Return to Transcripts main page


CDC Director Warns of COVID Surge; Derek Chauvin Trial Begins. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 29, 2021 - 14:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Prosecutors showing that video that we have all painfully witnessed many times, but this time in its raw entirety, accusing this former officer of using excessive force even after Floyd was on the ground and suffering.


JERRY BLACKWELL, PROSECUTOR: So, we learn here that Mr. Floyd at some point is completely passed out.

Mr. Chauvin continues on as he had, knee on the neck, knee on the back. You will see these those not let up, that he does not get up for the remaining, as you can see, three minutes and 51 seconds.

During this period of time, you will learn that Mr. Chauvin is told that they can't even find a pulse on Mr. Floyd. You will learn he's told that twice. They can't even find a pulse. You will be able to see for yourself what he does in response. You will see that he does not let up and that he does not get up.


BALDWIN: As for Chauvin's defense team, accusing George Floyd as being under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and saying those abuses and underlying medical problems were actually his cause of death.


ERIC NELSON, ATTORNEY FOR DEREK CHAUVIN: The evidence will show that Mr. Floyd died of a cardiac arrhythmia that occurred as a result of hypertension, his coronary disease, the ingestion of methamphetamine and fentanyl, and the adrenaline throwing -- flowing through his body, all of which acted to further compromise an already compromised heart.


BALDWIN: Let's start with our correspondent Omar Jimenez there live in Minneapolis.

And, Omar, I mean, all eyes around the world on this trial there in Minneapolis. Tell me a little bit more as far as what you know about the jurors. And just having covered this since the beginning, what's standing out for you so much so far?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brooke, when you talk about the eyes of the world being on this trial,that is not an understatement.

This has been a moment that has been a long time coming and the beginning of what many see as a major step toward justice toward for George Floyd, in that this -- and being this trial, I should say.

Now we are in a lunch recess right now. And we are on the other side of opening statements. But before court even got in session, we heard from the family of George Floyd, because, let's remember, throughout all of the hype and the pressures coming from the outside into this, there's still a family at the core of this trying to figure out how to balance grieving over a loved one, while being the center of a movement that has energized millions of people across the world.

And this trial doesn't make that process any easier. The one note they have mentioned, though, that does feel good for them is, they are represented. Philonise Floyd, the brother of George Floyd, is the lone representative for the Floyd family in court.

But, this morning, they held a nearly-nine-minute silent kneeling protests, along with their attorneys, to represent the amount of time Derek Chauvin's was on George Floyd's neck. Of course, we saw that play out in its entirety over the course of opening statements.

So, prosecutors starting with really the unavoidable here, laying out that nine-minute-and-29-second timeline for the jurors, which I should also mention, many of them who were questioned during the jury selection process had mentioned they had never seen the video entirely or -- and, again, during the questioning portion, they had said they had only seen it in portions.

So, this very well could have been the first time they had seen it in its entirety.

And, of course, you have touched on what the defense previewed as some of their central arguments, that it was the underlying medical conditions, including the ingestion of methamphetamine and fentanyl, that was shown in the autopsy report, but also an argument that we had not known about previously, saying that the crowd that had grown around the scene, where Chauvin's knee was on Floyd's neck, the increased perceived threat as it was described, caused Chauvin and the other officers to divert their attention away from the care of Mr. Floyd and toward the growing threat.

So, that also seems to be a thread that the defense will pull on moving forward. But we are in the thick of it now. We have already had one witness called. And there will be many more after that. The defense will be cross-examining this witness that the prosecutor called before the lunch recess as we continue into this trial -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: And so it begins.

Omar Jimenez, thank you so much. I want to just go through all these details here on this day one.

With me now, CNN legal analyst Elie Honig. He's a former federal prosecutor. Also with me, CNN law enforcement analyst Charles Ramsey. He is a former Philadelphia police commissioner and the former chief of D.C. Metropolitan Police.

So, gentlemen, good to have both of you on.

And, Elie, let me just begin with you, because, obviously, you have prosecuted so many cases in your career. When you sat and you were listening to the prosecution's opening statement this morning, as well as their questioning of that first witness, right, the 9/11 operator, what do you make of their case so far?


ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Brooke, I was taught as a prosecutor that, when you're giving an opening address like today, you have two goals, and only two, you have to be clear and you have to be credible.

Some people may have been watching at home thinking, why is this prosecutor being so sort of dry, mild, just the facts? Where's all the fireworks? Where's the sensationalism? Real prosecutors know that maybe is the way it looks in movies and TV. In real life, that is not the job of the prosecutor. The only job is to be clear and credible.

