Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

New Weekly U.S. COVID Cases Climb 47 Percent As Risk Grows For Unvaccinated Americans; Justice Department Releases New Video Of Capitol Riot As Trump Spins New Conspiracies About January 6th; Biden Holds Meeting On Gun Violence After At Least 125 People Killed In 360 Weekend Shootings Across U.S.; Haitian Police Arrest Suspect Accused Of Orchestrating President's Assassination; Cuban Government Cracking Down Following Rare Protests; Richard Branson Makes Historic Space Flight Aboard Rocket He Helped Build; Trump Organization CFO Removed From Key Positions. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired July 12, 2021 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, the TikTok @jaketapper. You can tweet the show @theleadcnn.

Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer who is, as I've last checked, right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, the coronavirus pandemic is once again surging here in the United States putting unvaccinated Americans in grave danger as vaccination rates plummet.

Also, the U.S. Justice Department releases harrowing new video of the January 6th insurrection while former President Trump tries to re- write the history of the Capitol riot with outrageously new lies and conspiracies.

And later this hour, I'll speak with Sir Richard Branson, who just became the first person to go to space aboard a rocket he helped build, the culmination of a lifelong dream he calls just magical.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in The Situation Room.

We begin our coverage this hour with more on the very dangerous new COVID surge, a dire threat to all unvaccinated Americans. CNN's Athena Jones has the latest.


ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): America's progress fighting COVID-19 isn't just stalling. It's reversing. Average new daily coronavirus infections up 47 percent week over week, rising in 36 states, falling in just four, Arkansas and Missouri leading the nation in new cases per capita.

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: And in places like Missouri where ICUs are packed, you are going to see a surprising amount of death.

JONES: As health officials stress almost all COVID deaths are preventable. The CDC says more than 99 percent in June occurring among the unvaccinated.

REINER: The vaccines we have work really well against this variant. It doesn't need to be this way.

JONES: But the pace of vaccinations is slipping, down more than 80 percent since the April peak, CDC data shows. 14 states reporting less than 40 percent of residents are fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, health experts say those being hospitalized are often younger and sicker than earlier in the pandemic.

DR. HOWARD JARVIS, COXHEALTH: We're seeing a lot of people in their 30s, 40s, early 50s, we're seeing some teenagers and some pediatric patients as well.

ERIK FREDERICK, MERCY HOSPITAL CHIEF ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICER: 91 percent of our ICU patients today are on ventilators, and that's shocking to us to have that kind of number.

JONES: Arkansas' Republican governor planning to step up the state's vaccination efforts.

GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R-AR): We want to have our churches involved. We want to have our communities, organizations. If it means going into a community door by door and letting them know of this, then that's okay.

JONES: This as President Biden's failure to reach his July 4th vaccination goal was celebrated at a political gathering of conservatives.

ALEX BERENSON, WRITER: They were hoping, the government was hoping that they could sort of sucker 90 percent of the population into getting vaccinated. And it isn't happening, right? There is a -- younger people --

JONES: Dr. Anthony Fauci on CNN's State of the Union dismayed.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: It is horrifying. I mean, they are cheering about someone saying that it's a good thing for people not to try and save their lives.

JONES: And after Pfizer announced plans to seek emergency use authorization for a booster shot next month, the company is set to brief U.S. government officials this evening. Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb who was on Pfizer's board arguing it makes sense to get a head start on authorizing a booster in case one is needed later. But --

DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: I think, quite frankly, we probably missed the window in terms of providing boosters for the delta variant.


JONES (on camera): And there is more news on the vaccine front. The FDA updated the label for Johnson & Johnson's coronavirus vaccine today saying it might slightly raise the risk of a rare neurological complication known as Guillain-Barre syndrome, which can lead to muscle weakness and tingling in the legs. Most people fully recovered.

