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The Situation Room

Trump DOJ Targeted CNN Correspondent; President Biden Delivers Address on Middle East Cease-Fire; Cases, Deaths, Hospitalizations Decline as More People Get Vaccinated; Senate Republicans Poised to Block January 6th Commission; Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) is Interviewed About the Jan. 6 Commission; Video Shows Troopers Tase, Kick, Drag Black Man Before His Death. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired May 20, 2021 - 18:00   ET



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Our coverage continues right now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer 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.

After 11 days of deadly fighting and intense global pressure, Israel and Hamas agreed to a mutual unconditional cease-fire in Gaza. We're standing by for remarks by President Biden.

We also have new and very disturbing information on the Trump administration's targeting of journalists. A secret effort to obtain a CNN correspondent's phone records and e-mails has now been revealed.

And body camera video shows a black man was Tased, kicked and dragged by troopers, discrediting the state police account of his fatal arrest.

All that coming up, but, first, let's go straight over to the White House.

Our senior White House correspondent, Phil Mattingly, is joining us right now.

Momentarily, we expect, Phil, I take it, to hear from the president.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right. In just a matter of minutes, we expect to hear from the president. It

is extremely notable. Obviously, securing a cease-fire or a cease-fire taking place has been a primary goal of the Biden administration, of the president over the course of the last 10 or 11 days.

But we haven't heard exactly what's been going on behind the scenes. And it's behind the scenes, Wolf, where most of the conversations have been taking place, more than 80 calls from the U.S. officials, including the president, not just to the Israelis, not just to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, but also to key regional players, as they sought to pressure towards this resolution, towards this outcome.

And I think there's a couple things that everyone is going to be listening for, obviously, what the president thinks about the sustainability of this cease-fire, how this all came together, the president's role in that, but also the president's relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

It has been made very clear, though, through written statements, largely in diplomatic-speak, that the White House has changed its tone dramatically over the course of the last several days, as the violence continued to escalate.

The president making clear for several days not only that the U.S. and the president supported Israel's right to defend itself, but also that they were going to continue close consultations throughout this process. Over the course of the last 48 hours, that started to shift, the president making clear he was hopeful for a cease-fire on Monday, then a couple days later, making clear in very blunt terms, we're told, to Prime Minister Netanyahu that he wanted to see a significant de-escalation within 24 hours.

That de-escalation is clearly coming. It is in the works right now. But how the president views his relationship with the prime minister, how the president views not just in this moment, with this conflict, that relationship, but what it means for that broader relationship, it'll be interesting to see if the president weighs in on that, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're told the president momentarily will be speaking.

I quickly want to go to Nic Robertson. He's on the scene for us over there in Israel.

Nic, tell us about this cease-fire. What are the prospects it will succeed?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, it comes into effect in one hour's time, Wolf.

What we have heard from Benny Gantz, the defense minister here, is that unprecedented achievements have been achieved by the Israeli Defense Force. And he has this warning, essentially, for Hamas, which is saying that they will -- in his words exactly, the ground reality will determine the continuing of operations. It's a warning for Hamas that, if they step over the line, if they start firing a lot of rockets after that 2:00 a.m., one hour from now, deadline, then the Israeli Defense Force could start up their operations again. That's what he is saying.

So, we have also heard that sirens were going off close to the border with Gaza about 30 minutes ago. And, also, about 20, 25 minutes ago, we were hearing very loud explosions.

So, from where we stand, Wolf, it seems that the cease-fire has yet to come into effect, but a very clear warning from the defense minister to Hamas to abide by it when it does -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And what you're saying is, it's supposed to go into full effect in less than an hour, right at the top of the next hour; is that right?

ROBERTSON: Right at the top of the next hour.

This was -- the cease-fire as detailed and hammered out by the -- by the Egyptian authorities. The precise details of it, what other caveats are in there, what other details, what other parameters, we don't know about, Wolf.

But we do know that...


BLITZER: All right, stand by. Nic, stand by.

The president is now walking over to the microphones. Let's listen to the President Biden.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Folks, I've just spoken with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Earlier today, I spoke with President El-Sisi of Egypt.

And Minister -- Prime Minister Netanyahu informed me that Israel has agreed to a mutual, unconditional cease-fire to begin in less than two hours. The Egyptians have now informed us that Hamas and the other groups in Gaza have also agreed.


In my conversation with President Netanyahu, I commended him for the decision to bring the current hostilities to a close within less than 11 days.

I also emphasized what I have said throughout this conflict. The United States fully supports Israel's right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks from Hamas and other Gaza-based terrorist groups that have taken the lives of innocent civilians in Israel.

The prime minister also shared with me his appreciation for the Iron Dome system, which our nations developed together, and which has saved the lives of countless Israeli citizens, both Arab and Jew. I assured him of my full support to replenish Israel's Iron Dome system to ensure its defenses and security in the future.

