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Massive Motorcycle Rally Sparks Fears Of A Super-Spreader Event; Massive Infrastructure Bill Inches Toward Final Passage In The Senate; Fox Host Gushes About Authoritarian Leader During Hungary Trip; FOX Host Finds Much To Like About Creeping Far-Right Fascism In Hungary; Interview With Former Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman; Border Afghan City Falls To Taliban. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired August 7, 2021 - 15:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Jim Acosta in Washington. And we begin this hour with two key milestones in the fight against COVID. Together they show how far we've come and how far we're falling behind. The U.S. is once again topping 100,000 new coronavirus cases a day. We haven't seen numbers that high since February.

The Delta variant and unvaccinated Americans are fueling this COVID explosion. The good news is that as of today exactly half the U.S. is now fully vaccinated nearly 166 million people. Many parts of South Dakota are considered high transmission areas as Delta spreads, including Sturgis which you can see on the left side of the map. That's where hundreds of thousands of bikers are gathering this weekend for the world famous Sturgis motorcycle rally.

Our Adrienne Broaddus is in Sturgis, Adrienne, great to see you. This is a large outdoor gathering, as we know. But with so many people there are you seeing any efforts to try to head off what could become a super spreader event. I can't believe we're still talking about super spreader events. Here we are in August of 2021.

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we are still talking about it. And we are seeing some mitigation efforts. For example, if you need one of these a mask, the city here has plenty of free masks to provide to its participants. There are hand sanitizing stations all along this stretch of Main Street. And the city is also offering free COVID tests. They have thousands of those tests. They partnered with the state health department. If you feel you need a test, they will drop the tests off to you and you can get those results within minutes. It's a rapid test.

Meanwhile, this is the largest motorcycle rally in the world. And this year, an estimated 700,000 people are expected to attend including the state's governor who backs this rally. She is going to participate in a charity ride on Monday. But people have come to Sturgis from all parts of the country. We spoke with some of those riders. Here's what they had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BROADDUS: Are you all concerned about COVID at all?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm vaccinated.


BROADDUS: What was that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm vaccinated.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My wife stayed home because she has COVID right now.

BROADDUS: Are you concerned about COVID this year, the Delta?


BROADDUS: Why not?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hell no. No. Not where I am. Hell, no.

BROADDUS: Did you get the vaccine?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hell no. I ain't getting it until they start telling me it is going to make you sterile and kill your ass. I don't trust it when it's not even approved yet. But --


BROADDUS: You know what, Jim, for many riders this is an escape. Coming here is an escape from their towns, their states that have COVID restrictions. We did speak with one couple here in town. They packed their bags. They're leaving because it was too much of a risk for them. The big concern among health officials is what will happen when people attending the rally step inside the bars. It's those crowded bars and tattoo parlors that pose the greatest increased risk for transmission.

I also spoke with a rider who said he keeps his mask in his pocket. He didn't come last year because he was afraid. And he was real transparent with us. He said I'm a little afraid this year but I'm making sure I stay outside. We also spoke with a gentleman who works at a local bar in town.

His daughter has been asking him to wear the mask at work. And he told us he can't because if he does, he fears retaliation on the job. And he said he will get a lot of grief from the people he works with, Jim.

ACOSTA: Adrienne Broaddus, please be careful when they tell you they're unvaccinated then start coughing that -- I would keep a safe distance in that situation but, all right, Adrienne Broaddus thanks so much, great talking to you. Joining us now Dr. Rob Davidson, an emergency room physician in Michigan and executive director of the Committee to Protect Health Care. Thanks so much for joining us, Doctor, we always enjoy talking to you. As of today, as you know, 50 percent of the U.S. is fully vaccinated against COVID.

But on the flip side, you see events like that motorcycle rally in South Dakota, where there's been a lot of vaccine hesitancy people just openly saying no, they have been vaccinated. They still don't trust it and so on. How frustrating is that to watch?

