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The Situation Room

Biden Backs General Milley Amid Questions Over Secret China Calls; National Guard Recruited, Fencing Returns Tonight Ahead of 9/18 Rally; Star Gymnasts Accuse Feds Of Lies, Cover-Up In Nassar Abuse Probe; Fifty-Six Percent Of Americans Say Democracy Under Attack In U.S.; Dems Boosted By Governor Newsom's Easy Defeat Of GOP-Led Recall Drive Ahead Of 2022 Midterms. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 15, 2021 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: You can tweet the show @theleadcnn. And if you ever missed an episode of the show, you can also listen to The Lead Podcast wherever you get your podcast. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Happening now, President Biden says he has great confidence in the Joint Chiefs chairman, General Mark Milley now facing questions about his reported news to protect the country from then-President Trump, including secret calls to China.

Also tonight, Capitol Police request backup from the D.C. National Guard and protective fencing is about to go up on the Hill, all this amid growing concerns of a violence during a right wing protest on Saturday.

And star gymnasts offer wrenching testimony about the FBI's botched investigation of abuse by Dr. Larry Nassar, accusing the feds of lies and a cover-up. Olympian Simone Biles demanding accountability as the attorney general is now set to face Congress as well.

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 begin with the nation's top general on the defensive over revelations and explosive new book on the Trump presidency. Our Brian Todd has new details. Brian, the White House is standing behind General Mark Milley, as some Republicans say he should stepped down or be fired.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. General Milley is indeed at the center of a lot of attention tonight, Jim. Some key players in Washington weighing in on whether the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff took action that could have saved lives or whether he committed treason.


TODD (voice over): Tonight, President Biden backing Joint Chiefs Chairman Army General Mark Milley.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I have great confidence with General Milley.

TODD: Following revelations in the new book Peril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa of the Washington Post. Former President Donald Trump and some Republicans in Congress calling for Milley to be tossed out, even court marshaled over the reporting in the book that General Milley was so fearful that then-President Trump would start a war with China in the final months of his administration. But Milley secretly called his Chinese counterpart twice to reassure him that the United States would not strike China.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT (voice over): That's treason. I've had so many calls today saying that's treason.

TODD: General Milley's office defending his calls with his Chinese counterpart saying they were part of a series of calls with America's allies and adversaries at that time, quote, in order to maintain strategic stability.

A defense official tell CNN, those calls were not done in secret and followed the same protocols used by other chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Woodward and Costa also report that right after the January 6th assault on the Capitol, Milley called a secret meeting at the Pentagon to review the process for military action, including launching nuclear weapons. But Milley instructed top military officials not to take orders from anyone, including then-President Trump unless Milley was involved.

The authors write Milley, quote, was certain that Trump had gone into a serious mental decline in the aftermath of the election, with Trump now all but manic, screaming at officials and constructing his own alternate reality about endless election conspiracies.

That rationale doesn't cut it with Republicans like Senator Marco Rubio.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): It is the essence of a military coup, for lack of a better term. That's what it would equate to. I don't think there's any doubt that at a minimum he should be fired if this is true.

TODD: The Pentagon press secretary says General Milley's actions were above board.

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: It is completely appropriate for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as the senior military adviser to both the secretary and president to want to see those protocols reviewed on whatever frequent basis that he wants to do that.

TODD: Woodward and Costa also write that after the racial justice protests at the White House in June 2020, Trump accused then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper of trying to take away his authority by not imposing the Insurrection Act, then screamed at others in the room. Quote, you're all f-ed up, he yelled, everybody, you're all f-ed, every one of you is f-ed up.


TODD (on camera): Former President Trump in addition to calling General Milley's reported actions, quote, treason, has issued a statement calling the joint chiefs chairman a, quote, dumbass, weak and ineffective, who Trump says conducted a fake new story with two authors who Trump says he refused to give an interview to, because they write fiction not fact. Trump says he never thought of attacking China and that the people who told that story are, quote, sick and demented and those who printed it just as bad. He is really on the defensive.

