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CNN NEWSROOM

New COVID-19 Hospitalizations Hit Six-Month High; Florida Becomes The Epicenter Of The COVID-19 Pandemic; California's Dixie Fire Now Second Largest In State's History; Tracking Down A Super- Spreader Of COVID Misinformation; Confinement In Russia; Interview With Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA); Disney's Hall Of Presidents; CNN Heroes. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired August 8, 2021 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:05]

JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Jim Acosta in Washington.

Right now a bleak reality is setting in about COVID in America. A few months ago it looked like we had turned the corner. But now it's clear COVID's rebound has erased that progress. Take a look at this. This is how new COVID cases have shot up in the United States in just the past five weeks. That means more people are in the hospital with COVID. The most since February putting some medical staff and ICUs again at their breaking point.

And here's something we didn't see in prior surges. Cases spiked 84 percent. 84 percent. My goodness. Among children in one week. And more than 1400 kids are in the hospital from COVID-19. That is a record high. As the director of the National Institutes of Health said this morning, we have the tools to prevent this we're just not using them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: I'm afraid we should not really have ever gotten in the place we are. So in that regard, yes, we are failing. We have vaccines that we know are highly effective and safe. And yet half the country is still not fully vaccinated and about 90 million people have not even gotten one dose. We would not be in the place we are right now with this Delta surge if we'd been more effective in getting everybody to take advantage of these immunizations.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: The point is this was preventable. And this just in. Due to the explosion of COVID cases in New Orleans and the state of Louisiana, the New Orleans Jazz Fest, a major event scheduled for October, has been canceled.

Let's bring in CNN medical analyst and professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University, our friend Dr. Jonathan Reiner. Dr. Reiner, great to see you on set. This is terrific. Are we really

at this point again where events are going to have to be canceled in this country? A lot of people thought we were, you know, going around the bend on this, getting over this hump. But it doesn't appear to be the case.

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: It's so frustrating because as you said, it's just so -- it was so avoidable. A year ago, no one really thought that we would actually have the tools to do what we did this spring, which was largely to extinguish this pandemic in the United States. Our vaccines work better than we could have possibly hoped they would work. Our vaccines proved to be remarkably safe.

These vaccines have been given now to billions of people on this planet. And yet we have been unable to convince about a third of the country -- a third of the adults to take it. And to me, it feels like I'm flying on an airplane through the worst turbulence and about 70 percent of the passengers on the airplane are buckled in and the other, you know, third of the passengers are not just unbuckled but they're trying to open the emergency escape doors.

It's incredibly frustrating moment for, I think, health care workers and for a lot of Americans right now.

ACOSTA: And Donald Trump last night, he was on FOX and he recommended the vaccine again, but he was adding these qualifiers which seems to be almost a Republican talking point these days. Let's listen and talk about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have to be a big vaccine fan because I'm the one that got it done so quickly. Got it done in less than nine months. It was supposed to take five years. They would have never even gotten it done. So I'm a big fan. At the same time, I'm a big fan of our freedoms. And people have to make that choice for themselves.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: What do you make of that. This whole idea that, well, people can take it or leave it?

REINER: Right. You can wear a mask. I'm not going to wear a mask. The pandemic might go away, might not go away. Vaccines are good, but take it or leave it. I took it, but I took it in secret. This is the double talk that we've gotten all along. And this is why a large part of this country, many of his followers, are really, you know, so confused.

Look. I think the hard to escape conclusion is that the president, the former president, excuse me, wants this vaccination program to fail. If you look at what he said about the current president just yesterday about how the pandemic is surging and et cetera, to me, it looks like the former president wants this to fail. Otherwise, he would come out and strongly urge unequivocally all of his followers to line up and get vaccinated. Everyone in this country can get vaccinated today. The former

president refuses to do that. He wants this vaccine effort to fail.

ACOSTA: Yes, I mean, COVID is in large part why he was defeated, and now in some warped kind of way, it sounds like he sees it as a way to come back politically.

Let's talk about Ron DeSantis down in Florida, the governor there. There's a stance emerging from Republican leaders that we just have to grit our teeth and get through all of this. Let's listen to the governor and what he's been saying.