DR. ROB DAVIDSON, EXEC. DIR., COMMITTEE TO PROTECT HEALTH CARE: Well, it's extremely frustrating because these folks are getting all of their messaging from their political leaders, you know, the governor of South Dakota, Governor Noem, Governor Ducey in Arizona, Governor DeSantis in Florida in particular are, you know, basically digging their heels in. We've seen other governors have a conscience. The governor of Arkansas, the governor of Alabama, actually showing concern for the people in their states because they see them getting in the hospital and dying and changing their tune.

But unfortunately, some of these folks are just so dug in on the politics that they think their constituents want. They're not willing to do what they need to do to save lives.


ACOSTA: And tell us what it's like now in your emergency room these days. How do the unvaccinated people respond to the news that they have COVID?

DAVIDSON: Well, you know, I tell you what I can draw on a few examples. I had a person come in, and I asked him if they wanted to get the vaccine because they were there for some symptoms, their COVID test was negative. They said, oh, no, I'm afraid of the ingredients. And so which ingredients, maybe I can talk you through it. And they said, well, I don't really know what's in it.

And another flatly refused getting a test said that I was going to tell that she had COVID so my hospital could get $100,000 that's why we're doing this, getting that directly from the President last year during his attempt at reelection, and then telling us we will -- that they won't take the vaccine because they think that we're going to give them COVID with the vaccine.

And just got angry with me and was yelling at me and I had it, you know, just exit the room and end the conversation. Because these are the kind of battles we're having when we're just trying to do what I've been doing for 20 years in my emergency department and my small community, just try to help people.

ACOSTA: And some people might hear all this about breakthrough cases and think why should I get the vaccine? Help set those folks straight, please. What is your message for those folks who say that?

DAVIDSON: Yes, I mean, your chance of getting hospitalized if you had the vaccine is, you know, one in 1,000, compared to those who are not vaccinated. You know, your chance of actually getting very sick from COVID is so incredibly low when you're vaccinated. Yes, there can be breakthrough cases.

Honestly, we all should have talked more about this at the beginning, saying, listen, and we did. We said 95 percent effective, that means 5 percent, you might show up with a positive test, you might get a little cold symptoms for a few days, but you're not going to end up dead. That is what we're trying to prevent.

And that is what we're telling unvaccinated folks who are digging their heels in, who don't have regard for themselves or their community who their leaders do not have the regard, who to their media ecosystem that they're falling on "Fox News" or on Facebook doesn't have a concern. But we're trying to have concerns for them. You know, they should get this vaccine for selfish reasons. Forget everyone else. It's going to save them from dying.

ACOSTA: Right. And the CDC director tells CNN that they're working on a national strategy for booster shots. Tell us about these booster shots. When you talk to people these days about all this, this subject always comes up booster shots. Does that mean that the current vaccines need help to be more effective? That's also a common refrain that you hear.

DAVIDSON: Yes, and I don't even know if that word booster is the right way to put it. I think it's just might you need a third dose or a second dose if you had the J&J because, you know, we know overtime immunity does wane. Some vaccines, you get them when you're a kid and you're done for life, others, you know, we have tetanus boosters every five to 10 years in the emergency department ever since I've been doing this 20 some years ago.

It's just how some vaccines work. And we don't know until they're out in the real world. And we can see if people are getting enough breakthrough cases or getting very sick with breakthrough cases. And it's going to be different for different people, elderly, folks with immunocompromised status, they're probably going to need a third dose a little sooner than folks like me or like my teenage kids who are all fully vaccinated.

So it's just waiting for the FDA to give us the green light. You know, the drug companies are ready to go, but we can't let them dictate how this goes. You know, they have to, you know, follow all the protocols and the FDA will give us the green light.

ACOSTA: Exactly. And let's look at this front page of yesterday's "USA Today." This is a grim headline, certainly caught my attention, I'm sure it call yours. We are failing one another is the headline there on the front page of the "USA Today." As an E.R. doctor on the front lines of this, do you believe that we are failing one another in this?

