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G.S.A. Says Biden Transition Team can Formally Begin; Millions of Travelers Ignore CDC's Guidance Ahead Of Holiday; CDC: Equity Should be a Consideration In Distributing Coronavirus Vaccine; Did "Dark Money" Upend Some Local Races In Florida? Aired 8-9p ET

Aired November 23, 2020 - 20:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: As always, appreciate your time. Thank you.

REP. VAL DEMINGS (D-FL): Thank you.

BURNETT: And thanks so much to all of you. Anderson starts now.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: All right, breaking news, Joe Biden won, again. John Berman here in for Anderson.

Actually, it's been crystal clear for more than two weeks that Joe Biden won the election and was the President-elect. The voters knew it. The states knew it. The courts knew it.

Even Republican lawmakers who lacked the courage to say it out loud knew it. But tonight, it's different and what constitutes a major development. Now, the Trump administration knows it, admits it, and crucially ascertains it.

In a story that CNN broke a short time ago, the General Services Administration and its much maligned leader have finally ascertained that Joe Biden won the White House, giving the President-elect the green light to officially begin his transition to the presidency.

This opens up public money for Biden's transition team. It also means that Biden may speak with current office holders such as National Security officials, as well as public health officials battling the coronavirus.

As we noted Biden's win has been in fact for weeks now, but until tonight, the G.S.A. had effectively sided with the Trump Campaign argument that the election outcome was still in question, which was not.

Tonight, shortly after Joe Biden won Michigan, again, the state canvassing board certified Biden's win there, the G.S.A. had Emily Murphy issue a one and a half page statement, most of it a defense of her own actions. Quoting Murphy now, "I was never directly or indirectly pressured by any Executive Branch official, including those who work at the White House or G.S.A. with regard to the substance or timing of my decision. To be clear, I did not receive any direction to delay my determination." In the statement, Murphy says she took a role quote, "seriously," and

that her decision was not based on fear or favoritism. She also said she has received death threats or threats, I should say, directly aimed at her staff, family and herself.

President Trump almost immediately chimed in. He claimed credit for the decision despite Murphy saying she came to her decision, quote, "independently," so it seems someone is lying there. He tweeted quote, "I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same."

The complete sentences and sophisticated verbiage indicate the President likely did not write it himself. But this might be the closest to an actual concession statement from the President we ever get.

And even then, he said he will continue to work to overthrow the election in court. Somewhere out there, Rudy Giuliani is burning the midnight oil or melting the midnight greasepaint.

Nevertheless, this is a milestone and tonight, the Biden team is reacting, calling the development quote, "a needed step to begin tackling the challenges facing our nation."

Jim Acosta now joins us from the White House with the very latest. So Jim, why did this happen finally tonight? How does the President feel about it? And what is going on here?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, we're still trying to piece together exactly why this is happening tonight, but I think there's a big reason why in the State of Michigan, when you have officials there certifying the results of that election, that was one additional signal going to the General Services Administration, that this election is only heading in one direction, and that is in the direction of the President-elect Joe Biden.

The President did tweet, as you saw earlier this evening, saying that he has recommended to people over at the G.S.A. that they can begin what he is calling the initial protocols, and I talked to a couple of Trump advisers this evening, one of those advisers saying there you go, that's it, it's over. The President is essentially conceding here.

And another adviser described it as concession light, great taste, but less fulfilling.

And so at this point, you know, John, if past is prologue, you and I both know, all too well, the President can still play games with this. He has still a couple of months left in office. But for now, this may be as close as you were just saying a few moments ago to a concession that we'll ever see from the President.

BERMAN: So what then Jim, for the President and his legal team, such as it is, what are they going to do now? Because every time they do something, they are just getting beaten down hardcore by judges across the country. ACOSTA: Yes. It has been a beat down almost from the very beginning,

John. I talked to my sources about this earlier today. And as one adviser put it, it's the end of the road for the President. He is getting beaten time and again in all of these challenges.

Pennsylvania was another challenge that went to the Commonwealth Supreme Court there, and the justices there ruled that absentee ballots can continue to be counted in that state in places that are favorable to Joe Biden's. I mean, this has been over so many times, we can't even count how many times it's been over.

But I will tell you, John, another sign that this is over, the President is not only souring on people like Sidney Powell, some of the crackpots on his legal team are thrown under the bus, but his longtime personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

I talked to a Trump adviser about this and asked, is the President essentially getting tired of Rudy Giuliani and this adviser said, we all are.

And so at this point, even inside the President's legal team, they view this election as over. They view these challenges as over. And one adviser I spoke with earlier this evening said the President tweeting about fighting on is essentially a fundraising ploy -- John.


