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New York Governor Cuomo Responds To Allegations Of Sexual Harassment; New Single-Dose Vaccine Cleared For National Rollout; Interview With John Bolton On Trump's CPAC Speech. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 28, 2021 - 18:00   ET




PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: I'm Pamela Brown in Washington. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world on this Sunday. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

And we have breaking news tonight. Americans now have three COVID-19 vaccines available in the fight of coronavirus. The CDC director has given the all clear, which means any minute now, the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be loaded on trucks to be distributed to millions of Americans over the age of 18.

Now, let me bring in CNN Health Reporter Jacqueline Howard for more on this. So, bottom line, Jacqueline, how soon until people start getting this shot?

JACQUELINE HOWARD, CNN HEALTH REPORTER: Pamela, that all depends on how quickly the shots can get to their locations. Now, what just came in, the White House says that distribution of the vaccine will begin tonight. And so as the shots get distributed, we could see them start being administered as early as tomorrow in some places or Tuesday or later in the week in other places. So this all depends on how quickly we can get the doses shipped out to their locations.

But as of now, Pamela, with the CDC now recommending the vaccine following the FDA's authorization, that gives the green light for shots to start going into arms.

BROWN: Wow, so soon. This is great news. Will a priority for this vaccine differ from those first vaccines or will it be a broader first wave?

HOWARD: So, what the CDC's recommendation today, they did not mention any certain priority access. It was just a blanket recommendation that the vaccine can be used in ages 18 and older. So who is eligible for the vaccine depends on each state's individual eligibility requirements. In some states, it might be adults 65 and older, and others, there might be more stricter eligibility requirements. So it does depend state by state.

But what stood out to me today, Pamela, when CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky announced the recommendation of this vaccine, she did mention because, it's a one-dose shot and because it requires normal refrigerator temperatures to store, she said it will be easier to distribute. She says in a statement, quote, it is easy to transport and store and allows for expanded availability in most community settings and mobile sites as supply scales up.

So what we'll see this week is that it will be a little easier, it seems.

BROWN: It will be. And do we know where the shot will first be available? Will it be pharmacies, hospitals, will it be the across the board?

HOWARD: It is across the board. It's all of the above. The rollout plan -- he is how the rollout plan looks. I know we talked about this before, but just to remind people, Johnson & Johnson says that 3.9 million doses will be made available and they will be sent out to states, to retail pharmacies, federally qualified health centers and community vaccine centers, so those locations that I just mentioned, that's where they will be sent out. So, whoever gets it first just depends on how quickly the shipments will be.

BROWN: All right. Jacqueline Howard, thanks for laying it all out for us. We appreciate it.

And I'm now joined by Dr. William Schaffner. He is intimately familiar with the CDC advisory committee process that has played out today, because he is a liaison representative on that very committee, he has also served the CDC investigating outbreaks of communicable diseases and now he's a professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. I can't imagine a better person to tell us how significant this is, Dr. Schaffner, and what this means that the committee made this determination about the vaccine, what it means for its safety.

DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, CDC ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON IMMUNIZATION PRACTICES: Well, Pamela, what it means is that we're all very excited. We in the committee and also the Food and Drug Administration's expert committee also was unanimous in saying that this vaccine ought to be used, it ought to get out there.


It's good for people age 18 and over.

And as Jacqueline said, because it's one and done, a single-dose vaccine, and because it can be treated like other vaccines in normal refrigerator temperature, we ought to be able to get it much more widely distributed to rural areas, doctors' offices, pharmacies, and we're all eager to see how it goes.

Each state will have its own version of a plan to distribute the vaccine. But let's get more doses out there because we have more people who want it than we currently have vaccines.

BROWN: And that is a true dynamic. And Jacqueline just said that tonight they're expected to be loaded up on the trucks to be distributed. It could be as soon as tomorrow where people get these first Johnson & Johnson vaccines. How soon after that will people get protected? How long does it take?

SCHAFFNER: Well, it takes about ten days to two weeks for your body to respond to the vaccine and develop the protection that you're going to get and it actually increases over time even after that. But this is a great vaccine. It's right up there with Moderna and Pfizer in preventing serious disease, the kind that puts you into the hospital. And that's what we need to know.

