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Pfizer Sees Waning Immunity From Its COVID Vaccine, is Picking Up Efforts to Develop a Booster Dose to Protect Against Variant; : Biden Defends Decision to Withdraw U.S. Troops from Afghanistan Despite Dangerous Gains by the Taliban; Haitian Official Believes a U.S. Citizen Among Suspects Arrested in Assassination of President; Former Stormy Daniels Lawyer Michael Avenatti Sentenced to 2.5 Years in Prison for Attempting to Extort Nike. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired July 08, 2021 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: Our National Correspondent Athena Jones is tracking it all of us.


ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): America's COVID-19 crisis isn't over. Infection rates rising in almost half the state, driven in part by the more contagious delta variant. Low vaccination rates putting the country's progress fighting the virus at risk.

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: The more unvaccinated people there are, the longer this pandemic is going to be. This is not just about the individual. This is about our society.

JONES: A Georgetown University analysis showing five clusters of counties with low vaccination rates in significant population sizes stretching from Georgia to Texas to Missouri, places that could become breeding grounds for more deadly COVID variants.

DR. JORGE RODRIGUEZ, BOARD CERTIFIED INTERNAL MEDICINE SPECIALIST & VIRAL RESEARCHER: A stronger mutation will surface, and it will become predominant unless we get vaccinated.

JONES: New cases jumping more than 50 percent week over week in Louisiana where just 35 percent are fully vaccinated and Tennessee where it's about 38 percent.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Simply put, in areas of low vaccination coverage, hospitalizations are up.

JONES: With less than half the population fully vaccinated nationwide, the White House ramping up outreach to pediatricians and workplaces and on school campuses.

JEFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Our job is to keep doing all we can to reach Americans where they are, to answer their questions and to make it as easy as possible for them to get a shot as soon as they are ready.

JONES: And efforts to have doctors and religious and community leaders going door to door to answer questions for the vaccine hesitant.

ZIENTS: For those individuals' organizations that are feeding misinformation and trying to mischaracterize this type of trusted messenger work, I believe you are doing a disservice to the country and to the doctors, the faith leaders, community leaders and others who are working to get people vaccinated, save lives and help end this pandemic.

JONES: Data show that Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are effective, including against the delta variant, which now accounts for more than half of all new cases.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Please get vaccinated. It will protect you against the surging of the delta variant.

JONES: In Maryland, every person who died of COVID in June was unvaccinated. And as entertainers like the rapper, Juvenile, try to appeal to young people, experts are hoping full approval for vaccines from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will encourage more people to get the shot. Right now, the shots only have emergency used authorization.

Meanwhile, mask mandates are back in California State capital after an outbreak of COVID cases among employees. As COVID fears ramp up all over again.


JONES (on camera): And with this more transmissible delta variant spreading rapidly across the U.S., some experts say it may be important to start testing even vaccinated people to make sure this variant isn't evading the vaccines. In fact, Pfizer said today it's seeing waning immunity from its COVID vaccine and is stepping up its effort to produce a booster dose that will protect people from variants. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Athena thank you very much, Athena Jones, reporting.

Let's discuss the breaking news with Dr. Zeke Emanuel, the former Obama White House Health Policy Adviser. He's also the Author of, Which Country Has the World's Best Health Care. There you see the cover of the book.

Zeke, thanks very much for joining us. We just got this breaking news, very disturbing breaking news. Pfizer says its vaccine is losing efficacy. How troubling is this as the more dangerous delta variant takes a hold here in the United States?

DR. ZEKE EMANUEL, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE HEALTH POLICY ADVISER: Well, we have to know a little bit about more what it says is losing potency. There have been some conflicting reports that you're getting these germinal centers in lymph nodes that are persistent. Maybe they're following the antibody level, which you might expect to go down while you do have memory cells. And we have to know how long before they're seeing a decline in the potency.