BERMAN: Well, that's interesting in and of itself. Jim Acosta at the White House. Thank you very much.

Perspective now from Maggie Haberman, "New York Times" White House correspondent and CNN political analyst; David Axelrod, former senior adviser to President Obama and a CNN senior political commentator, and David Gergen, former presidential adviser to Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton and a CNN Senior political analyst.

Maggie, first to you. What's going on behind the scenes at the White House tonight?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So there is as always, John, and you know this very well, the push pull with this President on getting him towards something. Several advisers have been urging him, you know, for a few days, but really in earnest this morning, you've got to send a signal that you're going to -- you're not blocking transition.

This is how we do this in this country. This needs to move forward. You don't have to say the word concede, which you'll note he didn't say and I don't think he's ever going to say as we've discussed a lot.

Then there were all sorts of other conversations he had throughout the day, including with Rudy Giuliani again. So as much as people complain about Giuliani and they all almost all do. Giuliani still does have the President's ear and that is important to know, because it's not just a fundraising ploy, you might see a resurgence of some of these lawsuits. But there is a recognition that basically the dominoes have fallen. In

terms of the Michigan certification -- that was key, as we understand it -- to Emily Murphy moving ahead with this, but she did write her letter, John in a way that was clearly designed to or seemed designed to not offend President Trump.

She didn't say the word "ascertainment." She did not refer to Joe Biden as the President-elect, at any point. She talked about threats to herself.

So I think there are a lot of different things going on here. But mostly what's going on is the beginning of the end.

BERMAN: Right. But the letter, just to be clear was legally ascertainment. It frees up the money for the President-elect.

HABERMAN: No question. But the letter -- the letter accomplished legally, something that the Biden team has been making the case. It was outrageous that it had been held up this long in the first place and that's unsurprising to me that they had been making that case, they should make that case.

But that letter was also written with at least another audience in mind.

BERMAN: And just one more thing, Maggie, this was more or less, as much of a concession as we'll ever get from President Trump, do you think?

HABERMAN: Absolutely. And he will probably take a step back in the other direction when he watches news coverage, because that's how this goes, but it won't matter. Because at this point, the government funding that should be available to the President-elect's team is now moving ahead.

BERMAN: So David Axelrod, Democrats, who like being nervous innately are nervous to begin with, I have to believe, a bit of a sigh of relief, more than a sigh of relief tonight.

Look, I think everyone knew that Joe Biden won the election. They had internalized that already. But this is the end of the fighting. This is when the work finally begins. Your reaction?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, well, I can't speak for all Democrats, because they are a nervous species. So there may still be some hand wringing until January 20th at noon, but clearly, this was a line of demarcation. And look, it's the most important one.

It really doesn't matter what Donald Trump says, it matters, what can be done in terms of a transition that allows Joe Biden to coordinate and his team to coordinate with people across the Federal government, and that's the step that was crossed today.

But I do want to point something out. Maggie talked about the letter that Emily Murphy wrote and her legitimate concerns about her own safety, let's be clear who put her in jeopardy. And this is the other element of what the President is doing by suggesting somehow that the election was stolen without any evidence, by suggesting that this was some sort of soft coup that was going on.

The President riled up his base, and put her in a position where if she did what her duty required, which is to recognize the obvious fact that Joe Biden was going to be the next President, that she would be committing an act of betrayal.

And this is the real danger of what the President is doing. He is going to hand Joe Biden a country more divided than it needs to be by trying to de-legitimate an election that was clearly won by Joe Biden,

BERMAN: Yes, not just Emily Murphy who received those threats because of the President, but election officials in states across the country, Secretaries of State, election workers, people doing their civic duty to make sure that the election gets run in the right way have been receiving threats because of what the President has done.

And I should say, David Gergen because of the cover that some Republican politicians have given him over the last nearly three weeks.

So what do they do? Now, we have already seen a few Republican members of Congress and senators come out and say, oh, now Joe Biden is the President-elect. You know, forget everything I said before, it's really odd.


DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Now, you know, the Republicans have acted miserably for the most part. There have been exceptions like Lamar Alexander and others that have stood up to the President and I think they have been helpful.

But they should understand that, yes, the President has done the right thing by allowing us to go forward, but he has still another vital step to take before Democrats can take any -- can feel sorry for him or pleased with him and that is it is vital that as President, tell his base and tell the whole country that he believes Joe Biden is a legitimate President, that he has not been put there by fraud.

Until he does that, Democrats have every reason to resent what he has done, the way he stirred up the base, where he is poisoning our politics still, you know, and they will neither forgive nor forget these last couple of weeks, unless he makes it clear that Joe Biden is the legitimate President of the United States.

