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Report on Khashoggi's Murder; Warning from Capitol Police Chief; Two Schools with Different Plans for Students; Pregnant Teacher Talks about Getting Vaccine; CPAC Kicks Off Today. Aired 9:30-10a ET.

Aired February 26, 2021 - 09:30   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's Alex Marquardt has been following.

What do we expect to be in this report? How explicit of a determination?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that really is the million dollar question, Jim. The reason that we know that this report is imminent is because we have been told that it will only come after this phone call between the king and the president. That phone call has now happened. So we do expect that report to come very soon.

Now, remember, the point of this report, which is required by law, a law, by the way, that President Donald Trump ignored, is to name everyone responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. That is expected to include the crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman.

We are starting from this baseline at the CIA assessed with high confidence that MBS ordered the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. That, however, was never made public. That was based on sources.

So here we have a report that is expected to come from the intelligence community, publicly stating that the crown prince is responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Will it offer any more details? Will there be any concrete evidence offered tying him to this murder, an intercepted phone call, a text message? That remains to be seen.

But it's -- regardless, if he is named in this report, that is still huge. You have -- you could have a situation in which the U.S. intelligence community is stating publicly that the de facto leader of one of America's closest allies is responsible for an extrajudicial killing.

And then there will be clamoring on Capitol Hill for repercussions, for the crown prince to be punished, which could include sanctions. We've already seen sanctions against other members of this operation. We do not know whether Khashoggi was mentioned on that call between the king and the president but we do know that President Biden, during the campaign, promised to make Saudi Arabia, in his words, the pariah that it is.

Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: We'll be watching closely for that report.

Alex Marquardt, thanks very much.

Now to Capitol Hill, where the threat of more violence from domestic extremists remains very high. The acting U.S. Capitol Police chief, listen to this warning, remarkable, warning that groups involved in the January 6th insurrection want to, quote, blow up the Capitol when President Biden is present there.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. Our Whitney Wild is following this for us this morning.

Good morning to you, Whitney.

I mean this warning came during her congressional testimony yesterday. And the fact that they have a specific moment, right, the State of the Union Address, that they're looking at here, is really significant. How are lawmakers responding?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I asked point blank to Representative Tim Ryan, who's the chair of that legislative branch committee within appropriations if he was -- if he felt safe based on what he heard during that hearing. And he said that he did because the intelligence apparatus is changing on The Hill. They're having these daily intelligence briefings. And also because there's still that barbed wire fence there. There's still members of the National Guard patrolling. So he feels like the security on The Hill, at this point, is pretty solid.

But this information is just frightening, as you say. Yogananda Pittman, the acting chief of U.S. CP says that there are known militia groups out there saying they want to blow up the Capitol, they want to do it at the State of the Union. And it's not just to harm and kill as many people as possible. They also want to send a message about who is in charge of the legislative process.

This is really the first time we're getting any kind of real substantive detail that law enforcement's working with and what is prompting them to keep up this fence, Poppy and Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes, this is a terrorist threat emanating from inside this country to the Capitol.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: Just remarkable.

The other disturbing phenomenon here, right, is the presence in these groups of a lot of current and former military and law enforcement. One in particular drawing attention, former Marine and retired New York police officer battling Capitol officers. Telling us about this video and what it means. WILD: Yes, it's really -- it's really horrifying. And it speaks to

what confused so many law enforcement officers on scene that day. Members of their own brotherhood. People they thought would be on their side attacking them.

This is Thomas Webster. This is this newest case. He's a former Marine, former longtime NYPD officer. He was on the detail at city hall in New York, as well as at Gracie Mansion, that's the mayor's residence in New York. And it's just so frightening. He's captured on scene beating police with a flag -- with an aluminum pole basically. SO now he's being charged with assaulting police with a deadly weapon. He's being charged with obstruction of law enforcement during a civil disorder. I mean the list of federal charges he's facing goes on and on.

But the symbol here and what he represents is this just -- this is very frightening theme among these rioters of people with military and law enforcement backgrounds turning on their own, using their training against very members that might have in another life stood next to them.


Now, he's in custody. A judge had very harsh words for him. And he said, look, I bet if you were a member of NYPD and you'd been attacked like this, the person who did it to you, you'd want them to stay behind bars. And so in jail you stay.

Poppy and Jim.

SCIUTTO: It's a violent attack, right? Should be criminal consequences.

Whitney Wild, thanks very much.

You can join Anderson Cooper as he explores the origins of the QAnon conspiracy theory and its influence -- the influence of social media. He's going to meet a former believer in that conspiracy theory. The CNN special report "The Cult of QAnon" begins tonight, 11:00.



SCIUTTO: There's no question that the decision on whether to reopen schools for in-person learning has been one of the most hotly debated topics in this pandemic and, Poppy, you and I talk about this all the time as parents.

HARLOW: Every day.

SCIUTTO: And one we watch very closely. We're invested in it. I'm sure a lot of you watching as well.