[16:05:07]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: You have some politicians that say I am going to eliminate the virus. I will defeat it. Unfortunately, government can't just end it. You know, we still have 1918 flu floating around. So it's something that, you know, if government could just end it, then people wouldn't even need to get the treatment because you could just end it, right? You can't. So we knew this is something that you're going to have to live with.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Yes, can you help us fact-check that?

REINER: All right, so don't get your medical advice from the governor of Florida. First of all, there's no 1918 flu floating around. There are a number of tools that a chief executive has so a chief executive can allow localities to mask up their population. They can certainly allow school districts to mask up kids who, first of all, many of whom cannot be vaccinated now and protect them. He has prevented that.

A chief executive of the state can allow vaccine mandates from businesses. He is preventing that. A chief executive can encourage businesses to shut down when the viral load is overwhelming. The viral load in Florida is so high right now. There are only really two places on the planet where it's higher. One is Louisiana and the other is Botswana. It's so high in Florida that I think that if Florida were another country, we would have to consider banning travel from Florida to the United States.

He needs to understand that he's painted himself into a corner. People are dying in Florida. It's going to get much worse. The hospitals are filling with people.

ACOSTA: Children as well.

REINER: Exactly. Florida leads the country in the number of hospitalized children. He has to back off a little bit. Allow localities to do the right thing, to mask up, to even close businesses down. I've said this before. If you are in Florida now and you are unvaccinated, you are very likely going to get COVID. If you are in Florida and you are unvaccinated, do not go in to a bar or a restaurant. You will absolutely contract this virus.

ACOSTA: All right. Dr. Reiner, we could go on and on and we probably will be spending a lot more time on this over the next couple of hours. We could do it with you, but we'll let you go, and we'll talk to you on another occasion. Thanks so much for coming in and thanks for being on set with us. It's great to see you in person.

REINER: My pleasure.

ACOSTA: Thanks. Thanks, Dr. Reiner. Appreciate it.

Want further proof that Florida is the epicenter right now? Listen to the pastor of a church in Jacksonville.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE DAVIS, SENIOR PASTOR, IMPACT CHURCH: In the last 10 days, we have had six members of our church who have passed away from COVID. Four of them were under the age of 35. All of them were healthy. And the only thing they had in common is each of them were not vaccinated.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Just incredible. Florida church losing six members to COVID in 10 days. And with numbers and stories like that, Governor Ron DeSantis is standing in the way of needed action to slow the spread. Instead he's blocking mask mandates. Today a fellow Republican, Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy, called out the governor right here on CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA BASH, CNN HOST, STATE OF THE UNION: You disagree with Governor DeSantis?

SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R-LA): I do disagree with Governor DeSantis. The local officials should have control here. Whenever politicians mess with public health, usually it doesn't work out well for public health and ultimately doesn't work out for the politician.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: And joining me now is "USA Today" columnist Kirsten Powers and political columnist for "The Bulwark," Amanda Carpenter.

Great to see both of you, ladies. Thanks so much. Glad to see you both staying safe and healthy.

Amanda, help me understand what is going on. We were just talking about this with Dr. Reiner a few moments ago about what Governor DeSantis is doing down in Florida. What's going through his mind right now? Because he's obviously -- it sounds like he's made this political calculation, and, as Dr. Reiner was just saying a few moments ago, it sounds like he's painted himself into a corner. Doesn't know how to get out of this.

AMANDA CARPENTER, POLITICAL COLUMNIST, THE BULWARK: Yes. He's definitely dug himself in. And I really think it shows far more political weakness than prowess. I mean, right now he's widely talked up as a person who would get the Republican nomination for president in 2024 should Donald Trump choose not to run.

But the bet that he's taking, listen, it was very easy to be against mandates and masking when the cases were going down and looked like the vaccine was going to take over, and he could just outrun this thing. But he bet wrong. And now he's going so far as opposing vaccine mandates in hospitals, threatening schools to withhold funding if they impose mask mandates in their schools.

And I just look at the landscape and I wonder, what is he worried about here? The only person that could possibly outflank him on the right on these issues is South Dakota Governor Christy Noem who is not that politically powerful. I mean, that's really the only one in the 2024 political landscape. And so when I look at this and I see that Ron DeSantis is so concerned about crossing this small minority of people who oppose the mandates and the vaccines, that tells me he's weak.

