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Erin Burnett Outfront

U.S. Breaks COVID Cases Record For Second Day In A Row; CDC Predicts Increase In Deaths Ahead, 44,000 Plus In 4 Weeks; Jury Finds Ghislaine Maxwell Guilty On 5 Of 6 Counts Of Sex Trafficking A Minor For Jeffrey Epstein; Trump Threatens To Pull Endorsement For Alaska's Republican Governor If He Supports Sen. Murkowski; Putin Requests Call With Biden, Set To Take Place Tomorrow. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired December 29, 2021 - 19:00   ET


MIKE GOLIC, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: You could tell his pure passion and joy for the game. He just wanted to talk football and that was it and that came across.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: And, of course, Pat Summerall, the way he would always say, "And join us for 60 Minutes and Murder, She Wrote." He would always do that as well.


ACOSTA: Sports analyst, Mike Golic, thanks for joining us talking about John Madden. We appreciate it.

And thanks, everybody, for watching.

Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, another COVID case record shattered. Tens of thousands of deaths projected in the U.S. over the next few weeks as the CDC defends its new guidelines on isolation.

Plus, breaking news, after days of deliberations and weeks of graphic testimony, Jeffrey Epstein associate, Ghislaine Maxwell, found guilty in her sex trafficking trial.

And Melania Trump eyes her big next move nearly a year after leaving the White House. The former first lady getting into the world of NFTs. We'll explain. Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening. I'm Poppy Harlow in for Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight breaking news, a new record high average number of COVID cases for the second day in a row. This as the CDC predicts more than 44,000 COVID deaths in the next four weeks and as the White House deploys federal teams across the country to try to help overwhelmed hospitals. Dr. Fauci is warning of troubling signs ahead as the Omicron variant continues to spread fast.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We know now, incontrovertibly, that this is a highly, highly transmissible virus. We know that from the numbers we're seeing and clearly there is a degree of immune evasion, particularly against infection and to some degree against hospitalization.


HARLOW: Now, across the country hospitalizations are up in 37 states over last month, up at least 50 percent in 13 of those states. Pediatric hospitalizations are close to topping the previous record set in September and there are warning signs across the country that things may only get worse.

New York's Governor announcing the state is bracing for January surge as nearly one in five tests are now positive. For the first time ever, the State of New Jersey is reporting more than 20,000 new COVID cases in a single day. And Louisiana also breaking its previous record high number of new cases in a single day, I'll talk to a doctor on the ground there in just a moment.

This as governors in both Georgia and Ohio are activating members of the National Guard to help struggling hospitals and the Mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio forced to declare a state of emergency amid staffing shortages for the fire department. All of this as the Biden administration is in damage control mode defending controversial new guidance from the CDC that cuts recommended isolation and quarantine time periods in half.

Let's begin with Alexandra Field. She's OUTFRONT. And Alex, the administration clearly doubling down today on these changes despite some very loud and prominent criticism.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Poppy. They are working harder now to explain the science behind the decision, also underscoring the logic behind the decision because frankly it's one that's left a lot of people confused as they continue to hear that the worst of this surge is not behind us yet.



DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: This was the moment that we needed to make that decision.


FIELD (voice over): Facing the biggest COVID surge we've ever seen, the CDC Director defending the decision to cut isolation time in half for infected people who are asymptomatic or whose symptoms are getting better.


WALENSKY: It really had a lot to do with what we thought people would be able to tolerate. If we can get them to isolate, we do want to make sure that they're isolating in those first five days when they're maximally infectious.


FIELD (voice over): The CDC arguing 85 percent to 90 percent of transmission occurs in the first five days of symptom onset. Still, the new guidance is drawing fierce debate among health experts.


ERIN BROMAGE, ASSOCIATE PROF. OF BIOLOGY, UNIV. OF MASSACHUSETTS DARTMOUTH: There is absolutely no data that I'm aware about with the Omicron variant that supports people coming out of isolation five days after they were first diagnosed with the virus.

FAUCI: You either shut down the society which no one wants to do or you try and get a situation where you can safely get people back particularly to critical jobs without having them be out for a full 10 days.


FIELD (voice over): Long testing lines are still snaking across the country. New cases are skyrocketing to numbers never seen before. Deaths and hospitalizations, key indicators at this moment are also climbing but not as quickly.