But we have always expected that we're going to need boosters and the question has been how long between the initial vaccination and the booster. We're hoping it's going to be a year, maybe two years that would be good. I think it's hard to imagine if we're going to be able to immunize 200, 300 million people every year to this. And that would be a huge challenge. And we're already having difficulty immunizing people in the states just for the first round. Imagine having to do it every year.

BLITZER: Well, actually, Zeke, Pfizer now says a booster -- listen to this, a booster may be needed, this third dose, that's what we're talking about, 6 to 12 months after the second dose, 6 to 12 months after the second dose. That's what Pfizer is now saying. How quickly do you think Pfizer can make that happen considering, as you correctly point out, the issues we saw with the initial vaccine rollout?


EMANUEL: Well, I mean, our problem at the moment is not can Pfizer produce vaccine, we can produce vaccine. The problem is will Americans take it. As you noted, only 48 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated. We have made the vaccine easily accessible. You can go to pharmacies almost anywhere. There many other sites you can get the vaccine. We've made it free. We tried to persuade people. We've now had the president pleading with people.

It is hard to see how much more can be done to get people to take the vaccine, which is life-saving, especially given the fact that almost all the hospitalizations and almost all the deaths we're now seeing from COVID are related to people who are unvaccinated. What more do you have to do to persuade Americans? It's really mind boggling, I have to say.

BLITZER: As you know, Zeke, all this follows that Israeli ministry of health report that came out a few days ago saying that the Pfizer vaccine, at least in Israel, the efficacy was going down for getting COVID but it was still very high in terms of preventing serious, serious setbacks, hospitalizations and, God forbid, deaths. So that was significant, right?

EMANUEL: Yes. You're exactly right, Wolf. So what the Israeli said is, look, it doesn't protect people as well. It's still 64 percent protective of getting COVID. You with the vaccine can still get asymptomatic cases.

It is still over 90 percent, 93 percent, I believe, is the number they reported in preventing severe cases in terms of hospitalizations and deaths. So, again, the best way to protect yourself is the vaccine. It may not prevent an asymptomatic case for COVID. They test for that in Israel, which we don't do in the United States. But it seems to be extremely effective at preventing hospitalization and/or death. And that means the vaccine is well worth getting even against this delta strain.

And, look, this delta variant is extremely worrisome and we have to take it extremely seriously.

BLITZER: We certainly do. You saw this new analysis from Georgetown University here in Washington that identifies five major clusters of unvaccinated communities around the United States. Could this put people across the country as a whole at risk especially if the virus continues to mutate?

EMANUEL: Well, I think, in general, places with high vaccination rates, and we, especially in the northeast, they have states set at over 70 percent fully vaccinated. Make it unlikely that we're going to have a national surge the way we did in, say, January.

But regional surges and pockets that really explode and, again, overwhelm the hospitals the way we saw in 2020. That does seem possible. And I do think that's what's worrying people. While much of the nation may not have a serious surge, you may see it in places, as we're seeing it, in Louisiana, Arkansas, South Eastern Missouri, because those are places that people have denied and refuse to get vaccinated. And so I don't think, Wolf, we're going to have a national surge. But I do think regional surges are almost certainly likely.

The other thing I would emphasize is those people who thought somehow this was a seasonal virus-like influenza, we're in the middle of summer, it's not seasonal, or at least at the moment not behaving like a seasonal virus.

BLITZER: And if we need to get a booster shot, we'll get a booster shot, get a flu shot every year. Get -- maybe then a COVID vaccine let's say every year.

EMANUEL: Yes. But that's you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. That's me. And I'm sure that's you as well, Zeke. And I'm sure --

EMANUEL: But it's only 50 percent of the population.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, you're right. That's a problem. All right, Zeke Emanuel, thank you, as usual, for joining us.

