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The Situation Room

Elise Stefanik Elected to Republican Leadership; Interview with National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci; Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) Says, Vote on January 6 Commission Next Week after House Strikes Deal to Create Independent Panel; Millions Wait for Relief from Unrelenting Fuel Crisis. Aired 6- 7p ET

Aired May 14, 2021 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." It's right next door, "THE SITUATION ROOM."

And then I will see you on Monday morning.

Thanks for watching.

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: Fully vaccinated Americans are finally getting a taste of life without masks, but the new CDC guidance is raising new questions and confusion.

We will get answers from Dr. Anthony Fauci. He's standing by live. He will join us in just a few moments.

Also, ahead, American drivers are searching right now for relief, as the gas price crisis grips the East Coast of the United States for yet another day.

An all-out war in the Middle East is looming, as Israeli troops a masks on the Gaza border amid a growing toll of death and destruction.

Let's begin, though, with the very latest on the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Anthony Fauci is about to join us. He's going to be answering your questions about the new CDC mask guidance.

But, first, let's get an update from CNN national correspondent Nick Watt. He's in Los Angeles for us.

Nick, this new advice from the CDC is already causing some serious confusion out there. What are you seeing?


Listen, if you were hoping that this would end the confusion, it hasn't. The confusion is still here. Take if you're going to the store. Walgreens says you do still need to wear a mask. But you do not need to wear a mask if you go to most Walmarts or Costcos or Trader Joe's.

Here in Los Angeles County, officials said, listen, we're going to take a little bit of time, review these new guidelines and then we will publish our own sensible adjustments.


WATT (voice-over): The percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back positive has never been lower than it's been these past few days, ever. That's big. So is this:

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you are fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask.

WATT: Too soon?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: This change was really abrupt. The CDC went from zero to 100 overnight.

WATT: Let's break it down. Just the fully vaccinated, so just over one-third of the population, and its guidance, actual laws and mandates:

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Well, these decisions are going to have to be made at the local level.

WATT: Take Hawaii. For now?

GOV. DAVID IGE (D-HI): My mask mandate continues to be enforced. Everyone must wear their masks indoors.

WATT: Minnesota's mask mandate already no more.

REP. TIM WALZ (D-MN): If you're going into a business where folks are unmasked, you know that they're vaccinated, it's a safe thing to do.

WATT: But how do you know they're vaccinated?

DR. PAUL OFFIT, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA: This really is the honor system. So I'm still going to wear a mask if I'm in a public indoor place.

WATT: Kroger, Home Depot, Starbucks all still insisting staff and customers continue to mask up. Some school districts already dropped mandates.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Zero. No one wears mask. I haven't seen one mask.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was pretty sweet, pretty dope. We got rid of it.

WATT: Chad is now eligible for a vaccine. But, remember, younger kids still are not. The CDC, we're told, struggling to convince vaccine- hesitant Republicans. "It's kind of a mess to figure out with this particular audience what resonates with them," said one source, "because they see vaccines as taking away their freedom."

Does stuff like this actually help?

BRIAN CRICHTON, PRESIDENT, TALLADEGA SUPERSPEEDWAY: Fans that come out tomorrow, and if they're either tested or get the vaccination, they will be able to take two laps around the Talladega Superspeedway, the world's biggest, baddest and fastest track.


WATT: So, since the CDC announced these new guidelines, 18 states have so far said that they will fall in line. Now, add them to a bunch of other states that didn't have mask mandates in place anyway, and all you are left with are five states still insisting that vaccinated people wear masks inside.

They are Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and here in California -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Nick in Los Angeles, Nick Watt reporting.

Thanks very much.

Joining us now, President Biden's chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Dr. Fauci, thank you, as usual, for joining us.

As you know, a lot of people have questions, serious questions about this new CDC guidance that was released yesterday. Did it create more confusion than clarity?


I mean, certainly, there are some questions that I'm sure people have that are valid questions. But I think, when you answer the questions properly, based on the information we have, things will clarify. It may take a little time for people to get used to this new guideline.

But I think, literally, within a week or so, you're going to see people really understanding what it means and getting into line with it. The overwhelming response, Wolf, has been positive. People have been waiting say, I have been vaccinated. Now we know the overwhelming evidence is that the vaccines are extraordinarily effective in being protective to you and quite safe.


So, they want to start getting on the roadway to some form of normality. That's a very good feeling that people have been yearning for. And, in fact, it might -- even though the underlying rationale for the guideline change was not necessarily as an inducement to get people to be vaccinated, I think the secondary effect of it, Wolf, will be that people will start saying, maybe I should get vaccinated, because, yes, I do want to be part of this returning to normal.

BLITZER: So, who should people listen to right now, Dr. Fauci? Should they listen to their local authorities? Should they listen to the CDC?

Because, as you know, the majority of Americans still are not vaccinated.

FAUCI: Right.

So, the fundamental baseline guideline is the CDC. So, people who feel that -- which they should now, based on the data -- that it is safe for them, not only outdoors, but indoors, they should feel comfortable in not wearing a mask.

If a local authority or a local institution, like a school or a store -- we just heard it on some of the presentation that you gave -- said, I don't have the opportunity to know who is vaccinated and who's not vaccinated, we don't have vaccine passports, so if you're going to come into my establishment, I want everybody to wear a mask, those people are perfectly justified if they want to do that, because they have their own feelings about not wanting to be transmission in their establishment for the people who are not vaccinated.

But if a place is open and says, you could come in whenever you want, people who are vaccinated should feel perfectly comfortable in going indoors without a mask.

BLITZER: Are you comfortable going indoors without a mask, Dr. Fauci? Would you go to a local restaurant in your neighborhood, have a beer and a hamburger, as you say you would like to do, and walk in, a whole bunch of people inside, without a mask?

FAUCI: You know, Wolf, the answer is yes. If I had the time to do it, I would do it.


FAUCI: But I don't have the time to do it. But the answer is yes.

I would feel comfortable now in indoor settings going in without a mask. I mean, obviously, I have had conversations, Wolf, with people who have some reasonable questions. And there are. And you should respect those questions.

For example, there are some elderly individuals who've been vaccinated, or those who have underlying conditions who say to me, right now, I still feel a little bit uncomfortable. I want to be extra safe. I don't want to be risky. I'm a risk-averse person. So, even though I'm vaccinated, if I go into a crowded place, or a place where there are a lot of people, I'm still going to wear a mask.

My response to them is, of course, you have the option to do whatever you want to do in that regard. But for those who look, for example, to the CDC, who are the experts

in this country, as the public health organization, and say, please give me a guideline, I'd like to know what to do, that guideline is now that the data are very clear that, if you get vaccinated, you are very, very well-protected.

So, I think there's a place for anybody's opinion in this. You can, really, ultimately, Wolf, always do what you want to do. If you want to feel extra, extra, extra, no-risk safe, then you can wear a mask when you go in. If you want to go with the science and say, the way I look at it now, I can be OK and feel safe indoor without a mask, I think there are going to be many, many, many people who feel that way.

BLITZER: What about the governors out there who are still saying you got to wear masks?

FAUCI: Again, in their own state, in certain places, if they feel that the level of infection in their community, in their state, in their city, in their counties is such that they are concerned not about the vaccinated person, who we know is very well-protected, they are concerned about people in indoor places who are not vaccinated, and one unvaccinated infected person infecting another unvaccinated uninfected person.

That's what they want to avoid. So what they're saying is, OK for people who are vaccinated to feel safe. That's fine. But, in certain establishments, we don't want there to be the spread of infection. Therefore, we're saying you should be wearing a mask.

If you analyze that, Wolf, that's a perfectly reasonable approach to take. But it still doesn't take away from the fact that the vaccinated people, if they want to, and they are in an establishment that doesn't require a mask, they should feel comfortable indoors without wearing a mask.


BLITZER: We're getting a lot of questions, Dr. Fauci, from viewers out there who wonder what all this means for them.

A serious concern being raised is for the kids, for kids who aren't yet eligible for the vaccine. What are parents and grandparents, for that matter, supposed to do to keep their unvaccinated children and grandchildren safe?

FAUCI: OK, so, if you go back to the original CDC guideline, which says that you're a vaccinated parent or a grandparent, and you have an unvaccinated child in the home, in the home setting, absolutely, you don't need to wear a mask, you can have physical contact.

When the children go out into the community, either an indoor or in certain outdoor settings, they should wear a mask if they're unvaccinated. When they ultimately get vaccinated, it will be the same as the adults.

BLITZER: You have said that elementary school kids, young kids probably won't get vaccinated until the end of this year.

So, should kids still be wearing masks when they go back to school this fall?

