tv CNN Newsroom With Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto CNN December 30, 2021 7:00am-8:00am PST
throughout the next 10. through projectup, comcast is committing $1 billion so millions more students, past... and present, can continue to get the tools they need to build a future of unlimited possibilities. good morning, everyone. i'm poppy harlow. jim has this week off. new this morning, a stark warning from the cdc as the omicron variant sweeps the nation. the agency now protecting more than 44,000 people -- projecting, i should say, 44,000 are going to die from covid in this country in just the next four weeks. dr. anthony fauci pleading with everyone, do not attend big new
year's eve celebrations. the annual times square celebration in new york city is for now a go. the fda has authorized two new at-home tests, but for now the demand for testing is drastically outpacing supply. many hospitals are maxed out with large portions of staff out sick themselves. states like georgia and ohio are the latest to activate the national guard for help. some experts say this is the new reality for the foreseeable future. >> everything we're going to do right now will be imperfect. just accept that right now. we don't know a lot of the things we wish we knew, but what we do know and is emerging is this country will be in the soup in the next few weeks. with so many cases in so many locations, we'll see critical infrastructure as well as health care challenged. >> one of those big challenges is a rise in pediatric cases. more than 300 children being admitted to the hospital nation
wild for covid every day in the last two weeks, just 2% below the peak in september. the chief of pediatric emergency medicine at boston medical center joins us. thanks for being here. >> of course. >> i ask as a parent, one vaccinated 5-year-old and one unvaccinated 3-year-old. i want to be very clear here. we just got some news from the president of the american academy of pediatrics making really clear that the vast majority of hospitalizations they're seeing with covid in children is unvaccinated children. is that what you're seeing as well? >> yes, that's what we're seeing as well. and i think one thing everyone has to remember is that, as you alluded to, all kids under 5 are unvaccinated. so the children are a really vulnerable population at this time. >> so what is happening in your emergency rooms? what is the weight of this on
your emergency rooms right now? >> it's huge. it's really significant in that we are just in the start of our flu season, so not only are we seeing flu and other respiratory viruses that we usually see during the winter season, on top of that, we're seeing huge numbers of children coming in with covid as well. this is on top of shortages and nursing shortages and physicians, people who are out because they've been exposed or because they've been infected with covid. this has been a really significant challenge for emergency rooms. >> can you explain what you're seeing most in terms of how the omicron variant is presenting in children? because i think that might be helpful for parents to know if, yeah, this is something we should be bringing our kids to the e.r. for. >> i think the challenge is it's really looking like many other viral illnesses, so we're seeing
children presenting with fever, cough, congestion, runny nose, and, you know, those are very similar symptoms to what we see with the flu, what we see with rhino virus and many other viruss that we see. so it is often really challenging to tell if it is, in fact, covid. >> i was struck by your observation that a lot of people are coming to the e.r. and bringing their children to the e.r. to be tested for covid just to travel and that that is a real weight on you guys. >> it is. and i think one message that's really important for parents to understand is that, you know, we are there for any children who are ill, for families who are concerned about their children, and we want to be able to take excellent care of everyone who presents. the e.r. is not the place for anyone who does not have symptoms, anyone who needs
testing for travel. it is a place where they can be exposed, and i think it's very risky. but the challenge is finding testing sites, and i think that's why e.r.s have kind of dealt with these additional challenges of patients who just need testing. >> the administration has been more clear this week about the testing failure for this country, and they're trying to do something about it, ordering half a billion tests, but i wonder what your message is to the federal government right now. is that the number-one thing that you guys need, is just more tests? or is there something else that would be most helpful at this point? >> i think more tests absolutely is really important. in addition to that, vaccine mandates. i think the more people who can get vaccinated, the more protection there will be. ultimately, i'd love to see children under 5 being vaccinated. i know there are trials going on now for that. in the meantime, the best way to
protect those children is by everyone wearing masks and by everyone who is able to be vaccinated getting vaccinated. >> we just heard from the head of one of the teachers unions that it looks like they're going to move toward supporting mandatory student vaccinations, which would be a huge deal if that happens. thank you very, very much. >> thanks so much, poppy. great to be here. president biden will speak today with russian president vladimir putin just a few hours from now. the call will take place, notably the second call in a month between the two world leaders and it comes amid growing tension over russia's military buildup near ukraine's border. it also comes ahead of bilateral talks between u.s. and russian officials. those will take place on january the 10th. our white house correspondent john harwood and allegeso barba starr join us. john, putin requested the call. can you set the expectations for
