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The Situation Room

CNN Exclusive Reports Another Ex-Trump Official Cooperating With 1/6 Committee; Biden Readies Sanctions Ahead Of Confrontation With Putin; Awaiting New Charging Decision As Suspect, Parents Under Suicide Watch; Vaccine Demand Grows In U.S. Amid Omicron Variant Warnings; "Empire" Actor Jussie Smollett Takes The Stand In His Own Defense; Bob Dole To Lie In State At U.S. Capitol On Thursday. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired December 06, 2021 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Stand by for our exclusive reporting.

Also tonight, President Biden is considering new sanctions as he prepares for a critical confrontation with Vladimir Putin tomorrow. At stake, a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine that one U.S. official fears will be a bloody massacre potentially.

And the Michigan school shooting suspect and his parents are all under suicide watch in jail tonight. This, as we're waiting to learn if more charges will be filed in the case. The sheriff standing by live. He will join us.

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

We begin with the breaking news on the January 6th investigation. Sources now telling CNN that one of the highest ranking former Trump officials is now cooperating with the select committee. Let's go straight to CNN's Special Correspondent Jamie Gangel. She has exclusive reporting for us. Jamie, tell our viewers what you're learning?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, CNN has learned that Marc Short, one of former Vice President Mike Pence's closest advisers and former chief of staff is cooperating with the January 6th committee.

We've learned that the committee subpoenaed Marc Short a few weeks ago, but unlike some other Trump officials, he is not fighting the subpoena, Short's cooperation, Wolf, is a significant development because he is a firsthand witness to many critical events. He was with Mike Pence at the Capitol on January 6th. He was also in the oval office on January 4th when former President Trump tried to convince Pence not to certify the election results.

In addition, Wolf, our sources say that Short's assistance signals a greater openness among Pence's inner circle with one source telling me the committee is getting, quote, significant cooperation with team Pence, and another source telling me that Short's help is an example of the momentum the investigation is having behind the scenes.

Wolf, I do think it's important for context to remember this, Short is considered one of Pence's most loyal aides. He has worked with him off and on for more than a decade. It is hard to imagine that Marc Short would cooperate with the committee without Pence's blessing. Wolf?

BLITZER: That's really an important point. You know, Jamie, why is Short's cooperation as a result so, so significant?

GANGEL: So we've heard a lot about Trump officials, allies of Trump claiming executive privilege or saying they'll take the fifth. This marks a significant break for the committee because Marc Short is a firsthand witness and he's willing to cooperate according to our sources.

He knows firsthand what was going on in the days leading up to January 6th. He knows what happened at the Capitol on January 6th. And it's hard not to imagine that Marc Short who was then Chief of Staff to Mike Pence, he's there in the Capitol, was not calling or texting someone like Mark Meadows who was Chief of Staff to Donald Trump when the riot was going on.

He is likely to be able to provide information about conversations, phone calls, texts that were going on in real time on January 6th. Just as one example, he may be able to tell the committee what the communication was when they were reaching out trying to find out why did it take so long for Trump to come out and tell the rioters to stop, Wolf.

BLITZER: How do you think, Jamie, the former president is going to react to all this?

GANGEL: Yes. Not well. Donald Trump is not going to be happy with this, to say the least. In fact, just going back on January 7th, he actually banned Marc Short from the White House because he was so angry that Pence didn't do his bidding.

But this is also a significant break with other high-level officials who appear to have been doing everything they can to delay. We all know that the committee wants to work as quickly as possible. Marc Short's cooperation is just very important for them to try to meet there to try to meet their timeline, Wolf.

BLITZER: Excellent, excellent reporting, Jamie. Thanks for breaking the story right here in The Situation Room. Very, very important news potentially. Thank you very, very much.

I want to break all of this down with our Senior Legal Analyst Laura Coates.


Also joining us, our Senior Law Enforcement Analyst Andrew McCabe, the former FBI deputy director and the author of the book, The Threat, How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump.

Andrew, how significant do you believe Marc Short's cooperation to this investigation will be? What do you hope he can shed light on?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, Wolf, it's significant on several levels. First, just symbolically, the fact that you have a major player in the inner sanctum of the vice president's office, is not claiming executive privilege, he is not invoking his Fifth Amendment right. It really sets a tone for others who may come after him.

And on a tactical level, it's significant because of all the reasons that Jamie just walked through. He was a firsthand observer to key events both before January 6th and predominantly in that Oval Office meeting on January 4th, where the president tried to convince the vice president to overturn the lawful election and also, of course, on the Capitol on January 6th at the vice president's side, present for many of those phone calls, many of those conversations, no doubt engaging in them himself. So, there's a lot that he could tell the committee.

BLITZER: Laura, what do you think? Because Marc Short heard former President Trump in his own words, but his loyalty is clearly with the former vice president.

LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I think that's the most intriguing aspect of this. Because through him, you can essentially get the thoughts, the commentary, the views of the former vice president who I remind people, of course, was the person who was targeted by members of this insurrection mob, those who were building gallows on the lawn of the Capitol, those who were angered by him, his decision to uphold the electoral college and to look at this issue and the notion of allowing the people's will to actually be served.

And so, the idea of you having Marc Short would be a way to really better understand the testimony even before, if it ever comes, if he never agrees to testify, this is a window into somebody who had the ear of the former president of the United States, was the second in command, was targeted and in danger at that moment in time.

And what he also saw around him, the idea of the pace of trying to react to it, the decisions not to have somebody immediately come, the idea of having members of the Capitol police force and the Washington, D.C. Police Department also fending for their lives, trying to protect them and the delay. He'll have an insight into all of these things and does not seem inclined to try to wait like a Steve Bannon, like even a Mark Meadows to try to figure out what to compartmentalize. This is really big news.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Laura, let me just follow up. Do you agree that seeing such a high-profile official like Marc Short cooperate could encourage other witnesses to be more forthcoming? And, Andrew, I want your thoughts on that as well.

COATES: It absolutely will encourage people, because, of course, there is a distinction here. There are those who are wanting to essentially stay under the wing of the former president, fearful of political retribution, then there are those who are saying, look, there was a time in America and not too long ago, when Congress subpoenaed you, you actually complied with it, you actually were able to answered questions. You didn't just thumb your nose and say, no, I don't want to do that any longer, I don't feel like it, I'll work it to the court, I'll become a political martyr.

This actually is really a reversion back to a kind of normalcy in Washington, D.C. where you actually uphold this is idea of the investigative and oversight functions of Congress tied to the legislative initiatives. This is what is supposed to happen.

BLITZER: Andrew, what do you think?

MCCABE: Laura is exactly right. You know, there's -- you can't understate -- I'm sorry you can't overstate the value of having a prominent connected Republican acknowledging the authority of the committee and doing the right thing. And to the extent that other witnesses are looking for some sort of a sign as to how to respond to their, to the subpoenas they may receive, the example of Marc Short might be very influential.

And let's remember, Wolf, this is not -- we're not putting on a case for trial. We're not -- no one is being prosecuted here. The committee is simply trying to construct a narrative of what happened. They don't need every person who was in attendance at every interesting meeting. They just need one. And with Marc short, they now have a key witness who was in some key events. So, this might open up a lot of information for the committee.

BLITZER: You know, Laura, is there any way that the former president could potentially intervene in all of this and prevent Short's cooperation?

COATES: Well, I'm sure that he'll make every effort to do so. Because, thematically, if he does not do so, if he allows for, say, conversations with himself or things that would fall under the privilege that he is asserting is colorable through conversations with, say, a Steve Bannon or the National Archives or with Mark Meadows, then it would be inconsistent in front of a court.

And he opens himself up to the criticism by a court that says, hold on a second, why was this statement okay when it is said by this person, the same content is somehow not able to be touched by another.


So, I would think about with this council how to be consistent because the court will view that.

So, I would think at some point in time he would review what he has already articulated as being off limits, and to the extent any testimony this person will give would fall under that category, he has a litigation decision and a decision want to make politically in front of the court and litigiously.

BLITZER: Major news coming in from Jamie Gangel. Laura Coates, Andrew McCabe, guys thank you very much. We'll stay on top of the breaking news. Also just ahead, we're getting new insight into what President Biden is prepared to say and do when he goes head to head with Vladimir Putin tomorrow.



BLITZER: President Biden is being tested by two of his most powerful foreign adversaries. We're talking about Russia and China.

Let's go straight to the White House. Our Chief National Affairs Correspondent Jeff Zeleny is reporting for us. Jeff, tension clearly mounting with both of these countries tonight.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that is why the White House announced a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympic games in Beijing. Athletes from America will be participating, but U.S. officials will not be going.

That's a symbolic move but certainly a significant one, the White House is trying to make clear to call up human rights abuses. Now, all of these coming on the eve of a critical phone call happening here tomorrow morning at the White House between President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Of course all over Ukraine and the rising tensions on the border there.

But tonight, President Biden is searching for economic sanctions he says he'll use if that invasion happens.


ZELENY (voice over): Tonight, President Biden preparing for a critical talks Tuesday with Vladimir Putin. As the U.S. weighs new sanctions and hopes of deterring Russia from invading Ukraine. The president speaking today with European allies to present a united front on imposing those economic sanctions against Russia, as new U.S. intelligence obtained by CNN estimates Moscow could invade Ukraine as soon as next month.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is the moment for Russia to pull back their military buildup at the border, that diplomacy is the right path forward here.

ZELENY: The Russian president is expected to issue an ultimatum of his own, a written guarantee from Biden to oppose NATO and weapon system from the military alliance from expanding into Ukraine. Putin has called this a red line and an urgent threat to Russian sovereignty.

The virtual meeting between Biden and Putin comes at a low point in relations between two countries. It's their first conversation since July, following their face-to-face June summit in Geneva.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I did why I came to do. ZELENY: Since then tensions have soared. Based on these images obtained by CNN, new U.S. intelligence reports now estimate Russia could amass as much as 175,000 troops on the Ukraine border with half already there.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki saying the sanctions are aimed at Putin's inner circle and critical sectors of the economy.

PSAKI: We have consulted significantly with our allies and believe we have a path forward that would impose significant and severe harm on the Russian economy. You can call that a threat. You can call that a fact, you can call that preparation, whatever you want to call it.

ZELENY: The escalation of troops on the Ukraine border is reminiscent of Russia's 2014 invasion of Crimea, a brazen move alarming U.S. and western leaders.

BIDEN: What I am doing is putting together what I believe will be the most comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives to make it very, very difficult for Mr. Putin to go ahead and do what people are worried he may do.

ZELENY: Tonight tensions also escalating with China as the U.S. takes a rare step of imposing a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

PSAKI: The athletes on team USA have our full support. We will be behind them 100 percent as we cheer them on from home, but we will not be contributing to fun fair of the games.

ZELENY: Psaki, said the president is intend on calling out force labor and human rights abuses in China, but the White House stopping well short of a full boycott, like the U.S. did in 1980 when President Jimmy Carter protested the Moscow Olympics keeping American athletes from taking part in the games.

PSAKI: I don't think that we felt it was the right step to penalize athletes who have been training, preparing for this moment, and we felt that we could send a clear message by not sending an official U.S. delegation.


ZELENY (on camera): So, by not sending an official U.S. delegation certainly is a symbolic move, but it is a significant one. The timing is as well. The question here is how many other allies follow suit on that if any at all.

But, Wolf, it is the phone call that's happening here tomorrow morning with President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, it's going to be a virtual meeting of sorts, a video phone call we are told that is certainly going to be incredibly important.

I'm told the president has spent considerable time today going through a variety of scenarios of things that could come up. And again, diplomacy, diplomatic alternatives are going to be proposed here, obviously trying to avoid a military confrontation.

But those sanctions that we're hearing about also from the center, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, certainly. All right, Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thank you very much. Let's discuss what's going on with Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut, he's a key member of the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

I want to get to Russia and China, the tensions, in just a moment.


But let me get your quick reaction to the breaking news we have at the top of the hour from our own Jamie Gangel who reported that former Pence Chief of Staff Marc Short is now cooperating with the January 6th select committee. When you heard that news here on CNN, what did you think?

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): Well, I thought two things. Number one, that's good, you know, though we are putting more and more time between us and the events of January 6th, those are not events that I will forget. I was just 50 feet from where I'm standing now wondering whether members of Congress would be killed by a mob that had been incited by the president of the United States. That's not a feeling I ever want to have again.

So, I'm glad we're going to get that information. And the other thing I'm glad about, Wolf, is that, you know in the era of Trump we sort of got accustomed to people saying, oh, look at this, I got a subpoena, but I'm going to ignore it.

You know when you get a subpoena, when the Congress asks you to come to testify, you come to testify. You can exercise your Fifth Amendment rights if that's what you want to do, but you do not thumb your nose at the institutional prerogatives of the United States Congress.

