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The Situation Room

Biden Says, U.S., European Allies In Total Unanimity Against Russia Threat; Special Grand Jury Granted To Probe Trump Election Interference In Georgia, New York City Mayor Unveils Ambitious Plan To Crack Down On Gun Violence; RFK Jr. Invokes Nazi Germany In Offensive Anti-Vaccine Speech As Thousands Protest Mandates At DC Rally; Three Former Officers President During Fatal Restraint Of George Floyd On Trial For Violating His Civil Rights. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 24, 2022 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram and the TikTok @JAKETAPPER. You can tweet the show @theleadcnn. If you ever missed an episode of the show, you can listen to "THE LEAD" wherever you get your podcast. I will be on Jimmy Kimmel later this evening.

Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer and THE SITUATION ROOM.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. President Biden says he and European leaders are in total unanimity after urging talks on the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Pentagon now has thousands of U.S. troops on heightened alert as this crisis intensifies. I'll speak live with the top Pentagon Spokesman, John Kirby. Stand by for that.

Also tonight, a Georgia prosecutor gets the green light to have a special grand jury investigate former President Trump's election interference in the state, this as we're getting new details on the January 6th committee's talks with former Trump Attorney General, Bill Barr.

And New York's mayor unveils an ambitious plan to crack down on gun violence after another weekend of senseless shootings, including the killing of a rookie NYPD officer responding to a domestic dispute.

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

We begin with new diplomatic and military moves by the United States amid fear that a Russian envision of Ukraine could be imminent. President Biden spent about 80 minutes in talks with European leaders and now is declaring they're all on the same page.

CNN White House Correspondent M.J. Lee is covering this breaking story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) M.J. LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, President Biden assessing his options for turning up the pressure on Russia.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I had a very, very, very good meeting, totally unanimity with all the European leaders.

LEE: The president meeting with European allies on a secure video call from THE SITUATION ROOM on the escalating crisis at the Russia- Ukraine border. After huddling with his top national security advisers over the weekend at Camp David, as he has said in recent days that any Russian units crossing into Ukraine would considered to be an invasion.

BIDEN: But to be no doubt at all that if Putin makes this choice, Russia will pay a heavy price.

LEE: One possibility on the table, deploying American troops to the Baltic and eastern Europe with the administration now set to be in the final stages of identifying specific military units and writing up military orders. As many as 8,500 U.S. troops now stand on heightened alert for deployment according to the Pentagon.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We've always said we would re-enforce our allies on the eastern flank. We've never ruled out providing additional support, additional assistance to eastern flanked countries in advance of any invasion and those discussions with them have been ongoing.

LEE: Overnight, the state department authorizing the departure of all non-essential staff and family members from the U.S. Embassy Kyiv. The Biden administration also continuing to prepare an array of sanctions against Russia should President Vladimir Putin move forward with an invasion including measures that would target Russian citizen smart phones, tablets, and video game consoles.

PSAKI: We are mindful of what we think is the most effective deterrent and the severe economic sanctions captured something that would be go far beyond what was done and what was on the table in 2014.

LEE: All of this as Putin continues to mobilize troops along Ukraine's borders, putting global leaders on high alert. The development, yet another test of NATO and its mission. The alliance putting forces on standby and sending ships and fighter jets to Eastern Europe. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken sending this message to Putin about any active aggression against Ukraine.

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: If a single additional Russian force goes into Ukraine in an aggressive way, as I said, that would trigger a swift, a severe and a united response from us and from Europe.

LEE: Many lawmakers in Washington calling on the White House to act swiftly. REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX): The plan of action that I've seen in the classified space as well as very specific, very aggressive is timetable. If we don't do something strong right now, I'm afraid that he's going to invade Ukraine.


LEE (on camera): Now, the situation in Russia and Ukraine is hardly the only thing on the president's mind. He just wrapped up a meeting on the economy with top members of his administration and as the meeting was wrapping up, one reporter shouted a question to the president about inflation. The president responding with sarcasm, here is that exchanged.


REPORTER: Do you think there's a place in political liability?

