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Interview With Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT); Source Says Scramble For Trump Pardons Turn Crazy; U.S. Daily COVID Deaths Hit 3,303, Close To New High; While COVID Hospitalizations Hit Record 113,000-Plus; Fauci: Adverse Reactions To Vaccine To Be Expected; Former Houston Police Captain Pursuing Conspiracy Theory Out On $30,000 Bond; Russia Responds To CNN/Bellingcat Investigation Into Navalny Poisoning. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired December 16, 2020 - 20:00   ET


KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He could try to ignore it or fight or he could turn the club back into his own private residence if he really felt the need to -- Erin.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Right. Of course. You know he'd miss a lot then that he holds dear. Thank you very much, Kate, and thanks to all of you.

It's time for Anderson.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. A former Houston police captain is charged tonight with ramming a man's truck, running him off the road and putting a gun to his head because he thought the man was some kind of voter fraud kingpin. He was not. He was an air conditioner repairman.

The former cop said he suspected the man had three quarters of a million fraudulent ballots in his truck. There were none, just tools and spare parts, quoting the local District Attorney now, "His alleged investigation was backward from the start, first alleging a crime that occurred and then trying to prove it happened." The incident took place shortly before the election and it's not hard to see why.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The biggest problem we have is if they cheat with the ballots, that's my biggest problem. That's the only thing -- that's the only thing I worry about.

You don't wake up and not read a story about it. Every day there's cheating with the ballots.


COOPER: The President was wrong about the ballots, but right about the story being everywhere because repeat after me, he was spreading it. That's what he was doing, so were his enablers and so are his enablers on Capitol Hill and they were on full display today on Capitol Hill. It's become in technical parlance, a self-licking ice cream cone.

It's an old federal government term for a self-perpetuating system that exists only to perpetuate itself, which is what the whole election fraud conspiracy theory has become, a toxic and allegedly nearly deadly self-licking ice cream cone.

Despite a total lack of evidence, a total lack of evidence, the President and his enablers pushing the voter fraud myth relentlessly, then citing the fact that people are talking about it as justification for pushing it.

And so it goes around and around until angry mobs fill the streets to protest a stolen election that was not stolen; until a majority of Republicans in recent polling now believe despite all evidence to the contrary, the election was rigged, which as with the legendary ice cream cone, Republican lawmakers are now deciding to justify new hearings on the subject today.


SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): A large percentage of the American public does not believe the November election results are legitimate. This is not a sustainable state of affairs in our Democratic Republic.


COOPER: So normally, you might think, the next sentence would be he's speaking truth to those people saying you're wrong. You've been misinformed. You've been misled. But that's not what he is doing.

That is Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson, citing the unsustainable state of affairs that his hearings are helping sustain, in fact, and here's Missouri Republican, Josh Hawley.


SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): Every one of them told me that they felt they had been disenfranchised, that their votes didn't matter, that the election had been rigged. These are normal, reasonable people. These are not crazy people.

These are reasonable people and who, by the way, have been involved in politics, they've won, they've lost. They've seen it all. These are normal folks living normal lives, who firmly believe that they have been disenfranchised.


COOPER: Except they haven't and he is encouraging that, because in part he has been telling them they have every reason to believe that and then citing their concerns about this falsehood, as reason to continue perpetuating, said falsehood, some of which, according to the F.B.I. were stoked by Russia as part of a disinformation campaign targeting the 2020 election.

Democratic Senator Gary Peters latching on to that recognized the hearing for what it was and called it out.


SEN. GARY PETERS (D-MI): Whether intended or not, this hearing gives a platform to conspiracy theories and lies and it is a destructive exercise that has no place in the United States Senate.

JOHNSON: I can't sit by here and listen to this and say that this is not disinformation in this hearing today. This is getting information we have to take a look at to restore confidence in our election integrity. We're not going to be able to just move on without bringing up these irregularities, examining them and providing an explanation and see where there really are problems so we can correct it moving forward. Senator Paul --

PETERS: Mr. Chairman, I've got to respond to that. I mean, you're saying I'm putting out disinformation.


PETERS: Well, one, I had nothing to do with this report.

JOHNSON: You lied repeatedly.

PETERS: I did not --

JOHNSON: You lied repeatedly in the press that I was spreading Russian -- Russian disinformation and that was an outright lie and I told you to stop lying and you continued to do it.

PETERS: Mr. Chairman, this is not about airing your grievances. I know what -- I don't know what rabbit hole you're running down --

JOHNSON: You talked about Russia disinformation.

PETERS: You're running down rabbit holes --


COOPER: And here we are, again, without any evidence, a rabbit's -- allegations demand evidence and that extraordinary ones demand more.

