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WAPO: CIA Chief Warns Russia Of "Consequences" If Behind Attacks; Biden Had Benign, Potentially Precancerous Lesion Removed; Thanksgiving Travelers Set New TSA Pandemic Record. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired November 25, 2021 - 07:30   ET




KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: New reporting from "The Washington Post" that CIA Dir. William Burns delivered a confidential warning to Russia's top intelligence services that they will face, quote, "consequences if they are behind the string of mysterious health incidents known as Havana Syndrome afflicting U.S. diplomats and spies around the world."

Joining me now is the reporter who broke that story in "The Washington Post," John Hudson. John, tell us exactly what the CIA director had to say to these Russian intelligence agents.

JOHN HUDSON, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST (via Skype): Well, Kaitlan, this is an extremely rare meeting. You don't really have the CIA director meeting his Russian counterparts, the FSB and SVR in Moscow very often.

What he said to them was a very clear warning that if we find out that the Russians are behind these mysterious Havana Syndrome incidents that have been happening all over the world -- these debilitating brain injuries, unusual symptoms of the varied variety -- if we find out that the Russians were behind this, there are going to be consequences.

This was not assigning of blame. The United States, after years of investigations across multiple administrations, still does not have all of the facts together to be able to assign blame for this. But it is an indication that there is a deep curiosity and suspicion at the CIA in Langley that the Russians are behind this. You don't take a decision in meeting like this lightly and to raise this issue.

And so, he conveyed that there would be consequences. He also conveyed that a professional intelligence service -- this is outside the sort of unwritten rules of espionage. You do not target U.S. personnel. You do not target their family members. Those, of course, are all people who have reported incidents of dizziness, nausea, traumatic brain injury -- a whole variety of different symptoms related to this large umbrella of Havana Syndrome incidents.

COLLINS: Yes, and you report that the CIA director said if Russia is behind these attacks. Is there a sense of frustration inside the administration that they

have not been able to be able to say this in a more concrete way that, yes, it was Russia behind these attacks?

HUDSON: It's a huge source of frustration and the frustration varies agency to agency, department to department. At no place in the U.S. government is there more frustration than at the CIA.

Kaitlan, you know that there is a long history of spy versus spy tactics that go on between the United States and Russia. Very rarely does the United States just take attacks sitting down and this is -- this is the bizarre dynamic that's happening right now. Like we said, there is not proof that Russia was involved with this, but many at the CIA are convinced that it was the Russians.

And so, there is even an impetus in some pockets of the CIA to come out and retaliate. That's obviously premature before being able to assign blame. So, what's the next best thing? Basically, having the CIA director show up in Moscow and say there is going to be consequences if we find out that it's you behind these attacks.

COLLINS: And do we know how the Russians responded to this warning from the CIA director?

HUDSON: It's a great question. This is one that I posed to the CIA. It's one that I posed to other contacts who are familiar with these exchanges.

They are very tight-lipped when it comes to these discussions. It's unusual, in some cases, that these are even made public. So, it's unclear how Russia responded to this.

Now, publicly, they have said they had nothing to do with this. Denial has been their sort of first go-to when it comes to this. So, definitely, TBD on the Russian reaction to this warning.

COLLINS: Yes. Denial seems to be an art form for them.

John Hudson, thank you so much for joining us with this very important reporting.

HUDSON: It's good to be with you.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So, new this morning, the White House, last night -- and I'm talking, like, 9:00 the evening before Thanksgiving -- the White House revealed President Biden had a polyp removed during his routine colonoscopy last week at Walter Reed Medical Center. Testing on the polyp showed it is slow -- a slow-growing lesion thought to be potentially precancerous but that no further action is required at this time.

I want to bring in Dr. Chris Pernell. She's a public health physician and fellow at the American College of Preventive Medicine. Dr. Pernell, happy Thanksgiving -- great to see you.

Explain to me what this means. DR. CHRIS PERNELL, PUBLIC HEALTH PHYSICIAN, FELLOW, AMERICAN COLLEGE OF PREVENTIVE MEDICINE (via Webex by Cisco): So, John, this is the power of prevention if you are in a certain age range.


So, according to the United States Preventive Services Task Force, beginning at age 45, you should undergo screening for colon cancer. Colonoscopy is the gold standard screening.

So, the president had a colonoscopy following prevention guidelines and there was a finding. In that finding was a tubular adenoma. Those who are older than 50 years are more likely to have polyps. The polyp was benign but because there is a potential for that to develop into something that is cancerous, the polyp was removed.

BERMAN: What does precancerous mean? It's a term that sometimes gets tossed around that I'm not sure people fully understand.