DAVIDSON: I do. You know, I'm grateful that 50 percent of our population is vaccinated. But that means 50 percent is not. And a insignificant number of adults and older kids who couldn't be vaccinated. And, you know, I kind of think the time where we're trying to, you know, appeal to their sense of community, their sense of other is probably passed.

And we just need to keep showing images and telling stories of people who regret not having been vaccinated and tell them we're here for you. And you should do this to protect yourself, protect your family, you know, honestly trying to get them to protect their neighbor or my family. It's kind of I think is a moot point at this time. It's really appealing to their sense of selfishness so they don't die.

ACOSTA: That is a powerful message, tough pill to swallow, but certainly the truth. All right, Dr. Rob Davidson thanks so much, great talking to you as always. We appreciate that straight talk.



ACOSTA: And coming up, will a signature piece of the Biden agenda move forward today, the long and winding road to a trillion dollar infrastructure bill.


ACOSTA: That massive $1 trillion infrastructure bill is slowly inching toward final passage in the Senate. If passed, it would be a big deal for President Biden's agenda for more what's expected. Let's go to CNN's Lauren Fox up on Capitol Hill. Lauren, what's the latest? We can see the Senate is debating this right now.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Jim. Look, it's going to pass at some point. The question is how soon and how quickly will senators agree to move this process along. They voted this morning to advance the bill in another procedural vote. We expect to potentially another procedural vote tomorrow evening. But that all could be quickly expedited if all 100 senators agree to move this process along.

Just a few minutes ago, though, Bill Hagerty, a Republican from the state of Tennessee was on the floor explaining why he planned to continue blocking this process writing in a tweet, quote, I'm on the Senate floor laying out why I refuse to expedite a vote on final passage of this infrastructure bill that adds to the deficit. That of course is significant because if there isn't agreement of all 100 members, you have to wait this out.


And that's potentially another 60 hours of debate on the U.S. Senate's floor. That pushes Republicans and Democrats into next week for having to pass their budget bill. That is another piece of the Democratic agenda that they want to finish up before their recess, so Jim a lot in flux right now on Capitol Hill. But Hagerty putting his foot down saying, this bill spends too much and I'm going to continue standing in the way of letting lawmakers pass it any sooner than the process allows. Jim?

ACOSTA: All right, Lauren Fox, we'll be watching. We know you will as well. Thanks so much.

Coming up, Tucker's trip to Hungary, the "Fox News" host takes the show on the road to gush about a European autocrat and his regime as a role model for the West.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: We said to a Hungarian minister who was standing there, it's hard to believe that's your policy when you come here illegally, you're just escorted out politely. And he said quote, we're serious country. How embarrassing to be an American.




ACOSTA: This week "Fox News" personality Tucker Carlson took a break from spreading his usual propaganda here for a week long field trip to Hungary, where he spread his usual propaganda there. He was especially fawning over the country is far right leader Prime Minister Viktor Orban who calls his system of government illiberal democracy.

Here are some of the highlights of this system. Some of these may sound familiar to you. Orban likened immigrants to rapists and terrorists and says Muslims are a threat to Christian European culture. He unilaterally built a border fence. He funneled state money to his supporters.

He sees control of the media, the elections, and the courts and on the LGBT front, he is a nightmare of same sex marriage is illegal homosexuality and transgender issues are banned from T.V. and schools and gender changes are illegal. All of that appears to be why Carlson gushed about him like this.


CARLSON: No wonder they don't want you to hear what he says. You don't have to watch your country collapse. You don't have to have leaders who hate the population or divide their own people against each other, who make the country worse, who opened the borders, who increased crime, who encouraged people to live on the sidewalk and do drugs. If there's any lesson of talking to Viktor Orban, maybe it's that.


