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Swalwell Sues Trump; Investigations into Communications with Capitol Rioters; Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) is Interviewed about the Capitol Attack; States Ease Restrictions Despite Warnings; Pope Francis Visits Iraq. Aired 9:30-10a

Aired March 5, 2021 - 09:30   ET



JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so, Jim, this lawsuit is actually a lot more robust than the one we saw last month from a Democratic congressman in that really these claims, they're more expansive and, as you mentioned, the lawsuit names not only the former president and Rudy Giuliani, but also Trump's son, Don Junior, and Republican Congressman Mo Brooks, both of whom spoke at that rally before the Capitol was attacked.

Now, this case was filed by Eric Swalwell, Democrat from California. Also a House impeachment manager. And he blames all of these men for inciting the violence. And he points to their repeated rhetoric that the election was rigged, saying that that repeated rhetoric essentially directed those rioters to storm the Capitol on January 6th.

Now, this lawsuit, it cites a multitude of claims here. It includes civil rights violations. Also infliction of emotional distress on members of Congress. So the lawsuit is saying this. It says, the defendants, in short, convinced the mob that something was occurring that if actually true might indeed justify violence and then sent that mob to the Capitol with violence-laced calls for immediate action.

So a lot of strong words there, Jim. And we're hearing actually from the president this morning. The president, in a statement, basically lobbing insults at Congressman Eric Swalwell and once again, Jim, calling this lawsuit, like he's called the other, the other one, a witch hunt.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, he's also still spreading the big lie, as is former Vice President Pence now. Of course, the root of all of this.

Jessica Schneider, thanks very much.

This morning, federal investigators say they are now examining communications between sitting U.S. lawmakers and some of the insurrectionists who assaulted the Capitol. The goal of investigators to find out if any lawmakers either wittingly or unwittingly helped insurrectionists before or on January 6th.

CNN's Evan Perez joins me now.

Evan, tell us what we know, I guess, in effect and what we don't know. I mean the communications took place. Do we know the substance of those communications?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: We don't know the substance, but what investigators at this point have, Jim, is the devices belonging to some of the people who are facing charges in the insurrection. And on those devices what they found is contacts with some of the lawmakers, some of the lawmakers. And those contacts happened in the days before and even during that day on January 6th.

Now, again, we don't know the substance of those contacts. And, as you know, some of these people were political activists, so they had interaction. Some of them were friends. In some cases investigators have found that they're talking amongst each other saying -- discussing lawmakers that they knew or had associations with. And there's a few who claim that they were acting as security guards for lawmakers who were speaking at events during those days, the days around January 6th.

Again, at this point, it's not clear to us -- there's no indication that any of the lawmakers are actually under active investigation. But it just gives you an indication of what the investigation is heading towards, right, the -- the FBI is trying to figure out whether lawmakers wittingly or unwittingly provided some help to the insurrectionists, including people who may have provided some tours.

And then one last thing we know one of the latest arrests is a -- of the first indication of a Trump political appointee. His name is Federico Klein (ph). He was picked up yesterday. And he's facing charges for assaulting people and getting into the U.S. Capitol, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes, assaulting police. The guy had a security clearance. I mean no small thing that he was a participant.

Evan Perez, great reporting. Thanks very much.

With me now is Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.

Senator, thanks so much for taking time this morning.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): Good morning. Certainly.

SCIUTTO: So we don't yet know what the substance of these communications between sitting lawmakers and some of the violent insurrectionists are, but we do know that federal investigators are looking into it.

In your position, have you seen any hard evidence of these contacts, what they mean? What's your reaction to this news? HIRONO: The FBI has to go where the facts take them. And they need to

get to the bottom of what happened, who planned it, who participated in it, all of that. So while they can't open the contents of these connections, at some point they can develop probable cause so that they can proceed further.


Let me ask you this. If it's discovered that lawmakers helped the rioters in any way, because there's also this open accusation, and on this broadcast from a sitting Democratic lawmaker that some Republicans might have given tours to participants in the riot prior to January 6th. If it's found that they helped in any way, should those members be expelled?

HIRONO: There should be some consequences. It could be expelling.


I don't know.

But, you know, to the extent that it's our law enforcement community, the FBI, the Department of Justice, that is doing the investigation, I would think that there would be some legal consequences for people who participated willingly or unwittingly.

SCIUTTO: Understood. And, of course, we'll let the investigation play out. It is not there yet.

