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President Trump's Bombshell Prior Leaving White House; Democrats Use Trump's Call as Boomerang; GOP Candidates in Tough Position; Vaccination Program Lags Behind Schedule; President Trump is Resorting to Desperate Measures to Try to Overturn the Election Results in a Remarkable Hour-long Phone Call; United Kingdom Rolls Out New COVID Vaccine; Coronavirus Pandemic is Pushing the Health Care System to the Brink. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired January 4, 2021 - 03:00   ET




ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR (on camera): Hi. Welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world. Thanks for joining me. You are watching CNN. I'm Robyn Curnow.

So just ahead on the show, in an hour-long phone call the U.S. president seem to issue vague threats while pressuring Georgia's head of elections to sway the vote in his favor. Then also, Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden are heading to Georgia in the coming hours ahead of those key Senate elections.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is not meeting the demands for coronavirus vaccinations, but Anthony Fauci is hopeful that momentum will pick up in the next few weeks.

UNKNOWN: This is CNN breaking news.

CURNOW: So, we have the shocking White House phone call that is rocking U.S. politics and widening the split in the Republican Party. In this hour-long call, President Donald Trump pushes Georgia's Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to find a vote that would overturn Joe Biden's election victory.

I want you to listen to this exchange with Raffensperger state of general counsel Ryan Germany.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: All I want to do is this, I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state, and flipping the state is a great testament to our country. Because you know, it is a testament that they can admit to our mistake. Or, whatever you want to call. It if it was a mistake, I don't know.

A lot of people think it wasn't a mistake, it was much more criminal than that. But it's a big problem in Georgia. And it's not a problem that's going away. I mean, you know, it's not a problem that is going away.



GERMANY: We are looking into every one of the things that you mentioned.

TRUMP: OK, that's good.

GERMANY: I know investigators --

TRUMP: But if you find them, you have to say it, Ryan. Look, if they're -- let me ask you. Ryan, --

GERMANY: We will. But I'll tell you what we are seeing.

TRUMP: Go ahead. Go ahead.

GERMANY: What we are seeing is not at all what you were describing. These are investigators from our office, these are invested from GBI, and they are looking and they are good and that's not what they are seeing. And we'll keep looking. We'll keep looking all these things.


CURNOW (on camera): Well there is much more, actually in this clip that I want to play you now. Mr. Trump repeats false accusations and conspiracy theories, he also refuses to listen as Raffensperger and Germany disproved him.


TRUMP: Do you think it is possible that they shredded ballots in Fulton County? Because that's what the rumor is. And also, that Dominion took out machines. That Dominion is really moving fast to get rid of their machinery. Do you know anything about that? Because that is illegal.

GERMANY: This is Ryan Germany. No, Dominion has not moved any machinery out of Fulton County. We're having an election on Tuesday.


TRUMP: Well, but -- no, but have they moved -- have they -- have they moved the inner parts of the machines and replaced them with other parts?


TRUMP: Are you sure, Ryan?

GERMANY: I'm sure. I'm sure, Mr. President. TRUMP: And what about -- what about the -- what about the ballots,

the shredding of the ballots? Have they been shredding ballots?

BRAD RAFFENSPERGER, GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE: No. GERMANY: The only investigation that we have into that, they have not

been shredding any ballots. There was an issue in Cobb County where they were doing normal, you know, office shredding, getting rid of old stuff, and we investigated that. But this is stuff from, you know, past elections. And that's -- and that's what it turned out to be.

TRUMP: I don't know about that. It's very --


GERMANY: And that's what --

TRUMP: -- it doesn't pass the smell test, though, because we hear they're shredding thousands and thousands of ballots. And now what they're saying, we're just cleaning up the office. You know, I don't think they're --

RAFFENSPERGER: Well, Mr. President, the problem that you have with social media, they can -- people can say anything.


TRUMP: No, no, this isn't social. This is Trump media. It's not social media. It's really not. It's not social media. I don't care about social. I couldn't care less. Social media is big tech. Big tech is on your side, you know? I don't even know why you have a side, because you should want to have an accurate election. And you're a Republican.

RAFFENSPERGER: We believe that we do have an accurate election.

TRUMP: No, I -- no, you don't. No. No, you don't. You don't have -- you don't have -- not even close. You got -- you're off by hundreds of thousands of votes. And just on the small numbers, you're off on these numbers.


