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Russia Threatens Retaliation If The West Continues "Aggressive Line" On Ukraine; Moderna Says It's Advancing Its Omicron-Specific Booster Candidate; First Participant Dosed In Phase 2 Clinical Trial; COVID Deaths In U.S. Continue A Steep Rise As Cases, Hospitalizations Fall; DOJ Investigating Fake 2020 Elector Certificates Declaring Trump Won; Boris Johnson Says He Won't Resign Amid Party Scandals; Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer To Retire; W.H.: Biden "Certainly Stands By" Campaign Pledge To Appoint A Black Woman To Supreme Court; U.S. Delivers Written Response To Russia's Demands Amid Fears Of An "Imminent" Invasion Of Ukraine. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 26, 2022 - 17:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Astronomer say the tumbling rocket will crash on the far side of the Moon on March 4.

I'm Pamela Brown in for Jake Tapper. Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, a shakeup at the United States Supreme Court as Justice Stephen Breyer decides to retire. President Biden is now poised to make his first High Court nomination potentially triggering an ugly and partisan confirmation battle.

Also tonight, the United States responds in writing to the Kremlin's demands amid fears that a Russian invasion of Ukraine is imminent. I'll ask the State Department spokesman, Ned Price, what the United States laid out and how Vladimir Putin might react.

And a new study finds Moderna's booster shot remains durable after six months even against the Omicron variant, but with a lower level of antibody. Standby for details on this breaking story.

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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Now let's get straight to the breaking news. A major moment for President Biden as he faces his first chance to shape the nation's highest court. CNN White House Correspondent MJ Lee is joining us with the latest right now.

MJ, we're told the President stands by his campaign commitment to nominate a black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court. MJ LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. One of President Biden's major campaign promises was to nominate a black woman to the Supreme Court, should he get the opportunity to do so. And now that Justice Breyer is expected to announce his retirement, President Biden will get just that opportunity and the opportunity to reshape the future of the Supreme Court potentially for decades to come.


LEE (voice-over): Tonight, President Biden confronting a major decision about the Supreme Court. Justice Stephen Breyer expected to retire from the highest court paving the way for the President to nominate his replacement, one of the most coveted and momentous actions a sitting U.S. President can take.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There has been no announcement from Justice Breyer. Let him make whatever statement he's going to make. And I'll be happy to talk about it later.

LEE (voice-over): Biden now getting the opportunity to fulfill this 2020 campaign promise.

BIDEN: I'm looking forward to making sure there's a black woman on the Supreme Court, to make sure and in fact get every representation.

I committed to it. If I'm elected president have an opportunity to appoint someone to the courts will be -- I'll appoint the first black woman to the courts.

We are putting together a list of a group of African American women who are qualified and have the experience to be in the court.

LEE (voice-over): The White House reiterating today, Biden's position on this front remains unchanged.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The President has stated and reiterated his commitment to nominating black woman to the Supreme Court and certainly stands by that.

LEE (voice-over): The upcoming nomination and confirmation fight now expected to dominate Washington and the White House for weeks. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer looking to move quickly following a similar timeline that Republicans used to confirm conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett in 2020.

The political calendar and the upcoming midterm elections looming large over Democrats. The President's Party currently has the slimmest of majorities in the Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie breaking vote. This, adding urgency for Biden to act quickly before the Senate potentially changes hands.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mitch McConnell said that if Republicans were to take back the Senate in 2022, he did not see a way that you could get a Supreme Court justice confirmed. Do you have response to that?

BIDEN: Mitch has been nothing but no for a long time. And I'm sure he means exactly what he says. But we'll see.

LEE (voice-over): Appointed to the court in 1994 by President Bill Clinton, Breyer, a consistent liberal justice on the bench. He has been a defender of abortion rights and affirmative action as well as a fierce opponent of capital punishment. Breyer also writing the opinion rejecting a challenge to the Affordable Care Act last term.

