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FDA Analysis: Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Safe and Effective; Moderna Designs New Vaccine to Fight Variant; Key Votes Postpone in Neera Tanden Cabinet Nomination; U.S. Weekly Jobless Claims Expected to Remain High; U.S. House Committee Hearing on Insurrection Hours Away; Wood Awake and Recovering as Well-Wishes Pour In; Documents Appear to Tie Crown Prince to Jets Used by Killers. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired February 25, 2021 - 04:00   ET



KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR: U.S. regulators say the single shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine is safe, meaning a third vaccine could be available in the U.S. very soon.

Also ahead, a potential miscalculation from the Biden administration as his choice for budget director hits a Senate roadblock.

And a new Pentagon report reveals disturbing details about white supremacists in the ranks of the military.

Live from CNN world headquarters in Atlanta, welcome to all of you watching here in the United States, Canada and around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber. This is CNN NEWSROOM.

We could be just days away from seeing a third COVID-19 vaccine approved for emergency use in the U.S. The Food & Drug Administration says Johnson & Johnson's vaccine is safe and effective. Now an advisory committee will meet Friday to make a recommendation. But even as vaccinations ramp up and cases decline, we're still reminded of the enormous human toll of this pandemic. California has just become the first state to surpass 50,000 deaths from COVID-19. CNN's Amara Walker has more.


AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A third vaccine on the horizon in the U.S.

JEFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: We will waste no time getting this lifesaving vaccine into the arms of Americans.

WALKER (voice-over): The Food and Drug administration announcing today the Johnson & Johnson vaccine meets requirements for emergency use authorization, which could come as early as Friday, the White House COVID Task Force on Wednesday saying they have already started preparing for distribution.

ZIENTS: If authorized, we are ready to roll out this vaccine without delay. If an EUA is issued, we anticipate allocating three to four million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine next week.

WALKER (voice-over): But that's less than what the White House was originally expecting.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We were surprised to learn that Johnson & Johnson was behind on their manufacturing. As you noted, it was kind of reported earlier to be about 10 million, and now it's more like three to four million doses that they would be ready to ship next week.

WALKER (voice-over): Experts say they expect the potential third vaccine to expand access and get more people vaccinated faster because it's a single dose.

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: My suspicion is, is that it's going to start with those people who are lower risk for severe disease to begin with, so people without comorbidities, people who are younger, the general population.

WALKER (voice-over): Vaccine maker Johnson & Johnson told Congress Tuesday they're ready for the rollout.

DR. RICHARD NETTLES, JANSSEN INFECTIOUS DISEASES AND VACCINES: We will have 20 million doses of the vaccine to be made available by the end of March.

WALKER (voice-over): Adding to the 220 million doses that Pfizer and Moderna have pledged to make ready for shipment in the same time frame, after some initial delays in manufacturing.

JOHN YOUNG, CHIEF BUSINESS OFFICER, PFIZER: We did initially experience some problems with the initial ramp-up of our vaccine.

WALKER (voice-over): Record vaccine supply is getting to states this week. And the White House is encouraging sites to be open 24 hours a day. To get more shots in arms, the task force says they will mobilize 1,200 National Guardsmen to serve as vaccinators.

Even with progress on the vaccine front, the White House today also announcing they will distribute 25 million masks beginning next month to get them to some of the most vulnerable.

ZIENTS: Many low-income Americans still lack affordable access to this basic protection.

WALKER (voice-over): And Dr. Anthony Fauci announced the National Institutes of Health would be supporting research looking at people experiencing long-term COVID-19 symptoms or long haulers after new data shed some light on the toll it takes.

FAUCI: Approximately 30 percent of the patients who are enrolled at the University of Washington reported persistent symptoms for as long as nine months after illness.

WALKER: Now Moderna has designed an updated vaccine. It is evaluating a booster shot and a primary vaccine that would combat the South African variant. Doses of it have been shipped to the NIH for a clinical study. They're looking at three approaches to the South African variant. First a booster shot of half of a dose of the current COVID-19 vaccine. Number two, a booster shot of a new vaccine made specifically for the South African variant and lastly a booster shot that combines current and the new vaccine into one.

In Hapeville, Georgia, Amara Walker, CNN.



BRUNHUBER: Well as experts raise concerns about the COVID variants, one official says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now preparing for all scenarios, including the possibility of another surge in cases in the U.S. this spring. A surge that they fear could be fueled by the variant first discovered in the U.K. and now researchers say they found a roaring new COVID-19 variant in New York City and elsewhere in the Northeast.

President Joe Biden is on the brink of facing his first cabinet nominee failure. The Senate committee has postponed their votes on his pick led the Office of Management and Budget, leaving Neera Tanden's confirmation hanging in the balance. CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Biden's pick to run the Budget Office now in jeopardy.