BERMAN: David Axelrod, I saw you smirking there and that's because --

AXELROD: Well, no, look, I appreciate David's point. I would defer to Maggie Haberman who is one of the world's great experts on Donald Trump. But he is not going to do that.

Remember, he still claims that he won the popular vote in 2016. But for the fact that three million votes were somehow fraudulently cast in that election, his makeup does not allow for him to concede defeat. It does not allow for him to take a step of grace or patriotism and acknowledge this moment. He just won't do it.

And I don't think we should expect him to do it, and I think it's tragic. But that's Donald Trump.

BERMAN: So what about that, Maggie? I mean, is President Trump going to invite Joe Biden over for tea? Is Melania going to have Jill Biden over? Are they going to have the limo ride over to the Inauguration?

HABERMAN: Look, you never say never. You know, if Donald Trump felt that there was some advantage to himself in doing that, then I think he would do both of those things.

Joe Biden, as we talked about before, unlike most other incoming Presidents does not need a tour of the White House. He does not need to be told how grave the threats are globally or domestically.

He has been doing this for decades and he served in administration for eight years. But he does, you know, he does care about transitions. He does care about tradition. I think that I agree with David that I think Democrats are going to remain very angry at the things President Trump won't do. I agree with David Axelrod that the President is never going to do it.

I think Joe Biden is actually not one of the Democrats who needs that to happen. I don't think that he is taking it personally. I don't think that he considers it to be vital to him, whether the President does this or not.

He cares more about what he is going to do because Biden is one of the few people who has been pretty clear for the last two years to give him credit for this, on how Donald Trump will act in most cases, and I don't think he is expecting him to suddenly become somebody else.

BERMAN: You know, who could pick up the phone and should pick up the phone tonight is Mitch McConnell, David Gergen, a guy who has worked with Joe Biden for decades.

GERGEN: Absolutely. They were friends once. Yes, I'm glad you pointed that out, John. You know, when Beau Biden died, at the funeral, there was only one Republican senator who came and that was Mitch McConnell.

So I think Joe Biden can work with him. I'm looking forward to this today. But Axelrod's point, I agree it's very, very unlikely that Trump would do such a thing as to say that Joe Biden is legitimate.

However, I don't think Democrats ought to walk away from this issue. Fifty million Americans or more out there believe that he is coming to office by fraud. It seems to me the Democratic Party has a strong interest in pushing back on that theory, and just not allowing him to sit out there. Well, we can't get him to change. So why don't we just move on?

I don't think that's acceptable. I think what he is doing is unacceptable. BERMAN: Maggie Haberman, I want to thank you very much for your

reporting and help tonight. David Axelrod and David Gergen, stick around, we still have a lot to talk about, including much more on what this breaking news means for Joe Biden's attempt to set his agenda with a little bit less than two months until he sworn in as the 46th President.

We're going to have a live report and reaction from his campaign.

Also, the latest on the day's other big news, a third vaccine. What this news means as cases skyrocket and Americans ignore C.D.C. advisories about gathering for Thanksgiving. That's when 360 continues.



BERMAN: All right, the breaking news this evening. The Trump administration has finally given Joe Biden's team the green light to begin his transition to the presidency.

The leader of the General Services Administration who was holding up the decision, Emily Murphy, finally ascertained this evening that Biden had indeed won.

Tonight, the Biden transition team issued a statement, the reason in part, quote, "Today's decision is a needed step to begin tackling the challenges facing our nation, including getting the pandemic under control, and our economy back on track."

For more on what this means for the incoming President and his staff, new members of which were named today, we are joined by CNN's Jeff Zeleny in Wilmington, Delaware.

And Jeff, first of all, to an extent I think what happened tonight vindicates the patience that's been shown by the Biden transition team. But in addition to that, they got a whole lot of news with a whole lot of picks now filling out this Cabinet.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: John, and that has been part strategy here as this transition was being worked out and as the Michigan case and Pennsylvania case were happening, the Biden team had one thing on their mind that was moving forward and occupying the space of the new job.

And boy, they show that in spades today, clearly trying to keep all of us busy here, quite frankly, putting out a lot of, you know, new Cabinet members, and some of them are quite interesting.

The symbolism, John, is so striking. Certainly the substance is different with these Cabinet picks over the Trump administration. But the symbolism of so many of these.

Tony Blinken, of course, the Secretary of State nominee, a longtime adviser to Joe Biden has traveled around the world with him for nearly 20 years or so going back to this time at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

So certainly, they are friends and you know, and he's ready to do the job. But the Homeland Security Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, he is going to be the first Latino immigrant who could be in charge of the agency that handles immigration policy.

