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Del. Michael San Nicolas (D-Guam) Discusses Being Accused of Using National Guard Troops as Political Props; Big Biz in Georgia, Including Coke, Speak Out Against Voting Restrictions; Stacey Abrams: GA Voting Bills "a Redux of Jim Crow in a Suit and Tie"; U.S. Intel: Russia Tried to Influence Election to "Denigrate" Biden; County Music Star, Chely Wright, Discusses Backlash After Vatican Says Same-Sex Marriage Is a Sin. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired March 16, 2021 - 14:30   ET



DEL. MICHAEL SAN NICOLAS (D-GUAM): You know, so I think the ones who are politicizing this and trying to turn this into a greater thing than it is, is not our office, and absolutely not my guardsmen and not the people of Guam.

We're just going around spreading goodwill and delivering cookies and snacks.

But you know, I think that there are bigger things that we need to be talking about when it comes to Guam, when it comes to servicemembers, when it comes to the sacrifices they're making for this country and how those sacrifices are underrepresented.

But as far as us bringing the military into anything, I was giving my guardsmen a tour. We were going around saying hello and spreading goodwill.

And actually, that statement is very much shared with our guard leadership back home.

And if there's going to be anything that the military's going to look at, we would absolutely welcome it because there was absolutely no ill intent and no politicization whatsoever.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Delegate, I want to thank you so much for coming on to talk with us about so many important issues today.

Congressman San Nicolas, thank you.

SAN NICOLAS: Thank you very much.

KEILAR: Voting rights groups are seeking to stop a wave of GOP efforts to restrict the ability to vote. They appear to have won something of a victory in Georgia.

Georgia's Chamber of Commerce has said it opposes two very restrictive voting bills moving through Georgia's House and Senate. And now Coca-Cola and Home Depot have told "The Washington Post" they are aligned with the Chamber's comments. Both companies, along with Aflac and Delta, telling CNN they are committed to voter rights.

The measures moving through Georgia's state legislature would repeal no-excuse absentee voting, it would limit early voting hours, restrict drop boxes for mail-in ballots, and curtail early voting on Sundays.

Proponents say this makes voting safer. Critics say it is intended to keep people of color from the polls.

CNN's senior political correspondent and anchor of "INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY," Abby Phillip, is here with me now.

What is your reaction to big business entering this picture, Abby?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, I mean, I think you're seeing right there the push and pull that corporate America is facing right now.

They are being asked to make good on all of their, you know, kind of pro, you know, diversity ads and campaigns, and say something about a really important issue in Georgia.

They are being pushed by the same activists who powered, I think, Democratic victories in that state in November to say something.

But they're still hesitant. And they're hesitant because this is still Georgia. It's still very much a red state. It's still a conservative state.

And I think many of these companies are concerned that they might go out too far, opposing this bill outright, and risking the fury of conservative voters, who are very animated on this issue on the other side as well.

KEILAR: And voting rights advocate, Stacey Abrams, who is the founder of Fair Fight, who helped lead the push to get voters of color to the polls in Georgia, and then we saw the presidential and Senate election successes for Democrats, she said this over the weekend to CNN.


STACEY ABRAMS, (D), VOTING RIGHTS ADVOCATE & FOUNDER, FAIR FIGHT: It is a redux of Jim Crow in a suit and tie.

The only connection that we can find is that more people of color voted and it changed the outcome of elections in a direction that Republicans do not like.


KEILAR: What is the real effect of these bills in the Georgia Senate and House for -- what's the real effect of it on the ability of people to vote? And how likely are these to actually become law? PHILLIP: Well, if you take a look at what you just laid out, these are

restrictions that help limit the avenues that people can vote, the ways that they can vote, and when they can vote and who can vote.

So, there's nothing about the legislation that expands the universe of people who can access voting.

But I also think that -- look at the explanations from lawmakers in Georgia about why they're doing it. Some of them argue that it's about making it easier for state officials to process ballots or about rooting out fraud.

None of these changes would do that. I mean, frankly, if you wanted to make it easier for state officials to process ballots, you would invest in the technology that would allow them to do that.

That technology exists and can be funded and invested and they're not doing that.

They're saying you can only vote early on certain days. You can't vote early on the Sundays before the election.

Those are things that are designed to target voters who are less likely to vote on election day, which for presidential elections, is on a weekday when many people are working and they have jobs and they can't go to the polls.

And that is designed to target voters of color, people who are poorer, who don't have the resources, who don't have transportation.

It's a pretty transparent when you really look at the details of it.

KEILAR: Yes, it certainly is.

Abby, thank you so much. It's so important that we talk about this. And we will see you, of course, on Sunday.

PHILLIP: See you soon.


