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U.S Hits 800,000 Virus Deaths as Spike Prompts New Restrictions; Rioter Begs for Mercy, Blames Lies by Tyrannical Trump; House Votes to Hold Mark Meadows in Contempt of Congress. Aired 7- 7:30a ET

Aired December 15, 2021 - 07:00   ET



VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: So, it's important to remember that these child tax credits are going to basic needs, food, shelter, education and maybe this year a little extra money for Christmas presents. Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN NEW DAY: Yes. They have been mitigating some of the increased costs that these families have been seeing. What do they do without them? Vanessa, thank you for that report.

And New Day continues right now.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: All right. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. It is Wednesday, December 15th. I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar.

Breaking overnight, an extraordinary moment in the insurrection probe. And, frankly, a history-making moment in this country. Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows held in criminal contempt of Congress from defying a subpoena from the House select committee investigating the January 6th attack on the capitol. He is the first former member of Congress held in contempt since 1832. That was a while ago.

The Democratic-controlled House voted 222-208 with just two Republicans, Adam Kinzinger and Cheney, joining the Democrats. The vote now paves away for possible prosecution. It will be up to the Department of Justice to decide whether to pursue criminal charges. More on this in a moment.

KEILAR: First, though, a new CDC warning this morning that COVID is raging across the U.S. and it is possible that a new wave is imminent as soon as January. This as the U.S. crosses the tragic milestone of 800,000 coronavirus deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Cornell University reporting more than 900 cases among students this week and now shutting down all in-person activities through the end of the semester, all finals, we have learned, will be taken online. And then in Manhattan, JPMorgan Chase is instructing all unvaccinated staff to work from home. The bank is now urging them to get the vaccine and urging eligible employees to get booster shots.

BERMAN: Grocery store chain Kroger said paid leave will no longer be made to unvaccinated employees who get the virus. Apple is reinstating a mask mandate for anyone inside its U.S. stores. Both New York and California reinstating mask mandates in indoor public settings for about a month starting this week, all this as concerns mount over the fast-spreading omicron variant.

KEILAR: CNN's Tom Foreman is joining us now with more on this. Tom, tell us what we're learning.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the first we're learning is that giant milestone you mentioned a minute ago, passing 800,000 people having passed away here. Coronavirus deaths just on Tuesday, more than 1,600 of them, think about that. That means from the moment you started reporting on the show, probably one person has already died from that. It is a little more than one per minute.

If you look at the daily percentage, the changes as we move forward, the seven-day average moving forward, that has ticked up again down here, a little swing in this direction. And if you look beyond that, at hospitalizations, which really matter because that's the most serious cases out there, those two moving up, not as high as it once was but still creeping up that way and signaling in every way that we are heading into a third very difficult year of this virus.

KEILAR: So, we are also seeing high transmissibility of COVID throughout the country. Now, there are growing concerns about a new omicron wave on top of that. What can you tell us?

FOREMAN: Well, yes, that the whole thing. When we look at the map right now, we have looked at this for the past two years, right now, it looks terrible. Level of community transmission very, very high, it's not good anywhere. And omicron, yes, if you think about it, omicron was, just last week, below 1 percent of the cases reported out there, reported. Remember, that may indicate it's been moving for a while. But we're finally getting to where you can see it. Now, we are almost at 3 percent. So, omicron is headed in the direction of becoming the dominant variant. Don't know if it will get there. Not exactly sure how bad it is compared to delta but it is head indeed a bad direction.

KEILAR: Yes. And all of this drives home how important vaccines are. So, where are we there? Are there more people are getting vaccinated?

FOREMAN: We are not where we should be. Yes, huge surges, great vaccine out there. Unbelievably developed very quickly, put out there very quickly. Big spike people doing it. Now, we have 60 percent of the population fully vaccinated. But look at what's happened in the doses administered out there. It has been dropping, dropping, dropping, because we have hit the wall of those people who simply will not do it. They will not protect their community, they won't protect their family, they won't protect their country. There are people who are saying, I just don't want to do it.

So, as you watch the daily doses drop, you can see that the booster doses have also dropped out there, and that brings us to another map, and that map is the one that shows that really we have some places, some places that have approached full vaccination. They're not there but they are headed that direction.


