Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

U.S. Says Russia Could Invade With Little To No Warning; Source Says, Giuliani May Testify About Election Fraud Claims To 1/6 Committee; Russia Teen Skater Cleared To Compete At Olympics Despite Positive Drug Test; Parents Vent Frustrations As FDA Review Of COVID Vaccine For Younger Children Is Delayed; Judge In Plain Defamation Lawsuit Against NYT Says He'll Dismiss Case Even As Jury Continues Deliberating. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 14, 2022 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer. He's right next door in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching. See you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. The Pentagon says Russia could invade Ukraine with little to no warning after another buildup of its troops at the border. The U.S. is closing its embassy in Kyiv amid growing concerns that an attack might happen this week.

Also breaking, we have new reporting on what Rudy Giuliani may have be willing to reveal under oath to the January 6th select committee and the line the former Trump lawyer does not intend to cross.

Also tonight, Dr. Fauci is standing by to join us live to answer questions about the new delay in authorizing COVID vaccines for younger children. Many parents are increasingly frustrated as their kids remain unprotected.

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

Tonight, the United States is closing its embassy in the Ukrainian capital as the Biden administration acknowledges this could be the week, this could be the week that Russia launches an invasion.

We have a team of correspondents on the ground in Ukraine, in Russia and here in the United States as we cover this breaking story.

First, let's go to our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan, as this crisis clearly escalates, what is happening behind closed doors where you are at the White House?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: There is a real level of concern here, Wolf, one that we have seen only increase in recent days as official have been talking about the potential likelihood of the attack, and that is the reason that they are saying is behind closing this embassy in the process of removing those staffers, as we speak, which the secretary of state says, is because there has been a dramatic acceleration on Russia's behalf. That comes as there has been some criticism from the Ukrainian president, who has been very critical to removing their staff away from the capital city, closer to that border with Poland, saying he doesn't believe that is necessary.

But President Biden, for his part, has spent his day on the phone with the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, talking about this, following those calls, of course, with Russia and Ukraine over the weekend, as the Pentagon is now saying that this attack could very much happen this week.


JOHN KIRBER, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: I won't get into a specific date. I don't think that would be smart. I would you just tell you that it is entirely possible that he could move with little to no warning.


COLLINS: Now, Wolf, the U.S. has still maintained this position that they don't know that the Russian leader has made a decision yet on whether or not he's going to invade. But John Kirby told reporters today that he is taking the steps that he would need to take if he was going to invade Ukraine.

And so that is a warning from the Pentagon today. This also comes as Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser here at White House, was up on Capitol Hill briefing House member this morning, briefing senators this afternoon and they emerged saying that they were very concerned about the likelihood of an attack.

BLITZER: Kaitlan, I want you to stand by. We're going to have more coming up. There is more news that we're following.

But right now, I want to go to our correspondents on a key location in this crisis right now. Clarissa Ward and Jim Sciutto, they're joining us live from Kyiv. Nic Robertson is in Moscow.

Jim, you're there, just outside the U.S. embassy in Kyiv. What more, first of all, are you learning about this really important decision to close that embassy and the latest intel on how Russia might actually attack.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNNCHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, first on the embassy, as you could see tonight, the windows are dark, the American flag is down, it is largely empty. We see some lights on in the building. Notably, the State Department spokesman said earlier this evening that there is work to be done here, including protecting secret, top secret files, other sensitive files in the building in the event that the city is overrun. That is a precaution they're taking tonight and including moving the rest of the small diplomatic footprint still present in this country to the west, to the city of Lviv, which they consider safer. Wolf, you know well, to close an embassy is not a decision that U.S. makes easily. Think of Baghdad. The Baghdad embassy has been open through two decades nearly of war, this one now here closed in the Ukrainian capital at least for the time being.

Why that sense of urgency? Because the military preparations are growing. even as there talk of diplomacy from Lavrov and Putin, the U.S. military, U.S. intelligence assessments, find more forces, not fewer forces, going to the border and everything in place to enable an invasion, a broad invasion of this country.

I'm told by a U.S. official, a senior U.S. official briefed on the intelligence that that plan includes encircling the Ukrainian capital within 24 to 48 hours if the Russian president makes that decision to invade. That decision, the U.S. is not aware of to this point. So, will Russia invade, still an open question. Can Russia invade? From the U.S. perspective, that question already answered. Russia has the capability this week to do so.

