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Dominion Sues FOX News For $1.6 Billion; Georgia Restricts Voter Access. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 26, 2021 - 14:00   ET

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


[14:00:50]

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: It is the top of the hour. I'm Brianna Keilar.

And we are watching the big lie turn into voter suppression before our very eyes. Georgia's Republican governor has just signed a sweeping new law aimed at making it harder for people in his state to vote.

This is all based on the false claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election. Critics argue that this controversial bill crafted and passed the by Republicans disproportionately targets Democrats and minority voters in this critical, now critical battleground state.

The governor signed the law behind closed doors at the state capitol last night. And when Georgia State Representative Park Cannon knocked on the door where Governor Kemp was repeatedly and called for transparency, she was arrested by state troopers and led away from the statehouse in handcuffs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The governor is signing a bill affects all Georgians. Why is he doing it in private and keeping elected officials who are representing us out of the process?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you serious?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, you are not. Representative...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, she is not under arrest.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For what? Under arrest for what?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why is she under arrest?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For trying to see something that our governor is doing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why is she under arrest?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our governor is signing a bill that affects all Georgian. And you're going to arrest an elected representative.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: Today, that Georgia lawmaker is facing two felony charges for knocking on that door in that protest.

Republicans are dismissing claims of voter suppression, though, as Governor Kemp defends this new law.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R-GA): My commitment to the people of our state is simple. I will not back down. The truth is, ensuring the integrity of the ballot box isn't partisan. It's about protecting the very foundation of who we are as Georgians and Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Hours before Kemp signed that bill, President Biden called new voter restrictions like the one in Georgia sick and un-American.

In the next hour, the president will take part in a fund-raiser for Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who says the bill is -- quote -- "designed to suppress voter turnout."

For more on this, let's bring in CNN's Dianne Gallagher.

Dianne, help us understand what this bill does.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Brianna, look, to start with, this bill literally changes Georgia elections from top to bottom, so many different facets. It's nearly 100 pages.

But when we're talking about those components of the bill that people are upset over, that there was concern that it would make it more difficult to vote or at least add an obstacle to make it less convenient to vote, we're talking about adding I.D. for absentee voting.

Right now or, as of yesterday in Georgia, it is that way. But, before that, it was a signature match, limiting ballot drop boxes to only be inside early voting centers and only during early voting hours, most of which end at 5:00 p.m. and begin at 9:00 a.m., so not exactly working hours.

But then there's also the idea that it broadens state officials power over local election management, specifically giving these state- appointed by partisan official positions the ability to replace local election officials.

And that's what has a lot of different activists concerned that is specifically targeting Democratic and more diverse counties, like here in Fulton County, where Atlanta is, and hearkens back to that big lie that former President Trump and his allies were spreading, trying to overturn the results here in Georgia, giving partisan lawmakers, because the House and the Senate and the governorship here in Georgia are all controlled by Republican, more influence over local and specifically Democratic areas. Now, Brianna, there are some of the others that make headlines, such as making it criminal to give somebody food or drink who's waiting in line to vote, and then preventing the secretary of state, who is also stripped of power in this law, from sending unsolicited absentee ballots.

Now, you mentioned Representative Cannon's arrest last night. Her attorney says that she's going to fight this, that they don't believe that that was a legal arrest to begin with, and she's going to continue fighting this.

[14:05:04]

But it's hard to ignore the optics of what was happening behind that closed-door, with Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican, surrounded by white men who were all Republicans signing that bill in his ceremonial office, as predominantly black protesters were outside, with black lawmakers crying that this was going to disenfranchise them and make it harder for them to vote.

And the truth is, Brianna, we're seeing this happen across the country. Georgia is the first battleground state to sort of pass legislation like this. Iowa passed some earlier this year. But we're seeing this move through legislatures across the country, and specifically in states where President Trump attempted to challenge the results, so swing states where President Biden won, but former President Trump didn't seem able to accept that.

And we're seeing legislators in those states present these more egregious bills. It's almost like a copy/paste, Brianna. We're seeing similar versions of the same bills that specifically focus on things like absentee voting, and specifically seem to target voters of color.

KEILAR: Dianne, that was so helpful. Thank you so much, Dianne Gallagher, for taking us through these important changes that we are keeping our eye on.

