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Anti-Mask Parents Threaten Health Officials in Tennessee; Los Angeles Moves Toward Vaccine Requirement for Indoor Public Spaces; Judge Rules Dominion Voting Lawsuits Against Trump Allies Can Go Forward. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired August 12, 2021 - 09:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Just a reminder, be sure to join CNN next week for "We Love New York City," which is the homecoming concert celebrating the city's comeback from COVID. That would be Saturday, August 21st, exclusively on CNN.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's coverage continues right now.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good Thursday morning. I'm Erica Hill. Poppy and Jim are off this week.

A grim picture as the Delta variant grips of the nation. Hospitals across the country overwhelmed by the unvaccinated. In Mississippi, the head of one hospital says the whole system is really just days -- days away from failing and as people wait in emergency rooms for a bed in the ICU. In West Virginia, the ICUs are at levels they have not seen since February. In Oregon, some hospitals now down to less than five intensive care beds.

The situation is so bad in Texas hospitals have set up triage tents to care for the influx of patients, and the governor is now sending some 2500 out-of-state medical personnel to help with the surge.

Kids also facing the burden of this latest spike. Some schools in Mississippi, Indiana and Georgia already forced to close their doors, return to virtual learning just days into the new school year. In Tennessee, parents are fuming after a school board approved a temporary mask requirement for elementary schools.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want to know what's on those masks and I ask parents who agree to stand with me now, right now, stand. We want those masks tested.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The masks are not any harm at all. They're inconvenient, but they're not a harm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If my son was able to catch COVID in last year's environment with the less transmissible variant, consider the spread we'll see this year with the majority of students and staff unmasked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I swore an oath to protect this country against all enemies foreign and domestic. You harm my children, you become a domestic threat and we will come for you politically and financially. You have awaken the ape army and we will come for you and the Holy Spirit is coming with us.


HILL: "We will come for you." Let's begin now with CNN's Amara Walker.

So what more are you learning about this fiery debate in Tennessee, which didn't end, I should say, at the meeting?

AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Fiery, very emotional, angry meeting. So this happened on Tuesday night, Erica, in Williamson County. This is just south of Nashville, Tennessee. There was a four- hour debate amongst the school board members during the special meeting. As you saw there, they ended up voting in favor of a temporary -- temporary mask mandate that would only apply to the elementary school students there.

And what you saw after this meeting in the parking lot was the anger and frankly the vitriol boiling over with supporters or I should say opponents of masks lashing out at the supporters of masks and even heckling people walking out of that meeting wearing masks. Just take a listen and watch what happens as things get quite heated on Tuesday.





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are child abusers. There's a place for you guys in hell and everybody is taking notes, buddy. Keep that little smug.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Put it back up. Put your mask on.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know who you are. We know who you are. No more masks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keep it calm. Keep it calm.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're on this guy's side.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. No, they're not. You're not on our side.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The police are on our side. The police are on our side. Calm down. Calm down. We know who you are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know who you are

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can leave freely but we will find you and we know who you are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You will never be allowed in public again. You will never be allowed --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know who you are. I know who you are. I know who you are. Let them out. Let them out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, come on. Please.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You better watch out. You better watch out. You better watch out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keep it calm. Everybody, back up, please. Everybody, back up. Back up. Back up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm back, man. I'm on your side.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give me a way to get out.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everyone, peace. Peace.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Peace. But we know who you are.




WALKER: "We know who you are. We will find you." We also heard someone in the background saying, "I am a parent." So these are parents heckling other parents, Erica.

HILL: Yes. What an example they're setting. It is disturbing to put it mildly.


Meantime, you're there in the suburbs of Atlanta outside in East Side Elementary School. There's been an outbreak there, and that is forcing a quick change of plans with the school year just getting underway. What more can you tell us?

WALKER: Yes, talk about a quick change of plans, Erica. So an urgent notification was sent out from the principal of this East Side Elementary School citing an extremely high number. Those were her words, an extremely high number of positive COVID cases that affected the fifth graders. So all fifth graders were sent home yesterday morning. The notification went out around 9:00. Parents were told to come pick up their kids between 11:00 or 11:30 in the morning so that they could avoid potential further spread during lunchtime and on buses.

And as you mentioned, keep in mind, in-person learning had only been underway for about two weeks here in Cobb County. And now the fifth graders here in East Side Elementary School are being forced back into virtual learning that will last at least until August 23rd. But I've got to mention, no indication in changes to the mask policy in Cobb County public schools. They remain optional.