what they'll talk about? >> reporter: the administration is pretty careful in briefing reporters yesterday not to raise expectations about the call. you know, on the surface level, with the previous call a couple weeks ago, president biden laid out a series of consequences for vladimir putin that would result if he invaded ukraine again. the fact that putin was initiating a call you would say, oh, well, he wants to negotiate. the white house was not setting that expectation. they're saying anytime he wants to talk to us, we say yes. anytime we want to talk to him, we say yes. we don't know. there's a well-established record of aggression by vladimir putin trying to make up some of the lost power and influence that russia has suffered over the past couple decades after the demise of the soviet union. he invaded georgia under the george w. bush administration, annexed crimea under the biden administration, still has it,
and now 100,000 troops on the ukraine border. no serious sign of december escalation. but there are talks in geneva last week between the u.s. and russian counterparts involving nato. all of those entities will be participating in discussions. so it is possible that vladimir putin wants to explore a diplomatic off-ramp that president biden may be offering to de-escalate tensions, to provide some assurances to russia that nato is not seeking to encroach on russian sovereignty. but we simply don't know that that's the case. i think we'll find out more after this call and in those talks next week. >> certainly. barbara, you have new reporting on the u.s. air force flying that reconnaissance mission over eastern ukraine earlier this week. what can you tell us? >> reporter: this, poppy, happened on monday. it's a u.s. air force reconnaissance aircraft that is highly capable of collecting intelligence, if you will, on ground movements.
it can -- with its sensor package, it can see out, if you will, about 20,000 square miles. so from eastern ukraine, depending on its route, which is classified, it could have had a very close look at what the russian positions were and what was going on. every expectation there will be more of these flights. the russians are well aware of u.s. capabilities in this kind of thing. they know that the u.s. is looking at them, looking at those 100,000 forces, seeing where they are, trying to assess their movements, trying to aesz their readiness. but what is interesting is vladimir putin has made it very clear he doesn't want to see any u.s. or coalition, nato military assets in eastern ukraine, anybody near the russian border. these flights do put a military capability of the americans near that border, but, you know, even with putin's objections, the russians are well aware going into this phone call that the u.s. has had a very close look
at them and the u.s. now will have the freshest intelligence about what it thinks may be going on on the ground. poppy? >> barbara, thank you for that reporting. john harwood, thanks for the reporting at the white house as well. let me bring in cnn national security analyst and former secretary of the national intelligence area. given the bilateral talks scheduled for 10th of january which putin and biden won't be on but they're high level, what do you think the goal is in requesting this second call in a month with biden? >> we don't know. there's one of two options. one is he's trying to find a way out of this ratchetting up that is clearly on him. the other is he's going to set a series of conditions that are unacceptable to the white house. but i'm inclined to believe this buildup was a distraction from
putin's own internal domestic problems as well as the sanctions that have been ongoing from the biden administration in response to the election and other areas where he has been disrupting the u.s. a war in ukraine, it's not, like, the russians would love it. it would be very difficult. it would be challenging. there would be a strong resistance movement. nato is clearly unify preponderance of the evidence so this may be -- the biden white house has been sort of slow-burn brilliant in the sense they sort of brought it to this moment. one would hope putin is ready to back down at this stage and biden would need to give him an off-ramp acceptable to him. that's probably what you're going to see today. >> u.s. secretary of state antony blinken had a phone call yesterday with the president of ukraine, spoke with british officials, french officials, german officials. how important is it for the united states to have a united
front across the board right now not only with ukraine but with other leaders in western europe? >> i mean, this has been the strategy by the biden white house from the beginning of the buildup. it really was smart on their part in terms of both -- a couple things. one is they exposed it very, very early, so they've been talking about the buildup. it's not been a surprise. getting a unified front. keeping nato in line, important given some of the tensions coming out of the trump administration, and even if you look at what they've done with this phone call, they immediately go public and say yes, he wants to talk to us. it is a strategy of transparency that then leads russia and the russian leadership with few options. so it's been -- we've come to this moment. one hopes it's a good moment today or at least one that doesn't get us to the brink. and that is because of a longish
strategy by the white house to unify, expose, be transparent, and say that the options for russia are not great. a war in ukraine, it's not like, you know -- you're thinking more afghanistan for them than anything that would be relatively easy at this stage. >> the guarantee that putin wants is not just a verbal guarantee from biden that nato won't move further east and into ukraine. it's a written guarantee. the white house has said, as john harwood reported, that's completely off the table. there was a report produced earlier this month by the critical threats project at the american enterprise institute. "putin may be attempting a strategic misdirection that impales the west in a diplomatic process and military planning cycle that will keep it unprepared." there have been no tangible signs of de-escalation on the russia-ukraine border.