Over the last 11 days, I spoke with the prime minister six times. I've also spoken with President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority more than once in part of our intense diplomatic engagement.

And I want to also thank the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, our national security adviser, and everyone on our team for their incredible efforts to bring this about -- this outcome that we're about to see.

You know, we've held intensive high-level discussions, hour by hour, literally, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, and other Middle Eastern countries -- with an aim of avoiding the sort of prolonged conflict we've seen in previous years when the hostilities have broken out.

I extend my sincere gratitude to President El-Sisi and the senior Egyptian officials who played a critical role in this diplomacy.

I also appreciate the contributions of other parties in the region who have been engaged in working towards the end of hostilities.

These hostilities have resulted in the tragic deaths of so many civilians, including children. And I send my sincere condolences to all the families, Israeli and Palestinian, who have lost loved ones and my hope for a full recovery for the wounded.

The United States is committed to working with the United Nations, and we remain committed to working with the United Nations and other international stakeholders to provide rapid humanitarian assistance and to marshal international support for the people of Gaza and the Gaza reconstruction efforts.

We will do this in full partnership with the Palestinian Authority -- not Hamas, the Authority -- in a manner that does not permit Hamas to simply restock its military arsenal.

I believe the Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely and to enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and democracy.

My administration will continue our quiet and relentless diplomacy toward that end. I believe we have a genuine opportunity to make progress, and I'm committed to working for it.

I want to thank you all. And may God bless you all. And I pray that this continues.

Thank you so much.

BLITZER: All right, so there he is, the president of the United States. He didn't take any reporters' questions.

But he made a statement, thinking there was an opportunity now to move beyond the cease-fire, he says maybe to establish some sort of genuine peace -- it's not going to be easy -- between the Israelis and the Palestinians. He did praise Egypt and President El-Sisi of Egypt for its behind-the-scenes role in achieving this cease-fire between Hamas and Israel.

Hamas and Israel don't talk to each other. But the Egyptians played a very significant role, just as they did in 2014, when they similarly brokered a cease-fire after some 50 days of fighting between the Israelis and Hamas.

From Phil Mattingly, you're over at the White House for us.

What did you expect to hear from the president? And were you surprised by anything he said?

MATTINGLY: No, I think it was mostly in line with the posture you have seen from the president over the course of the last several days.

Wolf, this is the first proactive statement we have seen from the president related to this conflict since it began. He's answered a few questions from reporters about it. But this is the first time he's spoken specifically about this issue at length.

He also hasn't spoken publicly about this issue, Wolf, for more than a week. And I think the comments were obviously carefully calibrated. He commended Prime Minister Netanyahu for reaching this agreement, for signing off on this agreement, and made very, very clear that the U.S. fully planned to restock any Israel -- Israeli military equipment that was used during this conflict.

But he also made clear that, when it came to the Palestinians, when it came to the Palestinian Authority, the U.S. would fully support and work to ensure humanitarian aid reached the country.

I think there's a couple things here. One of the things that I think all of us have been trying to figure out over the course of the last couple of days is, is this idea of quiet, relentless diplomacy something that's going to be effective?


You heard the president specifically cite that. And I think that underscores that, yes, they believe it worked. And, two -- and, second, this will be the -- kind of the way they continue this in the weeks and months ahead.

Obviously, a lot of this is dependent on how much the cease-fire holds. But I do think one thing -- one final thing to keep an eye on, Wolf -- and you mentioned it -- the call with President El-Sisi today with Egypt, Egypt played a central role, just like they did in 2014.

U.S. officials have been working behind the scenes relentlessly for the last several days with the Egyptians to try and reach this outcome. It's his first call with President El-Sisi, at least publicly that we have seen, since he took office.

How that relationship evolves as well as an important takeaway from this.

BLITZER: I totally agree.

Phil, stand by.

Nic Robertson is on the scene for us, also, in Israel.

I want to get, Nic, your reaction. How are the Israelis going to respond, the Israeli government, specifically the prime minister, strong words from the president during his approximately four-minute statement?

ROBERTSON: You know, strong words of support. Absolutely, Israel's counted on that support from the United States. We have heard Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remind that -- remind that to the Israeli people.

We heard that as recently as just, I think, two days ago, after Prime Minister Netanyahu received one of those tough phone calls from President Biden, told the people: America is our friend. President Biden is our friend.

So, I think that's going to -- that's going to go down well. I think there will be some Israelis who have concerns that their government has sort of gone for a cease-fire too soon. They really want to be protected. They really want to know that Hamas doesn't have the capability and capacity to continue to target them.

And I think that was underscored by what President Biden said there. He said, we will commit ourselves and work with others to bring that rapid humanitarian relief to Gaza that is so needed. The U.N. is calling for $38 million immediately and hundreds more million dollars to help with the rebuilding; 70,000 people are out of their homes at the moment in Gaza.

