Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

CDC Weighs In On New Variant As Biden Warns Against Panic; January 6 Committee Sets Vote On Jeffrey Clark Contempt Referral; Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) Says, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) Doubled Down On Dangerous Comments During Call; Law Enforcement Scrambling To Respond To Wave Of Smash-And-Grab Robberies Across U.S.; Opening Statements Begin In Trial Of Actor Jussie Smollett. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired November 29, 2021 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Max Foster in Barbados, thanks so much.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the TikTok @jaketapper. You can tweet the show @theleadCNN. If you ever missed an episode of The Lead, you can listen to The Lead wherever you get your podcast.

Our coverage now continues with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll see you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, the CDC just weighed in on the newest coronavirus variant as President Biden is urging all Americans not to panic about the omicron threat. I'll ask some Moderna's chief medical officer about fears this variant may evade immunity from COVID vaccine.

Also tonight, a second Trump associate could soon face a criminal contempt referral for defying the January 6th committee. The panel is setting a vote on Jeffery Clark's fate as the decision on Mark Meadows' defiance is expected this week as well.

And Trump Loyalist Lauren Boebert doubles down on her attack against Democrat Ilhan Omar after a tense phone call between the lawmakers. Omar says Boebert still refuses to apologize for anti-Muslim remarks about her as their feud boils over.

We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin with growing concerns right now about the omicron variant of coronavirus and what it could mean for the future of the pandemic. Tonight, the CDC is responding by strengthening its recommendation for COVID vaccine, boosters.

Let's go straight to our National Correspondent Athena Jones. Athena, first of all, tell us more about the CDC's latest guidance issued just a little while ago.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. As you just said, this new omicron strain has led the CDC to strengthen its booster recommendations. The agency now says all adults should get boosted six months after their second dose from the Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna vaccine and two months after the single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Their previous guidance said anyone 18 and older may get a booster and the expectation here is that vaccines and especially the level of antibody response that comes with the boosters will provide at least some protection from omicron. But it is going to take a couple weeks to know for sure.


JONES (voice over): Tonight the president calling for calm.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic.

JONES: As omicron, a new coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa, spreads around the world.

DR. PAUL BURTON, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, MODERNA: This is a new wrench that's been thrown into the fight against COVID.


JONES: Raising new, urgent questions.

DR. JEANNE MARRAZZO, PROFESSOR, INFECTIOUS DISEASE AT UAB: We don't know everything we need to know about this new variant yet.


JONES: Omicron has at least 50 mutations, including some share with the highly contagious delta variant that drove a deadly summer surge in the United States. The new variant has become the most dominant strain in South Africa less than two weeks after it was first detected.

The strain now confirmed on five continents in more than a dozen countries, including Canada. The U.S. joining the European Union and other countries in restricting travel from certain Southern African nations, a move health experts say may slow down the variant's spread but won't stop it.

FAUCI: When you have a virus that has already gone to multiple countries, inevitably, it will be here.

JONES: U.S. federal health officials are bracing for omicron to be detected here with the CDC sequencing coronavirus genomes and working closely with state health officials. But it won't be clear for a few weeks how transmissible omicron is, whether it causes more severe illness, and whether it can evade the immune protection offered by vaccines.

SALIM ABDOOL KARIM, CO-CHAIR, SOUTH AFRICAN MINISTERIAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON COVID-19: The reality is we've only known about this virus for just over a week so we don't really have the kind of data required to answer those questions definitively.

JONES: Scientists and pharmaceutical companies are working to get those answers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think that the result will be that vaccines don't protect. I think the results could be, which we don't know yet, that the vaccines protect less.

JONES: Vaccine makers like Pfizer and Moderna stressing they are ready to respond quickly if changes to their vaccines are needed.

BURTON: We think within weeks to maybe two to three months we would be able to have an omicron-specific vaccine booster available for testing and then for administration.

JONES: And until more is known about the new variant, health officials say the best way to protect yourself is for the still unvaccinated to get vaccinated and for those eligible for booster shots to get them.