[16:10:08]

I mean, Jim, 70 percent of U.S. adults have had at least one dose of the vaccine. That means it is overwhelmingly popular. Joe Biden should lean into this hard. We cannot let 30 percent of the people to hold us hostage and keep us locked down once again. And so there's going to be a very clear contrast between the DeSantis approach and the Biden approach going forward. And I think, you know, we should all see it for what it is.

ACOSTA: I think that's right. I mean, I can tell you I've talked to so many Trump advisers over the last several months who have said if Trump had just taken a more proactive public health stance, he might have won re-election. And yet Governor DeSantis down in Florida appears to be just going down the same track as Donald Trump.

Kirsten, let me talk to you about this. When you see some of these governors flat-out refusing to do anything in terms of mitigation and blocking -- going further than that, blocking local jurisdictions in their states from doing things like Governor DeSantis is doing, do you think President Biden should be doing more at the federal level to head off some of these governors?

KIRSTEN POWERS, USA TODAY COLUMNIST: Well, I mean, you know, he's somewhat limited just because of the way the United States is structured. If there's a way for him to have a -- I would completely support a mandate for vaccination. If people say, well, we should wait until we have FDA approval for that, then maybe the mandate is you just can't go into any public area without showing that you're vaccinated.

I'm actually in Italy right now and that's exactly what they're doing. You cannot -- you have to show a vaccine card. They actually have something called a green pass. And so Italians have it but for people who are traveling, you can show your card. You cannot go into a restaurant without that. Now -- and there's masking. People are also masking. You know, in pretty much every situation except while you're eating.

So there are things that I think we should be doing and especially now -- you know, originally when this all started, thankfully, this wasn't something that was affecting children. There were cases, but it wasn't as widespread as now as what we're seeing. And so I think that, you know, in light of that, you would think that would be the thing that would make the Republicans who are opposed to this and any Democrats who are opposed to it as well because on the left you do have a little bit of a fringe.

But in terms of leadership, the Republican leaders, you'd think that would be the thing that would make you want to do this differently. And yet, you have Governor DeSantis trying to stop people from protecting children. You know, I mean, from actually saying, you can't use masks or have mask mandates in schools to protect children. It's beyond my comprehension.

ACOSTA: Let's talk about infrastructure. We -- this is also a very important topic right now because former President Trump, we should mention, is now trying to kill this bill. He's released a statement just in the last 24 hours threatening to withhold an endorsement from any Republican who supports it.

We can read a part of it. It says, "This is a 2700-page bill that no one could have possibly read. They would have needed to take speed reading courses. There's very little infrastructure in all of those pages. Instead they track your driving so they can tax you. They want to track you everywhere you go and watch everything you do."

I don't even know what the last part of that statement means, Amanda. I mean it just sounds like he's in decline sometimes when he -- and it's baffling to me that these sorts of rants make it into his official statements. But is this tactic going to work among Republicans? He's trying to bring back his own version of infrastructure week, it sounds like.

CARPENTER: Yes, you know, this would have traditionally been a Republican versus Democrat fight. I mean, there's been trillions and trillions of dollars spent throughout the pandemic and Biden has put his foot on the accelerator when it comes to spending. But over the Trump years, the Republican base quit caring about spending issues. They became much more focused on culture issues.

And so when you don't flex those fiscal responsibility and muscles for so long, they atrophy. This bill is going to pass. Republicans are going to vote for it and it's not going to matter to many of them because the Republicans that are supporting it are going to vote for it. They are not dependent on Donald Trump for their political futures. Where you'll see the action is from are through people who need Donald Trump's base for their own political power.

It will be maybe talked about for a couple of weeks in a handful of Republican primaries but I would be extremely surprised if the infrastructure vote became a major deciding issue for any voter in 2022. ACOSTA: And Kirsten, let me ask you about Tucker Carlson. He's been in

Hungary over the last week. I guess not too, too far from where you are.

POWERS: Yes.

ACOSTA: Essentially acting as a public relations expert for the country's authoritarian leader. Listen to what he said last night.

[16:15:08]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: There's a lot I don't know about Hungary, but I know a robust political system when I see one. I think America is the greatest country in the world. I will always think that. But don't tell me it's freer than Hungary because that's a lie.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Kirsten, I have to -- I'm just going to let you address that because we -- I talked about this yesterday.