BIDEN: It's a great asset, more inflation. You're a stupid son of a bitch.



LEE: Now, it certainly goes without saying that inflation is an issue that Democrats are very concerned about. The president indicating that he certainly didn't appreciate being asked about it tonight. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, he certainly did not appreciate that question by that Fox reporter and certainly it underscored the president's frustration right now. M.J. Lee over at the White House, thank you very much.

Let's go live to Ukraine and our Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward. Clarissa, I'm about to speak live with the Pentagon Spokesman Retired Admiral John Kirby who said today that Russia is showing no sign of deescalating. Instead, they're adding more forces to the Ukraine border. How is Putin likely to react to U.S. military forces now being put on standby for possible deployment to the region?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I think you can be sure that President Putin will not be happy about this. It's important to remind our viewers that part of the reason that Russia even started this whole thing was because Putin is deeply unhappy with the post cold war status quo in Europe.

He would like to see those security arrangements that have allowed for the expansion of NATO in Eastern Europe to be changed and to reflect a reality that he would like to see with Russia maintaining a large sphere of influence.

Even one of the demands that Russia has made in these diplomatic discussions has been that NATO pull its foreign forces out of countries like Romania and Bulgaria.

So the idea that the U.S. could potentially deploy thousands of troops to eastern Europe, the Baltic states, this is certainly something even with the insistence that they would be there just as a deterrent to provide reassurance to allies that they would not be engaging in combat, this is almost certainly going to be viewed as an act of aggression, as a threat, and as real shift in the White House's policy in terms of how it deals with Russia. The question though, Wolf, of how President Putin will respond, I would have to say that's still is anybody's guess.

BLITZER: Certainly is. All right, Clarissa Ward in Ukraine for us. Thank you very much. Let's discuss this with the Pentagon Press Secretary, Lieutenant Admiral John Kirby. John, thanks very much for joining us.

It was a dramatic announcement you made today, as many as 8,500 U.S. military forces troops are ready to be deployed if NATO makes that call, but what about President Biden? Has he already made a decision on whether to deploy those troops to the eastern flank of NATO and to the Baltic?

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We haven't made any decisions yet with respect to actual deployment orders, Wolf. All we've done right now today is put these troops on a heightened alert. Some are on a ten-day tether, if you will, to be ready to go in ten days and moving it down to five days. Others will have to get from a farther state of readiness to closer. But there's been no deployment orders at this time.

BLITZER: Where exactly would those troops be deployed from and would they be combat troops?

KIRBY: So, what we are doing and we will be able to provide a little bit more detail in the next day or so, we're notifying these units so we're being careful about saying who they are and where they're coming from, but I think you can expect they'll come from basis throughout the United States and they're be -- if they're deployed, they would deploy as part of the NATO response force.

And this is something that NATO would decide where they would go. But I think Secretary General Stoltenberg made it very clear that if you were to do something like this, it would be on NATO's eastern flank. So you would think about the Baltics. Think about countries like Romania, and Bulgaria, that kind of thing. It would be on the eastern flank of NATO to bolster their capabilities in their own self-defense.

BLITZER: But they are combat troops, right?

KIRBY: Well, I mean, some troops obviously would be combat-capable. There's no question about that. I mean combat credible power is what you're looking for here, but there would also be a sizable amount of troops dedicated to medical support and aviation, logistics and sustainment. It will be a very comprehensive package.

BLITZER: Right. You want to notify their family members before you announce where they're coming from, right?

KIRBY: That's right, Wolf. That's right. We want to let the units know so that the units have time to tell the families that they'll going to be on heightened alert. Again, nobody's packing up and leaving today. This is really just about telling these units be ready because if you get called, we're going to need you to be able to deploy in a shorter period of time and what you are probably are right now.

BLITZER: Yes, five days. That's not a long period of time. And you do want their family members to know about that. And I'm sure they're going to start getting a bit nervous. What's your understanding from NATO, John, about Russian actions? What Russian actions would prompt NATO to actually call up and deploy these 8,500 U.S. troops?