ACOSTA: Tucker Carlson wants to know what Orban says, OK, fine. This is from a 2018 speech, quote, we do not want to be diverse and do not want to be mixed. We do not want our own color, traditions, and national culture to be mixed with those of others. No wonder Tucker's a fan that sounds like it was penned by one of his former top writers, you know, the one who is a prolific poster on a racist online forum.

And here to discuss this burgeoning far right friendship, CNN senior media reporter Oliver Darcy and historian and opinion columnist, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, she's the author of the book, "Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present". Ruth, you may have to add a chapter based on this trip that Tucker is on right now. As you know, the Soviet Union used to use gullible foreigners to spread their propaganda. But this seems different. Tucker knows exactly what he's doing.

RUTH BEN-GHIAT, AUTHOR, "STRONGMEN: MUSSOLINI TO THE PRESENT": Oh, absolutely. And it's so concerning that he's gushing about this autocrat. It's interesting what he's not saying to "Fox" viewers. He's not saying that Orban as of 2020, he rules by decree. So he is formally a kind of dictator. The other thing he's not talking about is the virtual extinction of press freedom.

In 2018, over 500 media outlets, quote, donated their assets to a foundation run by Orban's allies. And you couldn't have a private network, like "Fox" that wasn't under government control or an ally. So it's equally revealing what he's not telling "Fox" viewers.

ACOSTA: And Oliver, I want to highlight another part of Tucker's bizarre PR campaign. Let's watch.


CARLSON: If you care about Western civilization and democracy and families, and the ferocious assault in all three of those things by the leaders of our global institutions, you should know what is happening here right now.

In the face of great international pressure, they call them all kinds of names. The E.U. called when he was doing illegal. But he did it anyway. He built a wall. We said to a Hungarian minister who is standing there, it's hard to believe that's your policy. When you come here illegally, you're just escorted out politely. And he said, quote, we're a serious country. How embarrassing to be an American in a conversation like that.


ACOSTA: Wow, Oliver, it sounds like Tucker hates America.

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Yes, he's in peddling some dangerous reprehensible lunacy to an American audience while abroad. Can you imagine if Michelle Obama had gone abroad and a foreign country said that during conversations with a foreign leader, it was embarrassing to be an American. I mean, people like Tucker Carlson would go nuts.

ACOSTA: Absolutely.

DARCY: And that's what Tucker Carlson is doing. Today, during a speech he actually said that it is a lie that America is more free than Hungary, which is in itself a lie. What Ruth said is what he's not telling his audience about Orban and his government, he's actually telling his audience the opposite of the truth.

You know, he was talking about press freedom today at his speech, and he said that that is something that's a diminished luxury in America while in Hungary, where the authoritarian that he has been praising all week is actually been labeled a press a freedom predator by Reporters Without Borders.


So, you know, while Tucker is abroad, he's not only not telling his audience the truth about the government, he's actually basically delivering propaganda for this autocrat.

ACOSTA: Yes. It's almost like a dictator travel channel show he's hosting. Ruth, you describe what we're seeing as an electoral autocracy in Hungary. Talk about that, what does that mean, if Trump had been, I guess, if he had been surrounded by more obedient, yes men, would we be in the same boat here in this country?

BEN-GHIAT: So Orban is the kind of poster, you know, child for this way of being a strong man in 21st century where you don't suppress elections, you just change election laws, and you manipulate the whole system so the results keep you in power.

You also don't crack down 100 percent on opposition, so he doesn't poison people. And he also doesn't detain hundreds of thousands of political enemies, like Erdogan does. So he's actually it's more subtle and way more dangerous. But there's nothing liberal, there's nothing Democratic about his illiberal democracy.

ACOSTA: Right. And Oliver, the state controls almost all of the media in Hungary and I think this is lost on a lot of people. I think that is something that Tucker Carlson actually likes, and thinks should be celebrated. Let's watch.


