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Another Ex-Pence Aide Cooperating With 1/6 Committee; Putin Slams U.S And West On Ukraine, NATO Screwed Us Over; FDA Advisers To Meet February 15 On Authorizing Vaccine For Kids Under Five; Tom Brady Retiring After 22 NFL Seasons, 7 Super Bowl Wins; Source: White House Requested Call With Senate GOP Leader McConnell On Supreme Court Vacancy. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 01, 2022 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Home Depot, for instance, says it may need to hire some applicants the day after they apply. Domino says it will give customers a free dollar tip if they order online but come get the pizza themselves.

Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll see you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, another member of former Vice President Pence's former circle is cooperating with the January 6th select committee. The panel digging deeper into pressure on the V.P. to overturn the election as we're learning exclusive new details about the Trump team's plans to seize voting machines.

Also tonight, Vladimir Putin breaks his silence on the Ukraine standoff, accusing the U.S. of trying to draw Russia into an armed conflict and claiming NATO has, quote, screwed us over. The Pentagon renewing its warning that an invasion could be imminent.

And breaking now, FDA advisers will meet in two weeks to consider a request just submitted by Pfizer seeking authorization for its COVID vaccine for children under age five. I'll ask the U.S. surgeon general if this is a final, critical step for getting the country back to normal.

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.

We begin with the January 6th investigation, the focus sharpening on former President Trump's attempt to pressure his vice president to interfere in the 2020 presidential election.

Here is CNN's Congressional Correspondent, Ryan Nobles.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, the January 6th select committee honing in on the inner circle of former Vice President Mike Pence. A key witness in their investigation spotted meeting with the committee today. Greg Jacob, a former chief counsel, who advised Pence to resist a pressure campaign from former President Donald Trump and his allies to stand in the way of certifying the election results.

In an op-ed, Jacob wrote but never published, he attacked the lawyers peddling the dubious legal theories about Pence's power to interfere. The legal profession should dispassionately examine whether the attorneys involved should be disciplined for using their credentials to sell a stream of snake oil to the most powerful office in the world wrapped in the guise of lawyer's advice.

Jacob joining a growing list of Pence's aid cooperating with the committee. His former chief Of staff, Marc Short, met with the panel last week.

Former President Trump now directing his ire at Pence, writing in a statement today that his former vice president should be the one under investigation by the committee because he did not ignore the law and upend the certification process. The committee still holding out hope Pence himself will appear.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): I think he's a very per pertinent witness. I think he can have a lot of insights to share with us.

NOBLES: The plot to pressure Pence just one of many examples of Trump and his allies trying to CNN uncovering that two executive orders were drafted, one directing the Department of Defense and the other, Homeland Security, to seize voting machines in states Trump lost. Trump's former lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, approached DHS but was told the department didn't have that authority, as for DOD doing the job, Giuliani's attorney telling CNN even he shot the idea down.

The plan to seize voting machines just one of many investigative threads for the committee. The committee combing through a trove of documents obtained from the Trump White House, some of which the National Archives say were torn up by President Trump and had to be taped back together.

Now, Trump is calling for protests against the groups investigating his role in the lead up to January 6th while promising pardons for the rioters.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: If I run and if I win, we will treat those people from January 6th fairly. We will treat them fairly.

NOBLES: An opinion the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, disagrees with.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): My view is I would not be in favor of shortening any of the sentences for any of the people who pleaded guilty to crimes.

NOBLES: Trump's actions drawing a strong rebuke from members of the committee.

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): I think that it tells us that he clearly would do this all again if he were given the chance.


NOBLES (on camera): And the committee is set to hold another key interview this week. The attorney for the Stewart Rhodes, who's the leader of the right-wing militia group, the Oath Keepers, says that he will meet with the committee virtually, although Rhodes will have to do it from behind bars because he is facing charges of sedition and conspiracy from the federal government and has been imprisoned until his trial. His attorney telling CNN when asked questions by the committee, he plans to plead the Fifth. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Ryan Nobles up on Capitol Hill, thank you.

Let's dig deeper right now. Joining us, our Chief Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin and CNN Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig.


Jeffrey, how significant is it to see top Pence advisers go, one after another, to speak to the select committee?

Well, you know, Wolf, this isn't a prosecution, but the committee is approaching it more or less like a prosecution. They are working from the bottom up, from the outside in, and they are finding witnesses who were one or perhaps two steps removed from the president and finding out what they know.

