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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Interview with Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA); Trump, Flynn and Powell Discuss Martial Law to Overturn election. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired December 21, 2020 - 20:00   ET

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


ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: What we are hearing now is they're saying we're going to vote as a contingency plan and you had actually Ivanka Trump say today that Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue are doing everything they can to make sure the next election is safe. That's what they're trying to do. It is to project it to the next election until the voters come out anyway.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: All said, glad you're on the ground. Appreciate it. Good to see you.

Thank you all so much for joining me tonight. AC 316 starts now.

[20:00:22]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: So let's not mince words here. This is not a drill. The President of the United States is weighing the kind of action you see in dictatorships. John Berman here in for Anderson.

So more than a month ago, with the President refusing to accept his election defeat, a senior Republican official asked a reporter from "The Washington Post" and I'm quoting now, "What's the downside of humoring him for this little bit of time?" "After all," this official said, " ... it's not like he's plotting how to prevent Joe Biden from taking power on January 20th."

Tonight the evidence is growing that he is. And another official told CNN today, quote, "No one is sure where this is heading."

For the third time that we know of since Friday, Attorney Sidney Powell was at the White House today. She is the conspiracy theorist you recall who was kicked off the President's election team after making allegations too wild even for them.

She now wants the President to order the Federal seizure of voting machines in swing states. So does the President's fired National Security Adviser and pardoned, admitted felon Michael Flynn. He and Powell met with the President Friday, here's what he told Newsmax Thursday about the President's options.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN (RET), U.S. ARMY: He could immediately, on his order, seize every single one of these machines around the country on his order. He could also order -- he could order within the swing states, if he wanted to, he could take military capabilities and he could place them in those states and basically rerun an election in one of those states.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Send in the troops, this retired three-star general says and rerun the elections, essentially at gunpoint. And in case you're wondering whether he is just speaking hypothetically, he's not.

Flynn has also retweeted this press release for an outfit called the, "We the People Convention" advocating precisely that what the group calls limited martial law. It's all a bit much for another friend of the President.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: Remember the thing that Ronald Reagan used to say, he used to say personnel is policy. And what he meant was that the people who surround you and what they do will help to determine policy.

This is why someone like Michael Flynn never belonged anywhere near the White House, let alone inside the Oval Office and his lawyer, Sidney Powell.

Now I've been talking about this since the transition in 2016. How dangerous I thought General Flynn was. I sat with him in security briefings with the then candidate Donald Trump, and then with President Donald Trump, and I will tell you that he is not fit to be giving advice to anyone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Yet there he and Powell were at the White House on Friday, the fired national security adviser and the fired attorney. They were joined by a dot-com tycoon named Patrick Byrne; politically, he is best known for his comments about the Deep State and his admitted relationship with accused Russian agent, Maria Butina. More recently, he claims to have, in his words, funded a team of hackers and cyber sleuthed other people with odd skills to investigate the election.

Rudy Giuliani, the President's election lawyer and Ukraine go-between attended the Friday meeting by phone and was spotted at the White House today. So there's now a rift between Giuliani and Powell, by the way, which makes the whole thing even more freakish.

It's a cast of characters, I suppose that is tempting to dismiss as some kind of pathetic clown show, complete with running grease paint. That is until you consider the seriousness of what they are advocating and what the President appears to be embracing.

It's scary, an administration official tells us adding that the President appears, quote, "obsessed," unquote, with far flung scenarios for overturning the election. That includes naming Sidney Powell with some kind of election special counsel, an idea sources tell us the President floated during the Friday meeting.

And again, remember, we're talking about the same Sidney Powell, the President and his election legal team wanted nothing to do with just a few weeks ago because she was seen as too extreme. Now, in the President's eyes, she is special counsel material.

CNN's Evan Perez asked Attorney General William Barr about this today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR U.S. JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: The idea of appointing a special counsel, would you answer a question about whether you believe there's enough there even with your -- what you've already said? You believe there's enough evidence to warrant a special counsel to investigate that perhaps Sidney Powell or someone else?

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, if I thought a special counsel at this stage was the right tool, and was appropriate I would do -- I would name one, but I haven't and I'm not going to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Meaning that as far as he is concerned, the country is safe from a special counsel Powell. That is until he leaves office two days from now. That's how much longer the center such as his might hold on, on the special counsel front.