BLITZER: Yes, that is pretty ominous, indeed. Clarissa, you're also there in the Ukrainian capital. What is the message from the Ukrainian president tonight as he addressed his nation?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think the continued message from President Volodymyr Zelensky is that people need to stay calm, people need not to panic. He even made a semi- joking quip about reports in the media that there would be an invasion of Ukraine on Wednesday the 16th. Said that the Ukrainian government's response to those reports was essentially to designate this now a national holiday, a national unity holiday, and that people will be flying flags and singing the Ukrainian national anthem in solidarity.

But underlying the sort of bravado and the very understandable rhetoric designed to try to lessen panic among Ukrainian citizens, we are also seeing preparations starting. We heard from the mayor of Kyiv today talking about organizing shelters, should they be needed, if there was some kind of bombardment here in Kyiv, also talking about planning for potential evacuations, planning in the case of an emergency if the cell phone network was taken out.

We heard the President Zelensky also issuing a decree, announcing that Ukraine's military armed forces would get a 30 percent raise, that there would be a new system put in place to ensure that information that was vetted by the Ukrainian government was provided to the Ukrainian people and also saying that he was working with the military to try to sort of improve their territorial defense systems.

So, I think you're seeing slightly bizarre split screen between the rhetoric coming out of Washington and the messaging that we're seeing here on the ground from Ukraine's leadership. But, still, as I said, despite the talk of keep calm and carry on, there is definitely a sense that preparations are being made should the worst case scenario come to be.

BLITZER: That's possible. It could happen in the coming days. Nic, you're there in the Russian capital, you're in Moscow. There seems to be some careful messaging at least today coming out of Moscow, that Putin is, quote, and I'm quoting now, willing to negotiate, talks are far from exhausted. So, what more are you learning?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Wolf, this is very interesting because this information came to CNN from the president's spokesman late this evening, saying that President Putin was willing to negotiate.

Now, earlier in the day, it had this carefully choreographed sequence on national state television where the foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, had sat at the end of a long table, President Putin at the other end, Lavrov telling him all the diplomacy that's been happening over the past few weeks, and Putin saying, well, is there a chance for diplomacy to still work, and Lavrov said, yes, there is an opportunity, we can do it. Expect to hear counter issues but we can move ahead.

And I think what we've heard this evening from the president's spokesman really tries to sort of add some more detail to that. That performance, if you will, on T.V., because, of course, the two men could have had the conversation in a backroom at a government building. They didn't have to do it on T.V., it was to send a message, has been to sort of give it more detail and be more precise. And that is why he's using language, willing to negotiate.

Now, he's also saying that president Putin has been wanting to negotiate from the beginning, pointing out that it was he that initiated all of this call before Christmas to get into the talks. And they're saying now that Ukraine is one part of the problem but there is this bigger issue that hasn't been addressed, the NATO, the big NATO issue.

We know that the German chancellor gets here tomorrow, Olaf Scholz, and we know the top of his agenda will be to tell Putin, if you're serious about diplomacy, then you have to de-escalate the military tensions.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, you're there in Kyiv. What is the mood there? What kind of sense are you getting from the folks there on the ground in the Ukrainian capital? Because it seems to be very different than the mood you're getting from officials here in Washington who are very, very nervous and think there could be an all-out war within the next few days.

SCIUTTO: Yes, no question. To echo Clarissa's point, you speak to people here in Ukraine, by the way, you watch the city of Kyiv, the restaurants are crowded, the streets are crowded, people are going to school, they're going to work, well aware of forces along the border but going on with their lives.


And when I asked them and my colleagues ask them why, they say, because, one, it is out of their control and, two, through eight years they've been living through a war, granted a low grade war, but a war, a deadly war with Russia, and there is a bit of exhaustion with it.

That said, there is a more of a public acknowledgement from officials here, such as the mayor of the city acknowledging that there are plans to evacuate if necessary. They're aware there is a threat. The question is do they believe the level of threat that you're hearing from U.S. officials? That is not clear.

BLITZER: Clarissa, so much of this is on whether Ukraine might become a full member of NATO. If the Ukrainian government were to announce, well, at least for now, we're not going to be a member of NATO, would the Russians then back down?

