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Florida Governor Threatens to Withhold Salaries of School Officials Violating His Ban on School Mask Mandates; Ex-DOJ Officials Detail Trump Efforts Undermine Election; Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) Said to be in Fighting Mood as Aides Push Him to Resign Amid Sexual Harassment Scandal; Florida Governor Threatens to Withhold Salaries of School Officials Violating His Ban on School Mask Mandates. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired August 09, 2021 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Also tonight, as New York lawmakers prepare for their governor's possible impeachment, we're told Andrew Cuomo is in a fighting mode against the sexual harassment scandal that is threatening to bring him down.

And new information suggests former President Trump came very close to waging a coup. Former Justice Department officials are revealing the intense pressure they face to undermine the 2020 presidential election.

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

We begin with the breaking news on Florida's governor now seeking to actually punish school officials who defy his mask mandate order. CNN's Senior National Correspondent Ed Lavandera is joining us right now. Ed, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is taking the fight over masks in schools to a whole new level tonight. What is the latest?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the governor there in Florida is threatening to take away the salary of superintendents and school board members who insist on requiring students to wear masks now when schools go back to session. This is a dramatic move by the Florida governor there just a week after the state is reporting its worst week ever in the number of new coronavirus cases.

There are two counties in Florida who are already defying the governor's orders. So, we will have to wait and see how this plays out here in the coming days. And we're now starting to see the same thing here in Texas, Wolf, where Governor Greg Abbott for weeks has been saying there will be no new mandates of any kind of shut down. And this, as schools are set to launch here in Texas.

The first school district has come out today here in Dallas saying that they will require students when they go back into school next week, teachers, administrators and students, to be wearing masks. I spoke with the superintendent here in Dallas this afternoon who said that based on what he has seen in recent days in the number of spiking coronavirus cases in this -- in Dallas County, this is a move he insists he had to make.


MICHAEL HINOJOSA, SUPERINTENDENT, DALLAS INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT: We can save a few lives and save the health of some kids, it is worth whatever trouble I can get in. This is not something that we're defying the state just because it's willy nilly. It is because it is a need. And as soon as we get comfortable with the metrics, talking with the health profession, we will rescind the mask mandate because we don't like it, but we think it's necessary.


LAVANDERA: Superintendent Hinojosa who spoke with me says that he believes that based on the science and the number of cases that he has seen and he has been briefed on that this mandate will probably last several months before the case total gets back down to a manageable level.

We have not heard any response today from the governor here in Texas, but the superintendent also said that he was on a number of conference calls with other superintendents across the state over the weekend, Wolf, and he believes that other school districts here in Texas will follow the same path that Dallas independent school district has done. So, he says be on the lookout for more district announcing, requiring students to wear masks when they return to school here in the next coming weeks. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Ed, thank you very much. Ed Lavandera in Texas for us.

Let's get to more on the breaking news. Our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins is joining us right now. Kaitlan Florida's governor and President Biden they have been on a collision course over COVID and masks, other issues. What is the latest?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Governor DeSantis has been saying he doesn't want the federal government to tell Florida what to do. But now he is telling different localities in his state what to do. Of course, now, with this threat that is coming, they are saying that they can withhold these funds.

It is likely not something that President Biden is going to take kindly to, given last week his message to these Republican governors who have been doing things like instituting mask mandates has essentially been do no harm with President Biden saying if you are not going to help us into implement these public health measures, then at least get out of the way of the officials who are trying to do so on local levels like you've seen with states.

And you have even seen some Republican senators pushing back on the idea that Governor DeSantis is trying to ban things like mask mandates in certain schools. And Wolf, this all comes as there are other big questions and headlines coming out of D.C. tonight on coronavirus. And one is that the CDC's vaccine advisers are going to be meeting on

Friday to talk about booster shots. That has been a big question that everyone has had, when do they need to get a booster shot, especially if you are an elderly grandparent, you were one of the first people to get the vaccine here in the U.S.


