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Trial Begins for Former Officer Charged in George Floyd's Death; W.H.O. Report: Virus Likely Came from Animals, Not Lab; Top U.S. Health Official on Rising COVID Cases: "I'm Scared"; U.S. Air Travel Amid Pandemic Hits New Record High; Biden Prepares to Pitch Jobs and Infrastructure Plan; Suez Canal Traffic Resumes After Crews Free Massive Ship. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 30, 2021 - 04:00   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM and I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead, protesters back on the streets of Minneapolis as the trial of Derek Chauvin over the death of George Floyd begins.

The highly anticipated origins story of the pandemic, details from the WHO's new report on how the coronavirus started in China and why the findings are already being met with a lot of skepticism.

And --


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: I'm going to pause here, I'm going to lose the script and I'm going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom.


CHURCH: A stark and emotional warning from the head of the CDC over the rate of infections in the United States, as President Joe Biden urges people to keep wearing masks.

Thanks for joining us. Well, day two of the Derek Chauvin trial will get under way today in Minnesota. Monday saw the highly anticipated trial of the former Minneapolis police officer begin.

Protesters were seen on the streets of Minneapolis on Monday. Chauvin is charged with killing George Floyd last May, but Floyd's death has had an impact far beyond Minnesota. The scene of a white officer kneeling on a black man's neck for almost ten minutes set off protests around the world and it prompted a moment of racial reckoning in the U.S.

Prosecutors wasted no time in showing the jury the graphic video of the last moments of George Floyd's life in which he said over and over that he could not breathe. Meanwhile, the defense sought to sow doubt about the reasons Floyd died that day. Omar Jimenez has the details from the first day in court and a warning, his report contains disturbing video.


JERRY BLACKWELL, PROSECUTING ATTORNEY: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, good morning.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): As prosecutors open their case seeking justice for George Floyd, they began with the unavoidable.

GEORGE FLOYD: I can't breathe.

JIMENEZ (voice over): Playing in full the nine-minute and 29-second video of Officer Derek Chauvin pressing his knee to Floyd's neck as he slowly loses consciousness.

BLACKWELL: You will he does not let up and 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 the pulse of Mr. Floyd. If you can believe your eyes that it's a homicide. It's murder. You can believe your eyes.

JIMENEZ (voice over): Prosecutors say they want a fair trial, but one where evidence leads their arguments and one that proves Chauvin was anything but innocent.

JUDGE PETER A. CAHILL, HENNEPIN COUNTY, MINNESOTA: Mr. Nelson, do you wish to open at this time?

JIMENEZ (voice over): The defense argues that Officer Chauvin was doing what he was trained to do, and the evidence is far greater than nine minutes and 29 seconds, highlighting what will be a central battle in this trial.

ERIC NELSON, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: What was Mr. Floyd's actual cause of death? 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 flowing through his body.

JIMENEZ (voice over): But Chauvin's attorney, Eric Nelson, also argued the surrounding crowd had an impact on Chauvin's behavior that day.

NELSON: They're screaming at him, causing the officers to divert their attention from the care of Mr. Floyd to the threat that was growing in front of them.

JIMENEZ (voice over): In the end, Nelson says the only just result is not guilty. That's not how the family of George Floyd feels. Who started the day kneeling in silent protest representing the time Derek Chauvin's knee was on George Floyd's neck.

PHILONISE FLOYD, GEORGE FLOYD'S BROTHER: They can sweep this under the rug. This is a starting point. This is not a finishing point.

CAHILL: The testimony you're about to give will be the truth and nothing but the truth.

JIMENEZ (voice over): The starting point for prosecutors, the 911 operator who dispatched the officers to Cup Foods on May 25, 2020. Jena Scurry testified officers pinned Floyd to the ground for so long she thought the real time video she was watching froze and she alerted a sergeant to voice her concern with what was happening.