I have been asked if this vaccine is available, shall I get it? And I said, roll up your sleeve and get it right away.

BROWN: You're saying even though it has a lower efficacy rate than the other two, that should not deter anyone from getting this vaccine over the other ones, right?

SCHAFFNER: Well, its efficacy in preventing the most serious disease, the kind that gets you into the hospital, puts you into the intensive care unit, they're all in the same ballpark. So don't try to parse them apart. Get the one that's available and get it as quickly as you can.

BROWN: Because the bottom line, it keeps you out of the hospital, it keeps you out of the morgue. Dr. William Schaffner, thank you for coming on, we appreciate it, to talk about encouraging news in this pandemic.

SCHAFFNER: Thanks, Pamela.

BROWN: Breaking news right here on CNN, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo addressing the sexual harassment charges leveled against him. The governor released a statement a short time ago saying he is, quote, truly sorry and calling comments he's accused of making the female staff members misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation.

This from the governor's statement, quote, at work, sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny. I do on occasion tease people in what I think is a good-natured way. I do it in public and in private. You have seen me do it at briefings hundreds of times. He continues, I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended.

I acknowledge some of the things I have said, have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.

And then, to be clear, I never inappropriately touched anybody and I never propositioned anybody and I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable. But these are allegations that New Yorkers deserve answers to.

Well, for the record this Sunday evening, President Biden's Saudi Arabia problem and the White House's attempt to explain it. As we broke down right here last night, the president has decided to give Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman a pass, no direct sanctions, basically no punishment, even though the CIA has concluded that MBS personally approved the murder and butchering of a journalist in 2018, Jamal Khashoggi.

Remember, this is the same Joe Biden who ran for promising his stance against Saudi Arabia would be tough.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Trump has not punished senior Saudi leaders. Would you?

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Yes. I would make it very clear we were not going to, in fact, sell more weapons to them. We were going to, in fact, make them pay the price and make them, in fact, the pariah that they are.

They have to be held accountable.


BROWN: Well, today, the president's press secretary spoke to my colleague, Dana Bash, who pressed her on why the White House was not directly holding the Saudi Arabia crown prince personally responsible for Jamal Khashoggi's senseless murder.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We believe there's more effective ways to make sure this doesn't happen again and to also be able to leave room to work with the Saudis on areas where there is mutual agreement, where there is interest, national interest for the United States.


That is what diplomacy looks like. That is what a complicated global engagement looks like and we have made no secret and been clear we are going to hold them accountable on the global stage and in with direct sanctions.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you feel like justice has really been done when it comes specifically to the crown prince and his role in the brutal murder of a journalist, because the journalist was working on stories that were challenging him?

PSAKI: Well, this is a horrific crime, and the president has said that himself.

At the same time, Dana, it needs to be clear that our relationship with Saudi Arabia is one that is in the interest of the United States to maintain while still being clear, it will be recalibrated. We're going to hold them accountable for human rights abuses.


BROWN: So here is the price Saudi Arabia is paying for butchering a U.S. resident and father who was just doing his job as a Washington Post journalist, some travel restrictions on a few dozen Saudis who have a history of harassing journalists, and a treasury department sanction against the crown prince's security detail, not much else. That's how President Biden is punishing the leader who was personally responsible for this.

And stay tuned, the White House says it will announce tomorrow more action against Saudi Arabia in a more general sense.

Well, tonight as the U.S. sees a spike in migrants heading for the U.S., we take you to hear their stories of struggle and uncertainty.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They walked more than 12 hours after they fled. Exhausted and resting outside of a small shop, we took the moment to ask, is this worth it? Carlos said it was, that a better life awaited, Wilfredo, quietly, not so sure.


BROWN: You can see the rest of that report from our Matt Rivers live near the Mexican-Guatemalan border next hour.

But, first, former President Trump recycles his best lines and his biggest lies in front of an adoring CPAC crowd. We're going to take you there, up next.



BROWN: Well, Donald Trump is back on the public stage for the first time since leaving office, delivering the closing speech at CPAC, the annual conservative conference. The president cheered on by a crowd of his loyalists, came out swinging against the Biden administration, against Democrats and against the media. The former president also teasing another possible run in 2024.