The interesting political part of this is that even though former Vice President Pence is publicly loyal to the former president, his staff doesn't seem as happy with Donald Trump. And they are telling what they know unlike the people closest to Trump.

BLITZER: Well, Elie, about that, what does it say that these Pence aides are stepping up, doing what the Trump inner circle is clearly refusing to do?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, I think it's becoming increasingly clear that the star witnesses for the committee will be these key advisers to Mike Pence. They were, first of all, in the room. They were eyewitnesses, earwitnesses, to key conversations, where Donald Trump was pressuring Mike Pence and when people in the White House were trying to get Donald Trump to do something on January 6th. And most importantly, their loyalty is not to Donald Trump, the individual. Their loyalty is to do their jobs, to do their oaths as public servants. And for that reason, I think they're emerging as really key, ideal witnesses if you're investigating this case.

And, Jeffrey, how rich is it that the former president is now calling for the select committee to investigate Mike Pence for not overturning the presidential election?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, Wolf, it's sort of like 2017, where we're responding to the latest crazy thing that Donald Trump has said. And, obviously, you know, the one -- Mike Pence did his job, as everyone who knows anything about the law or about how the presidential succession is supposed to work. Mike Pence did the only thing that was available to him under the law. And the idea that Donald Trump is saying he should be investigated for that instead of praised for it tells you more about Donald Trump than it does about Mike Pence.

BLITZER: It comes, all this is coming, Elie, as we're learning about the extent of the Trump coup plot. How disturbing is it that there were these draft executive orders at the ready to have both the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security seize voting machines?

HONIG: Well, Wolf, first of all, virtually every word in those draft executive orders is dangerous and crazy and illegal. No, DHS, no, the military, no, DOJ, have no authority to seize voting machines. And I think it really begs the question where is the Justice Department in all this? Because we're learning new damning information about Donald Trump's intent every day from the January 6 committee, from Donald Trump's own mouth the last couple of days. And where's DOJ? We don't know for sure if DOJ is investigating Donald Trump directly and top power sources directly. But if they are, they are taking way too long given the severity of these crimes and this conduct.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens in the coming weeks. Elie Honig, Jeffrey Toobin, guys, thank you very much.

Let's continue the conversation. Joining us now, the former homeland secretary, Jeh Johnson. Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us. You also served as general counsel at the Pentagon. You were the secretary of Homeland Security. How outrageous is it that a sitting president of the United States himself reportedly considered co-opting those government agencies to try to overturn the election?

JEH JOHNSON, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Wolf, let's be clear. As you pointed out, I was the secretary of Homeland Security for three years. I was the senior legal official for the Department of Defense for four years, and way before that, I was a federal prosecutor prosecuting public corruption cases. There is no legal authority that I know of for the Department of Homeland Security to seize voting machines. There is no legal authority for the Department of Defense to seize voting machines in this country. The only legal authority I can think of in theory for seizing voting machines is if they were evidence of a crime and there was a search warrant issued by a judge, a judicial warrant, which did not occur in this case.

This is a very troubling scenario that we've apparently uncovered. It wasn't just some crazy idea floated by lawyers. It was an idea reduced to draft executive orders, which is very dangerous, very troubling and is yet more evidence of how a year ago, in January 2021, our government, our democracy really did teeter on the brink.


BLITZER: Does this potentially constitute a crime?

JOHNSON: It could potentially constitute a crime, in my view, certainly conspiring to seize voting machines, conspiring to hijack our election in that way, to hijack our democracy. And I hope the committee, the January 6th committee, and even the Department of Justice are looking at this apparent evidence.

BLITZER: I'm sure they are.

One top Republican, Senator John Thune, says this shows the right people were, in fact, at the right place, and I'm quoting him now, the system worked. Is that the lesson Republicans should be taking from all of this?

JOHNSON: No. No, I don't accept that. Because toward the end of the Trump administration, there were far too many actings, there were far too many people, like the acting secretary of defense, the acting secretary of Homeland Security, the acting attorney general, who were put in place at the last minute by Donald Trump because he believed they would do his bidding. There was no one in a Senate-confirmed position at the 11th hour of the Trump administration. So, to say simply that the system worked means that the bridge did not break, the camel's back did not break. And I think it was something that we came remarkably close to seeing a very dangerous situation.

