Interview with NIAID Director, Dr. Anthony Fauci. Interview with Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA).
DONNA EDWARDS (D-MD), FORMER CONGRESSWOMAN: We`ve got to do this, and if we don`t, we`re going to lose this battle on an important other culture war.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Donna Edwards and Tim Miller, thanks for being here. Have a good New Year if I don`t see you. Who knows, maybe you`ll be back tomorrow, as we try to get the show on the air.
That is "ALL IN" this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts now, with Ayman Mohyeldin, in for Rachel.
Good evening, Ayman.
AYMAN MOHYELDIN, MSNBC HOST: Hey, Chris. Yes, I know the struggle is real, my friend. Enjoy the rest of the night off.
Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Rachel has the night off, but we do have a lot to get to tonight.
Today, the White House announcing president Biden will speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin tomorrow. Now, that call was reportedly requested by Vladimir Putin, as Russia continues to amass troops along Ukraine`s border. Now, the White House has repeatedly warned Russia over the last few weeks that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would have severe, severe diplomatic and economic consequences.
One administration official told "Politico" today that this call will come in the midst of a, quote, moment of crisis between the two nations. We`ll have a lot more on that coming up later in the show.
But we start tonight with a moment of crisis of our own right here at home. Take a look at this map. This is a map tracking community transmission of COVID across all 50 states. Blue and yellow there on the screen means low to moderate. Orange means substantial. Red means high.
And as you can see in this picture, every single state, every single one, is red. Community transmission of COVID is at the highest recorded level in every state in the country as of this night. Now, the U.S. yesterday just recorded its highest ever single day record for new COVID infections. With new cases drawing less of a curve and more of a straight vertical line.
New cases in the last two weeks are up by 126 percent. The World Health Organization said today they`re anticipating a, quote, tsunami of new cases worldwide over the next few weeks. So far, thankfully, we have not seen a tsunami of new hospitalizations and deaths along with the spread of omicron. The hospitalization rate is in fact up over the last two weeks but only by 11 percent, much below the rate of new infections. Daily deaths remain essentially flat.
Now, today the head of the CDC stressed that that might be a good sign, that the omicron variant is potentially more mild than previous iterations of the virus. Even so, such an astronomical caseload, regardless of how sick people get, means a serious disruption to everyday life. We`re already seen that across the country.
Take for example New York City today, the subway which runs 24 hours a day, officials here had to suspend an entire subway line. So many train operators were out because of COVID, that there simply were not enough people to drive the trains around this city. In Cincinnati, there are so many firefighters out because of COVID that the city there had to declare a state of emergency today to try and help alleviate the shortage.
Airlines cancelling more than 900 flights again today due to COVID staffing problems as well as the weather. In D.C. today, the Smithsonian was forced to close four different museums. That is a large reason why the CDC shortened the quarantine people for asymptomatic COVID because so many people will test positive at once that it will be literally impossible to keep society functioning.
Today, at the White House`s COVID briefing, the nation`s top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, was asked about what our priorities should be as a nation, whether it should be trying to tamp down the number of infections to try and stop the disease from spreading, or if we`ve entered a new phase of this pandemic where we as a society learn to live with the virus with as little illness, death, and social disruption as possible. At what point do we cross that threshold? Are we there already?
Joining us now is Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation`s top infectious disease doctor, chief medical adviser to President Biden and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the NIH.
Dr. Fauci, I know you`re one of the busiest scientists in the country right now. It`s an honor to have some of your time to help us understand what`s going on. I know a lot of people have a lot of questions so we appreciate your time, sir.
And there has been plenty of criticism of this new CDC guidance from some public health experts, specifically because of the lack of testing requirements to come out of it. Putting that aside for a moment, there`s a lot of criticism from members of the general public, I`m sure you`re aware, people who have been following public health guidance closely for the past two years in order to stay safe and healthy, people who have specifically come to trust you most of all, and some of them are responding to this guidance on isolation with confusion, nervousness and some new distrust.
What would you say to them this evening, sir?
