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President Trump Continues Refusal to Concede to Joe Biden; Interview with Principal Investigator of Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine Trial Site; Georgia to Recount Votes by Hand. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired November 11, 2020 - 14:00   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST, NEWSROOM: It is the top of the hour, I am Brianna Keilar. And as the U.S. plunges deeper into the coronavirus crisis, we're recording more than 100,000 new cases for an eighth straight day and the president is trying to create another crisis by refusing to accept his loss to President-elect Joe Biden. And his administration is refusing to start the transition process needed to keep the government going to keep Americans safe.

His actions are causing alarm and panic at the Pentagon, where firing top national security officials has occurred -- this includes Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the president replacing these folks with Trump loyalists.

At the State Department, one official calls it scary that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is helping fuel the president's denial by refusing to acknowledge Biden's win.

And this comes as the coronavirus is spiraling out of control in America. In the last 24 hours alone, cases and hospitalizations have hit a new record. More than 1,400 Americans have died from the virus in the last day.

We begin with the president, who made his first appearance in six days with a visit to Arlington National Cemetery for a Veterans Day ceremony. He did not speak. The quiet moment is in stark contrast to his fierce battle to stay in office, refusing to concede the election to Joe Biden.

I want to go now to CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan, what are you hearing from administration officials?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, also just that ceremony that the president was at today, you noted it was quiet but also even being there, you could see the repercussions of how the last several days have been because the new acting defense secretary was there alongside the president and the vice president of course, just following two days after the president fired his defense secretary.

We've seen what's been happening at the Pentagon. As the president has been behind closed doors, trying to contest the outcome of this election, and falsely claiming that it has been stolen from him.

And it goes as far as to where the president has been making this claim on Twitter, that he doesn't feel it's being covered enough or that it's being covered up by the media.

But then moments after, Al Schmidt -- that Republican Philadelphia city commissioner -- was on television on CNN earlier today, saying they actually looked into some of the viral claims that are going around on social media about dead people voting? He said they took time out of vote-counting to look those names up, and none of them had voted since they had died in the city of Philadelphia.

So just going back to show, you know, what this argument that the president and his campaign officials are making? Really, we're seeing how they're struggling to make their case in court. But also even in the public court of opinion, with things as simple as that and having officials look into it.

One thing we do know is that while the president is back here at the White House, he went into the Oval Office, Brianna, upon return, and we are told he is going to be meeting with his political advisors again today. He met with them yesterday, trying to really chart their path forward as privately, a lot of these officials are increasingly pessimistic about where this is going to end up.

So while publicly they're expressing confidence in what's going on and a recount happening in Georgia and vote totals being counted behind the scenes, they are not -- and they're just kind of wondering when it is that the president himself is going to give this up.

KEILAR: We'll see. Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you so much.

From the Pentagon to the State Department, the president's refusal to acknowledge Joe Biden's win is turning into a national security nightmare. CNN national security correspondent Vivian Salama is with us on this part of the story.

And the president, Vivian, firing senior defense officials and installing loyalists? Tell us what kind of effect that's having.

VIVIAL SALAMA, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, it's not so much what the effect is right now, although there certainly will be effects. But it really is a problem once President- elect Joe Biden takes office in January.

And we're seeing several layers of this now. Of course, as we know, President Trump has refused to concede the election, and also his administration has yet to recognize Joe Biden as the president-elect.

Now, that actually has major national security implications because legally his transition team cannot access classified information without that recognition, and without the General Services Administration, which is the office that actually handles the transition, giving the go-ahead and saying, yes, you can do it.


And so they are currently sort of just twirling their thumbs waiting for that, and they are unable to do some of the critical national security work that requires classified information.

Then you have a lot of shifting in positions. Obviously we know that secretary of defense Mark Esper was fired, and he's been replaced by an acting secretary of defense. And a number of people around the new acting secretary, Chris Miller, have also been replaced, a lot of them seen as Trump loyalists.