DR. CHRIS T. PERNELL, AMERICAN COLLEGE OF PREVENTIVE MEDICINE FELLOW: Are we seeing lower hospitalization rates because Omicron is less virulent or are we always seeing lower hospitalization rates, because we do have a considerable amount of the population that is vaccinated?


FIELD (voice over): Booster shots for younger teens may now be just weeks away, says the CDC, while younger children remain the least vaccinated age group in the country.



DR. LARRY KOCIOLEK, ATTENDING PHYSICIAN, LURIE CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF CHICAGO: The vast majority of children that are infected with COVID have mild infection, but you do have to be aware that that does put your child at risk for hospitalization and puts your child at risk for transmitting to other people in their classroom.


FIELD (voice over): Washington, D.C. schools now requiring a negative test for teachers and students to come back to class. With the peak of this surge likely still ahead of us, Dr. Fauci, again, warning people to take precautions ahead of another new year.


FAUCI: If your plans are to go to a 40 to 50-person New Year's Eve party with all the bells and whistles and everybody hugging and kissing and wishing each other a Happy New Year, I would strongly recommend that this year we do not do that.



FIELD (on camera): A lot of people were looking forward to that. Many people thinking now at least about scaling back those New Year's Eve plans just as more big events get cancelled, the Westminster Dog Show the latest to announce that they will delay. The rest of the World Junior Hockey tournament now canceled. And Poppy, the NHL, which has postponed some 80 games this season as a result of COVID announcing today that they will be adopting the latest CDC guidelines, cutting the isolation from 10 days down to five making more of their players back on the ice sooner. Poppy?

HARLOW: Well, Alex, as we were talking about Chinese food, some champagne, and a couch and a great show on CNN sounds good and safe for New Year ...

FIELD: Oh, yeah.

HARLOW: ... for New Year's Eve. Me too. Alexandra Field, thank you.

OUTFRONT now, Dr. Catherine O'Neal, Chief Medical Officer of Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Louisiana and Dr. Jonathan Reiner, who advised the White House medical unit under President George W. Bush. Thank you both for being here.

And Dr. O'Neal, let me just begin with you because hospitalizations in your state have tripled in just two weeks. A record number of new cases reported today, what is going on in your hospital right now? How bad is it?

DR. CATHERINE O'NEAL, CHIEF MEDICAL OFC. OF OUR LADY OF THE LAKE REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER IN LOUSIANA: Poppy, what we're seeing in the hospital today is the same thing we've seen at the beginning of every single surge. So to hear that Omicron is different and is not causing immense illness in people is not what we're seeing on the ground. We're seeing our ERs flooded with people who are looking for a test, but are also sick and want to be evaluated and want to find out what's going on so that they can protect their family.

Inside the hospital, we're seeing an increase in admissions that is startling. We've more than doubled our admissions since last week at this time and those people are sick. Now, they do represent two different categories. We have an unvaccinated part of our hospital, our are COVID-19 admissions who are sick with COVID pneumonia, who are intubated, who need high flow oxygen, who look exactly like the previous surges.

And then we have a group of people who are partially vaccinated or vaccinated but not boosted, they came in for flu-like illness, but they're fragile. They're older, they have heart failure, they have COPD and they can't handle COVID even when they're vaccinated. Luckily, most of those people are turning around after a couple days and going home, which is a good thing.

HARLOW: Dr. Reiner, you've been highly critical of the new CDC guidance change, cutting the quarantine time down to five days. And when we talked last night, you made it very clear how you feel. This morning, Dr. Walensky, the head of the CDC spoke with our Kaitlan Collins and defended the guidance. Here's what she said.


WALENSKY: We know that the most amount of transmission occurs in those one to two days before you develop symptoms, those two to three days after you develop symptoms. And if you map that out, those five days account for somewhere between 85 percent to 90 percent of all transmission that occurs.

We opted not to have the rapid test for isolation, because we actually don't know how our rapid tests perform and how well they predict whether you're transmissible during the end of disease.


HARLOW: Did what Dr. Walensky say change your mind?

JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: No, not at all. So first of all, we have scant little data that tells us exactly how Omicron behaves in terms of transmissibility over the course of the illness. So I think saying with certainty that most of the infections occur very early, I think I'd like to see the data that proves that.