There will be some major postmortems post pandemic on if we made the right calls here.

Well, this morning, our Bianna Golodryga takes us to Ohio where two districts not too far from one another have taken very strikingly different approaches in terms of reopening. Here's what she found.


BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It's 9:48 a.m. and time for students at Watkins Memorial High School to get to their next class.

GOLODRYGA (on camera): I have to say, this is surreal for me to be inside of a high school.

GOLODRYGA (voice over): Besides masks and social distancing, it's almost like school before the pandemic hit in Licking County outside of Columbus, Ohio.

MELISSA LADOWITZ, PRINCIPAL, WATKINS MEMORIAL HIGH SCHOOL: High schoolers typically have a lot more freedom than students in the elementary level, but we knew that we could teach them the new routines and procedures. And that is what it's really all come down to.

GOLODRYGA: Less freedom, but they're here, in school, in person, five days a week since August. A lower middle class rust belt town where currently 75 percent of the district's 4,500 K-12 students are in school full time.

To get here, overcrowded hallways are now one way. Students go outside to change classes and allow in fresh air. They have implemented some of the CDC's guidelines such as masking, cleaning and contact tracing. But under the guidance of local health officials, they've foregone other recommendations. Most significantly, cutting the recommended six feet of separation in half.

ALISHA SLEEPER, INSTRUCTIONAL COACH IN SOUTHWEST LICKING, OHIO: I'm going to be honest, in the fall, I didn't know what to expect. We were going to be all in. We're going to see what happens. The guidance was six feet and here we are going with three feet. I was scared. And now, over time, I've seen that the spread is not there like we thought it would be.

GOLODRYGA: K-12 math coach and vice president of the local teachers union, Alisha Sleeper, is frustrated that her own two children, who attend a nearby district, don't have a full in-person option like her students do in Licking County.

SLEEPER: I would love to see my kids in school because they can -- they can use these mitigation strategies.

GOLODRYGA (on camera): What is your response to many who argue that you're doing this at the expense of teachers and their lives?

SLEEPER: I would ask for teachers to look at the data, to really dive in. GOLODRYGA: Current enrollment at Watkins Middle School is over

capacity, so they've gotten creative with their use of space.

RYAN BROWN, PRINCIPAL, WATKINS MIDDLE SCHOOL: We're currently in our media center. But we've had to use it, multitask. We've turned the back half of it into a classroom.

GOLODRYGA: The district has been vaccinating teachers since mid- February. So far, more than 70 percent have received their first dose.

LADOWITZ: I don't think that vaccines are required in order to open schools safely.

GOLODRYGA: They have seen positive COVID-19 cases in schools. The school district says it has less than a 2 percent positivity infection rate of students and staff. And Superintendent Kasey Perkins was confident in her decision to open her schools and keep them open.

SUPERINTENDENT KASEY PERKINS, SOUTHWEST LICKING, OHIO: We haven't had one case all year that has spread from being in schools.

GOLODRYGA: Her message to other school districts still hesitant to reopen, call me.

PERKINS: Come take a look. Come, you know, tour our school. See our transition times. Take a look at our classrooms. See our cafeteria. Look what we've done that we've had success with so you can model it for yourself.

GOLODRYGA: A message fully endorsed by sophomore D'Mya Brown.

D'MYA BROWN, SOPHOMORE, WATKINS MEMORIAL HIGH SCHOOL: I am really, really grateful that our district was able to open up and allow us back in the school building because I can't imagine how hard it must be for students who are online to not be able to interact with their peers or get one on one help from their teachers. They somehow made it work pretty seamlessly.


HARLOW: Fascinating piece.

OK, so now to a decision that millions of pregnant women are facing right now. Should they get a COVID vaccine? Pfizer says the first participants of its global trial for pregnant women have now received their first dose. Dr. Fauci says so far there are no red flags at all about it.

He also adds thousands of pregnant women in the U.S. are already getting fully vaccinated. This after careful consideration and consultation with their doctors, which is what the CDC suggests, including our next guest who just wrote a fascinating new CNN opinion piece about getting vaccinated while pregnant.

Caroline Nyczak is expecting her first child. She's a high school teacher in Michigan. You're fully vaccinated. You're 22 weeks pregnant. And you're -- and

you're teaching. Congratulations.


HARLOW: And you've got a lot on your plate.

How -- how -- can you explain your struggle? Because you wrote about deciding, right after you got married, are we even going to start a family in this pandemic?


NYCZAK: Right. So that was a first -- a major decision that we had to make was, you know, knowing the risks of COVID on pregnancy, do we even want to go through with this? And we considered some of those risks which would be blood clots I know can be a risk during pregnancy, as well as preterm birth. So that information was circulating.

We decided to go through with the pregnancy and go through with that and then I was very fortunate to be offered the vaccine relatively early because I'm working as a teacher. And so when that vaccine option came to me, I decided that was something I wanted to do in order to protect myself from those COVID risks.