But many other places that simply will not, in some, Mississippi, Alabama down here, still below 50 percent, Idaho, below 50 percent. Those are really daunting numbers out there.

And, quite frankly, if you look at this, we cannot really put this behind us as long as people keep refusing to do what they need to do for their neighbors and families. As long as they keep doing that, not only does the virus stick around but it opens the door for these variants to keep coming at us, to keep mutating because we are giving the virus room to work. So, the bottom line, you want to give the best holiday present to your family and friends, I don't care what your political position is, go get vaccinated.

KEILAR: I have a friend up in Maine where -- she lives in an area that is almost entirely vaccinated. I'm telling you, it is a different world. It is the one you want to live in.

FOREMAN: Absolutely.

KEILAR: Tom Foreman, thank you much.

BERMAN: So, you can see a microcosm of this national trend in rising cases in professional sports. In the last week, the NFL announced 65 new cases in just two days. The NBA's Brooklyn Nets sidelined a third of its roster over positive COVID tests. And the Calgary Flames postponed its next three games for the same reason.

For now, I'm joined by -- for more, I should say, I'm joined by former NFL Player and Neurosurgery Resident Dr. Myron Rolle. Dr. Rolle, it's always great to speak with you, always an education.

I want to talk small and then get big here. So, let's talk about the NFL where we saw this really high number of cases just over the last two days. Why do you think that is?

DR. MYRON ROLLE, FORMER NFL PLAYER: Thanks for having me, John. I think that this is a disappointment for the NFL. They stumbled through their COVID protocols for the last two years, and now working with the NFL P.A. and epidemiologist outside public health experts. They have sort of gotten it right but now with this outbreak we are sort of back to where we once were, maybe last year, beginning of this year.

I think it's multi-factorial why you have these outbreaks in the NFL. One, the omicron variant, as you just mentioned, is incredibly transmissible. It's hitting every state. Players are still traveling to go to different states to play, and so they are being exposed. The delta variant still ravaging through communities and hospitals as well.

I also think that now you have the holiday season. When I played I had my open door family and friends coming in and out being exposed, and these family and friends are not submitted to the same rigid COVID protocols that players in the locker are.

And then you have some players who just aren't vaccinated. The Aaron Rodgers story was very well publicized. And then players who have famed to be vaccinated and then presented fake records. So, we're not sure how many players are actually vaccinated and are not spreading. So, it's very difficult the mitigate this situation and NFL has to do a better job right now.

BERMAN: But the vaccination rate is over 90 percent on all these teams. And to see these high number of cases with the vaccination rate so high, how concerning is that?

ROLLE: Well, it's definitely concerning. And I think it speaks to the fact that there's been a level of relaxation by players, teams, personnel, and even NFL, in general, with the lifestyle modifications that public health experts have been asking people to do, wearing masks, social distancing, frequency of testing. So, you actually know that the virus is in the building. So, if you know it's there, then you can try to keep it out of the building to protect these players and keep these games going forward.

So, there's a lot of challenges going forward. I just hope the NFL keeps a premium that these players' safety, protecting them and their families should be at the center of all the decisions that they end up making.

BERMAN: What is happening in the NFL -- what does that say about the rest of us?

ROLLE: Well, I think it says that boosters are important. I think it says that we're not through with this pandemic yet. Getting boosted for sure, get vaccinated if you're not, just as you reported in the last segment is incredibly important. I also think it says that we still need to adhere to some of the guidelines that some of our experts had been telling us to do for a long time. We're not quite out of this pandemic just yet.

These NFL players, NHL players, NBA players are some of the best, most fit athletes in the world. There are different sort of demographic and different protoplasm than the normal average human, normal average American citizen. So, if they're getting infected, maybe it is asymptomatic and mild, but if they are getting infected, then it can certainly be for everyone. So, we still need to be on guard and be quite neurotic with our health and our safety for everyone involved.

BERMAN: By and large, as far as I know, these cases are asymptomatic and mild. These vaccinated players aren't getting seriously ill. What does that tell us about maybe where this pandemic is headed going forward? Yes, people are getting it, but getting it doesn't mean what it used to.