So I'm glad we're sort of returning to that as an important concept.

BLITZER: And Marc Short clearly doing the right thing by accepting and working with the committee in the face of the subpoena, thank you for that.

Let's get to the Russian aggression right now, what's going on, the Ukrainian defense minister warning of a bloody massacre if Russia were to invade Ukraine. How does President Biden get Russia now, and Putin are back down, is the threat of more sanctions enough, or does President Biden actually need to outline various U.S. military options?

HIMES: Well, Wolf, the stakes are very, very high. You know, when Vladimir Putin moved into Crimea, he got slapped on the wrist or at least he perceived that as a slap on the wrist. And now if he sees an opening to move into Ukraine, where does it stop? And so the stakes are enormously high. Vladimir Putin and Russia cannot invade Ukraine. The world cannot sustain a norm where just because you, as Vladimir Putin, happen to think the Ukrainians are not a real country, well, gees, that's excuse to go in.

So, no, Wolf, I don't think the threat of sanctions are enough. You know, a wise Russia hand once said to me, that when you're thinking about sanctions on Russia, remember that these are the people who survived the siege of Stalingrad, right, one of the worst moments of World War II.

So I think two things are really critical. Number one, this can't be sanctions only. I think the president needs to make it very clear to Vladimir Putin that we will arm the Ukrainians with defensive weaponry, that we will do everything we can to make sure that if he goes across the border the cost and lives and money to the Russians will be huge.

The other thing he needs to do is he needs to make sure that he is speaking on behalf of the world, right? This is not a U.S./Russia thing. The world can't sustain a new Putinesque norm that says that country can invade each other.

So the president needs to make sure that Vladimir Putin understand that Europeans will stop buying energy, that the sanctions will be global and that going into Ukraine could mean the end of this regime. It would be that costly.

BLITZER: Very significant development unfolding right now. Congressman Jim Himes, thanks as usual for joining us. Appreciate it very much.

Coming up, more breaking news we're following, this time on a new search under way in connection with the deadly school shooting in Michigan. The Oakland county sheriff is standing by live. We will discuss when we come back.



BLITZER: There's breaking news in the deadly school shooting in Michigan. Authorities are searching the home of the man accused of helping the suspect's parents actually hide from authorities. CNN's Adrianne Broaddus has more on the investigation.




ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Today Jennifer and James Crumbley now sit in the same jail as their son Ethan all under close observation. The parents were arrested Saturday morning, found in a warehouse in nearby Detroit hours after they were charged with four counts each of involuntary manslaughter.

ATTORNEY GENERAL DANA NESSEL (D-MI): If they're a fugitive of justice, charges that could be additionally added. If they're convicted, there are actually additional points that are scored for the obstruction of justice. And so they are likely to get higher sentences.

BROADDUS: Prosecutors saying the Crumbleys were making preparations to flee during the time they evaded capture.

KAREN MCDONALD, OAKLAND COUNTY, MICHIGAN PROSECUTOR: They withdrew $4,000 from an ATM in Rochester Hills. They fled. And they sought multiple attempts to hide their location and were eventually tracked down, and these two individual were found locked somewhere in a room hiding.

BROADDUS: Still no word on whether a third person, the man who allowed the couple to get into the warehouse, will face potential charges.

SHERIFF MICHAEL BOUCHARD, OAKLAND COUNTY, MICHIGAN: Clearly somebody helped them into that location and made it available to them. And it was after it was publicly announced that there were warrants for them.

BROADDUS: Both Jennifer and James Crumbley have pleaded not guilty to the charges. And their attorney took issue with the timeline of events laid out during their arraignment.

MARIELL LEHMAN, ATTORNEY FOR JAMES CRUMBLEY: The facts that have been presented by Ms. McDonald and her office have been cherry-picked to further her narrative of making an example of Mr. and Mrs. Crumbley.

None of these shouldn't have happen. A 15 and a half year-old should not be sitting in jail facing life in prison. And it could have been prevented.

BROADDUS: The prosecutor is still investigating the school's role in the events leading up to the shooting.

MCDONALD: I just think it's time we stop talking about how terrible it is we have school shootings and look to see what we can do to absolutely prevent them from happening again.


BROADDUS: The Michigan attorney general has also criticized the Oxford School District's hiring of a third party to investigate the shootings and offer to help conduct a review of the events that day. Meanwhile, a community is still grieving the death of four teenagers and rallying around those injured in the shootings. The Detroit Lions dedicating its first win of the season to all the victims.

DAN CAMPBELL, DETROIT LIONS HEAD COACH: This game ball goes to the whole Oxford community, all those that were affected. I want us to not forget these names. Madisyn Baldwin, Hana St. Juliana, Justin Shilling, Tate Myre. Those names will never be forgotten. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BROADDUS (on camera): A moving tribute saying their names. Meanwhile, authorities are searching the home of the man they say helped the Crumbleys before they were arrested. And less than ten miles from here, a tribute is under way and visitation for the 16-year-old who died in the patrol car. His family says he loved the holidays, especially decorating the Christmas Tree and making cookies with his mom. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Adrienne. So heart breaking indeed. Adrienne Broaddus reporting for us. Thank you.

Let's discuss with the Oakland County Michigan Sheriff, Michael Bouchard. Sheriff, thank you so much for joining us. Authorities, as you heard and you know this, are searching the home of the man who actually helped the Crumbley parents hide trying to evade arrest. Could he potentially, do you believe face charges?

BOUCHARD: Well, I mean, obviously, the determination that we have to come up with via evidence and interviews are did he know they were on the run and was he aiding them with that knowledge. So my detectives are currently executing a search warrant, seizing digital items such as phones, computers, tablets, et cetera, to determine as relates to communicative action before and after and during.

I will say this, he is cooperating. His attorney is cooperating. They offered to come in. They have talked to our detectives at length. We'll just have to see what information the investigation, search warrant and these discussions bear.

BLITZER: As far as the parents are concerned, Sheriff, you say the circumstances of their arrest do indicate that they weren't looking to surrender. They now face four counts of involuntary manslaughter. But do you believe they should face additional charges for apparently going on the run before they were eventually caught?

BOUCHARD: Well, it certainly didn't appear to us that they were looking to surrender. I mean you don't surrender by being in a warehouse in Detroit. They could come into any one of our substations or for that matter, any police agency and say we want to turn ourselves in. That's why we don't ever take for granted someone is going to turn themselves in when serious charges are issued.

We don't sit and tap at the front desk and wait. We set out our fugitive apprehension team and we communicate with our partners. That's what happened here and with the Detroit police and U.S. marshals that we were able to obviously close this out pretty quick. And Big kudos again to the Detroit police, our partners and the original part of this effort.

BLITZER: So, if you could elaborate, Sheriff, just how far did the parents go to try to hide from law enforcement? Do you believe they were trying to flee?

BOUCHARD: Well, you know, it was way off the beaten path. It was in a warehouse that's not clearly meant to be a place to sleep or eat. There's a lot of hotels and a lot of places they could have gone and a lot of other places that would be more visible. In fact, we uncovered a vehicle that the family also owned another a different hotel.

So there was a lot of things in motion here, and the fact that they were in a warehouse in kind of an off-the-beat path in Detroit certainly is not indicative of someone who looked like they were going to surrender from certainly my experience.

BLITZER: The prosecutor argues that the school, the actual school had the legal grounds to search the shooter's backpack but didn't. Do you agree with the prosecutor that the shooting could have been prevented if the parents had notified the school that their son had a gun?

BOUCHARD: Well, you know, as we said before, Wolf, we have a standard protocol. Had we been brought into that meeting, that process would have been triggered. There would have been a search, and would have made sure that the school was safe and clear. That the students -- we would ask to have the student removed until the totality of things were investigated and we do a follow on our protocols are that, once they removed from school, the school made safe, we go and have a detailed talk with parents and ascertain availability and access to weapons at the home.

In fact, we did that the next day. We had a threat against a different school district. We ended up arresting a 15-year-old, same age, and going to the home with super cooperative parents and took weapons out of the home.


So that's what would have been triggered had we been brought into this.

BLITZER: Sheriff Michael Bouchard, thanks for all you're doing. Thanks for joining us.

BOUCHARD: Thank you, sir.

BLITZER: Just ahead. Only days after what happened in Michigan, a Republican Congressman is defending a photo he posted with his family touting their guns and asking Santa for ammunition.


BLITZER: In Georgia tonight, the stage is set for a very bitter primary face-off between a Trump ally and a top target of the former president. Ousted U.s. Senator David Perdue announcing his campaign for governor, challenging the Republican Incumbent Brian Kemp.

Let's discuss with CNN's Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash and CNN Political Commentator Mia Love, a former Republican Member of Congress.

So, Dana, what does Perdue's entry into this race tell you about Trump's enduring power within the GOP? [18:40:00]

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, when it comes to his enduring power, I think the answer is going to be really fascinating because we'll know a lot about how to answer that when we see the results of this primary race in Georgia. Because this isn't really about two Republicans who have different views on conservatism, different views on much else other than Donald Trump and much else other than the rule of law particularly in the 2020 election, and standing up for the law.

I mean, Brian Kemp is a conservative, is a again a traditional conservative and so is David Perdue. But certainly in the short term, the answer to your question is the fact that Perdue thought it was important to and advantageous for him politically to jump into this race, and obviously he didn't jump in the he didn't think he was going to win.

I mean in the short term obviously it does show that Donald Trump has staying power, but the real answer will be when we see the results of the primary.

BLITZER: Let's also, Mia, discuss this feud that's on going right now between Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and Republican Congresswoman Lauren Boebert. Listen what Congresswoman Omar told CNN's Jake Tapper yesterday about the House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's leadership.


REP. ILHAN OMAR (D-MN): McCarthy is a liar and a coward. He doesn't have the ability to condemn the kind of bigoted islamophobia and anti- Muslim rhetoric that are being traffic by a member.


BLITZER: So, Mia, would you like to see further action from the Republican leadership?

MIA LOVE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I just have to say, first of all, the American people are really tired of this type of language. I mean, too many people are using their platform or their position in Congress for their platform, their agenda and to raise money.

So, you know like I said before, members of Congress on both side of the aisle really need to pick up the book everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten and stop this mess. I think that it's on both sides they need to stop the name calling.

I never behaved like this when I was in Washington. I mean people need to treat each other with respect, if you're going to get anything done. And let me just mention again, this is not about them. This is not about what somebody says to them or what somebody does to them, it's about the American people. And that is what is lost in all of this. There are the -- the American people are suffering right now. And it doesn't seem like people are paying attention to their needs. So I'm really -- frankly tired of all of it. It's really exhausting.

BLITZER: It is pretty disgusting when you see a Republican Congresswoman basically calling a Democratic Congresswoman a terrorist, a potential suicide bomber. That's pretty disgusting, Mia, isn't it?

LOVE: It is. It's absolutely inappropriate. Again, this is not the way I would behave. This is not the way I think adults should behave. And again, get back to serving the American people. You don't serve the American people by continuing to throw jabs across the aisle. It doesn't really work. You don't get anything done. Do your job.

BLITZER: You know, Dana, I want you to look at this tweet from Republican Congressman Thomas Massie. Posted this picture of his family, look at this, holding weapons and asking Santa to police bring ammo.

Despite the criticism he insists he'll never delete the picture. In the wake of another deadly school shooting, is this kind of imagery what the party needs right now?

BASH: In the context of that, absolutely not. I mean it's hard to imagine that in the context of anything given what we saw last week and what we continue to see. But this is clearly a party that believes that despite the mass shootings, despite the real spike in crime, a lot of that crime involves gun use, that their political plus continues to be, not just Second Amendment, but not supporting banning the assault weapons, ability for people to have that and other really, really loose gun measures because they believe that that is what their supporters want, and in a lot of cases they're wrong. And him not apologizing for this, that is just in keeping with today's politics.

BLITZER: Dana Bash, Mia Love, guys thank you, thank you very much.

Coming up, the alarming new ride in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths here in the United States. Will new restrictions and more vaccinations make a difference?



BLITZER: COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths are rising here in the United States, but so is the U.S. vaccination rate. It's growing amid warnings about the new Omicron coronavirus variant.

Let's discuss with Dr. Peter Hotez. He's the co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. The dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. He's also, by the way, author of the book "Preventing the Next Pandemic."

Dr. Hotez, thanks so much as usual for joining us.

The CDC now says 60 percent of the total U.S. population is fully vaccinated with an average of more than 2.2 million COVID-19 vaccine doses being administered each day.


Do you think we're finally seeing vaccination levels that will make a significant impact?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, CO-DIRECTOR, TEXAS CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL CENTER FOR VACCINE DEVELOPMENT: Yeah, unfortunately not, Wolf. I know 60 percent sounds like a lot but the reality is we need about 85 percent of the U.S. population vaccinated, not 85 percent of adults, 85 percent of the whole population. So, we need another quarter of the country to get vaccinated. And -- and by the way, when I say vaccinated, that doesn't mean two doses of mRNA vaccine, even though that's what formally constitutes fully vaccinated because we need that third immunization, which gives you a 30-40fold rise in virus neutralizing antibody to do it.

So I do think we could vaccinate our way out of this pandemic, Wolf, in the United States. But the bar is high. It means another quarter of the country needs to be vaccinated and three doses of mRNA and two of J&J.

So, unfortunately, that's why we are going to have yet another wave this winter and it's already starting up. We have had a 20 percent rise in cases over the last 14 days. Now, we're back over 100,000 new cases a day. So, it's deja vu all over again.

BLITZER: Yeah, it is. Dr. Fauci keeps saying 60 million Americans are still refusing to get even one shot, one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Let me get your thoughts on what is going on in New York City right now.

The city is implementing a vaccine mandate for all private-sector workers, that will go into effect on December 27th.

In your view, Doctor, are mandates like this the way we're going to eventually get out of this pandemic?

HOTEZ: Well, I think we have to try. I know that Mayor de Blasio wanted to do this as one of his last gestures, last actions of going out of office. We will see if Mayor Adams continues that.

But, you know, I think people are feeling the desperation that we are just not getting enough people vaccinated even though New York is doing better than, say, here in Texas where we only have about half the population vaccinated. I think people are really exploring every lever to pull and push because the bar is so high when you have a highly transmissible agent.

And that's just for Delta, never mind that Omicron is also coming in, could be as transmissible as Delta.

BLITZER: Dr. Peter Hotez, thank you very much as always.

Just ahead. The actor Jussie Smollett taking the stand in his own defense. We'll update you. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BLITZER: The former "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett taking the stand tonight to defend himself in his own trial. His testimony focusing on his relationship with the Osundairo brothers, the two men prosecutors say Smollett paid to attack him.

CNN's Omar Jimenez is joining us live from Chicago. He's been covering the trial for us.

Omar, what are you learning about Smollett's relationship with these two brothers?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, his relationship with the two brothers, one of them, Ola Osundairo, he called creepy. For Bola Osundairo, a person he said he had been friends with for some time, he said that grew into a sexual relationship at points, which Bola has denied over the course of his testimony.

But right now, we are about an hour into cross-examination by the prosecution. They are trying to hone in on some major moments in this case. One, in particular, when Jussie Smollett was seen with a noose around his neck that early morning of January 2019 and the prosecutor asked whether he had tampered with the rope to make it look more potentially convincing to police.

He emphatically denied that saying no, but did say after he initially got to his apartment, he took it off. But then, was told by one of his friends to put it back on. So, police could see that. But again, denied tampering with it in any significant way.

Earlier today, the defense went through some of the prosecution's major points in this case, piece by piece. One of them, the car ride where Jussie Smollett allegedly, first, told these brothers about a plan for any potential fake hate crime, and Jussie Smollett simply said that never happened. All they did was smoke blunts and drive around, which he testified he did frequently, sometimes by himself. But also, more times than he could count with Bola Osundairo.

And when he was asked point blank whether at any point in time they talked -- he talked to them about a hoax, he emphatically said no.

Now, you asked about the relationship with these brothers. With Bola Osundairo, Smollett testified that they had multiple sexual encounters that, again, bola denied at previous points in testimony. But that he also felt they had to sneak away from Ola Osundairo, which he testified to happening at many points which is important, of course, because one of the defense's main theories is that homophobia could have been a potential driver or motive in what they say was a real hate crime attack, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Omar, thank you very much. Omar Jimenez in Chicago for us with the latest. Finally tonight, Washington is honoring a legendary U.S. senator and

1996 Republican presidential nominee. Bob Dole will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, following his death at age 98.

Dole was a wounded and highly-decorated World War II hero who served 27 years in the U.S. Senate, including two stints as the majority leader.

Tonight in an op-ed written before his death, Dole urged Americans to unify, to restore the country's greatness. It's the final chapter in his legacy of service, compromise, and decency in politics. I witnessed those qualities firsthand as I interviewed him many, many times over the years.

We send our deepest condolences to his wife, Elizabeth, the entire family.

May Bob Dole rest in peace, and may his memory be a blessing.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.