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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Biden Expected To Advise Booster Shots For Most Americans; Biden Blames Afghan Army's Unwillingness To Fight Against Taliban; Tropical Storm Fred Makes Landfall In The Florida Panhandle. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired August 17, 2021 - 05:30   ET




LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. This is EARLY START. I'm Laura Jarrett.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, I'm Christine Romans. Tuesday morning, 31 minutes past the hour. Time for our top stories to keep an eye on today.

Health officials in the Biden administration expected to advise that most Americans should get COVID booster shots eight months after becoming fully vaccinated. Two sources tell CNN the plan is still being developed but third shots could begin in mid to late September pending FDA authorization.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years, I've learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces.


JARRETT: President Biden there admitting the collapse of Afghanistan's government unfolded more quickly than the U.S. anticipated. Still, Biden stood firmly behind his decision to withdraw U.S. troops. He now faces the test of preventing an extremist resurgence in Afghanistan.

ROMANS: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi holding firm on her dual-track plan on infrastructure. She wants the Senate-passed deal to move along with the Democrats' larger human infrastructure package. Modern House -- moderate House Democrats have demanded a vote on the hard infrastructure plan first.

JARRETT: Modern ones, too.

A tropical storm threatening more devastation in Haiti on the heels of an earthquake that killed more than 1,400 people. The storm could cause flash floods and mudslides where the 7.2-magnitude quake hit on Saturday. ROMANS: The first-ever water shortage declared on the Colorado River, cutting the water supply for millions of people in western states early next year. Historic drought conditions have pushed water levels on Lake Mead, the largest reservoir on the Colorado River, to record lows.

JARRETT: Tennessee's former top vaccination official may have orchestrated a phony plot sending herself a dog muzzle. A new investigative report finds there is no evidence anyone was threatening to silence Dr. Michelle Fiscus and that the muzzle she reported receiving before she was fired was paid with her own credit card.

ROMANS: T-Mobile confirms it has been hit by a data breach. The hackers claimed to be selling full customer info from more than 100 million people. T-Mobile not commenting about personal information from customers that may have been accessed or how widespread the damage might be.

JARRETT: The Atlanta Falcons are number one in vaccinations. The team is the first in the NFL to have 100 percent of its players vaccinated. That means the Falcons are now the only team that's allowed to go maskless around their training facility and eat and work out together.

ROMANS: All right.

When images of desperate Afghans clinging to American warplanes emerged from Kabul on Monday morning, President Biden had already conceded to aides that he had little choice but to interrupt his stay at Camp David and return to the White House. Then he largely placed the blame elsewhere.


BIDEN: The truth is this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated. So what's happened? Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military collapsed, sometime, without trying to fight. American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themself.


JARRETT: Biden also placed blame on former President Trump and has voiced disagreement with former President Obama on decisions he made about Afghanistan a decade ago.


CNN's Jasmine Wright is live at the White House -- in Washington for us, I should say. Jasmine, good morning.

The president seemed dug in on his position. He stood firm. But take us behind the scenes of what we say yesterday.

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Laura, we saw President Biden return in defense mode, really, after being put under pressure by his own political allies to come and address the nation after the fall of Afghanistan.

And the thing about it, Laura, is that this is not only raising questions about what, politically, the impact will be on the president but also, this is about real people -- Afghan people whose country is falling into the hands of the Taliban.

So my colleagues, Kevin Liptak and Jeff Zeleny, reported that the president, while he was getting briefed at Camp David -- remember, we saw those pictures of him getting those video briefings and he was briefed on the phone -- was quizzing his own aides about how they could misjudge the timeline for when the Afghan army would collapse.

And now -- and the dominating factor, really, when we're talking about crafting that speech, Laura -- it was not just about the GOP criticism that they expected to get, but it was about how President Biden himself could get it so wrong. Remember, he said last month that it was highly unlikely the country would be overrun by the Taliban. He said it would not look like a Saigon moment but that is exactly where we are.

And those miscalculations we just heard him briefly admit -- that yes, it happened more quickly than it happened -- that was all really in the realm of what they were talking about when they were putting these remarks together.

And another thing Laura is that yes, he did pass the blame on President Trump and a little bit on President Obama, but he also passed the blame on Afghans themselves and that ousted Afghan leader Ghani when he -- who actually fled the country. He said that they basically gave up.

So this is a president, aides say, that showed no signs of any really acknowledgment that his own actions -- his own decision to pull out of Afghanistan really contributed to the chaos that we saw over the weekend and on Monday.

