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Today: Biden To Speak With Putin At Russian Leader's Request; Pediatricians Group: COVID Cases Among Children "Extremely High" Again; One Week to January 6: Open Questions For Committee Probing Attack. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired December 30, 2021 - 07:30   ET



SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER, AUTHOR, "THE MAN WHO RAN WASHINGTON" (via Webex by Cisco): First of all, for the second time in three weeks they've spoken. That's very unusual. It comes in advance of a January 10th meeting between U.S. and Russian negotiators in Europe, which they just announced earlier this week. So, you know, the diplomatic pieces are in place, potentially, for Putin to walk back.

But right now, what concerns me and I think many others is that there's just a mismatch between -- what Vladimir Putin is asking for is something that is not in the United States' power right now, really, to give. So, there seems to be no way to satisfy Putin's demands -- his idea that there can be no NATO presence, essentially, in any country that he determines to be in the Russian sphere of influence.

JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: Look, I mean -- David, you know, the question is what does Putin want and why does he feel this urgency? And you say there are three theories on which Putin will -- which Putin will show up for the call. So tell us about those theories and let's break them down.


So, the first is that he's calling to try to defuse this. But as Susan points out, there are still about 100,000 troops on the border. That number hasn't risen much in recent times as far as we can tell just looking at commercial satellites, but it also hasn't reduced much. So it doesn't feel like it's the moment for him to say OK, I was -- I was kidding. The second theory is that he believes that he can take President Biden's measure on whether or not they're willing to give in on some of these things, including the critical one that Susan mentioned, which is getting NATO out of nations that used to be part of the Soviet Union. But also, whether or not he could get them to allow Ukraine, in some way, to veer more into his sphere of influence and away from the West. Well, the Ukrainians seem to want to go toward the West.

And the third theory is he's just trying to go create a pretext to take military action, in which case he doesn't have a whole lot of time. There's sort of a window when the ground is frozen there when he could move his heavy armor over, and that window sort of opens in late January and closes sometime in March.


AVLON: A very narrow window.

COLLINS: -- the invasion is not just his only option. Of course, that is the most immediate concern for a lot of officials. But he could conduct cyberattacks. He could do all sorts of things.

And I think the big question that people have when they look at this -- and I wonder, of course, what your take on this is -- is what is his ultimate goal here?

GLASSER: You know, Kaitlan, I'm glad you brought that up because it's not just sort of like all or nothing, right?

First of all, we know that invasion is an option because actually, Vladimir Putin already invaded Ukraine in 2014.


GLASSER: I think that's very important, right? There's been this ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine, in addition to the illegal Russian annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine back in 2014. So, it's certainly plausible. It could be something short of a full- scale invasion that you could see from Vladimir Putin.

In other words, it's not just either Russian troops roll all the way to Kiev or else nothing happens -- you could see a more significant and more overt Russian military presence in Eastern Ukraine where that fighting has been ongoing in an effort to change the calculus on the ground in that conflict, which had been more or less frozen in recent years, right? So that's a possibility.

Secondly, Vladimir Putin arguably has already won in some significant way. First of all, he has demanded and received the attention and focus of Joe Biden who came to office saying he (audio gap) focus American foreign policy on pivoting to China and Asia instead. Once again, he's speaking on the phone with Vladimir Putin far more so than he's spending time dealing with Xi Jinping. So Putin has won in that sense.

If you're a bully and you send 100,000 troops to your neighbor -- unfortunately, that commands the world's attention.

He's also, importantly --


GLASSER: -- distracting our attention from a major domestic crackdown inside of Russia, which is happening right now.

AVLON: Sure. But David, as Susan points out, I mean, this is all against the backdrop of 2014 and that illegal annexation of Crimea, which Russia denied it was doing until it was done. And in response, the West didn't do much other than sanctions. There was not a strong pushback. So, here, you see Putin testing again.

