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Soon, Atlanta Police Department Gives Update on Deadly Spa Shootings; CDC Says, Strains First Detected in California Officially Variants of Concern; Judge Dismisses Two Seated Jurors in Chauvin Trial. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 17, 2021 - 10:00   ET

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


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POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

Minutes from now, Atlanta Police will hold a press conference with updates after eight people were killed in three separate shootings at massage parlors. Local reports indicate that six of the victims were Asian.

A 21-year-old suspect is now in custody. There's a picture there. Right now, the motive is unknown. And it is unclear if the attacks were racially motivated. But we should note police are ramping up security in Asian-American communities as a precaution.

President Biden has been briefed on the shootings, and at this hour, he returns to the White House. We'll bring you any live comments.

HARLOW: Also today, concerns of another COVID surge. Cases are climbing in more than one dozen states. The CDC is now sounding the alarm on two variants in California. We'll get to that in a moment.

Let's begin on this tragic shooting spree. Our Ryan Young joins us this morning in Atlanta. What do you know about the victims, eight of them total, six of them Asian. What can you tell us?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So far, very little information is coming out about the victims except besides their races. And, of course, what we've been told so far is at least six of the people killed are Asian.

Now, of course, we're trying to move forward with parts of this investigation. We do know in the next half hour or so, police are expected to have a news conference. But this will be the first one they'll have jointly with the jurisdictions that are involved in this. Because you've got to realize, this happened in several different areas. So we do basically have Cherokee County Sheriff's Department and the Atlanta Police Department involved. If you look behind me, that's one of the spas they were focused on right over there. What we do know is they arrested a 21-year-old man named Robert Long. He was taken into custody after police were able to get out some of the pertinent information yesterday shortly after the shooting about the car he was driving and what he looked like. And then Georgia State Patrol Troopers were able to perform a maneuver during a chase called a pit maneuver and they were able to take him into custody.

All the questions now centered around the motive, of course, because people want to know exactly why this happened. What we're hoping though is that police are able to give us an indication about what they've been able to learn from the suspect.

We're also trying to figure out whether or not there will be a first court appearance today or tomorrow. That's something that we hope to learn from this press conference. But, again, in the next half hour or so, hopefully, we'll get more from investigators.

We knew from last night after talking to them, one of the reasons why they've been sort of slow walking some of this notification about who was killed is because they needed to tell the family members who obviously lost loved ones. It's got to be a tough time for them to find out that their loved ones were killed in these separate shootings. So we think that notification process has happened. So maybe today we'll learn more about the victims.

Actually talked to someone who worked in a business nearby. They say all the women who were killed were customers of theirs and they felt really horrible about the fact that they were at work and could hear the gunshots in the distance and didn't have any clue about what it was and figured out that friends of theirs, who had come to this business for years, had been killed yesterday.

So there was a lot of conversation about who has been killed and what will be next. But, once again, that news conference should start within the next 35 minutes or so. And then we'll get hopefully more details from investigators as they work on this case.

SCIUTTO: Yes, just a devastating act of violence. Ryan Young, thanks very much.

Let's speak more about the investigation going forward with CNN Correspondent and former FBI Supervisory Special Agent Josh Campbell. Josh, it's good to have you on, because you have direct experience of investigations into crimes like this, and it's early. You clearly have a pattern here. Six of the victims were Asian-American, took place at these massage parlors. But it's early in the investigation.

So what do police look for right now as they're investigating this, from social media, past statements, et cetera? What are they looking for right now?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Jim, they're going to what they call circle this target. They're going to learn everything about this individual's life, from, as you mentioned, his digital footprint, which is obviously a window into one's thinking. They'll interview his associates, his family members and the like. And they'll interview him.

I mean, this is one incident where you have a shooter who is in custody. We know in past incidents, sometimes the shooter dies, sometimes the shooter takes his or her own life. Here, we have a state trooper that was bravely able to bring that suspect's vehicle to a stop and authorities have him.

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And so the question will be does he cooperate?

We have seen in some instances, where especially if this ends up being a hate crime, which appears as, you know, you look at all the victims here, the commonalities. It appears that that could be the case. Sometimes you have people with those deranged beliefs who are proud of what they do. And so he may readily admit to authorities what his motivation was.

