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CNN NEWSROOM

North Korea Fires Two Ballistic Missiles; Colorado Shooting Suspect Due in Court to Face Charges in Coming Hours; Biden to Hold First Formal News Conference; AstraZeneca Releases New Efficacy Data After Criticism; Brazil's Health Minister Changes COVID-19 Reporting Criteria; EU Proposes Tighter Export Controls for COVID-19 Vaccines. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 25, 2021 - 04:00   ET

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


[04:00:00]

KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR: It's a problem that has plagued American presidents for decades, North Korea is baring its teeth once again and now it's President Biden's turn to confront it.

The suspect in the Colorado mass shooting is expected in court in the next few hours as more harrowing stories emerge about what happened.

And --

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The activity has been picking up and I've got a feeling that, you know, the worst is yet to come.

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BRUNHUBER: CNN spent some time in a Texas town where illegal border crossings from Mexico happen every day.

Live from CNN world headquarters in Atlanta. Welcome to all of you watching here in the United States, Canada and around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber. This is CNN NEWSROOM.

North Korea has carried out a second weapons test in less than a week -- according to a U.S. official. South Korea says two ballistic missiles fell into the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. Japan's Prime Minister is calling it a threat to the peace and security of the country.

Now earlier this month Pyongyang warned the Biden administration not to raise, quote, a stink as the U.S. Secretary of State visited Japan and South Korea to strengthen ties. Now CNN's Will Ripley was reported on North Korea from inside that country many times and he joins me from Hong Kong. Will, what can you tell us, first of all about the missiles and the reaction in the region?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So we haven't seen this kind of a launch, Kim, from North Korea since the spring and summer of 2019. These were short range ballistic missiles that traveled around 280 miles, 450 kilometers at an altitude of just under 40 miles for 60 kilometers. So they only stayed in the air for about seven minutes. They splashed down in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. But they didn't go into Japan's exclusive economic zone. So they didn't get too close like some of the launches that I covered when based in Tokyo and that sort of thing seemed to happen quite frequently.

But this is a step back in the direction of provocative behavior on the part of North Korea. Now they haven't conducted a major weapons test since late 2017 when they launched an intercontinental ballistic missile. But we know, Kim, that the United States has been monitoring in recent weeks possible preparations for even bigger tests. And given that it now seems the North Koreans are back on this militaristic footing this sort of ramping up of testing may become once again a part of life in this region.

BRUNHUBER: You said provocative -- presumably, this is a message to President Biden. What are the North Koreans saying here?

RIPLEY: Well, remember when North Korea launched those cruise missiles on Sunday, we found out about it a couple days later. And President Biden was asked about it and he almost appeared on camera to be laughing it off. That certainly would not have been received well by the North Korean leadership. I can tell you from meeting inside that country with a number of North Korean officials they want to be respected. They want to be seen as equals. That was why the diplomacy with President Trump was so appealing and part of the reason why Kim Jong-un imposed a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests.

They want diplomacy with the United States only though, if the United States is willing to withdraw what they view as hostile policies, requiring that they get rid of their nuclear weapons in exchange for sanctions relief. which is the old back and forth that's been going on for quite some time.

[04:05:00]

It'll be very interesting to see what President Biden has to say when he holds his first press conference later in the day in the United States, I believe it's at 1:00 or 1:15 Eastern time. He will likely get questions about North Korea and the North Koreans will be watching for those answers.

Obviously, were very from the Japanese Prime Minister, we're hearing from South Korea. China though is the really big stakeholder here and the only country in many ways that truly could help put pressure on the North Koreans to stop if that is indeed what President Xi wants. But in recent days Xi and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had actually been exchanging pleasantries in public. China even signaling they could start to pick up trade with North Korea which could leave Kim really emboldened here to continue on this militaristic footing even though of course China has always said they want a stable situation on the Korean peninsula.

Yes, all right. Absolutely. Thank you so much, CNN's Will Ripley in Hong Kong. I really appreciate it.

The lone suspect in Monday's mass shooting at the Colorado supermarket will have his first court appearance in the coming hours. The candlelight vigil was held Wednesday in Boulder for the ten people who died. Monday's blood shed came days after eight people were killed by a lone gunman in Atlanta. The back to back shootings prompted the White House to call for renewed ban on assault weapons and other gun control measures.

Police haven't yet determined a motive for Monday's rampage. We get the latest on the investigation from CNN's Kyung Lah.

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KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Investigators continue to collect evidence at King Soopers grocery store and search for a possible motive. From his online activity, a law enforcement official tells CNN to one of the biggest questions -- the gunman's connection to this specific location. Why did he drive to this Boulder store 30 minutes from his home?

The suspect's family home is in the suburbs of Denver, where police are digging into the background of Ahmad Alissa. The only incident on his record, a third degree assault in 2017. He admitted he cold-cocked a classmate at school.

BRIAN KRUESI, SHOOTING WITNESS: I saw a man with a beard, what I thought was possibly like tactical sort of clothing and AR-15 style rifle.

LAH (voice over): The gunman carried a Ruger AR-556 pistol. The arrest warrant says he purchased it six days before the shooting. That timing suggests to investigators, that's law enforcement source to CNN that this attack was planned.

STEVE FENBERG (D-CO), STATE SENATE DEMOCRATIC LEADER: My understanding is that it was purchased at a gun dealer outside of Boulder potentially in Arvada, where he lives.

LAH (voice over): Across Boulder, the enormity of the loss settling in. Mourners line the city streets to watch the procession for Boulder Police Officer Eric Talley, fellow citizen, father of seven moved from the Coroner's Office to a funeral home.

ROBERT OLDS, UNCLE OF SHOOTING VICTIM, RIKKI OLDS: There's a hole -- there's a hole in our family that won't be filled.

LAH (voice over): The uncle of Rikki Olds who worked at the grocery store honor the life she would never live.

OLDS: Sad in that she didn't get to experience motherhood. She didn't get to experience marriage. She didn't get to -- she was 25 years old.

LAH (voice over): Boulder grapples with a sense of helplessness, that they are likely not the last American city to experience this. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm angry because this could be anyone's town. I think it's easy to remove ourselves from these situations when we're not -- when it's not the store we buy birthday cakes at. it's not our colleagues and our mentors and our friends and our teachers and our neighbors and the person that comes into your restaurant every day and orders the same drink.

I would just beg anyone that has the power to make change to imagine if this was their community.

LAH: What we're seeing in Boulder and just has not stopped, are people stopping to put flowers in the chain-link fence. There are so many people coming, so many flowers being put in this fence that you see all of these cards, all of these well wishes, all of this heart break before you see what happened beyond this wall.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Boulder, Colorado.

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BRUNHUBER: Kimberly Moore was working her shift in the King Soopers pharmacy, she had been administering COVID vaccinations when the shooting started. She spoke with CNN's Anderson Cooper about the terrifying ordeal. Listen to this.

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KIMBERLY MOORE, SHOOTING SURVIVOR: They had a COVID counseling room, I stood back, I wanted to make sure that my other colleagues in the pharmacy were OK. So we ended up just hunkering down more in the back of the pharmacy.

But for the beginning of the initial part of the attacks, it was really terrifying because you felt extremely exposed. All he had to do was jump over a counter.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: So you were what? Underneath the counter or --

[04:10:00]

MOORE: So there's these shelves that go behind the pharmacy where we keep our medications and we had eventually moved our way back there which is pretty deep into the corner as you can get being inside of the pharmacy, and when we just hid there.

COOPER: Wow. And do you -- you probably weren't able to see anything. Were you -- and which must, in some ways make it even more terrifying to just be hearing what is happening?

MOORE: Correct. I didn't see anything, but I heard everything. And I tried my best to pay attention to what I was hearing and feeling that was going on around me, which eventually led us be able to move further back into the pharmacy instead of staying so up close.

COOPER: And did you know where the gunman was? Could you hear -- could you understand based on the sound whether it was loud or farther away?

MOORE: Yes, lack of sound, and then, you know, gunshot sounds that traveled throughout the building. And then you can hear the shuffle because we were right next to the stairs that go up to where the manager's offices are. You could kind of hear that rustling noise as well.

COOPER: And did you -- you probably weren't able to see anything. Were you -- which in some ways make it even more terrifying to just hearing what's happening?

MOORE: Correct. I didn't see anything, but I heard everything. And I tried my best to pay attention to what I was hearing and feeling that was going on around me, which eventually led us be able to move further back into the pharmacy instead of staying so up close.

COOPER: And did you know where the gunman was? Could you hear -- could you understand based on the sound whether it was loud or farther away?

MOORE: Yes, lack of sound, and then, you know, gunshot sounds that traveled throughout the building. And then you can hear the shuffle because we were right next to the stairs that go up to where the manager's offices are. You could kind of hear that rustling noise as well.

COOPER: And then, when you finally were able to -- when it was over, when he gave up, do you remember what it was like walking out of the store?

MOORE: It was pretty intense. You know, right before we left, we had just figured out that this man had been hunkering down in front of us for probably at least a good 20 minutes.

COOPER: Right in front of the pharmacy.

MOORE: Right in front of the pharmacy.

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BRUNHUBER: The U.S. state of Colorado has seen more than its share of mass shootings over the years. There were the massacres at Columbine High School in 1999 and the Aurora movie theater in 2012. On Wednesday U.S. Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado blasted Congress for not doing enough to stop the carnage.