ACOSTA: Yes, pretty Trumpian response.

TODD: Yes.

ACOSTA: All right, Brian Todd, thank you very much.

Let's bring in CNN Special Correspondent Jamie Gangel who obtained the copy of the Woodward book and was first to report all of the stunning detail here on CNN. Also with us, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. He's the CNN Military Analyst and CNN Counterterrorism Analyst Phil Mudd.

Jamie, let me start with you. Tell us what you've been learning about this. You're learning more from this book. What can you tell us?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So, one of the things I just want to say from that reporting that I think it's important to say is, first of all, context is key.


These people have not read the book yet.

Secondly, this seems to me -- and Jim, you know this better than anyone, a classic Donald Trump response. He is criticized in this book. He doesn't like it. So, what does he do? He turns around and attacks Milley. Milley was not alone. What we have learned in the book is Milley was not the only person who thought that Donald Trump was dangerous, unstable and unpredictable.

Woodward and Costa quote Gina Haspel as saying, this is a highly dangerous situation. We're going to lash out for his ego. This is after a meeting about Iran. She said it another time, quote, we're on the way to a right-wing coup. The whole thing is insanity. He's acting like a six-year-old with a tantrum. Even then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is considered a loyalist, said after the election that Trump was, quote, in a very dark place.

ACOSTA: No question. I remember from talking to my sources at the time that -- you know, we had sources telling us that he was out of his mind at the time.

General Hertling, let me turn to you next. President Biden has said he has great confidence in the Joint Chiefs chairman, General Milley. Do you see any potential red flags with how Milley handled all this?

LT. GENERAL MARK HERTLING (RET.) CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, I don't, Jim, not at all. And, in fact, I suggest his contact with these foreign general officers ,like General Li of the Chinese People Liberation Army, it's the biggest part of his job. And it was likely necessitated by intelligence reports assessed by staff saying something is going on in China, and as we learned from Jamie's reporting earlier, in other parts of the world.

And I'm certain as earlier reports also indicate that the chairman followed the protocols for engagement and communication with foreign officials. How do I know these things? Because I've done them personally, certainly not at the level of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs but in a theater of operation. This kind of theater security cooperation with friends, allies and foes at times is one of the biggest part of the senior leader's job when they're in a military building, excuse me.

ACOSTA: And, Phil, Republican Senator Marco Rubio, he's been tearing into General Milley, accusing him of contemplating a treasonous leak to the Chinese. But, apparently, there were 15 people on this call between Milley and his counterpart. The details were shared with the intelligence community. It wasn't exactly happening in total darkness. It doesn't sound like it was complete runaround. What do you think?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think that the senator needs to take two aspirin and call Dr. Mudd in the morning for some counsel. This is a human eye roll dissenter.

Let me be very clear, very clear, a famous journalist writes a book that says the sky is falling. That's how he sells books. He creates an environment through the early leaks of key parts of the book that makes it sound like the book is really scintillating. That's how people sell books, Jim.

Now, let's look at the facts, not the environment that journalist Bob Woodward sets up but what actually happened. During a difficult transition in America, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs calls a counterpart. It's secret. What's he supposed to do? Put it on TikTok? Of course, it's secret. What happens during his counsel, that is General Milley's council, at the Pentagon? He says let's make sure we understand what a most -- the most sensitive thing in the military, that's what happens in the chain of command if there's an order particularly related to nuclear weapons. He shouldn't review that? Can you tell me when he said, I will not take a command from the president? Didn't happen.

He also says, allegedly, that we don't know what the president's trigger is. The president told us that when he came into office, he said let's not signal to adversaries what we're going to do. So, look at the environment the author sets up. That's a lot of drama. Look at what the general does. There's not a lot of drama there. Let's look at facts, not drama, and tell Marco Rubio, take a chill pill until you actually ask the general what he said. This is just too much, Jim.

ACOSTA: Jamie, what do you think? GANGEL: So, I'm going to push back on Phil. We're dear friends a little. I don't think I have read the whole book. I don't think that anyone is trying to overpromote the book. And as far as drama is concerned, I don't think it got any more dramatic than what happened on January 6th.

