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New South African COVID Variant Detected, Dramatically Different Than Original; Trend Of Defendants Taking The Stand In High- Profile U.S. Cases; Man Convicted Of Raping "Lovely Bones" Author Exonerated. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired November 26, 2021 - 07:30   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: A new variant of coronavirus has been discovered in South Africa and this is raising concerns. Scientists there are warning that the variant could show immune evasion and enhanced transmissibility.

Joining me now is President Biden's chief medical adviser on COVID, Dr. Anthony Fauci. Sir, thank you so much for being with us this morning. This is obviously a very significant day as we try to look at what the risk factors here are here with this variant.

What can you tell us about this?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER ON COVID-19 TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: Well, certainly, there is a new variant that is now in South Africa in the Gauteng province that has some mutations that are raising some concern, particularly with regard to possibly transmissibility increase and possibly evasion of immune response.

We don't know that for sure right now. This is really something that's in motion and we just arranged right now a discussion between our scientists and the South African scientists a little bit later in the morning to really get the facts because you're hearing a lot of things back and forth. We want to find out scientist-to-scientist exactly what is going on.

But it's something that has emerged in South Africa and seems to be spreading in a -- in a reasonably rapid rate in the sense of when they do test positivity, they're seeing that it's a bit more widespread in South Africa than was originally felt a couple of days ago. So it's in a fluid motion. We're finding more about it and literally, it's something in real time we're learning more and more about.

KEILAR: Is it possible it's already in the U.S.?

FAUCI: You know, of course, anything is possible. We don't know that. There's no indication that it is right now. It seemed to have been restricted. There was some cases that originated in South Africa and it went to Botswana and people who traveled and found out there were infected, and one that had gone actually to Hong Kong.

So there's a lot of travel. You never know exactly where we are and that's the reason why we're getting together then to try and get the precise molecular makeup of it so you could actually test for it. And that's something that will take a little bit to put the appropriate materials together to do that. But we are in very active communication with our South African colleague scientists.

KEILAR: So, explain to us the questions and the concerns about how this might evade immunity because there are so many mutations here on the spike protein, which is what a vaccine -- the vaccines that we have are designed to hit. The question is now going to be, right, is that spike protein still permeable when it comes to the vaccine?

FAUCI: Yes, that's what we're going to be finding out. Because when you look at a mutation it can give you a hint or a prediction that it might evade the immune response. What you need to do is you need to get that particular sequence of the virus and put it in a form in the lab where you can actually test the different antibodies so you can have a prediction that it might evade or you can actually prove it.

Right now, we're getting the material together with our South African colleagues to get a situation where you could actually directly test it. So right now, you're talking about sort of like a red flag that this might be an issue but we don't know.

Once you test it, you'll know for sure whether or not it does or does not evade the antibodies that we make, for example, against the virus through a vaccine or following convalescent after you get infected when you get antibodies. Do those antibodies protect you against this new virus? The answer is we don't know right now but we're going to find out for sure.

KEILAR: So, you know, in the meantime, the U.K. is banning travel -- air travel from some of these African countries. Do you think the U.S. should consider doing that?

FAUCI: Well, I mean, obviously, as soon as we find out more information, we'll make a decision as quickly as we possibly can. You always put these things on the table but you don't want to say you're going to do it until you have some scientific reason to do it. That's the reason why we're rushing now to get that scientific data to try and make an informed decision about something like that.

KEILAR: Yes. So if the U.S. does start to see -- and yes, I know that we're awaiting more information. We need to understand how this works. But if the U.S. does start to see these cases of this particular strain, what immediate measures have to be taken?

FAUCI: Well, first of all, you want to find out if, in fact, it does evade the vaccines that we're doing. I mean, there's always the possibility of doing what the U.K. has done -- namely, block travel from South Africa and related countries. We don't know that. That's certainly something you think about and get prepared to do.

You're prepared to do everything you need to do to protect the American public but you want to make sure there's a basis for doing that, and that's what we're doing right now.


KEILAR: I know that you're watching some states that are already dealing with a surge in hospitalizations, like Michigan, which we're tracking. What does that tell us about what these next couple of months are going to look like?

FAUCI: Well, again, I keep saying it over and over, the next couple of months are going to be up to us. I mean, we -- right now, we have a tool -- a very effective tool. We have too many people -- 60 million people or so who are adults who are eligible for vaccination who are not vaccinated. We've got to get them vaccinated. There's no reason whatsoever not to vaccinate them.

We also know that the boosters -- and this is really very, very clear -- the boosters increase the level of protection dramatically, particularly in those individuals who have waning protection.