POWERS: He's out of his mind. You know, that is preposterous. Hungary is not a country that anybody should be in praising in any way, shape or form. And something is just wrong with him. I don't know what -- and I understand that this has become a thing that you're having this sort of trail of conservatives going over to Hungary to kiss the ring of an oppressive regime and I guess they're just telling us what they think the United States should look like.

And I don't think that it's what the average American is probably envisioning when they think of America. And I'm actually (INAUDIBLE) to know what Amanda thinks of this as a conservative that he would suggest such a thing, and compare these two countries, the United States to this country.

ACOSTA: Amanda, a very quick take from you and then we got to run.

CARPENTER: Yes, sure. I mean, there's been this simmering phenomenon happening among the right. Visions of a global Pan-American Christian nationalist type of movement. Steve Bannon wanted to get that going. And so Tucker is really just following the footsteps.

And what I am shocked with is that it has the corporate approval from the FOX News board and the Murdochs, to go so far as to broadcast from there and give it the credibility of the FOX News empire that surely a dictator like Orban craves.

ACOSTA: Yes. It's like they want this white nationalist caliphate or something. It's just so disturbing and so bizarre.

CARPENTER: Yes.

POWERS: So disturbing.

ACOSTA: All right, well, Kirsten, you stay in Italy. Come back to the United States when you're done.

POWERS: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

ACOSTA: Don't make a left turn or right turn I should say towards Hungary. Kirsten Powers --

POWERS: I'm not going to Hungary.

ACOSTA: All right. Amanda Carpenter -- I'm sure there's a lot of wonderful people there besides their dictator, autocrat. But thanks so much, ladies. Appreciate it.

Coming up, the Dixie Fire in California becomes the largest current wildfire in the U.S. and many heroes on the front lines don't even know if their own homes are still standing. We'll get a live report on all that, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:21:34]

ACOSTA: In northern California, firefighters are trying to get the upper hand on the ferocious Dixie wildfire. The monster blaze is still growing. It's now the second largest ever in California's history. It's obliterated an entire town. Homes, cars and businesses all going up in smoke. And some crews fighting the flames don't know if their own homes are still standing.

And CNN's Camila Bernal joins us now from paradise, California.

Camila, how are things going there?

CAMILA BERNAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Jim, well, the smoke is thick. It's unhealthy and the visibility is low. If you take a look here behind me, you're normally supposed to be able to clearly see the canyon here behind me. Instead it is full of smoke. That smoke is coming from the south from that Dixie Fire, and filling not just this canyon but the many communities in this area.

This fire has been burning for 25 days straight. And the problem is that it continues to grow without that containment percentage going up. It's still at 21 percent containment and, unfortunately, the number of structured destroyed is going up. Yesterday it was 200. Today it's more than 400. Two people are still unaccounted for. Authorities continue to search but they believe that these two people who are still missing are from Greenville.

Of course we saw the destruction and the loss there. Governor Gavin Newsom going there this weekend and using this as an opportunity to also talk about climate change.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D), CALIFORNIA: Extreme weather conditions, extreme droughts, are leading to extreme conditions and wildfire challenges likes of which we've never seen in our history. And as a consequence we need to acknowledge just straight up, these are climate-induced wildfires. And we have to acknowledge, we have the capacity in this country, not just the state to solve this.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

BERNAL: And the governor did talk about prevention and pointed to forest management, for example. But made it very clear that more needs to be done. He also took the time to thank the 8500 men and women who are out here working on this fire. I've talked to some of these firefighters. And yes, they are tired but they say they will be here and give their 100 percent until this fire is out -- Jim.

ACOSTA: And we know they will do exactly that. Camila Bernal, thanks for that report. So difficult to see those pictures coming out of California. We'll stay on top of it. Thank you once again.

And coming up, profiting off of a pandemic. CNN's Randi Kaye tracks down a Florida doctor being called a super spreader of misinformation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Randi Kaye with CNN. Can we ask you a couple of questions? We just want to talk to you about vaccines and what you've been saying about them.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:28:48]

ACOSTA: In Florida, COVID hospitalizations have broken the pandemic record. And while there are multitude of reasons for the spike, false information and a lack of understanding are a big part of the root cause. And one Florida doctor is being pegged as the most influential super spreader of misinformation online.

CNN's Randi Kaye tracked him down.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. JOSEPH MERCOLA, OSTEOPATHIC PHYSICIAN: It's an unproven vaccine. It's just accelerated and eliminated virtually every safety study.