And these numbers can't be just -- well, why won't -- OK, so you send us into Cobb County for signature verification, right? You send us into Cobb County, which we didn't want to go into, and you said it would be open to the public and we could have our -- so we had our experts there. They weren't allowed into the room. But we didn't want Cobb County. We wanted Fulton County, and you wouldn't give it to us.

Now why aren't we doing signature -- and why can't it be open to the public? And why can't we have professionals do it instead of rank amateurs that will never find anything and don't want to find anything? They don't want to find -- you know they don't want to find anything. Someday you'll tell me the reason why, because I don't understand your reasoning. But someday you'll tell me the reason why. But why don't you want to find -- (CROSSTALK)

GERMANY: Mr. President, we chose Cobb County -- we chose Cobb County --

TRUMP: Why don't you want to find -- what?

GERMANY: Sorry, go ahead.

TRUMP: Yes, why did -- why -- OK, so why did you do Cobb County? We didn't even request -- we requested Fulton County, not Cobb County.

CLETA MITCHELL, PARTNER, FOLEY & LARDNER: Well, Mr. President, we do have our --


GERMANY: We chose Cobb County --

TRUMP: Yes, go ahead, please. Go ahead.

GERMANY: We chose Cobb County because that was the only county where there's been any evidence submitted that the signature verification was not properly done.

TRUMP: No, but I told you, but we're not - we're not saying that.

MITCHELL: We just say that.

TRUMP: We are the aggrieved --

MITCHELL: We did say that.

TRUMP: -- we're the aggrieved party. Fulton County - look, Stacey -- in my opinion, Stacey is as dishonest as they come. She has outplayed you at every heart -- at everything. She got you to sign a totally unconstitutional agreement which is a disastrous agreement. You can't check signatures, you can't do -- I can't imagine -- you're allowed to do harvesting, I guess, in that - that agreement is a disaster for this country.

But she got you somehow to sign that thing, and she is a -- she has outsmarted you at every step. And I hate to imagine what's going to happen on Monday or Tuesday, but it's very scary to people.


CURNOW (on camera): Raffensperger's office recorded that call, a source says advisers were instructed not to release the tape unless Mr. Trump attacked him or misrepresented what happened.

Well, Sunday morning, the president did just that, prompting this response from Raffensperger. Respectively -- respectfully, president what -- President Trump, what you are saying is not true, the truth will come out. Now, the Washington Post reported that phone call a few hours later. And John Harwood now reports on the call, and of course the growing political fallout. John?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Just a little over two weeks left in Donald Trump's presidency, the bombshells just keep dropping.

On Sunday, it was the Washington Post revelation on the audiotape of a phone call in which President Trump pressures the Republican secretary of state of Georgia to find extra votes to overturn Joe Biden's victory there. Never mind that the Electoral College tally has been certified in all 50 states, never mind that Joe Biden does not need Georgia 16 electoral votes to win, he's got 306 which is well over the 270 you need.

Never mind there is no evidence of widespread fraud or irregularity in Georgia voting or vote counting. The president was repeating fantasies about shredded ballots and altered voting machines. Brad Raffensperger resisted, even though President Trump appeal to him to act as a fellow Republican.

Now the White House is not commenting on this tape, hard to know what they would say considering that the president is on the tape, as well as White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. But the Biden campaign was quick to say the tape affirms President Trump's assault on democracy since the election.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said that this was a bold face abuse of power. The irony is, that this could end up strengthening Joe Biden's presidency if it tilts it all the very close races for two Georgia Senate seats to take place on Tuesday. If Democrats win both, Democrats will control the Senate and that would give Joe Biden a lot freer hand in terms of legislation.

John Harwood, CNN, Washington.

CURNOW (on camera): Thanks, John for that. I want to talk more about Georgia. Kyung Lah is on the campaign trail here in Georgia, gauging more reaction to that call with Brad Raffensperger. She has a look now on how this could impact Tuesday's runoff election. Take a look.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Well, Democrats are seizing on that call between President Trump and Georgia secretary of state. Calling it undemocratic. We heard from Vice President-elect Kamala Harris who is here in Savannah stumping for the two Democratic challengers, hoping to flip those two Senate seats on Tuesday.

KAMALA HARRIS, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT: Have you all heard about that recorded conversation?


[03:10:04] HARRIS: Well, it was yes, certainly the voice of desperation. Most certainly that. And it was a bold, boldface abuse of power by the President of the United States.

