Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

About 3,000 U.S. Troops Deploy to Afghanistan Within 48 Hours; Chaos Erupts as Tennessee Parents Protest School Mask Mandate; Britney Spears' Father Says He Intends to Step Down as Her Conservator; Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett Refuses to Block Indiana University's Vaccine Mandate. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired August 12, 2021 - 18:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: After a long better battle, Britney Spears father says he intends to step down as the pop star conservator.

Does it mean Britney will be freed at last?

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Acosta. And you're in The Situation Room.

We are covering the crisis in Afghanistan from every angle in the capital of Kabul and here in the U.S. We begin with our Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Star. Barbara, what are you learning about this new deployment of about 3,000 troops? Obviously a lot to explain over there at the Pentagon.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Jim. Well, this is exactly what President Biden did not want to have to do, but he is sending U.S. troops back into Afghanistan even as he's still trying to withdraw the troops that were there. Now, about 3,000 U.S. troops, army, marines, some air force will go into Afghanistan to help secure the capital of Kabul to help withdraw U.S. diplomats from the embassy.

They're trying to get the number of Americans down to the bare minimum there because of the unfolding violence, the deteriorating security situation, as the Taliban continue on the march. Many of these troops already in locations in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia but also there will be an elite unit from the 82nd Airborne here in the United States that will go to the region on standby. Some 3,000 additional forces on standby in the region if the security situation deteriorates even further.

We asked the Pentagon press secretary today if all of this amounts to now U.S. troops being back in combat. He sidestepped the question. But listen to what he had to say.


REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), PENTAGON SPOKEMAN: This is a temporary mission with a narrow focus. As with all deployments of our troops into harm's way, our commanders have the inherent right of self- defense and any attack on them can and will be met with a forceful and an appropriate response.


STARR: So they may not want to call it combat, but they are in a combat environment as are the U.S. pilots flying missions overhead even right now.

You know, why all this concern? There were meetings across Washington over the course of the day to put all of this into place. The Taliban are on the march. There is no question about it, the security situation deteriorating. And one intelligence analysis says the Taliban could be capable now of potentially isolating the capital of Kabul in the next 30 to 60 days. That alone makes the U.S. obviously quite concerned for the fate and security of the Americans who are there. Jim?

ACOSTA: Yes. So they're moving with such speed across Afghanistan. It is shocking to see. So, Barbara, it raises the question, can we see this order balloon to be much larger than 3,000 troops? Are we talking about mission creep here?

STARR: Well, at the moment, the Pentagon says no, that they really hope to get all of this done by the end of the month, in another two weeks. But, look, they didn't expect to be putting 3,000 troops back into Afghanistan, did they? So it's going to be something everybody is going to be watching very carefully, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right, absolutely. We know you will. Barbara Starr, thank you so much. Let's go live to Afghanistan. Our Chief International Correspondent, Clarissa Ward, is in capital of Kabul.

Clarissa, describe what you are seeing on the ground there. I'm sure a lot of concern.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jim, I'm having a little bit of technical difficulties here, so bear with me. But I just want to bring you up to speed in the latest on what we're hearing about the situation on the ground. And I have to tell you, it is not good.

12 provincial capitals have now fallen to the Taliban. That's roughly a third of the country's total provincial capitals. And among them some really important strategic cities Herat, the country's third largest city has now fallen to the Taliban. This was bitter battles going on for well over a week.

The hope was that the government might be able to stem the tide, but now that city has fallen. Also in Kandahar, bitter battles continuing, street to street combat. We're hearing reports of gangs of 12 to 15 Taliban fighters who penetrated the frontline and they are causing chaos and havoc in that city. If Kandahar falls and I should say, Jim, from everyone we are talking to on the ground, the sense is that is imminent or may indeed even have already happened. Keep in mind here, it is the middle of the night in Afghanistan. But if and when that happens, this will be a real game changer moment and certainly people here in the capital in Kabul feel like Kandahar going down would be the death knell for Afghan forces, for the Afghan government. A lot of concern, dread, even panic, Jim, as people here try to recalibrate their thinking and work out what on earth they're going to do as this massive Taliban offensive continues to gather steam.



