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Donald Trump Ignores Spike in COVID-19 Deaths, Cases and Hospitalizations; F.D.A. Panel Recommends Authorization of Moderna Vaccine; Joe Biden Unveils More Cabinet Picks; Sources: State Dept. Among Agencies Hit By Massive Data Breach Putin Claims Navalny Works With U.S. Intelligence; Ohio's GOP Governor On Trump, Biden, COVID Vaccines; Critics Accuse Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Of Downplaying COVID Data To Help Trump's Re-election. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired December 17, 2020 - 20:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Susan, would you agree clearly at the direct order of Putin?

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Erin, it certainly appears that way. And I would say that, you know, Vladimir Putin, a former KGB Lieutenant Colonel, he's well aware that Western intelligence agencies would have known from the minute Navalny came to Germany, this information and understood that only Russia itself, the state controls this kind of chemical weapon that was used to attempt to poison Navalny.

So of course, this is something that the Russian state had a hand in, and this evidence is really powerful that's been turned up in this investigation.

BURNETT: All right, Susan, thank you so much. I appreciate your time.

And I also appreciate all of yours for watching. Anderson is now.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: A second COVID vaccine takes the last big step toward emergency approval. Great news, to be sure, but it comes at the end of another searing day in the middle of a nightmare. John Berman here, in for Anderson.

And this nightmare is the kind in which screams go unheard or even worse, unheeded by those who should care. And it's a nightmare that didn't even need to happen at all.

Exactly six months in one day ago, the Vice President of the United States, the head of the self-proclaimed hole of government effort against the outbreak said it would not happen. Here's what ran in "The Wall Street Journal" six months and one day ago under Mike Pence's name.

The piece was headlined, "There isn't a coronavirus second wave." Quoting now, "Thanks to the leadership of President Trump and the courage and compassion of the American people, our public health system is far stronger than it was four months ago and we are winning the fight against the invisible enemy."

"The truth," is the piece concludes, " ... whatever the media says, our whole of America approach has been a success." Success. That was six months one day and more than 190,000 American deaths ago. Eight hundred twenty three Americans died the day those words appeared in print, nearly 2,900 deaths reported just so far tonight, on top of more than 3,600 last night. Nearly a quarter million new cases and a record number of people hospitalized.

No mention of any of that for the man whose name is on that op-ed. We will have the inside story of it shortly by the way.

No mention either from the President, not a peep. Nothing acknowledging that California today reported its highest number of COVID fatalities ever, 379 in a single day. By contrast, just 634 South Koreans have died in the entire pandemic. Not one word about that, or the terrifying fact that in Southern California right now, ICU availability is at zero percent, no capacity at all.

Nothing from the President either about Florida, his intended new home, reporting more than 13,000 new cases today the most since July. No word from the President on that or even a hint of encouragement for all the people who've been working so hard to save lives, including his own.


DR. JOHN HICK, EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: Being surrounded by death, every day in the critical care units in a way that we had not previously experienced and having patients so isolated from family members, and often with nursing staff being the only bridge between a dying patient and their family and the outside world put tremendous stresses on all levels of care providers.

I'm very worried we're going to have a prolonged tail here of a lot of providers just flat out leaving the profession.


BERMAN: The terrifying prospect on top of everything else, and if the President cares even a tiny bit about this, we're not aware of it. What we do know is that he is big on projection, falsely accusing others of his own bad deeds that and telegraphing his next move.

So it's not surprising that shortly before going radio silent on COVID, he was saying this.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: COVID, COVID, COVID, COVID. By the way, on November 4th, you won't hear about it anyway.

You turn on the news: COVID, COVID, COVID, COVID, COVID. They would like to talk about COVID. It's COVID, COVID, COVID no matter what happens. It's COVID, COVID.

That's all you hear, you turn on a television like COVID, COVID, COVID, COVID, COVID, COVID. A plane goes down 500 people dead, they don't talk about it.

I guarantee you this, on November 4th you won't be hearing as much about this.

Here's what happens, November 4th, you won't hear too much about it. You won't hear too much about it.


BERMAN: "You won't hear about it anymore," he said and he was right. We haven't heard squat from him, which is too bad because it's not even that hard to do the right thing. Just ask Chris Christie who was infected with coronavirus and also picked up it seems a bit of perspective.


CHRIS CHRISTIE, FORMER GOVERNOR OF NEW JERSEY: You know, lying in isolation in ICU for seven days, I thought about how wrong I was to remove my mask at the White House.

Today, I think about how wrong it is to let mask wearing divide us, especially as we now know, you're twice as likely to get COVID-19 if you don't wear a mask, because if you don't do the right thing, we could all end up on the wrong side of history.

Please, wear a mask.



BERMAN: More now on all of this from CNN chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, we haven't seen the President today. And even on Twitter, his preferred method of communication, he only mentioned the vaccine in a tweet about the stock market and stimulus talks. So do we know what the President actually did today?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, john, you know how it is with short timers. They take that long lunch, they cut out of work early. This is a President who has turned executive time into an art form, and he did that today.

He was in the Oval Office for a bill signing. The press was not allowed in. The cameras were not allowed in for that bill signing. He obviously doesn't want to take questions about how he lost the election and his bogus election challenges.

He spoke with King Salman of Saudi Arabia over the phone at one point, and he was apparently briefed on the suspected Russian cyber hacking of the U.S. government, although the President has not come out and weighed in and condemned Vladimir Putin and the Russians for being behind that attack.

