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Prosecution to Call More Witnesses in Chauvin's Trial; Lawyers Argue Over George Floyd's Words on Drug Use; Kentucky Governor Signs New Bipartisan Law Expanding Voting Access; Biden to Announce Initial Set of Executive Actions on Gun Control; At Least 5 People Dead in Mass Shooting in South Carolina; Senator Joe Manchin Says He'd Never Vote to End Filibuster; Dr. Fauci Concerned Over Lack of Continued Significant Decrease in Coronavirus Cases. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired April 8, 2021 - 09:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Very good Thursday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. Today President Biden will take his first concrete action to rein in gun violence in America. Only hours after yet another mass shooting in America. This one leaving five people dead, including two children. Two children ages 5 and 9 years old. This happened in South Carolina.

The president is expected to announce a series of limited executive actions in the Rose Garden today. Those include banning so-called ghost guns and barring stabilizing devices like the one used in the Boulder mass shooting.

SCIUTTO: And one more pivotal struggle on the White House agenda, preventing another coronavirus case surge. Dr. Anthony Fauci sounding the alarm warning that the U.S. could be primed for another spike, not just an increase, but a spike in new infections.

Let's begin, though, with CNN's Jeremy Diamond. He is at the White House this morning with more on President Biden's actions on gun control.

Jeremy, there's a limited amount the president can do via executive order. What exactly does he plan to do?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there's no question that the steps that we're seeing from President Biden coming out today. These are limited steps. And they fall far short of what he promised to do during the 2020 campaign. But senior officials have been telling us over the last 24 hours or so that these steps that the president is going to announce today are really just the beginning of his efforts to tackle the issue of gun violence in America and, obviously, his ultimate goal would be to see legislation passed through Congress.

Something that is a hurdle, a very steep one at that, given the filibuster requirements and Democrats' slim majority in the Senate. But what we will hear from President Biden later this morning in the Rose Garden alongside the attorney general Merrick Garland, and he will announce three new measures, executive actions that he and the Justice Department are taking to try and address this issue of gun violence. The first of which will be to tighten restrictions on these ghost guns that can, you know, be assembled from different parts of a weapon and put together.

Don't have serial numbers or not regulated as firearms. It's not clear if they will be regulated as firearms under this, but a senior official told us that it will be aimed at trying to stop the proliferation of those weapons. Also taking measures to regulate those pistol stabilizing braces which the shooter in Boulder, Colorado, used to turn a pistol into something that is essentially a short barrel rifle.

He will also direct the Department of Justice to publish these model red flag laws to encourage states -- state legislatures to pass those types of laws which allow guns to be taken out of the hands of those with severe mental illnesses, for example. We will also hear the president this morning formally announce that he is nominating David Chapman, a gun control advocate who worked as a senior policy adviser to former congresswoman Gabby Giffords' gun control advocacy group.

Chapman is a former ATF agent himself. And it is the first time we are seeing a gun control advocate actually being nominated to this position. There's no question that his nomination will be controversial and face opposition from Republicans, including -- especially given that he previously supported a ban on assault weapons which, of course, President Biden himself has also called for -- Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: And at the time it was a bipartisan effort but that's a long time ago.

Jeremy Diamond, thanks very much.

SCIUTTO: President Biden's limited set of executive actions comes as America wakes up to yet one more mass shooting. At least five people are dead, a sixth person wounded following a shooting at a small town in South Carolina.

HARLOW: Let's go to our colleague Amara Walker. She joins us.

Good morning to you, Amara. I mean, we already know about the victims. They include children. 5 and 9 years old. What else can you tell us?

AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, Jim, this is such a tragic story. We know at least five people were killed during this mass shooting at a home in York County, South Carolina. Most of them from the same family. A sixth person was seriously injured from gunshot wounds. This happening at a home in an area called Rock Hill. And you mentioned, Poppy, one of the victims was a prominent and well-known doctor in the area, according to the sheriff's department.

Seventy-year-old Dr. Robert Leslie as he has been identified by the York County coroner, along with his wife, 69-year-old Barbara Leslie, and their two grandchildren, a 9-year-old and a 5-year-old. They were all found dead in that home from gunshot wounds in York County. There was also a fifth victim, 38-year-old James Lewis. He was found dead outside the home. Authorities say that he had been working at the home when the gunshots rang out just before 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon.

And in a strange and sad twist, it turns out that the York County Sheriff's spokesperson said that he knew this doctor very well. In fact he was his physician growing up. Here he is.



TRENT FARIS, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, YORK COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE: I've lived in Rock Hill my entire life and Dr. Leslie was my doctor growing up, so that's how this is kind of a little hard on me. So -- but Dr. Leslie has been one of those people that everybody knows. He started Riverview Medical Center in Rock Hill. And it's been a staple in Rock Hill for years. So a lot of people know who Dr. Leslie is.


