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QAnon Conspiracies and President Trump; Andrew Cuomo Breaks Silence; Congress Investigates Capitol Riot. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 3, 2021 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:01:08]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Texas Governor Greg Abbott revoked his state's mask mandate and announced that all businesses will reopen in full.

So, I will talk to a Texas E.R. doctor who immediately picked up the phone to request more staff, more ventilators, how he's preparing to respond to this.

And New York Governor Andrew Cuomo facing the press for the first time since accusations of inappropriate behavior, saying he will not resign. But Governor Cuomo did apologize for making these women feel uncomfortable, he says, and he is embarrassed, but one key denial as he confronts the allegations. More on that in a moment.

But, first, two security failures from the January 6 Capitol riots. D.C. National Guard Commander Major General William Walker faced question after question today from U.S. senators, and laid out the timeline of when he got that urgent call for help.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM WALKER, COMMANDING GENERAL, NATIONAL GUARD: At 1:49 p.m., I received a frantic call from the chief of the United States Capitol Police Steven Sund, where he informed me that the security perimeter of the United States Capitol had been breached by hostile rioters.

Chief Sund, his voice cracking with emotion, indicated that there was a dire emergency at the Capitol. And he requested the immediate assistance of as many available National Guardsmen that I could muster.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Major General Walker then testified that he could have sent 155 Guardsmen, but could not do so without approval.

So let's go straight to CNN chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju on the Hill for us.

And the real question is why. Why not? If the help was requested, why the delay?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

And that was the big question, and really no clear answers, not just the three-hour-19-minute delay, when it was very real, the violence was happening in the Capitol, people were frantically asking for help. Why was that not deployed right when it was asked at 1:49 in the afternoon? Why did they have to wait three hours and 19 minutes?

But, also, why was it not -- the National Guard not ready to be deployed, not there on January 6, when we were all expecting that rally to take place and when the D.C. National Guard, in fact, had concerns about the prospects of this turning deadly?

In fact, what William Walker testified to today was that he was, in the summer of 2020, last year, during the protests, violence, of racial unrest that occurred throughout the country, including in D.C., he said, when he had asked for the National Guard at that time, it happened immediately.

But in the run-up to January 6, it did not happen immediately. In fact, he said there was a policy change of sorts, and unusual, the requirement, which they had to get sign-off before getting the National Guard troops to the Capitol, and that that sign-off never occurred before January 6.

So there are a load of questions about why they did not agree to it beforehand, and why they waited on January 6, when the violence was occurring. Now, one thing that William Walker did say was that the concerns were raised about optics, how it would look to have those troops on Capitol Hill.

Now, one of the Pentagon witnesses who testified today suggested that optics were not part of the discussion. But Walker stood by his testimony on that. Now, the big question is, will any of the decision- makers who refused apparently not to allow the Guardsmen to come forward, will they come and testify, namely, the acting secretary of defense at the time, Chris Miller, as well as the Army secretary, Ryan McCarthy?

The top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, which were one of the two committees that had the hearing today, Rob Portman, just told me earlier that he does want those two former Trump officials to testify about what happened.

He said that he believes they have already started -- his committee has already started to reach out to try to schedule a hearing. He said he's not sure if they want to testify. But there is a bipartisan desire to hear exactly from those individuals about why they did not sign off on the Guards, why there was any hesitancy to do so, given what we were all seeing, the images of that day, the deadly violence that was occurring, and why they had to wait for more than three hours on that day for backup, Brooke.

[15:05:18] BALDWIN: Cannot imagine hearing this news three hours, being you in the middle of it, covering it, being a lawmaker, being a Capitol Hill staffer, and just wondering, why?

How infuriating.

Manu, thank you for that.

I want to bring in former FBI Special Agent Asha Rangappa. She is our legal and national security analyst.

And, Asha, three hours. The fact that it took three hours for Army leaders to then authorize the deployment of the Guard, please explain that to me. How does that happen?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes.

Well, I think first, it's important to understand what makes D.C. unique with regard to the National Guard. There are 54 National Guard units in the country, and including the territories. But D.C. is the only one that is not under local control.

The ultimate authority rests with the president, who is the commander in chief of the D.C. National Guard. He delegates authority to the secretary of defense, who can then in turn delegate authority to the secretary of Army.

So, in the case of D.C., the mayor cannot call out the National Guard herself. She must request assistance. And then there's these layers of approval, more than in any other location in the country.

Having said that, Brooke, this is not D.C.'s first rodeo. D.C. is a target for many nefarious actors. And I think what the commanding general testified today was that there are protocols in place that have been with prior approvals and things that should allow this to happen very quickly.