JON OSSOFF (D-GA), SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: The President of the United States calls up Georgia's election officials, and tries to intimidate them.

UNKNOWN: Al right.

OSSOFF: To change the result of the election. To disenfranchise Georgia voters. To disenfranchise black voters in Georgia who delivered the state for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.


OSSOFF: That is a direct attack on our democracy, and if David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler had one piece of steel in their spines, one shred of integrity, they would be out here defending Georgia voters from that kind of assault.


LAH (on camera): It's hard to miss what this image means, if Raphael Warnock and John Ossoff flip those two Senate seats, Kamala Harris becomes a tie breaker, Democrats then control the Senate. That is what is at stake on Tuesday.

We did reach out to Senators Loeffler and Perdue for comment on the call, neither of them returned our calls.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Savannah, Georgia.

CURNOW: Joining me now is Lisa Rayam, host NPR's Morning Edition at WAB here in Atlanta. Lisa, wonderful to see you. I normally hear you on the radio, so it's s great to see you in person. It certainly --


LISA RAYAM, HOST, NPR'S MORNING EDITION: Robyn, thank you so much. Great to be here.

CURNOW: Yes. It certainly going to be a big week for American politics, and Georgia is slap-bang in the middle of all of this. What do you think is really going to change the tide in this Senate runoff? Is it turn out, and crucially, who comes out? Who is energized and in what numbers?

RAYAM: It has been tremendous. Three million early votes coming in, thousands and thousands more are expected come Tuesday. but right now, everyone is talking about this phone call that President Trump supposedly made. And there's audio of it calling secretary of state Brad Raffensperger, kind of asking him to kind of tweak the numbers a little bit in his favor.

He is still smarting out about this presidential election, and how it turned out here in Georgia. The timing is terrible. Like I said, everyone seems to be talking about that. And not the key candidates in this all-important race. It has a lot of people scratching their heads tonight, wondering what, one, President Trump is thinking. And what does this truly mean for the Republican Party? And specifically, the candidates come Tuesday.

CURNOW: In many ways, Mr. Trump's messaging has been mixed when it comes to this election right from the beginning. Has it helped or hindered the Republicans, I think is going to be the big question? Because he said this election is crooked, that the votes were stolen. But at the same time, he says to voters, hey, but still go out and vote. Do you think that will dampen the Republican turnout?

RAYAM: Well, I think it's going to dampen the Republican turn out now, because just this morning, he tweeted, you know, that he thinks Tuesday's election will be fraught with frauds so to speak. So, he is really turning things upside down for his very own party.

Recently, on Morning Edition, I interviewed the former chair of the Georgia GOP, Chuck Clay. And he is outraged that this is happening now, he says the timing is horrible, what the Republican Party needs now is a lot of healing. What the Republican Party needs now is to get behind these two candidates, Senator David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, and try to push them over the top.

The polling has the races very, very tight at this point. And he says, the last thing they need at this point is this distraction from President Trump.

CURNOW: How has Stacey Abrams mobilization efforts continue to make an impact, particularly for Georgia voters, particularly for the African-American community here in Georgia, do you think that will make a difference in the same way it made in the presidential election?

RAYAM: Yes, it is a big deal, because just for this runoff election alone, her fear and fight organization and the new Georgia project both aim to get the disenfranchised voter registered and get them to get to the polls register nearly 800,000 new voters for ahead of this runoff election.


So, she is still playing a huge role in this. And the belief is that possibly those disenfranchised voters that she went after and got register to vote for this election may tip the election in the Democratic -- Democrat favorites. In their favor, rather.

CURNOW: We, all of us here in Georgia have been overwhelmed by the messaging coming from both sides. A saturation in terms of the political adverse. And I think there's certainly a lot of exhaustion from many listeners and viewers.

Do you think -- which messaging, which ground game do you think has one out? Because in many ways it's been very clear. The Democrats have painted the Republicans as corrupt. The Republicans are painting the Democrats as radical socialists. What has landed?

RAYAM: Well, I don't think anything when it comes to this attack ads. Because what's happening here you have a lot of faction of voters saying we don't hear our messaging that we want to hear from the candidates.

On Morning Edition I've been able to interview youth voters, you know, that all-important 18 to 29 voting bloc they are concerned about the economy, they are concerned about the environment and climate, the Hispanic community, the Latino community very diverse in itself. They too have major concerns that they are not hearing in this 11th hour.