ACOSTA: A lot of fear spreading very quickly. All right, Clarissa Ward, thank you so much for that perspective.

And we're getting new reporting on the thinking inside the White House as the situation in Afghanistan deteriorates rapidly. Our Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly joins us. Phil, what are you learning?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, obviously, it was a dramatic shift in posture from the administration and a president that have been clear they believe this is the right move and they didn't plan on shifting course. But the reality was the facts on the ground, the deterioration on the battlefield left the administration with very little other options.

Last night, the president convened a meeting of his top national security officials. He was presented with a briefing on where things stood on the battlefield and also presented with the details of a potential plan to draw down U.S. personnel at the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

This morning, his principals have met at about 7:30 A.M. to go over the final details of that proposal, presented it to President Biden shortly thereafter, and the president signed off in order the defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, to put the plan into place, Jim, over the course of the next several hours, it is really a diplomatic sprint.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Austin on the phone with Afghan President Asraf Ghani talking to allies in the region, those that have a diplomatic presence as well, letting them know what the U.S. is dong. Interestingly enough, Jim, also making clear, senior U.S. officials in Doha, two Taliban officials, what they were doing, but also making clear that if there was any threat to U.S. troops there would be a response.

What this all boils down to is the reality on the ground. U.S. officials knew the Taliban had capability and knew they would likely make advances against the Afghan National Security Forces. They did not expect it to happen this quickly and it is certainly happening at a rapid clip, Jim.

ACOSTA: And, Phil, has this situation caused the president or his team to reevaluate this decision to pull out of Afghanistan so soon? MATTINGLY: Nothing I'm hearing from the U.S. officials would give any idea that that's possible at this point. You know, Jim, we heard from the president just a couple days ago, made very clear even as this was happening he has no regrets. He made clear that it is time for the Afghans to fight for themselves, to fight for their country.

U.S. officials to some degree say this validates what the president decided to do in the sense that keeping U.S. troops there for 2, 5, 10 more years after 20 years and more than $1 trillion in the Afghan National Security Forces still unable to defend the country wasn't going to change the dynamics on the ground.

But there is no question when you look on the ground with Afghan civilians, with the way the forces are being defeated at this point in time and perhaps most importantly for some U.S. officials, Afghans who helped U.S. personnel over the course of the last two decades who are trying to get out of the country. This is a very, very a dangerous time and the deterioration is very concerning inside the administration.

ACOSTA: Yes. Conditions are changing on the ground, to say the least. All right, Phil Mattingly, thanks so much for that.

And joining me now is General Wesley Clark, the former NATO Supreme Ally. He's a CNN Military Analyst. Also with us, CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen, who knows that part of the world so well. He has a new book on The Rise and Fall of Osama Bin Laden. He conducted the first T.V. interview with the Al-Qaeda leader back in 1997. I remember that interview well.

General Clark, let me start with you. I want you to watch what President Biden had to say about this withdraw just a month ago. Let's watch.


JOE BIDEN, U.S PRESIDENT: The jury is still out. But the likelihood there is going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.


ACOSTA: How could the Biden administration and the president get caught by surprise like this? It appears they have been caught by surprise.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: You know, I couldn't explain it because once it's always been clear that everyone that once you actually committed to withdrawal, set the date the troops come out, that you will have super charged the Taliban. They will have a sense of momentum, of belief that their faith in ultimate victory is about to be realized and Afghanistan people changed side very, very quickly. We saw this in 2001 when we went in there and how quickly the Taliban regime collapsed.

But the truth is what's happening today is a consequence of 20 years of American misjudgments, of poor prioritizations and failed policies. And for the Biden administration, I think they have reached the end of the road. It was clear that they weren't going to be able to create or help create an Afghanistan government that supported its people. And without that government support, its military did not have the support of the people. And this is the consequence of it. It's painful. It's tragic.