So on and on, as you see the list there, so clearly, the Biden administration had all of these ready to go. They have been seriously working on the transition throughout you know these things fall months and certainly over the last few weeks or so, John, but this was clearly by design.

They were not expecting necessarily though this G.S.A. ascertainment letter to come tonight. It took many of them, I'm told even by surprise.

BERMAN: Right, these picks, if confirmed, a lot of them will make history, Jeff.


ZELENY: They do indeed. Some history making choices and really, they are being elevated from other jobs from the Obama-Biden administration into the top roles. And of course, they almost all have to be confirmed as Cabinet secretaries.

But let's take a look at some of them a little more careful here. At the Department of Homeland Security, of course, this was an agency created after 9/11. It is in charge of the nation's immigration policy. But the choice for this is Alejandro Mayorkas. He is someone who will be the first Latino to head the Department. He is a former Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security. And he said he is also an immigrant, an immigrant to this country. So he would clearly be sending a very powerful signal here. He was also in charge of DACA.

That is something that -- so these are many of the things in their own biographies. They're going to change policies from the very beginning here, it's clear.

Now moving on to The Intelligence Community, few more important jobs than D.N.I., the Director of National Intelligence. This also was a position created after 9/11 to sort of centralize all the Intelligence and this would be the first woman to lead this agency, Avril Haines.

She is a former Deputy C.I.A. Director, a former Principal Deputy National Security Adviser in the Obama administration. She has worked also on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

So this is someone again, who has deep experience inside the government here. We're not talking about former governors, former senators who often fill these posts, these are people with deep government experience.

And then moving on to John Kerry, certainly not a new name, an old name, but he is going to be the climate czar, the Presidential Envoy for Climate Change, clearly trying to shine a light on how important fighting climate change is, also going to be a member of the National Security Council. That means they have a seat at the table in very important ways.

So when John Kerry is traveling around the world, you know that he has Joe Biden's word on him, I mean, they are so close. So this is something symbolic, as well as deeply substantive.

And finally, Janet Yellen, and we are told that this is going to be announced likely next week as the Biden transition team is announcing their economic policy team. There will be several other announcements then, but she would be also the first woman to lead the Treasury Department.

Of course, she was the chair of the Federal Reserve in the Obama administration back in 2014. She has been confirmed in a bipartisan way. She came from San Francisco, of course, was on the San Francisco Fed, so she has some progressive support as well.

And I noticed that Elizabeth Warren, who was mentioned for that, possibly at some point, she tweeted her support for her tonight. So John, all of these nominees are with one thing in mind, they think they can get them confirmed in the Senate even if it's a Republican Senate. They only need three Republican votes or so with Democrats to go with him.

So all of these are by design people to kind of hit the ground running, and they think can be confirmed. So we'll see what comes next. And he'll be introducing all of these National Security picks here in Wilmington, tomorrow -- John.

BERMAN: It would be very interesting to see that especially now that we have ascertainment, it changes the tone, I think of the entire thing. Jeff Zeleny, terrific reporting. Thanks so much for being with us.

Back with us, two former veterans of the White House, David Axelrod and David Gergen.

Ax, I want to start with you, you know, a lot of these people. You worked with some of them, just how does this series of picks strike you?

AXELROD: Well, it there are three things that strike me. One is that they are all people with deep experience. They're not political appointees, but they are people who have grown up in the National Security world.

They are people who are close to Biden, who have worked with him on foreign policy issues. When Tony Blinken travels the world as Secretary of State, people will know that he is speaking for the President of the United States because they'll know how close their relationship is.

Tony has been Deputy Secretary of State. He has been Deputy National Security Adviser and for years, he was Biden's top staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Jake Sullivan, who is going to become the National Security Adviser at

the White House played that same role for Biden in the White House. He was a top aide to Hillary Clinton at the State Department also. Deep ties both to foreign policy and to Biden, and all of them share a philosophy of engagement in the world of strengthening alliances, of using alliances to improve American Security and American prospects.

And it was interesting that Jim Mattis wrote an article that I think was published today in which he urged the foreign policy of the country to move in that direction.

And then finally, I would say diversity, you know, then Vice President; now the President-elect has promised diversity there. This is a historic slate of candidates, you know, on National Security, Janet Yellen and so on, in terms of gender in terms of ethnic background, Mayorkas at D.H.S., an immigrant. I think it's a very well-crafted and well-conceived slate that is consistent with what Joe Biden promised as a candidate.


BERMAN: A depth of experience, depth of relationship with Biden, and depth and diversity as well.