WARD: Well, that is the question. And we have been hearing some rumblings behind the scenes that potentially this could be a way to try to de-escalate the situation, for Ukraine to come forward and say we're going to put our pursuit of membership on ice for some time. But we are heard from the foreign minister saying no dice, we're still pursuing NATO membership, and we heard it again from President Volodymyr Zelensky. It is important for our viewers to remember that even if there was willingness in some parts of the Ukrainian leadership, it is very difficult to sell to the public here. It would be potentially politically devastating for Zelensky's government.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by, much more coming up on the breaking news in Ukraine, the growing concern as well here in Washington that Russia could invade with little to no warning. Stand by for that.

And there is other important news we're following. Will former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani testify before the House January 6 select committee about election fraud claims? We're getting new information from our sources. We'll update you on that when we come back.



BLITZER: There is also breaking news in the House investigation into the January 6 insurrection. A source now tells CNN that former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani may testify about election fraud claims to the select committee.

Let's go to our Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid, she's got the latest for us. Paula, this could be a rather surprising turn for Giuliani. What is the latest?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That is right, Wolf. While for most people who receive a subpoena from a House committee, it is the traditional thing to do engage, to negotiate, but Giuliani's lawyer was on the record saying that Giuliani would not cooperate in this investigation, citing privilege. But we've learned over the last few weeks that, through his attorney, Giuliani has been engaging with the committee and we learned from a source familiar with these negotiations that there is a possibility that Giuliani would be willing to testify under oath about some topics. But let's be clear, Wolf. There is no date scheduled for his testimony. He has not turned over any documents at this point.

Now, what potentially would he be willing to talk to the committee about? Well, it appears that election fraud is the most likely area where he might be willing to answer some questions. We know from our previous reporting that the subpoena he received, the first dozen or so requests from the committee are about election fraud. And it is likely that most of those will not be covered either by executive privilege or attorney attorney/client privilege, and that is where he could potentially cooperate. But at this point negotiations are in the very early stages, there is no agreement and, Wolf, it is not clear that they will be able to come to an agreement on how Giuliani can cooperate.

BLITZER: All right. Paula Reid, reporting for us with the latest on that, thanks very much into.

Let's discuss what is going on with a key member of the House January 6 select committee, Democratic Congresswoman Elaine Luria of Virginia. Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us.

How much do you believe Giuliani can actually tell you and your fellow members of the select committee about the Trump election fraud push if he's refusing to waive what is called executive privilege, attorney/client privilege?

REP. ELAINE LURIA (D-VA): Well, I think that Rudy Giuliani could tell us a lot about this plot related to election fraud. I think he was one of the key players at the center of it and was a voice of it throughout the months that followed the election.

You know, it is unclear as he's still in negotiations with the committee about appearing and what he might be willing to speak about. But as you mentioned, a subpoena from Congress, someone has a duty to respond and we hope that he'll come forward to the committee, that he will, as his lawyer has indicated, be available and willing to talk to us about election fraud. And some of these claims of privilege, they really don't have a basis when he wasn't a former employee of the U.S. government or in the administration, the executive privilege claim really does seem very weak in this case, as well as employee -- sorry, attorney/client privilege. It is unclear at what point he was acting officially in a capacity of representing the former president, but he'll need to approach the committee with the information that he can give us. And also if he does have claims of privilege, he will have to present those to us and they will be evaluated.

BLITZER: Given all of Giuliani's stonewalling all these months, how confident are you, Congresswoman, that he will ultimately cooperate and testify?

LURIA: I'm hopeful. His lawyer indicated recently that he wants to have a less confrontational approach than some of the other members who have refused to speak to the committee. So, I think time will tell. BLITZER: It certainly will. Your committee has also now received nearly 8,000 pages of emails from former Trump lawyer John Eastman, who obviously played a key role in crafting the election fraud conspiracy.


But he's withholding, we're told, more than 11,000 pages. What sort of communications did he share with your committee and what are you still missing?

LURIA: Well, he has claimed privilege on certain of these documents. So, this is a huge amount of documents we're still receiving them, evaluating them. But we have a concern, as to whether his privilege claims are adequate and whether he's provided detailed enough information on those things that he wants to claim privilege on.

So, we're still evaluating and my understanding is there is a lot more documents. I think the judge had to actually order him to do a certain number, 1,500 per day, in order to do this in a timely manner. And we are still working through that to make sure that we can get all of this information and that he provides essentially what the court has ordered to the committee.

BLITZER: We will stay in close touch with you. Congresswoman Elaine Luria, thanks so much for joining us.