Right now I want to go to Japan that just declared a new COVID-19 state of emergency. CNN's Will Ripley is joining us live from Tokyo right now. Will, the pandemic it now forcing a truly unprecedented change at the Summer Olympics Games now just, what, two weeks away.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right Wolf. July 23rd is the opening ceremony. And for the first time ever, according to the IOC, there will be no spectators at the venues in the Olympics host city. This decision was not made lightly by the Japan Olympics Committee, the IOC and other, but they are facing a major surge right here in Japan for the last two and a half weeks. Case numbers have been going up to their highest level seen since May. They're very concerned about the highly contagious delta variant. And so as a result, even though people signed up to enter a lottery to sometimes spent more than a thousand bucks for tickets, those tickets will now have to be refunded.


The only people who might be allowed to attend are VIPS, foreign dignitaries, IOC committee members and sponsors.

The first lady, Dr. Jill Biden, and her team are assessing whether it will still be feasible for her to attend the opening ceremonies as was originally planned. They have a team arriving here today to make an assessment on the ground. But, obviously, optics are a major concern.

Even though these world leaders want to come and support their athletes who are going to be traveling from hundreds of countries, thousands of athletes and their delegations from all over the world, the fact that many people in this host country don't even want to host the Olympics and they only have a vaccination rate of 15 percent makes some leery of coming here for the games.

BLITZER: All right, Will, thank you very much. Will Ripley on the scene for us in Tokyo, I appreciate it very much.

Just ahead, I will speak live with the Miami-Dade County mayor about the breaking news on the condo collapse as more bodies are found and the heart break growth with it. Stay with us.

You're in The Situation Room.



BLITZER: We're following the breaking news on the Florida condo collapse, officials now giving an update on the search operation just a little while ago.

CNN's Rosa Flores is covering the story for us, she's down in Surfside. So, what's the latest, Rosa?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the mayor saying that it doesn't get any easier to report these numbers. The death toll has increased by four and at a total of 64 at this hour. She also says the families were escorted to the site today for a moment of silence and also to get an aerial salute by first responders.

I can tell you that officials here say that the mission continues to identify every single victim here. They're using every resource. They are working around the clock, 24 hours a day to make sure that every victim is identified.

We also learned from the mayor of Surfside that samples, core samples were taken from Champlain Towers North. That is the sister building of the building that collapsed. And those samples will be compared to samples taken from Champlain Tower South, the building that collapsed. That's important because, again, they're trying to figure out if there is any similarity, if there is anything that could put the residents, the individuals who are residing at Champlain Towers North in danger.

And, Wolf, I've got to say, these men and women continue to work around the clock. We know that homicide detectives continue to gather evidence because at some point everyone here wants to know what went so terribly wrong. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes. They are real heroes, these man and women involve in this operation. Thank you very much, Rosa, for that coverage.

Let's get some more on all the latest developments in the recovery operation, the mayor of Miami-Dade County, Daniella Levine Cava, is joining us right now. Mayor, thank you so much for joining us. I know these weeks have been really painful, very difficult for everyone, especially yourself.

It's been two weeks since the deadly collapse. How were the families, and you are speaks to them every day, multiple times a day, how are the families grappling with the news that this is now a recovery mission?

MAYOR DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA (D-FL), MIAMI-DADE COUNTRY: Wolf, they have been part of the effort. They have been meeting twice a day with our experts. They have learned everything about search and rescue, and they were ready. They understood that there was no more hope or possibility of finding someone alive. So they are just now waiting for closure. They're waiting to have a chance to find the victims and put this to rest.

BLITZER: So, 64 confirmed deaths, 76 people still unaccounted for. But what you're saying is no more hope for any of them, is that right?

CAVA: Yes. Essentially, by declaring it a recovery instead of a rescue, we're saying that there is no possibility that our experts with data can identify as possibility for survival in that pile.

BLITZER: One little thing that's maybe not so little. You have cautioned that the number right now, 76 people unaccounted for, that number potentially could be fluid. I know you are doing an audit of that number all the time. When will you with able to say definitively whether all those people were in this tower when it came down?

