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Sources Say, Security Review Complete, Calls for 1,000 More Capitol Police Officers; Biden Slams States Lifting Mask Mandates as Neanderthal Thinking; QAnon Conspiracy Theory at Center of Latest Threat on Capitol. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 4, 2021 - 10:00   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Top of the hour, good morning, everyone, I'm Poppy Harlow.


The breaking news this morning, sourcing telling me that a review into the security measures at the Capitol following the January 6th riot and going forward is now complete. That review's draft recommendations -- final draft recommendations include the addition of more than a thousand new Capitol Police officers, not just here in Washington but also in member's home districts. It's also includes a dedicated quick reaction force composed of National Guard members as well as a retractable fence barricade around the Capitol.

Plus this, and this is notable given what we've heard in the hearings the last several days, the U.S. Capitol Police chief under the draft recommendations does not need to get approval or will not need to get approval from the police board or the sergeant at arms to request that quick reaction force in the event of emergencies at the Capitol. That is key, because we heard yesterday just how long it took to get the national members out there on January 6th.

HARLOW: Like three and a half hours, right, so this would really change that. Great reporting, Jim.

So these recommendations come on the same day that conspiracy groups, including QAnon, actually believe that President Donald Trump will be inaugurated for a second term. While that is, of course, false that conspiracy and those who believe it have put federal law enforcement officials on high alert, you see them there on the nation's Capitol this morning, they say that preparing for another potential attack nearly two months after the deadly insurrection.

So let's begin there. Our colleague, Shimon Prokupecz, joins us at the Capitol. You've been there since early this morning. What are they seeing and, I mean, how large is the force protecting the Capitol today? SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. So you have the fencing, Poppy. We've talked so much about the fencing. This continues to be the number one thing that they're using for security. It is surrounding the complex of the Capitol. But beyond that, of course, there is National Guard here, National Guard troops. You could see them here behind the fencing here.

There's actually been an increase here today. This morning, certainly, when we first got here, around 5:30 or so this morning, we didn't see this number of National Guard troops. So we've seen an increase in that, Capitol Police officers here. We've certainly seen an increase in that. Some of them heavily armed with large weapons standing guard here.

And what this is, this is one of the areas to get inside of the complex. So, for instance, like this bus here, there is a bomb- sniffing dog. They will have the bomb-sniffing dog go around the bus, make sure there is nothing on there, obviously, any bombs and then they'll go through each truck that way. And that is the level of security we've been seeing out here for the last several weeks.

Certainly, an increase in security here given the chatter, given what you're hearing about this concern over a militia grew wanting to come here and breach the Capitol with explosives, with other measures. A lot of it, Poppy, is chatter. But nonetheless, it is concerning because there was chatter before January 6th and we didn't really see this kind of security then.

So out of an abundance of caution, we are seeing a stepped-up security posture here. Of course, the FBI is continuing to review chatter, they're updating, they're updating officials here with what they're hearing. This is still very much going to be a concern for months and days and weeks to come.

HARLOW: Yes, for sure. Shimon, thank you very much for that reporting.

Also, a big day on Capitol Hill because the Senate is moving forward on President Biden's COVID relief bill but do not expect this, Jim, to be a quick vote.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, despite large majorities supporting many of the elements of this, Republican senators vowing to drag out the process. Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson says he's going to ask for the entire 600 page bill to be read out loud. That will take about ten hours, something bypassed, not so now.

CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju is here. So, Manu, despite these delays, based on what we know now, particularly with the narrowing now of the window for those eligible for the stimulus checks, do Democrats have the votes, including Manchin, to get it through?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Expected, yes. We still need to see the bill text and the fact that Joe Manchin told reporters that he is pleased with the direction of this bill and that we're not seeing a revolt at all from liberals at the moment over the tightening of those stimulus check about who can actually be eligible for that. That suggests that Democrats will be able to keep their delicate coalition together.

But I should caution, because we are headed into a daunting series of days in which there will be a flurry of amendments that would offered last for several days by Republicans in an effort to change the bill, to gut the bill and to eventually derail the bill.