Why does the Biden administration think that its promise of unprecedented sanctions is -- will provide enough of a deterrence? And do you have any idea what those could be, beyond what's already been done?

SANGER: Well, the only things that are really left, John, would be disconnecting the Russians from the world financial system. That would be cutting them off in the swift banking system that enables them to transfer funds, or going after the oligarchs or Putin's own money.


SANGER: But I'm not sure that any of those would go work.


You know, we tend in the United States to always overestimate what the effects of sanctions would be. President Trump thought that crushing sanctions would end the Iranian nuclear program. It didn't. We thought that sanctions would get Putin out of Crimea. Well, seven years later, they're still there.

And then, of course, he could do things short of invasion, as Susan suggests, including cyberattacks that could cripple part of the infrastructure. And it's not clear that would prompt the kind of sanctions that we're discussing.

COLLINS: Yes, these sanctions have not deterred Putin before.

So, Susan, I what you -- I wonder what you make of that and what you think is going to happen next. Of course, it's predictive but, I mean, this is something that everyone has been watching closely and it doesn't seem much has changed.

GLASSER: Well, that's right.

First of all, there are increasing signs of aggressive, hostile cyber activity already directed against the Ukrainian military and parts of the Ukrainian state, and I think that would be commensurate with the lead-up to some kind of more explicit kinetic military action.

But, you know, to your bigger question, Kaitlan, obviously, nobody (audio gap) but Russia hands, who generally take a very measured approach to understanding Putin, have been extremely alarmed for the last couple of months as signs of this buildup have occurred. Very different than what they saw in the spring, which led up to the first meeting between Biden and Putin in Geneva. This is much more significant.

Putin's demands are extreme. And, you know, remember, for Putin, the breakup of the Soviet Union was the foundational event 30 years ago this week. He truly seems to believe that Ukraine does not have the right to exist as an independent state. That it's almost an existential challenge he's making to this country next door to Russia, and that's something that's very hard to make rational arguments in the language of international affairs against.

And so, that makes it very difficult for Joe Biden to find some path to get Putin to walk down from right now.


AVLON: That's it. Thirty years after the fall of the Soviet Union, that is the backdrop to all of this.

David Sanger, Susan Glasser, nobody better. Thank you very much.

SANGER: Thank you.

AVLON: All right.

GLASSER: Thank you.

AVLON: Still ahead, chilling new details on the Denver shooting suspect. How he may have foreshadowed his murderous rampage.

COLLINS: But first, what are doctors seeing now that pediatric cases of COVID-19 are spiking. We're going to ask one of them, next.



AVLON: As the U.S. hits a new pandemic high of daily new cases, the number of children being admitted to the hospital is also climbing. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics says that COVID cases among children are extremely high again. It's almost near the peak we reached in September.

And joining us now is the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Lee Savio Beers. Doctor Beers, thank you very much for joining us.

I just want to get a look at the data here for folks because it really is pretty striking even though it's relatively early. In the week ending the 27th, there were 334 new pediatric hospital admissions due to COVID. The week prior, there were 212. That's a 58 percent increase in one week -- still, relatively small numbers given the nation but a very disturbing trend. How concerned are you about childhood hospitalizations, and are these serious trends that parents need to worry about?

DR. LEE SAVIO BEERS, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS (via Skype): Well, you know, yes. I thank you for this. And yes, we are quite concerned and I think there's a couple of important pieces here to point out.

First is that you are not necessarily seeing higher percentages of children being admitted to the hospital, but just this is quite a contagious variant. And so, we're seeing many more children being infected, which means many more are being admitted to the hospital.

I think the other thing that's really important to point out here is that -- is that being vaccinated protects you against most -- in most situations, against serious illness. And so, I think for families who have children who are eligible for the vaccine it's a really important time. If you have not yet gotten your child vaccinated, this is -- this is the time.

And for all of us, remember that there are still a lot of children under the age of five who aren't yet eligible to be vaccinated. And so, we can do our part by getting vaccinated and doing all the things we need to do to help keep them safe.