ACOSTA: General Hertling, the authors also report that General Milley believed former President Trump was in serious mental decline. What responsibilities would he then have to safeguard national security, talking about the general at that point?

HERTLING: Yes, you know, Jim, I'm going to do an anecdote here too as well because I worked for a guy in combat that we all thought -- all the troops thought he was under serious decline.


He was a commander.

So what you do in those situations, you certainly can't pull the guy out of position. You might talk to his superiors. But what you do in the meantime is you set up guardrails around him. You reinforce the standards. You do the kinds of things that will prevent that commander from doing something that is unusual or which is contrary to the mission that you're trying to execute.

And I think on a larger strategic scale, that's exactly what General Milley and others like Gina Haspel and adjutant general and others were trying to do knowing the demise and seeing the demise of then- former President Trump.

ACOSTA: Yes. I mean, it certainly was just a wild situation, General Milley. It sounds like he was trying to make the best of it and prevent just a total cataclysmic situation from unfolding.

All right, Jamie, General Hertling, Phil Mudd, thank you so much to all of you.

Just ahead, breaking news, U.S. Capitol Police are asking the National Guard for help at this point as D.C. braces for potential violence at Saturday's right wing rally. Stay with us. You're in The Situation Room.



ACOSTA: Breaking news tonight, Capitol Police requesting help from the D.C. National Guard amid fear of violence at a right wing rally in Washington this Saturday.

CNN Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles is working that story for us. Ryan, this request for assistance comes as we expect the fencing to start going up around the Capitol. Tell us the latest.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's right, Jim. And it seems pretty clear that Capitol Police and the surrounding law enforcement agencies are preparing for a worst case scenario on Saturday around this right wing rally in support of those who were arrested around the January 6th insurrection. And to that end, they've asked the National Guard to be on standby just in case things get out of control.

Now, we're not exactly clear what that entails. And, of course, you'll remember, Jim, that the role of the National Guard played or the lack thereof on January 6th has been a source of serious contention as groups look into what went wrong on January 6th. But the Capitol Police seem pretty confidence that if they need the National Guard's help on Saturday, they will get it.

And that's not the only thing they are doing. They are prepared in just the next couple of hours to resurrect that fence around Capitol Square. And it's going to go up here right along this road, this is first street northwest. If you're familiar with Washington, D.C., right across from the Supreme Court. And it's going to wrap around the Capitol, go all the way around the west front and the west front, and the west front of course is where we expect this rally to take place.

And the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is very clear that she supports these efforts not to take any risks ahead of this rally on Saturday. She said in a statement today, quote, there is a wish by some to continue the assault on the U.S. Capitol with misinformation and malice. The leadership of Congress on a bipartisan and bicameral basis has been briefed by the Capitol Police board on the nature of the threat and the unprecedented preparations to address another attempt to defile our national purpose.

And, of course, keep in mind that Pelosi hosted a briefing with Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader, Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, and Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader on the Senate side on Monday to go over all of these plans, which, in addition, to the fencing, the National Guard, help also includes the entire Capitol Police force being prepared and on call and ready to go on Saturday just in case.

And part of what we've learned about some of the law enforcement concerns leading up to Saturday is the possibility that some of these protesters may arrive to Washington on Saturday armed. Well, CNN spoke with the organizer of this rally, and he contends that's just not the case. Take a listen.


MATT BRAYNARD, RALLY ORGANIZER AND FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN STAFFER: We've got a largely peaceful crowd. We've had two events in Washington, D.C. so far, at the Department of Justice and at the prison. And if there have been no incidents so far. No one is going to be bringing a weapon that's going to be part of our crowd. I can assure the police that.


NOBLES: Of course it's difficult to predict that, Jim. This is an event where they're asking people to come from all over the country. They're not necessarily going to have metal detectors checking people as they come in. That's part of why law enforcement is taking all of these precautions, again, Jim, preparing for a worst case scenario.

