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The Situation Room
Ground Troops Attack Gaza; CDC Eases Mask Restrictions For Fully Vaccinated Americans; First Day of Widespread Vaccination of 12 to 15-Year-Olds; Republicans Trying to Rewrite History, Downplaying Violence of January 6; Biden Urges Americans Not to Hoard or Panic As Critical Fuel Pipeline Resumes Operations; Gaetz Ally Plans to Plead Guilty and Cooperate with Prosecutors. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired May 13, 2021 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney, after being purged this week from House Republican leadership.
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Our coverage on CNN continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer. He's right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM."
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, breaking news: a monumental turning point in the COVID pandemic. A maskless President Biden hails new CDC guidelines saying fully vaccinated people here in the United States do not -- repeat -- do not have to wear masks anymore.
Also, Israeli ground forces are now attacking Gaza, escalating the conflict with Palestinians closer and closer to an all-out war.
And drivers up and down the East Coast of the United States are urged not to panic and avoid hoarding during a gas crunch. But, tonight, the critical pipeline shut down by a cyberattack is up and running.
Let's start our coverage this hour over at the White House.
CNN's chief White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, is joining us.
A very important day, Kaitlan. We heard from a maskless President Biden just a little while ago.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, on this new guidance, which is a drastic change from what the CDC had issued just two weeks ago on wearing a mask outside.
And the CDC director says it's because of several reasons, including dropping cases, increased vaccine supply and new evidence on -- about the spread of COVID-19.
And, Wolf, of course, it also comes after a lot of pressure from lawmakers and other public health experts that the CDC was being too conservative in its guidance, all of it leading to this new announcement today, Wolf.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a good day for the country.
COLLINS (voice-over): For the fully vaccinated, the masks are coming off.
BIDEN: I think it's a great milestone, a great day.
COLLINS: President Biden touting new CDC guidance that vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or social distance, even if they're inside.
BIDEN: If you are fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask.
COLLINS: The president framing the new guidance as an incentive.
BIDEN: Get vaccinated or wear a mask until you do.
COLLINS: Modeling the new guidance moments after it was issued, Biden enter the Rose Garden sans mask.
KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You have got a great smile.
COLLINS: CDC Director Rochelle Walensky announced the milestone that many have been waiting for.
DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: We have all longed for this moment. If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.
COLLINS: Biden was meeting with a group of Republican senators in the Oval Office when the news broke, and all shed their masks accordingly.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We had our masks off.
COLLINS: Moments later, the White House told staffers who are fully vaccinated they can also take off their mask while on the complex.
The good news spreading throughout Washington quickly, lawmakers seen grinning as they removed their masks on the Senate floor. The new CDC guidance does come with some caveats.
WALENSKY: If you develop symptoms, you should put your mask back on and get tested right away.
COLLINS: Dr. Walensky says those who are fully vaccinated still need to wear a mask while on a flight. (on camera): So, does this mean vaccinated people can take their mask
off on an airplane?
WALENSKY: We still have the requirement to wear masks when you travel on buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation.
COLLINS: And, Wolf, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told CNN earlier today she is not getting rid of the mask mandate on the House floor just yet, questioning whether some of those lawmakers have gotten vaccinated.
We know that some of them have not. And I think that poses a larger question that a lot of people probably have after this new CDC guidance, which is, how do you know if someone is vaccinated yet? Because there is no way to know for sure. There is no vaccine passport, as they have been calling it.
And a majority of the country still is not vaccinated yet. And so Dr. Fauci said his advice for those people who do not feel comfortable taking their mask off yet is, they can keep it on for as long as they'd like -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Kaitlan, I want you to stand by.
I also want to bring in Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, and CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Sanjay, throughout this pandemic, our viewers have looked to you for sound advice, as the science and the guidance have evolved over this year-plus. Give us your take on these new landmark guidelines we heard today from the CDC.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it's a big day, Wolf, no question about it.
