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CNN NEWSROOM

Duke on Lockdown: Frats Linked to Campus COVID Outbreak; "Bachelor" Breaks Up with Winner Over Her Racist Past; Michelle Obama: Markle's Racism Accusations Not "A Surprise"; U.S. Intel Assesses North Korea May Be Preparing Weapons Test; North Korea Breaks Silence But New Threat Is From Kim Jong-Un's Sister. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired March 16, 2021 - 13:30   ET

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


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[13:31:08]

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: We have seen the coronavirus pandemic take a huge toll on college campuses across the country. And now Duke University is taking a drastic step to slow the spread after what school officials call a serious outbreak.

For the first time since the 2020 spring semester, students are not going to class in person. School officials issued a stay-in-place order for undergraduates through Sunday.

Duke says they've seen more than 180 students test positive in the last week, the most since the pandemic began.

Duke officials say the spike is being driven by students attending recruitment parties for selective-living groups.

The "Duke Chronicle" reports nine fraternities disaffiliated with Duke in order to rush events this spring in spite of the school's own guidance which moved the process to the fall semester.

Here with me now is Duke's vice president for public affairs and government relations, Mike Schoenfeld. And also a senior student from the university, Nicole Lindbergh, who wrote about her personal experience. And we'll talk about that in a moment.

First to you, Mike.

What happened? Why do these frats choose to buck the rules?

MIKE SCHOENFELD, VICE PRESIDENT FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS & GOVERNMENT RELATIONS, DUKE UNIVERSITY: Well, first of all, thank you, Brianna for having me on today.

Why they chose to break to rules is a question you would need to ask them.

What we do know is that our comprehensive testing program picked up a very large spike in positive tests that were directly connected to recruitment events that were being held principally by fraternities off campus.

These were not -- this was not one single event. These were a series of events that was in direct contravention of our guidance, our policy, and guidelines, both for students and also for students hosting and sponsoring it.

KEILAR: They're now disaffiliated from Duke. Short of having this kind of aftereffect of a spike happens because of their events and now all of the student body has to pay for it, is there anything the university can do in the future to prevent this kind of thing from happening?

SCHOENFELD: Well, we're looking into that. Our principal goal right now is to focus on the health and safety of our students and of our community. That's really where our attention is.

As we continue to move forward, we will be looking and have been looking at various options for the way living groups are set up and aligned on campus.

But right now, the focus is on the health and safety of the community.

KEILAR: Nicole, you wrote an op-ed for Duke's student-run newspaper, "The Chronicle," that I think will break your heart if you read it. Its title is, "The Night My Aunt Died, a Group of Students in My Building Threw a Party."

And you said this, quote "In-person events and partying are not the innocent treat-yourself pleasure you think they are."

"I pray that the young men infected right now never have to know what it's like to lose someone during COVID-19. To weep so much your mask becomes drenched in your tears and it feels like you are literally drowning in your grief."

"This is what was at stake this past week. And I hope that those who have hosted parties realize this during the lockdown."

"For the rest of us, the next time you see a violation, call it out. I know I will."

I'm so sorry for the loss that you and your family have experienced.

What strikes me about what you wrote is that you were watching, hearing, really, a party happening, and you were on a completely different track with your experience in the middle of this pandemic.

NICOLE LINDBERGH, SENIOR, DUKE UNIVERSITY: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.

I think there's a huge disconnect between people who have -- we've all suffered through COVID. But when you are in your isolation, we're defining what COVID means to each of us individually. And for some people, they have not seen the full devastation the pandemic has put on us all and the choices that each of us have had to make.

[13:35:01]

And when you are protected from that devastation you can easily rationalize the things you already want to do, like the things we all want to do, like to see our friends and have parties and participate in fraternities and selective-living groups.

I'm definitely really sympathetic to the brothers who made that choice, even though it put us all at risk and is the reason we're all suffering right now. And those are very real consequences.

I think that this has really affirmed all of our commitment to the Duke student compact. And after this, we have a renewed commitment to each other now as well.

KEILAR: Let's certainly hope.

Nicole Lindbergh, thank you so much, a senior at Duke University.

And, Michael Schoenfeld, thank you for being with us.

LINDBERGH: Thank you.

KEILAR: A twist in the racial controversy involving one of America's most popular TV shows. The first black bachelor responds to one contestant's racially insensitive photos.

Plus, the FBI says the man who detonated a bomb on Christmas day in Nashville was motivated by conspiracy theories.

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[13:40:55]

KEILAR: For fans of "The Bachelor," I want to warn you there are some spoilers that about to follow this if you did not watch Monday night's dramatic finale.

