in response to the critics that he has of his coronavirus response. That's up next.



ACOSTA: Three years ago today was a day a few of us will ever forget, March 11, 2020. The NBA shut down its schedule, Tom Hanks announced he had COVID, and the World Health Organization declared COVID-19, a global pandemic.

On that same day, Dr. Anthony Fauci was up on Capitol Hill, testifying before lawmakers. He had this warning.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, THEN DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I can see we will see more cases and things will get worse than they are right now.


ACOSTA: Since then, over a million Americans have died from COVID, and one way or another, we have learned to live with the coronavirus.

I spoke earlier today with Dr. Fauci and started by asking him what he thought about Congress' new push to declassify US Intelligence information about the origins of the virus.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, FORMER DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I don't want to be advising him when I'm not in that position right now. I'm sure he's going to make the right decision.

One thing we can say we'd like to learn as much as we possibly can about information that hopefully will be available. You know, there's this two sides, you know, one group says it more likely is one or the other. I must say that we all must keep an open mind, Jim, about this for sure, because nothing has been definitively proven. The thing that's important is that if you look at the available data, not just surmising or tweeting or guessing, but just look at the data, a group -- a fairly large group of very well-respected evolutionary virologists have examined epidemiological virologic geospatial data from Wuhan and have come to the conclusion not definitively by any means, but feeling that it is much more likely that it is a natural occurrence from an animal to a human.


FAUCI: However, since it hasn't been definitively proven, we've got to keep a completely open mind. That being the case, we want to know arguments or information or data on either sides. And that's the reason why, as you mentioned in the top of your discussion a little bit ago, we really need to get all the facts so that we can prevent this from happening again in the future.

So my feeling would be, Jim --

ACOSTA: So you're not opposed to -- go ahead, I'm sorry.

FAUCI: No, I said, my feeling would be, instead of arguing back and forth, why don't we do the things that need to be done to prevent this from happening again, regardless of what the origin was. If the origin was a lab leak, we've got to make sure we shore up the safety procedures that are done when people in labs are working with pathogens, and if it is an origin, from the natural occurrence, we've got to make sure we pay much more attention to the animal-human interface, and put restrictions on the kinds of animals that come into these wet markets, particularly in China and in Southeast Asia. Those are the things we should be concentrating on.

ACOSTA: But simply put, you're not opposed to the Intelligence Community putting that information out there, as long as you're not jeopardizing sources and methods and that sort of standard thing.

FAUCI: Right. You know, I mean, obviously, you want to get as much information. If there have been recent, as you know, recent discussions that the Department of Energy has first said that they didn't think it was a lab leak, and now with low confidence, they are saying that it's a lab -- I don't know what low confidence means, Jim, and I think that's what's confusing people and that is the reason why we've really got to get down to the bottom of this.


ACOSTA: Dr. Fauci also addressed some of these calls to prosecute him for his handling of COVID and how that has led in some cases to threats he's received. Here's what he had to say.


FAUCI: There is no response to that craziness, Jim. I mean, prosecute me for what? What are they talking about? I mean, I wish I could figure out what the heck they were talking about. I think they're just going off the deep end. That's the answer to your first question. It doesn't make any sense to say something like that and it actually is irresponsible.

Of course, it's going to have a difficult effect and a deleterious effect on my family. I mean, they don't like to have me getting death threats all the time. Every time somebody gets up and spouts some nonsense, that's misinformation, disinformation, and outright lies, somebody somewhere decides they want to do harm to me and/or my family. So that's the part about it that is really unfortunate.

The rest of it is just insanity, the things they're saying, but it does have a negative effect when people take it seriously and take it out on you and your family, which is the reason why I still have to have protection, which is really unfortunate.

ACOSTA: But it does make it difficult, does it not, to plan for the next pandemic if people can't agree on how this thing started, what measures you use, and if everything that is talked about when it comes to a virus of like COVID gets thrown into a political blender of sorts, and people just take shots at each other instead of trying to solve the problem. How do we prevent the next pandemic, if we're in that kind of a place as a country? As a society?

FAUCI: I agree with you completely, Jim and that is the thing that is so disconcerting about all of this is that rather than looking this as the common enemy is the virus, and doing everything we can to counter the current situation and to prevent it from happening in the future, instead of doing that, you have these kinds of arguments that don't make any sense where people take, essentially a political view on a public health problem.

That is really unacceptable to take a political view on a public health problem. They should be completely separated and we all should be in unanimity, the fact that we have a common enemy and we've got to do everything we can to counter that, not only what we're going through now, but to do everything we can to prevent it from happening in the future.


ACOSTA: Dr. Fauci also defended promoting mask wearing as a tool against the virus adding that without them, the million US deaths from COVID would be much, much higher.

Still ahead, the brutal fight for the City of Bakhmut grows more intense in Ukraine. What we're learning about battles taking place between Russian mercenaries and Ukrainian sniper units.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.



ACOSTA: Just in to CNN, the White House announcing President Biden has spoken with California Governor Gavin Newsom about two crises facing California this weekend, first massive flooding across the Central and Northern portions of the State, and second, the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and controlling the aftermath of that.

The White House says President Biden told the Governor that California has the full support of the Federal government.

