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One Year into Pandemic; Judge Reinstates Murder Charge against Chauvin; Biden's Border Strategy; Georgia Bill Restricts Voting Access. Aired 9:30-10a

Aired March 11, 2021 - 09:30   ET



MARIA VAN KERKHOVE, CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE TECHNICAL LEAD, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: But that doesn't make up for the fundamentals of public health. In public health it's more about prevention. You know, what do you do to prevent a situation from really taking hold as opposed to caring for those who are stick.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Now in the second year of the pandemic, the cavalry has arrived, but so has a more advanced enemy.

So Van Kerkhove says we not only need to be nimble when it comes to these new variants, but stresses we also need to get vaccines to all countries. According to the People's Vaccine Alliance, rich nations are not vaccinating one person every second, while the majority of the poorest nations have yet to administer a single dose.

VAN KERKHOVE: Every life on this planet matters. Look at those images of planes arriving in countries around the world. If you are not touched by that, if you are not moved by that, we need to see why that is. But everyone on this planet deserves to be protected.

GUPTA: Shot by shot, the world has started to see some hope. And for those countries who did heed the WHO's warnings, they are giving us a glimpse into a post-pandemic life.

VAN KERKHOVE: I see societies that are opened up. I see sporting events that are happening. I see a resilient community that is living their life, that has driven transmission down, in some situations to zero, but I see communities and governments that are at the ready.

GUPTA: At the ready is exactly where the world will need to be, not only for this pandemic, but for future ones as well.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Light at the end of the tunnel. What a year. All right, well, this just in to CNN, a judge has just reinstated the third-degree murder charge against former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin. This is in the killing of George Floyd. More next.



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, breaking news just into CNN, a judge in Minnesota has just reinstated a third-degree murder charge against former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, who, of course, killed George Floyd. This in addition to a second degree what's known as unintentional murder charge and a second degree manslaughter charge, in effect, Poppy, three options for the jury.

HARLOW: Yes. Yes, that's a really good point, it does broaden the options for the jury to consider.

Let's go to our colleague, Omar Jimenez, who is covering this trial from Minneapolis.

Obviously, Omar, everyone will remember you were there in the days following the death of George Floyd and the weeks after that.

Can you explain the significance of adding a third-degree charge here? Aside from another option, what does it -- what does it hold, what does it mean?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, of course, aside from adding just another option, another target for prosecutors, the -- it essentially broadens the scope of what they can actually look at.

Now, the reason it was thrown out in the first place, Judge Peter Cahill dropped this third-degree murder charge back in October, is that largely it was viewed as sort of, if you fired a gun into a crowd and you killed someone without actually intending to kill that person was how it was sort of being viewed and the judge did not feel that that, among other reasons, did not feel that that applied to this case.

Now, the reason this became reconsidered, even in the first place, or at least the appeals court judge said you had to reconsider reinstating this, is because of a separate case playing out in the Minnesota judicial system involving a police officer who was convicted on a third-degree murder charge and it was upheld by the court of appeals.

So when you looked at the motions that were being gone over this morning, just a few moments ago, that was something that the judge cited saying that appeals court decision made things immediately presidential and so he was forced to now follow that precedent or at least consider it more seriously.

And we weren't sure if he was going to rule on this, this morning. We just knew he was going to hear arguments. But as of a few moments ago, Judge Peter Cahill, here in Hennepin County, reinstated a third-degree murder charge against Derek Chauvin.


Omar, thank you for that reporting.

Let's bring in Elie Honig, our legal analyst, also former federal and state prosecutor.

Elie, what's the significance of this for Officer Chauvin, but then remember the three other officers who will also be tried in August.

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, so, Poppy, this is a significant win for the prosecutors. Remember, the prosecutors initially indicted this case using this third-degree charge, which charges what we call depraved mind murder, meaning, even if the prosecutors cannot prove that Derek Chauvin intentionally assaulted or intentionally killed George Floyd, they can still get a guilty verdict if they can show that he acted sort of knowing that something was exceptionally dangerous but did it anyway.

And what this is, is sort of a fall back option.


HONIG: As a prosecutor, you always want to give the jury a second way, in case they can't agree on the top charge, to still get to a guilty verdict.

SCIUTTO: Elie, you know how difficult history has shown. I mean recent history has shown how difficult it is to convict cops in killing like this. And some of that is just the nature of the law, the nature of the way the law is written.

Based on having these three options here, that third-degree murder, does it have a lower standard of evidence? Does it, in your view, practically make it more likely prosecutors can get to a conviction?

HONIG: It is sort of the middle of the three charges now. It's the middle in terms of difficulty to prove. It's the middle in terms of overall maximum penalty.


The top charge here is the second degree murder. For that the prosecutors are going to have to show an intentional assault or an intentional killing. That carries a forty (ph) year max.

