Return to Transcripts main page
The Situation Room
CDC: Half Of U.S. Population Fully Vaccinated; Study: Vaccination Cuts Risk Of reinfection By More Than Half; Gov. Mike DeWine (R-OH), is Interviewed About The Rise In Cases As Delta Variant Surges; Gov. Cuomo's Lawyers Push Back On Sexual Harassment Allegations As Staffer Files First Criminal Complaint. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired August 06, 2021 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I'm Pamela Brown in for Jake Tapper. Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer and "The Situation Room." Have a great weekend.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, the U.S. reaches a milestone in the fight against COVID. Half the U.S. population is now fully vaccinated. But the other 50 percent, more than 116 million Americans, still unprotected as the Delta variant pushes new cases to the brink of 100,000 per day.
Also tonight, fresh evidence of former President Trump's attempted coup. We have new details on a high-level intelligence briefing given to a Trump -- top Trump ally at the U.S. Justice Department, as he schemed to overturn the election.
And attorneys from the New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, they are now fighting back after one of his current staff members files a formal criminal complaint.
Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in "The Situation Room."
Let's get straight to the White House right now. Our Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly is joining us.
Phil, the current COVID surge here in the United States fueled by the very aggressive Delta variant is overshadowing the country's economic recovery.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that's right. The President got the type of jobs report that he said makes clear what he has put into place economically is working. And yet it just makes even more clear how much is at stake as the Delta variant spreads throughout the country.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America can beat the Delta variant.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): Tonight, despite a blowout jobs report, no victory lap for President Biden.
BIDEN: My message today is not one of celebrations. It's one to remind us we got a lot of hard work left to be done.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): A clear recognition of the looming danger of the Delta variant is enveloped the nation. Biden touting the economic progress underscored by the 943,000 jobs added in July, the unemployment rate that ticked down to 5.4 percent. But the comments clearly designed official say to provide reassurance in an exceedingly uncertain time.
BIDEN: Now while our economy is far from complete, and while we had doubtless you will have ups and downs along the way as we continue to battle, the Delta surge of COVID. What is indisputable, now is this, the Biden plan is working. The Biden plan produces results. And the Biden plan is moving the country forward.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): Country now gripped by a resurging pandemic, with new cases averaging close to 100,000 per day. Still, Biden's remarks coming the day that U.S. reached the milestone of 50 percent of the entire population fully vaccinated, and weekly vaccination rates have increased to levels unseen since June.
BIDEN: I'm pleased to report the past week we've seen the first-time vaccinations in America go up by 4 million people, getting back 4 million shots.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): But the depth of the Delta crisis clear and seemingly every action Biden has taken over the last 10 days pressing vaccine mandates for private businesses, implementing vaccine requirements for federal workers.
BIDEN: There will be more to come in the days ahead.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): And now, sources say, in preliminary discussions about using federal power, specifically on federal funding to leverage more vaccinations in places like long-term care facilities. No final decisions have been made, sources say, but a key window into the urgency driving an administration keenly aware of just how interconnected the virus is to everything.
BIDEN: Please get vaccinated. We can get this done. We just have to stay at the course. We just have to remember who we are.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
MATTINGLY: And Wolf, the President alluded to potential further actions coming in the days and weeks ahead. And several officials I've spoken to here have made clear more will be coming. There is a recognition that everything they can put on the table right now to ramp up vaccinations, even with the uptake they've seen over the course of the last several days, they are willing to consider as somebody told me earlier today, if it's possible, we want to try it. Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, well, let's see what happens. Phil Mattingly at the White House, thank you.
The COVID crisis, especially severe right now in Florida, which is breaking hospitalization records. CNN's Leyla Santiago is joining us from Miami right now.
Leyla, we're expecting new numbers to come out at any moment showing just how bad the situation is in Florida where you are. But the governor there remains defiant about masking.
LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, and Wolf, here's a number I can confirm for you, 12,864, those are the number of confirmed COVID- 19 hospitalization cases that we're looking at right now in the state of Florida. And you know, this is coming as the Florida Hospitals Association tells me that they are seeing more hospitals expanding capacity for treatment of COVID-19 patients.
