Return to Transcripts main page

The Source with Kaitlan Collins

Mark Meadows Appeals Ruling In A New Attempt To Move His Georgia Election Case To Federal Court; South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem Endorsing Trump Tonight At Rally; FBI Director: Russian Spy Presence In U.S. "Way Too Big". Aired 9-10p ET

Aired September 08, 2023 - 21:00   ET





A big decision, in the Georgia election interference case. Former Trump White House Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, cannot move his case, to federal court. And it comes as a bombshell report was made public, revealing a sitting U.S. Senator was among those recommended for charges.

Any minute, former President Trump, will kick off a rally, in South Dakota, alongside Governor Kristi Noem. She's expected to endorse him, fueling speculation that she's eyeing the number two spot, in Trump's third bid, for the White House.

And at least eight confirmed sightings, of an escaped murderer, with nearly 400 officers now on the case. A prison guard has been fired. And still, the convicted killer, who busted out of a prison, near Philadelphia, is on the lam.

I am Brianna Keilar. And this is THE SOURCE.

Good evening. Kaitlan Collins is off tonight.

We are watching a major decision, in the Georgia election case. A judge just denied Mark Meadows' bid, to move his case to federal court. He testified, just days ago, in his own defense. But that clearly did not move the judge, who says Meadows failed to meet even the quite low threshold for removal.

This can't be welcome news, for former President Trump. Just yesterday, he said he may try to get his Georgia case moved as well.

And moments ago, we learned that Meadows has already filed notice to appeal.

With me now, former federal prosecutor, Shan Wu; defense attorney and former Georgia prosecutor, Sarah Flack; and former Assistant Special Watergate prosecutor, Nick Akerman. So Nick, the court, here, concluding that, Meadows has not met even this quote, "Quite low" threshold for removal. How are you reading this decision?

NICK AKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT SPECIAL WATERGATE PROSECUTOR, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: I think I read this decision as bad news for all of the defendants. Part of their strategy was to try and break up this case, as much as they could, getting some of it, into federal court. And this strategy, tonight, has failed.

If you read this opinion, it doesn't spell good news, for Donald Trump. He is not going to be able to meet that threshold. Jeffrey Clark, who was a government employee, an Assistant Attorney General, in charge of the Environmental division, he's not going to be able to meet that threshold. All for the simple reason, that trying to undermine a state election is not anywhere close to within the scope of duties of these federal officials.

So, I think, no matter what they do, they can appeal this, to wherever, it's not going anywhere, at this point.

KEILAR: Sarah?

AKERMAN: That avenue is foreclosed.

KEILAR: Sarah, is this what you were expecting?


And you can see that the judge was very careful, in particular, in this 49-page order, to make sure, to be prepared, for this possible appeal, which they've just done, moments ago. I mean, he really spent time, breaking down the standard.

I mean, basically, it's, "Are you a federal official? What's the scope of your federal job? And what are the allegations in the indictment? Does that meet the job description?" And the judge here said, "Absolutely not," meaning no jurisdiction, in federal court, kicking it back to Fulton County Superior Court. Exactly what I thought would happen.

KEILAR: Sarah, the judge here, in this case, is promising that this is independent of these other efforts, these other co-defendants, who want to move their cases, from state court, to federal court.

Former DOJ official, Jeffrey Clark, former Coffee County GOP chair, Cathy Latham, current Georgia State Senator, Shawn Still, former Georgia GOP Chair, David Shafer, we know Rudy Giuliani, and John Eastman, as well, are maybes, on, going this route. We've heard about the former President.

That said, what do you make of that? Making clear, the judge says that this is independent, is going to move forward, with these other cases. But at the same time, you think this doesn't bode well. FLACK: No. I mean, I think, the judge is following the law. I mean, you can see that in his 49-page order. He is following the law to a tee.

And so, I certainly believe the judge will hear every single defendant, individually, and make the same analysis. Again, "What is the job description? Basically, what is ascertaining scope of your job, as a federal official, and then understanding if the conduct, in the indictment, matches, is that part of your job, as a federal official."


So, the judge will follow that law, and apply that to each defendant. But I think the same result is going to happen, each and every time. This is going to remain in Fulton County Superior Court, no doubt about that.

KEILAR: And Shan, I wonder what you think about Meadows' appeal, if he has any shot, if that's going to deter him, and the others--


KEILAR: --from really pursuing any failures, they may have, to appeal this, and really extend the timeline here.