Also, women voters, very important in this election and many others in the past, they are not hearing their concerns about health care, job losses, many people on the verge of eviction. Many people have lost people during this pandemic. They want to hear these messages from the candidates, especially if they have not voted and they are heading to the polls on Tuesday. And that's not happening.

So, it's going to be interesting to find out on the other side what drove the people to the polls.

CURNOW: Lisa Rayam there, thank you very much for joining us. Thanks for bringing us your expertise.

RAYAM: Thank you so much for having me.

CURNOW (on camera): So, Nancy Pelosi is now starting her 4th term as Speaker of the House of Representatives. She kept the post as the new U.S. Congress was officially sworn in on Sunday. Pelosi and the Democrats now have a slim margin of control after Republicans gained seats in November's election. In her remarks Pelosi said the most urgent priority is to defeat the coronavirus pandemic.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), UNITED STATES SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We accept a responsibility that is daunting and demanding as any previous generations of leadership has ever faced. We begin this new Congress during a time of extraordinary difficulty. Each of our communities has been drastically - drastically affected by the pandemic and its economic crisis, three hundred fifty thousand tragic deaths. We sadly carry them in our hearts.


CURNOW (on camera): So, this new Congress is now the most diverse in history. There are a record number of women, black and Latino members, as well as lawmakers who identify as LGBTQ.

So, we'll have more on that stunning Trump call coming up in just a few minutes' time. Also ahead, though, here on CNN, U.S. vaccination efforts are falling far, far behind targets. What extra says need to be done. That's next too.


CURNOW (on camera): So, the U.S. is racing to get ahead of the coronavirus pandemic in the halls of overburdened hospitals and in the push to up the pace of vaccinations across the country. But it's really not having much success on either front.

The number of U.S. COVID patients hit a record new number on Sunday. And the coronavirus tracking project reports more than 125,000 people are in hospital with the virus.

This of course, as the pace of vaccinations really lags behind, only about four million doses have been administered across the country so far below the Trump administration targets.


MONCEF SLAOUI, CHIEF SCIENTIFIC ADVISER, OPERATION WARP SPEED: Twenty million doses of vaccines as we had promised would be made available to the American people to be immunized, have been made available. Seventeen and a half million have been shipped. Now we do acknowledge --


UNKNOWN: Right. But only a third of them have actually been used. So that's where the --


SLAOUI: Yes. Absolutely. We need to improve.

ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: The real issue is getting it into people's arms. So we now have about four million, which is obviously below where we want to be, but if you look at the last 72 hours, there has been about 1.5 million administered into people's arms, which is an average of about 500,000 a day, which is better than with that four million over 20 million proportion tells you.


FAUCI: So what I'm saying right now is that a, we're not where we want to be, we've got to do much better, but b, let's give it about a week or two into January to see if we can pick up the momentum that was slowed down by the holiday season.


CURNOW (on camera): OK. So, some experts say they expect better progress once the Biden administration also takes power later on this month.


ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: I've been talking to states. We are making good progress. Again, it would've been helpful to do all of this several months ago. And I do think that it's very, very clear at this point that the Biden team has signaled that they really do want to be partners with the states and help states make progress.

So, I expect a little bit of progress in the next couple of weeks and then a lot more progress once the Biden team is in-house.


CURNOW (on camera): But that positive news will come too late for many in California. The state is struggling to get any sense of control over this virus. I want you to take a look at this very steep curve showing new cases in California. In the states' largest city, it is even more alarming.


MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI (D), LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA: We are seeing a person every six seconds contract COVID-19 here in Los Angeles County. The nation's largest county of 10 million people.

My message to everybody is this. It's not only going to come for somebody that you love. This is going to possibly come for you. And so, everything we do is either lifesaving or life taking at this point.


CURNOW (on camera): Now, these aren't just numbers. There are more than 26,000 dead in California today. Each one represents a person gone and the family mourning.


Here's Paul Vercammen with one woman's message.


PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Just no easing up of the desperate COVID-19 situation in California. More than 45,000 new cases, more than 20,000 people in the hospital, 181 new deaths.

President Trump tweeted that the cases are being exaggerated, calling COVID-19 fake news. That did not sit well with Rosa Cerna. She was at a cemetery, mourning the loss of her father and her uncle due to COVID-19.