David Gergen, let's just stick with Anthony Blinken here, Secretary of State, maybe the most high profile pick here. What are the challenges that you think he faces as he heads into this job? The biggest challenges?

GERGEN: I think the main thing is to represent the President around the world. I can't imagine -- I imagine Joe Biden will want to invite various heads of state to Washington. Somebody is going to need to go out while he is in his first hundred days to these various capitals and talk to leaders.

And Tony Blinken is ideally suited for that. He does, as David Axelrod points out, he does speak for Biden. He is not a stranger to Biden. That makes him enormously -- it gives him a lot more power and leverage, in addition to the fact he is widely known as a very decent guy. So I think there's going to be strength in this.

John, I can't remember a time when the Democrats have had such a deep edge in foreign policy and national security. They really go through three or four levels down. You find real excellence.

And I think Joe Biden has chosen from that group, deftly, thoughtfully. Not only is he bringing talent and experience, but this diversity point, extremely important.

And the diversity is not just about having more women, which is terrific, having more people of color, which is terrific. He has also been best at keeping the two wings of his party aligned.

I mean, if you bring in John Kerry, you get somebody who -- he is close to personally already. They talk a lot already. But John Kerry has enormous respect, and within the climate community, within the environmental movement.

That environmental movement is very -- you know, it very tied in with the progressives of the Democratic Party. They have a John Kerry in there, really help to keep things knitted together, so that the wings of the party are closely united.

Janet Yellen does much the same. The immigrant is coming over to Homeland Security.

But, I think overall, especially in contrast to the outgoing administration, which has been sort of AI, this represents a very professional, thoughtful, first set of steps by Joe Biden and I think will be reassuring to people, not only in Wall Street and the financial community, but to groups who care so much about the environment, care about race relations.

They're seeing something which makes them very comfortable for the most part.

BERMAN: Yes, it struck me that Janet Yellen got the endorsement of Elizabeth Warren there, but also a glowing profile in "The Wall Street Journal" today. So if you have Elizabeth Warren and "The Wall Street Journal," you're covering a pretty broad range right there.

David Axelrod, David Gergen, great to see you both tonight. Thanks so much.

GERGEN: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: So with the Biden transition now, as of tonight, officially underway, President Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani has just made a major admission on his claims of voter fraud. The details when we continue.



BERMAN: We're at breaking news tonight that GSA has finally allowed President-elect Biden to officially start his transition. The move comes with the Trump campaigns efforts to fight the results in Michigan and Pennsylvania failing, they were trying to overturn the results of the elections in those states. It didn't happen.

Also, President Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, the same lawyer who repeatedly claimed with no evidence of ballot counting problems, admits he's exaggerated some of his comments.


RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: The only place may be worse is Michigan and particularly the city of Detroit. The city of Detroit probably had more voters than it had citizens. I'm exaggerating a bit. But all you have to do is look at statistical data. And you can see that the fraud was rampant and out of control.


BERMAN: I'm exaggerating a bit says Giuliani. Well, that says a lot.

Joining me now for their take on all this two of our political commentators, former Republican Senator Rick Santorum and S.E. Cupp, a conservative columnist and host of "S.E. CUPP UNFILTERED" here on CNN.

And S.E., I want to start with you, because over the last like hour since the GSA did what it did, you've seen Republicans who've been sitting on their hands or hiding their heads in the sand, coming out with these statements, congratulating President-elect Joe Biden. They've somehow found the courage to speak up and discuss the results of the election. Your thoughts on this?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I mean, for the past four years, we, especially in the media have heard Republicans in private, our x, y, z disgusted, disturbed, troubled, but publicly very silent, except in these moments where it really doesn't count. But, you know, where we're sort of everyone's doing it. I think, in fact, if I write another book, I'll call it in private, the great, you know, the great cowardice of Trump's GOP. But I think the calculus thus far has been twofold. One, I think Republicans have been scared that Trump is going to run a bunch of, you know, scam PACs to try and primary Republicans who weren't sufficiently Trumpy to line his own pockets and soothe his own ego, but still with a base behind him and some influence.

And secondly, I just think Republicans have been so emasculated by this president, that they've lost their identity and so they've almost become like teenagers about to go off to college for 18 years their parents have told them what to say and think and all of a sudden they're about to go and have to make their own decision. Republicans are sort of waking up to that reality that will Trump, Trump is going to be gone. And they're going to have to sort of rediscover who they are, what they think, what they believe in again, without someone like Trump just telling them constantly who they are and where to go.


