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White House: Biden Urges Putin To De-Escalate Tensions With Ukraine; D.C. Requiring Negative Virus Test Before Students Return To Class; New York City Ready For Scaled Back New Year's Eve Celebration. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired December 31, 2021 - 07:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[07:30:00]

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Joining us now to talk about this is CNN national security commentator and former House Intelligence chairman, Mike Rogers. Also with us, Jill Dougherty, former CNN Moscow bureau chief and a global fellow with the Woodrow Wilson Center.

So, Mike, I just want to start with you on what your takeaway is from this call -- a second call happening in a pretty short period of the last phone call that Biden and Putin had.

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR, (R) FORMER HOUSE INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN (via Skype): Yes. I think this is Putin trying to take the pulse of where the United States is, where the Biden administration is, where he thinks that NATO will be in this whole equation.

And right now, Putin is going through his checklist about what he can tolerate with economic sanctions versus what he can get out of some military action in Ukraine.

And remember, he's had a good run here. Back in -- he did military action in this country of Georgia. He still owns two provinces there, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. He has Crimea. He's still been disruptive in the west part of Ukraine. He has a new shock troop on the battlefield called cyberattacks and disruption.

All of that plays in the favor, in his mind, in the decisions he's going to make here in the days or weeks.

JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: Jill, help us get inside Putin's head here because he knows that the U.S. is not going to get militarily involved directly should he invade Ukraine, so new levels of sanctions are the card to play. So when he says it would be a colossal mistake if Biden and co were to put a significant new round of sanctions in place, why does he think that's a strong card to play? It's the only card there is.

JILL DOUGHERTY, GLOBAL FELLOW, WOODROW WILSON CENTER, EVANS SCHOOL, UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON, FORMER CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF (via Skype): It is, but the president -- President Putin has been talking a lot about China recently. And I do think that this kind of plays into it -- that they feel -- you know, there's no definition of what this colossal mistake would mean by cutting off relations. But I think Putin, in a way, is saying well, we could rely more on China economically and militarily, et cetera. Our coordination with China could increase.

But I think right now, this is really just Putin's hard bargaining. He's saying I'm serious about this. Where his bottom line is, I think it basically is don't expand NATO. Don't come into my neighborhood. Don't let Ukraine, certainly, get into NATO. And don't bring any type of weapons that threaten Russia close to our border. I think that's really the bottom line for him.

COLLINS: Yes. And, of course, those are big questions. Ukraine desperately wants membership in NATO.

Mike, I do want to ask you about something that the U.S. government has been pretty candid about, which is flying these spy planes over Ukraine -- something that they publicly acknowledged though they don't often comment on something like that. But you kind of say that they wanted everyone to know that the United States was making these kinds of flights. The Russians probably already knew that.

But why do they want that information out there?

ROGERS: Well, they have a problem now and any spy mission or spy plane that the government is talking about is not -- no longer a spy mission; it's an advertising mission. And that's exactly what they're -- what they're trying to do is say hey, we're here.

And what's really important about that aircraft is people call it a surveillance aircraft. It is, but it is also a targeting aircraft, meaning -- and it's -- and by the way, the Russians know this. So, they know that aircraft has the capability of targeting and sending that information back to weapons systems that NATO would own -- not so much Ukraine, but in some areas -- that could target Russian troops coming across the border. So, that's a really clear message to them.

And listen, the Baltic States are absolutely -- panicked is the wrong word but they are highly concerned that they are going to get negotiated away in whatever happens next. They're worried that the U.S., with the rest of Europe, is going to give up too much that would allow the Baltics to be -- feel less safe.

And so, all of that's going on. And so, when they announce that kind of plan -- they're talking to the Baltics, they're talking to our NATO allies -- they're also telling the Russians hey, we're serious about this.

DOUGHERTY: Sure.

ROGERS: I really wish they would --

DOUGHERTY: True.

ROGERS: -- kind of give those weapon systems that Ukraine is asking for to protect themselves now versus waiting until the action begins, but I think that would send a very clear message to Putin as well. We just haven't quite gotten there yet. I hope that happens.

AVLON: Jill, given that Putin seems to be testing the Biden administration's resolve, do you think that Biden is being tough enough to get Putin's attention and adjust his calculus?

DOUGHERTY: You know, I think, actually, I do. I think he's balancing it, saying look, we are ready for negotiations. We are ready for diplomacy. But if there's no diplomacy -- if you do not want to have diplomacy then we have other things that we can do. And, of course, we'll respond decisively is the phrase that they're using.

[07:35:00]

But I think -- you know, a lot of this -- as Mike mentioned, Russia knows a lot about this. They already know the position and they put out their own position of what -- their demands.

So what this is is the prelude to these talks --

AVLON: Yes.