BLITZER: Yes, it's an important point.

As you know, the former president is now publicly, in writing, calling for the former vice president, Mike Pence, to be investigated for not overturning the presidential election. He's floating pardons for the January 6th rioters if he were to become president again. How great do you believe the ongoing danger to our country is?

JOHNSON: Wolf, what happened a year ago showed that our democracy, while it is the most enduring democracy on the planet, is also a fragile one. Our democracy depends upon honorable, responsible people who understand and respect the Constitution to live up to those principles. It was stress tested a year ago. We survived but it's becoming more and more apparent that we survived just barely.

BLITZER: Jeh Johnson, the former secretary of Homeland Security, thanks so much for joining us. Thanks for all your service over the years.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, Vladimir Putin finally breaks his silence on the crisis in Ukraine. We'll update you on the late breaking developments.



BLITZER: Russian President Vladimir Putin is ratcheting up his rhetoric against the west as concern of an imminent invasion of Ukraine grows.

CNN International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson is in Moscow for us tonight. Nic, Putin spoke publicly today for the first time in more than a month and gave absolutely no indication he's ready to deescalate. Update our viewers. NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. He took a tough line on NATO and the United States. He said that NATO and the United States had deceived Russia by continuing to move further eastwards. He used much saltier language than that. He was very abrupt. He said that the United States and its letter to Russia last week could not address Russia's primary concerns, and that is that Ukraine can't join NATO, that NATO needs to move back to 1997 lines, that NATO has missile systems on its territory that are threatening Russia.

He then went on, you know, to talk about what scenario that he painted that could be incredibly dangerous. And, again, the terms of it were very harsh and very stark. He said imagine this scenario where Ukraine has joined NATO. Ukraine then starts attacking Crimea to take it back from Russia, which he said is a nonstarter because it is Russian end of story. Of course, Russia went into Ukraine in 2014 and annexed Crimea. No country around the world recognizes that Crimea belongs to Russia. But that to one side, Putin said, imagine Ukraine then tries to take back Crimea from us. He said, then that would put Russia at war with NATO. And he said, did anyone think about that.

So, this is a President Putin who we know comes to the argument tough because he brings his army with him. He's not backing down on any positions that he's taken until now. And then at the very end of his press conference, he said, and I do hope that I can continue this sort of conversation that I'm having with President Macron of France and that I might see him very soon for a face-to-face conversation. The pair have had phone calls over the last two days.

And just to add to that, interesting tonight, President Macron has had a phone call with Canada's Prime Minister Trudeau and Trudeau reminded Macron that NATO's strength is in its unity essentially work together with other NATO allies if you're considering a line of communication with President Putin.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson in Moscow for us, thanks for that update.

Despite the very massive military buildup along the Russian side of the border, there seems to be little preparation on the Ukrainian side.

CNN Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward is there.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This is Ukraine's first line of defense if Russia decides to invade. And it is basic, half a dozen soldiers in snow-covered trenches, no sign of heavy weapons. Russian-backed separatists are just half a mile away.


Every day? He's saying that every night, there's fighting once it gets dark. These front lines have been frozen for years. A Russian offensive would change that in an instant. But the alarm in Washington is not shared here.

What's amazing to see is that despite the buildup of tanks and heavy weaponry on the Russian side of the border, which is less than 20 miles from here, here on the Ukrainian side, there's no sense at all that anyone is preparing for an invasion.

The sergeant here asked we not give his name. He says he doesn't expect conflict but he is prepared. Our commanders told us that we must be alert, he tells us. We are ready to meet guests from Russia.

What kind of weapons do you have at this position? Do you have any heavy weaponry? I don't see any, but I just want to make sure.

You don't need to see and the enemy doesn't need to see, he says. But we have everything.

What they don't have here are many layers of defense. Driving from the front, we see just a handful of check points. If the Ukrainian army can't hold this every, Russian forces could reach Mariupol, a port city of half a million in hours.

Despite the threat, life here goes on much as normal. At the local markets, stalls are open and the shelves are full.

I'd love to know if you think there will be a war.

We don't want war. We have children and grandchildren, Natalia says, and there won't be war. We believe that.

Some like Erjan (ph) say America is exaggerating the threat.

No, there will not be a war, he says. It's only Biden who thinks this.

It's interesting talking to people here. Nobody seems to be remotely concerned about the prospect of an imminent invasion.

These people are no strangers to war. All around Mariupol, the hollowed out remnants of villages destroyed and abandoned by fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists. But whether moved by denial or disbelief, these soldiers and the people they're protecting don't expect history to repeat itself. For now, they wait and they watch and they hope.


WARD (on camera): Wolf, the U.S. Has been delivering weapons here to Ukraine and among them, these much coveted Javelin missiles, anti-tank armor piercing missiles. But one of the rules of that ceasefire or truce agreement on the frontlines is that those Javelins cannot be brought to frontline positions. That could potentially pose a problem for Ukrainian forces in the event of some kind of a lightning offensive from the Russian side. And it's worth just emphasizing again what staggering odds these Ukrainian soldiers are on the frontlines really are facing or would be facing in the event of some kind of a Russian invasion both on the ground, Wolf, and from the air.

BLITZER: Clarissa Ward, excellent, excellent reporting. Thank you very, very much.

Coming up, are children under the age of five finally on the verge of getting the COVID vaccine? Pfizer has just submitted a crucial application to the FDA. I'll discuss that and more with the U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy.

And later, Tom Brady confirms he's officially retiring, ending one of the greatest football careers of all time.



BLITZER: We're following breaking news, a major step toward the first COVID-19 vaccine for children under five. Pfizer just submitted its request for emergency use authorization just a little while ago and now FDA advisers are set to meet in two weeks to discuss their recommendation.

Let's discuss what's going on with the U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy. Dr. Murthy, thank you so much for joining us.

Before the month is over, will kids under five, do you believe, finally be able to get the COVID vaccine?

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Well, Wolf, this is potentially very exciting moment and potentially one step closer to getting vaccines for kids under five. This is important to a lot of parents out there including me. I've got a four-year-old daughter and we've been waiting to get her vaccinated.

What is happening right now is that Pfizer is in the process of getting all of their data to the FDA. And what the FDA is going to do is do a thorough and thoughtful analysis of that data to understand the answer to two critical conditions, is this vaccine safe for kids under five and is it effective for kids under five. And if the answer to both of those questions is yes, then they will recommend that it be used.

But there are a lot of steps that have to happen between now and then, including a meeting of the FDA's advisory group. The good news is when that happens, the data will also become public. So, individuals including independent scientists and members of the public can look at the data as well and understand exactly what the FDA is examining as it makes this decision.

BLITZER: So, if the FDA gives emergency use authorization for this vaccine for kids under five, will your child immediately go get the vaccine? MURTHY: Yes. If the FDA issues the authorization, if the CDC recommends it, I will tell you that, absolutely, my four-year-old will be getting that shot. My wife I have talked about this. And, look, we're both doctors.


We know that every decision you make about medications, vaccines has risks and benefits. But what we've seen with the vaccines to-date, including vaccines for older kids, is that the benefits are far outseated any risks. It's why we got our five-year-old vaccinated. We'll wait to see what the FDA says. But their authorization, we trust in their process. And if they authorize this vaccine, then we will getting our four-year-old vaccinated.

BLITZER: I know a lot of parents with kids under five who are anxious to get their kids vaccinated. Will vaccinated the youngest children in our country, Dr. Murthy, will that be one of the final big steps in returning to some sense of normality?

MURTHY: Well, it's certainly going to be a big one, Wolf. We know that getting more and more of our population vaccinated is one of the key things that we have got to do in order to protect our country from the virus. And, you know, thankfully, we have nearly three quarters of adults who are now vaccinated. That's a huge step for that to happen in just a year's time is actually extraordinary. We've got more and more kids every day who are getting vaccinated. But we want everyone to be protected from this virus. And so, yes, this will be an important step.

But, Wolf, as we think about the future and getting back to normal, I just want to say I know that you look at the numbers in terms of how many people are getting sick with omicron and it can be easy to just feel frustrated and tired. And then those are absolutely understandable feelings at this point starting year three of this pandemic.

But I actually feel more optimistic, Wolf, about the future, about getting back to some sense of normal, more so now than I did at any other point during the pandemic, and here's why, because our vaccines are now proving in the face of omicron that they stabilize and keep people out of the hospital. We have more medicines to treat COVID and reduce the risk of hospitalization and death than we've ever had before. And we're learning more and more about how to strategically use masks and testing to produce some of the quantity that the country needs. This puts us in a much better place to be prepared for not just for omicron but for future variants when they arise.