But I disagree with the CDC Director when it comes to testing. We have a fantastic tool to help us understand when people can get back to work. I am completely on board with shortening the isolation period and getting people out of the house and back to their jobs as quickly as possible. And if only we had a tool that could help us, but we do have a tool and it's called rapid antigen testing.

And as an example, a colleague called me today to tell me that he had tested positive a week ago and had been mild to moderately ill, was getting better, was looking forward to getting back to work. And on day eight today, he tested positive. He's still positive on day eight and he's a physician. He will not come back to work testing positive nor should he.


So this is an illustration of how to use this test to understand whether you can shorten this 10 day window. And we have the technology, we just don't have the number of tests. And the question I would like to ask the CDC Director is, if we had a massive amount of tests in our communities now, would you have included testing in your algorithm and I'd be shocked if she said no. HARLOW: Yes. Dr. O'Neal, on top of all of this, there's only one

monoclonal antibody treatment that works against Omicron and a lot of places are out of it. I mean, you are being forced to turn people away who come to your hospital in hopes of getting it, because the supply is gone. How are patients reacting and are most of them unvaccinated?

O'NEAL: We are seeing lots of patients coming from monoclonal antibody. We're seeing vaccinated patients who feel like they have the flu and they just want something to make them feel better and wish that we could give them more than Tylenol and Advil and fluids. And then we're seeing unvaccinated people who are very sick and they're scared and they want a treatment that we no longer have available.

And when we look at those patients in the eyes, honestly there's a conversation that you have with them, which is this is what I have for you today and you need to come back if you feel worse and then we can take care of you in the hospital. But then there's also the conversation for their family and that goes back to the question you just asked Dr. Reiner, what else are we doing. We have to vaccinate people who are unvaccinated right now. We have to continue to mask and slow down the spread.

All of those things occur and treatment is a last priority. It's a priority for those who are sick, but we have to keep from getting there and that's sort of vaccination and masking.

HARLOW: Yes, of course. Today, Dr. Reiner, Dr. Fauci said a vaccine requirement for domestic air travel remains, in his words, 'on the table'. I wonder if you think a vaccine requirement for domestic air travel is supported by the science and is the right call. And then I just keep thinking about, "Well, then why wouldn't you also test for domestic air travel?"

REINER: Which we should. So that's exactly what we do when we admit to this country, international non-US resident travelers by air, they are tested and they are vaccinated. So we're requiring visitors to this country to be negative and to be protected, but we're not requiring Americans flying around this country.

There is no place in the world that has more virus than the United States right now. It's not like we're trying to keep virus out from these high level endemic areas. We are the endemic area. So my sense is this is completely a political decision made to protect essentially a president whose approval rating is low. And the concern, obviously, by administration officials is that should this administration impose a vaccine mandate for air travel that his approval is likely to drop.

But I would remind this administration that the path towards improving the public's sense for how they are doing is to put this pandemic down. We're having hundreds of thousands of cases a day. If not now, when? When will this administration think about an air travel mandate, if not now?

HARLOW: Dr. O'Neal, thank you. Dr. Reiner, thank you so much.

REINER: Thank you. HARLOW: OUTFRONT next breaking news, guilty verdicts in the sex

trafficking trial of Jeffrey Epstein associate, Ghislaine Maxwell.

Also, it is the very definition of a power play, a political endorsement with serious strings attached. The man behind it, Donald Trump.

And President Putin is on the line, Russia's president has requested a phone call with President Biden. About what? We'll have those details coming up.



HARLOW: Breaking news, a jury finding Ghislaine Maxwell guilty of helping Jeffrey Epstein abuse underage girls. Maxwell, a British socialite, and a longtime companion of Epstein's was found guilty on five of six counts, including sex trafficking of a minor. The jury deliberated for more than 40 hours after hearing graphic testimony from four women who said Maxwell lure them to Epstein's homes to have sex with him and with other powerful men.

Sonia Moghe is OUTFRONT. Sonia, you've been covering the entirety of this trial, what do we know?

SONIA MOGHE, CNN REPORTER: Well, Poppy, it's difficult to overstate what this day, what this verdict means to so many survivors of abuse not just by Ghislaine Maxwell, but also by Jeffrey Epstein, who as you know was arrested back in 2019 on sex trafficking of minors, charges and then committed suicide weeks after his arrest in the detention facility not far from this courthouse.

