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CNN NEWSROOM

Trump's Acting Defense Secretary on Insurrection; Oath Keeper Connection to Roger Stone; Lori Lightfoot is Interviewed about Vaccines and Biden's Goal of Opening Up; New York Lawmakers Launch Investigation into Cuomo; Jury Selection Continues in Chauvin Trial; Italy Imposes Lockdown. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired March 12, 2021 - 09:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[09:30:00]

CHRISTOPHER MILLER, FORMER ACTING SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Don't know but it seems cause and effect, yes. The question is, would anybody have marched on the Capitol and overrun the Capitol without the president's speech? I think it's pretty much definitive that wouldn't have happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Quite definitive comments there.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Wow.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Whitney Wild joins us now.

And, Whitney, it's interesting because Christopher Miller was seen as something of a Trump loyalist while he was in the Pentagon, placing direct blame on the president.

Now, he had his own role, Miller did, through this, in charge of the military's response. Is he accepting responsibility himself?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not really. In that interview, and we only have a brief clip of it, but when he was questioned about the length of time it took to get the National Guard up and running, Chris Miller said, look, that's how the military works. It's not a video game. It's not "Halo." It's not "Black Ops." He really blamed process more so than any responsibility he might have taken in slowing that response down, Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: That's interesting. I look forward to seeing that full interview, Whitney.

Before you go, an FBI agent has also now testified that an alleged Oath Keeper, charged in the Capitol riot, was a driver for Roger Stone, who, of course, was a very close ally of the former president. And he was a driver for Roger Stone one day before the attack. Explain why that is so significant.

WILD: Well, he -- and his name is Joshua James. He was in court yesterday. He is one of about a dozen Oath Keepers charged in this Capitol riot case. Some of those Oath Keepers, Jim and Poppy, are now being charged with planning the attack ahead of time.

So we have this group of people surrounding a very close Trump ally, Roger Stone, who are now being charged with planning the riot. So, you know, this -- this comes as a very questionable set of connections to this Trump ally, Roger Stone.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

WILD: Although, Roger Stone says, look, he didn't know that there was going to be any planned riot. He had no knowledge of this. He was only working with the Oath Keepers, using them as security, because he was getting death threats. That's what he says.

Joshua James' attorneys were in court yesterday. They say he is not guilty. But this does raise a lot of questions about the connections between this paramilitary group that was seen inside the Capitol and a very close Trump ally, Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes. And whose lives did the Oath Keepers, those members, threaten on January 6th? The lives of members of Congress and police protecting them.

Whitney Wild, thanks so much.

President Biden is aiming for July 4th as a return to some semblance of normalcy, certainly more than we've seen in a year. Other local leaders are also eyeing a similar timeline, including the mayor of Chicago. We're going to have her on to discuss, just next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:37:04]

SCIUTTO: President Biden says that he is hopeful that the nation can mark its independence from COVID-19 by July 4th. That largely depends, though, still, he says, on Americans doing their part, also certainly on vaccinations.

In Chicago, where the positivity rate has now dropped below 3 percent, Mayor Lori Lightfoot says that she is cautiously optimistic that this summer could look more like what people are used to.

So, could that mean a return to events like Taste of Chicago, Lollapalooza? A lot of folks want to know.

With me here now, the mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot.

Mayor, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.

MAYOR LORI LIGHTFOOT (D), CHICAGO: My pleasure.

SCIUTTO: So that's the goal, to have a return to relative normalcy by July 4th. I wonder, do you think that's an achievable goal?

LIGHTFOOT: You know, I do, and I think the president really set it out well. But it depends on what we, as individuals, and collectively, do between now and then. We've got to keep getting more vaccine into the arms of folks across the nation and certainly here in Chicago, but we also have to make sure that folks recognize that COVID-19 is still very much a part of our present, which means we've got to continue wearing masks, we've got to do the social distancing and all the smart things that we have been doing now for over a year to keep ourselves safe.

But certainly the future looks a lot brighter and a lot closer to normal than it did a year ago. But diligence has to remain the watch word every single day.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

He set -- you mention vaccines. He set a goal of saying that by May 1st the vaccine should be available to all adults. That's what he's calling out to states and communities like your own.

I just wondered, do you believe Chicago will have the supply to meet that goal for its residents by May 1st?

LIGHTFOOT: Well, we've seen a significant uptick in the amount of weekly vaccine that we've been receiving. And, obviously, Johnson & Johnson coming online has been a significant increase and impact on our vaccine. We've built an infrastructure based upon equity, but an infrastructure that can take more vaccine. We've just got to make sure that we have a consistent line of sight into what the vaccine's going to look like.

You know, early -- in the early days of the former administration, when vaccines first became available, we were lurching from week to week really not knowing how much vaccine we were going to get. The Biden administration turned that around, gave us a three-week look- ahead, which is absolutely essential for us to be able to build vaccine distribution infrastructure and make appointments and so forth. So that's helpful.