ACOSTA: And its sounds like the Taliban has been lying in wait for this. Peter Bergen, let me ask you. What does it say that President Biden is now deploying p 3,000 troops to stabilize things so they can withdraw 2,500 troops?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it's befuddling and it's a predictable debacle and on unforced error. And the fact, as Clarissa is reporting, that they may take Kandahar as we speak. This is the birth place of the Taliban.


This is where the Taliban was first created, the second most important city in Afghanistan.

The other thing I'm looking at, Jim, is they seized Ghazni, which is about 100 miles from Kabul. It sits on the crucial Kabul to Kandahar highway. You're cutting off the capital, and you are cutting off the second most important city.

And Barbara referred to this estimate that she reported on about 30 to 60 days for Kabul to fall. I would revise that estimate given what we've just seen. This could happen in days. And I think these actions of the Biden administration speak for themselves. You don't send 3,000 people in. This is -- you know, that's a minor evacuation force.

So, you know, we -- unfortunately, this could all play out in the next two or three days, where we just see a complete and total collapse.

ACOSTA: And that would be a highly dangerous situation, General Clark. Our correspondent on the ground, Clarissa Ward, there in Kabul reports there's a feeling of sheer terror among Afghan civilians. What message does this send to the Afghan people?

CLARK: That's right. And all over Afghanistan, there are people who are no doubt calculating what should they do. Can they make a deal and survive under the Taliban? Are they marked for execution? Is there a way out? Will the Americans help them? So you can be sure there are hundreds of thousands of Afghans who are in panic mode because of this.

It is a predictable outcome and once it started to unfurl like this there was only one way to stop it, and that was with a pull back and a way to reinforce the commitment by the political leaders that they're going to work together and stay there and fight it out, and it didn't happen. And maybe it was impossible. Once an army like this starts to lose after all these years and all that money put into it, the morale collapses extremely quickly. So, for the United States, we have got to protect our own people. We have got to do what we can to salvage what's left of this mission, if there is any mission left of that government that's in Kabul, and there's going to be some really tense days. I think, Peter, is right. This is going to happen much, much faster than what you are seeing in the official predictions.

ACOSTA: And that will be extraordinary to watch, Peter Bergen. And I can just see the steam coming out of the people's ears to the people over at the White House as they're listening to this discussion. President Biden has been arguing that there will never be ideal conditions for withdrawal. What do you make of that argument that perhaps some of this was inevitable?

BERGEN: We're keeping 2,500 troops in Iraq and we just re-labeled them non-combat troops exactly at the same time we made the decision to pull out U.S. troops from Afghanistan. So it is kind of incoherent. There was -- this was unnecessary and all we had to say was our commitment to Afghanistan is longstanding. And everything that we've just seen over the last several weeks wouldn't have happened.

ACOSTA: General Clark, do you think that the president should reconsider what he's doing here? A time to reconsider?

CLARK: I think the president's first responsibility is the security and safety of the American citizens that are there and the other members of the international community. And that's what he has got to be focused on now. Can he salvage anything in this mission? I'm not sure that it's possible at this point because so much has unraveled.

But I would say this to what Peter said. Actually, this process started a long time ago. Even when we had the 8,000 to 10,000 Americans there, there were reports of the Taliban building strength, taking towns, holding towns, Afghan units not able to withstand the pressure or people changing sides. So this wasn't just something that snapped when President Biden made the decision. This was something that had been coming apart for a long time.

One of the key trigger points is when President Trump decided he would announce the pull out and try to do negotiations. And you simply are not -- it is just not possible to do negotiations the way they were being proposed. And we are also pulling out and losing the leverage. The only remaining leverage we had was you guys are nice and let us leave quietly, maybe we'll give you some assistance later on and we won't be so mean to you, diplomatically and economically. But that's not their concern. The Taliban concern, they want the momentum. They want to take this right now.