And so, right now, they are only scheduled to have a discussion on this on Friday, not a vote to recommend anything out of the CDC, but it remains to be seen if that changes throughout the week because we know that Dr. Fauci and others have said a decision, about what people especially those who are immunocompromised should do about booster shots is likely to come soon, sooner than the one for the rest of the population. And so, that is something that we're keeping our eye on, Wolf.

In addition to some new numbers from the CDC that CNN has reviewed, about those breakthrough cases, when fully vaccinated, people are testing positive for coronavirus. And now, based on the latest numbers from the CDC that CNN has looked at, 99.99 percent of fully vaccinated people have not had a hospitalized or a breakthrough case that has resulted in hospitalization or death, Wolf. So, that is good news on that front. Of course, as we know the CDC is continuing to collect this data.

BLITZER: The Biden administration, Kaitlan, also has a new vaccine mandate in the works. And we're talking about for the United States military, active duty U.S. military personnel. Give us the latest on that.

COLLINS: Yes. Of course, this comes on the heels of President Biden telling federal civilian workers they were going to have to get vaccinated or submit themselves to regular testing, masking requirements. Now, the question is about what's happening within the military.

And we got a memo from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin today saying that by mid-September he is going to request a waiver, essentially, from the White House to where he can mandate vaccines, the coronavirus vaccine, within the military.

They pointed to the fact that there are, of course, several other vaccine that already required in the military. Those all have full FDA approval. With yet, so far, the coronavirus vaccine does not, it is authorized by the FDA based on a smaller subset of data given, of course, the urgency of the pandemic.

And they say that unless that full approval happens by mid-September which it could potentially for the Pfizer vaccine, then he is going to request a waiver from the white house to require those vaccines from active duty troops within the military. That is, of course, something that now, over the next few weeks they have to figure out how they are going to implement it, whether or not there are certain divisions of the military that need more vaccines. What those numbers look like. And so that is a process that is happening. But, basically, the message that was coming from the Pentagon spokesman today was this is something that is going to happen, so prepare yourself for it. We would rather you get vaccinated now, but it will be mandated at some point.

BLITZER: It's clearly what the commander in chief wants as well. And it looks like it is certainly going to happen. Kaitlan, thank you very, very much.

Let's discuss all of this and more with Dr. Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Frieden, thank you so much for joining us.

As you know, as students are returning to schools all across the country right now, the Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, is going to great lengths to actually pressure school officials down in Florida not to put mask mandates in place. Are you afraid this politicization will allow more children, God forbid, to fall ill?

DR. TOM FRIEDEN, PRESIDENT AND CEO, RESOLVE TO SAVE LIVES, AN INITIATIVE OF VITAL STRATEGIES: Wolf, the virus doesn't listen to political rhetoric. The virus doesn't listen to partisan politics. What the virus does is it preys on any divisions in society. And it is extremely disappointing to see governors around the country banning things that would save lives and keep our kids and teachers in school learning.

You can fight this virus either with science or without it. With science, you are going to gain jobs, you are going to keep our kids in school, and you are going to save lives. What we know really well is that vaccines work and masks work. And doubling the protection is particularly important because we have this doubly infectious variant of delta.

BLITZER: Yes. If you want kids to be in class to learn in class, wearing a mask, teachers potentially wear a mask, gets vaccinated as quickly as possible, those steps will save lives indeed.

As you also know, Dr. Frieden, coronavirus hospitalizations here in the U.S. have doubled in about two weeks, doubled in about two weeks. Some hospitals are, once again, putting up tents to prepare for overflowing ICUS. How did we backslide so far so quickly?

FRIEDEN: Wolf, what's really interesting, tragic and interesting is if you look at the graphs in the United Kingdom and the U.S., in both countries, we had explosive spread with the delta variant, and that continued to increase. But in the U.K. they didn't have such a big bump in hospitalizations and deaths because they have a much higher vaccination rate.

