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Defense Secretary Expected To Mandate COVID Vaccines For All Active Duty Troops; Top DOJ Official Prepared Resignation Letter Over Trump's Direct Instructions To Support His Election Fraud Claims; Top Cuomo Ally In New York Calls For His Resignation; Interview With Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman (Ret.). Aired 6-7p ET
Aired August 04, 2021 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, all active duty U.S. military personnel could soon be required to get the COVID vaccine. CNN has learned that the defense secretary, Lloyd Austin is working to roll out this new mandate.
Also, a new evidence of an attempted coup, as we learn former President Trump's pressure on the U.S. Justice Department to push his false claims of a stolen election nearly drove one top U.S. official to quit while a Trump ally inside the department, reportedly wanted to urge officials to prove Trump's big lie.
And new trouble for the embattled New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, the leader of the state Democratic Party is now joining the chorus of people calling on him to resign as the Manhattan D.A. begins investigating potential sex crimes by the governor.
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 with the worsening COVID crisis here in the United States and increasingly urgent efforts by the Biden administration to get the current surge fueled by the aggressive delta variant under control.
Let's go to our Chief White House Correspondent, Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan, the latest numbers are not good and they could get much, much worse in the coming weeks.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. That's exactly what the health officials are warning about. And so all of this is leading to a new sense of urgency not just in the U.S. but also at the Pentagon tonight, where the defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, is said to be expected to seek authorization for mandating coronavirus vaccines for all active duty troops.
That is not the case until now, but it is something that we are expected to happen in the coming days, and we'll see how much time the defense secretary wants to give to those active duty troops to actually have them get vaccinated, given only about 60 percent of them right now are. And, Wolf, of course, this comes as there is a larger fight playing out across the United States over whether or not vaccines should be mandated.
COLLINS (voice over): The U.S. map is turning deep red tonight as coronavirus cases skyrocket to their highest point since February. Despite an abundant supply of vaccines, the U.S. is now averaging over 90,000 new cases per day, a 48 percent increase from last week's 7-day average and the highest they've been in months. The nation's top health officials are warning it will get worse before it gets better.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We are going to be between 100,000 and 200,000 cases before this thing starts to turn around.
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Last week I laid out what we need to do to beat the COVID-19 virus.
COLLINS: A frustrated President Biden is delivering a blunt message to Republican governors he says are hampering vaccination efforts and standing in the way of mask requirements.
BIDEN: If you're not going to help, at least get out of the way.
COLLINS: Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis widely seen as a potential presidential candidate in 2024 fired back at president Biden.
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): What is his big solution? What is he so upset about Florida? His solution is he wants to have the government force kindergarteners to wear masks in school. Well, I can tell you in Florida, the parents are going to be the ones in charge of that decision.
COLLINS: But even some former Trump officials are breaking with the Florida governor, arguing that governors shouldn't implement restrictions on public health measures.
ADM. BRETT GIROIR (RET), FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR HEALTH UNDER PRESIDENT TRUMP: I do support a lot of what Governor DeSantis and Governor Abbott do, but I don't align with them on this.
COLLINS: Arkansas' Republican governor now says he regrets signing a law banning mask mandates.
GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R-AR): I signed that for those reasons, that our cases were at a low point. Everything has changed now. And, yes, in hindsight, I wish that had not become law.
COLLINS: After facing intense pressure from progressives, the Biden administration announced a temporary ban on evictions in most of the U.S.
JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is not a permanent solution. COLLINS: The Supreme Court recently said Congress would have to extend a freeze on evictions, not the president. But White House officials said they're confident in Biden's legal authority.
PSAKI: The president would not have supported moving forward with any action where he wasn't -- didn't feel there was legal standing and legal support.
COLLINS: But the president himself acknowledged that it may not be constitutional, baffling progressives in his party.
REP. MONDAIRE JONES (D-NY): You can rest assure that every litigator now about to challenge this new moratorium will cite directly to the president's words.
COLLINS (on camera): And, Wolf, we're also learning tonight that the Biden administration is developing a plan that would require all four nationals coming into the United States to be vaccinated with some limited exceptions.
Of course, this is not a plan that has gone into effect yet. It is not expected to go into effect any time soon since the administration recently affirmed that they are keeping those travel restrictions in place for now, citing the highly contagious delta variant.