CARLSON: Let's say you live in a big American city and you decided to loudly and publicly attack Joe Biden's policies, his policies on immigration, or COVID, or transgender athletes. If you kept talking like that, you would likely be silenced by Joe Biden's allies in Silicon Valley. If you kept it up. You might very well have to hire armed bodyguards. That's common in the U.S. asked around. But it's unknown in Hungary, opposition figures here don't worry that they will be hurt for their opinions.


ACOSTA: We read something very interesting in the Atlantic, Oliver, I'm sure you saw it as the Atlantic points out quote, the irony of what Tucker is saying, of course, is that under Orban it's impossible for an Hungarian equivalent of Carlson, a loud television pundit, critical of the government watched by millions of people to exist. Do any of these outlets and Hungary loudly and publicly attack Orban's policies, my guess is no.

DARCY: No, no, that it did not, Jim, because they're controlled by Orban. And so, you know, "Fox News" in Hungary is impossible to exist over there right now. And you know, Tucker degrades America and suggests that again, there's no press freedom here which is insane because "Fox" is the highest rated network and, you know, one of the highest rated hosts is Carlson, he is the highest rated host.

And the other highest rated host is calling the president of the United States, you know, President Sippy Cup and basically, you know, attacking him viciously every single night. And so, you know, I honestly it's frustrating watching this because there are a lot of people who do buy into Carlson's poisonous rhetoric and they, you know, have been watching this all week this infomercial for Hungary and, you know, they seem to be warming up to authoritarianism.

ACOSTA: I'm sure their bookings, some of those folks are booking their plane tickets now. Ruth, I want to squeeze in one more clip, because it gets into this realm of just the Tucker Twilight Zone. Let's watch.


CARLSON: Oh, but he's a fascist scream people who are happy to imprison nonviolent political protesters in Washington. Oh, there's no press freedom, say people who support the overwhelming censorship in the American media. He's bad. They haven't accused him of rigging elections yet. Maybe that's too much even for them.


ACOSTA: Yes, he's talking about this autocrat as if he's Donald Trump or something. I mean, this is just pure fan fiction, Ruth.

BEN-GHIAT: So what I want to point out is that this business of trying to say that, as Orban does, as Mussolini did that liberal democracy is a tyranny, and only authoritarianism can make us free. It is an old playbook and it continues today.

And part of it what I'm really worried about that Carlson's really hammering home, he keeps talking about the disorder, the chaos, the crime, the filth in America, and this is part of the right wing authoritarian playbook where you try and you create an appetite for authoritarian law and order rule by depicting your present ruler, Biden, as incompetent and governable, and there's chaos and crime and polarization just the beginning.

What you want to inculcate is a survivalist mentality, so people will even accept violence as they did after January 6th, as a way to save the nation. So that's the big picture here and I'm quite concerned about that.


ACOSTA: It's very concerning. And I wonder where he's going next. Maybe to Moscow to do an infomercial for Vladimir Putin. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

All right, Oliver Darcy and Ruth Ben Ghait, thanks so much for those insights.

I hate to give it airtime but it's disturbing that I think we have to point it out to our viewers.

Thanks so much for those insights. Appreciate it. Great to see you.

Coming up next a key witness in Trump's first impeachment trial shares his side of the story, including the grave concerns for our democracy that led him to come forward. Retired Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman is my guest next.



ACOSTA: As the newly formed House Select Committee investigates Trump's role in the January 6th riot, we're getting a new account about what led to Trump's first impeachment.

In his book, "Here, Right Matters, An American Story," retired Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman details how then-President Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden as part of that infamous quid pro quo.

It was that call that led Vindman to come forward and testify before Congress despite his family's deep concerns.


FORMER LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN: Dad, I'm sitting here today in the U.S. capitol talking to our elected professionals.

Talking to elected professionals is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America in search of a better life for our family.

Do not worry. I will be fine for telling the truth.

This is America. This is the country I've served and defended, that all my brothers have served.

