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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) Discusses Subcommittee to Hear from Military Survivors of Sexual Harassment, Mounting Calls for NY Governor Cuomo to Resign, Gun Control & Mental Health; Fauci Says New Data Is Proof Positive Vaccinations Work; Study: Pandemic Has Taken Dire Toll on Health Care Workers, Hospitals; Health Experts Say Gun Violence Is a Public Health Crisis as Biden Eyes Gun Control; McConnell: House Gun Reform Bills Do Not Address Mental Illness. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired March 24, 2021 - 13:30   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Her remains discovered in a shallow grave two months later. She was just 20.

At the heart of her disappearance are allegations of sexual harassment. Her suspected killer, an Army specialist with whom she worked.

Her family says Guillen was planning to file a sexual harassment complaint against him after she disappeared. They believe Guillen informed the suspect and that he became enraged.

An Army investigation determined Specialist Guillen had been bludgeoned to death with a hammer in the armory where she worked and her body had been moved by her killer, who then killed himself before he could be apprehended.

Guillen's death sparked national outrage highlighting not only the problems at Ft. Hood where several soldiers were killed in 2020 but of the broader issues of sexual harassment and assault that plague the military.

Former secretary of the Army, Ryan McCarthy, said Guillen's murder, quote, shocked our conscience and brought attention to deeper problems.

Those deeper problems still exist.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who is a chair of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, is with us right now. She has a hearing on this very issue next hour.

Thank you so much for being with us, Senator.

You, at this hearing, will be hearing from a lawyer that is representing the family of the late specialist, Vanessa Guillen.

As we are approaching the anniversary of her murder, what is being done to protect soldiers from sexual harassment and assault?

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY): Unfortunately, Brianna, very little.

I have been working on this issue since 2013. And we have had every secretary of defense come before our committee and every one of them has pledged zero tolerance. They've been pledging that since literally 25 years since Dick Cheney was secretary of defense.

They keep telling us that we've got this, ma'am, we've got this. But they don't. They don't have it at all.

In fact, the rate of sexual assaults continues to go up. But the rate of people who will report the crime openly and name the assailant is going down.

The percentage of people who report privately, without naming their assailant, is going up. There's less and less confidence in the system.

And worst of all, the rates of cases going to prosecution is going down. And the rates of cases going conviction are going down. So nothing is going in the right direction.

We have a very simple solution. We want to change who makes the decision about whether a case goes to trial.

We want to give that decision to trained military prosecutors, people who have no bias, who have no skin in the game, who will look at the evidence and decide whether or not there's enough evidence to go forward.

We're proposing this because that's what survivors have asked for.

When we have had surveys of Afghan and Iraq veterans associations, they told us that they did not report these crimes because they did not believe the chain of command would have their back.

They said they would report these crimes if they knew the decision was being made outside the chain by somebody unbiassed and better trained.

That's why we want this this solution. We need more of these rapists and recidivists to be convicted and sent to jail. That will change the climate. That will change the culture.

KEILAR: The chairman of your committee, the Senate Armed Services Committee, says pulling that out of the chain of command is on the table. But this is not the first time that this has -- you know, like you said, you have been working on this for years.

What makes -- what would make this time different? Is this time going to be any different to address this?

GILLIBRAND: I do think so. Many of my colleagues, particularly on the Democratic side, have not supported this reform for the last few years because I wanted to see if other reforms would work.

Well, we have put into place -- because I have been either the chair or the ranking of the Personal Subcommittee -- every idea that anybody has had in the past eight years.

Every panel that's looked at this, any recommendations they've made, I put into law.

And so we have tried everything. We've tried the low-hanging fruit. But really need is a professionalized prosecution of these cases. We need the decision-maker to have no skin in the game, to have no bias, who is well-trained and knows what they are doing.

Unfortunately, the commanders are great at commanding the armed forces to wins wars. They are great at training the troops how to fight wars.

They are not prosecutors. They're not lawyers. They are not trained in this. And then, frankly, do a bad job of it. So I am tired of hearing, I got this, ma'am. They don't have it.

I believe the reform is necessary for both plaintiff and defendant rights.

Our allies made these changes years ago. All serious crimes were taken out of the chain of command, given to trained prosecutors in places like the U.K., Israel, Australia, Germany, Canada, Netherlands, our allies.

We know this change will not harm good order and discipline. It won't harm command and control. And, in fact, it gives us a chance that we can fix a very broken system.

I think a lot of folks are tired of waiting. I think they will be with us now.

And we have a commander-in-chief under Joe Biden who has said public, certainly during his campaign, that he supports taking the decision out of the chain of command.

And he has told General Austin to empanel a review committee for the next 90 days. That committee has started the review. And hopefully, we will have common-sense reforms suggested and it will include this one.


This is the one thing survivors asked for. And I think it's the one thing that has a chance of increasing the conviction rate and deciding which cases can go to trial that is based on evidence and facts and not based on bias.