Finally, it's worth noting that authorities, since they have him in custody, there's really no reason for them to come out and to provide any information that gets ahead of their investigation. This isn't a manhunt. They have him. So I suspect we'll be relying on our reporting and sources to get information. I don't think we'll hear authorities come out and say, at least in the short term, what that motivation was.

HARLOW: But, Josh, I mean, do they need him to say what his motivation was in order to call it a hate crime? What's the bar? Because, I mean, if I'm an Asian-American a watching this this morning, I see a clear pattern here.

CAMPBELL: Yes, absolutely. And I think we all see that clear pattern. And this just goes to show this kind of hatred against the Asian- American, Pacific Islander community that we've been talking about for well over a year now, that they just continue to be targeted in many different ways. This obviously, if it ends up this was the actual motivation, just such a very serious and sad, obviously, occurrence, that shows that this problem is out here.

If you question about the motivation and whether he needs to say it, for authorities, they always want the confession. They always want someone to actually articulate why they did what they did, but they don't need that. If he clams up, if he doesn't talk, they can obviously have other ways to look and what may have motivated that, whether there were writings, whether there were communications, aspects, like that.

This is also be interesting to see as we compare this administration to the last administration, how the Justice Department, whether they actually intervene. It doesn't appear at this point that there would be any type of federal nexus. We know the FBI was assisting with the investigation. But now with the civil rights division at the Justice Department, the Biden administration has said that this is something that they are going to work on, obviously, to try to stop hate crimes and to stop racially targeted violence in this country. Whether we see the federal government jumping in here and actually asserting a role to say, look, these kind of crimes need to stop, that will be something to watch.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: Thank you, Josh, very much, good to have you. Tragic story.

Well, minutes from now, President Biden is expected to arrive back at the White House after attending a St. Patrick's Day mass near his family's home in Delaware.

SCIUTTO: He is Irish after all.

Well, the president is now facing major crises on more than on front, of course, the coronavirus pandemic, as well as a growing surge at the southern border and a question now about the timing of when to pull troops out of Afghanistan.

Joining us now, CNN's John Harwood, he's at the White House. John, certainly a lot on the president's plate this morning. Do we expect immediate decisions on any of these issues?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, we don't. And on Afghanistan in particular, he is looking to take more time. This is an incredibly tough problem, as you know, Jim. The longest war in American history, going on 20 years. of course, initiated after 9/11 because of the Taliban's control and their cooperation with Al Qaeda.

Everyone in both parties wants what they've come to call the forever war to be brought to a close. But on the other hand, you don't want to have a return to the situation that caused the war to start in the first place, a return to power by the Taliban and Afghanistan becoming a launching pad for terrorism.

So, President Biden facing this May 1 deadline for withdrawal of troops that was set by former President Trump is leaning on two different arguments for why he wants more time. One is he says the agreement that President Trump negotiated was not all that solid. And, secondly, he's saying Trump's behavior after the election made it more difficult for him to get out of the blocks fast on this issue. Take a listen.

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JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: The failure to have an orderly transition from the Trump presidency to my presidency, which usually takes place from Election Day to the time you're sworn in, has cost me time and consequences. That's one of the issues we're talking about now in terms of Afghanistan.

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HARWOOD: Now, of course, the irony is that vice president -- Joe Biden as vice president for President Obama was one of the ones who was very skeptical of arguments for surging troops there to try to stabilize that situation early in the Obama administration. Eventually, President Obama came around to his view of a more minimalist presence of U.S. troops. The question now is whether Joe Biden himself decides that it is unwise to complete the job by taking all those troops back because the consequences that would occur.

He's engaging U.S. allies in trying to work this out he clearly wants a little more time than is on the clock right now to deal with the issue.

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SCIUTTO: Yes. But Biden, historically skeptical of long-term troop commitments in the Middle East and end these wars, right? We've heard that before.

John Harwood, thanks very much.

The CDC is now calling two new coronavirus variants discovered in California variants of concern. They're about 20 percent more transmissible. The CDC says that some treatments could be less effective, but the signs on the vaccines, and this is important, is much better in terms of their effectiveness against these variants.