COLLINS: We expect that most likely the current vaccines will be sufficient to provide protection and especially the boosters will give that additional layer of protection.



JONES (on camera): Now, officials here in New York City where there are currently no identified cases of omicron are now highly recommending residents wear masks while indoors in public places regardless of vaccination status. This is an attempt to get ahead of the spread of this variant. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, better to be safe than sorry. Athena Jones, thank you very, very much.

Now to President Biden and his efforts today to reassure Americans feeling rather anxious about this new variant.

Let's go to our Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly. Phil, the president spoke about the threat of omicron variant earlier today. What is his plan?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. The president acknowledged there is still much to be learned about the newest variant but the president and his team plan to fight whatever comes from the variant with, as he said, speed and science, not chaos and confusion.

And that speed and science will be primarily focused on vaccinations and boosters, the president pressing the American public to do both, acknowledging that while nearly 60 percent of the public is vaccinated, fewer than 20 percent have gotten their boosters. The president making clear that needs to change quickly, start to move upwards, and that if any changes are needed in the vaccines to address the omicron variant, he is ready to get after that. Take a listen.


BIDEN: Dr. Fauci believes that the current vaccines provide at least some protection against the new variant and the boosters strengthen that protection significantly. We do not yet believe that additional measures will be needed. But so that we are prepared, if needed, my team is already working with officials at Pfizer and Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to develop contingency plans for vaccines or boosters if needed.

And I will also direct the FDA and CDC to use the fastest process available without cutting any corners for safety to get such vaccines approved and on the market, if needed.


MATTINGLY: Now, Wolf, the president is supposed to lay out more details of his administration's plan to address the coronavirus pandemic as we move into the winter months on Thursday. The White House officials making clear they are extremely vigilant and very cautious about what might be coming over, acknowledging it is, in all likelihood, the omicron variant is already in the United States and pressing again and again for vaccinations and boosters underscoring that despite the lack of full information at this point in time, there is a very real belief inside the administration that that more than anything else is the best thing Americans can do at this point in time to protect themselves, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. It's already been detected in Canada, so it probably won't be long before it is detected here as well. Phil Mattingly, thank you very much.

Let's bring in our Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He's the Author of the very important book entitled, World War C, Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic and How to Prepare for the Next One. Sanjay, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

You just -- you know this, the CDC just strengthened its booster recommendations because of this new variant, saying all adults here in the United States should get a booster shot instead of may get a booster shot. How significant is that?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think the messaging is just much more clear, now Wolf. The latest recommendation before this was people over the age of 50 should get one but 18 and older, 18 to 49 may get one. Now, with what is going on with this new variant, they're really strengthening that recommendation and it makes sense.

I mean, what you're hearing from scientists is we don't know yet if there will be any diminishing of the effectiveness of these vaccines but you have what is called the cushion effect when you get a vaccine. You're getting a lot of antibodies, typically more than you need to actually decrease the likelihood of severe illness, but if there is erosion of that effect, you still want as much cushion as possible. How do you get that? You get boosted and really boost up your antibody levels again. So I think that is where the recommendation is coming from.

BLITZER: As you know, the director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins, says there is anecdotal information right now that this new variant may cause milder illness. How concerned are you, Sanjay?

GUPTA: Well, I think we just don't know right now. You know it's interesting, I was listening to the health minister's office in South Africa this morning and they were sort of making this case as oftentimes as things become more transmissible they do become less lethal. You trade off transmission for lethality and vice versa. So it is possible it is getting milder.

I think we got to look at what's happening in hospitalization rates, Wolf. I think that is the truest measure of things. I spent time looking at the data in South Africa specifically, specifically in Gauteng Province, where some of these first cases were identified. And, look, hospitalization rates have gone up there. They've gone up threefold. It is sort their late spring time in terms of weather, so not flu season, typically more people outdoors and hospitalization rates going up. We don't know what that means yet Wolf, to be fair, but that is one question that I think that they're going to be trying to answer by looking at this sort of data.