And so it is sort of the song remains the same over here at the White House, john. In many ways, this is a nation without a President today because the President did not use the bully pulpit to show any kind of sympathy for the thousands of people who lost their lives from the coronavirus and who are going to continue to lose their lives from the coronavirus from here on forward.

BERMAN: So Vice President Pence is publicly receiving the vaccine tomorrow morning and President-elect Biden could get it as early as next week. Yet, we don't know when or if President Trump will get it. What's the reasoning behind that?

ACOSTA: Yes, John, in a way Vice President Pence has taken on the role of the President from a bully pulpit perspective. He is going to be out in front of the cameras tomorrow morning at around eight o'clock a.m. to get the coronavirus vaccine. The Vice President's Office has made this very clear. He wants to do this to show the American people that they can have confidence in this vaccine.

Vice President Biden who is about to become President Biden is doing it for the same reason. The White House will only say about President Trump that he's still enjoying the benefits of some of the treatments he received during his bout with the coronavirus, but as soon as the White House medical team says it's okay for him to get the vaccine, he will do so.

But we're receiving very little guidance about this and the President is not putting himself in a position where we can ask him the question. Obviously, John, you and I know all too well. If the President of the United States, if Donald Trump gets out there and says he will take the coronavirus vaccine, that will go a long way in instilling confidence in millions of his supporters that is okay to be vaccinated. He is just not doing that at this point, just in the same way he is not leading on Russia.

John, it has just been one of those confounding things that we've seen throughout this presidency, one of the true lines of this presidency. He is -- he has been at times anti-science and pro-Russia -- John.

BERMAN: Jim Acosta at the White House. Keep pushing. Stay safe.

More now about that "Wall Street Journal" op-ed published six months and one day ago, under Vice President Mike Pence's name saying there would be no second wave. We now know it was false assurance and our next guest had her own objections to it even before it ran.

Olivia Troye served as Homeland Security Counterterrorism and COVID Taskforce adviser to Vice President Pence. She has since left the administration and broken with it publicly. We're happy to have her on the program tonight.

Olivia, great to see you. I know you were against this op-ed being published. Can you tell us where the idea originated from? How it came to be?

OLIVIA TROYE FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY COUNTERTERRORISM AND COVID TASKFORCE ADVISER TO VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: I don't know where it originated inside the White House, but I can tell you that I first got word of it from our Chief of Staff on the Vice President's team, and he was the one that said he informed our speech writer at the time and myself that we needed to work on this together and the way that works is usually with remarks or things like this, a speechwriter will take the lead on drafting and then they'll run it by the subject matter expert or the adviser, which at the time was me, and we were forced to take on this impossible task knowing that the data and the science and what the experts on the taskforce -- you know, I ran it by Dr. Birx, it just -- it wasn't there and it was a ludicrous idea.

BERMAN: You say, Marc Short was behind it or one of the people pushing it. Marc Short is known to be skeptical or has been skeptical of many aspects of coronavirus from the beginning, even though he himself was infected. How involved was the Vice President in putting it together?

TROYE: Yes, from my recollection. Yes, I don't know what conversations Marc Short had with the Vice President directly. I wasn't in the room for that discussion. If I had been, I personally would have told the Vice President myself that it was a bad idea and that it would -- you know follow him for a very long time because this was -- the facts weren't there and I was known for breaking him and sticking to the facts.


TROYE: So I don't know, in the end, I do know that the Vice President reviews things and remarks very carefully as they go out. But I don't know what happened on the back end there, and I don't know whether it was Katie Miller and Marc Short who made the final approval on it.

BERMAN: After it was published, what was the Vice President's reaction?

TROYE: He was upset. He was upset at the headline on it and he was upset at the public backlash on it. But quite frankly, I don't know how -- what else he would have expected. Right?

I mean, we knew it was going to be -- well, those of us who were saying don't - this is ridiculous, including Dr. Birx, knew that this was going to be insane when we were watching case numbers spike in that following week, I remember that very vividly, the numbers soared in the south. And that was really from what I recall, the turning point for the messaging and everything where there was a full on full court press to pressure people to open up.

And that's when you see the White House pressure governors, you see the President getting on the calls, and he is saying, you know, you've got to get in line. And you know, tells the Republicans, you've got to get in line on this. You've got to back this. It's about the economy. We've got the election coming down.

BERMAN: That was 190,000 deaths ago, when that op-ed was published. So looking back on what's happened since then, Olivia, and in to an extent, how the administration has walked away from even talking about the deaths. How does that make you feel tonight?

TROYE: You know, I grieve every day for what's happening in this country and how much hurt is happening. I carry that with me. And I think back to every moment of the taskforce and a lot of really hard situations that happened behind the scenes and it is infuriating to me.

It is also just devastating to me that these people don't care, and you know, they've never cared. Some of these people never took it seriously. They never thought it was real, and their behavior was always cavalier, which made it impossible for those of us and experts like Dr. Fauci and others on the taskforce who were trying to actively do the right thing.

But it was impossible given the fact that this is a White House that was never going to accept and take it seriously because they knew that they were on the losing end of it, and it's just -- it's tragic.

BERMAN: Do you put Mike Pence in that group of people? I mean, did he review this piece before it was published? What responsibility does he have for that message?

TROYE: He can't be the head of the Coronavirus Taskforce and especially more recently, I've been appalled at his behavior in going along with this whole machine, you know, with the rallies as it got closer and with staff getting infected and there being outbreaks in these events to continue and the Holiday parties.