Now, this is a normal situation, and President Trump is known to shuffle his administration, shuffle personnel. But he is -- for some people, he's actually changing them from political appointees to career positions, and we've seen this a couple of times already in the last coming days.

Now, career positions are common obviously in the government, but they also come with protections -- civil service protections, and so they would be hard to fire, for example if President Biden, when he becomes president, sees that as necessary. And so all of these things playing out, not to mention just the general issue of national security threats that loom against America.

And we have a president-elect right now who is very prepared for the job -- Joe Biden obviously has decades of experience in national security and foreign policy issues, but his -- and so do his staff. But they also need access to that classified information so they're ready on day one to do the job. And so far, President Trump and his administration, refusing to grant that access -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, they need the current stuff. What's happening right now, it's so important. Vivian Salama, thank you so much for that report.

With me now is John Bellinger, he's a former senior official on George W. Bush's National Security Council who helped with the transition to the Obama administration. John, thank you so much. You have a particular expertise here that is so important in this discussion. Can you talk to us about the things that the Biden team needs to be doing right now from a national security standpoint, and how any delays can affect that process?

JOHN BELLINGER, FORMER BUSH 43 TRANSITION OFFICIAL: Great. It's nice to be with you, Brianna. And I was not only at the end of the Bush administration -- I stayed to the last day of the Bush administration -- at that point, I was at the State Department, and helped with the transition to the Obama administration.

But I started, in the beginning of the Bush administration, in February 2001, after that delayed transition because of the Bush v. Gore delay at the Supreme Court. So I personally experienced, in early 2001, what happens when there is a delayed transition and you can't get your people access to the information and you can't get your people cleared.

So on the one hand, the Biden transition is very well organized. I know a lot of these people, they've got briefing papers, they've got people identified. But they can't now start getting their people cleared by the FBI, the background investigations done. As Vivian mentioned, they can't get into the White House or the agencies to actually begin getting briefings, to meet with the career officials who are there to learn the issues that they're experiencing. So it's a real problem.

The 9/11 Commission identified, as a contributing factor to 9/11, the fact that the Bush administration had delays coming into office. And they recommended -- and Congress actually enacted legislation to make these presidential transitions go faster and more smoothly in order to protect our national security.

KEILAR: You know, there's an op-ed in the "Washington Post" where Dana Milbank points out, quote, "It's no coincidence that the Bay of Pigs in 1961, Black Hawk Down in 1993 and the 9/11 attacks all came during the first year of presidential terms."

Do you think that adversaries of the U.S. are paying attention to Trump's refusal to accept the election, and that they look at this moment as something to capitalize on?

BELLINGER: Well, the first part, yes, I hope the second part no. They are certainly watching whether it is big countries like Russia or China or Iran, but also non-state groups -- terrorists and others -- are watching this complete disarray that we are in.

You know, this is one reason why, at the end of the Bush administration, having experienced a delayed transition at the beginning of the administration, the Bush administration at the end in 2008, 2009, wanted to have an absolutely seamless transition to Obama because we recognized that there are national security threats that are out there.

So immediately, senior Bush administration officials invited in incoming Obama administration officials to give them access to briefing papers, to meet with them, to do tabletop exercises, to practice with them, to tell them these are the threats that we are watching.


And so again, on the one hand, the Biden people on the outside are well organized, but there's only so much you can do from the outside. They need to be able to get their people in to begin these meetings and very importantly, to begin the background investigations and to ask the FBI to start clearing the people who will start into office after January of next year. So it's very important to get people cleared as well as access to the information.

KEILAR: Yes, they really need the handoff, especially as we're looking at this COVID vaccine rollout that is going to have to happen. John Bellinger, thank you so much for joining us, we appreciate it. BELLINGER: Nice to be with you.

KEILAR: Ahead, Joe Biden, undeterred by the president's denial and moving forward with picking his cabinet. So who is he considering? We've got some names.