And, here, right matters.


ACOSTA: So important.

And Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman joins us now.

Thanks so much for being here.

I want to ask about the book in a moment.

First, in the time since your testimony, we have learned of these other phone calls that Trump tried to make to rig these election results in various state.

The call in Georgia with the secretary of state there saying, can you find me 11,780 votes, the call with DOJ officials, telling them say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me. I'm sure you saw that in recent days. What was your reaction to all of that based on what you had


VINDMAN: You know, I just saw it as a continuing criminal enterprise to corrupt the system. Criminal in whether it's technically criminal or not doesn't make a difference. It's clearly wrong. It's corrupt.

And it was something that the president, in failing to be held accountable for in the first impeachment, believed that he received a signal, a green light, frankly, to move forward.

And he did that throughout the rest of his tenure.

ACOSTA: You said it on the stand as a witness, so to speak, it's the title of your book, "Here, Right Matters."

Given how many Republicans refused to call out the Big Lie, are you still concerned that, you know, right doesn't matter here in Washington?

VINDMAN: In Washington, sometimes it's hard to tell, frankly. I know it matters in America.

You could go around anywhere, any corner of America, and if it's not a conversation about politics, we're still who we largely have been, a country united, shared experiences, shared backgrounds, an unfinished project.

Still a lot of work to do to create that more perfect union.

In D.C., on the other hand, it's hard to tell. A lot of self-serving actors who see it in their best interest to propagate lies.

Very few of them believe what they're saying. I'd say most of them actually believe this is the way to protect and advance their interests. And that's the troubling part.

I mean, if they were true believers, that's a problem. That's almost a mental health issue. And we have plenty of that in the United States.

But these are self-serving actors that want to enrich themselves and gain power and that's something we must deal with.

ACOSTA: And you write about the infamous phone call with Ukraine in your book.

Let's put an excerpt up.

"The president's tone was detached, unfriendly. His voice was lower and deeper than usual as if he were having a bad morning."

"He wasn't in the room taking the call in his residence but that wasn't unusual for him. He was routinely unavailable and certainly not present in the Oval Office until late morning or early afternoon."

ACOSTA: What was the moment you knew that things were going sideways with this call with Ukraine?

VINDMAN: There was an enormous apprehension going into the call, frankly. It was pulled off the books by John Bolton because he had concerns about this call.

But ended up added back on because of machinations, end runs directly to the chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney.

I was apprehensive because of all these factors but as soon as --


ACOSTA: What do you mean by that it was off the book? It was initially supposed to be a private conversation?

VINDMAN: No, it was initially canceled. Pulled off. It wasn't approved for execution.

And then some folks that were involved in orchestrating the quid pro quo, the --


ACOSTA: Back on the agenda.

VINDMAN: Put the call back on the agenda. Exactly right.

ACOSTA: And at that point, was it just immediately, as soon as you heard the words, that it sounded like a quid pro quo?

VINDMAN: I knew it was going to be a difficult call because the president sounded very, very reluctant. And then all the words coming out his mouth were geared towards applying pressure.


Everything Ukraine is failing to do. Everything the U.S. has done for Ukraine, which is actually a lot. But all that gearing towards putting a pressure on Zelenski.

He asked for Javelins to defend Ukraine. That's when the president chimed in with, I'd like you to do us a favor, though.

ACOSTA: And then when you hear the phone calls that occurred after the election, Trump going out and talking to the secretary of state, it must have all sounded like deja vu all over again.

VINDMAN: It did. But, you know, frankly, those stories are worth telling. Those stories about public servants pushing back on corruption is basically what my book is about.

I tried -- Trump is a foil. He's basically a pivot point to tell a story about doing the right thing. A very important one, you know, catastrophe for our country.

But for me, it was about telling a story about figuring out how to do the right thing.

All the things that came together, in my immigrant background, perspective on the world, and understanding of authoritarian regimes, the Tucker Carlsons of the world don't care about and see it's a way to enrich themselves.

