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Interview with Mayor Sylvester Turner (D-TX), Houston; F.D.A. Developing Booster Shot Strategy for September Guidance for Immunocompromised Could Come Sooner; Gov. Cuomo's Lawyers Push Back on Sexual Harassment Allegations as Staffer Files First Criminal Complaint; Former Acting Deputy AG Gives Closed-Door Interview To Lawmakers About Trump's Efforts To Overturn Election. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired August 6, 2021 - 20:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Omar, thank you for shining a light on this. Great report. Thank you so much.

And thank you all so much for joining us this evening. I'm Kate Bolduan. AC 360 starts right now.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Good Friday evening to you. Anderson is off tonight. I'm Jim Sciutto.

We begin with a major and positive milestone for the country. As of tonight, more than 50 percent of the population is vaccinated against COVID. That is good, but it may not be keeping up with the pace of the delta variant.


GOV. JIM JUSTICE (R-WV): We are running out of time. You're absolutely running out of time.


SCIUTTO: That is the governor of a state whose population remains resistant to vaccines. West Virginia today, amping up the urgency, that same urgency is apparent on the Federal level. This week, we've seen the administration scrambling to speed up full F.D.A. approval of vaccines, to finalize a booster strategy.

And now According to "The New York Times" and "Washington Post," authorized additional shots in the coming weeks for people specifically with compromised immune systems. We've also seen big companies doing their part. With Amazon today, for instance, becoming the latest, mandating that all warehouse workers mask up nationwide that starts on Monday.

And all across the country, city, county and state governments have been doing the same. Today, New Jersey's Governor ordered mask wearing for everyone vaccinated or not in all schools, public and private, notably from preschool through the 12th grade. Not so however in Texas or Florida, where governors not only oppose

these measures, they have issued orders barring cities and counties from imposing them. Florida's Governor Ron DeSantis framed it today as preserving parents' freedom to choose what is best for their children. He did not mention the fact that Florida now leads the country in children hospitalized with severe infections from COVID.

And those such numbers are harder to come by for Texas. The head pediatrician at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston tells CNN affiliate KTRK they have seen cases climb steeply, up 50 percent in just the past several days. That is part of the backdrop of today's decision by Houston School Superintendent to propose a mask mandate in defiance of Texas's Governor.


MILLARD HOUSE, SUPERINTENDENT, HOUSTON INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT: This mask mandate will be for our students, staff, and visitors at all of our schools, buses, and facilities.


SCIUTTO: Whether or not this holds, Texas schools are already at a delta disadvantage. Under new state rules, they will not be required to do contact tracing even if a student gets the virus. The reasoning here it just seems bizarre quoting now, "The data from 20 to 21 showing very low COVID-19 transmission rates in a classroom setting." In other words, they are basing policy for dealing with a new variant using numbers from before it was widespread here, and to Federal health officials, all of the above is symptomatic.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: The places that are having a problem, the places that are having disease that is transmitted in the schools are the places that aren't taking the prevention strategies, the places that aren't masking.

The places that you're seeing kids in the hospital, the footage of kids in the hospital are all places that are not taking the mitigation strategies to keep our children safe.


SCIUTTO: You heard it there. They are looking at the data, the places where the numbers are jumping are the places who are not taking these public health measures.

Joining us now is the Mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner. Mayor, thanks so much for taking the time tonight.

MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER (D-TX), HOUSTON: Thanks, Jim, for having me.

SCIUTTO: So, you have in effect defied the Republican Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott by ordering city employees in Houston to wear masks. We're seeing the Houston School Superintendent do something similar for students, staff, and visitors. Do you support that? Do you think masks should be mandated in Houston schools?

TURNER: I do. I do support that. I do support the steps that the Superintendent of the Houston Independent School District has taken, and hopefully the Board will concur. They will debate and vote on that measure next week, and I do fully support it.

Look with respect to the City of Houston, our municipal employees, I've seen the number of cases rise dramatically over the last couple of weeks. As of today -- as of today, I have 122 Municipal workers who have gotten sick with the virus. There are 88 police officers in addition to that, and 40 firefighters who have come down with COVID- 19.