My next guest is John Blake. He is a senior writer and producer for CNN.com.

And, John, you have been following this. And you say the Republican Party has made a political miscalculation in Georgia with these new voting restrictions. Why is that?

JOHN BLAKE, CNN SENIOR WRITER AND PRODUCER: Well, I cannot think of the group of voters, black voters, that are more mobilized than the black voters in Georgia.

For example, black voters of Georgia, they were very bitter about the loss of Stacey Abrams about two years ago. And they have also been hit by a lot of other bad forms of publicity. And so I think this kind of voter restrictions is even -- mobilizing them even more.

For example, I live in one of the areas in Atlanta that's heavily black-populated. And I distinctly remember during the election in November, the presidential election, and also remember the run-off, there was such a fever excitement of so many black voters saying, we have to get out to vote, even though there's a pandemic, even though all these other things are going on.

There were people that were literally willing to risk their lives to vote. So, I think this is going to inflame their desire to vote even more. I think that's one miscalculation. But there's another.

KEILAR: There's another. And I want to ask you about something.

If my producers could put up the picture, the wide picture here, what we're looking at is the picture of Governor Kemp surrounded by six white lawmakers. And you talk about this photo. You even say, look at the picture behind them, which, I mean, it looks like a plantation.

I don't know exactly what the building is.

BLAKE: Right.

KEILAR: But you mentioned it's certainly a plantation style. It sort of evokes the antebellum South.

And you talk about this photo, in contrast to the photo of the state representative being arrested by police, clearly in some distress as she's being arrested. And it's -- I mean, what do you think this does for Republicans? These optics are terrible.

BLAKE: I think it puts them on the defensive.

And I think, too, it evokes images of the Jim Crow era.

What I said in the story that ran on CNN today that movements are often driven by powerful images, that old cliche about how they speak louder than words. And so you have six white men surrounding a white governor who's signing this bill into law at night with masks on their face, and with that drawing behind them.

And then you have another photo of a black woman being arrested who's protesting this. I think it really looks bad. And I think there are going to be other moments like that. For example, there's a provision in this new law that says, if you try to bring food or water to someone in a voting line, that's equivalent -- that's -- you're breaking the law.

I can easily foresee future moments when some activist is going to call the police or the press, and they're going to try to bring grandma water or food in the voting line, and they're going to be arrested.

And can you picture how those type of images will go over in Georgia as well?

KEILAR: Yes, I picture those photos in future civics books in school, to be honest.

BLAKE: Yes.

KEILAR: John Blake, thank you so much for joining us.

This Georgia law is the first to restrict voting rights in a presidential battleground state following the 2020 election. It likely won't be the last; 44 other state legislatures have introduced bills to curb or complicate access to the polls.

These are measures that were fueled by the big lie that the election was stolen from President Trump.

[14:10:00]

Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock made that connection in a show of support for the representative who was arrested in Georgia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAPHAEL WARNOCK (D-GA): But in the video I saw, she was knocking on the door.

Contrast that with folks who staged a violent insurrection on the United States Capitol. Police officers and others were killed.

And I want to know, from those who are using the premise of that assault as the basis for a craven takeover of power in Georgia, why they're OK with that, and, somehow, the actions of a state legislator knocking on the door of a governor who is signing a law that impacts her constituents, why her actions are somehow so dangerous and criminal that she got charged with two felonies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: I want to bring in Jackie Kucinich. She is a CNN political analyst. She's also the Washington bureau chief for The Daily Beast.

And with us for this discussion as well is Charles Coleman Jr. He is a former New York prosecutor and a civil rights attorney.

All right, Charles, let's dig into one of the key provisions that is in this Georgia law that would give the Republican-controlled state election board the power to replace county election boards.

What is the effect of that? What does that look like?

CHARLES COLEMAN JR., CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Well, the effect of that, Brianna, is that what it does is, it takes the power outside of mixed or Democratic territories and puts it back in the hands of Republicans.

It is a facially neutral law, which is intended to appear as though it does not have a disparate impact. But what it does is that it has a disproportionate impact on communities of color and on minority communities, which are generally associated with the Democratic Party.