Yet time and again, in court case after court case, it simply has not been there. Ron Johnson can puff up his chest and act tough all he wants, but the evidence isn't there. And no amount of hearings where they are just airing stuff that does not hold up in court makes any sense.


COOPER: Judges have tossed out case after case after case because of lack of evidence, lack of merit, lack of standing all the way up to the conservative dominated Supreme Court.

Attorney General Barr has said there was no systemic fraud. Georgia's top election officials, all Republicans have. But millions of Americans haven't gotten the message because one American in particular is feeding them a diet of disinformation and his enablers, like you just saw are just going along for the ride.


BRIAN KILMEADE, FOX NEWS CHANNEL HOST: Do you worry about the country being divided as if it goes to inauguration and they still feel that way? And you still feel that way?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I worry about the country having an illegitimate President, that's what I worry about. A President that lost and lost badly. This wasn't like a close election.

You look at Georgia. We won Georgia big. We won Pennsylvania big. We won Wisconsin big. I got 75 million and they say I lost. I didn't lose. The election was rigged.


COOPER: That man is a charlatan, what he is just saying there is just complete, utter BS. And he is saying it. I mean, he was the President of the United States. He still is the President of the United States for now for a couple more days.

I mean, that's just that's like -- that's the snake oil salesman talking. For all we know, maybe he believes, I don't really care, but it's not true. And I don't think he believes it. Of course, he doesn't believe it. However wrong or delusional or mendacious, he may be at least he's, you know, upfront about being a liar. At least, he is just blatant and so over the top that anybody who has reasonable disposition would see he is lying. At least he's not couching it in weasel words like these.


JOHNSON: I don't see anything dangerous about evaluating information, about doing legitimate congressional oversight. Nothing dangerous about that whatsoever.


COOPER: That is him bowing to the President constantly. Nothing dangerous about that, Mr. President. You're right, Mr. President.

Here's the harm. Where's the harm, he wonders? His colleague, Democrat Chris Murphy, of Connecticut supplies the answer.


SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): Because you have a majority of Republicans in this country who believe that Joe Biden won the election fraudulently, when there's no evidence that that happens. And that belief as it festers, and it grows, this idea that if Democrats win, it has to be because of fraud, it does eventually lead to the voters will being overturned, and that is the end of American democracy. Don't just assume that this system is going to be around for another

240 years. This is a miracle that we have held this together, thus far. It is just a series of choices that we make.


COOPER: Senator Murphy joins us now. Senator Murphy, there was one of the line from your speech on the Senate floor that struck me. You said, quote, "You cannot at the same time love America and hate democracy." Do you think the Republicans who are supporting President Trump's efforts to overturn the election hate democracy?

MURPHY: Well, they are destroying democracy. They're destroying democracy and I'm not engaging in hyperbole here. I had tough words for my Republican colleagues on the floor last week for good reason. There are a lot of flag waving Republican leaders out there who are undermining the faith that we all have in fair elections, because their allegiance is first and foremost, to Donald Trump. They're willing to do anything to keep him in power, even if it means overturning the will of the electorate in Georgia, in Pennsylvania, in Wisconsin.

And well, this election in the end really wasn't close enough for them to steal while maintaining a straight face. If this is the tactic that they will employ, if they are willing to just overturn an election result because if a Democrat won, well, it must be because of fraud even if we can't find it, well, then there will be a close enough election in 2022, maybe an election that decides control of the Senate, there will be an election in 2024.

Maybe the presidency itself that will be overturned by Republican election officials that have been told by their leaders that there's fraud even if you can't find it, and that is how democracy dies. That is how we all walk away from this experiment because if it's not the voters that decide who controls the Senate, if it's Republican election officials, then I'm not sure we can all stay in this project together.

So yes, I think this is really serious and Ron Johnson and his ilk who fuel these conspiracy theories, who undermine the results of the 2020 election, you know, I think they will rue the day they decided to do this if and when our democracy crumbles.


COOPER: You know, it's like the President when he always says, well, people are talking. People are talking about this. I hear people talking about this.

Just because people are talking about it. I mean, in this case, we are talking about it because the President has been pushing this and his enablers have been pushing as well.

But just because people have the wrong idea about something and have been given misinformation. I mean, isn't it the job of leaders to stand up? I mean, I'm not talking about the President because that's not going to happen.

But these senators to stand up and say to their constituents, you know what, I know you're hearing all this stuff, but court after court has looked at this, and in courts, they're not even presenting the same evidence that they're talking about on social media, because that won't even hold up. No lawyer will actually -- a reputable lawyer -- will actually bring that to court.

I mean, that's what leadership is supposed to be doing, not holding hearings, where they're saying, well, you know what, all my constituents are talking about it. And they just -- they believe this, and so we're looking into it, when it's been looked into, and it's been rejected.