And the science does evolve. I mean, that is a good way of framing it. We have learned a lot more. I think the three biggest things, I think, about these vaccines is, we know that they are very protective against people getting sick.
We're now learning more and more about how well they do in terms of preventing people from getting infected. And I think the more recent data was -- it shows that these vaccines are good at preventing people from transmitting the virus to somebody else.
This idea that you still wear a mask if you're vaccinated because maybe you would unwittingly pass the virus on to someone else, well, there's new data that really shows that's very unlikely.
I talked to Dr. Walensky right after the press conference. She was citing a study I want to show you, if we have the data from "The New England Journal of Medicine." This was the Israeli study that she was talking about.
But basically, it looked at people and said, OK, two weeks post vaccine, how good -- how well does the vaccine protect against symptomatic infection? Ninety-four percent, but asymptomatic infection, 90 percent. So, it protects people from developing the infection pretty well.
And even in people who do get the infection, it's unlikely that they're going to develop a high enough load of the virus to spread it on to someone else.
But there's still some questions, I think. And Kaitlan just sort of raised these questions. I mean, you don't know who's vaccinated, who's not vaccinated. That could make for some very tense situations, perhaps, in businesses and other places. I mean, people may get very angry about this sort of going forward.
And, also, there was no specific -- there was the data that came out, but there was no specific benchmark right now that we have lowered the viral sort of transmission in the country to a certain point to sort of elicit this sort of response at this point.
It kind of came out of nowhere today, this announcement. I think it's welcome. I think it follows the science. But there's some questions still to be answered about businesses, travel, things like that.
BLITZER: Yes, as soon as I heard the announcement from the CDC director, I said, wow, this is pretty, pretty amazing.
BLITZER: Dr. Jha, the CDC says that, if you are vaccinated, it doesn't matter if you're indoors or outdoors. Doesn't matter if the groups are large or small. You don't need to wear a mask. You don't need to social distance any longer either.
In many ways, this is the announcement, Dr. Jha, this is the announcement, especially those of us who are fully vaccinated, that we have been waiting for, right?
DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Yes, Wolf, thanks for having me here.
Absolutely, as Dr. Gupta said, this is a monumental moment. As you said, it's a monumental moment. It really does mark a shift in the pandemic, where, if you're fully vaccinated, you are basically good to go in most ways, that your risk of getting infected is incredibly low.
The science here is very clear that your risk of transmitting it to others is very low. There are some policy challenges. Should we then lift all indoor mask mandates? How will we know who's vaccinated or not? These are issues we're going to have to grapple with for the next few weeks, few months. But the science on vaccinated people being able to get rid of their masks is pretty clear.
BLITZER: And, Sanjay, Dr. Jha makes an important point. Does it concern you, Sanjay, that this guidance relies, for all
practical purposes, on an honor system of sorts? Because, in public places, there's no way to know who is vaccinated and who isn't.
GUPTA: Yes, it does. It does.
I think it's going to make for some potentially tense situations. I mean, to be clear, as Dr. Jha was just saying, you're vaccinated, you're very well protected. So, you walk into a situation, and let's say there's unvaccinated, unmasked people around you. So what's the scenario now?
You're still well-protected. But those people may be at risk to other unvaccinated people there. They may be at risk to people who can't yet get vaccinated, like young children, things like that. So it prolongs this pandemic, potentially.
It doesn't necessarily put the vaccinated people at higher risk, but it could prolong the situation. So, that's a part that surprised me. There's about 30 percent of the country right now that still lives in high-risk -- I'm sorry -- high-transmission areas.
If those areas don't continue to bring their viral transmission down, this pandemic just sort of gets prolonged because of situations like that.
BLITZER: You know, Kaitlan, politically speaking -- and you're over at the White House -- just how big is this victory today for the president?