As for Martial Law, well, on Friday, the Secretary of the Army and the Army Chief of Staff put out a joint statement reading quote, "There is no role for the U.S. military in determining the outcome of an American election." Welcome words, until you consider they even needed to say them at all.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond has done much of the reporting on this. He joins us from the White House tonight. Jeremy, what are you hearing from your sources about what President Trump and his allies are trying to do tonight and the lengths they are willing to go?

[20:05:35]

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, one thing is clear, John, it is that the President is no longer just going through the motions here processing a defeat. He is committed at this point to try and to overturn the results of the election.

Now, there's very little to no chance that he is actually going to be successful in those efforts, but he is considering a range of options. And they range from the, you know, kind of more sane, long shot legal challenges at the Supreme Court to the completely delusional and frankly, unhinged efforts to consider imposing Martial Law in several key battleground states, an option that was floated by the disgraced former National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn who the President has been meeting with.

And so what you have to look at here is kind of the different categories that the President is considering. He is considering some efforts that are more unhinged than being put forward by the fringe elements of his political orbit, including Flynn and Sidney Powell, and then you have efforts by others who have been pushing back on some of those more delusional efforts, like the White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, the White House Counsel, Pat Cipollone, Rudy Giuliani, they are still supporting other efforts by the President to overturn the results of the election.

And one of those things, of course, was today the President spent several hours meeting with Republican Members of Congress as well as the White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who tweeted about this meeting, and it's very clear that they are going to try and object to the certification of the election on January 6th in Congress.

And so again, it just kind of depends what is your range of comfortability with efforts to overturn the results of the election at this point.

BERMAN: We need to be clear, those Members of Congress, they could object, they can delay the vote on January 6th, but there's no way -- there's no way that they can stop it altogether. It's just not going to happen.

So the President has mostly abandoned his day role at this point. The White House has said he'll sign the coronavirus relief bill. But what else is he actually doing besides trying to overturn the election, Jeremy?

DIAMOND: Not much. I mean, look, today, he spent several hours with these Republican Members of Congress to discuss this challenge that, as you said, is all but certain to fail in Congress in terms of overturning the results of the election, spent several hours doing that.

We also saw Rudy Giuliani coming to the White House. Sidney Powell was at the White House. So clearly, many of the President's meetings today were focused on this issue of voter fraud. And sources have told me that that has been the President's single minded focus.

The only other issue perhaps is considering the pardons that he is going to issue to his political allies in the final weeks of his presidency. But one thing is very clear, John, and I think it's important to underscore this, is the change that we've really heard from our sources over the last week in terms of the level of concern and alarm from people who are very close to the President about the length to which he appears to be taking this, and the concern about what the President is going to be doing with 30 days left in office.

That is a lot of time -- we have seen how much the President can do with just a tweet in a matter of moments. Now, we have 30 days remaining in his term in office.

BERMAN: All right, Jeremy Diamond, we will let you get back to reporting because who knows what else could happen tonight. Thanks so much for being with us.

Joining us now, Congressman and House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff. He led impeachment proceedings against the President and argued for conviction in the Senate. In his closing statement, he said, quote, "He has compromised our

elections and he will do so again. You will not change him, you cannot constrain him. He is who he is."

So, Mr. Chairman, along those lines, I ask you this. Look, there was a discussion of Martial Law inside the Oval Office to force a new election essentially at gunpoint. I take it from your statement in the impeachment trial, you may not be surprised. But how alarmed are you at this?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Well, this is the same mixed emotions I think we've all had during the Trump presidency, which is on the one hand, we're shocked; on the other hand, we're not at all surprised.

This is exactly who Donald Trump is. He would like to be an autocrat. He has nothing but disdain for the institutions of our democracy. And if he can stay in power through cheating, lying, stealing, he will do it. He's going to fail at it, but the fact that he is entertaining, you know, this assortment of various, you know, morally challenged people in the Oval Office, suggesting Martial Law or seizing voting machines, it is deeply damaging to our democracy.

He is creating a permanent class of aggrieved Americans who think their election was stolen from them. So, he is going to go out of office the same way he came in like a wrecking ball, just destroying the foundation of our democracy.

BERMAN: What are the guardrails for the next 30 days, Mr. Chairman?

[20:10:01]

SCHIFF: Well, you know, I think we can expect the President is going to just descend into further madness as he exits the Oval Office and he is worried about his own personal liability and his financial debt and everything else.

In terms of the guardrails? Well, they are the same guardrails, ultimately, that we've always had, and that is the people of our government, will they stand up to him? Some will, some have, all too many have capitulated. These Republicans who went to the White House today are among the most sycophantic of the whole Congress.