Jim Acosta joins me now from CPAC in Orlando. Jim, the audience seemed to be eating it all up. No surprise, I guess.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF DOMESTIC CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Pamela. This CPAC with Donald Trump closing it out is a liar palooza. Donald Trump opened up a fire hose of falsehoods on this crowd, he's still doing it right now. And this crowd is bathing in his dishonesty and the biggest lie that he is telling at this CPAC is the big lie about the 2020 election, that he won the election and that it was stolen from him.

He's repeated this several times throughout his speech here at CPAC, and here is one of the lies that he told earlier during these remarks. Here is what he had to say.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Actually, as you know, they just lost the White House, but it's one of those -- But who knows? Who knows? I may even decide to beat them for a third time, okay?


ACOSTA: And, you know, Pam, he went on and told the same lie over and over again but in different ways. At one point, he said the election was rigged and the Supreme Court didn't do anything about it. I mean, this is the same Supreme Court, as you know, Pam, that has three of his Supreme Court justices that he picked and put on the high court.

At one point, he said that Democrats used COVID as a way of cheating, just over and over again, repeating this big lie, but doing it in different ways.

The other thing we should point out during this speech, Pam, he talked about Trumpism and what Trumpism means. He said at one point that Trumpism means a respect for law enforcement. Well, tell that to the Capitol Police, tell that to the Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick who died on January 6th. There were law enforcement officers who would agree with the former president's description of Trumpism.

He also talked about how his supporters respect the American flag. And as you and I both know, watching and covering that insurrection on that day on the Capitol, there were Trump supporters up on Capitol Hill using American flags to beat police officers.

And so, you know, the former president is not just lying about the election, he's just trying to pull the wool over everybody's eyes here at CPAC about what's been going on in the real world over the last couple of months.

BROWN: And it seems like he's successfully doing it based on some of the conversations that you and Donie and others there have been having.

All right, Jim Acosta, thank you so much for bringing us the latest there from Orlando.

And joining me now is former Republican Congressman and CNN Political Commentator Charlie Dent, and Scott Jennings, former Special Assistant to President George W. Bush. Scott is also a CNN Political Commentator.

So, Scott, we just heard Jim Acosta about laying out his speech. After hearing Trump's speech, seeing his reception at CPAC, is there any doubt that Trump is still in total command of this party?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. He's clearly the boss of the Republican Party. He has high approval ratings among Republicans, the grassroots level. They listen to what he says, even when he says things that aren't true and they internalize it and they believe it. And I suspect if he is not criminally prosecuted sometime in the next four years, if he wants to be the Republican nominee in 2024, he will be that nominee.

The question for the party, of course, is it wise to put someone on the top of the ticket who's lost the national popular vote in two straight two elections and who got a smaller share of the vote that even Mitt Romney did in 2012 twice.

And so the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different result, they say, this would be testing that theory.


BROWN: But does that bother you, Scott, when you hear his speech and he's talking about the big election lies and staying stuff like, Trumpism is pro-law enforcement, he waited hours to weigh in on the riot -- to tell the rioters to go home, that Republicans still exult him and accept that and take it in and believe it? Does that bother you as a Republican, that he's a leader of the party?

JENNINGS: Well, yes, it bothers me tremendously. I heard a number of things at this conference that bothers. Ted Cruz gave a speech, in which he said the Republican Party, we're no longer the party of country clubs. Donald Trump lives at a country club. He owns country clubs. I mean, the contradictions, the hypocrisy, saying things that are directly refuted by what we all saw on our television screens, it, of course, bothers not because it's immoral but also because there's no way to present to the American people a responsible governing alternative if they see you doing this.

Our house is not clean. We say the Democrats are hypocrites, we say they're too liberal, we say they do things that aren't right and then our house isn't clean on these kinds of issues. And so how can we win an election if we keep those circumstances in place?

BROWN: You say your house isn't clean, but it's interesting, President Trump stressed during his speech that the Republican Party is united, everyone is on board. He also said this.


TRUMP: We're not starting new parties. They kept saying, he's going to start a brand-new party. We have the Republican Party. It's going to unit and be stronger than ever before. I am not starting a new party. Wouldn't that be brilliant? Let's start a new party and divide our vote so you can never win. No, we're not interested in that.


