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The Situation Room

New York State COVID Cases Spikes; Build Back Better Bill In Peril; Jury Contemplates In Trial Of Kimberly Potter; Jurors Deliberate In Trial Of Ex-Officer Kimberly Potter, Send Question To Judge; Trump Sues N.Y. AG, Seeking To Stop Inquiry Into His Company; COVID Surge Forces Pro And College Sports Teams To Cancel Games As Hundreds Of Athletes Test Positive; U.S. Advises Against Travel To Ukraine, Citing Threat Of Russian Invasion. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired December 20, 2021 - 17:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. New COVID cases in New York State triple in one week as experts warn about a dangerous perfect storm in the pandemic with two variants and millions of Americans gathering and traveling for the holidays.

Also tonight, we're learning more about Senator Joe Manchin's bombshell rejection of the Biden spending bill that's left the president's agenda in peril once again. The White House suggesting there may still be a way forward as both sides have been trading blame.

And nearly one year after January 6th, the U.S. military confronts extremism in the ranks. Will new guidance for service members combat the problem? I'll ask the Pentagon press secretary, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby.

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

Let's get straight to the breaking pandemic news. New York's governor just reporting that the state has seen an alarming rise in the number of new COVID-19 cases in just one week. CNN's Amara Walker is working the story for us. Amara, there's a lot of fear out there that this is just the beginning of what one health expert is now calling a perfect storm.

AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. A perfect storm because this variant is gaining steam. The colder weather pushing people indoors and still a large chunk of the population still not vaccinated. But as you mentioned, New York is one of those states that's getting hit quite hard by the current surge that we're seeing right now.

We just heard from the New York governor, Kathy Hochul, who just said that the state saw a nearly threefold increase in the number of COVID- 19 cases and that it broke its own record for the fourth consecutive day for the highest number of positive coronavirus cases. So look, for a lot of us it feels like deja vu all over again to the bad days of the pandemic.

But like the governor said, this time around we're not defenseless and health officials say, look, the time is now to get vaccinated or boosted.


WALKER (voice-over): Tonight, health officials are bracing for a viral blizzard as coronavirus cases spike around the country.

ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: It is going to be a tough few weeks to months as we get deeper into the winter.

WALKER (voice-over): Familiar scenes from the peak of the pandemic playing out. Some schools returning to virtual learning. The Rockettes and Broadway canceling shows and the NBA, NFL and NHL postponing some games.

VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: If you're unvaccinated, I'm worried about you. I'm worried that your risk of being hospitalized or god forbid losing your life to this virus is quite significant.

WALKER (voice-over): Delta continues to drive the surge in cases with the variant accounting for approximately 97 percent of cases, according to the CDC. But omicron is expected to become the dominant variant.

BILL DE BLASIO, MAYOR OF NEW YORK: We are feeling the omicron wave, especially hard right now, but we know it's going to be all over the country.

WALKER (voice-over): New York State breaking the highest single day COVID-19 case count for the third consecutive day.

DE BLASIO: We expect a substantial number of cases and a quickly growing number of cases.

WALKER (voice-over): COVID-19 cases more than doubled just from the beginning to the end of last week in New York City leading to long lines for COVID tests.

UNKNOWN: We don't want to be standing in line when it's 30 degrees outside. Waiting for a test.

WALKER (voice-over): Health officials warn it is too soon to say with certainty whether or not omicron causes milder disease, but they are certain of one thing. Omicron is extremely contagious. The National Institutes of Health warning that even if the omicron variant has a somewhat lower risk of severity, there could potentially be up to a million cases a day in the near future.

FRANCES COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: It's clear that omicron is an extremely contagious variant that it doubles every two to four days. And you just have to look at the projections of what that means and, yes, we are in for a lot of cases of people getting infected with this virus.

WALKER (voice-over): The pace of spread has health officials concerned that the omicron variant will overwhelm America's health system again. Across the country, ICU beds are already nearly 80 percent full.

JONATHAN REINER, PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE AND SURGERY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: This may be the most contagious virus that civilization has faced in our lifetimes.

