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State Department Warns of Increased Russian Strikes against Ukraine; NASA: Artemis is a "Go" For Lunch, Aiming For Next Monday; New Conservative Group Received $1.6 Billion from Single Donor; Pfizer Seeks FDA Authorization for Updated COVID-19 Booster. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired August 23, 2022 - 07:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right this morning, U.S. intelligence agencies are warning Russia could launch attacks in Ukraine as the country prepares to mark its independence day tomorrow. The State Department now is warning U.S. civilians to leave the country saying they have "information that Russia is stepping up efforts to launch strikes against Ukraine civilian infrastructure and government facilities in the coming days."

Joining us now is Reena Ninan, Veteran Foreign Affairs Correspondent, a former anchor at ABC and CBS News. Look, this is a war that's been going on for seven months. Obviously, it's been a rough place to travel for that long. This is the type of warning from the State Department we haven't seen in a while. There seems to be very specific, heightened concern for the situation today.

REENA NINAN, FORMER ANCHOR, ABC NEWS AND CBS NEWS: Absolutely. And I think the big focus is looking at civilian infrastructures, what the U.S. government has said they're concerned about that government institutions that could be targeted. But as you mentioned in the intro, we knew this week was already on high alert. President Zelenskyy in a video message told the public we're going to tamp down, we're not going to celebrate Independence Day the way we usually do. We're going to not allow public gatherings.

And so there clearly is credible concern and threat that something could happen. In the meantime, we've heard the Ukrainians announced that there's been shelling around -- there's two different civilian nuclear power plant facilities in the area. There have been rocketing and shelling and artillery fire around that as well. That's been a huge concern. You know sometimes, how we've seen this go from like zero to thousand very quickly. Putin had agreed to maybe possibly let the IAEA come in to inspect some of these nuclear facilities. Putin is not always right on his word. When he says he's going to do that. There was a glimmer of hope that maybe they might come in. We just don't know.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: What do you make of the ceremony they had yesterday, honoring Daria Dugina, who is the daughter of this influential writer that was killed in this car bombing? Her father made some very chilling, notable comments saying that the answer to this is not just revenge, it's retribution. And talking about how there needs to be victory for Russia, following the death of his daughter.

NINAN: Victory was a word he kept saying over and over again, over and over again. I was trying to understand this group, this ultra- nationalist group and what is it that they want exactly. I spoke to a Russian expert has been advising the White House and what this source told me was, what they want is nothing short of literally having the Ukrainians nuked. They believe that Putin didn't go far enough in Crimea in 2014. That there needs to be more aggressive action that they need to take way more, in fact the whole country is really what they want. And the fact that she is now a martyr is essentially she's the face of why there needs to be more aggressive action for this particular --


BERMAN: Look, the greater Russia that Russian national group wants, by definition includes Ukraine, that is what they are most upset --

NINAN: And beyond.

BERMAN: And beyond. What they're most afraid of losing. I do think all of this tension only adds to this atmosphere of increased concern that we are clearly seeing from the U.S., which is why I think people need to pay attention to that warning.

I want to ask you about one of the threads of interesting news, which is now hearing from U.S. officials that the Iran Nuclear Deal is closer than it was two weeks ago.

NINAN: You know, we heard from the State Department yesterday that the closer than it was is because there was this one big hang up that Iran's elite military, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, they had asked to be removed from a terror watch list, you know, being on that list, which affects their financing, it affects everything. And Secretary Blinken said no, you know, this is a separate issue. They're separate things you got to do to get that, that's not tied to this Iranian Nuclear Deal.

So it appears that the Iranians back down and said, OK, you know, we'll move on from that. What they were able to get, it seems an exchange is what they don't want to happen is what happened with President Trump in 2018, when he was able to remove the entire country from this deal, right? This is not a legal binding deal. It never was, it's political.