When that happens, so many survivors of abuse said it was devastating for them. They thought they were finally able to achieve, to see some sort of justice. But then to have Ghislaine Maxwell convicted on five out of six counts was a huge deal.

One of those survivors who did not testify in this case, but who was mentioned in this trial often is Virginia Giuffre. And she tweeted earlier today she said, "My soul yearned for justice for years and today the jury gave me just that. I will remember this day always. Having lived with the horrors of Maxwell's abuse, my heart goes out to the many other girls and young women who suffered at her hands and whose lives she destroyed. I hope that today is not the end but rather another step in justice being served. Maxwell did not act alone. Others must be held accountable. I have faith that they will be."

Now, Maxwell was convicted on five counts including sex trafficking of a minor. She could be facing up to 65 years in prison. Her attorney saying that they will appeal these charges, Poppy.

HARLOW: Sonia, thank you very much to you and your team for the reporting.

OUTFRONT now, Michele Hagan, a former San Francisco Assistant District Attorney and a former child abuse prosecutor, and Elie Honig, former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Thank you both very much. This is huge in terms of trying to find accountability and some form of justice here for these women who were girls at the time.

Elie, Maxwell was found guilty on five of six counts, 40 hours of deliberation, 16 questions from the jury. What do you make of the decision?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Poppy, finally and after far too long, there's some measure of justice for these victims, not just the four victims who testified in this trial, but the dozens of victims who were abused, many of them as children by Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell. It took far too long.

Let's also remember, federal prosecutors down in Florida, Alexander Acosta, they had Jeffrey Epstein lined up over a decade ago and they let him go with an inexplicable slap on the wrist because they didn't have the guts to take on a rich, powerful person like Jeffrey Epstein and his powerhouse legal team.

And we've only seen justice today because of bold local reporting down in Florida and because my former office, the Southern District of New York did the right thing. So this is a big day for justice. I think the jury clearly was very careful and did its job and delivered a fair and just verdict.

HARLOW: Michele, let me read you part of the statement on this verdict from the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Damian Williams, who seemed prosecuted this. He says, "The road to justice has been far too long, but today justice has been done. I want to commend the bravery of the girls now grown women who stepped out of the shadows and into the courtroom, their courage and willingness to face their abuser made this case and today's result possible."


Again, Jeffrey Epstein allegedly died by suicide in his jail cell before he could face trial. What does this mean for the victims to actually see the justice system play out fully for them?

MICHELE HAGAN, FORMER SAN FRANCISCO ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Poppy, this is huge for the victims. I prosecuted a lot of child abuse cases and this verdict is going to provide a lot of healing for a lot of victims out there, because this jury believed these four victims. So I think it's going to empower a lot of other victims out there, men and women, who have been abused and trafficked to come forward and reveal the secrets and let go of the shame that they've been carrying for years.

HARLOW: Elie, the jury did not find Maxwell guilty on the second count that was enticing a miner to travel to engage in illegal sex acts. I wonder what you make of that, given that the most serious count that carries up to 40 years in prison sex trafficking of a minor she was found guilty on. HONIG: Yes. So those two counts, Poppy, relate to the same testimony

from the same victim. And I think the jury just shows how careful they were. They may have had some problem with whether there was technically enticement versus technically transporting. There was some inconsistency as to those specific elements in this trial.

But again, it shows me the jury didn't just sort of sweep the table and say all guilty or not guilty. And when this case is on appeal, and it will be appealed, as a prosecutor, you want to be able to say to the Court of Appeals, look, the jury was really careful here. They were very selective about what they did.

HARLOW: Michele, the defense ...

HAGAN: And very thorough.

HARLOW: ... and the defense, Michele, argued that Maxwell was being scapegoated for Epstein's actions. I wonder as someone who has stood up and been a voice for so many victims, what you made of that?

HAGAN: Well, you know, they're trying to shift the blame to someone else. It's another case just like the Elizabeth Holmes case where the defense is trying to blame the evils of the man on a woman. So I think it's a big day for a lot of victims out there.

HARLOW: Elie, legally, can you speak about what is next here for the victims? I mean, the courage it takes to get up there on the stand and to recount through incredibly painful testimony what happened to you and then they had to hear that defense and now she's going to appeal. What is this road like for them?