There have been some 100 preliminary reports of the syndrome out of nearly 13 million doses of the vaccine. The CDC stressing even if the vaccine does raise the risk, it's still better to get vaccinated. Wolf?

BLITZER: It certainly is. Athena, thank you very much, Athena Jones reporting.

Let's get the latest from the epicenter of this COVID outbreak in the United States. CNN Polo Sandoval is joining us live from Little Rock, Arkansas. So what are you seeing? What are you learning over there, Polo?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, it was just a month ago that Arkansas' governor was confident they were winning the battle against the coronavirus, that those infections were on their way down and vaccinations were on their way up.

But just in the last few weeks, this horrible combination of two factors here, the highly contagious delta variant and also the vaccination rates seem to have stalled right now.


Only about a third of this state has been vaccinated, so that's certainly concerning, multiple hospitals here certainly seeing an increase in patients. Dr. Robert Hopkins from the University of Arkansas for Medical Science has told me that they have seen a nearly double of the amount of COVID patients in their ward.

They have also seen, as you've just heard from Athena just a short while ago, the average age of their patients about a decade younger than what they were seeing about a year ago. And then also perhaps the most telling figure here, about 95 percent of those hospitalized with severe cases of the coronavirus were people that report -- or at least are people that were not vaccinated. So that's certainly a highly telling number.

Now, Dr. Hopkins, when he has conversations with those patients who are able to talk, he asks them why they did not get their shot, the answer that he continues to hear is that many of these patients did not think that COVID was real, that it was a real threat to their virus -- to their health.

So, tonight, what we can expect is Governor Asa Hutchinson, hitting the road trying to have these heart to heart conversations as well over 65 percent of the state remains unprotected by a vaccine. Wolf? BLITZER: What, some 99 percent of the people who are severely ill, hospitalized, or die, they never got vaccinated, big, big mistake. These are life and death decision. All right, Polo, thank you very, very much.

Let's get some analysis from the former acting CDC director, Dr. Richard Besser. Dr. Besser, thank so much for joining us.

As you heard, the FDA just updated the label for Johnson & Johnson's coronavirus vaccine, saying there may be an increased risk, very tiny, but an increased risk of a rare neurological condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome. Is there a point at which the potential risk from the Johnson & Johnson corona vaccine might actually outweigh the benefits?

DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING CDC DIRECTOR: Well, Wolf, it is important that our founded was found with money that came from Johnson & Johnson, in the company. I think it's really important that FDA is sharing this information with the public so that people can make an informed decision.

There are choices when it comes to vaccination. And this side effect, as they're saying, is extremely rare. And they say the benefits of vaccination exceed the risk there. But if you are concerned about that, you have other choices. There are other vaccines that are available to you. Don't let that be the deciding factor in whether or not you get vaccinated.

BLITZER: As we have reported here in the United States, 99 percent- plus, 99 percent of the coronavirus deaths are now among unvaccinated people. Does that mean the vast majority of recent coronavirus deaths here in the U.S. could actually have been prevented?

BESSER: The vast majority. This has become, Wolf, a pandemic among the unvaccinated. Just about every one of those deaths could have been prevented with vaccination. We don't know, you know, the total number since vaccines are not yet approved for people under the age of 12. And we know that some people with immune deficiencies will not get an adequate level of protection from the vaccine.

But it is heartbreaking, Wolf. You know, each day in America, more than 200 people are dying still from COVID. And most of those deaths could be prevented.

BLITZER: It certainly could be. When it comes to the delta variant, we have reported just how transmissible it is. The risk of severe illness or death is largely limited to those people who are still unvaccinated. I just want to make that point. Is that right?

BESSER: That's right. But one of the things that's clear is that while the delta virus -- the delta variant spreads more easily, and it will find the pockets of communities where people aren't vaccinated, it doesn't at this point appear to be more severe.