I don't know how you can morally look yourself in the mirror and say this is okay. I mean, but at the end of the day, I know who his boss is and I know that he has always catered to that fact, and I know that he is in a tough situation. But at some point, when people are dying and you're responsible for the protection of the country, you really have a responsibility to take a stand.

BERMAN: Olivia Troye, we appreciate you being with us tonight. Thank you.

TROYE: Thank you.

BERMAN: So as we reported at the top, some welcome news on Moderna's COVID vaccine. The F.D.A.'s independent advisers today voted 20 to zero with one abstention to recommend Emergency Use Authorization.

Meantime, some snags in the rollout of Pfizer's vaccine, a number of states now say they've been told to expect fewer doses than originally planned for by the Federal government's Operation Warp Speed.

For its part, Pfizer says it is not having any production issues and that no shipments they say are delayed or are on hold. Here now to talk about it, CNN chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta and also Dr. Celine Gounder. She's an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist and she serves on President-elect Joe Biden's Coronavirus Taskforce. So, Sanjay now that the F.D.A. Advisory Committee has recommended

authorization on the Moderna vaccine, what comes next? And really what are the differences between the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, first of all, in terms of the calendar, it's going to feel very familiar. It should feel very familiar to what we went through last week with the Pfizer rollout. We can put up the calendar.

Obviously, this advisory committee meeting that happened today, very significant, but it's a recommendation that they make to the F.D.A. for authorization. It could happen even tonight. Last time with Pfizer, it happened the next day.


GUPTA: Over this weekend there will be these additional committee meetings involving the C.D.C. and that's sort of the who, what, when trying to figure out how this -- the Moderna vaccine will now roll out. We have a pretty good idea of who they prioritize, the C.D.C., for this vaccine.

In which, put it all together, you know, the distribution and everything, you know, next week, John, Monday, Tuesday, kind of like we saw with the Pfizer vaccine, we could start to see people getting vaccinated again, so it should happen fairly quickly, and my understanding is there's between five and six million doses of the Moderna vaccine available,

BERMAN: It really is astounding that people can be receiving it as soon as next week. Moderna says that their vaccine, Sanjay involves no mixing or diluting. Does that mean we won't get that extra added benefit that we just learned this morning from the Pfizer vaccine that they're getting more doses from each vial?

GUPTA: Right, the heavy pour, like you call it, right, John? Yes. No, it's not likely that the Moderna vaccine will have those extra doses because what has happened with the Pfizer vaccine, and this is part of the fill and finish process is that oftentimes, they put some extra in the vial to account for a little bit of loss as you draw it up into a syringe or a little bit of spillage.

And that extra turned out to be, you know, a fair amount of extra enough to make one or two extra doses. But the Moderna vaccine is not being diluted like that. So it's unlikely you're going to get -- you might have little bit of extra fluid, but you're unlikely to get extra doses out of it.

BERMAN: So Dr. Gounder, as I mentioned, 20 members of the committee voted in favor of the recommendation. One abstained, no one voted oppose. The one doctor who abstained, and this is such an education these days where the panel looks at this and asks so many questions, it really isn't education. But what were the concerns behind the abstention?

DR. CELINE GOUNDER, MEMBER OF PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN'S CORONAVIRUS TASKFORCE: Well, I think there were concerns around whether we needed to be collecting additional data and the form of the authorization that was granted.

And, you know, there's the Emergency Use Authorization, which is how these vaccines are being granted authorization. You have a full F.D.A. approval, and honestly, from my perspective, I think it's completely legitimate to offer Emergency Use Authorization, understanding that we will continue to collect data on both of these vaccines, as well as any other vaccines granted Emergency Use Authorization to make sure that we continue to evaluate that they are safe and effective. And eventually that data would be submitted to the F.D.A. to get full approval down the line.

BERMAN: Sanjay, we promised full transparency on the issue of potential reactions to the vaccine, but also full perspective on it. So in that vein, we learned today that four people in Moderna's trial developed some kind of a muscular -- neuromuscular disease, Bell's Palsy -- three cases in the vaccine group, one case in the placebo group.

Again, these are very tiny numbers of people, so that's the transparent part perspective. What does this mean to you?

GUPTA: Well, you know, one way that I think about these things, I think, when you hear about these sort of side effects and we are all going to get an education here, but one thing like -- so Bell's palsy, for example, and the first questions I ask is, what is just the background incidence of Bell's Palsy? How often does it occur, you know, outside of a vaccine trial outside of what is happening now? And the answer is, you know, somewhere between 15 and 22 for every 100,000 people.

So, you know, I go backwards, do the math. So you had four people, roughly out of 44,000, three of them, as you pointed out were in the vaccinated group, one in the placebo group.

First of all, the overall incidence is not that much higher than the average incidence that occurs already. But it is curious that three of them were in the vaccinated group versus the placebo group, and what I would say is, it doesn't seem to be a huge concern because it's not a higher incidence in the general population, but we should continue to look at that.

And, you know, as part of these Emergency Use Authorizations, as Dr. Gounder knows better than anybody is that they have this vaccine adverse event reporting system, that VAERS system, which means that people will report these adverse events, and maybe we'll get more clarity on this.

But I have to tell you, just looking at that and looking at the allergies, it's not that worrisome yet. We'll keep an eye on it. I don't want to dismiss it, but it's not that worrisome.

BERMAN: Dr. Gounder, you're nodding in agreement.

GOUNDER: I am. I mean, some of these things just happen from other causes, whether that be a rheumatological cause, an autoimmune cause, an infectious cause that's completely unrelated to coronavirus.