MURPHY: Yes, I mean, Josh Hawley is right. There are regular patriotic Americans out there who don't believe that Joe Biden is actually President, and you know why? Because as patriotic Americans, they've been told to listen to the President of the United States, to listen to U.S. senators, and so when the President and U.S. senators tell them over and over and over again, that the election was rigged, they believe it, not because they're crazy, but because they have faith that people in positions of power are going to tell them the truth.

So this becomes this circular logic in which Republicans say, well, we've got to talk about this because everybody thinks that the election is rigged. By the way, the election was rigged, everybody. There's no way out of that sort of black hole, downward spiral if Republicans are willing to stir up the conspiracy theories, and then claim that because people are listening to them, we all of a sudden have to talk about it.

And by the way, this also kind of serve some other Republican ends. Republicans want to undermine government in general. They really don't believe the government can solve any problems.

And so by undermining elections and making people believe that everybody that gets elected is illegitimate, it makes it really hard for government to do anything good for people.

COOPER: I want to play something else you said in the Senate floor speech.


MURPHY: Republicans have decided -- not all Republicans -- but far too many have decided that if democracy can't keep Trump in power, then democracy ceases to have any real purpose.

Because to Republicans who are supporting these continued efforts to invalidate the election, their loyalty is to Donald Trump, not to the nation or our system of government. Their number one goal is to keep Trump in power, and if that means throwing out the election, turning America into something other than a democracy in which the voters get to choose their leaders, then so be it.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Do you think politics in the U.S. can go back to some, you

know, it doesn't have to -- what they were before President Trump, but to something that at least you have leadership trying to support the laws and the norms of our democracy.

MURPHY: So I think this speaks to a deeper problem and that is that people all around the world are starting to question democracy. This assault on the 2020 election doesn't happen outside of a broader conversation that's happening.

Right now, democracy isn't delivering for people in America and around the world. Wages are stagnant, economic mobility is out of reach.

All of a sudden, people are thinking to themselves, well, is democracy really going to produce for me what I need in order to leave my kids a better world.

And so when anti-Democrats like Donald Trump come along, or Viktor Orban in Hungary, or Erdogan in Turkey, people start to listen. And so that's not to excuse what Republicans are doing, spinning up these conspiracy theories, but if American democracy is going to survive, we have to do more than just say elections aren't rigged. We actually have to repair democracy. We have to make sure that the billionaires and the corporations and the plutocrats don't get everything they want from democracy, and regular people do.

If we don't do that, then I don't know that democracy can survive in the long run.

COOPER: Senator Chris Murphy, I appreciate your time tonight. It's sobering, but I appreciate it.

MURPHY: Thanks.

COOPER: We should note we asked Senator Johnson to come on the program tonight but as of air time, we have not heard back.

We're now on the phony election fraud fallout as well as new reporting on the President's apparent desire to use the Justice Department as an instrument of vengeance. Jim Acosta joins us now with that.

So what are you learning about the President's last ditch effort to try to overturn the duly certified election results, which is not going to happen, but his allies might try?


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, Anderson, the charade continues. I mean, we've been talking about this January 6th date when they are supposed to read and tally up the electoral votes in the House of Representatives, and officially put Joe Biden over the top once again, as the incoming President.

And what I'm hearing from a source close to the White House, is that White House advisers are tracking the number of Republican senators that they believe could sign on to that effort. And so this could get messy on January 6th. It might not just be House Republicans who are making this kind of noise on the House floor. They may be doing it with the support of Senate Republicans that obviously has, you know, people nervous that this could potentially spiral into something quite ugly.

Obviously, it is not going to prevent Joe Biden from becoming President because the Democrats control the House of Representatives. But that prospect is still out there and part of the reason why is, you've laid it out perfectly, Anderson, over the first 14 minutes of your show. Republicans like Senator Ron Johnson, are in fear of President Trump, even though he is leaving office. They fear the President and they fear his base.

COOPER: Jim Acosta. Appreciate. Thanks. Coming up next, why it's beginning to look like Black Friday at the White House when it comes to people clamoring for pardons. Later on what's becoming -- well, what is about to become deadliest night of the pandemic the next new hope on the vaccine front and how soon it is now expected to arrive?



COOPER: There's new reporting tonight, the President preparing to use the criminal justice system to reward allies with pardons, potential recipients know it and are all beating down the White House door. CNN's Pamela Brown broke the story and joins us now.

So what are you learning about the volume of pardon requests the White House is receiving and whom they're coming from?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, we're told from sources familiar that hundreds of people have been reaching out to the White House, to senior White House officials since the election, since Trump lost the election because they know in these final weeks, this is their last chance to get their pardon requests in front of the President.