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: Well, I would try to explain, which we`ve been trying to do most of the day, why the CDC made that decision. It is very clear right now that when you look at the original guidelines for people who get infected, you put them into isolation for 14 days.
Many people with this new omicron variant get asymptomatic infections. And as you just showed, multiple examples of the rather severe disruption of society from people who are out of work because in fact they are infected. So they were trying to strike a balance. How do we do good public health principles at the time we don`t have to get to the point where you`re forced to essentially shut the country down?
And the decision was made that for people who were asymptomatic, that they should go into isolation for five days. And if they remain asymptomatic, they can get go back to their function, provided they consistently wear a mask. And when they said part of that was the thing that I think has caused the controversy, is that the CDC said that at that point you don`t need to do an antigen test. People question why.
And the reason is that if you look at the risk of transmitting infection from a person who is infected during the first five days of that period versus the second five days, most of the risk is segregated in those first five days. And so the risk is very, very low of transmitting, as you get into days 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10.
And the tests that are used, the antigen tests, don`t really have a good predictive value as to whether or not you`re transmitting. They have a good value early on to say if you`re infected. But saying 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 days later, whether it`s positive or negative, we have no studies at all that have shown, and in fact the original FDA approval of the test was not for the purpose of determining if multiple days following infection that you are able to transmit.
And for that reason, the CDC said it was not necessary to have a test, because the risk is low. So that`s the explanation for that policy.
MOHYELDIN: So allow me just to button up this for a moment, because last Thursday, the CDC released new guidelines for health care workers who get COVID, and they have to isolate for seven days. And then they have a negative rapid test before they can leave isolation.
And I think that begs the question, why? Why seven days for health care workers and five for the rest of us? Why do they test out of isolation while the rest of us do not?
You touched on that specifically, but is this based on specific scientific data, is this data published, or is it internal to the CDC?
FAUCI: It`s internal to the CDC. There`s no specific data one for the other. They made a judgment call on that. And likely, if you look at the guidelines, that it can go back to five days for the health care workers too if they really need that.
MOHYELDIN: If you have been exposed to the coronavirus and need to quarantine, there is a different guidance for people who are vaccinated and boosted than for the unvaccinated. But if you are infected and need to isolate, the recommendations don`t change depending on whether you`re vaccinated or not.
Can you explain that for us?
FAUCI: Yeah, if you`re infected, you`re infected. Whether or not you`re vaccinated or not vaccinated, you`re infected.
When you talk about exposure and quarantine, if you are a person who is vaccinated but not boosted versus a person who is not vaccinated, because of the greater degree of protection that you would have gotten from being boosted, they`re treating people who are vaccinated but not boosted as the same risk as those who are not vaccinated at all, and that`s because right now, with omicron, there`s a great deal of difference in the level of protection that you get from being boosted following vaccination versus following vaccination alone.
MOHYELDIN: I want to ask about being contagious and transmissibility for a moment. You explain that the reason we do not need to test -- a requirement after a positive person isolate for five days is because the science says the odds of being contagious after those five days are low.
Dr. Walensky has given a few additional reasons. She said a couple of times today that a PCR test could give someone who had a COVID positive result for up to 12 weeks. So is a PCR test not a good barometer either for transmissibility and isolation? How can people actually tell if they are contagious in the cycle of having COVID? How can you measure that, if not with a PCR test or an antigen test?
FAUCI: Yeah, that is a very good question, because PCR doesn`t measure replication competent virus. It measures viral particles, nucleic acid. So in other words, I could be infected, have cleared the replication competent virus from me, but I can continue to be positive with a PCR for several days after recovering and not being transmissible at all.
So although a PCR is good to tell you, am I infected, yes, I am infected. But the very fact that it`s positive for, as the CDC director said, for several days and even weeks later, it doesn`t give you any indication of whether or not you`re transmissible. And I think that`s the understandable confusion that people have about testing. Testing saying whether you`re infected or not versus are you infected plus transmissible.