KAYE (voice-over): He is the ultimate super spreader. Not of the coronavirus, experts say, but of misinformation about COVID-19. His name is Dr. Joseph Mercola.

IMRAN AHMED, FOUNDING CEO, CENTER FOR COUNTERING DIGITAL HATE: It is very likely that most people in America, if not, you know, the vast majority of people in America, have seen misinformation that has originated with this super-spreader of lies and misinformation.

KAYE: That's exactly why the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a nonprofit tracking misinformation about COVID online, put Dr. Mercola, an osteopathic physician, at the top of its disinformation dozen. A list of 12 people, the group says, where the source for sharing 65 percent of all anti-vaccine messaging on Facebook and Twitter from February 1st through mid-March.

AHMED: In a pandemic, misinformation has a life that -- has a cost that's paid in lives.

[16:30:05]

KAYE (voice-over): We tried to track down Dr. Mercola to ask him about the misinformation he's been posting. Like masks may not work. Vaccines could be dangerous. And Vitamin C and D can prevent or treat the Coronavirus. We first tried to find him at his office in Cape Coral, Florida, outside Fort Myers.

(on camera): I'm looking for Dr. Joseph Mercola.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's not here.

KAYE: Not here. Is he here today? Can I leave a message?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, he's not here.

KAYE: Will he be here tomorrow, if not today?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, he is normally not here.

KAYE: So, even though his office is listed here, he's not -- he doesn't work out of here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.

KAYE: OK. OK, thank you.

(voice-over): Next stop, more than 220 miles away, Ormond Beach, Florida, which Dr. Mercola calls home. We found his house behind a large gate and tried making contact through the security access pad.

(on camera): Hello, this is Randi Kaye from CNN. I'm hoping to get a word with Dr. Mercola.

(voice-over): Later, we spotted Joseph Mercola riding his bicycle. Once he stopped, we thought this was our opening to get some answers as to why he's pushing false claims about masks and the vaccine.

(on camera): Dr. Mercola, how are you?

DR. JOSEPH MERCOLA, OSTEOPATHIC PHYSICIAN: Good.

KAYE: I'm Randi Kaye with CNN. Can we ask you a couple of questions?

MERCOLA: No.

KAYE: We just want to talk to you about vaccines and what you've been saying about them. Do you feel responsible for people who didn't get vaccinated possibly got sick and died because of what you told them about the vaccines? What do you say to families who lost loved ones? Are you spreading misinformation?

MERCOLA: Nope.

KAYE: Why won't you speak to us? Here's your opportunity to speak with us and answer questions.

(voice-over): So, despite all his bravado online, Mercola suddenly had nothing to say. Though after we emailed him questions, he responded saying, I encourage every person to fully educate themselves to make individual decisions about medical risk taking. Throughout the pandemic, he's been quite outspoken.

MERCOLA: I wanted to go back to this. The reason why the mask may not work.

KAYE: In his e-mail to us, Mercola challenged any suggestion that he belongs on the disinformation list. Still, by fueling the narrative that vaccines are dangerous, who knows how many of his followers chose to skip the vaccine. This was Mercola on a podcast in April last year, saying vaccines are --

MERCOLA: -- being fast tracked with -- in abandoning all safety precautions to the wind, I'm sure will cause enormous disabilities and premature deaths, as a result of implementing this.

KAYE: What Mercola hasn't made clear to his followers is that, according to the CDC, the vaccines are safe and effective. And of the more than 345 million doses administered, there have been an infinitesimal percentage of serious adverse events conclusively linked to the vaccine. Though he told us via email that over 400,000 adverse events and 6,000 deaths from the COVID-19 vaccines have been filed, a majority of which were filed by medical professionals.

To be clear, the FDA has not established a causal link to these deaths. Earlier this year, Mercola posted this outlandish claim, that vaccines, quote, "alter your genetic coding, turning you into a viral protein factory that has no off switch."

The CDC has said vaccines don't interact with your DNA. Mercola also posted an article he authored that states, aerosolized hydrogen peroxide can be used as an at-home remedy to treat Coronavirus.

According to the FTC, there is no study known to exist that supports that. Yet, via email, Dr. Mercola said, the approach is one that many clinicians I've discussed have found provided a significant improvement to their patients.

