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Gaetz Ally Pleads Guilty; Interview With Former CDC Director Thomas Frieden; U.S. to Send Millions of Vaccines Overseas. Aired 3- 3:30p ET

Aired May 17, 2021 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[15:00:46]

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: All right, top of the hour. Good to be with you. I'm Victor Blackwell.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: And I'm Alisyn Camerota.

We begin with a new promise in the worldwide fight against the coronavirus, President Biden just committing the U.S. to providing another 20 million vaccines to help other countries. That's on top of the already promised AstraZeneca stockpile.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We know America will never be fully safe until the pandemic that is raging globally is under control.

No ocean is wide enough, no wall is high enough to keep us safe. This means, over the next six weeks, the United States of America will send 80 million doses overseas. That represents 13 percent of the vaccines produced by the United States by the end of June.

This will be more vaccines than any country has actually shared to date, five times more than any other country, more than Russia, China.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is with us now.

Elizabeth, tell us more about these 20 million additional doses, when they will go out and which ones.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: So, let's look at it big picture big picture, Victor.

So, by the end of June, what's expected is that 80 million doses will have been shared. Now, most of that is AstraZeneca. Some of the newer doses -- in fact, they haven't been distributed yet -- will be Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. So, as you can see, I think what President Biden was trying to say is, hey, we should get some vaccine goodwill out of this. Look at how many were sharing.

In fact, these doses, the doses that are being shared, represent about 13 percent of what's been produced in the United States so far. So, that is a big chunk. Now, as I mentioned, most of them are AstraZeneca. There may be some questions. Gee, why is the U.S. sharing doses that they haven't even deemed to be safe and effective yet, right?

I mean, this is not -- AstraZeneca has not been authorized in the United States. There may have to be some delicate messaging or P.R. around us sharing doses that have not been authorized in the U.S. and for which there have been safety issues raised about AstraZeneca in other countries.

CAMEROTA: President Biden also marked another milestone. He said that 60 percent of American adults are now vaccinated with at least one dose.

So, where are we, Elizabeth? Help us put that in perspective.Are we getting close to herd immunity? Or is it still far away?

COHEN: That is an important number.

I mean, that -- 60 percent with at least dose, what that tells you is that they're already vaccinated or they're on their way. They certainly have had gone down the path of getting vaccinated. So, what's really -- two notes here I think that are important. One, this is 60 percent of U.S. adults. So that doesn't count children. As we know, children can spread COVID as well.

Another note is that it's not just the number that's important. I think, in the days and weeks to come, we will be hearing more about geographic distribution. If you have chunks of the United States that have very low vaccination rates, that's a problem, because then you can get pockets, you can get outbreaks there. You could start seeing case spikes there.

And once those cases start spiking, that's when the variants come out. And so, while those of us who are vaccinated might say, well, I don't live in those areas, I'm OK in my county or state or whatever, we have high vaccination rates, you have to remember you don't want variants brewing a few states over. That's not good for any of us.

So it's very important to make sure that there is as even as possible a geographic distribution of these vaccinations.

BLACKWELL: Important point.

Elizabeth Cohen, thanks so much.

COHEN: Thanks.

BLACKWELL: All right, let's bring in now Dr. Tom Frieden. He was director of the CDC during the Obama administration.

Dr. Frieden, thanks for being with us. Let's start with this announcement from the president. We already knew

that 60 million doses of AstraZeneca were headed out the door today. By the end of June, the U.S. will send out 20 million doses of J&J, Pfizer and Moderna. How much of that vaccine goodwill that Elizabeth mentioned does the U.S., does this administration deserve?

DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN, FORMER DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: Well, I think what they have announced today is really important. And it's much more important than the 80 million doses that they're talking about, as important as those doses are.

And I will come back to that in a second. What they have committed to doing is addressing all of the key aspects that need to be addressed, the supply chain, the production, the sharing of production capacity, because this pandemic will not be over for the U.S. until it's over globally.

[15:05:05]

Now, 80 million, it could sound like a lot or not a lot. Think about the number of health care workers around the world. There are 50 million health care workers around the world, and many have not been vaccinated. There are 300 million people around the world over the age of 60 living in countries that don't have access to the vaccine and have high rates of COVID spread.

So, it's a good down payment on that. But we really need billions and billions more vaccine doses. And that's why what's really important here is the commitment to work with the private sector and governments to scale up production, not just in the U.S., but globally also, because that's the best way out of the pandemic.

BLACKWELL: So, that's what we heard from the president.