BERMAN: So Rick Santorum, I know you think there's been feel, there's plenty to celebrate from the four years of the Trump administration and what he's accomplished, and maybe where it places the Republican Party going forward. But what does what Rudy Giuliani has been saying and Sidney Powell, the ones and former maybe future attorney of Donald Trump. Have, you know, how was their performance affected Republican abilities to embrace the President right now?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I think most people look at Rudy and Sidney Powell, and sort of look at it differently than sort of the main thrust of what the legal team has been doing. And I just don't see the Republican party the way seats, I don't know who you're talking to S.E. because I talk to a lot of Republicans all across the country. And I think most people, most Republicans feel like voter fraud is real, certainly not on the scale that has been alleged by Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani. But, you know, there is a lot of concern about the big changes that were made before this election with mail-in ballots and the impact that had on election.

So, I don't see everybody, you know, cowering away. I think a lot of Republicans, most Republicans I talked to are encouraging that we take a serious look at vote at the security features. And --

CUPP: Right, but --

SANTORUM: -- look at these, look at this information. So, I don't think anybody's carried away. I think there's going to be a lot of action after this election to talk about if we're, you know, these changes that we've made and the way we can, you know, the -- we have election week and months instead of Election Day. And that's a security issue. I think for a lot. I think a lot of Republicans are actually cheering the President for bringing this to light. So we can actually try to do something after this election is settled.


CUPP: Right, but Rick, the election was stolen is not the identity, the principal philosophy, the underlying identity of the Republican Party. No, I mean, it can't be if that's what you're saying the Republican Party is now within the Republican Party --


CUPP: It had an identity before Trump that identity included, being against raising the deficit, against tariffs and protectionism, pro- family, there were a lot of things that Republicans I know, like me, believed in that were completely morphed into whatever Trump said they should be once he got into office. And Republicans in Congress went along lockstep with Trump's total reimagining of the GOP, when he is gone they will have to decide they are again. They could still be the party of Trump, even when he's gone. They could also though have this moment of reckoning. And remember all the stuff they believed in before he told them not to.

SANTORUM: Well, let me just say is the person who wrote the book back in 2014 Blue Collar Conservative, I actually agreed with most of the changes that Donald Trump made in the Republican Party platform. I agreed with his ability to go out there and bring back in --

CUPP: And raise the deficit?

SANTORUM: Now look, I said most of the things. No, I didn't agree with everything that Donald Trump did, but his focus on working men and women and actually fighting for middle income Americans and lower income Americans it to me is something that the Republican Party should be absolutely all about. And I think that's one of the reasons he did as well as he did. It's not because of who he is. It's because what he stood for, and I think hopefully the Republican Party will learn from that and be the party of Middle America again.

BERMAN: Well, this is the discussion that will begin in the post-Trump presidency, that we will now enter in 58 days, and I welcome this discussion from both you coming on. I will only know Chris Krebs to the point that Senator Santorum made called this the most secure election in American history. So, that's out there from a Trump appointee.

SANTORUM: I'm not talking about the security I'm talking about, you know what, what happened -- security he was talking about, you know, having --

BERMAN: Boast being not cheated. If that's what he was talking about. But he was talking about the ballots being counted invalid, which is what an election is.

Senator Santorum, S.E. Cupp, we thank you both very much.

(voice-over): So, as the pandemic surge continues, Americans are ignoring warnings by the CDC and choosing to travel at the Thanksgiving holiday and numbers we haven't seen in months. All this is another vaccine maker announces results that when we continue.



BERMAN: Right their numbers surrounding the pandemic tonight they could not be more opposite and more alarming. According to latest figures, more than 148,000 new coronavirus cases are being reported today along with at least 767 deaths. This is a TSA reports more than 3 million travelers went through checkpoints at American airports this weekend. A lot of people on the road all despite the Centers for Disease Control urging people not to travel for Thanksgiving.

Also today, news from AstraZeneca that is experimental coronavirus vaccine is at least 70% effective 70% on average.

Joining me are Dr. William Schaffner, a professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University who is advising the CDC on distribution of any vaccine and Dr. Celine Gounder, a member of the Biden-Harris transition COVID-19 advisory board.

And Dr. Gounder, I just want to start with you with the breaking news. Ascertainment. You know President-elect Joe Biden is finally getting the funds to run the official transition. Up until now you haven't been able to talk to anyone inside the administration, Dr. Fauci said he still hadn't talked to anyone inside the transition team. Has that changed over the last two hours? And if not, when's the first call going to happen?

CELINE GOUNDER, MEMBER, BIDEN-HARRIS TRANSITION COVID-19 ADVISORY BOARD: Yes, I don't have any news to report in terms of transition activities per se and it has only been a couple hours, but I can tell you we are absolutely relieved the idea that we can move forward with our work, which is frankly work of saving lives. There is a lot of work ahead of us and so we're just really happy to be able to move forward with that.