The vaccines are working. They are holding steady against even the delta variant. The problem is we don't have enough people vaccinated. Vaccination is our way through this pandemic, but we need to ramp up the numbers. We have seen some encouraging increases. But remember it takes about six weeks after you start the vaccination to be fully immune. And we know that for delta, even a single vaccine of one of the mRNA, the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, doesn't give you strong protection.


So you need those two doses, so get vaccinated as soon as you can.

BLITZER: Because it does take a few weeks to get to be fully protected.

A CNN analysis of CDC data finds more than 99.99 percent of people who are fully vaccinated here in the United States against COVID-19 have not had a breakthrough case resulting in either hospitalization or death. That's very good news for the vaccinated population and presumably it would encourage those who are still unvaccinated to go get a shot.

FRIEDEN: Absolutely. These vaccines are astonishingly effective. They're much more effective than we had hoped for when they were under development and they're extremely safe. The problem is we don't have enough people getting vaccinated.

And I think, Wolf, what you are seeing is a change in the perceptions. People understand that COVID is here for a while. They understand that it can be deadly and cause long COVID. There is more acceptance of vaccines. There is more acceptance of masking with some notable holdout.

And I think there will be more acceptance of mandates, whether it's in health care or on employers, like Tyson Foods and others, we're going to see more mandates for vaccines. We're going to see more mandates for mask use in indoor places where the virus is spreading wildly. And that's a good thing because that will allow us to keep our economy growing, to keep our kids in school and to save a lot of lives.

BLITZER: Yes. We don't want the kids doing remote learning once again, and we know that these steps will save lives. Dr. Frieden, thanks so much for joining us.

FRIEDEN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, new revelations that former President Trump was close to waging a coup here in the United States as he pressured U.S. Justice Department officials to back his big lie about the presidential election.

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



BLITZER: Very disturbing new details are emerging tonight about efforts by former President Trump and his allies inside the U.S. Justice Department to effectively stage a coup by overturning the results of the 2020 presidential election that Trump lost. Our Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider is here with me in The Situation Room. Jessica, two former top Justice Department officials shared information with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that was very disturbing.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And, you know, that Senator Dick Durbin called it frightening. It was also illuminating and lengthy. You know, the former acting attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, he testified for seven hours. His former deputy, Richard Donoghue, testified for six. And sources are telling us that they focused in on their interactions with the former president, Trump.

But, Wolf, lawmakers of course are zeroed in on efforts by another top Justice Department official at the time, Jeffrey Clark, and his efforts to promote those false claims of election fraud.


SCHNEIDER (voice over): Members of Congress are learning more about just how close the country came to crisis in the waning days of the Trump administration.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): What was going on in the Department of Justice was frightening.

SCHNEIDER: The revelations were revealed after hours of testimony from the two men who led the Justice Department at the time, Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and his deputy, Richard Donoghue.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): The country came very close to a coup.

SCHNEIDER: Senator Blumenthal was one of the several Republican and Democratic senators who sat in on closed door interviews with Rosen and Donoghue over the weekend. Under questioning from Senate staff, Rosen revealed how the former president repeatedly pressured him to back false claims of election fraud.

DURBIN: He was asking him to do certain things related to states' election returns, which he refused to do. how directly personally involved the president was, the pressure he was putting on Jeffrey Rosen, it was real, very real, and it was very specific. This president is not subtle when he want something and former president.

SCHNEIDER: Rosen also talked to investigators from the DOJ's inspector general's office Friday. There is no known criminal investigation of Trump or any other official, but Senator Blumenthal says there may be basis for one.

BLUMENTHAL: What Donald Trump did here, in fact, was try to overthrow the election. And there are all kinds of potential criminal charges because asking the Department of Justice to call an election corrupt falsely is potentially a criminal violation.