Ukraine's eastern city of Bakhmut is still "the hottest spot" on the frontline according to an Ukrainian Armed Services spokesman, although Russia now controls most eastern areas along that front, Ukraine is effectively preventing Moscow's troops from advancing according to the UK Ministry of Defense.

Joining us now, CNN military analyst and retired Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, former Commanding General of Europe and the Seventh Army.

General Hertling, great to see you as always. This is an absolutely brutal standoff. Ukraine's border guard said a Ukrainian sniper unit set up an ambush for Russian mercenary fighters at an industrial plant. I mean this is hard tough fighting. How long can Ukraine hold on?


LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It has been a slugfest, Jim. And when we say how long can they hold on? Well, they've been holding on for about seven months so far.


HERTLING: And as many people have said, hey, it's about to fold. Russia and the Wagner Group are about to take over. And every time, those expectations have been stomped on by the Ukrainian forces. They have continued to execute operations really well and continuing to destroy the Russian army and the Wagner Group mercenaries as they've attempted to gain a foothold in that city. They just keep holding on.

And I think it's critically important, tactically, although it's not as important strategically.

ACOSTA: It's incredible, and we've learned that Russia may have captured some US and NATO provided armament on the battlefield and could ask Iran to reverse engineer the systems. Have you seen some of this reporting? How concerning is that?

HERTLING: I have seen the reporting by "The New York Times" and truthfully, Jim, that's something that is always a concern of Commanders on the battlefield. I know it was always my concern when I was on the battlefield in Iraq, that an insurgent group would capture some of our equipment and be able to reverse engineer.

Iran has been famous for doing this. They have done this multiple times in the past, with US equipment that have been recovered from the battlefield. You have to expect this, Jim, truthfully, the detritus from the battlefield, you know, small arms weapons, the kind of advanced technological and precision weapons that the United States uses on the battlefield are always interesting to our enemies.

So as Russia has gained access to those when truthfully, either Ukrainian forces are killed or destroyed on the battlefield, and they leave things behind, you expect small units to have some equipment that they haven't been able to destroy.

So what we're talking about in this case, there are probably the small shoulder fired stuff. This is not the big equipment like HIMARS or cannons or things like that, but it is critically important for things like stinger missiles, javelin, those kind of precision weapons that the Ukrainians have made such an affront with against the Russian forces when some of those are left on the battlefield. Certainly, the enemy is going to pick them up.

We have had instances in the past where Iran has actually taken a TOW, a tube-launched optically guided or optically tracked wire guided missile T-O-W and backward engineered it to create one of their own missiles that is an antitank missile at the time.

It's something that occurs on every battlefield. The Iraqis did it, passed some things along to the Russians during Desert Storm. The Chinese have taken equipment like this and backward engineered it, so it is something that you expect, but it's always unfortunate.

ACOSTA: All right, that's all the time we have for this discussion. We'll get back to it very soon, retired Army General Mark Hertling, thanks as always for your time. We appreciate it.

Still ahead, an American skier makes history breaking a 34-year-old record. That's next. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.



ACOSTA: A new color scheme we'll be coming to Air Force One, the President's plane. The Air Force unveiled renderings of what they're calling new Air Force One, that's under construction at Boeing. The classic design will get a subtle facelift.

The shade of blue around the nose and engines of the aircraft will be a darker color than the current robin's egg blue. The new coloring ditches former President Trump's proposed darker red, white and blue color scheme.

The new Air Force One could be ready by 2027, but of course there could be another color change after the 2024 election.

Mikaela Shiffrin now stands alone atop the summit of her sport, the Alpine Skiing Champion just broke the all-time record for most World Cup wins with her 87th career victory on Friday.

CNN's pack Patrick Snell has more on that.

PATRICK SNELL, CNN WORLD SPORT ANCHOR: Jim, Mikaela Shiffrin now stands alone at the top of the mountain. On Saturday in Sweden, she got her 87th World Cup victory, which is now the most ever by a skier, man or woman.

Shiffrin just so impressive, especially in her final run in the slalom with a record on the line. The Colorado native finished winning by nearly a full second. Shiffrin's family as well was there to celebrate with her at the bottom of the mountain and the wind putting her ahead now of Swedish skiing legend Ingemar Stenmark who had held the record for most World Cup wins for 34 years. It was a record many thought would never be broken.


MIKAELA SHIFFRIN, 87 WORLD CUP WINS: It is very hard to comprehend that thought, but my brother and sister-in-law here, I didn't know they were coming. So that's like -- that makes it super special. Holy crap. Holy.

The best feeling is to ski on the second run when, of course you want to win. You have a lead, so you have to sort of be smart, but also I just wanted to be fast, too, and ski the second run like its own race, so I did -- I did exactly how I wanted and that's amazing.


SNELL: Well, Shiffrin is not done yet. She will race more next week in the World Cup final. Stenmark has said he thinks Shiffrin could Get to a hundred wins one day. We shall see.

Shiffrin will be celebrating her 28th birthday on Monday and Jim, she will now do so as the greatest skier of all time. Back to you.

ACOSTA: And we are so happy for her. Patrick Snell, thanks so much.

That's the news. Thank you for joining me. Reporting from New York, I am Jim Acosta, a reminder to set your clocks forward one hour tonight. Don't blame me. We have to do it.

And I will see you again tomorrow starting at 4:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time.

"Low Country: The Murdoch Dynasty" is up next.