ROSA CERNA, FATHER AND UNCLE DIED FROM COVID-19: How could it be fake news? It took my dad. It took my uncle. It has taken so many lives. It has taken so many lives. I don't think it could be fake. It's horrible. It is an insult to me. It's an insult to every family, because there's absolutely no way for somebody to say that it was fake, because my dad is not a fake dad. My dad is not going to resurrect from here and say, I'm just kidding. It was fake. Ha, ha, ha. It is funny. It isn't. It is not fake. VERCAMMEN: Rosa's father, Rogelio, would have turned 73 on New Year's

Day, and his brother, a year older, would have turned 74. Rosa likes to point out that they were hard working they became U.S. citizens. Instead of birthday cake, funeral flowers.


VERCAMMEN (on camera): Reporting from Los Angeles, I'm Paul Vercammen.

CURNOW: Thanks, Paul. Thanks for that. So, coming up, threatening, pleading, repeating conspiracy theories. More details on how the U.S. President Donald Trump asked Georgia state officials to change the election results in his favor. That's next.



ROBYN CURNOW, CNN HOST AND CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Our top story, a recorded telephone call shows President Donald Trump resorting to desperate measures to try to overturn Joe Biden's victory here in Georgia.

In Saturday's call, Mr. Trump tried to push Georgia's secretary of state into changing the state's election results. The president also tried to highlight debunked claims of election fraud.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): I won this election by hundreds of thousands of votes. There's no way I lost Georgia. There's no way. We won by hundreds of thousands of votes. I'm just going by small numbers, when you add them up, they're many times the 11,000. But I won that state by hundreds of thousands of votes.

Now, do you think it is possible that they shredded ballots in Fulton County? Because that is what the rumor is. And also, that Dominion took out machines. That Dominion is really moving fast to get rid of their machinery. Do you know anything about that? Because that's illegal.

RYAN GERMANY, GENERAL COUNSEL AND ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER OF SECURITIES, STATE OF GEORGIA (voice-over): This is Ryan Germany. No, Dominion has not moved any machinery out of Fulton County. We're having an election on Tuesday.

TRUMP (voice-over): Well, but -- no, but have they moved -- have they -- have they moved the inner parts of the machines and replaced them with other parts?

GERMANY (voice-over): No.

TRUMP (voice-over): Are you sure, Ryan?

GERMANY (voice-over): I'm sure. I'm sure, Mr. President. TRUMP (voice-over): And what about -- what about the -- what about the ballots, the shredding of the ballots? Have they been shredding ballots?


GERMANY (voice-over): The only investigation that we have into that, they have not been shredding any ballots. There was an issue in Cobb County where they were doing normal, you know, office running, getting rid of old stuff, and we investigated that. But this is stuff from, you know, past elections. And that's -- and that's what it turned out to be.

TRUMP (voice-over): I don't know about that. It's very -- it doesn't pass the smell test, though, because we hear they're shredding thousands and thousands of ballots. And now what they're saying, oh, we're just cleaning up the office.


TRUMP (voice-over): You know, I don't think they're --

RAFFENSPERGER (voice-over): Well, Mr. President, the problem that you have with social media, they can -- people can say anything.

TRUMP (voice-over): No, no, this isn't social. This is Trump media. It's not social media. It's really not. It's not social media. I don't care about social. I couldn't care less. Social media is big tech. Big tech is on your side, you know? I don't even know why you have a side, because you should want to have an accurate election. And you're a Republican.

RAFFENSPERGER (voice-over): We believe that we do have an accurate election.

TRUMP (voice-over): No, I -- no, you don't. No. No, you don't. You don't have -- you don't have -- not even close. You got -- you're off by hundreds of thousands of votes.


CURNOW (on camera): There is no evidence of widespread election fraud here in Georgia or anywhere else, but Mr. Trump isn't giving up his effort to look for it.

During his phone call, he alleged that Mr. Biden received an unusual amount of military support in Georgia's election, which he considers a red flag.


TRUMP (voice-over): Do you about the military ballots that we have confirmed now? Do you know about the military ballots that came in that were a hundred percent -- I mean, a hundred percent for Biden? Do you know about that? GERMANY (voice-over): I don't know about that. I do know that we have -- when military ballots come in, it's not just military. It's also military and overseas citizens. The military part of that does generally go Republican. The overseas citizen part of it generally goes very Democrat. So --

TRUMP (voice-over): No, but this was --

GERMANY (voice-over): -- a mix of them.