Three of my police officers are in the hospital right now, and that number has increased dramatically over the last two weeks, and the numbers continue to rise.

So to sit back and to do nothing and to watch this situation occur when there could be healthcare measures put in place that at the very minimum, slow it down, while we continue to encourage people to get the vaccine with just what -- is just not an acceptable thing to do. So, I have a responsibility to protect the people in the City of Houston, and I will do whatever I can to do that.


SCIUTTO: Okay. That, of course contradicts the Republican Governor's position on this. Do you believe he will take additional steps try to block the Houston school system from doing this?

TURNER: Well, Jim, that I don't know. And look, the focus that I'm taking is on the health and safety of the people in this city, the same thing applies for the Superintendent. Look, we want to protect our children. School will be starting, you know, sometime next week, week after next, and I think we need to employ every available tool we have to ensure that we have in-person learning, and that our children, their teachers, and all of the support personnel receive the measures that they need to keep themselves safe.

SCIUTTO: You see that exact standard you're describing there. And by the way, what the recommendations are from the C.D.C. and others from the Texas Education Agency, because Texas School Districts, they are basically standing in the way of contact tracing, right, which is a recognized method of trying to keep the virus from spreading further, right?

I mean, you would think the best way to keep schools open, right, if folks get infected, you figure out who else might have been exposed. And, you know, you take measures, but the TEA is saying, schools can't do that anymore, and I just wonder what your reaction is to see something like that. I mean, frankly, it looks politicized.

TURNER: Well, it is. I will agree, it is a bit bizarre. From the beginning, when we started dealing with this virus, contact tracing has been one of the major tools that we put in place in order to slow the progression and make sure that it doesn't reach a greater population.

It is a bit bizarre, that the TEA, the Texas Education Agency would say to the school districts that contact tracing will not be required. It is my hope that they will reconsider that and adhere to the advice and the recommendations of the medical professionals in our state.

SCIUTTO: Well, we'll see. Well, we'll be watching Mayor Turner. We know you have got a lot on your plate. We wish you and the people of Houston the best of luck.

TURNER: Thanks, Jim. Appreciate it.

SCIUTTO: Now so medical perspective from both Texas and Florida facing their own surges. Here in Houston, Dr. Peter Hotez, he is co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children's Hospital and in Miami Beach, Florida. Dr. Aileen Marty. She is an infectious disease expert at Florida International University.

Thanks to both of you. Dr. Hotez, if I could begin with you. You heard the Mayor of Houston there, the city, you know, of course, very well, you know, struggling with this, right, because the health advice is clear, you know, on things like masking, contact tracing et cetera. But now, even as the delta variant is getting worse, you see even more of a pushback against these simple health measures.

Tell us as a medical professional, what impact that's having.

DR. PETER HOTEZ, DEAN OF THE SCHOOL OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Yes, you know, Jim, I've spoken to Mayor Turner, off and on quite a bit in the last two years and there are a few other public officials who are as committed to halting COVID-19 as Mayor Turner. I have enormous respect for his abilities and his insights.

And he is right. I mean, we have to do everything we can to protect our children, especially in the schools. Look, we don't want to reproduce what we're already seeing in Louisiana and Mississippi and Florida, which is now we're starting to see large numbers of young people pile into hospitals and lots of kids going into pediatric intensive care units.

And to me, that's the game changer. We've not seen kids pile in to PICUs - pediatric ICUs across the south like we're seeing right now. We didn't see that nearly as much last summer, I know, as far as I can tell. We don't want to reproduce that here. We have to give our kids every chance.

And quite honestly, I would take it even a step further. Yes, mask mandates. I think we absolutely need vaccination mandates for our schools if we're really going to give our kids our best hope. So, every kid over the age of 12 needs to be vaccinated in schools.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Marty, the State of Florida, as you know now has the dubious distinction of leading the country right now. But it's effectively the current epicenter of, in particular, this delta outbreak. When we talk about children in particular, are you like Dr. Hotez,

seeing more cases? And I guess, the question is why? I mean, is the delta variant fundamentally more dangerous to children?