FAUCI: The answer is, first of all, the schools should be open, face- to-face, in person classes in the fall. We absolutely have to do that.

And in those situations, if the child, which, obviously, elementary school kids are not vaccinated, they should wear a mask. And I would be -- almost guarantee that most of the schools are going to say, you have to wear a mask if you're in the school and unvaccinated.

BLITZER: So, even -- so the 8-, 9-, 10-, 11-year-old kids going back to school, they're going to spend all day with masks in their classroom?

FAUCI: It'll be the same. There's no change. That's the point, Wolf, that -- and it's understandable why there's some confusion.

But if you analyze it step by step and situation by situation, it really is clear. The only thing that's changed is that people who are vaccinated, fully vaccinated, can now not wear a mask, not only outdoors, but also indoors.

What hasn't changed is what's going on for the unvaccinated group. And if the unvaccinated group of the elementary school children, nothing has really changed for them. I think that's the thing we need to clarify.

BLITZER: There's a lot of clarification that's still necessary out there, because, as you know, Dr. Fauci, a lot of us remain confused what is best, not only for ourselves, but for those that we love and for our friends and neighbors out there.

So, you guys got your work cut out for you. And thank you so much for joining us and giving us some explanation here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Dr. Fauci, as usual, thank you very much.

FAUCI: Thank you, Wolf. Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Just ahead, we're going to take you live to the border between Israel and Gaza, where troops are amassing right now. The death toll is surging. We're going there. We will give you the very latest when we come back.



BLITZER: Right now, we're following the escalating crisis in the Middle East, where the death toll is soaring, and fears of an all-out war are growing by the hour. CNN's Nic Robertson is joining us right now. He's on the scene right

near the Israel-Gaza border, where -- so dangerous for you, for our crew, for everyone over there.

Nic, give us the latest.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, Wolf, it only seems dangerous for citizens here.

Twice in the last 10 minutes, the sirens have gone off. We have gone to the shelter here in the hotel and, we have been able to hear from the shelter the sounds of missiles intercepting those rockets, the Iron Dome missiles intercepting the rockets being fired from Gaza.

It's been like that all day. We have watched multiple occasions where the Iron Dome -- Iron Dome missiles have flown up and taken out the Hamas rockets, in some cases very close to troops on the -- Israeli troops on the ground.


ROBERTSON (voice-over): Over Gaza, the fury of war frozen. Hamas rockets tear towards Israel's Iron Dome, defensive tentacles, on the ground, fear.

Families flee, sheltering in U.N.-designated safe havens, schools.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They are targeting our homes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We stayed together at home with a group of children. Suddenly, we heard artillery hitting us from every side. Wherever we looked, it was hitting. We and our children are completely exhausted.

ROBERTSON: The toll, deaths and destruction, climbing on both sides.

At Gaza's border, tanks, troops, armored personnel carriers on standby, Iron Dome intercepts overhead, a background beat of war.


(on camera): And that's a siren here. And that means we are being -- this location is being targeted. So, we are going to move swiftly for cover.

(voice-over): Not enough troops here for a ground incursion, but getting their job done, according to Israel's prime minister.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): I said that when we strike Hamas and the other terrorist organizations very hard. And we are doing just that. In the last 24 hours, we have attacked underground targets. Hamas thought it could hide there. But it cannot hide there.

ROBERTSON: Away from Gaza, at Friday prayers in the venerated Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, tensions mounting, worshipers angry over Palestinian suffering, clashing with Israeli police.

Across the West Bank, confrontations continuing throughout the day, indirectly, Hamas managing to turn Gaza's suffering to their advantage.

ABU OBAIDA, SPOKESMAN, HAMAS MILITARY WING (through translator): If it comes to responding to your aggression and claiming victory for our people and our sanctities, there are no red lines, sacred rules of engagement or complicated calculations.


ROBERTSON: What's lacking here is diplomacy, no off-ramp in sight, the suffering spurring increasing international calls for an end to the violence, but nothing to show for it yet.


ROBERTSON: And today, when he was speaking, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked President Biden. He thanked the British, the French, the Germans, the Austrians as well, because he said that he had been told by the leaders of those countries that Israel has the right to strike back at these indiscriminate rockets being fired by Hamas.

He seems to be taking this -- it certainly reads at the moment, in the current environment, that he feels he's got more time on his side to continue the strikes as he sees he needs to against Hamas, as he's indicated he will -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, Nic, what are you hearing? What is next?