BROWN: What do you think when you hear that, Congressman Dent?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, the Republican Party is deeply divided. It's fractured. I mean, everybody saw that press conference the other day with Liz Cheney and Kevin McCarthy, completely opposite sides of the Trump issue. 20 to 30 percent of the Republicans are very dissatisfied with the direction of the party. We've been witnessing just in Pennsylvania alone. We saw 20,000 people leave the Republican Party since insurrection day on January 6th. I mean, we're losing members. The party is shrinking. So what's left is more Trumpian.

But the party is in a very terrible place for many of the reasons that Scott just smartly outlined. This president, you know, has lost the popular vote twice. He's been impeached twice. And I just don't see why anybody would want to embrace defeat like this and look backwards rather than look forwards. We have to start talking about a party that's more inclusive, that's about addition and not subtraction, multiplication, not division.

And that's what we're getting from Donald Trump, who is complaining about the transgender taking over women's sports, saying tariffs are great over taxes, and then he stirred a whole litany of things that he won the election again, he'll win a third one, I mean, all of this nonsense. I mean, that's what we're hearing. It's just red meat, more red meat to the legions of the tinfoil brigades, tinfoil hat brigades that tend to show up with these kinds of CPAC events.

BROWN: But why are we seeing this fealty to Donald Trump, Scott, given what you both laid out? Why are we seeing this fealty especially among people who have spoken out against him in the past, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham and even Mitch McConnell now saying he would absolutely support him if he ran in 2024? Like what's going on? Why is that the case?

DENT: Well, if you're Ted Cruz or anybody else on that stage this weekend who wants to be president in the future, you're whole fate is not in your hands. It's in Donald Trump's hands. And so their whole game is to see if he doesn't run and then maybe perhaps would anoint them for his base to support. I think that's a fool's errand for most of these folks. I don't think Donald Trump would tap a great number of these people up there, no matter how often and how much they bend the knee.

But that's the game they are playing, because it's the only game they can play. They see the Republican grassroots, they see the polling, they see what Donald Trump means to the voters that they would need to attract, and so they fall in line in the hopes that their dreams would someday come true, I doubt, for most of them. But it's the only chance that most of them have to be the president if that's their heart's desire.

BROWN: People watch this and think this is what I hate about politics, that they're trying to get in line because they think, oh, this is what I'm supposed to do, even if they don't really believe it or they're not voting -- acting by their conscience or by integrity.

Something that stuck out to me, actually, I want to ask you, Congressman Dent, is just that Mike Pence, as we know, he wasn't there. He wasn't speaking there. But he also only got 1 percent in the straw poll. Does that surprise you?

DENT: No, not really, because this straw poll has been fairly meaningless. You may remember for years, Ron and Rand Paul both did exceedingly well in these straw polls. One would think that they would have been the republican nominees for president.


They never were. So I'm not surprised that Mike Pence did poorly. I'm not at all surprised he didn't show up. I mean, let's face it, last time a lot of these Trump supporters were screaming, hang Mike Pence, on insurrection day. And I suspect people at that Trump fest were probably very unhappy with Mike Pence for not trying to invalidate or not certify the election. So I'm not at all surprised that he is staying away. I think it was good for him that he did stay away. There would be nothing for him to be gained by showing up at an event like this where, really, nothing is accomplished other than just to throw this red meat out to the most fringe elements of the base.

BROWN: Scott Jennings, Charlie Dent, great to have you on, really interesting conversation. I hope that we will continue that.

DENT: Thanks, Pamela.

JENNINGS: Thanks, Pam.

BROWN: Well, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has just released a new statement after a second aide alleges sexual harassment. What he's now saying, up next.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BROWN: Breaking news here on CNN tonight. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo addressing those new allegations of sexual harassment leveled against him.

CNN's Brynn Gingras is with me now. So fill us in, Brynn.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Pam, so essentially let's first talk about those allegations that surfaced in the "New York Times." It's coming from a former aide, 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett. And she essentially said in the past year she's been working with the administration. She no longer does but during the pandemic certainly. And she had a lot of interactions with the governor and she said most of them were completely normal by her terms and she actually saw Governor Cuomo as a mentor.