CAVA: So, you can tell that number has changed quite a bit. It has come down. That means that we've been able to confirm that some of the reports were duplicates. We've been able to confirm that some of those people are safe someplace else, and we're continuing those efforts and getting closer and closer to the final number.

BLITZER: So, could the final death toll number be as high as 140 people if you add 64 and 76, that would be 140 people?

CAVA: Yes, it could be. Very, very tragic, it could be.

BLITZER: Yes. My heart goes out to all of those wonderful families. And I got to meet many of them when I was there last week. Earlier today, Mayor, you said rescue workers are gathering personal items from the collapse site. What sort of things are being found and when will those be given back to the families?

CAVA: This has been from the beginning that anything that's identified as a personal item is put in a special bin. That could be jewelry, laptops, telephones, special mementos that could be recovered. And everything is marked, geo-coded, so we know exactly where it came from in the pile.


And we have a site for family members and survivors to register their belongings so that we can do a matchup. And as soon as that is not needed, anything not needed for evidence, then it will be returned to those who claim them.

BLITZER: Yes. That will be so, so important to those family members.

What more can you tell us, Mayor, about what's happening on this collapsed site to investigate the actual cause of this disaster? I know you are also asking the public for any evidence, photos along those lines. What type of information are investigators looking for?

CAVA: National Institute for Standards and Technology is a federal agency, NIST, they have been identifying, tagging samples both from the collapsed site and from the demolition site. They are doing LIDAR photographs multiple times, the various ways that they are examining the evidence now remotely, and they will be combing through the evidentiary debris at the warehouse where it will be stored.

So it's very early for them to make any conclusions. They have also spoken to people who have direct knowledge, and they will be getting periodic updates. So I think along with all the others who are investigating, the state attorneys has now requested and the grand jury has agreed to look into this matter here in Miami-Dade County. That will be a confidential review. So were going to have to be patient while we learn as much as we can. We will not be able to come to any conclusions quickly.

BLITZER: Finally, before I let you go, Mayor, how are you holding up?

CAVA: Well, thank you. This has been two weeks of constantly thinking about the victims and the survivors and making sure that this operation goes smoothly. And, truthfully, I'm just so proud of the work that's been done here in the face of a totally unimaginable, unpredicted disaster. We've done -- we have made ourselves proud for the work that's done and around the world, you can see. So this gives me energy to keep on.

BLITZER: Well, we're grateful to you Mayor. Thank you for all you are doing. Please thank all the men and women that were involved in this recovery operation right now and please send our best, our heartfelt thoughts to all the family members. We're thinking of them and praying for them, all of the times. Thanks so much for joining us.

CAVA: We are. Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you, Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, the mayor of Miami- Dade County.

Coming up, President Biden addresses the growing Taliban threat in Afghanistan as he defends his decision to bring U.S. troops home, all of them within the next few weeks.

Stay with us. You're in The Situation Room.



BLITZER: Tonight, President Biden insists he made the right decision to end America's longest war and bring U.S. troops home from Afghanistan. But during remarks at the White House, he bristled at some questions about the rise of the Taliban and the consequences of U.S. and NATO withdrawal.

Let's bring in our Chief National Affairs Correspondent Jeff Zeleny. Jeff, there were the -- these were some of the president's most extensive comments to date about the U.S. pull out.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was the president's deepest rationale about why he believes it is time to end America's longest war, he said quite frankly, the U.S. has met its two overriding objectives, that was to capture and kill Osama Bin Laden and to root out the Al Qaeda terrorist that attacked the U.S. on 9/11.

Now, we do know of course that Mr. Biden has been a long skeptic of this war. And he said, quite frankly, this decision is long overdue.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan with no reasonable expectation to achieving a different outcome.

ZELENY (voice-over): Tonight, President Biden delivering an impassioned case to end Americas longest war.