DR. AILEEN MARTY, FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST: So let me start by saying that the numbers of cases in our hospitals in children and our children's hospitals are completely overwhelmed. The local hospital here, the Nicklaus Hospital has 116 percent occupancy for COVID. That is mind boggling.


MARTY: Our pediatricians, the nursing, the staff are exhausted, and the children are suffering and it is absolutely devastating.

Yes, this delta variant is far more aggressive. It also carries a special mutation that alters cells it gets into so that the cells sort of melt into each other and form a syncytium. This makes it much harder for the immune system to tackle that virus.

So, we're dealing with a virus that is far more contagious, that we're seeing fully vaccinated people able to eschew just as much viral particles as unvaccinated, although thank goodness, they don't end up in the hospital usually, but they are sick.

And our children are very much affected. We've never seen numbers like this before, and we really need to take the steps that are absolutely necessary to reduce the transmission, which means not just vaccinations, but using the public health measures that we all know, the non-pharmaceutical ones that work to reduce transmission.

SCIUTTO: The trouble is, as you know, Dr. Marty, and you know as well Dr. Hotez is that the politics has gotten in the way of recognized public health measures. First to you, if I can, Dr. Marty, you have a Governor there who is out right now banning, right, some of these public health measures. He says, you know, as it relates to schools that he is trying to protect parents' rights here.

Given what you're seeing there in those pediatric units, what's your response to him?

MARTY: Well, Florida has for decades since 1984 had phenomenal, excellent vaccine mandates. And Florida has for decades, done things to protect the health and welfare of children. It is normal for the government to impose certain restrictions on parental behavior, the temperature of the faucets, protecting swimming pools, not letting your child sit in a hot car -- all these things, yes, they offer help --women or men can raise their children, but in a way that protects the children, and that's the same thing that has to be taken into consideration here.

SCIUTTO: Yes, by the way, child seats, right? I mean, required by law.

Dr. Hotez, F.D.A. is looking at the possibility of speeding up booster doses, particularly for people who, you know, are compromised, but there's also this question of, you know, speeding up if that's even possible, but approval of the vaccine for children younger than 12. And I wonder what you think is the right thing to do as the delta variant, you know, takes hold here?

HOTEZ: Yes, I think we're not going to have the approval for kids under 12 soon enough, and certainly during this early part of this massive surge we're seeing across the south. So, we're going to have to get by with maximizing vaccinations among adults and adolescents.

And by the way, if you do that, it has an extraordinary impact where if you notice we're not seeing those big surges across the northern states, if you can get all of the adults and adolescents vaccinated like they're doing, so that has to be a priority.

And as you mentioned, you know, the good news is we have vaccinated half the U.S. population. The bad news is we've not vaccinated half of the U.S. population and about 35 percent of that is vaccine eligible that has to -- and a lot of that is down here in the south.

I think the other -- for immunocompromised, those on immunosuppressive therapy, we have two studies, at least showing those who are on immunosuppressive therapy from solid organ transplants do benefit from a third immunization; one study out of France, one another from Johns Hopkins, and yes, I think we need to move in that direction as well.

SCIUTTO: Well, Dr. Hotez and Dr. Marty, we know you've got a lot of hard work to do. Thank you for what you're doing. Thanks for joining us tonight.

HOTEZ: Thanks so much.

MARTY: Pleasure.

SCIUTTO: Coming up next, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo now firing back at the sexual harassment investigation and report that have put him on the verge of impeachment.

Later, exclusive reporting from the very dangerous ground in Afghanistan where the Taliban is quickly on the march.


SCIUTTO: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo goes into this weekend severely wounded politically, and possibly as you'll learn in a moment, more criminally vulnerable, potentially as well.

He also got to have his say through his attorneys on the allegations and evidence, 165 pages worth against him. More now from CNN's Erica Hill.


RITA GLAVIN, NEW YORK GOVERNOR CUOMO ATTORNEY: This investigation was conducted in a manner to support a pre-determined narrative.

ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): An attorney for Governor Andrew Cuomo slamming the findings in the Attorney General's report.

LETITIA JAMES, NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL: Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women and in doing so, violated Federal and State law.

HILL (voice over): And the investigators behind it calling into question their independence and their methods.

GLAVIN: We are entitled to get the transcripts. The underlying documents that support that report.

This was one sided and he was ambushed.

HILL (voice over): The Attorney General's Office responding in this statement.

"There are 11 women whose accounts have been corroborated by a mountain of evidence. Any suggestion that attempts to undermine the credibility of these women or this investigation is unfortunate."

The Friday afternoon press conference coming just hours after learning of the first criminal complaint filed against the Governor by a current staffer, identified in the A.G.'s Report as Executive Assistant #1.

ANNE CLARK, SDNY SPECIAL INVESTIGATOR: On November 16, 2020, in the Executive Mansion. The Governor hugged Executive Assistant #1 and reached under her blouse to grab her breast.

This was the culmination of a pattern of inappropriate sexual conduct, including numerous close and intimate hugs.

HILL (voice over): Allegations the Governor denies.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): A woman in my office who said that I groped her in my home office. Let me be clear, that never happened.

HILL (voice over): His attorney pointing to visitor logs from the Governor's Mansion and e-mails that day she says support his claim. "My client has consistently said and testified that she did not know the exact date." The accuser's attorney told CNN and, "She will respond further in due course."

Allegations from a former member of Cuomo's security detail identified as Trooper #1 also raising new questions. At least three County DAs have asked the A.G. for information about her claims.

CLARK: In an elevator while standing behind the Trooper, he ran his finger from her neck down her spine and said, "Hey, you." Another time, she was standing holding the door open for the Governor. As he passed, he took his open hand and ran it across her stomach. She told us that she felt completely violated.

GLAVIN: The Governor will address that allegation himself. And so I will let him speak for himself when he does.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When will he do that?

GLAVIN: I can't give you a timeline, but I know he wants to do it soon.


SCIUTTO: Erica Hill joins us now. Erica, there are additional questions about why specifically this trooper was hired. The report suggests she was transferred to the Governor's security detail pretty quickly after one brief meeting. Did we learn more details about that today?

HILL: Yes, actually yes. So his attorney, Rita Glavin, was asked specifically about that. What was it that the Governor saw in that one brief meeting that encouraged him to think that she should be transferred to his detail?

So, his attorney said -- and I just want to make sure I get this correct -- she said, that brief encounter he quote, "liked how she maintained eye contact, and that she was assertive." He also -- she also said that the Governor did not change the qualifications for her hiring. That's a question that came up. It was such a brief meeting and she actually didn't have the required amount of service at that time to be on the Governor's detail, but was transferred anyway.

He had also said in his testimony, Jim, that he needed more diversity on his security detail, and she being a woman helped with that.

SCIUTTO: Okay, Erica Hill, good to have you on the story.

For more, particularly on the legal questions, we're joined now by a University of Baltimore Law Professor and former Federal prosecutor, Kimberly Wehle. Good to have you back on.

I want to start with the governor's lawyer's argument here against the investigation itself. They argue that there was no open-minded fact finding that -- that's their wording -- in this case that they didn't have access to the evidence that investigators that the A.G.'s Office had. What kind of legal grounds would they have to meet for that pushback to stand?

KIMBERLY WEHLE, LAW PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF BALTIMORE: Well, at this point, Jim, there's really nothing pending specifically against Mr. Cuomo. So, if there were a criminal charge that came out of this investigation, his lawyers would be able to push back to challenge the evidence to get additional facts. And in this moment, it's a report about not just Mr. Cuomo's behavior, but what looks like a culture of harassment and intimidation that many people were complicit in, and I think that's really a critical element of the story that gets lost.

SCIUTTO: Okay, there are questions there particularly on the civil side, on the criminal question here, right, in layman's terms, this criminal complaint filed by this one woman against the Governor, in this case with the Albany Sheriff's Office, what happens from there? Does a DA, in effect, have to look at the evidence here and then decide whether or not to proceed? WEHLE: Right. So, there are reports that there are a number of DAs in

various parts of the State of New York that have asked for this information. Regular people can't -- when you hear about pressing charges --- but regular people can't bring charges. The government has to bring charges.

So, this complaint would give rise to potentially an investigation. And of course, without witnesses, government cannot bring charges. So, the fact that someone is willing to testify presumably against Mr. Cuomo in the criminal context, suggests that this might move someplace. But in this moment, there is nothing criminally pending against Mr. Cuomo that we're aware of.

SCIUTTO: What would the burden of proof be? I mean, what's the threshold to establish criminal behavior here with any of the allegations so far?

WEHLE: So, it would be, if it were ever to be charged through a grand jury or what's called an information, then it would go to a jury and it would be beyond a reasonable doubt, very high standard there. And we also don't know what could possibly be charged -- groping, physical groping without consent under New York law can be an assault, it can carry jail time.

But then we also have this other pending question of impeachment. We saw this twice with the last President Donald Trump; and strangely, under New York law under -- unlike under the Federal Constitution, there is no standard, Jim. We know it is high crimes and misdemeanors under Federal law, for New York law, we don't know. So, that's really a big question.

And unlike again with Donald Trump and the Republican Party, Democrats are not coming to Mr. Cuomo defense. So, there might be more political accountability before there's any legal accountability for what looks like some serious wrongdoing potentially.


SCIUTTO: That's right. I mean, I mean, two tracks -- arguably three tracks, right, because then you have the civil track as well that maybe seeking financial damages. Kim Wehle --

WEHLE: Right.

SCIUTTO: Appreciate the time. Thanks for breaking it down.

WEHLE: Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: A breaking news next. New reporting on Jeffrey Clark, the high-ranking member of the Justice Department under the former President and his apparent willingness to go ahead with the President's attempts to undermine the election despite receiving a classified briefing that said his information was simply wrong. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SCIUTTO: Breaking news tonight on Jeffrey Clark, the once little-known

Justice Department lawyer in the last administration, who has now become a major figure in the saga of then President efforts -- the then President's efforts to get the D.O.J. to interfere with the nation's election results on his behalf to overturn the election.


CNN has learned that around New Year's 2021, Clark received a classified briefing from then Director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe that showed there was no evidence that foreign interference had impacted the vote tallies in the vote, which went against his conspiracy theories that Clark was pushing it the DOJ in support of the outgoing president.

One of the theories Clark was spreading, we're not making this up, was the Chinese intelligence used special kinds of thermometers to change results in voting machines? Again, I'm not making that up.

Meanwhile, tonight CNN has learned that another former high ranking DOJ official, former Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donna Donoghue testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee today. Donoghue, according to his own notes previously provided to Congress resisted pressure from Trump to interfere with the election results. Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono sits on the Judiciary Committee. I spoke with her just before it.


SCIUTTO (on camera): Senator Hirono I know you, of course cannot divulge into details of the private testimony of Richard Donoghue before the Judiciary Committee today. But in general terms, how much closer do you believe Congress is to learning the full scope of what then President Trump and at least one loyalist that appears in the Justice Department, Jeffrey Clark, we're trying to do here.

SEN. MAZIIE HIRONO (D-HI): I think we are getting closer to the full range of Trump's big lie. And his use of the Department of Justice like it was his own law firm jumping over the Attorney General, acting Attorney General and trying to get them to push out the big lie. And so we are closer to get to the truth. By the way, this is important because the big lie is still going on with all of these voter suppression bills being considered in the legislators.

SCIUTTO (on camera): And so many people sadly, by the big, big lie.


SCIUTTO: There's new reporting that Jeffrey Clark was actually given a high-level intelligence briefing by Trump's own appointee as Director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe was told directly, there was no evidence of foreign interference in the election, which Clark had been trying to float at the DOJ but that Clark didn't believe Ratcliffe, but basically there was no information that would convince them otherwise. HIRONO: Jeffrey Clark is turning out to be Trump's guy in the Department of Justice. And he tried to replace the Attorney General with this person that would have been disastrous. Thank goodness, that there were other people in the DOJ who still thought that they were a separate department apart from the -- from Trump. But this went for President went for to get to perpetuate this big lie and to overturn the election result.

SCIUTTO (on camera): I mean, he we saw a process underway here, right, repeated fronts where the President was trying to overturn the election. ABC News --


SCIUTTO (on camera): -- reporting that Clark had actually circulated a letter internally in the DOJ falsely claiming that the Justice Department had identified it, quote, significant concerns --


SCIUTTO (on camera): -- that may have impacted the outcome of the election. We know already that Bill Barr, who of course, prior was Trump's guy had had said no, we have not found such evidence.

