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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Scientists Still Seeking Answers on Omicron Coronavirus Variant; Trump Appeal of Jan. 6 White House Record Ruling to be Heard Today; Reps. Boebert and Omar Have Contentious Call That Escalates Feud. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired November 30, 2021 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: It is Tuesday, November 30th, 5:00 a.m. in New York.

Thanks for getting an EARLY START with us. A terrific Tuesday as our floor manager calls it. I'm Christine Romans.


Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world.

This morning, we begin still with more questions than answers about this new coronavirus variant Omicron. Japan has now announced its first confirmed case. It joins at least 18 other countries and territories around the world that have identified cases of the variant, including South Africa where it first appeared, Germany, the U.K. and Canada.

So, it's just a matter of time before cases start to pop up in the U.S., and that's a reality underlying President Biden's remarks on Monday.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic. We have the best vaccine in the world, the best medicines, the best scientists. And we're learning more every single day.


ROMANS: What we don't know yet, and this is crucial, is whether omicron will turnout to be any more dangerous than the delta variant. That's now the dominant strain in the U.S. It will be at least a week or two before scientists learn whether Omicron will turnout to be more infectious or more deadly.

Meanwhile, experts say the vaccines we already have are likely to provide protection.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DSEASE: We have every reason to believe, even though this is an extraordinary unusual variant because of the number of mutations, there's no reason to believe that it will not happen that if you get the level of antibody high with the regular booster to the regular vaccine, that you're going to have at least some effect, and hopefully a good effect on ability to protect against this variant. Vaccination is going to be the solution to this, whether it's the delta variant or whether it's the Omicron variant.


ROMANS: Let's turn to CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta for more on the search for answers.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, Laura, we're seeing the scientific process sort of evolve and unfold real-time as we have so many times throughout the last couple of years. There's a lot that we don't know about this because this is all really new. What we do know is that this new variant omicron was identified not long ago. It came from a specimen that was taken on November 9. It was identified over the past few weeks. And we know that it's becoming the dominant strain of virus, of the coronavirus in that part of the world, in South Africa.

We know it's in many other countries now, 15-plus other countries around the world. And also we are figuring out that the -- there is a total of 50 some mutations on this, 30 of which are on the spike protein itself. Let me show you this if I can for a second. This is a 3-d animation of the spike protein, and all those different colors on there represent these different mutations.

That's what scientists sort of look at trying to figure out what are these mutations, have we seen them before. Some of them they have seen before. Some of the mutations have been associated with higher transmissibility. Some have been associated with being a little bit harder to detect by antibodies. So maybe some escape of immunity.

But we don't know what it all means when you bring it all together. There's a lot that we still don't know about this new variant, and that's what they're going to be figuring out over the next couple of weeks? How transmissible is it? How sick does it really make people? Do current vaccines work against it?

Again, that's obviously a big question. And how about the risk of reinfection if you've been infected with one of the previous variants, how well does that immunity, that infection-acquired immunity protect you against this?

One thing I do want to show you. Hospital rates in this particular province where the virus was first identified, this variant, this is South Africa. It's late spring over there, so not flu season. Weather is getting warmer and yet we do see the hospitalization numbers going up. Is it related to this particular variant? We don't know yet. But

that's the kind of detail that, you know, these investigators and scientists are going to be looking at to try and figure out how they're going to answer some of these questions.

What they're saying is that in terms of figuring out how likely it is to make people more severely ill, that's probably a week or so away, several days to a week away before they can say that. But probably 2 to 3 weeks before they really understand how well the current vaccines work.

So we'll be getting a lot of information, Christine and Laura, on this. Watching the scientific process unfold as we get that information, we'll bring it to you.



JARRETT: Thanks to Sanjay there, so helpful the way he lays it out.

ROMANS: They discovered this a week ago and already the world is in overdrive to try to understand it and how to move forward.

JARRETT: Learn the lessons from delta.

ROMANS: Right.

JARRETT: All right. It's time for three questions in three minutes. Let's bring in Dr. Elizabeth Murray. She's a pediatric emergency medicine physician.

Doctor, so nice to have you on EARLY START.

There is still so much --


JARRETT: Good morning. There is still so much we don't know about this variant and so we want to be careful here. But the travel restrictions came relatively quickly even though there is so much unknown.

And some medical experts, some doctors seem to suggest that this actually disincentivizes other countries other countries to be transparent if the virus crops up around its borders.

Listen to Dr. Jonathan Reiner on this.


DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I think this is really an illusion of protection. The metaphor I've been using, it's like locking a screen door. You feel like you've done something to protect yourself but you really haven't. (END VIDEO CLIP)

JARRETT: Where do you come down on this? Do you think these travel bans are a good idea while we wait for more information?

MURRAY: I tend to agree with it. We know it is already in 21 countries, one of those being Canada. I think we're fooling ourselves to think it's not already in the United States. Travel bans do a good job of making us kind of other different countries and now we need to think about the grassroots efforts of what we know works, whether it's delta or Omicron or maybe if another variant pops up in the future, we know vaccination is incredibly helpful.