And we do know it's a fact that after several months, people -- particularly, the elderly -- but across the board in the age group, you have a diminution in protection over several months, which is the reason why we're recommending that everyone 18 years and old who has received the vaccine get the booster. You get a booster now; you can get into the winter and have a higher degree of protection.

That's the reason why we're pushing so hard for people to a) get vaccinated in the first place if you're not vaccinated, and b) if you have been vaccinated and you're six months or more following an mRNA or two months or more following the J&J, go get your booster. It really is important as we enter into this colder winter season.

KEILAR: Yes. I got boosted two days ago. I was so relieved to be able to do it and can't wait to know that I have that full effect of it here in a couple of weeks.

I do want to ask you about the singer Bryan Adams and his COVID diagnosis because I know a lot of people are going to be trying to figure out what's going on here. He announced that he has tested positive for COVID for the second time in a month and that he's in the hospital. He says he's fully vaccinated.

What do you make of this, twice in two months? Is this the same infection you would expect? What do you think?

FAUCI: You know, it would really be foolish for me to try and speculate. I don't know anything about his case. It could be that he continued to have virus in him and that he tested positive and never really got rid of the virus in his system. We find that when some people who are immune-compromised -- that they can have virus lingering on. I know nothing about his medical condition, so I'm really very reluctant --


FAUCI: -- to make any comment about it. KEILAR: Are the -- separately -- well, related, are you aware of any situation where someone has tested positive for coronavirus maybe, you know, two different strains in the course of a month, or have you -- you've not heard of anything like that, right?

FAUCI: We have people who have tested positive -- and generally you clear the virus after a few days -- who because of a compromise in their immune system, they just continue to have the virus at a low level in their body. Sometimes that is interpreted as reinfection when it really is not reinfection -- it's a persistence of infection.

But again, as a physician, I don't want to comment on somebody else's --


FAUCI: -- medical condition because I do not know what's going on with that person.

KEILAR: Yes, completely understand that.

I did want to talk to you about something that I asked your former colleague under President Trump, vaccine czar, Brett Giroir. I asked him about Deborah Birx's testimony about that questionable August 2020 testing guidance that said asymptomatic people who had been exposed to COVID didn't necessarily need to be tested.

Here's what he said.


BRETT GIROIR, FORMER HHS ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR HEALTH UNDER PRESIDENT TRUMP: After two weeks of discussion, we decided that was the appropriate guidance. And Dr. Fauci did sign off on it. Dr. Redfield published it in the CDC, and that was the guidance.

It was highly misinterpreted by the public and the media. And to be honest, Dr. Birx thought it might be that way and it was reviewed within two weeks. But everything was done in a scientific way.


KEILAR: Is his description accurate and complete?

FAUCI: You know, this is taken out of context. I don't know what the entire conversation with him is, Brianna, so I don't really want to comment on it. I mean, you've taken a little clip, he shows it, and I don't know what the whole context of the conversation was, so I don't really want to get into that.

KEILAR: Well, what is -- but what's your question about? I did the interview so I can tell you. What's your question about the context?

FAUCI: So, what is the situation? What is the question you're asking him? That's what I'd like to know. I mean, what is the question you asked him? KEILAR: OK, so Deborah Birx --

FAUCI: You're giving me the answer. I don't know what his question is.

KEILAR: Yes -- no. I'll make it clear. I'm not -- I'm not trying to trip you up here.


KEILAR: Deborah Birx testified before the House committee that's investigating the COVID response. And she, along with a number of other officials, were basically saying that the Trump administration was meddling when it came to scientific guidance.


And then I asked him about that August 2020 guidance that came out and said that asymptomatic people didn't necessarily --

FAUCI: Right.

KEILAR: -- need to be tested if they had been --

FAUCI: Right.

KEILAR: -- exposed to COVID.

As you'll recall when that --

FAUCI: Right.

KEILAR: -- came out, it was very -- doctors were looking at that --


KEILAR: -- saying what's going on here? This is like right for people being exposed and not getting tested. And that is what happened. It ended up being revised.

FAUCI: Right.

KEILAR: He was basically saying --

FAUCI: Right.

KEILAR: -- that there was an effort -- when I -- when I talked to him about this, he said there was -- they were trying to test. That that was a priority. It's not that they were trying to reduce testing with that guidance.

That there was a discussion about it. You were on board. Deborah Birx ultimately on board, signing off on it. He ultimately signed off on it. He said Deborah Birx had some concerns there.

And he also, I will tell, in that interview -- FAUCI: Yes.

KEILAR: -- was saying that President Trump did not want to reduce testing, even though we know publicly that he said he did.

So my question is, is what he's saying there --

FAUCI: Right.

KEILAR: -- complete that this was no -- yes.

FAUCI: Believe -- right. Obviously, people who are hearing have no idea what we're talking about. But believe Deborah Birx.