And so you have to compare these rates against what is common what is normal in the general population. And so what we're seeing is, it's kind of what you would expect. It would be like saying, well, somebody got vaccinated, and then they had a heart attack. Well, some people are going to have heart attacks.

And so just because the vaccination preceded the heart attack doesn't mean it is causation. I mean, this goes back to the whole expression, correlation is not causation. You know, it's even more than that there. There's no correlation even.


BERMAN: Again, we promised transparency and perspective. We just gave them that. Dr. Gounder, in terms of the Pfizer vaccine, we're hearing from officials in Iowa, Illinois, Washington, Michigan, and Oregon, among others, who've been told by Operation Warp Speed, they are going to receive fewer doses than originally planned for.

Do you know why this is happening? What do you make of it?

GOUNDER: Well, I do know, in certain parts of the country where I am in New York City, we are being hit by a pretty bad snowstorm, and so that certainly could get in the way of UPS and FedEx deliveries. They are two of our major transporters of the vaccine in the moment.

But I think it's bigger than that, you know, it's not just about discovering a vaccine, you know, manufacturing the vaccine, then need to distribute that vaccine, and there are a lot of moving parts in that and there are many places where things could have gone wrong along the way.

BERMAN: Dr. Gounder and Dr. Gupta, our thanks to both of you. Appreciate seeing you. Sanjay, I am sure we will see you again tomorrow morning.

There's also breaking news tonight on the President-elect's growing and history making Cabinet. CNN's Jeff Zeleny now with the latest on two more picks. Jeff, what can you tell us?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: John, we are learning tonight as President-elect Biden continues filling the Cabinet, there are two more history making picks. First, the Interior Secretary, he's tapping New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland. She would be the first Native American to serve as Interior Secretary and to serve as a Cabinet Secretary if confirmed in a President's Cabinet.

But it's not any particular Cabinet, John, this is the Interior Department. And of course, the long history with the Interior Department and Native American lands across the country make this a very interesting pick indeed.

So this is someone that yes, is going to take away from the Democratic majority in the House if she is confirmed. We are told that Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave the Biden transition team her blessing for this. Now that Democratic majority will be just down to three votes, so

razor thin, but certainly an important pick.

Also the head of the E.P.A., Michael Regan from North Carolina. He heads the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. He would be the first African-American man to lead the E.P.A., of course, he will be tasked with really undoing a lot of what the Trump administration did, and both of these members of the Cabinet potentially are central players in the climate team, which is going to be unveiled here in Wilmington on Saturday.

And John, these are just two of the latest in a series of firsts. The first woman Treasury Secretary of course, Janet Yellen. You have Pentagon Chief Lloyd Austin, if confirmed, the first African-American there. The list goes on.

So clearly, this is most of the Cabinet, but still some key positions supposed to be done by Christmas. We'll see.

BERMAN: Yes. The key-est of those key positions, though that's not actually English, Jeff, is Attorney General. We don't know yet who that pick will be. But we do know the top two contenders. What have you learned?

ZELENY: We do, John, and those -- really all eyes are on this Attorney General position. Who is going to lead the Department of Justice in the post-Trump era? And we are told from a variety of sources that two of the leading contenders tonight are Judge Merrick Garland. You'll remember him, he was nominated by President Obama in the final year of his term to serve on the Supreme Court. Of course, he was blocked by Senate Republicans, Mitch McConnell, in particular.

So he is being described by allies as someone who is politically independent. He is someone who could rise above politics here. One source described him me as a Boy Scout, someone who could absolutely answer all of these questions.

And there's also Alabama Senator Doug Jones. He is very close to Mr. Biden and has a long civil rights record as well. So those are two of the main contenders here. John, we're told that position should be announced next week. But of course, that is up to Mr. Biden to make that timing and that decision.

BERMAN: All right, Jeff Zeleny, stick around. I want to bring in CNN political commentator and former South Carolina Democratic lawmaker Bakari Sellers. Also CNN senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson and Nia, you know, look, Democrats, great, they're good at it. You know, it's what they do.

And there has been -- there has been some grumbling or there was some grumbling from some wings of the Democratic Party about some of President-elect Biden's Cabinet choices.

But as we look at it now, it's a pretty diverse group, a very diverse group, which is what he pledged. So what do you make of the choices? NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: It is true in

terms of racial diversity, it's a very diverse group. There were some grumblings early on with his initial rollout. They didn't seem like they were going to be that diverse, and you saw pressure -- pressure from civil rights group, pressure from people like Representative Jim Clyburn, as well, who was pushing him to make good on this promise.

I think there is still an open question about ideological diversity. Are these picks enough to satisfy progressives? I do know that the Interior Secretary pick, progressives very much like that. I was texting with some of those folks earlier today and that is the pick that they wanted to see.

So we'll have to see. He has got some other picks to make, as you said, A.G., he still have got Education to make, Department of Labor.

So we'll see how he rounds it out, and whether or not those progressives who still have some complaining, I think to do and want some of those picks in these other Cabinet positions, they want to see their people get some jobs as well.


BERMAN: Progressives are gushing about Congresswoman Deb Haaland, if you've been on social media. That is a pic, they love. So Bakari, African American voters in South Carolina, Joe Biden owes the nomination, I think he would admit that to this group. He said in one of his many victory speeches over the last six weeks, he said, "You've always had my back, I will have yours."