So I think that, you know, this has to play its way out. Then we've got to figure out the next moves on this. This was a long time incoming. And I know, you know, it is going to be very easy politically to blame the Biden administration for this but when they came in and took a look at it, it had many alternatives. This was not Iraq. There was not a government that had the ability to withstand the support, and so maybe we will likely go back in but I think that's a separate entirely different conversation. [18:15:02]

ACOSTA: All right, General Wesley Clark, Peter Bergen, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

Just ahead, the first FDA authorization of COVID booster shots is expected very soon for a limited number of Americans. When will all of us be eligible? You're in The Situation Room.


ACOSTA: Tonight, as the delta variant rages across the U.S., the FDA is on the brink of authorizing the first COVID-19 booster shots for some people with compromised immune systems.

CNN's Nick Watt has our pandemic report.



NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This is Franklin, Tennessee.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can leave freely but we will find you. We know who you are. We will find you, and we know who you are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You will never be allowed in public again.

WATT: After a school board vote for a mask mandate, members, doctors, nurses harassed. The president saw this video.

BIDEN: And our health care workers are heroes. To the mayors, school superintendent, educators, local leaders who are standing up to the governors politicizing mask protection for our kids, thank you. Thank you as well. Thank God that we have heroes like you. And I stand with you all.

WATT: Thousands of kids largely in the south already sent home back to virtual school. Why? Exposure and/or high case counts where they live.

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALSYT: Masking is, I think, a lot of us would say is something pretty small that we can do in order to prevent all these negative consequences.

WATT: Nearly 99 percent of the U.S. population lives in counties where people should be wearing masks indoors, according to new CDC guidance. The FDA expected very soon to green light an additional vaccine shot for the immunocompromised.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: That actually encompasses a relatively small proportion of the population, around 3 percent or so.

WATT: So what about boosters for the rest of us? FAUCI: We believe sooner or later, you will need a booster for durability of protection. We are preparing for the eventuality of doing that.

WATT: Meantime, more than 75,000 people are now in the hospital fighting the virus. Look at that line climb over the past month. That's a problem.

JEFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Florida and Texas alone have accounted for nearly 40 percent of new hospitalizations across the country.

WATT: A triage tent just went up again outside LBJ Hospital in Houston, Texas.

DR. ESMAEIL PORSA, PRESIDENT AND CEO, HARRIS HEALTH SYSTEMS: Things are terrible. My hospitals are full.

WATT: And filling fast in Mississippi.

DR. ALAN JONES, COVID-19 CLINICAL RESPONSE LEAD, UNIVERSITY OF MISSISSIPPI MEDICAL CENTER: If we continue that trajectory, within the next five to seven to ten days, I think we're going to see failure of the hospital system in Mississippi.

WATT: Anger in Alabama that the virus is surging.

DONNA ABERNATHY, NURSE, ATHENS-LIMESTONE HOSPITAL, ATHENS, ALABAMA: Until we get enough people vaccinated, we're just going to continue to see this revamp its ugly face.


WATT (on camera): Now, today, San Francisco became the first major city in America to say that if you want to work at or go into a bar, restaurant, gym or theater, you have to prove full vaccination. And down here in Los Angeles, the city attorney right now is preparing a very similar ordinance. Jim?

ACOSTA: Those are huge moves indeed. All right, Nick Watt, thank you so much for that report.

Let's bring in the former acting director of the CDC, Dr. Richard Besser. Dr. Besser, thanks so much, as always. The FDA, as you know, is expected to see and authorized a coronavirus booster shot for some immunocompromised people. Who do you think should be in line first for this and how quickly should this happen?

DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, CDC: Yes. You know, this is a relatively small group of people, as Dr. Fauci was saying, people who have a problem with their immune system where rather than thinking about it as a booster, it is really part of their primary series. They didn't get the full protection that most people got from just two shots.

I expect that over time there will be a recommendation for boosters for others. But the good news, Jim, is that these vaccines are holding up very well in terms of preventing severe disease and preventing hospitalizations and deaths. There are break-through cases. And there is where the recommendations around masks and other steps become so important.

