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The Situation Room
Biden Delivers Urgent Warning On Growing Threats To Democracy As He Pushes For Voting Rights Bill; Texas Democrats Pressure Congress And Biden After Fleeing State In Bid To Block Voting Restrictions; Unvaccinated Americans Driving Surge In 46 States; New Books Paint Trump As Unhinged, Obsessive And Dangerous Following His Election Loss; France Tells Its Citizens To Leave Afghanistan As Taliban Gain Ground Ahead Of Withdrawal Of Final U.S. Forces; U.S. Suffering Worst Wildfire Season In A Decade, California Blazes On Record-Setting Pace. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired July 13, 2021 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM."
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, President Biden delivers an urgent warning on the threats facing American democracy. He directed his sharpest criticism at Republicans undermining the right to vote, asking, and I'm quoting him now, have you no shame.
Plus, the U.S. COVID surge has now reached 46 states. Officials say unvaccinated Americans are grinding the rapid rise in new cases and now face a tidal wave of danger from the virus.
And we're getting disturbing new details about former President Trump's final days in office consumed by personal hatred for those he believed betrayed him and willing to stretch the limits of his power to overturn the election.
We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in The Situation Room.
All right, let's go to our Chief National Affairs Correspondent Jeff Zeleny, he's over at the White House for us today. Jeff, this was an extremely impassioned, very fiery speech delivered by the president.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, using words like un-American, undemocratic and unpatriotic, President Biden spoke more forcefully than he ever has before since the election took place eight months ago about these conspiracy theories over -- false claims of the stolen election. But he said these claims have had a true effect and a dire threat to democracy. That's why he said there is an urgent need to protect voting rights now.
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: The big lie is just that, a big lie.
ZELENY (voice over): Tonight, President Biden confronting the 2020 election more forcefully than ever before, calling the assault on voting rights the most dangerous threat to democracy since the civil war.
BIDEN: In America, if you lose, you accept the results. You follow the Constitution. You try again. You don't call facts fake and then try to bring down the American experiment just because you're unhappy. That's not statesmanship. That's not statesmanship. That's selfishness.
ZELENY: Speaking in Philadelphia, the birthplace of the nation's democracy, Biden did not mention his former rival by name, as he warned of the dangerous fall-out from President Trump's false assertions about the election.
BIDEN: There is an unfolding assault taking place in America today, an attempt to suppress and subvert the right to vote in fair and free elections, an assault on democracy, an assault on liberty, an assault on who we are.
ZELENY: Since the November election, 17 states across the country have passed laws making it more difficult to vote, and in some cases, making election boards overseeing the vote counting partisan roles.
BIDEN: It is no longer just about who gets to vote. It is about who gets to count the vote.
ZELENY: The president has been under growing pressure to do more to push back against the Republican-passed voting laws.
BIDEN: They want to make it so hard and inconvenient that they hope people don't vote at all. That's what this is about.
ZELENY: Yet, he stopped short of what many civil rights leaders and progressive activists demanded, pushing to abolish the filibuster, the Senate rule requiring 60 votes to pass major legislation. White House officials have noted the president cannot change the filibuster and said he would work with senators to rally support to pass a federal voting rights bill.
BIDEN: We are facing the most significant test of our democracy since the civil war.
I'm not saying this to alarm you. I'm saying this because you should be alarmed.
ZELENY: The president described the rash of new state election laws as un-American, undemocratic and more akin to an authoritarian regime.
BIDEN: And we're asking my Republican friends in Congress, in states, in cities, in counties to stand up, for God's sake, and help prevent this concerted effort to undermine our election and the sacred right to vote. Have you no shame?
ZELENY (on camera): The civil rights leaders and progressive voting rights activists praised the president for pulling no punches today, but they do wonder how much capital he will put behind this particularly when it comes to the push for the filibuster. Of course, that is the purview of Democratic senators.
Now, several of them are simply opposed to changing the rules in the Senate. They believe it could open a door to something they simply don't want.
But just a few moments ago, Wolf, when the president returned here to the White House, we asked him again about his views on the filibuster. He did not answer our questions, Wolf.