But that's the story that this book is about.

And we should be paying attention to public servants that held the line. That's physically on January 6th the police officers and then the public servants that were behind the scenes refusing to take part in corruption.

And we should make sure that those are the stories that are being told.

ACOSTA: Let me ask you, you gave Capitol Police officer, Harry Dunn, some advice ahead of his testimony to the House Select Committee investigating the capitol insurrection.

Let's listen to what he said afterward.


OFC HARRY DUN, U.S. CAPITOL POLICE DEPARTMENT: You know what hurts more than or just as much as what happened on January 6th, the attacks.

The attacks on our credibility and that we're lying that and we don't love our country and we're fake police officers and we're not real cops -- like --


ACOSTA: Is there a through line here between the attacks on you, attacks on some of the other people who were attacked during the Ukraine impeachment saga, people like Maria Yovanovitch and so on?

Is there a through line between those folks, like yourself and your credibility, and what we're seeing now, the same officers being attacked for trying to do the right thing --


ACOSTA: -- on January 6th?

VINDMAN: Absolutely, there is. There's a kinship, a common shared experience.

I was talking to one of the SEALs that reported on Eddie Gallagher, another person that I've had a conversation with. I make it a point to speak to folks who have similar experiences.

And he -- I jokingly said, we're all part of a club. He said, a club that needs a larger inseam because we don't take anything and we'll push back when a challenge threatens our values. And I think, you know, it's interesting to hear folks like Tucker Carlson demonize and hate the United States because that's what he's doing. He's hating the United States.

I would just ask the American public to take a look around, walk your streets, does it look anything like the world that Tucker Carlson portrays or that Donald Trump portrays?

Yes, I got the fact that Newsmax and FOX News are declaring this country is falling apart. But walk your streets. It's not like that.

We have problems and challenges we can overcome together but we are still the best country in the world. And we do that together.

ACOSTA: I just want to very quickly ask you one last thing. Going through your book -- it's just fascinating -- but the one question I have is, would you do this all over again?

I know you would do it for your country but would you -- given everything you've gone through, would you do this again?

VINDMAN: On balance the answer is, yes. Because I want this country to be a place where my daughter could live and thrive and be proud of.

On balance, yes, because it was basically a follow-through on the commitment I made by wearing the uniform and by swearing my oath but it's been difficult. Everything has been a challenge.

Just like it has been for Officer Dunn, for Mike Fanone and the SEAL.

I referred to it's been an extremely difficult challenge constantly being attacked just for doing the right thing. There's no inherent reward for it.

And I really hope that we do a better job at recognizing whistle- blowers, people that defend this country.

ACOSTA: All right. Well, the book is "Here, Right Matters: An American Story."

Alexander Vindman, you are an American story.

Here's the book. You're holding it up. Appreciate everybody going out and picking it up and reading about it because there's an important story and lesson for all of us.

Colonel Vindman, thanks for being with us this afternoon. Thanks for your service.


And we'll be right back.


ACOSTA: The U.S. embassy in Kabul is now warning American citizens in Afghanistan to leave the country immediately amid relentless fighting with the Taliban.

CNN chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, got exclusive access to a city in Afghanistan that's considered the birthplace of the Taliban and now one of the biggest targets as troops withdraw from the country.

Here's what she witnessed.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the road to Kandahar's front line, there is still civilian traffic, even as the Taliban inches deeper into the city.

Afghan commandos have agreed to take us to one of their bases.

(on camera): This used to be a wedding hall. Now it's the frontline position.


(voice-over): Most of the fighting here happens at night. But Taliban snipers are at work 24 hours a day.


(on camera): From snipers?


WARD (voice-over): The men tell us the Taliban are hiding in houses just 50 yards away from us.

(on camera): And they shoot from people's homes? They shoot from civilians' houses?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. You see this is all civilians' homes. We cannot use, you know, the big weapons, the heavy weapons.