HIRONO: Yes. Therefore, Trump, I think really leaned on Jeffrey Clark to do his bidding. And thank goodness doing we now have an attorney general who's saying that we are not going to assert executive privilege. You all can testify and will produce documents. Huge difference.

SCIUTTO (on camera): Yes.

HIRONO: And having an attorney general who views they AGs office does not just have a law firm for the President.

SCIUTTO (on camera): What one sad consequence in the last several years is we've seen the limits of the power of a congressional subpoena, right? They've been challenged in court delayed, delayed defied. Are you concerned that the Clark, Trump himself or other allies that you want to hear from to complete this investigation will try to fight or ignore subpoenas? How can you enforce them?

HIRONO: Oh, I'm sure they're they'll try to do both. And so, we're going to need to resort to the court or have I would hope that maybe we can think about legislation that will prevent this kind of subterfuge from happening. That's why it's important for us to figure out what went on. There's a lot that went on that shouldn't have happened.

SCIUTTO (on camera): Senator Mazie Hirono, good luck to you and thanks for your time.

HIRONO: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SCIUTTO: Well, there's a lot more ahead on this busy Friday, as United Airlines joins a growing list of companies requiring employees to be vaccinated. What about a vaccine mandate next for passengers? It's a question with no easy answers. We'll take a look.



SCIUTTO: At the top of the program, we spoke about the issue of mask mandates in school with children now returning to the classroom or will be very soon. Mask of course have been required on airlines since the start of the pandemic, but the question of vaccination now looms large. United Airlines now says it will require all of its employees to be vaccinated by late October. Those who do not must show a valid religious reason by then or be fired.

But when it comes to passengers, there was no such vaccine mandate yet. Writing in the Atlantic, CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem favors the idea. The word mandate, she says suggests that unvaccinated people are being ordered around arbitrarily, she argues, quote, what is actually going on mostly is that institutions are shifting burdens to unvaccinated people, denying them access to certain spaces, requiring them to take regular COVID-19 tests, charging them for the cost of that testing rather than imposing greater burdens on everyone else. Americans still have a choice to go unvaccinated, but that means giving up uncertain societal benefits.

Juliette Kayyem joins me tonight along with CNN political commentator, Mary Katharine Ham.

Juliette, this question is obviously one that's causing a lot of controversy and division now. Explain why you think a vaccine requirement would be a good idea specifically for airlines given the risk involved there. What's your argument?


JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: So, it's not really about what's happening on the airplanes. It has to do with what can we do to put a burden on the unvaccinated so that they begin to get vaccinated. That's the only solution here. We have about a 93 million Americans who are not vaccinated, yet 20 percent of them are in the never, never world, and about 80 percent of them are movable, and they're telling us what's going to move them. A lot of them want FDA approval, others want to be able to access the vaccine in their doctor's offices. But 41 percent of them overall, say that a ban on the ability to fly would actually move them or convince them to get vaccines.

This is the time when we have to continue with the carrots, make sure we have access for communities that don't have access, you'll fight the disinformation. But we have to begin to use the sticks in a way that gets more Americans to the vaccination line.

SCIUTTO: MK, federal government does require us to do a lot of things, right. I mean, for instance, to get on a plane, you got to go through a metal detector. And it's widely understood, you're doing that, you know, to protect all of us right to keep bad guys off the plane with guns or bombs. Why can't you make a similar argument for vaccines in this case?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think you can make that argument. But I think its incumbent upon us to look at the downsides of these things. I think too often during this public health crisis, and it is a crisis and talk to people you trust, if you haven't got a vaccine yet, and hash through that with them. I am -- I'm convinced that the persuasion part of it actually shouldn't be over. And the punitive part, perhaps has come on very heavy handed in the last couple of weeks. And I'm not sure how effective that's going to be. There's too often during this, we have jumped to sort of maximal curtailing of liberties, in hopes that it would have really good outcomes in my area, they haven't had school in person or didn't for about 12 months, and then minimally at best. And it turned out that that had a lot of really bad effects on kids.