WU: I don't think his chances on appeal are particularly good. And let me explain why.

The factual record that's been developed, in his extraordinary gamble, to take the stand, and expose himself, to all that fact-finding, and cross-examination, and waving his right, not to testify, under the Fifth Amendment? That's given the trial court judge a very strong factual record.

And the appeals court is not going to reexamine facts that way. They're not going to take new testimony. They're ruling on the law. So, that trial court has made a solid legal analysis, but most importantly, they have a very big factual record, very strong.

KEILAR: The judge, in this case, used Meadows' own testimony, against him, really, to prove the point that Meadows wasn't trying to.

Was it a mistake, for Meadows, to take the stand?

WU: I think, in 20/20 hindsight, it's going to be. Just how bad a mistake remains to be seen, Because, the worst-case scenario is not even that he doesn't remove it. But that in his testimony, he was inconsistent, and may expose himself to perjury or false statements charges.

KEILAR: So Nick, Trump's lawyers told the court, just yesterday, that they may try to move the President's case, to federal court. You mentioned that this doesn't look good, for him. That's not going to stop him, from trying. Does he have a slightly better shot, than Meadows, at this?

AKERMAN: Oh, I think he's got a much worse shot. I mean, basically, Meadows was put in there, as a stalking horse, for these other defendants, to see if they could open up the door, to get the rest of them, into the federal court. Basically, that door is shut.

If you read the judge's opinion, he makes it very clear that the Executive branch has absolutely no business, putting its nose into state elections, or involving itself, in state elections.

All of that language that applies to Meadows is going to apply in spades to Donald Trump. If you look at, I believe, page 41, or footnote 13, where he describes that the scope of the Executive function, there's no way that Donald Trump is ever going to overcome that language.

KEILAR: Sarah, the judge, in the Georgia case worried, about the sort of delay, caused by exactly this. This is what the judge said in court.


JUDGE SCOTT MCAFEE, FULTON COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT: I think we've already had some counsel, indicating they're on trial, in other cases, in federal court. And if we're just going to be sitting in a position, where we're having to consider continuance motion, in 40 days, what -- why -- why delay the inevitable?


KEILAR: Sarah, what does this mean, for the timeline, of the other eight co-defendants -- 18 co-defendants?

FLACK: Well, I mean, I think the reality is the priority, right now, is trying those who have filed this speedy trial demand.

Because Georgia law requires that they be -- once you file that motion, you have to be tried, within two terms, of the indictment, which is why we see those dates coming, in late October, because they have to be tried by this second term, which ends, I think, early, early November. So that's going to be the priority.

What happens with these other defendants? We already know they're not filing these speedy trial demands. They want to be severed. But we will see -- we'll see what happens.

But certainly, these four or five, who have filed this speedy trial demand, they are going to be tried first. The judge is going to do everything he can, because he has to, under Georgia law, get these tried, in front of a jury.

KEILAR: So also today, we saw just a stunning report, from the special grand jury, in Fulton County, Georgia. And it showed that it recommended charges, for 39 people. Of course, District Attorney Fani Willis ultimately indicted only 19. And among the most notable names, on this list, former Georgia Republican senators, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, and then sitting South Carolina Senator, Lindsey Graham. Now, they were not indicted, ultimately.

But here's Graham's response, earlier today.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): This is troubling for the country. We can't criminalize senators, doing their job, when they have a constitutional requirement to fulfill.


KEILAR: Other Trump allies, who peddled 2020 election lies, and escaped indictment, in Georgia, include Michael Flynn, Boris Epshteyn and Cleta Mitchell.

Sarah, explain how this works. With the grand jury recommending, bringing charges, against 39? Ultimately, the D.A. indicting only 19. Take us through how a County D.A. makes this decision, to indict or not.


FLACK: Absolutely. So, the special Grand Jury, their job, is to hear evidence, and to make a recommendation, to the D.A. And then, the D.A. can go through that.

And the D.A. ultimately is the one, who decides what she wants to go forward on. But it helps though, because she understands sort of what the issues are, what the jurors are interested in, what maybe more evidence she needs.

Knowing Fani Willis, she is very, very thorough. She has tried multiple RICO cases in her career. In fact, she's made a career of that.

I can guarantee you, she's been in her office, in her war room, so to speak, and has called each and every one of these defendants, and looked at "What evidence do we have? How can we prove it?" Because it's not about also what we think. It's about what we can prove. "Do we have the hard evidence to prove this?"

And Fani is not going to indict somebody, if she doesn't believe she can prove it in court. So, I think that's why she ultimately used her discretion, in not charging these other defendants, because she's not going to try a case that she doesn't think she can win.

KEILAR: Yes. Nick, you heard what Senator Graham said there.

We have to point out. Again, none of the senators, here, who were recommended for indictment, by the special grand jury, ultimately had charges pursued against them, by the D.A.

But he's talking about this is criminalizing the work that politicians or senators do.

Where is the line, do you think, between politicking, and criminal act, when it comes to the behavior of these senators?

AKERMAN: Well, the political act that he's talking about is the excuse he made, to try and get out of testifying, altogether, before the special grand jury. He took that all the way to the Supreme Court, claiming congressional immunity. That was his thing, to try and keep out of testifying. And for good reason. I mean, we can see now that the grand jury did suspect that he committed crimes.

If you listen to Raffensperger's testimony, the Secretary of State of Georgia? You compare what was said by Donald Trump to Raffensperger? And you compare what was said by Lindsey Graham, to Raffensperger? It's almost the same playbook. It's as though he was part of the team, trying to influence the election, in Georgia.

Now, I think, the problem with Lindsey Graham was that there just wasn't enough evidence. Basically, with respect to Graham and Raffensperger, it was a he-said, he-said. It was not tape-recorded, unlike the call with Donald Trump, so that there really wasn't something, for a jury, to listen to, and to sink their teeth into. And there wasn't much other evidence, beyond that phone call, as far as we know.

So, I think, what Fani Willis did, in that circumstance, was really make a decision, that she just didn't have the evidence, that was sufficient, to convict Graham, beyond a reasonable doubt. Now, it doesn't mean that if someone down the line doesn't turn and cooperate, that he couldn't find himself in hot water, again.

KEILAR: If there is more evidence.

Shan, President Trump has responded to this on social media. Quote, "They wanted to indict" anyone "who happened to be breathing at the time."

Fani Willis didn't seize on all of the recommendations, obviously, of the grand jury, though. How does she look after this special grand jury report is out?

WU: I think she looks like a very careful prosecutor. As Nick was alluding to, it's probably the evidence that she's looking at. We obviously don't know everything that she saw. We have these votes. And looks like those people in the special grand jury wanted to indict people like Graham.

But she has to look at the whole picture. And the votes alone aren't necessarily dispositive, on that. She's got to look at all the evidence she has. And even though you might have a majority of votes, there, it doesn't mean that you don't have some weaknesses in the case.

So, I think she's really shown herself to be a very independent prosecutor. And obviously, this really flies in the face of what Trump's saying. I mean, she could have easily have taken this recommendation, and say, "Hey, not me. These people wanted to do it." But she exercised her discretion. And I think that shows a very evenhandedness.

KEILAR: Well it could -- if she had seized on that, it could be, at some peril, to herself. If she wasn't able to make a strong enough case, though, that could have shown her to be weak as well, though, right?

WU: Sure. Although by that time we'd have been pretty far down the line. They would have had some trials already.

KEILAR: Right.

WU: So that would have been bad for the defendants.

But she's being, I think, from the looks of it, very fair, and being very careful, to protect people's rights.

KEILAR: Shan, thank you so much.

Sarah, Nick, thank you as well, for being with us, this evening.

Right now, in South Dakota, former President Trump is holding a rally. But is he also holding auditions, for a running mate? The potential role that Governor Kristi Noem could play, in his bid, for the White House, next.

Plus, it's been more than a week, and that killer, who crab-walked his way, up a prison wall to freedom, is still on the run. Where the intense manhunt stands this hour? Ahead.



KEILAR: Former President Trump is holding his first rally, since his fourth indictment.

But he's not the lone attraction, in Rapid City, South Dakota, tonight. He's sharing the spotlight, with Governor Kristi Noem. And she is speaking, right now. She is live there, on the screen. She's a rising star, in the Republican Party, who is widely seen as a potential VP pick. And she's also expected to endorse Trump, tonight.

CNN's Senior National Correspondent, Kyung Lah, is at the rally, for us.

Kyung, it's still four months, before primary voting begins. But there are a lot of political-watchers, who are seeing tonight, as a potential tryout, in the Veepstakes. What are you hearing there?

