Return to Transcripts main page


Delta Variant Now Accounts for More Than 93 Percent of COVID-19 Cases in U.S.; Powerful Democrats Call on Gov. Andre Cuomo (D-NY) to Resign in Wake of Attorney General Report; Trump Attorneys Formally Join Legal Battle over Potential Release of His Tax Returns to Congress. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired August 4, 2021 - 10:00   ET


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Showing just how dominant the highly contagious COVID-19 delta variant has become in this country.


Delta now accounts for more than 93 percent of all COVID-19 infections across the nation. To put that in perspective, the delta variant accounted for just 3 percent of cases as recently as mid-May.

It comes as Dr. Anthony Fauci tells CNN he believes the FDA could give full, not just emergency approval, as it stands, full approval to Pfizer's vaccine as soon as the next couple weeks. And with more than 90 million people still eligible but still unvaccinated, Fauci says final approval could help combat vaccine hesitancy, might also speed up authorization for children under 12.

Let's begin with CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. Elizabeth, tell us what more we know about the timing of when full FDA approval may come. Because Dr. Fauci brought it up as close as the middle of this month.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. I mean, please keep fingers crossed, right? I mean, The New York Times says that the FDA is aiming for the beginning of September. An FDA official tells CNN that the FDA is moving as fast as they can.

Really, the differences here are just a matter of weeks. The difference that full approval could make is that it could make some unvaccinated people say, oh, I may be sort of antsy to think about getting a vaccine that only had emergency authorization, I want it to have full approval. It could make other employers and businesses say, now I feel comfortable requiring people to have the vaccine.

So, let's take a listen to Dr. Fauci.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I think there are a certain proportion of people who are just waiting for that full approval, even though the data are overwhelming right now that these vaccines are highly effective and are safe.

The other thing, it's going to allow independent local enterprises, universities, colleges, businesses, who will feel much more comfortable when they say, I'm going to mandate that, if you want to come to this school, if you want to work in this place, you've got to be vaccinated.


COHEN: Now, it's unclear exactly what difference full approval would mean to those who have not wanted to get a vaccine thus far. Kaiser Family Foundation has some data, it's two months old, but has some data that three of ten vaccine-hesitant people say full that a approval will make a difference. You know what, they will vote with their sleeves, and they will roll them up hopefully if that does make a difference.

SCIUTTO: Anything that moves the dial, really. Okay, tell us what the data is showing us about an increase in COVID infections among children.

COHEN: Yes. I think throughout this pandemic, a lot of people have thought children, it's not such a big deal for them. But, in fact, these numbers are pretty striking about how much more often children are getting infected.

So, let's look at the data from the American Academy of Pediatrics. What they found is when they looked just at July 22nd through 29th, so that's one week, there were 70,726 new cases. That was up 84 percent from the previous week. That's a lot in one week. That's a huge jump, five times as many cases as the end of June.

Now, most -- the vast majority of those children don't end up in the hospital but, still, from the descriptions we're hearing of children getting this virus, even when they don't get so sick that they go in the hospital, they're home and many of them really are suffering very high temperatures, hacking coughs. We're hearing of children having long-term effects from COVID-19 even if they weren't all that sick to begin with. Why would you want that for your child when you can just give them a vaccine?

So, 12 and up, you can do it now.

SCIUTTO: Yes, the FDA says it's safe. Elizabeth Cohen, thanks very much.

COHEN: Thanks.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Fauci says vaccine passports, like the one just announced in New York City, could help put more pressure on the unvaccinated to get the shot. New York will soon start requiring proof of vaccination for indoor dining, gyms, other recreational activities. That could just be the beginning.

CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich joins me now from New York. Vanessa, I wonder, are other cities now considering similar passports or kind of like vaccine gold cards like New York is trying here?

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they are. And right here in New York City, the vaccine is your ticket to entry to a coffee shop, to a restaurant, just like the one behind me, a movie theater, a gym. And this is all part of Mayor de Blasio's effort to encourage people to get vaccinated and stop the spread of this highly contagious delta variant.

Now, it will be up to the businesses to check those vaccinations and enforce this new mandate. We spoke to one restaurant owner who says that he welcomes this news, another live venue owner who says that he doesn't think this new mandate will change anyone's mind about getting the vaccine.