I want to move to another topic because yesterday, two months after January 6th, there was another threat to the Capitol that the FBI warned U.S. Capitol Police about assaulting the Capitol once again. We've reported that a Capitol security review is now complete. Draft recommendations going around to lawmakers. And they include changes like the establishment of a quick reaction force and no longer requiring the Capitol Police chief to seek approval for calling that force if there is a threat.

Based on the changes as we've seen them, are these sufficient, in your view, to protect the Capitol going forward?

HIRONO: I'm not sure whether it's deemed sufficient or not, but because it is very clear that what occurred on January 6th was definitely not sufficient preparation. And when we saw that it took three (ph) and a half hours for approval for the National Guard to be sent to quell the insurrection, they need to -- there are different moving parts to this. You have the Capitol Police. You have the National Guard. You have -- you have the -- you know, you have different law enforcement entities, and they need to be much, much better coordinated, not to mention with the intelligence community.

SCIUTTO: Understood.

COVID stimulus. It looks like a vote will take place in the coming couple of days. The administration convinced you have the Democratic votes to get this passed. You saw the job numbers today. Better than expected.


SCIUTTO: You've heard Republicans say, listen, this is too much now. We don't need this all now. We passed $4 trillion last year. What's your answer to that argument?

HIRONO: We're not out of the pandemic yet. And it's really premature for the Republicans to say, well, we don't have to do anything more, although that is their position. So they're going to take up the time during the vote-a-rama to really put forward -- the bottom line for the Republicans is that whether you're in a blue state or a red state, Americans do not deserve the help that's in this bill.

They're going to take up the time to put in all kinds of amendments to weaken the bill because they really don't think that any more help needs to happen.

This is what we call a k recovery. There's some people who are doing well. Some people are doing very well. And then there are the vast majority of people who are not seeing the kind of economic recovery that is needed for our economy and for their lives to get back to any sense of normalcy.

And that is why there is an urgency to passing this bill. And, you know, the Republicans are going to need to face their constituents to tell them why they thought their own constituents who are in dire need of help did not deserve their help.

SCIUTTO: Minimum wage will not make it into the Senate bill. Just doesn't seem to be the votes. Of course you have the ruling of the Senate parliamentarian not allowing it in there.

I wonder, when Republicans faced a similar problem in the George W. Bush administration, Trent Lott, the Senate majority leader at the time, he fired the parliamentarian. They got it through. I mean you have the Senate, you have the House, you have the White House. Haven't had that for a long time. May not have it for a long time. Are Democrats whiffing on the minimum wage here?

HIRONO: For one thing, the minimum wage should be in this bill because raising the minimum wage for the people who are most adversely affected by the pandemic should get a minimum wage, which we haven't increased in a decade or so. And if the minimum wage had kept up with inflation, et cetera, it would be at least $20 an hour.

So here we are. We're among the last in all of the developed nations in terms of our minimum wage.


HIRONO: So it should be in the bill and, frankly, I'm not going to blame the parliamentarian, but what my hope is that we will change the filibuster rule so that it will take a majority vote rather than having the Republicans continue to be a road block to all of this kind of legislation that will actually help American people.

SCIUTTO: So you're saying you support ending the filibuster to get through future Democratic legislative priorities?

HIRONO: I definitely support filibuster reform. And part of that is ending the filibuster. It could be totally or it could be for certain kinds of bills. But I'm definitely open to making those kinds of changes so we can get things done that helps people as opposed to not doing anything, which is the Republicans' posture.

SCIUTTO: Senator Mazie Hirono, thanks for joining the broadcast this morning.

HIRONO: Thank you. Aloha.


While some states ease -- I love when folks from Hawaii say that. Makes me smile.

While some states ease COVID restrictions, others are asking residents to double up now on masks. We'll have more.



SCIUTTO: Well, despite the science and warnings from public health officials, some states are already beginning to ease coronavirus restrictions. Fifteen states now do not have a mask mandate. The requirement is about to end in Texas and Alabama. In California, the government is urging residents to wear two masks as a precaution.

Joining me now is Dr. Paul Sax, he's clinical director in the division of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Doctor, good to have you on this morning.


SCIUTTO: I wonder, as a doctor, you know, you don't have to worry about the politics, just talk purely about the health. What do you say to the governors who are doing this and what do you say to residents in these states about whether they should listen to the governors who are doing this?


SAX: I think it's important to remember that we're still in the midst of quite a large number of community spread cases. So COVID-19 peaked last spring, went down in most places in the summer and then rose very much so in December and January. And though things have come down a lot since then, there's still way more cases in the United States than there were this past summer. So until we have a larger proportion of the population vaccinated, it definitely makes sense to continue wearing masks, especially indoors.