Other things they need to know, how transmissible is it really? Will people who have been previously infected with COVID, were they more likely to get reinfected? And then obviously the questions about how ill people get and do vaccines work.

BLITZER: Do you think, Sanjay, this new omicron variant is already here in the United States?

GUPTA: I really do, Wolf. You know, I've been -- you know, when we reported on this over the last couple years and saw, for example, in March of last year, you remember, Wolf, I think the ban, for example, of travel from Europe was middle of March last year.

When you go back and look at the data, you realize that it was -- the virus was already circulating pretty widely by first week of March, you know? So, by the time you recognize it in other places, start sequencing it, given global travel, it is a good chance it is already here.

BLITZER: So, will the travel restrictions the U.S. has now put in place on several African countries, will that really help?

GUPTA: I don't think it will help much to, be honest, Wolf. And -- you know, and this is based on history, again, from what I just told you from last year. You learn these lessons. But also this idea that it is a pretty porous ban, right, people who are citizens of the United States can travel back, they could just as well be carrying the viruses also.

If we were confident that this variant was not here in the United States, then I think you can make a better risk/reward proposition that it may be worth it to try and really reduce the spread of the variant into the country. But it is probably already here, it is a porous sort of travel ban so it's not likely to make much of an effect. It may slow things down a little bit. Either way, I think they need to be really clear on when this ban will be lifted so it is not one of these things that will just be in perpetuity.

BLITZER: Will the tests, the current tests that are available, the fast test, the PCR test, will they determine if this variant is already here? Can they detect this variant effectively?

GUPTA: Some of the antigen test, the rapid antigen tests, can do that and PCR tests can detect the presence of an abnormality that would be a signal of this variant. It is a long way of saying, yes, but it is not directly finding the omicron but it's finding a signature, if you will, of this particular variant that would pretty much lead people to believe that that's what it is. So, the antigen tests are a little more iffy on that.

BLITZER: All right, Sanjay, as usual, thank you very much, Dr. Sanjay Gupta helping us appreciate what is going on.

Coming up I'll speak live with the chief medical officer for Moderna about this omicron threat.

Plus, we'll take a closer look at a vote this week that could lead to a contempt charge against the former Trump Justice Department official for refusing to answer questions from the House January 6th select committee.



BLITZER: The House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection will vote this week on referring a criminal contempt charge to the full House against former Trump Justice Department official and Trump ally Jeffrey Clark.

Our Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles explains why.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight the January 6th select committee making good on a threat, the committee moving ahead with a criminal contempt of congress referral against former Department of Justice Official Jeffrey Clark.


NOBLES: Clark is a Trump loyalist who worked inside the DOJ to peddle lies about the 2020 election results and attempted to convince his superiors to use the power of the agency to investigate the false claims.

Clark will join Steve Bannon as the second Trump ally referred to prosecutors to decide whether to pursue charges. Unlike Bannon, who ignored the committee's request for an interview, Clark showed up but refused to answer questions, citing executive and attorney-client privilege.

STEVE BANNON, FORMER DONALD TRUMP ADVISER: All hell is going to break loose tomorrow.

NOBLES: The case against Bannon is making its way through the courts and the podcast host has vowed not to stay quiet.

BANNON: We are going on the offense. We are tired of playing defense.

NOBLES: Prosecutors in the case have asked a judge to limit what Bannon can reveal about the case publically, arguing he is attempting to try the case in the media instead of the courtroom. Allowing the defendant to publicly disseminate reports of witness statements will have the collateral effect of witness tampering because it will expose witnesses to public commentary on their potential testimony before trial.

Meanwhile, questions remain about former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. The committee has threatened to seek criminal contempt charges against him as well but have yet to take that step.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): I think we will probably make a decision this week on our course of conduct with that particular witness.

NOBLES: What that decision is remains an open question. But the committee has not ruled out any option.