The danger in all of this is that Mercola's misinformation has reach. The Center for Countering Digital Hate found he still has 14 accounts on mainstream social media, with more than 4.3 million followers. His Website promises to deliver trustworthy, natural health information and has had more than 37 million visits since January.

IMRAN AHMED, FOUNDING CEO, CENTER FOR COUNTERING DIGITAL HATE: He wants to replace those doctors as the source of health information for people because then he can recommend his cures.

KAYE: His cures? Apparently, they include vitamins C and D. After Mercola posted an article headlined vitamin C and D finally adopted as Coronavirus treatment, which has since been removed, the FDA requested Mercola, quote, "Take immediate action to cease the sale of such unapproved and unauthorized products" after noting he misleadingly represented the supplements as COVID-19 treatments.

In his email to us, Dr. Mercola said he has responded to the FDA letter and asked to meet with them. And just today, Mercola announced he is removing all articles from his Website within the next 48 hours.

[16:35:05]

MERCOLA: The last week has brought a tremendous amount of reflections to me and a lot of unacceptable threats to accompany them. So, the course of action, I am now forced to take, is to remove my entire archive of articles. Twenty-five years worth of blood, sweat and tears coming down.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: Some great reporting from our Randi Kaye. And coming up, how a one-time little known figure from the Justice Department became a major player in the saga of how Donald Trump tried to subvert the election.

[16:37:44]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: CNN has learned that an American citizen locked up in Russia has been released from solitary confinement. Paul Whelan is a former U.S. Marine arrested in Moscow in 2018. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison on an espionage charge. He strongly denies.

According to Whelan's lawyer, he was able to call his parents yesterday after being in the solitary unit for five weeks. President Joe Biden sat down with Russian President Vladimir Putin back in June. He says they did discuss Whelan's case with Biden pledging to follow through on that discussion.

And we are seeing dramatic new evidence that raises questions about how far then-President Trump was willing to go to overturn his election loss. During interviews over the past two days, former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and his top deputy told a Senate committee that a Trump appointee, named Jeffrey Clark, went outside the DOJ chain of command multiple times to push Trump's election fraud lies.

According to "The New York Times," Clark even drafted a letter he wanted the attorney general to send to Georgia officials. Wrongly asserting that Biden's victory needed to be thrown out because the DOJ was investigating accusations of voter fraud in the state. CNN has also previously reported that Clark was pushing a bogus conspiracy theory that China had used special kinds of thermometers to change the election results, if you can believe that.

And joining me is the Democratic Congresswoman from California, Zoe Lofgren. She's a member of the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th attack on the Capitol. Congresswoman, this is pretty wild stuff that, apparently, was happening at the Department of Justice. What's your reaction to all of this?

REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): Well, it's a huge concern. But it's not the only piece of information that the public has received about the former president's efforts to overturn the votes of the American people. So, this is something of concern and it will -- it needs to be thoroughly investigated.

ACOSTA: And when it comes to the January 6th attack, your committee is getting ready to meet and issue subpoenas. As for people who you'd like to talk to, who's at the top of your list? And I suppose -- to follow up on the previous question, do you need to talk to Rosen and Clark as part of this process?

LOFGREN: Well, I don't think it's necessarily appropriate for the individual members of the committee to be identifying who's going to get a subpoena. I will say this. That we intend to follow every lead so that we get a complete picture of what the intent was of the former president who organized these efforts, who funded these efforts, as part of our investigation of the ramp up to January -- the January 6th riot, the insurrection.

ACOSTA: And how helpful would it be to speak to former President Donald Trump? I know you don't want to name names. But, I mean, it sounds like, at the end of the day, you know, unless you talk to the former president, you're not really going to get to the bottom of everything.

LOFGREN: Well, maybe yes, maybe no. I mean, certainly, we can find out a lot of information from those he spoke to. You have to balance, as you're looking at calling witnesses, how difficult it is. How litigious they will be. Versus the information you're likely to receive.

I'll say, I don't think it's a new piece of information, that the former president has a veracity problem. "The Washington Post," and other news institutions, used to tote up how many lies per day he would say. So, we've got to weigh that as a factor of how valuable his testimony would be.

ACOSTA: In other words, he may -- he may lie so much that it -- that the testimony may be worthless.