The only way you can tell if it`s transmissible, if you can show that there really is live replication virus in you. And the tests don`t measure that. They measure the presence or absence of the virus. And the virus could be dead, enactive inactive virus that doesn`t transmit. So, it`s entirely understandably why people can get confused over that. I try to explain it to people, to hopefully clarify that.
MOHYELDIN: Yeah, I certainly appreciate that. I`m sure a lot of people do as well. I know this is anecdotal, my whole family recently caught COVID, we`re all positive on antigen tests. But I`m actually the only one who took a PCR test. So, I`m the only one, I assume, included in the national case count now.
Are we as a country too focused on cases when in reality use of rapid tests means we`re probably -- we don`t have an accurate assessment of cases and we should be focusing on hospitalization rates and death rates?
FAUCI: That`s a very good point. And we are really moving in that direction. It becomes even more relevant when you`re dealing -- and we hope, as you mentioned early on, one of the positive encouraging things is that it appears that omicron, from data both in South Africa, the U.K., and accumulating data here in the United States, indicates that it very well might not be as severe. And many people, from studies that are going on right now, who get omicron have either no symptoms or minimally symptomatic.
So you get down to the core issue of what are we trying to do, what are we trying to prevent? We`re trying to prevent people from getting sick. So if you have a virus that can give you a lot of infection, really almost like a wave of infections like we`re seeing right now with omicron, what becomes more important is the number of people and the percentage of people who are sick enough, for example, to require hospitalization.
So your point about might it be more important as we now merge into possibly a less severe virus, which it looks like it is right now, that the critical parameter is how sick people get, do they have to go to the hospital, what is the deaths, as opposed to what is the absolute number of positive tests and infected people that you have. Very often, you can`t just forget about the number of people who are infected, because that`s the forewarner of what might happen with hospitalization.
But as you get further on and see less severity, clearly hospitalization is the important thing.
MOHYELDIN: And I want to ask specifically about hospitalization. One of the recent concerns, I`m sure you`re getting asked a lot about this, how do you explain the sudden increase in hospitalizations among children? I mean, if omicron is less severe in 15 to 20 percent less likely to send somebody to the hospital, why are we seeing this sudden increase in children at hospital with COVID?
FAUCI: Well, that`s a good question, and there are two things that contribute to that. First of all, quantitatively, you`re having so many more people, including children, who are getting infected. And even though hospitalization among children is much, much lower on a percentage basis than hospitalizations for adults, particularly elderly individuals. However, when you have such a large volume of infections among children, even with a low level of rate of infection, you`re going to still see a lot more children who get hospitalized.
But the other important thing is that if you look at the children who are hospitalized, many of them are hospitalized with COVID as opposed to because of COVID. And what we mean by that, if a child goes in the hospital, they automatically get tested for COVID. And they get counted as a COVID hospitalized individual, when in fact they may go in for a broken leg or appendicitis or something like that.
So it`s overcounting the number of children who are, quote, hospitalized with COVID as opposed to because of COVID.
MOHYELDIN: Let me ask you, if I can, sir, about something President Biden said on Monday, and that was there is no federal solution to this, this gets solved at a state level. I`m curious from your vantage point, obviously, do you agree with the president`s assessment that this is going to be solved on a state level? Because you obviously work for a federal agency and you have to approach this on a federal level as opposed to piecemeal solutions, state by state.
FAUCI: Yeah. What the president meant, and I think some people took it out of context, he meant that we need to synergize with the states. The federal government alone will not solve the problem. Working with the states the way we are doing right now, and what the president expressed during the meeting that we all had with the governors a couple of days ago, that`s what he meant, that we as a federal government are not going to do it alone. We need to do it together. That`s exactly what he meant by saying it`s not a federal solution.
MOHYELDIN: And let me finally, sir, just ask you, because we are seeing all this new guidance suddenly as cases are exploding, we appreciate you explaining some of the reasons behind that this evening, but mostly this variant is less severe than previous variants. The guidance is based on science but also what people are willing to tolerate after two years of the pandemic, that`s according to Dr. Walensky.