BIDEN: The United States cannot afford to remain tethered to policies, creating a response to world as it was 20 years ago.

ZELENY: The president vowing to remove all combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of August despite resurgent Taliban forces gaining territory moving closer to Kabul.

BIDEN: For those who have argued that we should stay for six more months or just one more year, I asked to consider the lessons of recent history.

ZELENY: In a defensive and defiant appearance in the east room of the White House, the president making good on a campaign promise and a long held belief that Afghanistan must control its own destiny.

BIDEN: One more year fighting Afghanistan is not a solution but a recipe for being there indefinitely. It is up to the Afghans to make the decision about the future of their country.

ZELENY: And his biggest decision yet as commander chief, Biden insisted a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan was not inevitable. He pointed to 300,000 Afghan troops, trained and equipped by the U.S. that are in place to secure the country. But he grew testy when asked whether he trusts the Taliban.

BIDEN: No, I do not trust the Taliban. That's a silly question. Do I trust the Taliban? No. But I trust the capacity of the Afghan military who is better trained, better equipped and more competent in terms of conducting war.

ZELENY: Biden is the fourth American president to contend with the intractable conflict of Afghanistan. He brushed aside criticism from what even some military leaders have suggested is a dangerously swift exit.


BIDEN: So let me ask those who want us to stay. How many more? How many thousands more Americans daughters and sons were you willing risk. How long would you have them stay? Already we have members of our military whose parents fought in Afghanistan 20 years ago. Would you send their children and their grandchildren as well? Would you send your own son or daughter?

ZELENY: The president said he was committed to finding safe passage for thousands of Afghan interpreters whose lives are in grave danger.

BIDEN: Our message to those women and men is clear. There is a home for you in the United States if you so choose and we will stand with you just as you stood with us.

ZELENY: Biden, who argued against the troop surge as vice president during the Obama administration spoke with a narrow of confidence but with the somber tone at the cause of the long war.

BIDEN: No, there is no mission accomplished.

The mission was accomplished in that we got Osama Bin Laden and terrorism is not emanating from that part of the world.


ZELENY (on camera): Now, President Biden comes to his decision here, Wolf, as a student of history. Of course, as the chairman of the senate foreign relations committee and vice president as well, he has traveled repeatedly to the region. And he knows the history of Afghanistan. He said this is why a more and broader U.S. involvement simply would not change things on the grounds there. And he did reject any comparisons to Vietnam. He said under no circumstances will there be images of people on the roof of the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan being helloed out. He said this is a different moment. He said he does believes these Afghan security forces can protect Kabul. Wolf?

BLITZER: we shall see in the coming months for sure. All right, Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much.

Let's discuss with the former national security adviser to then President Trump, the former U.S. ambassador, John Bolton. He's the Author of the book, The Room Where It Happened, A White House Memoir. Ambassador Bolton, thanks so much for joining us.

As you know, President Biden says there are already members of the U.S. military whose parents fought in Afghanistan 20 years ago. He argue sending another generation to fight won't change the outcome over there. How do you respond to that?

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER TRUMP NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: This is a terribly misguided decision. He's misstated the purposes of the conflict. He's misstated the circumstances. And I fear he's misstated the likely outcome here.

Look, the American security interest involved is protecting not the people of Afghanistan but the people of the United States, the innocent civilians here who could be at risk of terrorist attacks from sanctuaries emanating in what very likely will be a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, just as it was on September the 10th, 2001.

Biden says, well, there is no terrorist threat from Afghanistan today, that's right, because we've been there for 20 years. Is he just playing foreign policy one day at a time?

BLITZER: The White House points to the decision by the Trump administration to leave Afghanistan in May, saying this would have made remaining U.S. troops a target. Did that announcement box in President Biden?