AVLON: Such important points here. First of all, we cannot say it enough -- get vaccinated.

Do you have any data or insight into the number of childhood hospitalizations that are among the unvaccinated? Is this the vast majority or are we seeing breakthrough cases among children who are vaccinated?

BEERS: Yes. You know, so we're still getting the data, but what we're hearing from hospitals really across the nation -- and this is very consistent -- is that the vast majority of the children who are being admitted are unvaccinated. There's small numbers who are vaccinated but the vast majority are unvaccinated. And so, being unvaccinated increases your risk for hospitalization significantly.

At my own hospital where I -- where I work and practice here in D.C. at Children's National, about half of our hospitalizations -- we're actually at an all-time peak for COVID hospitalizations and about half of them are children under five.

And so, again, I think it's just so important for us to remember that we're protecting ourselves but we're also protecting those little ones who aren't yet eligible for a vaccination.

AVLON: That is just heartbreaking and that puts parents and children under five in an almost impossible position. But it also raises the question of kids returning to school. That's set to happen next week. And a lot of the experts we've spoken to say look, we don't have as much evidence about the virus being passed in school as we do when kids are home, and on play dates, and the masks go out the window.


What's your take on whether communities should be looking at delaying in-person school or whether they should lean into it as a way of stopping the spread?

BEERS: Yes. You know, I think one thing that's really important for us to remember is that we have the tools. We know how to slow or decrease or stop the spread of COVID in schools.

We can -- going back to all the basics, making sure that children and adults in schools are wearing masks if you're over the age of two -- doing that universally. It definitely helps decrease the spread. Good handwashing, as parents and families really taking responsibility for not sending our kids to school if they're not feeling well. This is -- this is a time to err on the side of caution.

And so, there's lots of ways that we can help keep our kids in school safely and we know it is important for them to be there for in-person learning.

AVLON: All right. So we are saying go to school. Do not delay. Do not hit pause. That's important.

What do you have to say -- I mean, we know that folks who have children over five should get them vaccinated if they haven't been. If they're over 16, get them boosted. But what do you say to parents of children under five? What should they be doing given the extraordinary contagiousness of this new variant?

BEERS: Yes. I mean, I think first and most importantly, just -- I know it's hard and it's hard for parents of kids under five. I talk to a lot of them. I talk to a lot of pediatrician parents of children under five and it's this is hard because you're worried about your kids and you want to do everything you can to protect them.

And so, I think -- again, this is getting back to the basics. You know, wearing masks if your child is over the age of two. Avoiding -- you know, when you're in -- when you're in those high-risk situations, of course, when you're around lots of other people -- you know, avoiding really crowded indoor spaces. This is probably not the time to have big New Year's celebrations. You know, really dial things back.

And then, working with your -- with your community and the people around you to ask them to continue to do the things they can do to help keep your little ones safe.

AVLON: There's just nothing more important.

Dr. Lee Savio Beers, thank you very much. Happy New Year.

BEERS: Thank you -- you, too.

COLLINS: An organization located in a Montana Native American reservation is fighting to save the area's local species by fishing out invaders. It's today's Impact Your World. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CINDY BENSON, FISHERIES SPECIALIST, NATIVE FISH KEEPERS: Native species are disappearing everywhere -- in fish, in animals, in plants, in insects. We need to take a stand.

BARRY HANSEN, FISHERIES BIOLOGIST, NATIVE FISH KEEPERS: Our native trout have been in this system, Flathead Lake, in the river system for thousands of years. Lake trout have been in the lake for a little over 100 years and have created a very detrimental condition for the native trout.

BENSON: Tribes have named some places after bull trout, so it has a very significant cultural meaning. Bull trout in this lake and westslope cutthroat trout are just a fraction of the numbers that they once were. And if it isn't taken seriously now future generations aren't going to see these fish.

