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FBI Warns of Extremist Chatter to Attack U.S. Capitol Tomorrow; Biden Says, We Will Have Enough Vaccines for All U.S. Adults by End of May; FBI and Defense Officials Testify on Deadly Insurrection. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 3, 2021 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: A good Wednesday morning to you, yet another busy news morning. I'm Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: And I'm Poppy Harlow. We're glad you're with us.

Well, breaking news right now, sources tell CNN the FBI has now warned the Capitol Police about a new threat to breach the U.S. Capitol tomorrow. Officials sounding the alarm about the possibility of violence again tomorrow at the Capitol tied to the baseless conspiracy theory from QAnon that former President Trump will somehow become president tomorrow, March 4th.

And, Jim, this is your reporting. We'll learn much more about this chatter online from extremists in a moment. This as the commanding general of the D.C. National Guard, Major General William Walker, will testify in just a few minutes on Capitol Hill about that day, so many questions about the response of the deadly riot. We have a preview of his testimony.

SCIUTTO: Yes. What we're told that the National Guard has increased its force posture from today through March 6th as a result of this and other threats related to tomorrow's dates.

CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill. So, Manu, yet one more official is going to sit down and tell their story of what happened on January 6th. And based on the written testimony in advance, I mean, it looks like, again, differences, contradictions with what we're hearing from other people who sat in that chair.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And a lot of questions about why the National Guard was not called to this building much earlier. I mean, there were several hours where people like me, others, so many other people in this building were questioning why was the National Guard not here to back up Capitol Police and perhaps Major General William Walker, who is the commanding general of the D.C. National Guard, could shed some lights.

Because unlike states, the District of Columbia is a district and has to rely on not its governor but actually the secretary of the Army to essentially approve the National Guard request, and why was that request not approved earlier.

In this testimony that was released by the committee this morning, his opening statement, raises perhaps even more questions for the senators to dig into when he testifies in just a matter of minutes here. And just from his opening statement, he talks about the frantic nature of the afternoon, the phone calls and why the -- perhaps raising questions about why the Guard was not called in earlier.

He says, 1:49 P.M., that's on January 6th, I received a frantic call from the chief of U.S. Capitol Police, Steven Sund, where he informed me that the security perimeter of the Capitol had been breached by hostile rioters. Chief Sund, his voice cracking with emotion, indicated that there was a dire emergency on Capitol Hill and requested that immediate assistance of as many guardsmen as I could muster.

Immediately after the 1:49 P.M. call with Chief Sund, I alerted the army senior leadership of the request. The approval for Chief Sund's request would eventually come from the acting secretary of defense and be relayed to me by army senior leaders at 5:08 P.M., three hours and 19 minutes later.

And in this brief opening statement, he doesn't explain exactly why it took three hours and 19 minutes from the time he requested the National Guard to come in until they eventually did. So, expect questions today about why that happened.

And he also explains discussions about bringing in the National Guard ahead of January 6th, discussions that happened that did not seem to go anywhere because of a back-and-forth with the senior army leadership.

So a lot of questions here, guys, will they get answers or will they lead to even more questions? We'll just have to see in a matter of minutes.

HARLOW: Yes. Manu, thank you very much.

Let's bring in CNN Correspondent and former FBI Supervisory Special Agent Josh Campbell. Charles Ramsey is a CNN Law Enforcement Analyst and a former D.C. Police chief.

Josh Campbell, let me begin with you on what is a clear discrepancy between what Manu just told us, William Walker, commander of the D.C. National Guard, is going to tell senators under oath today and what Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs said, which is that the Pentagon acted as quickly as possible in terms of responding to the Capitol.

Walker here is saying, no, we waited three hours and 19 minutes to get the green light.

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. And this discrepancy obviously is important because there was a question after we all saw for ourselves what was occurring at the United States Capitol. There was this question about whether reinforcements would come in. And there was radio silence from officials in the immediate aftermath of the attack where we, journalists, the public, lawmakers, were trying to discern what exactly happened and what was the so- called tick tock, the time order of events, when that request went out and when it was actually approved.

And there's been this lingering question, was there some kind of delay perhaps driven by the White House that may have been political in nature? That is why we're trying to get to the bottom of this question about this timeline. And as you mentioned, these statements are not appearing to line up. It's worth noting that the officials today will be under oath. And so we presume that they will be telling the truth.

But this is part of the process for lawmakers to look back to try to get at exactly what happened.