SCIUTTO: Yes, for you and for your family's safety, for others' safety.

So the mayor of Detroit, frankly, not helpful comments because he's basically endorsing a myth about the various available vaccines, saying that because the Johnson & Johnson shot, the trial shows 66.1 percent effective and Pfizer and Moderna, 94 percent, 95 percent effective, you know, he's waiting for bigger supplies of Pfizer and Moderna.

I mean, first of all, debunk the idea there's a big difference here, right, because the -- Pfizer and Moderna were tested at a time when the variants were not prevalent. So those numbers are somewhat misleading. But, beyond that, should folks get the shot that's available?

SAX: So it's a good point about the variants. But another point to make is, remember, it was tested in the summertime. So the challenge to the vaccines was much smaller. We had way more cases during the time of the Johnson & Johnson study than during the Pfizer and the Moderna study.

In addition, I just want to emphasize a few really strong points about the Johnson & Johnson results. First, like the other two vaccines, it prevents people from getting very sick and there were no death in the people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. And also, you know, after 28 days, no hospitalization. So it prevents severe disease.

An additional finding, they showed that it reduced people from getting asymptomatic infection by about 70 percent, 75 percent. So there were a lot of good information from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. I do not want people to delay getting the vaccine that's available to them. That's going to be the way out of this pandemic.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And it's a great point you make like, regardless, they all prevent largely the advent of severe disease.

I want to ask you about how the vaccines are handling the variants, because there was a new study out this week that shows that the vaccines show a strong t-cell response to these new variants, even the one from South Africa. And I don't want to get too much into the science there.

But I guess big picture, are we finding that the vaccines are better than we thought at protecting against these new variants?

SAX: Well, we did hear a lot about the variants and it, of course, raised concerns that the vaccines wouldn't work. But so far we don't have strong data that the vaccines will be ineffective against the variants.

Some important information is the study you mentioned. And it reminds us that the immune system is very complicated. It includes both antibody protection, as well as cellular protection. And what that study showed is that the cellular protection was retained against the variants, which is very good news.

There's currently a study going on in Austria, which is really fascinating, where the South African variant is circulating widely and they're going to provide the Pfizer vaccine to everyone in that community and see whether it protects against the variant. We're going to really be following that study very closely to see how well it works. I'm quite optimistic about it, actually. So -- but we'll have to see.


And one universal truth is a vaccine is better than no vaccine.

SAX: Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Paul Sax, thanks so much.

SAX: Thank you. Thanks so much, Jim.

Well, Pope Francis is making really an historic, amazing visit to Iraq, rallying the country's dwindling Christian community. We're going to have a live report from Baghdad as they mark that moment coming up.



SCIUTTO: Well, Pope Francis with those steps there making history this morning. He became the first pope ever to visit Iraq. The trip comes as Iraq struggles with a wave of COVID-19 infections, worsening security concerns and a struggling economy.

CNN's senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman joins us now live.

This is quite a moment. I mean this visit was years in the making. Iraq not a particularly safe place, yet the pope is there. What brought him there?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What got him here really was his determination to come here. Let's not forget that Pope John Paul II wanted to come here in 2000, but for reasons not all together clear, that trip was canceled.

And, let's remember, Pope Francis was elected in 2013 and just the next year was when ISIS began its onslaught in Syria and Iraq. And, therefore -- and during those -- the years after that, he watched as Christians, Yazidis and Muslims as well were persecuted and slaughtered by that terrorist group. So he really felt that it was important to come here.

And it's important to keep in mind sort of the great historical significance of his visit. Let's remember that in the summer of 2014, Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi, the self-declared caliph (ph) of the Islamic state, said that his followers would conquer Rome and then rule the world.

I was here in 2014 in Baghdad. ISIS was on the outskirts of the Iraqi capital. And now we find the pope of Rome, the bishop of Rome, landed today in Iraq.

He will be going to Mosul, which was the largest city occupied by ISIS. And, therefore, sort of the significance not only for Iraq but for the Christian community is absolutely massive, Jim.


SCIUTTO: No question. And people might be surprised to hear there are Christian churches -- I've been to one -- in Baghdad. But they've been under threat for some time.

Ben Wedeman, thanks very much.

Right now the Senate is debating President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief package and stall tactics from some Republicans, well, they didn't work. We're going to have details on when the relief package is expected to pass. That's coming up.


SCIUTTO: A very good Friday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto. Poppy is off today.

The breaking news this hour, right now the Senate is debating a $1.9 trillion COVID relief package as millions of Americans sit on the edge of a benefits cliff.