But it is notable that they are making plans for reopenings to happen, to happen for travel restrictions to be lifted and part of that plan includes requiring from every single country, those foreigners coming into the United States to be vaccinated with very few exceptions, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right Kaitlan, thank you very much, Kaitlan Collins with all the late breaking news at the White House.
The battle over masks is raging on in Florida despite COVID hospitalizations there hitting a record high.
CNN's Leyla Santiago is in Jacksonville for us. Leyla?
LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are just days away from the start of the school year here in Duval County. The school board has voted that if a child doesn't want to wear a mask, the parent must opt out. And that will require additional time as well as paperwork.
In Alachua County, the school board voted, that for the first two weeks of school, students will have to wear masks, and there are some opt out options there as well. And then in Orange County, the school district has said that employees have to wear masks in the school.
So as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise, schools are trying to find a way to stop the spread in the legal way that they can, given the executive order that Governor Ron DeSantis signed, threatening to take away schools' state funding if any school implements masks. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Leyla, thank you, Leyla Santiago in Jacksonville.
Meanwhile, the surge in Louisiana has prompted a new mask mandate as hospitals fill to overflowing with COVID patients. CNN National Correspondent Nadia Romero in working this part of the story for us. Nadia.
NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf. 32 additional COVID-19 patients admitted to the hospital in just 24 hours here at Our Lady of the Lakes, the state's largest hospital. And they saying now, they are full, a 100 percent capacity with no more beds.
So, the governor says the only answer to combat with his calling a nightmare is for people to get vaccinated and to follow his mask mandate, officially starting today. You have to wear a mask indoors and all public places, and that includes if you're going to school K- 12, colleges and universities.
And that led to LSU, releasing a statement today telling all of its student and staff members that they will be required to wear a mask when they're indoors. They also have to prove that they've been fully vaccinated or take a monthly COVID-19 test. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Nadia, thank you, Nadia Romero reporting.
In Georgia, mixed mask requirements in the state school district are sparking lots of confusion and protest. CNN'S Nick Valencia is in Atlanta for us. Nick?
NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, more Georgia schools reopened this week, but each district had a different approach as to how to do that safely as concerns grow about the highly infectious delta variant.
Some counties, like Gwinnett, are opening with the re-instated mask mandate it's there were last week a group of parents gathered to protest news of a mask policy, holding what they called an unmask our children event. Some shouted that they want the decision as to whether or not students should wear masks.
In rural Georgia, students and teachers will have that choice. Barry County re-opened this week without requiring masks. A local principal told us, they are honoring the parents and student personal decision. A parent told us that she wants her 14-year-old daughter the freedom to express herself, even if that freedom to express herself comes at the risk of getting herself or someone else sick. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Nick, thank you, Nick Valencia, reporting.
Let's get some more on all of these. Joining us now, the former CDC Director, Dr. Tom Frieden. Dr. Frieden, thank you so much for joining us.
We just learn, you heard this, that the defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, is expected to seek authorization to make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for all active duty U.S. military personnel, about a million and half troops as soon as this week. Is this the kind of policy we need to see if we are going to finally get through this pandemic?
DR. TOM FRIEDEN, PRESIDENT AND CEO, RESOLVE TO SAVE LIVES, AN INITIATIVE OF VITAL STRATEGIST: Wolf, I think, really, the attitudes are turning. People are seeing that COVID is not over, delta is doubly dangerous. It's driving big increases. Those increases are going to get worse before they get better.
Fortunately for our seniors, 80 percent are fully vaccinated, but mandates both of vaccines and of indoor masking are going to be coming back in, and that's important because that's the way to get the uptake higher.
I think it's a no-brainer to get the military vaccinated. We want the folks who defend us not just to be safe and healthy to do that but also because of the close quarters in the military, there are lots of outbreaks that can be prevented with vaccination.
BLITZER: Yes, this is a really significant development.
We are now approaching 100,000 new coronavirus cases each day here in the United States. Just six weeks ago, that number was down to around 11,000 cases a day. Dr. Fauci is actually warning that daily cases could soon double from a hundred thousand to two hundred thousand. Dr. Frieden, just how bad is the situation right now?
FRIEDEN: Well, I predicted a week or two ago that we would get to 200,000 by early September. Unfortunately, if we follow the pattern that the United Kingdom has and, in fact, they have a higher vaccination rate than we do.