So, that money is needed. But the important caveat there, this will go down well with people here, Wolf, something I think you will recognize as well from your conversation with officials here, that the money is not going to go into the hands of Hamas to restock their weapons. The money will go into the hands of the Palestinian Authority.

Now, the Palestinian Authority does not have a lot of written control in Gaza. It's going to be interesting to see how that plays out. But that's a very important piece of information from the president.

BLITZER: Yes, you did hear the president say he wants to have full partnership with the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority, but then he added the words not, not Hamas.

Richard Haass is joining us as well in this analysis. He's the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, knows a lot about this region.

Richard, thank you so much for joining us.

So, give us, first of all, your reaction to what we heard from the president and the cease-fire -- and the reaction, your reaction to this announced cease-fire that goes into full effect supposedly at the top of the hour.

RICHARD HAASS, PRESIDENT, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, Wolf, it's obviously welcome. We obviously hope it holds.

But no one should begin to confuse a cease-fire with really anything more than that. Hamas will ultimately rearm. This doesn't change anything between Israel and them. And I think, for the United States, what it really shows -- and also for Israel -- what matters is not just this -- quite honestly, I don't see a lot of opportunity here, but also that the United States and Israel have other issues in order to maintain a close relationship on, beginning with Iran.

This is simply one of the issues in the Middle East, one of many, though, again, this is welcome news. But I wouldn't exaggerate its significance either as far as the region or in terms of the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians.

BLITZER: Well, do you anticipate that this new U.S. administration, the Biden administration, Richard, will begin a major new effort to move beyond a cease-fire and try to achieve some serious progress towards a two-state Israel-Palestine solution?

HAASS: The short answer is no.

And the reason is, the ingredients simply aren't there. The president talked about the relationship between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. The problem is, Hamas controls Gaza. It doesn't accept Israel. The Palestinian Authority is weak and divided.

This administration wants to keep its focus, both domestically, on the economy, on COVID, on infrastructure, and internationally on China. Again, I simply don't see the prerequisites that would justify any sort of a major diplomatic initiative.

Plus, again, Wolf, as you know better than anybody, Israel is probably heading now towards a fifth election. And Bibi Netanyahu's enthusiasm, shall we say, for what we used to call a peace process is finite.

So, if you're Tony Blinken and you're getting up in the morning, you would be very hard-pressed to justify why you would devote significant time or energy to a situation that simply doesn't look at all inviting.


BLITZER: Is -- is -- let me bring Nic Robertson. He's there right near the Gaza border with Israel.

Nic, is it anticipated now that the Israelis will open the border over there to allow humanitarian assistance, desperately needed, obviously, to the Palestinians, the civilians, the families in Gaza right now? Are they going to open that border?

ROBERTSON: Wolf, they have been trying to do it, not today, but the two previous days. And each time they got it open for humanitarian aid, right after it got open, it was hit by mortar rounds fired from inside Gaza.

So, if those mortar rounds are not going to be fired because there's a cease-fire -- one would assume that would be the case -- then there should be nothing, it would seem, preventing that intent to open the -- open the doors to Gaza, if you will, and allow that humanitarian aid in.

There is a big need for it. The U.N. has made that very, very clear. There's sewage on the streets. There's a shortage of electricity connectivity. There are roads that are damaged. There are hospitals that are damaged. There's COVID testing facilities that are damaged.

So, there is a big need at the moment. And I would anticipate, but I don't know for sure, given what we have seen in recent days, that there would not appear to be a physical or military impediment to allowing that relief support in, Wolf.

BLITZER: Richard Haass, what do you think the Biden administration needs to do right now? Obviously, there's a secretary of state, a secretary of defense, a president, a vice president, but should there be a high-level Middle East negotiator to go in there now and see if they can revive some serious peace talks?

HAASS: It might surprise you, but I would argue not.

Again, I simply don't see any partners on either the Palestinian side or on the Israeli side. I think the real goal for the foreseeable future, besides trying to keep the cease-fire holding once it's established, is to keep open possibilities down the road.

Think about it, Wolf. What's behind some of this? You have still fundamental questions about who gets to live where in Jerusalem. You have fundamental questions about settlement.

I would think an ambitious foreign policy for the Middle East right now, for the Israeli-Palestinian issue is simply to preserve opportunities for down the road, so if and hopefully when you have a Palestinian leadership and an Israeli leadership that is serious about negotiating peace, there's something left to compromise over.

But anything more ambitious than that now, I think, is destined to fail.

One other thing. If I were the Israelis, I'd also focus on the internal challenge. Two million Israelis or Israeli Arab. They are clearly alienated increasingly from this government. It's a real civil rights issue. Some of them are now identifying more with Palestinians.