You know, the people that put their name on that bogus lawsuit, 126 of my Republican colleagues, you know, none of them profiles in courage, all of them doing damage to our democracy. But I think there are enough good people in the Congress to stop any effort to overturn the election.

BERMAN: So you've had your fair share of issues with Attorney General William Barr, but what does it tell you then we heard him moments ago talking to our Evan Perez during his news conference, what does it tell you that he's not willing to sign on to any of these crazy ideas?

SCHIFF: Well, that's saying a lot because no one has, I think politicized the Office of Attorney General. No one has broken down the norms of that department more than Bill Barr. His tenure in that office has been absolutely shameful. But apparently there are lines even Bill Barr won't cross.

Now I have to say it's a bit opportunistic in the sense that he is leaving. If he were leaving, would he be willing to stand up to the President? His history says, no, he wouldn't. So

in any event, good riddance, Bill Barr, but it is telling that not even someone who has been willing to carry his dirty water for so long will carry that much more.

BERMAN: I want to ask you about another major story that's developing tonight, this huge cyberattack on the U.S. government, multiple agencies. As Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, what's your reaction to the President not just downplaying it, which he did, but suggesting that China might somehow be behind it instead of Russia when even the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the aforementioned William Barr say it's most likely Russia?

SCHIFF: Well, first of all, you know, it's bad enough that he has completely checked out of his office, that is the President. You know, not receiving his daily briefings, not really being brought up to speed on national security threats facing the country. That's bad enough. But it's made worse when he actively deceives the country about this very serious hack.

In suggesting that it may have been the Chinese, you know, perfect echo of what he said four years ago about Russian interference in our election. He is letting Putin and Russia off the hook. He is doing nothing to deter them from further hacks, further cyberespionage or any other malign conduct by Russia.

And also, when the President of the United States actively lies about something of this seriousness, it also means that he is the person who cried wolf. China is a bad actor and when they do things that ought to be condemned, no one is going to believe Donald Trump because he was blaming China for something that was quite obvious Russia was behind.

BERMAN: So the President came into office running rhetorical interference for Russia, and he leaves office doing the same. So as you sit here tonight, Mr. Chairman, do you have any explanation for why?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, I think there are a couple of plausible explanations. The first is that he's just in love with dictators and would love to be one himself, and he admires Putin as a strong man.

The other is that he has a financial reason. Now, maybe a financial reason in his past and we're trying to get the Deutsche Bank records to find out if that's the case. But it also could be just financial interest in the future. He still wants to build that Moscow Trump Tower and when he tried to build it during the campaign and lied about it at that time, it was going to be the most lucrative deal of his life.

So he still may want money and opportunity from Putin, and this is a President who is driven by nothing more than his desire for more money. BERMAN: Mr. Chairman, between this, what we're seeing with Russia and

we talked about at the beginning, with his efforts to overturn, his overt efforts to overturn the election. That's not hyperbole. He is out there saying he wants to see the election overturned.

What's the danger, do you think of normalizing this, as treating this as just another entry on a Trump blooper reel?

SCHIFF: It is enormously dangerous. Look, there's going to be -- whether he runs again or he doesn't, there is going to be someone running in the Trump lane, someone running in the xenophobic populist, I don't care about democracy lane. And this President has now made that somehow normal, and you can expect others to propose the same kind of cheating in elections.

Others try to get foreign nations to help them cheat. Others try to get electors to help them cheat or appeal to, you know, partisan Supreme Court. So a terrible precedent has been set. And once it is set, of course, it takes years and years, sometimes decades to obliterate that precedent. So he is doing real harm and as I mentioned before, part of that harm is in creating this group of millions of millions of Americans who think they had their election stolen from them, and won't accept the new administration the way they should. So there's just no, I think, downplaying the seriousness.

[20:15:28]

BERMAN: Mr. Chairman, thank you for being with us. I do appreciate your time. Happy Holidays. Happy New Year, sir.

SCHIFF To you, too. Stay healthy.

BERMAN: Next, our legal and political team join us if not to make sense of what's going on at the White House, which honestly is all but impossible, then to at least put it in some kind of perspective and talk more about what if anything, can limit the damage the next 30 days could bring.