So now as the Cabinet is filled out, you have the first African- American nominee to be Secretary of Defense, the first African- American head of the E.P.A. nominated. Is Joe Biden proving that he does have the backs of African-Americans, at least with the Cabinet selections?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, look, you can't say that Joe Biden is not doing what he promised he would do. I mean, Michael Regan at E.P.A., Marcia Fudge at H.U.D., General Austin Secretary of Defense, and I'll be completely honest, Deb Haaland, I don't know if we're giving her the respect due. That's a BFD. I mean, to use the words of Joe Biden, that's a huge deal at the Department of Interior to have the first Native-American person to be a part of a Cabinet.

The Department of Interior is huge. We cannot underscore that. I've spoken to a lot of my friends, Ryan Ramirez, Keith Harper, the former U.N. Ambassador to the Human Rights Council who are luminaries in the Native American community who pushed for this. This is an extremely big deal, and for Joe Biden to make this pick just looms large.

I think that it took pressure. I mean, as Nia was saying, it takes pressure. That's why you have these groups. That's why you have these individuals who are pushing, the C.B.C., these legacy civil rights organizations, everybody is applying their pressure to their respective caucuses, and that's what's necessary sometimes. But Joe Biden has risen to the occasion, and much props goes out and

I've been someone who has been critical, someone who has praised when praise is due. And I can say that tonight, with the appointments that he has made, he has put justice at the forefront with the Native American pick at the Department of Interior, with someone who puts environmental justice first at the E.P.A. This is all you can ask for.

I mean, we'll wait and see what happens with the Department of Education and the Department of Justice where those civil rights departments have literally been gutted. But up until this point, you know, he's done everything that he promised he would do. So you have to be proud about the moment that we're in.

BERMAN: All right, lightning round. Jeff Zeleny first: Lloyd Austin, General Austin nominated to be Defense Secretary. Some complications here having to do with the waivers, because he's only four years retired from the military. Where does that stand?

ZELENY: John, bottom line is, it would be really surprising by everyone if he were not confirmed at the end of the day. Yes. There are some discussions about has he been in the civilian sector long enough? The law is seven years. He's been out for four years, but he's been talking to, you know, dozens of Members of Congress already and will be talking to more. That's a historic pick leading a diverse military. I would be very surprised if he's not confirmed, John.

BERMAN: Nia, Pete Buttigieg to be Secretary of Transportation. You know, Secretary of Transportation may not be the sexiest to some people, Cabinet position, but it is a Cabinet position and it is historic, he'd be the first Senate confirmed gay man to serve in the Cabinet. What do you make of it?

HENDERSON: Yes, it's a big job for him. Some people thought, listen, maybe he'd go to the U.N. Maybe he'd even be Secretary of Defense. Some people talked about the Ambassador to China.

He's landed here. It is a big job. And again, it is history. You saw him obviously make history in his run, and really impressed the Biden world with some of the things he was able to do in pitching the Biden presidency all over the country.

So yes, this is a good move for people who obviously has national aspirations, presidential aspirations.

BERMAN: Bakari, I've got 20 seconds. Two white men leading the pack for Attorney General, given the year we've had and issues of racial justice. Where does that land to you?

SELLERS: You trying to -- this is a sobering reality, I guess. No, I think Doug Jones stands head and shoulders above everyone else. I mean, Doug Jones as United States Attorney prosecuting the case against the 16th Street Church bombers. Doug Jones being an admirable United States Senator.

You know, Merrick Garland is great where he is. He should remain there. It is going to be hard to replace him there. But I think this is Doug Jones's opportunity to be Attorney General, and I think that Doug Jones believes that justice is a verb and so black folk will rally around that. We know where he stands, and we know where he'll lead us

BERMAN: Great friends, Jeff Zeleny, Bakari Sellers, Nia-Malika Henderson, thanks so much for being with us tonight.

Next, we have breaking news on another major issue that President Trump has yet to say a word about that big suspected Russian hacking operation targeting this country. A member of the House Intelligence Panel joins us next.

And later, accusations that the government of -- Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis downplayed coronavirus numbers in the state as DeSantis tried to help President Trump get re-elected.



BERMAN: More breaking news now was senior White House official says President Trump has been briefed on that suspected Russian hack on some of the highest levels of government agencies as well as some private companies we're learning now. We're learning more by the hour about the breadth of this huge attack just within the last few minutes. Microsoft says it's identified 40 organizations around the world that have been targeted, 80% of those in the United States. Microsoft president says it is a certainty that the number of victims and locations will only grow.

Writing in an op-ed in today's New York Times Tom Bossert, the administration's former cyber security experts said quote, at the worst possible time when the U.S. is at its most vulnerable during a presidential transition and a devastating public health crisis. The networks of the federal government and much of corporate America are compromised by a foreign nation.


The reported data breach occurred at some of the most sensitive areas and multiple government agencies. Sources now say that includes the State Department. It was so insidious that Republican Senator Mitt Romney went out of his way today to assail both the country's cyber defenses and the administration in an interview with SiriusXM Radio.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): They had the capacity to show that our defense is extraordinarily inadequate, that that our cyber warfare readiness is extraordinarily weak, that that they think so little of our ability to fight back from a cyber standpoint that they, they do this with impunity. So our national security is extraordinarily vulnerable. And in this setting, not to have the White House aggressively speaking out, and protesting and taking punitive action is really pretty quite extraordinary.


BERMAN: Joining me now is Congressman Jim Himes, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, and has been briefed on what is known so far. Congressman Himes, you were part of this briefing today, I know you aren't able to go into it in too much detail. But what can you tell us about the size and scope of this apparent Russian hack?