JEFFREY CLARK, HEAD, DOJ CIVIL DIVISION: Good morning. I'm Jeff Clark. I'm the head of the civil division. SCHNEIDER: Another DOJ Official Jeffrey Clark also has become a focal point for congressional investigators. Clark drafted this letter to Georgia officials telling them DOJ found evidence of voting irregularities in several states affecting the outcome when the department had not.

Rosen and Donoghue stopped the letter from being sent, but Clark's efforts to back up Trump's false claims didn't end there. Sources tell CNN Clark insisted that Chinese intelligence used special kinds of thermometers to change results in machines tallying votes.

And when Clark got a briefing from the direction of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe rejecting that false claim, Clark wouldn't believe it. And lawmakers are now dropping hints that Clark might not have been the only one assisting Trump's efforts.

BLUMENTHAL: Well, it may have been more than just Jeffrey Clark. It may have been others in the Trump orbit, and that's the focus of our investigation going forward.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Are you worried that there were sitting members of Congress who were involved in this?

DURBIN: It is a legitimate question.


SCHNEIDER (on camera): And so far it is unclear exactly who Clark interacted with. Clark's representatives are declining to comment.


And, Wolf, though, that we have learned that Rosen and Donoghue in their testimony, they did detail some of those interactions between Clark and a Republican congressman, Scott Perry, out of Pennsylvania. We know that Perry introduced Clark to Trump but no comments so far from the congressman.

Now, in the meantime Senator Dick Durbin today, he announced the next witness for the Senate Judiciary Committee will be B.J. Pak. Pak, was the U.S. attorney down in Georgia who abruptly resigned right after that phone call that was released between Trump and the Georgia secretary of state, where Trump is really pleading for extra on votes. B.J. Pak, he could offer some details about why he resigned so abruptly and maybe even if he was pressured.

BLITZER: Yes, lots going on right now. We know a lot, but we're going to know a lot, lot more.


BLITZER: Jessica, thank you very, very much. Jessica Schneider, reporting.

Let's discuss this and more with Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, a key Biden ally and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

Based on the testimony before your committee so far, do you see potential evidence of a crime?

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Well, it is an ongoing investigation, Wolf, so I'm not going to leap to conclusions yet, but this is deeply troubling, further detailed evidence of President Trump's direct involvement in trying to muscle the DOJ and its acting senior leadership in the very waning days of his administration to take acts that would have violated their oaths, to take steps that frankly would have allowed him to overturn the election.

So as Senator Blumenthal and Chairman Durbin have suggested, this is an investigation we have to continue. We have to be rigorous and thorough and then go where the evidence leads us. I think, so far, it's already been uncovered through the testimony by Rosen is striking.

BLITZER: It certainly is. And this, for all practical purposes, coup attempt here in the United States unfolded inside the U.S. Justice Department, is it a mistake, do you believe, Senator, for the current attorney general, Merrick Garland, to take what's being described as a hands off approach and really leave a lot of all of this investigatory material up to the U.S. Congress?

COONS: Well, the U.S. Congress has the ability to investigate but we don't have anything like the tools the Department of Justice has. And it's my hope that if we develop even more details, such as I believe we will given what we have already heard, that the Department of Justice will take another hard look at whether this isn't evidence of significant irregular or even criminal activity.

BLITZER: Yes. These investigations into a possible criminal coup are only just beginning. I must say that. Let's turn, while I have you Senator, to infrastructure here in the United States, which is so desperately needed. The bipartisan bill, $1.2 trillion, is on track to pass in the Senate in the next few hours, but this is going, at least right now, nowhere in the House without that $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, a separate piece of legislation that only Democrats support. Will that price tag have to come down to get, let's say, some moderate Senate Democrats on board?

COONS: Well, Wolf, let's first just take a moment and celebrate the fact that last night, by a vote of 68, Democrats and Republicans, we were able to get to a place where we are certain that we will pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill likely tomorrow morning. I think in the end you will get 20 Republican votes and all 50 Democrats.