And later, more from Putin's Russia and a remarkable story, too farfetched for even a spy novel. See what happens when a poisoning victim dials his alleged poisoners and gets one of them to talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: So looking there at the White House and we can only wonder what else is going beyond the scary stuff we already know about. We're talking tonight about a President said to be obsessed according to one administration official with untenable and far flung scenarios to overturn the election, which bad as it sounds, is actually a pretty sterile way of putting it.

Speaking plainly the leader of the free world is talking about or entertaining ideas about naming conspiracy crackpot as a special counsel, seizing voting machines, sending in troops and imposing martial law.

Ordinarily such ideas never make it into the White House.

Now for the last three out of four days, they have been there by invitation of the President.

Perspective now from CNN contributor and former Nixon White House Counsel, John Dean, also CNN legal analyst Carrie Cordero, and CNN senior political analyst David Gergen.

[20:20:36]

BERMAN: John, you call what we've been seeing, quote, "a bad nightmare" playing out in the President's fantasies. Well, how concerned are you that this has gone beyond just some world of make believe into reality?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, John, I don't think that he can do anything that will indeed fulfill his fantasies. I think he can wish and hope in some sort of psychological escape from his loss that he's grasping for, but I don't really think he can take it anywhere.

I'm stunned that the republicans have not braced him and told him enough is enough, but he is still going on. But I just don't think it will go anywhere in the end of it all.

BERMAN: So Carrie, legally speaking, what are the limits to these notions that are being discussed? Whether it be the cockamamie idea of Martial Law or seizing the voting machines or naming Sidney Powell as a special counsel.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, well, the election is over. The Electoral College has met. I mean, there is no avenue for the President to challenge this election anymore. Whatever he is doing now, whatever conversations he is having are just a distraction. They're not going to affect the outcome of the election. They're not going to change the fact that we're going to be moving on January 20th to a new administration.

But what it also is doing during this time, is he is not doing the job of President, when there are really important things going on right now. There's a National Defense Act that he should be signing that he has threatened to veto that's pending. That would include all sorts of provisions that would better protect national security. There's the pandemic.

There are other things that he should be doing, and instead, he is apparently according to reports, just entertaining these conspiracy theories.

BERMAN: Yes, U.S. record hospitalizations, again, moments ago, he could be doing something about that or addressing it in any way, which he is not.

David, you've advised four presidents and you were there for Nixon's final days. So given the fact that you were there at that time, have you ever seen anything like what you're seeing now so erratic? DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No, I never imagined that

beyond the (INAUDIBLE) that we would get to the point like this. I thought that was going to be the worst we would ever see in the presidency. And here we are.

I have a darker view, I must say, a few colleagues about where we are. You know, it was bad enough that Trump followed in the footsteps of Hitler, but when he injected the questioned idea into the bloodstream of our politics that Joe Biden is an illegitimate President, that he is a fraudulent President, I think that really kneecaps the Biden ministration in a significant way.

But what's worse now is that he is once again, following in Hitler's footsteps in a much more dangerous way, and that is he is actually engaged in a power grab. That's what Hitler did after he was elected, he went for the power grab and he succeeded at that. Look what happened to the world.

I really think that there's a possibility when Barr leaves office on Wednesday, and they will have Jeffrey Rosen in there as the acting Attorney General and he may go along with some of these cockamamie ideas, such as appointing a special counsel, you know, for the machines or for Hunter Biden, or whatever it is and he may even give a veneer of support to the idea that, you know, and there isn't a more open ended view of the Constitution on the question of Martial Law.

And you may really see something like that tried. I don't think it's out of the question. When this woman, Miss Powell has been to the White House three out of the last four days, presumably to see the President in each case, and she is this crazy person, with all of these conspiracy theories, you better take that seriously.

BERMAN: You can't just walk into the White House whether or not she got into the Oval Office. It's not like you can just ring the doorbell and walk in, someone has got to invite you. Three out of the last four days, she has been there and someone has had her there to spew these bizarre thoughts that she has.

And john to that point, you know, what about this, this league of extraordinary lunatics or confederacy of conspiracists who have been surrounding the President over the last few days. You know, Sidney Powell, Michael Flynn, Steve Bannon is out there now spouting this stuff. Not to mention Rudy Giuliani. What do you make of these people?

[20:25:13]

DEAN: Well, it's certainly quite disappointing in their behavior, it's going to haunt them for the rest of their lives. People are not going to forget this behavior. It seems to be a new norm within the Republican Party, unfortunately.

So I think they are playing to the man who they are most attracted to and trying to puff up his ego. I doubt it is working. I think Trump has seen the handwriting on the wall.