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): Well, it's enormous. And it was very cleverly done in the sense that they, it would appear that the people who did this and the government is not yet prepared to make a formal attribution, even though it's been talking about it. But it would appear that the people who did this got into an American software maker SolarWinds, change the code. And the reason that's a very big deal is because the government is pretty good at seeing stuff that comes across the border. But this appears to have originated it -- from a U.S. company, and infected the world through U.S. IP addresses. And boy, do we have a lot to learn from -- about that.

We don't know the extent of the damage. We still don't have a good sense about whether lots of data was taken out. We know that however this infection was, was really very pervasive, will be global. And we also know and I agree with Senator Romney on this, that if we don't take a very strong and clear stance and retaliate, and I do mean retaliate, depending, of course, on what we learned about what the what the cost was to us, the Russian -- the whoever pulled this off, we'll do it again.

BERMAN: So you heard part of what Senator Romney said there. He also mentioned that, quote, a cyber hack of this nature is really the modern equivalent of almost Russian bombers flying undetected over the entire country. So, you know, as we sit here tonight, how concerned should Americans be about the security of our nation's most sensitive information?

HIMES: Well, they should be concerned, and we should be concerned. But we also shouldn't panic. Again, we know that this exploit got into a lot of computer systems. What we don't know is what it was capable of doing. Was it capable of exfiltrating as they say, data? Was their data exfiltrated? Was it capable of damaging those networks? We still don't have answers to that question. So, I mean, one way to think about it is that the perpetrators of this hack got into everybody's home. What we don't know is what they did, once they were in that home.

But, again, we need to learn that information. I was not entirely satisfied by what the government knows today about exactly how intense and how severe this hack was. And then, once we understand that, whoever did this meet, we need to exact a very significant cost from that group. So that this doesn't happen again.

BERMAN: But the U.S. --

HIMES: If you recall, the Russians in 2016, that hack, you know, the Obama administration did not retaliate in a way that exacted enough cost against the Russians in that 2016 hack. BERMAN: What the U.S. does not know or is not saying is notable in and of itself tonight, because I want to play you some of what President Trump has said about Russia during his presidency. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: I think that the last person Russia wants to see in office is Donald Trump, because nobody has been tougher on Russia than I have ever.


TRUMP: Well, I don't care what anybody says.

I have been tougher on Russia than any president, maybe ever.

You can ask Putin. Nobody has been rougher on Russia than Donald Trump. OK.

Nobody has been tougher on Russia than I have with the sanctions and everything else. And I guarantee you that in closed doors, Putin says that to his people.

There's nobody been tougher on Russia than I have.

By the way, nobody's been tougher on Russia than me with the sanctions.

And nobody has been tougher with Russia than Donald Trump.


BERMAN: He has not said a single thing about this suspected Russian hack. So, how tough can you be if you remain completely silent?


HIMES: Well, that's exactly right. And if it turns out that it's confirmed that the Russians were behind this, the fact that the President-elect Joe Biden is talking about this hack, but the current President of United States is not. If it turns out to be the Russians that sends the same kind of signal that gets sent to the Russians. And, John, you'll remember this. It was just a couple of months ago, when there were allegations that the Russians might have been paying people in Afghanistan to kill our troops. I don't remember Donald Trump (INAUDIBLE) hell about that. And that sends a very, very strong signal, that silence sends a very strong signal to the Russian leadership.

BERMAN: Congressman Himes, a pleasure to see you. Thanks so much for being with us tonight.

HIMES: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: Speaking of all things Russian, President Vladimir Putin today deny that he or any other agency under his control had anything to do with the poisoning of Russian dissident Alexey Navalny. Even more he said, almost boastfully, if someone had wanted to poison him, they would have finished them off. This is the State Department accused Russia of a quote shameless disinformation campaign to shift blame away from the Russian president. It was all in response to reporting by CNN's Clarissa Ward, who alongside the investigative group Bellingcat uncovered evidence that Russia security service the FSB formed an elite team specializing in nerve agents that followed Navalny's moves for years.

Clarissa joins me now. So, Clarissa, were you surprised that Vladimir Putin didn't deny the facts of your reporting? He went so far as to Navalny was being followed by foreign agents, and that he could have finished the job if he had wanted to?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, it was definitely a little surprising because this isn't the first time that someone has revealed, something a journalist has revealed, something that's been embarrassing to the Kremlin or embarrassing to President Putin or the security services. But is definitely the first time that I can remember where the response of the Kremlin hasn't been to say, this is outrageous, this is preposterous, this is nonsense, this is ridiculous. But actually to say, sure, why wouldn't we follow him? And the reason that President Putin gave for following Alexei Navalny or allowing FSB operatives to follow him was by saying that essentially, he's working with U.S. Intelligence Services.

The question that he didn't answer, though, or the allegation and are reporting that he did not speak to is the crucial one, which is that these weren't just normal FSB operatives, they were experts in chemical weapons, in poisons, they were in regular contact with a lab in Moscow that is known to be producing Novichok. So, that part of it he stayed away from.

BERMAN: So Putin, basically said, if he had really wanted to do this, they would have done it right and finish the job. But we should point out that if the pilot had made an emergency landing, if Navalny wasn't immediately brought to an ICU unit, he would have been assassinated. Does the Kremlin have anything to say about that?

WARD: Well, no and we've definitely spoken to a lot of experts John and they agree. Alexei Navalny should be dead. And there are only two reasons that he's not dead. One of them, as you point out is that plane was diverted to the city of Omsk. It was supposed to be flying for another three hours and also when he landed in Omsk, there were medics on the tarmac, they had atrophied, a life saving antidote. That's what saved his life. That's why he's alive. And that is not something that President Putin has addressed.