KIRBY: Well, I think those are the kinds of decisions that policymakers at NATO and here in the United States are working their way through. I wouldn't get ahead of that process. But obviously, we don't want to see another incursion. We don't want to see in the invasion of Ukrainian sovereignty and their territorial integrity. I think that would certainly be a big indicator of whether or not the alliance would want to do anything.

But Wolf, I can't rule out the fact there may not be some bolstering that needs to be done even before that because we want to make sure we're ready.


It takes time to get these capabilities into place. So, we're taking a looking at a whole range of potential options for bolstering the capabilities of NATO's eastern flank and I think, you know, again, policymakers are working themselves through on what the indicators would be for that.

BLITZER: What change in the last two, three, four days that led you guys to put these troops on a heightened level of preparedness potentially to deploy to Europe?

KIRBY: Yes, combination of factors. I mean obviously there's still a diplomatic path open but we didn't get you know, concrete results out of the talks that had occurred. Now, Secretary Blinken made it very clear that there's still room for diplomacy. We obviously want to see that succeed. But in the meantime, Wolf, we've also seen Vladimir Putin add to his force capability, not just in the western part of his own country but in Belarus as well. So, he has shown no signs, as I said earlier today, of deescalating, quite the contrary. And I think it's, you know, it's something we're all watching with great concern.

Again, I want to stress, no troops are flying over there today. These are really just getting them on a heightened alert posture to be ready in case they're needed.

BLITZER: How high are the chances of a Russian invasion of Ukraine? We know they invaded Ukraine 2014, took Crimea, Donbas area, they have got troops over there, that's part of Ukraine. It doesn't seem like Putin has many options, at least right now, to save face, even if he potentially wanted to back down. He's got more than 100,000 troops aligned on the border of Ukraine. KIRBY: Right. And nobody knows what's in his head right now. We don't believe that he has actually made a decision for another invasion. That's why Secretary Blinken and the administration still believes there's time for diplomacy and dialogue to work here. We don't believe he's made that commitment. But he is increasing his options by having more and more forces even over just the last few days, Wolf. He is increasing his military options available to him and we want to make sure that we are standing by our NATO partners and that he fully understands the consequences should he incur again.

BLITZER: The U.S. is now out of Afghanistan, removed all the troops, about to get out of Iraq. What do you say to American families out there who are watching to the U.S. public who are saying, why should the U.S. potentially get involved in some sort of military confrontation in Europe right now?

KIRBY: The answer to that is the NATO alliance itself, an Article 5 commitment inside NATO, which says an attack on one is an attack on all. And it would be a nice reminder that, remember, that on 9/11, the first time that Article 5 commitment was employed by NATO, was in our defense, on 9/11, when NATO aircraft started flying some surveillance and reconnaissance missions over our own skies. They came to our defense using Article 5 on that very tragic day. And we have an equal commitment to the alliance.

Now, again, nobody wants to see another war. Nobody wants to see another con conflict. There's no reason forward to get that way. But if our NATO allies need some support, we want to make sure they know we're there for them.

BLITZER: I know you got to run, but very quickly, Ukraine is not a member of NATO. Why should U.S. get involved in helping Ukraine?

KIRBY: We are going to continue to help them defend themselves. Just over the weekend, Wolf, another three deliveries of additional arms and ammunition and some security assistance material. We flew to Kyiv. They've got it there. Other allies like the Brits are doing the same thing. We want to make sure that the Ukrainian armed forces can defend themselves. Nothing has changed about that commitment and that's been a commitment over more than one presidential administration to make sure that the Ukrainians can defend themselves. We're going to be keep doing that.

BLITZER: You're going to be busy. John Kirby over at the Pentagon, thank you very much for joining us. Good luck.

KIRBY: Yes, sir. Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, former Trump Attorney General William Barr is holding exploratory talks right now with the January 6 select committee. Will he give investigators any insight into a scheme to seize voting machines in various states? I'll discuss that and more with the key member of the committee right after the break.



BLITZER: The Fulton County, Georgia district attorney has been given permission by a judge to seat a special grand jury to investigate former President Trump's election interference in that state.