I think the prosecutor here met those goals. Also, remember, the videotape itself is the star witness. You don't need fireworks when you have the facts. I think that's what the prosecution is seeking to do here.

This first witness, the dispatcher, I think is a typical, a perfect first witness. You want to lead off strong. This person is credible. Her story, I think, is quite compelling. This is a person who dispatches for the police, saw something that bothered her enough that she called it in.

So, I think she's a very effective first witness.

BALDWIN: Let's talk about you. You hit on the video.

Commissioner Ramsey, to you. That eight minutes, 46 seconds, or, really, as it was played out, the nine minutes, 29 seconds today, it is a video that is difficult for anyone to watch. And just to ask you, as a former police chief, commissioner, who I know you have been in policing for over 50 years, please educate us just when use of force is necessary.

And then at what point do officers need to stop?

CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I mean, force is necessary to effect an arrest if an individual is resisting arrest, but only that force that's necessary to overcome the resistance. The force has to be necessary, it has to be proportional, and it has to be objectively reasonable. At some point in time -- and you can see it in this -- in the video, one, it no longer is necessary, because he's under control. He's handcuffed. He's no longer resisting arrest.

Is it still proportional? Not if he's no longer resisting. You reduce the force or stop the force entirely once he's under control. And at some point in time, what is objectively reasonable becomes unreasonable. And I think that's what you're looking at here.

The length of time, nine minutes and 29 seconds, and even though, when you look at the video, especially the second one they showed, the different angle from across the street, you can see some level of resistance when he's in the car, and they wind up pulling him out of the car.

But just because a person is resisting at this moment doesn't mean a minute from now, two minutes from now, three minutes from now, you're still justified in using force. You only use enough force to overcome the resistance. You had four people there, four officers there, three of which were actively trying to restrain him.

At some point in time, you have to just realize that it's over. Turn him on his side, get him up. He's in a bad position, where he could easily have positional asphyxia, because he's face down. The lungs can't expand for him to breathe. You have got the added problem of one officer, Chauvin, with his knee on the neck, which can impact not only the -- his ability to breathe, but the blood flow to the brain.

And so you have all these factors. And we will see a lot more video, because I know there's a lot more out there. And jurors will be able to -- that first shock will start to wear off, and they will be able to look at the video and very objectively go through that timeline and see exactly what took place and make a determination based on that.

BALDWIN: Yes, we're about to see a lot of video, some with audio, some without.

RAMSEY: Right.

BALDWIN: Some seeing the crowd, some seeing the officers.

And, so, Elie, back over to you on the defense side, right, listening to the defense opening arguments. They brought up Floyd's drug use. They argued that the force was not excessive. They argue that the crowd there gathering around was actually distracting those police officers from attending to George Floyd.

What do you think of their defense?

HONIG: So, there's really two lines of defense. The first one is this idea that the amount of force that Derek Chauvin used to restrain George Floyd was not excessive, was not unreasonable.

I think Commissioner Ramsey just perfectly addressed that. If I'm prosecuting this case, what I do is, at the moment they have George Floyd rear-handcuffed behind his back, face down, on the asphalt, I hit pause. And I say, all the stuff that led up to this, was there a struggle, was there a partial struggle, was he compliant or not, doesn't matter, because what matters is, from this moment forward, are they using the appropriate amount of force and for the next nine-plus minutes, do they use the appropriate amount of force?

Commissioner Ramsey has been in this business for 50 years. I think his statements just now exactly explained why it was beyond, well beyond what was necessary and appropriate.

The second big issue we're going to hear here is causation. The defense is going to argue, somehow -- and it sort of defies logic and common sense -- that a grown man putting his entire body weight on another restrained man's neck for over nine minutes was not the cause of death; it was overdose or something else.


The key thing to remember is, Derek Chauvin's actions do not have to be the only cause of George Floyd's death. If Derek Chauvin's actions were one contributing cause, even if there were others, he still will be liable and he still can be found guilty for that.

BALDWIN: But to the point of the crowd, because we kept hearing this, and I'm sure we will continue to hear it, from the defense.

And, Commissioner, this is for you. And, again, you weren't there. So it's impossible for you to know definitively, was the crowd hostile, was it unruly, as the defense characterized it?

But I'm just curious your read just seeing some of the video, A, on the crowd. And, B, if you're a member of law enforcement, and you find yourself in a situation that perhaps you feel is hostile, right -- this is the defense's word -- what do you do in that situation?