COLLINS: It's a big victory, Wolf, but it's also an unexpected victory, because, yesterday, the sense at the White House was that the CDC was not close to changing its guidance once again. They had just changed it two weeks ago.
Of course, that was when they said, if you're vaccinated, you don't have to wear your mask outdoors in most situations. But, at that time, the CDC director and other federal health officials were saying you still need to wear a mask indoors, even if you are fully vaccinated.
But I think what you saw this week is really something that had been building kind of slowly for a while, which is this frustration with the CDC for how conservative their guidance had been. And that was something that you saw the CDC director did address earlier today.
BLITZER: Kaitlan, thank you very much.
Dr. Jha, Dr. Gupta, thanks to both of you as well, very important news today, potentially incredibly significant moment.
An important programming note for our viewers also. Be sure to join Dr. Sanjay Gupta for the new CNN film "Race for the Vaccine." That airs Saturday night 9:00 p.m., Eastern only here on CNN.
And there's more breaking news we're following in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're going live to Israel, where ground forces, Israeli ground forces are now attacking Gaza. This is a big deal, a major escalation, while airstrikes and rocket fire intensify at the same time.
BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following, Israel now saying that it's air and ground forces, ground forces as well, are currently attacking Gaza, escalating days of the worst fighting the country has seen since 2014.
CNN's Hadas Gold is joining us from Jerusalem once again.
Hadas, so, what's the latest? There seems to be some major developments unfolding right now.
HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, yes, that's right. Within the past hour, the Israeli military is saying that the air and ground troops are currently attacking in the Gaza Strip.
Now, the Israeli military spokespeople would not confirm to me whether this is that full-scale ground operation that Israel said it was preparing for. This could be some sort of smaller operation. This could be operations more along the border.
But we understand that there's very heavy bombing currently of the Gaza border. The Israeli military is telling Israeli residents within four kilometers of Gaza to stay within their shelters until they're given further instructions.
And, Wolf, sirens are continuing to wail at a rapid pace across Southern Israel as we speak.
GOLD (voice-over): Tonight, as Hamas and the Israeli military wage battle in the skies over Israel and Gaza, tensions are escalating, with the Israeli government downplaying the prospect of an immediate cease-fire, instead putting 7,000 reserve troops on standby for a potential ground offensive.
LIOR HAIAT, ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTER: If we will cease the fire right now, Hamas will gain -- or they will get to its goal and its objective of hitting Israel and not paying a price. We have -- we will attack the Hamas infrastructure.
GOLD: Back on the ground, an alarming level of rage spilling into the streets beyond Jerusalem, mob violence spreading through mixed Arab and Jewish cities like Lod, Akko, the Bat Yam.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I saw death, death. Do you know what death is? People jumping at me with stones, throwing stones at me. GOLD: Arab citizens attacking a man they think is Jewish, Jewish
citizens attacking someone they believe is Arab, the communal violence reaching such a fevered pitch, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu angrily warning rogue vigilantes to stop, or face dire consequences.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): I do not care at all if your blood is boiling. It's boiling. It's not interesting. You cannot take the law into your own hands. You cannot come and take a simple Arab citizen and try to lynch him. Just as we cannot see Arab citizens doing this to Jewish citizens, this will not stand.
GOLD: Police getting reinforcements on horseback in riot gear in cities like Lod to quell the unrest, as sirens ring constantly...
(on camera): Guys, we have sirens.
GOLD (voice-over): ... a warning from above of incoming rocket fire.
The Iron Dome stopping 90 percent of the more than 1,800 rockets fired into Israel thus far, according to the Israeli military. With Israeli airstrikes targeting Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants in Gaza, the casualty count arising with each exchange, the displaced in Gaza growing with every building reduced to rubble, the threat in the sky so grave that many Western airlines have canceled flights to Tel Aviv.
And on a new front, Hamas releasing a slick propaganda video, launching what it says are suicide drones, drones that Israeli forces say they have shot down.