[10:05:01]

Because, of course, the question is, we can't have a repeat of this in the future.

SCIUTTO: Yes. One consistency in all this testimony is, not me, it was someone else, right, I mean, from literally everyone we've heard. They're like, well, we didn't get the intel, they didn't bring the -- it's remarkable.

Charles Ramsey, I want to ask about our new reporting regarding a new threat, at least chatter regarding a threat to the Capitol tomorrow, March 4th, you know about this date, mythically that somehow former President Trump is going to take office tomorrow, and the FBI sharing this in alerts with Capitol Police. How seriously should authorities take threats like this that they hear online, particularly in the wake of January 6th?

CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, in light of January 6th, they should take it very seriously. I would be surprised if anything major develops tomorrow, only because they're so well prepared now. The Capitol Police are on full alert. I'm sure MPD is on full alert, 5,000 National Guardsmen. So I don't think you'll see a repeat of January 6th.

But you have to take these things very seriously. Obviously, now, they are communicating better. Hopefully that lasts because there was no excuse for the information to not have been transferred in a timely fashion. So they could be prepared on January 6.

But this hearing today will really shed light on a few things. But it also will highlight the need for a commission of some kind to really take a deep dive into this. Because right now, all you have is finger- pointing, a Senate hearing, many of the questionnaires are trying to put their own political spin on it. We need to get at the truth to find out what exactly happened so we don't have a repeat in the future.

HARLOW: That's a great point. Josh, the fact that you used to sit in the seat you sat in at the FBI, I just wonder if you could let the viewers know -- Jim's reporting is really significant, that there is this online chatter still happening right now about a potential attack at the Capitol tomorrow. What would you do with that at the FBI?

CAMPBELL: Well, what we're learning is that the Capitol insurrection on January 6th did not happen in a vacuum, that these people were emboldened. That's coming from the intelligence services that we've been talking to.

And as you mentioned, based on Jim's latest reporting, that threat continues. The question is, is this chatter that they're seeing -- a couple questions, is this something that's out there for everyone to see on public information forums or is this a result of FBI investigative activity going after some of these closed forums, which show a more intrusive style of investigating and how serious they're taking this threat.

And then just as we look back at that so-called Norfolk memo that we were talking about yesterday and the previous days was, is this threat, is it aspirational in nature or do these people actually have the capability?

It's worth noting that this will be and should be a question for these officials sitting before Congress today, whereas yesterday, there's this phenomena in congress where if you're an agency head, like the director of the FBI, Congress is a little more patient when you don't have the specifics of threats and investigations and the like. That changes as you get further down the chain of command to people who are actually in operational control. And that's who we're going to have seated before of Congress today. So it's these types of questions about the lingering threat, I think, that we will see post today.

SCIUTTO: We should note that it's my colleague, Whitney Wild's reporting, that this is chatter, no evidence at least today of a hardened plot to carry this out. But it does show the difference with which they take this chatter given all the signals leading up to January 6th.

I want to ask you, Charles Ramsey, because you sat as head -- not only the police force here but elsewhere. Are you disappointed that one phrase -- at least I haven't heard it, maybe the others with me have, that I have not heard from any lawmaker of either party, any chief of police, or anyone, is this is on me, this is the mistakes we made? Why didn't we do this? There's a lot of finger-pointing, but there's not a lot of buck-stops-here.

RAMSEY: Well, I'm disappointed, but not surprised. I mean, I've seen it before. Taking the heat and accepting responsibility is part of the -- of being a leader. I mean, if you made a mistake, if something could have been done better, that's why you have to address it. If you don't acknowledge it, you can't fix it.

I was disappointed yesterday in listening to the director that, really, when he talked about the process of how intelligence flows from the FBI to other agencies, but what he didn't say, and it's been almost two months now since the Capitol insurrection, that he's worked with the Capitol Police, worked with the Metropolitan Police, maybe brought in Secret Service and homeland security to really figure out, okay, what went wrong, how can we fix it? You don't need a congressional hearing in order to fix that part of it or some kind of commission.

They should be proactive in looking at the issue. They noted somebody dropped the ball somewhere. It doesn't matter who. Bottom line is, what happened at the Capitol should not have happened.

[10:10:01]

They should have been better prepared. They should deal with it up front. So I'm not surprised, but it is disappointing.

