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Remote Learning Creates New Challenges for Schools; 250+ Bills in Dozens of States Air to Restrict Voting Access; DOJ Investigating Gaetz Over Sex Trafficking Allegations; Putin Critic Navalny Goes on Prison Hunger Strike; Inspectors Check Ship That Ran Aground in Suez Canal; Baseball Welcomes Back Fans on Opening Day 2021. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired April 1, 2021 - 04:30   ET



RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Henry County public schools has nearly 43,000 students from pre-k through 12th grade. Out of the 1,400 students that would normally be roaming the halls of this high school, Watson says only 200 per day attend classes in-person. While the school is still majority virtual their cares team is making phone calls, doing home visits and checking students' social media.


YOUNG (voice-over): School officials are especially personally concerned about their learning loss made worse by the pandemic.

YOUNG: You know kids are losing out on this precious amount of time for education that might change their lives and you are an educator. So how does that hit you when you realize that this is really going on?

HESTER: That's the one that pulls on all of our hearts as educators because what do we do? We educate. With love on our children and we like them to be in front of us, but we do everything that we can to wrap our arms around those babies from a distance.

YOUNG (voice-over): A survey by the EdWeek Research Center showed that student absences nationally have doubled during the pandemic. Daily absentee rates among high schoolers were the highest at 13 percent, with middle school absentee rates at 11 percent and elementary school rates at the lowest of 9 percent. And it's not necessarily long term absences that are most worrying according to the Georgia Department of Education. Missing more than five days of school each year begins to impact student academic performance. And these school districts are deploying more resources to make sure their students have what they need to log on for class.

JESSICA STORMER, HENRY COUNTY FAMILY AND STUDENT SUPPORT SERVICES: And we have had partnerships to provide hot spots to students but then also providing them with that real live support on walking them through how do you log on?

YOUNG (voice-over): At Marietta city schools the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the rollout of a program to get Google Chrome Books to all 8,900 students.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whether it's making sure that we are out there providing the necessities for each family, we've been able to change the narrative of what school looks like and what we do.

YOUNG (voice-over): But even with the resources to log on, Mosley's team is still actively tracking students working with police in extreme cases. Keeping kids in school is a part of the job, but these missing children are something that's personal to these educators.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But when you can't find a kid it's almost like you lost one of your own, so you don't give us, you never stop.

YOUNG (voice-over): Ryan Young, CNN, Atlanta, Georgia.


KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR: More than 70 prominent black business leaders are now urging corporate America to oppose new laws and bills being introduced across the country that aim to restrict voting. In a letter they said, quote, as black business leaders we cannot sit silently in the face of this gathering threat to our nation's democratic values and allow the fundamental right of Americans to cast their votes for whomever they choose to be trampled upon yet again. We call upon our colleagues in corporate America to join us in taking a nonpartisan stand for equality and democracy.

Now, this comes one week after Georgia's governor signed a sweeping bill into law that opponents say will reduce minority voting. They also say companies based in Georgia haven't done enough to speak out against it. As calls to boycott Delta, Home Depot and Coca-Cola grow, several CEOs are now blasting the new law.


JAMES QUINCEY, CEO, THE COCA-COLA COMPANY: Let me be crystal clear and unequivocal. This legislation is unacceptable. It is a step backwards and it does not promote principles we have stood for in Georgia.


BRUNHUBER: And Georgia isn't alone, as I mentioned, there are now efforts under way across dozens of states to restrict voting access. CNN's Joe Johns takes a closer look.


JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jim Crow is making a comeback, the fictional, black-faced character from minstrel shows who came to symbolize second class citizenship for millions of Americans.


JOHNS (voice-over): Jim Crow is also the name used to describe unequal racial segregation rules that banned Black people from eating at white-owned restaurants, staying in white-owned hotels, and fully participating in the election process.

Now, as hundreds of new proposals to scale back voter participation in elections make their way through state legislatures, the parallels with the past are inescapable.