LURIA: Thank you.

BLITZER: We'll have more breaking news coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Russia's military buildup and the threat of a war, a war in Europe erupting without warning. We're going live to another key location in Ukraine. We'll also speak with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner.

We'll be right back.



BLITZER: We're back with more breaking news on the Russia/Ukraine crisis. The United States deciding now to close, completely shut down its embassy in the Ukrainian capital amid growing concerns a Russian invasion is imminent, possibly this week.

CNN's Erin Burnett is joining us live from Ukraine right now. Erin, the U.S. embassy is moving staff who have remained in Ukraine to where you are in Western Ukraine, in Lviv. What are you learning?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. So, basically, Wolf, they had tried, really started to pull staff out of the embassy. And now, they're basically retreating to essential consular services, emergency services with a few remaining staff here that are going to be here in Lviv. As you know, Wolf, they have told all American citizens to leave this country and have been very clear that they should do so along with many other countries that have also made the same request. So, that is the situation here. And it just shows the urgency on the ground.

It continues, Wolf, to be, as you know, a juxtaposition of sort of a calm and waiting for a storm that you don't know if it is going to come, sort of hovering on every border here, and yet that there is a sense of calm. Today, Valentine's Day, people were out to dinner, people were out, people are continuing some sort of normalcy despite a very real sense of, you know, foreboding and concern for many.

BLITZER: Give us a little bit more, Erin, on the mood, on the ground there. Civilians are preparing. They see all of the international reports that some sort of Russian invasion potentially could be imminent.

BURNETT: Yes. You know, Wolf, what I found fascinating speaking to people here is a few things. One, a lot of them say they just don't get that story from the Ukrainian media at all. So, they're saying, we end up turning to media from Europe, from Western Europe and from Germany, some people are saying, to try to find out the real story. Because they feel that their government is so much in the be prepared but don't panic, be calm that we keep hearing from President Zelensky that they don't feel they're getting the real story.

And some of them have said, well, look, I'm very scared, and that makes me more scared because I want some more guidance on what to do to understand if there is a plan and what's going to happen. There is concern about whether the west, and particularly the United States, will really be here to defend them.

But what I've also found, Wolf, here is that some people are leaving. That is true. Some are leaving. They're going to Western Europe, whether to Poland or the Czech Republic, and some to Israel, someone that we spoke to today. Others, though, the majority obviously are staying and they're uncertain. There is hoarding of canned goods going on that you might expect. There's coming up with a plan A, a plan B, a plan C. But also I would emphasize, Wolf, there just seems to be concern about what to do, because you just don't know what is going to happen the next day, what's going to happen tomorrow.

BLITZER: Yes, lots of concern right now. Erin is on the ground for us in Lviv, in Western Ukraine. Erin, thank you very much.

And to our viewers, Erin is going to have more reporting out of Ukraine right at the top of the hour on Erin Burnett Out Front right after us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

In the meantime, let's bring in the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia. Senator, thank you so much for joining us.

I know you've just been briefed on this looming threat from Russia. You say nothing you heard today dissuaded from you from the fact that Russian forces could launch at any point. So, do you believe, Senator, that an invasion by Russia into Ukraine is imminent?

SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA): I believe over the next few days, we could see hostilities break out. We, in conjunction with our NATO allies, have flooded the zone of Kyiv, where every day there is another president, prime minister, chancellor and many European figures going to Moscow to say to Putin, don't do this.

We've made clear as evidenced by the Ukrainians themselves that even if they militarily lose in the immediate aftermath of a Russian attack, there will be an insurgency. We've seen the imagers of those people training on a daily basis. And I think in a way that has been very forward-leaning by both the American and British intelligence, we are saying that when we get intelligence, we're releasing it in ways so that if the world sees a Russian provocation masquerading as Ukrainians, the world will know it is a false-flag operation.


My hope is, from what Putin said today to his foreign minister, that there still is a diplomatic off-ramp. I hope he will take that. I'm equally concerned, Wolf, about the idea of a full-fledged cyberattack from Russia against Ukraine because cyberattacks don't know geographic boundaries, what happens if that cyberattack ends up taking out critical infrastructure in Poland. We're in a very dangerous period.

And what I heard from the previous report, there is still almost a lack of belief from the Ukrainians themselves, I think we and our allies have been signaling for sometime this could be the real deal.