KEILAR: Breaking news. A U.S. intelligence report has determined that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2020 election with a goal of denigrating Joe Biden and of helping Donald Trump. We'll have details next.


KEILAR: We do have some breaking news. A U.S. intelligence report has determined that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2020 election with a goal of denigrating Joe Biden and helping Donald Trump.

CNN's Alex Marquardt is following this.

What else does this intel report say, Alex? ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's

very detailed, Brianna. It is a look now four months after the election at what countries tried to do what to influence and interfere in the 2020 election.

On the technical side of things, there's no evidence, according to the U.S. Intelligence Community, that any of these countries tried to, say, hack in and interfere with the actual votes.

But the report goes into pretty significant detail as to what these countries -- and it's primarily Russia, Iran, and China -- what they tried to do to influence the American electorate, what they tried to do to sow divisions and guide the election in a way that their countries wanted.


And really, I think the most significant details that we're getting out of this report pertain to Russia. They carried out perhaps the most significant influence operation on the 2020 election at the personal direction of the president, Vladimir Putin.

That is according to the U.S. Intelligence Community.

Which goes on to say that "The goal of these influence operations were aimed at denigrating President Biden's candidacy and the Democratic Party, supporting former President Trump, undermining public confidence in the electoral process, and exacerbating sociopolitical divisions in the United States."

So, here is the U.S. Intelligence Community saying that they have assessed that President Putin and senior Russian officials were aware of and possibly directed Russia's influence operations.

Now, they carried out these influence operations via Russian intelligence, which used proxies, in their words.

And one big thing that really jumps out here is they name one of those proxies. His name is Andriy Derkach. He's a Ukrainian lawmaker, who many of our viewers have probably heard of. He met with Rudy Giuliani, who, at the time, was President Trump's personal lawyer.

And in this report, they say that these Russian proxies met with and provided materials to Trump administration-linked U.S. persons to advocate for formal investigations. That would be formal investigations into Biden.

The narrative that the Russian were trying to push here is that the Biden family, now President Biden, and his family, were corrupt. You remember, of course, the Burisma episode. And this was a line that, you know, that President Trump was pushing during his campaign.

So, very significant allegations against the Russians and what they did to try to influence the election.

It also talks about what they call a multipronged influence effort by the Iranians that was probably done at the direction of the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei.

And then, interestingly, on China, they say that the Chinese considered but actually did not roll out any sort of influence operations, deciding, frankly, that it simply wasn't worth it.

Now, after making all these assessments and laying all this out, they actually don't talk about the success of these influence operations, what impact they had on American voters.

But, Brianna, the U.S. Intelligence Community now saying, in no uncertain terms, that President Putin personally was at the head of this influence operation on the 2020 election.

KEILAR: And that's really the point here.

I want to bring Abby Phillip back into this conversation.

This is something that was suspected, but the Intel Community here, as Alex is laying out, is making this very explicit. Putin personally was trying to hurt Biden and help Trump, Abby.

PHILLIP: Yes. And I think it really -- it underscores the degree to which Russia is still at it. And they never really stopped.

And, in fact, they took advantage of the fact that President Trump tried to, you know, undermine the Intelligence Community's conclusion that they interfered with the 2016 election to continue to do the same thing in 2020.

What I also find interesting about this report is that they talk about the efforts to undermine public confidence in the electoral process.

And this is something that continued even after the November election. And it was carried out domestically by President Trump.

He was engaged in the same kinds of activities that our foreign adversaries are engaged in, in trying to chip away at people's confidence that the electoral process works.

And that is something that should set off some alarm bells here. This -- the big lie, as we've been discussing for months and months, is not without consequences.

It has consequences at home. And it has consequences abroad. And I think this report underscores both of those things.

KEILAR: Alex and Abby, I want to thank you so much for that.


Elton John joins many other stars in blasting the Vatican for saying same-sex marriages are a sin. I'll be speaking to country music star, Chely Wright, who says the pope is hurting more than just the LGBTQ community.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KEILAR: Elton John is calling out the Vatican and Pope Francis for what he says is their blatant hypocrisy. He is furious over the Vatican's refusal to bless same-sex marriages, as the Vatican calls such unions sinful.

Elton John tweeting, "How can the Vatican refuse to bless gay marriages because they are a sin, yet happily make a profit from investing millions in 'Rocket Man,' a film which celebrates my finding happiness with my marriage to David. #hypocrisy."

Chasten Buttigieg, the husband of transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, also taking the Vatican to task, tweeting that "Love is love and the pope isn't your county clerk."

My next guest, musician, Chely Wright, tweeted this: "This statement by the Vatican causes spiritual harm to millions. And I would like to make the following point. It's important to note that in addition to harming LGBTQ folks, this is harmful to those who love them and those who are on their often-complicated journeys to loving them."