This new charge that's been reinstated now slots in, in the middle. And, again, you have to show this sort of depraved mind.

And then the lowest charge is the manslaughter charge, which is negligence. That has a ten year max. The middle one has a 25 year max.

And, Jim, as you said, it's difficult to convict police officers. If juries get stuck, they like to compromise. I've seen it happen. And if they can meet in the middle, this could be a point for them to do that.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Interesting.

HARLOW: That's -- that's really interesting.

Elie, thank you so much on that.

HONIG: Thanks, Poppy and Jim.

HARLOW: Well, there is clearly a surge of migrant children at the southern border and it has administration officials scrambling to try to find shelter space for them. A vacant NASA site is what they may be using next.

Also, what does this pose in terms of a challenge for the Biden administration, ahead.



SCIUTTO: President Biden's pledge to take a more humane approach to immigration is facing an early, critical test. More than 3,400 minors who crossed the southern border alone are now in Customs and Border Protection custody as of Tuesday. That number had peaked around 2,600 under the Trump administration. The overwhelming surge is pushing the Biden administration to consider a vacant NASA site in California as a potential temporary housing facility.

Joining me now to discuss this issue is Zolan Kanno-Youngs. He's a White House correspondent for "The New York Times" whose covered immigration and national security for "The Times."

Zolan, good to have you on this morning.

I wonder what your reporting shows and what CBP officials say about what's behind this surge. I mean is it driven in part by a belief among the migrants but also smugglers that they'll be more likely to be admitted to the U.S. under Biden?

ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Jim, it's a combination of the long-standing drivers that we've seen really push migrants to leave their home and seek sanctuary in the U.S., as well as some new factors.

So let's talk about those. You know, it's poverty, persecution, gang violence when you talk to experts. We should -- we should note as well that there were two hurricanes last year as well and that took a toll on that region, as well as the pandemic taking a toll on that economy.


KANNO-YOUNGS: But I must say as well, when I was recently at the border, there were some families who mentioned all of those being a factor, but also said that there was new hope given this new administration. SCIUTTO: Yes.

KANNO-YOUNGS: That they had hope that maybe they -- their claims for protection would be processed. You heard top administration official Roberta Jacobson say yesterday that -- acknowledge that some of these migrants may have felt new hope with Biden coming in.


KANNO-YOUNGS: And that combined as well with the communication from smugglers encouraging them to come to the border as well.

SCIUTTO: I mean is that hope misplaced? I mean does the Biden administration have a better plan for dealing with these folks? I mean they're struggling, right, just to find the space to house them in a humane way.

KANNO-YOUNGS: The Biden administration's approach thus far to the border has been unwinding some of the Trump administration's policies but keeping a major consequential Trump rule in place with one exception. Let me explain that.

The Biden administration is rapidly -- is still rapidly turning away most migrants across the board, most asylum seekers, single adults and most families, but they've broken from the Trump administration in one major way to make good on that compassionate pledge that you mentioned at the top, and that's that they're not rapidly turning away children and teenagers.


KANNO-YOUNGS: So now there's an issue. How do you safely process those teenagers? They're supposed to be moved out of those border facilities quickly and put into shelters managed by HHS, but those shelters have been at reduced capacity until last week given the pandemic, which has led to this backlog, this bottleneck in the system. And now you have these teenagers and children, more than 3,000 as you noted, stuck in these border facilities.


Let me ask you, we all remember those images of children being held in cage-like pens under Trump. Has the Biden administration improved those conditions?

KANNO-YOUNGS: You know, it's unclear as of now. You know, we heard from a top CBP official yesterday, the acting commissioner, Troy Miller, who said that there are showers available every 48 hours, that they're making sure to provide food to these children and teenagers.

But as you said, you know, at the height of the Trump administration -- at the height of -- in spring of 2019, last year, when (INAUDIBLE) young migrants were stuck in those jail-like facilities during the Trump administration, that's where we saw reports of those terrible conditions, of the spread of disease, of the lack of showers.


KANNO-YOUNGS: So we'll have to see going forward, especially if crossings continue, if the Biden administration is able to actually care for these children.

SCIUTTO: Right. We -- we'll be watching closely. We know you will as well.

Zolan Kanno-Youngs, thanks so much.

KANNO-YOUNGS: Thank you for having me.

SCIUTTO: And we'll be right back.



HARLOW: Republican-backed bills restricting voting keep advancing across the country. The latest in the state of Florida. A senate panel there has passed a bill that would totally ban drop boxes that are used for mail-in ballots. Limiting drop boxes is also up for debate in the state of Georgia. Right now, Georgia state Republicans are on the brink of being able to pass two separate, pretty sweeping bills, HB- 531 and SB-241, both would really restrict voter access. Democrats sounding the alarm on them.