If I were Israel, I would focus on dealing with this internal intercommunal breach in the society.

BLITZER: Yes, I think that's really important. Someone who's watched what's going on over there for a long time, it's critically important right now. Twenty percent of the citizenship of Israel, 20 percent, so two million, as you correctly point out, Israelis are Palestinian Arab Muslims and Christians. They are citizens of Israel. Then there's millions more in the West Bank and, of course, in Gaza. So, there's a lot of issues out there.

Richard Haass, Nic Robertson, Phil Mattingly, guys, thank you very much.

An important note to our viewers: Richard is also the author of the newly revised edition of "The World" -- there's the cover -- "The World: A Brief Introduction." I highly recommend it.

There's more breaking news we're following here in THE SITUATION ROOM, very disturbing new revelations about the Trump administration's secret effort to obtain the phone records and e-mails of a CNN correspondent.



BLITZER: We have breaking news right now on the Trump administration's aggressive and very disturbing efforts to target American journalists as the former president was railing against leaks.

CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider is joining us. She has details.

Jessica, a CNN correspondent was targeted. Tell our viewers what you're learning.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so we're learning tonight, Wolf, that the Trump administration secretly sought and obtained phone and e-mail records of our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Now, Starr was notified by letter a week ago that the Department of Justice under former Attorney General Bill Barr obtained her records covering a two-month time period, June and July 2017. DOJ got ahold of the records last year. And those records included calls made to and from Barbara Starr's home, cell and office phones.

The government also got ahold of non-content information from her e- mail. That means details about who got e-mails and the time and the date sent, not the e-mail content itself.

So, the letter did not say why Barbara Starr's communications were sought, but over the time frame listed in the letter, June and July 2017, she reported on U.S. military options for North Korea that were being prepared for President Trump, as well as stories including on Syria and Afghanistan.

And this is significant, because this is the second time in just a few weeks that reporters whose records were obtained secretly and unbeknownst to them, the second time that they have been notified that the Trump Justice Department got ahold of their records.

Now, the current Justice Department is responding to all of this now, making clear that these records were, in fact, obtained under the Trump administration last year.

Now, the president of our network, Jeff Zucker, is responding and has issued this statement, saying: "CNN strongly condemns the secret collection of any aspect of a journalist's correspondence, which is clearly protected by the First Amendment. We are asking for an immediate meeting with the Justice Department for an explanation" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And, Jessica, this happened last year, but we're only finding out about it now, right?

SCHNEIDER: That's exactly right.

Barbara Starr was notified about a week ago. And it's important to realize that all of this was done in secret. Attorney General Bill Barr had to approve of pursuing these records, and then the case had to be made in court that the reporter, Barbara Starr in this case, could not be notified because it would jeopardize either national security or the investigation itself.


These were likely or possibly leak investigations that DOJ was pursuing. And the court proceedings are typically under seal in cases like this. It's still unknown what evidence DOJ presented to secretly get this trove of records, two months' worth of phone and e-mail records for Barbara Starr.

Now, she was informed via a letter from the Justice Department on May 13. And as for the former Attorney General Bill Barr, I have reached out to him for comment, but we have not heard back yet, Wolf.

BLITZER: Do we know, Jessica, the reason for the investigation?

SCHNEIDER: Yes, so, right now, the DOJ is not commenting if this was a leak investigation pertaining to those stories that Barbara Starr worked on. They're not commenting about whether this investigation is still ongoing.

But a Justice official does tell me and makes clear Barbara Starr was not the target of this probe. But what's especially troubling here is that this is the second recent revelation about record searches of reporters at news organizations that former President Trump frequently railed against, CNN and "The Washington Post."

It was reported that three "Washington Post" reporters who covered the FBI's Russia investigation were told earlier this month that, last year, the Justice Department obtained their phone records from 2017.

Now, I should add that, when I sought information from the current Department of Justice about this, a spokesman was very clear, saying that Attorney General Merrick Garland, he is committed to press freedom, and Attorney General Garland plans to meet with reporters to hear their concerns about these recent revelations -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, these revelations are so, so disturbing.

Jessica Schneider, thank you very much.

Let's bring in CNN legal analyst former federal prosecutor Elie Honig.

Elie, the lengths the Trump administration went to target American journalists, it's so disturbing. It's, frankly, reprehensible. What's your reaction, as someone who used to work at the Justice Department?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Wolf, anybody who has the privilege of representing the United States as a federal prosecutor for the Justice Department is given enormous power and enormous discretion.

It's really staggering how much power prosecutors have. And it really falls to the integrity and the good judgment and sense of fair play of each individual. In this case, Wolf, unless there was an imminent and grave threat -- and there's zero to indicate that -- then this was a monumental abuse of power.