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it seems to be a double lane here that Republicans are watching, in South Dakota. We're not only expecting to see the President speaking -- the former President speaking, after that indictment, in Fulton County, after all the news, involving Mark Meadows. What we're also watching is this woman, who is on stage there,

speaking, Kristi Noem, the Governor of South Dakota, extraordinarily popular here, in her home state, having won in 2022, by 27 percentage points.

And it certainly sounds like she is in the very early stage, of her speech, where she's about to endorse Donald Trump. She's throwing a lot of compliments, heaping compliments, on him.

And the reporting that we have, from CNN, is that she is expected to formally endorse Trump, tonight, in this speech.


So, what he has not done, what Trump has not done yet, is select that running mate. And there have been a number of candidates, who are trying to get into that second slot, at least slyly, or sometimes overtly, saying that they would like to be his running mate.

And certainly, what we are seeing, right now, tonight, is that Governor Noem is saddling up, and hoping that she is at least going to be, in a favorable light, right before Trump takes the stage here, in South Dakota.


KEILAR: All right. Kyung Lah, live for us, in Rapid City, thank you so much for that.

Well, before tonight, Trump and Noem were busy, heaping praise, on each other, fueling speculation that she could have the inside track, on becoming his running mate, if and when Trump secures the GOP nomination.

Let's talk about this now, with CNN Political Commentators, Bakari Sellers, and Alice Stewart, with us as well.

All right, guys, is this a VP tryout? What do you think?


And look, a lot of people say, "Wow, it's so early. It's too soon to be talking about this." It's never too early, for Donald Trump, to launch a race, to vie for his attention, or to kiss the ring. And that's exactly what he's doing here.

And look, the way that Donald Trump works is loyalty is key for him. And blind loyalty is even better than that. And Governor Noem fits that bill perfectly. She has been very supportive of him, along the way, certainly reaping praise on him.

And I talked with her campaign, tonight. She will, in any minute now, she will formally endorse him. And that really does set her, in a good path, to be one of the many people that he will probably consider, for VP. And look, in terms of the policy, she is right on board, with a lot of the policies, he stands for. And she certainly is someone that will continue to be as supportive of him, if she does continue this.

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, (D) FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: It's not too early, because this race is over. I mean, this race will effectively be over, on King Day. I think it's January 15th or so. But whenever the Iowa primary is, or Iowa caucus is, this race will be over. Donald Trump will trounce the rest of his opponents.

I don't think Kristi Noem is in the top tier, however. But what Donald Trump does very well is he goes out and brow-beats the rest of his opponents. He pushes people, into submission. And, I think, that Kristi Noem is the first of a lot of statewide elected officials that are going to endorse him, for President.

KEILAR: Why don't you think she's in the top tier?

SELLERS: Because there are more talented people than Kristi Noem. I mean, I just think that's a fact.

I think that if you want someone, who can bring in a different, who can make you a broader appeal, you bring in a Tim Scott, or, you bring in a Nikki Haley, and both whom I know very well, are from South Carolina.

I think if you want a fighter, for example, and something that people wouldn't necessarily expect you to do? I think that Donald Trump-Chris Christie ticket is very formidable. Because nobody -- I mean, I love Kamala Harris. But nobody wants to debate Chris Christie. I don't want to debate Chris Christie. I don't know any lawyer in America that wants to debate Chris Christie.

And so, I think that there are just people, who are better or more skilled than Kristi Noem. And I think that there are better -- people, who are better and more skilled, who are running for President of the United States.

I think, tonight, she's doing what she has to do, to put her name in the hat. But I don't think that -- first of all, I don't think this field is very talented at all. But I don't think she reaches that level of talent, to fit that category.

STEWART: I think one of the things she did really, to curry even more favor with him is, is she's a popular governor. And there was talk for a while that she was going to get into the presidential race. She made the conscious decision not to do so, because, in her mind, she felt though Donald Trump was the--


STEWART: --was the runaway contender.

And speaking with her campaign, she's obviously serving as governor. She says she has not had the conversation, with former President Trump, about this. But if he offers this to her, she's certainly going to seriously consider this.

SELLERS: But let me, also, I mean--

KEILAR: She said she's openly interested.

SELLERS: I mean--


SELLERS: I mean, look, we said this, recently, before when Donald Trump said he weighed 215 pounds, when he was getting indicted, in Atlanta, Georgia.

Look, I'm interested in dating Halle Berry, right? That's not going to happen. Like, that's not a thing that happens, just because you're interested.