This is going to make the biggest investment in infrastructure in a generation, and it's going to create at least 650,000 new high- skilled, high-paying jobs as we connect tens of millions of Americans to broadband, as we replace lead pipes and cleaned up people's drinking water and as we rebuild dams and airports, bridges and tunnels and roads all over our country.

That is a significant accomplishment and it proves out President Biden's thesis, that we are able to do big things in this country and that this Congress is able to help advance President Biden's agenda.

The next bill that we will immediately move to is the much broader $3.5 trillion bill that will cut the costs facing working families. It will lower costs for day care and child care, for higher education, it will cut costs for prescription drugs, and it will be the biggest middle class tax cut in decades.

I'm excited for us to take up and pass that bill. And, Wolf, I believe that will get 50 votes. That will begin weeks and weeks of work here in the Senate for us to put together the bill that will ultimately go over to the House sometime this fall and that I believe will get 50 votes the second time that we take up the finished package and send it over in the fall.

BLITZER: So you think moderate Democrats in the Senate, like Manchin and Sinema, they will vote for this $3.5 trillion a reconciliation package?

COONS: Well, we've got a commitment, Wolf, from all 50 Democrats to vote, to proceed to that, to authorize it and then we'll have to see.


It is going to be a massive undertaking. There is going to be a lot of work on several different committees to design exactly how it is that we're going to reduce costs for prescription drugs or day care, how we're going to help deliver on President Biden's bold climate promises.

Look, there was just a very alarming report out today by a U.N. agency looking at climate change, calling on us to take far more decisive action. And while there are important pieces of climate work in this infrastructure bill, we need to do more, and that's going to be an important part of this much broader, much bolder bill that we will be taking up over the coming weeks.

BLITZER: You may have the votes in the Senate. We'll see what happens in the House. Senator Coons, thanks so much for joining us.

COONS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up. We're learning the top aides are now urging the New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, to resign as he faces possible impeachment over multiple allegations of sexual harassment. But sources are telling us he's in, quote, a fighting mood.



BLITZER: We're getting new insight into New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's defiance as allies are urging him to resign and state legislatures discuss his potential impeachment.

CNN National Correspondent Brynn Gingras is covering this story for us. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CARL HEASTIE, SPEAKER, NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY: We had a historic moment in our state's modern history.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): New York Governor Andrew Cuomo possibly facing an impeachment trial. The state's judiciary committee met this morning to discuss a timeline following an explosive report from the state attorney general's office alleging sexual misconduct by the governor.

HEASTIE: Our goal is now to bring this matter to a conclusion with all due haste.

GINGRAS: The meeting comes just hours after this.

BRITTANY COMMISSO, GOVERNOR ANDREW CUOMO ACCUSER: What he did to me was a crime. He broke the law.

GINGRAS: The woman identified as executive assistant number one in the A.G.'s report revealing her identity.

COMMISSO: I know the truth. He knows the truth.

GINGRAS: 32-year-old Brittany Commisso, who still works in the administration, spoke to CBS News and the Albany Times Union about the sexual misconduct she says she endured by the governor, including the specific moment in 2019.

COMMISSO: I then felt, while taking the selfie, his hand go down my back on to my butt and he started rubbing it. Not sliding it, not, you know, quickly brushing over it, rubbing my butt.

GINGRAS: Then Commisso says a second incident occurred last November.

COMMISSO: And that's when he put his hand up my blouse and cupped my breast over my bra. I exactly remember looking down, seeing his hand, which is a large hand, thinking to myself, oh, my God, this is happening?

GINGRAS: Commisso is one of at least 11 women who the A.G.'s report found Cuomo sexually harassed over the last seven years. The governor also state in the governor violated state and federal laws but stop short of recommending criminal prosecution. The Albany County Sheriff's Department is now investigating Commisso's accusations after she filed a criminal complaint last week.