What does all of this? What does all of that indicate about where we are in this pandemic? Have we -- have we lost control of this virus because of people`s behaviors after two years and because of the evolution the virus? Do we need to act as though this virus is endemic now and not pandemic?
FAUCI: Well, Ayman, you`ve asked several questions, so let me try and briefly give an answer to each of these.
We haven`t lost control of it. This is a formidable outbreak. It is unprecedented, the likes of which we have not seen in well over a hundred years. We have very good tools against it. We are fortunate enough to have a highly effective and safe number of vaccines.
One of the things that`s very disconcerting about all of this is the number of people measured in tens of millions of people in this country who are eligible to be vaccinated who are not getting vaccinated. That makes it very difficult to get a very comprehensive control of this virus, when you have so many people who could be protected, who choose for a variety of reasons not to be. So the first step towards really getting better control is getting people to realize that not only for their own protection and the protection of their family, but also for a communal responsibility, to try and get us as a nation out of this terrible pandemic that we`re in.
And the only way we`re going to do that is to all pull together and recognize that the common enemy is the virus. And there`s so much degree of device divisiveness in this country, that`s the last thing in the world you want to have when you`re trying to fight a pandemic that is of historic proportion, as this one is. So if we start there, we would be much better off than we were right now.
MOHYELDIN: Yeah, it`s a pandemic that is not discriminating against red and blue states in this country or informed or uninformed.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation`s top infectious disease doctor, chief medical adviser to President Biden and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease at the NIH, thank you so much, sir, for your time tonight. It is always a pleasure. Thank you.
MOHYELDIN: We have a lot more ahead here tonight, including that phone call happening tomorrow between the president and Russian leader Vladimir Putin. What does Russia want, and how should the U.S. respond?
Stay with us.
MOHYELDIN: I have some video that I want to show you. It is taken in the past week in eastern Ukraine, near the Russian border. It shows Ukrainian troops practicing how to use javelin antitank missiles that they actually got from us here in the United States.
Then I want to show you this video taken around the same time, showing Russian troops right across the Ukrainian border, on the Russian side, doing their own military drills. Now, both of these videos, we should note, released by their countries` respective militaries.
Essentially they`re puffing up their chests here, showing they`re getting ready or at least preparing for war. U.S. intelligence officials believe there are anywhere between 70,000 to 100,000 Russian troops currently deployed at the Ukrainian border. And the Ukrainian government, for its part, apparently feels outmatched in this possible fight because they`ve begun training thousands of Ukrainian civilians in combat, in emergency medical skills in case their military is overrun.
An official from the Biden administration told "The Washington Post`s" David Ignatius last week that the U.S. is actually weighing plans on how to support that exact kind of civilian insurgent force if in fact Russia topples the Ukrainian government and for some reason a guerilla war begins inside Ukraine. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered a U.S. navy aircraft carrier and five warships to stay in the Mediterranean close to the potential conflict, close enough for them to operate out of.
Meanwhile, you have the State Department. It is making its rounds, contacting all of our allies in the region to try and reaffirm international support for Ukraine sovereignty and the consequences should Russia face if it does in fact invade Ukraine.
Today, Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaking with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to assure him of that same American commitment. And we learned today that tomorrow, President Biden will speak by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin in what will be an attempt by the U.S. to get Russia to de-escalate the situation.
A senior Biden administration official told reporters today that the call came at President Putin`s request and that President Biden will make clear in part that, part, we are prepared for diplomacy and a diplomatic path forward but we are also prepared to respond if Russia advances with a further invasion of Ukraine.
Now, threatening overtly that the U.S. and allies are prepared to impose sanctions on Russian economy and financial system far beyond, far, far beyond what was implemented the last time Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014. And that the U.S. is prepared to help Ukraine defend its territory if in fact Russia invades.
Now, Russia already has a bit of a blueprint for this. Of course, you may recall they invaded and annexed a part of Ukraine back in 2014 and are clearly still incredible aggressive in all of this.
So, if Russia wasn`t sufficiently deterred by the international response in 2014, what can we do differently this time around? What can the U.S. do?
Joining us now is Ben Rhodes, who was deputy national security adviser for President Barack Obama back in 2014 when Russia invaded Ukraine.
Ben, it`s great to have you with us. Thanks for joining us.
So, as I mentioned there, Russia has a little bit of a blueprint for this from back in 2014. To some extent I guess we do too. But what worked for our response then and what should we approach differently that didn`t work back in 2014, since the annexation of Crimea has not been overturned?
BEN RHODES, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR IN OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: Well, first of all, I think an important difference now to then is that the annexation of Crimea happened very quickly. The pro-Russian president of Crimea fled to Russia after protest against his rule and very quickly, in response, Vladimir Putin essentially moved asymmetric forces into Crimea and claimed it for Russia. And so, we responded to an event that had happened.
I think what the Biden team is doing here differently is based on the real warnings we`re seeing, including Russian buildups on the border there with Ukraine, they`re trying to get ahead, and they`re trying to signal their consequences in advance, and take advantage of this window of time that exists before a potential invasion. I think when you look at what ultimately halted at least Russia`s advance in 2014 after they moved into a couple of eastern provinces of Ukraine, it was a combination of truly multilateral sanctions on Russia, but not just the U.S. acting alone, but the U.S. aligned with Europe and other countries which increases both the diplomatic and economic costs to Russia, but also a face-saving off-ramp for Putin.
This is not someone who is ever going to admit defeat. His whole image at home depends on this image on issues like those around Ukraine. So there were diplomatic process set up to address some of the Russian concerns in Ukraine as well, as obviously American, and European and Ukrainian concerns. So, it`s going to have to be a combination of those two things, Ayman, that has a chance of halting this Russian aggression.
MOHYELDIN: As I mentioned, Ben, there was a senior administration official that briefed the press today that President Biden is expected, will warn President Putin that the U.S. is prepared to respond to a Russian invasion of Ukraine with harsher economic sanctions than in 2014, perhaps even defending Ukraine, although not specifically what that entails.
In practical terms, what would that actually entail? I mean, you would have to think that in President Putin`s mind there is a calculation that he knows America will not come to war against Russia to defend Ukraine, everything else they can withstand.
RHODES: You just put your finger on the basic problem here. Look, they can put more sanctions on Russia. They can try to do things to totally cut Russia off from vital technology sectors like semiconductors, like the inputs for smartphones or aircraft. That requires, by the way, a lot of multilateral buy-in. We can`t do that ourselves, and I`m sure that`s part of what these consultations with Europe and other countries around the world are about, making sure you can line up pressure on the sanction front.
The problem is, Ayman, that may not be enough. Vladimir Putin has been on a 20-year trajectory of becoming more aggressive. He`s been on a trajectory of invading and occupying part of Georgia, a former Soviet republic, in 2008, that he wanted in Russia`s sphere of influence, as you said, invaded a piece of Ukraine in 2014.
So, the problem here is that it`s core to Putin`s project to push back against the West, to prevent a beachhead of democracy in Ukraine, to prevent the expansion of NATO to Ukraine. And he may just care about this more than we ever would when it comes to putting troops on the ground.
And so the thing that the Biden administration has to be careful about is not raising the tensions to a point that Putin can`t back down without having to feel like he has to do something militarily in Ukraine. That`s why this is so delicate and dangerous.
MOHYELDIN: Yeah, I guess and finally on that point, we`ll see what happens tomorrow when this phone call happens, but I guess we`ll have to wait and see how that call plays out and where things go from here.
Ben Rhodes, deputy national security for President Obama, Ben, thank you so much for joining us tonight. I really appreciate it.
And still to come tonight, the January 6th investigation is planning to present its findings to the public in the New Year. We`re going to be joined live by a member of the January 6th committee, coming up next.
MOHYELDIN: Here`s the striking visual out today. This is the forthcoming January cover of "The Economist" magazine. "The Economist" -- I mean, it`s hardly a lefty rag, but their new cover pulls no punches. Look at it. "Walking away: The Republican Party and democracy." And it`s really hard to argue with the premise of that.