And it had to go to the top of the Justice Department, because, under Justice Department regulations, this would have had to have been approved by the attorney general.

BLITZER: This wasn't just her phone number at the Pentagon, Elie. This was her home phone, her cell phones, her personal e-mail accounts. The scope of this intrusion is really staggering, isn't it?

HONIG: It is, Wolf.

It's an incredibly invasive procedure. And DOJ regulations recognize, because the First Amendment is at stake here -- the First Amendment, of course, is the cornerstone, the heart of our democracy. And when the Justice Department obtains this information through subpoena, an almost entirely one-sided process, that sheds a real pall over the First Amendment.

That's a real threat to the First Amendment, because it will frighten people. It will deter them from talking to journalists, because if they believe, well, if I speak to this journalist, Barbara Starr, or anybody else, DOJ may pull those records and see that I'm talking to her.

And so that's the danger really at issue here, Wolf.

BLITZER: The former President Trump, he -- as all of us remember, during those four years, he almost always viciously attacked the news media through his campaign, through his presidency.

How chilling is it to see that the Justice Department followed suit and targeted American journalists like this?

HONIG: Yes, Wolf, one of the most devastating legacies of the Trump administration is that he continually vilified and attacked the media. How many times did he lash out over Twitter or elsewhere about the fake news or worse than that? And it's really disturbing to see that the Justice Department, as it did all too often under Donald Trump, not only went along with it, but facilitated it and promoted it.

And we know from Jessica's reporting that this application to subpoena the information relating to Barbara Starr, the approval was given in 2020. So, unless it happened in the very last week of December, it would have been Bill Barr who approved it.

And, again, that's all too characteristic of the way Bill Barr enabled Donald Trump's absolute worst instincts.

BLITZER: Yes, Trump used to say almost all the time the news media were the enemy of the American people.

It's just the latest example. Just in the last two weeks, we learned that the Trump Justice Department secretly obtained phone records of several "Washington Post" reporters, not just Barbara Starr, our Pentagon correspondent, who is distinguished, highly regarded, been there for many years.

How persuasive was this, all of this potentially -- pervasive was this?


HONIG: Yes, Wolf, that's the big question, how pervasive was this, how far did it go, how wide did it go. There could well be more, because the way these orders work and the way it worked with respect to Barbara Starr is DOJ has the ability to go to a court and say, we want to get this information but we don't want to notify the journalist or the media organization.

And that puts the journalist and the media organization in an especially difficult position because we, CNN or Barbara Starr doesn't even have the ability to go to court and say, judge, we want to fight this. It's a one-sided fight.

And I believe that this information we've already seen start to trickle out. I think more and more that will come out. I think there's a real impetus here for the new attorney general, Merrick Garland, to expose whatever was done, to reveal whatever was done and to fix it.

BLITZER: Yes. We've got to learn exactly what happened in order to make sure it doesn't happen again. We have something call freedom of the press here in the United States and that has to be cherished and has to be honored. Elie, thank you very, very much, Elie Honig joining us.

Coming, did telling fully vaccinated people here in the United States to continue to wear masks actually re-enforce vaccine hesitancy? I'll speak live with the Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Vivek Murthy, there you see him. We have much to discuss and we will, information you need to know right now when we come back.


BLITZER: There are hopeful signs tonight in the coronavirus pandemic now that almost half the U.S. population has received at least one vaccine dose and about 38 percent are fully vaccinated.


Let's discuss this and more with the surgeon general of the United States, Dr. Vivek Murthy. Dr. Murthy, thank you so much for joining us.

As you know, coronavirus cases and deaths, they are trending down. They're still out there but they're trending down. The CDC now says that that will likely continue over the next four weeks. We're not out of the woods just yet but are we getting closer?

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Well, Wolf, it's good to see you again. And this is a time where we are getting a lot of good news. And, overall, I'm optimistic, Wolf. You know, we've come a long way. If you think about this time last year when we were fade looking into a pandemic that was getting worse and worse, more cases, more hospitalization, more deaths, and we really didn't have a way to fight the virus.

But now, thankfully, we have not one, but three vaccines that have proven to be highly effective and we've got, like you said, more than 175 millions shot delivered. That's 60 percent of adult, almost half the American population. And the vaccine is now available for adolescents.

And let's think about it for a moment, Wolf, what this means in human term. It means, first and foremost, that we have saved lives. There's been an 80 percent drop in deaths among seniors. And then also in a very human level, people can now get together who are fully vaccinated and spend time with their families, including indoors, as I did, for example, over the Mother's Day weekend. And most importantly I think people can also breathe a little easier knowing their family is protected.

And, Wolf, you know I talked about the fact that we think about our families and their health all the time. And my father is a doctor, continues to see patients. And every day, he went to see patients, I worry that this is a day he was had any exposed to the virus and get sick. I still remember going with him to get vaccinated when it became available for health care workers. And just the sense of relief I felt that my father was now a one step closer to getting protected.