BLITZER: Jeff Zeleny at the White House for us. Thank you very much.
Let's go to our Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles. He's joining us from Capitol Hill right now. I want to get some more, you know, Ryan, on the Texas Democratic delegation that fled here to Washington in a bid to block voting restrictions in Texas. These Texas Democrats, they're being accused of staging a publicity stunt. So what is the strategy here? What are you hearing?
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is a real life example of this voting rights fight that the president was talking about in his speech today in Philadelphia. This was a group of Texas lawmakers who essentially walked out of a session that was -- emergency session that was put in place in Texas to pass a new batch of voting reforms there that they believed curbed the right and access for people at the ballot box.
Now, they left Texas because the Republican governor there is threatening to put them under arrest and bring them back to the statehouse so that they can cast a ballot and have a quorum in order to pass this legislation through.
And you're right, Wolf. It is being criticized as being nothing more than a public relations stunt because the Republican legislature continued to call these sessions and essentially run out the clock, but the lawmakers here in Washington said they came to D.C. with a very specific goal. Listen to how they lay that goal out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STATE REP. CHRIS TURNER (D-TX): We have a short window here. As was previously mentioned, the session ends on August 7th. And we can't hold this tide back forever. We're buying some time. We need Congress and all of our federal leaders to use that time wisely.
(END VIDEO CLIP) NOBLES: And buying time to essentially get Congress to do something as it relates to voting rights because they know they cannot win this battle in Texas. But to Jeff Zeleny's point, there is just not the energy right here in the federal Capitol to do something drastic, like carving out a special provision in the filibuster rule to pass voting right legislation. The Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, was specifically asked if he would push his fellow senators to take that step. Wolf, his answer was that everything right now is on the table. Wolf?
BLITZER: Yes. He keeps saying that over and over again. We'll see what happens. Ryan Nobles, reporting for us from Capitol Hill. Thank you.
I want to bring in CNN Contributor Evan Osnos, CNN Political Analyst Rachel Bade and the President and CEO of the NAACP, Derrick Johnson. To all of you, thank you very much for joining us.
Derrick, let me ask you. You had a chance to meet with the president earlier in the week together with other civil rights leaders. Was the message you heard from them today the same message that you heard in that private meeting? Were you satisfied, in other words, with what you heard today?
DERRICK JOHNSON, PRESIDENT & CEO, NAACP: Well, what I heard today was him quote John Lewis to say that freedom is action. And what we're looking for is action. It is great to have passion around this. It is absolutely important to make this a priority. Now what are we going to do about it? We are in extraordinary times. It is going to require some extraordinary measures. We should not get distracted with a procedural rule. We should talk about the substance and protecting the rights of voters.
And we have not seen anything like this since the 1960s. Let's treat it for what it is. This is a war on democracy that we have to match weapon with weapon to ensure that all voter will have access to voting untethered, uninterrupted, unsuppressed.
BLITZER: Were you disappointed he didn't talk about a change in the filibuster rules?
JOHNSON: You know, again, it is a procedural rule. You know, how we get to the endgame is more important than the procedure rules that are out there. My clock says we have to have something in place by the middle of September when the census data is released. Why? Because the redistricting process started. This would be the first redistricting cycle since 1970 without the full impact of the Voting Rights Act in place.
The Supreme Court gutted Section 5. Now they have gutted Section 2. So we will be exposed as a nation if we don't have rules of engagement to ensure that all citizens are able to elect candidates of their choice and their votes count.
BLITZER: You know, Evan, the president calls this, and I'm quoting him now, a 21st century Jim Crow assault on voting rights. You have written a biography of Joe Biden. You studied the speeches. How did you assess his speech today?
EVAN OSNOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you can hear it in his voice. He is treating this as a grave threat to American democracy. He linked it, in fact, explicitly and implicitly to the events of January 6th, saying that this is the moment in which the United States is called to restore to its first principles.
But I think what you also heard today was a bit of Joe Biden's split personality politically. We know that he has done things this year that have really surprised, that impressed progressives, moving faster on some issues than they expected.
But, fundamentally, he's also a president who got to the White House believing that it was moderate and conservative Democrats who were part of that process.