But I think what this tells us is, the -- where we need to move up the chain is to the secretary of defense to find out -- the former secretary of defense to find out what was taking place there ,because that's where the logjam was occurring.

BALDWIN: All right, need to find that out, number one.

Number two, I know the head of the D.C. National Guard said that the Pentagon had placed restrictions on him leading up to the riot that actually prevented him from sending in help more quickly. He said that the restrictions were -- his word was unusual and were not in place during the racial justice protests that the summer prior. Why would that be?

RANGAPPA: That's another great question.

So, another thing that makes D.C. unique is that, because of the Department of Justice's interpretation of various laws governing the use of the National Guard in D.C., the D.C. National Guard actually has more latitude to engage in core law enforcement functions in D.C. It can do that in a more streamlined fashion.

We saw that over the summer with this heavy National Guard presence, including out-of-state units. So what it seems to have happened is that there was an additional hurdle that was placed to make it even harder for the National Guard to engage in precisely the kind of assistance and core law enforcement functions that were needed on an urgent basis that day.

Again, the decision-makers there would be at the Pentagon.

BALDWIN: Can you -- just also thinking of -- thinking of what happened -- I'm thinking of Lafayette Square. I'm thinking of the National Guard president, peaceful protesters. And Manu was talking about the optics, that the D.C. National Guard commander said that optics might have played a role in the lack of expediency, perhaps, on insurrection day.

Is that even in the realm of possibility that optics could be a reason?

RANGAPPA: I think, with the prior administration, it absolutely could have been in the realm of possibility, and that's a problem.

So, that let's just go back to what we mean by optics. The narrative that was pushed by the former president was that the existential threat to the republic was Antifa, as manifested in these Black Lives Matter protests, and which warranted this heavy military and law enforcement presence which we saw in D.C. and elsewhere.

So, when they are concerned about optics, what they I think are suggesting is that they did not want a similar presence for the people that were coming to the Capitol in support of the president, because what would that say, Brooke? That would suggest that they are also as dangerous as this other threat that they had been hyping up for all -- for this whole time.

So, optics to me means they were deliberately mitigating the threat or the perception of the threat, I think, in service of this greater narrative of where the danger really is, from their perspective.

[15:10:00]

BALDWIN: Yes. I hear you. Certainly, given the last administration, in the realm of possibility. They got to -- they will keep looking into it.

Asha, thank you so much. Great to have you back on this week.

Here in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo is breaking his silence on harassment allegations, saying he is sorry if he made anyone uncomfortable, but also says he is not stepping down.

Plus: Neanderthal thinking. President Biden slamming a decision by the governor of Texas and others to fully reopen the state and ditch the mask mandate. And a scathing report on the former White House doctor and current

Republican Congressman Ronny Jackson. It details drinking and drugs on the job, as well as harassment of the staff.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:15:20]

BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is saying he's sorry. The apology comes amid multiple allegations of sexual misconduct and growing calls for him to step down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): First, I fully support a woman's right to come forward. And I think it should be encouraged in every way.

I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable. It was unintentional. And I truly and deeply apologize for it.

I feel awful about it. And, frankly, I am embarrassed by it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Let's go to CNN's Athena Jones.

Athena, the governor, you heard him acknowledging these allegations lodged against him, apologized. But he denied partaking in any inappropriate behavior.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brooke. That's right.

And some of his accusers are taking issue with that. But, yes, this was a more fulsome apology than we saw certainly on Sunday night in that statement he put out, saying that his actions were misinterpreted, which put the onus on the women. That statement, that initial apology was blasted by Cuomo's second accuser, a former aide, Charlotte Bennett, who said it wasn't misinterpreted.

She called his actions predatory, his behavior predatory. The governor was also asked about this latest accuser, Anna Ruch, not someone who worked with him, but someone who says that she was subjected to an unwanted advance from the governor at a wedding reception in 2019.

Here's what he had to say there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: You can go find hundreds of pictures of me kissing people, men, women. It is my usual and customary way of greeting. However, what I also understand is, it doesn't matter. It doesn't

matter, my intent. What it matters is if anybody was offended by it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: And so there you heard him say: This was my custom to greet people in this way. It was my father's custom, by the way, but I acknowledge it doesn't matter what I think and what I intended.

That seemed to be an acknowledgment that that earlier statement about misinterpretation was not going to be good enough.

But I want to mention that, as I mentioned, some of his accusers are not satisfied. Lindsey Boylan, the first person, the first former aide to accuse him of harassment, saying that he kissed her on the lips unsolicited, put out a tweet saying: "How can New Yorkers trust you, Governor Cuomo, to lead our state if you don't know when you have been inappropriate with your own staff?"

And, also, a lawyer for Charlotte Bennett, that second former aide accusing him of harassment, says that his press conference was full of falsehoods and inaccurate information.