But then things changed. Now she particularly noted an incident in June and she told "The Times" that she was in Governor Cuomo's office and he started asking her some personal questions. He said, according to the report, that asked if she had ever been with an older man and also she said that he said he was open to relationships with women in their 20s. And she interpreted these questions as an overture for a sexual relationship.

And she also had conversations with him about a sexual assault she had experienced previously and "The Times" says that they even saw text messages to support these claims. So now we have another statement from the governor since these allegations came out. The first one came yesterday after the reporting and then these new ones. And I want to read it to you this most recent one. It says, quote, "At work sometimes I think I am being playful and make

jokes that I think are funny. I do on occasion tease people in what I think is a good-natured way. I do it in public and in private. You have seen me do it at briefings hundreds of times.

I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended. I acknowledged some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.

"To be clear, I never inappropriately touched anybody and I never propositioned anybody, and I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but these are allegations that New Yorkers deserve answers to."

So he says I'm sorry in this newest statement. And, of course, this is now the second person in just a week where there have been allegations of harassment against him. The first one came last Wednesday, Pam, by a former aide, Lindsey Boylan who in a medium post essentially said that she received an unwanted kiss from Cuomo which he also denies.

So now, just moving forward, Pam, really quickly, there's going to be an independent investigation given by the New York attorney general who will appoint a private attorney to do this with full subpoena powers which is something he was catching a lot of heat for. And so that's going to start up soon. So his office facing two separate investigations at this point, Pam.

BROWN: And we're about to dive deeper into that. Brynn Gingras, thank you so much for bringing us the latest there.

And New York's Democratic governor was expected to coast to a fourth term next year, and last year, as his political star soared from the daily COVID briefings, there were whispers of a presidential bid. But with these serious allegations plus controversy over his handling of COVID deaths in nursing homes, suddenly Cuomo's political future looks murky.

The "New York Times" reporter who broke the story, Albany bureau chief Jesse McKinley joins me now.

Thanks for coming on, Jessie. So in this statement that Brynn just read, he apologizes for some remarks, he denies any wrongdoing. He says New Yorkers deserve answers. Does this statement shed any light on this or give any answers?

JESSE MCKINLEY, ALBANY BUREAU, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, it's certainly an apology which is not something that he offered yesterday. You know, the statement that he provided to "The Times" and then provided to the world after our story broke was basically that he had never intended for any of these remarks that he made to offend anybody. But he stopped short of an apology in that statement.

Tonight he's come around to saying I'm truly sorry and offering kind of a fuller explanation of what happened here. You know, I don't know necessarily whether this will answer all of the questions. There's still a number of questions outstanding about what the governor did and said. Our reporting was solid on this. But obviously there are going to be ongoing investigations.

I think both Democrats and Republicans here in Albany and nationally want that. They want to see what the governor is going to say about stuff like this and the governor seems to be agreeing tonight, Letitia James, the state attorney general, will lead that sort of investigation.

BROWN: OK, so before we get to that, I just want to ask one follow-up question on the statement because what jumped out to me as him saying -- basically conflating what I said privately essentially to these women is what I say publicly during the briefings, what I've said hundreds of times. Is that true? Are the comments he made privately that you reported on, similar to what he has said publicly in briefings?

MCKINLEY: Certainly not. The comments that we have reported on were quite direct. They were comments about Miss Bennett's sex life. There were comments about her feelings on monogamy. There are comments on her feelings about older men.

There were comments on age difference in relationships. And as someone who's covered Governor Cuomo for the entirety of the coronavirus crisis and for years before that, I've never heard him discuss any of those things in a press conference of any sort.

So to conflate the two is not actually true. Now I think the governor's argument is that, look, I spent a lot of time at work, you know, I'm constantly bantering with people behind the scenes and you've seen me banter with reporters and other people in public. That may well be true. But to compare the comments he made to Miss Bennett versus the comments that he's made to the public is simply not a fair equation.

BROWN: Really quick before we let you go, there is this fight brewing over the probe that will be looking into these allegations. Just how independent will it be?