COLLINS: President Biden, what makes you so confident that Neera Tanden will be confirmed?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Thank you.

COLLINS (voice-over): The Senate committees that were supposed to vote on advancing Neera Tanden's nomination abruptly postponed the vote with no explanation, a sign her nomination is on the verge of failing.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D-OR): Clearly, there is a tremendous amount going on right now.

COLLINS (voice-over): The White House says they have no plans to pull Tanden's nomination, for now.

PSAKI: Well, there's one nominee to lead the budget department. Her name's Neera Tanden, and that's who we're continuing to fight for.

COLLINS (voice-over): Two critical senators the White House is watching closely are Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat from Arizona, and Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, who haven't said which way they'll vote. The White House is watching them closely.

PSAKI: It's a numbers game, right? It's a matter of getting one Republican to support her nomination.

COLLINS: Meanwhile, the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote Friday on Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan.

All eyes in Washington are now on the little known Senate parliamentarian, who will decide soon whether Biden's proposed $15 minimum wage can be included. Democrats are still sharply divided over whether the wage increase should be in the bill at all.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): In my humble opinion, building back better includes a $15-per-hour minimum wage.

COLLINS (voice-over): Meanwhile, Republican leaders are urging their members to oppose the bill unanimously.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I think all Republicans believe in three simple things. They want a bill that puts us back to work, back to school and back to health. This bill is too costly, too corrupt and too liberal.

COLLINS: And the White House chief of staff Ron Klain said that the White House is fighting their guts out to get Neera Tanden confirmed. He said they have not found that Republican vote yet, but they were still searching for it. However, he said that if Tanden's vote fails, they are not going to try to put her in an acting position running the Office of Management and Budget. And it said they will find another job in the administration that is not a Senate confirmed position.

Kaitlan Collins, CNN, the White House.


BRUNHUBER: The Dow ended Wednesday with its highest gains in three weeks. It finished up more than 400 points after fed chair Jerome Powell reiterated that more support for the economy was needed. Well we may see just how much help the economy needs when the latest jobless claims are released in the next few hours. But they are expected to remain stubbornly high. CNN's John Defterios is live in Abu Dhabi. John, so I imagine the numbers won't be good. And from what the fed chair is saying, the situation may be even worse than the numbers show, right?

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN BUSINESS EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR: Well, Kim, we're almost lulled into thinking that claims week in and week out around 800,000 is the new normal. It's anything but normal. And this is after $3.2 trillion of stimulus in 2020 and that pending package for 1.9 trillion that Jay Powell of the Federal Reserve wants to see. So let's take a look at the expectations.

838,000 is the consensus on Wall Street. That's a slight improvement over the week before but not by much. And then we still have about 4.5 million people on continuous claims that don't have a job, that need government support. It's extraordinary. And Jerome Powell spoke to lawmakers saying we need the stimulus. Because even the overall unemployment rate is misleading at this stage of the recover. Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JEROME POWELL, U.S. FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: We have 10 million fewer people working on payroll jobs than we had just one year ago today. And that the unemployment rate, the reported rate 6.3 percent but if you include people who were in the labor force and indeed working in February and a couple of other adjustments, you get to almost a 10 percent unemployment rate. So there's a lot of slack in the labor market and a long way to go to maximum employment.


DEFTERIOS (on camera): There are concerns, of course, about inflation with so much money being spent, Kim, and meanwhile we see Joe Biden trying to address the chip shortage that we see not only in the United States but worldwide. He's looking to spend $37 billion to revive the industry. That won't happen overnight, but he wants an investigation into the supply chain.


There's an over reliance on Asia for chips, particularly from mainland China, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan.

But the deep concern because the U.S. produces only 12 percent of the global supply is that China sits on the rare earth materials and this could be part of a wider scene of tensions between the U.S. and China when it comes to trade at this stage. It's ratcheting up -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, mot an easy problem to solve, obviously. Thanks so much, John Defterios, appreciate it.

Well some of Donald Trump's staunchest supporters in Congress continue to promote discredited conspiracy theories about the January 6th insurrection. Here's what Republican Senator Ron Johnson said on Tuesday. Listen to this.


SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): Although the crowd represented a broad cross section of Americans, mostly working class by their appearance and manner of speech, some people stood out. A very few didn't share the jovial, friendly, earnest demeanor of the great majority. Some obviously didn't fit in. And he describes four different types of people, plain clothes militants, agents provocateurs, fake Trump protestors and then disciplined uniform column of packers. I think these are the people that probably planned this.


BRUNHUBER: Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar denounced Johnson's statement as disinformation. But Johnson didn't back down when he spoke with CNN's Manu Raju.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you regret putting that article in? JOHNSON: Absolutely not.