HONIG: Well, probably you're right, Michele's right, I put on victims as well, underage victims in trials. It's extraordinarily difficult. It's impossible to understand what these people go through and it's important to let people know that they can come forward and tell the truth.

And I have to note, there is more to be done here ...


HONIG: ... from a prosecutorial standpoint. This was not a two-person operation. This was not just Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell. There were plenty of other people allegedly according to public accusations, according to civil lawsuits that have been filed, people who are part of this ring, people who sexually abused minors, that's been alleged and I think prosecutors have a real obligation to dig all the way down to the bottom and bring anyone else who may have been part of this to justice.

HARLOW: It's a such an important point.

HAGAN: I agree. Grab all those people that enabled this.

HARLOW: Right, who are the other powerful people out there.

HAGAN: Right. Right.

HARLOW: Michele Hagan, Elie Honig, thank you both very much.

HAGAN: Thank you, Poppy.

HARLOW: OUTFRONT next, former President Trump makes an endorsement, but then threatens to take it away. We'll tell you what his conditions are.

And Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden have a phone call set for tomorrow. Why did the Russian president initiate the call? We'll talk about it.



HARLOW: Tonight, former President Trump throwing his support behind Gov. Mike Dunleavy of Alaska's reelection campaign, but there is one major condition. Trump writing in a statement, "Alaska needs Mike Dunleavy as Governor now more than ever. He has my complete and total endorsement, but this endorsement is subject to his non-endorsement of Sen. Lisa Murkowski who has been very bad for Alaska. If Mike endorses her, which is his prerogative, my endorsement of him is null and void and of no further force or effect." Our Sunlen Serfaty is OUTFRONT.


SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Former President Donald Trump making it clear he's using his endorsements to take on his political enemies. Endorsing Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy for reelection only if he does not endorse Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski for reelection.

Murkowski has been in Trump's sights she voted to convict him on an impeachment charge for inciting the insurrection at the Capitol.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ms. Murkowski, guilty.


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


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The war monger, the person who loves seeing our troops fighting - Liz Cheney. How about that?


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


TRUMP: So hopefully they'll get rid of her with the next election.


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


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


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


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


SERFATY (voice over): Trump also using his endorsement to preserve his own political brand, attempting to stack the party with loyalists even if those candidates come with controversy. In Pennsylvania, Trump endorsing former Army Captain Sean Parnell.


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



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

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

TRUMP: You know, Herschel is not only a Georgia hero, he is an American legend. SERFATY: Even as the former-football star has faced allegations of

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


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


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

POPPY HARLOW, CNN HOST: All right. Sunlen Serfaty, thanks so much for the reporting.

And for more on this, I want to bring in former Republican Governor Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey and our own CNN political director, David Chalian.

Good evening. Thank you both for being here.

Governor Whitman, let me begin with you. Will Trump's endorsement threat to Alaska's governor scare other Republicans from supporting candidates that Trump dislikes?

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: Well, that's what he is clearly trying to do and I think he ought to be a little careful. The governor ought to be a little careful because Alaskans are pretty independent. They don't like being told what to do but it is extraordinary he would say what a great governor he has been for Alaska but if you don't do exactly what I say and what I want, I am not -- you're not good anymore.

And that's what people ought to take away from this, and be very, very concerned about. If that is the definition of trying to be a dictator, I don't know what is. It's -- it's a scary time for our democracy.

And as you point out, Poppy, and very rightly, it's -- we ought to be worried and watching closely what is happening down ballot. It's not just Congress. It's not just the Senate. It is the governors. It's the secretaries of states and the attorneys general.

It's important, all the way down to the local level.

HARLOW: There is a lot happening in the states. And see how powerful states are on that front. Dave, you have got several Republicans running in the upcoming

midterms embracing Trump's election lies. Even some who Trump hasn't even endorsed yet.

Here are two candidates running for the U.S. Senate in Ohio vying for the president's support. Listen.


BERNIE ROMERO (R), OHIO SENATE CANDIDATE: An entire system rigged against the people. President Trump says the election was stolen and he is right.

JOSH MANDEL (R), OHIO SENATE CANDIDATE: I think Trump won. I think Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia, all of those states need to be fully investigated and none of them have.


HARLOW: David, what do you make of that?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, first of all, let's be clear. Running on the idea that you refuse to accept a legitimate election result should be disqualifying for office. But inside a Republican primary in today's Republican Party, which is dominated by Donald Trump where a majority of Republicans say they believe Trump's big lie, it actually may be a credential. And there is no doubt, the two guys you just played there clearly trying to curry favor with the president.

