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CNN NEWSROOM

Biden: Enough Vaccines for Every U.S. Adult by End of May; Biden Pushing to Pass His $1.9 Trillion Relief Plan; White House Withdraws Nomination of Neera Tanden to OMB; U.S. Finds Russia Poisoned Navalny, Joins EU in Sanctions; Supreme Court Appears to Favor Arizona's New Rules; FBI Director: Domestic Terrorism is Metastasizing; How a Religious Festival Turned into a Massacre. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 3, 2021 - 04:00   ET

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


[04:00:00]

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ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world, you are watching CNN NEWSROOM and I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead, President Biden moves up his timeline and says the U.S. will have enough COVID vaccines for every adult by the end of May. But despite the president's plea to stay vigilant against the virus, some states are going the opposite way including Texas which now plans to open up businesses 100 percent.

And the White House pulls Neera Tanden's nomination. The first Biden cabinet casualty. Details on what happened.

Good to have you with us. Well President Joe Biden is speeding up the COVID-19 vaccination timeline in the U.S. He now says there will be enough vaccines for every American adult by the end of May. Two months earlier than the previous goal. CNN's Phil Mattingly explains why this is now possible.

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JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have always said this is a wartime effort.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A White House-brokered historic partnership to ramp up vaccine production.

BIDEN: Two of the largest health care and pharmaceutical companies in the world -- that are usually competitors -- are working together on the vaccine, Johnson & Johnson and Merck.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): President Joe Biden negotiating for pharmaceutical giant Merck to help fierce competitor Johnson & Johnson produce its single-shot vaccine. BIDEN: This is the type of collaboration between companies we saw in World War II.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Biden deploying the Defense Production Act to help Merck secure equipment for production, underscoring the administration's push to surge the vaccine in the coming months.

BIDEN: We're now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): And pressing states to prioritize vaccinations for educators and staff and directing the federal pharmacy program to prioritize teachers throughout the month of March.

[04:05:02]

BIDEN: Let's treat in person learning like an essential service that it is.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): All as Biden continues to push to pass his $1.9 trillion COVID relief package, a central component to the administration's plans to vastly expand vaccine distribution infrastructure.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: In the past two weeks alone, we have engaged with over 375 members and offices, over 100 of which were bipartisan.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Biden meeting virtually with Senate Democrats as the clock ticks down towards his March 14 deadline, the day emergency unemployment benefits expire, with all eyes on the 50 Senate Democrats and no margin for error for the White House and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): We need strong relief to get the economy going so it can continue on an upward path on its own. That's what this bill is designed to do.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): But clear disputes between moderates and progressives in the caucus remain, with Senator Bernie Sanders continuing to press to ignore the ruling that stripped the $15 minimum wage from the bill, a move the White House and many Senate Democrats have already rejected, and ongoing negotiations over a federal unemployment benefit, one the White House has set at $400 per week.

PSAKI: The president obviously had a discussion with a number of senators just yesterday. Senator Manchin was certainly one of them. And he's long said that he would be open to hearing ideas that make the bill and the package stronger.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): All as moderates, like West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, press to lower it to $300 per week.

MATTINGLY: And one source who was on the phone call with the president and Senate Democrats made clear, it wasn't an in depth policy discussion, there are plenty of those ongoing on Capitol Hill with White House officials.

But the president was mostly trying to rally support from those 50 Democrats. He needed every single one of them to pass his cornerstone legislative proposal. The bottom line, I was told, the overarching theme from President Biden, now is the time to get this done. It is an urgent issue. They have the votes. They have the majority, and they have the proposal that in the White House will address the dual crisis cease that they currently faced. There is no time to waste. Right now Senate Democrats on track to try and pass that bill by the end of this week.

Phil Mattingly, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHURCH: Well the White House on Tuesday pulled Neera Tanden's nomination to lead the Office of Management and Budget. Her nomination facing increasing opposition almost from the start from key senators in both parties. CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports from the White House on how it unraveled.

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JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: The first casualty among President Biden's cabinet confirmations coming Tuesday night with the White House withdrawing the nomination of budget director Neera Tanden. For the last week or so, this nomination has been very much in question. Senators raised objections to some of her past social media comments largely calling Republicans vulgar names some Democrats as well.

Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, more than a week ago now, raised questions saying that he would not support Neera Tanden. Of course in a closely divided Senate that became a problem. But the White House has investing considerable political capital trying to keep her on board. But they decided on Tuesday night it was simply not worth to fight. One administration official telling me there is no path forward for her and quite frankly the White House wants to focus its time and attention on getting that COVID-19 bill through.

So Neera Tanden, a longtime Democratic official, a close to White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, will still serve in the administration but in a Senate confirmed position. So she will not lead the budget department. It is the first casualty of Biden cabinet. But this happens in many new administrations. Thinking back to the Obama administration, he lost at least three cabinet nominations, President Trump did as well. So for the Biden team this is their first loss. But clearly, they wanted to move forward and get on to that COVID relief bill.