He never endorsed Medicare for all. He never endorsed a green new deal. He believes it is his job to stay just ahead of the public but not so far that he loses them. And that was the balance, Wolf.
BLITZER: After hearing the speech, I was a little bit surprised he didn't deliver it as part of an Oval Office primetime address to the nation given the importance of what's going on. Were you surprised?
OSNOS: Well, it had that character to it. And I think what you are going to see how is what some of his aides described to me as a whole of society effort. You know, this is the kind of movement that they're trying to say it is not just about the president. You know, president -- I always want to see the president's power but not necessarily too much of power. You are going to hear him talking about his attorney general, Merrick Garland, and other pieces of the puzzle in order to make this work.
BLITZER: It's clear he doesn't have 60 votes in the Senate to pass this kind of legislation. He didn't talk about filibuster, if they were to change the rule of the filibuster, he would need 50 because the vice president, is the president of the Senate could break a tie, assuming all the Democrats are voting for it. But there are some Democrats who don't want to change the filibuster rules. In other words, did he move the needle?
RACHEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I mean, in some ways, you know, the speech was kind of set up for failure and that civil rights leaders, so there's a lot of progressives, a lot of Democratic rank and file, in general, wanted Joe Biden, President Joe Biden, to come out and say specifically that he wants to get rid of the filibuster. They wanted him to name check people like Joe Manchin, like Kyrsten Sinema, who say they will not sort of upend the Senate rules so they can pass these voting rights protections bills.
And, you know, Biden is an institutionalist. He's a 36-year veteran of the Senate. And, clearly, he's not been willing to go that far and also not willing to call out these moderate Democrats who are close allies of his but also what he needs to pass his bipartisan infrastructure package. He needs them to pass the Democratic reconciliation bill to do things like expand child care, free college, et cetera. And, so, because of that, civil rights leaders, Derrick, I know, said he was happy with the speech, but some civil leaders, they're not going to be satisfied with what they heard today.
BLITZER: Well, let me ask Derrick to sum it up, was there any solution -- did you hear a solution from the president of the United States?
JOHNSON: No, I didn't hear any solutions. I was happy with the passion, I stated. But I'm still waiting for the outcome. This is the LBJ moment. LBJ convened both bodies of Congress and he gave a directive. He understood that Democrats in the south were the opposition and he took them on head on.
This president must take on the Republicans who are the opposition to try to subvert democracy. We need to convene both bodies and say, here is a solution and let's get it done by this time. Yes, the passion of the speech was great but the outcome of the speech is lacking. We want solutions, not words.
BLITZER: All right. Derrick, thank you very much. Evan and Rachel, guys, thanks to you as well.
Just ahead, new COVID cases here in the United States have nearly doubled in just one week. Officials now say unvaccinated Americans are behind the dangerous surge. Stay with us. We're getting new information. You're in The Situation Room.
BLITZER: Very disturbing news coming into The Situation Room, the surging coronavirus pandemic is now on the rise in 46 states. Unvaccinated Americans are driving the wave of new cases and face the greatest risk.
CNN's Erica Hill is on the story for us right now. Erica, this is a very disturbing trend, after months of steady progress, now this. Update our viewers.
ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. That's the concern. As we're seeing these daily vaccination rates go down, we are seeing cases go up. But keep in mind, these are only the cases that we know about.
Testing is key here and testing has also dropped off. The surgeon general earlier today said even if you have been fully vaccinated, definitely get tested if you have any symptoms, as states and officials across the country work to get more shots in arms.
HILL (voice over): Despite millions of shots in arms, the U.S. is moving in the wrong direction. DR. CHRIS PERNELL, FELLOW, AMERICAN COLLEGE OF PREVENTIVE MEDICINE: This is primarily a pandemic of the unvaccinated. And we need to be very clear about that message.
HILL: Daily vaccination rates are down nearly 50 percent since last week, average new cases jumping 97 percent, and those are just the ones we know about.
DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Many people are thinking of COVID is over, and, by the way, we really need to get tested. And this is particularly happening in areas, unfortunately, where the vaccination rates are low, which is exactly where we want to be testing more.