So I think we are going to see a lot more cases, especially in places with low vaccination rates, but not only in the places with low vaccination rates. Because even other places have lots of unvaccinated folks, and while they won't have as explosive outbreaks, they will have a big increase.
The good news is that vaccines are holding against delta, especially when it comes to severe illness and death. So we'll see a much lower increase in the death rate but not a low increase. We've already seen a big spike in hospitalizations here, interestingly, Wolf, much bigger than happened in the United Kingdom, because they have that higher vaccination rate.
Vaccination saves lives and curtails the pandemic and masks are really important as a double protection with widespread transmission like this. But lots of people, I think, as they see the more severe illness, as there are more mandates will begin to get vaccinated, will increasingly use masks when they have to.
BLITZER: Yes. The bad news is the delta virus is very highly transmissible. Dr. Fauci also says, Dr. Frieden, he is hopeful for full FDA approval for Pfizer coronavirus vaccine within a couple of weeks or so. Do you share his optimism that this could prompt potentially more people to decide to get the shot whether maybe 90 or 100 million Americans are eligible to get the shot but still refusing to do so?
FRIEDEN: It will certainly help. It will also give institutions like businesses that were hesitant to mandate the confidence to do so.
But I don't think, Wolf, there is any one thing that is going to magically make people get vaccinated or explain to people that they need to seeing people hospitalized, seeing more people dying, understanding that long COVID happens to everyone, including healthy young people, getting mandated to get vaccinated. If you want to go to a restaurant in New York City, or you're going to your workplace, elsewhere, that's going to make a big difference and the full FDA authorization will help as well.
BLITZER: We just learned, Dr. Frieden, that the New York International Auto Show, which is a big deal, is now canceled, once again out of concern for the coronavirus. Is the canceling of large events of this type something that we should be seeing more of right now with this delta virus on the move?
FRIEDEN: I hope we can avoid that, and I think we can if we increase the pace of vaccination and mask up indoors.
So like what New York City has planned that you need to be vaccinated with proof of vaccination to dine indoors, that makes a lot of sense. It's good for business. It allows us to keep our economy humming. Getting vaccinated and wearing a mask, these are small things to do to get our economy moving, get our jobs back, open and keep our schools open, and most importantly, Wolf, save a lot of lives.
BLITZER: Very well said, just get a shot. It will save a life. The former CDC director, Dr. Tom Frieden, thanks very much for joining us.
FRIEDEN: Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead, there is new evidence right now of an attempted coup, as we learn new details of how President Trump pressured the U.S. Justice Department to back his big lie about a stolen election.
Plus, another top ally of Governor Andrew Cuomo is now calling for him to resign over the very damning official report on sexual harassment by the New Yorker.
BLITZER: New details emerging tonight of how former President Trump actually pressured the U.S. Justice Department to back his effort to overturn last year's presidential election.
Our Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez has got details. Evan, you're learning new information from your sources. Update our viewers.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is emerging from an investigation now being done by House investigators of the House Oversight Committee, and this is a letter that was sent or that was prepared by Patrick Hovakimian, who was chief of staff to the then-acting attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen. And it happens on January 3rd at a time when he thought Jeffrey Rosen was about to be fired by President Trump at the time because the Justice Department was refusing to go along with the president's claim that the election was fraudulent.
I'll read you just a part of the letter to give you a sense over what was happening. He says that the acting attorney general, Jeff Rosen, over the course of the last week repeatedly refused the president's direct instructions to utilize the Department of Justice law enforcement powers to improper ends.
Again, this is a letter that was prepared. It was drafted but it was never sent. What was happening on that day, on January 3rd, was the president convened a meeting between Rosen, who was the Acting Attorney General, and Jeffrey Clark, who was another official in the Justice Department, essentially having them vie for the job of attorney general.
The president was pushing for the Justice Department to say that there was fraud in the election.
The Justice Department said, look, we've -- Mr. President, we've investigated this. We did not find any merit to that, and, essentially, this was all false and the president was still pushing for that to happen.
BLITZER: And on top of this, ABC News is reporting that this other justice department official, Jeffrey Clark, was actually with then- President Trump trying to foment this kind of overturn of the election.