ROLLE: You're right. I think that getting infected is certainly troublesome because we are still learning more about this COVID infection and what are the long-term sequelae of myocarditis or renal issues or maybe even some transient amnesia that we've seen in a few reports. But, nevertheless, mild or a asymptomatic is good, we don't want those severe complications that put you on ICU bed, that has the ICU resources, have acute critical care, which really could put you in a state of permanent disability.


And so I think it is good think that we are moving in this direction. You see that numbers aren't as bad as they were last year. And I think the NFL, the NBA and NHL, these are leagues that are trying to figure out everything in the midst of these rising numbers. My best advice to them and to players who are involved is to really think about the future, really think about who you are now, what you want to do to protect yourself and your family, staying close to those behavior guidelines, social distancing, wearing a mask, doing all you can because this is a transient moment for you to play your sport. You want to optimize your opportunity to be on the field, the court, the ice and do everything off the field to do that.

BERMAN: Yes. And, of course, there's alignment here in all of the interests, right? If you want to play, if you want to keep your family safe, if you want to stay healthy, you do all the same things, which is wear your mask, get vaccinated, get boosted.

Dr. Myron Rolle, thank you so much for being with us this morning.

ROLLE: Thank you for having me.

KEILAR: One of the rally organizers January 6th is blaming Donald Trump for lying to them. And one of the rallygoers who attacked police officers with a fire extinguisher during the attack is now begging a judge for mercy. He says he has now realized that Trump was lying about the election.

Robert Scott Palmer pleaded guilty to the assault. Prosecutors now asking that he be sentenced to 63 months, which would be the longest sentence for a January 6th defendant.

And with us now is Robert Scott Palmer's attorney, Bjorn Brunvand. Bjorn, thank you so much for being with us to talk about your client.

Just recently, as you're well aware, after he entered his plea in October, he was defending his actions on January 6th, just weeks ago. So, explain to us why he deserves the mercy that he is asking for.

BJORN ERIK BRUNVAND, ATTORNEY FOR JANUARY 6 CAPITOL RIOTER ROBERT SCOTT PALMER: Well, you know, the sentence that the court should impose in a case like this is a sufficient sentence but not greater than necessary. And Mr. Palmer, from really the early days when Huffington Post first reported on this case, hired me, surrendered to the authorities, told him he was sorry, told him what he did, acknowledged what he did. And so accepting responsibility is a huge aspect of our justice system in considering whether or not he should get mercy. So I'm hopeful the court will, in fact, find room for mercy of Mr. Palmer. KEILAR: I think that's my point. Because just weeks ago in this fundraising appeal, he was not saying that what he did was wrong. He was talking about having a defensive posture. I mean, why should he be believed?

BRUNVAND: Well, you know, that is the, you know, the difficult question. And my suggestion would be he should be believed because at the time when he went into custody in October, he had unfortunately gone off of his medication. He was taking medication for depression and for anxiety. He found himself in a very difficult situation in the jail, the local jail in Washington, D.C. I'm sure you're aware of reports from the U.S. Marshal Service about the conditions there and what have you.

He made a horrible choice. It is inconsistent with his behavior prior to going into custody and it is inconsistent with what he said since then. Keep in mind, he is the first one to plead guilty to this serious of a charge arising out of January 6th and there should be some recognition for that.

KEILAR: But, Bjorn, you're kind of ignoring his message from just several weeks ago.

BRUNVAND: No, I'm not saying ignoring the message. I mean, it's unfortunate he said it. Money was raised. I told him to go and refund the money, to cancel the post, to remove the post. And he immediately did so. The people that had set it up immediately removed it. The money was refunded. It's unfortunate but you can't just look at that in a vacuum. You had to look at the entirety of the case, from the day that he surrendered to the authorities, when he met with the authorities, to the day he pled guilty and recognize that we value that behavior. I mean, he saved the United States from having to put him on trial. He gave up his presumption of innocence and did not require the government to prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt.

KEILAR: But if he is part of this fundraising deal put forth the message that he put forth, why should the judge believe him now as he has written this letter asking for the judge to, you know, go easier on him? How is that to be believed if in such proximity of time he was saying something so different?


