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Man Arrested on Weapons Charges Outside VP Harris' Official Residence; Twelve GOP Representatives Vote Against Bill Honoring Officers for Capitol Hill Riot Response; Deadly Georgia Shootings Heighten Fear Among Asian Americans; Interview with Attorney General William Tong (D-CT) about the George Shootings; Coronavirus Cases Rising in 12 States. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 18, 2021 - 09:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.


Asian American communities across the nation on edge this morning after a shooting rampage in Atlanta left eight people dead, six of them Asian women. The suspect that police say has claimed responsibility for the murders now faces eight counts of murder as well as an aggravated assault charge. Police say that more charges are possible.

The suspect claimed to police that the shootings were not racially motivated. Police say it is far too early to determine. The bottom line is, there is definitely a racial component to these shootings. This heinous act comes as the nation sees a rising number of violent acts against Asian Americans during this pandemic. We're going to have the latest.

HARLOW: The other big story we're following this morning is that medical experts are all warning that the nation is on the brink of potentially another COVID search. As more states open up, as air travel numbers go up and hit records since the start of the pandemic, the CDC this morning is warning new variants could wipe out all the progress we've made recently if we let our guard down.

But first, we begin with our colleague Natasha Chen. She joins us in Georgia.

Good morning, Natasha. There is new surveillance video from close to one of the scenes of those murders. What can you tell us this morning?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy, it was actually those surveillance images that authorities released on Tuesday evening that actually prompted the suspect's parents to call police. They were able to help identify him. And because of that, police then tracked his cell phone and stopped him as he was going south. Investigators believe he was headed to Florida to perhaps commit similar attacks. So the reason this was not worse, the reason he's in custody here in

Cherokee County is because his parents called in due to those surveillance images. Now here in Cherokee County he's been charged with four counts of murder, one count of aggravated in assault. In Fulton County, where two of those spas are located, he's also charged with four counts of murder there. Yesterday in Atlanta, we heard the 911 calls released from those two Atlanta spas. Here is a clip from one of those 911 calls.



UNIDENTIFIED 911 OPERATOR: Do you have a description of him, ma'am?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I need to hide right now.

UNIDENTIFIED 911 OPERATOR: Is it a male or female?


UNIDENTIFIED 911 OPERATOR: They have a gun, you said?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some guy came in and shoot the gun so everybody heard the gunshot. And some ladies got hurt, I think. And everybody's scared so they're hiding.


CHEN: And in Georgia here, there's discussion about hate crimes because in addition to the murder charges, authorities are looking at whether this also could be a hate crime. Here it includes the targeting of victims, not just based on their race, national origin, religion, et cetera, but also based on sex. So that's a factor that they're looking into -- Poppy and Jim.

HARLOW: That's a very important factor. That being women also qualifies under the new hate crime law.

And Natasha, before you go, what do we know about the victims? What do we know about these six women? I mean, were they parents? They all have these grieving families.

CHEN: They do. They went to work on Tuesday not knowing that they wouldn't return home to their families. And we are still learning more, trying to find out more about the women who died in Atlanta. Here in Cherokee County, the names of the deceased have been released by authorities. They range in age from 30 to in their 50s. So this is all very, very difficult for our families and multiple counties.

And I just have to say, we played that 911 call. You could tell from two different spas. And the disturbing part is how there was sort of a barrier in communication, in understanding how urgent the situation was with one woman hiding and trying to whisper and the other being asked to repeat herself so that dispatchers could get what was happening exactly. HARLOW: Natasha, thank you very much for the reporting this morning.

In terms of the official motive, that has still not been called, if you will, by police for these heinous killings in and around Georgia. It is only deepening fears, though, of rising anti-Asian hate and violence in the United States. This year alone there has been a disturbing trend of this across the Asian community. In New York City, there were at least 10 suspected anti-Asian hate crimes committed between January 1st and March 14th of this year.

SCIUTTO: In San Francisco, police say an Asian man and woman were assaulted by the same suspects just Wednesday morning.


These attacks police believe were unprovoked. And earlier this week, three teens were arrested after allegedly robbing and assaulting -- see the video there -- an older Asian male inside a San Francisco laundromat. Just last month the incident captured on video there. Just alarming to watch.

We're joined now by Connecticut attorney general William Tong. He was the first Asian Pacific-American elected to statewide office in the state of Connecticut.

Mr. Tong, thanks so much for joining us this morning.


SCIUTTO: You have been very forthright in laying a significant amount of the blame for this at the feet of politicians and their words. Tell us what you mean by that. Who -- what kinds of statements do you believe fuel these kinds of attacks?

TONG: Yes, let me just say it was chilling to hear that 911 call. And one of the victim's accents, she might have been someone in my family so it's chilling for me and for Asian Americans across the country. I lay the blame at the feet of politicians like President Trump when he started his war on American immigrants. That was really bad. It started to get bad. But when he blamed Asian Pacific Americans, including Chinese Americans, for the coronavirus and called it the China virus or the kung flu, that made all of us unsafe.

And this is what happens. People get attacked in New York and San Francisco and now in Atlanta. And now six women are dead. Six Asian American women. Eight people total were murdered, and the flood is on his hands and other politicians like him.

HARLOW: You are not only the attorney general there in Connecticut, you are the son of Chinese immigrants. You have been a victim of hate speech like this, repeatedly, and you made a really important point recently, and that is that this country has a long history of legacy and hate and racism against Asians, just going back to the internment camps. And you also point to the -- this as just being the latest round of scapegoating. It makes me wonder if you think we've learned much as a country. TONG: Yes. You have to wonder. And this is a history that people don't

really know well. And that's what it means to be an Asian American in this country today. You're largely invisible in the discussion about racism. People are surprised to hear about anti-Asian hate. They don't know the legacy of the Chinese Exclusion Act. The beating death of Vincent Chen and the internment of 125,000 Japanese American citizens in camps on American soil, and when we blame them for Pearl Harbor.

Yes, it happens to me. It happens all the time. I've been called the Manchurian AG. My name has been mocked. And just yesterday someone accused me of being an agent of the Chinese Communist Party. I was born in Hartford, Connecticut. But, you know, I'm the attorney general. I can take it. If it happens to me it must happen a lot to everyday people who aren't attorneys general, who don't have the same protection and public profile that I do. And I worry about families across Connecticut and across this country.

SCIUTTO: This is happening at a time in this country where you have a broader rise in right-wing white supremacist extremism. There was an intelligence report yesterday that identifies this as the greatest -- well, reidentifies it because the data has been there for some time as the greatest domestic terrorism threat. And as you know, politicians have given license to these kinds of feelings against Asians, against blacks, against Latinos.

I wonder what you are calling to be done now. Calling for to be done now, right? Because it's about language. It's also about law enforcement response. Tell us what needs to be done to protect people.

TONG: We need a much stronger law enforcement response. The FBI director, the Department of Justice, under both President Biden and President Trump have said that hate and the rise of violent extremism motivated by hate is the number one domestic terror threat in this country. And it's well past time to really respond to it. President Trump defamed the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division.

We need stronger hate crimes enforcement by state and federal and local law enforcement authorities. As the chief civil law enforcement officer in Connecticut, I need a strong federal partner to make that happen. And we need a much larger conversation in our country about race and how it -- how racism affects all of us and targets the most vulnerable. Asian American women are among the most vulnerable.


And racism and this kind of hate and violence visits upon them much more severely than any other communities.

SCIUTTO: Action and conversation. Well, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, we'll do our part here. Thanks for joining us this morning.

TONG: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: This morning, health experts are sounding the alarm as now more than a dozen states are seeing significant rises in new COVID-19 infections. Half of those states seeing a rise in more than 20 percent compared to just last week. Going the wrong direction.

HARLOW: Totally. Our Adrienne Broaddus joins us from Michigan where, Adrienne, they've seen a more than 50 percent increase in new cases in a week. Do officials there know why?

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, Poppy and Jim, health officials here in Michigan have pointed to a number of factors. I spoke with Jennifer Moore, she is the medical director for the health department in the central part of the region. When she spoke, she rattled off a long list of reasons. She talked about COVID fatigue. For example, she says we've been experiencing the pandemic for a year, and people are tired.

Aside from COVID fatigue, she also pointed to the rolling back of COVID-19 restrictions earlier this month. Indoor dining capacity increased here across the state of Michigan. And shops and businesses are also allowing more customers inside. And when she talked about the COVID fatigue, she mentioned state data shows travel is up across the state of Michigan. In some parts, we are back to pre-pandemic levels of travel.

And there was a prison outbreak earlier in the month. And one key element that Moore says really concerns her is not one, but two variants reported in the state of Michigan. And that U.K. variant, she says, is spreading rapidly. But Michigan isn't alone. It is among the states seeing an increase. Michigan falls behind Alabama and Delaware. Right now we are outside of Ford Field which is downtown Detroit.

The governor is going to speak with the media in the next hour, and she's going to outline how Ford Field will become a mass vaccination site. And the hope is as they get those shots in the arms, they can turn things around here in Michigan -- Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Yes, can't come soon enough. Adrienne Broaddus, thanks very much.

Still to come this hour, a man is arrested -- it's just an alarming story -- outside the vice president's residence in Washington with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. More than 100 rounds of ammunition. Several 30-round ammunition clips. This based on alert from police in Texas. We're going to have the latest next.

Plus, Russian President Vladimir Putin wishes President Biden good health? This after President Biden says he thinks Putin is a killer. What's the message behind the words? We're going to be live from Moscow.

HARLOW: Also, there's a battle brewing over a new oil pipeline in Minnesota. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You've got people that have been crawling into the pipeline itself that have been chained to the machines. I mean, it's an all-out struggle for Mother Earth that's happening here.


HARLOW: Prosecutors are calling for construction of it to be halted as the company races to complete the project before it can be stopped by the White House or the courts.



SCIUTTO: Right now, Paul Murray, a 31-year-old man from San Antonio, Texas, is facing weapons and ammunition charges after he was arrested with a military-like arsenal outside Vice President Kamala Harris' official residence yesterday.

HARLOW: Our Whitney Wild is on this story, she has more details. What did police find when they arrested him? And I wonder if he's talking, Whitney.

WHITNEY WILD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they found a rifle and a lot of ammunition, specifically, an AR-15 rifle, 113 rounds of ammunition, five 30-round magazines. He's behind bars right now. So, if he's talking to anybody, Poppy, he's probably talking to an attorney at this point. Right now what we know is that, again, he's facing this list of charges. Hear the charges. Carrying a dangerous weapon. Carrying a rifle or a shotgun outside of a business. Possession of an unregistered ammunition, possession of a large capacity ammunition feeding device. Let me tell you, D.C. has very strict weapons and ammunition laws. They do not mess around with any type of ammunition or weapons, anything relating to violence.

Here's how it all went down. This man, again, is from Texas. There was an intelligence bulletin issued by Texas law enforcement that went region-wide here in D.C., law enforcement keeping their eyes and ears open, spotted him outside the vice president's residence. They detained him through the course of the investigation, found all of these -- found this weapon, all of this ammunition before he was able to cause any harm. Encouragingly, luckily, a Secret Service official tells us that none of the protectees were inside the residence at the time, but very startling and alarming. We're going to learn a lot more about this today, Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes, for sure. Whitney, thank you for that reporting. Incredibly scary. Well, a dozen house Republican members voting not to award the congressional gold medal to U.S. Capitol police officers or officers with the Metropolitan Police Department who were faced down and were attacked by those violent rioters during the insurrection at the Capitol on the 6th of January.


SCIUTTO: That's right, 12. That's two more than the ten Republican house members who voted for impeaching Trump for inciting that deadly insurrection. We're just hearing from one of those officers who was attacked. Harry Dunn, a black Capitol police officer says that he and other black officers are still grappling with the racist insults hurled their way in the midst of the attack. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARRY DUNN, U.S. CAPITOL POLICE OFFICER: Here we are giving so much and putting our lives on the line to protect democracy and keep it, and we're being called racial slurs, traitors and any just weapon that these people could use. One of my colleagues said that he was called a racial slur. He was carrying a rifle, a long gun that day, and a group of terrorists came to him and said, you think you're a tough "N" word with that gun. Put that gun down and we'll show you what type of "N" word you really are. And that -- nobody deserves that. Nobody deserves to be talked to like that, but especially this guy. But we keep coming back and back and we love our country, even though it doesn't love us back. We fought against not just people that were -- that hated what we represented, but they hated our skin color also. That's just a fact, and they use those words to prove that.


SCIUTTO: If that doesn't turn your stomach, I don't know what does. Joining us now to discuss here, and law enforcement analyst Charles Ramsey, he was D.C. police chief as well as Philadelphia police commissioner. Commissioner Ramsey, thanks for joining us this morning.


SCIUTTO: So, there's a black officer who laid down his life in the face of hundreds of people, violently attacking the Capitol. We heard a sitting Republican senator, Ron Johnson, somehow say those attackers were patriotic Americans, but listen to the distinction he made, and I want to get your reaction to that. What meaning are in those words? Have a listen.


SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): I knew those were people that loved this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law. And so I wasn't concerned. Now, have the tables been turned, Joe, this could mean trouble. Had the tables being turned and President Trump won the election and those were tens of thousands of black lives matter and Antifa protesters, I might have been a little concerned.


SCIUTTO: So racist attackers calling black police officers the "N" word, attacking with deadly force. Just fine. BLM protesters would have been a threat. What do those words mean to you?

RAMSEY: Well, Senator Johnson clearly is part of the problem. I mean, those comments were racist. Now, if you ask him, he'll say, oh, there's no racial overtones at all. I mean, it's ridiculous. He is part of the problem and he's not alone. And it goes beyond just our house and our Senate. I mean, the rise in hate crimes in this country, whether it's directed toward Asian-Americans, African-Americans, Latinos. It doesn't matter. We have to take a stand against it. It's just something that can't be tolerated anywhere in this country. But to hear it come from an elected official, a senator, I mean, that pretty much says it all. I mean --


RAMSEY: He definitely is a person who has no business at all being a member of the United States Senate.

HARLOW: Commissioner, you know, it's -- I mean, think about the context of this. Here we are today talking about clearly hate- motivated murders across Georgia and Atlanta, against Asian-Americans. And listen to what we just heard from one of -- an American hero. An American Capitol police officer who said, as a black man, protecting the Capitol, I -- we love this country even when it doesn't love us back. I mean, it's just astonishing, and I wonder with all your perspective being a black leader in law enforcement all these years, what do you think?

RAMSEY: Well, I mean, you could hear the trauma in that officer's voice. But I have to say, I'm not surprised that, that happened on January 6th. I mean, the people that attacked the Capitol were mostly from extremist organizations, hate groups and so forth. And so, I'm not surprised. I mean, I've seen it before. I've actually experienced it during my career, both in terms of the people that we serve that may say something like that, or within my own department. And so, it's something that needs to be addressed. There's no question about it. The one thing I disagree with is when he says that, you know, the country doesn't love him back.


These people are not representative of the entire United States of America.


RAMSEY: I just refuse to believe that. And so I would hope that after he kind of -- you know, his emotions kind of settle down a little bit, he realizes that you're going to have some people like that, but you can't just paint everyone with a broad brush in a sense we're almost doing the same thing that we're accusing others of doing when they look at us through a racial lens. But it doesn't mean it's not a problem, and I'm certainly not trying to minimize it. Those officers, particularly the officers of color were traumatized in many ways --


RAMSEY: During that incident.

SCIUTTO: Charles Ramsey, there's a report out from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence yesterday that talks about the threat of domestic terrorism in this country --

RAMSEY: Yes --

SCIUTTO: And clearly identifies. As the data -- as you know, has shown for years, the data showed the same thing in the Trump administration that white supremacy was the biggest domestic terror threat. They politically downplayed that. So the fact has been true for some time. So the difference with this threat appears to be that they -- these groups have their defenders in positions of power, right up to the former president who echo some of their rhetoric. And I just wonder from a law enforcement perspective, how do you fight that threat with that reality?

RAMSEY: It makes it more difficult. There's no question about that. When you have a president of the United States and many of his close allies that are sending out all these, you know, signals and dog whistles and so forth, it just makes it more difficult. I mean, they're the first ones to say, you know, oh, these people are patriotic, you know, because they're carrying American flag and so forth. They also had confederate flags, they also had symbols reminding us of the holocaust. I mean, you know, how is that patriotic? It's not patriotic. And then to turn around and say, well, if it was Black Lives Matter or Antifa, you know, that suddenly, I would be more concerned.

I mean, that's not to say there aren't extremist groups on both sides of the political spectrum because there are. But, you know, to look at one group different than the other, to me, it's just ridiculous. And this whole issue with domestic terrorism is very serious, and our elected officials and all Americans need to take it very seriously because you know, this country can crumble, but it will crumble from within if we aren't careful.


HARLOW: That's it --

SCIUTTO: Lincoln said that, I think. Thank you, sir.

HARLOW: Thank you --

RAMSEY: Thank you --

HARLOW: So much. It's a really important point, we appreciate having you, Charles Ramsey. The country's education secretary is projecting some optimism this morning saying that school in the Fall will look more like what it was before the pandemic. Yay for that. How do we get to that point?

SCIUTTO: And we're moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Futures lower this morning, inflation concerns arising among some investors fueling a sell-off in U.S. bonds, that sends rates up. All of this comes after the Federal Reserve left interest rates unchanged, said it did not expect to raise interest rates this year. We're keeping a close eye on it.