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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

CNN: Evacuation Operation in Afghanistan Ends Tomorrow; Record Numbers of Children Being Hospitalized with COVID; Trump Threatens to Block January 6 Committee from Getting Documents. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 26, 2021 - 05:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. It is Thursday, August 26th. It's 5:00 a.m. here in New York. Thanks for getting an early start with us. I'm Laura Jarrett.


Welcome to viewers in United States and around the world.

We begin with breaking news, the historic evacuation from Afghanistan in the final stretch, expected to wrap up in the next 36 hours or so -- a final chance for Americans and Afghan allies to get out.

And the vice president just spoke about the effort a short time ago in Vietnam.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The highest priority is evacuating American citizens, evacuating Afghans who worked with us and Afghans who are at risk, with a priority, around women and children. And we have made significant progress in that regard.


JARRETT: The race to evacuate both dangerous and urgent. These are live pictures from Kabul, near the airport where the American embassy and near three of the gates to leave immediately, because of security threats. A defense official telling CNN the concerns are based on, quote, a very specific threat chain from ISIS-K, attacks against crowds gathered outside of that airport.

ROMANS: International security editor Nick Paton Walsh covering the story for us. He is live this morning in Doha, Qatar.

Nick, 36 hours left. What more can you tell us about this -- what appears to be the final stage here of these evacuations?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yeah, I mean, obviously, there's been urgency for days, but it's now clear according to a source familiar with the situation that this ends in 36 hours, ends Friday, essentially. And that will, of course, spark some elements of panic amongst those trying to get into the airport.

But I have to say, it's not a huge surprise in terms of the deadline. We've always know that the back end of the window before the thrust of August is going have to be used by the U.S. military and allies to get themselves out. I understand the British forces may well be leaving tonight from that airport as well.

We also heard that yesterday, the Australians, Canadians, Italians, and the Turkish began their departures, too. But this 36-hour window absolutely key. There is increased difficulty for SIV applicants to get on to the base at this stage.

I understand that the gates, the key gates in all of this, Abbey Gate, which some people have gotten through in a small number has been fully closed and the area around it cleared out.

Now, part of this is because of an IED threat, it seems. And that maybe, IED is a military term used, improvised explosive device, essentially a bomb threat. And that could extend possibly from the ISIS warning you were talking about or other various different problems here. The whole issue around the base, it's multipronged. There are crowds crushing trying to get to the gates. That's a threat.

There are people standing on sewage ducts trying to get in, too. There is Taliban not far away running security on the way up and doing their own perimeter as well. There's a lot to worry about, certainly, but it does appear at this stage we're in the last 36 hours.

JARRETT: Nick, just explain how complicated this is on the ground. We know that the president obviously has said he's committed to the August 31st deadline, but he's got to get folks out before the military can pack up and go. Now we have the intelligence concern about ISIS-K as you learned, but at the same time, Americans are told to stay away from the airport.

WALSH: Yeah, I mean, they're being told to say I think because if they are being brought by the airport, it's just because that is occurring by U.S. troops. Now, it's been a very cryptic secretive operation, referred to initially as alternate routes. And Pentagon spokesperson, John Kirby, did suggest that people were going out to get people at some stage.

I understand there is a coorientable, negotiable entry in the south of the airport to allow people through the Taliban on the U.S. side but that can be successful if it's pre-coordinated.

But we are in this very complicated area now, where it's clear the priority is American citizens now. Secretary of State Antony Blinken suggested 500 concrete that they knew of, yesterday, maybe 1,000 or so trying to reach, they're the priority. And then there are, of course, priority, local Afghans concerned inside the base.

And then there's the other issue, too, which is the people on the base doing the evacuations, I understand, from a source familiar with the situation, get a lot of phone calls from people in Washington, saying please can you help, X or Y person who is out of contact, totally understandable. Everybody wants to try to help their friends out. But it's, of course, creating a lot of chaos.


I understand from one source. People just get asked to go to the gates to connect somebody, quote, as if they're going to the backyard. These gates are very secure, very volatile. And so, we have a very hard task for everybody involved in that base, under perilous positions, great desperations from Afghans around them, and the window for it is now very small.

ROMANS: Yeah, CNN had some reporting yesterday, Nick, that was just so riveting, about a woman who came to the airport, dressed her baby in the bright yellow because the American military had been told, look for the baby -- woman with a baby in yellow. That's the series of messages and WhatsApp messages to try to connect this woman to get out and it was successful.

But in many cases it's just luck, right, it's just connections and being in the right place at the right time?