Diplomatic efforts under way overseas, with nations weighing in on the conflict and urging calm, while, in Tel Aviv and elsewhere, signs popping up urging peaceful coexistence.
SUBHI TALAIB, LOD RESIDENT (through translator): We need to live here together, co-existence. We need to be together, partners, to be partners to each other.
GOLD: In the meantime, the barrage of rockets ongoing, while, along the Israeli Gaza border, tanks in position take aim and fire.
GOLD: And as this conflict intensifies, Wolf, there is an equal, perhaps even deeper-seated worry about this growing violence, this growing communal violence we're seeing between Jewish and Arab residents in Israel.
And there's a question about what that means for the future of Israeli society -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, it's so, so disturbing what's going on.
Hadas Gold in Jerusalem, thank you very much. Stay safe over there.
I want to get some more on the breaking news right now.
Our senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, is joining us.
Ben, give us a sense of what's going on now. You have covered this region for a long time. You have spent a lot of time in Gaza, as we all know. What's the latest that you're hearing about a possible ground attack, not just an air attack, but a ground attack by the IDF, the Israel Defense Forces?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we don't have a very clear idea about exactly the extent of any sort of ground attack in Gaza itself.
I was on the phone with a Gaza resident just a little while ago, who said that there was indeed an intense air attack on Gaza City itself.
Now, back -- going back to the 2008-2009 Gaza war, we did see in the initial phase -- in the later phases, rather, they -- the Israeli military would say that there were ground forces operating inside Gaza, but it was not, at that phase, a massive ground incursion that we saw later in that war and also back in -- even in the 2014 war, there was a hesitancy by the Israeli army to actually go deep into Gaza itself.
Keep in mind, we are talking about some very crowded areas, with lots of civilians. And there is a large presence of militant fighters as well in those areas. So they may be going around the edges, but deep into Gaza, I don't think that's happening at the moment -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And you're there in Lod, not far from Ben-Gurion Airport.
This is a town that has a population of Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs. They are all Israeli citizens, but not just in Lod, but elsewhere around the country, all of a sudden, we're seeing awful things unfolding between these folks.
WEDEMAN: Yes, this is an outbreak of communal violence that Israel has not seen in decades.
And I think what's boiling up is a lot of the resentment that has built up over the years. These are communities where it's been relatively peaceful for quite some time. But when you speak to the Arab residents of Lid, for instance, they will tell you that they feel that they are second-class citizens, that when it comes to municipal services, and employment opportunities, they have always gotten the shorter end of the stick.
And what we're seeing is that the similar resentments are boiling over across Israel in places like Akko and Haifa and elsewhere. And, as a result, for instance, here, there is an 8:00-p.m.-to-4:00-a.m. curfew in place. Border police who normally operate in the West Bank have been called in to try to restore order here.
Today has been relatively calmer than previous days. But perhaps that's because it is Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Ben Wedeman, stay safe over there yourself.
Ben Wedeman reporting.
I want to get some more on the breaking news that is unfolding right now.
Dennis Ross, who was the former special assistant to President Obama and dealt with the Middle East over his career over many, many years, he's now a counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Dennis, thanks so much for joining us.
So, what's your reaction to when you hear the Israeli Defense Forces publicly announce that air and ground troops are currently attacking in the Gaza Strip?
DENNIS ROSS, FORMER U.S. ENVOY TO MIDDLE EAST: Well, I think it doesn't come as a surprise, in the following sense.
When you have a large part of the country, including Tel Aviv and Ben- Gurion Airport, shut down, this is not something that the Israeli government is going to tolerate.
Now, I think the message they want to send to Hamas is, you broke the rules of the game. We're going to reestablish those rules. We're going to reestablish deterrence. And if it requires us to come in on the ground, we're going to come in on the ground.
But there are different ways to come in on the ground. What you're hearing right now doesn't necessarily mean this is an all-out onslaught going into Gaza City. But it does signal Hamas that, if you think that we're not prepared to, in fact, use a ground invasion, think again.