And that's what people are feeling all across this country. It's why we want everyone to get vaccinated. We've made a lot of progress, but we still have millions of people who are not vaccinated yet. And that's why we are continue to get out there and remind people that, you know, get -- go to, find a place to get near you to get vaccinated. It's easier now than ever before. That's how we're going to turn this pandemic around.

BLITZER: Yes. You're absolutely right. As you know, the former CDC director, Dr. Robert Redfield, says, telling fully vaccinated people that continue to wear masks actually reinforces vaccine hesitancy. Was it a mistake to tell vaccinated Americans they still needed to wear mask?

MURTHY: Well, Wolf, I think what we have to do in these cases is make sure that we have got the science to back up our decisions. And in the case of the mask guidance, you'll notice that that's actually what the CDC is doing.

So take, for example, the decision that they announce last week, they change the guidance where they said that fully vaccinated people can now be indoors or outdoors without a mask. The reason they said that is because they have received even more evidence, more research that it affirmed three things, one, that your chances of getting sick if you're vaccinated is low, second, that your chances of infecting others is low if you're fully vaccinated, and, third, that the vaccines that we have work against the variants circulating in the United States.

Now, prior to having information like this, I think it would have been premature for us to tell fully vaccinated people four, five months ago that they could throw away their masks. I think we needed to wait for the science, we need to wait for the data and our guidance should always be based on that.

BLITZER: Very quickly, are we going to need a booster shot, those of us who have fully vaccinated within a year?

MURTHY: Well, I think it's possible we may, but we don't know that yet. We have to see how long the protection lasts. We know it lasts at least six months but we'll have to see again when infections tick up potentially people who are infected, so more to come on that. It's very possible though and people should be prepared for the fact that we may need a booster within a year.

But for the time being, the key messaging in, you're looking to protect yourself, protect your family is to remember get vaccinated and talk to the people around you, your family, your friends, ask them if they have a plan to get vaccinated. If they don't and they have questions, help them answer those questions. If they have got questions about where to go to get vaccinated, send them to or having texter ZIP code to GETVAX, G-E-T-V-A-X, or to a BAKUNA, and they can get three locations near them where they can get vaccine.

Wolf, let's just remember that we rise and fall as one nation. We may have been knocked down like over the past year, but I really believe this is our time to rise again. And we're going to do that by getting vaccinated, protecting ourselves and stepping up to protect one another.

BLITZER: I totally agree with and I get a flu shot every year. I wouldn't mind getting a COVID shot every year as well if it's going to save our lives. The surgeon general of the United States, Dr. Vivek Murthy, thanks for all you are doing, thanks very much for joining us.

MURTHY: Thanks so much, Wolf. Good to be with you. Take care.

BLITZER: Good to be with you and love to you family as well.


Just ahead, key Senate Republicans prepare to do what it takes to block the January 6th commission. We're going to tell you what we're learning right now about a possible showdown next week.


BLITZER: Right now, the fate of the January 6th commission is looking very, very grim in the Senate, as Republicans talk about a filibuster and a key Republican member reveals his opposition. CNN Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles has details.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, the bipartisan January 6th commission headed to the Senate may already be dead on arrival.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): After careful consideration, I've made the decision to oppose the House Democrats' slanted unbalanced proposal for another commission to study the events of January the 6th.

NOBLES: In order to pass the Senate, the bill needs the support of ten Republicans and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's opposition is having an impact. While several Republicans say they are considering the bill, like Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Mitt Romney of Utah, many more flatly saying they'll vote no.

In addition, to McConnell, Senators like Roy Blount and Josh Hawley of Missouri, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, who once said he was open to the commission, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, all now in the no column. And the key Republican, Richard Burr, who voted to impeach former President Trump, just added his name to the no list.

But listen to McConnell back in January.

MCCONNELL: The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.

NOBLES: He also promised, quote, a painstaking investigation and thorough review must now take place and significant changes must follow, tracking with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's change of heart. Their one goal now, put the insurrection behind them and focus on winning in 2022.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I'm looking forward to being speaker in the next Congress.


NOBLES: And now that there's almost no chance of a commission, McCarthy boldly says he would have no problem testifying.

REPORTER: Would you be willing to testify about your conversation with Donald Trump on January 6th if you were asked by an outside commission?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Sure. Next question.

REPORTER: You would?

NOBLES: And even though the bill already left the House, Democrats are keeping up the pressure on Republicans who voted no.

REP. TIM RYAN (D-OH): Either they're pretending to ignore what's happening, or they're living in a world of be delusion.

