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Biden Announces Gun Reform Executive Actions; Matt Gaetz Associate Likely to Strike Plea Deal; Pulmonologist Testifies in Chauvin Trial. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired April 8, 2021 - 14:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Breaking news here. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

We are following two significant legal stories today.

Number one, breaking news on Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida in this ongoing sex trafficking investigation. There is now word coming into us this afternoon that this key associate of his who sparked this whole investigation is likely to strike a plea deal with prosecutors.

What that may mean for Matt Gaetz in just a little bit.

We begin, though, with the other huge story, number two, this scientific and crucial day of testimony in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, because, today, the prosecution called this extraordinarily compelling veteran pulmonologist to the stand, who reviewed medical records in George Floyd's case.

And just, again, as always, every afternoon, the court is in lunch break, but, as soon as they resume, we will bring it back to you.

But what this witness did, this expert pulmonologist, essentially explained to the jury how the human body breathes, and how he says Chauvin's nearly 10-minute knee to the neck caused George Floyd to suffer low oxygen levels, and ultimately a brain injury.

And he sat there, and he has analyzed the video of Floyd's arrest, and Dr. Tobin said he could see the moment where -- quote -- "the life goes out of George Floyd's body."

He said that then Officer Chauvin kept his knee in place for more than three minutes after George Floyd took his final breath.



DR. MARTIN TOBIN, PULMONOLOGIST: Over on the right image, you see his knuckle against the tire. And most people, this doesn't look terribly significant, but, to a physiologist, this is extraordinarily significant, because this tells you that he has used up his resources and he is now literally trying to breathe with his fingers and knuckles, because, when you begin to breathe, you begin to breathe with your ribcage and your diaphragm.

The next thing you recruit after that is your sternomastoid muscle, which is the big muscles in your neck. And then, when those are wasted up, then your relying on these types of muscles, like your fingers to try and stabilize your whole right side, because he's totally dependent on getting air into the right side.

So, he's using his fingers and his knuckles against the street to try and crank up the right side of his chest. This is his only way to try and get air to get into the right lung.


BALDWIN: CNN's Adrienne Broaddus is live outside that Minneapolis courthouse.

And, Adrienne, I mean, listening to this medical experts detail George Floyd's last moments, it's emotional. It's not just scientific and data-driven. It's emotional to think of Mr. Floyd trying so desperately to breathe through his knuckles and fingers.

What did you make of the testimony today?

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think this was the best testimony from the prosecution that we have heard so far. And you hit the nail on the head, emotional, indeed.

Dr. Tobin is demonstrative. And members of the jury were engaged. For example, when he started speaking, members of the jury started writing. And his show-and-tell approach is so captivating. I think, Brooke, that is part of what held the attention of the members of the jury.

At one point, he asked members of the jury to follow along with him and feel their neck. I even found myself following along. That's how captivating he was, and his voice, calm, level and steady, showcasing his credibility.

Right out the gate, the prosecution started to highlight his resume. He has 45 years of experience. He specializes in the study of lungs. Not only does he specialize in the study of lungs. He told members of the jury he likes to know about how the body works as far as breathing.

He even wrote what has been dubbed the bible of mechanical ventilation and breathing. That's a big point in this trial, because we have seen the video of George Floyd from multiple angles now. And what have we heard on that video repeatedly? Mr. Floyd pleading for his life, saying, "I can't breathe."

Dr. Tobin said in his opinion, Floyd died from a low level of oxygen, which led to brain damage and his heart does stop working.


But that's not all. There were some other compelling moments. Listen in to what he had to say about the body weight of Chauvin on George Floyd.


TOBIN: What you're seeing is the orientation of Officer Chauvin. His body build is quite erect here., But in particular, what you're seeing is that the toe of his boot is no longer touching the ground.

This means that all of his body weight is being directed down at Mr. Floyd's neck there, because, in many of the calculations, I excluded the effect of his leg and his shoe, because some of it was touching the ground.

But, here, you can see none of it is touching the ground. So, he -- we're taking half his body weight, plus the weight of his -- half the gear. And all of that is coming directly down on Mr. Floyd's neck.


BROADDUS: And this is the type of expert witness the prosecution wants on its team. He was demonstrative. He had visual aids.

And, at this point, I'm curious to see how the defense will respond, because he even brought up Floyd's drug use. He talked about the fentanyl. The prosecution is getting ahead of everything, anticipating what the defense will say -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: I believe our friend Elie Honig would refer to that move as taking out the sting.

Adrienne Broaddus, thank you very much.

Let's chat with Elie Honig, our CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor. Also joining us, Cedric Alexander. He is the former public safety director for DeKalb County, Georgia, and the former president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

So, gentlemen, here we go again today.

Elie, starting with you just on this Dr. Tobin testimony. He is this 45-year veteran, expert in breathing, gave the first direct testimony that we have heard that George Floyd died because of Derek Chauvin's knee on his back, his neck, his side.

How credible was his testimony? How damning was it for the defense?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Brooke, the only word I can think of for that testimony is devastating. It was devastating for Derek Chauvin's defense. It was devastating, frankly, to watch it as a regular human being. That expert was remarkably effective for the prosecution. He has

impeccable credentials. He was meticulous, the way he explained things to the jury. He was crystal clear. We have heard this phrase positional asphyxia throughout this trial. It's sort of a dry, technical medical term.

Well, guess what? This is what it looks like. It's gruesome. It's horrific. We just watched a man's breath snuffed out of his body. We watched a human being die. And this testimony will really resonate with the jury. It was scientifically well-supported. Every second of that, he explained scientifically.