BLITZER: For the average healthy American without kids under five, Dr. Murthy, if you're vaccinated and boosted, can you essentially return to normal life? Can you go out to eat, go to a bar, go to a movie?

MURTHY: It's a really important question, and the truth is, if you are vaccinated and particularly if you're boosted, your risk of not only getting COVID but particularly ending up in the hospital or dying from COVID is dramatically lower. And this has now been borne out by recent data from the CDC, which showed just that fact. Even with omicron, even with its power to evade some of our immune responses, getting boosted really does restore a lot of that protection.

So, the bottom line is, yes, you can go about a lot of your activities that you engaged in before. We still want people to be cautious in public indoor spaces and wear a mask as the chance of getting the virus and passing it on, even if you do fine, you may inadvertently infect somebody else who may not be as lucky. But, again, as more people get vaccinated, as the numbers come down overall, we will be able to peel back on some of those restrictions, which is exactly what we want to do.

But, finally, in the future, Wolf, the way we should think about this is not that we flip a switch on and off in terms of, you know, the pandemic going away, but there may be a period of time where we have to dial up and dial down precautions depending on what is happening around us, but we're getting smarter about how to do that and with each day that passes. And that's why I feel more confident than ever that we have more normal days ahead of us and our path back to a normal life is getting shorter and shorter, and that's what we all want.

BLITZER: Well, give us a timeline. When do you think we will get back to normal?

MURTHY: Well, I wish I knew the exact answer to that, Wolf. We all want to be able to predict a specific timeline. And while I don't know the exact answer, I know that if you are vaccinated and boosted, more vaccinates, therapeutics that we have available, the faster we're going to get there.

And that's why it's so important actually the early investments that the administration made in therapeutics, in not just producing them and making the timeline it took production and development more efficient, those are paying dividends right now. And with each month that follows, we're going to have more therapeutics available for people around the country.

So, we are going to get there, Wolf. I can't tell you exactly when, but there are more and more positive indicators each day that tells us we are making progress to that final goal.

BLITZER: Dr. Vivek Murthy, thanks for all you're doing. Thanks so much for joining us.

MURTHY: Of course, always happy to join you, Wolf. Take care.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

Just ahead, we're going to have the very latest on the disturbing string of bomb threats targeting historically black colleges for a second straight day here in the United States. The president of Howard University is standing by to join me live right after the break.


BLITZER: We're following a series of very disturbing bomb threats at multiple historically black colleges and universities here in the United States, at least 14 just today alone.

CNN's Senior Washington Correspondent Joe Johns has our report.


ELENA RUSSO, MARYLAND STATE POLICE SPOKESPERSON: Investigators believe that numerous threats throughout the area and throughout the nation were coming in targeting several historically black colleges and universities.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, the nation's historically black colleges and universities are on alert. From Louisiana to Georgia, to Maryland, to Delaware, at least 18 HBCUs have had class disruptions in the past two days due to bomb threats. No explosives have been found.

AMINTA H. BREAUX, PRESIDENT, BOWIE STATE UNIVERSITY: It's most unsettling for the students to have to address this. So, the emotional and mental health and well-being of our students is of concern.

JOHNS: The barrage of threats on the campus disruption they caused garnering national attention, including from the White House.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We are working in close coordination with our law enforcement authorities and ensuring that the leaders of these institutions and the students know that we are watching closely and that we are standing with them as they face these threats.


JOHNS: State and local law enforcement approaching the problem on a case-by-case basis. Spelman College in Atlanta telling CNN city police will increase their patrols around campus.

This wave of bomb threats, the latest in a string that began in early January. The FBI announcing investigations are ongoing with other law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Lawmakers taking the threat seriously with the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Adam Schiff, and Counterterrorism Subcommittee Chairman Congressman Andre Carson releasing a joint statement saying, we will remain focused on ensuring that our appropriate resources are utilized to combat the scourge of white supremacist violence and terrorism.

The motive is not clear, but on the first day of black history month, some of these administrators want to send a clear message of their own.

BREAUX: We're here. We've been here for 150 years providing education, outstanding, excellent education to our students, and that's our mission. So, no, we will not be deterred.


JOHNS (on camera): The guidance on this from authorities so far has been short and sweet. The FBI advising that while the investigation continues, the best thing the public can do, if they see anything, if they hear anything, to speak up. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Joe, thank you, Joe Johns reporting for us.

Joining us now from the Campus of Howard University here in Washington, D.C., the school president, Dr. Wayne Frederick. Dr. Frederick, thank you so much for joining us.

At this moment, do you have any sense who's behind all these threats and are you getting the support you need from federal authorities?

DR. WAYNE FREDERICK, PRESIDENT, HOWARD UNIVERSITY: Yes, Wolf, we don't have an idea right now of who is behind this. We do know that it's motivated by hate, which is exactly the antithesis of why these institutions are here and certainly why Howard University was founded.

We are getting support. I have been on a call today with the Department of Homeland Security that got HBCU presidents together and several members of my team have been on calls with the FBI as well as with local authorities. And the third district here in the city has offered us excellent support with patrols along campus and a physical presence on campus. So, we are getting support today.

BLITZER: What more do you want to say to students, Dr. Frederick, not only at Howard University but at HBCUs across the country who may be feeling uneasy tonight?

FREDERICK: Yes. You know, I think we have a lot to learn from what has happened before us. Our civil rights leaders in this country endured things of this nature and even worse. And what they exemplified was courage. I think that's one of the things that I'm going to ask these young people to be mindful of, to think about tonight, that the reason they came here is exactly to combat what is motivating this person to do this. And I think if they unite around their courage, we will certainly get through this.

BLITZER: You've been the president of Howard University since 2014 and your history with the university dates back to your time as a student yourself. Have you ever seen anything like these widespread threats that we're seeing right now?

FREDERICK: You know, we haven't, and this has been very disappointing. However, during my presidency, we did have a gentleman who was aligned with white supremacist call in a threat to the university and basically said that he wanted to come on campus and shoot people. And law enforcement pursued him. He was arrested. I was able to make a victim impact statement at his sentencing and he was rightfully imprisoned.

So, we are going to stand firm. We've had these challenges before, but definitely since I've been here in 1988, it has not been this widespread and also I think this overt.

BLITZER: The Howard University, of course, Howard University is a very special place, as you know, Dr. Frederick. I have an honorary degree from Howard, very proud of that.

Dr. Wayne Frederick, good luck to you, good luck to all the students and Howard and all of the HBCUs. Thank you so much for joining us.

FREDERICK: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Coming up, Tom Brady officially announces his retirement. The 44-year-old superstar quarterback is stepping aside after a truly legendary career, perhaps, perhaps the greatest of all time.



BLITZER: Tom Brady, seen by so many as the greatest NFL quarterback of all time, is retiring after 22 seasons and seven Super Bowls wins, six of them with the New England Patriots. He announced it on social media, saying and I'm quoting him, now, right now, it's best I leave the field to play to the next generation of dedicated and commitment athletes.

Let's discuss with John King, possibly the Patriots number one fan. He's also the anchor of "INSIDE POLITICS", and our chief national correspondent.

John, it's an end of an era, as you and I will know. What does this mean for Patriot fans like yourself who cheered Brady on for so many years?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's the turning of a page. It's the end of an era. There are many New England fans today are upset that in his initial statement, he didn't thank the Patriots. After that, he did thank Patriot Nation.

If I look at this, Tom Brady was our Moses. If you were a Boston sports fan, and you live as I did, to the years when the Red Sox struggled, the Patriots struggled, but occasional Celtics win, maybe the Bruins, Tom Brady when he won that first Super Bowl, not only did he ushered the Patriots out of the wilderness, think about what happened in Boston sports.


The Patriots win the first Super Bowl in 2002. The Red Sox reverse the curse, end the curse in 2004. The patriots go on to all those Super Bowl wins. The Red Sox wins some championships, the Celtics add one in 2008, the Bruins in 2011.

It was a renaissance in Boston and New England sport. And it started when Tom Brady won that first Super Bowl. Liz was my daughter. She's 25 now. You know Hannah well. We've got some old school Brady stuff in the house. We've got some new school Brady in the House. I know he leaves as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer, I wished him the best because he revolutionized and changed Boston sports and he made so many great family memories in this house. And my daughter used to host Super Bowl parties when she was in Georgetown, right here in this room. I called this Boston in Bethesda, my little sports museum.

So, just the family members, the sports memories, the amazing comeback in the Super Bowl against Atlanta. I could go on forever. Tom Brady is the GOAT, no question about it. I wish him well.