JENA SCURRY, WITNESS, MINNEAPOLIS 9-1-1 DISPATCHER: My instincts were telling me that something is wrong, something is not right. I don't know what, but something wasn't right.



CAHILL: Have a seat.

JIMENEZ (voice over): While Donald Williams who witnessed Floyd pinned from just feet away told the court his mixed martial arts background informed him that Chauvin was tightening his knee on Floyd's neck.

WILLIAMS: Every time his shoulders moving, pushing that pressure down on his neck from the shoulders to the knees.

JIMENEZ: And we have continued to see protests throughout this entire process outside of the courtroom proceedings. This in particular is outside the government center where the trial has been taking place over recent weeks and when you look at this moment in particular this is one that has been a long time coming for people here in in community and understandably so, they are watching it very closely as a result.

Now, day one of opening statements and witness testimony wrapped in the middle of testimony from a third witness that was called it's going to pick up the next day, Tuesday, with the end of that witness testimony.

Omar Jimenez, CNN, Minneapolis, Minnesota.


CHURCH: The trial which is being televised will give viewers a front row seat to a high profile criminal case as well as a glimpse into exactly how both prosecutors and the defense will make their arguments. CNN's Chris Cuomo spoke earlier with legal analyst Elliot Williams, they discussed the defense team's strategy. Take a listen.


ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The defense had one -- to saying you had one job, they have one job as they do in any criminal trial which is not to disprove every fact, it's simply to plant and cast doubt on the facts that the prosecution puts forward. And those two things were, number one, trying to establish officer Chauvin's actions as, quote, objectively reasonable, that's the line in the law. And number two, try to muddy the waters on this question of what killed George Floyd.

Now, on that second point what killed George Floyd, they're just simply not compelling arguments, Chris, and I think we'll get into that a little bit in our conversation today, but the simple fact is the mere fact that he might have had -- that he had fentanyl in his system does not change the fact that we saw -- you saw it, I saw it, everyone in America saw it, the jurors saw it, an individual being choked for nine minutes. And so, yes, they did their job in attempting to cast doubt, but none of it seemed particularly compelling.


CHURCH: CNN has obtained a dropped version of the long-awaited report on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. It says the virus likely came from animals not a lab in China. The study by a team of international and Chinese experts list four possible sources for the virus. They say it most likely spread through an intermediate animal host, possibly a wild animal captured and raised on a farm, or a direct transmission from an animal known to carry a similar coronavirus, such as a pangolin or bat. The report says it's not likely to have come from frozen food and the least likely source a laboratory leak.

Well for more we want to turn to CNN's Kristie Lu Stout, she joins us live from Hong Kong. Good to see you Kristie. So what else is in this report and how credible is it given the W.H.O. team arrived a year after the pandemic began and received only restricted access under China's watchful eye?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there have been a lot of concerns that have been voiced, particularly from the United States, about access, methodology, process and the timing of this investigation. As you just mentioned, Rosemary, CNN has obtained a draft of this 123-page investigation by the World Health Organization looking into the source of the novel coronavirus. There are a lot of details in there, but there is no smoking gun as to the definitive source of the pandemic.

According to this report it says that the virus likely came from an animal, not a lab and that the virus likely spread and circulated no more than one or two months before it was initially reported or detected in December of 2019.

It walks through four possible sources of the virus. The most likely source -- what you just mentioned -- an intermediary animal host that got infected by a bat, but what is that animal? According to this report they don't know. It remains, quote, allusive.

The next likely scenario is a direct transmission from an infected animal, either a bat or pangolin. But what's also interesting is the report names a possible but not probable source is the Chinese theory we've been hearing over the last year, transmission from chilled food products or frozen food products. And finally, the report says the least likely scenario, the least

likely cause of the pandemic is that it was caused by an accidental leak from a lab.

As you can imagine, the investigative team, you know, behind this report, they have been navigating a political quagmire.