Much of this fueled in part anyway by the very contagious Delta variant, and that is on the minds of many schools, which will have the first day of school next week. They are trying to find ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 given the governor's efforts to prohibit any sort of mask mandate. That has also played a role in quite a few, well, we'll say, a week-long exchange between the governor and President Joe Biden. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: If you're going to help, at least get out of the way.
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): If you're coming after the rights of parents in Florida, I'm standing in your way.
BIDEN: Governor who?
DESANTIS: I'm not surprised that Biden doesn't remember me. I guess the question is, is what else has he forgotten?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANTIAGO: So, it has been a lot of exchanges between the two. And there are critics saying that this needs to stop in terms of getting the politics out of what is something that is very serious.
I had one doctor say to me, we have gone from a health crisis to a political crisis. And this comes as nearly or more than 60 percent of hospitals, Wolf, believe that they will have a critical staffing shortage in the next seven days.
BLITZER: All right, Leyla, thank you very much. Leyla Santiago in Miami for us.
Health officials are fearing a giant annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota will become a Delta variant super spreader events. CNN's Adrienne Broaddus is our correspondent. She's on the scene for us. Adrienne, what's the latest?
ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that bike behind me is from Minnesota. This rider is from Tennessee and this cluster of riders are from Nebraska. People come from all over the world.
And riders we spoke would say, this is an escape from their states with COVID restrictions. An estimated 700,000 people are expected to attend despite the pandemic and the rise of the Delta variant. Health officials are concerned that this could be a super spreader.
Last year, the Sturgis motorcycle rally was linked to nearly 649 COVID cases, including one death in Minnesota. The city of Sturgis has partnered with the state health department and will administer COVID tests for anyone who needs it. Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Adrienne, thank you very much. Adrienne Broaddus in Sturgis.
The surge in Louisiana has hospitalization rates there as high as they were a year ago. CNN National Correspondent Nadia Romero is working in this part of the story for us.
NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, new numbers out for the state of Louisiana and it is more terrible news for people here. More people have been hospitalized from COVID-19 over the last 24 hours, more people needing help to breathe on ventilators and more people have died in last 24 hours and they did just a day ago.
Now the governor's mask mandate is in effect, but he's really focusing on those who are unvaccinated. For the entire state, the majority of the people who've been hospitalized 90 percent are unvaccinated. It's the same numbers here at Baton Rouge General Hospital, the unvaccinated filling up the ICUs, filling up the COVID wing.
Now this weekend, we know that there are grassroots efforts, vaccine canvassers will be knocking on doors asking people if they're vaccinated, teaching them about the vaccine and signing them up to get the shot. Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Nadia, thank you very much. Nadia Romero reporting.
Let's get some more on all of this. Joining us now Michael Osterholm, the Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
Professor Osterholm, thanks so much for joining us.
As you now know, all of us know, half the U.S. population, more than 165 million people are now fully, fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. This benchmark comes as the CDC director is warning we're at a crossroads right now. We could either control this virus within a few weeks, or we could see another huge surge. Which do you think is more likely?
MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH & POLICY, UNIV. OF MINNESOTA: Well, we first of all have to understand that there are 90 million Americans right now in this country that are eligible to get vaccine that have not. Add that in with the kids who are not eligible and of course, you get that large chunk of our population that still is susceptible to the virus. That is what is going to feel the surge.
Now, if we look at what Delta has done in other countries before it got here, the case numbers ramped up quite substantially quickly and they dropped quickly. We saw that in England. We saw that in Israel. We saw that in Asian and Africa.
And the question is, will that do that here? And what we're seeing right now is because of the kind of southern border state, southern Sun Belt state increase, everyone's focused on that. But what's starting to happen or we're also seeing increases down in the southeast and parts of the Midwest and parts of the Northwest.
Depending on how those go, if those become anywhere close to what we're seeing in the southern Sun Belt states, we could be in those for a few more weeks. If not, maybe by early September, we'll see case numbers come down. But I can tell you for certain that between now and then there are going to be many, many more cases that are going to be very ill, that are going to be hospitalized and unfortunately some die.
BLITZER: Yes. In recent weeks, case numbers have gone up, hospitalizations have gone up, and sadly deaths have gone up as well.
A new study suggests, Professor, that for people who have recovered from coronavirus, vaccination cuts the risk of reinfection by more than half. That's further proof that this vaccine is obviously a very, very good idea whether you've had the virus or not. Is that right?