So you know, in another time and in another place, this would be sedition to talk about undoing the government in this way.

Fortunately, our Supreme Court has said talk of sedition is not necessarily sedition, you need to have actually overt, violent behavior to implement it. But that's what they'd like to do and I don't think as I said earlier, they can get that far.

BERMAN: So for what it's worth, as I said, there is a rift inside this league of extraordinary lunatics where Rudy Giuliani has turned on Sidney Powell, apparently, Mark Meadows has turned on Michael Flynn.

So there was a shouting match inside the White House where many argued against the Martial Law thing, it doesn't appear to have gotten out of that room on Friday, but the fact that it was discussed was alarming enough.

And then there are other discussions. They get to the special counsel idea and seizing voting machines, Carrie, and I guess what I'm asking is, you know, you're steeped in national security. You've been in the middle of all this for years. What does the rest of the world think about this when they see what's going on inside the White House?

CORDERO: Well, for four years, especially our allies and our intelligence partners around the world have been looking at this, really with a lot of concern, because there's really important national security alliances that we have and partnerships that we have, and so the entire Trump presidency has been a period of uncertainty where our allies have started to question those relationships.

I think right now, they are waiting, just like much of the country is waiting for the next few weeks to pass to see if we can resume a normal American presidency, where there is truth that comes out of the White House, where there is informed decision making, where the President does not surround himself by conspiracy theorists.

I think, our allies as well as Americans right now, and I do take some comfort in the fact that our military is not going to go along with these crazy ideas. It even sounds as if there are individuals in the White House who have been supporters of the President, advisers to the President throughout his term that are not going to go along with these crazy ideas.

It doesn't mean that we should look away and we should ignore them. He is the President after all, but I do think that we are going to get to January 20th without these crazy ideas being implemented.

Unfortunately, that means that important things aren't going to get done through leadership in the White House, for example, leading a White House response to the major cyber intrusion that the country has recently experienced and that the Federal government is trying to unpack.

BERMAN: David, we've got to run but in 20 seconds or less, who do you see as the responsibility falling on these next 30 days to serve as the real guardrail here? Who would you put your faith in to keep this within line?

GERGEN: I think there ought to be a delegation of Republicans like Mitch McConnell who ought to be talking to the President, and I think the Chief of Staff of the White House has an obligation to step up and step forward.

He is unfit for office right now, John. We should not be sort of waiting on chance or whether the next 30 days, he's going to do something really crazy. People need to stand up on now.

BERMAN: Well, if you're counting on Mark Meadows that may be misplaced faith. He was bragging.

GERGEN: I know.

BERMAN: He was bragging about holding this meeting with House members to object to the electoral count on January 6th just moments ago. So there is that.

David Gergen, Carrie Cordero, John Dean, I appreciate the discussion. If not what we actually talked about.

More breaking news just ahead. As President-elect Biden gets the first dose of his coronavirus inoculation, the U.S. records a new high for hospitalizations and coronavirus cases.

And there is growing concern now about this new variant of coronavirus emerging in Britain. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:30:00]

HERE

BERMAN: Breaking news tonight on several fronts due to the pandemic. First, a record 18 million. Let's repeat that. More than 18 million cases of coronavirus have now been recorded in the United States. And another record more than 115,000 people are hospitalized tonight with the virus. A total of more than 319,000 people have died. This as President-elect Biden rolled up his sleeve, he received his first dose of the vaccine as promised on camera this afternoon. His wife Dr. Jill Biden received the vaccine as well.

And tonight there's mounting concern over an emerging variant of coronavirus in Britain so far, no outright ban to the United States on flights arriving from England but to administration officials tell CNN the White House is considering requiring travelers from the UK to show proof of a negative test before entering the country.

[20:35:11]

So a great deal to get to I'm pleased to be joined by Dr. Peter Hotez, the Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor University, and Dr. Celine Gounder, a member of President-elect Biden's Coronavirus Task Force. And Dr. Hotez look, I think a lot of people woke up to the news that Britain was saying, and Boris Johnson saying that, you know, Christmas can't go on the way we had planned. But how concerned should people be about this new variant?