HANSEN: Native Fish Keepers -- our work is to restore the native trout. Tribal Fisheries' program runs a crew of about 16 tribal members.

Bull trout are more localized in particular areas and that helps us to target lake trout without having a significant impact on bull trout.

BENSON: We process the fish that are brought in and they are sold to distributors in a non-profit corporation.

This place is pretty special and we'd like to see it kept that way.


COLLINS: Just one week from the anniversary of the January sixth Capitol attack and there are still crucial questions about the coup that remain unanswered -- the coup attempt. We'll take a look, next.

AVLON: And later, former first lady Melania Trump stepping back into the public eye. That's next.



AVLON: We are exactly one week away from the first anniversary of the seditionist attack on our Capitol and the January 6 commission is already gearing up for a very busy 2022 with plans for public hearings and an initial report released as soon as the summer. But the clock is ticking and many crucial questions about this coup attempt remain unanswered.

Joining us now is CNN reporter Marshall Cohen, and CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig. It's good to see you both.

Let's talk through some of these crucial unanswered questions and let's start at the top. What did Trump know and when did he know it? Marshall, the committee is focused on getting answers about the ex-

president's intent and possible dereliction of duty by interviewing people Trump spoke to around that day. Tell us more about that.

MARSHALL COHEN, CNN REPORTER: It's a key question for them. They basically want to know why the heck was he sitting back watching this riot on T.V. and not really do anything to stop it for hours.

One of the ways that they want to answer that question is with call logs to figure out who he was talking to, like you mentioned. So they've asked the National Archives for those records and the Biden administration is poised to let them have it. It's stuck in court right now so we may not know for another few weeks the final resolution on that.

But those call logs matter because you've got to think about what we already know. We already know that he spoke with Kevin McCarthy, the top House Republican. And McCarthy told him -- pleaded with him to call off the mob.

Trump wouldn't do it. He only said so a few hours later in a video. But according to the House Democrats on the committee, that video that the Trump White House released was the sixth version of that 'please leave' video. And those previous five outtakes were so problematic that the Trump White House wouldn't even put it out? You better believe that the House Democrats on that committee want to see those tapes.

COLLINS: And, of course, in the one that they did put out he was telling them that he loved them and that they were very special.

Elie, we are learning more about something that was happening in another part of Washington that day at the Willard hotel -- these series of strategy sessions and meetings that were happening in the days leading up to January sixth. And so, what questions do you think the committee likely has about what was going on inside the hotel that day?


So we know that this Willard hotel war room was essentially mission control for the coup attempt outside the White House. We also know that the committee will be very focused on that war room. Representative Bennie Thompson, the chair of the committee, confirmed that to our Jim Acosta the other day.

What we know for sure is that group in the war room came up with this plan to have the vice president throw the election to Donald Trump by throwing out certain electoral votes. Thankfully, the vice president was not on board with that.

So many other questions, though. Who brought this group together? Whose idea was this? Who financed these guys? Did they have a plan B if the vice president didn't go along with it? And, of course, what was Donald Trump's contact with this group. Now, so far, the committee has run into a brick wall in trying to get

into the war room.

Steve Bannon was there. He, of course, defied the committee and he's now being prosecuted for contempt. John Eastman took the fifth. He's not talking.

Bernie Kerik was there. He said well, I'll cooperate. I'll just give you what I want. It doesn't work that way.

And that leaves Rudy Giuliani. So will the committee pursue Rudy Giuliani?


Will they follow up with subpoenas? They need to get to the bottom of that war room.

AVLON: No question about it.

And, Elie, sticking with you, that's not the only crew of Trump flunkies who are being investigated for possibly aiding the insurrection. The committee seemingly turned its focus towards other members of Congress.

Where could this particular line of inquiry be heading?

HONIG: Yes, they need to know if this threat came from inside the House, so to speak. There have been accusations by members of Congress. There has been speculation about whether members of Congress were part of the planning or coordination. But, really, very little in terms of hard evidence to prove that.