KEILAR: We are going to be tracking this subcommittee hearing that you are going to be chairing. Really looking forward to hearing from the number of panelists that you have.

While I have you, I want to talk about something that obviously your opinion is incredibly pertinent on as a Senator from New York. Governor Cuomo is facing multiple allegations of sexual harassment and

misconduct at this point in time. He's facing mounting pressure from a number of Democrats to resign as more allegations have come out.

You were the first to call for -- the first Democratic Senator to call Senator Al Franken to resign amid allegations of sexual misconduct in 2017.

Do you think Governor Cuomo needs to resign?

GILLIBRAND: Yes, I have made my statement clear. It was based on the fact that we are in the middle of a global pandemic, and recovery from COVID-19 is our highest priority.

Unfortunately, the governor lost the support of a lot of his governing partners.

For most of the delegation to come out and say he should resign, for an impeachment proceeding to be starting in the assembly, to have the attorney general to be doing an investigation, he has lost the support of those governing partners.

And that causes me grave concern.

KEILAR: I also want to talk to you -- we just had a friend of a shooting victim in the Boulder grocery store shooting. This is a woman who was friends with one of the people who was lost. They've been friends for three decades.

And I asked her what she wanted lawmakers not just in her state but at a federal level to know. And she said she wants them to tackle the issues of guns and of mental health.

And she feels very strongly that this is a choice that lawmakers are making to not address this, to basically be paralyzed in the face of a situation that is unacceptable.

What can Congress do, what can you do to address the concerns of people who should not have to put up with this?

GILLIBRAND: I agree with her. I think Congress has been paralyzed. And they're largely paralyzed because of the NRA.

When you have special interest groups spending millions of dollars every election cycle on campaign ads to fight against common-sense gun reform, it creates corruption in the system, a true rot at the heart of it.

We have to get money out of politics.

But if we could come together, there's three gun reforms we would do. And we should fully invest in mental health.

We should ban the assault rifles and large magazines. We should have universal background checks. And we should pass an anti-gun trafficking bill. The first two would hopefully prevent more of these shooter events

when somebody takes an assault rifle and kills large numbers of people very quickly.

And having an anti-gun trafficking law should stop the amount of gun death we see in black and brown neighborhoods far too often. And so that inner cities can be safe.

Because unfortunately, guns are trafficked into states with strong gun reform, straight into the hands of criminals.

And that's one of the challenges New York State has. It's one of the challenges that Illinois has and other cities and states that have been gun trafficking and gun crime laws.

But unfortunately, those guns get trafficked in from elsewhere.

KEILAR: It seems like there are a lot of plans -- you know, we've even heard from Republicans some of the plans they have introduced. Obviously, it's not what Democrats want to hear.

But there doesn't necessarily seem to be the pressure that is necessary.

I wonder, you know, from your view, is that something that just unfortunately lies outside of Congress? What does it take from Americans to force this issue so that something is actually done at the federal level?

GILLIBRAND: I think we have to continue to raise voices.

I think the fact that Gonzalez and our Parkland kids worked so hard with the march and with the efforts that they made to raise up voices of people who are not being listened to was tremendous. We need to keep that effort up.

We need to go after members of Congress who will not support common- sense gun reform and let them know that their constituents actually do.

Congress, on a good day, is 20 years behind their constituents.

This is one of the issues where there's broad bipartisan consensus around the country that people want this common-sense gun reform done.


My good friend, Gabby Giffords, who was shot in the head while she was just doing her job at a store corner, she has not only stood up to the NRA but she started a movement where she is fighting politically with campaign ads against candidates who refuse to support common-sense gun reform.

I stand with her. I stand with the other survivors and our entire community that wants this done.

And I think we just have to keep pushing the members of Congress who are unwilling to support it. Because this matters.

KEILAR: Senator Gillibrand, thank you so much. This is an incredibly important hearing that you are going to be chairing about sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military. We will be watching.

Thank you for coming up.

GILLIBRAND: Thanks, Brianna. Take care.

KEILAR: We have new details on the incredible toll that the coronavirus pandemic has taken on the American health care system. Workers are exhausted. Hospitals are in shambles. We'll have this report, next.



KEILAR: The coronavirus pandemic has taken a serious toll on Americans but the nation's leading infectious disease expert says there's promising news for our vaccinated health care workers.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: Look at the far right of the graph. For those who are fully vaccinated, the infection rate was extremely low, 0.05 percent infection rate among fully vaccinated employees. A real proof positive of the importance of vaccination.


KEILAR: CNN medical analyst and former Baltimore health commissioner, Dr. Leana Wen, is here to talk about this.

How encouraged are you, Dr. Wen, by the numbers we are hearing Dr. Fauci talk about?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I'm very encouraged, Brianna.

The "New England Journal of Medicine" came out with studies yesterday. And one of those studies was looking at a hospital system where they tested the individuals who were fully vaccinated, the health care workers now fully vaccinated.

And it answers one of the key questions we had, which is do vaccines protection from infections of all kind, including the asymptomatic infections. And they found a 50-fold decrease in these infections in fully vaccinated health care workers.

And I think this is really encouraging news and just adds to all of the information we have that vaccines protect you.

But also, very importantly, it now shows that it protects other people from you because it protects you from getting infected and potentially transmitting it to others, too. KEILAR: I want to talk about a report out from the HHS inspector

general. It's so important.

They survey more 300 hospitals and they found medical staff are burned out, that many are suffering from PTSD, that there has been a higher- than-normal turnover rate, and that public trust in hospitals also eroded.

What needs to be done here? I wonder, looking at this, I mean, it sounds a lot like this extended stress that we are talking about, it sounds a lot like what members of the military might be dealing with in combat?

WEN: I mean, that report is very tragic. But I don't think it's surprising to any of us who work in health care.

Because hospitals and public health systems, we're used to handling crises that affect us for days or weeks. And maybe affect one part of the country at a time. And that way, when people in that area are over worked and totally exhausted, you can get reinforcements from other areas.

But in this case, people are running a sprint, a total at sprint speed but for over a year. And it has affected every aspect of our health care system and every aspect of our country.

So I think our health care system and public health system really are in crisis.

We are asking the same people who have been taking care of patients all along to also do testing, contact tracing, and now to also set up vaccinations, and to also continue taking care of people's unmet needs when it comes to mental health and other unmet health conditions that have lasted, too.

So I think we have to take much better care of our providers or else we will see a serious work force crisis.

At the same time, we have to pay attention to the fact that there are many medical issues that are neglected.

We know that people are getting screened less for cancer and children have higher rates of lead poisoning and are not getting their other immunizations.

And those types of crises will have many affects for years to come.

KEILAR: Dr. Leana Wen, always great to see you. Thank you.


Health experts are declaring gun violence to be a public health crisis. And now the president is eyeing executive action on gun control. I will speak to an expert on violence and mental health, next.


KEILAR: "A public health crisis" -- that's what the American Psychological Association is calling gun violence following the two recent mass shootings in the United States that have left 18 dead.

In a statement, the organization urges lawmakers to take immediate action.

Joining us is Dr. Jack Rozel. He's the medical director for Resolve Crisis Services at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Western Psychiatric Hospital. And he's also an associate professor of psychiatry and adjunct professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh.

Doctor, thank you for joining us.

This is a complex problem. I want to ask, first, on the APA's call to action here.

Do you think what they're talking about here, which is a community- based team that would include police, mental health educator, community advocates, who can deal with individuals in crisis, who are at risk to harming themselves or others, is that enough to keep guns out of the hands of people who would use them to harm others?

DR. JACK ROZEL, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, RESOLVE CRISIS SERVICES & ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF PSYCHIATRY AND ADJUNCT PROFESSOR OF LAW, UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH: It's not enough, but it's a good start. Gun violence is a really complex problem. There's a lot of pieces. There's a lot of moving pieces.

If it was simple enough that I could explain it in a sound byte, we wouldn't still be having this problem in our country.

But by getting that multidisciplinary perspective by bringing together mental health and crisis professionals, sometimes with law enforcement professionals, with people who know that person of interest, we can get a really diverse understanding of people at risk.

We can find some really creative and flexible ways to help them.

If we do it right, we'll do it in ways that don't involve taking away their rights, that don't involve coercing them, but involve giving them better resources to reduce some of their risks factors.

KEILAR: I want to listen to something that Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, said this morning on FOX.


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. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Do you see this as solely a mental health issue?

ROZEL: If we snapped our fingers, and while we're having this conversation right now, all mental illness out there sort of evaporates away, we would be left with 90 percent of the violence, more than half of the mass shooting violence in our country that we have right now.

Don't get me wrong. There's an intersection. It's real.

And as a psychiatrist, I have to be real certain that I'm handling that well.

But the reality is that most violence, including the violence of mass shootings, don't tie back to mental illness.

And when we have statements like that from our leaders, from out police makers, it drives stigmatizing and discriminatory policies that are not only harmful to people with mental illness but just are not going to fix the problem.

We have a really big problem with gun violence in our country.

KEILAR: Sir, thank you so much. We are going to continue this conversation. This isn't going away. We know that.

Dr. Jack Rozel, we appreciate your expertise.


ROZEL: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: Coming up, we are hearing from victims' families from the Colorado grocery store shooting.

Plus, there are growing calls for lawmakers to take up gun reform. But will President Biden wait on Congress to take action?


KEILAR: It is the top of the hour. I'm Brianna Keilar.

And victim's families are crying out today, memorializing Officer Eric Talley, who was first on the scene and died trying to save lives after a gunman opened fire at a grocery store in Colorado killing 10.


Moments ago, Rikki Olds, a victim in the shooting, her uncle shared stories about his niece. He talked about her spontaneity. He talked about how she would snort when she laughed. We'll have more on that in just a minute.