Let's talk about what we did not hear. A guest in our last hour, Dr. Leana Wen, who I'm sure you know, said that the president on the mask guidance for vaccinated people needs to -- quote -- "course-correct now."

This is what she wrote for "The Washington Post." Speaking of the president: "If he does not, the existing confusion could harm Americans' health, prolonging the pandemic and, paradoxically, diminish confidence in the CDC and its ability to safeguard the public's health."

What's your view on that and how this mask guidance has been rolled out?

FRIEDEN: Well, certainly, the messaging on masks has not been clear.

It's really important that we do know now that vaccination really does work, it's safe, it's effective. Get vaccinated. It's important to think about the context here. So, if someone has an organ transplant, they may not respond well to the vaccine, and they may want to continue to wear a mask, and the people around them may want to continue to wear a mask. If you're in a choir or an aerobics class, and there's a lot of COVID

spreading in your community still, you're going to want to be more careful. So, although we all like simple yes/no answers, in some cases, as with masks, it's a little more complicated than that.

I do think it's unfortunate that we have had something that may undermine mask mandates, which are probably a good idea for a few more weeks, until cases come down more. It's also true, though, that we have already vaccinated, at least one dose, more than 85 percent of the seniors in this country.

And that's a tremendous accomplishment, because that means that the risk of a big increase with hospitalizations and deaths really is not there. So, we have seen the best -- the worst of the pandemic is behind us, our best days are yet to come. But, really, masks remain important in certain circumstances.

And it is so important that people continue to get vaccinated.

BLACKWELL: Do you think the rollout has dinged the credibility of the CDC?

FRIEDEN: Well, I think we will see what the messaging does in the next few days. I think things need to be clear and straightforward. People want--

BLACKWELL: But we're four or five days into this now.

Do you think that, if there was some clarification to come, it should come over the weekend, when people are facing this new world of, do I wear the mask, do I not? Is this person without a mask actually vaccinated? Now is the time to do that, is it not?

FRIEDEN: I would agree.

I think we need better communications, clearer communications. Where we are now is not where anyone would like us to be, with lots of confusion. Bottom line, though, there are circumstances where it's really important to wear a mask, certainly if you're unvaccinated, and for some people in some places at some times even if you're vaccinated.

BLACKWELL: So, let's talk about the vaccination campaign.

You wrote that convenience -- actually, this is on masks. The convenience tends to overcome reluctance for people who don't want to or a bit concerned about the vaccine. And here's the overlap.

"More and more people," you wrote for CNN.com, "understand that vaccination is a way toward more freedom, rather than away from it."

But if states and cities and grocery stores and movie theaters are lifting these mask mandates, isn't the convenience coming without people who are reluctant having to get this vaccination? So, what's the individual incentive if life is becoming more convenient anyway? FRIEDEN: I do think that the bigger point here is that, although the

media has made a lot of coverage of people who are reluctant to get COVID vaccines, the data suggests that there are more people out there who want to get a vaccination, but haven't been able to yet, than that don't want to get a vaccination.

So we need to make vaccination more convenient, available in more places in more doctor's offices. I think the vaccination program offers us a new normal, where we can get back to many of the activities that we miss doing now.

We're not quite there yet. Cases are coming down really encouragingly, but they're still at high levels in much of the country.

BLACKWELL: Dr. Frieden, respectfully, it's not the media's fault or responsibility that people are reluctant about getting the vaccine.

We know from people, anecdotally, through polls, and through the numbers from public health experts like yourself across the country, that there is a real significant amount of people in the country who are hesitant or reluctant.

[15:10:06]

I don't know that that's a media problem.

FRIEDEN: No, but I think the point I was -- I think you're right about that.

But if you look at the number who are reluctant--

BLACKWELL: Yes.

FRIEDEN: -- the number who just haven't been reached yet, because we haven't made it convenient enough is even larger.

Now, as we reach more of those, the number who are reluctant are going to be increasingly important, and we need to figure out the right ways to reach them with messages and messengers, emphasizing things like the suffering that people who have long COVID have, understanding that the more people get vaccinated, the safer we all are, and increased comfort about the safety and knowledge of these vaccines.

BLACKWELL: All right, Dr. Tom Frieden, thanks so much.

FRIEDEN: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Also new today, President Biden just announcing when families with children will start seeing additional payments from the coronavirus rescue package.

CNN chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins is here.