When it comes to flying, for instance, can I fly with my kids, there is no vaccine for them. That would cause real problems for families. It causes problems for people who need medical exemptions for vaccines. And then, like I said, this punitive part of it. I just I'm not sure how effective it is. Because what you had for a long time when there was no vaccine was, hey, why don't these selfish jerks who won't stay inside stay inside? Well, one of those selfish jerks were actually working and doing the things that were people were staying home couldn't do, right? There is not a small number of those exact people who are hesitant. So now it's like, hey, what are your selfish jerks do this, but it's like, well, they're not selfish. They were serving in a lot of capacities. And you see those units, for instance, saying, I'm not sure about a mandate.

SCIUTTO: Juliette?

KAYYEM: So I think, some misrepresentation about my point. I mean, just I'm American, I just want to be clear. Obviously, that we exceptions for medical issues are being exceptions, obviously, for children who are not. So let's just say, let's just be clear what the data is telling us rather than talk theoretically, the data is telling us both the carrots and sticks work.

SCIUTTO: New York's approach is interesting, right? Because a vaccine passport. I mean, you could still choose not to be vaccinated, but it gives you benefits in effect. I mean, I've talked about this, it's sort of like a vaccine gold card, right? It gets you access to Broadway, or to a cruise liner, you know, I'm saying. Would you be more open to doing it as a here are the rewards for vaccination, as opposed to here are the penalties for being unvaccinated?

HAM: I certainly like that argument better. But here's the thing, I would call myself wary at best. And Juliette, I'm not assigning to you the idea that there are no exemptions. What I'm sort of worried about is the idea that with individual airlines, or with the government sort of monitoring this situation, that it won't be done effectively, so that those people really end up in alert. And in New York already, they've essentially sort of written children out of public life. They've made the rule about the vaccine passports, children don't have them.

So, these sorts of things happen in the implementation of these things. The other issue I have is look, we're already talking about and as I advocate, again, for the vaccines, it's a miracle that they were come up with so quickly.


HAM: We're already talking about boosters within six months. So, I think people are right to be concerned that this is not the only ask.

SCIUTTO: The issue, right? It's the both of you is that, you know, when we talk about folks making choices here, there's the well has been poisoned by disinformation.


SCIUTTO: It's not like folks are looking, well my doctor says this, and here are the side effects, et cetera. You have loads of folks just lying to people, right, saying the vaccine doesn't work, saying that hydroxychloroquine can do the same thing as a vaccine. Right? So, I wonder, given that disinformation, which is coming, by the way, not just from folks in media, but even some politicians, right?


SCIUTTO: Do you need a more forceful here?

KAYYEM: Yes. That people are free not to get the vaccine, but they should not be free to do any more is to keep pushing the cost of not getting vaccinated, on the vaccinated and our kids.

SCIUTTO: MK, you get the last word.


HAM: Yes, I would just say that freedom is not just an idea. It's an incredibly important part of American life and it is right to push back with concerns about losing precipitously, more of it as we've gone through this, and people are right to have questions about exactly when does the goalpost stop moving?

SCIUTTO: Mary Katharine Ham, Juliette Kayyem, thanks so much to both of you.

KAYYEM: Thank you. Have a good weekend.


SCIUTTO: Coming up next and exclusive report from the battle lines in Afghanistan with Taliban forces quickly gaining ground.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SCIUTTO: Just a brutal day in Afghanistan. Weeks before the U.S. is expected to complete its withdrawal of forces from the country. The Taliban easily captured a major provincial capital, this one on the border with Iran. The first of all since the Biden administration announced a full withdrawal of U.S. troops by 20th anniversary of 9/11. Another big target is Kandahar major city.

CNN's Clarissa Ward got exclusive access to the fighting there.



CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The road to Kandahar's front line, there is still civilian traffic, even as the Taliban inches deeper into the city. Afghan commandos have agreed to take us to one of their bases.

(on camera): This used to be a wedding hall. Now it's the frontline position.

(voice-over): Most of the fighting here happens at night. But Taliban snipers are at work 24 hours a day.

(on camera): From snipers?