More recently, Justice Breyer coming under intense pressure, including from many progressives to retire. The 83-year-old justice thing the confirmation process should have nothing to do with politics.

JUSTICE STEPHEN BREYER, SUPREME COURT: If the public sees judges as politicians in robes, its confidence in the courts and in the rule of law itself can only diminish.

LEE (voice-over): Several names already in circulation as possible replacements for Briar. Among them, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a former Supreme Court Clerk for Breyer.

JUDGE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, D.C. CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS NOMINEE: When you become a judge, you take an oath to look at the law in deciding your cases, that you set aside your personal views about the circumstances, the defendants or anything else.


LEE (voice-over): And California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger.

JUSTICE LEONDRA KRUGER, CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT: I think we tend to forget when we're in the outside world that really conversations about these very difficult cases are confined to a very small number of people.


LEE: As you can imagine the White House today being asked repeatedly about the Breyer news, but everyone from the President on down really staying on message saying that they are not going to comment on the specifics until Justice Breyer himself announces that he is going to retire. Wolf.

BLITZER: MJ Lee reporting for us from the White House, thank you.

Let's get some more now on this nomination drama that's about to unfold up on Capitol Hill. Our Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju is on the scene for us, as he always.

Is, Manu, the -- as you heard the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is vowing to move very quickly to confirm a new justice. So walk us through what comes next.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Source familiar with Schumer's thinking tells me that he does plan to move quickly as quickly as Republicans did in getting Amy Coney Barrett confirmed to the Supreme Court just days before the 2020 election. Recall that that process took about a month and that is what Schumer is looking at as a guideline here.

Now at the same time, they do plan to move when -- but even before Breyer's retirement officially takes place, Breyer is not expected to step aside until his term is out, but Democrats still plan to move ahead with hearings and votes before that were to occur. And they are also expecting to have the votes ultimately to be there at the end of the day. They simply need to keep their 50 members united in order to advance the nomination. And at the moment, Democrats are confident they can get there.

Chuck Schumer Speaking to reporters said that the Senate would move quickly and get this done as soon as possible.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MAJORITY LEADER: In the Senate, we want to be deliberate. We want to move quickly. We want to get this done as soon as possible.


RAJU: Now in this Congress there's been a lot of questions about Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, the two Democratic votes who have been swing votes all along have broken ranks in some key issues. But Manchin and Sinema have fallen in line on the issue of nominations. Manchin tends to defer to presidential nominations. In fact, he voted for two or three of Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominees. Sinema has also sided with Joe Biden in a number of his nominees here.

So Democrats are hopeful that ultimately that they will get on board and potentially to some Republicans as well, Wolf. Some of the Republicans have voted for the nominees on Biden's shortlist. Those include people like Senator Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and even Lindsey Graham that close Trump ally who also voted for two of Obama's Supreme Court nominees back in 2010. Wolf.

BLITZER: See what happens. It's going to be very, very dramatic, I'm sure. Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill, thank you.

Let's get some more now in the breaking news. Joining us CNN Senior Political Correspondent, the anchor of "Inside Politics Sunday," Abby Phillip, CNN Senior Legal Analyst Preet Bharara, CNN Senior Political Commentator David Axelrod, and CNN Supreme Court Reporter Ariane de Vogue.

Ariane, it's clear that Justice Breyer is leaving with the future of the court in mind just how momentous is this decision?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Right, this steadfast liberal stepping down at the end of the term and it gives Biden his first chance to change the conversation.

Keep in mind, this isn't going to change the balance of the court, right? It'll be a liberal for a liberal. But this new nominee is likely going to be much younger, maybe even more liberal. And keep in mind, it comes at a time when the conservative majority is moving this court swiftly to the right.

This term was going to be this huge abortion case and a second amendment case. Next term, this nominee is going to have to deal with an affirmative action case and likely, lots of voting rights cases that are coming up. So, the nominee is going to start off on this bench at least in dissent in a lot of the cases that attract the public's attention.