HARLOW: This comes as more than a dozen states have seen at least a 10 percent increase in new cases of COVID over the last week. Our Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is with us this morning. Good morning, Sanjay. We're glad you're here.

Jim makes such a great point. I'm glad that he's emphasizing this. And I just want you to reemphasize it for our viewers. It's not great to see new variants. It's horrible to see an increase in cases. But there is no evidence that the three authorized vaccines currently used in the U.S. don't protect against them, right?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. And that's a critical point. Just language-wise, as people follow this, variants of concern are something we're probably going to hear a lot of. None of these variants, these two from California, the one that we talked about from South Africa, none of them rise to what's called variants of highest consequence. The way it would get that designation is if there is the appearance that it's starting to escape vaccine immunity. And we don't see that. They still work really well in terms of hospitalizations and deaths, preventing those.

SCIUTTO: So, Sanjay, I'm a little confused just personally as a consumer of this news, and we're talking about it every day on the air, the significance then of variants. I mean, it's natural for these viruses to mutate and develop new variants. But the vaccine so far showing themselves to still work. And then you have interesting data like in South Africa, one of the sources of these variants, the South African variant, as we call it, has seen a dig drop-off in infections there, right, even as kind of home base to the variant.

I mean, are we exaggerating the importance or the danger of these? I mean, how should people absorb this is really my question. GUPTA: Well, first of all, I think it's important to point out with South Africa, what's interesting is that the vaccination rates are still quite low, and yet they've had the significant drop-off. And that just speaks to something that I think is a more fundamental point, which is that the basic public health strategies do work, variant or no variant, right? They may be more transmissible, but masks, physical distancing, things like that still work.

Are we making too big a deal about this? It's a fair question, Jim. I mean, we are monitoring things very closely. Our antennas are really high. I think that's part of what we're seeing with AstraZeneca in Europe. We're paying attention to every small thing and saying, is this a concern, is this a concern, evaluating it and then saying, okay, it wasn't a big deal. I think we have to monitor these variants.

The concern is that one of them mutates enough to start escaping the protective effects of the vaccines. We haven't seen it yet. Hopefully, we never see it. But it is -- if you think of the flu virus even, part of the reason we get a new flu shot every year is because there's enough strains out there that we have to continuously inoculate people.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: It's sad, but there is now a divide politically among people willing or not willing to get the vaccine. I think 46 percent of Republicans say they don't want it. At least now President Trump is saying you should get it. He could have done more on that front. But here is what President Biden said last night.

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BIDEN: I, honest to God, thought we had it out. I, honest to God, thought once we guaranteed we had enough vaccine for everybody, things would start to calm down. Well, they have calmed down a great deal, but I just don't understand this sort of macho thing about I'm not going to get the vaccine, I have a right as an American, my freedom to not do it. Why won't you be a patriot and protect other people?

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HARLOW: Is there anything more the administration can do, Sanjay, to convince those folks?

GUPTA: I just got to say, it's interesting. I feel like this last year I've been so head down in COVID, right, learning about the virus, the transmission, all these types of things. This issue that President Biden is talking about is not a new issue.

And it's always been perplexing to me. We struggle so hard to create these vaccines, and it's this amazing science and it can rescue us. And then we get there, and people are like, yes, take it or leave it. We see the same thing with the flu vaccine. Half of American adults in any given year get the flu vaccine, which is one of those things.

What can people do? Historically, what we've learned is that it does help when leaders come out and say that they endorse the vaccine, but it's typically people's primary doctors and pharmacists who end up being the biggest predictors.

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If they're on board and they're counseling their patients, they're the biggest influencers overall in terms of addressing not only vaccine hesitancy but what I would call vaccine fade. I'm not worried about it, I just don't think I need it. That's what you're hearing a lot.

HARLOW: Yes, that's a great way to describe it. I've heard it a lot, sadly. Sanjay, thank you.

GUPTA: Yes, you got it. Thank you.

HARLOW: So, right now, the Homeland Security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, is on Capitol Hill. House lawmakers are asking a lot of key questions about the surge of migrants at the southern border, especially unaccompanied children that in U.S. custody right now.

SCIUTTO: Fighting over the filibuster, President Biden now suggesting he would support reform to what has become a truly powerful Senate rule. Will enough senators back that idea? What does it mean for his legislative priorities?