The question will be any Democrats will join with Republicans to change some of the core elements, will that affect the delicate balance once they have to send it back to the House. So a complicated series of days which I'll walk you through right now.

Basically, today, we expect as soon as today them to formally introduce the Senate version of the bill that passed the House last week. That Senate version has not been put down on the floor yet because they're still getting an official cost estimate. Once they get that cost estimate, which is expected to be around $1.9 trillion, they will begin that process.

At that point, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin says he will, in fact, ask for a formal reading on the Senate floor of the 600 to 700-page bill, they estimated. That could take ten hours. After that ten hours, that's when there will be 20 hours of debate that would happen on the floor.

And then following that, that is when it is called a voterama. What does that mean in the Senate? Basically, any senator can offer as many amendments as he or she would like, force a vote on all of those amendments. And with 100 senators, 50 Republicans who want to offer amendments, they are talking about making this go on for a very long time.

Ron Johnson himself told me he has so many amendments to offer, he may force a reading of all of the amendments that were offered themselves. So, Republicans could drag it out, can could they stop it at the end, it seems unlikely. But a lot to get to until this gets to Joe Biden's desk, assuming it does, in the days ahead.

SCIUTTO: Joe Manchin is a one-man Senate on some of these bills these days. Manu Raju on the Hill, thanks very much.

Well, President Biden is accusing the governors of Texas and Mississippi of, quote, Neanderthal thinking after they lifted mask mandates and other COVID restrictions in their states.

HARLOW: Also, Dr. Fauci says those decisions to do that so quickly and right now are ill-advised, especially with the new variants spreading throughout the country.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: It just is inexplicable why you would want to pull back now. I understand the need to want to get back to normality, but you're only going to set yourself back if you just completely pull -- push aside the public health guidelines, particularly when we're dealing with anywhere from 55,000 to 70,000 infections per day in the United States.


HARLOW: Let's bring in our Medical Analyst and former Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen. Good morning, Doctor.

And let's just begin on that, on when we'll know, when will we know if the decisions by the governors of Mississippi and Texas have made the residents of their states less safe?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: We'll probably know in three to four weeks. That is the time that it takes when people start changing their behavior to potentially having increases in infection. But here is the thing too. We don't know our own counterfactual. As in let's say that the number of cases don't substantially increase, but they plateau. Well, what if we have kept those restrictions in place for a bit longer? Could we see an end to the pandemic a lot sooner?

And I think part of what I'm just so befuddled by in all of this is why are mask restrictions being removed? I understand opening up businesses, I certainly understand opening up schools, but masks are what allow us to do that. And I think there needs to be a total reframing, recalibration around what masks do and they don't remove our liberty, they actually increase our ability to get back to some sort of normality sooner.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Wen, I wonder where you come down on this view we've heard from a number of doctors and epidemiologists on this broadcast, that perhaps more of the country now has some immunity to COVID than we realize, and in addition to 28 million some odd infections. Plus, the many that have now been vaccinated, that there were others who were exposed that we didn't know and, therefore, perhaps 100 million, maybe more than that, have some immunity already and that is why we're seeing a downturn in infections. I mean, is that something that you think is credible?

WEN: I certainly think it is possible and I think here is where we need to be humble and realize that all of us, as scientists and public health officials, we are saying this is based on our best guess as to what is happening.

Based on evidence, at the same time, we don't have the full evidence. We don't have the full science. And so I think this type of wishful thinking of saying, well, enough people have immunity and so we can start loosening up our restrictions and changing our behaviors, it is dangerous because we don't know which way it is going to go.

Yes, it is possible that there is a lot of immunity already, we're getting more people vaccinated, the weather is getting warmer, maybe we can go in the direction of actually controlling this pandemic. But on the other hand, we could see something else happening too, which is that we loosen up too soon, these variants that are more contagious really catch up.


And, by the way, some of these variants, the variant originating in South Africa and Brazil could cause re-infection and they may render the vaccines that we have a little bit less effective.

And so we don't know which direction it is going to go. And so just deciding one versus the other, without evidence, is really reckless.