BERMAN: So, Putin also went out of his way to blame the United States. And really, your reporting, saying this was all U.S. intelligence that this was a ruse used by the U.S. to cast blame on Russia. How typical is that of the Russians to say something like that to try to muddy the waters?

WARD: That is pretty typical, and particularly with Alexei Navalny. They're really trying to cultivate the narrative that he is not truly Russian, that he is in cahoots with Western intelligence sources that he's a stooge, if you will, for the CIA. And one other thing that was really telling John, throughout this press conference, and in other press conferences, we've heard Putin give where he's talked about Navalny. He will never say Navalny's name. Today, he referred to him simply as the patient in Berlin talking about the hospital that he was transferred to in Berlin edited. By another point, he called him the blogger, but he won't say his name, he won't allow him to be a person. And that one can only assume is because he views Navalny as a legitimate threat.

BERMAN: There's almost nothing pathological about that. Any sense of how your reporting is being received and how this press conference is being received by the Russian people?

WARD: Well, it's just extraordinary because honestly, it's basically been radio silence. There hasn't even been the usual propaganda campaign against us. It's just been no one talking about it except for some independent journalists. There are quite a few of them here. They're incredibly brave the work they do, they can get into a lot more trouble than we can for speaking out. But for the most part, everyone seems to be trying to turn a blind eye to it, even President Putin. Yes, he answered a couple of questions about it. But he was also almost dismissive of it. It's not a big deal. Move on. If we'd wanted to kill him, he'd be dead.


BERMAN: Clarissa, I have to say this is incredible reporting. It just keeps on going. Thank you so much for the work you're doing, and thanks for being with us tonight.

WARD: Thanks, John.

BERMAN (voice-over): A lot more to get to including a conversation with Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, a Republican about his party's continued resistance to President-elect Biden's victory. And the surprise news tonight that some states will be getting less vaccine this year than originally thought.

And later, a CNN investigation into accusations the government of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has downplayed the pandemic and misrepresented the number of reported dead near election day. All that when "360" continues.


BERMAN: With Joe Biden and Kamala Harris taking office in just about a month's time, several prominent Republicans still have not wrapped their arms around that inevitability. Though, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has privately warned his fellow Republicans not to interfere with the final congressional approval or counting of the Electoral College results. Some senators are pressing ahead with complaints. Listen, for example, to Missouri senator Josh Hawley at a hearing yesterday with remarks he said or reflective of some of his constituents.


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 had been involved in politics. They've won, they've lost that they've seen it all. These are normal folks living normal lives, who firmly believe that they have been disenfranchised.



BERMAN: So arguably, it's the kind of rhetoric that has exacerbated passions about the legitimacy of the election and its outcome. Here to discuss Ohio Republican Governor Mike DeWine, who last month drew the ire of the President because he had the temerity to suggest Joe Biden should be called President-elect.

Governor DeWine, we always appreciate your time. I know how hard you're working on all kinds of things. Look, Josh Hawley, Senator Hawley uses the circular logic. He says, there are so many people, so many Republican voters who say that they think there was fraud. It's because people like Josh Hawley and President Trump are out there screaming from the rooftops every day that there was widespread fraud yet, in the courtroom. They haven't presented any kind of evidence that's been convincing in any way. So what's the takeaway?

GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R-OH): Well, John, I've said all through this, that I think we should trust our systems, we should trust our judicial system, the President had every right to go into court, his campaign had every right to go into court, courts do a good job, you know, discerning what the facts are, and what the law is. The same way we should trust our election system. And I think what should come out of this is, people should say, look, this works, that the system has worked. But we have acrimonious campaigns. We've had them in the past, we'll have them in the future. But in the end, Americans do this pretty well. We've done it for a long time. We know how to have a peaceful transfer of power. We know how to accept elections and get ready to go fight again. That's what you do when you lose an election. I've lost a couple of myself.

So, I think rather than, you know, worrying about the system, the system has worked, and it's worked very well this time and it works well. You know, there's flaws, there's mistakes, there's things that happen, but by and large, we do pretty well in this country, and we should, you know, accept that and be glad of that.

BERMAN: What have the courts in the system said just to be clear?

DEWINE: Well, you saw the courts make decisions. I can't keep track of all the different decisions, but they, you know, look they have been reported. And the Supreme Court finally, for all the people who thought that, you know, the Trump appointees, the United States Supreme Court, could not be trusted. Frankly, we heard some of that. Look, they made a decision and they made a decision they call balls and strikes. They do what judges do, and they made a decision. So, the system the system works.

And, you know, I spend my day not worrying about that. I spend my day worrying about the coronavirus, which is spreading, you know, rapidly in the state of Ohio. We've got in our hospitals, one-fourth of every patient is a COVID patient, one-third of every patient in the ICU is a COVID patient. And frankly, that's what my focus is on every day.

BERMAN: I want to ask you about Ohio and coronavirus in just one second, but I just want to ask one last question about the Republican Party in general, Mitt Romney. Senator Romney, former Governor Romney was former presidential nominee Mitt Romney was saying the Republican Party is different now than the Republican Party that nominated him to be president in 2012. How different is it do you think?

DEWINE: Well, I don't know about that. I mean, I just I don't know what to make of that statement. What I see is, at least in Ohio, but I think also across the country, you know, Republicans are -- we're winning in blue collar communities in Ohio, that 10 years ago, we didn't have any chance of winning, we would have laughed at the idea that we could have won in Steubenville, Ohio or that we could have won Jefferson County, Belmont county of the whole eastern side, the Mahoning Valley, we're winning in those in those areas. And not only did the President win but the local Republican officials won. So, there's a -- that's the positive. The negative is, you know, we're falling back in Franklin County, the Columbus, we're falling back in some suburb.