JACK MCGARRY, CO-OWNER, THE DEAD RABBIT: We were wrestling with it from the get-go because the laissez-faire approach wasn't working. So, we were -- I believe this week, we would have made the decision anyhow, but I'm very happy that it's going to be enforced.


MATTHEW GARRISON, CO-OWNER, SHAPESHIFTER LAB: I think it's much better, the fact that we can't point to somebody else and say, hey, listen, don't get on our case. It's coming from high above, we have to comply, so there's not much we can do about it. It makes us feel much more comfortable in the act of rejecting somebody, which we don't want to do.


YURKEVICH: Now, Matthew, who you just heard from there, says that with this new policy, he's going to have to hire another person to check vaccines, that's an added expense that he wasn't accounting for. And this is creating a little bit of concern in the business community. The National Restaurant Association is saying that putting the burden of checking vaccines on employees could change -- could cause some conflict with customers in terms of other cities getting on board. We know that the Bay Area is looking into this, but the mayor of Boston has already said that she's not going to be implementing this in her city.

But right here in New York City, this is going to be mandated September 13th. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Yes. The big, practical question, who enforces? Vanessa Yurkevich in New York, thanks very much.

To Louisiana now, where the state's largest hospital, Our Lady of the Lake Hospital, in Baton Rouge, just admitted a record 32 new COVID patients in just the past 24 hours. According to a hospital spokesperson, 175 people currently hospitalized there with the virus, 61 of them in the ICU. Across the street at Children's Hospital, eight children hospitalized with COVID-19, including a baby just three weeks old. Joining me now, Dr. Christopher Thomas, he's a critical care physician at the hospital. Doctor, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.

You have that at your hospital, you're becoming, in your words, victims of the unvaccinated here. And we've heard before this more and more that this is a pandemic right now of the willfully unvaccinated, right, because there is a widely available and efficacious, more than one, vaccine. Are you finding that, as the number of infections go up, the people are changing their minds, that those who were hesitant are now getting the shot?

DR. CHRISTOPHER THOMAS, CRITICAL CARE PHYSICIAN, OUR LADY OF THE LAKE REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER: Good morning. I believe we're seeing some hope as it relates to people both texting their doctors and calling them to say, what do you think? Delta is disastrous. As you said, we're admitting one patient every 45 minutes.

The biggest challenge here, as we've learned from delta, one of the lessons we've learned is, is if you're online and you see a website or blog, and that website or blog makes some therapeutic claim that's equivalent to the vaccination, let me be honest this morning, the providers of that blog will not come to the hospital, they will not come hold your hand when you're able to not breathe. We have 15 to 20 people, they will not come and say you're the victim of misinformation.

And so as a result, what we have is a group of people who have misinformation that they think is equivalent to vaccination. That's not the case. So we're actually getting better, but it's because we're aggressively going against this misinformation campaign and trying to help our patients again.

SCIUTTO: Yes, it's a national problem, really international, because a lot of outside players coming in kind of helping to stoke this. What is it doing to the staff of your hospital? Because the numbers we're talking about now, these surges seem very similar to what we thought was behind us, the worst of the pandemic a number of months ago.

THOMAS: Yes. Our staff is tired, but they're compassionate and they're committed. We were able to get relief from the Disaster Management Assistant Team this week into our hospital, and so that's energized some of our team members that they will get a break. We've become much more aggressive as a hospital system in trying to get out to our patients and saying, please call us, please talk to us, we want to protect you, we want to get you a vaccine. And we've seen that work in some instances.

But I will be very honest, our team is tired. And there's no other way to say that. They're looking at a season here where for us here in Louisiana, there will be times when they're not going to be at the dinner table again. And that's okay because we're committed to it but it's a challenge for them.

SCIUTTO: I hear you. How concerned should we be? Because when you see these spikes, this is the summertime. Typically, the best conditions for a virus are winter time, et cetera. How concerned should we be that we're seeing winter-like numbers in the midst of the summer, and what does that mean going forward?

THOMAS: Here is how concerned you should be. We have 175 patients in our hospital. If you're a hospital administrator in the United States, that is a frightening number. It would overwhelm over 25 percent of the hospitals in this country.

As a result, it means that we're impacting other diseases, stroke, sepsis, heart attack require time to diagnosis and a bed available and a place to put them.