PERNELL: It just means there's a growth, right, and there's a growth in the -- in the colon, and whether that growth is something that is flat or that growth is something that's on a stalk, the size of that growth.

The most important distinguishing feature is does that growth have dysplasia. The president's polyp did not have dysplasia but because it could continue to transform into that, the doctors took it out.

BERMAN: You say the gold standard for preventive care in ages 45 and older. Those are the exact words my doctor used when talking me into doing this. You know, you're of the age. It's important to do --

PERNELL: Good job. Good job.

BERMAN: -- and it's important to catch it. The exact words that he used.

I want to talk about where we are with COVID because cases are rising. The CDC now says it expects hospitalizations and deaths to go up in the coming weeks, and that's a change. The CDC, before, had said that they were uncertain of the future and maybe it would stay stable. Now they say they expect it to go up.

I talked to Dr. Fauci overnight and we were talking about what people should do this Thanksgiving Day. But I think it's instructive about how he thinks people need to live going forward, also. So, listen to what he said.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Just be very careful. You can have an enjoyable, restful Thanksgiving in a traditional way in a vaccinated setting. Do that. Don't just deprive yourself of that. But be careful, particularly when you travel.


BERMAN: Those words "don't deprive yourself of that" is interesting and it's an interesting way to think about where we are in this pandemic for people who are vaccinated, especially people who are vaccinated and boosted. Don't deprive yourself of life now. We know how you can live and do the things you want to do as long as you're careful.

PERNELL: Because, John, this is becoming our new normal if I can use that often overused term. For those of us that are fully vaccinated, those of us who are boosted, those of us who are wearing our masks still outdoors in public settings, we know that we are lessening the risk of being exposed and contracting coronavirus.

So, yes, we have to have a sense of zest -- a zeal for life. Because we know that social isolation in and of itself is also a risk factor for worst outcomes. So, do what makes good pandemic sense. And prevention and multilayer protection is good pandemic sense.

BERMAN: Dr. Pernell, happy Thanksgiving to you. Thank you so much for joining us and all the work that you do.

PERNELL: Same to you and yours.

BERMAN: Breaking overnight, not one but two new smash-and-grab robberies, this time at an Apple store and another Nordstrom. What's behind this disturbing new trend.

COLLINS: And on this Thanksgiving, a lesson in gratitude from Alabama coach Nick Saban.


NICK SABAN, ALABAMA HEAD COACH: These guys aren't getting paid to play here. They're representing you all. You should be proud and happy to support them, and appreciate what they do and have some gratitude.


COLLINS: We'll discuss that, of course, coming up.

But first, as the pandemic drags on, food pantries say that they are continuing to see increased need from the communities that they serve. CNN's Victor Blackwell has more on the challenges that they face and the ways that you can help in this Impact Your World.


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When COVID-19 swept across the U.S. in 2020, the need for emergency food assistance exploded, and that led experts to label hunger as the secondary pandemic.

KATIE FITZGERALD, PRESIDENT AND CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, FEEDING AMERICA: Over the course of the last year, about 60 million Americans sought help from the charitable food system in this country, and we've never seen numbers like that before.

BLACKWELL (voice-over): Although Feeding America says food bank use is now down in their network, the need is still above pre-pandemic levels.

FITZGERALD: We are not out of the woods yet.

BLACKWELL (voice-over): According to Feeding America, more than 42 million people, including 13 million children in the United States, are at risk of possible food insecurity this year. Compounding the issue, rising food prices caused by labor shortages, transportation costs, and supply chain disruptions.

FITZGERALD: The ongoing challenges in the supply chain that are making it more expensive for food banks to purchase food and even move donated food across this country.


BLACKWELL (voice-over): It's a problem similar to ones faced by everyday consumers and one that everyday consumers can help to ease.

FITZGERALD: People can certainly give financial donations to their local food bank. For those who work in the food industry, continuing to donate food to local food banks is a tremendous support.




BERMAN: Holiday travel bouncing back in a big way. The TSA announced moments ago that they screened 2.3 million passengers yesterday, representing 88 percent of pre-pandemic levels. So, most of the way there.

Let's check in with the mayor of Washington's Reagan National Airport. CNN's Pete Muntean is there. Good morning, Pete. What are you seeing?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: It does feel like that sometimes, John.

You know, it's pretty incredible when you think about that number because that 2.3 million screened at airports across the country just yesterday by the TSA is about double where we were this time last year. So, this is an incredible rebound.

And airlines are really facing their biggest test yet. Just look at the numbers so far -- more than two million people a day since this time last week. The TSA anticipated a total of about 20 million people would take to the skies -- a huge figure.