The principal saying that now they are strongly encouraged here at the school. We should also mention parents are organizing a rally sometime later this afternoon outside the school district to push for a mask mandate, Erica.

HILL: Be interesting to see where that goes. Keep us posted, Amara. Thank you.

Well, amid the vaccination push, which we know is in full effect, Los Angeles is now one step closer to mandating vaccines for anyone wanting to enter most indoor public spaces.

CNN's Stephanie Elam following this angle from Los Angeles this morning.

So, Stephanie, how is this going to work?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the whole idea, Erica, is that they're saying that this could protect the residents here. And it was very clear when you listen to the people from the board, who were -- from the city council who were talking about this that they do think that this is going to protect people.

What they unanimously voted on yesterday was to allow for the city attorney to draw up an ordinance that will make it so that someone would have to show proof of at least one dose of the vaccination for them to enter any of these public spaces. We're talking about restaurants. We're talking about bars, gyms, movie theaters and the like, and even stores. And so this is what they're looking to do.

And if you listen to the president of the L.A. City Council, Nury Martinez, she makes it very clear why she thinks this is important. Take a listen.


NURY MARTINEZ, PRESIDENT, LOS ANGELES CITY COUNCIL: I've heard this either on social media and people who call in, that they have a right to not access the vaccine or not get vaccinated. Unfortunately, that argument just doesn't work for me. The fact that you have the right not to get vaccinated actually impacts me, my life, and those of the people that I care about. You not being vaccinated actually impacts the health of everyone else.


ELAM: And that's what a lot of health officials here in the county and in the state are saying. In fact, if you look at California overall, the vaccination rate is actually pretty high. I was just checking out California's data. And according to the state, they're saying that they have people that have at least got one dose, it's like 77 percent. You can see we're taking a look at the data that we have here. 54 percent almost fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated you've got that above 66 percent. But, still the vaccination rate is very high here in the state.

Yesterday Governor Newsom also announcing a first-in-the-nation plan to have all of the people who work at schools -- teachers, support staff, everyone, bus drivers -- to have them vaccinated or submit to regular testing. They said that they want compliance by October 15th. This falls in line with what we've seen with the health care workers here in California being mandated to either get vaccinated or submit to regular testing.

They're actually hoping that this will get more people to go ahead and get vaccinated. They said, listen, we want to keep schools open, we want to keep our children going to school and we want to keep them as safe as possible. And when you look at what the unions are saying, the teachers unions, many of them support this. Many of their teachers are already really high levels of vaccination. So they're saying this is just one more measure to keep our schools open and keep children safe. But a lot of vaccination push here in California, Erica.

HILL: Yes, there certainly is. Stephanie Elam, good to see you this morning. Thank you.

And joining me now to talk about all of these headlines, CNN medical analyst, former Baltimore City health commissioner, Dr. Leana Wen.

Dr. Wen, always good to have you with us. You're also the author of a new book, "Lifelines: A Doctor's Journey in the Fight for Public Health." And, you know, it feels like more of a fight than ever. I know I don't need to tell you that. But when we're seeing some of the reaction, Amara just showed us at that school board meeting in Tennessee. A number of the people who spoke in favor of masks are people who are on the front lines and have been on the front lines, including a doctor who also joined CNN earlier today to talk about what he experienced when he left the meeting.

He left before what we just saw, but he was not immune to some, I guess you could say, negative reaction to him calling for masks. Here's what he had to say.



DR. BRITT MAXWELL, HOSPITALIST, INTENSE MEDICAL SPECIALIST: Before we walked out, we had to brace ourselves. I took my wife's arm and I said, just remember, no matter what they say, these are the lives we're trying to save. And we walked out. And I was approached and someone put their hand in my face and called me a traitor, which I don't see how that's -- how anyone can say that when I've been on the front lines of this pandemic since the beginning.


HILL: You know, one of the things that really struck me, Dr. Wen, is, you know, he went on to say, I just found his response so gracious, that he was getting this hate and this vitriol thrown at him, but also just thinking these are the lives I'm trying to save. This is what I signed up to do and I believe so firmly in that. And he talked about, you know, we all sort of have anger. I don't know if I would be able to separate the two if I were him.

I know you've been on the receiving end of some really terrible commentary, especially over the course of COVID. The anger that people are throwing out there over a mask, and still in August of 2021.

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I try to understand the anger and frustration that people have, which is understandable. I mean, it's understandable, we are all angry, we are all frustrated at what's happening right now. The issue, though, is I hope that we can unite and say, let's get through this. I mean, there are common goals that I hope that we share, which is we want to get our kids back in school.