WARD (voice-over): Up on the roof, Major Habibullah Shaheen wants to show us something.

(on camera): So you can actually see the Taliban flag just over on the mountaintop there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are flag.

WARD (voice-over): It's been nearly a month since the Taliban penetrated Afghanistan second-largest city. Since then, these men haven't had a break.

U.S. airstrikes only come in an emergency. The rest of the time, it's up to them to hold line.

"We feel a little bit weak without U.S. airstrikes and ground support and equipment," he says. "But this is our soil and we have to defend it."

GUL AHMAD KAMIN, MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT, KANDAHAR: Bombardment using heavy weapons.

WARD: In a villa in the eastern part of the city, Kandahar lawmaker, Gul Ahmad Kamin, hunkered down. In decades of war, he says he's never seen the fighting this bad.

KAMIN: Millions of people in this city are waiting for when they will be killed, then someone will kill them, when their home will be destroyed. And it is happening every minute.

WARD (voice-over): Just spell out for me here. The Taliban is basically surrounding the entire city of Kandahar now, is that correct?

KAMIN: Definitely, yes.

WARD: And so, where is there to go?

KAMIN: Nowhere. So there is only two options, do or die.

WARD: Do or die?


WARD: And what does "do" it look like?

KAMIN: That is the thing to convince different sides to ceasefire, to work on peace, to convince them to not to fight, not to get.

WARD (voice-over): But that is a tall order in a city where war has become part of everyday life.

(on camera): You can probably see there's a lot more cars on the road than there were previously. And that's because, in just two minutes, at 6:00 p.m., the cell phone network gets cut across the city and that's when the fighting usually starts.


(voice-over): Throughout the night, the sounds of gunfire and artillery pierce the darkness.


WARD: Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban. They are intent on taking it back. And the government knows it cannot afford to lose it.

By day, an eerie calm holds.


WARD: The U.N. says more than 10,000 people are now displaced in this city.

On the outskirts of town, we find 30 families camped out in an abandoned construction site.


He's saying that none of these children have fathers. All of their fathers have been killed in the fighting.

(voice-over): Thirty-five-year-old Rubina (ph) fled with her two daughters to escape the fighting after her husband was shot dead. But still, it gets closer and closer.

"Last night, I didn't sleep all night," she says. "And the fear was in my heart."

In the short time we are there, more families arrived.

Street vendor, Mahmad Ismael, says they fled the village of Malajad after an airstrike hit.

"Three dead bodies were rotting outside our home for days but it was too dangerous to get them," he says.

"The Taliban is attacking on one side. The government is attacking the other side. In the middle, we're just losing."

Back at the base, dust coats the chairs where wedding guests would normally sit.

As the siege of Kandahar continues, life here is in limbo with no end in sight.

Clarissa Ward, CNN, Kandahar.


ACOSTA: Thanks to Clarissa for that report.

In the meantime, this week's "CNN Hero" was saved by a heart transplant 12 years ago. Now Ava Kaufman has turned her good luck into a mission to help others get their second chance at life.


AVA KAUFMAN, CNN HERO: This is your new home for now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, wow. This is beautiful.

KAUFMAN: It's a very scary feeling not to know that you're going to have a roof over your head to recover, or that you're going to go broke.

I understand that feeling, and my life changed on a dime. I went from living this big life to not knowing how I was going to survive.

The bed is going to go there, plus the black dresser here.

We have two homes now. It's not just a place to live. It's a place to recover. It's a place

to heal. It's a place to feel supported and loved. You know, not just by me, but by a family of people.


And this is your bedroom.

The last 12 years of my life have been the most challenging and the most happiest. I feel like I was chosen to do this.

When I can talk to a family and make them feel better, there's absolutely nothing like it.


ACOSTA: And to see Ava's full story and her extraordinary heart at work, go to right now.