They know this is a President who likes to use his pardon power. He is not afraid to go out of bounds with it. And he's also transactional, he likes to make deals. And so some of these people that I've spoken to are hoping that their loyalty to the President over the last few years will pay off, that the President will either get this person a pardon, or a friend or a family member, or clients of lobbyists and lawyers.

As one source told me tonight that I was just talking to, Anderson, they said it's really coming in from all over the place. And so that's the dynamic you're seeing right now with the White House being inundated with these pardon requests from all over the place.

In fact, they had to create a spreadsheet to keep tabs and all the different people making the requests and who the requests are for. Now, the White House Counsel's Office has been working on this, the President has reviewed some of these cases and the pros and cons and so forth of that. He has been asking his aides and allies for a while who he should pardon.

And we should note that at the end of any administration, it's very common for there to be a rush in terms of looking at who to pardon. But I am told from officials I've spoken with that this is above and beyond what you would typically see at the end of administration with people going around the official process, D.O.J. and going directly to senior White House officials, the Chief of Staff, the White House Counsel's Office, the Vice President, if they can't get in touch with Trump himself, as they are all trying to lobby for themselves or for their clients or for their friends and family.

COOPER: Yes, and the President show virtually no interest in the traditional Justice Department pardon process, which there one. What's the latest in whether he's expected to pardon his adult children or even himself?

BROWN: Well, I'm told that he has looked at or considered a pardoning providing clemency for a couple of dozen -- around a couple of dozen people in his orbit. And of course, that would include the preemptive part, as we discussed for his children, Rudy Giuliani, his lawyer. It has not been rolled out. I'm told for a self-pardon.

Although, sources I've spoken to her saying that is not an actively part of this discussion right now. But of course, we know the President has previously been very interested in the idea of self- pardons. He has asked his aides about it. He is trying to learn about it.

So it certainly has not been rolled out at this point, and I'm also told he has been looking at people like the Trump Board, longtime CFO, Alan Weissberger, who was under scrutiny for the Stormy Daniels payment.

So he has really been looking at a lot of people in his orbit, who, in his mind, he thinks could be targeted, could be in legal trouble, could be targeted for political reasons. And also, of course, he wants payback as well. He feels like he can use his pardon power for payback with the Russia investigation -- Anderson.

COOPER: And I know, lastly, you also have some reporting about the President's behavior and state of mind when people try to discuss with him the reality of leaving office on January 20.

BROWN: Yes, it's interesting that he has seen this pardon frenzy right now, which is a clear sign that his term is coming to an end. At the same time, he is really delusional, according to officials on terms of accepting the election results, even in the wake of the Electoral College certification.

Sources describe him as being simply petulant, throwing a temper tantrum. He has even thrown out he is not going to leave the White House on Election Day. Now, people that we've spoken to don't believe he will actually not leave the White House. They're trying to steer his attention toward post White House what he should do.

But certainly, even with all of this evidence and information that he has lost this election, Anderson, he is still not willing to admit that.

COOPER: Pamela Brown, fascinating reporting. I appreciate it. Thank you.

Joining us now, CNN chief political analyst, Gloria Borger and CNN political commentator, Van Jones. Gloria, people speak around the President seems to speak of him as a child, as one would a child like, well, we're now we're trying to distract him. He's unhappy. So we're now we're distracting him with talking about you know, what his post- election life might look like. I mean, this is an adult, supposedly,

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Supposedly, and they talk about him as someone who throws tantrums, and they're not sure when they can talk to him. I mean, that sounds like any two or three-year- old that I've ever raised.

So, of course, it's childish, it's chaotic. This is how the world of Donald Trump runs. The guardrails, if there ever were any, Anderson are off, right now, and all they want to do, it seems, is keep him calm until January 20th.

What is so completely illogical to me, though, and Pam hinted at this is that here's a President who is completely preoccupied with the power of the pardon that comes generally at the end of a President's term. But at the same time, he refuses to admit that it is actually the end of his term.

And yet, he wants to talk about pardons. Go figure that one.


COOPER: You know, Van, the whole pardon thing. I mean, it's like the -- you know, what was it -- the opening scene of "Godfather 2" where, you know, there's the wedding going on, and all these people are lined up to get favors from the father of the bride on the wedding day. I mean, this is like what happens in, you know, countries that have ruling families that have been entrenched in power and are corrupt.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it's funny because I am actually -- you know, I'm pro-pardon and pro-clemency. I'm a criminal justice person, I think governors should be much more aggressive. I think Presidents should be much more aggressive in trying to find those cases where there's been abuses of power, or they've been -- sentences have been too long, or someone has changed their life and they deserve -- I think governors and Presidents should do a lot more of that.