BLITZER: Tell us about that room that you're in right now, Boston in Bethesda.

KING: This is Boston in Bethesda. You can see, it's a little mini replica of the green monster over my shoulder. It's not just any game. I was with my son at Boston college in Fenway Park in 2013 when they won. That's the game against the Cardinals right there.

You can see over my shoulder, there is a football signed by Adam Vinatieri. Like Tom Brady, he's going to Hall of Fame. Like Tom Brady, he created those early Patriot memories moved on to another team. We got a lot of people in New England. They don't want to give that up. They think they're supposed to stay in New England forever. He left and went.

So Patriots helmet up there. I got Red Sox jersey. This is my -- you can take the kid out of Boston. I brought some of the Boston with me here.

And again, what does Tom Brady mean? We think of guys and sports, so that's fine, but family and sports. So many great memories with all three of my children, 28, 25, the last couple years ago, I took my now 10-year-old to Foxboro. He got to see Tom Brady against Patrick Mahomes, the Patriots lost that game.

But just those family memories, the connected tissue. The sports history, it's a fabulous thing. And you know, New England has Mr. Russell. We have Larry Bird. We have Bobby Orr.

We will have Tom Brady forever and we have Big Poppy making the Hall of Fame this week. So, this is a great time for Boston sports.

BLITZER: Very exciting. What do you make of how Brady handled all of this trying to walk back the earlier reporting over the weekend of his retirement as you mentioned, initially not even mentioning the Patriots in this formal announcement?

KING: That part was actually fascinating for a guy who has had such control, many would even say manipulated his image over the years, but he's been masterful at his image. Whether you like Tom Brady or hate Tom Brady, he's been masterful at his branding, at his image, and all his public statements.

The departure was quite messy. A link him retiring, him saying, no, I didn't. Having his dad giving an interview saying he didn't make up his mind and Instagram and Facebook post today. So, that part was uncharacteristically messy. It won't affect Tom

Brady's legacy. It does because of the Boston part. He did not say hi to New England in that initially statement, if you listening to Boston top sports radio. It's a little grumpy, Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm sure it is. John King, a great Patriots fan, thanks so much for your expertise in this area.

KING: No dispute.

BLITZER: Very nice.

We're going to have more news just ahead, including President Biden now reaching out to Republicans as he narrows down his short list of potential U.S. Supreme Court nominees.



BLITZER: Tonight, President Biden has been reaching out to key senators as he looks to choose a U.S. Supreme Court nominee by the end of the month. CNN has learned that he requested a phone call with the Republican leader Mitch McConnell. The president also met with bipartisan leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Let's go to our senior White House correspondent Phil Mattingly.

Phil, so, where does the nomination stand tonight?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the president has pledged to select the Supreme Court nominee. The first African-American woman selected for the court by the end of this month. But the White House has launched a very deliberative process leading up to that moment, including bringing the top Republican and Democrat of the critical Senate Judiciary Committee to the Oval Office to meet with the president today.

As you noted, the president requesting a phone call and having a phone call with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell earlier and the White House starting to set up the team that will lead the way once the nominee is selected, including the so-called Sherpa, the point person outside the White House likely to select, officials say, former Senator Doug Jones, the Alabama Democrat and former prosecutor who would lead that process. Others are expected to be added to that team in the near future.

But all underscoring a very traditional process, a very methodical process, one that the White House is not lashing out or trying to fight every battle that they possible could, except for one, when the qualifications of any potential nominee are called into question, like this from the Republican Senator Ted Cruz.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): When Joe Biden throws out a quota that the only people he will consider for this nomination are African-American women, he is number one rejecting regardless of merits everybody else, whether they are white or black or Hispanic or Native American. He is saying nobody else, doesn't matter your credentials, doesn't matter your background, doesn't matter who you are, I, Joe Biden, will discriminate based on race.


MATTINGLY: Wolf, it's worth noting, everybody on the short list or listed on the short list of African-American women, President Biden may select are extraordinarily qualified. The White House is pushing back sharply on those comments questioning the president's decision to focus the search and selection of an African-American woman noting, the President Ronald Reagan said he would select the first woman and a year or so ago, former President Trump was making very clear, it seems there are two versions of things right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You are absolutely right. Phil Mattingly, over at the White House, thanks very much.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.