ACOSTA: Yes. The police are not taking his word for it. That's for sure. All right, CNN's Ryan Nobles, thank you so much.

Let's dig deeper with CNN Senior Law Enforcement Analyst Charles Ramsey and CNN Law Enforcement Analyst Terrance Gainer.

Chief Gainer, you're the former Capitol Police chief. The Pentagon is considering this request for the D.C. National Guard to offer support. How critical is this additional support and coordination, do you think?

TERRANCE GAINER, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I think it's a smart move based on our experience from January 6th and all the other preparations going on, so just concentrating on that one request. They'll be prepositioned so they can respond very quickly.

Jim, you may remember one of the problems where they weren't in a ready position so they had to come from home and work to get and prepare to help the police. This time they'll be in a standby mode, very close by to be able to come in quickly, as the Capitol Police is assessing what's going on.

ACOSTA: And, Chief Ramsey, when you hear those details about the organizer behind this rally and the possibility of protesters bringing weapons, what does that tell you about how potentially dangerous this situation could get on Saturday?

CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, first of all, when I listen to that, the organizer is trying to cover himself. So, if this thing goes badly, since he's the organizer, you know, he won't get hit with a conspiracy charge or anything like that. He has no control over this group.

This has gotten to a point now where it's going to draw people from all over. Some will be there just to protest and rally without any incident. But you can get some people there that really have a totally different agenda.


He has no control over that.

And so, this is a very dangerous period of time in our country. The environment is really one that I'm very concerned about, not just the 18th of September. That's not going to end it. This whole situation we find ourselves in right now is very, very dangerous. And it's going to spread beyond Washington.

ACOSTA: Right. And it's all because the big lie just won't go away. And, Chief Gainer, fencing will start going up tonight. Members and staff are being told to avoid the Capitol on Saturday. What other measures should be under consideration right now with this day? GAINER: Well, they'll have localized all the personnel. They'll all be on duty or can come in early from their various spots. They all have new equipment that was requested to make sure they're prepared if they do get into any donnybrooks. And the fence is very important because it provides a standoff and time to respond to people who may not be peaceful.

Remember, even that organizer said they'll largely be peaceful. That's not reassuring. So, between the Metropolitan Police Department coming, they'll all be on duty, the Capitol Police monitoring the crowd, assessing what the mood is, what they're carrying, how they're dressed, that will dictate the actions at the Capitol.

I think they're going to be in very good shape. And the other important part is the proper intelligence. And I think that's largely completely been fixed since the January 6th incident.

ACOSTA: Right. We need these law enforcement agencies to talk to one another. And, Chief Ramsey, you say this could spread beyond Washington. To that point, how worried are you about potential violence either in other parts of Washington, D.C. or other cities around the country on Saturday? It goes to the point that these law enforcement agencies have to be working with one another. They have to be talking about tips that come in that relate to other parts of the nation's Capitol and the other parts of the country.

RAMSEY: Well, again, September 18th is the focal point right now, but my concern goes beyond September 18th. Listen, a lot of this has to do with these hate groups that had come out now out of shadows and they're out there in the open. They're always been there. But now they're out in the open and they're not ashamed to show it. And hate is like cancer. It spreads.

And I think we've gotten to a point now where it's going to be very difficult to deal with this in the future. I think we're going to see more and more cases where these kinds of groups show up and easily result in some violence.

Plus, remember, you'll have counterdemonstrators that may show up, and that's another area that you've got to be very careful about.

ACOSTA: No question about it. All right Chief Ramsey, Chief Gainer, thanks so much to both of you. We appreciate those insights.

And coming up, gut-wrenching testimony from team USA gymnasts who were sexually abused by Larry Nassar.


SIMONE BILES, U.S. GYMNASTS: I blame Larry Nassar, and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse.


ACOSTA: Will anyone at the FBI face criminal charges for botching this investigation? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


ACOSTA: Emotional testimony on Capitol Hill as some of the top U.S. gymnasts blasted the FBI for its mishandling of the abuse investigation of former USA Gymnastics Team Dr. Larry Nassar who is now in prison.