Now, it's not clear the former president is going to get involved and make an endorsement in that Ohio Republican Senate primary. But it is the kind of race where he can prove, to some degree, that he still has clout in the party potentially. And -- and that's his whole mission here.

Either, he wants political retribution, like, hey, Lisa Murkowski's the only senator up for election who voted to convict he in my impeachment trial. So I am going to make this conditional endorsement of the governor.

It has nothing to do with the governor. That is purely about Trump political retribution. Or he wants to make the party in his image with real loyalists.

HARLOW: Governor Whitman, across the country, people pushing Trump's lies about 2020 are now running, as we were just talking about, for crucial election positions, right? Running elections.

And Trump is endorsing them, hoping they will do his bidding on the state level, will never forget that call, right, between Trump and Georgia officials. Talk about how consequential that is because I feel like at the state-house level, a lot of this doesn't get covered nationally until it's done.

WHITMAN: Until it's too late. Um, and that's really what's critical here is to keep reminding people how important these elections are and these offices are. I mean, these are people who just were doing their job. They weren't playing to Republicans or Democrats, as secretaries of states, as local officials who were doing the ballot counting.


And yet, they are being threatened, their lives are being threatened. They have to go into hiding some of them.

I mean, this just is not the United States of America. This isn't a way we behave. And -- and people at the local level have to keep watching this and have to inform themselves and ask the questions because you don't want somebody in office, who is still saying 2020 election was fraudulent.

It wasn't. It was free, fair, and accurate. And over 60 court cases have proven that, over and over again.

But this is part of a concerted effort to undermine the public's confidence in our electoral system. And it -- it's making -- to try to make it easier to change the outcome of an election if you don't win. And -- and people have to be really concerned.

There are over 200 bills that have been introduced across the country to reduce access to the polls for those who legally can vote. And to threaten people who are poll watchers, making it a criminal offense if you make a small mistake, and when you are talking to people about how to vote, when you're writing down their names. It's making it so confusing, that a lot of the people who know what it do are saying, hey, I didn't sign up for this.

And we are losing them. And we're losing institutional knowledge and -- and Arkansas passed a bill that basically will allow the state legislature, if they didn't like the outcome of an election, to overturn it.

HARLOW: States are supposed to be laboratories of democracy, right? That's what the Founders intended but they need to uphold the democracy, and key to that is everyone being able to vote.

David, changing gears this is important I want you to weigh in on Harry Reid, of course, former Senate majority leader who -- who we all lost. Longtime Democratic senator from Nevada passed away last night at the age of 82.

His story is -- is just remarkable. The American dream, rising from extreme childhood poverty. Literally, living in a shack. Loses his alcoholic father to suicide. His mother does laundry for brothels. And look what he becomes.

And I want to ask you about what he fought for in the Senate, right? He had no healthcare and he was critical in getting Obamacare through. Talk about his legacy in terms of what he fought for, from where he came from.

CHALIAN: Yeah, and there is no doubt that the passage of Obamacare is a part of Harry Reid's legacy, forevermore. There is no doubt about that. He navigated those 60 senators that then turned into 59 senators but got that bill to President Obama's desk. And there is no doubt, he talked about it at the time, that his own experience in Searchlight, Nevada, fed his drive to pursue that. You are right to call it an American story.

Even Mitch McConnell, who did a lot of political battle across the aisle with him -- they were not really good friends at all -- spoke yesterday after the news of Harry Reid's death about how quintessentially American Reid's story is.

HARLOW: Yeah. And -- and -- and of his legacy, I love he said he wanted his legacy to be his 60-plus year love affair with his wife. Just so -- a great thing to remind all of us of.

David Chalian, thank you so much. Governor Whitman, it's great to have you.

OUTFRONT next, Moscow calling Russia's President Putin has asked to speak with President Biden. They will talk tomorrow. What will they discuss?

And celebrities are embracing crypto. We will reveal who is jumping on the bandwagon and explain more.


HARLOW: Tonight, President Biden set to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin tomorrow after Putin requested the call, according to the White House. The two leaders are expected to discuss a range of topics ahead of diplomatic talks next month. This as the U.S. continues to pressure Russia to withdrawal and draw down the more than 100,000 troops it has amassed at the Ukraine border.