ACOSTA: And Dr. Fauci says inevitably everyone can need a booster shot based on what we know about long immunity from these vaccines. When do you think widespread booster shots might become a reality? What do you think?

BESSER: Yes. You know, there is a challenge here. While we are seeing a slight decline in immunity in terms of mild infections, most of the world hasn't received vaccine to prevent severe disease, hospitalization and death. And in terms of vaccine equity, you really want to see these vaccines spread across the globe.

It also provides protection here because while there is widespread transmission of this virus around the globe, new variants are going to emerge. And so far, the variants that have emerged are also covered by the vaccine. But there is no guarantee that the next variant that we see isn't one that our vaccines don't work for. So there is a tradeoff.

I expect we'll see a recommendation for boosters in this country before the end of the winter for sure. But we want to make sure we're doing a lot more than we currently are to provide vaccines to other countries.

ACOSTA: Yes. We almost half of this country, almost half of this country is not fully vaccinated yet, so a lot of work to be done on that front.


And as mask wearing continues to be politicized, as you know 400 students are now guaranteed in Palm Beach County, Florida, after just two days of school. Is this the result of a dangerous policy in action down there in Florida?

BESSER: Well, you know, I think this is going to be a very challenging school year. And the reason for that is the delta variant is so contagious. Last year, we were able to get away with cohorting children. So if a case arise in one classroom, the chances it would go to another classroom weren't great if you kept those classes apart.

With this strain, we are not going to be so lucky. So I think we're going to see a lot of schools shutting down. We can reduce the chances that that happens by encouraging people to wear masks. Even if your governor is saying there can't be a requirement, that doesn't prevent the parent from saying, you know what, I want my child to be as safe as possible. I want to protect the teachers and the staff. I'm going to send my child to school with a mask.

ACOSTA: Right, you don't have to wait for them to put a mask mandate in. If you are a parent, you can have your kid go off to school with a mask. You can do that as a parent. All right, Dr. Richard Besser, thanks so much as always for those great insights.

And coming up, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls out Republican attacks on Capitol Police as former President Trump fuels the fire, as always.



ACOSTA: There is increasing concern about the safety of U.S. lawmakers as former President Trump and his Congressional allies spread lies about the capital insurrection using inflammatory language.

CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us. Brian, Trump and his some of his supporters are attacking the very officers who protected the Capitol that day.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are doing that, Jim. And they're not only inaccurate with these remarks, they're outright dangerous. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has frankly had enough.


TODD (voice over): Security concerns ramped up tonight on Capitol Hill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi furious with Republicans who she says have attacked U.S. Capitol Police officers who fought rioters on January 6th.

Pelosi's office issued a statement today characterizing remarks from former President Donald Trump as, quote, vile. Trump said in a statement he had spoken to the mother and husband of Ashli Babbitt, the rioter who was shot and killed by a U.S. Capitol Police officer as she tried to crawl through a broken window near the speaker's lobby on January 6th. Trump said Babbitt had been, quote, murdered, even though the officer was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing. And Trump said of the unnamed officer, quote, we know who he is. There must be justice.

TERRANCE GAINER, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I do believe that officer is at risk, could be at risk, his family could be at risk if his name gets out in the way the president is suggesting.

TODD: Speaker Pelosi called the Republican attacks on officers, quote, disgusting, said, it's time for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to, quote, get off his hands and stand up to Republicans who have gone after the officers. No response yet from McCarthy.

Pelosi is especially upset with characterizations like this one from Arizona GOP Congressman Paul Gosar.

REP. PAUL GOSAR (R-AZ): Director Wray, do you know who executed Ashli Babbitt?


TODD: This comes as we get disturbing information on threats to members of Congress, which new Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger tells Wolf have increased dramatically in recent months. CHIEF TOM MANGER, UNITED STATES CAPITOL POLICE: We typically, just a couple years ago, had around 6,000 or 7,000. This year I think we'll be up close to 10,000 threats that we're investigating.