RAMSEY: Well, first of all, I mean, I have seen hostile crowds, believe me, and just from what I saw in that earlier video, that wasn't hostile. Those people were concerned. They were yelling and so forth. That's not really hostile.

But even if you want to call it hostile, that's even more reason to try to get him up and out of there as quickly as possible, before it gets even worse. Now, it seems to me -- and I'm certainly not an attorney, that might be a better defense for the other officers as to why they didn't intervene and pull Chauvin off him, if they were concerned about the crowd, they were paying attention to that vs. what he was doing.

But as far as Chauvin goes, I mean, he's got his sunglasses on top of his head. He's got one arm on his hip. He's very nonchalant. I mean, where's the resistance? Where's the struggle? Look at his body language. Look at what he's doing.

Obviously, it was under control. When you're fighting, that's not how you look when you're in the middle of a fight. It just isn't. So, at some point in time, he was under control. Everything stops at that point in time. You got him. He's under arrest. Get him out of there.

BALDWIN: I'm going to hit pause on this conversation. You two are lovely enough to stick around with me as they're in lunch. They're in recess. They will resume momentarily. We will stay in the trial.

And we will pepper throughout the coverage. And I will get your -- both of your reads on everything that's happening. So, for now, guys, thank you so much.

Also happening this afternoon, in fact, any moment now, President Joe Biden will be speaking about the pandemic. We are just learning that he will be setting a new timeline for when the majority of adults can get vaccinated, and it is earlier than the main deadline he has already announced.

So, let's go straight to our CNN chief White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.

And, Kaitlan, what do about the president's announcement?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So, he's going to be speaking any minute now, Brooke.

And what we expect President Biden to say is that his goal, his new goal, and his new proposal and plan is going to include a plan to have all Americans, all adult Americans eligible to get a vaccine within the next three weeks. That deadline would make it about April 19, according to the what the White House is telling us.

And they are saying they believe 90 percent of all adult American Americans will be eligible to get a vaccine by April 19. And we're also expecting President Biden to say they are doubling the number of pharmacies in that federal program, that they are sending coronavirus vaccine doses directly to pharmacies, instead of just the ones that go to states.

They're expected to double that number. Right now, it's at about 17,000. They expect it to be at 40,000 by April 19. So, that's part of their plan for how they're expecting to get 90 percent of Americans eligible to be able to get a vaccine.

Of course, that requires having a pharmacy or having a doctor's office near you, where you can actually get the vaccine, in addition to those mass vaccination sites that you have seen the federal government open up as well. So, look for President Biden to make those announcements coming up.

Of course, when they talk about the pharmacies, one thing that's interesting, according to this fact sheet that the White House has just sent out, is, they are saying that they believe that all -- 90 percent of all adult Americans will have a place to get vaccinated within five miles of where they live by that third week of April.

Of course, that would be a big cause of this or a big added effort to getting Americans vaccinated, because that's been the issue for some low-income Americans, is actually having somewhere where they can get the vaccine that's accessible to them and within driving distance of their home, because, of course, you have heard the stories of some people going hours away to get vaccines.

So, that is what we are expecting to hear from President Biden when he does speak in just a few moments, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Great. We're standing by for him.

For now, Kaitlan, thank you very much in Washington.

Also, the CDC director today holding back tears as she warned of -- quote -- "impending doom" -- her words -- as COVID cases rise. Let's talk about that.

And President Biden is getting ready to unveil this massive $3 trillion infrastructure plan. But what about voting rights and gun reform?

And it is finally free. That massive ship that was stuck in the Suez Canal, crippling the crucial trade route for days, is finally sailing again. We are live in Egypt.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.



BALDWIN: We are back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

The CDC director issuing a warning to all of us, that it is too soon to let our guards down against COVID. And the stakes couldn't be higher. She says there's just too much to lose.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky becoming actually visibly emotional as she made this appeal this morning.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: I'm going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom.

We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are, and so much reason for hope. But, right now, I'm scared.

I know what it's like as a physician to stand in that patient room, gowned, gloved, masked, shielded, and to be the last person to touch someone else's loved one because their loved one couldn't be there.


I know what it's like when you're the physician, when you're the health care provider, and you're worried that you don't have the resources to take care of the patients in front of you. I know that feeling of nausea when you read the crisis standards of

care, and you wonder whether there are going to be enough ventilators to go around and who's going to make that choice.

And I know what it's like to pull up to your hospital every day and see the extra morgue sitting outside. I didn't know at the time when it would stop. We didn't have the science to tell us. We were just scared. We have come such a long way.

And so I'm asking you to just hold on a little longer to get vaccinated when you can, so that all of those people that we all love will still be here when this pandemic ends.