So, some of this may be designed to get very specific targets, and maybe using special forces. Some of it may be designed to send a signal. There is both a practical reason, a tangible reason, a tangible military reason to do what they're doing. There's probably also a political signaling reason as well. If Hamas leaders think that the Israeli military won't come after them, they have to think again.
BLITZER: A really, really dangerous moment in the region right now.
Dennis Ross, we will continue this conversation. Thanks, as usual, for joining us.
Coming up: We're getting more reaction to the CDC groundbreaking announcement today that fully vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear masks indoors or outdoors.
[18:28:26] BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, President Biden calling this a
great day for America, as the CDC says people fully vaccinated here in the United States against COVID-19 no longer need to wear masks, no longer need to wear masks outdoors or indoors.
Let's go to CNN's Nick Watt, joining us from Los Angeles right now.
Nick, as the president put it, Americans have endured so much over the past year.
NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's a good day.
Listen, Wolf, the White House was under some political and public pressure to make this move, but cases are falling, vaccines are widely available, things are looking up.
WATT (voice-over): We're turning a corner, nearing the light at tunnel's end. Pick your cliche, it's happening.
Average new infections a day near halved in the past four weeks, which helped the CDC make that call, no more masks for the vaccinated inside or out.
Reaction from a New York park...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am so happy. I couldn't wait.
WATT: ... to a Chicago restaurant...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it's really exciting.
WATT: ... to the Senate floor in D.C., Senator Ernst there pointing to her bare face.
Vaccines are key to our current optimistic trajectory. Hesitancy? Ohio about to throw a lot of money at the problem.
DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Only in the United States, where we have this massive surplus of vaccines, lifesaving vaccines, do we have to bribe people to take them.
WATT: A shot in Ohio will soon get you a ticket to a weekly draw. The prize for teens? A four-year free ride at a state college. For adults? A million bucks.
GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R-OH): I know people are going to say, hey, DeWine lost his mind, you know, this is a waste. But what I think is a waste, to have a vaccine that can save people's lives and to have someone die of COVID because they did not get vaccinated.
WATT: Today, widespread rollout of Pfizer's vaccine in 12 to 15-year- olds begins making more things possible for them. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Going to school, doing track, meeting new people. So, yes.
REPORTER: Are you're a social kind of guy?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope so.
WATT: So, school for all in the fall?
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I believe the schools should be open five days, full blast just the way it was before.
WATT: But here's a weird wrinkle. One New York Yankee and seven support and coaching staff already vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson have tested positive for COVID-19.
AARON BOONE, MANAGER, NEW YORK YANKEES: It's been a little bit hectic, but everyone is handling it well.
WATT: Only one has symptoms. Such breakthrough infections are very rare.
BOONE: Six of the seven are asymptomatic.
WATT: So the evidence at least, the vaccine works really well at stopping severe disease.
WATT (on camera): And just a little bit more on this new mask news, the governor of Nevada has already tweeted to say his state will be following this new guidance, no masks indoors if you've been vaccinated. The mayor of New York City says he is also reviewing his city's policy. He says masks will probably still have a place in schools, mass transit, but Bill de Blasio, mayor of that city, that has suffered possibly more than any other in this country, called today, Wolf, a monumental day. Back to you.
BLITZER: Yes, so, so important. All right, Nick Watt in L.A., thank you very much.
We're also following a concerted effort underway by Republican lawmakers to whitewash the violent insurrection here in Washington at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. Our Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles has the very latest.
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, some Republicans on Capitol Hill are attempting to rewrite history and their leaders aren't doing much to stop it.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I look at the rioters that came in. Those people should be held accountable to the rule of law, and that's exactly what's happened. Yes? REPORTER: And what about the members that are saying this?
NOBLES: During a contentious hearing Wednesday, several House Republicans downplayed the violence and chaos on January 6th, even defending the rioters and explaining away their motivations.