So the question is really, Laura -- is where does -- what comes next. And so, we will all have deep dives from the media to the Congress, to the administration itself.

But when you talk to officials privately, they will tell you that the American people are behind the president with his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. And so, while they are concerned about COVID, and domestic issues, and the economy, this may not raise so high. This may not be top of mind for most Americans -- Laura.

JARRETT: Yes. No doubt he's seen the same polling that we have. The question is whether now those same polls may change given how this withdrawal has actually gone down.

All right --

WRIGHT: Exactly.

JARRETT: -- Jasmine, thank you.

ROMANS: All right.

With the U.S. pulling out of Afghanistan, it seems other countries -- namely, China and Russia -- stand to benefit from the return of the Taliban and less U.S. influence there.

We have live reports from both China and Russia.

I want to go first to CNN's David Culver for us in Beijing. And I know the foreign minister -- the Chinese foreign minister has spoken with the Secretary of State Tony Blinken -- says they're willing to work with the U.S. here. But what is the Chinese position?

DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is one to watch, Christine. It's interesting because publicly, we're seeing that you just need to roll the images of desperation out of Afghanistan and that plays right into the Chinese state media propaganda. I mean, they're essentially telling the world this is what happens when you rely on the U.S., and they just show those pictures.

Privately, they're worried. Observers are looking at this and they're saying there's a lot of concern about the instability that could arise from this.

Now, China shares a very small border with Afghanistan but they've been strategic over recent weeks. I want to go back five weeks ago -- July 16th. That was when President Xi Jinping had a phone call with now-ousted President Ashraf Ghani. And on that phone call, he didn't endorse the Afghan government but he said that he, of course, supported the Afghan people and stability and peace.

Fast-forward 12 days. Now, let me show you these images. These are from July 28th.

These show Wang Yi, the foreign minister, meeting with Taliban officials right here in China in Tianjin. They met. They discussed political stability, stability within the region. That word is used a lot and they want to maintain that.

What's going to be fascinating going forward, Christine, is to see what happens in the far western region of Xinjiang here in China. We have covered extensively the widespread allegations of human rights abuses -- what the U.S. has considered to be genocide -- against the Uyghur Muslim minority there.

Now you've got the Taliban. Are they going to deal with the Chinese government or are they going to push for the rights of those who are their brethren in faith? That's what we're going to be watching for and it's going to be fascinating to see how this plays out -- Christine.

ROMANS: Yes, a whole new set of circumstances.

All right, David Culver for us in China. Thank you, David.

JARRETT: Let's go now to Fred Pleitgen live for us in Moscow.


Fred, Russia appears to be giving tacit approval, if you will, to this Taliban takeover. Moscow has no plans to evacuate its embassy, and the Russian ambassador to Afghanistan says Kabul actually seems safer since the Taliban took control. So explain for folks how is this quiet outreach actually helping Vladimir Putin?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that the Russians certainly believe that they're going to be able to deal with the Taliban a lot better than they had been with the Ghani government. In fact, one of the things that Russia's special envoy for Afghanistan said is that he called the Ghani government which, of course, fled the country -- he called them a puppet government. And he said that he believes right now, stability is actually coming back to Kabul.

So one of the things that the Russians have been doing -- really for years, Laura -- is they've been cultivating ties with the Taliban. They say currently, they're in touch with all the factions inside Afghanistan -- with all those who hold any sort of power inside Afghanistan. So they believe they're in a fairly comfortable position at this point in time.

As you've noted, their embassy is staying open. Their embassy is continuing to work. At the same time, though, the Russians are saying they want to take sort of a wait-and-see approach to see whether or not they're actually going to recognize the Taliban as being the new rulers of Afghanistan. At the same time, they do believe that they are in a fairly comfortable position right now.

Of course, in all of this, they also did take a big swipe at the United States and they do believe that this hurts the U.S.'s credibility in that region. They said look, when the Soviet Union left Afghanistan in 1989, at least the government they left behind lasted for three years. The government the U.S. left behind didn't even last until the actual pullout date. So you can see the Russians gloating a little bit.

But at the same time, of course, it's a strategically important region for them and certainly one where they will want to strengthen the ties that they have here, Laura.

JARRETT: All right, Fred Pleitgen live for us. Thank you so much. Appreciate it, Fred.

We'll be right back.




BIDEN: I'm adamant we focus on the threats we face today in 2021, not yesterday's threats. Today, the terrorist threat has metastasized well beyond Afghanistan. These threats warrant our attention and our resources.