Now, the committee has started to ask questions of some members of Congress -- of some of its own colleagues. Scott Perry and Jim Jordan, just within the last week, they've both said they're not interested in cooperating. Will the committee follow up with subpoenas and potentially contempt?

And a big question here is how about Kevin McCarthy? We know Kevin McCarthy had a key conversation with Donald Trump on January sixth. The committee has not formally approached Kevin McCarthy yet. You wonder if maybe they're a little trigger shy because they can do the math and figure out that a year from now he might well be the speaker.

But the committee needs to look inside Congress as well.

COLLINS: And Marshall, a lot of attention has been on something that Steve Bannon said on his radio show the day before January sixth and I want to just remind everyone what it was.


STEVE BANNON, PODCAST HOST, "BANNON'S WAR ROOM": All hell is going to break loose tomorrow. Just understand this. All hell is going to break loose tomorrow. It's not going to happen like you think it's going to happen, OK? It's

going to be quite extraordinarily different.

And all I can say is strap in. The war room, a posse. You have made this happen and tomorrow it's game day. So, strap in.


COLLINS: Game day was one name for it. And, of course, it was the next morning Trump held that rally on the Ellipse. He called for people to march to the Capitol and implicated that he -- or insinuated that he was going to go with them. Of course, he did not. He ended up returning to the White House.

And so, I guess the question of who had knowledge of the plans to actually storm the Capitol is obviously at the center of this.

COHEN: That's the paramount question. If the House committee could somehow link Trump or the Trump White House to that storming of the Capitol directly, that would be the holy grail for them, probably. But they are not there.

And to be clear, basically, one year after this attack the Justice Department has never accused Donald Trump or any of his allies of knowing of plans for violence in D.C.

The people that they have accused of having those kinds of plans are a few dozen members of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers -- those far- right extremist groups. But if you look closely at the indictments against those people -- those are conspiracy indictments -- they're not always accused of having explicit plans to breach the Capitol Building.

They are accused of having plans to violently disrupt Congress or have street battles in Washington, D.C. But the details really matter. More investigation is warranted there.

And Trump -- I should point out a few Trump allies, like Roger Stone, Michael Flynn -- they have connections to those far-right groups but they deny knowing of any plans to go inside the Capitol.

AVLON: Well, Elie, look, there are a lot of other open questions the committee is looking into, like the sources of funding for the Stop the Steal rallies, the role of the Trump allies who'd been placed in new administration positions just weeks before the attack, and why it took the National Guard so long to deploy.

But perhaps the biggest question in the search for accountability lies outside the committee's purview. It's a question of what we might see Merrick Garland and the Justice Department actually do in the months ahead.

What's your take?

HONIG: Yes, John. The Justice Department has an awful lot of work ahead of it. Where is the Justice Department in all of this? Immediately, we know they're prosecuting Steve Bannon for contempt. We know they're considering contempt charges for Mark Meadows. Keep that in mind.

But bigger picture -- ultimately, all Congress and the committee can do here -- it's really important -- they can hold hearings, they can issue reports, they can make factual findings, but that's it. In terms of concrete consequences and punishment, that's going to go up the block to DOJ.

Now, we know that Congress is going -- is going to be aggressive in pursuing hearings. But where is DOJ in all of this? We know DOJ has prosecuted over 700 people but these are ground-level people. These are the people who physically stormed the Capitol.

Does DOJ have any interest, any political will, any prosecutorial will in looking higher up the chain? Merrick Garland said they would but there's zero public indication right now that DOJ is meaningfully investigating people at the higher levels of organizations. So there's going to be a lot of pressure on DOJ to take up that kind of investigation in the coming year.

AVLON: We've gotten a lot more information in the past year. We've got more information coming from these investigations. But accountability -- that's really the key point.

Marshall Cohen, Elie Honig thank you very much for all you do and Happy New Year.

HONIG: Thanks, both of you.

COLLINS: And NEW DAY continues right now.