But there was a lot of concern here that the airlines wouldn't be able to handle a big onslaught of folks because they got a lot smaller during the pandemic. So far, really, so good. Just check FlightAware. Only about 45 cancelations today; about 100 yesterday. So, things are moving pretty smoothly.

And TSA administrator David Pekoske tells me exclusively that the industry has been preparing for this for months. Here's what he said.


DAVID PEKOSKE, ADMINISTRATOR, TSA: We're ready. We've looked at passenger volume projections. We've worked with carriers and with the airports and collectively, we're ready for the Thanksgiving holiday. And our goal is to make it as safe and secure and as enjoyable for people as we possibly can.


MUNTEAN: The bottom line here is that air travel looks nothing like it did this time last year. The lines are back. There was a massive backup at nearby Dulles International Airport last night -- a snake of traffic that went all the way back to Route 28.

You know, things are really moving pretty smoothly though at airports across the country. The numbers will likely be small today but we will see what they are like the Sunday after Thanksgiving. That's when everyone begins coming home all at once. United Airlines anticipates 450,000 people on its airline alone.

The biggest test airlines have faced during the pandemic; the biggest numbers they have seen in 19 months, John.

BERMAN: Wow. Well, knock on wood, Pete. I have to say I haven't heard many horror stories from the last few days. Things seem to be moving pretty smoothly.

Pete Muntean at Reagan. Listen, we are so thankful for you and the work that you do. Thanks so much, Pete.

MUNTEAN: Thanks, John.

COLLINS: Alabama football coach Nick Saban went off in a pre- Thanksgiving speech directed at Alabama fans who don't appear to be thankful for what they -- really, we have -- listen.


SABAN: When I came here everybody was happy to win a game, all right? Now we're not happy to win a game anymore. We're not happy to win a game at all, all right?

We think we should win games by whatever. And I don't think that's fair to the players either, all right, because our players work our -- their butt off, all right, to be the best that they can be. And to get criticized for what they work hard for to do so that you can be entertained, so that you can enjoy and have pride and passion for what they accomplish and what they do.

And they're not perfect; they're just college students. They're going to college -- they go to school every day. They've got to study. They have to run extra after practice when they miss study hall.

I mean, come on, give me a break. This is not professional football. These guys aren't getting paid to play here. They're representing you all. You should be proud and happy to support them, and appreciate what they do and have some gratitude.

And you know what else? Nobody wants to win worse than they do. Not me, not you. And I don't care what kind of fan you are, nobody wants to win more than the players that play -- nobody.

ELI GOLD, SPORTSCASTER, ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE: And that was magnificently said and --

SABAN: And nobody feels worse than they do when they lose.

GOLD: Yes.

SABAN: Nobody.

So, for all you self-absorbed folks out there that can't look past your own self to appreciate what other people are doing --


COLLINS: John, you know it is going to be a good speech from Nick Saban when he starts to say the back-to-back "aights" and he starts to really get into it. And it's funny. Everyone will laugh. This video is obviously going viral and being very widely spread around.

But I do think that he had a point and that sometimes -- and, of course, everything I'm saying here is completely biased because I am part of the Alabama fan base. I did go to the University of Alabama. I am from Alabama.


But I think that he has a really good point, which is that you get so caught up in the success that you've seen Alabama have since Nick Saban joined and became the head coach of the team, that people take it for granted. And you have all of these amazing seasons where we pull off these amazing wins. And I do think it's true. People take it for granted.

And you have one loss, like we do so far this season, and people think oh, the whole -- the whole season is gone now. The whole thing has changed. Who knows what will happen when it comes to the playoffs and the national championship?

And you forget that those are real people on the field and they are students and they work really hard to play as well as they do every single Saturday. And I think it was something that needed to be said.

BERMAN: You could tell as he was going that he was speaking his mind and he said his piece, right? And then he paused and thought for a moment and he was like you know what, I really do mean this. This is really serious. I want people to pay attention to what I'm saying. And if we can take a big step back, I don't even think he was just talking about football, right? As important -- I don't want to diminish the Crimson Tide. I don't want to diminish the Alabama football team and your commitment to them, but he was actually saying something even bigger to that -- than that, if there is something bigger than Alabama football, which is to say you know, be grateful for what you have. Don't always be saying why can't I have more. What you should be saying is we're lucky to have this.

COLLINS: Yes, and I think that's -- when you were saying the bigger picture it has to do with success and it's how hard people work to be successful. And that it is something that I think people, once they see that trajectory, they take it for granted. And they take the behind-the-scenes work that these coaches and these players, and every staffer who is involved in the Alabama program really puts in here.

And yes, that does translate to a broader thing. I think a lot of the things that Saban says at times translate to more than just what's happening in Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturdays.