they said they pulled back and weren't near the border. there's that. you still think the u.s. and nato have been quite successful to date. >> given the options available, given what putin wanted to do, the fact that there has been at least a status quo for some time is good. that's actually success, is that you're going to delay the possibility or delay any move on his part, bring him to a moment where he realizes his options are relatively limited. then the responsibility of the white house as one has to do is to hopefully give him an off-ramp that he can then take home to a very, very conflicting domestic audience, much like ours. i mean, it's not a monolith there. what's most important is then get to the issues that are of particular relevance to the united states and russia, which is the ones we've been talking about in the last couple years, the disruption of cybersecurity,
of infrastructure, of voting, the kinds of things that are really of importance for america's security in the future. >> juliet, always great to have you. thanks very much. happy new year. >> happy new year to you. have a good one. >> let's hope. next, the woman who helped jeffrey epstein abuse young girls for years could now spend the rest of her life behind bars. what is next as ghislaine maxwell awaits her sentence. plus, stunning images out of china where the government has taken to publicly shaming people who break covid protocols, parading them around in hazmat suits with photos of their faces plastered on the front. (wife) hi, honey! (man) like what? (burke) well, you'd get a discount for insuring your jet skis... and boat...rv...life... ...home and more. you could save up to forty-five percent. (man) that's a whole lot of discounts. (burke) well, we offer coverage for a whole lot of things, and you
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for years, ghislaine maxwell was known as a longtime associate and gifford of convicted sex offender jeffrey epstein. this morning she's also known as a convicted criminal. the jury found her guilty on five of six counts related to her role in epstein's sexual abuse of minors. damian williams prosecuted the case and expressed his gratitude for the verdict and for the accusers who spoke up. >> the road to justice has been far too long, but today, justice has been done. i want to commend the bravery of the girls, now grown women, who stepped out of the shadows and into the courtroom. their courage and willingness to face their abuser made today's result and this case possible. >> one of epstein's victims, annie farmer, the only accuser to testify open in court using her full name says she hopes that prosecutors don't stop
their investigations here with this maxwell conviction. >> i wasn't sure that this day would ever come, and i just feel so grateful that the jury believed us and sent a strong message that perpetrators of sexual abuse and exploitation will be held accountable no matter how much power and privilege that they have. >> maxwell's attorneys say they've already started working on her appeal. vickie ward is best-selling author, journalist and executive producer of chasing ghislaine" and also wrote a big profile on jeffrey epstein for "vanity fair" back in 2003. thanks for being here. you have been talking to these folks covering this for so long. talk about the enormous impact as we heard annie farmer say, of being believed and getting these convictions, especially on the most serious count of sex
trafficking of a minor. >> well, i think annie farmer is spot on. it's a beginning, right. it's certainly not the end. it a it's an inflection point that finally some sort of justice has been served out to these women who were once upon a time children who have waited so incredibly long. i think that one of the things that's very striking about that verdict, you know, five out of six counts, really nasty sexual abuse counts, it does show that the jury in the end i think felt that ghislaine maxwell and her narrative of events was missing from that courtroom. what the defense did, what her defense, very expensive lawyers, did very effectively was to try to quibble with the credibility
of the accusers, show discrepancies between what they told the fbi when they were being interviewed about just jeffrey epstein and what they had subsequently said after jeffrey epstein's death. but in the end, that wasn't enough because what you had left is this gaping hole, this question mark, why did jeffrey epstein pay ghislaine maxwell an astonishing $30 million. >> there was no explanation for that. why did ghislaine maxwell stick with this man, who wasn't very nice to her, we heard during testimony, took her photograph down when he had other women to stay, had ore own assistants send other women flowers? i think jurors, you know, were told to use their common sense by prosecutor maureen comey about that money, about what the real narrative could possibly be, and that's what they did. you mentioned kindly my new
project, vicky ward investigates." i did reproduce the entire transcript of the transcript i had with ghislaine maxwell in 20002 about annie farmer's allegations, because i think it reveals what wasn't revealed in the courtroom. it reveals a very entitled mentality. she asked why i would believe strangers over her. she told me that annie farmer and her sister had been the beneficiaries of extraordinary generosity by jeffrey epstein. and i think that right there shows the value system that prosecutors did manage to put their finger on, even if we didn't hear from ghislaine maxwell herself. >> i think for a lot of people, because i don't believe the interview with annie farmer was in your 2003 profile, so for a lot of people, that will be illuminating for them to see it in its entirety if your