DOUGHERTY: -- that will be taking place and they're important. It will be coming up on the 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th of January, not led by the presidents but led by senior officials who are going to start figuring this out. Is there a way to reorganize security in Europe? Can the United States give something to Russia?

Could Russia give something to the United States, namely de-escalate. And I think that's the hardest thing right now. The United States -- the Biden administration is saying we want de-escalation -- otherwise, those talks aren't going to work. And de-escalation could mean taking troops out. It's going to be almost impossible for Putin to step down publicly, especially in front of his own Russians -- Russian voters.

COLLINS: Yes. We'll be waiting to see what steps he does take. Of course, the White House is watching this very closely.

Mike and Jill, thank you both for joining us, and we hope you both have a great new year.

AVLON: Happy New Year.

DOUGHERTY: Thanks.

ROGERS: Thanks. Same to you.

AVLON: All right.

Up next, the scramble to get required COVID tests for schoolkids in Washington, D.C.

COLLINS: And the saga over the murder of George Floyd is far from over. We'll look at that and other cases that you should watch in the new year.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [07:40:49]

AVLON: A last-minute scramble for COVID tests in Washington, D.C. as schools are requiring students to provide proof of negative testing before returning to class. Students who fail to upload their results will not be allowed to attend school until they've done it.

CNN's Gabe Cohen joins us now. Gabe, how's this all supposed to work with so many students and so little time?

GABE COHEN, CNN REPORTER: Well, John, that's a great question.

So, the message from the mayor of D.C. this morning is that without a negative rapid test, students and staff are not going to be allowed back in the classroom when school resumes on Wednesday. So, right now, they're distributing as many as 100,000 of these tests to schools across the city.

And the timeline for parents to get this done -- it's going to be pretty tight. So, on Monday and Tuesday, they're going to be able to go down to their kids' school and pick up one of those tests. And then the student needs to actually take the test on Tuesday, within 24 hours of heading back to school. And parents need to upload those results by 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday. If they don't hit that deadline -- well, their child could get turned away Wednesday morning.

Of course, this comes amid this surge, not just nationally but here in D.C. It has been particularly bad with the caseload of hospitalizations spiking right now.

Here's how the mayor explained the decision on CNN yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR MURIEL BOWSER (D), DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: We want to put ourselves in the best position to keep our -- to reopen our schools for winter and keep them open. And the way to do that is to ensure that every child and every adult that enters the building next week can produce a negative COVID test within 24 hours.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COHEN: Now, D.C. isn't the only district that's putting new testing rules. In Los Angeles, students won't need a negative test on day one, but they will need one within their first week back in school. In Baltimore, they're requiring all staff, much like D.C., to be tested ahead of their first day on Wednesday.

And then, in New York -- well, right now, they're distributing millions of tests to get them in the hands of students. And they're launching a huge new Test-to-Stay program, the idea being if there's an exposure in a classroom they don't have to quarantine every student. They can test them and those who are negative can stay in school.

This is part of a huge push from school districts and from the CDC to keep classrooms open, saying by testing, you can do that safely. Although, there are plenty of health experts who are pushing schools to at least consider pushing back their reopening date for January a couple of weeks or perhaps even go virtual. Some schools have chosen to done -- to do that -- guys.

AVLON: Well, even among this stage of the wave it's good to see this mass mobilization of COVID test kits, finally.

Gabe Cohen, thank you very much, and Happy New Year.

COLLINS: The New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square tonight is going forward but it's going to be scaled back, according to the mayor's office. Usually, about 58,000 people gather there but this year it's going to be capped at 15,000. Anyone who wants to be there will have to wear a mask and show that you're fully vaccinated.

Some say it's a welcome change, still, from last year when no crowds were allowed and everybody else was watching from home.

Joining us now is the president of the Times Square Alliance, Tom Harris.

So, Tom, obviously, we are going to see a change this year -- a little bit closer to normal, though not fully there. So what can people expect to see in Times Square when that ball is going to drop?

TOM HARRIS, PRESIDENT, TIMES SQUARE ALLIANCE (via Skype): Good morning, Kaitlan. Good morning, John.

AVLON: Good morning.

HARRIS: Thanks for having me.

People can expect to see fully vaccinated, masked revelers in Times Squares in less-filled viewing areas. And it's going to be a great experience for those who are in Times Square, and it's also going to be a great experience for those who can watch the events at home on your show with Anderson and Andy, or on our website at tsq.org. So we're really expecting a real festive atmosphere in Times Square. It's going to be a great night.

AVLON: Look, this is the busiest day of your year and there is no question that people across the country, even in the different time zones, watch the ball drop in Times Square. It is nationally and internationally symbolic.

[07:45:03]

But obviously, the calculation that's being made is that this won't turn into what Dr. Jonathan Reiner just told us he's concerned about, which is a super-spreader event.

Why are you feeling confident that prediction won't come true?

HARRIS: So, we've listened to our medical experts. Your medical expert, Dr. Wen, I think has said that there's a safe way to do it and we have to find ways to have fun.

New York is open. Our schools are open, our bars are open. Our restaurants, our hotels, our theaters, and our sports venues are open. This is an outdoor event for fully-vaccinated, masked individuals and the medical experts think that that's the responsible way to do it. So we're very comfortable.

COLLINS: And does this also have to do with a part of I guess what we've also heard from other health experts, which is that this is a pandemic now and it could potentially become an endemic, and it's kind of learning to live with it. Because we are in a different situation than we were last New Year's Eve where you did not see a majority of people vaccinated. Very few people had gotten the shot at that point. And so, now we are seeing it a lot differently.

New York, of course, is much more vaccinated than a lot of other places that are considering how to hold their celebrations or scaling them back even more.

HARRIS: Yes, that's a great point. COVID is here for a while. We need to find ways to live with COVID in a safe, responsible way and get on with our lives. Listen to the medical experts. But the data and science drive the decisions and the scientists and medical experts think having an outdoor event for fully vaccinated people in a less dense environment and having them masked is a safe and responsible way to do it.

AVLON: Look, striking that balance --

HARRIS: And for those who don't feel comfortable, we certainly recognize that some people aren't ready to do that. But for those people who are --

AVLON: Yes.

HARRIS: -- ready to stop dreaming and start living, they could do it in Times Square. And for other people, they can watch from the safety and comfort of their home on your show -- your great show, on our website at tsq.org. There are lots of options.

AVLON: I appreciate that. And yes, certainly, everyone who is going there is choosing.

Listen, it's a big night. It's a big night for New York, for Times Square, for the new mayor Eric Adams, who is getting -- taking the oath of office just after midnight, and for the nation and the world.

Tom Harris, the eyes of the world are on Times Square. Thank you very much for joining us. Happy New Year.

HARRIS: Thanks for having me. Happy New Year.

AVLON: All right.

OK, singer-songwriters James Taylor and Carole King's 50-year personal friendship and professional partnership have had a truly remarkable impact on American music and American culture.

And now, check out this exclusive joint interview recorded for the new CNN film "CAROLE KING & JAMES TAYLOR: JUST CALL OUT MY NAME" where Carole King recalls how Sweet Baby James played an instrumental role in launching her career as a singer. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CAROLE KING, SINGER-SONGWRITER: I was your sideman and that's all I ever wanted to be. And then you said to me I want you to go on stage tonight and sing your song. Whoa, wait, what, what? No, no, I can't do it. No, you're going to do it.

JAMES TAYLOR, SINGER-SONGWRITER: Yes.

KING: No, don't worry. And you gave me the loveliest introduction and it might have been -- I could be wrong. It might have been in Queens College, which I went to.

TAYLOR: I seem to remember that it was at Queens College.

KING: Yes, and you said OK, everybody, I'm going to turn the stage over to Carole King. You all know her as a songwriter. She wrote blah, blah, blah, and he listed the whole thing. And what he did was he made me preloved because everybody knew all those songs.

TAYLOR: Yes.

KING: And I started singing and I just -- I wrote about this in my book. Like, it's hard to -- but I'm like "When this old world starts getting me down" and I start playing and I'm terrified. And I start feeling the love. And by the time I got to "On the roof, it's" -- well, let me tell -- and you --

TAYLOR: Yes, yes.

KING: -- made me do that --

TAYLOR: Yes.

KING: -- and I will always be grateful for your love, your support, and shoving the kid out of the nest.

TAYLOR: Right.

KING: And I watched you on stage and you were yourself. However you were, you were authentically you and you loved being up there and you played the music. And your level of consciousness varied but you were always present for that. And I watched you just be yourself and I was like oh, that's what you do. So, thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

AVLON: What a cool story. The power of a friendship and support to help people grow. That's what it's all about. Be sure to tune in. The all-new CNN film "CAROLE KING & JAMES TAYLOR: JUST CALL OUT MY NAME" premiering Sunday night, 9:00 Eastern and Pacific, only on CNN.

Up ahead, our coverage continues of this massive wildfire in Colorado that destroyed hundreds of homes. Governor Polis declaring a state of emergency. We are live on the ground in Denver with the latest.

[07:50:08]

COLLINS: And the future of abortion rights in America hangs in the balance as 2022 begins. We have more on that and other legal cases that will be critical to watch in the new year.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:55:00]

AVLON: Twenty twenty-one is coming to a close with several high- profile legal cases that we have covered closely closing themselves. So, what is on deck for 2022?