BLITZER: Yes. That is the U.S. and the NATO fear. But in Ukraine, as you correctly point out, based on all of our reporting, people are going about their lives as if it is not going to happen. The latest U.S. intelligence we're told, Senator, is that Russia could actually start with air and missile attacks, encircle the Ukraine capital of Kyiv within a day or two. How likely is that scenario?

WARNER: Listen, Wolf, the notion of when Putin, and at the end of day, that is the individual who will make that decision. We know that they have prepositioned their forces. We know that, in certain ways, when you've put forces that close to the border outside of the camps they've been in, the idea of actually even bringing them back in to a base will show -- will be picked up by, I think, the world's community. So we are in a very, very dangerous zone.

And my hope is that Vladimir Putin takes the diplomatic off-ramps that have been offered. But we've now got the Russian forces poised at a level that we've not seen combined with a Russian war games around -- not only around Ukraine, but frankly across the world at a level that we've not seen in many, many decades.

BLITZER: I want to get your reaction to what we heard from the House Armed Services Committee chairman who suggested that Ukraine could decide that they will not join NATO for some certain period of time in the short-term, do you that I would be a viable off-ramp for Russia if Ukraine were to make such an announcement. WARNED: It has been NATO policy literally for decades that they would review any country that wanted to apply. Ukraine actually put in their Constitution, I believe in 2016, that they have, as a long-term goal, to get into NATO. Again, predicting the Ukraine administration has been challenging but the notion that somehow Putin's bullying of an independent nation, like Ukraine, would result in the Ukrainians changing what's in their Constitution, that will be for them to decide but I believe that would be a large leap.

BLITZER: Yes, this is a really, really dangerous, very dangerous moment right now. Senator Mark Warner, thanks as usual for joining us. We'll continue our conversation in the days ahead.

Just ahead, a deep disappointment among many parents younger children as COVID vaccine authorization is delayed. We're going to talk about all of the latest pandemic news with Dr. Anthony Fauci. He's standing by live. We will discuss when we come back.



BLITZER: New developments in the doping drama, casting a shadow over the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing. The teenage Russian skater has been cleared to return to the ice, despite testing positive for a banned substance.

CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us. There has been a lot of outrage, Brian, over this decision.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Outrage in almost every corner, Wolf, except, of course, in Russia. Those who cover figure skating, others who are heavily invested in the sport, say this ruling casts an inescapable shadow over these games.


TODD (voice over): Tonight, 15-year-old Kamila Valieva caught up in a scandal that evokes more controversy over accusations of doping against Russian athletes in the Olympics. The Court of Arbitration for Sport has ruled the figure skater can compete in the women's single skating competition this week in Beijing despite testing positive for a banned substance prior to the Winter Olympics. That court went against the wishes of the International Olympic Committee, the World Anti-Doping Agency and the International Skating Union, which all wanted Valieva's suspension to continue after she helped the Russian Olympians win the team figure skating event in Beijing.

Part of the reason for this ruling according to the court --

MATTHIEU REEB, DIRECTOR GENERAL, COURT OF ARBITRATION FOR SPORT: The athlete is under 16 and is a protected person under the World Anti- Doping code.

TODD: The head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency responded to the ruling by saying, Russia has hijacked the competition and, quote, stolen the moment from clean athletes. A former executive of the World Anti- Doping Agency says the Court of Arbitration for Sport and the IOC have demonstrated in this case and others that they are not what he calls fit for purpose.

ROB KOEHLER, FORMER EXECUTIVE, WORLD ANTI-DOPING AGENCY: Time and time again, if you look at the Russian file, they have favored Russia over athletes.

TODD: CNN reached out, has not gotten response from the Court of Arbitration or the IOC to those comments.

The drug Valieva tested positive for, trimatezidine, is not approved for use in the U.S. and is used to treat angina, a deficiency of blood to the heart.

GUS GARCIA-ROBERTS: Athletes have used it in order to help with stamina and endurance and recovery during workouts.

STEVEN UNGERLEIDER, PSYCHOLOGIST: In my opinion, there is a high likelihood that she was given this hormone without her knowing it.

TODD: Steven Ungerleider, who has written a book on the East German doping programs in past Olympics, says the Russians took a page from the East German playbook and have been doping athletes for decades.


UNGERLEIDER: The Russian doping story probably went back to the '50s. Recently, since 2014, they've upped their game and we know that the lab and the director of medical services were all in a systematic loop.