Jeremy Diamond is OUTFRONT in Wilmington, Delaware, where President Biden is tonight.

And, Jeremy, this will actually be the second time Biden and Putin speak this month. What do we know about what they will talk about?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Poppy, not only is it the second call in a matter of weeks but crucially, it comes less than two weeks before U.S. and Russian officials are set to hold a security dialogue beginning the week of January 10th.

Listen, we know that this call came at Russian President Vladimir Putin's request and U.S. officials told us today they saw no reason to decline the call. Particularly, at what a senior administration official called a moment of crisis right now. Ultimately, what will President Biden's goal be tomorrow?

He is going to have to set up the future of these talks coming up on January 10th and be able to set expectations for what exactly can be achieved. And senior official also told us the president wants to make clear to President Putin while the U.S. is engaged in meaningful diplomacy, is committed to meaningful diplomacy, U.S. president is also going to make clear to Vladimir Putin what the cost of a Russian invasion of Ukraine would be. That is, severe economic and financial sanctions that U.S. officials said would go far beyond what the U.S. did in 2014 when Russia invade Crimea.

HARLOW: Before you go, this call comes as we are learning just two days ago, a U.S. spy plane for a reconnaissance mission over eastern Ukraine. Do we have any details?

DIAMOND: Yeah, that's right. The U.S. air force flew a reconnaissance mission on Monday over eastern Ukraine. This is a -- a E-8C JSTARS aircraft which stands for Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System and this is the first time that kind of aircraft has actually flown over eastern Ukraine.

It came just two days after Russia said it was going to withdraw 10,000 -- 10,000 of the troops that it has deployed in the region across the -- the Ukrainian border. So, U.S. military officials won't say exactly what intelligence this aircraft was gathering. But even if it wasn't flying across disputed territory, it's clear that based on this aircraft's powerful radar system, it would still be able to pick up on military movements across the border -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Jeremy Diamond, thank you so much for the reporting tonight.

OUTFRONT next, Melania Trump gets in on crypto, does NFTs. Does she have her eye on the wave of the future?

And for half a century, they have been the soundtrack for so many people. We will preview a CNN film about Carole King and James Taylor.



HARLOW: Tonight, New York City's next mayor announcing he will be sworn in on Saturday during the New Year's Eve ball drop in Times Square, and that is not Eric Adams' only bold move. He is also saying he wants his first three paychecks in bitcoin. This comes as a number of political figures are jumping in on the crypto and NFT bandwagon, including former First Lady Melania Trump.

Our Kate Bennett is OUTFRONT.


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

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

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

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

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

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

BENNETT: Plenty of celebrities have embraced the NFT craze mostly because they can be super-lucrative, into the hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars in profit, via the world of cryptocurrency. Releasing limited-edition pieces that fans can buy has already lured not only Melania Trump, Tom Brady has one. So does Snoop Dogg. The singer Grimes is a fan. As are Lindsay Lohan and Mark Cuban.

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

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

BENNETT: Who has released several NFTs and also counts herself as a collector. But a former first lady, not exactly what most do after leaving the White House. Laura Bush has dedicated her work to helping others on a global scale.

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

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

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

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


She did say in her NFT announcement that a portion of the proceeds would go to help foster children. But questions from CNN as to how much and which programs have gone unanswered. One person in her corner on the venture? Her husband and crypto critic, Donald Trump.

D. TRUMP: I never loved it because I like to have the dollar. I think the currency should be the dollar, so I was never a big fan.

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

D. TRUMP: She is going to do great. She's -- does -- she does really -- she's got a great imagination. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BENNETT (on camera): Well, this NFT, Poppy, is available only until December 31st. Lots of celebrities released it in limited chunks. We think Melania Trump is going to have another one in January. She is teasing it on her website. So this could be a new venture for a former-American first lady.

HARLOW: It's fascinating, Kate Bennett, thanks for the reporting.

OUTFRONT now is Eric Lipton. He is an investigative reporter for "The New York Times."

Eric, you know all about this stuff. So thank you for being with us tonight.

Let's start with the basics. You just heard Kate Bennett talking about Melania Trump's NFT. What is the difference between an NFT and cryptocurrency a for example, bitcoin or stable coin? They are very different but I think people get very confused.