We don't want schools to have to close. We don't want the hardships for our parents and for working parents and caregivers. And at the same time we also don't want super spreader events. We also don't want our children to end up in the hospitals and dying, which is actually what we're seeing. I mean, every single day across the U.S. there are now more than 200 children being hospitalized and tragically some of these children are going to suffer and are going to die.

We can prevent that from happening and masking is, I think a lot of us would say something pretty small that we can do in order to prevent all these negative consequence. And it's extremely disappointing that the anger is being directed at the messenger, when actually the anger should be directed at the virus.

HILL: Yes, it's so true. And to your point about keeping schools open, you know, we've already seen, as we just saw in Georgia, but it's not just Georgia. Mississippi, Indiana, schools first -- forced, rather, to return to virtual learning. Do you think this is just the beginning? Will we see more of that?

WEN: I really hope not. And this is the most frustrating part I think to so many of us in public health that at this point a year and a half into the pandemic, we know what it takes to keep our schools open. We have a guidebook. The CDC put out a really good recommendations about how we can keep our schools open safely. And it's a combination of multiple layers. It's improved ventilation, it's wearing high-quality masks, it's having regular testing, making sure that as many adults as possible are vaccinated and so forth.

We can do this. But we also know that especially with the very highly contagious Delta variant, if we don't take these steps, then schools might have to close and then we're going to have unfortunately a disruption in learning and work for so many people.

HILL: We are expecting the FDA, right, it's expected to authorize an additional COVID-19 vaccine shot for certain immunocompromised people. And Dr. Fauci said this morning that it's likely that we're all going to need an additional dose at some point. Do we have a sense of how soon that may happen?

WEN: I don't know, and I'd be curious to see what data are presented when the FDA and CDC are meeting. I definitely think that it's the right thing for people who are severely immunocompromised to receive a booster dose at this time. In a sense it's not really even a booster. It's to make sure that they have as high of immune protection as possible.

I also hope, though, that the FDA and CDC will give a lot of leeway and discretion for individuals together with their doctors because they are going to be some people who might have some degree of immunocompromise. Maybe not as severe as somebody who is an organ transplant recipient, but who maybe on steroids and who may also have high risk exposure because maybe they're essential workers.

Maybe they live at home with somebody who is unvaccinated. Maybe for these individuals they should also be getting a booster shot at this time to increase their immune protection. And so for the general public, it may be a while before we are recommended to have a booster, but I hope that people are given the option to have a booster, especially because we have so many doses that are expiring and are going to waste.

HILL: Yes, and that's certainly not what we want to see, is any more doses go to waste.

Dr. Leana Wen, always good to talk with you. Thank you.

WEN: Thank you.

HILL: Still to come, three defamation lawsuits against Rudy Giuliani, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and Sidney Powell will move forward to trial. So what does this mean for them and what does it mean about what we could all learn in terms of former President Trump's attempts to overturn the election?


Senator Rand Paul revealing his wife purchased stock in the company that makes a drug to treat coronavirus well before the pandemic was front page news.

Plus stark warnings that Afghanistan could fall to the Taliban much sooner than expected.


HILL: Three major defamation lawsuits against some of former President Trump's allies now moving forward. A federal judge ruling Wednesday lawsuits from Dominion Voting Systems can proceed against MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, former Trump attorneys Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani as well.

CNN's Whitney Wild joining me now.


So, Whitney, this is a pretty significant development. What more do we know about this judge's ruling?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, basically the judge is saying that he is not buying this idea that these comments by Sidney Powell, Mike Lindell and Rudy Giuliani are protected speech as some of them have claimed. Giuliani had claimed that this was meant to silence him. The judge is not buying it. He's saying the allegations here have enough evidence for this case to move forward.

So let's go quickly to the judge's quote specifically about Mike Lindell's allegations. So the judge here writing that, "In addition to alleging that Lindell's claims are inherently improbable that his sources are unreliable and that he has failed to acknowledge the validity of counter veiling evidence. Dominion has alleged numerous instances in which Lindell told audiences to purchase MyPillow products after making his -- effectively making his false claims. And then he provided MyPillow promotional codes related to those theories.

Dominion has adequately alleged, and this is the key part, has adequately alleged that Lindell knowingly made these false claims or with reckless disregard for the truth.

Erica, the key here is that for this case to go forward is that you have to be able to prove that these people knew that this was false and still said it anyway. The judge seeming to buy off that that does exist here, at least enough for this to move forward, which could eventually result in a trial.