And, also, this idea that he didn't realize that he was upsetting people or making them uncomfortable, that lawyer takes issue with this because her client, Charlotte Bennett, reported this -- her concerns to members of the governor's staff.

And so this is a point that you're hearing, that this lawyer Debra Katz mentioned a lot, saying this A.G.'s -- this independent investigation under the auspices of the attorney general really needs to look into whether members of the governor's staff enabled him or didn't act as they should have following the law in handling these complaints -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Athena, thank you.

I want to continue the conversation.

With me now, CNN political analyst Sabrina Siddiqui.

And, Sabrina, to the governor here, you heard him. He says he's not resigning. Can he survive this politically?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's going to be an important question moving forward. And I think so far a lot of that really hinges on this investigation that is being led by the attorney general in New York.

I think that you saw Governor Cuomo really try to thread a lot of needles today. On the one hand, he was repeatedly apologetic about the conduct of which he has been accused.

But, at the same time, as you noted, he did not admit to inappropriate behavior. In fact, he denied that he had ever touched anyone inappropriately. I think, so far, what you have seen is some members of his party call for his resignation.

But I wouldn't say that the dam has necessarily broken. And so I think that will really tell us more about his political future and where he goes from here.

[15:20:00]

Most Democrats for now are deferring to this investigation, which I think will tell us not only about the conduct -- the allegations against Governor Cuomo, but also the workplace culture and how this behavior was allowed to persist.

BALDWIN: Sabrina, he apologized for making anyone feel uncomfortable. You heard him say he feels embarrassed. Is that enough?

SIDDIQUI: Well, I -- you heard Athena talk about how, as far as Governor Cuomo's accusers are concerned, they do not feel that is sufficient.

It's interesting, Brooke, because one thing about these allegations against Governor Cuomo is, they took place in a post-MeToo era. And so the allegations or these alleged interactions happened after there had already been not just a national, but an international reckoning around the standards of behavior that are and are not acceptable.

And he alluded to the fact that he had also taken sexual harassment training, which many politicians across the country did in the aftermath of MeToo. And so I do think that that does, of course, raise questions about not just credibility, but how he comes back from this controversy.

And it's also coming, of course, just weeks after he is already under pressure because of a federal investigation into New York undercounting nursing home deaths. So I do think this is going to compound the many challenges that are before him.

But it's important just to reiterate that this is not about any one man. I think the key question coming out of this investigation is going to be about a culture, a workplace environment in which women at a minimum are objectified, at most, victims of sexual harassment or assault. And, again, how was this allowed to happen, and why was it allowed to persist?

BALDWIN: I'm glad you brought up MeToo and the international reckoning. And, I mean, it's just Wednesday, and we're reporting on three men in power, very different situations, but the governor, Congressman Cawthorn, Congressman Jackson, former White House M.D., with these women speaking up.

But it is 2021.

Sabrina Siddiqui, thank you so much for all of that.

Let's go to Texas. The governor of Texas is under fire for reopening the state and ditching a mask mandate, despite warnings from the experts. I will talk to a doctor who's been on the front lines in the fight against COVID for 349 straight days. What does he think about this?

Also, drinking, drugs and sexual harassment. This is what I was just alluding to, the new Pentagon report about Congressman Ronny Jackson from his time as the top White House doctor -- coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:27:25]

BALDWIN: The FBI and Department of Homeland Security are keeping a close eye on the Capitol. And officials say there will be enhanced security measures there tomorrow.

It's all because of this persistent QAnon conspiracy theory. Some believers insist former President Donald Trump will be inaugurated tomorrow for a second term.

CNN's Sara Sidner is with me with more.

And, Sara, I know there's been all this chatter online about this. Tell me more.

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, look, there are quite a few people who believe in QAnon who think that March 4 will be the date when Donald Trump comes back and becomes the official president.

They are, of course, wrong. That is, of course, not happening. And -- but they believe it. And so there was a thought that they were going to show up here en masse. Certainly, there are some intelligence reports out there, worry from the Capitol Police, for example, that there might have been an attempt to breach the Capitol again.

And so there is definitely heightened security all around Washington, D.C. I will let you in on a little bit of the QAnon mind-set, and from their own words.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On March 4, Trump will be reinstated as president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm about to enlighten you. Are you ready?

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

SIDNER (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 onto another impossible theory.

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

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

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

JONATHAN GREENBLATT, CEO AND NATIONAL DIRECTOR, 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, QANON EXPERT: The problem with QAnon is that is kind of like a big tent conspiracy theory that welcomes everyone, regardless of what wild conspiracy theory you happen to believe.

SIDNER (voice-over): 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 where Sovereign Citizens 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.