But the fact is, there are people, who are just better-suited for this.

And, to your point, Ron DeSantis probably is the individual, that Republicans would clamor most, for this opportunity. And we've seen what happened when Ron DeSantis ran for President of the United States. He just doesn't stack up well. He doesn't debate well. And Ron DeSantis' biggest problem is the more people meet him, the more -- the less people like him.

And so, I think, Kristi Noem has a lot of vetting to do. And I think there are people, who are better. And I will stick by this. I think that Nikki Haley, I think Tim Scott, I think that there are a lot of people, who are better-suited, to be Donald Trump's president than Kristi Noem.

KEILAR: Let's talk about that. And don't sell yourself short, by the way, on Halle Berry, all right?


SELLERS: Well I have a--

KEILAR: But that aside?


SELLERS: My wife looks better than Halle Berry.



SELLERS: Let me just throw that out there.

KEILAR: Sounds right.

SELLERS: She does look better than Halle Berry. But I'm just--

KEILAR: That's right. You're already winning--

SELLERS: --I'm just categorically throwing it out there.

KEILAR: You're already winning at life. So, we're just going to say that.

SELLERS: I am. Yes. There's no reason to come in at second place.


KEILAR: OK. And maybe this isn't the right way, to think about it, because Donald Trump is sometimes just different, and it's not always about conventional politics. But he did pick Mike Pence kind of conventionally, in 2016, to shore up some concerns, about evangelicals. He doesn't have those anymore. He has evangelicals.

Where does he need to shore himself up now, Alice?

STEWART: He needs to shore himself up, with suburban women.


STEWART: And a lot of the disaffected Republicans, who said--


STEWART: --"I'm fed up with the drama of Donald Trump."

And look, I'm not so sure that the evangelicals are as on board as he thinks. Many of them that I speak with, say, they're ready to turn the page, they're ready to look elsewhere.

But here's the thing, is he does need a candidate that will help balance out the ticket. There's Donald Trump. He needs someone that will balance out the ticket. Again, Nikki Haley, or Tim Scott might be good. But someone, who can keep sub -- get suburban women back in the fold, keep the Evangelicals in the fold, and also encourage minorities, whether it's African Americans, Hispanic, Latinos.

We need to broaden the tent. His base is there. It's not going anywhere. But we need a VP candidate that will help to broaden the electorate that Donald Trump has shrunk.

SELLERS: I don't think he's going to do what he did before.

And I think that all of us remember the story, or heard the story, on the tarmac, of how Mike Pence was just hailed on the tarmac, so that I believe, by Steve Bannon, so that he could meet Donald Trump, and it was this weird Donald Trump-type scenario, where he chose Mike Pence.

I think, for example, there's a dark horse that he may choose, somebody like Sarah Huckabee Sanders. I don't even know if she's old enough to be Vice President of the United States. I think she is. I'm not -- you would know. You're from Arkansas.




But I think he would choose somebody like Sarah Huckabee Sanders. I think he's not going to go the traditional route any longer. But I do believe he understands that he has these gaps that he has to fill.

KEILAR: Bakari and Alice, great conversation, this evening.

And I do want to mention, as we have been watching this event, in Rapid City, that Governor Kristi Noem did go ahead, and endorse Donald Trump, as we were speaking, as expected, that is.

SELLERS: Poor Ron DeSantis.

KEILAR: Poor Ron DeSantis.

Where is he? It has been nine days. There have been at least eight sightings. And now, nearly 400 officers are searching, for an escaped killer, in Pennsylvania. How is he still on the run? We are on the ground, next.



KEILAR: Right now, the search is still on, for the convicted murderer, who escaped a Pennsylvania prison, nine days ago. Close to 400 officers are on the hunt, across southeastern Pennsylvania, despite several sightings of Danelo Cavalcante, since his prison break.

And now, a source tells CNN, a guard, who did not see, or report, the escape, has been fired.

CNN's Brian Todd is in the search area, tonight, with the latest.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, a lot of questions being put to law enforcement, about why they have not caught this man yet.

What I can tell you, having covered a lot of ground here, with our team, over the past four days, in this region, that this area is much more difficult, and complicated, terrain-wise, than a lot of people really realize.