And what's interesting here is the timing. I did talk to a couple of people who say they think that they're going to move quickly here, tearing a page from Donald Trump who pushed so quickly to get Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Remember, from confirmation to vine final vote, that was 30 days. So there's now precedent to move really quickly, even though Breyer is only going to step down at the end of the term.

BLITZER: Which would be in June.

You know, Abby, President Biden has pledged to nominate a black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court. The White House confirming today that he certainly, in their word, stands by that promise. This would be a historic nomination, right?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR, INSIDE POLITICS: It would be. There have been 115 people who have served on the Supreme Court and only seven have not been white men and that is not because, you know, white men are the most educated qualified people always for every single seat on the Supreme Court.


And I think one of the reasons that Biden made that promise was because, I think, a lot of Americans, not just black Americans, but a lot of Americans in general want to see the court better reflect this country with women, black people, white people, you know, Hispanic people serving on the court, just like white men have been able to for most of the court's history. So that's critically important just from a historical point of view.

And from a political point of view, it was a promise that Biden made in part to the voters who got him elected. The voters who got them got him elected were largely people of color, black voters, in particular in the state of South Carolina, which helps secure the nomination for him and black women who are among the most fervent of the voters in the Democratic base. So, on a lot of fronts, this is critically important for Biden to potentially give his supporters a win. And they desperately want that now after a string of really, I think, a tough losses for them on voting and on some other issues.

BLITZER: Yes, it's confirmed there will be four women on the U.S. Supreme Court, and that would be significant.

What would the addition, Preet, of a younger and more, potentially, progressive justice do to the ideological slant of the court?

PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: So I think this has already been said in the immediate term, not that much. You're swapping out someone who is generally liberal, although somewhat pragmatic on certain issues for another liberal. And so, in the immediate future, you're going to have a six three court before Justice Breyer's retirement, you'll have a six three court after Justice Breyer's retirement.

In the middle term and longer term, what it does is it prevents the possibility of an imminent, potentially, you know, very sharp shift to a seven two court if Justice Breyer waited just a year or even a number of months depending on what happens in the in the elections this fall. But as we know, Senator McConnell does not like to proceed on Democratic presidents nominees to the High Court if he thinks he can get away with it. So, not an enormous ideological shift. Although maybe on certain issues, the new justice might be more progressive and pragmatic than Justice Breyer was, but in the middle to longer term, it can be quite significant.

BLITZER: Yes. And let's not forget, this as a lifetime appointments as someone who was 45 or 50 years old, and nominated could be on the court for 40 years, if not longer. And that progressive or liberal viewpoint would be there for all those years.

You know, David Axelrod, politically speaking, just how good is this news right now for the Biden administration?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first of all, anything that changes the subject is good news. It's been a rough stretch for him. But it is a chance for him to both fulfill a promise and do something that unifies his caucus and gives him a win. And I think that's very important.

And I also think, you know, it's not clear but the Supreme Court could become a real issue in the fall. And so, this is a propitious time to be talking about the Supreme Court. Because if the current court does as we expect and guts Roe vs. Wade in the spring, this could be a motivating factor for voters on the Democratic side, particularly women, particularly in the suburbs, which are going to be important. And having a stellar nominee who impresses joining the bench after June could be part of that mix. So, I think this is good news for the President assuming he can keep his own flock together. And I think on this, he will.

BLITZER: You know, Ariane, I know you've been doing a lot of reporting on this. What are you learning about Breyer's potential successor on the Supreme Court? Who stands out from this shortlist?

DE VOGUE: Well, near the top of the shortlist as we've talked about is been Kentanji Brown Jackson because she checks a lot of boxes. She's a former Breyer clerk. She was recently confirmed to one of the most powerful federal appeals court in the country. And she checks the boxes for what Biden has been talking about. He said that he wanted diversity and he wanted professional diversity, she's also served time as assistant public defender.