Now, a new poll out this week finds that over 70 percent of Republicans believe the big lie that Joe Biden`s victory was illegitimate and the election was stolen from Donald Trump. It would be one thing if this poll were some outlier. But over the past year, polls have consistently shown that a majority of Republicans in this country do not believe Joe Biden is the legitimate president of the United States.
Let that sink in for a moment. In fact the percentage of Republicans who believe that actually has been rising over the past year. This latest poll from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst also has some striking findings on Republicans` attitudes towards the January 6th attack on the Capitol.
Republicans blame the events on Antifa, the Capitol police, and weirdly here, nearly a third of Republicans blame the Democratic Party for what happened on January 6th. Meanwhile, over half of Republicans oppose law enforcement efforts to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of the Capitol attack. And three-quarters say we should just, quote, move on from investigating the events.
Now, one researcher who conducted the poll said, as we close a year that featured a shocking attack on the U.S. Capitol and persistent baseless claims by the former president and his sycophants that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, we continue to see Republicans and Democrats living in diametrically opposed realities.
So here is the challenge. Trying to bring all Americans into one shared reality about January 6th. That is a tall order. But that is one goal of the congressional committee investigating the January 6th attack. And the committee is reportedly going to begin making its case to the public early in the New Year. "The Washington Post" reporting this week that the committee is planning a dramatic presentation of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering by Trump, his allies, and anyone involved in the attack or the intent to overturn the election results.
A senior committee aide tells "The Post," quote, we want to tell it from start to finish over a series of weeks where we can bring out the best witnesses in a way that makes sense. The committee is discussing a rough timeline that includes public hearings starting this winter and stretching to spring, followed by an interim report in the summer and a final report ahead of the midterm elections.
And hanging over these plans is the question of whether the committee`s work will result in criminal referrals to the Justice Department for anyone involved in January 6, up to and including Donald Trump himself.
Joining us now is Representative Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California and a member of the January 6th committee.
Congresswoman, thank you so much for joining thus evening. I want to ask you about these weeks of hearings that your committee is planning for next year.
First, is it true that that`s the plan, what can you tell us about that, and can you give us any sense of what these public hearings will be about and who some of the witnesses might be?
REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): Not at this point. What we want to do is to gather a comprehensive set of all the facts we can find that tell the complete story about the events leading up to the January 6th event and tell that in a way that is credible, that`s true, and understandable.
That involves a series of hearings with witnesses to tell the story of what happened. I think it`s very important, if we just do an investigation, write a book and put it on the shelf, we will not have accomplished our goal of having the American public have the opportunity to really tune in to what happened, fully understand it, so that we can make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.
MOHYELDIN: So allow me to expand on that for a moment. What do you see as the committee`s top priorities once you reconvene in the New Year? Is it the investigation? As you just said, it`s not just about writing a book and putting it on a shelf. It`s also about the messaging of getting what you find out back to the public, which includes 70 percent of Republicans, we ran through the numbers there for you.
LOFGREN: Right. Well, I do think we have to have the truth, and the truth needs to be displayed in a way that`s credible in all sectors of our America. That is a very important element. Obviously, we have a legislative purpose as well, as we understand more clearly on the 6th and what happened leading up to the 6th. It informs us as to what legislative remedy should be undertaken as well as perhaps some administrative ones.
So, you know, there`s a lot to do. The investigation is not complete. We`ve interviewed over 300 witnesses. We`ve got over 35,000 documents. And of course we`re hoping to get many more documents from the archivist that will shed further light on the events leading up to the 6th. So the investigation isn`t done. But we want to make sure that when we`re ready to lay out the facts, that it is coherent and in a chronological order so people will be able to see the truth.
MOHYELDIN: The chairman of your committee, Bennie Thompson, told ABC News that the committee would be happy to hear from house Republican leader Kevin McCarthy and would actually consider sending McCarthy a formal request to appear.