ROBERTSON: Wolf, I think, when you look at it, you have just got to say this is going to continue.

I think, today, the level of strikes, the level of intercepts, the number of rockets that have been fired by Hamas and other groups out of Gaza today have been less than the previous day, they -- not able to fire those massive barrages, ones, twos, five, six, sevens, half-a- dozen, a dozen maybe at one time.

But it's not stopping. And both sides seem to be indicating very clearly that they're prepared to continue. And I think, as that, the conflict in Gaza, continues, so the tensions on the streets that have been witnessed elsewhere across the country, that will continue.

So, at the moment, Wolf, it's -- the situation the same, but perhaps not escalation, in Gaza, at least.

BLITZER: All right, Nic Robertson on the Gaza border, Israel-Gaza border, for us, thank you very much. Stay safe over there, my friend.

Coming up, CNN uncovers deleted new video showing Marjorie Taylor Greene harassing Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in her office, get what -- get this -- through the mail slot in the door.


BLITZER: New developments tonight in the war within the GOP.

A Trump loyalist now holding a key position in the party's House leadership.

CNN congressional correspondent Ryan Nobles has the latest.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, the House Republican Conference overwhelmingly picking New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik as their new conference chair and presenting a united front.

REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): Listen, the Republican Party is a big tent party. And my district is the story of the growth of the Republican Party.

NOBLES: But it may not be that easy.

REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R-TX): There have been things worse than people without any firearms coming into a building.

NOBLES: Rank-and-file hard right members are now attempting to rewrite the history of what happened during the January 6 insurrection.

Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert did so Friday from the House floor.

GOHMERT: There's no doubt people came here on January 6 to cause trouble. Most did not come here to cause trouble. Most came here to protest.

NOBLES: This despite harrowing stories of violence and chaos from that day that continue to emerge from police officers, some of whom were beaten and had their own weapons turned on them.

MICHAEL FANONE, D.C. METROPOLITAN POLICE DEPARTMENT: I believe that violent group would have killed individuals inside of the Capitol complex.

HARRY DUNN, U.S. CAPITOL POLICE OFFICER: For people to contradict that, it's insulting. It's a slap in the face.

NOBLES: This growing move to rewrite history comes on the same day a bipartisan deal was hatched to form an independent commission to look into what went wrong on that day.

The commission will be evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. They will have equal subpoena power, and the scope will be limited to January 6 and the events that led to the attack.

While the negotiations were bipartisan, the top House Republican, Kevin McCarthy, has yet to sign off. But Democrats say that won't be a problem. REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): So, we tried to take the politics out of

it, because the public deserves nothing less.

NOBLES: With a handful of far right Republicans painting a different picture of what happened that day, drawing a clear conclusion as to what went wrong is now imperative.

Liz Cheney, who lost her leadership post for telling the truth about the election, said GOP leaders cannot ignore this trend.

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): It's very important for people to understand that -- the ongoing danger of a former president attempting to undermine the system in the way he is. And, as Republicans, we have a particular responsibility to stand up against that.

NOBLES: But the conservative provocateurs are only getting louder.

REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): We're going to visit Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, crazy eyes, crazy eyes.

NOBLES: New video uncovered by the CNN KFILE team shows Marjorie Taylor Greene before she was elected to Congress taunting Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez outside her office door, this after Greene confronted Ocasio-Cortez outside the House chamber.

AOC saying that MTG needs professional help.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): I'm concerned about her perceptions of reality.


NOBLES: And despite all this tension between Republicans and Democrats, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is prepared to move forward with plans for this bipartisan commission to look into the events of January 6.

She plans to bring a bill to the House floor as soon as next week, this despite the fact, Wolf, that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has yet to give the bill his endorsement -- Wolf.


BLITZER: All right. We'll see what happens on that front. Ryan Nobles reporting from Capitol Hill, thank you very much.

Let's bring in our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger and CNN Special Correspondent Jamie Gangel. Ladies, good to have you in The Situation Room, in person on our new set. Good to see people face to face.

All right, Gloria, let's talk a little bit about Liz Cheney. She says -- you just heard her say Republicans, in her words, have a responsibility to stand up to the danger posed by the former president, Trump. But it seems like she, Adam Kinzinger, maybe one or two other Republicans are the only ones doing that. GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: They are. There's not a lot of courage right now in that party, and that's because the problem for the Republican Party is not Liz Cheney and it's not Adam Kinzinger. It's Donald Trump. And the person in the Republican Party with the most power and authority right now is the one who wants to make the next election about the last one.