PEREZ: That's right. So, Clark, through his backchannels, had let the president know that if he wanted to replace Rosen with Clark that, you know, he could have his wish from the Justice Department. And to show his efforts, Clark had written a letter that he was prepared to send to Georgia officials to press them essentially to say that they were looking into these allegations of fraud.
Now, I'll read you just a part of what Clark wrote. He said in an email to Rosen and Rich Donoghue, who was the deputy attorney general at the time. He says, Clark says, I think we should get it out as soon as possible. Personally, I see no valid downsides to sending this letter.
Richard Donoghue, who was the deputy attorney general at the time, responds, there is no chance that I would sign this letter or anything remotely like this. From where I stand, this is not even within the realm of possibility. Rosen response also, he says, I confirmed again today that I am not prepared to sign such a letter.
This is Clark essentially trying to argue that we should try to side with the president and push Georgia officials to convene a legislative session to say that they are looking into fraud. Again, Clark ended up not getting the job, Rosen remained on the job until President Biden was inaugurated on January 20th.
But, Wolf, it really just goes to show you the efforts that beyond what we know the president was doing and what his lawyers were doing, some of these extraordinary crazy claims that they were making inside the Justice Department, there were these officials, who were basically standing tall, trying to prevent chaos from ensuing.
BLITZER: And I'm glad they did. All right, thanks very much, Evan, for that, Evan Perez with excellent, excellent reporting.
Let's get some more on all of this, CNN Political Commentator David Axelrod is with us, and CNN Legal and National Security Analyst Carrie Cordero is with us as well.
Carrie, what is your reaction to this draft letter essentially laying the groundwork here in the United States for a coup?
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, what it shows, Wolf, is that, to the extent, there is still anyone out there who doesn't think that former President Trump was actually trying to undermine and overturn the election. This is the latest piece of evidence demonstrating that, in fact, that is what he was doing.
So in this case, there now is more information in terms of these memos and other communications, notes, that former Justice Department officials took contemporaneously with the pressure that was being placed directly by President Trump on to Acting Attorney General Rosen to try to undermine confidence in the election, say that it was corrupt and that it wasn't conducted properly, and that's because he was trying to overturn the election.
In this case, thankfully, these officials did not go along with that. But this is a long time after the fact for us to be learning these particular facts, particularly because there was actually an impeachment proceeding that took place regarding these events. But this is not disconnected from the events of January 6th. This was all part of an actual effort not to have a transfer of power.
BLITZER: And, David, we can now see for ourselves in black and white just how serious this attempt was to overturn the results of a free and fair democratic election here in the United States. David, how dangerous was this effort?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, we've never seen anything like it in our lifetimes. You know, Wolf, I'm old enough to remember you're just a kid, but I'm old enough to remember I think all the Saturday night massacre during Watergate when one after another Justice Department officials resigned rather than allow -- rather than follow the orders of Richard Nixon to fire a special prosecutor who was looking into the Watergate break-in and was pursuing subpoenas against the White House. And that ultimately led to the unraveling of Richard Nixon.
Richard Nixon was a choir boy compared to this. This was an attempt to essentially steal an American election, an election for the presidency, using the Justice Department as a front to do it. It's like the most -- it's the most appalling, disturbing thing you can imagine, and the only thing that disturbs me more is that the architect of that is currently the frontrunner for the nomination of his party to run again.
Imagine if Donald Trump got this power in his hands again. You know, he was frustrated that he couldn't get Justice Department officials to heed to his wishes on this. I don't think he'd make that mistake again, and that's a very, very disturbing prospect for this country.
BLITZER: Yes. It's very disturbing, indeed.
But, you know, Carrie, House investigators now have a lot of evidence, documents and interviews, but they're about to get a ton more if this special committee pursues this January 6th insurrection investigation. Where do you think all of this will lead?
CORDERO: My hope, Wolf, is that it will lead to the most authoritative account of January 6th that we can get. They will take steps not to interfere in the criminal prosecutions of those individuals who participated in the actual attack on the Capitol.
But I think their first hearing with the four officers who defended the Capitol demonstrated that the committee is working with the seriousness of purpose, it's working in a bipartisan way, and it is uncovering and it is communicating to the American public what actually transpired on that day.
BLITZER: That as much as we know now, we're about to learn a whole lot more in the coming weeks and months. Guys, thank you very, very much.