CAMPBELL: On the blame aspect, let me just say real quickly, that, obviously, we're looking back at what law enforcement did or did not do. I think it will be also interesting to watch today, this could be the first time that we have career national security officials laying at least part of the blame at the feet of the former president, Donald Trump. They're not going to volunteer that information.

These people aren't grandstanders. But if they're asked the question in the press on what motivated these people to attack and what is continuing to motivate some of these extremists, they have to say, Donald Trump, because they've already said it.

In a lot of the intelligence bulletins that we've obtained, it goes back to his big lie, continuing to perpetuate that. That will be something for the history books to hear sitting current national security officials asked and the answering that question about a former president motivating a terrorist attack.

HARLOW: Guys, this is just coming in, and it gets to the point Jim made a minute ago, which is he hasn't heard anyone take responsibility, which is true. But now we have a little bit. And this is DHS acting Intelligence Chief Melissa Smislova. She's going to testify today. And she's going to acknowledge that more should have been done to understand the threat of the violence at the Capitol, pointing to this concerning information in the weeks ahead.

There's a lot more here that we'll get through in a moment. But, I mean, that matters, right, to hear that, Josh.

CAMPBELL: No, exactly. And the Department of Homeland Security obviously has been, since that attack, out there trying to assess and push out information to state and local partners about the lingering threat. And so if you look at it on the calendar, what were they doing before January 6th, I think we'd probably all agree that post January 6th, they're taking this very seriously, probably taking any type of threat more serious than they would have before just because they don't know what would transpire.

But to hear an official actually coming out and saying, yes, there's more that we should have done, that's somewhat of a breath of fresh air right now, because, as we mentioned, no one has seem to be taking responsibility. They tend to get into this granularity about, well, this information was shared here, it was an email, it was a phone call. No one is saying, look, we're in charge, we are responsible, we want to make sure this won't happen. So, hopefully, this is a sign of what's to come, as far as these agencies actually laying their cards on the table, saying this is what we could have been done better.

SCIUTTO: And more should have been done by whom, right? Beware of the passive voice. Sorry, Chief Ramsey.

RAMSEY: Yes. And real quickly, one of the questions I would like to have answered is really find out how well DHS, Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI coordinate the sharing of information. That was always a problem during my days in D.C. and also Philadelphia. Those separate agencies, they don't always communicate that well themselves. And so that's critical because information comes in from a variety of sources. And I think that's an important area to look at.

SCIUTTO: No question. Listen, it's evocative of pre-9/11. I'm not putting 9/11 on the same scale as January 6th, obviously, two different order of magnitude. But the failure to share intelligence widely and to make decisions based on that intelligence.

Chief Ramsey, Josh Campbell, thanks so much to both of you

RAMSEY: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: President Biden has announced there will be enough vaccines for every adult in this country by the end of May. Ahead, the deal that two pharmaceutical competitors made that could make this possible.

HARLOW: Yes, it's really great news. Also, health officials are warning, do not let your guard down now. Some states though doing the opposite, lifting mask mandates, lifting all of the restrictions on businesses. Why are they doing it now?

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[10:15:00]

SCIUTTO: Live pictures there, joint hearing coming up on the January 6th insurrection. We're going to have testimony from, among them, Witnesses William Walker, the commander of the D.C. National Guard, lots of questions for him about the deployment, the slow deployment that day of the Guard.

HARLOW: Yes, for sure. Also really good news from the White House on the U.S. vaccine supply, President Biden now says there will be enough shots for every American adult by the end of May.

SCIUTTO: Yes, I can't wait.

HARLOW I can't wait. SCIUTTO: CNN's Elizabeth Cohen, we can't wait, joins us now with more. Elizabeth, so the question, of course, delivery, right? So this is good news on supply. That's a big deal because that's been an issue. But do we know -- will this accelerate getting those shots into arms?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, certainly. I can't imagine how that wouldn't be the case. I mean, as you said, two parts, the supply, and what we're hearing is there will be enough for every American adults by the end of May, and then actually getting those shots into arms, as we've seen is a bit of a different story.

But I will say that in the beginning, when clinics were slow to get shots into arms, that was the beginning. Vaccinating an entire population is not an easy thing. It is unprecedented. We've never had to do this before. So it's kind of understandable that it did not go as smoothly as it should have, especially since the beginning was under the Trump administration, when their plan was basically to have no plan.

So things have been going better, they will have months of experience under their belt. So, hopefully, once those shots are available, they will not sit around, they will go right into arms. Poppy, Jim?