WALKER: A lot of people know who Dr. Leslie is. And according to the Web site for Riverview Hospice and Palliative Care, where he was a founder and medical director, Dr. Leslie had been practicing in the area for quite some time. And he was board certified in emergency medicine and said that he had four grown children and eight grandchildren.

The suspect apparently in custody. They are still trying to figure out the motive behind the shooting -- Poppy, Jim.

HARLOW: Another week, another mass shooting in America. It is tragic reality in this country, Amara. Thank you for the reporting.

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin pleading with his fellow lawmakers not to move to eliminate the legislative filibuster. He writes, quote, "The consequences could be profound," and argues, quote, "Our nation may never see stable governing again."

He is making this case in a new "Washington Post" opinion piece this morning. The timing is key because this comes just as the Biden administration is moving to try to use reconciliation potentially again to push through its more than $2 trillion infrastructure plan and Jim, that would mean they don't need any help from the other party.

SCIUTTO: That's right. Once again the West Virginia Democrat is showing he is willing to break with his party to take advantage of his outsized role in a 50-50 split Senate seat.

Manu Raju joins us now from Capitol Hill. So there are really two issues here. There's a filibuster and reconciliation. He very clearly is signaling he won't vote to end the filibuster. On reconciliation, he said he didn't like it, but do we know, does this mean he's not going to go for it for the infrastructure plan or is that a little bit up in the air?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a little bit up in the air. I've been asking him about that for weeks and weeks and weeks. And he has been clear that he does not prefer to go down the route of using budget reconciliation to pass the massive $2 trillion- plus infrastructure program because going the reconciliation route would mean that they could pass this legislation through a simple majority in the United States senator.

That means just 51 senators because under this budge project they used to enact COVID relief, the $1.9 trillion plan, it could -- that process, that budget reconciliation process means that the Senate filibuster rules just do not apply. But any measure that is budget related can be added to that process. Now what was significant in what he just said is that just two days ago, the Senate parliamentarian made a decision that potentially the Democrats could use the budget reconciliation process multiple times per fiscal year.

So that could mean up to six times total this Congress alone that they could use that budget reconciliation process. But what Manchin says in this op-ed that he does not want to go down that route. Worried that that could essentially undermine efforts to win bipartisan support and really go against the foundations of the United States Senate, which is meant to drive consensus. He writes, "If the filibuster is eliminated and budget reconciliation becomes a norm, a new and dangerous precedent will be set to pass sweeping partisan legislation that changes the direction of our nation every time there's change and political control. The consequences will be profound. Our nation may never see stable governing again."

Now you mentioned it, Jim. There are two different issues here. That's the budget reconciliation process. Then the filibuster which can block any legislation outside budget reconciliation. So that means things like voting rights legislation and the like would require 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. There's of course been a big push on the left to try to gut the filibuster. So just a simple majority of 51 senators can break one.

But again, he reiterates what he said to me and others for months and months, he will not kill the filibuster so that means they need to win over Republican support for things like voting rights -- guys.

SCIUTTO: Yes. We should note because memories are short, that, of course, Democrats used reconciliation for the COVID relief. Republicans used it in 2017 for their tax cuts as well. So it's happened.

Manu Raju, thanks very much.

Dr. Anthony Fauci says the U.S. is trending now in the wrong direction as young people and the more contagious variant fuel the recent rise in new coronavirus infections.

HARLOW: Our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us now. Elizabeth, good morning to you. To hear him say this matters a lot

because he's talking about a plateau, but a scary plateau.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It's so easy to sort of get lulled into thinking, oh, things are getting better. Look how much better off we are than we were, say, in January. And that's true. But another surge could happen. You could just look at what's happening in Europe. Let's take a listen to Dr. Fauci.



DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: The last count yesterday was 63,000 cases in a single day. When you're at that level, there is the risk of getting a surge back up. So the way we're looking at it now, it's almost a race between getting people vaccinating, and the surge that seems to want to increase and do what's going on, for example, in Europe where they're having some surges now that are really quite alarming.


COHEN: So now is not the time to sit back. Now we heard Dr. Fauci talking about a race between the vaccine and the surge. Let's take a look at how the vaccine is doing in that race. So if you take a look, we have about almost 20 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated and a little bit more than a third is on their way. That includes the fully vaccinated folks but that's folks who've had at least one vaccine dose. So that's pretty incredible considering where we were just, you know, a couple of months ago.

And if we look at this in terms of herd immunity, almost 20 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. That's the red part. But that -- we're still not close to that yellow part. That yellow part is the herd immunity. And even if you put in there all the folks who have immunity because they had COVID, you are still not close to the yellow. So we are still not there yet -- Poppy, Jim.

HARLOW: Making our way. Slowly. Not too slowly, but surely. Thanks, Elizabeth. Appreciate it.

Well, still to come, testimony begins again next hour in the Derek Chauvin murder trial. We do know today is the deadline for attorneys to submit potential questions for George Floyd's friend who was also a passenger in the car when Floyd was arrested and died that day. Will that friend be forced to testify?

And just as Georgia passes its restrictive voting law, Kentucky, another red state, just expanded voting rights. What does that new law do? We'll talk about it.

SCIUTTO: Plus, one of the president's tactics for pushing his infrastructure plan, play the China card. Will competition with China help fuel support here in the U.S.? Perhaps bipartisan support? We'll see. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


HARLOW: Welcome back. The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin will resume next hour. And today, we could hear from the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy of --


HARLOW: George Floyd.

SCIUTTO: Now, this could be critical testimony in this trial as the prosecution and defense argue over exactly what caused Floyd's death. It's an essential question. CNN's Adrienne Broaddus is in Minneapolis. Adrienne, yesterday, there was real confusion on the witness stand about what exactly Floyd said about drugs before he died. Play us that sound, if you can, and explain what happened because it's remarkable.

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, Jim and Poppy, big confusion inside of the courtroom yesterday, and that is the big question this morning. What did George Floyd say or what didn't he say? It's likely jurors went home wrestling with that question. Let's listen in to what jurors heard yesterday.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did it appear that Mr. Floyd said I ate too many drugs?


STEVEN SCHLEICHER, PROSECUTING ATTORNEY: And having heard it in context, you're able to tell what Mr. Floyd is saying there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I believe Mr. Floyd was saying, I ain't doing no drugs.

SCHLEICHER: That's a little different than what you were asked about when we saw a portion of the video, correct?



BROADDUS: So, a lot of back and forth inside the courtroom yesterday. The Defense Attorney Eric Nelson essentially used Floyd's own words against him, also bringing into focus once again Floyd's drug use by playing and queuing up that video. The defense was trying to show that George Floyd admitted to consuming drugs which could have led to his death, but ultimately it's going to be up to members of the jury to decide. And that wasn't the only key moment. Yesterday, we heard from three forensic experts. They testified they found pills in the back of the police squad car as well as pills in the SUV Floyd was in.

One of the experts testified saying those pills had some of Floyd's DNA on them. So a lot of key moments coming out of that courtroom yesterday. Another thing people are talking about, the use of force expert with the Los Angeles Police Department saying Chauvin used excessive and, quote, "deadly force". So far, the prosecution has called 30 witnesses to the stand. We are still waiting to hear from Hennepin County's medical examiner. Jim and Poppy?

HARLOW: That's some big one for sure to come. Adrienne, thanks so much for the reporting in Minneapolis. Let's bring in again this morning, happy to have our senior legal analyst Laura Coates with us and our senior law enforcement analyst Charles Ramsey. Good morning to you both. I know you both agree that the medical examiner is going to be big here. So, Laura, let me -- let me begin with you on how that factors into the bar for proving murder in this courtroom, in Minneapolis, and that is a substantial causal factor.


BROADDUS: How much is this going to rely on the --


HARLOW: Go for it. Go! I mean, you know what I mean --

COATES: No, I don't want to interrupt you. Well, I think we're on the same page here. It's our fellow Minnesota mind, I think --

HARLOW: There you go.

COATES: Very cockily about what's going on --

HARLOW: Laura --

COATES: And where the jury wants to go. Is the idea of a substantial causal factor here. Remember, you have to not only prove that the conduct by Derek Chauvin went beyond a reasonable force into excessive force, into criminal assault, essentially being a cop in name only in that moment.


But you also get proof that, that conduct, the kneeling on the neck, the application of pressure, also the withholding of aid when someone is in your custody was a substantial causal factor in the death of George Floyd. In Minnesota, the jury will be instructed, it's not that it had to be the sole cause of death. It had to be a substantial causal factor. To be very blunt about it, if somebody were to kill someone with a gunshot wound, for example, and then the autopsy later reveals the person was terminally ill, you could not escape criminal liability by saying the person was going to die some day. The question for the prosecution is whether this person would have died that day, but for the defendant's actions. And here, they're building that case.