Coming up, I'll speak live with a key witness from former President Trump's first impeachment, retired Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman.
Also ahead, the latest on the growing calls for Governor Andrew Cuomo to step down and the criminal charges he may face.
Stay with us. You're in The Situation Room.
BLITZER: New trouble on multiple fronts tonight for the embattled New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, in the wake of the very damning official report saying he sexually harassed multiple women.
Our National Correspondent Erica Hill is joining us right now. Erica, Governor Cuomo has lost another top ally and he's facing more investigations.
ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that he has, Jay Jacobs, who is the chair of the Democratic Party here in New York State had supported the governor for a long time. In fact, in a statement today, he says he called the governor, he let him know he would be putting out this statement after efforts to convince him to resign failed.
Jacobs calling A.G's investigation extremely damning and upsetting. He said that statement the governor has lost his ability to govern both practically and morally. And, as you know, Wolf, he is not the only person tonight calling for the governor to resign.
HILL (voice over): As New Yorkers way in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do the right thing. Resign.
HILL: State lawmakers dialing up the pressure.
STATE SEN. ALESSANDRA BIAGGI (D-NY): The governor is not fit to do his job.
STATE ASSEMBLY RODNEYSE BICHOTTE HERMELYN (D-NY): I believe there is sufficient evidence to proceed with an impeachment proceeding.
STATE SEN. SHELLEY MAYER (D-NY): The time for him to resign is right now.
HILL: At least four district attorneys have asked the New York Attorney General for investigative materials to determine if any of the conduct in this report is criminal. Two of those requests citing what trooper number one, a former member of the governor's security detail, told investigators.
ANNE CLARK, SDNY SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: In an elevator while standing behind the trooper, he ran his finger from her neck down her spine and said, hey, you. Another time, she was standing holding the door open for the governor. As he passed, he took his open hand and ran it across her stomach.
She told us that she felt completely violated.
NANCY ERIKA SMITH, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Touching women that don't consent in those places could be the basis for sexual assault claims.
HILL: Cuomo denies ever touching anyone inappropriately, a statement finding little support among his accusers.
CHARLOTTE BENNETT, CUOMO ACCUSER: When there are two women, there are more than two. You know, we know from experience that it's not just one person, and that's why we need to believe every woman who makes these allegations.
HILL: Among the groups voicing their support for the accusers, the New York State Troopers Union, dismayed and disturbed at the report's findings, its president outraged and disgusted. The state's largest public employee union noting, safety and security must be the standard of every workplace, calling on the governor to resign.
SMITH: His resigning would be such a healing move for the state, for women, for his victims and for other victims who have been triggered and re-traumatized.
HILL: The governor laying low Wednesday releasing a COVID update but no further comments on the report. Meantime, the impeachment inquiry shifting into high gear. With a judiciary committee meeting scheduled for Monday in Albany, a majority of the state assembly's members tell CNN they would vote to impeach the governor. 13 Democratic state senators have also expressed support for impeachment.
STATE SEN. SAMRA BROUK (D-NY): At this point, you know, I don't expect the best out of this governor.
That's why I'm calling on all of us to use that power and actually get this man out of office.
HILL (on camera): Now, in terms of a timeline, articles of impeachment could be referred to the New York state assembly by the judiciary committee as soon as next week. And a source tells CNN that the feeling at this point among assembly members is that they are moving forward with impeachment unless the governor resigns. Wolf?
BLITZER: Erica Hill reporting for us. Erica, thank you.
Joining us now, Democratic New York Congressman Kathleen Rice. Congresswoman, thank you so much for joining us.
What's your reaction to the news that Governor Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women, 11 specifically, with this report from the attorney general of New York finding all of these 11 women to be credible in their allegations of unwanted touching, kissing and groping?
REP. KATHLEEN RICE (D-NY): Well, you know, as you read the report, which I'm sure and I hope most New Yorkers are, it is beyond disgusting. The allegations that were founded in this report showed and established that the governor of the state of New York is a serial sexual harasser. There is no question that, that was one of the findings.
The other finding is that the governor created and was able to perpetuate an incredibly toxic work environment with the help of those closest to him in state government. That is a terribly disturbing finding as well.
