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Harry and Meghan Make Stunning Claims in Oprah Interview; Several U.S. States Easing COVID-19 Restrictions; Experts Worry Potential Super Spreader Events Could Fuel Surge; Russia Spreading Disinformation on U.S. Approved Vaccines; White House Hopeful for Quick Passage of COVID Relief Bill. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 8, 2021 - 04:00   ET



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, a stunning interview as Harry and Meghan drop bombshell after bombshell in their highly anticipated sit down with Oprah Winfrey. We will have all the reaction.

A top health official says the United States is in the eye of the hurricane with the coronavirus pandemic. And there are concerns current vaccination efforts may not be enough to manage a potential surge caused by variants.

And Pope Francis bids farewell to Iraq after a groundbreaking trip.

Good to have you with us. Well our top story this hour, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex making some shocking and damning claims about the British royal family in a tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey. Harry and Meghan overarching message, that they stepped back from their senior roles because they didn't feel supported by the royals. They also say they felt trapped in the institution of the royal family. And at one point Meghan described how life as a member of the family had become so isolating for her that she contemplated suicide.


MEGHAN, DUCHESS OF SUSSEX: I just didn't want to be alive anymore, and that was a very clear and real and frightening constant thought.

But we had to go to this event, and I remember him saying, I don't think you can go, and I said, I can't be left alone.

OPRAH WINFREY, HARPO PRODUCTIONS/CBS: Because you were afraid of what you might do to yourself?

MEGHAN: And we went and that's --

WINFREY: I'm so sorry to hear that. MEGHAN: -- and that picture, if you zoom in, what I see is how tightly

his knuckles are gripped around mine. You can see the whites of our knuckles because we are smiling and doing our job.


CHURCH: And that was just one of many bombshell claims. And another stunning revelation, Harry and Meghan say there were questions about what color their son Archie's skin might be before he was born but the couple would not reveal who discussed it.


MEGHAN: And also concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he's born.


MEGHAN: And --

WINFREY: Who -- who is having that conversation with you? What?


WINFREY: There is a conversation -- hold it --

MEGHAN: There are several conversations.


CHURCH: Buckingham palace has not yet commented on the interview. CNN's Anna Stewart joins us from outside Windsor Castle in England for more on this. So Anna, good to see you. But what has been the reaction so far in British papers to this bombshell interview and how will the palace likely respond to some of these very serious allegations?

ANNA STEWART, CNN REPORTER: Well, you're absolutely right. These allegations are so serious that I suspect the palace will have to break away from their general no comment policy. Allegations that Meghan felt suicidal, that she asked for help from the institution of the palace and didn't get any. Allegations that there were conversations and concerns about how dark the color of their child's skin would be. This is the early stages of Meghan Meghan's pregnancy. These shocking claims.

Now I can show you what the newspapers are saying so far today. We have some of the headlines. They've been very busy, Rosemary, making multiple editions overnight but they're not willing to show. The "Daily Mail" is running with "Meghan accuses the palace of racism," and some of the bullet points of some of main points that were brought up. The "Daily Mirror," "they asked how dark Archie's skin would be." And the "Sun's" running with, "meg, I felt suicidal."

These are some of the tabloid newspapers that Prince Harry and Meghan have really battled against in the last few years, even taking some of them to court. And actually Meghan had a victory recently against the "Mail" on Sunday.

Now these papers of course make money out of this interview.


They even make money, frankly, out of them being taken to court. But the interesting thing perhaps today is to focus on the fact that Prince Harry and Meghan are kind of taking control of the narrative. They have said what they say. They have told their truth and perhaps they feel that they've got some justice now in the sort of international general public court of opinion. So this is a day that is absolutely fascinating. Whether or not they can control the narrative of the press for more than a day, I think that's unlikely -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: Yes, that a pretty difficult task. Ann Stewart joining us from Windsor, many thanks for that.

So let's bring in CNN royal commentator Kate Williams. She joins us from London. Good to have you with us.


CHURCH: So this bombshell interview from Meghan and Harry reveal she felt suicidal, and the royal family had concerns about Archie's skin color. Even denying him a title and security detail. What might the ramifications of allegations like that be and how will the royals go about responding to this?