BOLTON: Of course not. Look, this has been a problem since Trump began the negotiations with Taliban. There has been a year of uncertainty in Afghanistan that's contributed, I think, to the present dangers there. But make no mistake about it. President Biden can take great comfort that if Donald Trump had been re-elected, he would have been doing exactly the same thing Joe Biden is doing. This is the Trump-Biden retreat from Afghanistan. Let's be very clear about that.

BLITZER: The Pentagon says the Taliban already has taken what they describe as dozens of district centers. There are warnings, as you know, of civil war. What is the worst case scenario that you envisage after this U.S. and NATO withdrawal that's going to be at the end of August?

BOLTON: Well, I don't know any real expert on the situation in Afghanistan that forecast anything other than ultimate Taliban takeover of substantial parts maybe close to all of the country. You know, when Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was here a few weeks ago, he said, look, we're like the United States in 1861 at the beginning of the civil war. I'm afraid, that's the optimistic scenario.

I think what may be more realistic is that the Afghan army simply melts away without American and other allied support. I think many of the troops will just discard their uniforms and disappear. We had reports that a thousand of them have gone across the border in the Tajikistan already. And, I mean, I think it leaves civilians in Afghanistan and particularly those who worked with the United States and its allies very much at risk. I think we need to get those folks out.

But you know the signal that sends in Afghanistan? If those people don't think the U.S. can protect them after the military leaves, there is nobody to protect us.


And it could hasten the Taliban takeover. That, in turn, will hasten the return and resurgence of Al Qaeda and possibly ISIS as well.

BLITZER: You heard the president say today that over those 20 years, U.S. taxpayers have spent more than a trillion dollars in Afghanistan, beefing up the military. The Afghan military now, the president says, is 300,000 forces. They have been trained by the U.S. and NATO. They're well-armed. They have armored vehicles, planes, aircraft. Why can't they get the job done? Why does the United States need to stay there?

BOLTON: Well, we're not staying there for the benefit of the Afghans. I mean, I wish them well and all that stuff. We're there for us. We're not protecting Afghans. That's a collateral consequence of America's presence there. We're there to prevent another 9/11. And we were also there both militarily and in our intelligence agencies to watch what was happening in Iran to the west, in Pakistan to the east.

And let's not forget, a Taliban takeover in Afghanistan will strengthen the hand of similar radicals in Pakistan, which has already thoroughly infiltrated with Islamic radicals. And if that regime were to fall to the counterparts of the Taliban and Afghanistan, you would have a terrorist regime with nuclear weapons. The stakes are very high here. We're making a grievous error by withdrawing.

BLITZER: Ambassador John Bolton, thanks so much for joining us.

BOLTON: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, just ahead, he's best known for taking on former President Trump. Now, Michael Avenatti has been sentenced to prison. Stand by.



BLITZER: A Haitian official now says he believes a U.S. citizen is among the suspects who have been arrested in connection with the assassination of Haiti's President. CNN's Matt Rivers has the late- breaking developments.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Arrests on the street of port of prince Thursday after an army police operation against heavily armed mercenaries. Mercenaries authorities say are responsible for the brazen assassination of Haiti's president, Jovenel Moise, early Wednesday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Six of the attackers have been arrested. Now, we're looking for the masterminds of the attack.

RIVERS: Police say the men who posed as U.S. DEA agents to gain entry to the private presidential residence included foreign nationals. This audio circulating on social media purported to be of the time of the assassination.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: DEA agents. Everybody stand down. DEA operation. Everybody back up, stand down.

RIVERS: With men shouting that they are drug enforcement agencies in English, but the audio cannot be authenticated by CNN. Police seeming to acknowledge the rising tide of anger in the wake of the attack are urging citizens not to take the law into their own hands. Still, many in the Haitian capitol are asking just how such a bold attack could have been allowed to happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did it come from? What county sent them? Who brought them over here? How did guns get transferred here? How did they get all these ammos?

RIVERS: In an interview with CNN, Haiti's acting prime minister did allude to the context surrounding the assassination but stopped short about lining a motive.