And at the bottom of the hour, we're expecting a briefing from the Atlanta Police Department on these multiple shootings that left eight people dead, six of them of Asian descent at three massage parlors. We're going to bring it to you live.

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SCIUTTO: This just in to CNN. Two jurors were just dismissed by the judge in the trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, jurors, Poppy, that had just been approved in the last few days.

HARLOW: That's right. Our Omar Jimenez joins us again in Minneapolis. Omar, why were they dismissed?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We were just talking a few minutes ago. Judge Peter Cahill on this case was beginning to re- question the seven jurors selected to see if news of that record civil settlement paid by the city of Minneapolis to the George Floyd family, to see if these jurors had heard the news about it and whether it impacted their ability to be fair and impartial. The judge here decided that two of them were no longer able to be fair and impartial in this case.

It speaks to the concerns that defense attorneys for Derek Chauvin had about the timing of this news and the magnitude of it that it just would have been too difficult to avoid especially here in the Minneapolis area. It's why they've asked for a delay in this trial and we know that the judge has been considering that up until this point. And he now says he's going to make a decision that this Friday on whether we can continue with this trial as is.

And he's going to use the questioning of the prospective jurors that is expected to continue in just a few minutes here and into tomorrow as well as data for whether this can continue as it is. Jim? Poppy?

SCIUTTO: Significant development, particularly as you look forward to Friday. And you can imagine public reaction to a long delay. We'll see. Omar Jimenez on the story, thanks very much.

Well, DHS secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is facing a grilling this morning on Capitol Hill. He is answering questions from lawmakers about the crisis unfolding at the southern border, the surge there, the growing number in particular of unaccompanied children now being held for days after they cross.

HARLOW: Our Priscilla Alvarez joins us now. And, Priscilla, you've been to the border so many times covering this, especially the most recent surge. What is the most important question for the secretary to answer today?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN REPORTER: Now, the top Democrat and the top Republican have already spoken this morning and they are expressing concern about how do they handle the situation on the border. Mayorkas has called this a historic and unprecedented challenge, he has said, record number of children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

So the question that we expect to hear from both sides of the aisle is how are they handling it and how do we move forward from here.

SCIUTTO: You also have new reporting on the conditions in these facilities for children, because the numbers are increasingly off the charts. And, of course, conditions were a key issue in the Trump administration. Though, of course, one of those policies Biden has reversed, which is deliberate family separation. But what are you learning?

ALVAREZ: So we're starting to get a glimpse of what these conditions look like in these facilities. These are Border Patrol facilities. Sources tell us that children are alternating sleeping schedules to try to get some rest. They're showering every few days. Border Patrol agents are putting out bunk beds and putting plastic cots and mats.

Now, these are Border Patrol facilities. They're jail-like facilities that have concrete walls and concrete benches. This is not where children are supposed to spend prolonged periods of time, but that is what is happening because the administration is running low on shelter capacity because of precautions that were put in place over the course of the past year for the coronavirus pandemic.

So that is the scramble that is happening behind the scenes, is trying to get these kids out of these border patrol facilities where, again, they're in crowded conditions.

HARLOW: And we're talking about 13,000 total between HHS and border patrol being held, of children, many of them unaccompanied. You just described some of the conditions jail-like. But we haven't been allowed inside. I mean, our Rosa Florez literally standing outside one of the facilities yesterday telling us despite multiple requests, the administration will not let them in. Where is the transparency?

ALVAREZ: Now, like you said, we are asking for access both of the Border Patrol facilities where I have described those conditions. And also to the shelters that run by the Health and Human Services Department, which do look different. They are designed to care for children. Those requests have been put into the administration but we have not granted access as of yet.

HARLOW: Well, I mean, the promise from this administration is transparency, and this is a key thing to be transparent on when you're talking about kids.

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Priscilla, we know you'll stay on it. Thank you.

ALVAREZ: Thank you.

HARLOW: So, just the threat of a filibuster, just the threat, can hold up legislation or confirmation in the Senate. But could it all change with the urging of the president?

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HARLOW: This morning, the fight over overhauling the Senate filibuster, ramping up the bid on Capitol Hill now, President Biden, for the first time, is weighing in significantly.