HARLOW: But not only did you choose to do it. I mean you felt like you wanted to write about it and have the world read about your experience. And I wonder, I assume that's because there's so much misinformation out there. I mean I have so many friends my age saying, I don't know. I want to have another baby or I am pregnant, what should I do?

NYCZAK: Yes. Yes, I really -- I saw a lot of kind of different information on some message boards that I was on and on FaceBook and I think a lot of people think, oh, I'm pregnant so I can't get the vaccine. And I think that that is because of, as we know, there haven't been those tests on pregnant women, but that is really just a very theoretical risk. Just because we don't know what some of those long-term effects could be, like you said, there's really no red flags. A lot of pregnant health care workers have been vaccinated already with no immediate adverse effects.

So understanding, I think, and doing that research on how vaccines work and reading the guidelines carefully is really important because there are very well documented risks of COVID. And the risks of the vaccine are really just because it's new and because we don't fully know what the long-term effects could be. However, that's theoretical. And I think that -- I understand like why women can find that scary. But, at the same time, I think that it can be a very safe choice to get a vaccine in the right context.

HARLOW: Right. I think you make such a good point because I remember with both my pregnancies, you know, late at night I would go on Google and look. I mean you can find anything, right, if you search hard enough. And you're saying, don't do that, just stick with the facts that we know right now.

NYCZAK: Right. It can be tempting to see headlines that say, oh, vaccine not recommended and see that and then get nervous, but, really you can look at --

HARLOW: Yes, but that's not true.

NYCZAK: Right. If you look at the information that's not what these organizations like the CDC and the WHO, that's not really what they're saying. They're saying consider your level of risk, consider the risks of COVID on pregnancy, have a conversation with your doctor, like the vaccine is open to you. It's available to you. So --

HARLOW: Thank you for coming on. I think it's going to help a lot of people in your position who are listening.

NYCZAK: You're welcome (ph).

HARLOW: And for what you wrote, everyone can read it on

And congrats on the little one. I know we don't know if it's a boy or a girl, so congratulations on the little one on the way.

NYCZAK: Not yet. Thanks.

HARLOW: Caroline Nyczak, thanks so much.

NYCZAK: Thank you.

HARLOW: And we'll be right back.



HARLOW: CPAC begins in Orlando a little bit later today, the conservative conference. Some speakers there, including the former president, are expected to amplify the big lie that the 2020 election was stolen.

SCIUTTO: And if there was any doubt that former President Trump is still a leader of this party, this picture might get an indication. That's a golden statue of Trump on display at the conference ahead of his keynote address on Sunday. Yes, he's wearing flip-flops there for some reason. Sources say the former president will, in his speech, continue to make more false claims about his election loss.

CNN's Michael Warren is live in Orlando with more details.

I mean the sad fact of this, right, is that the party is embracing, or at least large portions of the party, the election lie, not challenging it, all these weeks later.

MICHAEL WARREN, CNN REPORTER: That's right, Jim. The conference got kicked off just over an hour ago with a video talking about a number of different issues, including stating that your votes, meaning the conservative attendees, your votes were canceled.

Governor Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, peppered his speech with criticism of other states that changed their election laws on mail-in ballot because of the pandemic, criticizing them and praising what Florida did. Of course, what he didn't mention was that Florida has long had mail-in ballots as a widespread option.

But this is definitely a theme that's here at CPAC. You can see it everywhere, in paraphernalia. People wearing shirts saying things like Trump won and Joe Biden is not my president. It really is a theme of many of the panels and what we expect a lot of the speakers to say. And, of course, what former President Trump is likely to focus on, on his speech on Sunday.

Now, it's worth noting that Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, was asked about whether he believed that Donald Trump should speak at CPAC. He didn't answer those questions. They've been in a back and forth between the two of them for a while.

But then asked yesterday whether he would support Trump if he were the 2024 Republican nominee, here's what Mitch McConnell had to say.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): There's a lot to happen between now and '24. I've got at least four members that I think are planning on running for president, plus some governors and others. There's no incumbents. It should be a wide open race and fun for you all to cover.

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: If the president was the party's nominee, would you support him?


MCCONNELL: Oh, the nominee of the party? Absolutely.


WARREN: And as you could see, Jim, Donald Trump remains, as you said, a force in the party and certainly a force here among the conservative activists in the Republican base.


SCIUTTO: Yes, and a propagator of the lie about the election still goes.

Michael Warren, thanks very much.

In just moments the House will vote on President Biden's nearly $2 trillion pandemic relief bill. When it gets to the Senate, however, a key part of that original proposal, the minimum wage hike, will be removed based on Senate rules. How will the president move forward on the minimum wage? Is there a way forward? We're going to be live, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: Good morning, everyone. Top of the hour. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto. Happy Friday to you.


Happening right now, some good news, an FDA advisory committee is meeting to review Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine.