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Fauci Says, Variant Worse Than Delta Likely if COVID Keeps Spreading; Florida's Governor Holding Firm That Schools Allow Parents to Make Masking Decisions for Children; New Evidence of Trump's Attempts to Weaponize Justice Department. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired August 5, 2021 - 10:00   ET



COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: She said she started the year in a wheelchair but she would finish in one.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: I have ruptured Achilles before. It's not a fun injury. I'm so sorry to see that happen but great to see her cross the finish line. Coy Wire, thanks very much.

A quick programming note for us, the next brand-new episode of History of the Sitcom airs this is weekend, all about the working class sitcom. Don't miss it, Sunday night at 9:00 Eastern on only CNN.

A very good Thursday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

This morning, a warning from the nation's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, he says, if we as a country do not get good control over community spread of the highly contagious delta variant, it is possible worse variants could be on the way.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: As long as the virus continues to spread, you give it ample opportunity to mutate. And when you give it ample opportunity to mutate, you may sooner or later get another variant. And it is possible that that variant might be, in some respects, worse than the already very difficult variant we're dealing with now.


SCIUTTO: That is what the virus does. It changes as it goes from person-to-person.

The best tool to stop the spread, of course, health experts agree, the data shows, get as many people as possible vaccinated. And new data this morning from vaccine maker Moderna, it seems to back up that advice in a big way. Moderna has announced that its COVID-19 vaccine remains 93 percent effective after six months. However, the company also saying it's possible a third shot will be necessary before the coming winter comes because of the steady rise in the delta variant infections. Also important to note, Moderna says the data collection for this report was completed before the delta variant emerged so broadly here in the U.S.

We are watching for updates on these new headlines. More from the White House, as well, its COVID-19 response team expected to brief the press less than an hour from now. CNN will bring you those updates.

Joining me to discuss, Dr. Leana Wen, Emergency Physician, former Baltimore Health Commissioner. Dr. Wen, always good to have you back.

I wonder when you look in this news from Moderna, I mean, it does show something that we've been hoping for, right, that the vaccines, they last, the protection lasts but the delta variant is posing a challenge to that. How much of a challenge?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, we always thought that the possibility of a booster is there. And that is for two reasons. One is if the immunity wanes over time and two is if we have variants that may somehow evade the protection of the vaccines.

It does look like at this point that the vaccines do last. However, it is a bit unclear what the combination of the delta variant exactly how long and how well protected people are. People are protected well against severe illness, they'd be less so against symptomatic illness. And I do think it is really time for the FDA and CDC to at least allow individuals who are severely immunocompromised, maybe some older individuals with chronic medical problems, to allow them the opportunity of getting the booster.

That is not saying that everybody should get the booster. It's just saying that there may be a subgroup that may consider getting the booster. And I think allowing that opportunity for patients to make the decision with their physician, that is the right thing, that is the right move at this time.

SCIUTTO: Make clear to folks who are watching, I always want to take advantage of smart people like you, doctors, people who are getting deluged with information every day about this, some of the confusing. One data point has not changed is that the vaccine keeps people alive and out of the hospital. I mean, it's 99 percent of the folks who are getting hospitalized and or sadly dying are folks who are unvaccinated. Explain to folks how clear that is.

WEN: That's the key statistic and that is what the vaccines were designed to do. They were designed to keep you from getting severely ill. I mean, put differently, less than 1 percent of those who are dying from coronavirus are the vaccinated. There are data coming out of the CDC that the vaccine protects you 25 times from getting severely ill and eight times from contracting COVID-19. So getting vaccinated protects you, it also protects other people around you as well.

And I really think that there has been a lot of confusing messaging, unfortunately, but the message still needs to be that vaccines are life-saving and they protect other people around you. And so if you have unvaccinated children, if you care about the community that you're in, getting vaccinated also protects them too.

SCIUTTO: Yes, that is the thing, protect yourself and protect others.

We have the advantage to some degree of having looked at how other populations and countries experience the delta variant. And there is something consistent, maybe hopeful, and I'm curious what you think, the U.K., Holland and India, all of which faced big surges in infections due to the delta variant then saw drop-offs.

Now, each country is different in vaccination rates, et cetera, but should Americans look at that and say, hey, wait a second, there might be light at the end of the tunnel on the delta variant here or can you not reach that conclusion.