So on the show, Matt James ended up handing out his final rose and it went to Rachael Kirkconnell. She has been in the headlines recently after photos of her at an antebellum plantation-themed fraternity formal from 2018 surfaced -- resurfaced, I should say.

This is something that the original bachelor host defended her for, which landed him on the sidelines at the network.

But James didn't know about the pictures during filming. And during, after the rose ceremony, he announced that he had broken up with Kirkconnell after the controversy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RACHAEL KIRKCONNELL, CONTESTANT, "THE BACHELOR": I realize that that must have been really hard for you as well to where you must have been hurting. And I just wanted to say I'm really sorry for not understanding that initially. MATT JAMES, "THE BACHELOR": So when I questioned our relationship, it

was on the context of you not fully understanding my blackness and what it means to be a black man in America.

And what it would mean for our kids when I saw those things that were floating around the Internet. And it broke my heart because this is the last conversation I thought we'd be having.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: My colleague, Don Lemon, the host of "CNN TONIGHT," is joining me.

Don, I love that you're on today to talk about this. Because I feel like this is what so many people are talking about.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST, "CNN TONIGHT": Yes.

KEILAR: And it's about so much more than just this show.

So, you know, if the finale wasn't enough drama, the host of the show stepped down under fire for defending Kirkconnell.

I wonder, what do you think about this, how this controversial season and this finale played out?

LEMON: Listen, I'm not part of the bachelor or bachelorette nation. But certainly the events of --

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Nor am I, to be clear, but this caught my attention.

LEMON: Yes. Yes. Same sentiment. We're on the same page here.

But over the events that have transpired over the last couple of weeks, I've certainly become interested in it. Because it is a bigger picture for what's happening in society. It's a microcosm of what's going on in society.

I had -- I think most people in America figured out that Matt had picked Rachael, the young lady who was involved in this, because that's who - otherwise, why would they be, you know, getting rid of Chris and going -- jumping through the hooping they were jumping through.

I was surprised, though, that he actually broke up with her because of it because he originally had defended her.

But I think that was probably the realest thing I've ever seen on "The Bachelor," people who are in an interracial relationship and then having one side not understand.

Now, I think had they been in a relationship for a longer period of time, right, where there was -- you know, the relationship had a bigger, longer and better foundation, I think it may will be having they might have been able to work out.

But from a reality show and not knowing each other that well, that's some tough stuff.

Look, it played out the way it played out. I'm not surprised that it did. And I'm sure it came as a shock to him and a shock to her.

Here's what I will say, though. If you look at her apology, it appears she's willing to do the work and that she understands what her actions did.

Whether -- if she is willing to do the work, we will see. And that will certainly make all of the difference.

But so far, in all of this, she has been the one who has apologized. And has apologized in a way that seems sincere and that goes a long way.

KEILAR: Yes. I want to move on to talk about something else. But this whole thing highlighted for me that it was 20-some odd seasons before they had a black bachelor and I was like, what? Really?

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Before they had a black bachelor, yes.

KEILAR: Yes, it's crazy.

OK, Michelle Obama weighed in on Meghan Markle's tell-all interview with Oprah where she accused royal family members of being racist. Let's listen to this.

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[13:45:01]

MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Race isn't a new construct in this world for people of color. So it wasn't a complete surprise to hear her feelings and to have them articulated.

I think the thing that I hope for, and the thing I think about is that this, first and foremost, is a family. And I pray for forgiveness and healing for them so that they can use this as a teachable moment for us all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Your new book, Don, "This Is the Fire, What I Say to My Friends about Racism," is on bookshelves, bookshelves everywhere today.

You know, in light of that, and in light of sort of what you focus on in this book, what are your thoughts on what Michelle Obama said? And what advice do you have for Americans when it comes to having a conversation about race in America. LEMON: The former first lady, first of all, is always pitch perfect.

And she -- what is really important, that this is a family, these are human beings.

And so we can't get lost in all of the, you know, the controversy around it and the talk around it to make us get lost in what is actually at stake here.

Yes, it's a real -- it's a family and we have to want to root for the family. They want to be together.

The bigger picture for me is that black Britons are now expressing how they feel about systemic racism in a way they hadn't before.

And that's more important, whether you -- oh, well, what did Meghan say and she did this and what about that and the color of the baby and all that, those things are important.

But the bigger picture here is what it can do for the commonwealth, what it can do for the U.K., what it can do for the royal family, what it can do for black Britons, what it can do for the larger conversation in the worldwide about race.

I don't think that that should be lost. That's the important part.

Not defending, you know, whether it's Piers Morgan or defending Meghan Markle or defending whomever. The bigger picture here is that this opens a conversation. It gives us an entree into a conversation that we all need to have.