CNN Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid has details. Paula, this was just gut-wrenching testimony that we heard today. I mean, just awful stuff.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: This was. As, you know, there were very few areas of bipartisan consensus in Washington right now. But today, lawmakers from both parties were united in their anger about how the FBI handled allegations of sexual misconduct by Larry Nassar.


BILES: How much is a little girl worth?

REID: Olympic Gold Medalist Simone Biles fighting back tears testifying before Congress today about how the FBI failed her and hundreds of other survivors of sexual abuse by USA Gymnastics Team Doctor Larry Nassar.

BILES: I don't want another young gymnast, Olympic athlete or any other individual to experience the horror that I and hundreds of others have endured before, during and continuing to this day in wake of the Larry Nassar abuse. To be clear -- sorry.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): Take your time.

BILES: To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse.

REID: Nassar pleaded guilty in 2018 and was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for assaulting hundreds of victims, but not before he was allowed to victimize dozens of girls because adults in positions of authority failed to act on complaints, according to gymnasts who testified today.

MCKAYLA MARONEY, U.S. GYMNAST: I was molested by the U.S. Gymnastics and National Team and Olympic Team Dr. Larry Nassar. In actuality, he turned out to be more of a pedophile than he was a doctor.

REID McKayla Maroney testified about how the FBI mishandled her complains and then tried to cover it up.

MARONEY: Not only did the FBI not report my abuse, but when they eventually documented my report 17 months later, they made entirely false claims about what I said.

[18:30:01] REID: Nassar went on to abuse dozens of other victims after Maroney came forward.

MARONEY: What is the point of reporting abuse if our own FBI agents are going to take it upon themselves to bury that report in a drawer? They had legal legitimate evidence of child abuse and did nothing.

REID: Aly Raisman testified how the FBI also dismissed her allegations.

ALY RAISMAN, U.S. GYMNAST: I remember sitting there with the FBI agent and him trying to convince me that it wasn't that bad.

REID: She too said the system failed them.

RAISMAN: Over 100 victims could have been spared abuse if all we needed was one adult to do the right thing.

REID: A report by the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General found that the FBI agents who received the complaints did limited follow-up with Maroney. The Justice Department has so far not brought charges against either of the FBI agents mentioned in the inspector general's report as having mishandled the Nassar case.

Special Agent Michael Langman, identified by The Washington Post, was fired by the FBI last week. And Langman's supervisor retired before the investigation was complete.

FBI Director, Christopher Wray, who took over leadership of the agency in 2017, was pressed by lawmakers on how the system could have failed so badly.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: I don't have a good explanation for you. It is utterly jarring to me. I'm sorry that so many different people let you down over and over again.


REID (on camera): Attorney General Merrick Garland and his Deputy Lisa Monaco will testify before lawmakers next month. And that will be the first opportunity to ask them about the FBI botched investigation and the big question coming out of today's hearing, which is why none of the FBI agents accused of misconduct have been prosecuted. Jim?

ACOSTA: This is so sickening, so heartbreaking.

REID: It really is.

ACOSTA: All right, Paula Reid, thank you so much for that. Let's get more on all this with CNN Senior Legal Analyst Laura Coates and CNN Sports Analyst Christine Brennan. Christine and Laura, this is infuriating. This is just infuriating. Can you explain Christine, you know, what this means for female athletes of all ages and all sports to see some of the greatest gymnasts of all time, including Simone Biles, testify before Congress as they are trying to hold people accountable for this who wronged them? I mean, this is just awful. CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: Jim, it's crushing. It's crushing for young girls and young women. It's crushing frankly for young boys and young men to see this. The power structure exists in these sports. It is so hard to speak out. And then when you have adults failing, especially when these women -- they came forward. They did the right thing. They talked to the FBI. And it was buried.

Of course, it was just horrific what happened to them, the sexual abuse, the worst sex abuse scandal in sports history, Jim, the worst sex abuse scandal in Olympic history. And they tried to do the right thing and were silenced and the report was buried.

