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January 6 Committee Releases Texts Between Sean Hannity And Trump White House; CDC Updates Its Controversial COVID-19 Isolation Guidelines; Update On Winter Storm Nightmare That Stranded Hundreds On I-95; Manchin Delivers Blow To Dems As He Signals Opposition To Changing Senate Rules To Advance Voting Bill; Albany DA Declines To Prosecute Former Gov. Cuomo On Forcible Touching Charge. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired January 04, 2022 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, the January 6 select committee releases texts between Fox News Host Sean Hannity and the Trump White House around the time of the Capitol attack. This as the panel's chairman reveals to CNN that he wants to hear directly from the former vice president, Mike Pence. We're going to tell you what we're learning right now.
Also breaking, the CDC just updated its controversial COVID isolation guidelines. We're going to break down the new recommendations and whether they clear up the confusion so many Americans are feeling right now.
And we're also tracking the winter storm nightmare on I-95 in Virginia, not far from where we are here in Washington, where hundreds of drivers and passengers were stranded in bitter cold, some for over 24 hours. We're going to get an update on how this happened, the rescue operation, and what traffic is like now as darkness falls.
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 right to the breaking news on the January 6th investigation. CNN Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles is joining us right now. Lots of news breaking right now, Ryan, tell our viewers what you're learning.
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first, Wolf, we are learning about text messages that the Fox News host, Sean Hannity, sent to Mark Meadows and other White House officials and why that has led the committee to ask Hannity to voluntarily appear before the committee at some point in the near future. The committee sending Hannity a letter today asking him to make that move and appear before the committee on his own accord in part because they want to ask him questions about the regular communication that he had with White House officials and the former president himself in the days leading up to January 6th and during the period of time after the riots here on Capitol hill.
Here's just a sample of some of the text messages the committee revealed today from Hannity to Mark Meadows and others. One of them, this is on December 31st of 2020. He wrote, we can't lose the entire White House Counsel's Office. I do not see January 6th happening the way he is being told. After the 6th, he should announce that he will lead a nationwide effort to reform voter integrity. Go to Florida and watch Joe mess up daily. Stay engaged. When he speaks, people will listen. So, clearly, Hannity was concerned about the rhetoric around the big lie and how it impacted January 6th.
Look what he wrote on January 5th. He wrote January 5th, 2021, I'm very worried about the next 48 hours. On that same day, he wrote, Pence pressure. White House counsel will leave, talking about the intense pressure campaign that was on the former vice president, Mike Pence, to prevent the certification of the election results.
And then look at what Hannity wrote after January 6th. He said, quote, guys, we have a clear path to land the plane in nine days. He can't mention the election again, ever. I did not have a good call with him today and, worse, I'm not sure what is left to do or say and I don't like not knowing if it's truly understood. And then he asks, ideas.
So, this is what the committee wants to ask Sean Hannity about, these communications, the things that he was worried about and how much he knew about the White House, the campaign, and Donald Trump's plans as it relates to January 6th. The big question, of course, Wolf, will Hannity appear? His lawyer saying that there is a concern that this could violate his first amendment rights. Keep many mind, this is not legal subpoena. He is not required by law to appear in front of the committee. They're just asking him to do so voluntarily. We'll have to wait and see how he responds. Wolf?
BLITZER: And Sean Hannity, as you know, Ryan, isn't the only very big name the committee now wants to talk to, right?
NOBLES: Yes, that's right. I've wrapped up an exclusive one-on-one interview with the chairman, Bennie Thompson, earlier this afternoon. And I asked him that question about the role Vice President Mike Pence played on that day on January 6th and how interested the committee is in hearing directly from Pence. And this is what Thompson told me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NOBLES: Do you believe that the committee needs to hear from the former vice president directly and how close are you to asking him to appear in front of your committee?
REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): Well, obviously, his life was at risk.
There were people who had gallows directed on lawn of the Capitol, ostensibly to hang the vice president. There were people on then threatening the life of the vice president. The vice president could not leave the Capitol of the United States because of the riot. He was sequestered in an area in the Capitol. So, his life was in danger.
