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FBI, DHS Warn of Potential Violence at U.S. Capitol Today; President Biden Focused on COVID Economic Relief Bill; U.S. Health Officials Warn U.S. State Against Reopening; Meghan Suggest Palace May Be Perpetuating Falsehoods; Pope Francis Pushing Ahead with Trip to Iraq. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 4, 2021 - 04:00   ET




KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR: U.S. Capitol Police warn of a possible plot to breach Capitol Hill today, so lawmakers canceled their session. Details straight ahead.

President Biden slams states that are loosening COVID-19 restrictions calling it neanderthal thinking.

And an explosive turn of events. The Duchess of Sussex accuses the royal family of perpetuating falsehoods as we learn that Buckingham Palace will investigate bullying allegations against her.

Live from CNN headquarters in Atlanta. Welcome to all of you watching here in the United States, Canada and around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber. This is CNN NEWSROOM.

Almost two months after rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, new concerns and new warnings about the possibility of violence later today. Capitol Police say they boosted security after intelligence pointed to a potential new plot to breach the Capitol. The warnings, also coming from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, even prompted house lawmakers to change their schedule. Jessica Schneider has more from Washington.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: There are real concerns about security at the Capitol today. Especially since we're learning more about the joint bulletin issued by the FBI and DHS.


It warns that violent extremists want to take control of the Capitol and remove Democratic lawmakers. This all comes because March 4th marks the date that conspiracy theorists believe Donald Trump will retake his position as president. That belief of course is false. But intelligence officials note there has been increased chatter online among extremists as we lead up this date. Notably among member of the Three Percenters extremist group.

Law enforcement though does believe that this is all online talk and not necessarily an indication that anyone is coming to Washington to act on it. But security at the Capitol has been increased, including with additional officers that will be on Capitol Hill today. There are also concerns about threats against President Biden still to be scheduled joint address to Congress so Washington once again on edge today.


BRUNHUBER: Meanwhile, President Biden is focused on two things, the pandemic and the economy. He's coming out swinging against state leaders who are already easing or dropping social distancing measures, but his priority is still the COVID economic relief bill. Jeff Zeleny has the latest.



JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Biden striking a compromise with moderate Democrats to limit the Americans eligible for a stimulus check in hopes of pushing the COVID relief bill across the finish line.

As the Senate begins debating the measure, the White House agreeing to more narrowly target the spending on those most impacted by the economic fallout. Under the plan, people earning more than $80,000, or household incomes over 160,000 would no longer get a $1,400 check.

BIDEN: These masks make a difference.

ZELENY (voice-over): In the Oval Office, the President blasting officials in Texas, Mississippi and other states that are lifting all COVID-19 restrictions.

BIDEN: And the last, the last thing you need is Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, everything's fine. Take off your mask. Forget it. It still matters.

ZELENY (voice-over): But the White House's focusing considerable attention on Capitol Hill, trying to carefully thread a political needle of addressing the concerns of moderate Democrats without alienating progressives.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What he has been firm on is that the package needs to be large enough to meet the scope of the twin crises we're facing, COVID and the economic downturn.

ZELENY (voice-over): But the bottom line is that some Americans who received the assistance under President Trump may not in the Biden administration.

PSAKI: He has been firm on the importance of the $1,400 checks going out to Americans. And that -- and he has fought for that tooth and nail and is -- that is a bar for him. And he has also been firm on the thresholds at which Americans should receive those checks.

ZELENY (voice-over): The President speaking virtually to House Democrats trying to impress upon them the importance of keeping their coalition united to pass the legislation. But not a single Republican is expected to support.

BIDEN: A diverse caucus isn't a divided caucus.

Staying unified as we complete this process of pass the American Rescue Plan, won't just make a difference in our fight against COVID- 19, and our efforts to rebuild the economy, it will also show the American people we're capable of coming together for what matters most to them.