So, you know, we constantly I think both parties can you know, you constantly you try to appeal --

BERMAN: I don't want to cut you off --

DEWINE: -- and meet people's needs. And that's what we're trying to do.

BERMAN: I don't want to cut you off, but I do want to talk about coronavirus.


BERMAN: We've heard reports that some states are now being told they won't get the vaccines as much of the Pfizer vaccine as they expected. What are you hearing on that front? And just give me a sense of what you want people in Ohio to know in this week before Christmas?

DEWINE: Well, the good news is tomorrow morning 7:30, we start vaccinating people in nursing homes. Thank God. This is where we've seen the biggest number of people who have died. We can't get them vaccinated fast enough. We started several days ago, you know, vaccinating people who are frontline defenders. And so, we're moving forward. We've not heard any change in the amount from Pfizer that they've delivered. In fact, they actually delivered more because we're getting six and seven doses out of a five dose. So we're moving forward.

[20:55:11] BERMAN: Good. Governor DeWine, thank you for being with us. We wish you the best of luck.

DEWINE: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: In these tough weeks dealing with the pandemic.

The Republican governor of another state won by President Trump taking a different approach, Ron DeSantis, still intent on keeping as much of his state open as possible. That's despite reporting the most new cases today since July. As we mentioned earlier, that's more than 13,000 And tonight, there are questions surrounding just how forthright his government has been with the state's coronavirus data specifically deaths reported near election day as the governor and Trump loyalists tried to help secure the President's re election.

The details from CNN senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin.


TRUMP: Hey Ron, how are we doing?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the week surrounding the November 3rd election, Florida's Department of Health all but stopped reporting deaths that had taken place more than a month earlier, making overall death numbers appear much lower. Days after the election, the department went back to reporting goes back log that says first reported by the Sun Sentinel newspaper. Why? The state isn't saying. But CNN has interviewed more than a dozen state officials and experts and finds Governor Ron DeSantis' administration has sidelined health experts promoted questionable science and left some county officials feeling muzzled from raising the alarm about rising cases.

AILEEN MARTY, INFECTIOUS DISEASE PROFESSOR, FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY: They're not necessarily at liberty to release all the information that they might want to lose.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease expert at Florida International University says the Governor's approach to the virus has made it worse.

MARTY: It's counterproductive.

GRIFFIN (on-camera): Is it also deadly?

MARTY: It leads people towards behavior that increases transmission. Bottom line, it leads to more deaths.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): In recent weeks, Governor Ron DeSantis has defiantly kept restaurants and bars open joined the maskless crowd, tweeting this picture from a high school football game and scoffed at the notion of more government mandated shutdowns no matter how bad the virus.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): If they want to shut down businesses. I'm going to stand in the way.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): What he has rarely done is mentioned to 20,000 Floridians who have died or the more than 1 million who've been infected. Seemingly say critics to downplay the virus, keep Florida's economy open in an effort to win an election for one person.

TRUMP: We're with the governor of Florida Ron DeSantis has done a spectacular job in Florida.

CARLOS HERNANDEZ, (R) MAYOR, HIALEAH FLORIDA: He's doing a very miserable job when it comes to this issue here with coronavirus in the state of Florida. And I'll tell him to his face.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): The Governor's executive order has prevented county officials and mayors like Carlos Hernandez, the Republican mayor of Hialeah from enforcing local mask regulations or other restrictions that could have slowed the viruses spread.

HERNANDEZ: Maybe he has a number in mind that it's OK for that amount of people to die or not. I don't know. But I think there's a lot more that we could be doing as a state.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Instead, health experts like USF Dr. Marissa Levine say DeSantis' administration controls the messaging about the response.

MARISSA LEVINE, FACULTY, USF: All of those decisions are made in Tallahassee and I suspect that the Governor's office.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): To Department of Health employees tell CNN in late September they were told to not focus on COVID-19 in their public messaging. Both workers who asked not to be named said they were afraid of being fired. We're putting politics in front of lives once said, and sure enough, the state's public messages about coronavirus almost entirely vanished.

The Florida Department of Health's website and social media accounts used to be filled with COVID information and advice. But on September 25th, the day the governor signed his order that fully reopened Florida. All of that changed overnight. The tweets and Facebook posts suddenly were about Infant Hearing loss, carbon monoxide poisoning and the flu shot. Up until Thursday, the Department of Health's website was filled with a week's old image promoting National Diabetes Awareness Month, which was November to find the latest news on COVID- 19. You need to click on a link.

LEVINE: The Governor made up his mind about what the right thing to do was found people who supported that and then went ahead. The problem is it was kind of an all or nothing and it undermined a lot of the local efforts.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Florida's governor's office and State Health Department refused to answer any questions.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BERMAN: And Drew Griffin joins us now. Drew, what's going on here just seems to be Governor DeSantis as President Trump is done treating a pandemic like a divisive political issue.

GRIFFIN: No doubt John, we talked to that one health official said this is politics in front of lives. Today, John over 100 deaths recorded in Florida, 13,000 new COVID cases. That's the most daily caseload they've had since July. The Governor put out one tweet today. Another one about high school football. John.

BERMAN: Drew Griffin. Thank you very much.


And just as we leave air this evening some new numbers 2,995 reported deaths so far today, another grim count that is sadly not over.

The news continues. So let's hand over to Chris for "CUOMO PRIMETIME."