China from the beginning has been criticized for its initial response for the pandemic, both the U.S. and China pushing forward rival theories about the source. The United States especially under former President Trump said it originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Chinese officials and state media saying it originated from a U.S. army lab. But again, according to this report it says that scenario, quote, is extremely unlikely.

We will bring up a statement from the W.H.O. report, it says as follows, quote, there is no record of viruses closely related to SARS- COV-2 in any laboratory before December 2019 or genomes that in combination to provide a SARS-COV-2 genome. In view of the above, a lab origin of the pandemic was considered to be extremely unlikely, unquote.

Rosemary, we know that independent researchers have been saying this for months. Genomic testing reveals that this virus was not engineered in a lab. It is something that was passed naturally between animals, very much like the coronavirus that caused SARS and the outbreak in the pandemic then almost two decades ago -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: Absolutely. Kristie Lu Stout joining us live from Hong Kong. Many thanks.

Well a steady rise in infections and hospital admissions has top U.S. health officials warning of impending doom. Now, this comes as the U.S. has just crossed 550,000 deaths from the coronavirus according to data from Johns Hopkins University. CDC director Rochelle Walensky says travel is up and she's worried about surges like those last summer and again in the winter.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: I'm going to pause here, I'm going to lose the script and 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'm speaking today not necessarily as your CDC director, not only as your CDC director, but as a wife, as a mother, as a daughter. To ask you to just please hold on a little while longer.


CHURCH: And new COVID cases are up in several U.S. states right now and Walensky adds that many states are opening up at levels the CDC would not recommend.

And President Joe Biden is supporting his CDC director's impassioned plea, reminding Americans that the war against COVID is not over yet. He is urging state leaders to stop rolling back mask mandates.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm reiterating my call for every governor, mayor and local leader to maintain and reinstate the mask mandate. Please, this is not politics. Reinstate the mandate if you let it down. And business should require masks as well. Mask up. It's a patriotic duty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, do you believe that some states should pause their reopening efforts?



CHURCH: Well, this also comes as Mr. Biden is promising a vast majority of adults will be able to receive a vaccination in the coming weeks. Here is more of what he said.


BIDEN: That is by April 19th, three weeks from today, 90 percent of adults, people over 18 and over will be eligible to get vaccinated. 90 percent of all Americans will be living within five miles of a place they can get a shot.


CHURCH: And there's more good news on the vaccine front. It turns out the Pfizer and Moderna shots are highly effective not just in human trials, but in the real world as well. A new study from the CDC looked at thousands of health care workers and first responders who received both doses. The report found the vaccines are 90 percent effective at preventing infections including those without symptoms and they were 80 percent effective two weeks after that first dose. But before you think about skipping that second shot, Dr. Anthony Fauci has some advice.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, U.S. NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We don't know how long that 80 percent is durable. It may drop off a cliff in two weeks or three weeks. The other thing is that even though it's 80 percent protective, the level of antibody that it induces is far lower than after the second dose.


CHURCH: Well, the number of people traveling by air in the U.S. during the pandemic continues to rise and even hit a new record high on Sunday. This comes as health experts warn of rising coronavirus infection rates in some states. CNN's Pete Muntean has our report.


PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: The CDC is still saying to avoid travel and it is telling people to get tested for coronavirus before and after every trip. So we will see if these new numbers factor into any new guidance on travel from federal health officials.


The TSA says it screened 1.57 million people at airports across the country on Sunday. That is the new pandemic record. The previous pandemic record set only last Sunday, that means 9.5 million people have flown in one week's time. It is an impressive number especially when you consider that this new number is more than eight times greater than the number the TSA screened the same day a year ago in 2020 when air travel was its most depressed. It's about 62 percent of figures on the same day from 2019 pre-pandemic. So still a long way to go for struggling airlines.

But airlines think a recovery is starting. United Airlines says it's adding even more flights to more destinations, says it will fly about 50 percent of its pre-pandemic schedule by Memorial Day. This has been an impressive streak for air travel, more than a million people have passed through security each day since March 11th, but federal health officials are wondering if this is too much too soon.