WALKER (voice-over): Health officials continue to stress that getting boosted is now more important than ever. Moderna announcing today its 50 microgram booster shot increases antibody levels against the omicron variant. A 100 microgram dose, the size of its first two shots raises antibody levels even higher. Moderna leaving it up to U.S. officials whether to change the size of the booster dose.


WALKER (on camera): And Wolf, Washington, D.C., as well, experiencing its highest daily coronavirus case count since the pandemic began. As a result, the mayor there announcing that she will be reinstating the indoor mask mandate. That will run from December 28th through January 31st, Wolf.


BLITZER: All right, Amara, thank you very much. Amara Walker reporting for us.

Let's get some more on all of this. Joining us, Dr. Peter Hotez. He is co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. Also the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. He's the author of the book "Preventing the Next Pandemic."

Also with us, Dr. Zeke Emanuel. He is vice provost of Global Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania and he is the author of "Which Country has the World's Best Health Care?" Thanks to both of you for joining us.

Dr. Hotez, as you heard, New York State seeing this threefold increase in COVID cases in just one week. And nationwide, cases, hospitalizations are rising. We haven't even seen the full impact of omicron yet. So how bad could this get?

PETER HOTEZ, CO-DIRECTOR, TEXAS CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL CENTER FOR VACCINE DEVELOPMENT: Well, the reason it's going to get bad, Wolf, is not only because of delta and the high transmissibility of omicron, which we've heard about, but I'm worried about the impact on the health care workforce because even if they are vaccinated with two doses, we know that that's really not protecting against symptomatic COVID, some protection against severe illness. And even with the booster, you are getting some protection against symptomatic illness and excellent protection against severe illness, but then it starts to decline in terms of symptomatic infections. So, we have data now coming out of Imperial College London showing that after that third dose you get about 70 to 75 percent protection against symptomatic illness with the Pfizer vaccine.

But then it declines to half of that, 30 to 40 percent protection after a couple of months. So, while we have all of these vaccinated health care workers and health care providers, I worry a number of them are going to have breakthrough COVID.

Not sick enough for them to be hospitalized but sick enough for them to be at home and knocked out of the workforce. So that's going to be the perfect storm. Lots of hospital admissions and a depleted health care workforce on top of an already depleted health care workforce.

BLITZER: And sick enough to transmit the virus potentially to others who may be more vulnerable. And Dr. Emanuel, this also means that boosters are clearly a lot more important right now. And now Moderna says its booster shots do -- do increase antibodies against omicron even if a larger dose would be more effective. Is the bottom line go get your booster and do it right now?

EXEKIEL EMANUEL, VICE PROVOST OF GLOBAL INITIATIVES, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: Absolutely. All Americans who've had two shots should get a booster and those Americans who haven't gotten their vaccine need to be vaccinated. We have been sitting at about 61 percent of Americans with two shots. We really need to be up in the 85 percent range.

Those people who are unvaccinated are 13 times more likely to die than the vaccinated, and probably going to be even worse once omicron sweeps through the population. So, getting that shot is your best defense.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right. And it's even more alarming because of this new CDC data, Dr. Hotez, shows that unvaccinated Americans right now face not 13 times but 20, potentially 20 times the risk of dying from COVID-19 than people who have gotten boosted. But less than 20 percent have gotten their booster shots across the U.S., those who are eligible. Are there different rules of the road for the vaccinated and the unvaccinated this holiday season?

HOTEZ: Well, all I can say is, you know, when you see that 20 times number and that's the number we find in Texas as well, you know, what that means practically speaking, Wolf is we've had 200,000 Americans now since June 1 who have lost their lives from COVID-19, despite the widespread availability of safe and effective vaccines. And overwhelmingly in the 20 to 1 ratio, those are the unvaccinated.

So 200,000 Americans have needlessly lost their lives because of this. And how we work with them to encourage them to get now three shots is going to be one of the great challenges. And hopefully we'll hear more from the president tomorrow with his or during his scheduled remarks.

BLITZER: Well, on that point, Dr. Hotez, what's the single most important thing you would like to hear the president say tomorrow?