The women -- the 11 women who are brave enough to come forward on the very difficult circumstances against a very powerful and vindictive governor, they will have whatever actions they have either civilly or we'll see what the individual D.A. office's do. But that fact alone, Wolf, that this report established an incredibly toxic and hostile work environment, is something that if I were state legislator in New York, I would be worry about, because there's no possible deniability now. The governor says he can moved-on and do his job, there is no way he can do his job.
But putting that aside, I think it's laughable that he thinks he can still do his job. But that toxic hostile work environment still exists, and that that could lead to legal action against the legislature, the governor, the state, if those -- that kind of behavior continues, and there is no reason to believe that it wouldn't. So I hope that the legislature moves as quickly as they can.
BLITZER: Because if the governor decides not to resign, you clearly want him to be impeached. It does appear that the assembly will be ready to move forward with impeachment. You need a majority vote in the assembly for impeachment, and then conviction and two-thirds vote in the New York State Senate.
RICE: Well, I mean, if you read the report, there is no one more worthy of impeachment than Governor Cuomo. I mean, the things that he said yesterday were such an affront, not just to the victims in this case but to every single New Yorker. To blame his mother and father, and to victim-blame and to basically continue to gaslight every single New Yorker and every American, to be quite blunt, it was just par for the course for this governor.
I think he is finally being exposed for the tyrannical and vindictive executive he has been almost throughout his entire time as governor. And I think most New Yorkers, as polls show, and I think that number is going to grow, want him to go.
We are trying to get out of COVID and hopefully get our economy back and get our kids back to school. What we don't need now is a chief executive of this state who is a serial sexual assaulter or, I should say, harasser. He has no credibility at this point, and I think -- I hope -- I hope for someone who says he loves this state and is committed to it, he will do the right thing and step down.
BLITZER: Congresswoman Kathleen Rice, thank you so much for joining us.
RICE: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Just ahead, Officer Michael Fanone is standing by. Here he is live to react to death by suicide of some of his fellow officers who responded to the January 6 attack.
Also coming up, I'll speak live with retired Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who played a major role in former President Trump's impeachment.
[18:40:00] BLITZER: Tonight, CNN has learned of new evidence for former President Trump's efforts to effectively instigate some sort of coup by directly instructing the U.S. Justice Department to support his claims of election fraud, which prompted one top official to prepare his own resignation letter.
Let's bring in the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone who protected the U.S. Capitol during the January 6th siege by Trump's supporters. Michael, thank you so much for coming in. Thanks for all the work you've done for the service to our country.
I don't want to talk about politics right now. I want to talk about what's going on right now. We know that four police officers who did serve on January 6th have now committed suicide. What will it take for local, state, federal officials to do the job and try to prevent this down the road?
OFFICER MICHAEL FANONE, D.C. METROPOLITAN POLICE: Well, I think the first thing that needs to happen, especially within the law enforcement community, is normalizing the conversation about trauma. You know, being able to talk about that not just amongst our peers but to actually go and seek out help.
We're just starting to address these. Our department just hired a wellness director. That's something brand new in our department's history. But having the resources there and feeling able to access those resources are two different conversations.
But it's not just a conversation to have within the law enforcement community, it's really something that we need to purge American culture from the stigma that people that grapple with the -- you know, with trauma and with the mental health issues that come along with it are somehow weak or, you know, not -- you know, not tough individuals.
BLITZER: You knew one of these police officers, Police Officer Hashida. How hard is it for you and your fellow police officers to hear this kind of news now four times over?
FANONE: Yes. I mean, any time law enforcement, you know, we experience a line of duty death, it's incredibly difficult.
And then when you -- if you have the unfortunate occurrence to have someone, you know, who you knew personally, it's even more devastating.
I knew Officer Hashida very well. I worked with him for almost two decades. And as I said before, he was the most professional, dedicated officer that I had the privilege of working with.
It's been devastating, not just to me, not just to the MPD community, but also to the first district and the officers that he worked so closely with, and then obviously his family.
BLITZER: Is there a problem for the police officers here in the Metropolitan Police Force of Washington, D.C. to access the proper counseling, to get the mental health services that you really do need from time to time?
FANONE: I mean, the resource is there. We have a wonderful EIP program. Dr. Beverly Anderson is the most dedicated mental health official I've ever worked with. She's been with our department for over three decades. She cares deeply.
Ever since January 6th, we've had an unprecedented amount of officers seeking help in dealing with the trauma, not just that they sustained from the 6th, but what's really been culminating for years of, you know, villainization of law enforcement and, you know, the struggles that those officers, you know, deal with in their daily tasks and their personal lives and then coupled with the idea that, you know, our society no longer supports that.
BLITZER: What impact does it have when you hear the former president and his supporters, or some of his supporters mock you, and your colleagues who testified before Congress and say you guys are simply making all this up?
FANONE: I mean, that's -- it's unbelievable. You know, when I first started speaking out, my sole purpose here was to advocate for members of my department and their recognition for the performance. You know, the selfless acts of courage and bravery on January 6th.
And then somehow I found myself, you know, just simply having to advocate for the fact that January 6th happened. It's like being in bizarro land, man. I don't even know how to reconcile that in my mind.
BLITZER: How are you doing? How are you holding up?
FANONE: I mean, I'm -- you know, I'm doing much better than I was several months ago, but then again, I've had access to, you know, the best that there is as far as mental health services.
I'm concerned about, you know, my fellow officers, many of whom continue to suffer in silence and have not sought help and are struggling with the effects of the trauma that they experienced on January 6th and in the years -- months and years preceding January 6th.
BLITZER: It's been now almost exactly seven months since January 6th. And a lot has developed. We're learning a lot more about what happened before. There is a special committee now investigating.
Tell us a little bit more not just about you, but your fellow officers, how you're dealing with all of this, and I'm sure many of them are suffering from post-traumatic stress.
FANONE: Yeah. Again, like I said, it's not just the events of January 6th. It's really the months leading up to January 6th culminating in that day. I mean, we had unprecedented unrest in our city over the summer.
These officers were fatigued. They were exhausted. They were working 12, 18-hour shifts often with no days off.
And by the time January 6th rolled around, these guys were tired. And then, January 6th happened. Many officers were working extended shifts beyond that, some months out from January 6th. I mean, they are -- they're spent.
BLITZER: Yeah, they certainly are. I know many of your colleagues and your friends.
Do you feel sort of hopeful that the conversation about mental health, especially within law enforcement, is changing right now, is getting better and that there are greater opportunities for help out there?
FANONE: I mean, certainly within my department. I mean, Chief Contee, I think, introduction of a wellness director in our department is a huge step in the right direction.
And he's always been one to care about his officers' well-being. I mean, that's one of the reasons why he's so respected as our chief.
But, you know, there is still a long way to go. It doesn't help when people that do speak out and talk about the struggles that they've had, whether it's with regards to January 6 or, you know, whether it's a -- you know, an Olympian, you know, struggling with mental health issues as well and people, you know, disparage them, insult them because of their courage to come forward and talk about these struggles openly. To me, that's, you know, that's the most courageous thing that an individual can do.
BLITZER: Yeah. I totally agree with you.
Michael Fanone, thank you so much for all that you are doing. We are grateful to you for your service here in Washington D.C. and we will, obviously, want to stay in touch with you.
FANONE: Likewise, thank you.
BLITZER: Anything we can do to help, let us know.
FANONE: Appreciate it.
BLITZER: And to our viewers, this is an important note. Help is always available to anyone contemplating suicide through the National Suicide Prevention lifeline. The number, 800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741.
Coming up, I'll speak live one on one with retired Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a key figure in former President Trump's first impeachment. We'll discuss when we come back.
BLITZER: There is new evidence of former President Trump's attempt to try to over throw last year's presidential election here in the United States. CNN has learned that a former U.S. Justice Department official planned to resign over and I'm quoting direct instructions from Trump to back his big lie.
Joining us now, retired U.S. Army Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman. He testified in Trump's first impeachment trial about his deep concerns over the former president's pressure on Ukraine to investigate his political rival Joe Biden.
Lieutenant Colonel Vindman's new book is entitled and there's the book cover, "Here, Right Matters: An American Story."
Lieutenant Colonel, thanks so much for joining us. Thanks for writing this book. It's really a powerful testimony to who you are, what you went through, not an easy situation.
I want to get to the book in a little while, but let's talk about what the -- we're learning the former president's efforts to try for all practical purposes in his final days in office to overturn the election and for all practical purposes to have a coup.
What's your reaction to that?
LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN (RET.), AUTHOR, "HERE, RIGHT MATTERS": It seems to me like it was part of a continuing enterprise. As far back as my involvement in the scandal and reporting it from that point forward, the president was laser-focused on whatever it take -- took to seize -- to hold power, to hold on to power.
He failed. He was impeached for it the first time around. He wasn't held accountable by the Senate, and he continued to pursue the enterprise even after the election, basically driving an insurrection.
BLITZER: You worked in the White House, on the National Security Council. How worried are you that there are still supporters or enablers out there for the former president who are still trying to suggest that the whole election was fraudulent?
VINDMAN: That's right, Wolf. This isn't the first time I'm in a Situation Room, maybe here.
BLITZER: You were in a different Situation Room down the road a little bit.
VINDMAN: But I'm not really worried about folks in government. We have -- government is filled with terrific lifelong public servants, honorable public servants trying to do their job.
What I'm worried about a notable series of enablers that both perpetuated the big lie while the president was in office and continued to perpetuate the big lie and that lie is not just about the president, President Trump being voted out of office. It's also about COVID and all sorts of other divisive issues that are tearing this country apart.
BLITZER: You write in this important book how important it is to take a stand for what's right. So, when you see enablers doing the opposite, what goes through your mind?
You know, you came to this country, a son of immigrants, with great expectations. You served in the U.S. military with distinction.
What goes through your mind when you see this?
VINDMAN: Well, first of all, I think if we want right to matter, we need to make it matter. And that means both holding folks accountable for their actions.
So, if there were folks in Congress that were acting against the interest of the United States, those folks need to be exposed for the corrupt officials that they are. The same thing with the misdeeds of the Trump administration.
I think without accountability, we have an open sore, an open wound that will not heal, this country will not unify until we address these fundamental issues.
BLITZER: What goes through your mind when you see these -- and you studied these authoritarian regimes in other countries -- when you see what's going on in the country now, how worried are you, are you worried, are you confident that we'll get through this?
VINDMAN: We have a bit of a respite. Certainly after Trump was voted out of office, we have the ability to measure where we are but things won't move forward on their own. We're not going to have a country somehow magically come together in unity, because there are people that are seeking to divide it.
So, unless we actually are proactive in dealing with these issues, we'll have the next Trump, next wannabe dictator, step up and attack a vulnerable government and we might be in it, then we might be --
BLITZER: So how do we guard all -- to protect our democracy?
VINDMAN: The first thing I think we need to do is have our current administration maybe cast aside a little bit of their wishful thinking on unity and the fact that we'll be able to just bring people together organically. Things are just going to return back to normal.
That's a little bit of a -- it's wishful thinking. I think we -- there is an effort that needs to be taken to expose the misdeeds of the previous administration and let the cards fall where they may. That's simply the right thing to do.
BLITZER: You faced a lot of retaliation from the Trump administration, from the supporters since your testimony before Congress. How are you doing?
VINDMAN: I'm doing okay. I think I've landed on my feet and pursuing a doctorate in international affairs. I'm doing all sorts of interesting things. I'm frankly -- I think -- in a lot of ways, I feel like I'm doing the same things I did out of uniform -- in uniform out of uniform. Continue to contribute to the conversation, values-based leadership.
And now with this book out, I'm able to speak to the American people and provide maybe a little bit of respite for how to navigate really difficult affairs and merge on the other side after some trying challenges but be in a position to be okay and contribute.
BLITZER: Well, they went after you despite your distinguished military service. How difficult was it?
VINDMAN: I think it's much like Michael. It wasn't just simply the fact that I was attacked by the White House. It was the lack of support that I received from my department, Army, and Department of Defense that really kind of affected me.
And when I realized my military career was done, I had to do some serious soul-searching to figure out what to do next. I don't have all the answers. I'm still thinking through it. But those are the issues I faced then and now.
BLITZER: Well, let's give a shout-out to Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. You're getting a PhD from SAIS. I was a student. I got a master's degree from SAIS.
It's an excellent school. I hope they're treating you well over there.
VINDMAN: They are. They're great.
BLITZER: Lieutenant Colonel, thanks so much for coming in. Thanks for all your doing. We really appreciate it.
VINDMAN: Appreciate it.
BLITZER: Once again, the book is entitled, "Here, Right Matters: An American Story." Very important book, a really insightful look of what's going on in the country.
And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.