Elizabeth Johnson Rice was 19 when she went to jail fighting Jim Crow 61 years ago as a college student at Virginia Union University. She and 33 other students were locked up for a sit-in at a local department store. The alleged crime is trespassing at a whites-only lunch counter in Richmond.

ELIZABETH JOHNSON RICE, MEMBER OF THE RICHMOND 34: If you wanted a meal, you had to go into the alley or to the door and let them serve it to you through the door in the alley.


JOHNS (voice-over): Virginia, like many states, also had strict voting rules with poll taxes and literacy test, while other states had something known as the Eight Box rule requiring a separate box and separate sheets of paper for ballots for each office. Slight variations could cause ballots to be thrown out.

JOHNSON RICE: And every time you vote for a person, it got to be the right box and the right size paper because so many were illiterate.

JOHNS (voice-over): But comparing today's proposal to limit voting with Jim Crow laws of the past can only go so far.

JOHNSON RICE: What is happening now is worse than anything that I would think could ever happen to a democracy living in America.

JOHNS (voice-over): How could it be worse? Because Johnson Rice says the new proposals, more than 250 in 45 states and counting, according to data from the progressive leaning Brennan Center for Justice, are inspired by former President Donald Trump's big lie claiming the last presidential election was stolen due to massive voter fraud.

JOHNSON RICE: I mean it is really upsetting for people to take a lie, take an untruth, and spin it and spin it and spin it, and then blatantly in front of you let you know, this is what we're going to do for you, we are going to keep you from voting.

JOHNS (voice-over): And some of those proposals have already become law like the one in Georgia, making it a misdemeanor to deliver food or water to people standing in line to vote. Proponents of the measure claim it is not racist. It's just to keep people from trying to influence voters on Election Day. But the Brennan Center for Justice says Jim Crow election laws were also presented as neutral at the time. MICHAEL WALDMAN, PRESIDENT, BRENNAN CENTER FOR JUSTICE: They look neutral on their face, so did so many of the Jim Crow laws, but in their impact, they really hit voters of color and young voters and poor voters much harder than other people. These proposed laws are carefully tailored to make it harder to vote for some people but not for others.

JOHNS (voice-over): Elizabeth Johnson Rice says trespassing conviction was eventually vacated by the U.S. Supreme Court and the expectation is the courts will have to intervene against the flood of current legislation. But given the current composition of the high court and its conservative majority, she's not so sure they will have the final say this time around.

JOHNSON RICE: I think it's going to be the voice of the people so loud in a nonviolent way.

JOHNS (voice-over): Joe Johns, CNN, Richmond, Virginia.


BRUNHUBER: We're getting new details on the U.S. Justice Department's investigation into Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz over allegations of sex trafficking and prostitution. As CNN's Paula Reid reports from Washington, Gaetz is alleging he and his family are the victims of an extortion attempt.


PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: CNN has learned that former Attorney General Bill Barr received multiple briefings on this sex trafficking investigation into Representative Gaetz. And the source familiar says Barr did not object to the probe which is really heating up now as Gaetz appears to be trying to distract from these serious allegations by insisting he is the real victim.

REID (voice-over): News that the then Attorney General Bill Barr received multiple briefings while he was in office on the sex trafficking investigation into Representative Matt Gaetz. A source familiar with the matter tells CNN Barr did not take issue with the case, which began in the final months of the Trump administration.

Another source tells CNN that Gaetz is being investigated over allegations of sex trafficking and prostitution, including involving a minor. Congressman Gaetz is denying the allegations after "The New York Times" reported he was under investigation for allegations involving a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old by the Justice Department.

REP. MATTHEW GAETZ (R-FL): It is a horrible allegation, and it is a lie.

REID (voice-over): The investigation is looking into whether the Florida Republican paid a 17-year-old to travel with him, according to the "Times." A possible violation of sex trafficking laws.

GAETZ: That is verifiably false. People can look at my travel records and see that that is not the case.

REID (voice-over): A person briefed on the probe confirmed to CNN that federal authorities were investigating Gaetz as part of a broader probe into trafficking allegations against another Florida politician.

GAETZ: You know, providing for flights and hotel rooms for people that you're dating who are of legal age is not a crime.

REID (voice-over): According to Gaetz the story is part of a $25 million extortion attempt against his family to make the DOJ investigation disappear. Gaetz said on Fox News they were supposed to wire a $4.5 million down payment today.

GAETZ: The Department of Justice were so concerned about this attempted extortion of a member of Congress that they asked my dad to wear a wire. I am demanding that the Department of Justice and the FBI release the audio recordings that were made under their supervision.


REID (voice-over): The Justice Department, though, has so far declined to comment. But according to a source familiar with the investigation, federal prosecutors are examining these allegations of extortion, it is separate from the ongoing investigation into Gaetz. The lawmaker alleges a former DOJ official is the one trying to extort him.

GAETZ: His name is David McGee.

REID (voice-over): McGee a private attorney in Florida left the Justice Department in the '90s. His law firm releasing a statement today.

The allegation by the Congressman is both false and defamatory. While he was with the DOJ he would never have entertained a scheme such as what Congressman Gaetz suggests nor would he today.

Gaetz's interview with Tucker Carlson took a strange turn.

GAETZ: You and I went to dinner about two years ago, your wife was there, and I brought a friend of mine, you will remember her, and she was actually threatened by the FBI.

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, TUCKER CARLSON TONIGHT: I don't remember the woman you are speaking of or the context at all honestly.

REID (voice-over): Carlson distanced himself afterwards.

CARLSON: That was one of the weirdest interviews I have ever conducted.

REID: CNN has also learned that Gaetz has been shopping around for a defense attorney over the past several weeks as his political future really hangs in the balance. Earlier today House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy says he hasn't had a chance to speak with Gaetz but acknowledges these allegations are serious and if true he will deal with it. Paula Reid, CNN, Washington.


BRUNHUBER: Sleep deprivation, torture and bad medical care, that's what a Russian opposition leader says he is on a prison hunger strike so we're live in Moscow. We will explain all that after the break. Stay with us.


BRUNHUBER: The U.S. has received a $335 million settlement from Sudan to compensate victims of terror attacks.


The money will go to survivors and victims' families impacted by the 1998 bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the attack on the USS Cole and the murder of an U.S. aid worker. The multimillion dollar settlement is part of a deal to end Sudan's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny says he is not getting the medical care he needs in prison, so he is going on a hunger strike. CNN's Matthew Chance has details from Moscow.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well the plight of this Russian opposition figure continues to draw international attention. First he was poisoned with a suspected nerve agent, then he was arrested and jailed, now Alexey Navalny has announced he is on hunger streak to demand doctors are allowed to visit him at the penal colony where he is serving two and a half years behind bars.

I have the right to call a doctor and get medication. They give me neither -- he wrote on an Instagram message which was posted by his political team. The back pain has moved to a leg, parts of my right leg and now my left leg have lost sensitivity, he added.

Images of a letter sent by Navalny to the head of the penal colony also shared by Navalny's team on social media in which he said that his hunger strike would continue until he is seen by a doctor from outside.

Navalny of course has been a fierce critic of Russian president Vladimir Putin focusing attention on allegations of rampant corruption among Russian officials, organizing mass anti-Kremlin protests.

In August last year he fell seriously sick on a plane from Siberia and was eventually medevaced to Germany where he was treated for suspected nerve agent poisoning. Russian officials deny any involvement in that incident.

Navalny returned to Russia earlier this year where he was arrested and convicted on charges he says were politically motivated and sent to prison. Russia prison authorities say Navalny is being given all necessary medical attention and treated just like any other convict.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.


BRUNHUBER: The Suez Canal Authority says shipping is back to normal levels in the vital trade route. Meanwhile, divers are inspecting the hull of the massive container that ran aground last week, holding up traffic for days. Egypt says losses from the blockage could reach $1 billion. Ben Wedeman reports from Cairo.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's been more than two days that the Suez Canal is fully operational, but the saga of the Ever Given goes on. The massive container ship remains anchored in the Great Bitter Lake where it has been inspected for sea worthiness.

