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CNN TONIGHT: Biden Announces New Sanctions On Russia, Calling Putin's Actions "Beginning Of A Russian Invasion" Into Ukraine; Trump Praises Putin's "Genius" Aggression Toward Ukraine; CIA Report: "Unlikely" Havana Syndrome Is Result Of Foreign Actor Harming U.S. Personnel. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired February 22, 2022 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: And you've seen it all. Thank you, Fred, to you, and your team, who've been there, giving us a very unique perspective, on what's going on.
Frederik Pleitgen, thank you.
And stay with CNN, for the latest, from Ukraine. The news continues. So, let's hand it over to Wolf Blitzer, and "CNN TONIGHT."
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, CNN TONIGHT: John, thank you very, very much.
And we want to welcome our viewers, here, in the United States, and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. And this is CNN TONIGHT.
Brand-new satellite images, this evening, show Russia, moving additional troops, closer and closer, to Ukraine's border, in recent days, along with the construction of a new field hospital.
Dozens of tents, and vehicles, have appeared, recently, according to images, taken over an airfield, in Belarus, less than 25 miles, from the Ukrainian border. The area was apparently completely vacant, just a few weeks ago. And this is only heightening concerns, about Vladimir Putin's intentions.
The world is now watching, and waiting, for his next move, after the West slapped Russia, with a coordinated series of very significant consequences, today, consequences for what President Biden now refers to, as the start of an invasion of Ukraine.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: This is the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Who in the Lord's name does Putin think gives him the right to declare new so-called countries on territory that belonged to his neighbors? This is a flagrant violation of international law, and it demands a firm response from the international community. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And that firm response came in the form of numerous economic sanctions, for Putin's move of Russian troops, into two breakaway areas, of Eastern Ukraine, in a very aggressive attempt, to redraw the map of the region.
They include sanctions from the U.S., on two big Russian financial institutions, with close ties to the Kremlin, cutting off Russia, from Western financing, and inflicting economic pain, on the country's elites, and their families. President Biden calls it the first tranche, warning of more to come, the further Russia goes. And, on top of that, the U.K. is sanctioning multiple Russian banks, and oligarchs.
And Germany halted certification of a key natural gas pipeline. Nord Stream 2 would have increased European reliance, on energy, from Russia, dramatically, something the U.S. and other allies, warned about, but is no longer in play, at least for now.
NATO's Secretary General calls this moment, the most dangerous, for European security, in a generation. Tensions are only building, with a large amount of Russian Military vehicles, seen drawing closer, to Ukraine's border, earlier.
Meanwhile, President Biden is going straight after Putin, with his words, calling him out, for his quote, "Twisted rewrite of history," to try to justify taking more territory, by force, a rant full of grievances, to try to lay the groundwork, to annex former Soviet territories.
But the President is still signaling hope, there's a way to get Putin to pull back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: We still believe that Russia, is poised to go much further, in launching a massive military attack, against Ukraine. Hope I'm wrong about that.
There is still time, to avert the worst-case scenario that, will bring untold suffering, to millions of people, if they move, as suggested.
I'm hoping diplomacy is still available.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So, is there still time to avert that, quote, "Worst-case scenario?"
Let's go live to the capital of Ukraine. CNN's Matthew Chance is on the scene for us.
And Matthew, how is Russia, first of all, responding, to the wave of new sanctions, both from the U.S. and the Western European nations?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
Well, I think, in the first instance, the Russians are essentially brushing off those sanctions that they're not paying any attention to them.
And I think what Russian officials are saying, essentially, is that, "Look, the idea that there is going to be sanctions, because of our actions, was already factored in, to the decision-making process."
One very revealing comment, came from the Kremlin, earlier today, when the spokesperson, for Vladimir Putin was asked, what, Vladimir Putin's reaction was, to President Biden's recent remarks, this evening.
He said, "I'm sorry, didn't even watch them," he was busy in a working meeting. And so they're sort of not even sort of giving that. And he's publicly admitting that they're giving those announcements, in Washington, the time of day.