ZELENY (voice-over): A day after pledging to have enough vaccine for all Americans by the end of May, the President urged caution in the weeks ahead. He warned other states against dialing back restrictions too quickly.

BIDEN: Is critical, critical, critical, critical that they follow the science, wash your hands, hot water, do it frequently, wear a mask and stay socially distance. And I know you all know that. I wish the heck some of our elected officials knew it.

ZELENY: Senate debate is expected to begin on the Bill as early as Thursday, but Republicans are planning to require the bill to read in its entirety. That is 600 pages which could span some 10 hours. Also a slew of amendments also being expended here.

The White House is trying to get Democrats to stay unified on this, but it is a challenging needle to thread between progressive Democrats who don't want many changes and moderate Democrats who do want some. So clearly this is the White House's key priority. It's likely to go on through the weekend.

Jeff Zeleny, CNN, the White House.


BRUNHUBER: The nation's leading infectious disease expert says it's risky for some states to begin rolling back COVID restrictions. Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN that it could lead to another surge.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: I don't know why they're doing it, but it's certainly from a public health standpoint is ill advised. 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 push aside the public health guidelines.


[04:10:02] BRUNHUBER: Now this comes after both Texas and Mississippi move forward with ending their statewide mask mandates despite pleas from health officials. CNN's Nick watt has details.


DR. RICHINA BICETTE, ASSOCIATE MEDICAL DIRECTOR, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: To say that I'm petrified doesn't even really explain the gravity and the depth of my feelings.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): No more mask mandate across Texas, and businesses can fully reopen without any state restrictions.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Now is not the time to release all restrictions. Every individual has is empowered to do the right thing here regardless of what the states decide.

WATT (voice over): In Mississippi, a similarly seismic rollback.

GOV. TATE REEVES (R-MS): We are not going to continue to use the heavy hand of government when it's no longer justified.

WATT (voice over): Here's what the governor of Texas said he learned from last summer's COVID-19 surge.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): If I could go back and redo anything, it probably would have been done to slow down the opening of bars.

WATT (voice over): That was June 26th. Fewer than 6,000 new cases reported in Texas that day. Yesterday there were 7,300 new cases in his state, yet he said this.

ABBOTT: It is now time to open Texas 100 percent.

WATT (voice over): Texas has fully vaccinated less than 10 percent of its adult population. That should accelerate.

BIDEN: This country will have enough vaccine supply, I'll say it again, for every adult in America by the end of May.

WATT (voice over): Johnson & Johnson production will need to pick up a little. We're told it will.

ANDY SLAVITT, SENIOR ADVISOR, WHITE HOUSE COVID RESPONSE TEAM: We are not in the habit the of overpromising.

WATT (voice over): In Florida another FEMA supported site opened to the public where some folks get a choice, Pfizer or J&J.

Dolly Parton who helped finance the Moderna vaccine just got her shot.

DOLLY PARTON, ENTERTAINER: Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, I'm begging of you please don't hesitate.

WATT (voice over): Because they help slow spread, new nursing home cases reportedly down more than 80 percent from the peak in December suggesting that the vaccines are working.

WATT (on camera): Meanwhile, we hear that the CDC is finalizing guidance for people who have been fully vaccinated. That guidance we understand will include that fully vaccinated people should limit social gatherings to at home and just with other people who've also been vaccinated and when they're out and about, keep the mask, keep the distance.

Nick Watt, CNN, Los Angeles.


BRUNHUBER: Well there's been a stunning development in the growing tension between the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and Buckingham Palace. In a new clip from the upcoming Orpah Winfrey interview with couple, Meghan suggests the royal family might be, quote, perpetuating falsehoods.


OPRAH WINFREY, HOST, CBS PRIMETIME SPECIAL: How do you feel about the palace hearing you speak your truth today?

MEGHAN, DUCHESS OF SUSSEX: I don't know how they could expect that after all of this time we would still just be silent if there is an active role that the firm is playing in perpetuating falsehoods about us. And if that comes with risk of losing things, I mean, there's a lot that's been lost already.