Pete Muntean, CNN, Reagan National Airport.


CHURCH: And right now France has more COVID patients in ICUs than there were at the peak of the second wave in November. Doctors say they have never experienced anything like this, not even during the worst terrorist attacks in recent years.

In England it's a very different story. On Sunday London recorded no daily deaths from the virus for the first time in over six months. The news comes as England's stay-at-home order was lifted and more restrictions eased and while the situation appears to be stabilizing, Prime Minister Boris Johnson warns the country must remain vigilant.


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I'm hopeful. I think that we're -- I don't see anything in the data right now that would cause us to deviate from the roadmap. but, you know, we've got to remain humble in the face of nature and we've got to be prepared to do whatever it takes to protect the British public which has been our approach throughout.


CHURCH: And in Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro replaced six cabinet ministers on Monday alone as criticism grows over his handling of the pandemic. The country has been grappling with a second wave of COVID- 19 since November.

Well, the Ever Given cargo ship is now free and no longer blocking the Suez Canal. See how the massive operation to free it unfolded. That's next.



CHURCH: U.S. prosecutors have filed sex trafficking charges against former Jeffrey Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell. Authorities allege she recruited and groomed a 14-year-old girl to engage in sex acts with Epstein as recently as 2004. The new charges were filed Monday in a super seeding indictment. Maxwell is also charged with conspiracy and enticing minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts and the transportation of minors to engage in criminal sexual activity. She has denied all previous allegations and is yet to comment on the new charges.

U.S. President Joe Biden is set to unveil a new plan for infrastructure and jobs this week. Focusing on things like improving roads, domestic manufacturing and funds for schools and childcare. It's the first of many proposals that will require lengthy negotiation, something not uncommon to Washington. Phil Mattingly reports.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: For President Joe Biden there may be any number of issues on his plate from guns to immigration, issues that advocates on all sides seem to be pushing for the White House to take as their next big agenda item. But for the president, for his team, particularly for his economic team, there's only one item that they are truly focused on over the course of the next several weeks and that item will get its starting gun of sorts for negotiations in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

That is where President Joe Biden will lay out the first of two pieces related to his infrastructure, jobs and climate plan. This plan in total somewhere between 3 and 4 trillion dollars. It will include trillions of dollars in tax increase to help finance that. Now those tax increases certainly something Republicans on Capitol Hill are opposed to. But the Biden administration making clear they believe they have the grounds to pay for the plan and they plan to do it on raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy. Take a listen.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And he has a plan to pay for it which he will propose. But right now once he proposes that our focus is also on having that engagement and discussion with members of Congress. If they share a goal of building our infrastructure for the future but don't like the way he's going to propose to pay for it, we're happy to look at their proposals. If they don't want to pay for it, I guess they can propose that, too.

MATTINGLY: Now, the first piece of the plan that will be rolled out on Wednesday will primarily be focused on physical infrastructure, things like roads and bridges, waterways, ports. Also schools and childcare services, the infrastructure that puts all of those into place. Wrapped in all of that will be climate-related measures, a key issue that the Biden administration has put at the top of their agenda, trying to do multiple things at once with this first piece of the package.

The second piece it's likely to come in April dealing with more social services, things like extending the child tax credit, childcare, things of that those nature as well. The Biden administration making clear with the size and scale this have package that unlike the coronavirus relief law $1.9 trillion there, they plan on going big. And they don't plan on scaling anything back.

Yes, they are going to look for bipartisan support for this plan, particularly the first plan, but with majorities no matter how slim in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, Biden officials say they plan to move forward, they plan to go big, and they plan if these plans get put into place, if they're signed into law, to be transformative. It's been a theme that you've seen over the first several months of this Biden administration. It's one they are not backing off of anytime soon. Now this isn't going to happen fast.


This is going to be a starting gun of search for what is expected to be months of negotiations on Capitol Hill between the White House, between Democrats, between some Republicans as well, but it will be the start making clear the Biden team's next big agenda item will be infrastructure and it will be big.