REP. PETE AGUILAR (D-CA): This was an assault on a peaceful transfer of power and we do need to hear from these individuals and we're going to use every means necessary to compel them to speak to the committee.


NOBLES (on camera): And in this battle over the access of information, there will be a key court hearing tomorrow. The committee going up against the former president, Donald Trump, and his lawyers at the appellate level as Donald Trump attempts to appeal a lower court ruling that would allow thousands of documents from the Trump White House to go into the hands of the committee.

Trump and his legal team arguing that it should be protected under executive privilege, the committee arguing they need the information to get to the bottom of their investigation.

[18:20:01] They will make those arguments in court tomorrow, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, lots going on this week. Ryan Nobles up on Capitol Hill, thank you.

Let's get more on all of this. Joining us now is CNN's Senior Law Enforcement Analyst Andrew McCabe. He's the author of the book, The Threat, How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump. Also with us, our Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig with us, his new book, by the way, is entitled, Hatchet Man, How Bill Barr Broke the Prosecutor's Code and Corrupted the Justice Department.

Andrew, Jeffrey Clark showed up before the select committee and then refused to answer questions. How important is it for the committee to try and hold him accountable with contempt?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, Wolf, I think it is incredibly important that the committee pursues every avenue to hold these witnesses accountable. Each time they do, they're sending a very powerful message to the other witnesses who also currently under subpoena. As we know, there are many, many witnesses that have received subpoenas. We saw several come out last week to a couple notable witnesses. So, they have to move forward with these referrals if they are going to have any hope of forcing others to consider the prospect seriously and decide to come in and cooperate.

BLITZER: Elie, we are waiting to see what steps the committee will take on former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. How complicated could it be to pursue contempt knowing that Meadows may actually have some legitimate claim of executive privilege? He was serving as White House chief of staff at the time.

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Wolf. There is no question that a potential contempt prosecution against Mark Meadows would be more difficult, more complicated than the pending prosecution of Steve Bannon and even the potential prosecution of Jeffrey Clark because Mark Meadows was the chief of staff. I mean, if executive privilege was designed for anybody, it was designed for the chief of staff.

That said, there are very serious questions about whether Mark Meadows has any legitimate invocation of executive privilege. One, we're talking about a former president, that's an uphill battle legally, and, two, the kind of conversations that Meadows and Donald Trump apparently were having on January 6th are probably not protected by executive privilege. It is meant to protect policy discussions, not to shield wrongdoing.

So, I think it is really important to see what the committee does here. I think it is imperative that they hold meadows in contempt. Otherwise, they're just going to open up the floodgates basically for anyone else in the White House who feels like defying with no consequences.

BLITZER: That will be significant. When it comes to Steve Bannon's strategy, Andrew, how do you interpret his push to have documents released publicly? MCCABE: Well, Bannon is playing this for everything he can get out of it. And he is in a very unique position compared to other witnesses. He actually benefits from the attention. He benefits from being perceived publicly as somebody who is putting up a loud fight and pushing back against the committee.

The other witnesses probably are not similarly situated. Take Jeffrey Clark as an example. Jeffrey Clark is an attorney. He's someone who likely wants to use his law license for the rest of his career and doesn't want to have to deal with explaining to a bar that he had been indicted and pursued on a criminal violation.

So, Bannon is in a very unique position here.

BLITZER: Elie, what do you expect from tomorrow's court hearing on former President Trump's executive privilege claim? How critical is this for the committee's efforts to get White House documents from the National Archives?

HONIG: Well, it is a crucial argument, Wolf, about a really novel issue of constitutional law. Law students will be studying what happens tomorrow and the decision decades from now because this kind of question about the balance of power between Congress and the White House only comes up every so many generations.

I fully expect that Donald Trump will lose in the court of appeals tomorrow. I say that, first of all, because he lost in the district court. That was a fairly compelling ruling about how a former president cannot over ride the current president when it comes to executive privilege. And if you look at the judges who are sitting on the panel tomorrow, I don't think they're going to be favorably inclined to Trump's argument.