But we still need more vaccine to meet the need.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

LIGHTFOOT: I think a lot of the hesitancies that we saw in the early days is starting to give way. Not entirely. So there's more work to be done.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

LIGHTFOOT: But more and more people know someone in their network who's gotten fully vaccinated without any adverse side effects.

[09:40:04]

So I think that's encouraging more people to recognize that they've got to get this life-saving vaccine. But we don't want to create expectations that we can't fulfill.

SCIUTTO: Right.

LIGHTFOOT: So ramping up that vaccine production is crucial.

SCIUTTO: OK. Vaccine equity has been an issue in Chicago and a lot of other communities in terms of availability to black and Latino communities. Recent data shows nearly 60 percent of those communities have at least received their first dose. I wonder, have the issues been solved in terms of equity?

LIGHTFOOT: No, they haven't been solved and they're not going to be solved until we get every single resident in our city vaccinated.

What I will tell you is we've made significant progress based upon partnerships that we really started a year ago and have really leaned into heavily, initially for education and hooking people up to the health care system, later with testing, and now with vaccine. And, for example, FEMA opened up a huge mass-vaccination site here in Chicago and I'm happy to report that in recent days over 60 percent of the appointments have been going to black and brown Chicagoans. So that's significant progress.

Now, week after week, over 50 percent of the people who are getting vaccines are also people of color in Chicago. Why this is important is because those communities have been hardest hit. Those are the communities that are hardest in need. And we know if we get the vaccine into those areas of Chicago, whether it's our seniors, whether it's people with underlying conditions, whether it's black and brown, we're going to make huge progress in putting this vaccine behind -- or this virus behind us.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

OK, schools. Middle school students in Chicago, they returned for in- person learning on Monday this week. And I know you've had your back and forth with teachers' unions in Chicago.

You know, the data has consistently shown for some time that schools with mitigation are relatively safe. And I wonder if you look back, did Chicago and other communities, did they wait too long to get kids back in school for in-person learning?

LIGHTFOOT: I don't think so. I mean, look, here's the reality. This is a very, very different process and negotiation than I've ever been involved in. This wasn't about dollars and cents with the teachers' union. This is trying to manage people's fears in the middle of a pandemic.

So, I think we took the time that was necessary, both to put in the mitigations in the schools, to learn from other school districts in our city, the private schools, archdiocese schools that have been open, and then to convince a skeptical public that we could get this done and get it done right.

And I'm happy to report, our kids are back. They're safe. The mitigations are working.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

LIGHTFOOT: But it took a lot of time and effort and engagement and listening to be able to get our students and their families and the general public moving in the right direction and having confidence that we had a plan that would actually keep everybody in the school community safe.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes.

LIGHTFOOT: That plan has been in effect now since January. It's working. You know, and we continue to engage with our entire school population.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

LIGHTFOOT: But I'm extremely enthusiastic about what we've been able to accomplish here in Chicago.

SCIUTTO: Well, I'm sure a lot of the kids are enthusiastic, too.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, we wish you and the people of Chicago the best of luck.

LIGHTFOOT: Thank you, sir.

HARLOW: All right, well, back here in New York, dozens of New York Democrats are now calling on their fellow Democrat, that is Governor Andrew Cuomo, to resign as the state assembly launches an impeachment inquiry. We'll have all of the details on this ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:48:12]

SCIUTTO: Well, the state of New York is now launching a bipartisan impeachment investigation into the Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo. This as New York state lawmakers, including at least 60 Democrats, have called for him to resign.

HARLOW: Something he's made clear he is not going to do.

Our colleague, Shimon Prokupecz, is following the latest.

Good morning to you, Shimon.

I mean this is a significant development. You've got support for the governor in his own party starting to erode. The question is, is it enough, right?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right.

HARLOW: Would it actually be enough to get him removed from office? Where is this investigation heading? PROKUPECZ: Right. That is the big question. You have this impeachment

hearing now that the state assembly members are calling for. They've initiated that process. It's going to go through their judiciary committee. And what it's going to allow them to do is to subpoena information. It's going to allow them to talk to potential witnesses. And then we'll see, does it come out of the judiciary committee? And then what do the majority of the members, the Democrats who, obviously, hold power here, what do they ultimately do?

It's still not a majority of Democrats. It is a large number of Democrats that are calling for him to resign. Most Democrats in this state want an investigation. They want the attorney general's office, which is investigating a lot of the claims, they want that to proceed and then they want to decide what to do.

But now you have this impeachment investigation, which is going to bring about its own information. The leader of the state assembly here, Carl Heastie, he released this letter yesterday calling for the governor to resign, saying that the members, that the state has lost confidence, that he has lost confidence of the public and state legislators, which renders him basically ineffective and, therefore, he should resign.