newsletter. i wonder what you think about what is the hope of a lot of these victims, including virginia giuffre, and that is that this is just the beginning. do you believe now prosecutors have enough and will go against others complicit in this, involved in the abuse? >> right. so, i mean, yes. we already know, right, virginia giuffre has her own civil dispute with prince andrew. we know that the u.s. virgin islands is suing the epstein estate and that, you know, that may be of all the upcoming litigation, will focus on the mystery of jeffrey epstein's money, which is hugely important, poppy, because without money, none of this sexual abuse could have taken place. and we done know who was paying jeffrey epstein. we don't know why. he remains a figure of mystery as well as a criminal. there are all those mentioned in this trial of the big names,
prince andrew, donald trump, bill clinton, flying on jeffrey epstein's plane. we have photographs of him at the dell castro. the question is what were all those men doing around this guy? how complicit were they? a lot of them have denied any affiliation. a lot of very well-known names were hanging out with jeffrey epstein even after he was a convicted sex offender. we also have in terms of what litigation that could be revealing the upcoming battle between david boies, who represented some of these victims, and alan dershowitz, who's been accused by virginia giuffre. he's countersued, denied that. that legal battle could potentially also be revealing about the other big male names it could bring in. >> wow. >> so, you know, it is a beginning. it's an inflection point. it is not an end. it is a beginning.
>> vicky ward, thank you for being here and for your reporting on this for nearly two dec dec de decades. i encourage people to watch your special and read your news letter. thanks for the time this morning. >> thank you so much. next, some new year's eve events are canceled or scaled down. the testing shortage and hospitals overwhelmed. how did we get back here? my next guest details the lessons we failed to learn in the first few waves of this pandemic and mistakes we're still making. but the thing they'll remember forever? grandpa coming out of retirement to give a few ski lessons. the time to plan your get together is now. find it on vrbo. throughout history i've observed markets shaped by the intentional and unforeseeable. for investors who can navigate this landscape,
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welcome back. global cases of covid are up 11% in the past week as the omicron variant takes hold an and a new study from the uk estimates 70% of whose who have flu-like symptoms actually have covid. paris says i would's going to require masks outdoors starting on friday. in southern china, a shocking response to the rise in cases, police publicly shaming people for allegedly breaking covid protocols, parading people in front of a crowd wearing hazmat suits, face masks.
they had photos of themselves. how did we get back to this place? my next guest wrote a piece for "the athletic" questioning what we've learned if anything since march of 2020, saying we keep making the same pandemic mistakes over and over again. why? why? why do we keep making the mistakes over and over again? >> yeah. thank you for having me. and, you know, it's a great and complicated question. i think honestly the biggest overarching thing here is that we keep coming back to single, one-stop solutions as a country. you know, americans, it's very easy for us to get locked into an individualistic mind-set, how does this benefit me, rather than focusing on collective issues. it's easy for us to look at solutions as panaceas. if i take this vaccine, i'm set. if i just, you know, take this one test, i'm set. and i think these are the same
things we encounter over and over again. these are easy messages to hear, but they're not the right way out of this pandemic, which is a collective problem, a collective threat that we have to tackle together with layers of protections that we keep using in tandem. >> i think that really gets to a point that struck me in the article is that you talk about, you know, the fact that we are making this mistake of repeatedly treating vaccines as a panacea, sort of an all or nothing shield against the infection and what we've seen with omicron is you can still i get it if you're vaccinated, right? you're not going to get as sick, probably not going to go to the hospital, not going to die from it, but i wonder how important you think this moment is in helping people understand even if you are vaccinated you need to take these other precautions. >> absolutely. i think people can't hear this enough. this is not just an issue in the age of omicron. you are seeing this with delta. we were seeing this even predelta. the vaccines were really never
designed to be, you know, impenetrable shields against the virus. that's not a bar that we've been able to meet for pretty much any vaccine in history, not sustainably, not permanently. that's not really how this works. if we think back to the summer of 2020, some 400,000 years ago, the original bar for this vaccine was lowering the chance of disease or severe disease by 50%. the vaccines blew that out of the water and seemed like they were doing amazing things against infection and transmission for quite some time. but, you know, those protections naturally ebb a little bit. what is sturdy is protection against severe disease, and we are seeing that to an extraordinary degree. that is durable protection and is still protecting people against omicron. i think a better way to think about this is, you know, if we are all going to encounter this virus at some point, how can we prepare our bodies to fight that infection off once it occurs? >> what can we do?