BLITZER: All right. Elie Honig, thank you, Andrew McCabe, thanks to you as well.

Coming up, will COVID vaccines prove effective against this new omicron variant? I'll speak live with the chief medical officer for Moderna, Dr. Paul Burton. You see him live. We have got lots to discuss.



BLITZER: Tonight, new evidence of the omicron variant's aggressive spread. It is now the dominant strain of coronavirus in South Africa less than two weeks after it was first detected. And now the U.S. is bracing for the variant to arrive here despite a new ban on travel from South Africa.

CNN's David McKenzie has more from Johannesburg.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, President Biden says this travel restriction to Southern Africa is to buy time for scientists in the U.S. and for people to get booster and vaccination shots to try and stop any threat from this variant. But scientists on the ground in South Africa say that the time has already run out. They say this variant is likely widespread beyond the region. They also say that these punitive measures, they say, are punishing their good science.

Now, the early indications are that cases are spiking in this region, possibly due to this variant and that omicron is dominating other variants at this stage in Southern Africa. And now the next step will to be understand just how bad the variant is, if it has breakthrough infections and will the vaccines work? Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. David, thank you, David McKenzie reporting for us.

Let's get an update now from another country where the omicron variant has spread.


We're talking about Israel.

CNN's Hadas Gold is in Jerusalem.

HADAS GOLD, CNN JERUSALEM CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Israel is now reporting two confirmed cases of the omicron variant and has officially shut its borders to foreign nationals for two weeks, not even a month after finally opening up to vaccinated tourists. The closure is to give experts time to study the variant, especially to see how it interacts with the vaccines. Other restrictions include making all Israelis returning from abroad no matter where they are coming from to quarantine and produce two negative PCR tests before being released.

And Israelis returning from what the government considers red countries, which is now most of Africa, will be sent directly to designated quarantine hotels regardless of their vaccination status. But despite the restrictions, there have been no changes to rules for gatherings even as Hanukah is under way and plans are moving forward for the Miss Universe Pageant, which is set to take place in less than two weeks in the southern city of Eilat.

And in just the past few hours, we learned that one of the Miss Universe contestants has tested positive for coronavirus. No word yet if it is the omicron variant or if she will still be able to compete. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Hadas, thank you, Hadas Gold in Jerusalem for us.

Let's discuss what is going on. This omicron threat a key figure in the battle against the pandemic is joining us. We are joined by the chief medical officer from Moderna Dr. Paul Burton. Dr. Burton, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for all you're doing.

In light of the omicron variant, the Moderna's CEO says he does expect what he calls a loss of vaccine efficacy to prevent disease. What information is Moderna studying right now to see how much less effective potentially the vaccine may be against this new variant? BURTON: Yes, Wolf, Good evening. Thank you for having me. There are three key questions that we need to know about. One is transmissibility, one is about severity, clearly, and one is about neutralization. And so we have samples from people who have received our vaccine at different doses, some of the variant-specific boosters that we've also developed and we are testing those now along with other vaccine manufacturers here in the laboratory to see if those samples can indeed neutralize this very worrying virus, Wolf.

BLITZER: Do you have any early indicators, Dr. Paul Burton, on whether this variant is more transmissible or how it impacts the severity of the disease?

BURTON: Yes. So, Wolf, as you mentioned, this research from Seattle suggest that this virus probably emerged around early October in South Africa or Botswana, lays relatively low, and then suddenly in early November explodes to become the dominant strain, displacing the delta variant in South Africa. And as you mentioned as well, it is now in maybe 20 countries around the world and we're counting individual cases, which feels very reminiscent to me to perhaps February or March of last year where we were counting cases. And we obviously know how that played out.

So, I think all the evidence points to the fact, Wolf, that this is a very transmissible virus and one that we need to take very seriously.