BRUNVAND: And I agree. I think that's the difficult part for the judge. I would respectfully suggest that regardless of whether or not the court believes it or not, that an appropriate sentence, a sentence that is not greater than necessary but sufficient would be the 24 months in the bureau of prisons that we are proposing. But at the same time I don't believe that the court should ignore what happened prior to the plea, the plea, and what he is saying now. You can't just look at the fundraising event in a vacuum and say, okay, that judges him and we'll ignore everything else.

KEILAR: One of the organizers of the rally spoke with CNN's Anderson Cooper, and he said this.


DUSTIN STOCKTON, RALLY ORGANIZER WHO TESTIFIED BEFORE JANUARY 6TH COMMITTEE: I always like to point out that the people who committed violence, the people who attacked police officers or defaced the Capitol are responsible for their own actions, first and foremost. But the buck has got to stop at President Trump.


KEILAR: Your client, Bjorn, and other participants of January 6th are facing potentially years in prison for their involvement and Donald Trump may face potentially no repercussions. What do you think about that?

BRUNVAND: You know, I think it's unfortunate. It's shocking. I speak with my regular in Norway on a regular basis, and that's her question, is why isn't former President Trump being held responsible. And it's hard for me to explain. But, unfortunately, I don't know that he ever will be. It's his pawns, it's the people who believed his lies and the fraud allegations as it relates to the election that are ending up in prison and he probably will never be sanctioned in any way.

KEILAR: Bjorn, thank you so much. We'll continue to watch this case as the sentencing goes ahead. I really appreciate you going on. Bjorn Brunvand, thanks.

BRUNVAND: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. Breaking news overnight, Mark Meadows held in contempt. Now the ball is in the Department of Justice's court. Will federal prosecutors pursue criminal charges?

Plus, the unvaccinated should not receive emergency care. Why a new op-ed is suggesting hospitals and doctors should give those patients low priority.

KEILAR: Ben Affleck spilling the tea and letting the world know what he thinks drove him to drink.



KEILAR: Breaking overnight, the House has voted to hold Mark Meadows in contempt of Congress. These charges are now headed to the Justice Department which will decide whether to prosecute the former Trump White House chief of staff. This vote happened after Meadows shared thousands of documents and texts with the committee then declined to testify, claiming the courts need to decide whether Donald Trump's claims of executive privilege are valid.

BERMAN: So, joining us now, Jonathan Karl, ABC's Chief Washington Correspondent and the author of Betrayal, The Final Act of the Trump Show.

And, Jonathan, we are seeing all of these new text messages, some from the 6th itself, some from before, and they reveal a lot. And there was one that was read last night that I want to read out loud to everyone right now. This is from unknown to Mark Meadows on January 3rd. And it has to do when Jeffrey Clark got hired for the Justice Department or moved up. It says, quote, I heard Jeff Clark is getting put in on Monday. That's amazing. It will make a lot of patriots happy and I'm personally so proud that you are at the tip of the spear and I can call you a friend. Tip of the spear. Tip of what spear, doing what? What does that tell us, Jon?

JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, what these messages overall tell us, John, is that Mark Meadows was in the middle of it all, the entire effort to use all means necessary to overturn the results of the presidential election. There was, of course, the activity on January 6th. Meadows was one of the very few people that was with Trump during the entire time of the insurrection. He was there at the White House, there in that little dining room off the Oval Office with Trump shuttling back and forth. And that's where you see all the messages of people pleading, get him out there.

But this Jeffrey Clark, I'm glad you highlight it because this shows that this is an effort that Meadows' involvement in this effort goes far before what happened on January 6th. Jeffrey Clark, of course, was that environmental lawyer, the head of the environmental division at the Justice Department, who went to Trump with a plan to basically use the power of the Justice Department to overturn the election results in Georgia, and then also suggested he could go and do it in the other states.

So, Jeffrey Clark, there was that scheme. I describe it in detail in Betrayal that happened January 2nd when Clark was all set to become the new acting attorney general. Trump had planned to put him in place and to go forward with these plans. And the only reason it didn't happen, John, is because the entire senior leadership of the Justice Department besides Clark had said that they would resign en masse if Trump went forward with this.