Of course, as you said, the governor is insisting he doesn't intend to resign.

[09:50:01]

He has no plans to resign. We have yet to hear his response to this. So far there is nothing on his public schedule. Usually on Fridays sometimes we do hear from him. So we'll see as the day proceeds if he responds.

HARLOW: OK.

Shimon, in Albany, New York, thank you very much.

Next hour, Minneapolis city council members will vote on a proposal to replace the police department with an entirely new public safety system. This is coming as the jury selection moves forward in the trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd.

CNN's Omar Jimenez, he's in Minneapolis with the latest.

Omar, day four of jury selection, six chosen so far. I mean how long does this go before we get into the meat of the trial?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so we are making good progress so far. We're about halfway through being able to seat a minimum jury panel of 12. We've got six so far. And six out of the 14 total that would be necessary if you include two alternates.

And jury selection isn't supposed to go past March 26th. It appears we may get done before that. We'll see how things pan out before opening statements on the 29th. Now, the makeup of this panel so far is we've got three that appear to be white men in their 30s and 40s, one Hispanic man in his 20s or 30s, a biracial woman in her 20s to 30s and a black man in his 30s to 40s.

What they'll be deciding on is whether Derek Chauvin is guilty of what he's been charged with, second-degree unintentional murder, second- degree manslaughter and now back on the table third-degree murder. Chauvin has pleaded not guilty to those first two charges and he hasn't entered into a plea on that third. That third one, though, carries a maximum penalty of up to 25 years in prison.

Now, on part of what you talked about when you came to me as well is separately the Minneapolis city council is going to have a meeting today to consider a proposal on dismantling the police department and replacing it with a public safety department. Now they've gone through this process before. This is their second attempt at doing so. This one, if it passes the city council, would then go to a charter commission that runs the city charter here. All of it, though, just to get to a rode to get placed on the November ballot for people to vote on.

And for context, their first attempt didn't make it past the city council -- or the charter commission stage. It stalled there when the charter commission voted to delay it past the November election and place it under review. So we'll see what happens there.

But, for now, jury selection gets going in about 10 minutes.

HARLOW: That's right.

Omar, thank you so much for that reporting in Minneapolis for us.

Well, tomorrow marks one year to the day that Breonna Taylor was shot and killed during a botched police raid in her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky. Her family is planning to mark the date with a rally, calling for the officers involved in her death to be arrested, charged and convicted. As you know, they have not been.

The city of Louisville paid a $12 million settlement to Taylor's family and passed a series of sweeping police reforms in the wake of her death. Her mother, though, says that does not make up for the fact that none of the officers involved with her death have been charged.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAMIKA PALMER, BREONNA TAYLOR'S MOTHER: Definitely anger. Just anger that the way this whole thing happened. Anger that it was so avoidable. And anger that she lost her life for it.

The goal is for there not to be another Breonna. So, you know, there's steps moving forward to ensure -- hopefully ensure that this won't happen again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Well, Breonna Taylor was working as an emergency room technician at the time of her death. She aspired to become a nurse. Her aunt described her as spunky, goofy -- a spunky, goofy little kid who blossomed into a hard-working, goal-oriented young woman who loved her family. Taylor was just 26 years old.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:58:16]

HARLOW: The country of Italy is cracking down over the Easter weekend. The country will impose a lockdown as it looks to combat another surge that they've seen in COVID cases.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Delia Gallagher is in Rome.

And, Delia, I can't even keep track of the number of times Italy has had to go into lockdown. I'm curious, what's driving it? Is it that bad there right now?

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, that's right, what's happening here is that the government has decided this is going to work on a region by region basis. The numbers are increasing. Just on Thursday they announced 25,000 new daily cases. That's a record since November. There is also a strain of variant which the Italian health ministry says the variant that was first identified in the U.K. is now prevalent in Italy and the variant first identified in Brazil is now showing pockets of presence in Italy. So they have decided that in any region with cases that are greater weekly than 250 per 100,000 residents, they will automatically move in to the red zone, the total lockdown.

In addition to that, of course, there is the national lockdown for Easter weekend, which has been announced through April 3rd through 5th.

So, Italians in each region still trying to figure out this, as news from just a few hours ago, exactly how this is going to affect their region. But certainly we heard the prime minister speaking just a few minutes ago saying these are necessary measures in order to avoid an entire national lockdown, like the one we had last year, and also promising, Jim and Poppy, to accelerate the vaccine program. It's already underway but it needs to be accelerated and expanded. That's a promise from the prime minister.

Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes, sorry to have to see Italy and Italians go through that again.

HARLOW: Yes.

[10:00:02]

SCIUTTO: Delia Gallagher thanks so much.