OSTERHOLM: That's exactly right. Up until now, we've been asking ourselves based on laboratory testing, what happens with what we can measure an antibody and people who have recovered from illness and who have also gotten vaccine. To the two combined make for the perfect choice. And in fact, we now know that to be the case.
BLITZER: The -- as the FDA is weighing its vaccine booster strategy, whether third booster shots should be made available and when. We're learning new decisions emerging right now for those who are immunocompromised, that that will likely come first. How important is it for those who are at high risk to have access to a booster shot, a third Pfizer or Moderna shot?
OSTERHOLM: Well, up to 12 million Americans right now suffer from some forms of immune suppression or immune compromised. And we have clearly shown that they do not respond nearly as well to these vaccines. So in a sense, why we call it a booster shot, to me, it's almost just a completion of what is the necessary series of shots that these people need to have.
So I think that's a very important issue. But as far as booster shots go overall, earlier this week, the WHO put out a statement asking for a moratorium on any booster doses being given around the world until mid-September. And the reason for that is that they're trying to get primary doses to low and middle income countries where in many places in the world, less than 2 percent of the population have been vaccinated.
So there's a tension here right now between those countries that have vaccine that understand the importance of the boosters and the rest of the world that has no vaccine and is hoping that we can somehow provide more vaccine to them in the next month.
BLITZER: One leading FDA researcher now suggests a COVID-19 vaccine booster might just be a one-time shot, not necessarily a yearly one. What do you make of the idea that the COVID shot might be like other vaccines that we received as children and didn't need to get again?
OSTERHOLM: Well, you know, I kind of feel like it's been put in the position to address what the final score will be, the Super Bowl five years from now. I'm not sure.
At this point, we're following as time elapses between when you were first vaccinated, and where we're at now. And we're finding that in fact, there may be differences at six months versus eight months versus 10 months post vaccination, and we just haven't had enough time to know what it's like at one year or two years post. And so, that's what we're working on now.
BLITZER: We get a flu shot every year, we might have to eventually wind up getting a COVID shot every year. Who knows?
Michael Osterholm, thanks so much for joining us.
OSTERHOLM: Thank you.
BLITZER: Coming up, new details about how one of former President Trump's allies in the U.S. Justice Department work to try to overturn the presidential election by making rather bizarre claims.
Plus, breaking news, lawyers for the embattled New York Governor Andrew Cuomo lay out their side of the story as he faces a first criminal complaint over sexual harassment.
BLITZER: New details tonight of bizarre claims by a Trump ally inside the U.S. Justice Department who played a key role in the former president's efforts to try to stage a coup. Our Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez is working the story for us.
Evan, you're getting some new information about this Trump ally and what he was attempting to do. EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf, this is Jeffrey Clark. He was the acting head of the Civil Division of the Justice Department in late December. And he was convinced that there was some kind of -- the Chinese intelligence was using some kind of special thermometer that could connect to voting machines and change the voting tallies. He said he had this information from his own intelligence sources.
And in late December, he wrote to the top officials at the Justice Department asking for permission to get a briefing from John Ratcliffe, who was then the Director of National Intelligence and an e-mail that was released by the Oversight Committee. He describes a little bit of this, he said that there were hackers who have evidence that the minion machines access the internet through a smart thermostat with a net connection trail leading back to China. And he asked for this briefing.
He sat down for this briefing with Ratcliffe. And were told by sources that he was not persuaded. He -- Ratcliffe told him that the Intelligence Community had concluded, it wasn't yet public, but they had concluded that there was no evidence that foreign countries, foreign intelligence had interfered in any way with the election to make a difference in the voting tallies. He was not persuaded.
A couple of days later, he was at the White House with Jeffrey Rosen, then the acting Attorney General, President Trump was trying to decide whether to fire Rosen and put Clark in the Justice Department where he could help do what Trump wanted, which was to say that there was fraud in the election. Of course, we know that Rosen, in the end, managed to stay on until Joe Biden was elected president. But it gives you a sense of how unhinged some of these theories had gotten inside the Justice Department and how many people were taken by.
BLITZER: When is Congress going to actually hear from Justice Department officials who witnessed this kind of bizarre behavior?