President Obama did a lot of that, but he had a system for doing it, and a process for doing it. And what you see here is, you know, that power, which I think is an important counterbalance to, I think a federal prison system that's gotten out of control being used, but being used no system, no structure, no process, so that means there's going to be a cloud hanging over all these pardons.

I think that I would love to see a lot of people who are serving sentences way too long, especially for drug offenses, be able to come home and be able to come home in an orderly manner. But that doesn't seem to be what's going on at this point. It seems to be a little bit more of a free for all.

It puts me in a funny position because I'd like to see more pardons. I want to see more process though for it so we know it's fair and it is not about favoritism.

COOPER: Gloria, Jeffrey Rosen is going to be taking over as acting Attorney General next week. Do you think the President will push Rosen to appoint a special counsel to look into Hunter Biden?

BORGER: Does the sun rise? Yes, I think he will. And I don't know how far he's going to get. Rosen gave an interview in which he sounded like he said he just had kind of a punch list that he wants to get through, which sounds to me like he wants to tie up loose ends and not start anything new.

I think the question we have to ask right now is that if the President believes that Rosen won't do it, there are reports that he is looking to figure out whether he can actually appoint a special counsel himself.

We don't think he can, but I'm not a legal scholar. So I don't know whether there is any legal way for him to get around that. But of course, he wants a special counsel because this is about vengeance. This is about retribution. This is about delegitimizing Joe Biden's election and hurting his family. That's what he wants to do.

COOPER: Van, obviously, the President operates on revenge and fires those who don't get in line, you know, with seeking to punish his perceived enemies. Do you see F.B.I. Director Chris Wray's job in peril in the coming weeks? I mean, there's been reporting to that effect, as well as potentially C.I.A. Director, Gina Haspel and others?

JONES: Well, listen, you know, all bets are off at this point. And, you know, something needs to be done in the wake of all of this. You know, we've had a system where there was almost an honor system, especially after Nixon, where you had Presidents that understood, you really want to have that independent Department of Justice. You really want to have -- do everything you can to make sure that it looks like the laws are being enforced fairly, because that is key to social cohesion.

Once you start figuring out that you get as much justice as you can buy, you get as much justice as you can kind of associate yourself with people in power to get access to, now you don't have law and order. You don't have a rule of law. You have rule of a person and that's what a king is about.

So, you know, all bets are off. But I tell you, if I'm Joe Biden, I hope that Joe Biden has as a number one priority, reinstating all the whistleblowers who got knocked out, all of these people, especially people, you know, not political appointments, necessarily, but there are people who lost their jobs. So they were trying to do something right and they got fired. He should try to figure out a way to send a signal back through the

Federal family that you know, you will be -- there can be some help for you later on when the tables turn.

COOPER: Van Jones and Gloria Borger. Thank you.

As the President is deep into pardons and conspiracy theories, we are close to hitting a new high in the number of coronavirus deaths today. Latest figures as well as potentially positive news on the vaccine rollout when we continue.



COOPER: We're on the verge what could be the deadliest single day in the pandemic so far. Right now the U.S. has recorded more than 3,300 deaths today alone, the exact numbers 3,303, just three shy of the highest said five days ago. In fact of the top five deadliest days all had been this month. Also tonight we've once again set a new high for those currently hospitalized that figures 113,069.

Earlier today, Dr. Anthony Fauci said emergency approval for a second coronavirus vaccine. This one by Moderna could come as early as tomorrow. Dr. Fauci also said that with Americans now being vaccinated it's inevitable that certain people will experience allergic reactions. He was responding to a report confirmed by state health officials in Alaska that a health worker with no known history of severe allergic reaction vaccine suffered such reaction after receiving the Pfizer vaccine.


We also have late words night of pharmacists potentially uncovering more doses of the Pfizer vaccine than was originally believed to have been shipped out.

Joined now by our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta and CNN medical analyst, Dr. Leana Wen, a former Baltimore health commissioner and a visiting professor at George Washington University.

So, Sanjay the level of death and illness we're seeing, I mean is this the impact of people who gathered together for Thanksgiving, this kind of a wave from that?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it seems to b. I mean, we're sort of in that that window now of time, the exposures that happened over Thanksgiving, and we know a lot of people traveled over Thanksgiving, less than last year, but still a lot more than any public health official would have liked. But we can see the graph now and we could sort of chart the graph after other major holidays this year as well, Memorial Day, July 4th, and now Thanksgiving, and you can sort of see what happens pretty predictably after that.

You know, what's different, as you know, is that Memorial Day on July 4th, I mean, if they were still warmer weather, holidays, people could largely be outside and that probably goes a long way toward bringing the curve back down. The concern now is that people are largely going to be gathering indoors. And, you know, week from now is roughly his Christmas Eve, and then New Years and that's the real concern is that we're not really going to get a break from this increase overall and viral transmission.