HARLOW: You wrote a really interesting piece just a few days ago in The Washington Post saying, we're having the wrong debate on schools. What is the right debate?

WEN: Having been in this debate, I know you and I, Poppy and Jim, we've talked about this a lot, I've come to realize that we're never going to agree if the playing field is that of safety. As in there are some people who say as long as schools are not more dangerous than the rest of the community, it is safe to reopen. And others will say, well, I'm isolating at home. It is certainly going to be safe for me to be at home than back at school teaching or sending my kids back. And so we're never going to reach a middle ground if it is about safety.

But instead, I think we should look at can we agree that schools are essential, and schools are essential, then we do things like vaccinating all teachers, making sure that we have as many protections in place as possible, recognizing that we're never going to get to zero risk. But we need to be saying it is so important that we need to send our kids back.

SCIUTTO: Yes, it is about a risk management debate as opposed to a risk elimination debate, right, as it comes to schools. It is a great framing of that.

HARLOW: It is. Yes, for sure. Dr. Wen, thank you, as always.

Well ahead, a QAnon conspiracy theory is at the center of this new threat of violence today on the Capitol. Up next, how the big lie continues to have big consequences.

SCIUTTO (voice over): Plus, a report in the Miami Herald that raises new accusations that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is playing favorites when it comes to vaccine distribution. Ahead, one of the journalists who broke that story.

And small business owners now left in limbo as they struggle to hang on for a third round of loans. Some are wondering could their businesses survive.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're down to the wire. We knew we were going to be down to the wire by this time and now it is here and the funding has not come through.



HARLOW: Today is March 4th. It is also the day that QAnon conspiracy theorists believe former President Trump, wait for it, will be inaugurated again.

SCIUTTO: He's not. It is amazing in the year 2021 that some people believe that. By the way, the president hasn't publicly knocked that down.

CNN's Donie O'Sullivan joins us now with more. Donie -- former president, I should say -- tell us where this theory is coming from and why it is so persistent.

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN REPORTER: Yes, Jim. I mean, this came about almost straight after the inauguration. People on inauguration day, QAnon believers were obsessed with the idea that Biden would not be inaugurated and that martial law will be declared. Obviously, Biden was inaugurated and they quickly moved on to this date, March 4th.

The reason why they see significant in this date is, wait for it, some presidents in the 19th century were inaugurated on March 4th and some QAnon believers and Trump supporters believe Trump is going to come back today. Have a listen.


LISA HARTMAN, TRUMP SUPPORTER: It is my hope that President Trump comes back as the 19th president of the United States under the 1776, and that he is inaugurated on March 4th. That is my hope for our future.

O'SULLIVAN: Are you going to feel foolish on March 5th when Biden is still president?

HARTMAN: Then Trump has a different plan in play.

O'SULLIVAN: Everybody keeps saying that Trump has a plan, he has a plan. When he lost the election, they said he has a plan.

HARTMAN: Trump didn't lose the election, sir. Trump did not lose the election.


O'SULLIVAN: Yes. And, obviously, that is crazy. But we could see that these crazy conspiracy theories are having real impacts, like the heightened security we see here in Washington, D.C. almost two months to the day since the insurrection.

And, look, as crazy as these QAnon conspiracy theories are, they are all enabled by the big lie that former President Trump continues to perpetuate that he, in some way, did not lose the election. We saw QAnon flags outside of CPAC this weekend where he spoke.

So a lot of this still comes back, is still rooted in the big lie.

SCIUTTO: The president spreads it and many Republican lawmakers don't have the guts to publicly knock it down. Donie O'Sullivan, thanks very much.

Joining us now, Juliette Kayyem, she's CNN National Security Analyst, also served in the Department of Homeland Security. Juliette, nice to see you.

I want to start on the news, if I can. A Capitol security review, I'm told, is now complete, final draft recommendations include a number of things. But one of them is key here, and it would no longer require the chief of the U.S. Capitol Police to seek approval from either the police board or the House Senate sergeant at arms to request a quick reaction force in the event of something like January 6th.