There are others. There's Leondra Kruger, who sits on the California Supreme Court. She has a lot of friends in the Obama administration. She served in the Solicitor General's office. And there is another judge who's currently up for the D.C. Circuit, J. Michelle Childs.

Those are the top three. You're going to hear other names come up in the next couple of days because people are going to push for their favorites. But a lot of people are looking at the fact that if he moves quickly, he could do so with Ketanji Brown Jackson there.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. That's going to be very, very quick indeed.

All right guys, thank you very, very much.


There's more news we're following including new details emerging right now of a written response by the United States to Russia demands as fears of an imminent invasion of Ukraine are growing. We're going to get the very latest developments from the State Department spokesman, Ned Price. He's standing by live.


BLITZER: New developments tonight in the clearly rising tension over a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the United States has now given Moscow a written response aimed at trying to deter an attack on Ukraine.

Let's go to our Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto. He's working the story for us.

So Jim, what did the U.S. tell Russia in this letter?


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: In effect, the U.S. told Russia what it is willing to talk about and what it's not willing to talk about. Let's begin with what the U.S. is not willing to talk about.

One is Russia's demand that the U.S. swear off the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO. The Secretary of State making it clear that NATO has an open door policy to consider at least the possibility of other partners joining including Ukraine. The U.S. will also not negotiate on the sovereignty of Ukraine's borders. It is willing to talk about other potential areas of agreement, including on arms control, a more stable relationship between the two countries, the idea to offer a diplomatic path out of this conflict.

The trouble is, from the U.S. perspective and NATO's perspective, they've seen Russia escalating through these negotiations and talks not deescalating as of yet. And that's, of course, the sign they're looking for.

BLITZER: You also, Jim, have some new reporting that the US is preparing to send more troops to Eastern Europe in advance, in advance of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Tell us the latest. SCIUTTO: And that's right, Wolf. In advance, that's the key part of this. That this is considering to move troops to the Eastern Flank of NATO prior to any additional Russian military action or possible invasion of Ukraine. The idea here is to shore up NATO's Eastern allies. Among the countries under consideration to receive these new troops are Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, it's been the Eastern European NATO partners who've been most nervous about Russian activity.

And what this also is, is an acknowledgement, Wolf, that the U.S. and some of its NATO partners know that for preemptive action, they're not going to get all 30 NATO allies on board. So, as this has been described to me, it's something of a coalition of the willing, NATO partners willing to send troops, among them, the U.S. and the U.K. and NATO partners willing to receive more troops in advance of potential Russian military action. That's the idea here.

And of course, you and I've heard a lot of criticism from Democrats and Republicans who said, why isn't the administration doing something now to preempt or deter Russian activity in advance?

BLITZER: Well, we'll see what happens. It's very sensitive, very, potentially very dangerous situation.

Jim Sciutto, reporting for us.

SCIUTTO: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Let's go to the Ukrainian Capitol right now. Our Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance is joining us.

Matthew, I understand you're also getting new information about what the Ukrainians think about this U.S. responsibly so far to Russia.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. Within the past few minutes, in fact, Wolf, we've been speaking to Ukrainian officials, they've been telling us about what their view is. It's interesting because for the past couple of days, there's been a bit of a disconnect in the messaging, some frustrations being expressed behind the scenes here in Kiev about the way the United States is putting across its position.

But that's not the case tonight, the response from Ukrainian officials to this U.S. response to Russia is that they're satisfied with it. They're saying it was fully coordinated with Ukraine. They're particularly happy with the U.S. emphasis within that response that Ukraine, you know, has the right to join the Western military alliance if it chooses to.

The Ukraine official said that the documents set out some comprehensive well set out well argued set of compromises that it said it would be logical for Russia to accept. Again, so yes, very positive remarks coming from Ukrainians at the moment with this U.S. response to Russia as a similar response. I think I've got a similar view on NATO's response to Russia as well, which has come across in a separate documents as well.

All that, of course, as diplomatic efforts continue. There's this doc -- there's this exchange of documents, if you like, that is one strand of a diplomatic effort.