You can't describe it as completely rural. But there are a lot of vast rural pockets, in this area. A lot of properties here, homes, that have a ton of property on them, like this field that you see behind me, a lot more property than you see here. They have outbuildings. They have streams, hills, forests, in these properties, a ton of places for this man to hide. That's one of the reasons that they've not caught him yet. Another reason, the surveillance cameras that have picked him up, over the past few days, two in particular, these were trail cameras, in an area called Longwood Gardens, again, another very vast rural-type area, right behind me. These are trail cameras that were put in place, by private operators, maybe months or years ago.

And these images, at least two -- on at least two occasions, were the ones that captured Cavalcante, on the move, at night.

The problem with those was that they were not transmitted, to law enforcement, in real-time. Those images of him, captured on those surveillance cameras, were not transferred, in real-time, to law enforcement. That is unlike the cameras that law enforcement itself operates.

So, it took almost a day, in each case, for law enforcement, to actually get those images. So he seems to have been kind of one step ahead, at every juncture, Brianna.

KEILAR: Brian, we now know that this guard, who failed to see Cavalcante's escape, so obviously couldn't report it, has been fired. What are you learning about what happened at the prison?

TODD: Well, the acting warden of that prison, Howard Holland, has called this a failure of the human element.

What we know is, you've seen, everybody has now seen that dramatic video, of him, crab-walking up, between those two walls. What we know is the Tower Guard, who was supposed to be watching that did not watch it. Why? We don't exactly know. But he was distracted for some reason. He did not see it. He did not see it. And he did not report it.

So, no one knew that Cavalcante was even missing, for about an hour. We know from the sequencing that we've been told that Cavalcante, he crab-walked up that hallway there, those two walls. He got through razor wire, at the top of that. He went across the roof. He scaled a fence. He got through more razor wire. We do not know actually how he got off the roof.

But this wasn't even known, for at least an hour. He got an hour head start. And that was so critical, Brianna.

KEILAR: You have some new reporting, on his history, in Brazil. What have you learned there?

TODD: Right. Lieutenant Colonel George Bivens, of the Pennsylvania State Police, has told us that in 2017, after he was alleged -- after he allegedly committed another murder, of a man, who owed him money, he went in hiding, in the jungles of Brazil. So, he has experience, hiding out, in hot, vast rural areas, like this one.

What Lieutenant Colonel Bivens said was that the search for him there was quote, "Not intense," and he was able to slip away. And Lieutenant Colonel Bivens says that that's not the experience that he's going to get here.

However, we're now in our ninth day that he's been on the run. They thought at various times, they've had him hemmed in. They have not.

KEILAR: They have not.

Brian Todd, thank you, for the latest.


A stark warning, from, the FBI Director, about how many, Russian spies walk among us, here, in the U.S.

I'll ask the former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, about how worried he is, about this, next.


KEILAR: As Ukraine's counteroffensive enters its fourth month, President Zelenskyy told CNN, he's not open to negotiations, with Russian President Vladimir Putin.


PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE: When you want to have compromises or a dialog with somebody, you can't do it with a liar.


KEILAR: Zelenskyy talked to CNN's Fareed Zakaria, about the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Russian mercenary leader, whose plane crashed, weeks after his brief mutiny. Zelenskyy said it shows what happens, when people make deals with Putin.

Joining us now is James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence.

Sir, thank you so much, for being with us, tonight.


KEILAR: Zelenskyy says he won't be able to have an open dialog, with Putin. I suppose that's not surprising. You can't blame him, considering what he's been through.

But how do you see this war ending then?


CLAPPER: Well, I'm not sure. If I knew that I wouldn't be here, I don't think. But, right now, I think it's going to be more of a slog than a sprint for the Ukrainians.

And, I think, frankly, we need to be more aggressive, in supplying them, and supporting them, notably with airpower. I think that would really make a difference, in this breakthrough that everybody thinks the Ukrainians should affect. So, I agree, in everybody's best interest, the Ukrainians, and ours, certainly, to end it sooner than later.

KEILAR: It already seems like a slog. So, what should Americans looking at it be prepared for then?

CLAPPER: Well, more of the same, I would guess. And that, of course, brings the question, to the forefront, about what is the collective U.S., and for that matter, the broader, the West's patience, for a long, long slog kind of contest.

And that's why I'm saying I think it'd be better to speed it up. And the way to do that, I think, is to be more aggressive, about the weapons, and the nature of the weapons that we supply to them, and do it at a faster pace.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about Russia. Russian spies among us. That was the kind of, I think, eye-grabbing headline that came from FBI Director, Christopher Wray. He was speaking, at a public event, yesterday. Let's listen to what he said.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: The Russian intelligence footprint, and by that I mean intelligence officers, is still way too big in the United States.