WILLIAMS: Well these are very serious allegations. The interview, it was bombshell after bombshell. And of course we had expected to talk about the racist nature of the tabloids. The horrific amount of racist press that she suffered but what we got really -- what we got back, but we also got these absolutely shocking, very distressing revelations, that she had felt suicidal. That no one was there to help her. She begged for help. She wants to go to hospital, and she wasn't allowed to because that would make the institution look bad.

And that there were concerns about Archie's skin color when she was pregnant, it had been talks about and there's a consequence. At the same time there were conversations about him not having security because he wasn't a prince which obviously was very concerning because you see all of those racist memes. Doesn't matter whether Archie's a prince or not, he's going to get a lot of attention and could be at risk and that he didn't get the title. The title of Prince.

And in terms of the younger generation, the only one who's really allowed to be prince is Prince George, the eldest child of William and Kate. But an intervention was made so that Charlotte and Louis, his oldest brother and sister, could be Prince and Princess. Essentially what Meghan was saying was that intervention was not made for Archie. There's a difference. The was she wanted to explicitly say, this is tied to the color of his skin. It was close together and implied.

And when she said and Orpah did such a brilliant job asking about this. Pushing Meghan on it. Pushing Harry on it. Who made the comment? Who asked about how dark was Archie going to be? Who this this conversation? Well this is particularly damaging. And as Meghan said, she wasn't going to say who did it because it was damaging. We understand it wasn't the wasn't the Duke of Edinburgh, that it was another senior royal.

So that does narrow it down to who it would have been, Charles, William or their wives. I mean it has to someone within that grouping. And this is really very serious. And I think what we'll see from the palace is a statement. There will be a statement. I don't think immediately, they've got to think about it. Many of them haven't seen it yet. But there will be a statement, and they have to deal with it.

But is at the moment, this is incredibly damaging. And if they don't deal with it, then really there are a wealth of implications here that they don't care about members and that there is racism in the royal family and that Meghan was not supported. So I do expect to see a statement.

CHURCH: Yes, and Kate, the British royal family had an opportunity to embrace Meghan and drag the British monarchy into the 21st century. Why didn't they choose to do that?

WILLIAMS: Well this is the question. It was a wonderful day, the wedding, fantastic day. Oprah started off by talking about the wedding. This wonderful moment, we thought, this is the future. This is where the commonwealth which is a very high percent of people of color, they see someone who looks like them. It was this multi- cultural Britain and multi-cultural world.

And that within a couple of years Meghan had to leave. Her mental health, Harry's mental health and they were chased out by all this racist coverage, this sexist coverage. And you know, Harry made this clear, no one was helping us. We said to the royal family, to the firm, to the court, please tell the press to stop. And he said that you know, he felt that the royal family in particular was scared of the press. So they weren't going to say stop. They were just going to make Meghan have to deal with it. And that that is not only, it worth Meghan, as it has been for any other royal women, because of the race because there was racism as well as misogyny.

But also the royal, you know, the royal family had this great moment to embrace Meghan and Harry.


And when they wanted to step back this time last year, they wanted to have the cell phones but also do the state commonwealth tours, support the queen as they said, as minor royals do in Britain and all the European worlds would do. And that was lost. And this is a chance for me to forge our future form Harry and Meghan and also a future for minor royals. Only really saying that royal siblings spend their whole lives as backup singers essentially? No, they said. Royal families didn't embrace it. This is a failure.

And I think there was certainly within what Princess Diana would call the men gray suit, simply their dogmatic thinking. That, oh well, we won't deal with press coverage. And, oh well, you know we can't have half in/half out. And as a consequence, the royal family have lost these two super stars, these two worldwide super stars and simply it does -- and the fact is that they've lost the first black woman to marry into the modern royal family. She is now gone. And this really, I think is an indictment of what they said in the interview just adds to this. And it really, I think, it does have to be addressed.

CHURCH: Yes, and ae await a response from the British royal family. See what they say about these serious allegations. Kate Williams, many thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

For more news about the British royal family, we have a new service go to you for news to sign up for our new weekly newsletter. It launches today so sign up now to get the first one.

Well, a number of states are rolling back restrictions even as COVID variants spread across the U.S. Just ahead, why health experts fear those variants could fuel new surges.



CHURCH: Welcome back everyone. Well here in the U.S., as falling COVID case begin to plateau, health experts are worried about the spread of the variant first identified in the U.K. It's already reached at least 46 states and the U.S. Capitol. One infectious disease expert says the strain is increasing exponentially and the country is probably on the tipping point of another surge.

