Return to Transcripts main page


New Cuomo Allegations; FBI Director Testifies on Capitol Hill; Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Rollout Begins. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 2, 2021 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being here.

We begin with a third new weapon in our country's arsenal as we battle COVID. Shots of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine are going into Americans arms right this very moment. You are looking at video of a shipment arriving in Columbus, Ohio.

But I can tell you the overall stockpile is lower than originally promised. But there was some encouraging news on the steps the Biden administration is taking to boost supply. And that actually involves one of the vaccine makers' competitors, so hang tight for that.

Also today. U.S. senators grilled FBI Director Christopher Wray. He testified that his agency sent -- quote -- "more than just an e-mail" to warn Capitol Police about online chatter ahead of the January 6 riots. Wray also unequivocally called that interaction domestic terrorism.

Plus, a third woman is reportedly a coming forward accusing New York Governor Andrew Cuomo of inappropriate behavior. She tells "The New York Times" that the governor touched her face and back and asked to kiss her moments after they met at a wedding in September of 2019.

And now at least one member of Congress from New York is calling for the governor's resignation. We have more on the growing fallout from that in just a moment.

But we begin with CNN's Pete Muntean. He is live at Ohio State University, where they are now officially administering some of the very first doses of that Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Pete Muntean, the floor is yours, my friend. Take it away.


PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It has been so fun to cover this, Brooke, because, just yesterday I was at the UPS mega-hub in Louisville, Kentucky, called Worldport, where they got the J&J vaccine on its first stop to be shipped out. And it just arrived here at Ohio State University today, 300 doses.

And we have really been seeing some of the first Johnson & Johnson vaccinations in the country.

I want to talk to Dr. Milisa Rizer.

And you just got the vaccine. How does it feel?

DR. MILISA RIZER, VACCINE RECIPIENT: It feels great. It feels really great to be protected now. I have got two weeks for my immunity to build up. But this feels wonderful.

MUNTEAN: Why get the J&J vaccine, and not something else, because you're a health care worker, not Pfizer or Moderna?

RIZER: The Pfizer and Moderna came out first. But it really was given to those of my colleagues who were at the bedside, those in the ICU, those in the E.D.

And that's where it should have been. And I fully support that. Now that we have Johnson & Johnson, I feel like most of my colleagues who are at the highest risk of getting COVID have been vaccinated. And now it's time for those of us who are seeing patients in the ambulatory setting and other places to get it.

I really like the idea that Johnson & Johnson is one dose, and I'm done. I don't have to come back for another dose. It's really great.

MUNTEAN: Talk about the advantage to me, I mean, just one dose rather than two. You guys are pulling through 3,000 vaccinations a day here at this arena. But you're primarily waiting on second doses; is that right?

RIZER: Well, we have to make sure that we have got vaccine for the second doses. And so we want to make sure that we're able to give you two doses of the type of vaccine that you have gotten.

So, yes, we have to make sure that we get all that coordinated, so nobody goes without getting their full immunity.

MUNTEAN: How does it feel to see someone like Barbara Schmallenberg (ph), who I talked to a minute ago, 86 years old, getting this vaccine? And she had been calling and waiting, and you have been waiting too. It must feel like a bit of a relief.

RIZER: It is a relief. And it'll be even more of a relief when we get a higher percentage of everyone across the United States vaccinated. I think that's our goal.

MUNTEAN: Congratulations.

RIZER: Thank you.

MUNTEAN: It's a big job here, Brooke. They're trying to churn through people here at Ohio State University. They just want people to get vaccinated. And I talked to Barbara Schmallenberg, 86 years old, a little bit ago.

She said, don't be afraid. Keep persisting, if you're trying to get on one of those lists. Just get it done.

BALDWIN: I love that the doctor was like, one dose and I'm done, like my kind of vaccine, Johnson & Johnson. I dig it. I'm with it.

Pete Muntean, thank you so much. And thank the good doctor for us as well.

As these first Johnson & Johnson shots go into arms today, the Biden administration is moving to boost vaccine production. So, in the coming hours, President Biden will announce that Merck, one of the world's largest vaccine makers and a competitor here, will actually join forces with Johnson & Johnson to help them manufacture these vaccines.

For several weeks, we have been seeing COVID cases and hospitalizations going down to some of the lowest numbers we have seen in months in some states. But that turnaround appears to be stalling. And the most recent seven-day average of new cases is inching back up.