KEILAR: So, is the U.S. just following with Russian spies? Is that what he's saying? And why is he saying this now?

CLAPPER: Well, I'm not sure why. It's interesting comment.

I frankly worry more about the Chinese, who I think are more pervasive, and more sophisticated, in their approach, to spying, in the United States. And, I think, they're more focused, than the Russians. And the Chinese have specific objectives, they want, particularly with respect to our intellectual property.

The thing about the Russians is a lot of their spies or operatives have been caught, in several foreign countries. And I think we have pretty good tabs on them here. And I think that's an indicator of their tradecraft, which, oftentimes is a little ham-handed.

KEILAR: OK. So, you say you're worried about China. Let's talk about that.

Because we learned also this week, from the nominee, for the Joint Chiefs Chairman, General C.Q. Brown, he warned that U.S. airmen need to be sort of on guard, in a letter this week, that the Chinese military wants, quote, "To exploit your knowledge and skill to fill gaps in their military capability."

Tell us a little bit about this, how this is working, what China is doing and how successful they might be, being at this?

CLAPPER: Well, I think, the Chinese -- first of all, I think, General Brown is right on the money, to point this out. And I'm kind of glad this memo became public. I suspect, this is obviously a bigger problem than just the Air Force. And he was right to point it out, in that case.

And I think, the Chinese, again, they're very focused. And they're going to go after people that they think have knowledge, have had technical training, notably in the military, even if it's done indirectly through third-party companies, or other countries.

KEILAR: So, they're not witting, in other words?

CLAPPER: Very possibly, they're not. And again, this points to the sophistication of the Chinese, and they're I think, a lot more ingenious and creative, in their spying operations, than are the Russians.

KEILAR: What is your biggest worry, about the difference that China's focused operations could make?

CLAPPER: Well, they are, they have a plan, and they -- and particularly, and with respect to technology. And if they can't develop it indigenously, they're going to go for it.

And they have -- so, when they set out to recruit people, it's very focused, because they think that person may have access, or will have access, to the kind of technical knowledge that they want. And certainly, military veterans are a very appealing target, for them, because of their -- not only their training, but the practical experience, particularly, if they've served for a whole career.

KEILAR: Do you see any cooperation between Russia and China?


CLAPPER: Well, no, I really don't. I think there is a animosity, fundamental animosity, which actually is racial, with the Russians. So, despite the appearance of getting together, joint operations, all out, I think fundamentally, they're suspicious of one another.

In the case of the Russians, they're going to grab on anybody they can find that will do business with them.

KEILAR: We're seeing that. North Korea coming up.

CLAPPER: Exactly.

KEILAR: James Clapper, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

CLAPPER: All right.

KEILAR: A quick programming note. For more of President Zelenskyy, on the counteroffensive, on corruption in Ukraine, and compromising with Putin, tune into Fareed Zakaria's exclusive interview, Sunday at 10 AM, and 1 PM Eastern, right here on CNN.

Well there's a good chance that you know, someone, who has had COVID, recently. That's because cases are up nationwide, and so are hospitalizations. So, how worried should we be, about this new variant? I'll be asking our doctor, next.


KEILAR: COVID-19 has been on the rise, in the U.S. The number of cases is still relatively low. But recent CDC data shows hospitalizations are up nearly 16 percent. And new variants are renewing questions, about masks and vaccines.


Joining us now is Michael Osterholm. He is the Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, at the University of Minnesota.

Sir, thank you so much, for being with us.

How worried should people be?


KEILAR: Should they be thinking about masking again?

OSTERHOLM: Well, first of all, it's really an important point to make that while we're seeing widespread transmission? And I think it's gaining quickly. We're now learning of states where up to a quarter or more of all nursing homes are in the middle of large outbreaks, large number of school outbreaks. So, in a sense, we're back to seeing the transmission we saw, in that 2020-2023 time period.

But what we're also seeing is a much milder illness. You mentioned hospitalizations. For example, we hit a peak of 150,000 hospitalizations, a week, back in January of 2022. Now, here we are, at 17,400, a week, a far, far cry, from the 150,000. And so, while it's up some from where it was in July, it's still low. Same as with deaths. If you look at deaths, in January of 2021, we had 25,000 deaths, in one week, in this country. Today, we're about 722 deaths a week.

So, it's still an issue. I don't want to minimize it. But I think what's happening is we're seeing this widespread transmission of a virus that's causing a milder illness, than we've had, at any time, since the pandemic began.

KEILAR: Yes. That does put it into perspective. The updated vaccines, they're supposed to be available, later this month. How important is it for people to get boosted? Is that something that people just need to be thinking, they're going to do, every year, like a flu shot, going forward?

OSTERHOLM: Well, Brianna, we're still trying to understand that. I don't think, right now, we have any good evidence that it's a seasonal virus, like influenza, meaning that it occurs traditionally, in the winter months. I call it a seasonal virus because it occurs in all four seasons of the year. And I say that tongue in cheek.

So, I think that we still have to look at the issue of how do we vaccinate? I'm happy to report that the data that we have, even as late as this afternoon, shows that this new booster that's coming out, actually provides fairly good protection, against the strains that we see now, and this new one, this 2.86 that everyone's been talking about. So, I'm confident with that.

The challenge, I think is, is that immunity wanes. And that's what, I think, we're seeing, right now, is that if you get six to 12 months out, from when you were infected, or when you were vaccinated, your protection begins to diminish, substantially, against getting infected, and even potentially against developing more serious illness.

So, what should you do? Get the booster. I hope that CDC makes it permissive, for everyone, over six months of age, to get with a strong recommendation, for those 65 and older, or those with immune- compromised conditions. Because we do know that the booster can provide many extra months, avoiding serious illness, hospitalizations and deaths.

KEILAR: You say the symptoms have gotten milder, with these more variations. Have the symptoms changed?

OSTERHOLM: Well, I have to say, first of all, when I say milder, let me just be clear, I think it's a combination of which variants we're facing, but also just what's going on with our own immune system.

And the fact that I wish that this was a virus infection that once you got infected, like you do, with measles, you'd likely have lifelong protection, against getting reinfected? We know that's not the case. Like influenza, you can get infected over and over again, and multiple years.

So part of the issue, right now, is we have this battle going on between our body's immune systems and the virus. And what's happening, I think is, is that that's what's resulted in a milder illness.

If none of us had pre-existing immunity, from previous vaccination, or infection, I think we'd be in a much, much worse shape, right now. So, that's what we're trying to understand, is that why we're seeing milder illness? I don't think you can say it's just the variants itself.

KEILAR: Michael Osterholm, great to have you. Thank you so much.

OSTERHOLM: Thank you.

KEILAR: In an era of high-tech sparring, with China and Russia, the White House gave the Situation Room, a modern makeover. You can see it for yourself, next.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KEILAR: We do have some breaking news, just into CNN. A magnitude 6.8 earthquake has hit southwest of Marrakech, in Morocco. The Royal Moroccan Armed Forces say at least 100 people are dead, many are injured. They are monitoring the risk of aftershocks, right now.

Just take a look here at the video of the damage, coming into CNN. Entire buildings have collapsed in the Old City. Officials say it was the strongest earthquake, to hit, this part of Morocco, in more than 120 years. There are reports that hospitals, across the area, are overrun.

Again, warnings of aftershocks that may hit across the region. So, stay with CNN for more on this breaking news, as we follow it.

And before we go, we wanted to show you the new and improved White House Situation Room, which just reopened for business, after a $50 million renovation. Gleaming new walls, monitors, chairs, tables, presidential seals as well.

But much of the improvements are buried, where we cannot see them, behind the walls, under the floor, much-needed technology upgrades, since the last update, in 2006.

Even though we think of it as one room, it is actually a series of rooms, beneath the Oval Office.

And you'll remember that side room, where President Obama, and his team, watched the bin Laden raid, in that infamous photograph, there. It's been completely torn down. It will be reassembled at Obama's Presidential Center. In its place, two small breakout rooms, for top officials, to work privately, when they come to meet with the President.

And a programming note, for this weekend. Former NFL Pro, Coy Wire, will dive deep into the issues, behind football injuries, and how the game is evolving, to find new ways, to protect the players.

You can watch that on "THE WHOLE STORY WITH ANDERSON COOPER," Sunday night, at 8, on CNN.

Thank you so much, for joining us.

Kaitlan will be back, here, on Monday.

"CNN PRIMETIME" with Abby Phillip starts now.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST, CNN PRIMETIME: Hey, Brianna. I hope you have a great weekend. You have a hour head start, on me, and everyone else, here. So, have a good one.