I would hope that he would do the right thing and come forward and voluntarily talk to the committee. You know, everybody there didn't have the security detail so wed' like to know what his security detail told him was going on. And what all went on. I think it's important that the public needs to know. This was the number two person in government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NOBLES: So, this is significant. The committee very interested in hearing from the former vice president, but you heard Bennie Thompson there, they aren't at the step yet where they're going to subpoena the vice president. They haven't even formally asked him to appear in front of their committee. Wolf, they are hoping he comes on his own accord. I reached out to the vice president's office today. They told me that they have no comment on what Bennie Thompson had to say. Wolf?
BLITZER: Ryan, stand by. I also want to bring in our Special Correspondent Jamie Gangel also working her sources. What are you learning, Jamie?
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, just to go back to the Sean Hannity letter for a second, I think that these texts are fascinating. But just for some context, Wolf, what the committee's letter says is that there are dozens of these texts. So, they're just showing us a few of them.
And the way they approach Hannity is very interesting. If you look at the first page of the letter, it says that they believe that Hannity quote, had advanced knowledge regarding President Trump's and his legal team's planning for January 6th. And then it goes on to say that they -- it also appears that Hannity was expressing concerns and providing advice. And then they follow-up, quote, you also had relevant communication when the riot was underway and in the days thereafter. These communications make you a fact witness.
So, I think it's critical that, in the letter, they say they have the upmost respect for the First Amendment. They're asking Sean Hannity to come voluntarily but they're also making it very clear that they have a lot of information, dozens of texts and what they consider to be relevant communications about January 6th, Wolf.
BLITZER: And what else are you learning, Jamie, about this new Mike Pence news that we just got from the committee chair?
GANGEL: So, I just want to say I think it's fascinating that the former vice president's office declined to comment when Ryan reached out to them. I think what we have to remember is this. Mike Pence's top staffers are cooperating with the committee, his former chief of staff, Marc Short. We're told his general counsel, Greg Jacob. These two men are extremely close to Mike Pence. They would not be cooperating with the committee if Mike Pence did not tell them it was okay for them to cooperate. My guess is that we will see Mike Pence cooperate down the road. BLITZER: And, Jamie, Keith Kellogg, the vice president national security adviser, General Keith Kellogg, retired, he's also cooperating, right?
GANGEL: Absolutely. We saw him go in the other day to the committee. He told us that he testified under oath he would not discuss the substance of what he said. But Keith Kellogg is another critical person. He was then-Vice President Pence's national security adviser, but he was with Donald Trump all day on the 6th. He feels he was at the White House with him. He saw everything he did, everything he did not do, what he said, what he didn't say. So, he's a critical witness. And, again, I think we have to underscore here, Team Pence is cooperating with the committee.
BLITZER: That's really, really important. Jamie, stay with us. Ryan Nobles is still with us. I want to bring in our Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash and Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig.
Elie, just how revealing are -- only a few of them, but there are apparently dozens of text messages to the White House from Sean Hannity.
How significant is that?
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, Those texts are very revealing. I mean, Hannity is a fact witness, any way you cut this. He is obviously a person who had direct communications with the inner circle around Donald Trump before these events happened and while January 6th happened. He's an obvious person. Any prosecutor, any investigator would go right to that set of texts and say that's a person I need to speak with.
Now, he's a journalist and so there are First Amendment concerns, but the distinction here is they don't seem to be looking at anything that has to do with Hannity's journalistic capabilities. They're not asking about his sources. They're asking about his communications with the White House that seemed to separate and apart from any real First Amendment concerns here.
BLITZER: You know, Dana, this is someone who was Mr. Trump's -- one of his biggest defenders in public. How incredible is it to see that what was going on behind the scenes, he was raising the alarm just ahead of the January 6th attack, urging the then-president to stop talking about the election?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He is now one of so many people that we know about who had a direct line to the then- president, begging him to stop with the lies. What is really fascinating, as Elie said, in this letter that the committee just sent, they explicitly say that they don't -- they're not interested in source material and anything that you and I would hold dear as a part of our First Amendment rights and desire to keep quiet as journalists.
But because of the fact that Sean Hannity was acting not necessarily as somebody who's trying to glean information from the White House chief of staff but give information to him, and we know that he spoke to the former president all the time, getting advice -- giving advice, I should say, to the president, that it's understandable that the committee wants to talk to him, especially given the nature of these texts, some of which we now see saying I'm very worried about what's going to happen on January 6th.
But we have to remember, they're asking him to come voluntarily and we know that his employer and the people that he works with, they have been very critical of this committee. It would be a far different ball game if the commission were allowed to have gone through and this wasn't just a select committee.
BLITZER: That's a good point. Ryan, the committee believes Hannity may have spoken directly with Trump the evening of January 5th. How much progress are they making about learning about the former president's mindset around the attack?
NOBLES: Well, there's no doubt, Wolf, that they've gotten direct testimony from a number of people that were in and around the former president on January 5th and January 6th. And they are really relying heavily on this tranche of documents from the National Archives that were collected in the post-presidency of the former president, Donald Trump. It's somewhere in the range of 700 documents or so, that they've won several court cases to obtain despite the fact that the former president has asked that they'd be kept secret. The Supreme Court will have the final say on whether or not they receive that information.
But contained within there are call logs, messages, communications, different pieces of information that they think are very relevant to the state of mind that Donald Trump had during that period of time. And they're specifically interested in that level of inaction, that 187 minutes that they talk about from when the rioters first broke into the Capitol here and before the president actually made some sort of message to them to tell them to go away. One of the things Thompson told me earlier today is that they believe that there's probably several edits of that video that he eventually sent out, that they believe are White House property because it was produced on White House grounds and therefore should be a part of the National Archive record.
So, this is all information that they are hoping to obtain. They believe that there will be a lot of revealing information once those documents are in their hands.
BLITZER: And, Elie, what do you think about the former vice president, Mike Pence? Some of his closest advisers while he was vice president are fully cooperating with the select committee. Clearly, the chairman, Bennie Thompson, wants Pence to come in and cooperate and answer questions. Do you think he will?
HONING: Well, Wolf, it's an enormously powerful statement by the committee, first of all, if they seek testimony from Mike Pence voluntarily or involuntarily. The message there is nobody is above the law. It doesn't matter how powerful you are or were up to and including the former vice president of the United States. If you have information that will bring us closer to the truth, we are going to pursue it.
Look, there's an obvious riff here that I think the investigators are wise to exploit. That's what you do when you're trying to break into a close group like this. There was a riff on January 6th between Donald Trump and his people and Mike Pence and his people.
As Ryan said, we know that Mike Pence's people are cooperating. They have information about what he was doing. He would be a crucial witness if he cooperates.
I think the likely outcome here is they negotiate some sort of agreement where he tells them, he answers some of their questions, but he will draw lines, I think, as well areas he's not willing to go into.
BASH: Can I just make one point on that, Wolf, and that is that what Jamie said earlier is so important, that these top aides to the former vice president, they're already cooperating. That is far different from Mike Pence actually talking to this committee. He's already in deep political trouble with the Trump base because he dame to actually follow the Constitution and do his duty on January 6th of last year. If he makes the decision to agree to talk to this committee, then he is making the decision that at age -- what is he -- 60, 61, he's probably in the short-term done with his presidential ambitions because it will be very, very hard for him in this current Republican environment to overcome that on a political level, but he might be calculating, you know what, that ship has sailed and it sailed on January 6th because I made the decision to certify the electoral results.
BLITZER: And obey the Constitution and the process. All right, everybody --
BASH: And obey the Constitution.
BLITZER: Yes, everybody stand by. We're going to have much more on all the major breaking news right after a quick break. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: There is more breaking news that's emerging right now. The former president, Donald Trump, just announced he's canceling, repeat, canceling a planned news conference and speech he was scheduled to deliver this Thursday on the first anniversary of the January 6th attack.
Let's discuss this and more with Congressman Jason Crow, Democrat of Colorado. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. So, what's your reaction to the former president deciding all of a sudden he's not going to go this big event on January 6th?
REP. JASON CROW (D-CO): Well, it's kind of a flashback to years past where Trump would just do everything and nothing all at the same time. But I'm glad he's not doing the event, of course, because it would just be lies and (INAUDIBLE) and incitement, like he always does. But we're going to stay focused on the events of the 6th. Thursday, we're going to read some testimonials, talking about the officers that gave their lives, that sacrificed so much to help protect my life and the life of many of my colleagues. We're going to talk about some of the historical perspective of the peaceful transition of power in America, what that really means, and really try to set some context for what January 6th was about but what it really continues to be about, because this is ongoing challenge (INAUDIBLE).
BLITZER: Yes. We're showing some video of you a year ago on January 6th. You were in the gallery over there. And you're an Iraq War veteran. You fought in Afghanistan. You were reassuring some of your colleagues there that you would be able to get out safely, right?
CROW: Yes, that's right. I never in a million years did I ever think I would be thrust back into a position, back into a mindset like I was when I was an Army Ranger, when I did three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. I just had to take my emotions and put them in a box and set them aside and just start thinking through a checklist of how I was going to get me and my colleagues and everybody else out of there alive.
Luckily, those Capitol police officers were able to hold the line long enough for us to be evacuated and safe. It could have been far worse, Wolf. This is one thing that I want to really point out. And it was bad enough, as it is, with the millions of dollars of damage, with the Capitol being overrun by these insurrectionists, with the police officers who died and the dozens who still have injuries right now. But had they broken through, they certainly would have tried to kill or killed many of us, which would have changed our democracy and tried to derailed the election certification.
But I think one thing I think is really important here, this is not an exercise in history right now. This one year anniversary of January 6th on Thursday, the events leading up to it this week, January 6 select committee investigation, we're not trying to write a history book. This is an ongoing investigation. This is an ongoing effort to point out that there's a domestic violent extremist movement that's being furthered and incited by Donald Trump and his enablers to undermine our democracy and prevent free and fair elections. That's what we're dealing with right now.
BLITZER: Well, let's get to some of the breaking news, Congressman, the select committee just releasing a little while ago these text messages from Sean Hannity, who the committee says had advanced knowledge of former President Trump's planning for January 6th and, quote, relevant communications while the riot was underway. What's your reaction?
CROW: Well, my reaction is the more we unpeel the layers of this onion, the more we find. There are more layers to this. This was not an accident. This did not just happen. This was planned. They had PowerPoint presentations about this. There were text messages. There were emails. There were phone calls in the weeks leading up to it. There was a very deliberate and intentional planning process by the president and his key allies and enablers to overturn a fair and democratic election because they did not win.
That's shocking. And then if folks are not shocked by that, they should be paying more attention. There's a lot that we that have to still discover here. The more that this investigation continues, the more we learn, and the more disturbing it becomes.
BLITZER: We've also learned from the committee chair that they would like to speak to the former vice president, Mike Pence, and any other situation you would expect the former sitting vice president who came under attack himself to cooperate.
This isn't necessarily a normal political situation unfolding right now, is it?
CROW: It's not. I think one of the really stunning characteristics of the political challenge that we face right now is you have really almost an entire political party, the Republican Party in this instance, that is under the grip of one man. This is not about a conservative ideology. This is not about democracy. This is about a party that's been captured by one person and the fear that he inspires within that party in that it has blinded so many of them. Not all of them. There are a few that have stood up with incredible courage and incredible conviction and have took a stand for democracy and those folks are patriots. But writ large, that party continues to be under the spell of Donald Trump and it's very disturbing and it's a real challenge that we face to our democracy.
BLITZER: Congressman Jason Crow of Colorado, thanks so much for all you're doing. Thanks so much for joining us.
CROW: Thank you.
BLITZER: Coming up, the CDC updates its controversial and confusing isolation guidelines. We're going to tell you what they're now recommending in their brand new statement. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following this hour. The CDC just a little while ago releasing updated COVID isolation guidance after days of criticism and confusion. Let's go right to our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan, tell us about these new recommendations.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So, the CDC still says that if you have tested positive -- if you have taken a test and you are positive and you've isolated for five days, they're still maintaining that you can leave isolation, Wolf, after those five days and are not recommending that you take a rapid test after five days of isolation, but now are saying that once you have left, that you should -- they are advising that you should not travel, that you should not got to restaurants where obviously you cannot wear a mask. You should not go to a gym where you cannot wear a mask.
But, Wolf, what's notable here is they say if you do decide to take a test and you can get your hands on one five days after testing positive and, of course, while you're still in isolation, and then you test positive, they say you should stay in isolation for five more days.
Of course, we heard big questions about this given this is an update to the CDC's guidance, not a change, after they received a lot of criticism last week for not including a testing component in their guidance when they shortened that isolation period in half for people who do test positive for coronavirus.
And it's also notable that now they're saying here's something you should do if you do have a positive test result, because listen to what the CDC director told me last week when I asked why new testing component was included in this guidance.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: Did the shortage of rapid tests that we're seeing play a role in this decision?
DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: No. This decision really from the isolation standpoint had everything to do with the fact that we wouldn't change our guidance based on the result of that rapid test.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: So, Wolf, essentially, what it boils down to is the CDC is now saying that you still don't have to take a test. They're still not recommending that you take a test after testing positive. But if you do take a test, it should change the way you behave and the way you determine whether or not you're staying in isolation.
And we should not confusing data that the CDC released alongside this, or maybe the data is not confusing, the decision around it is confusing, because they cite a study from the U.K. that says it reinforces the importance of mask use, because after the fifth day of a positive test, an estimated 31 percent of persons remain infectious.
Of course, Wolf, this is coming from the U.K., where they say that you should stay in isolation for seven days and only come out if you have a negative rapid test on day six and day seven. Here in the United States, they say -- the CDC says that you can leave isolation after five days with no negative rapid test result as long as you continue to wear a mask, avoid travel, avoid restaurants. Those are new qualifiers that the CDC did not issue last week but are now advising in this new updated guidance tonight, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, still a bit confusing, I must say. Kaitlan, thanks for your excellent reporting. I want to bring in CNN Medical Analyst, the former Baltimore City health commissioner, Dr. Leana Wen.
Dr. Wen, does this new isolation guidance from the CDC, from your perspective, make sense? Could it cause even more confusion?
DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I do not think that the clarification helped at all. I actually think that it made things worse, especially because the CDC is not adding a testing requirement, which I think a lot of public health experts were urging them to. I think they should be up front and say they can't do this because we just don't have enough tests to test out of isolation.
But now they're saying if you somehow get your hands on a test and you test positive by day five, then you have to extend your isolation for five more days until day ten. So, essentially, they are making it a disincentive to get tested. Who is going to want to get tested so that they can stay in isolation for longer?
I do think it makes sense for them to say, if you're an essential worker, you have to go back to work and you're able to mask while at work. You can do so after day five even without a test. But in the meantime, do not have meals with their family. Don't go to restaurants and other settings where you cannot be wearing a mask because you could still be infectious in that day five to ten period.
I think they can make it a lot easier, as it is now, it's so confusing that I think a lot of businesses, universities, health departments are going to have trouble following it because it just doesn't really make sense.
BLITZER: In your new opinion article that you wrote for The Washington post, you write, and I'm quoting now, it's unreasonable to ask vaccinated people to refrain from pre-pandemic activities. So, what exactly should this phase of the pandemic look like for vaccinated people?
WEN: Wolf, we're at a very different point in the pandemic, very different compared to last year at this time. Omicron is milder than previous variants. Also, we know that people who are vaccinated and boosted, by and large, are going to do just fine if they contract omicron. So, it is not reasonable to impose restrictions on people who are vaccinated and have done everything right. But at the same time, we can't just say let everybody have omicron because what's going to happen is that we're going to overwhelm our healthcare systems.
So, there is a practical middle ground that we need to figure out and I hope that the Biden administration will be more intentional about saying it's this middle ground that they're trying to pursue, which is don't close things down but require indoor masking with high quality masks. Don't restrict people from going to restaurants but try to require vaccinations in these high-risk settings. And it's so crucial for us to keep our schools open. We know exactly how to do this and teachers who are vaccinated and boosted and wearing a mask, they really should be going back for in-person instruction.
BLITZER: Yes, it's so, so important. Dr. Leana Wen, as usual, thank you so much.
Coming up, a truly catastrophic traffic jam strands drivers for more than 24 hours in Virginia, not far from where we are here in Washington, D.C. We're going to have a live report from I-95 where 14 inches of snow shut down the highway.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Tonight, traffic is finally moving again on I-95 after a winter storm dumped 14 inches of snow on the highway in Virginia and not far from we are in Washington, stranding some drivers for more than 24 hours.
CNN's Pete Muntean is joining us from Woodbridge, Virginia right now. What are you seeing? What are you hearing? Tell us what happened.
PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, where we are right now, the backup stretched to here, six miles from where I-95 south is officially shut down, 22 miles from the epicenter of this incident. Right now, the Virginia Department of Transportation says nobody is left stranded on I-95, although it is still working to clear about 20 abandoned cars from this massive mess.
MUNTEAN (voice over): The backup on one of the busiest stretches of highway on the east coast stretched more than 40 miles. For hours, stranded drivers moved only inch by inch after 14 inches of snow fell near Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Isaac Arcos shot this video of icy I-95 stuck for seven hours.
ISAAC ARCOS, STUCK ON INTERSTATE 95: Since I was at a stop still and it was cold, I had to conserve my gas to be able to stay warm. So, I turn off my car every maybe hour and turn it back on maybe every 15 minutes. I try to rest my head as much as I could, but there was no resting.
GOV. RALPH NORTHAM (D-VA) (voice over): We were prepared for the storm that was predicted, a few inches of snow. But instead, Mother Nature sent more than a foot snow to the Fredericksburg area.
MUNTEAN: State officials still do not know exactly how many got stuck in this chain reaction of jackknifed tractor trailers and out of control cars. One trucker microwaved a meal for that car that was stranded next to him. Another traveling from Florida even handed a stranded Senator Tim Kaine an orange.
SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA): It was kind of a survival challenge. I mean, you were trying not to run out of gas. Heat the car up. Turn it off. And then try to catch some sleep. And about 20 or 30 minutes, it gets so cold in the car, then you have to do it again. MUNTEAN: State officials are apologizing to drivers, but insist that crews could not have possibly kept up with the quick clip of the snowfall. Crews decided not to pre-treat the interstate, underscoring that the storm started as rain, which would have washed the solution away.
NORTHAM (voice over): DDOT (ph), the state police and other agencies are working as fast as possible to clear the roads, get traffic moving and make sure that everyone is safe. They'll continue to do that until every vehicle is cleared and traffic is able to move freely again.
MUNTEAN: State officials called the backup enormous and unacceptable, not enough for the countless drivers stuck in one of this snowstorm's scariest scenes.
THERESA SYKES, TRUCK DRIVER STUCK ON INTERSTATE 95: My people from St. Louis called me and told what was about to happen. How is it that they did not realize what was about to happen?
MUNTEAN (on camera): State officials say the goal is to fully reopen I-95 by the morning rush tomorrow morning. The good news here, Wolf, no deaths and, incredibly, no injuries. State officials are vowing a full review, saying this cannot happen again. Wolf?
BLITZER: Yes. Some people were stuck in their cars for more than 20 hours, a crazy situation and potentially very dangerous. Pete Muntean, thank you very much for that report.
Coming up, Senator Joe Manchin delivers yet another blow to Democrats' hopes of passing a major piece of President Biden's agenda. Will the West Virginia moderate agree to any, to any Senate rule changes to pass a voting rights bill?
BLITZER: Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia's pouring cold water on his party's hopes of passing voting rights legislation, a major centerpiece of President Biden's agenda.
Let's discuss this and more with Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware.
Senator, thanks for joining us.
So, where do Democrats go from here? Is voting rights dead in the water at least for now?
SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Well, Wolf, I don't think we should reach that conclusion just based on a brief in the hall interview with Senator Manchin. As you know well, as your viewers know well, Senator Manchin has been negotiating with the White House and with our caucus leadership over Build Back Better for months. Just before we got to the Christmas holiday, he made a comment on "Fox
News Sunday" that he was a no. My understanding is there is still an openness on his part to negotiating about that.
Similarly, I would say on voting rights, which is critical for our democracy to survive, as we come up on the anniversary of January 6th, it's important that we realize there are substantive revisions we could make to restore the filibuster to how it was previously practiced here in the Senate that might create a path forward for passing voting rights legislation.
This is very much a live issue, something that's being discussed in the Democratic caucus. We are all just returning from two weeks away with our families in our home states and I would not reach the conclusion yet that what Senator Manchin said in the hallway today means that conversation has come to an end.
BLITZER: So do you still believe that Senator Manchin is an honest broker in all of this?
COONS: Look, Senator Manchin is only one of three senators who served as a secretary of states. He was responsible for the electoral system in West Virginia. And he spent weeks and weeks last year with Senator Klobuchar and Senator Schumer negotiating a revision to a voting rights bill.
He has now indicated he supports it. There is 50 Democrats willing to move forward on this important voting rights legislation. That would strengthen and secure our electoral system for the next election.
I hope he is still willing to do the work that we have to do to get that to the floor of the Senate.
BLITZER: But he doesn't want to change the filibuster rule, in order to get 50 votes?
COONS: Wolf, that's what he said in the hallway today. I haven't had a chance to talk to Senator Manchin since we came back, and I look forward to talking with him about that in direct -- directly and in person this week.
BLITZER: How essential is it for your party, and for the president, for that matter, to -- to have something to show on Build Back Better -- that bill -- before the midterms?
COONS: Well, look. We've spent months on this. I think it's time for us to reach a conclusion.
I'm encouraged that Senator Manchin, Senator Sinema are both saying they're willing to move ahead. Senator Manchin, I believe, said today he was willing to do climate change to take up many of the pieces that had previously been in Build Back Better that would deal with the rising costs of energy and with making our country more climate resilient. Look. Just earlier in this show, you were interviewing Senator Kaine
who I think took 27 hours because of a freak snowstorm here in Washington to get to the Capitol. There were news reports last week of tornados in the Deep South in January. Who's ever heard of tornados in December and January?
Climate weirdness, changes to our climate are impacting communities all over our country and we need to do more to combat climate. I think we have a path forward on that with Senator Manchin, as well as some of the other provisions we've been negotiating on.
BLITZER: We shall see.
Senator Chris Coons, thanks so much for joining us.
COONS: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Just ahead, the former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo will not -- repeat not -- face misdemeanor sex crimes charges after the Albany D.A. declines to prosecute.
Stand by. We have details.
BLITZER: New developments tonight in the Andrew Cuomo investigation. The Albany District Attorney announcing he will not prosecute the former New York governor on a misdemeanor crime charge of forcible touching.
CNN national correspondent Athena Jones has the latest.
ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Former Governor Andrew Cuomo will not be prosecuted for allegedly groping a former aide at the executive mansion in late 2020. One of several such allegations he has repeatedly denied.
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: The most serious allegations made against me had no credible, factual basis in the report.
JONES: The Albany County district attorney will not move forward with a misdemeanor forcible touching charge because prosecutors could not prove the elements of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt.
David Suarez saying in a letter to the judge, although we found the complaining witness and her allegations credible and supported by the available evidence, we have concluded that we would be unable to secure a conviction at a criminal trial.
The groping complaint was filed in October in Albany City Court by Sheriff Craig Apple. SHERIFF CRAIG APPLE, ALBANY COUNTY, NEW YORK: Early August, we
received a complaint and a report was placed on file from a young woman who worked for the governor's office.
JONES: Today's move comes two months after Suarez signaled problems with the criminal complaint in a letter calling it potentially defective because it did not include a sworn statement from the alleged victim, former executive assistant Brittany Commisso, and left out pieces of her testimony.
The decision comes just days after the district attorneys in Nassau County and Westchester County said the former governor would not face criminal charges over misconduct allegations their offices investigated.
And this week, an attorney for the former governor telling CNN the Manhattan district attorney's office closed its investigation into whether nursing home leadership or state officials should face criminal liability for COVID-19 deaths that took place in those facilities.
CUOMO: New York, as everybody knows, was ground zero for COVID and nursing homes were, and still are, ground zero for COVID. And losing a loved one is very, very painful.
JONES: Cuomo resigned in August.
CUOMO: I think that given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing.
JONES: A week after Attorney General Letitia James issued a scathing report detailing sexual misconduct allegations against Cuomo.
LETITIA JAMES, NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL: The independence investigation found Governor Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women, many of whom were young women by engaging in unwanted groping, kisses, hugging, and by making inappropriate comments.
JONES (on camera): Now, a federal investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Cuomo is still underway. And the governor could still face civil litigation in the groping case -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Athena, thank you very much. Athena Jones in New York reporting.
And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. You can always tweet the show @CNNSitRoom. Thanks very much, once again, for watching.
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