CLAUDE JOSEPH, ACTING HAITIAN PRIME MINISTER: We all know that President Jovenel Moise really committed to some -- I would say some actions against the oligarchs in Haiti so we know that in the last days he spoke about the consequences that those actions can have on his own life.

RIVERS: Already a nation rife with political instability, gang violence and humanitarian crises exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, fears from neighboring nations that the presidential assassination may push Haiti over the edge. But Haiti's in term Prime Minister insisting upcoming elections will still take place despite the nation's upheaval.

JOSEPH: The Constitution is clear. I have to organize elections and actually pass the power to someone else who is elected.


RIVERS (on camera): And as we are -- have been here in Miami all day long, we have been just basically getting update after update, Wolf, in terms of exactly what is happening. It's changing minute by minute. And the question is what happens in these next few days will not only affect the short-term future in Haiti but could have long-term ramifications as well. BLITZER: Let's see what happens. It's a heart breaking situation. Matt Rivers, reporting for us, thank you very much.

Coming up, he's best known for taking on former President Trump and representing adult film star Stormy Daniels. Now, Michael Avenatti has been sentenced to prison.



BLITZER: The lawyer -- the lawyer who became famous representing adult film star Stormy Daniels in her legal battle against former President Trump has just been sentenced to two and a half years in prison.

Kara Scannell is working the story for us.

Kara, this sentence marks a remarkable fall for Michael Avenatti. Give us the latest about what happened in court today.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: That's right, Wolf. I mean, a spectacular fall for Avenatti whose star really rose when he was representing Stormy Daniels.

But today in court, he was a convicted felon and Judge Paul Gardephe sentenced him to 30 months in prison. That's after Avenatti was convicted, attempting to extort millions of dollars from Nike, threatening to go public with damaging information unless they paid him. The judge said Avenatti's conduct was outrageous and said Mr. Avenatti had become drunk on the power of his platform, or what he perceived his platform to be.

Now, the sentence was far below what you could have faced based on federal sentencing guidelines, that could have been at least nine years in prison. He did address the judge and told the judge he lost his way. He said he learned over the past two years that all of the fame, money, TV and Twitter notoriety was meaningless.

He told the judge that, I and I alone had destroyed my career, my relationships, and my life. Now, this marks one chapter in Avenatti's life, but his legal problems are far from over. Next week, jury selection begins in California where Avenatti has been accused of stealing millions of dollars from his clients including one who is a paraplegic.

He will also go on trial next year back in New York for attempting, or actually the allegation is that he stole $300,000 from Stormy Daniels -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Kara, thanks very much. Kara Scannell reporting for us.

Let's dig deeper right now. The criminal defense attorney, CNN legal analyst Joey Jackson is joining us.

Joey, what does the sentence of two and a half years tell you and should tell our viewers about Avenatti's crime?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Listen, you know, Wolf, there are certain rules of engagement with respect to dealing with clients. Obviously, the defense here was that he was doing nothing more than being a zealous advocate. That is certainly whatever attorney takes the oath to do, but there's a distinction between a zealous advocate and shaking down or otherwise extorting. That's what a jury concluded, these are not my words.

And so, at the end of the day, when you are held to account, we had a jury trial, remember our system of justice. He went on trial in February of last year and he attempted to make his case. That he was simply trying to get a settlement and -- that he thought was fair, just an appropriate, and that he used hard-nosed tactics to do it.

The jury resoundingly rejecting that and saying this was not hard nosed tactics, this was fraud. It was extortion and it was resulting in your conviction by unanimous decision, that is 12 jurors. Would we have to keep in mind with two and a half years no one wants to spend a day in prison. We know he has spent time in prison and we will be credited for that for sure.

The judge had a lot to say about the time he spent, this judge in sentencing him, and, in fact, took that into consideration saying the conditions were deplorable and that should have never been. The judge even, Wolf, said that in a jail at this time in our age in the United States, that shouldn't have been.