MCKINLEY: It seems as though at this point, Letitia James will be able to choose a lawyer of her discretion. That lawyer will probably have subpoena power. We'll be able to basically deputize other lawyers. So it's certainly more independent than the version that Governor Cuomo came out with last night whereby he was going to name basically a friend of a friend to oversee that investigation.

BROWN: All right. Jesse McKinley of the "New York Times," thank you so much.

MCKINLEY: Of course.

BROWN: And tonight we have some breaking news in the fight against the coronavirus. Americans now have three COVID-19 vaccines. Details on that just ahead. Stay with us.



BROWN: Big breaking news tonight, a third COVID-19 vaccine has now been cleared by CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. Millions of doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will begin shipping as soon as tonight.

CNN's Natasha Chen has the latest.


NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The U.S. vaccination effort is getting another shot in the arm with up to four million doses of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine ready to roll out immediately. That follows the meeting of the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices Sunday afternoon held almost exactly a year since the first COVID related death reported in the U.S.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: People are listening. People are engaged. People really want to know what this important advisory committee has to say.

CHEN: The committee voted unanimously to recommend the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to adults over 18. In U.S. trials, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is considered 72 percent effective and offers 86 percent protection against severe forms of COVID-19. An efficacy rate not as high as in Pfizer and Moderna trials, but experts say it's apples and oranges.

DR. LEANA WEN, FORMER BALTIMORE CITY HEALTH COMMISSIONER: There advantages and disadvantages of all the vaccines. And actually it's hard to compare them side by side because they were tested at different times.

CHEN: The Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires one dose and isn't stored frozen. Another positive sign, there are fewer than 50,000 people in the U.S. hospitalized with COVID-19 for the first time since early November. That's according to the COVID Tracking Project. But as different states relax restrictions --

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: This premature?


BASH: Are the easing of those restrictions too --

FAUCI: Yes, I would think it is. I think -- yes, I think, you know, obviously each individual state and city needs to look at the situation in their own -- in their own location where they are. But in general, to think just because the cases are coming down on a daily basis, take a look at the pattern and just watch over the next several days to a week.

CHEN: On Friday, North Carolina increased the mass gathering limit for indoor gatherings and capacity limits for certain businesses. Starting tomorrow, Massachusetts will allow indoor dining with fewer restrictions, and next Friday New York movie theaters can reopen at 25 percent and no more than 50 people per screen.

FAUCI: It is really risky to say it's over, we're on the way out, let's pull back because what we can see is we turn up. It isn't hypothetical because just look historically at the late winter, early spring of 2020, the summer of 2020, when we started to pull back prematurely, we saw the rebound. We definitely don't want that to happen.


BROWN: And that was Natasha Chen reporting there. Meantime, former President Trump is recycling old lines and lies to an adoring CPAC crowd. Up next, I'll ask his former National Security adviser John Bolton if the GOP has officially become the conspiracy party.

We'll be back.



BROWN: President Trump breaking five weeks of relative silence and self-exile, getting the rock star treatment as he takes the stage at CPAC. Trump's appearance and speech this afternoon in Orlando is marking his post-presidency return to the spotlight at the annual gathering of conservatives.

Ambassador John Bolton joins me now to discuss. He's Trump's former National Security adviser and author of "The Room Where It Happened: A Memoir."

Ambassador Bolton, thank you for coming back on the show. We heard President Trump tease a possible run in 2024, but also reinforce that lie that the last election was stolen from him. That he actually won in 2020. Other CPAC speakers also repeated this claim. If conspiracy theories continue to drive the GOP, where does that take your party?

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER TRUMP NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, conspiracy theories aren't driving the GOP. I think if you look at what other party leaders are saying, even today, Senator Cassidy of Louisiana, Senator Scott of Florida, I think everybody who understands what actually happened, appreciates that Trump lost the 2020 election, lost it fair and square. Whatever validity his complaints may have are undercut by the fact his own incompetent legal team didn't do anything about what he's complaining of before the election, when they could have taken steps to do it.

I have to say, watching the speech at CPAC today, it was like watching an old movie or a TV reruns. Very stale. And I think this is a mark of what happens inevitably when somebody leaves the presidency, especially under the cloud of dishonor that Trump did. He is fading. People may not appreciate it at the moment.