TRUMP (voice-over): Yeah, that's OK. But I get -- I got like 78 percent in the military. These ballots were all for -- they were -- they didn't tell me, obviously, these could be overseas, too, but I get votes overseas, too, Ryan, you know, in all fairness.

No, they came in -- a large batch came in and it was, quote, "100 percent for Biden." And that is criminal. You know, that's criminal, OK? That's another criminal. That's another of the many criminal events, many criminal events here.

I don't know. Look Brad, I got to get -- I have to find 12,000 votes and I have them times a lot. And therefore, I won the state. That's before we go to the next step which is in the process of right now, you know, and I watched you this morning, and you said, well, there was no criminality. But, I mean, all of this stuff is very dangerous stuff. When you talk about no criminality, I think it's very dangerous for you to say that.


CURNOW (on camera): Officials in Raffensperger's office legally recorded that call. It was legal. The White House declined to comment to CNN about the president's remarks.

Now, lawmakers and government figures across the political spectrum are criticizing the president for that call. The president -- the Republican representative of Illinois slammed Mr. Trump in strong terms. Take a listen to this.


REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): You see, you know, threats made, threatening in essence a crime to the secretary of state.


KINZINGER: You see the repeating of conspiracy theories. It's disgusting. And quite honestly, it's going to be interesting. You know -- all these members of Congress who have now come out and said they're going to object to the election, I don't know how you can do that right now with a clear conscience because this is -- this is so obviously beyond the pale. It is probably not even the way to describe it.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CURNOW (on camera): Georgia's Republican governor, Brian Kemp, who has been a frequent target of the president's attacks, said the call was a distraction. The Senate's second ranking Democrat had this to say. His disgraceful efforts to intimidate an elected official into deliberately changing and misrepresenting the legally confirmed vote totals in his state strikes at the heart of our democracy and merits nothing less than a criminal investigation.

And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called out his Republican colleagues in a tweet that read -- quote -- "You want to investigate election fraud? Start with this."

Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara expressed concern about the legal implications of the president's statements. I want you to take a listen to this.


PREET BHARARA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: If you engage in some effort to solicit or procure election fraud and you knowingly do that, that is potentially a federal or state crime. State crimes, of course, are not subject to presidential pardon, even if it is possible to pardon himself, which I don't believe it is.

The question is what does the president intend. And, you know, there are a lot of people who would like to jump to the conclusion, not just critics of the president but detractors of the president who will say, well, he doesn't know what he's talking about, but he actually believes the lies.

There is -- you know, somewhat perversely and subversively that his lawyers could make that. He does believe that this fraud happened. And so by making this request, he is not doing anything knowingly or wilfully or intentionally.

I tend not to buy that because the president is the leader of the country. He was smart enough to get elected. He is smart enough to try to figure out ways to try to undo the election even if they won't amount to anything.

And fact that he is very specific about the votes that he needs, the numbers of votes that he needs, it's not about fraud, it's not about integrity of the system, it's about getting that bare minimum number of votes to switch the election results in Georgia to him. That is a pretty powerful argument, but he knows what he is doing.


CURNOW (on camera): Meantime, all 10 living former U.S. defense secretaries are calling on President Trump and his followers to accept Joe Biden's election victory. In an opinion letter published in The Washington Post, they emphasized the importance of a smooth transition of power and warned against attempts to involve the military and Mr. Trump's efforts to overturn the election results.

We will continue to monitor that. Of course, you are watching CNN. Still to come, the U.K. is rolling out its recently approved Oxford/ AstraZeneca vaccine. We will have a live report. That is just ahead.




CURNOW: Some good news here. You are seeing the first person in the U.K., an 82-year-old man received the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. It happened just a few minutes ago. This puts another weapon in the arsenal of health care workers facing a serious spike in COVID cases.

I want to go straight to London. Salma Abdelaziz joins me now. So, what we are seeing now is the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine online and these great pictures of people getting shots. Where are you now? What are you hearing from folks on the ground?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: So, I am outside Royal Free Hospital in London, which should start now giving vaccinations now that the first dose has been given in Oxford to Brian Pinker, 82 years old, a dialysis patient.

He is very excited to get the vaccine because he says it now allows him to celebrate his 48th wedding anniversary with his wife Shirley later this year. He got the injection and afterwards was given a cup of tea and monitored by his nurse, so yet another heartwarming image.