REP. ANDREW CLYDE (R-GA): There was no insurrection. And to call it an insurrection, in my opinion, is a boldfaced lie.
If you didn't know the T.V. footage was a video from January 6th, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Outright propaganda and lies are being used to unleash the national security state against law abiding U.S. citizens, especially Trump voters.
REP. JODY HICE (R-GA): It was Trump supporters who lost their lives that day, not Trump supporters who were taking the lives of others.
NOBLES: Andrew Clyde was among those Congressmen who attempted to paint over the problems on January 6th, despite video like this from the body cam of a frontline D.C. police officer showing the moment he was attacked by pro-Trump rioters. Congressman Clyde refused to take back his claims during an event honoring police officers this morning.
REP. ANDREW CLYDE (R-GA): Think about what you just said. You didn't take what I said in context at all.
REPORTER: So can you explain it.
NOBLES: This all comes against the backdrop of the GOP booting Liz Cheney from leadership, in part because Republicans were angry she kept speaking out about Donald Trump's lies about the election.
REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): We all have been put here in this moment by history and history is going to judge us.
NOBLES: Despite her demotion, Cheney has no plans to fade into the background. Her likely replacement, Representative Elise Stefanik, is a staunch defender of Trump. But Cheney promised to do everything she can to prevent the former president from being the party's nominee in 2024 and even opened the door to him being criminally charged.
CHENEY: Any president who did what we know this former president did has got to be investigated criminally.
NOBLES: Meanwhile in the halls of Congress, the tension between Republicans and Democrats continues to boil.
REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): Antifa, BLM riots, and she's a chicken. She doesn't want to debate.
NOBLES: Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene confronting Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, screaming at her right outside the House chamber and demanding she participate in a debate. Ocasio-Cortez would not engage. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi argued Greene should be punished for her actions.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Their own caucus should exercise some -- discipline is not the word, respectable behavior standard for them. But it could be that this would rise to the level of an ethics complaint.
NOBLES: Taylor Greene saying --
GREENE: No, she doesn't need to file ethics violations. That's reacting like a child. Adults are able to debate policy.
NOBLES: The incident follows a pattern, leading members like Ocasio- Cortez and moderate Republican Adam Kinzinger to seek additional security for their personal safely.
NOBLES (on camera): And Ocasio-Cortez said that she don't want to engaged with Taylor Greene but she was cornered by reporter outside the House chamber and she said this for her interaction with the Georgia congresswoman. She said, I used to work as a bartender. These are the kinds of people I threw out of bars all the time. Wolf?
BLITZER: Awful situation over there as well. Ryan Nobles reporting for us, thank you.
Let's get some analysis from our Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash and CNN Senior Commentator John Kasich.
Governor Kasich, we all saw the violent images of the attack on the Capitol on January 6th. The Justice Department says that's made already more than 430 criminal arrests. How unsettling is it to see some of your fellow Republicans defend those rioters trying to rewrite history, suggesting they were patriotic tourists?
JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR COMMENTATOR: Well, Wolf, I'm disturbed at not just Republicans but any Americans who are saying these kinds of things. I mean, it would be like denying that we ever landed on the moon, to say that what happened on January 6th was not a riot, was not an insurrection would be to me equal to saying, oh no, no, we never made it on the moon, they were really out in some desert in Arizona. It's shocking to trying to cover up. They're trying to repaint history. You can't do it.
And I can't believe any American wants to do that. We're all so upset about what happened that day and it was a shame on our country. It was viewed around the world. That's amazing to me. It's like you think we've gone as low as we can and then an argument like this, it's crazy, it's nuts.