Do you think that`s likely to happen? And how important is it for the committee to hear from McCarthy? After all, he did speak with the president as the attack was unfolding on January 6th.
LOFGREN: Well, I think it would be important to listen to what Kevin McCarthy has to say. He has in fact indicated publicly that he has nothing to hide, that he would be willing to talk further. And I hope that he lives up to that. We know from other Republican members who related the conversation he had with the president, that he had some communication. I would like to ask Kevin about that. And I expect, if he has nothing to hide, I`m not suggesting he does, that he would want to come forward and make sure that we understand all the facts as he knows them.
MOHYELDIN: Congressman Zoe Lofgren, member of the January 6th committee, thank you so much for your time tonight. I greatly appreciate it. More importantly, have a very happy new year.
Up next, an unexpected ruling from a federal court that is bringing an enormous settlement deal with one company synonymous with the opioid crisis in this country. It is bringing that to a halt and bringing home to the victims of the crisis. We`ll tell about you that, next.
MOHYELDIN: If you visited the Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the last few decades, you were greeted by these signs welcoming you to the exhibit, the Sackler gallery for Egyptian art and the Sackler wing.
But in response to a national reckoning over the Sackler family and the role in country`s opioid epidemic, the Met announced that it will remove the Sackler name from those two exhibits and five other Sackler name exhibits in the museum. Now, Purdue Pharma, the company behind the mega opioid OxyContin, faced charges related to fueling the epidemic that has claimed the lives of over a half million Americans over the last two decades. That company, of course, and the family behind it, the Sacklers, have been sued over a thousand times for falsely marketing their super opioid to maximize their profits when they knew, when they knew it was being dangerously abused. Nearly every state in the country sued the company.
And faced with that onslaught of lawsuits, Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy in 2019. It became apparent that the Sacklers siphoned off $10 billion from the company in the years following the guilty plea in 2007. Now, here`s the thing, after a long process, a federal judge in September approved a deal that not only allowed Purdue Pharma to file for bankruptcy, but it served as a settlement for hundreds and hundreds of lawsuits against the family with the Sackler family personally contributing $4.5 billion towards that settlement.
Now, one caveat that angered several of these states and victims of this crisis, the bankruptcy deal, it would shield the Sacklers personally from civil litigation in change for that $4.5 billion contribution they would have to make. After a group of those dissenting states and localities appealed that bankruptcy deal, a federal judge in New York City justice this month vacated it, saying that the provision protecting members of the family from civil litigation made the deal null and void.
Attorney General Merrick Garland applauded the judge`s decision. In fact, he said, we are pleased with the district court`s decision invalidating the Purdue Pharma bankruptcy plan. The bankruptcy court did not have the authority to deprive victims of the opioid crisis of their right to sue the Sackler family.
Now, the decision to toss out that deal is actually not over yet because the Sackler family says they vowed to appeal it. And this likely could go all the way to the Supreme Court. Now, one of those states that opposes the bankruptcy deal that protected the Sacklers from civil lawsuits is the state of Connecticut. The attorney general for Connecticut explained why it is so important to sue the Sacklers.
He said, quote: This is a seismic victory for justice and accountability that will force the Sackler family to confront the pain and devastation they have caused. Connecticut will not allow billionaire wrongdoers to hide behind the bankruptcy code to shield their blood money and escape justice.
Joining us now is Connecticut Attorney General William Tong.
Mr. Attorney General, it`s great to have you with us. I greatly appreciate your time.
I know you believe that victims of the opioid epidemic should be able to sue the Sacklers personally, to sue the Sackler family personally. Talk to us about why you believe this settlement is so important that the settlement that the bankruptcy court wanted to allow to go forward.
WILLIAM TONG, CONNECTICUT ATTORNEY GENERAL: Because we need justice and accountability. That`s what this decision represents. It`s a huge victory for justice and accountability for what is the worst public health crisis in America, COVID notwithstanding. This was a huge victory, this decision, for the morning 1,400 families in Connecticut who this holiday season had an empty chair at their dining room table or in their living room. For the more than $10 billion in damage that the opioid and addiction crisis has caused the people of Connecticut every single year, and hundreds of thousands of people and billions upon billions, estimated $2 trillion in damages across the country. And we`re fighting for the two moms in my office just about a couple weeks ago. Between them, they lost three sons. That`s why we continue this fight.
MOHYELDIN: I know that Purdue, and I`m sure you`re aware, Purdue has promised to appeal the bankruptcy plan. Given this new decision and this dynamic that may play out in court, how soon can your state get that justice and accountability from Purdue and the Sackler family that you`re talking about? I know that you have maintained that there is no reason to wait. But this could take a while.
TONG: Yeah. We`re in it for the long haul. We`re ready to fight anywhere, any place, any court. If the Sacklers and Purdue appeal in the Second Circuit, we`ll go there and beat them there. If we go to the Supreme Court, we`ll beat them there, too.
There is no justice and no accountability in this deal. Let`s just be clear. You said in the opening segment that the Sacklers took out roughly $11 billion. I`m sure it is a lot more than that. But let`s assume that`s the right number.
Under this deal, they say they`re going to pay $4.2 billion, but they`re going to pay that over nine years. Let me tell you what that really means. What the math amounts to.
That means the Sacklers will pay just about 5 percent on their money for nine years and then they buy themselves a lifetime of immunity. I pay more than 5 percent on my car payment. And as far as I can tell, while people are dying here in Connecticut and across the country because of their craven greed.
Not a single Sackler will have to sell the boat or a house or a piece of art or a piece of jewelry. They will feel no pain while thousands and thousands of people across this country are dying.
MOHYELDIN: All right. Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, we`re going to have to leave it at that. Thank you for your time. I appreciate it. Happy New Year to you, sir. Thank you for your time.
We still have one more very important story we want to get to and that`s straight ahead. Don`t go anywhere.
MOHYELDIN: The Pillar of Shame is a statue created by Danish sculptor in 1997. That is the year that authority over Hong Kong was passed from the United Kingdom to China. Made of metal and concrete, it stands about 26 feet tall. It depicts 50 torn and mangled bodies, memorializing the lives lost during the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing when the Chinese military cracked down on protests by college students.
At its base, you can see the inscription there in red. The old cannot kill the young. The artist had hoped the statue would serve as a, quote, a warning and a reminder to people of a shameful event which must never reoccur.
It is a monument to the 1989 pro-democracy protest and it stood as a symbol to the pro-democracy movement, not just around the world. But last Thursday, in the early hours of the morning, the University of Hong Kong removed this monument from its campus. And then the next day, two more universities in Hong Kong followed suit and removed their monuments commemorating the Tiananmen massacre.
The removal of these monuments it is just one of many anti-democratic acts the city has witnessed as its government cozies up to the Chinese communist party in Beijing. In fact, just look what happened today. Seven staffers at one of the last pro democracy media outlets, "Stand News", were arrested on charges of conspiracy to publish seditious publications, prompting the news site to shut down and end its operations.
Now, if that sounds familiar to you, you will recall that Rachel on this program reported on a similar situation this summer when here journalists associated with the independent pro-democracy newspaper "Apple Daily" were arrested and charged with collusion for a foreign country, in violation of Hong Kong`s national security law. "Apple Daily" shuttered its operations and those staffers are awaiting their trial. But this week, the courts add another charge to their case, conspiracy to produce and distribute sedition publications, the very same charge that the "The Stand" staffers were arrested with today.
Just after we got on the air tonight, the U.S. Secretary of State Blinken tweeted out that he is deeply concerned by the closure of "Stand News" and has called on authorities in Hong Kong to stop targeting independent media, and to release those who have been detained. It has been a very scary area for the pro democracy movement in Hong Kong, and as symbols movement come down, there are fewer and fewer news outlets left in the city to report on China`s encroaching authoritarian politics.
As Rachel would say, watch this space.
That does it for us tonight. We`re going to see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD." Jonathan Capehart is in for Lawrence tonight.
Good evening, Jonathan.