And guess what? It goes beyond, Brianna, as we talk about all of the time, just let's have this conversation. You have to do the work. You have to do the work.

You can't say, what do I have to do, what can I do, how do I make it better, and then when someone tells you what you need to do, you can't say, well, that's too hard or is there something that's more practical.

No. Racism is not practical. Dealing with racism is not practical. It's not easy.

But we must do it in order to make things better if you really want to have a better understanding of what's going on in the world, and you want to be a better countryman for your countrymen.

KEILAR: Don, I love talking to you about these issues. I'm very excited about your book. I pre-ordered so either it is at home or it's coming tomorrow. So I'm looking forward to that.

Thanks for coming on.

LEMON: I'm very excited about it. Thank you.

And I really do think this book will unite. It won't divide. It's very honest and candid. It doesn't let anybody off the hook but it's about unity and progress and not about regression and division.

KEILAR: All right, Don Lemon, thank you as always.

LEMON: Thank you very much.

KEILAR: We do have some breaking news. CNN has learned, after weeks of mysterious silence, North Korea may be planning a weapons test in the Biden era. Stand by for that.

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[13:52:48]

KEILAR: Breaking news. CNN has learned that North Korea could be preparing to carry out its first weapons test in the Biden era.

I want to go to Barbara Starr at the Pentagon on this story.

Barbara, what can you tell us?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, good afternoon, Brianna.

Several U.S. officials are now telling CNN there are intelligence indicators that North Korea might be preparing for a weapons test. They are concerned about it.

Of course, it would be essentially the first test of the Biden administration's response to North Korea. Officials say they are already preparing how they would publicly talk about it if a test were to happen.

We are told they're watching a weapons site outside of Pyongyang, the capital, that is known in the past to have dealt in ballistic missiles.

They're not sure what North Korea might actually be preparing for. Could it be a missile test? A rocket engine test?

All of this part of what the U.S. believes is North Korea's continuing, never-ending effort to acquire long-range ballistic missiles with the possibility of a nuclear warhead that could someday reach the United States.

The Trump administration's policy of denuclearization is still something the Biden administration wants but strongly believes the North Koreans have not adhered to and they are continuing to develop their program.

These next couple of days are actually fairly interesting. Secretary of State Tony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, traveling in the region, eventually on their way to the Korean peninsula.

So everybody watching very carefully to see if North Korea actually was to carry out a test -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Barbara, thank you for that.

We have some more on this breaking news ahead.

[13:54:30]

Plus, we'll talk about how Kim Jong-Un's sister was actually the one who broke the regime's silence. Why is that significant?

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KEILAR: North Korea is breaking its silence and issuing a warning to the U.S., even as CNN has learned that North Korea could be preparing to carry out its first weapons test in the Biden era.

But this warning is not coming from North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un. It's coming from his sister.

She writes, quote, "We take this opportunity to warn the new U.S. administration trying hard to give off powder smell in our land. If it wants to sleep in peace for the coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step."

Let's bring in Jean Lee to talk about this. She is the former Pyongyang bureau chief for the Associated Press and the current director for the Center of Korean History and Public Policy at the Wilson Center.

Look, always used to getting colorful messages coming out of North Korea, certainly. I wonder what your reaction is to this message from Kim Jong-Un's sister.

JEAN LEE, DIRECTOR, HYUNDAI MOTOR-KOREA FOUNDATION CENTER OF KOREAN HISTORY AND PUBLIC POLICY, THE WILSON CENTER & FORMER PYONGYANG BUREAU CHIEF, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Yes, you know, Kim Jong-Un's sister plays this role as a trusted aide to her brother and envoy at times.

But I would say she also serves sometimes as the bad cop to her brother, and especially when it comes to sending out these warnings directed at South Korea, in particular.

And I would say that this is one of those warnings directed at South Korea. There was a warning to the United States as well.

But remember that this is the timing of this is not coincidental. This is just hours before we have the secretary of state and the defense secretary arriving in South Korea for talks with their South Korean counterparts.

And the North Koreans know that these very specifically timed messages could play a role in influencing those discussions.

And they want to remind the world that, yes, we've been quiet, but we're still here and we can still issue threats.

Now, I think it's very interesting that we're seeing reports of a possible weapons test. And I want to remind you that four years ago around this time, when President Trump took office, he was meeting with his Japanese counterpart when they did -- North Koreans did test an intercontinental ballistic missile.

So they do time these tests very strategically as a reminder and as a threat that they are continuing to build their weapons program.

KEILAR: So, as you look at this, you mentioned this breaking news that North Korea is possibly preparing its first weapons test under Biden.

[13:59:59]

I mean, you wouldn't be surprised, obviously, if it happens. Would you be more surprised if it didn't happen?