KEILAR: There's a lot of people listening to us --


KEILAR: -- who know what we're talking about.

FAUCI: Believe Deborah Birx if the fact is that we wanted to test people who are symptomatic as opposed to just symptomatic people. Deborah Birx and I have always said we wanted to test people even though they're asymptomatic.

KEILAR: So what happened?

FAUCI: Well, first, they began testing only people who were symptomatic, which means you miss a lot of people who are asymptomatic. Because if you have more widespread testing, you obviously have more people that you've identified are positive. If you don't test asymptomatic people it looks like the level of infection is much lower.

KEILAR: Has Brett Giroir been -- you know, has he been honest, in your opinion, about how he's describing the testing priority under the Trump administration?

FAUCI: You know, I don't want to get into giving comments about who has been honest and who has been dishonest. I can only speak for myself and I have been extremely truthful in everything I have said throughout the entire pandemic, now almost two years. I'm not going to comment on what other people say -- sorry.

KEILAR: OK. Well, so let me ask you about something he did say about you, which is he said -- you know, he said, ultimately, Deborah Birx signed off on this; ultimately, you signed off on this. And I wonder if there's more to that description.

FAUCI: Well, I don't know what he's talking about. You know, the story goes -- I was actually in the hospital when that was signed off on, so I don't know what he's talking about. I was having my polyp from my vocal cord removed at that time, so I wasn't -- I wasn't there when they gave the final signoff. So I'm not sure what he's talking about. KEILAR: All right, sir. Dr. Fauci, thanks so much for being with us.

It's a -- look, it's a critical day as we're watching South Africa trying to figure out what's going on. We appreciate you being with us.

FAUCI: All right, thank you.

KEILAR: From Charlottesville to Kenosha, defendants in four high- profile trials chose to put themselves on the stand. What is the strategy behind it?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: And after 40 years, a stunning exoneration of a man who was falsely accused of rape by a best-selling author.



COLLINS: For the past several weeks, several high-profile trials have gripped the nation with one striking similarity -- defendants willing to take the stand, including Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse who was ultimately found not guilty on all charges. And in Georgia, Travis McMichael, who was found guilty on all counts for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.

In Charlottesville, several white nationalists took the stand as well and were found liable for millions in damages for that deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally.

And Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, who spent three days on the stand, including one where she testified for six hours. She's set to actually continue that testimony on Monday.

So joining me now to talk about this is Bob Bianchi. He's the former head prosecutor in Morris County, New Jersey, and the host of the law and crime network. Bob, thank you so much for being with me this morning.

But I want to get your take on whether or not this is something that you are used to seeing, or how rare is it to see the defendant take the stand even though, of course, all of these cases that we just talked about have critical differences?

ROBERT BIANCHI, FORMER HEAD PROSECUTOR IN MORRIS COUNTY, NEW JERSEY, ANCHOR, LAW AND CRIME NETWORK (via Skype): They do have critical differences. And as a former prosecutor, when I was waiting for a defendant to get on the stand, I loved it. I was like a lion in a cage waiting to cross-examine that witness.

I don't think it's a trend. It depends on the facts of the face and it depends on the client.

In some of these cases, there was a reason to do it. And in my mind, especially with Holmes, I think that there may be even a little bit of ego in it where they want to get their story out and nevertheless, they hurt themselves on the stand. When you look at the Rittenhouse case and you look at the Arbery case,

there's really important reasons why those defendants took the stand. And in Arbery, he had to take the stand to assert his affirmative defense. The jury needs to understand why he felt it was reasonable to use lethal force.

In the Rittenhouse case, for example, I think that was a tactical mistake, although it worked out well for him, because his self-defense claim came through the other witnesses that testified on behalf of the state.

But in analysis as lawyers, we tell a client whether they should take the stand or not take the stand, and it's up to them ultimately as to what the decision is.

COLLINS: So -- but you see this was effective for Kyle Rittenhouse in the end obviously after that testimony talking about what he personally went through during that period. But then, obviously, with the McMichaels you saw Travis McMichael take the stand and, of course, we saw how that verdict was read on Wednesday. Of course, guilty, guilty, guilty for all three of those men. And obviously, Travis McMichael was the only one to take it.

So, how do you know if it's going to be an effective tactic if you're the defense attorney?

BIANCHI: In Rittenhouse, I would imagine his lawyer told him that I don't think you should take the stand. Because four witnesses for the state, including one of the victims, Grosskreutz, testified very favorably towards the self-defense claim, so there was no need for Rittenhouse to get on the stand.


But after the interviews were done with the lawyer post-verdict of not guilty, he indicated Rittenhouse always wanted to get on the stand to tell his story. So that was a little dangerous there.