And, you know though, there's power in the platform. Here they were today reminding us of the horrors of the last few years. Some of us have heard this before, but it's great to hear it again in terms of reminding us of how bad it was and maybe, just maybe it helped a kid or two today who watched their heroes, watch Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and the others and said, you know what, I can speak out. Let's hope for that silver lining because otherwise it was a devastatingly harrowing and horrible day on Capitol Hill.

ACOSTA: Laura, these women are making a powerful case against the FBI, saying agents mishandled serious allegations, allowed a child molester abuse to continue. Shouldn't heads be rolling? I mean, this is -- Paula was just reporting somebody was fired last week, the agent -- I mean last week? This is ridiculous.

LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It is. And there's a lot of anger. And it's justified anger. You're talking about these young women are up there and we've known about this, they've known about it, the FBI has known about it since 2015 and someone just left their job last week. Someone was allowed to retire out of it.

Remember, we have had someone familiar with the idea of lying to federal investigators. And these individuals were accused -- the FBI agents, accused of having done that with the inspector general's office of not being forth coming, not being truthful. If the FBI is not going to hold its own to the same standard they apply to everyone else who comes before them, you don't have credibility and integrity in the system. That's why the director was apologizing.

And remember what the investigation -- what they had to do was to, at a bare minimum, alert their law enforcement counterparts in a venue where Larry Nassar could have been prosecuted federally in Michigan. They did not do that. Pick up the phone. Send an email. Figure it out. Instead of using self-serving initiatives, that is very, very shocking. And there must be accountability if people are actually going to still support FBI, the investigative process.


And the idea that if you come to the investigators and you tell what's happened, you've spoken the truth, you appeal for help, and you're dismissed, you're told at the end, is that it? McKayla Maroney, what she had to say was just so shocking. And I think I would end here by saying what I loved about these young women was at the end at of their powerful poignant, they said, I'm ready to answer any questions you have. And you know why? Because they demand and need to have the answers.

ACOSTA: Let me get a reaction to that, Christine. What do you think?

BRENNAN: They're four American heroes and they will be remembered as heroes forever, Jim, by speaking out. I bet they'll be back again. They're going to be leaders on this topic for years to come and we need them because, clearly, as Laura was saying there are some real problems in law enforcement in not helping these young women when they needed the help the most.

ACOSTA: Yes. We needed some leaders over at the FBI too so this never happens again. This is just appalling, six sickening stuff.

All right, Laura Coates, Christine Brennan, thank you so much.

Just ahead, new data shows a booster shot of the Pfizer vaccine could dramatically reduce the rate of COVID infection, but internal documents reveal the FDA is still deeply divided over whether to approve more doses for most Americans.



ACOSTA: We have breaking news tonight on the debate over COVID-19 booster shots. Three new sets of data support arguments for giving third doses of the Pfizer vaccine. The information comes as FDA vaccine advisers are preparing to discuss the need for boosters on Friday.

We're joined now by Dr. Ashish Jha of the Brown University School of Public Health. Dr. Jha, great to see you. These studies include one from Israel, which finds a booster dose showed a real world reduction in infection and additional studies sponsored by Pfizer find immunity begins to wane over time on the booster restores the immunity. Do these studies make the case that boosters should be approved here in the U.S.? It sounds like a (INAUDIBLE) of case.

DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Yes, Jim, thanks for having me back. I think the data are pretty clear as you look at this, that boosters are helpful for high risk individuals, older people, people with chronic diseases. That's who's really suffering the severe hospitalizations and death severe complications.

It's not clear to me from these data that the boosters are necessary for young and healthy people. But for older people, people at high risk, absolutely, I think this really, for me, is pretty convincing that those people need boosters.

ACOSTA: And yet we're hearing the FDA meeting this Friday is expected to be bumpy. What's the argument against rolling out these booster doses now? JHA: Yes. So I think there are two sets of argument. I mean there is a broader argument of, you know there is so much of the world that's left unvaccinated, and we want to vaccinate the world. I think we do want to vaccinate the world. I'm not sure that us using boosters for high risk people here will prevent us from doing that.