WARD (voice-over): The men tell us the Taliban are hiding in houses just 50 yards away from us.

(on camera): And they shoot from people's homes? They shoot from civilian's house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, you see this is all civilians' homes. We cannot use, you know, the big weapons, the heavy weapons.

WARD (voice-over): Up on the roof, Major Habi Bulashaheen (ph) wants to show us something.

(on camera): So you can actually see the Taliban flag just over on the mountaintop there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are flag.

WARD (voice-over): It's been nearly a month since the Taliban penetrated Afghanistan second largest city. Since then, these men haven't had a break. U.S. airstrikes only come in an emergency. The rest of the time it's up to them to hold line.

We feel a little bit weak without U.S. airstrikes and ground support and equipment, he says. But this is our soil, and we have to defend it.

GUL AHMAD KAMIN, MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT, KANDAHAR: Bombardment using heavy weapons. WARD (voice-over): In a villa in the eastern part of the city, Kandahary lawmaker Gul Ahmad Kamin is hunkered down. In decades of war, he says he's never seen the fighting this bad.

KAMIN: Millions of people in this city are waiting for when they will be killed, then someone will kill them, when their home will be destroyed. And it is happening every minute.

WARD (on camera): Just spell out for me here. The Taliban is basically surrounding the entire city of Kandahar now, is that correct?

KAMIN: Definitely yes.

WARD (on camera): And so, where is there to go?

KAMIN: Nowhere. So there is only two options do or die.

WARD (on camera): Do or die?


WARD (on camera): And what does do look like?

KAMIN: That is the thing to convince different sides to ceasefire, to work on peace, to convince them to not to fight, not to get.

WARD (voice-over): But that is a tall order, in a city where war has become part of everyday life.

(on camera): You can probably see there's a lot more cars on the road than there were previously and that's because in just two minutes at 6:00 p.m., the cell phone network gets cut across the city and that's when the fighting usually starts.

(voice-over): Throughout the night the sounds of gunfire and artillery pierce the darkness. Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban. They are intent on taking it back and the government knows it cannot afford to lose it.

By day an eerie calm hold. The UN says more than 10,000 people are now displaced in this city. On the outskirts of town, we find 30 families camped out in an abandoned construction site.


WARD (on camera): He's saying that none of these children have fathers, all of their fathers have been killed in the fighting.

(voice-over): Thirty-five-year-old Rubina (ph) fled with her two daughters to escape the fighting after her husband was shot dead. But still, it gets closer and closer. Last night I didn't sleep all night, she says, and the fear was in my heart.

In the short time we are there more families arrived. Street vendor Maknad Ismael (ph) says they fled the village of Malajad after an airstrike hit. Three dead bodies were rotting outside our home for days, but it was too dangerous to get them, he says. The Taliban is attacking on one side, the government is attacking the other side. In the middle we're just losing.

Back at the base, dust coats the chairs were wedding guests would normally sit as the siege of Kandahar continues, life here is in limbo with no end in sight.


SCIUTTO: Clarissa, the Taliban has very quickly marched through such a large section of the country. What more do we know now about how much additional territory the Taliban is now claiming?

WARD: Well, today there was another grim milestone, Jim they took Zaranj which is the provincial capital in Nimruz. This is the first provincial capital that the Taliban has successfully taken, but unfortunately, it doesn't look like it's going to be the last, Seventeen of Afghans against 34 provincial capitals are now under threat by the Taliban. Three of them are completely under siege. Kandahar, as you saw in that piece, one of them completely surrounded by the Taliban. They're in control of a quarter of the city and making gains every day.


And the broader concern across the country is that things are very quickly unraveling. And no one yet knows, Jim, how can these gains from the Taliban be reversed? Can Afghan forces successfully launch some kind of counter offensive? So you have really profound anxiety being felt everywhere amid an increasingly grim situation, Jim.

SCIUTTO: I'm sure and I'm sure that people are genuinely scared. Clarissa Ward, thanks so much. It's good to have you on the ground there.

Coming up next, fighting the flames desperately in Northern California.


SCIUTTO: Crews in Northern California are thankfully making progress in the fight against a wildfire raging just northeast of Sacramento. It is now about 30 percent contained but has burned so far.