So, that's what that is. This is sort of a smoke and mirrors game to allow state and local elections, but local elections, particularly in Democratic areas within a Republican state, as far as the statehouse is concerned, to have that power taken away from those officials, and then give it back to the Republican Party.

KEILAR: Jackie, looking at not just what's happened in Georgia, but what is poised to happen in states across the country, I think there's 45 other states where bills are being pushed that would restrict access to voting, you would think that there was widespread voter fraud that would have affected the outcome of some states' election results.

There was none. So, it becomes -- it seems pretty clear what's going on here.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, exactly.

And you actually heard Joe Biden address this a bit yesterday during his press conference, when he said it was sick, what was happening and was un-American. And that's one of the reasons that you're seeing a push on the Hill to get rid of the filibuster, which we have heard a lot about recently, because of how it will be used against voting rights legislation that's coming -- that's coming from the House.

Joe Biden has obviously backed that. However, it's still -- it's unclear what its future is in the Senate. He did not say what else he could do. He hinted there is other things he could do besides pushing and supporting this act, but kind of gave us a wait-and-see answer on that.

But there's certainly some movement on the federal level. But what that -- what actually happens at the end of the day, it's still unclear.

KEILAR: Charles, it seems like what is this widespread push on these bills and these provisions is the confluence of the big lie, but also the Supreme Court having essentially gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act with the decision back in 2013.

And Justice John Roberts, the chief justice, wrote in the majority opinion -- quote -- that they did so because -- quote -- "It was based on decades-old data and eradicated practices."

Does what we're seeing happen right now disprove that part of the opinion?

COLEMAN: Brianna, it's almost as though you just read my mind, because of what I was thinking while Jackie was talking was that this is exactly the progeny of Shelby vs. Holder.

That is the case that you were referring to, the Supreme Court case, which essentially gutted that section of the Voting Rights Act. And what we are seeing is, in fact, that Justice Roberts was extremely mistaken in terms of that section of the opinion, and the fact that this information was essentially outdated, that this was problematic, and that we were at a different place in society.

Clearly, everything that we have seen over the past three months has told us the opposite. We knew this beforehand, but if we did not know it, the big lie led -- there's a direct line between the big lie and the fuel that led to January and the Capitol insurrection, and then another direct line between that and the more than 113 different laws that we are seeing across the country that are furthering voter suppression around America.

[14:15:10]

So, I don't think that it's a far stretch to say that Shelby looms very largely over what we're seeing now, and that these -- all of these things that we're seeing are directly connected.

KEILAR: If you two could stick around for me, Charles and Jackie, I do want to also ask you ahead about this $1.6 billion lawsuit that was just filed today against FOX. This is from Dominion voting machines.

Also ahead, the former CDC director says, without evidence, that he thinks COVID came from a Chinese lab. Dr. Sanjay Gupta is going to join us to take a real look at this.

Plus, former President Trump playing kingmaker -- details on a reported meeting that he had with four potential Senate candidates that was described as the Hunger Games.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:20:18]

KEILAR: Dominion Voting Systems, a voting tech company targeted by the big lie when it comes to the election, is now the second voting company, voting technology company, that's suing FOX, this time for $1.6 billion.

CNN senior media reporter Oliver Darcy is following this for us.

This is a pricey lawsuit. This is huge. What is Dominion claiming here?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Yes, Brianna, this is, like you said, a hefty lawsuit.

I actually have it right here. And it lays out in specific detail how FOX, according to this lawsuit, participated in a disinformation campaign against the company, a disinformation campaign that Dominion says caused irreparable damage to its business, as well as resulted in death threats against its employees.

The lawsuit mentioned some of FOX's biggest stars, Brianna. You have Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Maria Bartiromo, Lou Dobbs. They're all mentioned in this lawsuit and it says that they basically spread demonstrably false claims about the company to the FOX audience.

Tom Clare, who is a prominent defamation attorney, just held a press call a few hours ago with reporters. And he explained in detail how this lie about the company was spread to the FOX audience. Why don't we take a listen to what he said?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TOM CLARE, ATTORNEY FOR DOMINION VOTING SYSTEMS: FOX put Sidney Powell on the air again and again to spread lies about Dominion. Lou Dobbs put her on the air again and again and made sure, both with his own statements, and by putting her on the air over and over again, that FOX's global audience would take those lies seriously.