HILL: The data is clear, states that have fully vaccinated more than half the residents are reporting fewer cases. But even those bright spots are surrounded by a sea of red, at least 46 states now seeing a rise in new cases over the past week.
DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: We have a solution to this, for this, and the solution is vaccinations.
HILL: As more states were to ban vaccine requirements or proof of vaccination, at least seven passing legislation aimed at public schools.
PERNELL: When states make that move, they get in the way of good and effective public health.
HILL: In Tennessee, 14 to 17-year-olds don't need parental consent for medical care, including vaccines. The state medical director shared a memo laying out that policy and says it resulted in her being fired.
DR. MICHELLE FISCUS, FIRED TENNESSEE TOP VACCINATION OFFICIAL: I've not done anything wrong except inform our physicians of where the guidelines were around vaccinating minors.
The people of Tennessee have been sold out by politics.
HILL: The Tennessee Department of Health told CNN it can't comment on personnel matters.
HILL (on camera): And just to give you a better sense of where we are as a country, so just under 50 percent of the nation is now fully vaccinated, Wolf. That's the entire population, but 12 to 15-year- olds, only 25 percent of that age group is now fully vaccinated. They have been eligible for two months. That's the lowest percentage of any illegible age group, Wolf.
BLITZER: Erica Hill reporting from New York for us, thank you very much. Let's get some analysis right now from the former Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Jerome Adams. Dr. Adams, thank you so much for joining us. And this is very disturbing as you know a lot better than I do. More than 99 percent of the latest coronavirus deaths here in the United States have been among unvaccinated Americans. How dangerous is it right now that this is now becoming a story for all practical purposes of two Americas, the vaccinated and the unvaccinated?
DR. JEROME ADAMS, FORMER U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Well, it is incredibly dangerous when you look at what the new delta variant is doing in our country. And that's what your viewers need to understand. Many people have done the right thing. They have gotten vaccinated. They have helped us get this pandemic under control.
But we're seeing our progress reversed because of this incredibly contagious delta variant. Three to four times more contagious than prior strains of COVID. And people need to understand that even if you have been infected with COVID previously, and it is not as protective against the delta variant as getting vaccinated is.
And so, God has given us a miracle, a true miracle, but salvation is only available to those who accept it. We need people out there to understand, you have got a miracle sitting there waiting for you in these vaccinations. But if you don't avail yourself of it, then you are putting yourself at risk. You are putting your community at risk. You are putting our progress at risk.
BLITZER: Yes. It is so, so dangerous. And as you can see on screen, 48.1 percent of the American population is now fully vaccinated. That means half of the population isn't fully vaccinated. It is very, very dangerous. And very disturbing also, Dr. Adams, the pace of new coronavirus vaccinations here in the U.S. has dropped by 88 percent since April.
You served during the Trump administration. How much of this hesitancy that we're still seeing by so many Americans is lasting damage, let's say, former the former president? Would a full-throated vaccine endorsement by him going on television, public service announcement, go ahead, get the shots, you will save lives including your own, you will save lives of the children, the elderly, you got to do it? Why doesn't the former president do that right now?
ADAMS: Well, Wolf, I testified before Congress a few weeks ago on vaccine hesitancy. And the politicization of vaccines has really hurt us. And here is my plea to Republicans, please, do all that you can to get people vaccinated. That is top to bottom. Go out there and be full-throated to support the vaccinations.
To Democrats, stop demonizing Republicans because the fact is most of the Republicans I know actually are vaccinated. This comes down to mistrust of the government. It comes down to mistrust of the administration. And we need to figure out how we pull the politics out of this and get better messages and really help people understand the answers to their questions that they have. I'm here right now in Trump country, in Northern Indiana. And I can tell you that the people who I'm talking to, they have legitimate questions about vaccines. And when they're answered, I have convinced so many of them to get vaccinated, so I know it can be done. It is not Republican or Democrat. It is America versus the virus.
BLITZER: But you know that the former president, former President Trump, he has a lot of influence out there with his supporters. Are you ready to call on him personally, go out there, Mr. President, you deserve a lot of credit during the Trump administration for helping to create the vaccines, they worked hard to do so and they did it in record time, they deserve credit for that. Are you calling on former President Trump right now to go out there and urgently appeal to the unvaccinated Americans go get the shots, you will save lives?