>> well, certainly getting vaccinated is the first step, but again, it's the first step that really needs to be combined with infection prevention measures, masking, staying away from large indoor social gatherings, being really continue, of who else is around us, who is vulnerable, testing when people are feeling sick or they've been exposed and being conscientious at this time. none of these things are going to work in isolation. none of those things i just listed are panaceas by themselves, but in tandem they can make a huge difference. >> a great piece and so important right now. you also dive into the cdc's -- some of their missteps from the beginning of the pandemic and lessons to be learned there. thanks very much. next, a federal judge throws out a lawsuit against a former saudi intelligence official who says he was the target of the crown prince. it's a remarkable story. why the justice department claimed the case could reveal state secrets.
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enroll today at no additional cost by visiting getsilversneakers dot com. a really significant development this morning. a federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against a former saudi top intelligence official after the justice department said allowing that case to move forward could threaten u.s. national security. now, the case was brought by a group of saudi companies controlled by the crown prince mohammed bin salman and was viewed as part of a vendetta against the former counterterrorism official. cnn's alex mhas been following
this from the beginning. explain who this man is, what he was facing, and what it now means to have this judge dismiss the case. >> the reason the department of justice got involved in this case was because dr. jabry was a longtime intelligence official in saudi arabia working hand in glove with the u.s. and is crepted by the u.s. and former officials of saving hundreds if not thousands of american lives. he helped in the fight against al queda. and in that fight, they used a number of companies to -- in those counterterrorism efforts, and some of those companies are part of this group of saudi companies that brought this lawsuit against the doctor. he said essentially in order to defend himself he would have to reveal some of the activities of those companies. and the head of u.s.
intelligence said that if this court case were to proceed that it could cause what she called exceptionally grave harm to u.s. national security. those companies are owned and controlled by mohammed bin salman, and he has been carrying out this vendetta against al jabri over the past few years because jabri worked for one of the rivals of u.s. and he said there was a hit squad trying to kill him at the same time that khashoggi was murdered. he says he was given a warning that he could be killed. take a listen to what he had to say to cbs's "60 minutes."
>> and the warning i received don't be in our proximity in canada. don't go to the council. they dismembered the guy. they kill him. you are on the top of the list. >> so this case has now been thrown out by the federal judge in the massachusetts district court. while that is a victory for saad aljabri, his children sara and omar in their 20s are still being held. they're being held in a maximum-security prison in saudi arabia. a group of senators, both republicans and democrats, have appealed to president biden to put pressure on the kingdom to get those two young saudis released. poppy? >> alex marquardh, thank you very much for the reporting, for being on this and to "60 minutes" for highlighting that. it's really important. we appreciate it.