But also today in Paris, the French capital, Russian and Ukrainian negotiators have been meeting a lot with French and German counterparts to discuss the situation in eastern Ukraine in the rebel held areas of the country where they've been discussing the ceasefire. They've be discussing humanitarian access. They've agreed to, you know, reinforce the ceasefire there that was agreed last year and to continue with it, which is a really good sign. And they've agreed to meet again in two weeks. And in the context of this tension, that's a really positive development, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, certainly sounds encouraging. Let's hope.

Matthew Chance in Ukraine for us, thanks very much.

Let's get some more in all of this. Joining us now, the State Department spokesman, Ned Price.

Ned, I know you got a lot going on. Thanks for taking a few moments with us. What exactly did the U.S. lay out in this written response to Russia's demands? How will you judge if Russia is serious about engaging in this diplomacy or just biding some time until an invasion?

NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Well, Wolf, we have long made clear that our preferred course is that of diplomacy and dialogue. We believe it's the only responsible way to end this crisis that Vladimir Putin himself has needlessly precipitated. Even as we pursue that course of dialogue and diplomacy we're continuing down the path of defense and deterrence with our partners and our allies but I can come to that. But the next step in that dialogue and diplomacy was this submission of a written report by our ambassador in Moscow to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


And the report laid out essentially two things. Number one, our concerns, the shared concerns that the United States has, that our Ukrainian partners have, that our European allies have. And as you alluded to, we consulted very closely with Ukraine, with our NATO allies, sharing with them our ideas, incorporating their feedback into the draft. So in a sense, it was an American written response, but it was reflective of the concerns of the transatlantic community. We wanted to be sure of that.

But number two, we also laid out the areas where we believe dialogue and diplomacy has the potential to be fruitful, has the potential to be effective if pursued in good faith. And we've been clear about those areas. It is the placement of missiles in Europe, it is broader arms control, its efforts to increase transparency, stability. That is to say we want to pursue all of these areas together with the Russian Federation in full coordination with our partners and allies precisely because making progress in these areas would redound positively on American national security, on transatlantic security, and could also, if done in good faith, help to address some of the stated concerns in Moscow's put forward.

BLITZER: Yes, it certainly could. We did get the clearest timeline yet of a possible Russian invasion from the Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman today, she says, likely between now and the middle of February. Is the window closing for the U.S. to commit to stronger deterrence?

PRICE: Well, Wolf, when it comes to the timeframe there's only one person who knows that with any certainty, and that's Vladimir Putin, and I don't think he has made any announcements, at least, not that I've heard.

But here's the thing, even as we are pursuing, as I said, these paths of dialogue and diplomacy, that has not stopped us from moving forward with defense and deterrence. It is not either or we are pursuing both of these simultaneously knowing that they are interconnected. So, when it comes to defense and deterrence, what are we doing? You mentioned the criticism that we should be doing more.

Well, the fact is that we have provided more defensive security assistance to Ukraine in the last year than has ever been provided to Ukraine by any administration in history, $650 million in the last year alone, 283 tons of defensive security assistance. We've had deliveries arrive over the last few days, additional deliveries will arrive going forward. We've made clear that if Vladimir Putin continues with his aggression, we'll provide even more on top of that.

Additionally, we have spoken to the reassurance that we're doing with our NATO allies. The President and the Department of Defense has already spoken to the 8500 troops who are now at a heightened state of readiness, should they be called into theater by the North Atlantic Council. We've talked about the fact that in the -- that were Vladimir Putin to go forward, we would do even more to reassure and to reinforce NATO's eastern flank.

But perhaps the most important thing we've done is to speak in no uncertain terms about the severe significant sudden costs that would befall the Russian Federation if Vladimir Putin and his aggression were to go forward. We have spoken of unprecedented economic sanctions, financial measures, export controls, a series of measures that very intentionally were rejected in 2014 when Russia last went into Ukraine, precisely because of the consequences that would befall the Russian economy and the Russian federation.