BLITZER: As you heard earlier today, President Biden said his team is already working with you guys at Moderna as well as with Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson to prepare if updated vaccines and boosters are needed. How will that process work?

BURTON: Yes. So, we are obviously testing our vaccine now. We can give booster doses. Our clear advice at the moment is that if people have not been vaccinated get vaccinated and now the CDC today, in fact, broadened eligibility for everybody over 18 should now get a booster. The U.K. followed suit earlier today as well. So, get boosted.

I think we'll be able to see, Wolf, as we test these -- the vaccines now, and as we bring on some of these new variant-specific vaccines as well, we'll be able to see whether or not they have effectiveness not only in the laboratory but in human beings as well. And that should go relatively quickly and then obviously we'll work very closely with governments and health authorities around the world.

BLITZER: If you do determine that an updated vaccine or booster is actually necessary, how soon do you think that would be ready?

BURTON: So, I think we have a few levels, Wolf, that we can go through. The first is to get vaccinated as I say, get boosted. We can give a high dose, a hundred microgram booster if necessary. Typically, people get a 50 microgram booster. So, we can give high dose boosters. We could then roll out our variant-specific boosters that we we're even testing over the summer. They have been into human beings and we have data on them. So, that can all be done relatively quickly. Clearly, we have to start manufacturing them and scale up. [18:35:00]

The final level of protection would be, and we've started this already at risk, Wolf, is to develop an omicron-specific booster. We are doing preparatory work now at risk. That would take a couple, two to three months to really get that into testing and then into production.

BLITZER: Yes, this is obviously very worrisome. Good luck. We're hoping for the best. Dr. Burton, thank you so much for all you are doing. Thanks for joining us.

BURTON: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, far right Republican Congresswoman Lauren Boebert doubles down on her anti-Muslim attack against Representative Ilhan Omar and then gloats about it all on social media.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Tonight, far right GOP Congresswoman Lauren Boebert says she called Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar amid the uproar Boebert sparked by suggesting that the Muslim, Omar, is a terrorist. Omar says she ended the call when Boebert doubled down rather than apologized.


Boebert tweeted this about the call. Watch.


REP. LAUREN BOEBERT (R-CO): Make no mistake. I will continue to fearlessly put America first, never sympathizing with terrorists. Unfortunately, Ilhan can't say the same thing.


BLITZER: This is what Boebert said that sparked the controversy, claiming she and Omar were in an elevator together, which Omar says never happened.


BOEBERT: I looked to my left and there she is, Ilhan Omar. I said, well, she doesn't have a backpack. We should be fine.

I looked over and I said oh, look the jihad squad decided to show up for work today.


BLITZER: Let's dig deeper with CNN's Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger and CNN's Senior Commentator and former Ohio Governor John Kasich. Gloria, not only did Congresswoman Boebert refuse to publicly apologize but she actually doubled down in that Twitter video accusing Congressman Omar of sympathizing with terrorists. All of this is so outrageous.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, it is. I mean, you just keep waiting for an adult to enter the room and to tell her that she cannot do this, that she does not represent what the Republican Party ought to be. That adult ought to be Mr. Kevin McCarthy, who happens to be the leader of the Republicans in the House, and instead he remains silent.

He met with her privately, spoke with her privately, told her she needed to apologize. She tried to do that. Obviously, she has no sense what that means, and so this continues. And it's going to continue unabated until a grown up steps in and says, we're going to ostracize you. We're going to tell you, you can't do your job here because this is not who we are. And we haven't heard that.

Governor Kasich, the congresswoman, Omar, responded, saying in part, and I am quoting now, this is not about one hateful statement or one politician. It is about a party that has mainstreamed bigotry and hatred.

The House minority leader has repeatedly refused so far publicly to condemn this. Is he essentially saying the GOP stands by these racist remarks from Boebert?

JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, Wolf, we know that they don't and we know there have been a number of elected officials, including the governor of Arkansas, who came out and said anything that resembles threats of violence or bigotry should be condemned.