And this one comes with a lot of national pride because this vaccine, of course, was invented, created right here in the U.K. by Oxford University. There are a lot of advantages to this vaccine, as well. That's why people are so optimistic about it. It's cheap. But most critically, it doesn't need to be stored at extra cold temperatures, sub-zero temperatures. A normal refrigerator will do.

So that means it will be easier to disseminate, easier to get it into people's arms. Logistically much simpler for the authorities to go into rural communities, far away from hospitals, big ones like the one behind me here to the people who need it the most.

But there has been some controversy around the U.K.'s vaccination program. The health secretary was just on air a short time ago calling it a pivotal moment, a moment in which really they are turning the (INAUDIBLE) towards ending the pandemic. But the controversy has been around the handling of this this vaccination program. I will give you one example that has divided the medical community.

Now here in the U.K., when you get that first dose of the vaccine, you won't get the second dose until up to three months later, although of course the studies show that you are supposed to get it about 21 to 28 days later depending on the vaccine.

So why do this? Why face this criticism of being the wild west of vaccines that some people have called the U.K.? Well, quite simply, the authorities here are facing a terrible rise in cases. A record number of infection rates across the U.K. You are looking at more patients now in hospital with coronavirus than at any point before. Essentially, hospitals like the one behind me here are ringing the alarm. They are seeing the health care system is on the brink. So the Oxford vaccine and these delayed strategies of vaccinating could potentially allow this country to vaccinate twice as many people. Robyn?

CURNOW: OK, thanks for that update in London, Selma Abdelaziz. Thank you.

So I want to discuss this further with Sterghios Moschos in England. He is an associate professor of molecular virology at Northumbria University. Sorry, I didn't get that one out very well. Good to see you again. It certainly is a big day. It's morning there. U.K. is green-lighting this vaccine, the Oxford University AstraZeneca one. How significant is this for you?

STERGHIOS MOSCHOS, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF MOLECULAR VIROLOGY, NORTHUMBRIA UNIVERSITY: It's really important because this new vaccine is an easier to transport vaccine. It is easier to ship. It can be made available locally and internationally. It can be transferred using just plain full degree storage, you know, refrigeration as opposed to ultra-deep freezing. That is very good news for everyone involved.

CURNOW: Let's talk about this new variant that continues to savage populations there in the U.K. and around the world, also here in the U.S. Why is this one so infectious? I mean, do people shed more virus? Does the virus survive better in the air or on surfaces? Does it take less virus to be exposed?


CURNOW: Those are questions people like you are asking. Are you getting any answers?

MOSCHOS: The virus itself with mutation is not going to affect physics. So the way it transmits over the air, you know, survival on surfaces, it is not expected to be affected. What is expected to be affected is how sticky it is when it comes to binding to the bits of organism that allow it to turn to cells. In fact, there seems to be evidence that this is happening.

There is also evidence to suggest that a fourfold more virus, 16-fold more virus is produced per person, which means effectively, you have a larger amount of virus shed by people for live transmission to occur.

If you combine that with the fact that over the festive period, people were just perhaps not listening to the rules this much, they were not staying socially distant as much, that has been my experience looking around, then this is a situation where frankly it is inevitable.

We need to go back to basics here. We need to really hunker down with regards to keeping those two plus meters of distance, even with face coverings, now that the virus is becoming more able to infect. We need to wash our hands, not just our faces. And proceed with the basics, just basically ventilating rooms as much as possible to make sure that any airborne virus is removed to the external environment as fast as possible.

But it's not savaging populations. I need to make very clear that this virus is not deadlier or more likely to send you to a hospital. You are just more likely to catch it. That is the difference. So your personal risk from this disease hasn't changed. Your personal risk of catching this disease has changed. That is all.

CURNOW: So, with that in mind, at the moment we are seeing, I mean, these infections are massively, massively outpacing the rate of vaccinations. When does that change?

MOSCHOS: It changes frankly when we get another lockdown into place and a proper lockdown because we have a cure for right now. Much as I appreciate the ideological convictions of the government right now -- I hope they are listening in right now -- we need to put the country into where we were in March and implement a full lockdown to prevent the transmission.

The hospitals are being overwhelmed. Yes, we've got all these beds in these nightingale hospitals, but we don't have the staff because the staff had been infected and they've been taken out of work or they are basically worn out after a year's worth of overworking.