COMMISSO: But to me and the other women that he did this to, it was not normal, it was not welcomed and it was certainly not consensual.

GINGRAS: Cuomo's team did not comment on the interview, but his personal attorney spoke about the accusations on CNN this weekend.

RITA GLAVIN, ANDREW CUOMO'S PERSONAL ATTORNEY: I will be quite clear. The woman -- the executive assistant number one, he did not grope her. GINGRAS: And the governor denied the allegations laid out in the A.G.'s report in a video statement, Tuesday. The interview with Commisso airing just hours after the governor's top aide, Melissa DeRosa, resigned.

BRENDAN LYONS, MANAGING EDITOR, TIMES UNION: It's like an atom bomb dropping in the governor's inner circle.

GINGRAS: DeRosa who was seen as one of the governor's most loyal confidants was mentioned in the A.G.'s report as participating in retaliation against at least one of Cuomo's accusers. She has not responded to those allegations. DeRosa calling the past two years, quote, emotionally and mentally trying, adding, I am forever grateful for the opportunity to have worked with such talented and committed colleagues on behalf of our state. Her statement notably did not mention the governor.


GINGRAS (on camera): And the governor hasn't been seen in public recently. And he hasn't really released any responses to all these accusations since last week. We're told, though, he is in a fighting mood, Wolf. His closest allies reportedly spent the last weekend with him trying to convince him to resign, believing, really, he does haven't a path forward in this, although, we're hearing Cuomo is steadfast, that he doesn't want to go anywhere and he needs more time.

This coming as this impeachment investigation another deadline is coming up this Friday, Wolf, when Cuomo's attorneys are set to hand in all the investigative material they would like the assembly members to look at in that probe. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Brynn, thank you very much, Brynn Gingras, reporting for us.

Let's bring in CNN Legal Analyst, a former federal prosecutor, Jennifer Rodgers, along with Zack Fink Albany Reporter for New York 1.

Zack, walk us through how the impeachment process in Albany is progressing. What is the sentiment among state lawmakers right now?

ZACK FINK, ALBANY REPORTER, NY1: You know, I think people who are critics of the governor, Wolf, will be disappointed a little bit in this impeachment investigation and the process as it unfolds. It will be deliberative. The body itself is designed to move slowly.


And I think, eventually, they will move towards drafting articles of impeachment and voting on them on the floor. But it's not going to get there quite as quickly as those wanted to see the governor out of office is going to happen.

BLITZER: You know, Jennifer, you just heard a firsthand account from one of Cuomo's accusers who filed a criminal complaint against him. How strong is her case? JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's hard to say, Wolf, because what we have seen in the report was evidence it was considered under a civil standard. So when we saw that the report investigators credited her narrative and said that he did harass her and he did grope her, that wasn't a beyond a reasonable doubt standard.

So, we really need to see under what's in the report. You need to see the underlying materials, the interview materials. And then the D.A. in Albany County is going to have to meet with her personally, assess her credibility and think about whether they can meet that heightened standard of proof, and whether it is worth the resources of the office, to be honest, to go after the governor of New York for a misdemeanor offense.

So they have got a lot to consider here, obviously the fact she was credited by those investigators is a good start, but it doesn't get them all the way to a criminal charge.

BLITZER: You know, Zack, as you know, top Cuomo Aide Melissa DeRosa, who was mentioned throughout the attorney general's report, has now resigned. Can you give us a sense of the power she wielded and what her departure means?

FINK: Well, Melissa DeRosa was the highest ranking official. She basically ran the governor's office and in many respects ran state government here in New York. She was the governor's most trusted aid. I know from dealing with her in Albany and here in New York City, she was both liked and very much feared by reporters.

She was an enforcer for the governor. You also knew when you were talking to Melissa DeRosa, that was as good as talking to Cuomo himself because they so often saw eye-to-eye and she was such an ambassador for him. The loss was really astounding.