People in Congress, House Republicans say, we want to look forward to 2022. We don't want to look backward. But guess what? The person who is calling the shots is the one who wants to make this about the last election. And if they want to stay in his good graces, because he is popular with the Republican base, they have to pay homage to him. So when he talks about a rigged election, what do they do? They try and keep their mouths shut. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger had the courage to say no, you know what, we're not going to do this.

BLITZER: Yes. And now, as you know, Jamie, because you've been doing a lot of reporting on this, even as Cheney makes the case that Trump is an ongoing danger not only to the party but to the American people right now, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, supposedly a more moderate Republican from upstate New York --


BLITZER: Yes, she was just elected to take Cheney's place. She's now the number three Republican leader in the House of Representatives. But she's a staunch, staunch, total supporter of Trump.

GANGEL: I've spoken to several Republicans in that conference, and I've asked, is this real? And what they say to me is, political ambition has trumped, forgive me, principle, that she knew she wasn't getting anywhere being a moderate Republican, and so she went all in with Trump.

BLITZER: Yes, it's amazing. And I want to throw some video, Gloria. This is video from 2019. We saw it a little bit in Ryan Nobles' piece. But it's Marjorie Taylor Greene taunting Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's staff through the mail slot of her office. Watch this.


REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, I'm an American citizen. I pay your salary through the taxes that you collect from me through the IRS because I'm a tax paying citizen of the United States.

So you need to stop being a baby and stop locking your door and come out and face the American citizens that you serve. If you want to be a big girl, you need to get rid of your diaper and come out and be able to talk to the American citizens, instead of us having to use a flap, a little flap.


BLITZER: You know, when you think about that, it's pretty awful. This is just before she became a congresswoman, but she continues to behave like that.

BORGER: It's disgraceful and I think silence is tacit approval. And I think Kevin McCarthy, as leader of the Republican Party, needs to come out and say someone like Marjorie Taylor Greene has no place and has no future in the Republican Party. And I think he should make sure that the campaign committee funds a candidate in any primary to run against her, and he won't do it, but he should.

BLITZER: What are you hearing?

GANGEL: It's not only that it's inappropriate. It's that other members of Congress are scared of her. She has a lot of militia groups in her district. She is very provocative and they are genuinely scared. There were Republican members who were upset that other Republican members were going around the magnetometers on the House floor.

Liz Cheney made some news today. She told Jake Tapper that other Republican members would not vote for impeachment at the time because in real-time after January 6th, they told her that they were scared for their lives and scared for their families' lives. And a lot of them have to have the impeachment tend, we now know a lot of them went out and got their own security at the time. Seeing Marjorie Taylor Greene do this is scary for a lot of members.

BORGER: You're watching bullying.

GANGEL: Correct.

BORGER: You're watching someone be bullied behind a door through a mail slot. Imagine if that were happening at your home. How would you react to that?

BLITZER: Yes, and it's awful that Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, they need extra security as they walk around Capitol Hill and go back to their districts.


Ladies thanks very much. Thank you for joining in The Situation Room.

BORGER: Good to be on set, literally.

BLITZER: You guys are really here.

All right, just ahead, there's a new twist that we've just learned about in the investigation into Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida, details of a plea deal of former friend of his has now struck with prosecutors.


BLITZER: A former ally of Congressman Matt Gaetz says he'll work with federal prosecutors in their sprawling investigation of the Florida Republican into alleged sex trafficking, prostitution and corruption.

[18:40:03] Our Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez is working this story for us. Evan, does this mean this plea deal announced today is serious trouble potentially for Gaetz?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Potentially, it is serious trouble for Matt Gaetz. And what his friend, Mr. Greenberg, is now pleading to -- he's going to plead next week in federal court in Orlando, he's going to plead to six federal charges, Wolf, including sex trafficking. He was facing 33 counts before.

So one of the things that is interesting about this is you read this 86-page document that he says he's going to agree to in court. He says one of the interesting things he says is that he, quote, introduced a child to other adult men who engaged in commercial sex acts with a minor in the middle district of Florida. And that's a reference to a group of men that were part of this -- they were partying essentially according to prosecutors, and Matt Gaetz was part of this group of men that were known to be participating in these parties with young women.