But let's look at the numbers here, Erica. This is so damaging Dominion says that they are trying to seek more than a billion dollars just from these three people. Again, here are some of the allegations that -- and Dominion has denied all of these fraud allegations, it's important to note. They think they're going to lose $650 million in lost profit and revenue. They supplied 40 percent of the voting machines, Erica, in the United States.

So to assert that Dominion rigged the election is enormously problematic for this company and further, this comes just one day after Dominion filed lawsuits against two right-wing media outlets basically alleging the same thing. The bottom line here, Erica, is that there are more people who are solidifying this idea that people know that these allegations are false and are saying them anyway, and that these words have consequence.

HILL: Yes, they certainly do. Whitney Wild, appreciate it as always. Thank you.

Joining me now for more, Ashar Rangappa, former FBI special agent and CNN legal and national security analyst.

Asha, as we look at this, as Whitney pointed out, what we're hearing there is that they're saying Mike Lindell knowingly made these false statements, and then tried to profit off of them. Does that make the defamation suit even stronger for Dominion?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think it adds to the, you know, disingenuousness of his approach. What the judge is saying is that a juror could reasonably conclude that these statements were made recklessly, with knowledge that they were false. And so, you know, they have stated a claim. That can go forward. And I do think the fact that the judge is calling out that this is effectively also a grift makes the claim stronger for Dominion.

HILL: You know, the fact, too, that these three could potentially be deposed, be required to give sworn testimony, that is significant, Asha.

RANGAPPA: It is significant. And, you know, the affirmative defense for defamation is that it's true. And so this is the burden that is now on all of these players, Giuliani, Powell, Lindell, to actually demonstrate that, you know, whatever basis that they think that it's true, and it's not. The legal system has been the one thing that has kept -- that has been the wall for the big lie, you know. Right after the election, many lawsuits -- 60 lawsuits were thrown out. These claims were declared as false, and now we're seeing it again.

So, yes, the discovery process is not going to go well for these three defendants, and, Erica, also there are, you know, also other news organizations that were reporting on this that may be coming under the bus also for this lawsuit.

HILL: Yes, and as we are watching that, there's also some information in "The New York Times" reporting a little bit about what happened in that testimony yesterday with BJ Pak, who of course former U.S. attorney in Atlanta. And they're reporting that he said he abruptly resigned because he was warned by DOJ officials that former President Trump intended to fire him for refusing to say there had been widespread election fraud in Georgia.

I want to dig into what that could tell us about the Trump White House and what was happening in terms of pushing the big lie, trying to overturn the election. But first, Asha, I just want to get your thoughts on this. The fact that he decided to leave because he was worried he was going to be fired. It seems odd, but correct me if I'm wrong on that.

RANGAPPA: Well, I think that if he were -- was being asked to make a false claim, I mean, ethically and as an attorney he could not do that. I think we can disagree on whether he should have allowed himself to be fired.

[09:25:04] I mean, in many ways, you know, taking a stand like that, then, you know, exposes that there is something very wrong going on. So by him resigning, you know, kind of left things a little bit unclear. But we now know that Trump was trying to weaponize the DOJ, that there were high levels, senior officials that were willing to go along with it and other members of the DOJ threatening to resign if they went forward with these claims, for example, that they were investigating voter fraud and encouraging the state of Georgia to look into it.

So I suspect that this is along the same vein and it tells us, you know, how expansive this effort was behind the scenes.

HILL: Also want to get your take, the U.S. Capitol police chief yesterday spoke with Wolf Blitzer and said they're seeing a dramatic increase in the number of threats against members of Congress, which just got me to thinking, I mean, based on your experience in the FBI, if this is what we're hearing publicly, how concerned do you think they are behind closed doors about this dramatic increase in threats?

RANGAPPA: Well, I mean, they have to be stepping up the security. The big lie continues to be promulgated by members of Congress in addition to Trump supporters. Mike Lindell who just had his cyber symposium and continues to push it even though he's being sued for $1.3 billion. This is a conspiracy theory that will ultimately result in threats and potentially violence. I mean, we've already seen it happen on January 6th.

And until people disavow this lie, it is going to essentially brain wash people and make them believe that they have to take matters into their own hands and that may include levying threats against, you know, sitting members of Congress. So it is a big problem, and I think that the Capitol Police are right to take it seriously.

HILL: Asha Rangappa, always good to have your insight. Thank you.

RANGAPPA: Thank you.

HILL: Republican Senator Rand Paul just now revealing his wife bought stock in a company behind a coronavirus treatment. This as the pandemic was taking hold in the U.S. We've got a live report from Capitol Hill ahead.