PEREZ: Well, today, they heard from Richard Donoghue who was the Acting Deputy Attorney General. The Senate Judiciary Committee did an interview with him today, Wolf.
Another official, Patrick Hovakimian, sat for the interview with the Oversight Committee, the House Oversight Committee earlier this week. Now, we know that this new committee, this new select committee that has been appointed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi is going to take over the House part of this investigation. We anticipate that they're going to be calling additional witnesses, perhaps some of these that are already testifying to the Senate.
And one of the things they're also talking about, Wolf, is they want to subpoena the call logs from the Trump White House because they want to see some of the communications that were coming inside to the White House perhaps with Clark and other people who were involved.
BLITZER: Yes. Today marks seven months exactly since the January 6 insurrection. We've learned a lot, but there's so much more --
PEREZ: So much more to come.
BLITZER: -- we're going to be learning in the next weeks and months.
Evan, thank you very, very much.
Let's dig deeper right now. Joining us, CNN Legal and National Security Analyst Carrie Cordero and CNN Counterterrorism Analyst Phil Mudd.
Phil, selectivity members, they've said they want to know what then President Trump was doing minute by minute during the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. If you can get your hands on the White House call logs, for example, for that day, what would you be looking for?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I'd be looking for two things, in particular, the call logs on contacts with the Congress and whether they're more or more extensive that is by extensive, I mean, contacts with more Congress, persons who have spoken than we know now.
And the second, I would be more interested in contacts with the Department of Defense, which as you know, was involved in the decisions, the delayed decisions on deploying the National Guard to the Capitol grounds.
The question is, when did those calls start? What were the frequency of calls? Who made those calls? Who received those calls at the Pentagon?
Note, Wolf, and everything I said, we don't need content. You can't get content from these calls. I want to know who called whom and when.
And then the persons who receive the calls in the Congress, and in the Pentagon, they come down with a subpoena and they answer questions. What was that call about? And what did the President or his people say? That's what I want to know, Wolf.
BLITZER: And they will all have to testify under oath during these hearings.
You know, Carrie, before rioters attack the U.S. Capitol seven months ago, today, Trump's allies in the Justice Department, they were spreading these wild election fraud conspiracy theories. You just heard about one of them. How disturbing are these new details?
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's pretty bizarre to think that there was someone who was in the position of the acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Division who was buying into these conspiracy theories. Particularly because contemporaneously with these conspiracy theories being circulated, a parts of government, including the cybersecurity agency within the Department of Homeland Security were batting down these rumors.
They even had a page that was called Rumor Control, where they were disputing and providing factual information, shooting down the conspiracy -- these conspiracy theories.
So there were official parts of government that were definitively saying in addition to the reporting that Evan just provided where the DNI himself, who was Trump's appointed DNI, was advising Mr. Clark, that these reports that he was believing we're not true. So, it's obviously very concerning, and indicative of the type of people that the president -- former president was starting to rely upon in the Justice Department as he removed former officials and original confirmed official started to leave the department at the end of the administration, leaving these acting appointments in place.
BLITZER: Yes. We're learning more and more about these bizarre, very bizarre theories.
Carrie and Phil, guys, thank you very, very much.
BLITZER: Up next, Governor Andrew Cuomo's lawyers are now sticking out or they're shaping their defense. Stay with us. You're in the Situation Room.
BLITZER: We're getting some breaking news coming into the Situation Room right now. The state of Florida just reported more COVID-19 cases over the past week alone than during any other seven-day period during this entire year and a half pandemic.
Data just published. It shows 134,000, 134,506 new COVID-19 cases in Florida over the past week. That's an average of nearly 20,000 a day, 19,250 new cases each day in Florida.
Clearly a hotspot.
States across the United States are also seeing an alarming rise in COVID cases fueled by this highly aggressive Delta variant. It's getting worse right now.
Let's discuss what's going on with the Republican Governor of Ohio, Mike DeWine.
Governor DeWine, as usual, thanks so much for joining us.
GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R-OH): Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: What's your reaction when you see these numbers? You hear the numbers? You see how bad it's getting in Florida and elsewhere. And we're talking about in Ohio in a moment but give us your reaction.