We don't have a place to put them, and we are saying no for the first times in our careers. We don't like it. But when we get calls from colleagues who are just desperate for help, we're having to say, we don't have a place for you.

We need to recognize that if your community is not here in Louisiana and you're less than 40 percent, delta is coming, get out to your community, make that number higher, because you will not be able to handle this number of patients, winter, summer, spring, fall. There are only so many beds.

SCIUTTO: Listen, we appreciate your candor here. It's important to hear that message.

Before we go, are you seeing more young victims of this in your hospital? And are you concerned that the delta variant is fundamentally more of a threat to young people?

THOMAS: Delta is different, 61 ICU patients, 60 unvaccinated, average age this morning 48. We had almost no children in our children's hospital throughout the entire first, second and third surge here in Louisiana. We now have children in our pediatric hospital.

Delta is not the same. You cannot avoid it. You're going to get it. How are you going to think about receiving the virus and what's your protection going to be? There's only one evidence-based strategy right now that's effective, it's a vaccination. Please think about it. Please call your doctor. Please go get one.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Dr. Thomas, man, we'll do our best to amplify your voice here. It's important for folks to hear that message. Thank you this morning.

THOMAS: Thank you so much.

SCIUTTO: Still to come this hour, after a damning report found that he sexually harassed nearly a dozen women, Governor Andrew Cuomo is defying calls from many Democrats to resign, even from the most powerful members of the party. A state senator who wants him impeached will join me next.

Plus, flight attendants forced to take drastic action, duct taping -- that's right -- duct taping, you see it there, an unruly passenger. What the airline is saying now after initially suspending the crew that did it.

And Donald Trump officially joins the legal fight over the release of his tax returns to Congress. He's still fighting to keep him from the public eye. Is there anything he can do to stop it?



SCIUTTO: New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo is facing mounting pressure from within his own party to resign this morning. A damning report by New York's attorney general, also a Democrat, which includes nearly 180 interviews, more than 70,000 documents found the governor sexually harassed 11 women and created a hostile work environment around him.

Now, several leaders in the Democratic Party, including President Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have called for him to step down, this after the governor released a video denying the allegations.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): The facts are much different than what has been portrayed.

I want you to know directly from me that I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances.


SCIUTTO: This morning, one of his accuser, Charlotte Bennett, reacted to that video.


CHARLOTTE BENNETT, ACCUSED GOVERNOR CUOMO OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT: It wasn't an apology and he didn't take accountability for his actions. He can't once apologize and then say he didn't do anything wrong.

He blamed me and said I simply misinterpreted what he had said, but his line of questioning was not appropriate. He was coming on to me and he insinuated that survivors of trauma and sexual assault can't tell the difference between mentorship and leadership and sexual harassment itself.


SCIUTTO: Joining me to discuss is Democratic New York State Senator Alesandra Biaggi. She's chairwoman for New York State Senate's Ethics and Internal Governance Committee. Thanks so much for taking the time this morning.

STATE SEN. ALESANDRA BIAGGI (D-NY): Thank you for having me. SCIUTTO: You have called, as many Democrats have, for the governor to resign. He is, to this point, refusing to do so. If he does not resign, should he be impeached and removed from office?

BIAGGI: So, yes, he should. And I want to just say that I have been calling for the governor to resign since the early part of the spring for many different reasons, including because he has fostered and upheld a toxic work environment, but also because of the way he handled the nursing home crisis.

When we think about just the situation that we're in now, the attorney general's report has confirmed what many of us knew to be true. There are violations of federal and state law. And it is in the governor's best interest to resign, and I hope he will resign. And I hope that he's listening to the chorus of voices from not only across all political spectrums but also across the country. But I don't think he will resign.

And so what that then means is we have to begin impeachment proceedings, which are proceedings that begin in the New York State Assembly.

SCIUTTO: How quickly might those move to a vote?

BIAGGI: Well, I mean, we could do that as early as today. In New York State, the impeachment process begins with the assembly. They have to draft something called the articles of impeachment. This is then followed by the New York State Assembly, who has to vote by a majority of members to initiate the impeachment process via resolution.

Once that happens, the governor is required to step away from his duties as the state senate then conducts an impeachment trial. So, if the assembly actually did this today and delivered those impeachment articles to us in the senate today, the governor would be required to step aside.


SCIUTTO: Yes, not unlike the process for removing a president. House impeaches, in effect, the assembly and the Senate tries and convicts.