So, give us the details. Kaitlan. KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, this is going to start going out from the IRS on July 15. And these are these child tax credits that were part of that COVID-19 relief bill that you saw President Biden sign into law earlier this year.

And the way this is going to break down for families is that the White House says that they believe it's going to benefit about 39 million households in the U.S. And if you have children under 6, it's going to be those $300 payments. Over 6, it's going to be closer to $250.

And, of course, really the payment structure of this depends on your income levels. It will be reduced depending on your income levels. And these are payments that are temporary, we should note. They are set to go through December. But this is a temporary child tax credit that the White House is hoping to make permanent.

But, today, when President Biden was talking about this and breaking down these numbers, and explaining why he wanted to see this, is -- really, he was saying it's -- and framing it as a break for the middle class, saying that this is what the White House is going to believe is not just part of this pandemic relief, but saying this is really something that was exposed by the pandemic, seeing how many children were living in poverty, didn't have enough food to eat.

And so they're hoping that this is going to be what fixes that, though, of course, ultimately, if this does become something that is made permanent, whether it does, I guess I should say, really remains to be seen, because that is something that's included in President Biden's American Families Plan.

That's, of course, one of those trillions of dollars of spending in his proposals that he's since laid out, including during that address to Congress. And so this right now will start going into effect into July.

Whether or not it becomes permanent under President Biden still remains to be seen.

CAMEROTA: OK, Kaitlan Collins, thank you for all that reporting.

BLACKWELL: Up next: A close friend and ally of Congressman Matt Gaetz pleads guilty to soliciting and paying for sex with a minor.

Details on what that means for the federal investigation into Congressman Gaetz.

CAMEROTA: Plus, President Biden is speaking this afternoon to the Israeli prime minister, as the violence continues. So, we will take you live to Capitol Hill, where many members of Congress are demanding more be done.

BLACKWELL: And New York's annual Pride Parade bans the city's police officers from participating. A member of the NYPD's Gay Officers Action League joins us to respond.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [15:17:46]

BLACKWELL: A now former close friend and ally to Congressman Matt Gaetz pleaded guilty this morning to six federal charges.

Joel Greenberg admitted to a judge that he had knowingly solicited and paid a minor for sex. And this is part of the plea deal to help federal prosecutors and avoid the other federal charges he faced.

Investigators are still examining whether Congressman Gaetz broke any federal sex trafficking, prostitution or public corruption laws. He has not been charged. And he denies all allegations.

CAMEROTA: Senior legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid joins us now from outside the courthouse in Orlando.

So, what happened today?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, this is the first time we have seen Joel Greenberg since it was revealed that he is indeed cooperating with federal investigators.

He appeared -- he's been behind bars, so he appeared in a prison jumpsuit. His hands were shackled throughout the hearing as he tried to sign forms. And he quietly admitted that he solicited a minor and then paid her for sex.

And we also know, as part of this plea deal, that he's admitting that not only did he have sex with this minor. He also introduced her to other men, who also paid her for sex. So, the big question in this case now is, who were those other men? Have?

Did he name for, example, Congressman Matt Gaetz? Well,Greenberg's defense attorney, Fritz Scheller, he came out to answer questions from reporters. Here's what he said about that:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRITZ SCHELLER, ATTORNEY FOR JOEL GREENBERG: Does my client have information that could hurt an elected official?

I guess this is just must-see television. You will just have to wait and see.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: So, he's not going to give us any information.

But the judge reminded his client today that his ultimate prison sentence really relies on his cooperation and how much helpful information he gives prosecutors.

So, for the -- so, the next month-and-a-half, he has every incentive to tell them everything he knows.

BLACKWELL: So, Paula, what is Congressman Gaetz saying about this, if anything?

REID: Well, of course, Congressman Gaetz has not been charged. He has denied any allegations of paying for sex or having sex with a minor.

And he and his team have started attacking Joel Greenberg's credibility. Fairly, they point to the fact that he has now admitted to felonies, including allegations that he has now admitted to that he accused someone else, a teacher who was challenging him for his tax collector seat, of being a pedophile.

[15:20:10]

So, clearly, they're correct. Joel Greenberg has some credibility problems. But we know from our sources that Joel Greenberg is not all investigators are relying on as they assess whether or not they have enough information or enough evidence to charge Congressman Gaetz.

They have hundreds of documents. They have other witnesses they're relying on. They're not solely looking at what Greenberg tells them. But he has every incentive, again, over the next few weeks to not only tell them what he knows, but also back it up with other corroborating evidence.