DEWINE: Well, we look at Ohio but of course we've always looked at other states to see what's going on as well. In Ohio, I just looked at our numbers we've -- if you look at people hospitalized, we've doubled the number of people in our hospital in the last two weeks. So we're up over 800 people now.
Two weeks ago, we were, I think 390, something like that. So it's been doubling in two weeks. We're seeing our cases go up. And, you know, I talked to the people of the state today through a press conference. And really, my message was pretty simple. And that is these vaccinations work amazingly well.
I gave a figure, Wolf, which I'll share with your listeners and your viewers. Since January, we've had 18, roughly 18,000 people in the hospital in Ohio from COVID. All but 300 of those individuals had not been vaccinated. So it just, you know, we're at 98.5 percent of the people who've been to the hospital and to be admitted. They were that sick since January 1 had been unvaccinated. So this vaccine is very, very powerful. It works exceedingly well.
And my message to the people while today was this is where the game is today. It's all about vaccinations. And there is some good news. You know, as we've seen our cases go up. And I think people are becoming more concerned, in the counties that were the most unvaccinated, if you look at a bottom fourth of our counties that were the lowest vaccinated counties, those counties we've seen the most increase in vaccinations in the last two weeks. So we're happy about that.
BLITZER: Yes, so, so critical. We did some checking, Governor, just shy of 47 percent of your state is now fully vaccinated. And while you have strongly encouraged your residents to get this shot, you also say, and I'm quoting you now that this is an individual choice, but what if not enough people in Ohio choose to get the shot, it leaves young children, 11 and under, older Americans and the immunocompromised residents, it leaves them very vulnerable. So what happens then, if they decide, you know what, they're not going to get this shot. They're endangering a lot of folks right now.
DEWINE: Well, let me go back to the numbers just for a moment if I could, we're at 61 percent of adults who are now vaccinated. We are at 58 percent of those 12 and above, which is probably a better number to look at simply because teenagers can in fact, spread it. Look, our Health Department has put out recommendations to states or excuse me, to our school districts around the state. We have 600 and some school districts and we've said look, if anyone is vaccinated, they should be safe.
But if they're not vaccinated, it's our strong recommendation that that school district make a decision for everyone to be masked. If schools don't do that, again, I was talking to the people the state today and trying to give them all the facts about what's going on with this Delta variant, which is so, you know, highly, highly contagious. And Dr. Vanderhoff, who is our medical director, talked directly about these children who cannot be vaccinated yet.
And although usually they don't get very sick, some do. Some do end up in the hospital. And so we are concerned about them. And look, I said that, I was asked directly the question about these kids. And I said, look, if it was my child, and they could not be vaccinated or we're not vaccinated, and they were going to be in a school setting, you know, I certainly would want them to wear a mask.
BLITZER: And you would want everyone around them to be fully vaccinated that would potentially be so, so critically important. Governor DeWine thanks as usual for joining us. Good luck in Ohio.
DEWINE: Thanks Wolf. Appreciate it.
BLITZER: Up next -- thank you. Up next, Governor Andrew Cuomo's lawyers are now slamming the investigation that accuses the Governor of sexually harassing multiple women, how they're shaping their defense, we have new information. That's next.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news, just a short time ago we heard from lawyers for the embattled New York Governor Andrew Cuomo pushing back against allegations of sexual harassment that have now resulted in a criminal complaint.
CNN senior legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid is working the story for us. Paula, Cuomo's team, the legal team, they really went after his accusers, update our viewers.
PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: They really did, Wolf. Here his defense attorneys took their argument to the Court of Public Opinion and they made a few different arguments on behalf of their client. The first was a process argument. They are arguing that the investigation that was undertaken by the State Attorneys General's Office was unfair. They're arguing that they want access to some of the evidence that was gathered while they were compiling that report. Here, let's take a listen to some of what they said about that investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RITA GLAVIN, ATTORNEY FOR GOV. ANDREW CUOMO: Know the difference between putting a case together against the target versus doing independent fact finding with an open mind. And there has been no open minded fact finding in this case. The investigation was conducted to support a predetermined narrative. The Governor deserves to be treated fairly. And he must be. That did not happen here. This was one sided and he was ambushed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Now in addition to attacking the Attorney General's Office. These defense attorneys also directly attacked two of Governor Cuomo's accusers. Now one of the women that they attacked is known only as executive assistant one, and she is significant because she has filed the first criminal complaint against the Governor. Now she has previously alleged she's told investigators that the Governor allegedly hugged her and reached under her blouse to grab her breasts. Let's take a listen to what the defense attorneys said about executive assistant number one and one of the other accusers. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GLAVIN: She was at the mansion that day for several hours. And she wasn't just working with the Governor. She was working with other staffers, e-mails that she sent while she was at the mansion, reflect that she was joking while she was there, she was eating snacks. And she even offered to stay longer at the mansion when our work was done. The Governor deserves to be treated fairly like anybody else in this country accused of something. He is 63 years old. He has spent 40 years in public life. And for him to all of a sudden be accused of a sexual assault of an executive assistant that he really doesn't know, doesn't pass muster.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Surprising to hear that he would not know his executive assistant there. But we also have to remind our viewers that there are nine other women who have accused him of sexual harassment and been found credible by the State Attorney General. And one of the most significant accusers in terms of potential criminal repercussions is a female state trooper who is assigned to the Governor's detail.
She has made allegations against the Governor of improper and inappropriate touching in various different instances across several jurisdictions. So currently, there are at least three district attorneys criminally investigating her allegations. Now, the attorneys were specifically asked about the trooper, and their response was pretty surprising. Here's what they said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GLAVIN: I want to look at two things about that. The first is that the Governor will address that allegation himself and so I will let him speak for himself when he does.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When will he do that?
GLAVIN: I can't give you a timeline, but I know he wants to do with soon.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Notable that these defense attorneys could not offer a denial or really any explanation for the accuser who really potentially exposes their client to the most possible criminal liability and will of course be looking to see what exactly the Governor says about those accusations. But it's unclear if today's press conference by these defense attorneys will really change the hearts and minds of the New York assembly members who are potentially contemplating impeachment. They really only addressed about 20 percent of the report's findings in today's press conference. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Paula, I want you to stand by. I also want to bring in CNN political commentator, Errol Louis and CNN legal analyst, Elliott Williams. Errol, this was really a guns blazing attack on the New York Attorney General's investigation, their conclusions, and the women whose accusations were found credible, credible by the Attorney General, what's your reaction?
ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it reflects what we've been hearing which is that the Governor is going into a defiant pose that he's going to fight an all-out battle, he's going to attack as many of the accusers as he needs to, although in this case, he had lawyers not very competently attacking two accusers leaving out the other nine.
You know, this is what some insiders have specifically advised the Governor not to do, but he's keeping his own counsel. He's increasingly isolated. He's not been in public for the last several days. He's holed up in the executive mansion. And he has decided that this is going to be his avenue to try and redress what he feels is unfair treatment. It's -- it was a little surreal. I have to tell you, Wolf, just listening to this. The gravity of the charges, the number of the charges, the severity of the charges, was really belied by this kind of nitpicking and sort of going through.
Well, this is the timeline, and she had snacks and crackers, and she couldn't have been assaulted on a day when she had snacks and crackers, made absolutely no sense.
BLITZER: Elliot, what do you make of this effort to try to undermine the Attorney General's report and to undermine the investigators themselves?
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, look, Wolf, this case is the perfect storm in terms of undermining attack, people who are bringing allegations because number one, it's a political case involving an elected official. And number two, it's a sexual assault or sexual harassment case. In both of those types of cases, you commonly see defendants go after the accusers for a number of reasons. Number one, they can always say, the defendant can say, well, look, this was just a politically motivated investigation. And number two, we know very well from the history of sexual harassment and assault in this country, how easy it is or how often people are quick to go after an attack accusers.
Here's the thing that undermines that. And here's the big problem for the Governor. Number one, the Attorney General brought in two very accomplished outside attorneys around the investigation, a former acting U.S. Attorney for the City of New York and more importantly, one of the top Employment Lawyers in America to run the case. And number two, as you'd said or as Errol had said, it's 11 accusations and 179 different pieces of witness testimony. It's just a strong case against the Governor. So he can attack all he wants, but it's still a strong case that doesn't change it.
BLITZER: You know, Paula, Cuomo clearly now faces already one criminal complaint. But this could be just the start of the legal consequences for the Governor's actions, right?