COOPER: Yes. Dr. Wen, every person in Northern California are going to begin a new stay-at-home order tomorrow night here in New York to help commissioners as hospitals to shift quote, crisis hospital management. Christmas Eves, a week from tomorrow, New Year's Eve a week after that, what's your message to people who are still planning to get together with loved ones?

LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, my message to them Anderson is, please don't. Because all we have to do is look around the country and see the numbers the staggering toll of coronavirus that we're seeing, and those numbers of 3,300 and counting deaths today. Soon, we're going to reach at this rate more than 4,000 deaths every single day. And there's something that we can each do to be the heroes right now. We are the ones who can make a difference by staying home and not gathering indoors with our loved ones. I know this is really hard to do. I know that everyone is eager to see our loved ones. But with the vaccine actually here, we just have to get through this really challenging winter ahead and make that very difficult sacrifice.

COOPER: Sanjay, the healthcare worker in Alaska who had this severe allergic reaction, I understand the person apparently did not have a history of allergies. Do you know more about this?

GUPTA: Yes. So, I think you're right that we're not here any kind of particular history, we got some details, the person got the allergy. And as is the protocol, people are told to wait for at least 15 minutes after the vaccine is administered. Within 10 minutes, the person started feeling flushed, you know, just the feeling of flushness.

A little bit of a rash, took Benadryl. The Benadryl helped a little bit but person was still having symptoms. And eventually, they went and got epinephrine and needed a couple of doses of epinephrine and even an epinephrine drip for a little bit of time.

So it was, you know, as a significant allergy sounds like. The person did recover is doing well. And, you know, it is worth pointing out we were looking at some of the data today, if you look at vaccines sort of across the board, and every vaccines, different flu vaccines, for example. Oftentimes people are concerned about allergies to eggs because they have albumin in them. But allergies occur about one in a million times severe, I should say allergic reactions, one in a million times.

So as, you know, if you think about, you know, hundreds of millions of people being immunized in this country will likely to hear that story over and over again, but again, recovered fully. And as Leana was just talking about, you know, we have two people dying roughly a minute right now of coronavirus. So it is something to be mindful of that obviously these vaccines are so critically important right now. COOPER: Yes, Dr. Wen, what are your thoughts on the allergic reaction?

WEN: I mean, I agree with what Sanjay said that we should expect them to happen. They are rare, but they can happen. And I think it's really important that there is transparent and public reporting of these vaccines. So I'm really glad to hear Sanjay and CNN and other news outlets report exactly what happened. I think that there needs to be a lot more studies done also into looking at what exact component of the vaccine is triggering these reactions.

And ideally, we have studies now being done of people who have allergic reactions, because there are tens of millions of people in the country will have some kind of food or medication allergy. We're now going to be wondering, should I be taking this vaccine? Well, the answer is yes because we can treat allergies much easier for us to treat allergies and it is for us to treat severe coronavirus. They should take the vaccine, but we should also be doing the studies to say who is allergic to which vaccine.

COOPER: Sanjay, as we talked about last night Moderna's vaccine may prevent infection not just severe illness once more than more than one vaccine is available. Will people be able to choose which one they want to receive?


GUPTA: I think the demand is going to be so much higher than the supply initially it's going to be challenging. I think whatever vaccine is available in your area. I can tell even I was going over the numbers for our health system, I think about 15 to 16%, initially of people, that would sort of qualify for the vaccine, we'll be able to get the vaccine, you know, in the next, you know, several days, so it's going to be hard to pick.

I do want to say as well, you know, that there is evidence, as you pointed out, Anderson, in the Moderna trial, that the vaccine Not only did a really good job of preventing illness, but also did a reasonably good job of preventing infection. We just haven't seen that data from Pfizer as well. I think, you know, it just sort of looking and starting to put all the pieces together, it is very likely that these vaccines will also reduce infection, or at least reduce the viral load or the amount of virus that someone's carrying in their body as well. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. We just got to see that data. And I think it's going to be really important.

COOPER: And just clarify, when we hear HHS secretaries or the head of Warp Speed talk about the doses, at least for Pfizer or Moderna, 100 million doses equals 50 million people because two doses are needed. It's an important distinction when we're talking about expectations for herd immunity.

GUPTA: Yes, absolutely. I mean, you know, if you start talking 60 to 70% of the country, you're talking about, you know, 500 million doses, roughly, that would be necessary, separated by a few weeks, as we know, but absolutely. So we always have to take that into account. Some of the trials, you know, are looking at one dose sort of regimens. But these ones that we're talking about. Moderna if it's authorized this week, that would be two vaccines that both require two doses.