BLITZER: Yes. Dana, how does American democracy function when major elements of one political party are operating in an alternate reality?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Not very well, and that is pretty obvious from what we've seen, never mind over the past several months since January 6th or even before that in November, but even over the last two days based on that hearing that you played. I mean, it is really stunning. As the governor just said, just when you think you hit a new low, you go even lower. And the idea that some of these Republicans --
BLITZER: I think we just lost Dana. We we're going to get back to her.
Governor Kasich, as you know, Congresswoman Liz Cheney is warning that the Capitol attack isn't in the rear-view mirror. She's arguing that the former president of the United States, Trump, is an ongoing threat, her words, an ongoing threat to democracy, that he'll again try to seize power. Do you share her fears?
KASICH: Well, Wolf, there hasn't been a Republican in the party who's done more to stand up against Donald Trump because he was a divider and at times a demagogue. And, you know, I'm going to continue to speak out. But, you know, frankly, in some ways, the less we talk about him, the better off we are and the more he fades because he is fading.
It may be that some of his influence is still -- I mean, it is still there. There's no question about it. But Donald Trump himself, I believe over time now, has begun to fade and will fade dramatically. I want to move on. I don't even want to think about him anymore.
I want to tell you this. I heard some good things out of some of the Republican Senate, members of the Senate that they're now actively putting together a plan on infrastructure that would be constructive. They presented part of it to the president. That's what we need to be doing. We need to be thinking about what the policies are that can help America do better.
BLITZER: Dana, when we see members of Congress now have to beef up their personal security, you've covered Congress for a long time, this is extraordinary and so disturbing.
BASH: And it happened after January 6th. I've talked to so many members who were just assigned extra security based on what Capitol Police and the intelligence part of those law enforcement agencies were hearing. And then that stopped after a while because the threat seemed to subside. And that is changing and it is changing for so many reasons.
Number one, the idea of a member of the Republican leadership being thrown out, which is what we saw with Liz Cheney, because of the fact that she will not tell lies about what happened on the election and the people who are backing her, who are speaking out, are having security risks.
And then you have someone like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who's very, very public, who's very, very open about her beliefs, but also is now facing somebody who in Marjorie Taylor Greene who is simply trying to get attention, get attention to get fundraising to become a powerhouse for that wing of the Republican Party.
BLITZER: Dana Bash, John Kasich, thank you very much.
KASICH: Wolf -- Wolf, just --
BLITZER: Yes, very quickly. Go ahead.
KASICH: Just one thing that is important. I mean, this is a failure of the leaders there to not discipline their members and keep regular order. I served in Congress for 18 years. And the only time I ever felt I needed any personal security from other members was down on the basketball court. And you better believe sometimes they hacked me pretty good. But at the end of the day we shook hands, we gave each other a hug and we went and made law and served our country. Thanks, Wolf, for the extra time.
BLITZER: Yes. I've been in Congress for a long time, I've never seen this kind of situation in all the (INAUDIBLE).
KASICH: Anything like this.
BLITZER: All right guys thank you very much.
Just ahead, millions of American drivers are still suffering from gasoline shortages. So when will the crisis finally come to an end? Stay with us. We're getting new information.
BLITZER: President Biden says the East Coast fuel crisis should come to an end this weekend as the Colonial Pipeline resumes full operations following a devastating cyberattack. But millions of Americans right now are still dealing with shortages.
CNN's Pete Muntean is at a gas station that just ran out of gas.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Don't panic, number one.
PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That is the message from President Joe Biden who says gas stations should return to normal by this weekend. But what federal officials are calling a supply crunch can still be seen at gas stations up and down the East Coast.
BIDEN: I know seeing lines at the pumps or gas stations with no gas can be extremely stressful, but this is a temporary situation.
MUNTEAN: Admittedly not my best plan (ph).
Driving on a nearly empty tank in Alexandria, Virginia, we passed at least two stations without gas. The latest data from GasBuddy says 52 percent of all stations in Virginia are now sold out. In North Carolina, 68 percent of stations are now offline. Conditions
are improving in the Atlanta area, where at one point 73 percent of stations were without gas.