Despite that threat, governors in several states are easing restrictions including mask wearing and reopening restaurants. And with less than 10 percent of the population fully vaccinated, top health officials are wary of rollbacks as the variant continue to spread.


MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, INFECTIOUS DISEASE EXPERT: Let me just say, we are in the eye of the hurricane right now. That it appears things are going well, we would see blue skies. We've been through a terrible, terrible year. But what we know is about to come upon us is the situation with this B117 variant, the virus that originated in the United Kingdom that is wreaking havoc in parts Europe, 27 countries seeing significant cases with this really hitting hard.

Many of these countries have been in lockdown now for two months just to try to control this virus. Last time I was on your show four weeks ago the B117 variant made up one to four percent of the viruses we were seeing in communities across the country. Today it's up to 30 to 40 percent. And what we've seen in Europe, when we hit the 50 percent mark, you'll see the variants surge.


CHURCH: And since the variants appear to be transmissible, experts are concerned that as states roll back restrictions, potential super spreader events could cause a new surge in coronavirus cases. CNN's Natasha Chen has more.


NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Outside NBA All-Star game in Atlanta, no fans. It's a made-for-TV only event. The NBA and the city of Atlanta have asked people not to come.

ADAM SILVER, NBA COMMISSIONER: There will be nothing that we will be doing in Atlanta, unfortunately, that's open to the public. So I want to discourage people from coming to Atlanta for the All-Star festivities.

CHEN (voice-over): Atlanta is not alone. Officials in popular vacation spots like Florida worry they could see potential super-spreader events as college students pack beaches and resorts for spring break.

MAYOR DAN GELBER (D), MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA: We are very worried that there's going to be a convergence of people here and a real problem in the aftermath of that.

CHEN (voice-over): One of the big problems is some states like Texas and Mississippi are dropping mask mandates. It's a move that other governors say they won't follow.

GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R-OH): I have a great deal of respect for my colleagues in Texas and Mississippi. You know, with the vaccine, we're now on the offense. That's the great thing. But in Ohio, we can't give up the defense. We have found that these masks work exceedingly well.

GOV. TATE REEVES (R-MI): Our approach has been to not only protect lives but to also protect livelihoods. We have to get our economy rolling so that individuals can get back to work. Statewide mandates have not been in effect in our state over the last six months and we're not going back to that.

CHEN (voice-over): On Saturday, according to the "Daily Camera," hundreds showed up for an outdoor gathering near the campus at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Fireworks from set off. Police said three SWAT officers were hit with bricks and rocks and were hurt while trying to break this gathering up.

CHEN: As for gatherings in Atlanta, the NBA has now sent roughly 200 cease and desist letters to promoters in the area for using their trademark without permission --according to a source without knowledge of the situation. We found a lot of promotions for events throughout the weekend. We tried to reach out to some of those venues and promoters to ask if they have special protocols in place for the health and safety of their guests. One promoter told us no comment, the others have not responded to us yet.

Natasha Chen, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CHURCH: That's all contributing to fears of another surge despite the push to increase vaccinations. I spoke with epidemiologist Dr. Larry Brilliant, and asked him, where things go from here?


DR. LARRY BRILLIANT, EPIDEMIOLOGIST: It's only a year since this novel virus jumped from a bat to a human being, and we're in the middle of a huge rollout of almost magical vaccines and there's a lot to be grateful for. We will kind of get the numbers up in the United States, in the U.K. I'm really worried about the rest of the world.


I do think that there's the risk of a fourth wave last year around this time we were plateauing. This time we're plateauing. We're still going into an easier holiday season because of its summerish, and people are outdoors. But last year we were clobbered by Memorial Day and Fourth of July poor behavior. If that happens and the variants play an important part, we'll see a fourth wave now.

In addition, we have to really protect ourselves against that happening in the fall. We have vaccines on our side. We have a better administration. We're going to get better at a lot of things, but it's going to be a close call, this race we're in.


CHURCH: Dr. Larry Brilliant there talking to me earlier. And despite the fact that recent polls show more Americans are willing to get vaccinated, we are learning that Russia is working to undermine confidence in U.S.-approved vaccines. That is according to a State Department spokesperson who says the three online platforms directed by Russian intelligence, News Front, New Eastern Outlook and Oriental Review, quote, spread many types of disinformation including about both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines as well as international organizations, military conflicts, protests and any device issue they can employed.

Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, denied the allegations to the "Wall Street Journal" and called them, quote, nonsense.

Well Americans could start seeing fresh stimulus checks arrive as soon as this week. That's if the House approves this Senate's version of the relief package on Tuesday as expected and then is quickly signed by President Joe Biden. Meantime, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin is defending holding up his own party's bill for hours of negotiations over the weekend. He's being criticized for pushing for less help for out of work Americans. But he insists he was simply seeking a fair compromise on income limits for tax write offs. Here's how he described it to our Jake Tapper.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN, (D-WV): To be fair for people out there working all the time, paying their share of taxes, that was something we were concerned about also. So we limited it to 150,000. We capped it that anybody over 150,000 could not use that offset. Anybody below it that's struggling and working, more of the middle class is able to do that, that was a fair compromise. We worked through that and got it done.


CHURCH: Pandemic unemployment benefits are set to expire in the coming weeks if the bill doesn't pass and the IRS warns that millions of people could be at risk of missing out on their stimulus payment because the agency doesn't know how to reach them.


Ron Brownstein is a CNN senior political analyst and senior editor for the "Atlantic." He joins me now from Los Angeles. Great to have you with us.


CHURCH: So president Biden's COVID relief package cleared the Senate without any Republican support Saturday. Now it's heading back to the House for a vote Tuesday. How likely is it that it will pass this week? And how imperative is it that this gets done and done fast?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, I think it will pass. And it is kind of extraordinary. I mean, if you compare this to the economic plans that Bill Clinton put forward in his first year in 1993, Barack Obama in 2009, even George W. Bush in 2001, this is probably passing much closer to the original design than any bills. I mean, there was just enormous drama, widespread defection in the Democratic Party in '93 and '09. Bush was forced to cut his tax plan by a quarter -- by 25 percent because of defection from a few Republicans.

And here for the kind of the maneuvering and, you know, minute-by- minute focus that we had, in the end Joe Biden proposed of $1.9 trillion package, which is extraordinary package, and Congress is going to pass a $1.9 trillion package. I mean, it really is a statement of how both imperative the need is, but also how much the Democratic Party is holding together, at least at the outset of his presidency.

CHURCH: Yes, and at the same time, how does all of this look for Republicans who didn't get on board with helping people? They don't feel much of the pain that other Americans are feeling during this pandemic so they can't begin to understand what people are going through. How much of a barrier is that disconnect for a party already struggling with its own identity?

BROWNSTEIN: Well you know, to me the most interesting part of the Republican response to this, is what didn't happen. If you look back at those earlier examples that I mentioned, Clinton in '93, Obama in '09, the initial economic plan was part of a backlash that Republicans were able to generate against the new administration, basically arguing that it was big government gone crazy, spending gone crazy. None of that happened. [04:25:00]

I mean what was happening last week as the Congress was approving a $1.9 trillion spending plan, the lead Republican in the House was reading Dr. Seuss on Twitter and complaining that, you know, he was a victim of cancel culture. And it basically to me, it underscores the extent to which the arguments against big government have lost a lot of their sting, particularly against the backdrop of this, you know, pandemic and all of the economic and social strain that it has created.


CHURCH (on camera): Ron Brownstein talking to me earlier.

Well England is one step closer to getting back to pre-pandemic normality. School is now back in session. It's the first of several stages as officials gradually ease restrictions. Prime Minister Boris Johnson attributes the, quote, determination of every person in this country for the progress.


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The 8th of March is the first big step of the roadmap that we hope is a roadmap to freedom and it's made possible by the rollout of the vaccination program.


CHURCH: And officials say they will be keeping an eye on the level of COVID cases as they roll out each state of that roadmap.

Well still to come here on CNN, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex open up to Oprah Winfrey about their troubled relationship with Britain's royal family. Hear what Harry had to say about his father, Prince Charles. That's next.


CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. Well the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are revealing many stunning claims about the struggles of living in the royal family. Their remarks came during a tell-all televised interview with Orpah Winfrey that aired on CBS.

Harry and Meghan's overarching message that they step back from their senior roles because they didn't feel supported by the royals.