And Matt Gaetz has said that he has never had sex illegally with a 17- year-old. He says he's never paid for sex. And his spokesman today, by the way, Wolf, points out that Gaetz is not mentioned in the 86-page document that has been released in federal court. As a matter of fact, he says and correctly points out that the document makes mention that Greenberg admits that he falsely accused someone else previously of having sex with a minor. So that tells you that Greenberg is not going to be the perfect witness for the government should they decide to bring charges.

BLITZER: Yes. All right, we'll see what happens on that front. Evan, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on this. The state attorney for Palm Beach County in Florida, Dave Aronberg, is joining us. Dave, thank you so much for joining us.

What do the terms of this new plea deal indicate to you?

DAVE ARONBERG, STATE ATTORNEY, PALM BEACH COUNTY, FLORIDA: Good evening, Wolf. The feds are not going to cut a deal with an accused child sex trafficker unless that person has information that can lead to the future prosecution of someone who is equally or more culpable than he is or a bigger fish.

It's pretty clear that Joel Greenberg is the most culpable person here. But as far as someone with greater status, someone with a position of trust, you've got a potential prosecution of a sitting member of Congress. And that is a lifeline to Greenberg who's facing up to life in prison.

It is ironic in our criminal justice system that the person who is the worst can get the best deal because he knows the most and that looks like what's happening here.

BLITZER: Federal investigators, Dave, they clearly believe Greenberg has relevant information, but does he also have a credibility problem? How do prosecutors account for that?

ARONBERG: It is a problem because Joel Greenberg is like a Bond villain but without the metal teeth or nuclear reactors. He's being charged with 33 crimes. And he now, under this plea deal, will get 27 of them dropped, which means that the feds think that he has corroboration because his words mean nothing. They're not going to give him this kind of deal just based on his words alone. He's got to have emails, text messages, Venmo receipts. And also, I think, crucially, there are probably others out there who are cooperating with the feds who can back up the allegations made by Joel Greenberg, people like the 17-year-old girl.

Now here is the thing, Matt Gaetz, is going to base his defense. If he's charged, and we don't know this yet, but if he's charge, he'll base his defense on attacking Joel Greenberg. He's an easy mark to attack. He will also likely attack the 17-year-old girl at issue here, if she's cooperating, because allegedly she's now 19 years old and is in the adult film industry.

But it will be a lot harder to attack Matt Gaetz's ex-girlfriend who's rumored to be cooperating because, apparently, they're on good terms and she currently works for the Florida state government. So that's something to watch, who else is there to corroborate with Joel Greenberg is saying.

BLITZER: Yes, the fact that he was originally charged with 33 counts, they've dropped 27 of them, he's now being charged with six counts. That says a lot. And we'll obviously see what happens next. Dave Aronberg, thank you very much for joining us.

ARONBERG: Thanks Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, no sign of relief for millions of American drivers right now who are still dealing with a major gasoline shortage. When will the newly operational fuel pipeline finally, finally end the crisis?



BLITZER: Tonight, millions of American drivers are still waiting for relief as the Colonial Fuel pipeline resumes operations.

CNN's Brian Todd is on the story for us.

Brian, the pipeline has apparently recovered from that devastating cyberattack, but so many millions of Americans on the East Coast are still struggling to find gasoline, including where you are.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. You would not know that this pipeline is on the way back if you're around here in McLean, Virginia.

Take a look over here. This BP station running extremely low right now. They are pretty much done surface their as far as their availability.

This Exxon station, you see some lines over here, but they can only pump supreme grade gasoline. There's a Liberty station over here that's dry. Neither this Shell nor this Liberty station know when they're going to get their gas.

All of these four stations reflective of an entire region that is still grappling with this crisis.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've driven probably 30 miles trying to get it and running low.


And it's just become a very stressful time.

TODD: At these gas stations in northern Virginia, one BP station has gas but it is running low. The Shell next door is still bone dry.

But the frustration levels are consistent everywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's hard. Yesterday, we were looking for gas. In Maryland (ph), we don't have any gas.

TODD: Colonial Pipeline has restarted its entire system which feeds the Southeast, but getting back to normal is a slow, excruciating process.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every time I pulled up the person in front of me just ran out. Just ran out. Just ran out.

TODD: Gas shortages in the southeast of the U.S. have eased slightly tonight, but there are still significant shortages.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It has been really tough. I have been around 15 or 20 stations in D.C., and they didn't have it. So, I had to come all the way down to Virginia.