CAMEROTA: Paula Reid, thank you very much for all that reporting outside the courthouse.

Joining us now is CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig.

Elie, great to see you.

Congressman Matt Gaetz had an interesting analogy that he was drawing between what he's being accused of. He was basically -- basically likening it to congressional earmarks. Let me play that for you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): Just imagine the irony here.

I am being falsely accused of exchanging money for non-favors. Yet Congress has reinstituted a process that legalizes the corrupt act of exchanging money for favors through earmarks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: I have never really heard earmarks as this -- as a substitute for sex trafficking.

Is he in trouble here, Elie?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: He certainly could be.

Look, I think that's exhibit A right there why it's better to let your lawyers do the talking for you. This whole earmarks comparison is just incomprehensible.

That said, Joel Greenberg is very much subject to attack and to attacks on his credibility. As Paula just said, he's now a convicted federal felon. He's admitted to heinous crimes, including trafficking of a minor for sex. And he has serious credibility problems.

If you look at the plea papers that Joel Greenberg signed and admitted to today, the guy has lied and committed fraud at essentially every turn. So, the challenge for prosecutors is going to be to support Joel Greenberg's testimony, because his word alone is not going to be enough.

If they can support it, then, yes, Matt Gaetz could be in trouble.

BLACKWELL: But, Elie, they have to think it's incredibly valuable, because he faced 33 charges. He's now pleaded to six. That reduction, what does that tell you?

HONIG: I think that was a mistake by the prosecution, Victor.

First of all, different federal districts handle these situations differently. Where I worked in New York, we would have made Joel Greenberg plead to all 33. Now, I think what they would say in the Middle District of Florida, where this case is being handled, is, well, some of these charges sort of consolidated some of the counts against Joel Greenberg.

For example, if you look at the original indictment, there are nine or 10 counts that go to this one criminal scheme to steal driver's licenses and commit identity theft. They will tell you, well, one count covers that.

But why do that? Why give Joel Greenberg a sweetheart deal? Why give the defense lawyers for anybody who may get charged down the line the ability on cross-examination to say to Joel Greenberg, you got a sweet, cushy deal, you're lined up with these prosecutors, you want to please them?

So, I think that was a tactical mistake by the prosecutors.

CAMEROTA: Well, that raises a great question, Elie.

I mean, this sweetheart deal that you talk about, isn't that usually reserved for people who can help prosecutors get a bigger fish? But from what we know of the reporting, wasn't Joel Greenberg the big fish here? I mean, that's who Congressman Gaetz was allegedly Venmoing the money to.

Joel Greenberg was the guy who was allegedly setting up these paid-for dates. So, why would they give him a sweetheart deal to get to, say, Matt Gaetz?

HONIG: Yes, that's a great question, Alisyn.

Prosecutors are and should be very careful in who they choose to give these cooperation deals to. Ideally, you want to do what we call cooperate up. You want to cooperate against, as you put it, Alisyn, a bigger fish. Now, how does Matt Gaetz and Joel Greenberg, how does their

culpability stack up with regard to these crimes? We don't exactly know. But if we assume that Joel Greenberg was more involved, was sort of the catalyst here, then they could have an issue with that in front of a jury, because it's not palatable to a jury, it's not always palatable to a jury if you have a more involved person cooperating against the lesser evolved person.

On the flip side, let's be realistic here. Matt Gaetz is a sitting member of the U.S. Congress. And I think it's legitimate for prosecutors to say, if we have somebody in Congress representing hundreds of thousands of American citizens, and we have probable cause to believe that he was involved in sex trafficking of a minor, he needs to be charged.

So, that's a fair consideration by prosecutors as well.

BLACKWELL: Yes, the naughty favors line was ill-advised. That is going to stick around for a while.

Elie Honig, thanks so much.

HONIG: Thanks, Victor. Thanks, Alisyn.

BLACKWELL: Still ahead: The Supreme Court agreed to take on a restrictive Mississippi abortion law. That move could change the longstanding precedent of Roe v. Wade.

CAMEROTA: Plus: Continuing violence between Israel and Palestine has senator Chuck Schumer joining the chorus of lawmakers calling for an immediate cease-fire.

[15:25:07]

We're live on Capitol Hill with the latest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAMEROTA: President Biden says he's talking with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this afternoon, as pressure grows to end the fighting between Israel and the militant group Hamas.

Israeli warplanes pounded Gaza again today. The Ministry of Health there, which is run by Hamas, says the airstrikes have killed 212 people, including 61 children, since last Monday.