WALSH: Yes, it's who you know. It's extraordinary. There's been a system here for the U.S. visa applicants it hasn't worked. Over the years, the U.S. government has known it hasn't worked everyone is under pressure. And everyone is clearly doing the best they can. There's no doubt about that. But it's a fundamental lack of foundation the system that's been exposed throughout all this, and, frankly, the toxic nature of migrant politics in the current day.

As one more thing I should tell you as well, speaking of the pressures on that base, I understand from a source familiar with the situation that a Gulfstream private jet just recently tried to land in Kabul airport, and was denied permission. It seems to have, according to open source, traffic seems to come from Athens, flew in via Turkmenistan, now maybe just leaving over Baku in Azerbaijan. But it is thought on that private jet was another congressional delegation.

You know, there's a lot of heat over the past days of two Congress members who had flown in using the means that many said should have been reserved for those are trying to get out, those evacuees. It does appear, obviously, we can't 100 percent sure who's on that plane. It does appear according to the source I spoke to that another congressional delegation has tried to land which would be extraordinary taking up space so vitally needed to get people out.

JARRETT: It's so compounding why they're doing that right now.

ROMANS: I mean, these planes are leaving every 45 minutes with hundreds trying to get out. Just such an effort underway here.

OK, Nick, thank you so much for your great context and reporting. Nice to see you.

JARRETT: Appreciate it, Nick. All right. Coming up for you, COVID hospitalizations including of

children surging across the U.S. now. Why doctors are warning it could get of course as schools reopen.



JARRETT: This morning, more than 100,000 Americans are hospitalized with COVID-19, for the very first time since late January. Among them, thousands, thousands of children, as pediatric COVID hospitalizations surge to the highest levels with the pandemic.

ROMANS: Texas children's hospital in Houston seeing an unprecedented spike and its pediatrician in chief says kids are showing up sicker than ever. Now as many youngsters head back to school, a CNN analysis finds that older teens are at a growing risk.

Health reporter Jacqueline Howard has more.


JACQUELINE HOWARD, CNN HEALTH REPORTER: Christine and Laura, up until last week, teens ages 16 and 17 had the highest weekly case rate of COVID-19 infections nationwide.

Just look at these numbers, you see here the latest rate of weekly COVID-19 cases for ages 16 and 17 is about 132 infections per 100,000 people. Now, that's higher than the rates seen for children younger than 16 and 17, and higher than the rates seen in adults. Before last week, their older peers, ages 18 to 29. That age group consistently had the highest weekly case rates previously.

But pediatricians I've talked to, they say they're not surprised that we're now seeing these high case rates among older teens, as well as younger adults. Among the age groups eligible to receive the vaccine, older teens are still the least likely to be vaccinated so far. And compared with other children, older teens are moving around more. They can drive and spend more time with their friends.

But the hope is that as more teens get vaccinated, that will help drive these case rates down and reduce the spread of disease. So, we will be keeping an eye on this.

Christine and Laura, back to you.


JARRETT: Jacqueline, thank you for that.

Air Canada will mandate vaccinations for all its employees starting October 30th. Workers who refuse to get their shots risk termination or being put on unpaid leave.

Delta Air Lines, though, taking a different approach here. It's going to charge unvaccinated employees an extra $200 a month for their health care plan, stopping short of a mandate but hoping this nudges everyone to get the vaccine.

Here's CEO Ed Bastian.


ED BASTIAN, DELTA AIR LINES CEO: Every company has to make its own decision for, its culture, its people, what works, according to its values. Delta has one of the highest vaccination rates of any company I'm aware already using voluntary measures. I think these added the voluntary steps are short of mandating the vaccine or going to get us as close to 100 percent as we can.


JARRETT: Delta is also requiring weekly COVID tests and masks for any unvaccinated employees and limiting the number of sick days they're allowed if they come down with COVID.

But, Christine, he said there's 75 percent mandated. Why not just do the mandate and get to 100 percent. We've seen a lot of companies do this. We know they can do it legally. Why not just pull the trigger?

ROMANS: He was asked that specifically, and he said it's about the corporate culture.


That they -- that they want to give people the idea they have this choice but still nudge them in the direction of getting the vaccine. Pilots and flight attendants, more than 80 percent of them are already vaccinated.

But this is something that a lot of people have been talking about. You know, if your -- for them, somebody who gets COVID, it's all unvaccinated people.

JARRETT: That's what he said. Any Delta employee who has been hospitalized, it was unvaccinated.

ROMANS: And it costs the company, what, $50,000 or something for every hospitalization. You know, they need to share that cost and try to get people vaccinated. That's the bottom line here.