This is not something we want to pursue, but it is something we have invested heavily together with our allies and partners to ensure that we're ready. So whether Vladimir Putin chooses the path of diplomacy or whether he forces us to go down the path of deterrence and dialogue, we're ready.

BLITZER: Very quickly. It's clear the Department of Homeland Security points out if you guys do that, launch these very tough sanctions against Russia, they might respond with cyber warfare, cyberattacks against U.S. industries here in the United States. Are you ready for that?

PRICE: Well, Wolf, if it is true that the measures we have contemplated and that we have prepared that we're poised to enact would have implications separate and apart even from what the Russian Federation does. So we're talking to countries to ensure that energy supplies are sufficient. We are talking to countries to private sector entities, to others, to ensure that no matter what measures are put into place, the -- we are able to mitigate the implications for the United States and our allies and partners. But you are right, Moscow has a variety of tools in its arsenal. One of them is cyber, we know that they have engaged in cyber operations in the past, they've done so targeting the United States.

So you have heard from our colleagues at the Department of Homeland Security, you've heard from our colleagues at the White House that we are preparing for every contingency. We are hardening what we can. We are taking appropriate preparations. We're sharing intelligence and information with our partners and allies. All in an effort to be ready for whichever path Vladimir Putin chooses.

BLITZER: Very tense situation, indeed. The State Department Spokesman Ned Price, thanks very much for joining us.

PRICE: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. There's more breaking news we're following here on THE SITUATION ROOM. Moderna, now announcing a major step towards an Omicron specific booster vaccine, as well as reassuring new data about its current vaccine in the face of the highly transmissible variant.



BLITZER: Breaking news we're following, Moderna announces its booster shot provides durable protection for at least six months even against the Omicron variant but with a lower level of antibodies. The company also says it's advancing an Omicron specific booster to the next phase of clinical trials.

For more on that, I want to bring in a professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt Medical Center, Dr. William Schaffner. And Dr. Chris Pernell, she's a public health physician and a fellow at the American College of Preventive Medicine. To both of you, thank you very much for joining us.

Dr. Schaffner, I'll start with you. Are you encouraged by those results from Moderna on the durability of their current booster shot against Omicron?

DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, PROFESSOR OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES, VANDERBILT MEDICAL CENTER: Absolutely, Wolf. I think it's really good news, we're encouraged. And those data match up with what we're seeing in the field. If you're vaccinated and you've been boosted, we know that you have sustained protection against serious disease that could put you into the hospital. And that's what we've got to focus on. We want to keep people out of the hospital.

BLITZER: We certainly do. Dr. Pernell, Moderna also says that the first participant in its phase 2 trial for an Omicron specific booster has already been vaccinated. Do you think most of us will receive an Omicron booster at least at some point down the road?

DR. CHRIS PERNELL, PUBLIC HEALTH PHYSICIAN: You know, Wolf, I'm not certain that we will. I think the bigger scientific bang for the buck, if you will, is the news coming around a pan-coronavirus vaccine. While this is welcome news to know that we're sharpening the tools in our toolkit, I think the bigger news will be if we're able to produce that pan-coronavirus vaccine, which within be effective across multiple variants and other types of coronavirus infections, even those that contribute to the common cold and even SARS or MERS. So that's what I'm waiting (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: Yes, I totally agree. And Dr. Schaffner, on that point, let me get your thoughts on what Dr. Fauci said about such a universal coronavirus vaccine, which is likely at least some experts say maybe years away from development, but could potentially cover all types all types, all types of coronavirus. How much of a game changer would that be?

SCHAFFNER: Well, obviously, it would be a great game changer. We know that this vaccine is in the works. It's worked on the laboratory bench. There are very encouraging animal studies. And now clinical trials are already beginning.

And this is being led by an investigator Kayvon Modjarrad, who is at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. And along with Dr. Pernell, we're waiting for those results. Very eager to see them. Wouldn't it be great if there were a vaccine that could protect us against a whole spectrum of different COVID viruses, even variants that haven't occurred yet?