ADAMS: Well, Wolf, here's what I'm calling on. I'm calling on President Biden to stop blaming everything that happened in the pandemic on Trump. And I'm calling on President Trump and all Republicans to do everything they can to get people vaccinated on both sides. We need to put the politics away.
And I want to remind people President Trump has been vaccinated, every Republican governor has been publicly vaccinated, and the vice president, Vice President Pence and I got publically vaccinated in front of millions of people on live T.V. This is not a Republican thing. It's not a Trump administration thing. It is about people getting vaccinated. And your viewers need to understand that whether you are Republican or Democrat, the virus doesn't care. Former surgeon general, vice president of the United States on both sides, presidents of the United States on both sides have been vaccinated, you should too.
BLITZER: But just to be clear, Doctor Adams, you want the former president to go out there and publicly, enthusiastically tell all of his supporters you are risking the lives of a lot of people by not getting vaccinated? You want him to go out there and make that appeal?
ADAMS: I would absolutely love to see President Trump reiterate what he's already said.
BLITZER: But he does it very -- Dr. Adams, he does it in a very lukewarm way. You don't see him out there speaking enthusiastically. He would have such an impact if he were to do so. And you want him to do so, right?
ADAMS: I do want him to do so. I don't know that he would have that great of an impact. I'm telling you, I am in Trump country and people say, I know that president got vaccinated. Their questions come down to will this cause fertility problems, will this cause side effects, will I be able to go to work tomorrow. Those are questions Americans on the ground have.
But, yes, Wolf, I will say it unequivocally, I would like to see President Trump and everyone else out there who is in a position to influence people encourage those individuals to get vaccinated. But we've got to do our part and make sure we don't demonize people, that we speak to their mistrust, that we show them that we care and then they'll care what we know.
BLITZER: Yes, all right. Well, I hope that everyone who has influence does it because this is a life and death issue that we're seeing unfold right here in the U.S. --
ADAMS: It is.
BLITZER: -- and in so many other parts of the world. Dr. Adams, thank you so much for your service, thanks very much for joining us. The former Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Jerome Adams.
Coming up, disturbing new details about President Trump's final days in office and just how untethered from reality he really was.
BLITZER: There is new insight tonight into former President Trump's final days in office following his election loss and deep concern among top administration officials that he actually posed a real danger to the country.
CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us. So, Brian, there are several new books that are just coming out right now that contain some very disturbing details about the former president's state of mind.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. You know, as concerned as we all were about Donald Trump's behavior in the White House on election night and days after, these three new books, depict a president seemingly in worse straits than we realized, delusional and desperate as he plotted to stay in power.
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: We were robbed.
TODD (voice over): Chilling new accounts tonight of a president, who, in his final days in office, caused concern among his top aides that he was unhinged, obsessive and dangerous. Three new books paint a portrait of Donald Trump desperate to cling to the presidency.
In his book out today titled, Frankly, We Did Win This Election, the Inside Story of How Trump Lost, Wall Street Journal Correspondent Michael Bender, chronicles a sobering moment in the aftermath of Trump defeat in last year's election, quote, the crazies have taken over, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned a colleague. He conveyed concern to others that Mr. Trump might be more willing to engage in an international conflict to strengthen his political argument for remaining in office.
MICHAEL BENDER, WALL STREET JOURNAL CORRESPONDENT: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo becomes very concerned about the national security of the country, the domestic unrest and what that could mean internationally. Privately, he sets up a call with a -- a daily call with the Chief of Staff Mark Milley, the nation's top general, in order to try to keep temperatures down. Publicly, what does he say? He says that there is going to be a smooth transition to a second Trump term.
TODD: CNN reached out to a representative of Pompeo's for a response. He did not comment for the record.
Another new book, I Alone Can Fix It, Donald J. Trump's Catastrophic Final Year, Washington Post Reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker depicts Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani on election night pushing Trump to forget that Fox News had called Arizona for Joe Biden, quote, just go declare victory right now, Giuliani told Trump. You've got to go declare victory now. Giuliani's interjection of his just say-you-won strategy infuriated Trump's campaign advisers.
MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, AUTHOR THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMP: You know, these two old guys press together, trying to determine what's really going on in the world, and they don't get it. They don't get what's unfolding around them.
TODD: Rudy Giuliani did not respond to CNN's request for comment.
Another book by controversial Journalist Michael Wolff portrays a president isolated right after the election. Quote, by the Friday after Election Day, there was not a single White House aide or Trump campaign official or Trump pollster who believed that the vote count could be reasonably or effectively challenged.
MICHAEL WOLFF, AUTHOR, LANDSLIDE: THE FINAL DAYS OF THE TRUMP PRESIDENCY: The key is, a man alone. His lawyers are saying we're not going to -- we're not going to do this. We're not going to fight these cases.
TODD: And Wolff rights that as the attack on the Capitol raged on January 6th, quote, the president seemed just not be grasping the facts as they were coming through. These people were protesting the election, he was still repeating as late as 2:30. The protesters wanted Pence to do the right thing. These were good protesters, his protesters.
TODD (on camera): The former president has responded generally to all three of these new books releasing a statement in recent days, saying of the authors, quote, they write whatever they want to write anyway without sources, fact-checking or asking whether or not an event is true or false. Frankly, so many stories are made up or pure fiction. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much, Brian Todd reporting for us.
Let's get more on all of this. Joining us now, our Chief Domestic Correspondent Jim Acosta and CNN Senior Political Analyst David Gergen. Jim, you were over at the White House during those four years, including the final days of the Trump presidency.
As you hear more and more from these new books coming out, what goes through your mind during -- in trying to assess how potentially serious and dangerous the situation was?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF DOMESTIC CORRESPONDENT: Yes. These books really align with some of the threads that we were picking up on post the election and heading right into the insurrection on January 6th. I talked to a Trump adviser at the time, a source close to Trump, who described him as out of his mind, that he had lost it, and that he was loving what took place on January 6th. He was loving the Capitol mob, a former senior white house official told me.
And getting back to some of these excerpts, some of these books talking about how he hit the roof when Fox News called Arizona for Joe Biden, that is true. That is much of what we heard at the time. What is so disturbing about this, Wolf, is that this is further confirmation that Trump was becoming unhinged, that he was just unglued because he could not accept the fact that he was a loser and look at what he's doing to this day. Just over the weekend, repeating these lies over and over again, breathing life into these dangerous conspiracy theories that could result in violence down the road.
BLITZER: Very, very dangerous, potentially. I hope it doesn't happen, it's very dangerous.
David Gergen, you had the unique experience of witnessing the end of Nixon administration up close. You were even written about in Woodward and Bernstein's book, The Final Days. So what similarity dos you see similarities in what you saw then and in these new accounts?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: There certainly seem to be similarities and parallels, Wolf. In the last few days, I keep thinking about the final days of the Nixon administration and about these parallels, just the reporting from Michael Bender of the Wall Street Journal, which we just heard about.
You know the fact is that, just as Pompeo, Secretary of State under Donald Trump, went and arranged daily telephone calls with the White House chief of staff and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to make sure we didn't get into a conflict, that was the very thing top advisers were worried about in the final days.
The Secretary Schlesinger, who was the Defense Secretary, went to the Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and also the NSC and others, and they were -- they formed a pack and Schlesinger told the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, contrary to normal chain of command, Schlesinger said, you must not -- if you get a call from Richard Nixon or the White House ordering you to fire and to use military force, you must not do that until you're clear it with me. That was in direct contradiction to the normal traditions. But there are also striking differences, Wolf, just for one more moment. The fact was that what we worried about with Trump was that he was crazy, and he's still crazy and he was unhinged and you know he could bring the whole system down. He has all these authoritarian tendencies. Richard Nixon, by contrast, I actually respected the Constitution.
When the Supreme Court came down with its decision, he had to turn over the tapes, the tapes of his conversations that he knew would sink him, he said, turn over the tapes and then he was booted out of office for a third time. So I think you have to put Trump in a different camp, in a more dangerous camp than Nixon.