TODD: By this afternoon, 81 percent of get stations inside Washington, D.C., had fuel outages, according to the website Gas Buddy.

In Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia nearly have the station still had outages this afternoon. And in North Carolina, one of the worst- hit states, 65 percent still had outages. Experts say one reason North Carolina was particularly hard hit is because other East Coast states had more fuel delivered by ship.

GARY HARRIS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NORTH CAROLINA PETROLEUM & CONVENIENCE MARKETERS: Ports like Charleston, Chesapeake, Baltimore and those type ports are more larger than our port at Wilmington.

TODD: But the biggest cause may have been psychology. Panic buying.

PATRICK DE HAAN, HEAD OF PETROLEUM ANALYSIS, GASBUDDY: Once you start to see gas lines, a lot of people hop into them thinking they are missing out. It really kind of blew out of proportion across much of the Southeast.

TODD: Sources familiar with the matter tell CNN Colonial pipeline paid the ransom that the FBI said carried out the devastating cyberattack. That group previously identified as DarkSide had demanded nearly $5 million, two other sources say. But it's not known how much the company has actually paid.

The criminal group's website went offline Thursday, although it's not clear who took it down, but the damage is not yet over.

DE HAAN: Slowly starting to recover, but on Friday we may not see huge improvement. I think more the improvement will start happening Sunday, Monday, Tuesday. That's when motorists really start to park their cars after a long weekend.


TODD (on camera): And complicating matters even more is a huge shortage of gas truck drivers across the U.S. That has been going on since the height of the pandemic, making it even more difficult to deliver supplies to gas stations like this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yeah. My neighborhood, the gas stations were shut down, totally empty for three days in a row now.

Brian Todd reporting from northern Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C. -- thank you.

Up next, inside the war within the GOP. We are going to take a closer look at how the Republican Party got to this point. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: This Sunday night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, "A Radical Rebellion: The Transformation of the GOP" airs right here on CNN. It's a Fareed Zakaria special.

Fareed is doing this right now.

Fareed, thank you so much for doing for what you're doing. Thanks for joining us.

You have taken a very deep dive into the evolution of the Republican Party. I want to play this clip.


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS (voice-over): Let me give you some snapshots of the Republican electorate today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to stop watching media and start getting the facts.

CROWD: Four more years!

ZAKARIA: In a CNN poll conducted after January 6, 70 percent of Republicans said that they did not believe that Joe Biden won the election legitimately.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's too much evidence of fraud.

CROWD: Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!

ZAKARIA: Over 40 percent believe Bill Gates is planning to use the COVID-19 vaccine as a pretext to implant micro chips in people's brains in order to track them.

And roughly one in four Republicans agree with the key tenet of the QAnon conspiracy, that a group of Satan worshipping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control our media and politics.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Joe Biden is the biggest pedophile on the face of the planet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not a conspiracy. It's fact.

CROWD: Fight for America! Fight for America!

ZAKARIA: It becomes impossible to deny, the Republican Party today has been infected by a series of crazy conspiracy theories. Why?


BLITZER: What did you learn, Fareed, about how these fringe theories out there took hold of so many Republicans out there?

ZAKARIA: It's basically, Wolf, a story of betrayal, anger which then causes more extremism. So the Republican Party has been shaped by a kind of conservative core that kept telling the party, we will deliver to you big change. We are going to repeal the New Deal. We are going to repeal the Great Society. We are going to make sure Roe v. Wade is history.

And when this happened, when it became clear the American public was actually like the New Deal, like the Great Society to, the foot soldiers would get more and more angry, and get more and more extreme and they begin to believe in this idea that somebody's betraying them. There's some elite conspiracy at work, otherwise how come none of this is happening?

So they start increasingly turning on their own. This all culminates really with Donald Trump, because think about it, it's so bizarre that you have Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president in 2016 who trashes every previous living Republican nominee for president, Mitt Romney, John McCain, the two Bushes. Extraordinary.

BLITZER: Certainly extraordinary. We are really looking forward to your special report, Fareed. Thank you very much. An important to our viewers. "A Radical Rebellion: The Transformation

of the GOP" airs this Sunday night, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN. Of course, you could always catch Fareed Sunday mornings 10:00 a.m. Eastern on his "GPS" program. I never miss it.

To our viewers, thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.