Jeff Zeleny, CNN, the White House.

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CHURCH: Well U.S. President Joe Biden has taken his first major action against Russia. The U.S. hit Moscow with sanctions in a join move with the EU over the poisoning and imprisonment of Putin critic Alexei Navalny. The opposition leader was arrested in January after returning from Germany, where he was treated for exposure to what's believed to be a military-grade nerve agent. The White House says Russia was behind the poisoning. The U.S. sanctions targets seven senior Russian officials and 14 entities. Washington and Moscow obviously have very different views of the situation.

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NED PRICE, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Together, they send an unambiguous signal that the United States is working closely with our closest allies and partners in Europe, to make clear that this kind of behavior is not acceptable. We will not cognizant it. We will not tolerate it. And there will be penalties going forward.

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SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): When there is nothing to present, but somehow at least substantially their claim about Navalny's poisoning. When all those who treated him are carefully hiding the facts that could help to understand what had happened to him at the end. And when in parallel, instead of honest cooperation without secrets they begin to punish us as they think in my opinion it does not do honor to anybody who takes decisions like this. Regarding the answer, we will definitely answer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHURCH: And earlier, I spoke with Vladimir Ashurkov. He is a longtime friend and ally of Alexei Navalny. He's also the executive director of Navalny's anti-corruption federation and he lobbied for sanctions against Russia. I asked him what he thought about these new sanctions.

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VLADIMIR ASHURKOV, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NAVALNY'S ANTI-CORRUPTION FOUNDATION: Out of 30 people in our list that were sent to the U.S. and the EU, three people were sanctioned, so I would say it's a partial success. All of the people sanctioned are either security people or people from law enforcement. Unfortunately, the impact of sanctions on these people will be limited, as they don't have access in the West. They don't travel that much. We would like to have seen more wallets and crony sanctions, the businessman members that are close to Putin and friends in economic and political corruption.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHURCH: And that was Vladimir Ashurkov talking to me earlier.

Well the U.S. Supreme Court appears to be leaning toward upholding two controversial Arizona voting laws. The justices heard arguments in the case on Tuesday. Critics say the two new measures violate the historic voting rights act which prohibits election laws that result in racial discrimination. But the court's conservative majority seemed unlikely to agree with that. The court's decision could influence how other voting laws are considering going forward.

And it's not just Arizona that's restricting voting. Georgia's House of Representatives passed sweeping new changes to its election laws this week. The Republican-led bill would drastically restrict access to mail-in voting, limits drop box locations and hours to vote and would require stricter photo identification. It comes after Democrat Joe Biden carried the state in the presidential election and two Democrats won U.S. Senate seats that Republicans previously held. The bill now moves to Georgia's Senate for consideration.

And for the first time since the January 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, the FBI director appeared before Congress with a grim warning that domestic terrorism is spreading across the country. Christopher Wray defended the FBI's handling of security threats and how information was shared with law enforcement. And he debunked right- wing conspiracy theories that anti-fascist extremists were responsible for the violence. Jessica Schneider has our report.

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CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: That attack, that siege was criminal behavior, plain and simple. And it's behavior that we, the FBI, view as domestic terrorism.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In his first congressional testimony since the attack on the Capitol, FBI Director Christopher Wray, appointed by former President Trump, put a dagger into the conspiracy theories pushed by some Trump supporters about what happened that day.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Has there so far been any evidence that the January 6 riot here, the insurrection, was organized by people simply posing as supporters of President Trump's?

WRAY: We have not seen any evidence of that, certainly.

COONS: 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.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Wray also explained in detail the warnings his agency found online before the insurrection. WRAY: This was information posted online under a moniker or a pseudonym. It was unvetted, uncorroborated information, but it was -- and it was somewhat aspirational in nature, but it was concerning.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The information came from the FBI Norfolk field office, warning of violent war at the Capitol.

"The Washington Post" reported the FBI bulletin quoted individuals saying: "Be ready to fight. Go there ready for war. We get our president, or we die."

Former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund testified last month that the details were only disseminated via e-mail the day before the attack. But Wray disagreed.

[04:15:00]

WRAY: That information was quickly, as in within an hour, disseminated and communicated with our partners, including the U.S. Capitol Police, including Metro P.D., in not one, not two, but three different ways.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Wray explained the bulletin was first e-mailed to members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which includes officers from the Capitol and Metropolitan Police departments. Then there was a verbal briefing to members of those departments at the command post. And, finally, it was posted on the law enforcement portal available to agencies around the country.

WRAY: The information was raw. It was unverified. In a perfect world, we would have taken longer to be able to figure out whether it was reliable, but we made the judgment, our folks made the judgment to get that information to the relevant people as quickly as possible.