[17:45:04] REID: Well, criminal complaint in many ways was just a formality. District attorneys in at least five jurisdictions were already criminally investigating some of the allegations in the Attorney General's report. And really, it's not clear that there will actually be any criminal charges brought. It's hard to prove sexual harassment allegations beyond a reasonable doubt, which is what you need to do in a criminal case, which is why a lot of times these allegations are more likely to be handled in a civil court, in a civil context.
But what was just so stunning to me today at this press conference was the fact that his lawyers could not address the allegations from the female state trooper knowing that at least three district attorneys are focused on her allegations, including the Manhattan district attorney, they're looking at what this woman said, these allegations that she has made of inappropriate touching on numerous different days, the fact that they couldn't address that, and they're going to let their client go out and directly address those allegations.
That to me, was shocking as a recovering lawyer that just does not sound like a very good idea to let your client do particularly after he handled this on Tuesday, in a way that he kind of dismisses and look, it's generational, or I do this to everybody. That's not what you want your client doing, especially when it comes to an accuser who arguably is exposing him to the most potential criminal liability.
BLITZER: Yes. That's really an important point. You know, Errol, could this strategy that we saw today of attempting to discredit the accusers backfire on the Governor?
LOUIS: Oh, it could absolutely backfire. That, in part is why every Democrat from, you know, freshmen members of the assembly, up to the President of the United States, in the chair of the Democratic National Committee, are all asking him to resign. It's why both the senators from our state, it's why the entire Democratic Congressional delegation is asking him to step down. This is not what the Democratic Party wants to be associated with this kind of ambiguity with these shifting rationalizations and these blanket denials of what is clearly some kind of a problem in this administration.
And so he's going to, you know, look, the early polls that we've seen, we've seen two so far, solid majority saying that they want the Governor to resign. He's hoping to turn that around. He wants to appeal to the Court of Public Opinion. Obviously, he's entitled to do that. But it looks like it's going to be a really steep uphill fight.
BLITZER: Even President Biden wants him to resign. Governor Cuomo's lawyer, Elliot, says the Governor himself plans to speak out. Do you think that's advisable?
WILLIAMS: Well, you know, look, Paula Reid might just be a recovering attorney, but she's spot on in this legal point she's making, which is that under normal circumstances, in a criminal case, you would never have the defendant speak out. The difference here, though, this is not a normal case. And the biggest threat to the Governor is not the criminal justice process, as Paula had said, it's one misdemeanor charge that's very hard to bring. The biggest threats to the governor are, number one, the 11 individuals who can bring costly civil suits against him. And number two, the political process in all likelihood, it looks like he's going to be impeached at spelling a likely end to his political career. That's the big cost him and neither of them those are really imperiled if he speaks out. So yes, he can. And there's really not going to be a huge cost to him if he does other than potentially embarrassment.
BLITZER: All right, but Elliot, Errol, and Paula, our recovering lawyer, thank you very, very much for that.
And we have a CNN exclusive right now here in the Situation Room. Our chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, got some exclusive access to a city in Afghanistan that's considered that to be the birthplace of the Taliban and is now one of their biggest targets as U.S. troops withdraw from the country. Clarissa is joining us live tonight from Kabul. Clarissa, the Taliban offensive is clearly intensifying. You're doing amazing reporting, update our viewers.
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So Wolf, if you can believe it now, nearly half of Afghanistan's 34 provincial capitols are under direct threat from the Taliban. Three of them are under siege. And we visited one of those Kandahar it's a strategically vital city for the government. It's also the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban important for both sides under siege. The situation there is desperate. Take a look.
WARD (voice-over): On the road to Kandahar's frontline, there is still civilian traffic, even as the Taliban inches deeper into the city. Afghan commandos have agreed to take us to one of their bases.
(on camera): This used to be a wedding hall. Now it's the frontline position.
(voice-over): Most of the fighting here happens at night. But Taliban snipers are at work 24 hours a day.
(on camera): From snipers?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
WARD (voice-over): The men tell us the Taliban are hiding in houses just 50 yards away from us and they shoot from people's homes, they shoot from civilian homes?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, you see this is all civilians homes. We cannot use, you know, the big weapons, the heavy weapons.