All right. From airports to gas pipelines, meatpacking to water supplies, protecting vital parts of the country from ransomware attacks critical here. The White House huddling with key players and what President Biden calls a core national security challenge.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've seen time and again how the technologies we rely on, from our cell phones to pipelines, the electric grid, can become targets of hackers and criminals.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: Cybersecurity, a top priority for the Biden administration. The Colonial Pipeline hack in May disrupted gas shipments all along the East Coast. An attack on JBS led to, remember that temporary shutdown of beef plants, water supplies and hospitals also have been attacked.

Now, Google and IBM say they would train hundreds of thousands of cyber security experts, Google, Microsoft and Amazon pledging to spend billions on cybersecurity initiatives. Apple said it would encourage its suppliers to use multi-factor authentication.

It's important to point out here, a majority, vast majority, they can't afford the investments, which means vulnerabilities are still there. You're still a smaller or midsize company may feel compelled to pay the ransom to get back to business because they can't afford what could be hundreds of billions of dollars in investment.

JARRETT: All right. Still ahead for you, former President Trump now threatening to block House investigators from getting their hands on documents about that pro-Trump mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol. What lawmakers want and who ultimately decides if they get it. That's next.



JARRETT: Former President Trump now threatening to block House investigators from obtaining documents about the January 6th insurrection. The House Select Committee is seeking a wide range of materials here, including those related to Trump family members. Ultimately, though, it's President Biden's call.

We get more on this from CNN's Jessica Schneider.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Laura and Christine, the list of demands from the select committee is wide-ranging. It targets eight different agencies including DOJ, the FBI and the National Archives. And the Archives could be key here, since it is the agency that has custody of all of the presidential records from Trump's time in office. The committee wants record relating to January 6th to also the 2020 election.

And that includes communications not only from top White House officials at the time like Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, White House counsel Pat Cipollone, but also Trump's family members. Lawmakers are asking for the call logs and schedules from date of January 6th from Melania Trump, as well as the former president's three oldest. That's Ivanka, Don Jr. and Eric.

Also, his son in law Jared Kushner, who is special adviser. The committee is as well demanding specifics from what unfolded inside that day, January 6th. They want all of the White House visitor logs the records of the movement of Trump and communications from the Situation Room that day. Plus, any information relating to Trump's mental health, and possibly

any efforts to use the insurrection act to stop the transfer of power to now President Joe Biden.

Plus, the committee wants details on any discussions that might have occurred between cabinet officials, ranging from election day 2020, through the inauguration, about those officials possibly invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.

So it is a wide ranging set of requests. And the committee is asking for all of this within two weeks by September 9th. But it's unclear if they'll get it all. President Biden could assert executive privilege, even over the Trump White House documents that could avoid any dangerous precedent of handing over wide-ranging information. Or, of course, Trump could challenge the requests in court -- guys.


ROMANS: All right. Jessica, thank you so much for that.

All right. Thirty-six hours, time running out to get U.S. citizens out of Afghanistan. And a warning, Americans stay away from the airport.



ROMANS: With the economy recovering, vaccinations rising and school reopening, Republicans have found an angle of attack on President Biden's agenda.

Back-to-school shopping.


AD NARRATOR: It's that time of year, unfortunately, Democrats created an inflation crisis. And now you're spending more. Electronics up 8 percent. Shoes up 8 percent. Dresses up 19 percent.

Call Congressman --


ROMANS: Finding the pocketbook angle, blaming Democrats for higher prices of school supplies. It's part of a campaign from the National Republican Congressional Committee targets 15 Democrats including Representatives Tom Malinowski, Josh Carter, Matt Cartwright and others. They're zeroing in on the economy and blaming Democrats for it.

Now, consumer prices did rise 5.4 percent over the past 12 months, ending in July. It's real, but it's misleading, of course, to blame it on Biden. The reality inflation is the downside of an economy roaring back to life, demand for just about everything is coming back faster than producers can keep up, and these supply glitches mean they can't make it quickly. Remember, stimulus efforts, right? If you're trying to blame stimulus

efforts, well, those began with the Trump administration and were voted by Republicans, many Republicans, too. Another angle of attack, of course, gas prices. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy recently claimed oil prices are the highest we've seen. OK. Well, that's not true. The president doesn't control oil prices as you know. They're not the highest ever. They were higher at various times in the Trump administration and nowhere near the peak of 2008 when George W. Bush was president.

But they have found an angle attack on this White House and we'll see if the White House and Biden administration has a counter to it.

EARLY START continues right now.