NOBLES: Democrats like Tim Ryan of Ohio, accusing the GOP of whitewashing the severity of the insurrection. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warning that even if the Senate turns the measure down, there will still be options to investigate the insurrection.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Let's just give them a chance to do that without hanging something over them about a timetable or other options that exist for the speaker of the House.


NOBLES (on camera): And it seems as though Republicans are ready to stop this process before it even starts, laying the groundwork to filibuster, even debate on this particular bill. This, despite the fact that some Republicans say that they're open to voting for this legislation if minor changes are made to the bill. That would mean a negotiation between Republicans and Democrats to make the bill better, to get it over the finish line.

Wolf, at this point, there are no talks about those negotiations, even happening.

BLITZER: And so disturbing, indeed.

All right. Ryan, thank you very much.

Let's discuss with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff.

Congressman, thank you so much for joining us.

I want to get to all of that in the moment, but let me get your immediate reaction to the breaking news CNN has learned, the Trump administration secretly obtained phone and email records from CNN correspondent, our longtime Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. This follows news they also targeted the communications of several "Washington Post" journalist.

What do you make of this?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Well, look, there are a lot of the abuses of the Justice Department power during the Trump administration, everything from intervening, to reduce the sentence of people who lied to protect the president, like Roger Stone, to making whole cases go away in the case of Mike Flynn.

But also, to go after press organizations, particularly those that the Justice Department and the president thought were hostile to the president's point of view. They apparently even went after the records behind the parody Twitter account that would criticize Devin Nunes.

These look like terrible abuses of power by the Justice Department, and I think they ought to be looked into, and I hope and believe that the new Justice Department leadership will take corrective action.

BLITZER: I hope so too. I'm a member of the steering committee of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the subject obviously very, very close to my heart.

All right. Let's turn to the prospects of a new commission inquiry to investigate the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Senate Republicans may filibuster in the coming days.

Is this commission dead on arrival?

SCHIFF: No, it isn't. But it's clear that Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy are going to try to kill it anyway they can.

You know, I have to say, watching that clip of Mitch McConnell saying that after getting careful consideration, he's decided to oppose it. That careful consideration was probably no more than reading Donald Trump's statement saying you need to oppose this.

It couldn't be more of a contradiction to what he said after the insurrection when he promised that we would make every effort to get to the bottom of this.

This is not a partisan commission. Anything but. It was negotiated in a bipartisan fashion. It has five Democrats and five Republicans. You need a majority to issue a subpoena or their approval of the chair or vice chair, and it couldn't be more evenly balanced.

So, those arguments against it are just window dressing. The bottom line is Donald Trump doesn't want it, and they made the decision they are going to make their future with him, regardless of his role in that insurrection.

BLITZER: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says if this bipartisan commission fails in the Senate, it's no secret the backup plan could be what's called a select committee in the House to investigate the January 6th attack. Do you risk, though, Americans dismissing the findings if this investigation isn't done in a bipartisan way?

SCHIFF: Well, the ideal outcome here would be a bipartisan commission that has the kind of stature that the 9/11 Commission did, because it's recommendations are great credibility with the American people and they brought about very significant reforms. That's what we're aiming for here. But, you know, that was a time in 2001, 2002 when there was a much

greater willingness of the parties to work together. Here, Democrats are working in good faith, and indeed some Republicans, like John Katko, are working in good faith.

But that doesn't get very far with Kevin McCarthy or Mitch McConnell.


If they are unwilling to establish what would be in the best public interest, we're not going to let the events go on uninvestigated. And so, there are other alternatives. They're not as ideal as a bipartisan commission, so we are going to make our effort to get that done. But we are going to insist on getting answers one way or another.

BLITZER: Yeah, we have to learn lessons on what exactly happens to make sure it doesn't happen again.

The House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, thank you so much for joining us.

SCHIFF: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, very disturbing video discrediting state troopers' accounts of how an African-American man died in custody.


BLITZER: Newly surfaced body camera videos raising serious questions right now with the death of a Louisiana man following a violent encounter with police.

CNN's Brian Todd has our report.



BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From the initial confrontation on body cam footage, the officers appear to be acting aggressively towards Ronald Greene, even though Greene himself seems to comply with them.

Greene is clearly under extreme stress and says he scared.

ROLAND GREENE: I'm scared! I'm your brother, I'm scared.

TODD: The public is seeing this video for the first time, even though the incident took place two years ago in May of 2019. Greene was pulled over after a high-speed chase with Louisiana state police near the city of Monroe.

POLICE OFFICER: Goddammit get up here! Get that (EXPLETIVE DELETED) arm.

TODD: The officers repeatedly punched Greene after dragging him from his vehicle. They kick him, tase him, attempt to get him in handcuffs.

POLICE OFFICER: Taser! Taser! Taser!

CHERYL DORSEY, RETIRED LAPD SERGEANT: Once the handcuffs go on, then the force must stop and we know that didn't happen in the case of Ronald green.