BERMAN: Dr. Schaffner, the CDC held a virtual meeting today to discuss who received the vaccine first. You attended you were part of this, what did you learn?

WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, PROFESSOR, DIVISION OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES AT VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: Well, they didn't take a formal vote John. But health care workers who care for people with COVID are first in line alone with people who work in nursing homes and the nursing home residents also. And then the next group is likely to be essential workers, people who keep our organization, our society working, the average person, a lot of those people are people of color, and come from lower socioeconomic strata. And those are people who have been disproportionately affected by the virus. So that's very important. And then after that, people who are aged 65 and older, more severely affected by the virus and people with underlying illnesses. That's likely the way it's going to go. But it will stretch over months. We can't vaccinate a 330 million people in a week and a half.

BERMAN: So, Dr. Gounder to that point, one debate during today's meeting was whether or not residents of nursing homes and other long term care facilities should receive the vaccine in their first group. And one of the arguments against it is that these residents are frail, and maybe they will hire about a higher mortality rate in these facilities to begin with, and that could erode confidence in the vaccine early on. What do you think of that argument?

GOUNDER: Well, I think ultimately, you have to focus on who is truly at highest risk, and protect that population. And that very much does include the nursing home population. So I think it's really incumbent on us to do a good job of preparing the public, to do the appropriate messaging. We know that if even if we were not in the middle of a pandemic, even if you were not vaccinating people, that some of these people would die of natural causes. And so, we just need to give people a sense of, you know, here's what is what we should expect what would be normal under normal circumstances, and not to jump the gun and assume that because somebody gets sick and dies that's related to the vaccine.

BERMAN: So Dr. Schaffner, I want to talk about Thanksgiving. My kids are lucky enough to be in a public school as hybrid learning. And they were in class today. And they were telling me that half the kids in their school were out, because they're quarantining, getting ready for Thanksgiving. And on the one hand, I was thinking, oh, they're being careful, they're trying to get ready to maybe see their grandparents. But on the other hand, it indicated to me that half the families in this school are still planning on having big gatherings with maybe multi generational groupings. You know, what are your concerns? What do people need to know as they head into the Thanksgiving holiday?

SCHAFFNER: Well, that's sort of Thanksgiving, frankly John, that gives me heartburn. Because I'm very concerned that people gathering together for prolonged periods of time, very intimately, indoors is exactly the kind of environment in which this virus likes to spread. So, that's just inherently dangerous. This is a COVID Thanksgiving. If we're careful, this Thanksgiving, the people whom we love will be with us during the next Thanksgiving in 2021. This is the one where we really should be showing a lot of restraint and a lot of caution.

BERMAN: Dr. Gounder, I see you nodding an approval there. And of course, you know that I've seen the pictures at these crowded airports over the last few days, people are on the road, they're on the move.

GOUNDER: Yes, it really has me very, very worried. You know, this is a Thanksgiving you should be celebrating strictly in your household bubble. And that could be a household bubble of family or roommates, whoever that that includes. But this is a moment in which we really do need to make some short term sacrifices for the long term benefit for our family, for our friends, for our communities.

BERMAN: Dr. Schaffner back to the vaccine for a minute. What's the biggest challenge do you think, in getting this out and convincing people to take it when the time comes?

SCHAFFNER: John it has everything to do with trust. People are concerned about safety. They've heard we've moved very fast. They're afraid we're cutting corners. We haven't cut any corners that the data are going to be examined very carefully by several expert advisory groups, one for the FDA, one from the CDC. And if we then release this vaccine, and say that it is safe and effective, we're going to have to demonstrate that. Some of us will have to take it to say yes, we've gotten it and then we'll just have to provide reassurance, information in the most open, direct way we can.

BERMAN: Dr. Schaffner, Dr. Gounder, thank you both for what you do. And thanks for being with us tonight.

SCHAFFNER: Thank you.

BERMAN: So, it really does sound like a story of a long ago Watergate dirty trick playbook raises in Florida allegedly influenced by dark money and for all intents and purposes, Phantom candidates.


Up next, the CNN investigation.


BERMAN: Again, tonight President-elect Biden is finally received word from the GSA that his transition can formally begin. Meanwhile, in Florida there are a lot of questions about three state senate races and each of the races there was a candidate who did no campaigning in hell no fundraisers, instead, there's evidence to suggest they were shill candidates who were planted by so-called dark money nearly untraceable contributions. The allegation is their presence of the races were meant to siphon votes from Democratic candidates.