COOPER: Dr. Wen, when you wrote the Washington Post, you said when allocating a scarce resource, tough choices need to be made, the CDC will offer recommendations, but states decide their own order of priority. Moving forward, how do you think they should allocate the vaccine? And why will it be important for people not to skip their place in line?

WEN: Yes, whenever there is a scarce resource, we know that difficult decisions are going to have to be made. And what I really do not want to see happen is people who are wealthy and who are politically connected to be able to access the vaccines sooner than people who need it more, especially because we know that this virus has hit certain communities, the communities of color, that have that are of low income particularly hard. And so, I do think that rules need to be set and we need to really look at fairness and equity here. And we also need to do need to understand that all of us are in this together.

COOPER: Yes, Sanjay, Dr. Lena Wen, appreciate it.

More breaking news on the vaccine rollout, Vice President Pence as well as Second Lady Karen Pence and the Surgeon General will be inoculated Friday. This is scheduled to occur on camera at the White House. White House officials tell CNN the president, President Trump will not receive the vaccine until it's recommended by the White House medical team.

Right now, the official says the President is still receiving the benefits of the treatment he received during his recovery from COVID.

Meanwhile, President-elect Biden is expected to get his vaccination early next week like Pence he plans to do it in public.

(voice-over): Just ahead, more of the story that we touched on slightly at the top of the program, the latest in the man accused of taking President Trump's unfounded claim of voter fraud to a violent outcome.



COOPER: Now, that sobering story we mentioned at the top of the broadcast about just how far some people are willing to pursue these baseless claims of voter fraud that President Trump has been promoting. Tonight, a former police captain in Houston is out on a $30,000 bond after authorities charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and months after he is accused of following these conspiracy theories to a potentially deadly extreme.

More now from our Ed Lavandera.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two weeks before the presidential election. Prosecutors say Mark Anthony Aguirre today drove a man off the road and held him at gunpoint. The former Houston police captain suspected the man driving a box truck was the mastermind of a voter fraud conspiracy. Investigators say that mastermind was actually David Lopez-Zuniga, an air conditioning repairman who says he was blindsided by the attack. He said, help me, help me with his hand inside his coat.

Then when I tried to help him he pulls out a gun. That is when I was told to get on the ground. When I saw him unlock the safety, I thought he was going to shoot me. He thought he was about to die.

Former Harris County election clerk Chris Hollins says it's a dangerous example of when conspiracy theories go too far an.

CHRIS HOLLINS, FMR HARRIS COUNTY, TX CLERK: innocent man, a working man, a family man who was accosted at gunpoint for no reason whatsoever. It's extremely unfortunate is dangerous. This man deserves to be prosecuted.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Prosecutors alleged Aguirre and a team of investigators worked for a group called Liberty Center for God & Country. The group tracked the repairman for four days suspecting the man was carrying 750,000 fraudulent ballots in his work truck. Police say there were no ballots in the truck just air conditioning repair parts and tools. Prosecutors say Aguirre cross the line from dirty politics to commission of a violent crime. And we are lucky no one was killed. Aguirre's attorney disagrees.

TERRY YATES, MARK ANTHONY AGUIRRE'S ATTORNEY: Well, I believe it's a political prosecution. He was working in investigating voter fraud. It was accidental. They were surveilling a vehicle. There was an accident and then a member of the car got out and rushed toward him and that's where the confrontation took place.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Prosecutors say again it was paid $266,000 by the Liberty Center. The group is run by Republican activist Steve Hotze. The wealthy Republican donor push controversial lawsuits against Harris County to throw out nearly 130,000 presidential election ballots cast it drive through polling locations. After a judge ruled against the Republican lawsuit the day before the election Hotze he acknowledged he had a team of investigators hunting. What was really a phantom voting menace.

(on-camera): Do you think Democrats are stealing the election in Texas or?

STEVE HOTZE, REPUBLICAN ACTIVIST: Yes, I know that. I have had investigators on the ground. The Democrats have committed massive voter election fraud in Harris County.

LAVANDERA (on-camera): No reports of massive widespread fraud --

HOTZE: Sir in voting.

LAVANDERA (on-camera): That is a fact no matter how many times you see it,

HOTZE: You're totally wrong with that.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Houston Police say when Lopez-Zuniga got out of his truck, Aguirre pointed a gun at him forced him to the ground and put a knee on his back, Houston Police a part of the incident was captured on police body camera footage.


Court documents say that Aguirre demanded that the responding officer arrest the AC repairman. Aguirre told the officer that he can, quote, be a hero or part of the problem. I just hope you're a patriot.


COOPER: Ed Lavandera joins us now. Ed, I mean, this is just I mean, I would say unbelievable, but it's not sad. Like what more can you tell us about the man who hired this guy?