For McMichael -- Travis McMichael -- he had to get on the stand. That video was so bad there was no good explanation. And so, he needed to contextualize what was happening during that incident to the jury, and so he must take the stand. Ultimately, obviously, the jury didn't buy that.

But the evidence against McMichael was very, very strong and the evidence, respectfully -- and I know there's a lot of controversy about this with Rittenhouse as -- when I was doing my show, I was listening to the state's witnesses as a former homicide prosecutor -- this was the prosecution's witnesses.

And I was asking my producer is this a defense witness or is it a prosecutor's witness? Because so many of those witnesses dispelled the narrative that Rittenhouse was the aggressor. That Rittenhouse went and brought the weapon into Kenosha, which is not accurate. And that Rittenhouse was the one that was going after people as opposed to what we saw on the video. So, Rittenhouse took more of a risk because there was evidence to show that already with the witnesses and the video. With McMichael, he had to take the stand because his case was going down in flames.

COLLINS: Bob Bianchi, thank you for joining us this morning and sharing those insights.

BIANCHI: Thank you.

KEILAR: After 16 years in prison and decades of fighting, a man falsely accused of rape is having his case thrown out. A New York judge made the decision nearly 40 years after Anthony Broadwater was falsely accused of rape by the "The Lovely Bones" author Alice Sebold -- a crime that she detailed in her memoir "Lucky."

The local district attorney joined the motion to vacate the conviction saying this, quote, "I won't sully these proceedings by saying I'm sorry. That doesn't cut it. This should never have happened."

And joining us now to discuss is CNN legal analyst Joey Jackson. You know, Joey, what did you think of this and how long this took?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY (via Webex by Cisco): Yes, Brianna. You know, this is just so heartbreaking in so many ways when someone is falsely accused and they continue to assert their innocence, and you have a situation where they're in jail for just way longer than they should be. And then you have statutes, which are ill-designed to compensate them.

So, you know, it's first, the human emotion forgetting just one minute, Brianna and Kaitlan, as to the legal issues of it. But just the human emotion is my goodness. And I'm sure so many people share that emotion. But we just have to do better.

And I think putting someone in jail based upon witness identification, which is inherently flawed for so many reasons -- you know, you have identification flawed because of the nature of a crime. People are in shock. People are just really not in a position when you're in such a horrified state, et cetera, to be making these identifications.

And then you had faulty forensic analysis with respect to a hair sample, which was demonstrated to be 90 percent ineffective.

And just on so many levels we have to do better as a system. And it shouldn't have taken that long. It did, and that's a shame.

COLLINS: Yes. I think that factor about the hair sample is just really complex and also it makes people question this. That is something that was -- seemed so dependable at the time and now you look back at how that has worked.

And, you know, obviously, this has also really changed Broadwater's life. He talks about how in the time after this how when he met his wife. How it affected their relationship from the beginning. Affecting their decision whether or not to have children. The way he was -- he struggled to find jobs because of this because he was registered as a sex offender.

And so, now this happens and we see the aftermath. But look at how many decades of his life it completely altered in a way that you cannot get back.

JACKSON: Yes, that's so true, Kaitlan -- so well said. And I think it's part of a broader issue. We can speak about him but there's just so many if you look at this from, really, an aerial view of people who are incarcerated and what's the basis for it.

And I think there are several. If you look at the system, we certainly know the disproportionate amount of people of color who are ultimately arrested and then subsequently convicted.

We know the pressure on law enforcement to bring matters to district attorney's offices, and that's a valid pressure and that works.

They're working with and doing the best they can with witnesses but those witnesses are then subsequently potentially coached or may not be 100 percent clear. And then you have prosecutors who are prosecuting cases. You know, it's a major problem.

And in the final analysis, Kaitlan and Brianna, you also have a system that is so stubborn. They want stability, they want finality, and they're so reluctant even in the face of new evidence to reexamine, to reassess, and to determine is this the right call here.

And in so many of these cases you hear about people for years and witnesses coming forward and saying I made a mistake. And yet, still, it's really an entrenched system which does nothing about it, or if they do, it's far too little and far too late.


KEILAR: Yes, and accusers, too, may have hung their hats on some of this evidence as well that is now questionable. They, too, may have thought and been convinced that their accusations were completely founded because of that.

Joey, I thank you very much for being with us.

JACKSON: Of course. Thank you, both.

COLLINS: Coming up next, is Kevin McCarthy's spot as House Speaker, if Republicans retake the House, in jeopardy? What Marjorie Taylor Greene is demanding in exchange for her vote.

KEILAR: And just in, we have a major story developing. Ukraine's president is now alleging that Russia is plotting a coup against him, as the U.S. warns a Russian invasion of the country is possible.


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