BLITZER: Yes, that's pretty significant. In recent days also, Jim, and you covered this well, and I took some notes, we have seen the former president attack his former vice president, Mike Pence, his attorney general, Bill Barr, the Supreme Court justice, Brett Kavanaugh, who he helped put on the Supreme Court. Is no one immune from Trump's anger no matter how supportive and loyal they had been?
ACOSTA: No, that loyalty only runs in one direction. We know that's a common theme from the Trump era. Wolf, one of the things that I think is pretty apparent from all of these accounts that are coming out of these books is that Trump was a deranged and desperate man who is just looking in any direction to bail him out of losing that election. He was trying to strong arm the vice president. He was calling election officials across the country. Remember the crazy call that he had with the secretary of state in Georgia asking for 11,000 votes?
You have to wonder at one point, Wolf, do any of these acts that Trump took after losing the election up until the insurrection? Do they amount to crimes being committed? I'm sure David Gergen has some interesting opinions on that. But these appear to be crimes that were committed by the former president. At what point is he going to pay a price for that? And if he doesn't pay a price for it, what kind of consequences could that have to put the country down the road? It could be very severe consequences.
BLITZER: The price is paid so far, he lost the election.
ACOSTA: He lost the election, right.
BLITZER: But he's still arguing that he won the election. Guys, thank you very, very much, Jim Acosta and David Gergen.
Just ahead, a dramatic new details emerging right now involving the arrest of some of the suspects in the assassination of Haiti's president.
BLITZER: CNN is now learning dramatic new details of the arrest of some of the suspects on the assassination of Haiti's president.
CNN's Matt Rivers is in Port-au-Prince for us tonight. Matt?
MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have exclusive information about the 36 hours after this assassination took place and the police operation designed to capture those suspects. We know that those suspects were met by a police roadblock that forced many of those suspects into a nearby building where later on a shootout took place that ended up killing at least three of those Columbians.
We also know that some of the suspects made their way to the Taiwan Embassy which is nearby, the goal there to make it more difficult for police to capture them because of the diplomatic status of that embassy. Ultimately police were able to take those suspects into custody at the embassy without a fire fight. Even with all that, though, right around a half dozen suspects remain on the loose at this point. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right. Matt, thank you very much, Matt Rivers reporting for us.
In Afghanistan, there's growing fear of a humanitarian crisis that the Taliban are gaining ground following the withdrawal of the final U.S. forces still in the country. That withdrawal is almost complete.
CNN's Anna Coren has the latest from Kabul.
ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as the security situation continues to deteriorate across Afghanistan, the French embassy here in Kabul is calling on all its citizens to leave the country. The French government is organizing a special flight on Saturday to take the entire French community back to France.
The embassy says anyone who is not on that flight, they will not be able to ensure their safe departure. It comes as the Taliban is making sweeping gains across the country. There is fierce fighting going on at the moment in Kandahar, in the southern part of the country, as militants try to take that city. The Ministry of Defense says the Afghan national security forces are launches operations around Afghanistan, and in the last 24 hours have killed more than 300 members of the Taliban.
But it is the civilians who are suffering. UNHCR is warning of a looming humanitarian crisis and says that more than 270,000 people have been displaced this year.
And CNN has learned that a high-level delegation from the Afghan government will be flying to Doha, Qatar, to meet with the Taliban for peace talks. It will be the first time since September last year -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Anna, thank you very much. Anna Coren, reporting from Kabul.
I want to talk about all of this and more with Fareed Zakaria. He's the host of CNN's "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS".
Fareed, thanks very much for joining us.
Let me get your perspective on Afghanistan in just a moment. But first, these crises emerging right now closer to home in Haiti and in Cuba for that matter. Presidents clearly don't get to pick and choose the defining foreign policy issues of their presidencies, do they? But these are major, major problems, national security foreign problems for this president.
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: They are. And it doesn't feel that Joe Biden wants to take the approach that says when he looks at these crises of -- to the United States, don't just stand there -- don't just do something, stand there. By which I mean, he clearly does not want to get involved.