LAVANDERA: Well, Steve Hotze, that wealthy Republican donor tonight he remains stubbornly convinced of something he can't prove and hasn't been able to prove. In fact, earlier this afternoon, he went on to say that he had actually hired at least 20 different investigators, including a former FBI surveillance specialist to look into these claims. And these allegations of voter fraud. But Anderson, prosecutors and police in Houston continue to say that they have not seen a single shred of evidence to prove those claims in any way. Anderson.

COOPER: Just like when Citizen Donald Trump was claiming that he had hired investigators to go to Hawaii. And they were finding amazing incredible evidence about Barack Obama not being born in Hawaii. I mean, investigators on the ground. That's a phrase we should keep an eye out on. Ed Lavandera. Thanks very much.

(voice-over): Up next, we take you to Moscow. Russia is responding to this when CNN's Clarissa Ward tried to confront a FSB agent earlier this week accused of being linked to the assassination attempt of Vladimir Putin's nemesis Alexei Navalny.



COOPER: Before moving on to our next story, some incredibly sad breaking news. We've now surpassed the previous record for COVID deaths by a lot. The total so far tonight stands at 3,453. It's a record number of cases as well. It's more than 238,000. Then, as we mentioned, record hospitalizations as well.

Now reaction to a stunning CNN exclusive report that seems like a plot from a Hollywood movie and said this is real life. This all has to do with the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the nemesis of Russian President Vladimir Putin. CNN along with the investigative group Bellingcat have uncovered evidence that Russia's security service the FSB formed an elite team specializing in nerve agents that followed Navalny's moves for years. You may remember Navalny was poisoned with lethal toxin back in August and nearly died.

Our chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward and her team have been working the story for months. Her stunning report first aired on Monday and finally two days later, there's some reaction from Russia those details in a moment. But first here's part of Clarissa's exclusive report and take a looks he attempts to confront one of the men accused of being at the heart of the assassination attempt.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on-camera): So, we're here now at the home of one of the FSB team and we're going to go see if he has anything to say to us.

(voice-over): We enter a rundown apartment building on the outskirts of Moscow where operative Oleg Tayakin lives.


WARD (on-camera): My name is Clarissa Ward, I work for CNN. Can I ask you a couple of questions?


WARD (on-camera): Was it your team that poison Navalny please? Do you have any comment? He doesn't seem to want to talk to us.


COOPER: And Clarissa Ward joins me tonight from Moscow. Clarissa, this reporting is just extraordinary. What's the reaction been to your reporting in Russia?

WARD: Well, thank you very much Anderson. It was very much a team effort. But what's so shocking honestly, is that there's basically been no reaction. It's been radio silence. We've reached out to the Kremlin. Well, guess what Dmitry Peskov the spokesperson for President Putin canceled his briefing yesterday. He canceled it again today, extensively because President Putin gives a big press conference tomorrow. But really, it's just startling to see the lack of any reaction.

We did hear something today from the foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov. He said he found the report funny, he said he was used to these types of things from the west. And he said that one shouldn't confuse Russia's silence on this issue with an admission of guilt, but not really any substantial, meaningful response to our allegations. Anderson,

COOPER: I mean, given the importance of what you uncovered, has there been any reaction from other countries or in Washington?

WARD: Well, I mean, we have heard from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, he essentially said that, you know, the U.S. has already called out Russia on its activities, and that this investigation needs to happen. And Russia needs to give a full accounting of what happened. But the reality is that unlike the UK and the EU, who have both come out, who have called this an assassination attempt, who have levied sanctions against top defense officials, against Kremlin officials, the U.S. really has been dragging its heels on this one.

And that's one thing that Navalny told me, he said, I want to see the USB on the right side of history here. Come out, condemn chemical weapons and levy sanctions against people who are responsible for it.

COOPER: And I understand you talked about this press conference Vladimir Putin supposed to have it tomorrow. What do you expect from that?

WARD: It's always difficult to know exactly. These press conferences are a big annual event. They can last anywhere from three to four, even five hours occasionally. But they are very heavily curated. You have to submit the question in advance, they cherry pick the questions they want to answer. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I don't have my proper accreditation. And so, I will not be allowed to ask a question.

But listen, I'm really counting on my colleagues out there, both Western and Russian to ask the President about this team of operatives and about the poisoning of Alexei Navalny and to get people in power here to answer for this.


COOPER: Yes. Clarissa Ward, I appreciate it. Thank you. Just check out our full report online. It's remarkable.

Reminder, don't miss "Full Circle" our digital news show. You can catch it streaming live at 6:00 p.m. Eastern at Or watch it there and on the CNN app at anytime On Demand.

News continues. Let's hand over to Chris for "CUOMO PRIME TIME". Chris.