We know masking, we know ventilation in the Northeast as it gets cold and people move inside. We know what works. We know the layers of protection that are needed. The travel bans are a distraction at this point.

ROMANS: We should really not ignore what we know. The delta variant, we are in the thick of it here heading into the winter. What are you seeing in your hospital right now?

MURRAY: Yeah, so I'm in the northeast and we had gone from having fabulous numbers actually to, in my community, some of the worst in all of New York City. My husband is an ICU doctor and he'll be heading in for another shift in a very crowded ICU in hospitals that are now full.

But remember, there is a lot of COVID and the adult population is certainly still being hit harder by COVID, but our pediatric hospitals certainly is seeing an increase in numbers as well, but we're also seeing all the other germs, so all the other winter stuff, flu numbers are starting to appear. Respiratory virus, all the other stuff is back because of less physical distancing, less masking, more travel, more interaction.

So, COVID still remains a problem, but we're hit with all the winter stuff as well.

JARRETT: Doctor, the CDC has now sort of changed its stance on boosters, taking less of, I don't know, sort of permissive sort of, if you feel like it stance, basically saying everyone should run out and get a booster. I wonder in your mind, are we sort of behind the ball on this? It seems like the time to do this would have been weeks ago before we had even heard about Omicron.

MURRAY: Well, you know, there are a lot of the population is still well within six months of getting their second shot and we know unfortunately a lot of the population still has not been vaccinated is certainly true when you look at the global level. I'm grateful my 5- year-old just received her second vaccine yesterday. But boosters are certainly critically important.

I'm excited to see the request to have 16 and 17-year-olds now receive their booster as well. I think globally, yes, preventing a new variant like Omicron would have happened by making sure the world was vaccinated six months ago, but everything we can do now moving forward, keeping in mind of course delta is certainly here in the U.S. and causing a huge amount of difficulty in our hospital systems and for the burden of disease in our communities throughout the country, whatever we can do to get ourselves protected and vaccination including boosters is just where we are right now.

Remember, most vaccines we receive in childhood are multi-shot series. So, as a pediatrician, the fact it might turnout to be a three-shot series doesn't surprise me. It is the norm of mostly of our vaccinations.

ROMANS: Well, my littlest is getting the second shot today. I know that feeling when you finally get your whole family vaccinated. It is just like liberation.

Dr. Elizabeth Murray, pediatric emergency physician, thank you so much for joining us today.

JARRETT: Thanks so much, Doctor.

MURRAY: My pleasure. Thank you.

JARRETT: As Dr. Murray was referring to, Pfizer is set to ask the FDA to green light its booster shot for 16 and 17-year-olds. The agency is expected to sign off quickly on the request. Currently only people 18 and older are eligible for booster shots six months after their second dose of the vaccine.

And with this new variant raising so many new questions, Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta will be joined by Dr. Anthony Fauci for a all-new CNN global town hall "Coronavirus Facts and Fears." That's tomorrow at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.


ROMANS: All right. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell testifies to Congress this morning about the potential threat posed by this Omicron variant. As we have said, much remains unknown about Omicron, but Powell's prepared remarks say that if the new variant prolongs the pandemic, it could hurt the economy in three ways. It could keep pushing prices up, it could hurt job growth and make the supply chain crisis worse.

Powell predicts the U.S. economy will show 5 percent growth for 2021. That is strongest growth actually in decades, right? But he says Omicron couldn't do much of that if it undermines Americans' willingness to work in person.

The stock and oil markets sale offs Friday when news of Omicron first spread, but they regained ground when investors took a breath and sensed a buying opportunity as often happens on Wall Street. That's the pattern we saw when Wall Street first heard about the delta variant and there was reason to think history might repeat itself especially if Omicron isn't as infectious as first feared.

JARRETT: Certainly the hope. Up next, what Donald Trump's lawyers will argue in court today to try

to keep key documents from his presidency secret.

ROMANS: And then what Tiger Woods now says about his future in golf.



JARRETT: A federal appeals court will hear arguments today on former President Trump's effort to stop the National Archives from turning over key records from his time in the White House. Now, Trump is appealing a lower court decision that found that the January 6 House Select Committee is entitled to documents from the days surrounding the attack on the Capitol.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz has been following it all and she's live in Washington for us.

Katelyn, good morning.

What are you watching for at this court hearing today?


Today, we are watching for in court basically the reaction of three judges on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to Donald Trump.

Now, Trump is going to make some arguments in court today, and there's not going to be a ruling that we would expect, but what we are watching to see is how the court system is going to continue to react to Donald Trump trying to say that as a former president, he is entitled to some sort of control over records from his White House.

Now, Trump has not been successful in making these arguments so far. He's claimed now before this appeals court that he -- that this really, if they rule against him, it could really hurt the presidency. It could give unbridled abilities of Congress to pursue presidents.

