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CNN NEWSROOM

Alessandra Biaggi is Interviewed about Andrew Cuomo; Chatter of U.S. Capitol Attack Tomorrow; Georgia Takes up Voting Bill; Vaccination Sites Open in Florida. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired March 3, 2021 - 09:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[09:30:00]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Will be an independent investigation.

Do you stand by that decision? Should he still go or should the process of investigating play out?

ALESSANDRA BIAGGI (D), NEW YORK STATE SENATE: So I'm still calling for Governor Cuomo to resign. And the reason why is because the hallmark of my campaign, which got me here to the New York state senate, and also my time in Albany so far has really been to change the culture on sexual harassment, abuse, misconduct. And so I really have this zero tolerance policy in regard to this issue.

And based on the totality of the information that we all know and from my time also working in the governor's office, there is a very clear pattern of abusive behavior from our governor. And so the assertions that have been made against the governor by Charlotte Bennett, Lindsey Boylan, and Anna Ruch, they really do reflect this behavior.

And so I've been disturbed also by the governor's response to these assertions made against him. Notably that he was attempting to be playful when asking about one of his younger staffer's sex lives. And so even though, yes, we should, of course, be, you know, looking forward to an independent investigation, I have seen enough. The governor has not denied these assertions. And, for me, again, zero tolerance policy.

HARLOW: So let me ask you this because your Democratic colleague, State Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs, I'm sure you saw, went on New York One. Let me quote what he said. He said -- and he spoke to the governor. He said, I think he feels when this investigation is complete there is going to be a different view of the matter. And then he said, let's remember, you don't wipe out in one fell swoop the achievements of someone who's done a lot of good as well.

What do you make of that?

BIAGGI: Well, I think that we can do two things at once. I think we can both understand that the governor has done things that many Democrats, myself included, have really appreciated. Things like marriage equality. Things like raising the minimum wage. But the governor is responsible for his own behavior, and he will be responsible for whether or not he wipes out the things that were good that he did before. And I think that is really important for us to be able to hold our own accountable. Otherwise, we are hypocrites as Democrats. And so I think that what Jay Jacobs is saying is not surprising because he's one of the governor's closest allies. But, like, let's just remember here for a moment that not only has the governor tried to -- to -- or attempted to influence the investigation that's going on into him with regard to sexual harassment, but we are still waiting for the results of another investigation, two federal investigations for the cover-up of COVID patients in nursing homes.

HARLOW: Right. And we'll talk more about the nursing home crisis in a moment, for sure.

But, you know, for our viewers who might not be as familiar with the inner workings of New York politics, as those of us who live in this state are, you have long been critical of Cuomo after leaving the administration, critical of a number of his policies.

What do you say to viewers who might look at this and wonder, is this just a personal grudge? Is this politics coming from the senator?

BIAGGI: So the most important thing, I think, for viewers to know is that, for me, I am centered around making sure that the people that I represent, the thing that motivates me every day, not only have the truth, but also have the best representation possible. And part of that is telling them the truth and being transparent. And what we have seen from this governor and one of my main critiques of him is that his administration is opaque. There is a lack of transparency. There's a lack of willingness, frankly, to work with anybody other than those who are closest around him. And that is not government. And I think that we can all agree, no matter what party we're in, no matter where we fall on the ideological scale, that we would want our, you know, people who are in the highest offices to be transparent.

HARLOW: You mentioned hypocrisy in your earlier answer and I have sort of a broader level question for you about higher ranking Democrats on the national stage. I -- we have just not heard a lot in terms of directly condemning the governor from them. I want you to listen to this exchange yesterday between a reporter and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Harris was one of the most vocal critics of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, of Senator Al Franken when they faced similar allegations.

So at what point is the first female vice president going to say something about this?

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I know that's how the vice president continues to feel, and the benefit of doing a briefing every day is that I can certainly speak on behalf of the president and the vice president. And so let me reiterate that they both believe that every woman coming forward should be heard, should be treated with dignity and treated with respect. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: You'll remember New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was the first Democrat to call on Al Franken to resign before an ethics investigation took place. Same with Senator Schumer. Congressman Jeffries has also been reluctant to directly criticize the governor. All three of them have. And I just wonder why you think that is from Democrats on a national level and if you think it's hypocritical?

BIAGGI: So here's what I'll say about that. I think that there is a reticence to call for the resignation of Governor Cuomo for many reasons. I think, number one, he's been an ally to several of the names that you've just mentioned, which is fine and good.

[09:35:03]

But, also, I think it's because of the culture that surrounds him. A culture of fear. A culture of retaliation. It is no surprise to any of the Democrats that you mentioned or myself or frankly anybody in New York politics that Andrew Cuomo, when you criticize him or when you have crossed him in some way that he's decided you have is vindictive. And I think that it's really probably on the top of minds of many people who are reluctant to really come out full swing and ask for him to resign. But for those of us who have really just gotten to Albany, who are not the traditional kind of, you know, elected official who come here as insurgents but also have come here with really an independent thinking and independent voices, we are calling for these things because it's the right thing to do and, frankly, it's the future of what our elected political leaders should be.