TODD: Manger says his department is working with local police departments across the U.S. to investigate threats and coordinate protection for members of Congress. A former secret service agent says that's a massive undertaking since the Capitol Police and their partners have to spread out all over the country to protect members while they're in their home districts.

JONATHAN WACKROW, FORMER SECRET SERVICE AGENT: They have to look at telephone records. They have to look at I.P. addresses. They have to understand where these threats are coming from, identify that potential hostile actor, go interview them, interview friends and families and associates of that individual to fully assess does this person have the tendency or the ability to engage in violent acts against this particular political leader?


TODD (on camera): Now, what worries the security experts we spoke to is the possibility that the threats to members of Congress will only escalate from here. As former Secret Service Agent Jonathan Wackrow says, so many potential attackers, including violent extremists are hiding in plain sight and could be incited to act by a statement like the one former President Trump just made about that one Capitol Police officer. Jim?

ACOSTA: All right. Brian Todd, thanks so much for that report.

Let's dig deeper now with former FBI Deputy Director and CNN Senior Law Enforcement Analyst, Andrew McCabe. He's the author of The Threat, How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump.

And, you know, when the former president calls for justice against the officer who shot and killed Ashli Babbitt, who was climbing through a window that day, as we all saw on the video, how dangerous is that when you see the former president engaging in this rhetoric saying we know who you are and so on?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: It is incredibly dangerous, and we know this for fact. This is not something we are theorizing about, right? We have seen before the impact that the president's words have on his most diehard and emotional supporters. We have seen -- we have seen an attempted bombing plot, right, by a domestic extremist who was arrested some years ago who said he was following the directions of President Trump. We all saw the insurrectionists on January 6th acting what many of them had said they thought they were following his direction.


And let's face it. When he says we know who you are, that's a threat. That's the same sort of language that a mob boss or a drug kingpin would use to threaten a subordinate. Or a -- ACOSTA: Even though he can try to hide behind the language and say that.

MCCABE: Absolutely.


MCCABE: That is a threat. Those words are threatening. So you have the former president of the United States threatening members of law enforcement.

ACOSTA: Incredible.

MCCABE: It just outrageous.

ACOSTA: It is outrageous. And this comes as the Capitol police chief says they're seeing heightened threats against lawmakers. So when Trump does this, does that add fuel to the fire and potentially lead to situations where you could see threats in other parts of the countries? A lot of these members are on their breaks right now.

MCCABE: That's absolutely right. And, you know, we know that August has been a period of particular sensitivity for these sorts of threats across the domestic extremist community. DHS reminded us of this really concerning threat last week with the warning that they put out. So we are in a period of great sensitivity.

It is also the month that the members go home for vacation and campaigning and all the things that they do. So you have got a dispersed group of potential targets. You have got a heavily taxed police force, the Capitol Police, that are responsible for protecting those members wherever they are. It's a very, very tenuous situation.

ACOSTA: And do you think Kevin McCarthy needs to tell these lawmakers to cut it out, tell former president cut it out when it comes to this sort of rhetoric?

MCCABE: Well, he should, right? He's the leader. And when you are the leader and your troops, your members, whoever those folks might be, are acting irresponsibly, are creating situations of greater threat to your own membership and to others, it is time for that leader to step up and get his folks in line.

ACOSTA: All right. Andrew McCabe, thanks so much for those insights, as always. We appreciate it.

MCCABE: Thanks, Jim.

ACOSTA: And just ahead, the Georgia secretary of state responds to chilling revelations about the resignation of a U.S. attorney who was pressured to embrace then-President Trump's election lie.


[18:40:00] ACOSTA: A former U.S. attorney in Atlanta has given Senate investigators a new window into President Trump's efforts to undermine his election loss in Georgia. He testified, he decided to quit his post after learning Trump was considering firing him because he refused to embrace the president's big lie.

Let's get reaction now from the Georgia secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger. Mr. Secretary thanks so much for your time.