I think the second part is the point that the vaccines, the two doses of the vaccines, do provide a high degree of protection for everybody. And so maybe the marginal benefit is small. I think it's clear that it is there, and my take is we should be doing it. But we'll see how the FDA debates this.

ACOSTA: And the FDA insists consideration of COVID-19 boosters is not politically motivated. The White House did put the FDA in a little bit of tough position here by getting ahead of them on this. How do they sort this out?

JHA: Yes. At the end of the day we've got to look at the science. I mean, process is important. process is always important in scientific work. But at the end of the day, we've got to look at where the scientific evidence is coming down. In my mind, the scientific evidence is coming down towards boosters for high risk individuals. The White House has its own scientific key, Dr. Fauci and others, who are also looking at the data.

So I just want the FDA to examine to examine the data and not worry as much as about the process that's gone on here.

ACOSTA: Yes. And Pfizer says data on vaccines for children ages 5 to 11 should be submitted by the end of this month. How quickly could we see approval for vaccine for that age group? I mean, that's a big block of kids out there and it would certainly raise that fully vaccination rate -- fully vaccinated rate.

JHA: Absolutely. Yes, no, absolutely. I think it's going to make rally important difference especially, because that's the set of kids in school right now that are not eligible for vaccination. My hope is that within two to three weeks of that submission, the FDA brings this advisory committee, authorizes it.

And, you know, I've been saying, I have nine-year-old at home. I'm been hoping that by Halloween he gets that first shot. I think it's entirely possible he might.

ACOSTA: That would be good for Halloween. That's for sure. All right, Dr. Ashish Jha, thanks so much.

And coming up, did former Vice President Dan Quayle help put an end to former President Trump's attempted coup? We have new details on a crucial conversation between Quayle and then-Vice President Pence in the run up to January 6th.


[18:48:09] ACOSTA: Troubling findings in our exclusive new CNN poll. Fifty-six percent of Americans say democracy is under attack in the U.S., and a majority say it's likely officials will overturn an election at some point because their party didn't win.

Joining us now to talk about this and other matters, Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut, a member of the Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for being with us.

When you look at these poll numbers and the details in this Bob Woodward and Robert Costa book, how much danger was American democracy in at that point in facing the final days of the Trump presidency?

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): Well, it was in profound danger. I'm here to tell you as somebody in the chamber on January 6th, you know, and the insurrectionists who attacked the Capitol are only the tip of the sphere. And, frankly, the other piece of this that I worry about least, what I worry about is that the former president, President Trump, to this day continues to cause a significant percentage of Americans to believe that the election was stolen from him without a single fact, without a single piece of evidence to back that up. And every time the president says that, of course, that's another little chink taken out of the foundation of our democracy.

It was terribly disappointing to read that Mike Pence -- Mike Pence who I always thought was one of the good guys here. I don't agree with Mike Pence on much, but I thought he was one of the good guys. He was working so hard to try to figure out a way to do what Donald Trump wanted him to do, even though Mike Pence knew and had constant access to the incompetence, to the corruption, to the disregard for the Constitution that was the presidency of Donald Trump, that Mike Pence was actually working really hard to figure out how to help in this what would have amounted to a coup. It's very, very disappointing.

ACOSTA: Yeah, speaking of that, in the book "Peril," the authors reported, it was Dan Quayle, the former vice president, who put his foot down and told Mike Pence there was no way to overturn the election.

Who would have thought Dan Quayle was going to save the day in all this?


What did you make of that revelation?

HIMES: Well, I'm not surprised by it. You know, the previously responsible, anti-fascist, pro-Constitution Republican Party which still exists today, small though it may be, is comprised of people with names like Quayle, with names like Bush whose statement on 9/11 was pretty clear that he sees a very real danger to our country from this. People with names like Cheney.

I never imagine that I would fine myself praising people who are named Cheney. And yet, you know, Liz Cheney is willing to do something that so few of my Republican colleagues are willing to do, which is to say, you know what, the Constitution of the United States and Democratic order is more important than the fear that I feel of Donald Trump.

ACOSTA: You know, Congressman, this new CNN poll is troubling. The immediate crisis of January 6th may be over but this polling shows Americans still fear a future where an election could be overturned.

How concerning is that? Do you see steps happening now that would make that nightmare scenario a real possibility?

HIMES: Well, absolutely, and I have two things to say to that. Number one, of course, it's a real possibility.

One of the things that Republican legislatures are doing in states like Texas and other red states is they are taking power away from people like Brad Raffensperger. Remember Raffensperger? He was the Georgia secretary of state, Republican, who said no, Mr. President, Donald Trump. I'm not going to find 11,000 votes or whatever the number was.

And so, now, legislatures in red states are passing red states laws to override the decision of the professionals, of the secretaries of state. So, yes, this is happening right in front of our eyes as we speak.

The other thing to say, though, Jim, as you know, that poll indicates shockingly that the very people today, this evening are working hard to erode our democracy, that is to say that people who believe that Donald Trump was denied the election without a shred of evidence are the ones that most believe our democracy is at risk.

And I mean, I can't tell you how unfathomable it is that a meaningful percentage of the Republican Party, in some cases, a majority are willing to believe something for which there is not a single fact or a single sliver of evidence when the consequences of that belief is an ongoing attack on our democracy.

ACOSTA: All right. Congressman Jim Himes, thanks for coming on. We appreciate it.

HIMES: Thank you, Jim.

ACOSTA: And we'll have more news just ahead, including fresh reaction to California Governor Gavin Newsom's decisive win over the Republican effort to remove him from office because Newsom just bought a path forward for Democrats hoping to hold the House and the Senate.



ACOSTA: Tonight, Democrats are celebrating the survival of California Governor Gavin Newsom after he easily defeated a GOP led attempt to oust him. Both parties are studying the results of the recall lesson looking for lessons ahead of the midterms. CNN senior national correspondent Kyung Lah joins us from Sacramento.

Kyung, what is this landslide victory for Gavin Newsom mean for the rest of the Democratic Party? They're taking note of this.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They certainly are taking note of this and Newsom's advisors are saying they should and here is why. You know, about a month ago, what we were hearing from the governor's office and all of his allies and Democrats here in California is that there was real concern. This is an off year special election. Democrats weren't paying attention. They really weren't engaged. Similar to what you would see in the midterm except it was more extreme in California.

So the governor had to turn it around. So, how did he do that? He started focusing on his COVID protocols. They leaned in on those restrictions, which initially were thought to be a handicap and instead he embraced it. He started talking about that really putting in a contrast with then the Republican challenger who emerged out of nowhere, Larry Elder. There was a true contrast and they leaned into that. So, that's the first thing they were able to do.

The other thing they died was tied Elder into Donald Trump. Even though Trump isn't on the ballot, his impact in the party and state gubernatorial race, they were able to make that connection, to continue to use Trump almost as an albatross here, and merely make that a contrast and to try to sink Elder because of it. They also make sure to embrace issues like the big lie, to embrace issues like women's rights and try to nationalize it as much as possible.

The warning here, though, Jim, is that California has a 2-1 voter reg advantage for Democrats. This is certainly not going to be a lot like the congressional races that are coming up in 2022.

ACOSTA: No question about it, but will the controversial Republican candidate Larry Elder run again? I mean, he ended up being a gift to Democrats in California.

LAH: Certainly. Absolutely a gift to the governor because they were able to make that contrast for all of those reasons.

If you listen to what Elder said certainly sounds like he is, you know, forecasting another run. He is indicated he is not getting out of politics and he said to his crowd as, you know, he was saying that he's lost essentially to stay tuned that he is planning on looking ahead so this could be a rematch in 2022, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. Kyung Lah, thanks so much.

Yes, Larry Elder, the entertainer and broadcaster to the end. All right. Thank you so much. Good to see you.

Thanks so much for watching. I'm Jim Acosta.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT " starts right now.