There's also been sort of comments come from the former presidents of Russia, former Prime Minister, a close Putin ally, Dmitry Medvedev, in response, to the German sanctions, which I think have been particularly stinging.
The suspension of that Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, from Russia to Germany that would have dramatically increased the amount of natural gas that Russia exports, to the European Union. That has now been suspended, the approval on that by the German government, a pretty tough measure, implemented by them.
Dmitry Medvedev, that close Putin ally, tweeting out, "Welcome to a brave-new world, where Europeans," and I'm paraphrasing here, where Europeans would be paying essentially thousands of dollars, for their gases.
Already a gas shortage, in the European Union, has led to a massive spike, in prices. And this is just a reminder, from that powerful Russian official, that sanctions, when it comes to Russia, can cut both ways.
And so, look, as I say, the Russians have had sanctions, upon sanctions, imposed upon them, in the past, over the past 10 years, for various Russian misdeeds, whether it comes to the annexation of Crimea, meddling in the presidential election, in 2016, in the United States, or attacks against opposition figures, and opponents, and dissidents.
But none of those sanctions have had a discernible impact, on Russian policy. And it looks like, this current tranche of sanctions, is not going to have much impact, at the moment, either, Wolf.
BLITZER: Well, we shall see about that.
What more can you tell us, Matthew, about Russian troop movements, on the ground? CHANCE: Well, I mean, the troops are, as you mentioned, at the start of the show, moving closer, all the time, and growing in number, close to Ukraine's borders. We've seen that.
There's more satellite images, coming out, over the past couple of hours, showing that there are medical facilities, other infrastructure, Military infrastructure, things being put into place, all indicating that more preparations, are being made, for an eventual, potential invasion, into Ukraine.
Now, the Russians say, they've got no intention of invading, in that full-scale way. But there are these growing concerns, tonight, Wolf that with the recognition, of those rebel republics, in the east of the country, by Russia, the problem is, is that those rebel republics only control a tiny amount of the area that they claim, as their territory.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, has recognized their claim, to the entirety of those territories. And so, the big concern now, is that those rebels, emboldened with recognition, from Moscow, will use this, as an opportunity, perhaps, backed by Russian tanks that have gathered, near the border, to push outwards, to restart that war, in the east of Ukraine, and grab more land.
It's why the recognition of these republics could be the start of a broader invasion, by Russia, and its proxies, into Ukrainian territory.
BLITZER: Matthew Chance, in Ukraine, stay safe, over there. Be careful. Excellent, excellent reporting.
I want to turn right now, to a Democratic senator, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He also took part, in last week's Munich Security Conference, widely considered to be the world's leading forum, for international security policy.
Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, is joining us, right now.
Senator, thanks so much, for joining us.
As you know, President Biden is warning that, and I'm quoting him now, "Russia is poised to go much further, in launching a massive Military attack, against Ukraine." And tonight, the latest satellite images showing Russian troops, moving closer and closer, to the Ukrainian border. It seems to back that up.
What are you bracing for, Senator, in the coming hours, and days?
SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): Well, Wolf, it's so good to be with you.
And it may be a fact that Putin is determined, to fully invade Ukraine, no matter what the costs. But what we have to do is, together with our allies, raise the costs, to the highest levels.
And President Biden's actions today, with very swift and severe sanctions, combined, as you reported, with the Nord Stream 2 actions, and other actions, from our allies, was a very important first step, as well. It's also important that President Biden indicated that there're a lot to come, in terms of punishing economic sanctions.
So, again, we don't know what's in Putin's mind. There is time, for him, to pull back, from the brink, if he wants. But we need to make equally clear that there will be more punishing sanctions, to come.
BLITZER: President Biden announced that this first wave of sanctions, against Russia, today. But some Republicans, including the House Leader, Kevin McCarthy, the former U.N. Ambassador, Nikki Haley, say this is too little too late.
Do these sanctions, Senator, do they go far enough?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, these sanctions are appropriate. And they are severe sanctions, as you reported, early on.