But at the end of the day, two and a half years is significant time. He faces certainly more than that, probation more than 8 years. But he still faces a world of hurt as it relates to his crimes in California, alleged crimes, and in New York.

BLTIZER: Yeah, well, talk a little bit about that because he's got a bunch of other legal challenges that await him. He could wind up spending a whole lot more time in jail, right?

JACKSON: He could indeed. What we are looking at is we are looking at a California case with regard to him treating clients badly and defrauding them. We are looking to cases relating to Stormy Daniels and misappropriating funds there.

So when you look to that, in the event that he is convicted, you are going to see years and years added on to the time here. But this is one moment in time, he has a right to presumption of innocence like anyone else. He has those trials.

As to this case, he's lost that right to presumption of innocence. He was convicted by a jury, but these two other cases could add significantly more time to the time that he's facing already as it relates to the extortion charge of Nike.

Two and a half years the judge sentencing him today, and I think quite frankly, Wolf, you know, in terms of the sentencing guidelines, he certainly made out extraordinarily well when you have the prosecutor wanting much more time than that and probation recommending an 8 year sentence. The judge saying a lengthy sentence would not be appropriate under the circumstances.

BLITZER: Two and a half years. All right. Joey, thank you very much, very, very much.

JACKSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: Joey Jackson helping us appreciate the enormity of this particular case.

Up next, we are getting new details of House Democrats strategy as their special committee is poised to investigate the January 6th Capitol insurrection.



BLITZER: We are getting new insight tonight into the Democrats strategy as they move forward with a select committee to investigate the January 6th capitol riot.

Our congressional correspondent Ryan Nobles is joining us.

Ryan, how are Democrats helping to prevent this from simply becoming a partisan spectacle?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the one thing we are learning is that Democrats don't want this to become like the Benghazi select committee that Republicans ran for several years, which was an attempt to dustup Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate during that period of time. Instead, they do want this to be a serious look into exactly what happened on January 6th.

So part of what that means is that a lot of their work could be done behind closed doors, in private sessions where they discussed sensitive material. And at the same time, they are going to make sure that the scope of this investigation goes beyond just former President Donald Trump.

Now, they acknowledge that they are probably going to have to look at his role in all of this, and that could come into question, but they don't want to make it just about him. They want to take a look at the security precautions, the response time, and a lot of the other issues that led to everything that happened on that day and they are hoping that they can do it as bipartisan as possible.

Of course, Wolf, that is going to depend a lot on Kevin McCarthy appoints to his 5 positions. He has yet to say who that is, and that will determine a lot as to how well this committee works together -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Once the committee gets up and starts running, that could be a while, how long could actually take, Ryan, for the investigation to conclude?

NOBLES: Well, that's an important point, Wolf. There is no deadline for this committee according to the legislation that is much different than the independent commission that Speaker Pelosi initially proposed. They had a deadline of the end of the year. There is no deadline for this group. That means their work is certainly going to extend into next year and that means into those important 2022 midterms which means as much as they try and not make this political, there is a very good chance it will become a part of these midterm campaigns as we head into the November elections next year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What are the prospects? What are you hearing from your sources up on the Hill? That they might subpoena the former president to testify?

NOBLES: Well, Wolf, that remains an option that they are holding in their back pockets, but it's one they hope they don't have to go far in doing. That is what we talk about turning this into a circus. If the former president is called into -- in front of this committee, it will automatically become a circus. They are hoping they can find the information they are looking for without taking that step.

But when you listen to how the chair of this committee, the Homeland Security Chair Bennie Thompson, talked about this, he wants it to be as serious as possible. They want to be as transparent as possible and that's the process that they hope to take -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ryan Nobles reporting from Capitol Hill, we'll watch it unfold together with you. Thank you very much.

And to our viewers, thanks for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show at CNNSitRoom.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.