So the risk is because of that transmission. The reason we're seeing so many more young people in the hospital as compared to older people is that the vaccination coverage rate for elderly people in America is quite high. And that means that although cases are going up, we shouldn't expect to see the same kind of peak and high numbers in terms of deaths. But each death that's preventable is absolutely tragic.

BLITZER: Yes. The best way to avoid getting severely sick from COVID or going to a hospital or dying is to simply go out and get your shots. All right, Dr. Besser, thank you very much for that.

Just ahead, we're getting new video from the U.S. Justice Department showing the ferocious attack on the U.S. Capitol during the January 6th insurrection, stand by. We have new information.

Also coming up, I'll ask Sir Richard Branson about his historic flight to the edge of outer space. He'll join me live here in The Situation Room. Stay with us. You're in The Situation Room.



BLITZER: Former President Trump is taking his lies about the January 6th insurrection to a very dangerous new level despite new video evidence showing the brutal reality of the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

For more, we're joined by CNN's Brian Todd. Brian, tell us about these very disturbing new videos just released by the Justice Department.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. Two new videos released today by the Justice Department. In the first, again, this shows some pretty horrible hand to hand combat on January 6th. The first video, we see rioters appeared to be trying to steal an officer's riot shield from him. We'll pause a little bit for the sound there.

And later in that same video, an officer is on the ground and appears to be clubbed with a flag pole with a blue flag on it.


In a second video released today by the Justice Department, Wolf, an officer rushing forward, appears to be attacked with a flag pole with a red flag on it. These videos, part of the case of five defendants from the Tampa Bay area, each allegedly assaulted police with flagpoles and with stolen riot shields, this coming tonight after the former president's false conspiracy theories were once again embraced by some conservatives.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: The entire system was rigged.

TODD (voice over): The former president makes another absurd claim that there is evidence of fraud in last year's election. Donald Trump's baseless assertion was a highlight at the Conservative Political Action Conference this weekend in Dallas.

TRUMP: We were doing so well until the rigged election happened to come along.

TODD: The same day Trump took the stage at CPAC, he made two preposterous claims about the January 6th attack on the Capitol, not just trying to whitewash what happened that day but attempting to rewrite it. In an interview with Maria Bartiromo on Fox, Trump said this about the rioters.

TRUMP (voice over): They were peaceful people. These were great people. The crowd was unbelievable. And I mentioned the word love. The love in the air, I have never seen anything like it.

TODD: More like fighting in the air in video released in recent days by the Justice Department of rioters engaging in brutal hand to hand combat with police. Trump's take on the rioters' interaction with police that day --

TRUMP: There was a love fest between the police, the Capitol Police and the people that walked down to the Capitol.

TODD: The love fest Trump refers to nowhere to be seen in this video from the Justice Department where rioters are throwing heavy objects at police, striking their riot shields, and a threat to officers is clearly heard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're going to die.

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: On the one hand, he tries to make the case that this was a peaceful event filled with people who are full of love. And on the other hand, tries to make the case that it was Democrats' fault that there was a violent uprising that they weren't prepared for. So both things can't be true at the same time.

TODD: Trump joined the chorus of people who have sought to make a martyr out of rioter Ashli Babbitt. Babbitt was shot and killed by a Capitol Police officer as she tried to climb through a broken window into the speaker's lobby on January 6th. On Fox, Trump suggested a conspiracy afoot with that as well.

TRUMP (voice over): By the way, while you're at it, who shot Ashli Babbitt? Why are they keeping that secret? I have heard also that it was the head of security for a certain high official, a Democrat.

TODD: Speaking to CNN, a law enforcement source knocked down Trump's claim outright saying, the unnamed Capitol Police officer who shot Babbitt was not part of a security detail for a specific member of Congress.