He clearly feels his objective here is big domestic policy. He's trying to get a big infrastructure bill through. And, yet, these crises are happening.
The question is, can he have the strategic discipline to say no when the Haitian government, for example, has requested American intervention? Astonishing when you think about the fact that the U.S. invaded and occupied Haiti many, many decades ago. But Biden doesn't want to get involved.
And he will be able to do that as long as things don't get really bad. So I think what the Biden administration is hoping is that they can find of stave off some kind of humanitarian catastrophe because otherwise the policy of not getting involved will just seem too callus and might seem, you know, to be courting greater and greater instability. But Biden does not want to get involved in this.
BLITZER: When it comes to Afghanistan, Fareed, the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, he is calling what the Biden administration is doing and I'm quoting him now, a reckless rush for the exits and a global embarrassment.
What do you make of that assessment?
ZAKARIA: I think it is a deeply cynical statement from McConnell because the person who set this all in motion was Donald Trump. Trump reduced American troop levels down to a point where they were unsustainable, a few thousand. So Biden's real decision was to ramp back up to 10,000 or 15,000.
And I think he made the reasonable determination that we have been trying to save this Afghan government for 20 years. We have spent close to $2 trillion. We have had surges and surges. We have had troops up to 150,000 at one point if you count coalition troops.
And, yet, it just, you know, there is a fundamental problem and I would argue there is a fundamental strategic problem in Afghanistan which is the Taliban has a certain degree of power and legitimacy for some people in Afghanistan. They're going to have to do a power sharing deal. It is not going to look pretty. But the alternative is that the United States stay in much larger numbers than 2,000 or 3,000 for another ten years.
BLITZER: All right, Fareed. Thank you very, very much. Fareed Zakaria helping us appreciate the enormity of what's going on.
Coming up, the worst wild fire season in a decade is ravaging the western United States with California already on pace to surpass last year's record-setting devastation.
BLITZER: The U.S. wildfire season is off to its worst start in a decade, especially out in California where fires have already scorched 3 times more land than this time last year, having the most on record.
CNN's Stephanie Elam is covering the story for us from Los Angeles.
Stephanie, give us the latest very disturbing information.
STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What's really disturbing, Wolf, is that when you look at these numbers, is that we are ahead of schedule, if you would compared to last year, which was that was on record. It's already looking bad.
I just checked in with Cal Fire to take a look at the numbers, and right now we are just 266 percent seeing more acreage burned at this point, last year, that at this point last year, with last year being that record number.
Also, last year overall, 3 or 4.1 million acres or so were burned. Right now, we are looking at around 142,000-plus acres burned, but at this point you last year, it was about 38,000-plus acres that were burned.
This is all very concerning. As you see that we have several fires burning in the state right now. I was also just checking in on this not just because I want to make sure I heard it right, and Cal Fire telling me that just last week, and just last week alone, there were 392 wildfires that burned in California.
So that shows you how much they are working to battle back these basic places, and all of this comes back to the fact that we are dealing with record it. We are seeing super high temperatures really early in the year this year. They were starting in the springtime, and that led to some melt off of the snow pack, and as you know, the snow pack is where we derive our water.
The other issue is that because the ground was so parched, a lot of that water just went back into the years, and then didn't make it down, and then with these high temperatures, we are seeing evaporation being a huge part of the problem for our reservoirs in the state. So that is affecting it, and when you get really dry earth, that leads to a more of these high temperatures, which then leads to more drought. All of that coming together, and every one of spoken to, Wolf, making it very clear that what is at play here is climate change.
BLITZER: Stephanie Elam reporting for us, Stephanie, thank you very, very much.
Coming up, death toll in the Surfside, Florida, condo collapse climbs.
And tonight, more victims have been identified.
BLITZER: Five more victims of the Surfside condo collapse have been identified tonight. Miami-Dade Police say that includes the body of a one-year-old child. Miami-Dade mayor says one additional body has been pulled from the rubble bringing the death toll so far, confirmed death toll, to 95. Meanwhile, the surfside mayor has announced that security around the site will be tightened with only authorized personnel allowed access to what he called, and I'm quoting him now, a holy site.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.