WEN: I don't think we can say for certain what is going to happen. I mean, if it's anything that we've learned in the pandemic thus far, it's that, if you try to make a prediction, chances are you are going to be wrong. And, I mean, I think it is certainly possible that we may get a reprieve from the delta variant as these other countries have, but I don't think that we could plan based on this hope. I really think that we need to be doubling down at this point.

I agree with the CDC's recommendation, for example, for indoor masking not because of the vaccinated are the issue but because we have so many people in this country who are unvaccinated, and indoor mask mandates, for example, help to protect the unvaccinated.

SCIUTTO: But do we have any idea why those countries saw that drop- off?

WEN: Well, part it may be that, for example, in the U.K., they have a higher rate of vaccination. India started imposing restrictions. And so it may be a combination of those factors. But I guess the thing is, here in the U.S., I don't know that we know that the vaccinations that we have, the vaccination rate that we have is enough to stem the surge of delta.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Leana Wen, thank you so much. I should note she has a new book out. It's called, Lifelines, a Doctor's Journey in the Fight for Public Health, certainly relevant with all we've been going through this last year. Thanks, Dr. Wen.

SCIUTTO: Well, celebrations of the Milwaukee Buck's NBA title last month turned into super-spreader events. Milwaukee health officials say that nearly 500 coronavirus infections have been linked to events that brought more than 100,000 people real close together two weeks ago, there are the pictures, at the entertainment area outside of the Bucks' home arena known as the Deer District.

CNN's Omar Jimenez joins me now live. Omar, this has been a consistent experience throughout the pandemic, right, that super-spreader events are often one of the biggest sources of new infections. OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, Jim. When you see crowds of people gathered like that, even in celebration around the Milwaukee Bucks, who played a great season, obviously, you did have those concerns, looking at people and seeing how close together they were. And then you get this report coming out of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, nearly 500 cases or probable ones linked to people who either attended the Bucks' game or were celebrating in that Deer District.

Now, important to note, while these are all people who have in common, having attended this in the past in light of their diagnosis, the Department of Health Services say they can't quite pinpoint definitively that that is where they got COVID-19 since there could have been many points of contraction. However, when they are going through these questions in the contact tracing process, a regular question they ask is, have you attended a large gathering in the past, and this was something that at least 491 people had in common as having attended over the past month.

And, yes, when you look at the amount of people that actually came through, it was tens of thousands, up to 100,000 over the course of this all this in celebration and cheering, yelling, doing everything you would do as part of a basketball celebration. But, of course, this is a serious situation that people here in Wisconsin are taking seriously, at least Department Health officials, and it's part of why they've now instituted like the CDC has recommended, those new mask guidelines in indoor settings.

SCIUTTO: Listen, all of the things that help spread it, right, close proximity, no mask, yelling, singing, shouting, that's how you get the thing out there. Omar Jimenez, thanks very much.

SCIUTTO: Also this morning, Republican governors in Florida and Texas are holding firm sticking by their orders banning local mask mandates, in effect, mandating no mandates. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis says his office is finalizing rules this week though that would not ban masks in school, instead they would give parents the right to opt out.

It comes as Florida reported the most new COVID 19 cases in the entire nation last week. The state's COVID-19 hospitalizations, that is cases of severe illness, breaking pandemic records, the highest they've seen in the entire pandemic.

Joining me now to discuss is Kevin Cho Tipton. He's a critical care nurse practitioner in Miami, so good to have you on. It is often been said to me that nurses, nurse practitioners, they're the ones who experience all of these kind of things the most. You're dealing with patients every day, multiple times a day.

I would like you to show us what it looks like where you are, to give folks who are watching right now a vision, and you've provide us, I know, some photos that help us do that. Here is the first one. It is one of the paramedics at your hospital. And I wonder if you could describe what this shows.

KEVIN CHO TIPTON, CRITICAL CARE NURSE PRACTITIONER IN MIAMI (voice over): Yes. This is actually a picture of one of our paramedics who was the spouse of one of our nurses who ended up passing away from COVID-19 after contracting it from taking care of parents.


He's one of 165 people that I've taken care in in the last 18 months that have passed away.

Right now, this hospital system has about 1,600 patients in a capacity usually for only about 1,400, and there is right now about 65 people suffering from the virus on ventilators, not sure if they're going to get home, and those numbers represent families at home worried about them, and I think that is the human side of what we see.