What goes through your mind hearing former President Trump planned to fire this U.S. attorney in Georgia, B.J. Pak, for refusing to overturn the election results in your state? What did you make of that story when you saw that?

BRAD RAFFENSPERGER (R), GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE: In some respects, I wasn't surprised. But I served in the house that B.J. Pak, the man has incredible integrity. He's a very sharp lawyer. And he was looking, and he didn't see any fraud there, nothing that would ever overturn the election. He's a person of integrity, and he should have been believed.

ACOSTA: And you faced similar pressure from then-President Trump in a January 2nd phone call that we have all heard. He -- the former president referred to B.J. Pak as a never-Trumper during that portion of the call. Let's play that moment for our viewers because it is one of those moments that I don't think a lot of people remember.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT (voice over): I mean, look, that's -- you'd have to be a child to think anything other than that, just a child. I mean, you have your never-Trumper U.S. attorney in there.


ACOSTA: Mr. Secretary, isn't this more evidence that Trump was pressuring other officials besides yourself, that he was leaning on B.J. Pak and yourself and other officials around the country, former vice president and so on, to try to overturn these election results?

RAFFENSPERGER: Well, time has proven that you're right, that the pressure was put in many different states, many different officials, elected officials and otherwise. But at the end of the day, after B.J. Pak resigned, Bobby Christine came up from the southern district, the U.S. attorney there, he was actually on my absentee ballot fraud task force. And as soon as he got here, he did his own research and he said there was nothing here.

ACOSTA: And let me ask you, have you been contacted by the January 6th select committee that is looking into what happened at the insurrection on the Capitol, at the Capitol, and have they requested your testimony?

RAFFENSPERGER: No, they haven't reached out to me.

ACOSTA: And if they were to reach out to you, would you -- would you speak with that committee?

RAFFENSPERGER: Absolutely. I follow the law. And I follow the process. And if I was requested to testify, I would do so.

ACOSTA: And what's the status of the investigation in Georgia right now? Is your office going to be cooperating, for example, I know it has been, with the Fulton County prosecutor's office that is looking into that phone call that you had with former President Trump? And how far along is your office in looking into all that? Where is that investigation going?

RAFFENSPERGER: We cooperate with every single law enforcement agency. We believe in the rule of law and we believe in following the Constitution laws of the state of Georgia. So we will work with any law enforcement agency, be that the Fulton County district attorney or, obviously, the federal investigations, the congressional investigations in D.C.

ACOSTA: And what is your message to other members of the Republican Party that continue to peddle this lie that Trump won the election, that he was cheated out of a second term in office? You haven't found any voter fraud. You are the secretary of state. Why can't some members of your party get that right?

RAFFENSPERGER: Well, we've gotten the message out. We have checked every single piece of disinformation, misinformation. At the end of the day, there was never enough to overturn the results of the election.


I know up in Michigan, the state senator, Republican, put out a committee report.


It was three Republicans, one Democrat and talking about the Michigan results. I know Arizona is right now under review. But at the end of the day, people have to just understand the results of the elections in Georgia are what were reported. And President Trump did not carry the state of Georgia in 2020.

ACOSTA: And do you think his behavior or his activity around the election, your phone call included, pressure that he put on B.J. Pak, do those actions, do you think, amount to solicitation of election fraud? Was the former president soliciting election fraud?

RAFFENSPERGER: Well, I'm a structural engineer. And so I will leave that up to the lawyers to decide what this is. But at the end of the day, my job is to follow the law, do the process and make sure we have fair and honest elections in Georgia, make sure that we balanced (ph) on accessibility with security, and that's what we're doing here in Georgia.

ACOSTA: But you think at the end of the day what he did was wrong? RAFFENSPERGER: Oh, yes. I believe that character counts. I believe

that integrity counts. I believe that -- Peggy Noonan has a book out that I'm reading right now. It's When Character was King", about President Ronald Reagan. And I think that's what we need to get back into this country, is have character up and down the line, and all of our elected officials, and that's what I strive for every single day.