JARRETT: President Biden insisting there the U.S. must focus on terrorist threats today, not those of the past. But critics say his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan might increase the threat level, and quickly.

Joining us now is Charles Lister, senior fellow and director of the counterterrorism program at the Middle East Institute. Thanks so much.

ROMANS: Good morning. Nice to see you.

Help us understand what exactly happens when non-state actors like the Taliban take over a territory, take over a region, take over a country.


I think it goes without saying that for a group like the Taliban to take over an entire country is like an earthquake. It's an earthquake at home, it's an earthquake abroad. At home, it has created already a significant humanitarian crisis -- not just the scenes that we've been seeing from Kabul at the airport, but nationwide there is now widespread fear and uncertainty amidst the population about what it now means to be living under Taliban rule.

And, of course, this is a medieval Jihadist organization and we know all about how they govern because they were governing Taliban -- excuse me, they were governing Afghanistan before 9/11.

And regionally and internationally it creates a diplomatic crisis. How do governments respond? And we've already seen that the vacuum this has created has seen our adversaries, like China, Russia, Iran, and difficult allies like Turkey step into the void. They have all announced their intent to establish ties -- diplomatic ties with the Taliban and the new government in Afghanistan.

JARRETT: You know, the worry, of course, is that the Taliban taking control potentially opens the door for extremists groups to make inroads in Afghanistan. You know, the entire narrative that I was sold my entire life as a -- as a teenager and young adult is that we had to go in because this was a terrorist organization --


JARRETT: -- and we had to protect American lives here.

So where does the Biden administration go to ensure that doesn't happen?

LISTER: Well, you're absolutely right. We went in for the right reasons. I think there's an argument to make that our reasons for staying did, indeed, change. But I think first off, the Taliban itself is an extremist group and

should be classified as a terrorist organization. It gave harbor to the very people who committed 9/11 nearly 20 years ago.

The Taliban oaths -- shares an oath of allegiance with al Qaeda. That is an irreversible religiously binding oath of allegiance. That's not going away anywhere, anytime soon despite what some of our diplomats at the State Department have told us in the last few years.

So there's absolutely no doubt in my mind that al Qaeda and possibly also ISIS, which has a presence in Afghanistan, stands very well- placed right now to revitalize itself in Afghanistan.

So what does the Biden administration do? You know, the wording from the administration is that we will still have the means necessary to counter any possible terrorist threats emanating from Afghanistan, and that's really rooted in two core, kind of, capabilities.

Number one, it's having intelligence on the ground. Now, the reality is -- and we know this -- that the CIA and the rest of the U.S. Intelligence Community has essentially had to dissolve its entire network all across Afghanistan because of this withdrawal --


LISTER: -- and because of the chaos and the uncertainty that it has created.

And then over that, the second thing is this so-called over-the- horizon airstrike capability. Now, despite what the president said yesterday, we haven't negotiated a single over-the-horizon air access deal with any of Afghanistan's neighbors. So we don't have the means that the president is claiming we do.

We just simply have quit -- packed up our bags, left the country, and we are claiming we're still capable of protecting Americans from threats from Afghanistan. But right now, that's just a flat-faced lie.

ROMANS: Charles Lister, so nice to see you this morning. Thanks for that perspective. A lot to think about. Thank you, sir.

JARRETT: Thank you.

All right, now to Tropical Storm Fred making landfall in the Florida Panhandle. The system is expected to deliver storm surge, river flooding, and possible tornadoes. Fred is one of at least two storms that could hit the United States this week.

Pedram Javaheri is live for us this morning. All right, Pedram, what should we expect for the rest of this week?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Quite a bit of rainfall here, especially from areas across the south, guys, all the way into the northeast here before this system finally rains itself out.

[05:50:02] You'll notice this is not very impressive on satellite depiction here because it's been over land for about 12 or so hours. And this system now crossing out of Alabama into the state of Georgia and a place here. Widespread flood watches in place, even tornado watches to be had at this hour because of the system spinning into the region here.

So, from Macon, Georgia into Metro Atlanta, we have flood watches in place. And it continues into portions of the Appalachian Mountains and eventually crossing into parts of even western Virginia.

But this is exactly what we're looking at here for rainfall amounts and what is observed rainfall amounts, radar estimated, coming in here. As much as four to six inches, some pockets potentially crossing up into eight inches. But notice the tornado watch remains in place -- again, including Metro Atlanta through at least 1:00 p.m. here before conditions are expected to gradually improve.