We found out about this last night. We certainly thought that one of the last people remaining standing with the governor would have been Melissa DeRosa. It appears as though she got some advice from counsel or something about this report spooked her and she wanted out, right away, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, which was very, very dramatic indeed.

You know, Jennifer, there are 11 women whose claims of sexual harassment. We're specifically detailed in the state attorney general's report. When you look at the totality of Governor Cuomo's legal exposure right now, what stands out to you?

RODGERS: Well, you know, it is hard to say. He's got this criminal possibility. I think the civil exposure, though, is huge because not only do you have the 11 women whose narratives were credited by the investigators, but you have all of the other people who worked for the governor in this atmosphere they found was toxic and was an atmosphere of intimidation and harassment.

So it is not as if it the civil exposure for the governor himself and for the state is limited to these 11 women. It is much, much broader than that. So, you know, there is certainly that, and then, of course, impeachment. So he's got it coming from all sides. There certainly a lot of exposure on at least two of those three fronts.

BLITZER: Yes. There certainly is. Jennifer Rodgers, Zack Fink, thank you to both of you. Thanks very, very much.

Just ahead, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaking out to CNN Dana Bash about her deepest fears during the Capitol insurrection, not just death but also sexual assault.



BLITZER: Tonight, CNN's Dana Bash goes one-on-one with one of the most celebrated and denigrated progressives in the House of Representatives. We're talking about Representative Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez.

The New York Democrat opened up about her worst fears during the January 6th insurrection. Take a look at this clip from this exclusive interview.


REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): I think one of the reasons why that impact was so doubled that day is because of the misogyny and the racism that is so deeply rooted and animated that attack on the Capitol. White supremacy and patriarchy are very linked in a lot of ways. There's a lot of sexualizing of that violence. And I didn't think that I was just going to be killed. I thought other things were going to happen to me as well.

BASH: So, it sounds like what you are telling me right now is that you didn't only think that you were going to die, you thought you were going to be raped?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yes. I thought I was.


BLITZER: Wow, Dana is joining us right now. January 6th was clearly a traumatic day for Representative Ocasio-Cortez and so many others. What else did she tell you about the attack that day?

BASH: Well, first, context for what she just said, and it's the following. She told me about so many threats that she had gotten really when she was first elected but even more so leading up to January 6th. So that was in the back of her mind on that day. She was fearful already.

Secondly, she talked more about the fact that she's a survivor of sexual assault. So that's another reason why that was going through her mind because of the trauma that she still has from what happened to her. She told me it was in her early 20s. So all of those things combined led her to be extremely fearful on January 6th. And it is just a reminder, again, all of these people who we cover, they are human beings and never more so than when they were so vulnerable on that day.

BLITZER: What else can we expect to hear from her tonight, Dana?

BASH: Well, you know, she was elected in a very, very surprise way and in that primary contest. She remember more than three years ago, she beat Joe Crowley, who was a member of the Democratic leadership, always talked about to be a speaker of the House, maybe even a successor to Nancy Pelosi. And she talked about what it was like when she came to Washington and especially when she was dealing with her fellow Democrats and how chilly the reception was.\




BASH: I saw that you said once that I think a lot of people including my Democratic colleagues believe the Fox News version of me.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): Yeah, yeah. I mean, my first term was very painful. It was very, very painful. And, you know, I came in, and I unseated an incumbent that while may not have been very resonant in our community, was very popular inside those smoke-filled rooms. And, so, I took away a friend. And I walked into a very cold environment, even within my own party.


BASH: And she's right. Joe Crowley was and still in incredibly popular here in Washington among a lot of Democrats. And what I really tried to do here is to show, again, the human being behind the sound byte and there are a few politicians right now who are more viewed through a prism of a love her or hate her. And she recognizes that. We walked through the Bronx and we got to see what that was like.

BLITZER: I'm really looking forward to that program tonight.

BASH: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you so much for doing this. Really appreciate it very much.