Plus, the Trump campaign, claiming fraud in Nevada, listing hundreds of military families -- at least -- as potential culprits. We're going to speak with one who is on the list.

And a record day in the battle against coronavirus as cases and hospitalizations reach an all-time high. Hopes for a vaccine may not come as soon as first thought.

This is CNN's life special coverage.



KEILAR: Governors and state officials across the country from Massachusetts to Wisconsin to Nevada are urging residents to stay home as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are soaring across the country.

For eight straight days, the U.S. has recorded more than 100,000 new infections each day. On Tuesday, we topped 136,000. This is the highest single day of new cases since the pandemic began. And we know that as one metric ticks up, others will follow, 1,420 Americans died on Tuesday.

Tuesday also marked a record for the number of Americans hospitalized with the virus, more than 61,000. There are 17 states that are reporting record high hospitalizations, and that is putting medical facilities -- that have been battling this pandemic for several months now -- under renewed strain.

News that Pfizer's vaccine has been shown to be more than 90 percent effective is providing some hope, but one former CDC director warns we'll still be dealing with COVID-19 through most or all of 2021. Dr. Thomas Frieden, saying today, quote, "Vaccination is not going to be a fairytale ending to the pandemic."

With me now is Dr. Stephen Thomas who is the chief of infectious diseases at Upstate Medical University. He's also the principal investigator of Pfizer's Upstate COVID-19 Vaccine Trial site, which has more than 300 adult participants.

Dr. Thomas, you are the person to tell us all about this, so thank you so much for being here. And I mean, we have a ton of questions, as you can imagine, about this vaccine. But if you could first tell us about the moment where you realized that the people who had received the vaccine only had 10 percent of the COVID infections in this trial. What was that like?

STEPHEN THOMAS, PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR, PFIZER UPSTATE COVID-19 VACCINE TRIAL: Oh, it was exhilarating. I mean, the numbers that you were just quoting are very dismal numbers in terms of the number of people that are getting infected in the United States, and the stress that's being put on the health care system. And so to read that there was at least 90 percent efficacy from this vaccine was much needed, and it was really great news.

KEILAR: So you are aware that there are a lot of doctors and experts who are wanting some kind of raw data so that they can get a better look at this vaccine. And some of the pressing questions that they have include when you do have that smaller number of people with the vaccine who get sick, are their cases less severe? And they also want to know if the vaccine reduces transmission of COVID, and by how much. Can you shed any light on that?

THOMAS: Yes. So those are great questions, and those are questions that have been asked from the beginning of this process, of planning what the trials would look like and planning the objectives of the trials and the endpoints of the trials. And because the trials have been planned in that way, the information will be available.

But that is information that really needs to go to the FDA first, they have to go through the process of their review and their deliberation, and then ultimately that information will be made known.

KEILAR: Any idea when, about?

THOMAS: Yes, so I mean, as we've seen from the CEO of Pfizer, the expectation is that there will be a package of data delivered to the FDA before the end of this month, and I'm assuming, based upon the timelines that the FDA's kept thus far, that their review and their deliberation will go quite quickly. So my opinion and my guess is that there will be an answer prior to the end of the calendar year from the FDA.

KEILAR: OK. And so one of the things with this vaccine is this storage temperature, right? It's negative-94 degrees Fahrenheit, and then there are two doses with a 21-day interval that people would receive. Explain how that could affect distribution. Do you think that's going to complicate distribution?

THOMAS: So in terms of the vaccine being a multidose vaccine, that's obviously not something new. A lot of the vaccines that are already in both the childhood and adult immunization schedule require multiple doses, so I do not believe that that's going to be a challenge in terms of getting people properly vaccinated.


Now, you bring up a good point about the negative-94 degrees. So yes, that is colder than most vaccines are required to be stored and shipped, and then stored at the locations that they're going to administer those vaccines. But that is also a challenge, which people have been working on since the beginning of this whole planning process. And so I think that that's a challenge that can be overcome.