How hard is it to find gas around here?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very difficult. This is the first gas station I've seen in the last couple of hours with gas.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was bound to happen, just like when it's going to snow, people run to the store to get groceries, you're doing the same thing with the gas.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You got to top it off, you got to top it off.
MUNTEAN: Federal officials stressed the end is in sight. Colonial says it's making substantial progress in restarting its pipeline. But experts say fuel leaving refineries travels at pipeline speeds of only 3-5 miles per hour. Fuel must then reach terminals like this one before going to stations for delivery.
JENNIFER GRANHOLM, ENERGY SECRETARY: People need to know the gas is flowing.
MUNTEAN: Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm says it is not like flipping on a switch, and is urging against hoarding gasoline.
GRANHOLM: People will start to see normalcy in the next couple of days, hopefully by the end of the weekend. The consumer won't even know that the shortage exists anymore hopefully by the weekend.
MUNTEAN: Though security experts stress this attack is anything but normal, calling it a wakeup call when it comes to critical infrastructure.
BOB MCNALLY, PRESIDENT, RAPIDAN ENERGY GROUP: That is an authentic emergency. I know of no bigger attack on our energy system in U.S. history.
MUNTEAN: Up until a few moments ago, this was one of the few stations in Alexandria, Virginia, that did have gas. Now it is completely sold out. We are not out of the woods yet -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yeah, I was in a couple gas stations in my neighborhood completely sold out as well.
Pete Muntean, thank you very, very much.
Coming up, a close ally of Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz agrees to look into allegations of sex trafficking, sex with a minor and more.
[18:53:12] BLITZER: We're following a major development in the investigation into Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida. According to a new court filing, Joel Greenberg, a former Florida tax collector with close ties to Gaetz, will plead guilty and will cooperate with prosecutors.
Our senior legal analyst Preet Bharara is joining us right now.
Preet, I take it this development is not good news for Congressman Gaetz.
PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: No, it absolutely is not. We had an inkling that this was going to be the result and the outcome of the Greenberg case, but we didn't know for sure. And now, we see the reporting that he's going to plead guilty.
And the reason it's bad news for Matt Gaetz is I think the calculus of the prosecutor is going to be, we're not going to sign up Mr. Greenberg to a cooperation agreement unless he can give substantial assistance in the prosecution of someone else who is higher on the food chain. And Matt Gaetz fits that bill.
So prosecutors have almost certainly made the determination that he can provide evidence against the other guy. So I think that means that the likelihood of other charge against Matt Gaetz is higher than it was yesterday.
BLITZER: How much information, Preet, does someone like Greenberg actually need to provide in order to secure a plea deal, in other words, he would plead guilty and hope he would get some sort of reduced sentence?
BHARARA: He has to provide enough information so that the magic word -- the magic phrase is met, that is substantial assistance. And in this case, that means that he would make the difference between the ability to charge and convict someone like Matt Gaetz or not.
Remember, part of the problem with Mr. Greenberg is, he's been charged in a slew of counts, including for lying and making misrepresentations about various things. So he's a bit of an unsavory witness. So, to counterbalance that, he has to provide color, context, and most importantly, corroboration for all the things that otherwise prosecutors may have.
So it's got to be a pretty significant amount, I think a, just to make sure you're able to charge someone who is in the public eye in a sense, and it would be a sensitive prosecution against a sitting congressman, but also to overcome the baggage that he himself brings to the trial, if there's going to be one.
BLITZER: So very briefly, Preet, what happens next?
BHARARA: Well, we'll see what happens at the plea on Monday. All the signs point to the fact that it's a cooperation agreement. That means the trial is off, and then I don't know how long it will be before they charge someone else. They had a long time to get -- they came right up to the deadline of the trial, and I think prosecutors probably had most of the information they need.
BLITZER: Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney in New York, thank you very, very much.
More news right after this.
BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. You can always tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.