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DOJ Investigating Rep. Matt Gaetz; Two U.S. Capitol Police Officers Suing Trump; Fear U.S. Could Face U.K. Variant Surge; Delta to Fill Middle Seats; Texas CBP Facility Over Capacity. Aired 9:30-10a ET.

Aired March 31, 2021 - 09:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz is denying having a sexual relationship with an underage girl. This after "The New York Times" reported that the Florida representative is facing a U.S. Justice Department inquiry as part of a wider sex trafficking investigation.

CNN's Lauren Fox joins us now from Capitol Hill. She's been following it.

Lauren, play out what we know from "The New York Times" reporting here, but also what we know about the congressman's response to it.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is really two separate issues, Jim. And I will talk a little bit about the Justice Department's investigation first.

"The New York Times" reporting that this investigation began during the Trump administration when Bill Barr was still the attorney general and that Gaetz is not the target of this investigation but the subject of it. And this is an important piece of it.

This was part of a wider sex trafficking investigation into a former Florida lawmaker. Now the question now is whether or not Gaetz was involved in a relationship with a 17-year-old woman and whether or not he traveled across state lines with her. That is what the DOJ investigators are looking at, according to "The New York Times."

Now CNN has also confirmed that this was part of a broader probe into that former Florida lawmaker.


Now, there's a separate issue here. Gaetz is denying these allegations very fervently. He is also says that a former DOJ official was trying to target his family, extract money from them in an extortion scheme. He said that he and his father were so concerned about it, they went to the FBI and that his father was willing to wear a wire in order to try to catch this person.

In a Fox News interview last night, Gaetz actually named this person as David McGee. Now, David McGee released a statement to "The Washington Post." CNN has also requested this statement. And I want to read it to you. McGee denying that he was involved in any way, saying, quote, it is completely false. It is a blatant attempt to distract from the fact that he's under investigation for sex trafficking of minors. I have no connection with that case at all, other than one of a thousand people who have heard the rumors.

And, Jim, just a reminder, that Gaetz was a very close ally to President Trump up here on Capitol Hill. He was someone who stood by the president whether it was something that the president was saying about the election being rigged, whether it was the first impeachment or the second. Gaetz has stood by the president at every turn. Again, important to note that this investigation started when President Trump was still in office.


SCIUTTO: And to be clear, Gaetz's extortion claim is about information that the investigation was underway, not the origin of the investigation itself.

FOX: That's exactly right, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Understood. Of course, Bill Barr was leading the Justice Department at the time it was opened.

Lauren Fox on Capitol Hill, thanks very much.

The NYPD says that they have now arrested a man accused of attacking a 65-year-old Asian woman on Monday. The hate crimes unit said Brandon Elliott (ph), shown here in security footage, has been charged with felony assault as a hate crime.

Now, brace yourself, this is video of that attack. It's just alarming. Repeated kicks to the head as she lay on the ground. Police say he also expressed anti-Asian sentiments. Officials say the victims suffered serious physical injuries. Understandable as you watch that play out. Was taken to the hospital, though, in stable condition.

This comes as New York and the nation has seen an increase in attacks against Asian-Americans. A story we continue to follow.

Two U.S. Capitol Police officers are suing former President Donald Trump. They say he should be held responsible for inciting the mob that stormed the capitol on January 6th. Both officers say they were injured in that violent insurrection.

CNN's Whitney Wild has been following the latest.

So this is something we were looking for, right? What would the other legal consequences of this be beyond charges against those who took part? These police officers say they suffered physical and emotional damages. What more do we know about these cases?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know that this is the third civil lawsuit that seeks to hold former President Trump himself accountable. And this lawsuit, this 40-page lawsuit, really describes in gut-wrenching detail the terror and the emotional and physical injuries that these officers suffered that day. And a reminder, these U.S. Capitol Police officers go back to the scene of their trauma, the scene of that crime every day. I just want to remind our viewers of that.

This complaint basically says that the president incited and aided and abetted the assaults that these officers felt that day. Further, one of these officers describes being slammed against a column, injuring his back and his neck. Another officer says he was crushed. He said he was sprayed with chemicals. Each of these officers is seeking at least $75,000 in damages.

The lawsuit also says one of these officers is now suffering depression. The emotional toll widespread throughout people who were there that day, who gave their physical -- their bodies, their emotions to this just really gripping and crushing crime that happened at the Capitol that day, Jim.

But, again, this is one of just three lawsuits seeking to hold the president accountable. We'll be watching this very, very closely. At this point, no response from former President Trump, although up until this point, Jim, he has denied any responsibility here.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and, as you know, their place of work still is where this all took place, at the U.S. Capitol.

Whitney Wild in Washington, thanks very much.

Well, as we as a country race to get Americans vaccinated, there are still fears that the U.K. variant could lead to another surge here in the U.S. How do we stop it? We're going to discuss. That's next.



SCIUTTO: There are growing concerns this morning about the dangerous U.K. variant of COVID wreaking havoc across parts of Europe. Experts now fear the U.S. could be next if Americans fail to stick to mitigation measures over the next several months. This as more state leaders, despite all that, continue to ease restrictions.

CNN correspondent Melissa Bell is in Paris this morning.

But, Melissa, the Biden administration, as you know, pleading with Americans to hold on a bit longer with an eye to Europe as something of a cautionary tale here. What do officials know there? What do they blame this latest spike on?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, essentially the lesson from here in Europe, Jim, is very clearly, that the new variants, and specifically the one you mentioned first identified in the United Kingdom, are game changers. What we saw here in Europe, as elsewhere, was in January, those figures begin to fall, the restrictions brought in at the time of the second wave really bearing their fruit. The idea was that then they would be able to lift.