Be sure to join Dana for her special "Being AOC". It airs tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Coming up, some high profile Republicans defying science right now by spreading misinformation, even issues threats as COVID cases and deaths are surging across parts of the U.S.


[18:51:05] BLITZER: We're following breaking news out of Florida. The Republican governor is threatening schools for consequences for defying his ban on mask mandates.

CNN's Brian Todd is following all of this for us.

So, Brian, we're seeing all sorts of new and rather outrageous GOP attacks on masks and vaccines.


And as we see another surge in deaths and illnesses due to the delta variant, some of the strongest resistance to vaccine and masking guidelines tonight is coming from Republican politicians.

As Wolf mentioned, Ron DeSantis, he just threatened to withhold salaries of school leaders in Florida who want to impose their own mask mandates and other high profile Republicans are ramping up their anti-vax, anti-masking offensives.


TODD (voice-over): Tonight, Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene spreading more misinformation claiming on Twitter that many people who got the Pfizer vaccine say they are getting sick with COVID-19.

Greene saying of the Pfizer vaccine, quote, it should not with be approved or mandated. This comes just after Greene on recent visit to Alabama suggested public officials encouraging vaccinations could be shot.

REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): You lucky people here in Alabama might get a knock on your door because I hear Alabama might be one of the most unvaccinated states in the nation. Well, Joe Biden wants to come talk to you guys.


GREENE: He's going to be sending one of his police state friends to your front door. What they don't know is in the south we all love our Second Amendment rights.


GREENE: And we're not real big on strangers showing up on our front door, are we? They might not like the welcome they get.

TODD: Republican Senator Rand Paul tweeted out this video to his followers regarding the CDC's latest guidelines on mask wearing.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): It's time for us to resist. They can't arrest all of us. They can't keep all of your kids home from school. They can't keep ever government building closed. No one should follow the CDC's anti-science mask mandates.

TODD: And Rand Paul is a medical doctor.

DR. LEANA WEN, FORMER BALTIMORE HEALTH COMMISSIONER: When you have people in a position of authority such as a senator who is also an M.D., it's tempting to say well, that person knows what he's talking about even though what he's saying counters the message of basically every public health and medical organization and is really damaging.

TODD: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is entrenched in a legal battle to block businesses from vaccine passports in schools for mask mandates. Today, DeSantis' office threatened to withhold the salaries of teachers who defy a new Florida law that bans mask mandates in schools. One senator from DeSantis' party pushes back on the Florida governor.

SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R-LA): I do disagree with Governor DeSantis. If my hospitals full and my vaccination rate is low and infection rate is going crazy, we should allow local officials to make those decisions.

TODD: Why are these high profile Republicans still taking misguided position as coronavirus cases and deaths spike?

ASTEAD HERNDON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, TEH NEW YORK TIMES: They think that the biggest energy in the party is in that Trump base and that Trump wing that is looking to resist anything that's coming from the Biden administration and unconcerned about the virus even as the delta variant continues to run through the unvaccinated community.


TODD (on camera): Analysts point out there are Republican leaders like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Alabama Governor Kay Ivey who have been outspoken supporters of the vaccine, but they people like McConnell and Ivey are outliers and the moment and they say these anti-masks and anti-vaxx Republicans are scoring big with those messages in their fundraising efforts. So, don't expect them to back off anytime soon, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yeah, very disturbing. Brian Todd, thank you very much.

More news right after this.



BLITZER: Finally tonight, we want to share our excitement as we begin the 17th year of THE SITUATION ROOM. This program was launched on August 8th, 2005 and brought a new look and urgency to television news.


BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in the SITUATION ROOM where news and information from around the world arrives at one place simultaneously. On these screens behind me, data feeds coming in, other

information crossing in in real-time. And happening right now, we're watching several stories around the world.


BLITZER: I remember that day well. Thanks to everyone who works on this show. Thanks to you, our viewers, as well. We look forward to reporting the news for many years to come.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.