PETER HOTEZ, DEAN NATIONAL SCHOOL OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR UNIVERSITY: Yes, John, I mean, there are concerns for the UK, the U.S. and also concerns about the impact of vaccine. So let's quickly go through it. So in the UK, what happened starting around November, December, the UK has a very sophisticated surveillance system that actually does the complete virus sequence of the viruses that the isolate in the country and they noticed that about half of the virus isolates in southeast England around Kent, where this one variant, which goes by the memorable name of B.1.17. And it had a lot of mutations more than they would have expected. And that raised a lot of concerns, and it was noticed that it was in London. And it seemed to be that this virus is out competing the other virus strains and that's signaled to trigger an alarm, wondering if this virus is more transmissible than the other viruses. And that's the reason why it's out competing it there are other potential reasons for it. But that's the concern. And that's why the Prime Minister raised that issue, and warned people in the UK to be really careful about travel over Christmas.

Now, there's no evidence that it's more transmissible. There's some modeling studies that gave projections of 70% increase in transmissibility, but it's not based on experimental evidence. So then the question is, what does that mean for the U.S.? Well, you know, people are worried, well, we don't want this virus here. The question is, we now know that this virus has been circulating since late in the summer in the middle of September. So there's a good chance this virus is already in the United States, and almost certainly, in multiple areas of Europe, in which case, what's going to be the impact of any kind of travel ban. So really need to know and we should hear, I hope soon from the CDC director, is what the actual frequency of this variant already in places like New York City and places heavier hubs from the UK and Boston, even in Houston, and what will be the impact of travel bans compared to mathematical models that would project how quickly this will overtake other virus strains in the U.S. -- in the UK. So I'm surprised we haven't heard that yet.

BERMAN: So, Dr. Gounder to that point. Look, I talked to Admiral Brett Giroir this morning. I also talked to you this morning, Brett Giroir told me that everything's on the table. We have not seen a travel ban to the United States from the UK yet. How much sense do you think it makes?

CELINE GOUNDER, INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST: Well, I do think, John that we need to treat this as a very real potential threat. There's still a lot that we don't know, as Peter mentioned, we don't know how transmissible this variant is with respect to the other strains of coronavirus. We don't know whether this new variant can cause more severe disease, most of those who have been infected with this new variant. We're younger, at least at the beginning of this. And so the data we have is among younger people who tend to have less severe cases in general. And finally, we don't know what this means in terms of the vaccines that have been developed whether this variant could potentially evade that. We don't think so, but again, this variant could mutate further that is what viruses do, they mutate. And so, that is something that we're also going to be looking into.

Now, with respect to travel restrictions. There already are travel restrictions with the UK. And so, the people who are able to travel right now are American citizens, permanent residents and the like. So you would be restricting travel on them. I do think pre-travel testing and quarantine upon arrival would make a lot of sense. But that's also going to put a lot more stress on public health departments that are already really spread then.

BERMAN: We'll talk to me about that the quarantine for 14 days when you arrive because Jay Inslee and Washington Governor Inslee is calling on that. Do you think that that is worth considering doing something at this point until we know more?

GOUNDER: Well, I certainly think all options should be on the table. That is one of the options that should be on the table. Again, that does require some significant support by public health departments to enforce that and a support that people who are in quarantine in a hotel, you need to be bringing them food and other such things. But I do think that option should be on the table. But I think big picture if the virus is already here in the United States, which in all likelihood it probably already is. It's not just about travel bans with the UK, it is travel within the U.S. that could be very dangerous. And if there's any time for Americans to be canceling their Christmas plans it is now. We were already warning against the risk of traveling over the holidays. This is really a precarious situation that we're in and this is not the time to be traveling.

[20:40:12]

BERMAN: So Dr. Hotez, I mentioned President-elect Biden got his first dose of the vaccine today. I know you got yours last week, Dr. Fauci is getting his tomorrow. I think, Dr. Gounder you're getting yours tomorrow or the next day. And I'm thrilled for all of this because you people are on the frontlines, and I'm so glad that you are there fighting for us.

Doctor, there's the reason that this is being done for Joe Biden, other people is because they're essential workers, obviously, but also to set an example for the rest of the country so that everyone feels safe about getting the vaccine and a counter misinformation. How much do you think that's working so far?