HARLOW: That's great. You do have the CDC's latest projection though this morning, saying there could be up to 56,000 COVID deaths in the United States by March 27th -- I think that's 556,000, the forecast published February 24th, projected up to 548,000.

[10:20:04]

Why would there be such a big increase especially in a moment like this? Is it because of states that are going relax all these restrictions? What do you think it is?

COHEN: There are usually multiple factors as to why forecasts grow a bit or shrink a bit. In this case, it's relatively -- it's not that different from what they expected it to be, and it's taking into account all of the changes, it's taking into the account that cases have gone down, that vaccinations slowly -- that rollout is slowly getting bigger and bigger.

But let's take a look at these actual numbers. If we look at COVID deaths up until this point, more than 516,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 so far. This CDC projection that we're talking about is by March 27th, between 540,000 and 564,000 deaths. And to put that in perspective, and this is just so horrible, that's more U.S. deaths than U.S. deaths during World War I and World War II combined.

And as Dr. Rochelle Walensky at the CDC and Tony Fauci and others have said, we can't let our guard down yet. Yes, cases have been going down, but they appear to be plateauing, it is still a terrible situation. We still have about 2,000 Americans dying every day. That's not the time to let our guard down. Jim, Poppy?

SCIUTTO: Goodness. And, yet, folks just don't listen, right, sadly. Elizabeth Cohen, thanks very much.

Well, health experts and local leaders fear that things could start to get worse in states that, as we were discussing there, are already easing coronavirus restrictions in Texas. People there will no longer be required to wear masks, and businesses can reopen 100 percent, 100 percent capacity starting next week.

HARLOW: Let's go to our colleague, Lucy Kafanov. He joins us in Houston. And, Lucy, I mean, I want to be -- we need to be sensitive to the economic realities, okay? It would be remiss not to say that. I can't imagine running a small business that has been shuttered.

However, there are health issues here as well, and I wonder how the Texans that you've talked to are reacting to this.

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the health issues and also the economic reality if the decision by the governor to remove the mask mandate, to allow businesses to run at 100 percent as of next Wednesday, if that backfires and we see, God forbid, a surge in cases and deaths, that's going to impact businesses more longer.

So there are a lot of concerns about this. I mean, he is justifying this decision by saying that nearly 7 percent of all Texans have been vaccinated and deaths on average as of last week went down to 232 deaths per day.

But this, again, decision flies in the face of advice from medical professionals and health experts. The CDC had said, and I quote here, we cannot give into the false sense of security that the worst of the pandemic is behind us.

And this decision has been slammed by a lot of local leaders. I want to play what the mayor of Houston had to say yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER (D-HOUSTON, TX): It's a step in the wrong direction, doesn't make any sense, unless, unless the governor is trying to deflect from what happened a little more than two weeks ago with the winter storm.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAFANOV: Now, the judge in El Paso County, a county that has seen more than 2,000 COVID-19-related deaths tweeted that this directive by the governor to no longer make masks mandatory would be equivalent to him saying that we don't have to wear our seatbelts. So there is a lot of concern about this.

And don't forget while cases and deaths may be lower than they were back in December, they're still as high as they were over the summer. And we now have the concern about these new, more highly contagious variants that are spreading.

And Houston announced that it became the first city in the U.S. to document all of those variants in the city through genome sequencing. It doesn't mean that other cities might not have all of them spreading here, but at least these have been documented here. So it's a big concern, guys. We have not turned the corner in this pandemic yet.

HARLOW: Well, we haven't. Lucy, thank you for the reporting for us there in Houston.

Well, the Senate is expected to begin debate on the COVID relief bill as soon as today. This as Speaker Pelosi pulls two controversial funding projects that made up more than $100 million of that legislation. More, next.

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[10:25:00]

SCIUTTO: Witness statements have begun on the hearing on security failures of January 6th. Listening to Department of Defense Official Robert Salesses. Big questions today on the deployment of the National Guard and how quickly or not quickly it happened. Let's listen in.

ROBERT SALESSES, SENIOR DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- to determine if they plan to request DOD assistance. None of these law enforcement agencies indicated the need for DOD or D.C. National Guard support.

After consultation with the Department of Justice, the acting secretary of defense approved the D.C. government request for National Guard personnel to support 30 traffic control points in six metro stations from January 5th through the 6th.

[10:30:00]

The acting secretary also authorized a 40-person quick reaction force to be readied at Joint Base Andrews.