WARD (voice-over): Up on the roof, Major Habibollah Shaheen (ph) wants to show us something.
(on camera): So you can actually see the Taliban flag just over on the mountain top there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can see the flag.
WARD (voice-over): It's been nearly a month since the Taliban penetrated Afghanistan's second largest city. Since then, these men haven't had a break. U.S. airstrikes only come in an emergency. The rest of the time, it's up to them to hold the line.
We feel a little bit weak without U.S. airstrikes and ground support and equipment, he says, but this is our soil and we have to defend it.
GUL AHMAD KAMIN, MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT, KANDAHAR: Bombardment using heavy weapons.
WARD (voice-over): In a villa in the eastern part of the city, Kandahari lawmaker Gul Ahmad Kamin is hunkered down. In decades of war, he says he's never seen the fighting this bad.
KAMIN: Millions of people in this city are waiting for when they will be killed, when someone will kill them, when their home will be destroyed. And it is happening every minute.
WARD (on camera): Just spell out for me here. The Taliban is basically surrounding the entire city of Kandahar now, is that correct?
KAMIN: Definite, yes.
WARD: And so where is there to go?
KAMIN: Nowhere. So there is only two options do or die.
WARD: Do or die?
WARD: And what does do look like?
KAMIN: That is the thing to convince different sites to ceasefire, to work on peace, to convince them to not to fight not to kill.
WARD (voice-over): But that is a tall order in a city where war has become part of everyday life.
(on camera): You can probably see there's a lot more cars on the road than there were previously. And that's because in just two minutes at 6:00 p.m. the cell phone network gets cut across the city, and that's when the fighting usually starts.
(voice-over): Throughout the night, the sounds of gunfire and artillery pierce the darkness. Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban. They are intent on taking it back. And the government knows it cannot afford to lose it. By day an eerie calm holds. The U.N. says more than 10,000 people are now displaced in this city. On the outskirts of town we find 30 families camped out in an abandoned construction site.
(on camera): He's saying that none of these children have fathers. All of their fathers have been killed in the fighting.
(voice-over): Thirty-five-year-old Rubina (ph) fled with her two daughters to escape the fighting after her husband was shot dead. But still it gets closer and closer. Last night, I didn't sleep all night, she says, and the fear was in my heart. In the short time we are there more families arrived. Street vendor Mohammed Ismael (ph) says they fled the village of Malajad after an airstrike hit. Three dead bodies were rotting outside our home for days, but it was too dangerous to get them, he says. The Taliban is attacking on one side the government is attacking the other side. In the middle, we're just losing.
Back at the base, dust coats the chairs were wedding guests would normally sit. As the siege of Kandahar continues, life here is in limbo with no end in sight.
WARD: And just to give you a sense, Wolf, of the uptick in violence, the Red Cross says that the hospital that they support in Kandahar has treated more than 2,300 weapon wounded patients in the first six months of this year. That is more than double the amount that they saw in the first six months of last year. All of this happening against the backdrop of the U.S. withdrawal, Wolf, and the new U.N. envoy, two Afghanistan, warning today that this situation could potentially be quote, a catastrophe so serious it would have few, if any parallels this century, Wolf.
BLITZER: What about you, Clarissa, I'm worried about what's going on over there, obviously, how dangerous is it?
WARD: The situation is very dangerous, but primarily it's very dangerous, Wolf, for the Afghan people who have already suffered so much they've lived through decades and decades of war. And now there is profound concern and anxiety throughout the country about what the future will hold. Will this turn into a protracted civil war? Will things get even uglier? How can Afghan forces launched some kind of a counter offensive to take back the territory to stop the Taliban from seizing more when they don't have the support of the U.S. military?
And you heard them say it. They understand that this is their duty, and that they must defend their soil, as you heard there from Major Shaheen (ph). But there's still a big question mark, as to how they can do that when they're putting out fires all across the country, another provincial capitol, or sorry, the first provincial capitol in Nimruz is falling today to the Taliban. Wolf?
BLITZER: One of our truly courageous journalists, Clarissa Ward, stay safe over there, we will be in touch. Thanks for that excellent, excellent report.
Coming up, exactly seven months after the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol, new evidence showing just how close the United States actually was to a coup.