Phil Mattingly, CNN, the White House.


CHURCH: After nearly a week-long saga the Ever Given cargo ship is free and the Suez Canal is back in business. The ship was blocking the canal's water way and it took a massive international effort to free it. CNN's Ben Wedeman takes a look at the events leading up to this dramatic rescue mission.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At last, the Ever Given is on the move again. It took a flotilla of tugboats and a massive dredging effort to free the container ship from Egypt's Suez Canal.

The salvage team was able to shift the stern in the early hours Monday, adding momentum and jubilation to a nearly weeklong effort. Then, trepidation, as winds and currents swung the ship back slightly across the canal. Finally, coming unstuck, not long after. The head of the Suez Canal Authority, welcoming the developments.

OSAMA RABIE, CHAIRMAN, SUEZ CANAL AUTHORITY (through translator): Thank you. I say, congratulations to Egypt, as we accomplish this mission successfully and in a shortened period. I thank you. WEDEMAN (voice-over): A beast, the size of a skyscraper, the 400 meter long ship, jammed one of the world's busiest waterways, stranding billions of dollars of cargo on more than 300 ships, including, livestock, oil and even IKEA furniture, costing Egypt $14 million every day in lost transit fees alone.

Dozens of vessels ended up diverting to the Cape of Good Hope around Africa, adding over one week of sailing time. The exact reason behind the Ever Given stranding remains unclear. Egyptian authorities and the charter company say the ship will move to the Great Bitter Lake for further inspection and investigation.

For now, a collective sigh of relief as traffic resumes on the Suez Canal.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Cairo.


CHURCH: And for more on this let's bring in CNN's John Defterios he joins us live from Abu Dhabi. Good to see you John. So after nearly a week this massive ship now free but how costly will this prove to be and what are the likely ramifications going forward?

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN BUSINESS EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR: Well, we still have to remember, Rosemary, we have the Suez Canal like a parking lot, right. Because we reached 422 ships overall that are waiting to get out. So the latest news here is that the Suez Canal Authority is trying to get over a quarter of them out by today, midday, right. So they're kind of promising well over 100 ships to go out. That's pretty ambitious and they say they will clear the back load, get this, by midday Friday. Right?

So there's some disagreement in the international community because if you talk to, for example, Lloyd's List or Maris the giant shipping line they say it will take five or six days. So this is an accumulation of nearly two weeks when it's all said and done and nearly $70 billion of goods already that have been parked and not passing through the canal. So this is quite a challenge indeed.

And there's worries about the supply chain. We have a graphic here looking at the different areas people have concerns about. For example, paper products, like toilet paper, something that came up during COVID-19 with the hoarding that was taking place. Coffee that travels between Latin America, from Asia, from Africa into Europe and the United States, will it still be delivered in time before supplies run short?

Furniture, IKEA was complaining about this, some goods will not make it in stores on schedule, that's for sure. And finally, oil and gas prices, I don't agree with this. Actually, there's plenty of supplies around, in fact, we have the OPEC producers pulling supplies off because demand is not there. But there are concerns in pockets around the world.

Also another kind of news making item is that the fact that the Ever Given is going to stay inside the canal until they finish the investigation. This coming from, again, the canal authority. They want to check if there is a technical error or there is a human error in addition to the fact we had the windstorms and perhaps the speed going into the canal at that time.

And shortly we're going to hear from the president of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who is going to hold a press reference in Suez. We're waiting for final confirmation, but our team is on the ground there and see what he has to say.

But one of the things they need to do, Rosemary, is kind of rebuild confidence that the passageway will be cleared, the artery won't be blocked again, all the safety measures are in there. And they invested $8 billion going back to 2016 to widen the canal but there is still a choke point, as we know, in the south and they want to build the confidence for the port in the north and south entrances of the canal at the same time.

So this is vital that the president conveys.