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Another American City Mourns Lives Lost to Gun Violence; Prosecutors Allege Oath Keepers, Proud Boys Coordinate Before January 6 Capitol Attack; Biden, Harris Push Senate to Pass House-Passed Gun Reforms. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired March 24, 2021 - 11:30   ET

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


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KATE BOLDUAN, CNN NEWSROOM: Going to a movie, going to church, going to a concert, going to school, and going to the grocery store should never mean never coming home again. It's happened in Aurora, Charleston, Las Vegas, Parkland and so many other cities and now in Boulder.

Sadly, it's become an all-too-familiar scene in the United States. The flowers, they fade. The memorials, they go away, and the communities are left still dealing with the trauma. What is going to happen now this time in this place?

Joining me is Colorado State Representative Judy Amabile. This community -- she serves this community where King Soopers is. It's in her district. Thank you so much for joining me. Appreciate your time.

JUDY AMABILE (D), COLORADO STATE REPRESENTATIVE: Thank you for having me.

BOLDUAN: Of course. I did hear that you know one of the victims. I'm sure so many people in the community know one of them because there are so many of them in the victims now. But you know Jody Waters. She was killed in the grocery store. What can you tell us about her?

AMABILE: So I heard Jody she owned a store in the Pearl Street Mall in the early '90s. And it had kid's clothing and then women's clothing and all kinds of other things. So, all the moms that I knew, we all went there and bought stuff for our kids. And you went there once and she asked you your name and then she always remembered your name. And she knew your kids, how old they were. She knew what kind of stuff you liked. She just was really a genuine person who knew how to connect with everybody. So many of the women that I'm friends with are grieving for her right now.

And later on, she worked at a different store on the Pearl Street Mall. And same thing, I walked in there, I hadn't seen her in a couple of years and she immediately remembered my name and knew about my kids and really just was that kind of a person who connected with people on a very genuine level. BOLDUAN: It's comforting and so saddening to hear these stories of the lives, the wonderful lives these people were living and, in fact, that the futures were just simply stolen from them.

I was really struck because I heard you say in speaking in the aftermath of this that you don't want to hold a moment of silence for these victims, not out of -- not disrespecting them, instead, out of respect for them. Can you tell me why?

AMABILE: Yes, I think we've all been a little too silent, and it's time to get loud. We need the federal government to enact this assault weapons ban, we need a national universal background check and we need better access to mental health care resources for our communities.

BOLDUAN: I wanted to ask you about -- specifically about that, because the shooter's brother, in learning more about the shooter, the little that we are learning so far about the suspect is that the brother has said that he was paranoid, that he suffers from mental illness. And we know from sources that he bought that gun only six days before the shooting.

It's important, I always have to say, and I want to say, that mental illness does not mean that you are violent, not at all. But the reason that I bring it up is that you have been very open about one of the driving reasons behind your push for, one, gun reform, gun-related reform in your state, a red flag law that was passed in the state.

Your son has battled for some time multiple diagnoses of mental illness. I would like your thoughts on the role, as people start pointing to mental illness here, the role of that here and also if you think this red flag law could have stopped this.

AMABILE: So, yes, I do have a personal connection with this issue. I testified on the red flag law, and I do think that if the family had known about that law and understood how they could actually use that law to help them, that it would have been effective. But it's very possible that they didn't know. And also they maybe had no way to predict that their person who was struggling would turn violent in this way.

And as you said, most people with mental illness are not violent.

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99.9 percent of people with mental illness are not violent. So we don't want to punish people and further stigmatize them and shame them at this moment in time. What we want to do is say to people, you have somebody in your family who is struggling. Let us make it a lot easier for you to navigate the system by which that person can get the help they need.

I know personally spending ten years looking for ways to get help for my family, it's really hard to do. And it's hard to find the resources. It's hard to figure out how you're going to pay for the resources. It's hard to -- you can buy a gun in 30 seconds, but if you want an appointment with a psychiatrist, that takes three -- two to three months before you can get in to see a psychiatrist. We have to change that.

BOLDUAN: Yes, that puts a fine point on it. Thank you so much for coming on. I really appreciate it.

AMABILE: Thank you for having me.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, new evidence of two extremist groups possibly coordinating before the riot on the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. What new court documents just revealed.

We'll be right back.

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BOLDUAN: New communications and a potentially big development in the investigation of the January 6th insurrection on Capitol Hill, court documents revealing some members of the now well-known groups present at the riot were communicating beforehand, the paramilitary group, the Oath Keepers, the far-right group, the Proud Boys. This is the first time prosecutors have publicly linked violent efforts of the two right-wing extremist groups.

CNN's Evan Perez is joining me now. He's got this reporting. Evan, what can you tell us about this?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, these are messages that the prosecutors introduced in court to try to keep Kelly Meggs, he's a member -- a leader -- alleged leader of this group, the Oath Keepers. And according to prosecutors, these messages show that members of the Oath Keepers were in communication and trying to coordinate ahead of time, this is about two weeks before the insurrection in late December, they're talking about meeting up in Washington. They're making arrangements to pay for hotel rooms, talking about their plan of what to do on this day.

I'll read you just a part of what prosecutors say were in these Facebook messages. It says in part, I've been communicating with the leader. We are going to march with them for a while, then fall back to the back of the crowd and turn off. Then we will have the Proud Boys get in front of them. We will come in behind Antifa and beat the hell out of them.

Again, this is a message from Kelly Meggs, allegedly one of the leaders of the Oath Keepers group that was in Washington on this day. Prosecutors are making the argument that this shows that there was a level of coordination and a level of planning for the violence that they carried out on January 6th.

Now, what these messages don't show is that there was some overarching conspiracy to attack the Capitol. But we'll see whether this evidence is what the judges use to say that this -- Meggs should remain in jail until his trial.

BOLDUAN: Yes. All right, Evan, thank you very much. Also this morning, Vice President Kamala Harris speaking out, addressing the concerns raised by very prominent Asian-American lawmakers, Senator Tammy Duckworth and Mazie Hirono, about the lack of Asian-American representation in the White House. Listen here.

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KAMALA HARRIS, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: We are very proud that among our cabinet, we have majority people of color. We are very -- it is historic in that way. We are proud that we have an equal number of women and men. But there's still more work to be done.

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BOLDUAN: The two Democratic senators are so angry about this. They even threatened to oppose Biden cabinet nominees over this. The White House responded by agreeing to add a senior AAPI liaison in the White House.

Let's get the latest on this with Manu Raju, he is joining me now from Capitol Hill. Manu, they weren't kidding. They really threatened to oppose nominees of the president of their own party over this. Are they saying this is enough now, what they're hearing from the White House as a response?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: At the moment, yes. And that was a serious threat because it's a 50/50 Senate. And if all Republicans vote against a nominee, if one democratic were to join ranks, that would be enough to scuttle that nomination.

Now, what really irked Senator Tammy Duckworth in particular was a suggestion by the White House that having Kamala Harris was enough AAPI representation because, of course, she has South Asian roots. And according to Duckworth, she told me yesterday, she said she had been told multiple times that White House officials pointed to Kamala Harris as to being essentially sufficient.

That actually came up Monday evening in a virtual meeting. Jen O'Malley Dillon, who is the deputy White House Staff member, essentially made those remarks. Duckworth was furious about it, said she -- so this is what she told me yesterday. She said, to be told that we have Kamala Harris, we are proud of her and you don't need anybody else, is insulting.

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She went on to say, it was incredibly insulting.

And then she went on to say she would block any nominees who were not minorities going forward or vote against, at least. And Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii joined her in that effort.

Now, after days of discussions, ultimately, the White House did agree to name an AAPI liaison to try to bolster representation from that community in their ranks. But we'll see if, ultimately, that's enough down the road because they will use their threat to block nominees or vote no. That's a serious threat and the White House -- they obviously have gotten the White House's attention here, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes, for sure. Manu, thank you.

Coming up for us, both President Biden and Vice President Harris are stepping up pressure today to push Congress to act on gun reform. Coming up next, former Governor John Kasich on his change of heart on this issue and what blocked efforts in his own state, what lessons has he learned.

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BOLDUAN: President Biden and Vice President Harris are stepping up their calls for Congress to act on safety measures in the aftermath of the shootings in the past week. Listen.

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JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: The Senate should immediately pass -- let me say it again -- the United States Senate -- I hope some are listening -- should

immediately pass the two House-passed bills that close loopholes in the background check system.

HARRIS: It is time for Congress to act and stop with the false choices. This is not about getting rid of the Second Amendment. It's simply about saying we need reasonable gun safety laws.

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BOLDUAN: Senate Republicans are pushing back, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell offering a familiar refrain that the current bills on the table don't address the real problem.

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SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): The real challenge here is mental illness and identifying people who are likely to do this kind of thing in advance is very, very difficult.

With regard to the gun legislation over in the House, I don't think it would address this issue.

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BOLDUAN: So is this going anywhere?

Joining me right now is former Republican Governor of Ohio John Kasich, CNN Senior Political Commentator. Thank you, Governor, for coming in.

I want to read for you if I could, the quote. As a nation, these tragedies united us in shock and mourning, yet the first talk of solutions tears us apart. No one among us is willing to put aside our rock-ribbed, preloaded positions on guns in order to sit down and find the common ground solutions.

That is something you wrote almost four years ago when you were talking about your change of heart about guns in America. It could have been written today because nothing has changed. We know why, Governor, because of politics, but what will change that?

JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Kate, it's not really a change of heart. I voted for the -- in support of the assault weapons ban all the way back in 1994. But, look, here's the problem with this. There's not a public uproar over this. It doesn't last for any period of time. And the media focuses on it, and I can show you the number, they focus on it and then it fades away. And it's never in the public consciousness for a long period of time. Excuse me.

So, until the people of this country demand these changes -- in some places they have. You can take a look at what happened in Colorado after Columbine. When the heat is on in the state of Florida after the terrible tragedy down there, you began to see changes but it has to come from the bottom up, Kate, and there's not a sustained effort to try to change these laws.

I believe the red flag law, which says if you see somebody who you think is unstable through a court, you have the ability to take their gun away until they are stabilized. That should be something everyone passes, everybody supports. It makes no sense that they don't. You know, maybe people will have a sense in their heart and in their head that we can do something here.

But I have got to to tell you, the fundamental problem -- we go through this every time and you I are on together -- it's the fact that there's not a consistent demand for legislation.

BOLDUAN: And so in the absence of that consistent demand, or -- but is it just -- where is leadership?

KASICH: We are where we are. We keep going that way.

BOLDUAN: This is -- this becomes our conversation each time, Governor, right? Bottom up or top down? At some point, there is a need for leadership. I don't think it's every citizen's job to know a red flag law might be the fix or banning assault weapons, not letting this weapon that this guy used, not letting him have access to it, that is what police need in order to be able to stop someone maybe from further carnage. I don't know if citizens necessarily know that.

Is there a job of leaders rather than saying there's no groundswell, so they are not going to do anything. I mean, what --

KASICH: Sure. No, sure, the leaders should be moving forward on this. I am trying to explain why they don't. And you've got to remember, there's a significant number of people in the public who don't support this change in these laws. They say, this is Second Amendment, I want to protect myself if somebody comes in my home, and that's what goes back and forth.

So until there's an overwhelming indication at town hall meetings, at rallies, at marches, the things that have -- and, Kate, sometimes it takes a long time to get the civil rights legislation through, to get women suffrage through. I am just suggesting to you we could have all this happen, and maybe once in a while we can get something done but fundamentally until the people demand the change, and to say -- and they don't even to know the definition of a red flag law, all they need to say is, do something about this, demand that something get done and keep the pressure on.

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And until that happens we keep going back and forth.

BOLDUAN: You hit roadblocks in your legislature in trying to move forward on gun legislation. That's -- yes, that's one state, sure. But you've got political dynamics in every state legislature that compare (ph) what he national debate looks like.

KASICH: Correct.

BOLDUAN: What are the -- is there one lesson that you learned that a different approach or that Joe Biden could utilize here that might move the needle at all?

KASICH: Kate, I'm just going to tell you, because you want it from me straight, if the 10,000 people had gathered on the lawn of the state house in the middle of my pushing through this, we would have been successful. We couldn't get them. They didn't show up.

And I am not blaming the people on this, I know to say to blame the people, they've got a lot they have to do. I'm just saying that the dynamic of change, of big change, gun changes are big. You can get some things done, but big things that have to be done, there has to be a push anywhere from the bottom up. And everywhere you look at where gun laws have changed, it's because of the intensity of the voters have demanded it from the politicians, and somehow they found a reason to do something.

In addition to that, Kate, look, you've got to get pro-gun people and people who want these gun control laws to sit in a room and reach agreement. We did that. We reached some significant agreement but then we didn't have the support to actually jam it through. It's very frustrating and it drives me crazy and, yes, we should expect more out of our leaders.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Do you think, on a national level, this is urgent enough of a problem that they should do away with the filibuster in the Senate to move on gun legislation?

KASICH: No. I think doing away with the filibuster would be a disaster for a whole variety of reasons. I mean, the whole purpose of the filibuster is to get the parties to work together. And now, what you're going to do if you get rid of it is you're going to jam something through against the other side. And whenever you do this, no matter what it is, whether it's in a business, whether it's in sports, whether it's in politics, if you jam something through without other people supporting it, it becomes unwieldy and untenable over time. BOLDUAN: Let's have this conversation, hopefully, not the same one, again soon. Thank you, Governor.

KASICH: All right, thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, we're learning more about the lives that were stolen in the shooting in Boulder, Colorado. Next hour, the family of one of the victims, right there, they're going to speak live. We're going to bring you that as soon as it begins.

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