Let's go to our Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles. He's working the story for us. So, Ryan, update us on the latest.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This is a significant development, Wolf, no doubt. Because what this does is it allows the district attorney there in Fulton County, Fani Willis, to begin the process of seating a grand jury as soon as May 2nd. And what this grand jury will allow her to do is subpoena individuals' information and all the relevant information necessary to conduct this investigation into the former president, Donald Trump. And it shows that she is getting serious about this process.

Now, this is something that the former president and his allies have said is nothing more than a political ax to grind by a Democratic prosecutor there in Fulton County, but the fact that they are taking this serious legal step is going to open the door to the discovery of a lot of information that was closely aligned with what happened in Georgia after the federal election there in which we know the former president put a lot of pressure on election officials there, to find votes, as he said to brad Raffensperger in the hopes of overturning the election result there, Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, Ryan, CNN is also learning now that the former attorney general of the United States, William Barr, has now spoken to the January 6 select committee. What can you tell us about that discussion?

NOBLES: Well, it seems at this point Wolf that these are just preliminary conversations between Barr and the January 6 select committee, that they haven't done a full-fledged on the record deposition but it's when they could do in the future.

But it is significant that Barr would be willing to cooperate with the committee on any level.


He, of course, was someone that was very loyal to the former president, Donald Trump, but he's also someone who left the government service right before January 6 and also made it clear before he left that he and his office found no evidence of widespread voter fraud, at least not enough to overturn the election results.

So, Barr is a key player in all of this. Of course, some of his deputies stayed on after the fact where there was that pressure campaign from Trump and his associates to get the Justice Department involved. We'll have to see how the committee handles Barr going forward. Will they do a full-fledged deposition and, of course, the question, Wolf, will they have him appear publicly for a hearing? That's something they still need to find out. Wolf?

BLITZER: Good question indeed. All right Ryan Nobles reporting for us from Capitol Hill. Thank you.

Let's discuss with a key member of the January 6th select committee, Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California. Congresswoman, thank you so much for joining us.

What exactly was the nature of the committee's conversations with Bill Barr? How extensive were they?

REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): Well, let me just say that they were informal conversations done by the investigative staff with the former attorney general and we appreciate his willingness to have conversations with our investigators.

BLITZER: Do you expect to have more conversations with him?

LOFGREN: Well, you know, I never make predictions, but, certainly, he was in a key spot, saw a lot. And if we will remember, I mean, there were a lot of things I didn't agree with the former attorney general about. But at the end, he did say that these claims of voter fraud were baseless. Actually, he used more -- a different word that was pretty explicit and did leave the administration. So, you know, he has information that I'm sure is helpful to us and we appreciate that he wants to share some of those insights.

BLITZER: Would you say he's cooperating with your committee?

LOFGREN: I don't know what -- I mean, what does that mean? He is willing and has in fact had conversations with our investigators. So, I think that's, you know, proper on his part, and we appreciate it.

BLITZER: It sounds like he is cooperating with your committee, at least for the time being.

Politico published this draft, a draft of an executive order from December 2020 that would have directed the Pentagon to seize voting machines in various states and hunt for what they called evidence of fraud. Have you been told who wrote that order or who was privy to it inside the White House, inside the Defense Department or the Department of Justice for that matter?

LOFGREN: Really, all we know about that is the memo itself. It's an extraordinary document and we have a lot of questions about it. We've got no evidence at this point that there were steps taken in the Department of Defense to implement that memo, but, I mean, it's a lawless document and really breathtaking in its approach to our American democracy.

BLITZER: Yes. And that's what all the reports suggest.

I want you to listen to something that the former House speaker, Newt Gingrich, told Fox about you and your fellow committee members. Listen to this.


FMR. REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA): And I think when you have a Republican Congress, this is all going to come crashing down and the wolves are now going to find out that they're now sheep and they're the ones who, in fact, going to, I think, face a real risk of jail for the kind of laws they are breaking.


BLITZER: So what's your reaction to that?