ERIC LIPTON, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I mean, they are both traded on the Blockchain and it is a way to have a -- an object that is unique and traded and -- and that you can buy. The non- fungible token is the NFT, the artwork. And the fungible token is the cryptocurrency.

But basically, they are both ways to electronically transfer things of value. And also, the thing about it is you can do it directly. There is no art broker involved that takes a commission and that's one of the reasons this is attractive to celebrities and others is that no one's taking commission of their profits. It directly is going into their pockets.

HARLOW: Well, in a sense, if it all works out and if the right safety measures are in place, it is democratizing access.

LIPTON: It's true. I mean, some people are talking about NFTs being available for musicians who write music and then can sell their music directly to consumers and bypassing, you know, record labels or other venues that take a cut of their profits.

The NFTs have gone from a $65 million business in 2020 to a $14 billion business in 2021. It's an incredible growth. It's reflective of this kind of transformational thing that is going on broadly with respect crypto and Blockchain.

HARLOW: Right. It's -- it's big. I mean, CNN has an NFT I think. It's not just Melania Trump. There is so many, several celebrities, politicians, getting big into NFTs, crypto. Staples Center in L.A. reading

How big does this get? Does it become predominant?

LIPTON: I mean, I think that what -- this is an -- an expression of how crypto and Blockchain -- it is not just cryptocurrency but crypto is going to transform economies both in the banking world, in social media world, and in the way that art is -- is transmitted and -- and bought and sold.

I think this -- we are at the beginning of -- of a transformation in -- in commerce. And that's why, for example, there is $30 billion worth of venture capital has just poured into crypto entities this year. And banking is being remade right now. So, 2021 will be remembered as the transformative year for crypto. Not just cryptocurrency but for things like NFTs.

HARLOW: Notably, former President Trump has called crypto a scam against the dollar. He called for it to be regulated, in his words, very, very high. You have the Biden administration pushing for oversight of stable coins. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warning the absence of appropriate oversight represents risks to users in the broader system.

So, you've got the Fed trying to catch up on this. You have got Congress trying to catch up on it. Do you see this market regulated soon?

LIPTON: No question, it has to be, and that there's unanimous -- nearly unanimous agreement, both among the industry, Congress, and the Biden administration, that something has to happen really quickly. And that the -- the -- you know, Blockchain and crypto and NFTs have -- they have all gotten out ahead of the regulators because innovation is happening so quickly and so there has to be regulation and -- or else there is going to be, you know, manipulation and abuse that will be very soon and very big.

HARLOW: Eric Lipton, thank you so much. Your reporting on this for a long time has been really great and helping us all understand it. Thanks for joining me tonight.

LIPTON: Thank you for having me.

OUTFRONT next, generations of people all over the world are still loving decades-old songs by James Taylor and Carole King. How does she explain it?


CAROLE KING, SINGER: When people come to see our shows, they know that they are getting our all and our best every time.




HARLOW: Singer/songwriters James Taylor and Carole King's 50-year personal friendship have had a truly remarkable impact on American music and now this exclusive joint interview recorded for the new CNN film Carole King and James Taylor, "Just Call Out My Name", the musicians talk about the unique experience of performing together. Take a look.


KING: The audience, whether you are playing for one person or five people or ten or 15,000 in the arena, you are playing for one collective consciousness. When we go out there to play for the people in the audience, we get a lot of love. But the reason we get a lot of love is because we are playing the soundtrack of their lives. And we come to the show, and they hear that music and it really becomes a love fest.

I know a lot of performers think it's about them, too. We can tell which ones they are and sometimes people don't care. They like the spectacle or whatever. But the thing about our show that works is that we know that, and we realize that and when people come to see our shows, they know that they are getting our all and our best every time.

JAMES TAYLOR, SINGER: There is a definite energy to it. And -- and -- and it's -- it's -- when it -- when it happens genuinely, you know, there's -- there's nothing like it.


HARLOW: Well, the concert documentary film is centered around their legendary 2010 tribute reunion tour which reunited King and Taylor for a rare musical experience, and includes exclusive footage.

So be sure to watch. Tune into the all-new CNN film "Carole King and James Taylor: Just Call Out My Name". It premieres Sunday night 9:00 Eastern and Pacific only on CNN.

Thank you so much for joining me tonight.

"AC360" is now.