Wednesday afternoon Egyptian investigators boarded the ship, they're particularly interested in gaining access to the vessel's voice and data recorders, its so-called black box. Tuesday the ship's owners promised to fully cooperate with the investigation into the Ever Given's grounding, failure to cooperate could have dire circumstances. The chief investigator told Egyptian TV that if the Ever Given does not respond to our requests, this will turn into a civil suit. There will be an order to seize the ship and its cargo.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Cairo.


BRUNHUBER: Well, it's a day baseball fans have been waiting months for. Opening day 2021. We'll tell you what to expect as major league ballparks open their gates for the first games of the season. Stay with us.



BRUNHUBER: New York is the latest state to legalize recreational marijuana for adults. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill on Wednesday. It allows possession of small amounts of marijuana immediately with legal sales to start next year. It will also clear the criminal records of anyone with previous marijuana convictions that would be legal under the new bill. It's estimated the law will bring in $350 million in tax revenue and will create tens of thousands of jobs.

The investigation into Tiger Woods' car crash is over but it's not clear when if ever the public will find out what led to the wreck. The L.A. County Sheriff said on Facebook he won't be releasing the cause due to, quote, privacy issues. The 15-time majors champion suffered serious leg injuries in the crash and is recuperating at home. The sheriff's department has asked the golfer for permission to release details of the probe. No word on that so far. The sheriff previously called the rollover an accident and said Tiger wouldn't face any charges.

Professional and amateur sports all took major hits last year with delays and cancellations due to the pandemic. President Biden spoke with ESPN about how he thinks the new baseball season might be affected. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, how do you envision this season going with so much up in the air still?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, there's not so much up in the air if we listen, but, God willing, the way the vaccines are getting out now and the way we're working, I think we ought to be able to, as I said, set a goal by the Fourth of July we'd be able to at least have a small barbecue in the backyard with family. And by the time we get into the fall hopefully things are moving. I don't think early in the baseball season it's going to happen, though.


BRUNHUBER: But major league baseball's opening day is here today, and fans are anxious to get back to the ballpark to see their favorite teams despite the pandemic. CNN's Coy Wire has the details.


COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS (voice-over): Last season's opening day it was take my cardboard cutout to the ball game. Now it's back to take me out to the ball game.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, baby. Here we go.

WIRE (voice-over): Major league baseball giving all 30 teams the go ahead to host fans to start their seasons, but it won't be the same at every park. New York's mayor is opening the doors to 20 percent capacity at Yankees and Mets home games, as is Chicago's mayor, at the Cubs and White Sox parks.


The L.A. Dodgers will also be at 20 percent capacity when they open defense of their world series title.

CLAYTON KERSHAW, LOS ANGELES DODGERS: Regardless if there is ten fans or 2,500, whatever it is, it's going to be a special day for all of us.

COREY KLUBER, NEW YORK YANKEES: We probably as players didn't realize, you know, necessarily how much we appreciate having fans in the stands until last year when there weren't any. Having fans in the stands makes it a more fun environment. WIRE: And with Texas governor opening up his state the Texas Rangers

are wide open, up to 100 percent capacity for their home opener with masks. But starting on game two that number will be reduced with social distancing.

How you watch the game is going to be a lot different than you're used to. You will have to be in masks and practice social distancing, you will even be encouraged to buy those peanuts and cracker jacks on your phone.

DOUG BEHAR, NEW YORK YANKEES: We're very excited to have our fans back in the stadium and we appreciate their patience and understanding throughout this entire process, but it should be a seamless recognizable experience as they've had in the past.

WIRE (voice-over): While vaccines won't be required for fans to enter ballparks, some parks have jumped into being part of the mass vaccination effort.

GROUP SINGING: Vaccinate against COVID. We give a shot in your arm

WIRE: Boston's Fenway park was one of 11 stadiums to open its doors as vaccination sites with over 11 million shots being administered. Major League Baseball also joining 12 other major sports leagues in a video helping to educate the public about the importance of getting vaccinated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, SINGING: And I will be seeing you.


BRUNHUBER: Well that wraps this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Kim Brunhuber. "EARLY START" is up next.