BALDWIN: Pretty powerful and pretty rare for a government official to do that.

And, as Dr. Walensky noted, more than half the country right now is seeing an increase in COVID infections.

Our CNN medical analyst, infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist Dr. Celine Gounder is with me.

And, Dr. Gounder. I mean, just to listen to Dr. Walensky there and her warning of this impending doom, and let's just all please be careful this next little bit, do you share those same feelings?

DR. CELINE GOUNDER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Brooke, imagine that you're in a burning building, and a firefighter is climbing his ladder to your window to save you, and you lose patience, and you say, you know what, you're just taking too long to climb that ladder, and you jump out the window.

That is literally what we are doing right now. We are losing patience. You have no idea how hard the health care workers, the public health officials, the scientists have been working to get us to this point. We just need to wait a little bit longer to get those who are at highest risk for infection for severe COVID, for hospitalization, for death, to get them vaccinated, and we're almost there.

BALDWIN: No, I hear you on that metaphor. And I would know to sit put, protect myself, and wait for that firefighter to rescue me.

I want to ask you about young people in this country, because until we're really able to vaccinate young people, what should doctors do as the rise in cases in our younger folks is continuing upward?

GOUNDER: One of the patterns of this pandemic is that very often a surge begins with transmission about -- among younger people and then ripples out to older people.

And so the message I would give is, we really do know the mitigation measures work. We have seen them work, both in this country and elsewhere, the masking, the social distancing. If you're going to be around other people, do it outside, avoid crowds. All of that stuff still works.

And we all should be continuing to do that until it's our turn to be vaccinated.

BALDWIN: In last night's CNN special report with pandemic doctors, former White House COVID response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said this:



The first time we have an excuse, there were about 100,000 deaths that came from that original surge. All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially if we took the lessons we had learned from that moment. That's what bothers me every day.


BALDWIN: Dr. Gounder, how do you feel about that? Do you agree?

GOUNDER: You know, this is how science works, right? You observe, you learn, you study, you evolve your approach.

And what's really sad is, we didn't learn from that first surge in the New York City and New Jersey area. Instead, we repeated the same mistakes over and over and over again. And I fear we're about to do the same thing yet again.

BALDWIN: In another moment in that special, at the time, thinking back, President Trump was adamant about reopening the nation early on in the pandemic.

And this is how Dr. Fauci felt about that. Watch this.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: The thing that hit me like a punch to the chest was then, all of a sudden, he got up and says, liberate Virginia, liberate Michigan.

And I said to myself, oh, my goodness, what is going on here? It shocked me because it was such a jolt to what we were trying to do.


BALDWIN: What would you -- just looking back, what do you do? What would you have done?

GOUNDER: I think the number one lesson of this pandemic, Brooke, is that you do not politicize a public health crisis. And it is not public health vs. the economy.

If you look at other countries, other Western countries, other developed countries in Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, who followed the science, they are actually -- not only did they suffer fewer cases, fewer deaths, but they're actually in a much better place in terms of their economy.

And so I would really say that, the next time we have another public health crisis, let the doctors, the scientists, the public health officials lead, and don't politicize that, because that's really harmful to all of us.


BALDWIN: We're going to get a little bit more information tomorrow. A World Health Organization team is investigating the origins of COVID. And it's all coming out tomorrow.

And a source says the report will say it's extremely unlikely that the virus was leaked from that lab in China. But then, during the special report last night, former CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said that he believes COVID came from a lab in Wuhan.

So, what are we to think? What do you think?

GOUNDER: He did note that it was his opinion, and opinions are not grounded in science, necessarily.

I do think this kind of conspiracy theory kind of thinking, conspiratorial thinking, has been a major problem throughout this entire pandemic. And I don't think the Chinese help things. I think they have had a lack of transparency, which fuels lack of trust.

But the scientists who have really studied the genome of the virus have found no evidence that this was created in a lab, that this was engineered or altered in a lab. And we have seen that the virus has mutated significantly over the course of the pandemic and has evolved through natural selection.

So, I think that's just the natural process of what's happened here.

BALDWIN: We will wait to see formally what comes out of the WHO in this report tomorrow.

For now, Dr. Celine Gounder, thank you, as always, for all of that.

Coming up here on CNN: a container ship finally freed today after being stuck in the middle of the Suez Canal for days. But when will the busy trade route get back to normal? We will take you to Egypt.

And President Biden makes a major promise on gun reform, but getting the legislation passed is going to be -- and this is an understatement -- a challenge.