Given all we heard yesterday about the hours it took to get those National Guards men and women on site, how important a change would that be, in your view?


JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think that is a significant change, but it only solves one of the key issues. It is important though to remember that you want as much flexibility at the tactical level in terms of the person on the ground, the leader on the ground is seeing what is going on and needs sort of more resources, more man and women power to protect either the building or the people in the building. So this is a correct and good change.

What it doesn't answer is, of course, the sort of mess that we heard yesterday which is why, why were there more stringent requirements on the National Guard leading into a day that everyone knew that there -- there was a large potential for violence and then what explains that three-hour delay. I still can't answer that and there is people in the Trump administration who likely can.

HARLOW: Yes. So let's talk about those people, I mean, specifically who you think we need to hear from most. Former acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller?

KAYYEM: Absolutely. So, Christopher Miller comes in two or three days after the election. He's, for want of a better word, a Trump hack. He's not one of your more qualified secretary of defenses and sort of has a low profile except for his ties to the White House. So no one really -- he's not sort of well-known in the community. And so he's the secretary of defense during this and during the build-up.

And the interesting thing to me with the testimony yesterday from the National Guard was that January 6th was well-known to them. That became clear, the fears of it, and that there were all sorts of things being done at the Pentagon in the days leading up that made it harder, not easier, to either proposition or respond. And that comes from the top. And so we need to hear from the former acting secretary. SCIUTTO: All right. So here we are two months later and there is a new threat today, so serious that the House is not in session today, as a precaution for staff and members. National Guard increased force posture from yesterday through the 6th of March as a result. How seriously should we take this threat and what does it say about the ongoing threat from all of these groups?

KAYYEM: Right. So I think we have to trust the threat assessment. We don't know the specifics and obviously because of concerns of January, because of President Trump's speech this Sunday and then, remember, vice president, former Vice President Pence, has come out sort of embracing the big lie that almost killed him, right. This is a man whose life was at risk this day. That lie is perpetuating not just through today but indefinitely.

And I think Donie sort of just hit it correctly, that the idea that all of these crazy conspiracy theories, and this sort of -- I guess it is the crazies that you look at or that we hear, they're actually acting under a rational political plan being propagated by the GOP and Trump, which is essentially that the votes were illegitimate, we wanted to pry (ph) people to vote.

And until we see it as politics supported by violence, which is terrorism, we won't be able to solve this problem. This is not about bipartisanship. This is about -- this is about an entire party endorsing and embracing violence for political gain. We've never anything like that, so the threat environment is going be higher.

HARLOW: But there are people like Republican Congressman from Texas Mike McCaul who say the president could do a lot to stem this. Listen to what he said.


REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX): President Trump has a responsibility to tell them to stand down. This threat is credible and it is real. It is a right-wing militia group.


HARLOW: This is the second chance that Trump has to do that, Juliette. What kind of difference do you think it would make?

KAYYEM: I think it would make a difference but it won't happen. And I sort about four years ago got over the Trump should, hope. He will never do it. And the reason why is partially it is part of the ego. But, remember, this is part of his political and monetary strategy. He is raising money off of the victimhood of the big lie. That then helps Republicans fund all of these anti-voting efforts.

And so we really do need -- I mean, this is, look, terrorism, and FBI Director Wray said it. Domestic terrorism is violence for political gain. This is what is happening right now. And so it doesn't end today. That is the problem. It will be like this for a while.

SCIUTTO: And good for you for connecting it to the wider effort at voting restrictions, right? Mike Pence, who was threatened himself and his daughter, on the day of January 6th endorsing the big lie himself yesterday.

KAYYEM: And, Jim, it is not just voting. I mean, to be clear, it is African-American voters and Hispanic-American voters.


This is what the GOP is focused on. You give them white older Republican voters, they are totally fine with that. So we do have to see, as Director Wray said. This is fundamentally a racist policy being promoted through violence and through state legislatures by the GOP and we just got to call it out.

HARLOW: Juliette, thank you very much. We'll be right back.



SCIUTTO: Well, the latest sign of the pandemic's ongoing.