So Biden can offer that and say this, no matter who comes in next, this will stick with this deal, he can offer that. So in exchange, there will be heavy fines that the U.S. government will have to pay if they remove themselves. You know, the country that really does not like this deal, and has been very vocal, I spent time in the Middle East. And as the Obama administration was negotiating this, the Israelis, they don't like this deal. They feel like all this does is buy time. Israel's national security adviser is in Washington this week to meet and talk about this. But they've never been happy because they feel like this isn't going to solve that problem. They'll eventually have the nuclear ability to create a bomb.

COLLINS: And they said that very clearly when President Biden was there in Israel visiting not too long ago. Quickly before we let you go, are you surprised that they've gotten this close? Because it seems like even administration officials are surprised that they're close to potentially to potentially securing this deal?

NINAN: You know, that window of when they weren't participating and being monitored. They're now at 60%. You need 90% of enriched uranium to be able to create a nuclear bomb. And the Israelis have said, we're not going to let that happen. And if you look at the history of the Israelis, they have had no problem bombing nuclear facilities from Iraq to Syria when they feel that they're getting close to achieving some sort of threshold.

BERMAN: Reena Ninan, great to see you this morning. Thank you very much.

NINAN: Thank you, absolutely.

COLLINS: Thank you.

BERMAN: So all systems go, the Artemis lunar mission given the green light.

COLLINS: And a new conservative group just received $1.6 billion from just one little known donor. CNN investigates where that money came from.


ROBERT MAGUIRE, RESEARCH DIRECTOR, CREW: We are talking about income that is many multiples larger than the largest dark money groups ever found.




COLLINS: This morning, NASA says its Artemis 1 mission is a go for launch next week. The massive rocket known as the Space Launch System will send a capsule with no crew on an excursion around the moon. CNN's Kristin Fisher joins me now. And Kristin, this seems like a make or break moment really.

KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: It really is Kaitlan. And last night NASA held its flight readiness review for the Artemis 1 launch, which is when everybody involved in the launch gets together and determines whether or not this rocket is ready to fly. And by unanimous consent last night, NASA determined that all systems are ready for launch one week from yesterday, next Monday.

So it's looking very good. Weather's always a little bit of a variable there. But the other thing is, you know, NASA is really trying to manage expectations here. They're reminding people that you know, hey, this is only a test flight. It's the first time this rocket has ever flown. It's also NASA's first human grade rocket since the space shuttle which retired more than a decade ago. And it's the first time in about 50 years that NASA has had a rocket on the launch pad that's designed to take astronauts all the way to the moon. Here is NASA's Associate Administrator Bob Cabana speaking just moments after that flight readiness review concluded last night.


BOB CABANA, NASA ASSOCIATE ADMINISTRATOR: To actually be part of seeing SLS Artemis 1 out there on the pad, launching us, returning us back to the moon and eventually on to Mars. You know, I'm a product to the Apollo generation in liquid it did for us and I cannot wait to see what comes from the Artemis generation because I think it's going to inspire even more than Apollo did. It's going to be absolutely outstanding.


FISHER: So in Greek mythology, Artemis is the twin sister of Apollo. There's a little Greek mythology lesson for you this morning. And so, you know, NASA really sees this as a continuation of the Apollo program with a few key differences. This time they want to land the first woman on the moon. This time, they want to leave a lot more than just flags and footprints. They want to actually build a lunar base along with its many international partners, and this time instead of Russia sort of nipping at its toes this time, its big competitor, it's China. John and Kaitlan.

BERMAN: And it's just playing cool on top of -- on top of everything else, the idea of going to the moon just playing cool.

COLLINS: It is. Kristin Fisher, thank you.

BERMAN: As they say in astrophysics.



BERMAN: Would you have a CNN investigation this morning, a new conservative group received $1.6 billion from just one donor. This is the largest single contribution to a politically focused nonprofit that has ever been made public. So where exactly did this money come from? CNN's Drew Griffin joins us now. Drew, this amount of money is just eye popping.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: And John, this massive dark money donation that has the power really to change the political landscape in this country was never meant to be made public but for one tax document. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN: This IRS document obtained by CNN is evidence of the largest anonymous dark money political donation ever reported. $1.6 billion, it is according to experts a staggering amount.

MAGUIRE: I am just stunned. We are talking about income that is many multiples larger than the largest dark money groups ever found.

GRIFFIN: And it's going to a new organization called Marble Freedom Trust. While you've probably never heard of it, or the man in charge of it, the whole country is familiar with his work. His name is Leonard Leo, a devout Catholic known as Donald Trump's Supreme Court whisperer.

LEONARD LEO, CO-CHAIRMAN, FEDERALIST SOCIETY: There are lots of really smart people, Margaret, who can serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, dozens and dozens, but you need people who have courage.

GRIFFIN: Leo helped usher in the most conservative Supreme Court in decades, along with helping block Merrick Garland from the court. He and his colleagues at the Federalist Society are given credit for the confirmations of Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.

MAGUIRE: It was Leo who is in the driver's seat of those nominations. Leo is the person who can raise the money and has the background to put in place judges who will build a conservative judicial infrastructure around the country.

GRIFFIN: Leonard Leo now has an unprecedented amount of cash to spend on whatever political projects he likes. And while the donation was meant to be kept secret, name and address withheld on the IRS Form. CNN has confirmed the sources 90 year old businessman and philanthropist Barre Seid who donated the stock of his entire company, the Tripp-Lite Company of Chicago to Marble Freedom Trust, which turned around and sold it for $1.6 billion.

CNN has attempted to reach Mr. Seid without response. His donation will leave behind a dark money political legacy that could last decades. Already, Marble Freedom Trust has given more than $200 million to other causes, including 40 million to Donors Trust, which is doled out millions to conservative causes.

In a statement to CNN, Leonard Leo said, it's high time for the conservative movement to be among the ranks of George Soros and other left wing philanthropists going toe-to-toe in the fight to defend our Constitution and its ideals.


GRIFFIN: And the real kicker here is our tax experts tell us this was all done tax free, a $1.6 billion electronics device company on the Southside of Chicago changes hands twice, ends up being owned by an Irish conglomerate, a one and then you have billion 6 dollars in the coffers of this conservative political operative guys, and no capital gains tax paid. Money and politics. John, Kaitlan. BERMAN: Money and politics, and tax free. Yes. Wow, a lot going on there. Drew Griffin, thank you so much for that report.

COLLINS: And just in to CNN, billionaire Elon Musk is reacting to the exclusive CNN reporting this morning on a whistleblower saying that Twitter poses a threat to national security and democracy.

BERMAN: Pfizer now seeking authorization for an updated COVID Booster. Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us with the new data, next.



BERMAN: Pfizer has submitted its application to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency authorization of its new COVID booster for people aged 12 and older. The updated formulation will combine the original vaccine with one that targets the Omicron variant. With us now, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. All right, Sanjay, so what does this mean for if and when, we're going to get a hold of this?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, as we've heard so many times over the past couple of years now, we do have to see how the FDA sort of weighs in on this. We've been hearing from the drug company, Pfizer, primarily. Also Moderna is going to be putting out their data for their bivalent shot as well. So what this basically means is these new shots we're talking about would be protective against the original strain. That's one of the components. And the other component is very specific to these new variants, these new Omicron variants specifically. So that's what the bivalent strain is.

We've heard from the White House that they expect that possibly these could be rolled out middle of next month, middle of September. So we'll see. But it does, again, depend on what the FDA says and we're talking about Pfizer specifically. But Moderna, potentially not that far behind.

I can tell you, I've visited these plants. I was at the Pfizer plant, even going back to some of the original variants. They were -- they've been working on bivalent vaccines for other variants in the past as well. It turns out, we didn't really need them because your original vaccine held up so well. So we'll see how much more of an improvement this new bivalent vaccine has and what the FDA says about it.

COLLINS: And Sanjay, if there's anything that you and I have bonded over, over these last three years, it is data. And so when it comes to this, how promising is the data so far?