So we can't just leave society to deal with it. We just don't have that capacity. We need to do something about it. We need to make appropriate arrangements for those people that cannot look after themselves financially or otherwise so that they are not left behind. Nobody needs to be left behind, but we need to do this together.

CURNOW: Sterghios Moschos, thank you very much for bringing us your expertise and your perspective there on the ground in the U.K. Good luck. Have a good week. Thank you.

MOSCHOS: Thank you.

CURNOW: So health care workers across the U.S. are treating more COVID patients now. Same is in England than at any other point in the pandemic. And they, too, are exhausted. I talked with one ICU nurse on the front lines of the crisis. It makes you want to stick around and listen to this.




CURNOW: So the coronavirus pandemic is pushing the health care system in many states to the brink. On Sunday, the U.S. reported a record high number of hospitalizations and cases have skyrocketed since the holidays and the impact is still certainly unfolding.

Now, California is certainly seeing the worst of it, as well. More than 45,000 new cases of the virus were reported there just on Sunday. Making matters worse, the vaccine rollout is now going much, much slower than expected. Just slightly more than four million doses have been administered nationwide so far.

I want to talk now with Kelsey Vandersteen, an ICU nurse who sent a tweet a few days ago that provoked a lot of reaction. Not all of it good. Kelsey, hi, lovely to see you, thanks for being on the show.


CURNOW: I would like to read out that tweet that you wrote. You said you were taking a COVID patient off a ventilator and then allowing them to pass away. And you say, we pull up the iPad and the family appears. Thirty plus people had gathered together, no masks, squished together in one screen. If they didn't get the severity and consequences of COVID, you write, no one will. Talk us through that moment.

VANDERSTEEN: It is hard to kind of understand how they can see someone that they love so much, who clearly they want to be with, we wish that they could be with their loved one, and still take the risks that increase your likelihood of catching COVID or sharing it among more of their loved ones.

We have these end-of-life conversations, these iPad end-of-life situations with patients frequently. And oftentimes, it's many different screens from many different places. And this was the first I had seen so many people together all in one room and without any masks on.

CURNOW: But the reaction to your tweet, you've got death threats.

VANDERSTEEN: Yeah, there were a number of people who said some pretty cruel things. Some are recommending, you know, they said that they were going to meet me at a parking garage of the hospital, that, you know, that I was being cruel and heartless, and that it is not my job to shame anyone.

I did not feel like that tweet conveyed shame. It more conveyed sadness that people keep saying, a lot of nurses say, if more people could see what we see, they would change their behavior. They do see what we see and yet there continues to be, you know, not adhering to mask wearing and not keeping social distance.

CURNOW: How many people have you had to help die or watch die or help say goodbye to loved ones in the past few months?


VANDERSTEEN: Many. Twenty plus, I would say.

CURNOW: And how difficult has that been?

VANDERSTEEN: It is extremely difficult. It is difficult for many reasons, but especially because their family is not there with them. I have been a nurse for 13 years and have seen many patients and helped many patients as they passed away. And there is always family. There are always their loved ones. They are there to talk to us about them and who they were. And we don't get that this time. When they first come in until they pass away, they don't see anyone they love except through a screen and often they are too sick to even be conscious to see the screen. So, it is very heartbreaking.

CURNOW: Are you angry? Are you tired? Where are you now emotionally?

VANDERSTEEN: A little bit of both. It is hard to keep coming to work and doing this extremely exhausting work and continuing to love and care and support these patients. We will do it. It matters the most to us. I love my job, but it is hard to keep doing it when it feels like we are going to be doing it forever.

There is no end in sight to this high intense level of care and the sadness and loss that we are seeing. Nothing is changing that makes it feel like it is going to end soon if people don't get the vaccine and wear masks and keep distance.

CURNOW: With that in mind, you are going to the world and across America at the moment. What is your message?

VANDERSTEEN: We are tired. We want to help this to end and the best way to do that is to get vaccinated when you are able to. And please wear a mask. Please keep a distance. Find a bubble or (INAUDIBLE) of people that you trust who keeps you just as safe as you keep them.

And don't go out in public to large places without a mask on. Try to stay home. Order as much as you can. Hunker down just a little bit longer. And hopefully, we can get this vaccine rolled out and we can start to try to find a new normal by the end of the year.

CURNOW: Kelsey Vandersteen, thank you for your work. God bless.


CURNOW: Thank you for watching CNN. I am Robyn Curnow. I will be right back with more news after this quick break.