Now, here's what is left of Fred. Notice it's bringing scattered storms across parts of the northeast. And once the system eventually arrives here within the next, say, 36 to 48 hours or so, expect heavy rainfall to continue around some of the major metro cities of the northeast -- in part, thanks to what is left of this system. And then finally, we see this exit stage right.

Now, on the western side of the U.S., we are back in action here with critical concerns for a fire weather in parts of the southwest. And, of course, you notice parts of at least nine states dealing with red flag warnings that are scattered about the region as well.

So, gusty winds again back in the forecast. Temperatures into the century mark around that region of the U.S. While around the south -- look at this -- Atlanta, highs only 77 degrees. You can thank a lot of rainfall. About 2 1/2 inches worth expected in the metro area for Atlanta -- guys.

JARRETT: All right, Pedram. Thanks for that update.

ROMANS: All right, that's weather. Let's take a look at your business this morning.

Markets around the world at this hour, you can see Asian shares closed down. Europe has opened mixed here. On Wall Street, stock index futures this Tuesday morning are all leaning lower here.

It was record highs, though, again for the Dow and the S&P. The Dow closed up 110 points. The Dow and the S&P 500 have hit records five trading days in a row. The Nasdaq fell a little bit.

The S&P 500 is now double its pandemic closing low from March last year. Wow, it's up 19 percent so far this year.

Stocks have been up six months in a row now, showing just how incredible the recovery has been on Wall Street. The risk now for the economy and for the markets, of course, is the Delta variant.

JARRETT: Tennis star Naomi Osaka breaking down in tears during her first news conference since withdrawing from the French Open for mental health reasons.

Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report. Andy, what happened?

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Laura, yes -- this is the first time in almost three months that Naomi Osaka has held a media session. This was yesterday ahead of the tournament there in Cincinnati. And he was asked by "The Cincinnati Enquirer's" Paul Daugherty about benefitting from the media but not enjoying the press conference format.


PAUL DAUGHERTY, SPORTS COLUMNIST, THE CINCINNATI ENQUIRER: You're not crazy about dealing with us, especially in this format. Yet, you have a lot of outside interests that are -- that are served by having a media platform. I guess my question is how do you balance the two?

NAOMI OSAKA, TENNIS PLAYER: When you say I'm not crazy about dealing with you guys, what does that refer to?


SCHOLES: So, Daugherty and Osaka then had an exchange on the topic with Osaka saying she was interested in this point of view. Daugherty then rephrased the question referring to how Osaka has suggested there is a better way to hold media sessions. Osaka said she was still trying to figure out how to balance all the media attention.

The moments later, after another reporter's question, Osaka became visibly upset.



OSAKA: No, you're super good. (Crying).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, I think we're just going to take a quick break. Just -- we'll be back in one moment.


SCHOLES: Yes. Osaka would then get up and leave. She returned a few minutes later.

Her agent, in a statement, called Daugherty a bully and said he was trying to intimidate Osaka with his question. CNN has reached out to Daugherty for comment.

Guys, Osaka withdrew from the French Open and did not play Wimbledon this summer, of course, in order to focus on her mental health.

JARRETT: You know, it's tough. I hope that she is getting the help that she needs. She's obviously going through something tough there and it's hard to watch someone have a real sort of breakdown and human moment like that. But -- ROMANS: I think it's super brave -- these athletes who are speaking out about --


ROMANS: -- just the pressure cooker they're in, you know? I mean, that's -- it's just -- it's brave, it's brave.

All right, Andy Scholes. Nice to see you.

SCHOLES: All right.

JARRETT: Thank you, Andy -- appreciate it.

ROMANS: All right, that's it for us this Tuesday morning. Thanks for joining us on EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: I'm Laura Jarrett. "NEW DAY" is next.



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. It is Tuesday, August 17th. I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar.

We begin with breaking news. A huge development overnight in the battle against COVID. U.S. health officials are expected to recommend COVID booster shots for most Americans. That's eight months after getting their second vaccine dose. It was only last week that third shots were recommended for people with weakened immune systems. This is a huge expansion of that that could begin rolling out next month.

The timing is worthy of note. The news coming out in the midst of the chaos in Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, healthcare workers and nursing home residents are expected to be the first to receive their booster shots, followed by seniors who were in the front of the line when vaccinations first became available.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: There is some newly-released data from Israel and it shows a drop in protection over time as the U.S. fights, at this --