SCIUTTO: Charles Ramsey, trials like this, they're long, but they can often turn on moments. And that was quite a moment yesterday that Adrienne Broaddus just played the sound of. You have James Reyerson; special agent with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. For a moment, a star defense witness or at least one that seemed to earn them points saying George Floyd said I ate too many drugs, but then he played the tape again and he says, actually, he said the opposite. I ain't do no drugs. And I just wonder what you think the impact of that is. I mean, it strikes me that the lawyer didn't do his homework right, because you should have played the whole thing and got definitive answers to what you thought you heard there.

CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Yes, and the jury will have an opportunity to play that tape over and over again. I've listened to it several times and I still don't know exactly what he said. But the medical examiner -- I have attended numerous autopsies, and one of the things they do is examine the contents of the stomach, and so we should be able to get some answer today. But let's play this out just for a minute, if, in fact, Floyd said what the defense says that he said, "I ate too many drugs". As a police officer, if you observe someone ingest what you believe to be drugs, and swallowing it to keep from being arrested, let's say, or they tell you that they did that.

You have an obligation to get them to the hospital so they can get their stomach pumped or whatever kind of thing that the doctor needs to do in order to make sure that they're OK. I mean, duty of care doesn't mean just dealing with a use of force case.


RAMSEY: Anyone who is in your custody, you're responsible for. So, if you see them ingest a quantity of drugs, and that's not uncommon by the way, people who are trying to avoid arrest, you get them to the hospital. So, you know, he may --


RAMSEY: Have created another problem for himself trying to fix one problem and creating another one.

HARLOW: Laura, as we think about the sort of -- if you break it into two periods of time, and that is the 9:29 on George Floyd's neck, and then the lack of action afterward, whether it's the EMT testifying that no CPR was done or not informing the E.R. doctor, the police, that, you know, that they were worried that he was on drugs, et cetera. I just wonder how both of those, separately, then come together and play into the jury's minds as they're deliberating, and also how the prosecution ties the two together and then how the defense tries to untie that.

COATES: What's so important here and you hit the nail on the head is the idea of, what are the options available in front of this jury? Remember, there are two counts of murder, one count of manslaughter that has this scale, this bevy of choices that contemplates not only the idea that the action, the assaulted action by Derek Chauvin as is alleged by kneeling on his neck actually caused the death of George Floyd through asphyxiation. But you also have a different scale in terms of the negligence, whether it was reckless for him to either perform in that way or to withhold aid or whether he did something that owed a duty of care and withheld the duty of care. The different crimes that have been charged is why it's so important for prosecutors to sort of map this out in their minds when they decide to bring a trial or bring charges is about giving the jurors an opportunity to contemplate the nimble and flexible prosecutorial, you know, strategies that are there. Because, remember, as the defense introduces evidence, the charges have to be both over inclusive and under inclusive and expanded enough --


COATES: To allow the jury to say, I think I've seen the satisfaction of this element or that. So on the sliding scale of charges that the prosecution has available, each of these aspects, the withholding of aid as well as the actual assaulted conduct have already been contemplated in the charges that have been alleged against Derek Chauvin.

SCIUTTO: And it will be a big question when they move to the issue of substantial cause. But I wonder, Charles Ramsey, in your experience as a police officer and chief, the significance of having so many officers testify in effect against Chauvin here, right? To say definitively, this is not what we were trained to do, this was excessive, duty of care, et cetera. How impactful?


RAMSEY: I think it's impactful. Certainly, you know, the people from Minnesota, Minnesota PD or Minneapolis PD, rather, that certainly is pretty powerful. Then you also have a VCA where you brought in an expert from L.A. for an example, who says that not only is this the case in Minneapolis, you know, Los Angeles and other cities that he's, you know, observed, it's pretty much the same in terms of use of force. And what constitutes excessive force. So I think it's impactful. You know, some are thinking that maybe bringing too many witnesses in, but think about it. If for whatever reason, the prosecution loses, the first thing people are going to say is, well, you didn't bring enough witnesses forward or you didn't do this, you didn't do that.

He's presenting a case the best way he can, and he thinks this is what he needs to do to establish the fact that what Chauvin did was beyond what is called for anywhere. And I think he's doing the right thing. Now, you're going to get into the more specific, you know, information coming from the medical examiner. And I think that's the most important testimony --


RAMSEY: Of all, personally.

SCIUTTO: Be a big chapter in this case. Laura Coates, Charles Ramsey, thanks so much to you both again today.

RAMSEY: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: As Republicans in dozens of states now try to pass bills that restrict voting, one state is doing the opposite and getting support remarkably from both sides of the aisle.

HARLOW: It happens sometimes, folks. We are also moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Futures pretty mixed this morning at the open after some troubling news on the economic recovery. We're now learning jobless claims went up last week to another 744,000 Americans filing for them last week alone. This is how the markets are reacting this morning. We'll see what happens at the open.