LOFGREN: Well, I just think we need -- it's a balancing factor he would -- I'm sure he would litigate. And then, we need to have a weighing of how truthful his testimony would be, given his track record.

ACOSTA: And CNN is reporting that your committee is weighing whether to pursue call logs from the Trump White House on the day of the Capitol attack. Surely, there were lots of conversations flying around, around what happened on January 6th. Do you plan to go forward with that? Do you need to see these call logs?

LOFGREN: We will get every piece of information that we need. We will pursue every piece of information that would be relevant. I do think, as some of the members, including my colleague, Liz Cheney, has mentioned, we need to know who was talking to the White House that day. And I do think that is important.

[16:45:00]

LOFGREN: And call logs would be one way to find that out.

ACOSTA: And do you think it's still an open question as to whether some of your colleagues had some contacts with the rioters, with the insurrectionists?

LOFGREN: Well, we have seen social media posts with some of my colleagues and people who, apparently, helped organize the riot. But I don't want to jump to conclusions. We will follow the thread of fact to the end. And then, we will have a complete picture, rooted in the facts, that we can provide to the American public. I don't think speculation is necessarily valuable, at this point.

ACOSTA: And do you believe that Trump was trying to stage a coup of the United States government, an administrative coup, in the way he was going around and strong-arming state officials, election officials? His own vice president, having underlings at the Justice Department and so on, trying to get results overturned? Does this -- does this have the smell or does it amount to an administrative coup, a procedural coup, do you-- think?

LOFGREN: I don't want to use that word yet. But I will say, one of the things that makes America great is that every four years, the American citizens go, and they cast their ballot. And they get to choose who the president is going to be.

The electors are based on the votes of the people. And the idea that a state legislature would throw out the votes and substitute their preference is completely antithetical to the American democracy. And it does look like there was an effort to make that happen.

So, we'll pursue that. And when we're finished, I think we will have a very complete picture for the American public to look at and to make judgments.

ACOSTA: And I want to ask you about something, one of your Republican colleagues, Congressman Paul Gosar. He posted on Twitter. It's a bracelet that said, for Ashli, as in Ashli Babbitt, the Capitol rioter, who was shot and killed outside the House chamber as she tried to climb through that broken window. You're seeing a lot of this on the far right, people turning her into a martyr. What is your reaction to that?

LOFGREN: Well, you never want to see someone lose their life, of course.

ACOSTA: Right. LOFGREN: However, she was part of a mob. And she was breaking into the

Speaker's Gallery through a window, having been told not to do it. At the other end of the hallway, about 35 feet, there were 100 or so members of Congress escaping down a flight of stairs. So, the officer who did -- who stopped her with a bullet was fully exonerated after an investigation.

And that doesn't mean that it's a good thing that she lost her life. I feel badly that that happened. And I wish she hadn't been convinced by conspiracy theorists that what she was doing was the right thing to do. It's tragic.

ACOSTA: Do you think, in some way, that former President Trump is, in some way, responsible for her death?

LOFGREN: Well, I just want to say, very many of the people, who fought our police officers and who invaded the Capitol, shouting "hang Mike Pence," said they were doing it at the request of the president. He gave a stem winder of a speech urging the crowd to fight. They did that.

I think, as we proceed further, we'll get a further picture, a complete picture, hopefully, all the events that led up to January 6th and the insurrection.

ACOSTA: All right. Congressman Zoe Lofgren, thanks so much for being with us this afternoon. We appreciate it. Hope to have you on again. Thanks, again.

LOFGREN: Of course.

ACOSTA: And we'll be right back.

[16:49:17]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: President Biden is making his official debut at Walt Disney World, in a way. His animatronic likeness that is, anyway. The Magic Kingdom's Hall of Presidents in Florida has officially reopened with the likeness of the 46th president added to the lineup.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States. And I will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: The revamped exhibit includes some special touches to represent President Biden, like the vase of peach blossoms, the official flower of his home state of Delaware, as well as his signature Aviator sunglasses. There they are right there.

And 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.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AVA KAUFMAN: So, this is your new home for now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, wow. Oh, 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.

[16:55:00]

KAUFMAN: I went from living this big life to not knowing how I was going to survive.

The bed is going to go there. Put the black dresser there.

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 is absolutely nothing like it.

[16:55:50]

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