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SEN. MICHAEL BENNETT (D-CO): What a sacrifice of their right to be free from fear. Who are we to insist that they live terrified in their own country? Nobody insisted that we live that way, but our failure to act has helped create these conditions and we can't wait any longer. The Senate needs to act. There is nobody else to act, but the United States Senate.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BRUNHUBER: Here in Atlanta police have detained a man who had five firearms and body armor as he entered a supermarket. Police say he openly carried a rifle before entering a bathroom at which point a witness notified officers who moved in. A mental health evaluation is taking place and police say the investigation is in its preliminary phase.

Now, the city has been on edge obviously after last week's attack in which eight people including six Asian women were killed at Atlanta area spas. There is no indication the two events are linked.

We are just hours away from President Joe Biden's first formal news conference as U.S. president. He will likely face questions on everything from gun control to immigration to North Korea's latest missile launch. As CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports he has been preparing for this key moment.

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KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: This is going to be the most extensive time that President Biden has spent in front of the White House press corps since taking office. Because he has done a few question-and-answer sessions here and there, he's done a few one- on-one interviews, but he has never done a formal solo press conference until this afternoon at 1:15 in the east room. That is when he is scheduled to have this back and forth with reporters. And of course because of COVID restrictions there are going to be a limited number of reporters in the room, not like what you would typically see in a presidential press conference.

But that doesn't mean the questions will be any less pressing. Because of course, there are many issues that people can bring up with President Biden including his new push for gun reform. That has been a big shift in the White House this week in the wake of those two mass shootings here in the U.S.

But also immigration legislation, whether or not he still is in favor of the filibuster and of course there are several foreign policy fronts as well given what we saw with North Korea launching those ballistic missiles last night. So several major topics and while President Biden joked yesterday that he didn't really -- he wasn't really preparing for the press conference, he said, quote, what press conference.

I am told that behind the scenes he's been preparing pretty extensively. He's had some conversations with senior aides about what's likely to come up. They have prepped questions for what they think is going to be asked by the reporters who were in the room.

[04:15:00]

And he even held an informal prep session earlier this week with some of his top staff in order to get ready for this press conference happening here this afternoon. Of course, hopefully it will be the first of many.

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BRUNHUBER: Another battle is brewing over the EU supply of AstraZeneca vaccine. Ahead, the new proposal to keep doses from leaving the EU even as EU and the U.K. try to avoid further conflict.

Plus America's top diplomate is on a mission to rebuild trust among European allies and urging unity in the face of aggressive actions by China and Russian. We'll have a live report from London just ahead. Stay with us.

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BRUNHUBER: AstraZeneca has updated its data for vaccine efficacy after U.S. regulators raised concerns the company may have included outdated information in its previous report. The drug maker now says its shot is 76 percent effective against symptomatic COVID cases. That's slightly lower than the 79 percent the company released Monday. It still says the shot is 100 percent effective against preventing severe disease. Now this data has yet to be peer reviewed. Earlier this week the nation's leading infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci and said the mishap could hurt public confidence in vaccines.

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DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, U.S. NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: This is really what you call an enforce error because the fact is this is very likely a very good vaccine. And this kind of thing does, as you say, do nothing but really cast some doubt about the vaccines and maybe contribute to the hesitancy.

At the end of the day, all of this is going to be decided by the FDA. They will independently go over every bit of data themselves and not rely on any interpretation from anyone.

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BRUNHUBER: So as the U.S. waits for AstraZeneca to file for Emergency Use Authorization it's pushing ahead with its vaccination efforts, even more shots could soon be going into more arms as more states are expanding their vaccine eligibility. CNN's Nick Watt has details from Los Angeles.

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NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At least half of the states will open vaccination to everyone 16 and older by the end of April. Around 130 million doses now in American arms, around 1.3 million school staff have now been vaccinated. New York City high schools are back in person this week.

MIGUEL CARDONA, U.S. EDUCATION SECRETARY: About 75 percent or three quarters of our schools are offering some form of in-person learning including hybrid.

WATT (voice-over): But --

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: I continue to be worried about the latest data and the apparent stall we are seeing in the trajectory of the pandemic. CDC is watching these numbers very closely.

WATT (voice-over): Nearly 40,000 Americans are hospitalized with the virus, and five months after discharge, seven in 10 people still suffer symptoms, a new study finds.

New cases, nearly 53,000 reported yesterday.

FAUCI: When you are at that level, I don't think you can declare victory. We are at the corner. Whether or not we're going to be turning that corner still remains to be seen.

WATT (voice-over): One issue that will emerge, should there be different rules for the vaccinated and the not? The Miami Heat just announced they will reserve sections in the stands for vaccinated fans only.

WATT: There will come a day when supply outstrips demand for the vaccine here in the U.S. and that moment, say some local health officials, will be when the really hard phase begins when they start moving into populations that are not quite so willing to be vaccinated.

Nick Watt, CNN, Los Angeles.

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BRUNHUBER: COVID in Brazil has reached a critical level but now more than a year after the pandemic erupted Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is creating a crisis committee to oversee the government's response. The panel will gather every week to decide next steps. More than 300,000 people there have now lost their lives to the coronavirus. At least that's when you're looking at official data. And then the health ministry changed the rules for reporting cases and deaths. CNN's Matt Rivers is in Sao Paulo.

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MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well on a day where Brazil's death toll surpassed 300,000 coronavirus deaths for the first time it was the way that new deaths were reported on Wednesday that really got people talking. On Wednesday, the health ministry announced that it would be requiring more personal information about COVID-19 victims from the officials that were reporting those deaths.

That immediately sparked concern that the number of COVID-19 deaths being reported would be lower. Those concerns apparently justified. On Tuesday there was a record setting day for coronavirus deaths, more than 3,200 deaths recorded in a single day on Tuesday. That number on Wednesday plummeted to just over 2,000 deaths. That immediately made people here in Brazil suspicious. One day you have a record setting amount of deaths in a single day, the next day reporting requirements change, the timing certainly made people suspicious. By the end of the day the health ministry announced that it was

basically backtracking, it wouldn't require more information moving forward. We'll have to see what happens when the numbers come out on Thursday. But this whole incident certainly didn't give a lot of people here in Brazil more confidence, more trust in the way the federal government is handling this pandemic.

Matt Rivers, CNN, Sao Paulo, Brazil.

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BRUNHUBER: The European Union and the U.K. have issued a joint statement saying they are working together to expand access to coronavirus vaccines and create a win-win situation. Now, that's after the European commission issued something of a veiled threat to cut back on vaccine exports to the U.K. Essentially saying that all future exports will depend on such factors as the vaccination rate of the destination country.

Germany is one of the European countries now battling a third surge of COVID-19 infections but just one day after announcing a strict Easter lockdown to tackle a rise in cases Chancellor Angela Merkel walks back that plan.

[04:25:00]

Merkel faced criticism over the holiday restrictions, she said the decision had been made with the best intentions and she apologized for any confusion, saying the issuer was her mistake alone.

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ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): It's important to say here a mistake needs to be called a mistake and above all it must be corrected and if possible, this needs to happen as soon as possible. At the same time I'm aware that this whole business has created even more uncertainty and I deeply regret this and ask forgiveness.

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BRUNHUBER: They are also surging in France where hospitals are being stretched thin with the influx of new patients. Among them two French ministers hospitalized just this week. CNN's Melissa Bell joins us now from Paris. Melissa, I'd like to start with that joint statement between the EU and U.K. Does that suggest a detente in this vaccine war?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is the beginning of a hint that they might start working together. So perhaps one shouldn't hope too much given the animosity we have seen over the course of the last few weeks. But I think what it may suggest -- and I think is important in this respect, Kim, is that perhaps the EU strategy is working.

Remember that what they announced yesterday was an expansion of the export ban that they brought in the end of January in the middle of their spat with AstraZeneca over the shortfall in deliveries that were to be expected in the first quarter. In fact that they announced yesterday -- and it's a proposal for the time being, it has yet to be approved by European leaders over the next couple of days -- essentially an expansion of that mechanism which would mean they are not just looking at companies and whether they're living up to their contractual obligations, but also, they would be looking at the countries to which exports would in theory be going.

To look at how their COVID-19 figures are. To see how their vaccinations are going and specifically really targeting the United Kingdom. There's been a great deal of frustration from European leaders over the course of the last two weeks that they could take on AstraZeneca blocking at one point those 250,000 dose from Italy that were headed to Australia. But they haven't had much pull, much sway over London and its decisions.

This in a sense, this increased mechanism, gives them that. Since what they would be able to do, for instance, is block the export of Pfizer vaccines from leaving Europe and heading to the U.K. based on those new expanded criterion. And of course is worrying to the British as they continue with what's been a spectacularly successful vaccination rollout so far.

If those second doses of the Pfizer vaccine needed for the British population get blocked that would be a blow. So it could be that Europe has found a way of having some kind of leverage over London in this and this announcement they intend to work together could just be the fruit of that -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Interesting. All right, thank you so much for that. Melissa Bell in Paris.

Still ahead, the end of one journey but the beginning of another entirely. You will hear the struggles those desperate to reach the U.S. and the Texas town that says it's struggling too.

And a face-off in the Senate. What Democratic leader Chuck Schumer is calling one of the most despicable things he has ever seen and what Republicans are saying in response. Stay with us.

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