HOTEZ: I think for me, the one thing that's really keeping me up at night is the impact on our health care workers and health systems and keeping our health care providers in the workforce. What are the levers that we can pull and push so we can prevent the whole health system from great destabilization? And that's going to be one of the challenges. Are there things we can do?

BLITZER: Dr. Emanuel, what's the single most important thing you'd like to hear from the president tomorrow?

EMANUEL: Well, we have only four interventions. Vaccines, testing, masking and ventilation. And we need action on each of them, probably the single most important thing is more vaccine mandates because we are going to be with omicron for six, eight more weeks at a minimum.


And if you get, you know, a couple of vaccines in you over that time it will help prevent serious, serious illness. And that's the key. I think we also need better masking. People need to wear N95s and KN95s when they are in crowds, outdoors and certainly indoors. And we need to upgrade our ventilation. HEPA filters for use so that you're not actually inheriting -- inhaling other people's aerosols. Those are the key changes we need.

BLITZER: It will save a lot of lives. Dr. Emanuel, Dr. Hotez, thanks to both of you for joining us.

We'll have much more on this important story coming up. And also coming up, a political bombshell puts the future of President Biden's agenda in jeopardy after months of negotiations. What is the path forward? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Tonight, the White House is trying to recover from a potentially fatal blow to the president's agenda. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin's surprise announcement that he's a no on the nearly $2 trillion spending bill despite months and months of negotiations. Our chief national affairs correspondent Jeff Zeleny is joining us from the White House right now. What are you learning, Jeff, about relations between the president and Senator Manchin?


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are learning tonight that President Biden had a phone conversation last evening with Senator Joe Manchin, the first time two of them have spoken since the senator delivered that bombshell that is threatening to sink the president's agenda.

We are told the conversation was constructive and a chance to clear the air. But it did nothing for the bottom line of moving forward Build Back Better.


ZELENY (voice-over): The White House pledging to salvage its economic agenda tonight after West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin infuriated Democrats by potentially sinking President Biden's signature legislation.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What's most on the president's mind is the risk of inaction. We are going to continue to take steps, work like hell to get it done.

ZELENY (voice-over): Manchin's bombshell decision sparking an extraordinary war of words. On West Virginia radio today, the senator bluntly blaming aides to the president for a breakdown in negotiations.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): It's not the president. It's the staff. And they drove some things and they put some things out that were absolutely inexcusable. They know what it is and that's it.

ZELENY (voice-over): White House press secretary Jen Psaki pushing back in a remarkable weekend statement calling Manchin's actions a breach of his commitments to the president and the senator's colleagues in the House and Senate. Tonight, her tone was more measured as the White House still works to find a path forward.

PSAKI: From the president's viewpoint, and I saw him this morning, he has worked with Senator Manchin over the course of decades. They share fundamental values. They are longtime friends. That has not changed.

ZELENY (voice-over): The long simmering tensions inside the Democratic Party finally reaching a boiling point with Manchin blasting the president's Build Back Better plan and deriding the tactics of his liberal critics.

MANCHIN: Sure that we can badger and beat one person up. Surely we can get enough protesters to make that person uncomfortable enough they'll just say, okay, I'll vote for anything, just quit. Well, guess what. I'm from West Virginia. I'm not from where they're from and they can just beat the living crap out of people and think they'll be submissive. Period.

ZELENY (voice-over): Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer still vowing to put the plan up for a vote next year saying senators should make their positions known on the senate floor, not just on television. A clear dig at Manchin who delivered his stunning decision on "Fox News Sunday."

MANCHIN: This is a new on this legislation. I have tried everything I know to do.

ZELENY (voice-over): Last week, Manchin told the White House he was willing to support a $1.8 trillion plan to fund Pre-K programs, expand Affordable Care Act subsidies, and address climate change. He was unwilling to include the Child Tax Credit, CNN has learned, which became a key sticking point. Manchin's position also raising a new round of questions about whether he will remain a Democrat, considering most members of the party are furious at him. Still, he's a critical piece of the razor-thin Democratic majority.

MANCHIN: I would like to hope that there's still Democrats that feel like I do. I'm socially -- I'm fiscally responsible and socially compassionate. Now if there's no Democrats like that, then they'll have to push me wherever they want me.