TODD (on camera): Also this spring, the Justice Department said it would not pursue criminal charges against the officer involved in Ashli Babbitt's shooting, saying at the time that the investigation revealed no evidence that the officer did not reasonably believe that it was necessary to fire that shot in self-defense or in the defense of members of Congress. Still, despite all of his repeated, false conspiracy theories that he talked about over the weekend, a straw poll taken at that CPAC conference, Wolf, revealed that Donald Trump easily won this poll taken among possible Republican candidates for president in 2024. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Brian Todd reporting for us from Capitol Hill, Brian, thank you very much.

Let's discuss with our CNN Political Director David Chalian and our Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash.

Dana, the former president says, love was in the air during that riot. Do you think the police officers who were there felt any love?

DANA BASH, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't -- his definition of love is certainly not the same that most humans have. Look at those videos that were playing right now. That doesn't look like love to me. And, look, he is doing what he has done his entire career, which is he is seizing on one particular event, one particular incident.

In this case, it is one particular person, Ashli Babbitt, the woman who was shot and killed while trying to get into the House chamber, and making it so that people can relate to her, people can rally around her and rally around that as opposed to what we are seeing on the screens.

I mean, he could just as easily in the real world, not the world that he's living in get people to rally around the Capitol Police who were trying to defend the Capitol from the people who were inspired by and egged on by the president of the United States to do exactly what we're watching right there on January 6th. That is the reality, not the one he's trying to spin right now.

BLITZER: There was love there. And it was a brutal really ugly insurrection.

As you know, David, the Department of Homeland Security has publically warned these kinds of false narratives, the narratives that the former president is pushing, could lead to even more violence. He's really playing with fire right now. This is very, very dangerous because there are a lot of folks out there who actually believe these lies.


DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It is dangerous. And what Donald Trump did throughout his entire presidency is play with fire, rhetorically, and we saw where it can lead. I mean, it was one thing, pretty, I would say, abhorrent, initially that the former president and his allies were trying to downplay the import of what took place on January 6th.

Now, I think it is in a whole new level of danger because they're actually rewriting it. It is not just trying to sort of down play what happened and saying you guys are making too much of this, it's actually recreating a false narrative and it does not serve the purpose of giving the American people an accurate, historical record of this insurrection so that it can be prevented from happening again.

BASH: And on that note, you know what would be a good way to find the answer to what actually happened in the moments leading up to Ashli Babbitt getting shot? A commission, a nonpartisan commission, which is what the Democrats and some Republicans wanted to do in order to get the answers to try to take the politics out of it as much as possible in these times. And at the president's behest, most Republicans voted no.

BLITZER: And it is not just the lies about the January 6th insurrection, he's also escalating his rhetoric that the whole election, the presidential election was a fraud, ballot stuffing and all these other things. He's refusing to accept reality eight months after he lost the election.

CHALIAN: Yes. The big lie continues to get bigger and bigger each time Donald Trump goes out in public. I don't know how many times, whether in court or election officials, need to show the facts for people to understand that this was not a rigged election.

But what we see is Donald Trump's power and grip and hold on the Republican Party, because he can put forth these lies, and we see that many, many people believe them, and we see a lack of leadership from Republican-elected officials who are not willing to leave their party in a different direction.

BASH: That's really key.

BLITZER: Yes. And it is really dangerous. I have to repeat that. David and Dana, guys, thank you very much.

Coming up, the gun violence epidemic here in the United States, it's raging across the U.S. We're going to go to the White House with details of President Biden's efforts -- latest efforts to try to address this crisis.

And later, I will talk with Richard Branson fresh off his history- making flight into space. He's standing by to join me live right here in The Situation Room.



BLITZER: The gun violence epidemic across the United States is raging right now. Get this, at least 125 people were killed in 360 shooting incidents over this past weekend alone. And today, President Biden met with local and state officials to confront this growing crisis.

Our Chief National Affairs Correspondent Jeff Zeleny is joining us from the White House right now. Jeff, this is an issue that could leave Democrats potentially vulnerable in next year's midterm elections. What are you hearing?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the White House is certainly alarmed by these rising episodes of gun violence all across the country. That's why President Biden, for the second time in less than the month, focused on this issue extensively here today, inviting mayors, police chiefs and others into the White House for a meeting to talk about strategies going forward.