BLITZER: That would be great, indeed. Dr. Pernell, there's good news, at least then a lot of the country right now heading in the right direction, as far as cases being reduced or plateauing, if you will. Do we need to relax restrictions when the virus is remaining in certain parts of the country in order to keep Americans on board with public health measures if things do get bad again?

PERNELL: Not quite, Wolf. I think the mistake that we often make is that we relaxed prematurely. What we need to do is to be consistent, consistent pressure on the gas pedal, if you will, because while certain parts of the country were beyond or past a peak, we're not beyond the peak everywhere in the country. And we're still seeing a considerable amount of deaths.

I can tell you in New Jersey, we're still seeing a surge on our emergency departments and our hospitals. Even though those numbers are starting to rapidly decline. We may be in a more of a plateau phase in where we will exist for the next four to six weeks. So I could only caution people just to hold the line and to remain steady.

The consistent pressure gets us over the hump. BLITZER: Yes.

PERNELL: Not the quick (INAUDIBLE) changes.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right. Let's not forget, more than 2,000 Americans on average are still dying from COVID every, every day. Dr. Pernell, Dr. Schaffner to both of you, thank you very much for joining us.

Just ahead, the U.S. Justice Department confirms it's looking into former President Trump's plot to install fake electors. We're going to ask the key member of the House Intelligence Committee about that and more. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: New details emerging tonight of some of the lengths. At least some supporters of former President Trump went to to try to overturn the 2020 presidential election results. CNN has learned exclusively that federal prosecutors are reviewing fake Electoral College certifications that declared Trump the winner of states that he actually lost.

Listen to what the Deputy Attorney General of the United States told CNN's Evan Perez.


LISA MONACO, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, first on the issue you raised in terms of fraudulent electric certifications has been reported. We've received those referrals. Our prosecutors were looking at those and I can't say anything more on ongoing investigations.

But more broadly, look, the Attorney General has been very, very clear. We are going to follow the facts in the law wherever they lead to address conduct of any kind and at any level. That is part of an assault on our democracy.


BLITZER: All right, let's get some more with Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut. He's a key member of the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, you heard the Deputy Attorney General saying prosecutors are, repeat, are looking into these fake Electoral College certifications. How significant is that?

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, I think it's very significant, Wolf, for two reasons. Number one, you know, obviously if people knowingly sign fraudulent ballots, the array of potential criminality is incredible.


And, you know, we will need to see accountability for that. But it's also important, Wolf, because people need to understand how coordinated, how planned, and how possible it might have been that this coup attempt might have succeeded.

You know, if you think about January 6th, which happened in the room that I'm standing in right now, or if you think about Rudy Giuliani standing out in front of the force, even seasons landscaping, you might say to yourself, oh, that was a crazy effort. It wasn't planned. No, no, no, no, no.

You know, it turns out there was a legal theory. It turns out there was pressure put on the vice president who could have gone a different direction on what -- in the way he behaved that day. And these ballots, of course, are all about creating uncertainty. They probably don't even need to be very good.

But if, you know, a number of people in this institution, I'm thinking of the Matt Gaetz, the Marjorie Taylor-Greens and the Ted Cruzs of the world, hear that there are alternative ballots out there, that's all you need to throw that particular step of validating a presidential election into total chaos. And that gets pretty close to a successful coup.

BLITZER: Yes. To his credit, the vice -- then Vice President Mike Pence did the right thing. Do you expect charges, formal criminal charges at the end of this?

HIMES: Well, that's hard to say. And, of course, Lisa Monaco, in the clip you ran there was not going to get ahead of herself. And neither should I. But I will tell you that from the -- whatever the signatures, whoever the people were who signed fraudulent ballots, that starts with fraud, and probably gets into all sorts of other crimes on the way to the concept of sedition, which is that you're sort of trying to overthrow the peaceful transfer of power in this country.