RAJU: Why not?

JOHNSON: It's an eyewitness account from a pretty knowledgeable trained observer. It's no conspiracy theory. Have you read it?

RAJU: I mean, are you trying to --

JOHNSON: Have you read it?

RAJU: I saw it -- yes, I --

JOHNSON: Read the article and then ask me questions about it.

RAJU: I mean, you'd do it again.

JOHNSON: Absolutely. We need the full perspective.


BRUNHUBER: Now of course, there's no evidence to support anything Johnson said there. The article he's referring to has been discredited but his defenders see nothing wrong with him talking about it.


SEN. ROY BLUNT (R-MO): I mean, having all of the information on the table I think is a good thing. Obviously, that was a dramatically different view of the day than we heard from the captain who was testifying or chief son or others. I don't think it hurts to have that information out there.


BRUNHUBER: The U.S. government is trying to get to the bottom of exactly how Donald Trump's supporters were able to storm the Capitol building. We're hours away from a house committee hearing that could give some answers. Ryan Nobles has a preview of what two key witnesses will say.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thursday will be another busy day on Capitol Hill as those looking into what went wrong on January 6th will be testifying in front of the House Appropriations Committee. The acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief, Yogananda Pittman and Timothy Blodgett, who's an acting sergeant at arms, will both testify in front of this committee. And they both already released their opening statements to this committee. And they already are revealing a lot of interesting information.

Pittman says that if her agency had acted on some of the intelligence that they received before January 6th, that there were extremist groups that were going to participate in the events on January 6th. That they would have worked to keep the Vice President Mike Pence from overseeing the certification of the election results. That it would have been that serious and prompting them to take that dramatic action. Of course, that didn't happen.

And then Blodgett in his testimony talks a lot about the different information, contradictory information that his group received leading up to January 6th and part of why they were caught flat footed when this event became much more dangerous. He talks specifically about a Capitol Police briefing that went out on January 3rd. That in one part of the briefing it talks about the possibility of the protests planned for that day becoming violent.

But then just a couple of days -- couple of pages later, I should say, they talk about how in reality they thought it was just going to be no different than the many million MAGA marches that had taken place in Washington since the election. Those were a number of protest vents that started out with a lot of people but ultimately ended up peacefully.

Blodgett saying that when you had contradictory information like that, it would be difficult to interpret it and then take action. Now in addition to those opening statements, both Pittman and Blodgett expected to be forces to answer some tough questions from members of this committee as everyone here on Capitol Hill tries to get to the bottom of what went wrong on January 6th.

Ryan Nobles, CNN on Capitol Hill.


BRUNHUBER: Still to come here on CNN NEWSROOM, we have the latest on the condition of golf superstar Tiger Woods after his frightening car crash. Plus new information about Jamal Khashoggi's murder, are expected in the coming hours. Just ahead, evidence tying Saudi's Crown Prince to the people involved. Stay with us.



BRUNHUBER: Tiger Woods has told investigators he had no recollection of this horror car crash according to an L.A. County sheriff. Authorities also say it was an accident and they won't pursue any charges against the golf champion. Nick Watt has the latest.


NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the road Tiger Woods was driving alone early Tuesday morning. He hit that median, then the curb, flipped and rolled hundreds of feet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Woods wasn't initially reacting to any pain. Unfortunately, I'm sure he's in horrible pain today.

WATT (voice-over): He suffered significant orthopedic injuries to his right leg.

DR. SCOTT BODEN, EMORY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: We're assuming he broke both of those bones somewhere below the knee.

WATT (voice-over): Open fractures. He underwent a long surgical procedure.

BODEN: One of the reasons he probably had emergency surgery was because it was a compound fracture, meaning there was a break in the skin and that means that there's an increased risk of infection.

WATT (voice-over): His leg was stabilized by inserting a rod into the tibia. Additional injuries to the bones of the foot and ankle were stabilized with a combination of screws and pins.

BODEN: For an elite athlete like Tiger, you know, he's got as good a chance of coming back from this as anybody does. And we know never to count Tiger out from a recovery.


WATT (voice-over): By the end of the day, Woods was awake, responsive and recovering.

Woods was supposed to be filming more content for Golf TV and "Golf Digest" Tuesday, teaching celebrities how to play. It was Dwyane Wade Monday.

DWYANE WADE, FORMER NBA STAR: I say the goat. He's not comfortable with it.

WATT (voice-over): Then this. Here's what we know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No skid marks, no braking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was wearing a seatbelt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Weather is not a factor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The speed limit is 45 miles per hour. When I'm doing speed enforcement. I will sometimes catch people going 80 miles per hour.

WATT (voice-over): No signs of impairment.

ALEX VILLANUEVA, LOS ANGELES COUNTY SHERIFF: He was lucid. No odor of alcohol, no evidence of any medication, narcotics or anything like that.

WATT (voice-over): It's unknown if Woods was on the phone.

VILLANUEVA: We'll find out on that. I'm sure his phone records might be relevant to that itself. And that's going to be up to the investigators. And they will require a search warrant for that.

WATT (voice-over): The hill, the turns, this is a no-accident black spot.

WATT: 13 accidents on this stretch road in just the past year and change. Tiger Woods is not expected to face any charges, the county sheriff says. He says, we're treating this as an accident and an accident is not a crime. The real culprit might end up being that road. In fact, a safety review was just ordered on this stretch.

Nick Watt, CNN, Los Angeles County.


BRUNHUBER: A U.S. intelligence report on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi could be made public in the matter of hours. The unclassified report is expected to hold new details on who ordered and carried out the killing in 2018.

President Biden says he plans to discuss it with the Saudi King when they talk. And top secret Saudi documents have surfaced that seem to link he Crown Prince to jets used by Khashoggi's killers. The Crown Prince has denied any involvement, but growing evidence paints a damning picture. CNN's Nic Robertson explains.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): It was October of 2018 when Jamal Khashoggi took these fateful steps into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. A Saudi hit team had arrived a few hours ahead of him. The hit team included intelligence officer Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb in charge. Forensic doctor Salah Muhammed A Tubaigy and more than a dozen others including Mustafa Almadani, the body double, who dressed in Khashoggi's clothes, left by the back door, laying a false trail.

In reality, Khashoggi had been killed minutes after entering the building. His last words after being attacked, I can't breathe. I can't breathe. Before he was dismembered by Dr. Tubaigy's bone saw. His remains were believed to be driven off in black vans shortly after from the consulate to the nearby consulate general's residence.

His girlfriend waiting outside raised the alarm. Turkish authorities listened to audio recordings from consulate, then rushed to the airport questioning members of the hit team about to leave on private jets and searching some of their baggage. but found nothing and let them leave.

In the following days, the Saudi government denied killing Khashoggi. The consul general even taking reporters on a hokey tour of the consulate. Eventually 16 days later Saudi authorities finally gave Turkish investigators permission to search the consulate and the consul general's house. There was evidence of a coverup but no body.

In the coming weeks, local farms were searched. A consulate vehicle recovered from an underground car park but still no leads. All questions led back to Saudi where the hit team fled. Finally after more than 2 1/2 weeks Saudi authorities admitted Khashoggi was killed by Saudi officials.

ADEL AL-JUBEIR, SAUDI MINISTER OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: He was killed in the consulate. We don't know in terms of details how. We don't know where the body is.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): They called it a rendition gone wrong, an accident. saying local collaborators had the body although they never provided the names or evidence. Months later the U.N. investigation finds credible evidence that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman could bear responsibility in the killing.

The CIA concludes he personally ordered it. Both accusations the Saudis flatly deny. In December 2019 Saudi authorities said they've investigated 11 suspects in the murder, eight are found guilty in a closed door trial. Ultimately, they're sentenced to time in prison.

But the most high profile defendants seek their charges dismissed.


Among them, two close confidantes of Mohammed bin Salman, further distancing Saudi's top royal from the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi.

Nic Robertson, CNN.


BRUNHUBER: We're learning new details about several investigations into Donald Trump's family and close allies. Sources tell CNN prosecutors in New York of subpoenaed financial records related to Steve Bannon's crowd funding efforts to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. And Trump's sons, Eric and Don Jr. have come up in multiple investigations of the Trump Organization finances. Earlier this month the Washington, D.C., Attorney General questioned Trump Jr. about alleged misuse of inaugural funds.

Still ahead, the disturbing number of current and former military members who have now been charged in the Capitol riot. One defendant says she believed she was answering Donald Trump's call to action.

Plus --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've covered everything from portraits of the founding fathers of the KKK to swastikas.


BRUNHUBER: How one man's job is to cover up extremist tattoos as a new report shows there are some white supremacists in the U.S. military. Stay with us.


BRUNHUBER: And welcome back to all of you watching us here in the United States, Canada and around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber and you're watching CNN NEWSROOM. In Washington, the acting U.S. Capitol Police chief says her

department knew extremists planned to take part in the pro-Trump rally on January 6th, but the agency's intelligence failed to predict the scope of the attack on the Capitol. Tom Forman has more on the investigation.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They took over the Capitol. Overran the Capitol.

TOM FORMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The radical right- wing Oath Keepers celebrated on social media the violent attack against what they falsely.