ZELENY (voice-over): The move is not only a staggering blow for the fate of Biden's domestic agenda but also a major setback for Democratic unity.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): Of course we have every right to be furious with Joe Manchin, but it's really up to leadership in the Democratic Party who, you know, made the decision to get us to this juncture and how we're going to move forward.


ZELENY (on camera): And tonight, the White House is dealing with a more immediate challenge. That is a surging cases in COVID-19. President Biden met with his COVID advisers today in the Oval Office and will be delivering a speech to the nation tomorrow, again drawing the line between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated.

But White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this is not going to be a lockdown speech in her words. Simply going to try and make the case again to get vaccinated and boosted. But Wolf, this is something the White House is watching very carefully as those cases are rising right before the holidays.

BLITZER: Certainly so. So, worrisome. Jeff Zeleny at the White House. Thank you.

Let's bring in our chief political analyst Gloria Borger and CNN senior commentator John Kasich, the former Republican governor of Ohio. Gloria, how did all of this blow up so badly for the president?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think when you get towards the final weeks of negotiations, things are tense, and I think Joe Manchin sort of got set off because he felt that he was being blamed by the White House staff unfairly for a pause in the negotiations which he believes everybody had agreed to. Whether he's right about that or wrong, that's sort of the way it was.

And now the White House is trying to kind of get back to square one as Jeff was saying. The president has spoken with Manchin. They want to get together and kind of try and revive these talks. But in the meantime, there's going to be a pause over the holidays. A lot of folks, including Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, wanted to get this done before the holidays but that's not going to occur.

[17:20:00] I don't think it's going to fall apart completely, Wolf, because I think it's in everyone's interest to try and at least get some of this done, particularly the Democrats who want to get this child tax credit through and that's the sticking point for Manchin.

BLITZER: Was it, Governor Kasich, a mistake for President Biden simply not to take up Senator Manchin's, what, $1.8 trillion counteroffer?

JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR COMMENTATOR: Yes, I think it was a mistake, Wolf. It's still a lot of spending, and that's on top of $3 trillion that we already have. But I think what really was the turning point is when the Congressional Budget Office took all the gimmicks out and the cost of that package went to like $5 trillion. We've already spent $3 trillion. We're going to add $5 trillion more. We got the highest rate of inflation in 40 years.

And look, I think the thing you have to understand about Joe Manchin is first of all, he didn't want anything politically. He was governor of West Virginia, he's been senator. It's not like he's worried about politics. I think Joe is fundamentally pretty conservative guy. He thinks we should not keep spending money that we don't have. And I think there's some things that he said that he can go for but he's not going to go for a package that really adds up to about $5 trillion.

So, is it dead? You know, I don't know. They can get pieces of this. If I were to advise him, I'd say break the thing out. You know, give it to the Congress in smaller packages and see if you can get some Republicans on board, particularly in the Senate.

BLITZER: You know, Gloria, Senator Manchin obviously is very worried about the impact all of this would have on inflation. But Goldman Sachs immediately downgraded their expectations for the U.S. economy based on Manchin's bombshell. So what does that tell you?

BORGER: Well, it tells you you're going to have a lot less, you know, money thrown into the economy, $2 trillion at least. And they were kind of counting on that, particularly now that they are going to have the expiration of the Child Care Tax Credit. That's a big chunk of change. And so, of course, they had to revise their estimates.

Now, that can be revised again if the Congress goes back and as Governor Kasich says, if the Congress goes back and passes pieces of this, then Goldman Sachs may go back to the drawing board and say, yes, maybe we're going to have more economic growth.

But, you know, I think this is something you're going to hear from Joe Biden. He's going to be quoting Goldman Sachs saying, look, we really need this in the economy right now.

BLITZER: Did the White House, Governor Kasich, hurt their chances of reviving this bill with that scathing 700-word statement about Senator Manchin that was released yesterday after his interview on Fox News?

KASICH: Well, with a smaller man, the answer would be yes, but Joe Manchin is a big, tough guy and he understand that sometimes people get upset. So, I think they have a chance. And in regard to Goldman Sachs, you know, they're economists. You know, Wolf, sometimes I find there's not much difference between economists and astrologers so we have to keep that in mind and it depends who is putting the books together, you know.

But at the end of the day, Joe is a big guy. I think ultimately if they break this up and they pay for it responsibly, they'll get something done. And you remember, Gloria, there are people who are Republicans in the Senate that are concerned about the Child Tax Credit. They -- maybe there's a deal there --

BORGER: Exactly.

KASICH: -- but, you know, this $5 trillion thing was just too much. A bridge too far, too crazy. Taxes, spending, forget it. That's not what people want.

BLITZER: All right, John Kasich, thank you. Gloria Borger, thanks to you as well.

Up next, the jury begins deliberating in the manslaughter trial of former police officer Kim Potter who killed Daunte Wright in a chaotic traffic stop last spring. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: A jury deliberations have now begun in the trial of the former police officer, Kim Potter, charged in the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright. CNN's Omar Jimenez is following all of this for us. Omar, I understand the jury, what, has just sent a question to the judge? What are you learning?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The jury sent a question into the judge about the timing around when Kim Potter spoke to a forensic psychologist after the shooting. Now, this interview would have been one that involved the use of her taser and her weapon and it was an interview that Potter testified she didn't remember key portions of.

The judge told them you have all the evidence you need already that's been presented at points during this trial and they are now back to work, as they have been for close to four hours at this point trying to close this chapter that is now been months in the making.


ERIN ELDRIDGE, MINNESOTA ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: Daunte Wright's parents, Katie and Aubrey Wright, will have an empty seat at their table this holiday season because the defendant shot and killed him.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): Daunte wright's parents were in the courtroom Monday as closing arguments in the trial of former officer Kim Potter began.

KIM POTTER, POLICE OFFICER: Taser, taser, taser.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): She's claimed she meant to grab her taser when she believed she needed to protect herself and her fellow officers during an April 2021 traffic stop, but instead she grabbed her gun.

POTTER: I shot him. Oh, my god!

ELDRIDGE: This case is about the defendant's rash and reckless conduct. It's not about her being a nice person or a good person. Carrying a badge and a gun is not a license to kill.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): The defense, however, claimed there were two absolute reasons Potter is innocent, despite firing her gun.


EARL GRAY, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: She didn't cause this, and she had a right to use deadly force, even though she didn't know she was using it, she had a right to.

And that's with the lawyers.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): Defense attorney Earl Gray pushed even further, saying Daunte Wright is to blame.

GRAY: She says taser, taser, taser and he should have, OK. Stop, I give up. Daunte Wright cause his own death unfortunately.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): A characterization prosecutors took issue with.

MATTHEW FRANK, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: I want you to consider if we accept that argument that he caused his own death. We have to accept that anytime a person does not meticulously follow the commands of a police officer, they can be shot to death. That's absurd.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): Monday's closing arguments came after eight days of testimony and over 30 witnesses including Kim Potter.

KIM POTTER, FORMER BROOKLYN CENTER POLICE OFFICER: I remember yelling, "taser, taser, taser," and nothing happened. He told me I shot him. I'm sorry it happen.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): But prosecutors emphasize Monday intent isn't what the jury will be deciding.

ERIN ELDRIDGE, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: An accidental killing is still a crime if the defendant's actions are reckless or culpably negligent. This was a colossal screw up, a blunder of epic proportions. It was irreversible, and it was fatal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good luck members of the jury.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): Now Kim Potter's future lies in the hands of 12 jurors who will decide whether she was justified in her shooting of right or wrong for having pulled the trigger.


JIMENEZ: Now as a reminder, she faces first and second degree manslaughter charges when she's pleaded not guilty to during court. It was emotional at times particularly Daunte Wright's mother began to cry as prosecutors noted that right wouldn't be home for the holidays. Kim Potter even had to avert her eyes at moments when body camera footage was played from that day.

Now, as I mentioned before, the jury is back to work after offering a question earlier. They've been at it, close to four hours and the judge is expected to let them continue for about another hour and a half or so for today until they would be asked to come back tomorrow. But for now, Wolf, we wait.