In fact, what we've seen is not only that the figures have gotten worse. The new variant first identified in the U.K., now represents the majority of cases, not just here in France and Germany and Italy, but in many parts of Europe.


They represent -- it represents the vast majority of new cases. And that's meant two things. First of all, the contagion spreading faster, so there are more and more people getting infected at a faster rate, but also the faces of the people entering ICUs have changed. They're younger, Jim. They have no co-morbidities. And those are extremely worrying trends.

We're expecting to hear from the French president in just a couple of hours and what we expect is something closer to a partial national lockdown than what (INAUDIBLE) have wanted to envision (ph) so far, partly because the ICUs, particularly in places here in greater Paris, simply cannot cope.


SCIUTTO: Sad to see there.

Melissa Bell, thanks very much.

This just in to CNN.

Beginning on May 1st, Delta Airlines will no longer leave middle seats empty. It's significant given that Delta was the last airline to hold out on that decision.

CNN aviation correspondent Pete Muntean here with the story.

And, Pete, it makes a big difference on a plane when you've got that space in that middle seat. I wonder, is this about the data showing it's safe to go with the middle seat or is it just about the bottom line?


You know, this is really the end of an era. Delta was the last airline to continue to do this pandemic policy of social distancing on board planes that other airlines put away at the start of the pandemic. Delta started doing this April 8, 2020. All other airlines followed. American and United did away with their policies in the summertime. Southwest Airlines did away with its policy around the holidays on December 1st.

You know, what's so interesting here is that airlines said as they were doing away with these policies that this was really more public relations rather than public health. And airlines, over and over again, say they feel empowered by the science to fill every seat on board planes. A study from Harvard says that because of federally mandated masks onboard planes and the heavily filtered air on board an airliner that coronavirus transmission rates are actually relatively low.

And Delta's CEO, Ed Bastian, in this announcement goes actually one step further. He says that vaccines are helping the airline. He says that 65 percent of its customers from 2019 will have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine by May 1st once Delta's policy ends.

You know, this is coming at a time when planes are already packed. The TSA says it screened more than a million people at airports across the country yesterday. That is the 20th straight day of more than a million people flying on commercial airliners. In fact, the TSA record, set only back on Sunday of the pandemic, 1.57 million people traveling through America's airports. So this is coming at a time for big numbers for airline travel and airlines think there is really pent-up demand. Delta apparently wanted to cash in here.


SCIUTTO: Understood. Well, comforting to hear that data about the safety of flying, even when the planes are full. Hope that keeps up.

Pete Muntean, thanks very much.

MUNTEAN: Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Right now, more than 4,000 migrants are filling a facility in Texas meant -- listen to this -- for just 250. Incredible new video from inside this temporary shelter on the U.S./Mexico border. We have details, next.



SCIUTTO: Today, the White House is set to host a bipartisan briefing updating House members on the situation, the surge at the U.S./Mexico border. This as we have new video from inside really just a remarkably overcrowded border facility now housing more than 3,000 migrant children.

CNN's Priscilla Alvarez is following the latest.

So, Priscilla, it's been a struggle to get views, video inside these facilities. This is one of the first views we've had. How bad is the overflow? What are they going to do about it?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN REPORTER: Jim, this is a Customs and Border Protection facility. It is an overflow facility set up temporarily to process adults and kids and it is supposed to serve as the first step for kids before they're transferred to the custody of Health and Human Services. But given the lack of shelter space, they are staying in this facility for prolonged periods of time and we are seeing the results of it through this footage.

These are overcrowded conditions, Jim. There are plastic pods lined up where children are lying on the floor on mats, side by side, with very little personal space, let alone space to social distance. There's also a play pen set up for very young children. That is where they play during the day. It is also where many of them will also sleep during the night.

Now, to give you a sense of the numbers, there are more than 4,000 migrants at this facility, a pandemic capacity of 250. We also know the majority of those at this facility are unaccompanied children. That is children who cross the U.S./Mexico border alone. And that at least 39 have been there for more than 15 days.

This is key, Jim. This is a facility not intended for long-term care. But that is the reality for the administration right now as they scramble to find shelter space that is suitable for these children.

So, the administration is setting up emergency sites across the country. They are also sending additional Border Patrol agents to the border to assist, as well as asking the federal workforce to volunteer on the border. So all of this happening simultaneously to start to open up this bottleneck that is leading to the overcrowded conditions in border patrol facilities, Jim. A very urgent issue for this administration as shown by this footage.

SCIUTTO: No question. Priscilla Alvarez, thanks very much.

Just minutes from now the murder trial against former Police Officer Derek Chauvin will continue. We're expecting more emotional testimony from witnesses, eyewitnesses, to the death of George Floyd.


We're going to take you there live the moment it begins just ahead.


SCIUTTO: A very good Wednesday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto. Poppy Harlow is off this week.

We are now just minutes away from the third day of testimony in the Derek Chauvin murder trial in Minneapolis. Another dramatic day expected in court as Minneapolis firefighter Jena Hansen (ph) prepares to resume her testimony. The off-duty EMT says she wanted to help Floyd, maybe to save his life, but police prevented her from doing so.

Chauvin has pleaded not guilty to second degree unintentional murder, third degree murder and second degree manslaughter charges. He faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charge.


Let's go straight to CNN's Omar Jimenez. He's in Minneapolis.

Omar, we're just minutes away. Tell us how today's going to play out. OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim.