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Deadly Georgia Shootings Heighten Fear among Asian-Americans; Intel Report Warns of More violence by Domestic Terrorists This Year; First Migrant Teens Arrive at Dallas Convention Center. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired March 18, 2021 - 10:00   ET


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Tuesday morning to you, I'm Jim Sciutto.


This just into us, President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will meet Asian-American leaders in Atlanta tomorrow, this after the horrific shooting spree there that killed eight people, six of them Asian women. Police say the suspect has claimed responsibility. He now faces eight counts of murder.

SCIUTTO: Plus we're watching at any moment witnesses will begin testifying on Capitol Hill on an alarming rise of violence acts against Asian-Americans over the last year. We'll be monitoring those hearings.

Also this morning, the potential for another COVID-19 surge is real. Some doctors believe that it is already under way. What health experts say is causing this spike in new infections in a growing number of states.

But, first, we begin with CNN's Natasha Chen. She is in Georgia. Natasha, tell us what more we're learning about the investigation into the shootings, as well as about the victims here.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Here in Cherokee County, authorities have released the names of the people who died, as well as one survivor of the shooting in Cherokee County. Here is one of the families of a victim that one of our affiliates talked to. This is a woman named Delaina Yaun. Here is her aunt describing the pain that the family is experiencing.


CONSTANCE SEATS, VICTIM'S AUNT: This is so heartbreaking. He took a mother, a wife, a daughter and a sister for no reason. This family is broken because of this man. It is so hard on everybody today because this man has taken this innocent angel from us. He took an angel from earth who would do anything for anybody.


CHEN: And according to the GoFundMe page that her family has set up, the family says that she was actually there for a couples massage and that her husband made it out safely from this shooting but she did not.

Let's take a look at the four people who were killed at that location, that includes Delaina Yuan, whom we've mentioned, Paul Andre Michels, age 54, Xiaojie Tan and Daoyou Feng. According to a shop owner next door to Youngs Asian Massage, she told our affiliate that one of those victims was the owner, another one the worker there.

And, you know, what we have to keep in mind that in Atlanta we still don't have the names of the four people killed there yet. And of the eight total people killed, six of them were Asian women. The South Korean Foreign Ministry that identified that four of them were of Korean descent and expressed condolences because of that.

So it's really a difficult situation all these families now dealing with, people who may have gone to these locations for work and not come home.

HARLOW: Yes. And we just had the Connecticut attorney general on last hour, Natasha, who is Asian-American, who said that so often Asian- Americans are left out of the conversation on racism in our country. I wonder how meaningful it will be for the community there that the president and the vice president are going to come tomorrow to have this meeting with Asian leaders.

CHEN: Yes, absolutely. And I've spoken to one of the Georgia state representatives, Sam Park, who actually heard from the Biden administration yesterday morning before we got a lot of these details, so the White House was offering support early on to see how they could lend their resources to the Asian-American community here. So that is definitely -- seems to be appreciated by the Asian-American leaders here.

And there is this recognition that no matter what is being said right now in the suspect's interview with police, no matter what is being discussed with motivation that is still being looked into, the fact of the matter is that the majority of the people killed were Asian women and this is on the heels in the larger context of the rising reporting of anti-Asian assaults and incidents throughout the country over the past year. So there has already been existing tension and fear. Now this just makes it worse.


SCIUTTO: Natasha Chen, good to have you there, thanks so much.

HARLOW: I'll turn to Shan Wu, former federal prosecutor and CNN Legal Analyst. Shan, it's good to have your perspective. You were a former federal prosecutor, so you know sort of the legal line here when hate crimes can be successfully prosecuted.

But beyond, you know, wherever this goes criminally with charges, you have said that you think that police, in your mind, listening to what they said so far, are sort of almost afraid to label this racism. SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Exactly, Poppy. And that is unfortunately reminds us of the historical reluctance to prosecute crimes of violence against all people of color.


But the remarks by that spokesperson yesterday were really disturbing. I mean, he sounded like a defense counsel for the shooter rather than law enforcement. He was focusing on, you know, admittedly the claims the shooter made, but he seems to have adopted wholesale of claiming that it was the shooter who was having a bad day, ignoring these innocent people who have been brutally killed by him.

And that kind of reluctance is very alarming because that is exactly why crimes haven't been prosecuted in the past, exactly why the hate crime statutes aren't used enough.

SCIUTTO: So you say they are not used enough and I know that shows in the statistics here. Tell us what the legal standards, as the law is written, what standards have to be met to prosecute as a hate crime after an attack such as this one?

WU: Sure, Jim. The elements Georgia statute are quite similar to the federal one, and really importantly, it says if the crime is motivated on account of gender or race. So here, this shooter obviously selected women and he selected Asian women. So that seems like a no-brainer in terms of meeting the statute. And as far as the legal standard goes, it is probable cause at this point. There is probable cause to arrest him, probable cause to charge and to indict. While prosecutors do have to keep in mind whether they can prove things beyond a reasonable doubt, from a common sense standpoint, it seems like pretty good evidence here.

But, again, the hurdle you have to face for charging is just probable cause. And that is pretty easily met. So there is something else at work as to why they are hesitant to charge.

HARLOW: Shan, six of the eight murdered were women. And just looking at the -- remember, Georgia just passed in hate crimes statute, if you will, after Ahmaud Arbery was killed, so it's new, and it includes sex in it. So it would include women. So could he ostensibly be charged with two hate crimes against women and against Asians?

WU: Oh, absolutely. Very good point, Poppy, he really should be charged with both. It should be a double sentencing enhancement. Leave it to the judge to decide if he wants to run that concurrently or not. But he should be charged with both. Absolutely, it's a tool that has to be used. When you don't use a law that is on the books, it is the same as erasing the law, which is the same problem that people of color have suffered from is this erasure problem.

SCIUTTO: Shan, oftentimes in cases like this, if local prosecutors either mishandle or don't take advantage of all the potential legal avenues, the federal prosecutors will get involved, right? You will see civil rights charges, right, in the case of deadly violence sometimes involving cops. If this doesn't proceed locally, could you see the Justice Department getting involved?

WU: They should. And I think that it is good that the FBI has been involved at this point to look at the case. So, certainly, this is the classic circumstance where something goes amiss at the local level that the feds should step in.

And you know, I hope that the Georgia prosecutors will do the right thing, certainly DOJ, civil rights should also do the right thing. The police have basically done their job at this point. They caught the guy. And prosecutors really need to show some backbone. They need to step up and use these laws and call out hate and they need to prosecute.

HARLOW: Shan, thank you so much for being here on this story. We'll have you back soon.

WU: Thanks, Poppy, you're welcome. Good to see you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: For sure. Thank you, Shan.

This morning, new COVID-19 infections are on the rise in more than a dozen states across the country. You see them there in red, in brown and orange.

HARLOW: Yes, I hate seeing that map turn that way. We were making so much progress. Our Adrienne Broaddus joins us again this hour from Michigan.

The surge there has been surreal, over 50 percent in a week in terms of new cases. Do officials know why?

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy, they point to a number of reasons. And as you and Jim were mentioning, that is not the picture anyone here in Michigan wants to see. Michigan is preparing for the state's largest on-site vaccination effort here at Ford Field.

As far as the reason behind the spike, I spoke with Jennifer Morse. She is the medical director for the health department in the central region of the state. She talked about rolling back of COVID-19 restrictions, which we saw here in Michigan earlier this month. For example, the capacity for indoor dining has increased. Shops and businesses are now allowing more customers inside.

And she also talked about COVID fatigue, people are tired. Some have skipped out on mask-wearing and state data shows that trips are up. That's right, people are traveling.


And in some parts of the state, we are back at pre-pandemic levels.

Aside from these factors, another concerning element Morse points out are the variants that have been reported here in the state of Michigan, not one but two. And she said that U.K. variant is spreading rapidly across the state. But as you all mentioned, Michigan is not alone. Alabama and Delaware are also among some of the states seeing a rapid increase.

As far as the vaccination efforts happening here at Ford Field, Jennifer Morse says that is where her hope lies. Ford Field has the capacity to vaccinate 6,000 people every day. Governor Whitmer is going to talk to us in the next 20 minutes or so and we will find out how things will play out here at Ford Field.

Something else I want to pass along to you, state health officials say people between the ages of 10 and 19 are among some of the highest cases they have seen in the last few weeks. Jim and Poppy?

HARLOW: Really young. Okay, Adrienne, thank you very much.

SCIUTTO: Still to come this hour, U.S. intelligence agencies are warning that domestic violent extremism, particularly white supremacist violent extremism is the biggest terror threat to this country right now. It's an alarming report.

HARLOW: Also an influx of migrants on the southern border overwhelming resources, the House will vote on a pair of immigrations bills today. It would provide a path to citizenship for some undocumented migrants. One of the lawmakers behind the comprehensive Biden bill will join us ahead.

And much needed stimulus checks starting to already reach Americans. We'll take a look at how some of the most affected by the pandemic are spending that money.



SCIUTTO: A U.S. intelligence assessment says that there is now an increased threat from domestic terrorists to this country. They say the most lethal threats come from racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists. And, and this is crucial, that election fraud claims and conspiracy theories will almost certainly spur more violence this year. That is the word from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Joining me now to discuss this, CNN National Security Analyst, also former official in the Department of Homeland Security, Juliette Kayyem. Juliette, always good to have you on.


SCIUTTO: In two reports in two days, right, first one on foreign interference in the election, the second one on domestic terrorism. But what struck me about both those reports was that both threats have help, help from people in positions of power in this country. There were people who helped spread election disinformation in 2020 and there are sitting politicians helping spread some of the theories and the motivation behind domestic terrorists.

Have you ever seen anything like that? KAYYEM: No. And I don't know if it was a coincidence, but the two reports coming out back to back is very significant, because we should not view them as two separate threats, one about foreign threats and the other about domestic internal threats. They are actually two chapters in the same book, which is about violence.

What the two reports do is basically begin with Russia and its influence in promoting the big lie. And then the second report released yesterday is about how the big lie amplified by Trump, his adherence, Fox News and others are radicalizing this new type -- I shouldn't say new -- this new type of white supremacist threat. So they're actually quite connected.

And what was important about the reports is it links the theory of the lie to the violence itself. In other words, don't just think that these people are out there spewing silliness. That's actually emanating a group of unified and very armed white supremacists.

SCIUTTO: Yes, extremely armed.


SCIUTTO: I'm going to quote directly from the report, because the language here is direct. Narratives of fraud in the recent general election, quote, and the emboldening impact of the violent breach at the U.S. Capitol will, quote, almost certainly spur domestic extremists.

You served in the Department of Homeland Security, founded after 9/11 to help prevent terrorism of all kinds in this country. You have sitting lawmakers in this country still spreading the big lie, making false distinctions, you heard Ron Johnson saying, well, these were good people, I wasn't worried about them, well, five people died, by the way. What do you say to lawmakers who either out of ignorance or political motivation continue to help spread these lies? Are they endangering Americans?

KAYYEM: I mean, they absolutely are, but I don't think that it is ignorance anymore. What we have to do is link these lies to a very well constructed GOP strategy being played out in the states regarding access to the voting booth, in particular, access to the voting booth by African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans. What the reports show is that this is not a generic lie about voters specifically, it is really focused on the race aspects of voting and the fact that African- Americans and Hispanics voted in numbers that got Trump out of the White House.


So we really do have to link to that racism.

They know now -- here is where I don't think that it is naivety, I don't think it's unwilling to do, they know what they are doing. So there's very limited options with them. You can vote them out. We have a president now who is being very aggressive about Putin. We continue to prosecute those who would go to violent extremism. But it's also going to take society given where the GOP is right now to begin to isolate this group.

So I was really pleased with what Coca-Cola did in Atlanta in stopping funding -- or campaign support for candidates who support the lie. It is going to take efforts like that, because many in the GOP, not only won't stop, they are invested in not stopping. They will claim this has nothing to do with violence, but the evidence is pretty clear now.

SCIUTTO: Tell us how does the increasing violence against Asian- Americans felt into this broader threat, right? Because we have talked more about certainly violence against black Americans, violence against Latino-Americans, and, listen, you know, prejudice against Muslim Americans, right? Look at the Muslim travel ban. But tell us how the threat to Asian-Americans fits into this.

KAYYEM: So it is part of a larger theory, and I'd hate to give it credence that these folks believe in, called the great displacement. It is a belief that America's growing diversity, we will be a majority non-Caucasian country in the next couple of decades. It is a belief that that diversity actually displaces them.

And so that justifies -- what is important is that that justifies violence because, in other words, it is a zero sum game. So Asian- Americans also fall into this camp.

But what also we have to remember is certainly we do with how Trump talked about COVID, is that all of this was nurtured for the last four years. And that nurturing of all kinds of racism and sexism, of course, is going to have its consequences. So they are linked and I call it the hate stew, sometimes it is hard to tell who is animating whom, but it means a lot to have a president who doesn't nurture it, who condemns it. And now it is up to others in society from corporations, institutions, individuals to begin the process of isolating it because we cannot count on our political leaders, or specifically those in the GOP.

SCIUTTO: And you say, some deliberately. Juliette Kayyem, it is alarming, and I know you and I know, probably, sadly, will be talking about this more going forward. Thanks very much.

KAYYEM: Thanks, Jim.

HARLOW: Ahead, the migrant surge at the southern border comes as Democrats in Congress is pushing a pair bills today and also working to a comprehensive immigration reform. One of the Democrats leading the charge on the biggest of the bills will join us.



SCIUTTO: No end in sight, that is how a border patrol chief describes the current surge of migrants crossing the U.S./Mexico border.

HARLOW: This as wave after wave of large groups of 100 or more show up. So far this year, Border Patrol agents have encountered at least 19 of these large groups trying to illegally enter the United States.

Our colleague, Priscilla Alvarez, joins us this morning from Texas. You're in Dallas, where the first group of migrant teenage boys have arrived at this temporary shelter that I believe is the convention center there.

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN REPORTER: That's right, Poppy. This is a massive convention center here in Dallas that is now being transformed to house more than 2,000 migrant teen boys. These are boys who have crossed the U.S./Mexico border alone and are now being transferred to the center behind me so that they can be taken care of before they are relocated with family in the United States.

Just this morning, we saw dozens of people trickling into this building with American Red Cross vests on, so this is a Cross agency effort here happening at the center.

Now, the reason this is happening is the reasons you mentioned, which is that there is just an increase of children crossing the U.S./Mexico border alone. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas talked about the challenges to CBS. Take a listen.


ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: It is crowded and, remember, we're dealing with a pandemic and so we're dealing with restrictions on physical distancing and the like. But the mattresses, the blankets, are actually selectively chosen so that they are safest for the children. But I have to repeat, because I don't mean to walk away from this, the Border Patrol station is not a place for children.


ALVAREZ: So, again, Jim and Poppy, the administration is trying to keep up with the sheer number of children crossing the U.S./Mexico border alone. We anticipate that over next few hours and days, we will see more teens trickle into the center behind me where they can at least be taken care of in ways that they wouldn't be able to at the border patrol facilities. Jim and Poppy?

HARLOW: Priscilla, thank you for being there for that important reporting.

The surge that we just talked about at the border is upending immigration reform talks on Capitol Hill or at least it threatens to.


Republicans are raising concerns as Democrats today are trying to move two bills to the House, H.R. 6, the American Dream and Promise Act of 2021.