Joining us now, CNN senior legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Elie Honig with his top five legal stories to follow in the new year. Elie, what you got?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, John, first of all, the case against the former Minneapolis police officers for the murder of George Floyd is not over yet. The biggest single moment of 2021 in legal news was the trial of Derek Chauvin. Derek Chauvin, of course, was convicted by a jury in Minneapolis for the murder of George Floyd, and then he pled guilty to federal charges. He's now going to be behind bars for the next two decades or so.

But the trial of the other three officers is right around the corner. The federal trial for deprivation of George Floyd's civil rights starts in just a few weeks in January, followed immediately by the state trial.

John, there's real risk here for both sides. This is going to be a trickier trial for prosecutors and these three defendants have to be at two different trials, which is extraordinarily hard to do. We could see plea talks. If so, they're going to have to happen soon because these trials are right around the corner.

COLLINS: Yes, they are right around the corner.

But we also this series of ongoing Justice Department investigations, so what should we be looking for as we approach the new year?

HONIG: Yes, Kaitlan, three very high-profile DOJ investigations with potential political ramifications.

Matt Gaetz, the congressman from Florida, under investigation for potential sex trafficking crimes. We know they flipped his associate Joel Greenberg but that was seven months ago. We've not really heard anything since then.

Hunter Biden announced during 2021 that he was under investigation for potential tax fraud crimes in Delaware. If he's charged, that will create an unprecedented situation. Imagine the son of the sitting president being prosecuted by DOJ.

And finally, Rudy Giuliani under investigation by his own former office and my former office, the Southern District of New York, for potential foreign lobbying violations. They did a search warrant on Rudy but, again, that was eight months ago. We haven't heard anything since.

These are three major shoes will be waiting to see if they drop in 2022.

AVLON: We will be looking to see if those shoes drop, indeed.

Number three: we've got former President Donald Trump and his legal troubles. What's the deal?

HONIG: Yes, John, it is time for New York prosecutors, the A.G., and the D.A. to fish or cut bait on this one. They've been dragging this case out for three years. They've indicted the Trump Org. No one goes to jail for that. They indicted an executive on a tax fraud scheme.

They're now reportedly shifting their focus over to this valuation question -- how did the Trump Organization value its assets. Ultimately, though, there's been a lot of talk out of New York State prosecutors on this case, but very little action. We don't -- you never know what prosecutors have behind closed doors but there's no specific indication at this point that they have a case against Donald Trump himself.

Worth noting, there's a new district attorney in Manhattan taking office this week. He will inherit this case and it will be up to him to decide where it ultimately goes.

COLLINS: That's quite something to inherit when you've just taken a new job, but we'll see how that plays out.

And Elie, at number two, we do have a major case coming down from the Supreme Court.

HONIG: Yes, Kaitlan. This will redefine abortion rights in the United States. This involves a Mississippi law that essentially makes it impossible for a woman to get an abortion in that state, directly contrary to Roe versus Wade, which has been on the books since 1973.

Now, this case was argued to the Supreme Court earlier in December. I listened to that argument. Now, remember, it's a 6-3 conservative majority on the court right now. From listening to the argument it sounds like at least five of the conservative justices do want to uphold that Mississippi law. The question is will they outright strike down Roe versus Wade or will they find some softer middle ground to land in? This is going to redefine the landscape of abortion rights, Kaitlan.

Enormous consequences here. They'll decide this by the end of the term, which is in June of 2022.

AVLON: High stakes. We'll see if stare decisis means anything, actually.

Finally, Elie, number one. What is your number one legal story to watch in 2022?

HONIG: Of course, it is the ongoing investigation of January sixth. There's so many tentacles here.

We've got civil suits. We've got the pending prosecution of Steve Bannon. We've got other potential prosecutions of Mark Meadows and other witnesses. We've got DOJ bringing 700-plus cases against the rioters.

We are going to see public hearings this year from the committee. We are going to get their final report this year from the committee.

The biggest single question to me though in all of this, John and Kaitlan, is where is Merrick Garland? Where is the Justice Department when it comes to the real power players? To Donald Trump and the other people who were behind the efforts to steal the election, behind the efforts to obstruct Congress's counting of the electoral votes, and potentially, behind the January sixth riot itself.

That, to me, is the single biggest question as we head in 2022. Where is Merrick Garland and where is the Justice Department?

COLLINS: Well -- and Elie, quickly before we let you go, I think that is a big question because we're coming up on that one-year anniversary. We're less than a week away and we haven't really heard a lot from them. So what do you expect? Should people actually be expecting something from the attorney general on this?

HONIG: I've not seen much from Merrick Garland that leads me to believe he's looking at Donald Trump in any serious way.