But here, you see Meadows is very much the key player in pushing the scheme, and, again, it was a scheme to use the power of the Justice Department to overturn the election results.

KEILAR: And then there is also, Jon, a text telling Meadows to check his signal, right, which is an encrypted app, another messaging app.


So, if you think that what we are seeing here in these texts is damning and revealing, imagine what the signal would show.

KARL: Yes. Those signal messages we will probably never see. They are probably already long gone. So, certainly there's that. And also, Brianna, consider this. The messages that have been turned over here by Meadows are all from his personal cell phones. So this is his -- he had two different Gmail accounts, we now know, that he was using. He was obviously somebody who texted frequently. But this is just his personal devices. We still don't know what is on the official White House cell phone that he was issued. We don't know what was on his official government email. But he was clearly conducting quite a bit of business here with these personal devices and personal accounts.

BERMAN: Right. I mean, the National Archives situation with the Supreme Court deciding whether or not to weigh in here, that's huge. I mean, this really does raise a whole ton of questions about what might be in that trove of information that the committee might get its hands on going forward.

And, Jonathan, you raise a terrific point here. In your book, you publish some photos of election night at the White House, which shows basically, if I'm right here, the White House coordinating the campaign effort on election night itself. But it raises the possibility, right, that this White House photographer, and both you and Brianna know, there is a White House photographer around the president all the time, snapping photos all the time. It raises the possibility that there are photos from that 187 minutes on January 6th that belong to the United States of America that none of us have seen. Why is that important, Jon?

KARL: Absolutely. And, first, on these photos, which were never published before, I obtained these photos taken by the official photographer. There you see earlier in the night, on election night, they're all happy. And then you see, this is in the map room. You have been in the map room, John. You have both been in the map room. It's where FDR tracked the progress of World War II. And they transformed the entire area into an operations center for the campaign. And you see them looking distraught after first looking so happy, distraught as the election results start to turn sour.

But this points to the fact that there is a photographer there. Those photographs belong to the U.S. taxpayers. They should be at the National Archives. They are part of the document requests that Congress has made, part of this fight over executive privilege and could be quite illuminating, the photos and obviously the outtakes of the video that Trump shot the evening of January 6th when he told the rioters to go home but also said how much he loved them and how special they were. So, yes, there's a lot more than just documents at stake here. There is potentially visual evidence about what was going on.

KEILAR: I mean, that would just be fascinating to see.

Our gabby Orr, Jon, is reporting that Donald Trump feels blindsided by what Meadows has revealed. He feels particularly irked at Kevin McCarthy and Mark Meadows. On the Meadows front, I just wonder, what was Meadows' thinking, do you think, that it was going to end up any way other than him ticking Donald Trump off with all of this information out there?

KARL: Well, first of all, I think you see in the back and forth between Meadows' attorney and the committee leading up to this vote that he really, really did not want to be held in criminal contempt. This is a stain on his record. He takes pride in being a former member of the House. Now, he is the first former member of the House in history to be held in criminal contempt. He did not want that to happen. And he was clearly trying to placate the committee.

But I don't think that he realized just how explosive this would all be. And Meadows -- for Meadows, really, everything is his relationship with Donald Trump at this point. His reputation obviously is entirely tied up in all of this. And if Trump is furious at him, you know, he just doesn't have much to go on.

But at the same time, this is a moment for Donald Trump. I mean, if he is upset and the reporting is correct, if he is upset with both Meadows and with Kevin McCarthy, you know, at some point, he starts running out of allies up here.

You saw a very interesting moment yesterday when Mitch McConnell, who, of course, was long ago written off by Donald Trump, said that he's paying very close attention to what's going on with this committee. This committee can no longer be dismissed as some partisan exercise. This is an exercise in getting to the truth of what happened January 6th.

BERMAN: Do we have that sound, guys? Let's play that, because I think it's really interesting.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I do think we're all watching, as you are, what is unfolding on the House side. And it will be interesting to reveal all the participants who were involved.



BERMAN: I just think that's so interesting, Jon. Mitch McConnell is so willing to say nothing about anything at any time. His words are so carefully --