But this is the sort of case we are looking at three Democrats on the court of appeals -- I'm sorry, three Democratic appointees on the court of appeals who already may not be sympathetic to Trump based on what their past rulings have been. This is the type of case that could really go to the Supreme Court. It raises lots of big questions.

And in the context of the House January 6th investigation, that investigation is seeking lots of documents from Trump as they investigate Trump, as they investigate what went on in the White House.

Right now, there's about 700 or more documents that are on hold that the national archives, the Biden administration want to turnover to the House. The House doesn't have them yet. They are pending in this court case.

And also, it's not just about documents. This court case is affecting witnesses in the investigation, people that the House has reached out to and said, we really want you to talk to us. And they have said, we can't yet because we're waiting to see what happens in court.

Those are top people, top people from the White House who would have had conversations with the president, people like Mark Meadows, the former chief of staff. He was subpoenaed, and a few others who are resisting speaking right now to the house.

JARRETT: Speaking with people who are resisting speaking to the House, you have this former DOJ official, Jeffrey Clark. People might remember him, trying to curry favor with the former president, buddying up to him about all these baseless allegations of voter fraud. The committee is now mulling a contempt citation for him as well. Just remind our viewers, though, why he matters. What would be the impact of his testimony?

POLANTZ: That's right. So, Clark is someone that was a top official at the Justice Department. He was the number three essentially, three or four at the Justice department.


POLANTZ: He was apparently believing that the Justice Department should investigate election fraud as a way to give cover to Trump. He made all kinds of proposals his superiors shot down. Those people have gone in to Congress already to the House and spoken to them about what Clark was doing that Trump wanted to make Clark the attorney general.

Now, why Clark is important here and why the committee wants to talk to him, even if they've already talked to the people around him at justice, is because he would have had direct conversations with Donald Trump that right now he's saying, no, I don't want to reveal those to you because I believe that the court system is still figuring this out. I believe that they could be privileged.

So with Clark, if the committee does make an approval for contempt referral -- criminal contempt referral on Wednesday, that's when they're scheduled to do it, that's another step in the process on their side where they can make a referral to the Justice Department. The Justice Department could then decide whether they want to bring a charge. He would be the second person.

Steve Bannon has already been charged with misdemeanor contempt of Congress and has pleaded not guilty to that, is fighting that case.

And, Clark, like you mentioned with these other witnesses, is waiting and saying, you know, I showed up to speak to the House, and then just didn't answer questions. So he's a little bit different from Bannon in that he didn't just outright refuse to talk to the House. He went in and said, there's privilege that's shielded. Let's wait for the court system to play this out.

JARRETT: Right. He did at least follow the typical process, even if the committee would say that he is sort of stalling. We'll see where that goes in the days ahead.

Katelyn, thank you for staying on top of it all. Appreciate it.

POLANTZ: Thanks, Laura.

ROMANS: All right. Just ahead how a phone call between Congresswomen Lauren Boebert and Ilhan Omar quickly contentious.

JARRETT: Ands the tearful revelations made on the witness stand by disgraced tech visionary, Elizabeth Holmes. That's next.



ROMANS: All right. So, file this one under unproductive, but making headlines anyway. It started with an anti-Muslim remark, then a scripted apology, then a hang-up phone call. And these are members of Congress we're talking about.

CNN's Jessica Dean is in Washington with more.


JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Laura, it was a contentious phone call between Congresswoman Lauren Boebert and Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. Omar said she ended an unproductive call because Boebert had doubled down on her rhetoric. She said she, quote, refused to acknowledge her hurtful and dangerous rhetoric. She doubled down and I decided to end the unproductive call. That's what Omar said in a statement on Monday.

Boebert for her part did confirm that Omar wanted a public apology. She posted a video to her Twitter page explaining that and saying she had asked Omar to apologize for comments she had made in the past. You'll remember that late last week that video emerged of Boebert making anti-Muslim comments directed right at Congresswoman Omar, essentially calling her a terrorist for being a Muslim. In fact, Omar had asked for Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, to come out and take action against Boebert, but so far that has not happened -- Christine and Laura.


JARRETT: Jessica, thank you.

Former Trump Defense Secretary Mark Esper says Americans need to read what's in his new book about the chaos that was rampant in the Trump White House. Esper is now suing the Pentagon for not clearing his book manuscript. He said the Defense Department under President Biden is blocking publication of conversations that he had with Trump.


MARK ESPER, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: My view is that the American people deserve a full and unvarnished history of the last presidency that the Trump administration, and what I aim to do is provide important insights and anecdotes and color to what was arguably one of the most tumultuous second halves of an administration in history.


JARRETT: Esper, you may recall, was fired by tweet days after Trump lost the 2020 election.

And just ahead, Ghislaine Maxwell's lawyers tell jurors why they say she is a victim.

Why Rihanna was declared a national hero overnight.