TODD: One officer heard verbally degrading green as Greene lies on the ground.


TODD: This video is obtained by "The Associated Press". The agency released three segments of the video totaling a little over two minutes. "The A.P." says the entire original video is 46 minutes long. CNN has neither reviewed nor obtained the original video and it's not clear what occurred before or in between the clips.


TODD: At one point, an officer drags screen by his feet. Police said Ronald Greene died on the way to a hospital.

Greene's family claims the police initially told him Greene died in the crash and has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against officers for his death.

LEE MERRITT, ATTORNEY FOR RONALD GREEN'S FAMILY: The family is hopeful that after appropriate public outcry from the brutality that we see in this video, that the powers that be will be shaken or stern into actually holding these officers accountable.


TODD: But up to now, there have been accusations of cover ups and secrecy regarding Greene's case. The initial crash report from Louisiana state police in 2019 says the troopers attempted to pull Greene over for an unspecified traffic violation. It said that pursuit ended when Greene crashed his vehicle. The initial complaint says, quote, Greene was taken into custody after resisting arrest and I struggle with troopers.

But the initial complaint never describes the police use of force.

MERRITT: It's clear the priority for Louisiana state police department is backing each other up and that not securing the constitutional rights of a citizen.

TODD: In a statement to CNN, the Louisiana state police said, quote, the premature public release of investigative files and video evidence in this case is not authorized and was not obtained through official sources. LSP is confident in the social system and air review of this incident and continues to offer our full cooperation. Unauthorized release of evidence undermines the investigative process. We are unable to provide any further information at this time.


TODD (on camera): The defendants in the Greene family's wrongful death lawsuit have filed a motion to dismiss the case. CNN has reached out but has been unable to get a comment from the officers involved. Two of the officers involved in the incident were reprimanded, one of them is now on administrative leave in relation to a separate incident, the other received a 50-hour suspension. A third officer involved in the incident died in a single vehicle crash in September -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Brian, thanks very much.

I want to dig deeper right now. Joining us, CNN senior legal analyst Laura Coates and CNN senior law enforcement analyst, Charles Ramsey.

Chief Ramsey, what's your reaction to what we just saw this portion of the video that was obtained and released by "The Associated Press"?

CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: From what I was able to see, the force was excessive from the use of the Taser. I don't know how many times ahead with a Taser, but it did look like it could be inappropriate at that point in time. Certainly leaving him in a prone position for a length of time they did and then dragging him by his heels, certainly just malicious on the part of the officers.

And, of course, you have the issue of the report being inconsistent with what you see on the video, which is truly inappropriate and wrong.

So, this is a bad case and it needs to be examined further. Hopefully, DOJ takes it over.

BLITZER: The Department of Justice here in Washington. What went through your mind, Laura, when you were watching the video knowing that the incident actually took place about two years ago and the investigation into Greene's death is still underway?

LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I'm horrified for the family, that they believed a loved one died in a car crash only to see this video come out. It's almost laughable to hear them say it was a premature release now two years after the fact, given how many recent events there is been the almost immediate disclosure of video in some circumstances to assure this transparency and accountability.

These were cases that widen the trust gap that's already there between police officers and the community, and this idea here of excessive force, we have all learned from the Derek Chauvin trial ad nauseam at this point about the use of force continuum and to have somebody who's not posing a threat, let alone any longer posing a threat if ever to have this application of force used against him. And then to have a very terse which I find unconscionable description of what happened, but for the body cam footage, would the family ever know the truth? I suspect not.

BLITZER: Yeah, I suspect you're right.

Chief Ramsey, it goes beyond just the officers who were directly involved. An incident like this could not have been kept quiet but for two years now without the buy in from the executive ranks, right?

RAMSEY: You're actually right. I mean, maybe the video isn't going to be released publicly. That doesn't mean the leadership would then, state police and others did not see the video and realize that it's inconsistent with the report.

So, there's simply no excuse for it. This is nothing less than a cover-up, quite frankly. And it needs to be dealt with in the harshest of terms.

BLITZER: Laura, give us your final thoughts on what exactly happened and where we go from here?

COATES: Well, you have to have people understanding the ability of accountability and what that actually means. It means transparency, it means officers cannot be shielded from use of excessive force. The badge does not translate into a 007 license to kill.

Officers must abide by the Fourth Amendment and when they do not abide by our constitutional rights, we can never have a trust system with our officers.

BLITZER: Yeah. I suspect We're going to be learning a lot more about this case over the next several days, weeks, and months. It's not going away by any means. Very, very disturbing information. Sadly, we see these incidents taking place all too frequently here in the United States.

Laura Coates, Chief Ramsey, thanks to both of you very much for joining us.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

You can always follow me on Twitter, you can follow me on Instagram, @Wolf Blitzer. You can always tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.