SCIUTTO: No question. There is another one. It's a room with a number of your sickest patients, and you note that all of them are unvaccinated.

TIPTON: Yes. Out of the 65 patients in ICUs, and this is shown across the state by the Florida Hospital Association numbers, about 95 percent of all patients in hospitals in Florida, which is about 12,000 right now, are unvaccinated. And almost, universally, everyone in ICUs are unvaccinated.

SCIUTTO: Yes. One thing speaking to you in advance our team that stood out to me is you noting that only about half of your staff is vaccinated. That is remarkable to me given the increased risk, of course, of infection that staff, hospital staff have dealing with infected patients. Why? Why do you find that many of your colleagues are not protecting themselves in this way?

TIPTON: You know, there is a lot of fear around the vaccines, the politicization and the hysteria seen on the social media and the misinformation campaigns that are being fought by the surgeon general and his team are rampant everywhere and people are falling for it, even those who have seen so much death and heartbreak, and has really been unable to combat it personally and professionally.

SCIUTTO: That is amazing to me given that you and your colleagues, you see what it does, right? I mean, you see what this infection does. It is not some distant description of it, some theoretical thing. What breaks through?

I mean we've read a lot of accounts of people who, when they do get sick, the unvaccinated, they're saying publicly, gosh, I wish I got vaccinated. I mean, are you finding that folks see this, particularly this new surge, and say, wait a second, I have got to do something?

TIPTON: Actually, yes. Right now, we just lost several people. About 50 percent of our patients are under 55. Many of them are working parents with toddlers and teenagers to care for them at home. And the stories that we hear from their families of regret and fear if they're going to see their mom and dad again are devastating to have.

And they have been on a daily basis and the nurses and physician and respiratory therapists are listening and they're realizing it is time to get vaccinated and protect ourselves because we need to be there for our kid and, on the other side we're having parents lose children, 50 and 60-year-olds that are losing 30 and 40-year-old adults kids. And it has been a lot and it's forced people to reevaluate on where they stand on vaccination.

SCIUTTO: What do you say to politicians who have turned public health issues, like wearing a mask, which we know helps -- it is not 100 percent but it does help stop the spread or make it harder? What do you say to folks who made these political questions as opposed to public health questions, for someone like you who is seeing the consequences every day?

TIPTON: Yes. I mean, it is painful. It is painful to watch people use something as simple as a mask for political benefit. And it is -- it hurts because all of these numbers we see on T.V. and we see on paper represent a person, one family that is home worrying about their loved one if they're going to come home. And it just seems so cruel to disable local communities to protect themselves in the best way they know and that is with mask use and physical distancing and to say no, that we can't do this is really troubling.

SCIUTTO: Kevin Cho Tipton, thank you so much for what you're doing. We wish you the best of luck. I know you have got a lot of tough days ahead of you.

TIPTON: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Coming up this hour, exclusive, new reporting about the U.S. intelligence investigation into the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, the treasure trove of genetic data they have found in Wuhan, China, just ahead.

Plus, the Biden administration now weighing in on the battle over former President Trump's tax returns. Of course, he's been fighting for years to keep you from seeing them. Why the administration said the documents should be turned over promptly though not released just yet.

At least four district attorneys now requesting information from New York's investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Governor Andrew Cuomo, as lawmakers threaten to impeach him if he does not resign.



SCIUTTO: This just into CNN, lawyers for the Biden administration have now weighed in on the potential release of former President Trump's tax returns, telling a federal judge that the returns should be turned over promptly to the appropriate congressional committee, but also agreeing the legal battle must play out in court.

CNN's Kara Scannell joins me now from New York. All right, it's been going on for a few years, President Trump. We should always note, all presidents and candidates since Nixon have voluntarily released their tax returns. The president has been fighting this for years. How long does this particular fight drag out in court?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Well, Jim, that's ultimately going to be up to the judge.


The Biden administration in this new filing saying that they think that these returns should be turned over to the House Ways and Means Committee promptly but they're saying they will forebear doing that and they will agree to an expedited briefing schedule, which could have oral arguments on this matter by the end of September.

But Donald Trump's personal attorneys here arguing that the president needs discovery, he needs to understand why the Treasury Department and Justice Department have changed their views on why his returns should be returned over to the House committee. They're proposing a schedule and they want discovery that could be the 60 days from now with more briefings after that. So they're proposing a much further timetable.