This is happening as Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New York and other states are loosening restrictions. The CDC director says it could all be too soon.

CNN's Erica Hill is following all of this for us.


ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Lots of hope and praise for Johnson & Johnson's single-shot vaccine.

DR. CARLOS DEL RIO, PROFESSOR OF GLOBAL HEALTH, EMORY UNIVERSITY: It's definitely a game-changer. Having a vaccine that you don't need to schedule a second dose, it really is a very, very useful tool to have.

HILL: A game changer, but:

DR. PETER HOTEZ, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: We need to accelerate our vaccination program to three million Americans a day. And, unfortunately, we don't have the vaccine supply yet in order to do that.

HILL: The current seven-day average still under two million shots a day. Merck teaming up with J&J to boost production.

BILL DE BLASIO (D), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: This is an example of getting it right. But let's not stop there. I'm going to appeal again to the pharmaceutical industry, to the federal government, go farther. Use the Defense Production Act even more. Bring more companies into this.

HILL: The message in the meantime: DAVE CHOKSHI, NEW YORK CITY HEALTH COMMISSIONER: The best vaccine to get is the one that you can get now.

HILL: Houston expecting its first 6,000 J&J doses today.

SYLVESTER TURNER (D), MAYOR OF HOUSTON, TEXAS: It certainly would be the best option for our transient populations.

HILL: For the third straight day, COVID hospitalizations remain below 50,000, and falling. Also on the decline, testing, down 26 percent since mid-January. Meantime, new cases on the rise in 15 states over the past week.

DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: The level of infection in the country right now is the same as at the peak of the summer surge. So, we're not, like, in great shape. And we have variants.

HILL: Despite clear pleas not to move too quickly, restrictions are loosening in some states.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But it felt really good to get out the house.

HILL: And not just at restaurants. The University of Alabama announcing plans for a full return to traditional in person instruction this fall, no capacity limits in the classroom or the stadium, which has seating for more than 100,000 fans.

DR. JEANNE MARRAZZO, UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA AT BIRMINGHAM: Just hold on a little longer, until we're sure we can push those numbers down in a more sustained fashion and really get a good grip on immunizing people, as many people as we can.

The other issue is that these variants are modifying very quickly. This is a scary virus. And we already know that. We underestimate it at our peril.


HILL: And, Brooke, one other note.

We're actually just learning Governor Abbott in Texas has just issued an executive order rescinding a number of COVID-19 restrictions, including the state's mask mandate. You may have just seen on our map there Texas was dark red because cases are up over the past week more than 50 percent.

He noted he's rescinding this because -- quote -- "It's clear from the recovery, the vaccinations from the reduced hospitalizations, and from the safe practices that Texans are using, that state mandates are no longer needed."

By the way, also March 10, businesses can open at 100 percent capacity.

BALDWIN: It's extraordinary. Yet you have the doctor at the end of your piece there at the University of Alabama saying, let's watch it.

HILL: Hold on.

BALDWIN: We don't want to -- hold your roll. Slow your roll.

HILL: Yes.

BALDWIN: Erica Hill, we shall see what happens in the coming months.

Erica, thank you.

Let's get some perspective from emergency room physician Dr. Rob Davidson.

And, Dr. Davidson, just out of the gate, I got to ask you about Texas. The governor there is rescinding the mask mandate, he's saying, hey, all businesses, you are good to go, open 100 percent by March 10. What do you think about that?

DR. ROB DAVIDSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COMMITTEE TO PROTECT MEDICARE: You know, I understand the desire for businesses to be in operation. I mean, this is a huge economic catastrophe over the last year.

I get why people want to get out of their house and mingle and see family and friends. I just don't understand the sense of rescinding a mask mandate. It is literally the easiest thing that we can do. It is zero risk. It takes no effort whatsoever, and it works.

You know the numbers are going down and now maybe starting to plateau. But last week, I saw two of the sickest people I have seen throughout the pandemic with COVID-19. People who get it still get very sick. We still have lives at risk.

So, yes, I think slow your roll should become the hashtag that we get trending, because I think that's exactly where we have to be.

BALDWIN: It's like I was just saying. We just need to hang in there a couple more months, right, a couple more months, and then we're all -- we all want the same thing.


BALDWIN: We're all on the same page there.

And then when I saw the news today that Merck here, Merck tried and failed to come up with a COVID vaccine, fierce competitor of Johnson & Johnson, and now they're linking arms to help produce these vaccines.

How unprecedented is this?