SCHNEIDER: Director Wray says the domestic terrorism threat continues to grow. Right now, the FBI is investigating 2,000 domestic terrorism cases. That's double the number there were open in 2017 when Wray joined the FBI. And Director Wray also acknowledged that this violent attack on the Capitol, it could serve as inspiration to foreign terrorist organizations.

Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHURCH: And coming up, a CNN exclusive on what appears to have been a horrific attack in Ethiopia. How a religious festival turned into a massacre. We'll be back in just a moment.

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CHURCH: A month-long investigation has uncovered detailed evidence of a massacre of dozens of civilians in the Tigray region of north Ethiopia. Overcoming the information blockade around a patent of atrocities that may have claimed thousands of civilian lives. Since November, the Ethiopian government has waged war on the Tigray

region with assistance from neighboring troops from Eritrea. Journalists have been severely restricted in their access. But in this exclusive report, CNN has been able to speak with dozens of people who say they witnessed a massacre at the hands of invading Eritrean troops in the town in Tigray on one of its holiest days of November 30th last year. We must warn you, what you're about to see and hear is disturbing. Here's CNN Nima Elbagir.

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NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A bloody jacket. Some rope used to tie the victims. Shoes worn by a Sunday school boy. The haunting remnants of a brutal massacre in a village in northern Ethiopia's Tigray region. A massacre perpetrated by Eritrean soldiers on Ethiopian soil. 52 out of the 54 pictures you see here, are victims whose identities have been verified by CNN.

This is the village of Mariam Dengelat, where CNN's investigation uncovered the murder of dozen, possible even more than a hundred civilians. Witnesses tell CNN people were murdered here over three days of mayhem. With video and communication limited, due to Ethiopian government imposed blackout on the region and fear of government retribution rife, CNN has had to illustrate witness testimony through animation and use of actors voices to describe what happened in December of last year.

One eyewitness, Massa -- not her real name -- told CNN they were returning from morning church service. When they got home, they were confronted by Eritrean troops.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): They came to our house, then they told to us get out. There were a lot of soldiers outside. They were saying come out, come out you bitch. We said, we are civilians, we're civilians. Showing our IDs. They didn't ask any questions, they just opened fire.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): To understand what happened here over the course of these three days, you need to understand what's been happening over the last few years in Ethiopia.

Under the country's former rulers, the Tigray People's Liberation Front, Ethiopia waged hostilities with Eritrea with TPLF's almost 30 years in power. Ethiopia's President Abiy Ahmed won a Nobel Peace Prize for bring all that to an end.

The Tigray region has always been distinct in culture and language, and it's leadership is battling for autonomy from Ethiopia's government. Now the two former enemies stand accused of working together to crush Tigray's fight for autonomy. And civilians are being killed in what could be war crimes and something the ousted Tigray leader described as acts of genocide.

This video was secretly taken and smuggled out to CNN to avoid Ethiopian and Eritrean troops. Its footage of the graves that eyewitnesses described to CNN in harrowing testimony. Underneath the branches and sticks are the grave sites for the victims.

Another eyewitness, Abraham, again, not his real name, was supposed to help clean the church at Mariam Dengelat before the festival. Instead, he became a grave digger.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They were all so young and they took them and killed them together in a field.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): Among those he buried were 24 Sunday school children. Abraham and others register the kids names as best they could. One by one, the shallow graves were uncovered, and parents came to identify their children. Some were so badly disfigured they could only be identified by their clothing.

This is not the only massacre perpetrated in Tigray. Using satellite images and interviews with witnesses, Amnesty was able to find evidence of at least one other separate massacre involving hundreds of civilians, believed to be carried out in another city days earlier.

A day after the investigations by CNN and Amnesty International, U.S. Secretary of State Blinken said those responsible for them must be held accountable. Strong words, but will words be enough when the crimes described there are all the hallmarks of a possible genocide.

Nima Elbagir, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[04:25:00]

CHURCH: And CNN put the findings of its investigation to the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea, along with the TPLF. In response to U.S. statement, the Ethiopian government responded that it's fully committed to undertake thorough investigations of alleged human rights abuses. While adding that it found U.S. comments on Ethiopian internal affairs regrettable and that its forces were conducting lawful operations.

The TPLF said its forces were not in the vicinity of Dengelat before or after the massacre and called for a U.N. investigation to hold all sides accountable for atrocities committed during the conflict.

The Eritrean government has not responded to CNN's request for comment. On Friday, the government vehemently denied its soldiers had committed atrocities during another massacre in Tigray reported by Amnesty International.

Well the U.S. is ramping up production of its COVID-19 vaccine supply, but health experts say now is not the time for cities and states to relax restrictions. Their warnings for all Americans, that's next.

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CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. Well, here in the United States, a White House brokered collaboration between two big pharmaceutical companies will dramatically increase COVID-19 vaccine doses. President Joe Biden says the move will help ensure there are enough vaccines for every American adult by the end of May, two months earlier than his previous goal. It is a great step forward, but health officials warn now is not the time to stop relaxing COVID restrictions.