New York is facing a lot of things in the meantime. In fact, the comeback, really, another surge in COVID-19, discussions of mandates, vaccine passports, et cetera. Today, is the governor fit to serve? Can he do his job in light of this report and what it found?

BIAGGI: The governor is not fit to do his job, unfortunately, for the state of New York. And it's not just because of the findings from the attorney general's independent investigation. When we look at COVID recovery and COVID relief, we're obviously still in the middle of COVID. We have the delta variant on the rise.

Your previous guest was just talking about the surge of case for also young people. And why that matters is because we also had a lot of federal funds and state funds that need to go out the door to a lot of New Yorkers who are in need. And, unfortunately, what we've seen in New York is that this governor has also failed to do that.

And so it's not just about the way that he runs his office. It's that the way he runs his office is also something that's affecting negatively, impacting negatively, New Yorkers. And so he's unable to govern.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, because you worked with him for a number of years, and apologies if this is an uncomfortable question. But I do want to ask in your own personal experience, did you witness or experience behavior as he is now accused of?

BIAGGI: I did not experience sexual harassment from the governor. But what I can say is that the executive chamber that the governor runs is a toxic work environment. That is something I absolutely experienced. It's almost impossible not to experience that.

The office is designed to undermine staff. It is designed to destabilize staff. It is designed to make you second-guess yourself. It is what feels like a constant whiplash between praise and then being valueless. It leads you to really wonder whether the bad behavior has happened to you really happened. And, unfortunately, it's part of just what is business as usual there.

I think that the governor's abuse of power is pervasive, as I mentioned, and it doesn't just impact the women who work around him but also the function and the integrity of New York City government. I experienced that. For me, I was able to use that experience and it fueled my run for office, but not many people are able to do that.

And, unfortunately, what it does is it makes very talented people to leave state government, and we need the best talent because New York deserves the best talent.

SCIUTTO: Well, one of his accusers, as you know, has spoken out, Charlotte Bennett, and responded to his statement yesterday in which he claimed that he was just reaching out to try to help her with her own past experience with sexual assault and harassment. And she rejected that. She called it a propaganda video and said that it wasn't really an apology at all, but kind of attacking his victims.

And I wonder, as a woman, did you feel the same way as you watched the governor make his response yesterday?

BIAGGI: I mean, I felt so many emotions yesterday. One of them was sorrow, not just for Charlotte Bennett but also for the other victims of sexual abuse. I think what many victims and survivors of sexual abuse often feel is that they are being gas-lit throughout their lives and being told that what we've experienced is actually not what we really experienced, it's a misinterpretation.

And so what I think the governor was trying to do was undermine Charlotte Bennett's testimony, by stating that the way that she experienced him is distorted because her previous experience of sexual abuse. And so he's trying to convince the public, eventually, that she can't be trusted. However, what I know, as a survivor of sexual abuse and what I'm here to share is that when you are somebody who has experienced that and also you go through therapy and you start to heal and understand what has happened to yo8u, you are able to better understand the patterns of harassment and abuse more clearly. And so it actually doesn't make a survivor less credible, it makes a survivor more credible.

SCIUTTO: Well, goodness, I appreciate you sharing that, and I'm sorry you had to go through that as well. But thanks so much for taking the time and being so open about your own experience, Alesandra Biaggi.

BIAGGI: Thank you so much for having me.

SCIUTTO: Well, still ahead, former President Trump has formally joined the legal battle to try to stop Congress and you from seeing his taxes, this after the Justice Department ordered the IRS to hand them over. We're going to tell you what happens next, next.



SCIUTTO: Well, surprise, surprise, lawyers for former President Donald Trump have officially entered the fight to prevent the release of his tax returns, this after the Justice Department ordered the IRS to turn over the documents to lawmakers last week.

CNN's Kara Scannell joins me from New York. So, Kara, I guess what happens now, right, I mean, Trump has been fighting this on multiple fronts for years now, where does this one go from here?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Yes, Jim. I mean, this particular fight he has under way for two years. So, for now, the new move today is that Trump's legal team has entered this. They're asking the judge overseeing this case to permanently block the Treasury Department from turning over Donald Trump's tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee. They're saying this is an effort that is purely political in this 37-page document.


They cite multiple Democrats' comments about the need for Donald Trump to make his tax records public.