I would also mention that it is not unusual for a vaccine, in its development lifecycle, to initially be stored at very, very cold temperatures. And then the developers will do experiments to understand whether or not those temperatures can get into a warmer range that allows for improved scalability of maintenance of cold chain and those other processes. So I think that this is a challenge that can be overcome, and something that's going to continue to be worked on.

KEILAR: And it's just proof that you know, this isn't the end, right? This is also the beginning of a process of seeing where this vaccine, sort of the parameters of how it can exist.

Can you give us a timetable -- you know, I think everyone wants to know, when am I going to be able to get this? So if you're a member of the general public, when can you get this vaccine do you think?

THOMAS: So the first point to know is that this greater than 90 percent efficacy, I mean, that's a great milestone but it is the first step of a few steps. The second step is going to be that the company is going to have to put together a data package and submit that to the FDA, and the FDA's going to have to deliberate and make a decision.

And once that decision is made -- whether or not to issue an EUA -- then the next process needs to occur, which is the logistics. Because we know that vaccines don't save lives, it's vaccination which saves lives. So we have to get the vaccine doses to the locations where people can access them and be vaccinated.

We know that there are not going to be enough doses of vaccine to vaccinate the entire country immediately, so there's going to be a staggered rollout of vaccines to certain groups and higher priority groups. So for example, health care professionals who are taking care of people with COVID or first responders or people that are in the highest risk groups for COVID.

So my expectation is assuming that the process continues to proceed as it has, there will probably not be a substantial rollout of vaccine until the first or second quarter of calendar year '21.

KEILAR: OK, first or second quarter, substantial rollout based on all those other factors you mentioned.

And then I also wonder what you think about when life is going to start to return to normal in the U.S. Do you have any idea?

THOMAS: I wish I did have an idea. I have a feeling though that normal life is not going to be 2019-normal or 2018-normal. I think that, you know, this pandemic has certainly changed a lot of -- you know, how we live our daily lives. Certainly it has changed how we operate within the hospital and our medical care infrastructure on a day-to-day basis.

But I will say this. You know, if we have safe and effective vaccines and we pair those with an improvement in our application of public health interventions, you know, which includes wearing a mask and physical distance and washing hands and not going to school or work if you're sick, if we can pair those two things together and they can be implemented on a wide scale within the United States, we could dramatically affect this unfortunate curve that we've been seeing, and we could very quickly get back to a semblance of life, which we all would recognize as more of what we were used to back in 2018 or 2019.

KEILAR: Dr. Stephen Thomas, I thank you so much for coming on and telling us all about this. Obviously a lot more information to come out from Pfizer with this data packet going to the FDA, so we hope to have you on again soon so we can talk about that. Thank you.

THOMAS: Thank you.

KEILAR: And ahead, Georgia orders an official recount of millions of votes in the presidential election, and they're doing it by hand.


Plus, high-profile Republicans scrambling to provide cover to President Trump as he falsely claims the election was rigged, Fox once again his mouthpiece.


KEILAR: There will be a recount in the battleground state of Georgia, and that recount will be conducted by hand according to Georgia's secretary of state.

President-elect Joe Biden, ahead right now in Georgia by more than 14,000 votes. CNN's Dianne Gallagher has more.


DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Dianne Gallagher. The Georgia secretary of state announced on Wednesday that the post- election audit of the statewide race will be of the presidential race. And because it is so close, it's going to double as a by-hand recount.

Now right now, Joe Biden leads Donald Trump by more than 14,000 votes in Georgia. The secretary of state says it's going to be a heavy lift, but the audit and thus that recount has to be completed by the state certification deadline of November 20th.



KEILAR: President Trump digging in, still refusing to concede the 2020 race and pushing ahead with legal challenges in key battleground states. All of this is coming four days after every major news network -- including this one, CNN -- called the race for Joe Biden.