Ultimately, this is will be up to the judge. This case, as you say, has been playing out for two years but, ultimately, he will decide how quick this briefing schedule will be made, if it is going to be the 60 days the Treasury Department is proposing or even longer as the Trump administration is proposing, but that will fall in his hands. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Kara Scannell, maybe, eventually, we'll see them. Thanks very much.

Well, CNN has learned that a former top DOJ official was set to resign over Trump's aggressive pushing of the big lie if then-President Trump would have fired his acting attorney general at the time, Jeffrey Rosen, for fending off what the officials said were direct instructions from the Justice Department to push those lies. President pushing the Justice Department to push false election claims.

A draft of that official's resignation letter was included in a trove of DOJ documents turned over to the congressional committees investigating the Capitol insurrection, which was, of course, fueled by the big lie. Lawmakers have also obtained a separate letter now published by ABC News proving that at least one top DOJ official was willing to get on board with the big lie, willing to push it himself, falsely claiming that the department had identified, quote, significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple states, including the state of Georgia.

Remember, Bill Barr, the president's quite loyal attorney general, rejected that claim very publicly.

CNN's Whitney Wild joins me now from Washington. I mean, Whitney, you look at this, I know folks at home have heard about this for years, weeks, months, so it might seem like just another thing, but this was quite a direct effort and someone in the Justice Department was willing to pursue it.

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: That is right. There was this man, Jeffrey Clark, who was willing to take this all the way and it was in the vacuum of Bill Barr. Because, remember, Bill Barr who was gone by this time. So there was a power vacuum and the moment within DOJ, and they're -- apparently, people saw an opportunity to try to take these false claims all the way to the finish line. So, in short, Jim, fortunately, for democracy, his colleagues shut these false claims down.

But let me first bring you to this letter, take you inside DOJ on December 28th, again, five days after Bill Barr had left. This is the acting head of the civil division, Jeffrey Clark, sending around a letter internally at DOJ. The letter would have urged officials in Georgia to convene a special session of the state's legislature to evaluate, quote, irregularities that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple states, including Georgia.

Here is what letter said. I think we should get it out as soon as possible. Personally, I see no valid downsides to sending out that letter. I put it together quickly and I would want to do a formal cite check before sending but I don't think we should let unnecessary moss grow on this.

Again, significant because Bill Barr had already shut this down, his former boss had already said, that did not happen.

Again, his colleagues at DOJ saying, there is just no chance they're going to get on board with this. One of them writing, there was no chance he would sign this draft letter or anything remotely like this, adding, from where I stand, this is not even in the realm of possibility, Jim.

SCIUTTO: All right. So we know that House investigators interviewed the former Justice Department official who drafted a letter of resignation over this, over what he said were Trump's direct instructions, that is a quote, to use the department to support his false election claims. He didn't tender that resignation letter in the end. Why?

WILD: Well, simply because his boss, Acting Attorney Jeffrey Rosen, was not dismissed. So, again, let me take you inside DOJ, inside the White House in these very important days leading up to the riot.

It was January 3rd. There was this Apprentice-style, the T.V. show Donald Trump made his name on, Apprentice-style meeting within the White House, because Jeffrey Clark was basically trying to boot Jeffrey Rosen from DOJ, saying, Jeffrey Rosen is not going to get the job done but I can. He wanted to advocate himself to the president that he was the one who could take the election clause forward, not Jeffrey Rosen. So, again, they had this Apprentice-style within the White House.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, because in the end, Trump did not dismiss Jeffrey Rosen but this resignation letter, it points out that there was this theory, real fear within the Justice Department, Jim, that Jeffrey Rosen would leave and that Clark would somehow start commanding the Justice Department and use the powers of the top levels of law enforcement within the country to perpetuate this election fraud and undermine and eventually overturn the election.


It is extraordinary days leading up to the riot, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Goodness, remarkable, a thin line between saving the election, in effect, or successfully overturning it. Whitney Wild, thank you so much.

New York State lawmakers tell CNN they have the votes now already to impeach Governor Andrew Cuomo if he refuses to resign. That news coming as multiple district attorneys taking another path here, looking into possible criminal charges over those sexual harassment claims against him. We'll bring you an update, next.