I think McCarthy is trying to play it both ways. He's trying to stay silent and hope it all goes away. There was an interesting comment, Gloria, very interesting by a, quote, moderate Republican who is still not identified, saying that McCarthy is losing the support of the moderates.

I've been saying, Wolf, on this show for a long time but at some point people are going to stand up, adults are going to stand up and say, enough. And his playing it fast and loose is simply not working.

And, look, at the end of the day for her and this apology that then turned into another, whatever it is, people need to recognize one another's humanity. It goes for everybody in that place down there. When you refuse to recognize the other side's humanity, as we see that in our culture today, the refusal to respect somebody, another human being, we're on a downward path that has to be stopped.

And, Gloria is right, we need adults, we need leaders, to start saying, act grown up and remember we're all made in God's image. Stop canceling the other person because you don't agree with them or believe in them. BLITZER: All of this comes, Gloria, as Republican Congressman Ronny Jackson is actually spreading pandemic disinformation, calling this new omicron variant, and I'm quoting him now, the midterm election variant. How hypocritical is it for so many in the GOP right now to hit President Biden for his handling of the pandemic while actively spreading COVID conspiracies?

BORGER: Wolf, it is nonsensical. It is ridiculous. I don't know how many times we can say this. He tweets this because maybe he thinks it will help him with his base or Donald Trump will be happy with him and maybe give him a little phone call and give him an atta boy. I mean, it is just -- it's absurd and ridiculous. And the national conversation should be about important truths that we are now facing and problems that we have and not this ridiculous name calling. I just -- you know, what does it get you?

BLITZER: Let me get Governor Kasich's thoughts. Go ahead.

KASICH: Well, you know, Wolf, the bottom line is everybody is at risk with this COVID. And for a guy to put something out like that and say this is about the midterm is just -- it's irresponsible. But he has shown that before and it is a darned shame.


What we need to do is tell people, look, you can't win it politically but I care about you. I care about your family. I care about your children. Go get vaccinated.

Save yourself and don't take up a bed for somebody else that legitimately didn't take care of themselves.

BLITZER: Yeah, good point. John Kasich, Gloria Borger, guys, thank you very much.

Coming up, a pattern of disturbing crimes escalating across the United States right now. We're taking a closer look at the latest so-called smash-and-grab robberies which stores are being targeted right now.


BLITZER: We are following right now a very disturbing rise in so- called smash-and-grab robberies all across the United States.


CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us.

So, Brian, all types of retailers are being targeted.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is a real range of thefts here, Wolf. Tonight, we have new information on what police across the country are doing to try to stop this disturbing pattern.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): Police in Chicago today warning thieves they are ramping up efforts to stop so-called smash-and-grab robberies, often involving large gangs of perpetrators who swarm into stores, terrifying employees and customers.

SUPERINTENDENT DAVID BROWN, CHICAGO POLICE DEPARTMENT: We are particularly focused on this type of crime here in Chicago, both, prevention and enforcement. Over the weekend, we arrested two 16-year- old juvenile female offenders.

TODD: Suspects, who the Chicago police superintendent said took part in the burglary of an Ulta Beauty store in Chicago, and stole about $8,500 worth of merchandise. At two Best Buy stores in suburban Minnesota, the pattern continued in recent days. At one of those locations, police say at least 30 perpetrators stormed into the store, and stole electronics. Local shoppers are uneasy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wouldn't feel good if I were here and that were happening as I'm there, seeing people run out with stuff.

TODD: From thieves violently smashing the glass case at a jewelry counter near San Francisco, to the mass ransacking of a Louis Vuitton store outside Chicago, law enforcement agencies are scrambling to respond to smash and grabs involving multiple suspects at a time.

ANTHONY BARKSDALE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: They are definitely looking at the targets. They are doing reconnaissance. They know when they are going to hit. This is organized at this point and police have a serious pattern here that they have to deal with.