So what's really important, Wolf, and I can't get into, I'm not qualified to get into whether these are going to lead to criminal charges. But what's important is accountability. Right from the person who might have signed those ballots, right up to the president of the United States.

When he called Georgia, when he called Brad Raffensperger in Georgia and said find me 11,000 votes. I mean, I don't know how that can possibly be legal and there better be accountability of one form or another.

BLITZER: Yes, this investigation is continuing full speed ahead. Congressman Jim Himes, thanks so much for joining us.

HIMES: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And this programming note to our viewers, be sure to tune in to CNN later tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern for "DEMOCRACY IN PERIL" hosted by our own Jim Acosta, 9:00 p.m. tonight.

Coming up, the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's fate hangs in the balance right now, as we await an official report on his lockdown parties that could drop at any moment. Stay with us.



BLITZER: The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is now facing a make or break moment after new reports of yet another party at his house during a nationwide COVID lockdown. Now members of the opposition party, his own party and the public are demanding answers.

And as CNN's Bianca Nobilo reports, the result of an official inquiry are expected at any moment.


BIANCA NOBILO, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The question now a familiar refrain that no Prime Minister wants to hear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you now resign?

NOBILO (voice-over): With an equally predictable answer.


NOBILO (voice-over): In another rambunctious day in the British Parliament, opposition MPs pulling no punches.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would prefer to be led by a lawyer than a liar. Will he now resign?

NOBILO (voice-over): This lawmaker forced to withdraw the comment by the speaker but not before it landed on the already bruised Boris Johnson. Johnson along with the whole of Westminster currently in a waiting game. A highly anticipated Cabinet Office inquiry into multiple alleged parties that took place in breach of lockdown rules over the past two years is expected imminently.

The accusations of illegal social gatherings steadily mounting. The most recent that people got together for the Prime Minister's birthday in June 2020. Later on in the day that this photo was taken. When allegations first emerged weeks ago, Johnson denied them.

JOHNSON: All guidance was followed completely during --

NOBILO (voice-over): But was eventually forced to apologize.

JOHNSON: Mr. Speaker, I want to apologize.

NOBILO (voice-over): Admitting he had personally attended a gathering in May 2020, insisting he thought it was a work event. The turmoil has left the Conservative Party in a state of political purgatory. The word in Westminster that the outcome of this report will trigger a confidence vote in him if the findings are damning.

Johnson was before Parliament for the first time since the MET police announced they too are investigating whether the law was broken. KEIR STARMER, U.K. OPPOSITION LEADER: We now have the shameful spectacle of a Prime Minister of the United Kingdom being subjected to a police investigation. Unable to leave the country, incapable of doing the right thing.

NOBILO (voice-over): But for now in limbo. The Prime Minister remains defiant.

JOHNSON: That we've taken the tough decisions. We've got the big cause right.

NOBILO (voice-over): Multiple polls showing about two-thirds of British people think Johnson should resign.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it time to go, Prime Minister?

NOBILO (voice-over): A question that now follows Johnson wherever he goes.

Bianca Nobilo, CNN, London.


BLITZER: Thank you, Bianca.

Breaking news coming up next, Justice Stephen Breyer poised to retire giving President Biden his first chance to shape the United States Supreme Court. We're going to take a look at some of the possible replacements already being floated tonight.



BLITZER: Happening now, major breaking news we're following. The search is on for Justice Stephen Breyer's replacement now that he's decided to retire from the U.S. Supreme Court. President Biden is standing by his vow to put a black woman on the High Court. We're going to break down the potential candidates and the confirmation fight they may that may be brewing.

Also tonight, the United States says the ball is in Russia's court after delivering a written response to the Kremlin's demands on Ukraine. Moscow may be threatening to do more than launch a military invasion. We're getting new details on deep concerns about Russian cyberattacks against the United States.

And as Americans are hoping to move past the Omicron surge, a new study shows Moderna's booster shot still offers protection against the variant after six months.

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.