HOTEZ: Yes, we have a new survey John from the Kaiser Family Foundation out late last week that shows a significant level of what's euphemistically called vaccine hesitancy and also vaccine refusal. And it's particularly among two groups. One is what they call Republicans, meaning that this came out of this health freedom movement that started in 2015, and is now around the anti-vaccine movement, which was based here in Texas and Oklahoma. And is now expanded to protest against mask and contact tracing and social distancing. It bought into this whole disinformation campaign around with led by Scott Atlas and other elements of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. So it's created a real mess. And it's and this is one of the reasons why the southern states got hit so hard this summer and the central part of the country this fall, and now they're resisting vaccines as well. So we're going to need leaders to demonstrate the safety of vaccines. And we also have pretty high rates of vaccine hesitancy among the African-American population for very different reasons around historic and structural racism, but also deliberate targeting by anti-vaccine groups. So this is going to be a huge problem. We haven't had a strong communication plan coming out of Operation Warp Speed. Operation Warp Speed has been a great program for scientific rigor and integrity of the trials but not communication. And so, this is going to be a priority for the Biden administration to fix in the New Year.

BERMAN: Dr. Hotez, Dr. Gounder, I appreciate both you being with us tonight. Thank you very much.

HOTEZ: Thank you.

BERMAN (voice-over): So you think you've heard the last of that poison attack on Russian dissident, Alexey Navalny? No. The newest chapter is frankly straight out of a spy novel. Actually is beyond belief, even from what would be in a spy novel. Amazing reporting from CNN's Clarissa Ward, when "360" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:46:51]

BERMAN: Another Flashpoint in U.S.-Russia relations. The poisoning of Russian dissident Alexey Navalny has taken an even more bizarre turn. A Russian agent sent to tail opposites, you know, later Navalny has accidentally revealed how he was poisoned in August. The agent a member of an elite toxins team and Russia's FSB Security Service, said the lethal nerve agent novichok was planted in Navalny's underwear, you hear that right, underwear. Last week and investigation by CNN and the online investigative Bellingcat revealed that the unit has trailed Navalny for more than three years. Clarissa Ward joins us now with the details. Clarissa, just stunning developments. What's the latest?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I know John, it's one of those stories you hear about it. And you think if this was a Hollywood movie, you would say it was over the top but this is not, this is real. CNN has been provided with this phone conversation where you hear this agent describing the details of where the poison was placed in the underwear, his role in the cleanup operation. And what he doesn't know is that the man on the other end of the line of the phone is Alexey Navalny himself. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WARD (voice-over): It is an extraordinary scene. Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny on the phone with one of the FSB unit he believes poisoned him in August. Navalny is pretending to be a senior figure from Russia's National Security Council investigating the attempted assassination. The operative Konstantin Kudryavtsev is hesitant at first, but then reveals the poison was placed on Navalny's underpants.

(FOREIGN LANGUAGE) ALEXEY NAVALNY, RUSSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER (through translation): Well, imagine underpants and then what place.

KONSTANTIN KUDRYAVTSEV, FSB AGENT (through translation): The insides, the groin.

NAVALNY (through translation): The crotch of the underpants?

KUDRYAVTSEV (through translation): Well, the so called flap. There seams there. So across the seams,

WARD (voice-over): The explosive admission punches a gaping hole in the Kremlin's repeated denials that the Russian government played any role in Navalny's poisoning. Kudryavtsev was one of an elite team who trailed Navalny for years as CNN and online investigative Bellingcat reported last week. The unit was headquartered in this unassuming building in a Moscow suburb. Most of its members were doctors or scientists. Kudryavtsev graduated from the Russian Academy of Chemical Defense. When Navalny was poisoned, back in August, his flight was suddenly diverted to Omsk flight records show that just five days later, Kudryavtsev flew to that same city taking possession of Navalny's clothes.

On the 45 minute call with Navalny, he offers an assurance that no trace of novichock would be found on them.

KUDRYAVTSEV (through translation): Yes, all is clean.

NAVALNY (through translation): Visually it will not be visible. They did not remove there are no stains on them. Nothing?

KUDRYAVTSEV (through translation): No, no nothing. They're in good condition and clean.

[20:50:05]

NAVALNY (through translation): Pants?

KUDRYAVTSEV (through translation): There's the same inside area. Perhaps something was left on it too. We washed it off there also, but this is presumably because there was contact with the pants. Perhaps there was something on there too.

WARD: Be FSB toxins team trailed in Navalny on more than 30 trips around Russia. Five of its members flew to Siberia around the same time as Navalny during the fateful August trip when he was poisoned. Toxicologists have told CNN that Navalny is lucky to be alive, and that the intention was almost certainly to kill him. A point Kudryavtsev himself appears to acknowledge.

KUDRYAVTSEV (through translation): If you'd flown a little longer, and perhaps would not have landed so quickly, and perhaps it would have all gone differently. That is, had it not been for the prompt assistance of doctors or ambulances on the landing strip, and so on.