GUPTA: What -- Kaitlan, when they look at the sort of data and they're doing it rapidly, they're trying to determine, does the new vaccine, this new bivalent, does it generate the same sort of neutralizing antibodies as previous vaccines? And does it generate those antibodies against the new variants? So that's the sort of data they're looking at. [07:55:09]

Ultimately, the sort of data that everybody wants is to say, hey, how does this do in real world population? So when you give it to 10s, of 1000s, hundreds of 1000s of people, how is it holding up? Well, that data will be, that will take longer to sort of accrue. But the FDA, as they've done in the past, may say, you know, what, we know this vaccine, it generates similar neutralizing antibodies, as we've seen in the past, we're going to go ahead and authorize it, given what's happening potentially this fall, and how much of these new variants are generating, you know, the new cases.

BERMAN: I do have to say, a relationship built on data is a very solid foundation. So I expect good things for both --

COLLINS: Maybe some Rosae in there. But, yes --

BERMAN: That's right, most getting data. Sanjay, who's going to be eligible for the booster?

GUPTA: Data always goes better with Rosae, you have to say.

BERMAN: You had a chaser (ph).

COLLINS: Fully agree.

BERMAN: Who's eligible, Sanjay, for the new booster and when?

GUPTA: So this sometimes is confusing for people. But if you look at the current recommendations for boosters, people over the age of five, keep in mind, now that you have the data for people that young, one booster, that's current recommendation, people age 50, and over, two boosters, unless you have some sort of immunocompromised, and so people who are 12 and older, who have weakened immune systems could be eligible for two boosters, what may change, and again, this is all potential, we're just basing this so far. And what we've heard from the companies, not the FDA, is that basically it would be anybody over the age of 12, regardless of the immune status, could be eligible for the second booster as well. So we'll see, I want to keep prefacing it with that, because we're just hearing from the companies themselves at this point, we'll see what the FDA says. But Ashish Jha, and others from the White House have said that they anticipate again middle of next month, the second booster could be available.

COLLINS: And also, Sanjay, before we let you go, Dr. Fauci has announced he is leaving government, his role with the Biden administration as the Chief Adviser, but also this larger role that he had in government that spans decades. And it's not that surprising. We knew it was coming. But now that he has made it official, what's your reaction?

GUPTA: Yeah, I feel the same way. I mean, you know, I think that we knew this was coming. I think, you know, my reaction is, he has had some 40 years of experience in this job. I think that's no matter what, that's really hard to replace that knowledge, the nuances that he has gained over time, the ability to sort of navigate through all these various infectious diseases, people got to know him around the world during COVID. But she talked about Zika and Ebola, and even going back to Anthrax days.

One of the first interviews I did at CNN 20 years ago, was with Dr. Fauci. And at that point, he told me, what keeps him up at night was a respiratory virus that starts to widely circulate around the world. And, you know, 20 years later, he was in the middle of COVID. I also, you know, had a chance to interview him last year for a longer documentary series. And I asked him about some of his greatest sort of triumphs, how he looked at things. Listen to what he said.


GUPTA: Was there are a moment, Dr. Fauci, when you said, OK, this is the big one?


BERMAN: 40% increase in New York hospitals in just 24 hours, that's a big numbers.

FAUCI: When I saw what happened in New York City.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Refrigerated trucks are now being mobilized as makeshift works.

FAUCI: Almost overrunning of our health care system. It was like, oh, my goodness. And that's when it became very clear that the decision we made on January the 10th, to go all out and develop a vaccine --

We have a number of vaccine candidates.

May have been the best decision that I've ever made with regard to an intervention as the director of the institute.


GUPTA: It is worth, reminding again, he's 81 years old. I think people forget that some 40 years that he's worked in this job, seven presidents he's worked for. I know it can be frustrating at times for people when they hear him. I know he's aware of that as well. But it's just been incredible work, what he's been able to do. And I hope, you know, more than anything for the country sake, they're able to find the level of wisdom and experience maybe in multiple people to replace what he's been able to do at the National Institute.

BERMAN: It's hard to replace a career like that. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, great to see you this morning. Thanks so much.

GUPTA: Yeah. Thank you.

COLLINS: And up ahead, Dr. Fauci will join us live here on New Day for his first interview on CNN since announcing his departure. And New Day continues right now.