TODD: The targets have ranged from high-end stores, like Nordstrom and Louis Vuitton, to an Apple Store in California, hits where tens of thousands of dollars in merchandise was taken. To a Home Depot near Los Angeles where the sheriff's department says up to ten people stole tools that thieves might use in robberies like these -- hammers, sledge hammers, crowbars. Four men were arrested in connection to that case.

STEPHANIE MARTZ, CHIEF ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICER, NATIONAL RETAIL FEDERATION: This is a trend that we have been seeing gradually increase, I would say, over the last year, year and a half. It, I would say, started mainly in the pharmaceutical and drugstore area, and has spread to department stores and luxury goods.

TODD: Tonight, a top concern among law enforcement analysts, that the thieves could become even more emboldened and violent.

BARKSDALE: What if someone has a gun? It is totally possible that this could become even more violent, even more dangerous for those that work in these stores, the customers.


TODD (on camera): So far, at least one security guard was pepper sprayed by robbers and in Oakland, California, a security guard was killed while protecting a TV crew that was covering a smash-and-grab robbery. That incident did not seem to be tied directly to a mass burglary. Rather, one individual trying to steal the crew's camera. Wolf, but that -- people are worried this could get much more violent.

BLITZER: Yeah, this is an awful situation here in the U.S. right now.

All right, Brian, thank you very much.

Up next, opening statements begin in the trial of the actor Jussie Smollett. Prosecutors now trying to convince jurors that he falsely claimed to be the victim of a hate crime.



BLITZER: Opening statements have just begun in the trial of actor Jussie Smollett, accused of falsely claiming he was the victim of a hate crime.

CNN's Omar Jimenez is working this story for us.


OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Surrounded by cameras, actor Jussie Smollett arrived for the first day of jury selection in a case he thought was over in 2019.

JUSSIE SMOLLETT, ACTOR: I like nothing more than to just get back to work and move on with my life.

JIMENEZ: Whether he can will, soon, be in the hands of the newly- chosen jury, selected in a little over six hours before moving right into opening statements.

Smollett had been best known for his scenes in the Fox TV show "Empire."

But in January of 2019 --

POLICE: Any weapons or anything inside the apartment?

JIMENEZ: It was his alleged role in a reported hate crime that drew the spotlight.

POLICE: Do you want to take it off or anything?

SMOLLETT: Yeah, I do. I just wanted y'all to see.

JIMENEZ: The gay Black actor appeared on police body camera saying two attackers put a noose around his neck, even doused him with bleach in Chicago.

SMOLLETT: There's bleach on me. They poured bleach on me.


JIMENEZ: He told ABC News he had been called homophobic and racial slurs.

SMOLLETT: He said this MAGA country (EXPLETIVE DELETED) punches me right in the face. So I punched his ass back.

JIMENEZ: But investigators say Smollett paid the men to help carry out an elaborate publicity stunt.

EDDIE JOHNSON, SUPERINTENDENT, CHICAGO POLICE: It's Mr. Smollett who committed this -- this -- this hoax, period.

JIMENEZ: Smollett has maintained his innocence throughout.

SMOLLETT: I would not be my mother's son if I was capable of one drop of what I have been accused of.

JIMENEZ: He was originally charged with 16 counts of disorderly conduct for making false police reports. But the state, soon, dropped those charges, angering authorities who had investigated the case.

KEVIN GRAHAM, PRESIDENT, FRATERNAL ORDER OF POLICE IN CHICAGO: The prosecution in this county is not being forceful enough. We can't have cases dropped.

JIMENEZ: Following the appointment of a special prosecutor, a grand jury returned a six count indictment last year, leading to Monday's appearance. All part of a trial now years in the making.


JIMENEZ (on camera): And the prosecution is currently moving forward with their opening statements, and they said they have to prove two things. That Jussie Smollett actually reported to the Chicago police department that a hate crime occurred. And that he knew there was no real hate crime. Defense will be up next, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Omar, thank you very much.

And to our viewers, thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.