NAVALNY (through translation): The plane landed after 40 minutes. Basically, this should have been taken into account while planning the operation. It wasn't that the plane landed instantly. They calculated the wrong dose, the probability, why?

KUDRYAVTSEV (through translation): Well, I can't say why, as I understand it, we added a bit extra.

NAVALNY: Now we've got evidence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How could they do this?

NAVALNY: Yes.

WARD (voice-over): At the end of the call Navalny and his team are elated that their sting operation has worked. And despite everything he's discovered, he still determined to return to Russia as soon as possible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He told the whole story.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: It's just unreal that the man on the other end of the line was Navalny. Let's just stipulate that it is crazy. And you also learn Clarissa about some of the tactics involved these pursuers use to try and evade detection. What can you tell us about that?

WARD: Yes, it's so interesting, because what you realize is that these men had been following Navalny for more than three years, John, so they knew everything about his habits. They knew that he liked to switch rooms with other members of his team so that they wouldn't know exactly what room he was sleeping in. And they described some of the measures that they took as well as precautions to evade detection, changing their clothes regularly. They also said -- he also said that they never flew on the same flight as Navalny. They would always take parallel flights, same destination, but different flights. Really giving you an insight into an operation that frankly, was years in the making John.

BERMAN: And Clarissa there now has been a denial from the FSB.

WARD: Yes, it's not that often we hear from the FSB, Russian State Security Services are notoriously tight lipped, but they have come out after this explosive conversation. They have called it a fake. They have said that it is designed simply to make Russian State Security Services look bad. And they've also said that it couldn't have been done if Navalny didn't have the help of foreign special services. This is an aspersion they cast on Navalny all the time. Really trying to discredit him by making out that essentially, he is a pawn of Western intelligence services, John. But I think we can expect to hear more questions coming not just to the FSB, but also to the Kremlin.

BERMAN: I didn't think it was possible a story could get even more intriguing, Clarissa but it has our thanks to you, Clarissa Ward.

So, just ahead, we'll go live to Capitol Hill for the latest on that must pass $900 billion COVID relief bill. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:57:31]

BERMAN: We are moments away from a final vote on a long awaited COVID relief bill the price tag $900 billion, including a $600 stimulus check too many Americans. Our senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju joins us now with the very latest. Manu, what do we know about tonight's votes?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the vote is about the bills budget pass the House in pretty overwhelming fashion. Right now there are 329 votes in the affirmative to pass the bill well and above the amount needed to get this out of the House. They have not finished voting in that chamber. But then afterwards, they'll send it to the United States Senate. The Senate is expected to vote sometime tonight declare it and eventually they'll go to the President's desk, it may take a couple days to get the President's desk because John, this bill is 5,593 pages long, it's $900 billion in COVID release $1.4 trillion to keep the government funded through September. And that will take some time to get all the paperwork associated with it, send it to the President's desk and members have had barely more than six hours of time to review it before it's headed into law. John.

BERMAN: Well, if it takes a few days to get to the President's desk, what does that mean in terms of when Americans will see the stimulus checks and who will qualify anyway?

RAJU: Yes, it's going to take a little bit of time to get into the system, we probably within a week, the President is expected to sign this legislation. And then afterwards, those stimulus checks will go out typically took about two weeks, at least it did during the last time round of checks that went out after the March stimulus law. So we do expect that to occur beginning for some folks, in the next two weeks after the President signs into law. Now people will get that are individuals who have earned less than $75,000 and they will get $600, then an additional $600 per person in the household. So if they're a family of four, that'd be $2,400 for them.

But also John, there are a wide range of other benefits in here including to extend those expiring jobless benefits to the tune of $300 a week. Those will be eligible for individuals to receive starting on December 27th. That is so critical here because millions of Americans are about to see that relief, dry up and also a number of industries also could be helped here ranging from restaurants from the farm industry and the like. The small business loans in this proposal are more than $284 billion dollars here, John.

So, a significant piece of legislation finally they came together and it looks like Congress will get it out of the both chambers tonight John.

BERMAN: It's about time. Listen 5,000 pages Manu, we'll let you get back to reading. Little more again.

[21:00:01]

All right, a reminder. Don't miss "Full Circle" Anderson's digital news show. You can catch us streaming live at 6:00 p.m. Eastern at cnn.com/fullcircle or watch it there and on the CNN app at anytime On Demand.