BRUNHUBER: Now that clip is being released just after Buckingham Palace said it will investigate bullying allegations against the Duchess of Sussex made in a British media report. Citing unnamed royal aids who say Meghan's behavior towards staff was so troubling that it led to a complaint back in 2018. CNN's royal correspondent Max Foster is following all of these developments. Max, the substance of these complaints can't be dismissed but neither can the timing, right?

MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: No. So there's an article in the "Times" quoting a main source saying there was an HR bullying complaint against the Duchess. That was published yesterday. We weren't able to substantiate those claims but then Buckingham Palace came in and said they would be looking into them, probing them effectively.

They won't be speaking to the Duke and Duchess themselves. So it doesn't look like an investigation necessarily into the bullying, but they are going to speak to the people who were involved in that complaint. It didn't go to a formal level. So we're going to see what comes out of that. But certainly this all happens ahead of this big Orpah interview on Sunday and CBS releasing this clip. Which was recorded before any of these bullying allegations appeared in the U.K. media.

So the timing is interesting, but she's speaking to effectively something else. I think she's talked before about the immense amount of tabloid media pressure and intrusion that they felt in the U.K. Harry said that effectively forced them out of the U.K.


The duchess has also spoken about how she felt unprotected by the palace in the face of these claims. So I think what she's probably speaking to here, we have to see the whole two-hour show on Sunday to really make sense of it. But it suggests that she is unhappy with the way the palace allowed these tabloid rumors and stories to just sit and fester and she felt unprotected by that. So she's really taking it to another level saying that actually the palace might have been culpable by allowing these stories to flourish as well. So it's a major claim. Her biggest claim yet I would say about the palace.

BRUNHUBER: But, I mean, the irony of this isn't lost on many people, right. But the couple say that they left the U.K. to escape the media scrutiny. And then, you know, they seem ever present fixtures now on our screens.

FOSTER: Yes, so that is an accusation. The other accusation is that when they left the U.K., they said they would stop working with the tabloid media for sure but also would be doing less mainstream media, working with grassroots media organizations instead. It doesn't become more main street than a CBS interview with Oprah Winfrey. So there are some inconsistencies there.

Also when it comes to being the victim here, is it the Duchess or is it the members of staff that she allegedly forced out of her household back in the U.K.

All of this really needs to be investigated. But one of the issues I think the Duchess has is this no comment policy that the palace developed over decades, really, and that was in response that they felt they shouldn't have to respond to speculative media reports, just rise above it. So no comment with something that she found very frustrating.

At the same time, the palace isn't really commenting on this. So they're not really giving their side of the story. So we don't really have the full palace side of this story, but over time there's more and more pressure for the palace to speak out on this. Because we're only getting one side of the story, and that is the Sussex side of the story. And I think it's going to be pretty sensational on Sunday if we look at what has led to this point.

The last point I'll say about the Oprah interview, is they haven't been able to speak freely up until this Oprah interview. Because up until last month they still had certainly honorary titles, which meant they were always speaking on behalf of the Crown, on behalf of the Queen. They no longer do that. They only speak on behalf of themselves. So now there's nothing really holding them back from saying what they feel.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, a good point. No end to the intrigue sadly. Thank you so much, CNN royal correspondent, Max Foster in London. Appreciate it. Security concerns and the pandemic are keeping the Pope from Iraq.

We'll explain why he's pushing ahead with the historic visit and what it means to long suffering Iraqi Christians.

And New York Governor Andrew Cuomo apologizes but refuses to step down over allegations of sexual harassment. We'll hear his response to the accusations ahead. Stay with us.



BRUNHUBER: The United States is considering how to respond after at least ten rockets hit an airbase in Iraq that houses U.S. troops. An American civilian contractor died of a heart attack during Wednesday's attack at the Al-Asad base outside of Baghdad. It comes almost a week after the U.S. military struck a site in Syria used by Iranian back militias in response to previous attacks on coalition forces. In light of the recent assault, the U.S. Secretary of State says those responsible must be held accountable.


ANTHONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The first thing we have to do is get to the bottom of it and find out to the best of our ability who in fact is responsible. And then I think the president is very clear that we will take appropriate action in a place and at the time of our choosing.

In the case of the earlier attacks, the first thing we did is to make sure we understood who was responsible and that took some time. And then we worked very closely with our Iraqi partners to make that determination and then to take clear action to demonstrate that these things could not go forward with impunity.


BRUNHUBER: Now this comes just days ahead of the Pope's visit to Iraq. He's vowing not to cancel the three-day trip despite increasing concerns of a security and Iraq's coronavirus situation.

For more our CNN's Ben Wedeman joins me from Baghdad. So Ben, we'll get to the timing of the visit later, but first just explain the purpose of the visit.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The purpose of this visit and, in fact, Pope John Paul II wanted to come to Iraq back in 1999 or 2000 but wasn't able to. And the purpose is really to show solidarity with the Christian community here in Iraq. One of the oldest Christian communities in the world which has dwindled from about 1.5 million back in 2003 to just about 300,000 today.

He also wants to extend an olive branch or a hand of friendship to the Shia community. He will be going to Najah in southern Iraq to meet the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani who is one of the senior clerics of the Shia tendencies. And really just sort of create bridges with this country that because of war, and sanctions and whatnot over the years has not put it on the itinerary of Popes in the past -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: And now to the timing, I mean so soon after these repeated attacks there. Surely there must be pressure to cancel, right?

WEDEMAN: There is pressure. There has been pressure on the Pope, Kim, for him to cancel this visit from within the Vatican itself. We heard Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI describing it as a dangerous trip and certainly, if you look at papal visits going back decades, it does ranks pretty much at the top in terms of danger.


But Pope Francis is a man who's known to be quite stubborn when he decides to do something, he does it. And for Iraq, many Iraqis are Christians as well as Muslims, are looking forward to this trip with a certain amount of humor. Many of them want him to go to places he won't be going, stay longer than he's planned. Because what we've seen in the time leading up to his visit is a flurry of activity, cleaning up, repaving roads. They want him to go to all the cities in Iraq that are in desperate need of new roads, proper drinking systems, proper electrical systems. So that perhaps the government will finally be moved by his presence to do the things that it has neglected to do now for many, many years. So Iraqis are more than happy for him to come not only for spiritual reasons but more practical ones -- Kim.

CHURCH: Yes, no shortage of need there. And certainly, no shortage of courage there from the Pope. Thank you so much. CNN's Ben Wedeman in Baghdad.

New York's governor is rejecting calls to resign after several women accused him of sexual misconduct. Three women, including two former aides, have accused Governor Cuomo of sexually harassing them or making inappropriate comments. After more than a week away from the news media, Cuomo said he would fully cooperate with the State Attorney General's review and he apologized.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): 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 never touched anyone inappropriately. I never knew at the time I was making anyone feel uncomfortable.


BRUNHUBER: Cuomo urged New Yorkers to withhold judgment until the investigation is complete.

U.S. House of Representatives has passed a new bill aimed at reforming police practices and named in honor of George Floyd. Democrats pushed through the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act by seven votes with every Republican opposing it, including one who initially voted yes but later changed his vote to no. Among its provisions would be a national registry of police misconduct to hold violators accountable, but it faces a tough fight in the Senate.

Well George Floyd's death in police custody last year sparked national outrage, widespread protests and calls for police reform.

Senate hearings investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol have uncovered confusing red tape between officials. Now some say troops could have been deployed to stop the attack within minutes, so why did it take hours?

Also ahead, the international criminal court is opening a formal investigation into alleged war crimes by Israel and Palestinian militant groups. We'll have reaction from the region coming up. Stay with us.