BLITZER: All right, we'll see what happens. Omar, thank you very much. Omar Jimenez, covering this trial for us.

There's other legal news we're following here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Former President Trump is that now suing New York State Attorney General Letitia James, asking a federal court to stop her investigation into the Trump Organization. CNN's Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez is working their story for us. So Evan, what is this lawsuit allege?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, this isn't unusual lawsuit, Wolf, because what the former president and his company Trump Organization are trying to do is they're trying to pre-empt Tish James's investigation into the company. And what he's saying is -- and what the company is saying is that she committed misconduct, that she has prejudice against the former president, citing comments that she has made both during her campaign. She recently abandoned her campaign for governor of New York.

I'll read you just a part of what the lawsuit says. "Since taking office, she has tirelessly bombarded his family and his business, Trump Organization LLC with unwarranted subpoenas in a bitter crusade to take on the President." Wolf, we know this is coming just weeks before the Attorney General's Office there in New York was seeking to depose the former president as part of this civil investigation.

The allegation that they're looking into is whether the Trump Organization misvalued some of the value of -- some of their real estate assets. I'll read you just a part of what her responses. She says, "To be clear, neither Mr. Trump nor the Trump Organization get to dictate if and where they will answer for their actions." Wolf?

BLITZER: Evan Perez reporting. Evan, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on this. Our Senior Law Enforcement Analyst, the former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is joining us. He's the author of the book, "The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump." Andrew, we know former President Trump is litigious. Does this new suit, from your perspective, have any merit?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Very, very little. It's almost impossible to imagine, Wolf. And in

it's absolutely easy to understand why he's doing it. This is a, you know, this is a very basic and time-honored strategy of the former president. He files lawsuits in order to delay legal action that's pending against him.

And as you know, he has been subpoenaed to appear before Ms. James and her investigators on January 7th. He insidiously, I'm sure, does not want to make that appearance and so he's thrown up this lawsuit as a way of distracting attention from her efforts and to try to push this thing into a separate channel attacking her as being somehow biased against him.


Unfortunately, there's no right to be investigated by someone who likes you. And that's essentially what the claims in this suit come down to.

BLITZER: The lawsuit cites comments that the New York Attorney General Letitia James made in her 2018 campaign, she's vowed to aggressively go after Trump. Could those comments by her come back to haunt her?

MCCABE: They could, Wolf. It's entirely possible that a court that looks at this claim determines that those comments were inappropriate. There maybe were things that she should not have said. Maybe they cast a light on her office that makes it appear as if she's, you know, headhunting or going after the former president.

Unfortunately, I don't think it goes much further than that. It's not an issue of conflict of interest. There's no allegation that she has a personal interest that would prohibit her from doing her job here. And let's be honest, you know, I investigated many drug dealers and organized crime members and terrorists over the course of my time in the FBI, I didn't like any of them.

And it's very common for prosecutors and to say things and announcements of indictments and different, you know, developments in a case, talking about how strenuously they're going to go after the defendant. People say things like that all the time, nothing much comes of that.

BLITZER: Trump's lawyers say this is all political. But how much do these legal battles, Andrew, these legal battles like this one, actually did delay investigations into Trump's dealings?

MCCABE: It will absolutely delay progress in this civil investigation, and specifically, it will likely result in delaying his appearance for a deposition. His son Eric was also deposed earlier in this investigation. He resisted appearing. He was ultimately ordered by the court to appear and he did sit for a deposition. I expect that that's what will happen here. But this lawsuit will have the effect of adding months to that process.

BLITZER: This is just one of many legal investigations facing the former president, right?

MCCABE: That's absolutely right. He is, of course, under -- he has come within a criminal investigation that's being conducted by the Manhattan D.A.'s office. That inquiry continues to this day.

We know that the Manhattan D.A. has recently impaneled a new grand jury to continue hearing evidence in that case. So some big decisions coming up in that one as the D.A. prepares to step away from his job at the end of the year. So we'll see. A lot of very concerning legal actions on the horizon for the former president.

BLITZER: Andrew McCabe, thanks so much for joining us. Just ahead, the sports world is reeling from the latest wave of COVID-19 cases as hundreds of athletes test positive for the virus and games are canceled across the country. Now some of the health and safety protocols in effect are coming under scrutiny. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: A growing number of COVID-19 cases among professional athletes here in the United States has forced postponements in some major sports leagues. At least nine NHL teams have been temporarily shut down, multiple NBA games have now been postponed and the NFL delayed three of its Sunday games.

Let's dig deeper with CNN's Sports Analyst Christine Brennan. Christine, just how disruptive is this winter surge in the sports world?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: Pretty disruptive right now, Wolf. And the question is, is it going to get worse? Are we looking at 2020 again?

One of the coaches Sean McVay out with the L.A. Rams said he's pulling out the old notes and playbooks from last year. There's things they can go back to and look at the protocols and things that they did, some of the strategies they use back then.

Now, the big difference, of course, we have vaccines. And we also have a lot of knowledge that we didn't have a year and a half, almost two years ago. But that being said, this is a big surprise to most of the pro-sports leagues. I think it's a surprise to a lot of the athletes. Certainly college games as well are being postponed.

This has taken everyone by shock. I think they now realize they are in this and there's a lot of uncertainty trying to the NFL itself. A lone, Wolf, has had four different plans in the last week. They keep adapting, keep changing, keep having different rules.

We'll see. One of the things about the NFL is interesting. It's an honor system, you know, if you're vaccinated, and you're not quite sure why many of us feel you know, a little bit of a call for sore throat. Should you take the test? I think that's going to be interesting because a lot of NFL players probably don't want the answer to that question, because they want to keep playing especially as the playoffs near.

BLITZER: And -- BRENNAN: So we can kind of watch some of these developments.

BLITZER: Without that specific point, as you know, the NFL right now drawing some criticism for its new COVID protocols. They'll only test vaccinated players who show symptoms. Is this less about league safety and more about the league's bottom line as they get ready to move towards the Super Bowl?

BRENNAN: Absolutely. That's it. It's the bottom line. It's also about the product of putting on the field, obviously, for fans, for people buying tickets, it is the bottom line, but the integrity of the game. You know, at some point if you're out 20 players, that's not your team. It's a different team.

I have been critical of that, Wolf, and I will remain critical because I hold these teams to a high standard and these players to a high standard. They're not just NFL teams, they're also pillars of the community. And they're role models for many, many people in the community.


As we're all hearing about getting tested and make sure we're OK before we travel, the long lines for testing from average Americans, NFL teams are down doing less testing, fewer tests. And I think that's a really, really bad message to be sending to their community. So yes, I think the controversy exists. And I think it's a valid question and controversy to be looking into.

BLITZER: And in contrast to that, as you and I well remember what, nearly two years ago was the NBA, the NBA sudden cancelation that served as a real wake up call to America about the pandemic. So what is this wave of cancelations and positive tests among hundreds of athletes, professional athletes, college athletes across so many different sports leagues? What does it say about where we are now?

BRENNAN: You know, we learned a lot, Wolf, as you well know, from that day, March 11, 2020 when the NBA shut down operations. And that really woke everyone up. So if this is a wake-up call for anyone who's not paying attention to this, that their sports team now -- their fantasy league team is different, or their favorite team can't play or the game has been postponed for a few days, then that may well be a good thing, because that is sounding the signal to many Americans to pay attention.

But what it does show is that no one's immune, chosen an Aaron Rodgers who's unvaccinated and laughs about it and doesn't seem to care at all. Well, you know, if he's the poster child for COVID in the NFL, that's a very troubling message to lie, and it's time to be vaccinated. I think if anyone has doubted that, certainly this is the time. And the players who are not vaccinated in these leagues have a tougher road to get back to play than those who are, of course, vaccinated.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. Sports analyst Christine Brennan, thank you very much. Coming up, growing efforts to tackle extremism in the U.S. military. The Pentagon Press Secretary joins us live to share new guidance as we approach one year since the Capitol insurrection.



BLITZER: New efforts tonight by the Pentagon to tackle extremism among U.S. service members, including updating old guidance to give a clear definition of extremist behavior. Let's discuss with the Pentagon Press Secretary, Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby. John, thanks so much for joining us. Explain what the Pentagon is aiming to do right now with these new rules on extremism.

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: What we really tried to do and you kind of hit it right there, Wolf, is make it very clear what is and what is not prohibited extremist activity. And number two, make it very clear what active participation in that activity actually looks like. So you'll see the instructions very specific about what is or what is not permissible.

We've also empowered our commanders delegated the authorities and responsibilities down to them to manage this amongst their troops, which is, of course, what they want, what they want to be leaders. And we've also added a whole section on social media, because that's what's different between this instruction and the last one that was in existence that we updated. We didn't really have any good guidance on how to handle yourself in social media. We think we've done a pretty good job of sewing that up.

BLITZER: Under this guidance, it is a little bit confusing to be -- service members are actually allowed to be a member of an extremist organization, but they can't participate. This doesn't ban any specific extremist groups.

KIRBY: Right.

BLITZER: Why is that?

KIRBY: Well, we wanted to be careful here, Wolf, because these groups morph and change over time. If we put a list of groups out today, I guarantee that tomorrow, we probably have to update it. It would be something that you'd never, ever have stopped doing. Because the groups they change a lot and they morph in their ideals and their goals.

The other thing was we wanted to -- this wasn't about group identity so much as activity. And so, if you look at the list of things we've prohibited, it would be pretty hard for you to be a member of any of these groups, if you just look at what's prohibited in terms of your active participation.

BLITZER: So could a service member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps actually be a member of the KKK, but not go to a cross burning, is that what I'm hearing? KIRBY: Well, you can -- membership alone is not prohibited --

BLITZER: Even in the KKK?

KIRBY: Membership is not prohibited, Wolf. But any kind of active participation in a group is prohibited. So again, if you look at the list of active participation activities, you can see that it would be very difficult for you to be a member of a group and still be able to keep in compliance with this instruction.

BLITZER: All right, let me get to a different issue while I have you. The State Department, as you know, just issued a brand new travel advisory for Ukraine.

KIRBY: Right.

BLITZER: Citing reports that Russia's planning what they described as significant military action against Ukraine. Have there been any troop movements in recent days or weeks, any specific intelligence that has actually impacted this new threat level advising Americans avoid travel to Ukraine?

KIRBY: Well, we haven't seen anything overly dramatic in the last few days. I want to be careful here. But we continue to monitor this closely, we continue to see a significant Russian force presence in the western part of their country around the borders with Ukraine. And it remains concerning.

There hasn't been a lot of specific changes to that posture, but it remains pretty sizable and certainly have concern to us and our allies and partners. And we think that the State Department did exactly the prudent thing in terms of reminding Americans that this is probably not the best time to be going to Ukraine, since there's so much uncertainty surrounding what Vladimir Putin is doing.

BLITZER: Well, how worried are you about what Putin is doing?

KIRBY: Well, we're very concerned. And I think you saw that referenced in the President's discussion with him a week or so ago. We are having constant talks with our allies and partners, particularly in NATO, about their concerns, what they're seeing, making sure we see it from their perspective and sharing with them the intelligence that we're getting so that we can all have a common sight picture here.

BLITZER: Rear Admiral John Kirby, thanks so much for joining us. Thanks for all you're doing. Appreciate it.

KIRBY: Yes, sir. Thank you.

BLITZER: All right, breaking news coming up. New York breaks its record for the highest number of COVID-19 cases for the fourth day in a row. Health officials are warning a very difficult days ahead while holiday traveled nears pre-pandemic levels.



BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. The Omicron period is now dominant, dominant here in the United States, accounting for 73 percent, get this, 73 percent of new cases here in the United States are now Omicron. That according to the CDC, which has just released this information. The dire warnings of health officials clearly now becoming a reality.

We're tracking the explosion of infections and new emergency measures just ahead of the holidays. Also this hour, Democrats are clearly scrambling once again to salvage the Biden spending bill after it was torpedoed by Senator Joe Manchin.