HARLOW: Before you go, to nursing homes and the crisis and the devastation that played out as a result of COVID in those nursing homes and the numbers we did not know until now. Even before these harassment claims came forward, do you believe, Senator, that the handling by the governor of the nursing home crisis alone disqualified him to be able to continue to serve as governor?

BIAGGI: Well, I mean, I do mainly because it's not just about the nursing homes. Now, I also did call for an independent investigation into the governor on the nursing home scandal and how they basically have handled just sharing basic information. How many people have died? It's one of the first things that you ask in any kind of crisis, whether it's a hurricane, a pandemic, a tornado, it makes no difference.

And so there are real lack of -- not only transparency, but willingness to just tell the public and tell the families, the 15,000 families who have lost their loved ones in nursing homes the truth is a problem.

But it's not just that. I mean you can look at just the, you know, history of the pandemic and, yes, there are things that the governor has done well. And I think that we have to give credit where credit is due. But when we look at just how he has handled the nursing homes, sending COVID positive patients to nursing homes when we knew from the beginning that the most vulnerable people in this pandemic would be seniors, sending COVID positive patients into a nursing home was devastating. And that was supported -- that conclusion supported by the attorney general's report that was issued on January 28th, which essentially says that, you know, this was one of the leading factors of increased death.

HARLOW: Senator Biaggi, I appreciate you joining us this morning. And I just want to note for people, we did reach out to invite Governor Cuomo on the show to respond to the senator's answers there and we did not hear back from his office.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:42:02]

HARLOW: The FBI is warning of extremist chatter and specifically that there could be another attack on the U.S. Capitol tomorrow. Why tomorrow? Because it is a QAnon conspiracy theory that somehow on March 4th Trump will become president again.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, security up through March 6th as a result. Officials say these enhanced security measures include additional personnel.

Here's our Sara Sidner.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On March 4th Trump will be reinstated as president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ooff. I'm about -- I'm about to enlighten you. Are you ready?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then the real president, President Trump, can be inaugurated.

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): QAnon followers are at it again. Not able to let go of the conspiracies that have proven false time and time again. Now they have grasped on to another impossible theory.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trump will take office as the 19th president of the United States on March 4th.

SIDNER: They believe in an old inauguration date in place before the passage of the 20th Amendment. It changed from March 4th to January 20th only in 1933.

SIDNER (on camera): What's the significance of March 4th?

JONATHAN GREENBLATT, CEO, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: The real inauguration will happen on March the 4th when our dear leader Donald Trump will actually be publicly inaugurated as the president.

TRAVIS VIEW, RESEARCHER AND QANON EXPERT: The problem with QAnon is that it's kind of like a big tent conspiracy theory that welcomes everyone, regardless of what wild conspiracy theory you happen to believe.

SIDNER: The latest conspiracy was made popular by a movement known as Sovereign Citizens. The FBI has called the movement a domestic terrorism threat.

GREENBLATT: We have many examples of shoot outs or attacks or sovereign citizens who literally went after police officers or sheriffs.

SIDNER: That's what happened here. Members shot and killed two deputies in west Memphis.

While QAnon believers don't necessarily share all Sovereign Citizen ideology, they use what they need.

GREENBLATT: They move the goalposts in order to wait for their reality to come to fruition.

SIDNER: QAnon followers are not monolithic. The followers can be rich or poor, educated or not, from the city or countryside, black or white, and everything in between. We encountered this group in 2020.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do think there's a sex trafficking ring. I do think that that's going on, from D.C. to Hollywood. Trump's been talking about sex trafficking and they bury it in the news. And that's suspicious to me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have any doubt that anything that you believe about that is incorrect?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In my heart and my gut, no. But anything is possible.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) In Hollywood. They're killing our children and using their blood and stuff and using their blood sacrifices in Hollywood. We're trying to save our children. Our children matter.

SIDNER: There is no evidence whatsoever of blood sacrifices of children in Hollywood or anywhere. There have been no mass arrests and Donald Trump has not exposed a massive ring of blood-drinking pedophiles. There's not one shred of evidence to support all these beliefs, but the believers persist, even though President Joe Biden is already working after being fully sworn in as the legitimate U.S. president.

[09:45:11]

VIEW: They don't believe things because of like actual, you know, evidence. They believe things because it excites them to be a part of this grand story. So as a consequence of that, really no amount of real reasoning or counterargument or debunking is very effective on them.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER: And one thing that we've noticed here in D.C. at this time is that they have been preparing. There are barricades up. There are fencing that is up all over the city. And we have noticed some of those 5,000 members of the National Guard who are here just in case. They certainly, in this city and in the country, do not want to see a repeat of January 6th.

Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Well, the fact, Sara, that you have to utter the words, there's no evidence of blood sacrifices of children in Hollywood is just a remarkable measure of where we are today with these things.

Good to have you on the story. Thanks very much.

HARLOW: Yes, it really is.

All right, this morning, former Vice President Mike Pence is still spreading the big lie, raising questions about election integrity. He writes in a new op-ed, leftists not only want you powerless at the ballot box, they want to silence and censor anyone who would dare to criticize the unconstitutional power grab.

His words come as a consequential debate over the future of elections in Georgia heats up. The state senate soon taking up a bill that contains a host of voting restrictions.

Mark Nice is with me. He is very focused on covering voting rights, elections and Georgia's government. He's been doing it for years for the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution."

Mark, thank you very, very much for being here.

I want to hone in on House Bill 531. Three big things that it would do if it passes the Senate, limit early voting from just 9:00 to 5:00 on weekdays when people work generally, limit Sunday voting to only one optional Sunday, limit severely a number of ballot box locations.

What is the goal from Republicans here? What do they want to see happen?

MARK NIESSE, GEORGIA GOVERNMENT REPORTER, "ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION": They want to see standardization of election hours, times, manner, place. They want to see greater security. And Republicans want to, most of all, answer to their voters who want them to do something after they lost the presidency and two U.S. Senate seats in Georgia.

HARLOW: Is there any argument that this would expand voter access?

NIESSE: There's some argument. You know, for example, in many counties now there were, I believe it was 43 counties that did not have any drop boxes. This bill would require at least one drop box in every county. But they would be required to be indoors. So that isn't really the purpose of drop boxes. HARLOW: Right.

NIESSE: You know, you'd still have to go to an early vote location to drop off your ballot. And also currently Sunday voting is optional. This bill would require either Sunday or Saturday voting on an additional day.

HARLOW: Is it going to -- is it going to pass? I know this is one of 70 bills, but does it look like this will pass?

NIESSE: We'll see. You know, some bills will pass, but there are different -- different options for different bills. And, I'm sorry, the lights just went out.

HARLOW: That's OK. We get it.

NIESSE: But, yes, there are different -- different bills -- there are different bills that will be merged together as the debate continues in the house and the senate. There's strong support for absentee voter ID and everything else as far as no excuse absentee ballots or drop boxes. It's kind of up in the air. It will have to be negotiated.

HARLOW: And this is why you hear people like Stacey Abrams calling for a federal law to pass that wouldn't allow things like this to happen.

We're going to stay on this. We've got to go now, Mark, but come back and talk to us as this progresses through the senate.

Thank you.

NIESSE: OK. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: It's a story we're going to keep our eyes on, happening across the country.

Well, four mass vaccination sites are popping up now in Florida this morning as officials work to get more people vaccinated. It's great to see these things happening across the country. We're live from one of those sites, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:53:42]

SCIUTTO: Well, this morning, the country's COVID vaccine efforts -- wait for the pun -- gets a shot in the arm. Four FEMA-supported vaccination sites open today in Florida. Each will give up to 2,000 shots a day.

HARLOW: It's great news. Two mobile units will also travel to some of the state's underserved communities.

Rosa Flores is at one of those sites in Miami.

Nice to talk to you about some good news, Rosa. What are you seeing?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is great news, Poppy.

We actually just got a tour -- FEMA gave us a tour of this particular site. They say it's --everything takes about 30 minutes. And it all happens in the white tents that you see behind me. These are air conditioned because this is south Florida. And here's the process.

The first tent is registration. After that, the individuals that are taking this vaccine are placed in a queue. And once they enter the tent where the vaccine is actually administered, they get to choose between the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and the Pfizer vaccine.

Now, there are only 500 Johnson & Johnson vaccines available here daily, so it's on a come -- first come first served basis.

Now, we talked to Guillermo Munoz (ph). He's a principal here in Miami-Dade County who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine today. He said it didn't hurt. He felt fine. He was excited to take the shot, especially because that is a one-shot-only.

[09:55:00]

He doesn't have to come back for a booster.

Now, Jim and Poppy, here's the key to these FEMA-supported sites, that these are extra vaccines that are allotted for the state of Florida. So these are not part of the normal allotments that the state is getting. These are in addition to. So, of course, this is helping more people here in the state of Florida to get the vaccine.

Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: OK. Rosa, thank you. Thanks for the good news this morning.

In just minutes a really consequential hearing. The head of the Washington, D.C. National Guard will testify before lawmakers about the insurrection at the nation's Capitol. His voice is critical in getting more information on the response that day.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:00:00]

SCIUTTO: A Good Wednesday morning to you. Yet another busy news morning. I'm Jim Sciutto.

HARLOW: And I'm Poppy Harlow. We're glad you're with us.