It makes no sense, to essentially fire off, all your economic ammo, at one time, and leave nothing, in reserve, because that means that Putin has nothing at all, to lose, from further advancements, further invasion, deeper into Ukraine. Now, it's very possible, that he will do that, no matter what.
But using all your economic sanctions, at once, is certainly not going to stop him. While, letting him know that further action, will be met, by higher prices, and higher cost, to him, at least has a chance of doing.
BLITZER: As you know, Senator, the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken announced today, he'll no longer meet, with Russia's Foreign Minister, later this week. They were supposed to meet in Geneva, on Thursday. That had been planned.
Was that the right decision? Do you see any diplomatic path forward, at this point?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, at this point, it's very clear that Putin has rejected the diplomatic path.
So what Antony Blinken - Secretary of State Blinken, made the right decision, in not meeting with, his counterparts, and not going forward with that meeting, right after Putin had taken the action, he did, today, including, sending forces, into these newly-recognized territories, recognized by Putin, and nobody else.
BLITZER: Did you ever think, you'd see a threat, like this, with Putin attempting to redraw the map, of Europe, by force? What do you think he could be doing next?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, it's our job to make sure that this is seen, by history, as an epic miscalculation. And that means raising the price to Putin.
We don't know what he'll do next. What we can control is what we do next. And that is why, it was really important, to work with our NATO allies, and other partners, around the world, to act in unison. Now, that's what we discussed, over this weekend, at the Munich Conference.
And I should say, Wolf, in addition to these sanctions, on Russian banks, and there can be a lot more to come, we can also help cut off Russia's supply, of some critical technologies, like semiconductors.
And the President is reaching out, not just to our European allies, but Japan and Taiwan, and Singapore, which are big supplier, of those high-tech components, to bring them in, as well.
So, this has got to be a concerted action, by the world's democracies, against a thug, an authoritarian thug, who is now bullying, and launching an invasion, against a democratically-elected government.
BLITZER: And all those sanctions could be very, very painful, to Putin, and the Russians, including the sanctions, against his pals, the oligarchs, and their families. That will be very - very, very strong, as well.
Senator Chris Van Hollen, thank you so much, for joining us. Welcome back, from Europe.
VAN HOLLEN: Yes.
BLITZER: So, what is Vladimir Putin's next move? And how far could he actually go, in trying to redraw Ukraine's borders? And how far might NATO go, to try to stop him?
We're going to get special insight from the former U.S. Director of National Intelligence, retired General James Clapper. There you see him.
We will discuss, when we come back.
BLITZER: So, how will Vladimir Putin react now? That's the big question, tonight, in the wake of the retaliatory actions, taken by the U.S., and Western European nations.
Remember, when the Obama administration, imposed sanctions, on Russia, for invading Ukraine, back in 2014, it created just a modest drag, on Russia's economy. Putin was able to hold on to Crimea, and learned how to further insulate Russia, from financial penalties.
So, what will these new sanctions mean, this time around? I want to bring in the former U.S. Director of National Intelligence, under then-President Obama, James Clapper.
General Clapper, thanks so much, for joining us.
I know there's a lot of uncertainty over how this moment will unfold. But do you believe the sanctions, imposed today, by the U.S., and Western Europe, will impact Putin's calculations?
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, not right away, Wolf.
One of the frustrations that people have, with the imposition of sanctions, is it doesn't result in instant gratification. What you're looking for, when you impose sanctions, is a change in behavior. And we're not going to see that, at least right away.
The other thing is, of course, the Administration is trying to parse- out sanctions, in anticipation, of further action, by Putin. So, the sanctions won't, I don't think, directly affect anything right away. But their impact will be felt over time. And then they could have the effect of changing behavior. But initially? Nil.
BLITZER: The U.S., as you know, Director Clapper, didn't initially, initially, yesterday call this, an invasion. They still haven't necessarily even confirmed, if Russian troops, formal Military troops, have crossed into Eastern Ukraine.
Now, you've studied Putin, over a long career, in Intelligence. Is this so-called ambiguity, all part of Putin's playbook?
CLAPPER: Oh, sure. This is the political act, of essentially annexing, two people's - phony people's republics, in Eastern Ukraine. The actual area that the opposition has controlled, as you've noted, is only part of the area of Donbas, and the two States there. So, this is his way, of inching in.
But he's not, I don't believe, going to allow those 190,000 troops, or whatever, it is, on three sides of Ukraine, to just sit idle, or not use them. So, he's going to do more. And that's when he gets into what I would call the zone of unintended consequences.
Right now, he can - he's controlling the script. But when you start pulling triggers, and dropping bombs, things can go bad. And he won't be in such control. So that's - and I think we need to anticipate that.
BLITZER: Yes. I think you're absolutely right.
As you know, the Biden administration, and other Western allies, they've revealed Intelligence, about Putin's plans, every step of the way. Pretty remarkable. Highly-classified information, publicly revealed. What do you think of that strategy?
CLAPPER: I'm all for it, Wolf. Now, there's a downside, of course. When you reveal, particularly on such a timely basis, Intelligence, you can bet that the Russians are going to back-engineer, and try to figure out, where we got it.
But it's the right thing to do, in an information warfare context. And we're clearly in such a mode. So, I think this has been disruptive, and distracting, to Putin. And I hope it continues.
BLITZER: President Biden says, and I'm quoting him now, "Further Russian assault in Ukraine remains a severe threat in the days ahead." What will you be watching for, specifically, Director Clapper, as this unfolds?
CLAPPER: Well, what I would look for, of course, is moving out, in Eastern Ukraine, where, right now, in the extreme eastern part of the - the part that's controlled by the opposition, is the Russian troops will be welcome. So, they establish their foothold, or beachhead, if you will.
But I also look for a move, from Belarus, towards Kyiv, and the attempt by the Russians, to neutralize other militarily-significant targets.
So, I think, Putin, overall, is interested in rolling back the calendar, the history, by about 30 years. And this injustice, this grievance of his, has been eating at him, for that long. And for whatever reason, he's decided to do what he can, to right, this tremendous wrong, to Russia. And so, I don't think - and I don't think, Ukraine, is going to be the last of it.
BLITZER: Well, but I want to get to that, because that is really worrisome.
First of all, is his goal, to get rid of the current Ukrainian government, of President Zelenskyy, get rid of them, take over in Kyiv, the capital, but then, move on to Poland, and other NATO Allies? Because an attack, on those countries, including cyber warfare, is an attack on the U.S.
CLAPPER: Well, that's true. And - but I think he's talked himself, into believing, he can get away with this. And he thinks we won't react, we, the West, won't react.
Now, Putin is not getting much pushback, as we've seen, from these Potemkin village meetings he's been conducting. So, he doesn't have anybody, telling him, what he's doing, is dumb, or not the smart thing to do.
And so, he's basically surrounded, as we've seen, by sycophants that are "Yes-Men," and are not going to push back. So, he's not getting any bad news, particularly from his Intelligence services. And that doesn't bode well, for him, or for the West.
BLITZER: We're out of time, Director Clapper. But, very quickly, how worried, should the U.S. be that Russia will retaliate, against the United States, directly, by launching cyber-attacks, cyber warfare, against the highly vulnerable U.S. industries and others?
CLAPPER: Well, we should be very concerned about it, Wolf. It's a great question.
And we need to - we need to be doing, all we can, to shore up our defenses. Because, I expect, if there is pain, caused by the sanctions, Putin will not sit idly by, and let it go. He'll retaliate. And cyber is an easy mode, to do it, for him.
BLITZER: Yes. And they're good at that too. And I keep hearing from U.S. officials, that's one of their gravest concerns, right now.
Director Clapper, thanks so much, as usual, for joining us. Appreciate it very, very much.
CLAPPER: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Remarkable reaction, to Russia's moves, from the former - the former President of the United States. Why Donald Trump is using the word "Genius," to describe Putin's aggression.
We'll have that, and more, when we come back.
BLITZER: Republicans are blasting President Biden, for being too weak, on Russia.
But the de facto leader, of their party, get this, is spending his time, praising, praising Vladimir Putin. Former President Trump, by going so far, as to call Putin's moves, and I'm quoting, the former President, once again, he says Putin's move's "Genius."
Here's more of his complimentary tone.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, Putin is now saying, "It's independent," a large section of Ukraine. I said "How smart is that?"
And he's going to go in and be a peacekeeper. That's the strongest peace force. We could use that on our southern border. That's the strongest peace force I've ever seen. There were more army tanks than I've ever seen. They're going to keep peace all right.
No, but think of it. Here's a guy, who's very savvy. I know him very well. Very, very well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The former President's comments come, as the House Republican leadership, calls Putin's actions irreprehensible, while taking a dig, at the same time, at the current Commander-in-Chief.
Let me quote, from the House Republican leadership statement.
"Sadly, President Biden consistently chose appeasement and his tough talk on Russia was never followed by strong action. Lethal aid was slow-walked, anti-air and anti-ship capabilities were never directly provided, pre-invasion sanctions proportionate to the aggression Putin had already committed were never imposed, and sanctions on Nord Stream 2 were waived."
Let's discuss this and more, the political ramifications. Joining us, Abby Phillip, and John Harwood.
John, can Republicans really hit President Biden, for being too soft, on Putin, when you look at those comments, from former President Trump?
JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they can try. But it's not persuasive.
Look, Donald Trump is somebody, who has always been entirely transactional. He doesn't value abstract concepts, like right or wrong, true or false, autocracy versus democracy. He values people, who help him. Russia helped his finances. They helped his campaign.
He helped Russia, as President. Did the opposite of all the things that Joe Biden is trying to do now. Donald Trump weakened NATO. He squeezed Ukraine, for personal advantage that got him impeached the first time. And he cozied up to Vladimir Putin.
Vladimir Putin is somebody, Wolf, who wants to recreate a modern version, of what Ronald Reagan, once called the "Evil Empire." Ronald Reagan would not recognize the party, right now, the Republican Party, that has followed Trump, increasingly, into a warm relationship, with Vladimir Putin, so that they're more interested in criticizing Joe Biden than they are, in standing up to Vladimir Putin.
BLITZER: Yes, I was at that Trump-Putin summit, when Trump clearly sided, with Putin, and didn't side with his own U.S. Intelligence Community, including Dan Coats, who was the Head of the Intelligence Community. It was a very embarrassing moment, indeed.
Abby, Democrats are now more likely than Republicans, to see Russia, as America's greatest enemy. Have the two parties actually done a sort of political flip-flop, on Russia?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN ANCHOR, INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY: I think, to some extent, they have.
Democrats are particularly soured on Russia, because of Putin's role, in the 2016 election. Many Democrats blame Putin, for Trump, being president, frankly.
And Trump's coziness, with Putin, is one of the main reasons why some Republicans, though not all, some Republicans, are echoing Trump's comments, and also questioning the U.S.'s stake, in this crisis, between Ukraine and Russia.
I mean, you mentioned, Wolf, that summit, between Putin and Trump, in Helsinki. I was also, at the first summit, between Putin and Trump, at the G20, in Germany. And their interactions, in that very first meeting, were warm. This is a President, who has, for a long time, seemingly admired Putin, for his ruthlessness. And now, you have predictably a Republican Party that follows Trump, in lockstep, just basically following suit. It doesn't really have much to do with policy. It just has to do with, frankly, what Trump wants.
BLITZER: John, the White House, seemed to struggle, initially with how to respond to these very latest moves, from Putin. Now, what do you make of the change in tone, with the President, now calling this, an invasion?
HARWOOD: Well, I think there are two things going on there, Wolf. One was ascertaining, last night, what exactly was happening, with Russia. They put out the initial mild symbolic sanctions, last night.
They - senior officials described to - describe it as innovation. They need to suss out exactly what had happened, what they expect to happen. They also needed to suss out how united they could keep the Alliance, NATO, and European democracies, behind the sanctions, they wanted to impose.
And so, what we saw this morning, once they had figured that out, we woke up, this morning, to Olaf Scholz, the German Chancellor, announcing that the certification of Nord Stream 2 was halted.
The U.S. government described, what happened, as the beginning of an invasion. And then, we saw those tougher sanctions, from Joe Biden. So, it was a case of, the Administration, trying to make sure, they had their ducks in a row, diplomatically. And so far, at least, they have.
BLITZER: Yes. That's a good point.
Abby, President Biden laid out, what he calls, the first tranche of sanctions, today, while saying he has no intention, in fighting, in Russia. You've called this the most significant test, facing Biden, in his presidency.
What's your take, so far, on how he's handling this extremely dangerous and delicate balance?
PHILLIP: Yes. It's a real balancing act for Biden, because he knows that the American public, really doesn't have any appetite for, obviously, for any sort of conflict, involving American troops, in that part of the world. But also that, he has to regain the trust of the American people, that he is competent enough, to manage this kind of global crisis.
And even while Americans may not care too much, about what's going on in Ukraine, this goes far beyond this moment. And I think Biden knows that. He knows that Russia is testing the West, and that, if he fails to contain Russia, in this moment, the consequences could be severe, in the long-term, for this country.
So, Biden is trying to balance an American public that's focused inward, focused on what's going on, at home. But that needs to see an American President, and an America, on the front lines, of this crisis, leading, and not falling behind.
I mean, Biden is still coping with the consequences of Afghanistan, and the damage that that did, to how people felt about him, as Commander-in-Chief. This is his opportunity, now, to turn that around. And so, that's one of the main reasons, the stakes are so high, for him, right now, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, good point indeed. Abby Phillip, and John Harwood, guys, thank you very, very much. We're going to continue to stay on top of this Ukraine story, new developments emerging.
But there's another important story we're following tonight as well. The debate over a fourth COVID vaccine shot, for many more Americans. In other words, a second booster.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins me, to take a closer look, at how likely it is that that moment will come, and if so, when. This is information you need to know. And that's next.
BLITZER: The FDA is now considering whether Americans will need a second booster shot of the COVID vaccine. In other words, a fourth dose. Some countries are already rolling them out.
"The New York Times" cites several studies that suggest just one COVID Booster does provide lengthy protection, from the virus. But how long does it last, and how many boosters might we all need?
Let's bring in our Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Sanjay, why would we need a fourth booster, considering these studies that show the third shot does provide strong protection?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, that's a good question, Wolf.
And I think the data is still coming in, on this. We know that people started getting these boosters, sort of in the fall of last year. And what they found is that, with time, the effectiveness of that booster, does start to wane.
So, let me show you the numbers here. We can sort of compare, what people look like, with the two shots, and then what happens, with the third shot, specifically. And what you find is that hospitalization protection, goes from about 91 percent, to 78 percent, after four months. So, you can see that that's really the concern there, that right side of the screen.
Also, you keep in mind, the first people, to get boosters, Wolf, are people, who are older, people who are at high risk, of developing serious disease, people in nursing homes. So, that may be the population of people, who may be recommended, this fourth shot. We'll see, again. The data's still sort of incoming.
Let me show you one more graph, sort of comparing what it sort of looks like, between people, who are getting two shots, versus a single booster, and possibly another booster. And what you find, when you look at these trajectories, is that people, who get that booster shot, are at the lowest risk of hospitalization.
But, at the bottom-right of the screen, you start to see some disparity there, between the people, who got the two shots, versus the three shots. Clearly, people, who are unvaccinated still, at the highest risk.
But it's that right lower part of the screen that tells the story, Wolf. If that gap start - continues to widen, and it widens, in people, beyond just people, who are elderly, or high risk? That might make the recommendation, for people to get another shot.
BLITZER: Yes, get vaccinated, and get that booster shot, as well. We'll see what happens, down the road.
How encouraged, Sanjay, are you by the dramatic, pretty dramatic drop, in cases and hospitalizations, in recent weeks?
Deaths have dropped as well, from about 2,500 a day. Now, it's about 1,800 a day. Still, 1,800 Americans dying, every day, that's still a lot of Americans dying from COVID-19, most of them unvaccinated.