still ahead, ll cool j forced to cancel his performance in times square for new year's eve after testing positive for covid. but the show will go on. the new york state health commissioner speaks to cnn at the top of the hour. the face of whoa! some are of intensity, others joy. all are of... various: ahhh... listerine. feel the whoa! a must in your medicine cabinet! less sick days! cold coming on? zicam is the #1 cold shortening brand! highly recommend it! zifans love zicam's unique zinc formula. it shortens colds! zicam. zinc that cold! narrator: on a faraway beach, the generation called "our greatest" saved the world from tyranny. in an office we know as "oval," a new-generation president faced down an imminent threat of nuclear war. on a bridge in selma, alabama, the preacher of his time
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>> the signs were everywhere in '21 starting at the top of the world where green land's highest peak was so freakishly warm that it rained for several hours. they believe that this is the birthplace of the iceberg that sank the titanic. but now scientists are really worried this place could help sink miami, boston, bangkok, and shanghai because just this part of green land has enough ice, and if it all melts, it will raise sea levels by two feet. a new study predicts the arctic will see more rain than snow as soon as 2060, and in the meantime, the ice sheet so vital to a planet in balance is melting at a staggering rate. at number nine, that icy surprise in texas, which ill straltded how the limt crisis
can run hot and cold with windchills below zero on the rio grande, nearly 10 million lost power. the february blast became america's costliest winter storm event ever. at number eight, flash floods on three continue innocents. in germany and belgium, modern-day warning systems failed as a month of rain fell in one day. in china, commuters clung to the ceiling of a subway as a thousand-year flood hit a province. back in the u.s., the deadliest flood in tennessee came like a tidal wave. at number seven, u.s. rejoins the paris climate accord hours after joe biden became president. but pledging to splash planet-cooking pollution by half this decade is one thing. convincing congress to take bold action is another. at number six, a code red for humanity as scientists around the world issue their most dire
warning to date. the u.n.'s intergovernmental panel on climate change says it is unequivocal that human activity has cranked up the global thermostat by over 2 degrees fahrenheit and that we are careening dangerously close to a point of no return. >> we meet with the eyes of history upon us. >> those warnings made number five all the more urgent. cop26 in glasgow, scotland. >> of the four main themes laid out by the host boris johnson, coal, cars, crash, and trees, it probably will be cash that provides the biggest challenge. >> for the first time in 26 meetings, the world's delegates agree that fossil fuels are driving the climate crisis, but not a single country committed to stop oil or coal production anytime soon. >> a monster named ida. the hurricane is intensifying
quickly and drawing chilling comparison tosca trina. >> reporter: hurricane ida comes in at number four. as 150-mile-per-hour winds screamed ashore in september. but that was just the beginning. ida's aftermath dropped a rain bomb on new york sudden enough to drown families in their basement apartments. and all told, the same storm cost over $60 billion. >> breaking news this morning. a dangerous and deadly night across the central united states. a powerful line of storms unleashing at least 24 tornadoes across five states. >> at number three, tornadoes in winter. december usually brings the fewest twisters of any month, but funnel clouds from arkansas to ohio, and weeks later, the damage is still being tallied.
at number two, the pacific northwest heat dome, which pushed the mercury and famously mild portland well over 100 degrees for days creating a mass casualty event of creatures great and small. over a billion shellfish baked to death on the shores of british columbia, and the little town of lytton broke the ka naldian heat record three times in a week before most of it burned to the ground. and at number one, america's megadrought. your water can come from rivers, reservoirs, or from wells all of which have been impacted by a 20-year megadrought fueled by the climate crisis with 90% of the west stampbing for rain. the feds declared the first-ever shortage of the colorado river, which is a source of life for over 40 million americans. meantime, smoke from western wildfires reached the east coast
this year. from one to ten, it is all connected. without dramatic changes, on a global scale, scientists warn us the worst is yet to come. bill weir, cnn, new york. >> bill weir, thank you so much for that reporting. thanks to all of you for joining me. see you right back here tomorrow morning. i'm poppy harlow. "at this hour" starts after a quick break. (burke) with farmers auto multi-policy discount, the more policies you have with us, the more you could save on your auto insurance. (man) hey, hon! (wife) hi, honey! (man) like what? (burke) well, you'd get a discount for insuring your jet skis... and boat...rv...life... ...home and more. you could save up to forty-five percent. (man) that's a whole lot of discounts.
hi, everyone. i'm amara walker in for kate bolduan. unprecedented surge -- the number of covid cases hits a level we've never seen before as cities struggle to keep critical services operating. high-stakes call. president biden will speak with russia's president in just hours as putin continues his aggression at the border with ukraine. and justice for survivors. a jury convicts ghislaine maxwell of sex trafficking. reaction from several women who survived jeffrey epstein's sexual abuse. we begin with a surge unlike anything we've ever seen. that is how one medical expert describes the alarming rise in cases as the omicron variant spreads like wildfire all across the country.