Chely Wright is also the author of the book "Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer."

I want to thank you so much for joining us to talk about this.

As the Vatican says same-sex as the Vatican says same-sex reunions are off limits, and you say this refusal -- and I thought this was of the most interesting part of what you said -- it also hurts people on this complicated journey of accepting them.


Tell me about that.

CHELY WRIGHT, COUNTRY MUSIC STAR: Hi, Brianna. It's great to be with you. It's great to see you again.

It's easy really to frame this as the damage that is being done to people like me and people in the LGBTQ community. But as I've learned in the past 11 years of being out, you know, it's not just us. It's our aunts, our uncles, our grandparents.

It is a complicated journey for those who love us to reconcile their faith practice and what they believe is divine from their houses of worship to reconcile that with, you know, their gay nephew or trans niece.

So, this just further complicates an already -- you know, it's 2021. This is dispiriting and, you know, outrageous. And you know, the Catholic Church needs to get its house in order. So --


KEILAR: Pope Francis, who, in many ways, is very popular, he approved this statement from the Vatican. What message does that send? WRIGHT: Yes, in some ways, it's kind of a tacit otherizing of gay

people, like me, or LGBTQ people in our community. It seems like we've made progress.

By the way, I want to say that the pope can be wrong about some things and right about others. And this is a case in which I, obviously, believe he's wrong.

But it kind of takes it out of the sphere of, well, you know, the pope is kind of mum on them or the pope kind of approves or kind of welcomes same-sex people into the congregation.

This takes it out of that and it makes it explicit that, you know, otherizing and marginalizing people like me, it's not just dangerous for people on a spiritual path or in houses of worship.

This is damaging to students in schools, with whom I've been lucky to do a lot of work. This is damaging to employees in workplaces around the globe.

Again, this reconciliation of, when people are trying to understand and love and really hear from their loved ones, their authentic -- you know, about who they are authentically and who they love, this makes it really difficult for the journey.

When you refine it down to a young LGBTQ person in my home state of Kansas or here in Manhattan or Fresno or anywhere around the globe, this is really dangerous and damaging language that affects someone's life.

I know it affected mine. I nearly didn't survive the spiritual harm that was done to me by, you know, Christian teachings.

By the way, I still do have a faith practice. It's an important part of my life. But it's -- you know, I'm 50 years old. It's taken me a long time to understand that I am as exactly as God made me to be.

KEILAR: And that was one of the reasons that I really wanted to talk to you about this, because you were one of the first country music artists to come out. And you've also been very open about your Christian faith.

Tell me -- you said it nearly destroyed you reconciling your faith and sexuality.

WRIGHT: Yes, Brianna. I grew up in a small town in Kansas. I was born in 1970. No one was talking about LGBTQ issues.

I was baptized in my hometown church by a lovely man, who was my first spiritual adviser. But the language he used in our church is people like me belong in a collection of words of people that were drunkard, adulterer, thief, murderer, homosexuals.

And this took me a long time to reconcile. And I prayed it about it every single day of my life. Dear God, I promise to be a good person, please make me not gay. This is why, when I came out in 2010, I wrote in my book -- thank you

for mentioning it -- "Like Me," because I wanted to tell the nuanced story of -- I'm a midwestern girl who moved to Nashville and got a record deal and I got lucky and had a couple of hit records.

But another very real piece of me is I knew I was gay from age 9.

When I say I almost didn't survive that struggle, I write about it in my book. I almost ended my life.

It was the morning after I didn't end my life in early 2006 that I knew, OK, I'm either not going to make it or I'm going to tell this story.

I'm going to tell the entire story of who I am and kind of use that public capital with country music fans, to say, you know me, you love me, you came to my shows, you like my songs on the radio. Let me offer this. Let me offer to you this part of who I am.


And, you know, that's that -- you know, when you have a chance to kind of move people's hearts and minds, that's how we do it, with storytelling.

And I'm just -- I'm so -- this keeps me up at night, knowing there are young people who are now struggling because the pope and the Vatican have explicitly said that we are welcome in their church but they will not bless a union between a woman and a woman or a man and a man.

My wife and I have been married for 10 years. We have identical twin boys who are almost 8 years old. I don't even understand how someone can see my marriage as less than someone else's.

KEILAR: Chely Wright, you said you almost didn't make it and now you're helping others make it. I want to thank you for coming on to talk about this.

WRIGHT: Thanks, Brianna. Thanks. Good to be on.

KEILAR: We do have more on our breaking news. CNN has learned that after weeks of mysterious silence, North Korea may be planning its first weapons test in the Biden era.

Plus, a U.S. intelligence report has determined that Russia tried to interfere in the election trying to help Donald Trump. Stand by for that.