REP. BEE NGUYEN (D-GA): Members of this body aided and abetted a deliberate misinformation campaign to sow seeds of doubt among Georgia voters.

You are choosing to support a bill that is so egregious that it is nationally known as Jim Crow in a suit and tie.


HARLOW: That was Democratic Georgia State Representative Bee Nguyen. She joins me now. She is the first -- Georgia's first Vietnamese- American state rep, holds the seat that was held previously by Stacey Abrams.


Good morning and thank you for the time.

NGUYEN: Good morning.

HARLOW: Pretty serious allegation that you call these suit and tie versions of Jim Crow. The Republican defense of them, as you know, is they reduce costs, they say they relief stress on election workers, they ensure fairness. That's what your Republican colleagues say.

It looks very likely that they will not only pass both chambers but that they will get signed into law by the governor. Then what? Then what is Democrats' next move?

NGUYEN: Well, you know, Republicans are in a tenuous place right now. We have Republican leadership in a position where they don't necessarily support some of those things. So when the Senate chamber did pass the elimination of no excuse absentee ballot, it was the chamber's lieutenant governor who chose to boycott that vote. He is the ranking Republican on that side and he has lost control of his members.

And so we're unclear as to what the governor will sign into law. He knows he has a competitive gubernatorial election next year. He will be likely facing Stacey Abrams. He's lost some of his base. He's trying to still align himself with the former president, but the former president, quite likely, doesn't like him.

And so we're not sure what we're going to see be signed into law by Republicans because the party is fractured. You have Republicans who fundamentally believe that the election was free and fair. They understand that it was a safe and secure election. But they're being pressured by a fraction of their party that wants them to push forward these voter suppression bills.

You know, as we saw in the House side, every single Republican voted for House Bill 531 and the Republicans who oppose the omnibus senate bill took a walk instead of actively voting no.

HARLOW: So -- right, I saw that.

So if -- if they -- these bills are signed into law, the way they exist now, I suppose your only bet would be on federal law, that would be, you know, H.R. 1, and there's zero evidence that that is going to get anywhere in a Senate unless there's an elimination of the filibuster.

I know you're supportive of H.R. 1. I guess I wonder, as a state representative, do you have any concerns that that sweeping 791 page bill takes away too much power from the states?

NGUYEN: Oh, I absolutely -- I mean not in terms of H.R. 1, but I have concerns about what happens if we don't pass H.R. 1.

And the other piece of this is, Georgia has always faced voter suppression laws. In my time at the Georgia legislature, I've seen them every single year. And we've really relied on litigation to overcome some of this. And we have been successful in litigation.

And so I think for most Democrats here in the state, most organizers here in the state, we kind of understand what we're facing, although never as aggressive as before. But we certainly know this will be litigated in court. We know that we will be able to win some of these suits, even without H.R. 1. But H.R. 1 would act as a shield for (INAUDIBLE).

HARLOW: Final question. I thought Jennifer Rubin, in "The Washington Post" this week, wrote a really interesting op-ed. Basically she's saying that President Biden should consider a task force or a voting rights campaign czar, saying legislation isn't enough to ensure truly free voting across the country. She says, you need to enlist civil society, figure out how to thread the needle in the Senate and leverage business interests.

What do you think?

NGUYEN: Well, I absolutely think we do need the business interest involved in this, right? So here we are in the state of Georgia, kind of relying on the federal government to come in and pass H.R. 1. But the reality is, there are many stakeholders at the table and our corporations here have been completely silent on what's happening in our state.

And they are very strong and powerful lobbying arm. And corporations should understand that voters are their consumers and their workers. And so for us to not see anything from them, you know, it's problematic. You know, we're waiting for corporations to stand up for voters in Georgia.

HARLOW: Thank you very much, Georgia State Represented Bee Nguyen. It's good to have you.

NGUYEN: Thank you.

HARLOW: And now something that's really important to all of us, the entire CNN family. Jim and I, along with the entire CNN family, want to take just a minute this morning to remember a very brave and special little girl.


HARLOW: Today would have been her first birthday.

You are looking at pictures of Francesca Kaczynski. Lovingly by her parents and now all of us called Beans. She was the daughter of our colleague, Andrew Kaczynski and his wife, journalist Rachel. She died of a rare form of brain cancer on Christmas Eve and she was only nine months old.

SCIUTTO: Listen, our hearts go out to her whole family.

So in Francesca's memory, CNN is launching the #teambeansbeanie. We've got beanies. I've got mine here.

HARLOW: We'll show you.

SCIUTTO: Both Poppy and I have tweeted about that this morning.



SCIUTTO: You can find it there. All proceeds will go to fund research at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, which is fantastic, by the way,