LOFGREN: Well, first, it's -- I mean, it's weird. I think Newt is apparently just lost it and I -- it's bizarre. Also, he doesn't look well so I -- although we very rarely agreed when I served with him when he was the speaker of the House, I certainly don't wish him any ill personally, but this is bizarre statements and, really, he looks unwell.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, thanks so much for joining us.

Coming up, New York City Mayor Eric Adams is unveiling a new plan to tame a growing surge of gun violence. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: The New York City mayor, Eric Adam, is announcing new steps to fight gun violence in the wake of the fatal shooting of a rookie police officer responding to a 911 call.

CNN National Correspondent Bryn Gingras is in New York. She reports it was part of a deadly nationwide wave of weekend gun violence.


BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The family of 22-year-old Jason Rivera is heartbroken. Fly high, my beautiful angel, his widow writing on Instagram. The NYPD rookie shot dead while responding to a 911 domestic call Friday. His partner, Wilbert Mora, is critically injured. The suspect was shot by a third officer and the NYPD confirms died today.

JAMES ESSIG, CHIEF OF DETECTIVES, NYPD: Recovered at that scene is a glock 45 high capacity magazine, which holds up to 40 additional rounds.

GINGRAS: The man among five officers shot in New York City this month, the first month in office for Mayor Eric Adams.

MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D-NEW YORK CITY, NY): Officers are doing heroic work, getting guns off the streets, but traffickers keep the guns coming.


That must end.

GINGRAS: Today, Adams is demanding action, laying out what he calls a blueprint to end gun violence. It includes reinstating a plainclothes police unit to go after guns on the streets and focus on a flow of firearms into the city. The gun that killed Rivera was reported stolen from Baltimore in 2017.

ADAMS: Everybody believes that the gang and crime crisis is the NYPD's problem. No, it is not. Every agency in this city must be involved with the number one threat in our city, and that's violence.

GINGRAS: In Houston, authorities believe an assault-type weapon was used to kill a deputy who was conducting a traffic stop this weekend. Authorities are still looking for the suspect who suddenly fired at 47-year-old Charles Galloway.

CONSTABLE TED HEAP, HARRIS COUNTY PRECINCT 5: There's a lot of very broken up officers. He was the one that was teaching them what to do and how to get home safely to their families.

GINGRAS: Another officer shot in Washington, D.C. this weekend treated and released from the hospital. But in Chicago, gun violence took the life of an eight-year-old girl. Melissa Ortega was walking with her guardian when she was hit with a stray bullet.

ANDREW HOLMES, CRISIS RESPONDER: I don't care who your targets were. You targeted that little girl because. If you weren't targeting that little girl, she would still be here living today. When you're in and everybody just targeted but what the target is for. Because when you miss, you hit our babies.

GINGRAS: And now, New York City will honor a man who showed so much promise.

JASON RIVERA, NYPD: I want y'all to like, to hear me, hear my voice and know that you're going to get through it.

GINGRAS: Rivera joined the NYPD to bring together police and the community, a community now mourning his death.


GINGRAS (on camera): And the funeral for Rivera is set for this weekend. As far as Adams' plan, he said plainclothes officers will be hitting the streets in the next three weeks targeting the neighborhoods where 80 percent of the violent crime is happening. And, Wolf, Adams also making a plea to the federal government saying they need to pass common sense gun legislation to stop the trafficking of guns not only into New York but in other states across the country. Wolf?

BLITZER: Heartbreaking, indeed. All right, Brynn Gingras, in New York for us, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on all of this. Joining us now, CNN Law Enforcement Analyst, the former Philadelphia Police Commissioner, Charles Ramsey, also was the D.C. Police Chief, and CNN Senior Law Enforcement Analyst, the former FBI Deputy Director, Andrew McCabe. Chief Ramsey, as the former Chief in D.C. and Philadelphia, what goes through your mind seeing this level of violence that these police officers are now facing?

CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, it's ridiculous. And it's not just the police officers, it's members of the general public. I mean crime has been increasing for the past couple of years and this year, even though it's early in the year, it doesn't look like it's going to get any better.

And so I understand what the mayor is doing. I agree with him. You have to get these illegal guns and the people that use them off the streets, period. There's no other way to do this. It is not going to fix itself. And police officers obviously are going to be at risk because they're the ones that go after the people that are doing the shootings, doing the carjacking and so forth. And it's just not a good situation at all right now.

BLITZER: A terrible situation. You know, Andrew, will this new blueprint from the New York City mayor, Eric Adams, get to the root of the problem or as some are suggesting maybe exacerbate them?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, that remains to be seen, Wolf. We haven't heard all of the details on how this new plainclothes team will be different than the old anticrime units that ran into so much trouble and were so divisive in the communities they served many years ago. So, I think we really need to hear more from the mayor on that count.

But I will say that another way to address this problem is on the prosecution side of the issue. When criminals know without a doubt that getting caught with a gun is going to result in serious time in jail, they're not going to get bonded out, they're not going to get pled down, they stop carrying those weapons. So, that is something they need to look at as well.

BLITZER: You agree, Chief Ramsey?

RAMSEY: I do, I agree 100 percent. I mean, right now, there is in many of our cities, including the one in I'm in now, Philadelphia, they don't fear being arrested because they know nothing's going to happen to them. You know, they're not going to be given any kind of jail sentence, they're not going to be held pending their court hearing. And so you're starting to see more and more of these guys out on the street. They're violent. They either wind up hurting someone or because the street is really merciless, they will be the ones that will be the next victim themselves because they'll be shot by some other bad guy.

And so all of it just leads to bloodshed and violence on the streets of our city. So, not only do police have to be aggressive in locking some of these guys up, which I agree with, prosecution has to step up to the plate and of courts have to step up and do something as well.


Otherwise this is not going to change.

BLITZER: Do you think it's going to change or it's going to continue to be as bad as it is right now? It's pretty awful throughout so many parts of this country, Andrew.

MCCABE: Well, it's not going to change quickly, Wolf. These things, these policies that he put in place have a lag time. They should be targeted at those parts of the city where the data shows you, you have your worst episodes of violence, your most frequent episode of gun violence. But at the end of the day, we are a nation awash in guns and it's going to take a lot of concerted effort to turn that back.

BLITZER: Andrew McCabe, Charles Ramsey, guys, thank you very much for joining us.

RAMSEY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, Dr. Anthony Fauci says the omicron wave is heading in the right direction here in the United States. Will Americans finally see some relief from the pandemic in the next few weeks?


BLITZER: There's a growing hope tonight that we may soon be able to put the worst of the omicron surge behind us.


Let's discuss with Dr. Paul Offit, a member of the FDA Vaccine Advisory Committee, and Dr. Ashish Jha, the Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. Doctor Jha, as you know Dr. Fauci says we're heading in the right direction, but deaths are still on the rise. I just checked, the U.S. is now averaging 2,033 new deaths each day. At what point where the omicron crisis finally be over?

DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALHT: Yes, Wolf, first of all, thanks for having me back. Look, I do agree. I certainly agree with Dr. Fauci that the infection numbers are heading down in the right direction, about 20 percent off the peak. What we know from really two years of this pandemic is that deaths follow about three to four weeks later. So, we're probably a couple of weeks away from the death numbers declining. My hope is that once we get into mid February, we're really going to have very low levels of cases across the country.

BLITZER: You know, Dr. Offit, for those who are fully vaccinated and boosted like I am, when should they feel comfortable going back to a restaurant, eating indoors or a bar or a movie theatre for that matter?

DR. PAUL OFFIT, MEMBER, FDA VACCINES ADVISORY COMMITTEE: Well, I'm fully vaccinated and boosted since I'm over 65 and I do that now. I mean I certainly go to restaurants and I wear a mask when I walk in and when I sit down and with people that I know are fully vaccinated, I take the mask off and I would go to a movie theater and wear a mask in the movie theater. And if someone behind me wasn't wearing a mask and was coughing, I would move to another seat. But otherwise I would be willing to go to a movie theater at this point. Yes.

BLITZER: What do you think, Dr. Jha?

JHA: Yes. I agree with Dr. Offit. Look, one could make the case that when the surge is horrible, when the infection numbers are terrible in your community, it does pay to be a bit more careful. But infection numbers are declining I think certainly the next couple of weeks as they come down, everything Dr. Offit outlined seems really reasonable to me. And I think that's what vaccinated, boosted people should be comfortable doing.

BLITZER: You know Dr. Offit, I'm anxious to get your thoughts, the first three N-95 masks the really top of the line mask from the federal stockpile are beginning to arrive at pharmacies around the country. At this point, is there any reason to wear a basic cloth mask like we all did in the early days of the pandemic?

OFFIT: No. I think a cloth mask is not a good idea. Obviously you want a tightly fitted mask. If you can get the N-95 mask, great. The KN-95 would be another option. Surgical masks also work, but to a lesser extent. So I think if you can get an N-95 mask that's great.

It's hard for children. Young children, to wear that kind of mask, but as an adult, it's certainly wearable. It has the nice, tight fit to prevent respiratory droplets from leaving or from coming in.

BLITZER: Yes, I've been wearing that B-95 mask myself in recent days. You know Dr. Jha, as you probably know, seven Virginia school districts have now filed a formal lawsuit over the new governor, Governor Glenn Youngkin executive order making masking optional in schools. Are these school districts right to push back?

JHA: You know, I think they are. And here's why. Again, as much I'm optimistic that the surge is starting to abate, it's not abated yet. Infection numbers are still quite high across the country. And so I do not think it's responsible to get rid of mask mandates at this moment. There will come a time, probably in the next you know, few weeks or depending on the case numbers, when infection numbers get much lower when mandates can be lifted safely, but I think the districts are right to push back right now.

BLITZER: What do you think, Doctor Offit?

OFFIT: I agree completely. Only about 19 percent of 5 to 11-year-olds are fully vaccinate. Only about 56 percent of 12 to 17-year-olds are fully vaccinated. So other than vaccines, what you have is a mask, you know so why tie both hands behind your back? And the math people talk about waning a pan coronavirus vaccine. One that will work against all variants. The mask does that.

BLITZER: Doctors Offit, Doctor Jha, and doctors thank you so much as usual for joining us. Obviously, the pandemic still continues. Let's hope it goes away soon. Coming up, disturbing rhetoric from anti-vaccine protesters taking to the streets here in Washington, D.C. We're going to have a closer look at these inflammatory and false comparisons they're drawing between COVID vaccinations and the holocaust.



BLITZER: A son of one of America's top political dynasties is among the latest anti-vaccination activists to make totally outrageous and offensive comparisons between the fight against COVID and Nazi Germany.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us right now.

Brian, these comparisons aren't just morally reprehensible, they're also dangerous.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Medical experts tell us they're very dangerous, Wolf. The recent rise in the comparisons of vaccine mandate to Nazi practices, comparisons made often by public figures threatens to derail some of the progress in getting more American adults vaccinated.


TODD (voice-over): At the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, the words from the son of an American political icon, speaking about COVID vaccine policies in America were stunning.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR., ANTI-VACCINE ACTIVIST: Even in Hitler Germany, you could -- you could cross the Alps to Switzerland. You can hide in an attic like Anne frank did. Today, the mechanisms are being put in place that will make us -- none of us can run and none of us can hide.

TODD: Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s factually incorrect tirade at a rally Sunday against vaccine mandates where Nazi symbols and signs in clothing were spotted in the crowd is drawing utter scorn tonight from public health experts fighting to get more Americans vaccinated.


PROF. ART CAPLAN, DIRECTOR, DIVISION OF MEDICAL ETHICS, NYU LANGONE MEDICAL CENTER: He has completely jumped the ethical shark. He has no understanding of what he is comparing. You've got racism resulting in genocide in Nazi, Germany, and he's comparing that to being told to produce a vaccine card if you want to get into a sporting event?

TODD: But Kennedy is not alone. A few weeks ago Fox News host Lara Logan compared Dr. Fauci to the Nazi's so-called angel of death.

LARA LOGAN, FOX NEWS HOST: He doesn't represent science to them. He represents Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor who did experiments on Jews during the Second World War and in the concentration camps.

REP. WARREN DAVIDSON (R-OH): I'm Congressman Warren Davidson from Ohio.

TODD: Several days ago, Ohio Republican Congressman Warren Davidson responded to a tweet from D.C.'s mayor saying proof of vaccination would be required to enter some city buildings by tweeting an image of a Nazi document with the comment this has been done before, #donotcomply.

And Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene last year said this about Speaker Nancy Pelosi's request for proof of vaccination in order to go maskless in the House chambers.

REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): We can look back at a time in history where people were told to wear a gold star and they were definitely treated like second-class citizens, so much so that they were put in trains and taken to gas chambers in Nazi Germany.

TODD: Health experts worry about the effect the Nazi comparisons will have on the already plateauing number of American adults getting vaccinated.

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: It's going to be a very heavy lift to increase the number of people in this country, the percent of our population much further. They take a part of the American population that has had doubts about vaccines. Now they sort of create this false history that somehow mandates fall into the kind of evil processes that we saw in Nazi Germany.


TODD (on camera): Dr. Jonathan Reiner says the disturbing irony is that the Nazis were actually pro-vaccine. He points out the Nazis understood the benefits of vaccines and withheld vaccines from prisoners in concentration camps and others who they wanted to annihilate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, reporting for us, awful situation indeed.

Brian, thank you very much.

Coming up, three former police officers who were on the scene during the murder of George Floyd are now on trial for violating his civil rights. We're going to have details from the prosecution's opening statement.



BLITZER: Three former police officers present during the fatal restraint of George Floyd back in May of 2020 are now on trial facing federal civil rights charges.

CNN's Omar Jimenez is in St. Paul, Minnesota, for us tonight.

Omar, the prosecution is charging that these three former police officers just stood by as George Floyd was killed. Tell us what happened in court today.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Well, for starters, we got into testimony. We began to hear from an FBI forensic examiner as we went through video from the day George Floyd was murdered back in May of 2020. But the day was largely dominated by opening statements from both the prosecution and the defense attorneys for each of these former officers.

The prosecution largely stayed close to the charges in this, that former officers Thomas Lane, Alex Kueng and Tou Thao deliberately were indifferent to the serious medical needs that Floyd was showing under the knee of Derek Chauvin and specifically that Thao and Kueng did not intervene or try to stop Derek Chauvin.

Now, the prosecutor said over the course of her opening statement that each made a conscious choice over and over again. They chose not to intervene and stop Chauvin as he killed a man. They chose not to protect George Floyd, the man they handcuffed. Then went on to tell the jury, you'll see the ambulance arrive, and it wasn't the defendants that got Chauvin off of Floyd, it was those first responders.

Now, I should also mention all of these former officers have pleaded not guilty to these charges. Their defenses ranged from, well, the video and what the crowd saw didn't tell the full story of what happened, that they tried to do something but were shut down by Chauvin. And that they were deferring to the senior officer on the scene in Chauvin. I should also note, Chauvin is not a defendant in this trial. He was initially supposed to be but pleaded guilty to his charges last month and now his proceedings will be happening separately.

BLITZER: Omar, do we expect any of these three former police officers to testify during the course of this federal trial?

JIMENEZ: As we heard from Thomas Lane's attorney in opening statements, Lane is expected to testify in his own defense over the course of this. Remember, he's not charged with failing to intervene and stop Chauvin, because as his attorney argued, there were multiple points where he tried to intervene. For one, suggesting to Chauvin that they put an added restraint, a hobble on Floyd that would have propped him up on his side and Chauvin said no.

His attorney also argued there was another point where he asked Chauvin if they should turn Floyd on his side and Chauvin said, no, he's staying put. That's likely why they want him on the stand.

Now, the prosecution will likely try to paint him into a corner, back him into their bottom line as part of their argument that you saw George Floyd in clear need of medical care and did not act.

Tomorrow, we'll be back in court resuming testimony in what is expected to be a four-week trial, Wolf.

BLITZER: Four-week trial. We'll stay in close touch with you, Omar. Thank you very much. Omar Jimenez in St. Paul, Minnesota. To our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE


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