TODD (on camera): The Russian government has consistently denied involvement in doping and has blamed several coaches for that. So far, there has not been a gold medal ceremony for Valieva's team that already won gold in these Olympics, and if she wins the singles competition this week, there won't be a ceremony then either, the IOC says. They'll wait until more information comes out and all of this has been further litigated, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us, Brian, thank you very much.

Let's go to Beijing right now. CNN Sports Analyst, USA Today Sports Columnist Christine Brennan is joining us live from Beijing. You broke this story, Christine, excellent reporting, of course. You say this is a dark day in the fight against doping in sports. So, what message does this latest decision send?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: Wolf, it is a terrible message. It says, go ahead and cheat, give drugs to your 15-year-old young skater, the star of the Olympics, potentially one of the great skaters of a generation, go ahead, work it out so she can sneak into the Olympic Games, technicalities, let her win a gold medal and there you go. And who cares about anyone else. Who cares that you're ruining the Olympic experience for all of these athletes?

Think of all of the women who are going to be skating in a few hours in the women's short program, Wolf, obviously, three Americans. And they're going to be asked questions that they never would have been asked if the Russians had been kicked out of these Olympics or if they were not cheating, which would be hopefully we would hope, but, my goodness, hard to imagine this doping nation ever learning a lesson, just no medal ceremony for the Americans for the silver, no medal ceremony for the women's competition, on and on it goes. The chaos that the Russians have caused because of cheating and because all of the alphabet soup of organizations, IOC, ISU, CAS, have all allowed them to get away with it.

BLITZER: For those who don't necessarily follow figure skating all that closely, Christine, can you put into perspective just how uniquely talented this 15-year-old is and why this particular Doping scandal is so disappointing?

BRENNAN: Yes. You know, she's come out like out of the blue over the last four or five months. She was a world junior champ a couple of years ago. Russia has so many good women skaters now. They burn out early but it is quite a factory of women's figure skating.

And out of all of them, Kamila Valieva has just been exemplary. She could do quadruple jumps very few women can. She could do quadruple jumps and she can also be as beautiful artist as Dorothy Hamel or Peggy Fleming back in the day. She has got it all, an extraordinary mix of athleticism and artistry and nerves of steel, and we'll see how she handles things tonight under those amazing spotlight that she will be under.

BLITZER: We will watch. Christine Brennan, excellent reporting, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

Coming up, Dr. Fauci on the new delay in authorizing COVID vaccines for children under five, does he see it as a serious setback? There you see him. Dr. Fauci is standing by live. We'll discuss right after this.



BLITZER: Tonight, there clearly is growing frustration among parents who want to get their very young children vaccinated against COVID-19. The FDA's decision now to delay the process has raised a lot of questions.

Let's discuss this and more with Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and President Biden's chief medical adviser.

Dr. Fauci, thanks as usual for joining us.

One of those frustrated parents is Dr. Leana Wen, she joined us on this show on Friday and said the FDA's decision felt like a gut punch -- her words.

What do you say to parents like Dr. Wen who feel like they've had the rug pulled out from under them?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Well, you know, I wouldn't describe it that way, wolf, that the rug has been pulled out. I think it is disappointing that parents who have children in that age group certainly are anxious and want their children to be vaccinated. But you want to make sure it is done right.

And what the FDA is doing is there doesn't appear to be any safety issue at all, they want to make sure that the dose regiment that will be used is the correct one. Namely, it's a three-shot vaccine for children. They originally got data from the two-shot vaccine, they didn't feel (AUDIO GAP) for them to make any final determination so they're now collecting a considerable amount of data making this a three-dose vaccine.

The data will be collected. It will be presented to the FDA and in the usual manner, they'll go over it very carefully and when they do and if they do, it likely will be when, then you'll know you have a vaccine that is safe and effective. So, it may be a delay but I don't think it should be considered a major setback. It's really a matter of timing, Wolf, and you want to make sure particularly when you're dealing with children who are the most vulnerable, you want to make sure that you do it right.

And that's what the FDA is doing. They want to make sure they get enough data so that with confidence when they make their decision, it will be backed by good, solid data.


BLITZER: Well, let me press you on a time timeline, Dr. Fauci. When do you expect data from Pfizer about how young children, four and younger, fair after a third dose?