And one thing that he was saying there was it's not even just about Alabama because people do start to discount other teams. You know, when we played Texas A&M, which Alabama lost to, I think people went into that week not really worried about the game, thinking Alabama was -- had it handily. They were going to secure a win there.

And what Saban was saying is you're underestimating your opponent because they are coming into this and they have had two losses, and they're hungry and they really want to win.

And everyone -- this is very true and Saban says this a lot -- is they bring their best game to Alabama. They all want to beat Alabama. They all are preparing for that. That is the game of the season for them.

And so, you have to think of how the Alabama players have to deal with that, which is that people are bringing their A-game every time they play them.

And I did love, though -- you saw there at the end of that, my friend Eli Gold, who is the voice of Alabama football, try -- he thought Saban was done there and Saban made it clear he wanted to keep going a little bit -- a little bit further.

And I just think -- I think that Saban -- maybe people don't always like how he gets his message across. I certainly do, obviously. I'm biased in favor of him. But I think that he had a really -- a really good point and he's right.

BERMAN: Just two quick things. Number one, I'm glad to see you're over the A&M loss and not still dwelling on it.

COLLINS: Clearly.

BERMAN: You go for like a minute straight on the fact that you still lost. I feel -- look, I talk about Red Sox losses from the 70s still. You never get over them. The second thing is here -- and we have to run, but Kaitlan, on this Thanksgiving morning, of the things that you are thankful for, where would you rank Nick Saban on the list of things that you're thankful for this morning?

COLLINS: So, my family is probably watching this so I'm obviously going to say they're number one and I wish I was with them on this Thanksgiving. Saban and Alabama football, though, are right up there with it. I'll put them at number two. They're second in line for this.

And obviously, we have the Iron Bowl on Saturday. It's going to be a big game. And I will change out of this orange blazer by the time we take the field.

BERMAN: So, family, one; Saban, 1.5. I get it.

COLLINS: Exactly.

BERMAN: All right.

COLLINS: All right.

Well, coming up -- we'll move on from Alabama because this man says COVID was a plan orchestrated by, quote, "global elites." Yes, this is the latest bonkers theory from the former Trump national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

BERMAN: And this moment in the courtroom.




BERMAN: Ahmaud Arbery's mother joins us to tell us what it felt like to be there.



COLLINS: By some measures, this year's Thanksgiving is the most expensive on record. While costs are up, profits are down for farmers, though, who are not reaping the benefits of these pricey Thanksgiving dinners, and they're growing more concerned about what's coming next.

CNN's Gabe Cohen is here joining us on this Thanksgiving. So, Gabe, what are farmers saying?

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kaitlan, just like most Americans right now, farmers are seeing their costs go up for just about everything that they need to operate. And the concern that we're hearing in many of these cases is that the inflation that you and I are paying at the grocery store isn't necessarily trickling down to the farm.


COHEN (voice-over): As Jim Jones finishes the sweet potato harvest on his North Carolina farm, skyrocketing costs are slicing through his profits.

COHEN (on camera): Are you seeing any more money from this inflation?

JIM JONES, NORTH CAROLINA FARMER: No, no. We are actually paying for it.

COHEN (voice-over): The price of fertilizer, fuel, and labor are way up with no ceiling in sight.

COHEN (on camera): How did your profit change this year?

JONES: I would say maybe 10-15 percent.

COHEN (on camera): What about looking ahead to next year?

JONES: I'd add that much more to it again.

COHEN (voice-over): Inflation may be cooking up the most expensive Thanksgiving in history for families. The USDA says the average dinner cost is up five percent. The American Farm Bureau says it may be as much as 14 percent. Their survey shows price hikes on most products from potatoes to cranberries, to turkeys, which are nearing a record high.

COHEN (on camera): Despite those markups at the market, many farmers say the price they receive for their crop isn't going up.

So, your price is staying the same?

JONES: My price is staying the same -- lower, lower, lower.

COHEN (on camera): Why don't farmers just raise the price of their crops?

PATTY EDELBURG, VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL FARMERS UNION: Farmers are price takers, not price makers.

COHEN (voice-over): Patty Edelburg is vice president of the National Farmers Union.

COHEN (on camera): Who is making the money from that inflation?

EDELBURG: Much more the middleman than anybody else.

COHEN (voice-over): The USDA confirms that in many cases, processors and distributors that get food from the farm to store shelves are the ones passing along their surge in costs with materials and ingredients still stuck on cargo ships and a shortage of labor and truckers driving up wages and costs. TREY MALONE, AGRICULTURAL ECONOMIST, MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY: To

some extent, we're also trying to pay for the uncertainty in the marketplace right now.

COHEN (voice-over): Trey Malone is an agricultural economist at Michigan State University.