On one of those appearances, Sidney Powell looked straight into that FOX News camera and told Lou Dobbs -- quote -- "You would have to be a damn fool and abjectly stupid not to see what happened here" -- close quote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DARCY: Now, this is not, like you said, the first voting technology company to file a massive lawsuit against FOX.

Smartmatic, another voting election company, filed a $2.7 billion lawsuit against the right-wing network back in February, which means that FOX is now facing more than $4 billion in lawsuits over its coverage of the 2020 election.

FOX, however, it's saying that these lawsuits are meritless. And it's actually saying that it is proud of the coverage that it offered its viewers -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, it's promoted -- they promoted some of the biggest propagators of these lies, so I guess so.

Oliver Darcy, thank you so much.

Let's talk again with Jackie Kucinich and Charles Coleman Jr. to discuss this.

Charles, looking at this case that Dominion has, does this have merit?

COLEMAN: This absolutely has, Brianna.

And, quite frankly, it would surprise me if FOX News was not shaking in his boots right now. At the end of the day, what they have done is, they have tried to hustle controversy for profit, and that seldom works out well. It is very clear that these claims have legitimacy, that they will go forward, and that FOX will have a difficult time defending them.

And you can quote me on saying that they are more than likely going to end up settling out of court, because they do not want to go to trial and try to defend these charges.

KEILAR: I mean, discovery would be very interesting, if they actually could get in to see the discussions around some of this.

Jackie, at the same time, FOX, when it comes to its programming, yes, Lou Dobbs was out. He was part of the Smartmatic suit, part of who Smartmatic sued. But they also had Maria Bartiromo in that suit. They had Jeanine Pirro in that suit. Maria Bartiromo has been promoted. She now has -- going from FOX Business News, she also has a show on FOX proper.

I mean, what kind of message does that send about how FOX looks at this?

KUCINICH: I mean, it really -- so, The Daily Beast had a story today that quoted several FOX employees, current employees, on background, and one of the things they said is that FOX feels like they can weather this and that they will likely settle out of court, it'll cost them a bit of money, but when you're talking to -- talking about a network as large as FOX, it perhaps will just be a small ding, right?

So there is that, at least among some of the employees there, are thoughts that they could weather this.

But then I have to mention the -- Sidney Powell's response to the lawsuit she's facing, that no reasonable person would take these -- some of the crazier things that she said seriously. Well, they did.

And we know that. Look no further than what happened in Georgia, when Gabe Sterling, the election official, there was talking about the real implications it had for at least one young Dominion worker, who was receiving threats after he was trying to leave work.

[14:25:08]

So, there actually are factual instances here where we know people were taking these seriously, both FOX viewers and others who were making decisions based on what they were hearing on this network.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Yes, Sidney Powell is using, Charles, the Tucker Carlson defense, because there was the case, the Karen McDougal case, where she sued FOX and Tucker Carlson, and FOX lawyers actually made the argument successfully that no reasonable person actually believes what Tucker Carlson says.

Sidney Powell clearly saw that. However, the thing that has changed since FOX was successful in making that argument is that we saw a lot of people do take these shows seriously. Will that affect what a judge decides in this case, do you think?

COLEMAN: Absolutely.

I think that the ability of FOX to sort of use that defense is going to be directly impacted on the plaintiffs' ability to basically make plain the connection between what was said and the lies that were advanced by FOX News in those instances, and then the subsequent actions of others, because, at that point, what happens is, you have to then explain to the judge, how is it that you have said that a reasonable person cannot reasonably believe what it is that they have said, but then you have repeated instance after repeated instance where individual after individual continues to act on those things?

You would have to basically explain, how is it that all of these people all of a sudden are unreasonable? And that's where FOX will fail, in my opinion, in being able to rely on that same defense in this case.

KEILAR: Charles, thank you so much. Jackie, thank you so much. Great to see you.

Just moments ago, the White House announced a new single-day record for COVID vaccine doses, more than 3.3 million shots administered in 24 hours.

This news as CNN's special report with Dr. Sanjay Gupta is about to premiere with the most high-profile COVID doctors. And he's going to join us with a sneak peek of that conversation next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:30:00]