But the real test here is not what they think at Orlando today, but what the public as a whole will think in six months.

BROWN: And you say that the GOP not being driven by conspiracy theories, but we're seeing people like Senator Cassidy who do speak out against conspiracy theories and get punished by their local GOP in their state. And we also see other senators pushing the big election lie and that Antifa was part of the riot. So that is prevalent in the GOP. But I want to ask you about MBS. On Friday --

BOLTON: But wait a minute. I mean honestly --

BROWN: Go ahead.

BOLTON: Honestly, it's -- you can't make a generalization based on the comments of a few people or incidents in some Republican parties. There will be a struggle. That part is true. To make sure that people understand really what happened in 2020. But just to take CPAC, if this is the epitome of support for Trump, the straw poll that was taken this weekend and released just before Trump spoke showed that of all the participants 55 percent supported Trump being re-elected as president.

That is a pathetic figure. I would have expected 90 percent. So if 55 percent one month after leaving office and CPAC is the best you can do, that's a mark of how far he has fallen already.

BROWN: OK. I want to ask you about this because on Friday the Biden administration released a declassified U.S. intelligence report that the Trump administration previously withheld from the public. And it concludes that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman directly approved the brutal killing of "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

So far the Biden administration has not directly sanctioned the Saudi prince himself. As you know the Trump administration didn't either. What is your reaction to all of this? Should the crown prince be directly punished?

BOLTON: I wonder first why the Biden administration released this report. It's very brief. Anybody can read it and declassify it. It's a series of assumptions. Let's assume the assumptions are correct, and perhaps the Biden administration will do something tomorrow or later in terms of actually punishing the crown prince, although I don't think from their statements they intend to do it. So the question for me is --

BROWN: Should they?

BOLTON: What's the best interest -- well, that's what I'm getting to. The question is what's the best interest of the United States? And even if you assume this is correct, let's just take for the sake of argument that the crown prince did authorize the attack on Khashoggi, in the world we inhabit, which is a hard world, I don't think that making Saudi Arabia or the crown prince a pariah is in the best interest of the United States.

However heinous the crime was in the Middle East the Saudis are an important ally of ours against the threat of the Iranian nuclear weapons program and international terrorism. Let me be clear, that's a cold-blooded analysis. It's real politic, as the French likes to say, it's raison d'etre.


BOLTON: But that's what the best interest of the United States is.

BROWN: Just really want to ask you, though, quickly how MBS, how you think MBS views this? Now another administration is not punishing him for the brutal murdering of Jamal Khashoggi. How do you think he views this? One source I spoke to close to this issue said he's probably laughing right now.

BOLTON: Well, I think it goes to the question why if the Biden administration isn't going to put sanctions on the MBS it released this report to begin with. I think it's trying to have the best of both worlds.

BROWN: Well, Congress passed it. Yes.

BOLTON: And I think it shows confusion in the Biden administration policy.

BROWN: All right, former National Security adviser John Bolton, thank you. Hope you'll come back on the show. Always good to hear your analysis.

BOLTON: Thank you.

BROWN: And we'll be right back.



BROWN: For the record tonight another outlandish and provably false conspiracy theory is gaining steam among some Republicans and Trump supporters. This time it's that the January 6th attack on the Capitol was actually perpetrated by anti-Trump groups.

That all those Trump flags and MAGA hats, it was all a grand scheme to make Trump supporters look bad. And this isn't just some fringe online chatter. This false narrative was promoted by former President Trump's impeachment lawyers and several Republican lawmakers. Republican Senator Ron Johnson recently tried to give the theory credence during a Senate hearing when he read a dubious eyewitness account of the Capitol riot.


SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): 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. Plainclothes militants, agents provocateurs, fake Trump protesters and then disciplined uniform column of attackers. I think these are the people that probably planned this.


BROWN: As "The Washington Post" pointed out, the source of that account was also behind the theory that Barack Obama was a secret Muslim. But that didn't stop Republican Senator Roy Blunt from saying it was A-OK for Johnson to float that false information.


SEN. ROY BLUNT (R-MO): I mean having all 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's son or others. I don't think it hurts to have that information out there.