FAUCI: Wolf, you know, I can't give you a time line because that's up to the FDA. They are saying they would like to do it within a few weeks. But you have to ask them, but you know happens in this world we're living in. I'll give an estimate and then it will be different from what really happens.

Let the FDA speak about when they feel they'll have it. I don't really want to make that kind of conjecture.

BLITZER: As you know, mask mandates are being lifted across the United States right now, so many cities. Are we moving into a phase where decisions about mitigation measures can be left up to individuals, rather than state and local governments?

FAUCI: Well, you know, Wolf, where we're going right now, first of all we're going in the right direction. If you look at the curves, which is fundamentally, virtually, exclusively omicron that we're dealing with right now, the curves have sharply turned around. They are coming down. They are continuing to come down with regard to the cases and the hospitalizations.

If it continues to go in that direction, you're going to be seeing, the CDC makes the recommendations. At the end of the day, it is for the locals to do it. And we would hope the local health authorities, depending on the situation in a particular region, a particular state, a particular city, will utilize the data and the recommendations that the CDC gives and make their own determination based on what's going on in their own particular area.

That's where we believe it will be going. And hopefully, Wolf, if we continue to go in this direction, we'll start to see a lightening up of the mitigations that are going on, which is what we're all hoping for because nobody likes restrictions. Nobody likes to be wearing a mask all the time. But it looks like we're going in the right direction in that regard.

BLITZER: So, you think we're finally, finally, we're now in almost year three, nearing the end?

FAUCI: Wolf, I hope so. Again, we have to be prepared for the best case scenario, which is what we're hoping for, which is what I think you're suggesting, that this infection goes way down. It stays down. We do well and we're not surprised by yet again another variant.

And that's something that is unpredictable but that you can prepare for. You can prepare by developing better other drugs, by making sure testing is easily available, and by getting more people not only vaccinated but boosting.

One of the things we have to keep emphasizing, Wolf, that the booster shots do extremely well against variants as they emerge. So we're prepared to get a new variant. I hope we don't. I hope we continue to go in that downward trajectory where we can start approaching normality that all of us are ready for after such a long time under this veil of a very, very serious outbreak.

BLITZER: We're certainly hoping for that. Dr. Fauci, as usual, thank you so much for joining us.

There's more breaking news we're following here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Why the judge in Sarah Palin's defamation lawsuit against "The New York Times" now says he is going to dismiss the case regardless of the jury's verdict.



BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following, a very unusual twist in Sarah Palin's defamation lawsuit against "The New York Times." The judge says, he said it a short time ago, he's going to dismiss the case even though the jury will resume deliberating tomorrow.

CNN's chief media correspondent, the anchor of "RELIABLE SOURCES", Brian Stelter, is joining us right now with us the latest. Brian, this is a win for the "New York Times." Tell us what happened.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: It is. That's right, Wolf. "The New York Times" is saying that this ruling is a reaffirmation of a fundamental tenet of American law that public figures should not be permitted to use libel suits to punish or intimidate news organizations that may acknowledge and swiftly correct unintentional errors. "The New York Times" says that when it wrote an editorial involving Palin, that it was an honest mistake. It wasn't on purpose.

Palin's lawyers have been arguing in court that this was on purpose, they were trying to hurt her and defame her on purpose. Today, the judge essentially said, after looking at all the evidence in trial, he's saying this should never have been brought to trial in the first place, that Palin had no proof that this met the high standard for American figures to sue for defamation.

However, the jury is still deliberating. They've headed on for the night. They'll be back tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. The judge wants them to continue deliberating so that that decision, that ruling is part of public record. Because all of this, Wolf, will be appealed.

BLITZER: Well, how unusual is it for a judge to dismiss a case and still have the jury deliberate?

STELTER: Right, legal experts say this is very rare, but it speaks to the lack of evidence that pale's team presented in court, the lack of proof that "The New York Times" was acting on purpose to try to defame her, to lie about her. But many conservative heavyweights want to see this high standard of lawsuits start to be lowered. They want to bring this to the Supreme Court.

So, even if Palin loses, and in some ways, she lost 28 the judge. Even if she loses with the jury and then the Second Circuit, this may work its way to the Supreme Court and it may be a significant change in libel law even though Palin is losing this week, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, that's a significant -- potentially a very significant development.

Brian Stelter, thank you very much for that update.

STELTER: Thanks.

BLITZER: And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now live from Ukraine.