More now from CNN senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was the closest of races. Incumbent Democrat Jose Javier Rodriguez lost his Florida State Senate seat by just 32 votes. The Republican challenger who won --

[20:55:02] ILEANA GARCIA (R-FL) SENATE CANDIDATE: I'm Ileana Garcia.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): -- Ileana Garcia, a founder of Latinos For Trump. But there was a third candidate in this race playing the role of spoiler. His name, Alex Rodriguez, sharing the same last name as the Democrat in the race and promoted as a liberal. Alex Rodriguez got more than 6,000 votes. Jose Rodriguez says the straw candidate cost him his seat by pulling away Democrat votes.

(on-camera): Have you ever met him, seen him, talk to him? Has he been involved in any debates?

JOSE JAVIER RODRIGUEZ, FMR FLORIDA STATE SENATOR: I didn't even know what he looked like until after the race and investigative reporters tract him down.


GRIFFIN (voice-over): In State Senate District Nine, Democrat Patricia Sigman lost to a Republican by just 2% of the vote. Here once again no one ever saw the supposedly liberal third candidate.

SIGMAN: She had no website, she never participated in any of the debates or forums, never showed up anywhere. She wasn't even registered to vote until she filed.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): In these races and one other ghost candidates in Florida were supported by mysterious PACs, which sent out hundreds of thousands of dollars in mostly identical advertising mailers making those candidates seem liberal. Yet CNN has learned that people behind the mailers were all Republicans.


GRIFFIN (voice-over): Ben Wilcox, Research Director of the nonpartisan watchdog group Integrity Florida says no doubt someone running a dark money campaign impacted at least one state Senate seat possibly do.

WILCOX: Florida is loosely regulated when it comes to financing of campaigns. It's probably legal. But, you know, it really shouldn't be.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Here's what we know, two brand new political action committees registered on the same date at the same minute and one day later received a combined $550,000 in donations from the same company. But paperwork says the backs were started by two young women whose social media is filled with pictures of beaches and boats. But CNN could find no evidence either of them or their PACs had ever been involved in politics.

Then, on the very same day, both PACs paid the same printing company, all of that $550,000 for the flyers. It's their only expenditure. The printing company and one of the PACs are linked to this man, Alex Alvarado, a Tallahassee based Republican consultant and former Republican Congressional intern. A printing company is run out of this house owned by his mom and stepdad. The PAC started by a friend of his girlfriend's. And despite being involved in ghost candidate advertising with very liberal and progressive ideas. Every one of them is a registered Republican. That even includes the ghost candidate Alex Rodriguez, who was registered Republican until this election, and none of them are talking.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've been looking for Alex, is he around?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, he'd be back tomorrow, though.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): That's actually Alex Rodriguez, who lied here to a local Miami TV reporter about his own identity. The money flowed into the PACs from one company, proclivity. It's registered in Delaware as a corporation, under the name Richard Alexander.

(on-camera): What or who is proclivity? The trail ends here at a strip mall in Atlanta, Georgia. This is where proclivity has a mailbox drop, but nothing else.

(voice-over): Democrats like Patricia Sigman are calling for an investigation into who paid for all of this.

SIGMAN: They don't run in order to win, they run in order to just try to siphon off votes. And, you know, they don't have a website. They don't campaign. They don't show up. They -- they're ghosts.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Florida's Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee denies any knowledge whatsoever of the mysterious money that helped in three of their races.


BERMAN: And you're Griffin joins me now. Drew, what a piece of reporting there. I know you've reached out to them. But when you say no one is talking you mean the Republican strategist, the people who ran these PACs and even the ghost candidates?

GRIFFIN: I'm telling you, not a one is talking. They all are shunning our questions, and that includes anybody or anything that is behind that half million dollars in dark money, John.

BERMAN: All the silence tells you something. And if this is all legal, I guess Drew. What's to prevent it from happening again?

GRIFFIN: You know, that is the big concern at Florida watchdog group is really concerned. This is a trend that's going to spread outside of Florida across the U.S. We've seen spoiler candidates before but we've never seen ghost spoiler candidates supported by this kind of dark money.

Listen, you know, Florida is run by Republicans. It will take Republicans to find out who is behind this. Right now, John, they're not showing the least bit of curiosity. John?

BERMAN: Drew Griffin with the reporting and the receipts tonight, terrific work. Thanks so much Drew.


Reminder, don't miss Full Circle, Anderson's digital news show. You can catch it streaming at 6:00 p.m. eastern at circle or watch it there and on the CNN app at any time On Demand.

The news continues, so hand over Chris for "CUOMO PRIMETIME".