ACOSTA: All right. Brad Raffensperger, there is so much to talk about. We could have gone all night with you, but there is a lot of breaking news tonight. We will have to let you go, but we will have you back soon. Thanks so much for your time. We appreciate it.

RAFFENSPERGER: You're welcome. Thank you, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. Thank you.

Coming up, what's next for Britney Spears now that her father intends to step down as her conservator.



ACOSTA: Breaking news tonight in the legal battle over Britney Spears' conservatorship. Her father says he intends to step down from that role. That's right.

Let's get more with CNN legal analyst Paul Callan.

Paul, this sounds like a big deal. How big a deal is this do you think if her father does, in fact, step down?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, in the world of conservatorships, it's a very big deal. Jamie spears has controlled her financial life for over a decade in this rather strange conservatorship, where she's incompetent to run her own financial life, but can appear in Vegas and other venues and make a lot of money for her estate. Usually, when people have conservators like this, and the court ordered somebody to take over their life, they're not out in public holding concerts and functioning independently.

So she's kind of been caught between both worlds, and it's a strange conservatorship. I think it's a big deal, though, he's getting off it, because that would be a big courtroom fight if he wished to assert his right to stay and it would extend the court battle for many months, I'm sure.

ACOSTA: Yeah, I mean, Britney's attorney is calling this vindication. You just mentioned the potential legal fight if her father stayed on. Where does it go from here? It sounds as though it may take some time to unwind this.

BEGALA: Yeah, Jim, it really does have a long way to go, because Britney was critical by the way of her prior attorney, two has since been replaced with another attorney, because he didn't seek to end the conservatorship completely in his last appearances in court. The judge hasn't considered that aspect of it at all.

The only thing being decided is should somebody else being running her financial life other than her father and she has a personal executor to handle personal aspects of her life and mental health. So all of that has to be resolved going down the road, if that's where Britney wants to go with this. Now, of course, behind the scenes, we don't know what kind of mental problems that she has that would have induced the court to put her in a conservancy in the first place. Most of that tends to be kept confidential, and I'm not sure that we'll ever know the details of why it's gone on for so long.

ACOSTA: All right, Paul, still a very big development. A lot of her fans I'm sure are happy about this tonight.

Paul Callan, thanks so much.

And there's more breaking news next. Details of a move by Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett with major implications for COVID vaccine mandates.



ACOSTAS: Breaking news tonight. A move by new Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett with major implications for COVID vaccine mandates across the U.S.

CNN Supreme Court reporter Ariane De Vogue is working the story for us.

Ariane, what are you learning? This is interesting.

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Right. Well, this is the first time that justices have been asked to consider a vaccine mandate. This particular challenge came from students at Indiana University. They were objecting to that school's vaccine mandate that is set to take effect next term, and they came to the courts on an emergency basis, trying to stop it.

They lost in the district court. They lost in the federal appeals court. And that opinion was interesting, because the federal appeals court said it thought the vaccine mandate was okay, particularly it had accommodations built in for people who things like religious objection.

But that didn't stop the students. After they lost there, they went to the Supreme Court and sent their application to Justice Amy Coney Barrett, because she has jurisdiction over that lower court.

Now, Barrett, she could have referred this issue to her colleagues. She could have even asked Indiana University for its response. She didn't do either thing. She ruled swiftly against the students here, allowing this mandate to continue to remain in effect, pending legal appeals down the road. And why this is interesting, is, of course, this is just having to do

with Indiana university's mandate. But it sends a strong signal for all of these other mandates that we're seeing popping up across the country, that they too, might down the road pass legal muster.

The Supreme Court didn't have oral arguments here. This was an emergency motion, but it sends a strong signal here for these vaccine mandates going forward.

ACOSTA: Very interesting and very interesting for those college students heading off to college very soon.

Ariane, thanks so much. I'm Jim Acosta. Thanks very much for watching tonight.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.