DAVIDSON: Well, I mean, I think Merck is still going to make a profit on this, any work they do. So, I think this certainly isn't out of complete benevolence.

But, yes, I think that's -- I think that's huge. I think that we all understand and these companies understand we have to get this done for the sake of all of us.


BALDWIN: What do you make of that the former surgeon general, Jerome Adams, is now officially breaking with Dr. Anthony Fauci in saying, forget everyone getting the two doses, if it's Pfizer or Moderna; let's just get everyone the first round of vaccines, sort of like they're doing in the U.K.?

The direct quote was: "Good protection for many with one shot is better than great protection for a few."

Who do you agree with on this here?

DAVIDSON: I mean, I really agree with Fauci. I think we have to follow the science. Studies were done in a certain way. And I think if we buck what those studies tell us, I mean, that the medical literature and medical practice even in my 20-year career is replete with evidence that says things that we thought might work because they seemed like it would be the right thing to do, once we get evidence, we have proven many of those treatments wrong for heart attacks and strokes and other conditions.

And I just worry. We have data, we have studies that show these vaccines work in a certain way. Why not pass the American Recovery plan -- the American Rescue Act? Sorry. Why not get this money out so we can get more vaccine doses into arms?

We can do all of the above if we just have the political will and if we -- if we all get on board. So I don't agree with bucking the science. I think we should stick with what we know.

BALDWIN: Dr. Davidson, thank you so much.

DAVIDSON: Thank you.

BALDWIN: FBI Director Chris Wray today testifying on that deadly insurrection Capitol Hill. He says there is absolutely no evidence that fake Trump protesters or groups connected to Antifa or Black Lives Matter were behind the attacks.

More on his testimony there in Washington.

Also ahead, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is facing new calls to resign after this third woman here reportedly has come forward to accuse him of unwanted advances.

And there was no widespread voter fraud in the last election, so why are Republicans trying to pass laws to restrict access to the ballot box?

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


[15:16:33] BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

And, today, the nation got to hear from the head of the FBI for the first time since the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol, Christopher Wray knocking down one of the biggest conspiracy theories really to emerge from that day, the claim that the rioters were actually these left-wing agitators posing as Trump supporters.


SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL): Based on your investigation so far, do you have any evidence that the Capitol attack was organized by -- quote -- "fake Trump protesters"?

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: We have not seen evidence of that at this stage.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Is there any evidence at all that it was organized or planned or carried out by groups like Antifa or Black Lives Matter?

WRAY: We have not seen any evidence to that effect thus far in the investigation?

COONS: And is there any doubt that the people who stormed the Capitol included white supremacists and other far right extremist organizations?

WRAY: There's no doubt that it included individuals that we would call militia violent extremists and then, in some instances, individuals that were racially motivated violent extremists who advocate for the superiority of the white race.


BALDWIN: And this idea that these were left-wing wolves in MAGA clothing is not just a baseless claim you might see on a right-wing Web site.

Republican Senator Ron Johnson can't seem to quit the idea.

Let's go straight to former FBI special agent Asha Rangappa. She's now our CNN legal analyst and national security analyst.

And, Asha, I saw your Twitter, so I know you were watching that thing much of the day. Chris Wray covered a lot of ground. Just from your purchase a former FBI agent, what was the biggest moment for you?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think I -- to be honest, I was a little bit underwhelmed. I do think that what you just noted, that his emphasizing that Antifa was not behind they January 6 insurrection was very important, because it undermines a major talking point that I think some people are using to muddy the political waters for what happened.

But I think that we didn't really get to the bottom of a lot of things. And that was partly because I think there were attempts to use the questioning to distract and go on tangential issues.


BALDWIN: What was missing?


BALDWIN: What was the thing that wasn't addressed that bothered you?

RANGAPPA: There wasn't a lot of clarity on how and why this wasn't more adequately prepared for or on the radar.

There was this heavy focus on this one intelligence report from Norfolk, which is important. It's important to understand what happened to that. But, Brooke, we look at these kind of intelligence reports or bits of information when something comes out of the blue, because we're looking to see what did -- what was on the radar.

BALDWIN: But this wasn't out of the blue.

RANGAPPA: This didn't exactly come out of the blue, no.

You know, even the FBI in the days before January 6 had made visits to people across the country, dissuading them from going to D.C., because they thought they might have violent intentions. That didn't come up at all.

So, the Norfolk intelligence report was a bit of a red herring. And then there's also questions there on what eyeballs were on that particular report, and why wasn't that acted upon either? Was it negligence? Was it implicit bias? Was it political pressure?


So, we didn't get to some of those deeper questions, in my opinion, in today's hearing.

BALDWIN: No, I appreciate you pointing that out, because the obvious question is like, well, if something, heaven forbid, like were to happen again, would they actually act on it ahead of time? Would this be prevented, right? That's sort of the elephant in the room.

The other piece of it is, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham suggested that the FBI identify and define domestic terrorism organizations. Does he have a point?

RANGAPPA: I think he was obfuscating an issue.

So, we do designate foreign terrorist organizations. The State Department does that. And doing so opens up a lot of legal and investigatory tools in order to dismantle these organizations and combat terrorism.

We don't do that in the domestic setting, because you go down a slippery slope. We don't want to stifle First Amendment activity. And, in fact, domestic intelligence and monitoring is what happened in the 1970s and what led to a lot of the restrictions on the FBI that are in place now.

And I suspect Senator Graham knows that. I think we would want to be very, very careful before we go down the road of designating organizations as terrorist organizations in the way that we do for foreign terrorist organizations. But I think that we can definitely beef up our focus on them and the investigative tools that we use to combat domestic terror groups, for example, using the tools we use for organized crime, if not for international terrorism.

BALDWIN: Right, which is the part of the conversation that is so key. And we will have it moving forward.

Asha Rangappa, for now, thank you so much for pointing out what you heard and what you wish you had heard.

RANGAPPA: Thank you.

BALDWIN: New developments today in the accusations against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a third woman coming forward alleging inappropriate contact. We have those new details ahead.

Also, a GOP lawmaker's life story is now under scrutiny after he faces fresh allegations of sexual harassment and lies.



BALDWIN: This crisis involving New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is really deepening now.

He is facing growing calls to resign from fellow Democrats in his own state, as a third woman is reportedly coming forward accusing him of making unwanted advances. Her name is Anna Ruch. She told "The New York Times" that the governor put her hands on her lower back at a wedding reception -- this is back in 2019 -- and then put his hands on her face and asked if he could kiss her.

We haven't heard anything from the governor today, but New York Attorney General Letitia James is pressing ahead with an independent investigation.

CNN's Athena Jones has the story.


ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Embattled New York Governor Andrew Cuomo silent Monday, as a third woman came forward accusing him of an unwanted advance, 33-year-old Anna Ruch recalling to "The New York Times" a wedding reception in September 2019 where Cuomo approached her, put his hands on her face and asked if he could kiss her loudly enough for a friend nearby to hear.

The moment seemingly captured in this picture from the event obtained by "The Times." And "The Times" says they corroborated Ruch's story through contemporaneous text messages and photos. Ruch, who worked in the Obama administration and for President Joe Biden's 2020 campaign, was bewildered, "The Times" reports, and pulled away as the governor drew closer, telling the paper she was so confused and shocked and embarrassed, she turned her head away and didn't have words in that moment.

Cuomo did not directly respond to Ruch's allegations. His spokesperson referred "The Times" to his previous statement on Sunday, where he wrote: "I acknowledged some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that."

DE BLASIO: The governor issued that total non apology earlier and, in effect, treated sexual harassment as some kind of laughing matter. It's not a laughing matter. It's not a joke. It's very, very serious stuff. And we need a full investigation.

If it proves that these allegations are true, how can someone lead a state if they have done these kinds of things?

JONES: Ruch never worked for the governor, but her allegation comes after two of Cuomo's former aides in the last week have accused him of sexual harassment.

Charlotte Bennett, who recounted her alleged incidents to "The Times" this weekend, responding to the governor's statement, writing: "It took the governor 24 hours and significant backlash to allow for a truly independent investigation. These are not the actions of someone who simply feels misunderstood. They're the actions of an individual who wields his power to avoid justice."

On Monday, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced she had received the referral for an independent investigation with subpoena power from the governor.

JESSE MCKINLEY, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": That investigation could have some teeth. With a subpoena power, you can draw down documents, you can compel testimony, you can get recordings if there's any recordings. Charlotte did speak to a lawyer inside of the Cuomo administration.


JONES: Now, Ruch has not responded to CNN's request for comment. And CNN has not been able to verify her allegations.

But I want to drive home the point that "New York Times" reporter Jesse McKinley was talking about there at the end. A truly independent investigation doesn't just mean requesting and receiving documents and recordings, if any exists.