Now, we know the president, as he was running for office and since he has been in office, has distanced himself and disagreed with the defund police movement. In fact, he wants the police officers to be hired more using extra COVID funds and also expand community policing.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Folks, I want to start by --

ZELENY (voice over): President Biden taking aim tonight at the rise of gun violence and crime in America.

BIDEN: We have to come together to fulfill the first responsibility of democracy, that's keep each other safe. That's what the American people are looking for when it comes to reducing violent crime and gun violence.

ZELENY: Alarmed by the crime surge plaguing many of the nation's largest cities, the White House convening a meeting of local and federal officials, including Eric Adams, a former New York City Police captain, whose tough on crime message helped him win the city's democratic mayoral primary.

ERIC ADAMS (D), NEW YORK CITY MAYORAL CANDIDATE: He's sending a loud message that this country and cities like New York were no longer going to normalize the level of violence that's taking place in our inner cities, particularly handgun violence, something we have ignored on a federal level.

ZELENY: Like the president, Adams has been sharply critical of calls by some Democrats to decrease funding to police departments. He praised what he called the president's holistic approach to crime.

ADAMS: When we think about the ecosystem of public safety, far too often we think about only the role of police officers. The president has made it clear. We're going to look at crisis management teams. We're going to look at the educational system, employment, all of those things that could become a theater to violence, particularly gun violence.

ZELENY: Over the weekend, police reported more than 360 shootings across the U.S. with at least 125 people killed by guns. With gun legislation stalled in Congress, the White House is urging cities to use $350 billion from the COVID relief package to boost local law enforcement and community policing efforts.

BIDEN: This is going to help prevent crime and support young people to pick up paycheck instead of a pistol.

ZELENY: Tonight, the White House is also preparing a major speech on voting rights. JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He'll lay out the moral case for widening the right to vote as a form of suppression and a form of silencing.


ZELENY (voice over): The president will travel to Philadelphia on Tuesday to rally support for a federal response to new state laws, threatening democracy and making it more difficult to vote.

PSAKI: Expanding the right to vote, the access of people across the country to vote is going to be a fight of his presidency.


ZELENY (on camera): Now state voting laws, of course, have been popping up across the country, no more so than in Texas. But, Wolf, an interesting twist this evening, some Democratic lawmakers from the state of Texas are flying here to Washington to make their case for voting reform. But they're also getting out of Texas so there is not a quorum on the bill.

So, two planes, we're told, are flying here right now with the Texas Democratic lawmaker on them, of course, drawing attention to this fight for voting rights. Wolf?

BLITZER: Very interesting indeed. All right, Jeff Zeleny reporting from the White House, thanks very much.

Now, to Haiti and what details of what could be a key arrest in the investigation into the assassination of the country's president are now emerging.

CNN's Matt Rivers is joining us from Port of Prince right now. CNN Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez also has new reporting for us. He's here in Washington.

Matt, what are you learning, first of all, about the suspect accused of actually orchestrating the assassination and his possible motive?

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. We went a few days really without a significant update from authorities here in Haiti, but it was last night on Sunday evening Haitian authorities called a press conference in part to talk about this 63-year-old man born in Haiti, Christian Emmanuel Sanon, who authorities here believe is a real central figure in this assassination plot.

What they are saying is that he came here by private plane in June after contracting a Venezuelan security company based in South Florida which he used to allegedly recruit these 26 Columbia -- alleged Columbian mercenaries and two Haitian Americans that authorities here in the island believed actually carried out this assassination plot. Not only did he recruit these men but then, apparently, according to authorities, he organized them here.

Initially, we're told, these men that he hired for hired to provide him some sort of personal security here on the island. But in the words of authorities, their mission changed over time, which we are to infer that meant to assassinate the president of Haiti.

Now, in terms of Sanon, what we know about him, according to authorities, that he came here to, quote, capture the presidency. But, Wolf, there are tons of questions that remain at this point. They didn't provide any evidence to back that up. We don't know what he is formally charged with. He hasn't a legal representation that we've been able to get in touch with. And for those reasons, there are a lot of people here in Haiti who have lots of questions about, you know, are there going to be more arrests coming? Who is, in fact, the mastermind behind this assassination plot? Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, a lot of questions out there. Evan, you're learning new information about some of the other suspects. Tell us about them.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. In addition to the U.S. ties that Matt Rivers just talked about, we're told that at least one of these people turned himself in with the help of the DEA. He worked in the past as an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration.

We're told in a statement by the drug enforcement administration this afternoon that he reached out to the person he worked with at the DEA, they arranged for him to turn himself in along with the U.S. diplomats helped turn himself in to Haitian authorities. So that person is now under arrest.

And then U.S. ties in this operation go beyond that. We're told, Wolf, that there were others who previously worked as informants for the FBI. Now, the FBI, we talked to them and they say that they don't discuss their confidential sources except to say that they do use lawfully confidential sources to gather intelligence for some of their investigations.

But what this raises, Wolf, a number of questions, obviously, for U.S. law enforcement and for U.S. prosecutors is whether they can bring charges, perhaps, against some of the people involved in this if some of this operation was hatched in the United States.

BLITZER: Evan Perez, Matt Rivers, guys, thank you very, very much.

Meanwhile, Cuba's government is reportedly taking drastic action right now after protests by thousands and thousands of people calling for more freedom and better economic conditions.

CNN's Patrick Oppmann is joining us live from Havana right now. Patrick, protests like these are very, very rare in Cuba. What are you learning about how the government is actually now cracking down?

PATICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. The president of Cuba appeared on T.V. this morning. He said these protesters did not have a right to be in the streets demanding better living conditions, that they were, quote, criminals and that he had called on revolutionaries, government supporters to take back the streets.


And that is what we have seen around Havana today as there is a heavy police presence and the whole areas where the protests took place are cordoned off. And we are hearing of mass arrests of tens of people, perhaps more, being arrested for allegedly taking place in these protests that have riled it.

And these protests were beyond rare, Wolf. They were unprecedented. On Sunday, it seemed town after town after town, city after city, people were just leaving their homes en masse and taking to the streets demanding liberty, demanding access to food and medicines, which they don't have right now, vaccines and saying that they wanted to change.

But, so far, the Cuban government doesn't appear to be answering those calls for change at all. In fact, there is a blockade on the internet right now that people are not able to access social media throughout much on this island making it very difficult to know what's going on if further protests are taking place.

BLITZER: All right. Patrick, thanks very much. Patrick, we'll stay on top of everything in Cuba. We'll get back to you. Thank you very much.

Just ahead, the billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson, he is standing by live to join me here in The Situation Room. There you see him. I will ask him about his groundbreaking life on the edge of outer space, what it all means, including what it means for the fight against climate change. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: This weekend, the world witnessed a truly groundbreaking and amazing moment in the history of human space flight. Sir Richard Branson, the British billionaire entrepreneur, became the first person to reach the edge of outer space aboard a rocket ship he helped build. The supersonic aircraft was developed by Branson's company, Virgin Galactic, and could mark a major new era for space tourism. For Branson, the flight was the culmination of a childhood dream.


RICHARD BRANSON, FOUNDER, VIRGIN GROUP: To all you kids down there, I was once a child with a dream looking up to the stars. Now, I'm an adult in a spaceship with lots of other wonderful adults looking down to our beautiful, beautiful Earth. To the next generation of dreamers, if we can do this, just imagine what you can do. Yes.


BLITZER: And Richard Branson is joining us now. Richard, thank you so much for joining us.

Can you describe this experience that so few people have ever had of seeing Earth from space? BRANSON: It takes your breath away. I actually practiced in words where I just didn't want to have a whole spaceship of words (ph), and it's unbelievable. But it is extraordinarily beautiful. You know, our Earth is extraordinarily beautiful. The sky is vivid from, you know, wonderful blues to black. And it's something that I have just dreamt of, and it was much more extreme and much more beautiful than I had ever envisioned throughout my life.

BLITZER: I must give you a lot of credit for having the courage to do this. What do you say to people out there, and I must admit, I am one of them who say no way, no how, you will never get me into space? What do you say to folks like me?

BRANSON: Well, I think that, you know, my wife is like that, my children are more built like myself and they're itching to go. And so I think it is something like 60 percent, 70 percent of people who would absolutely love to go to space, love to have that opportunity. And there are 30 percent of people who will say absolutely no way.

But there is enormous numbers of people who would love to become astronauts, who would love to have the kind of experience that we had yesterday. I mean, the amount of tickets we sold from people who were at the space port watching it yesterday, it was considerable, so, yes.

So -- and we have just launched this new campaign to try to enable people watching this program who would never afford to go to space, who want to go to space. So, (INAUDIBLE) something through a maze which will enable somebody to win a lottery ticket and they can bring their friend, they can come to the space port. I would show them around, I would see them often and give them an amazing trip. And the money that comes from that will hopefully enable dozens of people who could never have afforded to go to space to be able to go to space and become astronauts.

BLITZER: Yes. These people will be thrilled. There is no doubt about that. It is an amazing journey, to be sure.

You told CNN this trip to space reinforced, Richard, your commitment to fighting climate change. Some have suggested, as you well know, that the money spent on space tourism, for example, might be better spent on climate science. What do you say to those folks?

BRANSON: Well, first of all, we have two space companies. We have Virgin Orbit, that also launched last week which put satellites into space from a 747 and those satellites are monitoring the earth. A lot of those satellites we're putting up for NASA, were putting up to monitor climate change, to monitor what's happening to our rainforests and so on and so on.

With Virgin Galactic, we've also -- I mean, on this trip that I went on, there were a lot of scientific experiments were taking place. We've had experiments to that of testing in particular Earth's atmosphere where we are going to. But one of the great things about our kind of space travel is that our spaceship is reusable. And so the amount of energy expended is tiny.


I mean, it's about the equivalent of somebody taking, per seat, a Virgin Atlantic flight up a class from London to New York and back. And so, the cost of getting people to space from an environmental point of view and also from a cost point of view has just come down dramatically from the days of NASA with an enormous -- enormous sort of spaceships they would use to get people into space.

BLITZER: That's encouraging to hear that. I know you and everybody knows you, you beat your fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos into space by a few days. What advice do you have for Mr. Bezos, what advice do you have for him as he prepares for his own launch in the next few days?

BRANSON: Just to wake up in the morning and to try to get a good night's sleep and to realize this is going to be most likely the most exciting, rewarding day of your life, a day that, you know, he could be proud of because he spent 20 years developing his program, and that he and his fellow travelers who will hopefully become astronauts, you know, have the most extraordinary day.

And between us, we can open up space for many, many people who could never have ever dreamt they would be able to go to space. There is only 500 and something people that have ever been to space since space travel started. And, you know, yesterday when I was in space, there were more people in space than at the same time that had ever, ever been in space at the same time. So, you know, it's exciting what's happening.

In space, I would like to say very importantly, space -- space is absolutely essential for the world. I mean, for you name it, you know, whether it's -- whether it's moving food around the world, whether it's putting being solar panels in space which people are working on. You know, there are enormous amounts of things that people can do to help the world, that it already does help the world. I mean, we wouldn't be talking today if it wasn't for space.

So, you know, so space has transformed the world already and it will, I think, transform the world, you know, in an enormous way in the future.

BLITZER: I give you an enormous amount of credit for what you've done. And I want to thank you for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Sir Richard Branson, thank you so much.

BRANSON: Thanks, Wolf. Nice to talk to you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Coming up, the indicted Trump Organization CFO removed, yes, removed from some key positions within the Trump Organization. So what's behind this very, very significant potentially surprise move? We'll take a closer look when we come back.



BLITZER: New developments tonight in the criminal investigation into the Trump investigation. The indicted CFO Allen Weisselberg has been removed from several key positions in some of the company's subsidiaries.

CNN's Kara Scannell is working the story for us.

So, what does this mean, Kara, for Weisselberg's standing, for example, with the former president?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Well, Wolf, source close to the company tells me this is not an indication of a massive falling out. The source says Weisselberg who has been at the company for 48 hours will remain at the company but his role and his title could change. And as we're seeing with public filings that have hit the public dockets today, Weisselberg has been removed from several key entities including Mar-a-Lago, the Trump golf course in Florida and Scotland and several others.

Now, the source told me that this is being done as a form of corporate governance, a prudent corporate governance and I spoke with an expert in corporate governance who told me that this is normal. Allen Weisselberg will be distracted by the fact he's facing an indictment and for a company like Trump who operates in a gambling industry that has legal licenses, it's a smart move to remove an officer who is facing criminal charges because it removes that cloud and there are certain regulatory issues at play.

But at this point, it doesn't appear to be an indication of a broader split. A spokesperson for the Trump Organization did not return my call for comment and Allen Weisselberg's attorney declined to comment -- Wolf.

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

Let get some analysis from our chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

So, how do you read this decision to remove Weisselberg from these subsidiaries, Jeffrey?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think it is an attempt to separate him because of the regulatory issues but the problem the company itself is indicted so they can try to pretend this is an Allen Weisselberg problem but the problems for the Trump organization go on.

The other issue is, you know, this is very reminiscent of what went on when Michael Cohen, the former president's lawyer also employed by the Trump Organization was indicted. At first, you know, it was we love Michael Cohen. He's on the team. But before too long, there were signs of separation, as there are here. They stopped paying Michael Cohen's attorney fees.

Let's see if they keep paying Weisselberg's attorney fees. Weisselberg is under enormous pressure to plead guilty and cooperate. The case against him in fairness we haven't heard his side of the story but it looks strong. He is going to be in a very difficult place and this push away from the Trump organization may be a push unintentionally towards him cooperating with the government.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Jeffrey, a source calls this prudent corporate governance. Is there potentially any legal benefit here to this kind of maneuver?


TOOBIN: Well, it is prudent not to have a chief financial officer who is under indictment. As Kara pointed out, the regulatory bodies, whether they are liquor licenses or gambling licenses, you know, they have certain requirements for the company that they agree to regulate. The problem is the Trump Organization itself is under indictment. So, they're going to have regulatory problems, no matter what.

Yes, this is prudent but it may be too little, too late.

BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, thank you very, very much.

We'll have more, more on the -- more news right after this.



BLITZER: Tonight, the death toll in the Surfside, Florida condo collapse has risen to 94 people with 22 believed to be still unaccounted for. And we want to remember one of the victims, Judy Spiegel, whose body was recovered Friday. Her loving husband Kevin and children Josh, Michael and Rachel, they joined us multiple times during the truly agonizing days as they waited first with hope after her rescue.

Josh tells us and I'm quoting him now, I would like everyone to know that she raised three kids who loved her unconditionally because she as a mother did everything unconditionally. She did the same for her grandchildren. The fact that she won't be with us is still unfathomable. She is our mom, but was still able to express love to others and the community. We love her and miss her.

The funeral, by the way, scheduled for tomorrow. Our deepest, deepest condolences to this truly wonderful family. May she rest in peace and as we say, may her memory be a blessing.

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

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.