What's your assessment?
GUPTA: Yes, Wolf, I mean, it's - there are the good trend lines here, as you were - for the first time, since December 1st, below 100,000 cases per day. That's a 45 percent decrease from last week. Deaths also going down, as you mentioned, although still really unfathomably high, 19 percent lower than last week.
Hospitalizations, Wolf, still pretty high. I mean, it's interesting. I mean, what are we willing to accept, almost becomes the question here. If the patient, had a really high fever before, the patient, still has a fever, but the temperatures dropped. So, the question now, is it going to continue to go down, to a level that is more acceptable?
I think it's optimistic. But two times, last year, Wolf, I think, we were surprised.
We thought July 4 of last year, was basically going to be a signal that maybe we were sort of looking at this, in the rearview mirror. And then, Delta. And then, as we went into Thanksgiving, and the holidays, Omicron. I mean, we've got to pay attention to these cautionary tales.
I mean, I hate to - I'd like to deliver just good news here, and say it's time to, basically start lifting mitigation strategies. But I think we have to learn from lessons that are pretty recent lessons, in the middle of this pandemic.
So, fingers crossed, right now, looks good. But I think we're, you know, patients, still in the hospital, and we still got to keep a close eye, on the patient.
BLITZER: How worried should we be about new variants?
GUPTA: Well, there is a new variant out there that's circulating. And, as we collect more data on it, it does appear that it's more transmissible than BA.1, than the Omicron, that's currently circulating.
But it doesn't seem to cause any more severe disease. And it seems to be similar enough, in terms of the viral - the virus itself, that it should get the same protections that we get, with this current Omicron.
So, if you are vaccinated, if you have protection, if you have immunity, you should feel very comfortable with that. If you don't, I mean, this is even a more transmissible virus that will be even more forgiving.
But, I mean, to your question, could there be something out there lurking? The antennas have to stay raised on that.
BLITZER: Yes. That really worries me, as you know. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, as usual, our viewers are grateful to you. Thanks so much, for joining us.
GUPTA: You got it, Wolf. Thank you.
BLITZER: Meanwhile, another potential health threat may be closer than already feared. The so-called Havana syndrome, after years of worries that it may be the result of a deliberate attack, on diplomats and service members, there are now some newly-revealed claims, it even reached the White House grounds.
A former Trump Administration official, is joining us, getting ready to tell us, what happened to her. Very, very worrisome developments. She was just steps, from the Oval Office.
We'll discuss, when we come back.
BLITZER: One minute, everything is fine. The next? Debilitating symptoms, vertigo, nausea, memory loss, brain trauma, and there's no good explanation. It's been happening, over and over again, over the past five years, to dozens of American government officials.
It's called Havana syndrome. But no one knows who or what is behind it. The CIA, the FBI, the State Department, they are all investigating. But so far, they don't think most reported cases were caused by a foreign adversary. Yet, those, who have experienced it, fear the worst.
And this may not necessarily just be happening in foreign countries. There are now firsthand reports, very disturbing, firsthand reports, of the syndrome happening, right here, at home, as one former official shared, with "60 Minutes," listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MILES TAYLOR, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY CHIEF OF STAFF: Someone is trying to send us a message that they can strike blows against us, and we can't strike back. That line being crossed into the United States, takes this, in some ways, just shy of the realm of warfare.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Joining us now, to discuss her personal story, of what happened, to her, Olivia Troye. She served as Homeland Security and Counterterrorism adviser, to then-Vice President Mike Pence.
Olivia, thanks for joining us.
I know you've experienced Havana syndrome, both in the summer of 2019, again, in 2020. Tell us what happened to you. How did it feel?
OLIVIA TROYE, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY & COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISER UNDER VP PENCE: Well, hi, Wolf, thanks for having me on.
Look, this is something that's obviously very personal to me. It's been hard for me to make the decision to talk about this publicly. But I think it's really important, because it's impacting a number of Intelligence officers, who serve, their country, and national security, and diplomats, and Military officers.
And so, for me, it was something that happened, completely struck me, just completely, out of the blue. I happened to be walking out of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, on the west executors (ph), which face the West Wing, of the White House.
It was late in the day, after work. I remember vividly, the feeling, of when it happened. I remember the striking pain, on the right side of my head, the feeling that I was going to fall down the stairs, if I didn't catch my balance.
I felt nausea. I felt somewhat vertigo symptoms. I felt dizziness. I was very unsteady. And I just tried to make my way, down the stairs, and try to take deep breaths, and breathe through it.
I remember sort of the fear of thinking, "What is happening to me right now?" I didn't understand. And I thought maybe I'm having a stroke. I don't know what it is that's happening to me. I kept walking towards my car.
And I remember vividly, in 2020 - look, I'd never had any symptoms like this ever. I've never experienced vertigo. I don't have any previous pre-existing conditions. And, in 2020, I was walking on the Ellipse, after work again, to my car. And this happened, again.
And it was exactly the same type of sensation, of overwhelming, something pounding, on the side of my head, a piercing pain, in my ear. It was - I remember thinking, when it happened again, I thought whatever this is, it's back again. It's happening to me again.
BLITZER: Yes, these are exactly the symptoms, I keep hearing, over these past several years, from U.S. government officials, most of whom were working, overseas. But, you were right here, in Washington D.C.
As you know, the CIA just released, what they're calling an interim security report. They released it last month that says, and I'm quoting them, "We assess it is unlikely that a foreign actor, including Russia, is conducting a sustained, worldwide campaign harming U.S. personnel with a weapon or mechanism."
This report, as you know, was met with a lot of frustration, from people, who say they experienced Havana syndrome. What was your reaction?
TROYE: Look, I think it's one thing to say that it's inconclusive, because they are still doing the ongoing investigation, which is my understanding.
And when you listen to Director Burns? I'm just grateful that he came forward, and said that they're taking this very seriously, because this is a significant national security concern. And whoever it is, we've got to get to the bottom of it, because there are numerous victims now.
And I can tell you, there are guesses, on foreign adversaries, on what this is. I think they're still looking into that.
But I can tell you that just in the time that I've come forward, I've had other officers, reach out to me that I have worked with, in the past, in my career, who have come forward, and said to me, "I am in the cohort. I have these symptoms. And it happened to me here, domestically."
So, this is not something that's just happening overseas. I think this is happening on American soil. And I think that it's important, for our national security community, to really, kind of, take a look at this, very seriously.
And also, get these officers, who are experiencing this treated, medically, and examined, and followed up on for this--
TROYE: --for this exact thing.
BLITZER: You're absolutely right.
You say, Olivia, you did not report these episodes, initially, because you were worried, how it could affect your security clearance, how it could affect your career. Do you think others feel similarly? Is there a culture, in other words, of not reporting?
TROYE: I certainly think that there is some element of shame. And also just, you second-guess yourself, when it happens. And you wonder, "Well, is this really what it is?"
I certainly think that there are a number of people, who've experienced that. Certainly myself, I had to come to terms with that, and after sort of piecing it together that others have experienced similar symptoms, and similar locations.
And it's a very similar event and pattern. That is what makes this so distinct. And so, I think, for me, it was, yes, you worry about that. You worry about the implications, for your future, your career, your health.
And you also, I mean, it's a hard thing, when there's so many people, out there, who are either uninformed, or doubt, what this is, or there's non-believers, and you've spent your entire career, in national security, serving your country, and whether they're going to doubt you.
And for me, I'll tell you, when I read the articles, and I connected with others?
TROYE: You just, you know that this is different.
BLITZER: Yes, I've heard this story, from many of your colleagues.
Olivia Troye, thank you so much, for sharing your story, with us, with our viewers. Appreciate it very much.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer. Thanks very much, for joining us. I'll be back, tomorrow night, at 6 P.M. Eastern, in the "SITUATION ROOM," and once again here, on CNN TONIGHT, at 9 P.M. Eastern.
And now, here's "DON LEMON TONIGHT."