And it was visceral, the image of the knuckle digging into the tire, so we could get some breath, the image of using his face to prop himself up, so he could get his last breath, that will stick with the jury.

BALDWIN: That's what I wanted -- just a quick follow-up on that, because it was -- even though he is science-driven, right, and this could have been very dry testimony...

HONIG: Right.

BALDWIN: ... it was, as you mentioned, devastating for the defense, so compelling.

How -- and I'd love to hear from our folks in the courtroom as to how many notes the jury was taking. How would that sit with a jury, this kind of testimony?

HONIG: Yes, so the trick, whenever you're putting on a technical expert like this as a witness, is keeping them away from the sort of technical jargon, the overly complicated scientific concepts that a normal human being can't follow.


HONIG: I keep saying it, but, remember, the jurors are just 12 human beings, and it has to make sense to them intellectually, but it also has to make sense to them sort of emotionally and viscerally, and there has to be memorable images.

I think the prosecution did a masterful job presenting that witness.

BALDWIN: Cedric, to you.

Are police officers trained, if you are arresting someone, cuffs behind the back, knee on the neck, backside? Are -- whatever the scenario may be, like, are you trained to see if the person is unable to breathe, and that, additionally, by putting someone face down and handcuffing them at the same time, that that may not bode well for them?

CEDRIC ALEXANDER, FORMER PRESIDENT, NATIONAL ORGANIZATION OF BLACK LAW ENFORCEMENT EXECUTIVES: So, let me start by answering the question this way for you. When we looked at that testimony this morning, and all of the

description that was broken down to the simplest form that even a fourth grader can understand, it aligns so much with what we observed in that video.

Remember, when we all watched that video, it touches everyone emotionally. Nobody thinks about the physiology and the biology that's involved in what's taking place as we watch Mr. Floyd lose his life right in front of us. We see it. We feel it. We are anxious about it. People become angry about it.


But what we heard this morning was the science behind what we observed. And it all came together and made sense, not just what we observed with our eyes, but what also went on biologically, physiologically with Mr. Floyd up to the time of his death.

This -- what we saw, even the handcuffing, the placement of the knee on the back, the placement of the knee on the neck, which is totally outlawed, but even the placement of the knee on the back, the placement of the handcuffs, how you hold someone when there are handcuffs, what we saw is going to change the way police are doing business today.

And I would hope that, in training -- police training academies across this country, post-certified, peace officer standard and training sites across this country are paying attention to this trial and city leaders and elected officials are paying attention to what we learned today, scientifically and physiologically, what happens when someone's body is compressed against a hard surface, and we have to handcuff or put on their shoulders.

I think and I would hope that we now look back. In the public safety community, we may have to consider making some real significant changes, even in a way that effect arrests in this country going forward.

BALDWIN: I appreciate that. And I see Elie nodding his head.

And, then, Elie, just even to the point about where Derek Chauvin actually placed his knee, back, neck, the prosecution is trying to make this point, wherever it was, it proved to be fatal for George Floyd, because it prevented him from breathing. How key is that for the jury?

HONIG: Very important point for the jury.

First of all, I was really happy to hear Cedric say what he just said. He's absolutely right. To the extent police departments across the country can learn from this, I hope they do.

In terms of that testimony on the jury, what this does is, it takes a little bit of the significance out of this dispute we have been hearing about, well, was the knee on the neck at this point, was it on the back at this point, was it on the arm at this point? This expert witness testimony established, it doesn't matter all that much, because any one of those would have put enough pressure on George Floyd's back to snuff his breath out, to snuff his life out. So, that's an important point for the prosecution moving forward.

BALDWIN: Elie and Cedric, stand by. I have more questions for you.

We need to get a quick commercial break in.

And, of course, we're going to take you back to this trial when it resumes in Minneapolis.

Also, we are live this afternoon in Orlando with that breaking news story about the man who sparked an investigation into Congressman Matt Gaetz. Joel Greenberg is now expected to strike a plea deal with the government as he faces sex trafficking charges.

Plus, police in South Carolina are holding a news conference right now after a former NFL player shot and killed five people, including two young children, and then killed himself. President Biden today referring to this tragedy as he announced new executive actions on guns today. We are live at the White House with those details.

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



BALDWIN: We're back with more breaking news this afternoon. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

This story involves Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz and this ongoing sex trafficking investigation. Here's what CNN has learned, that this key associate of the congressman's is likely to strike a plea deal with federal prosecutors as part of this whole investigation.

And our CNN senior legal affairs correspondent, Paula Reid, is in Orlando outside the courthouse.

And, Paula, what are you learning? And what might this mean for Matt Gaetz?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, this is potentially bad news for Congressman Gaetz, because it is expected that this plea deal will likely require one of his closest friends and political allies to cooperate and share any evidence that he may have against the congressman.

Now, Joel Greenberg's attorney, Fritz Scheller, he just answered dozens of questions from reporters. And he would not confirm that, in fact, this plea deal will require cooperation or if his client is cooperating.

But he did give us one hint about what might be in store for the congressman. We have that sound. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRITZ SCHELLER, ATTORNEY FOR JOEL GREENBERG: I'm sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today.


REID: I also asked him if the congressman had been in touch with his client. These two were very close. People who knew them said that Joel Greenberg really idolized Matt Gaetz, and there were some people who thought that he wouldn't potentially be willing to flip.

Now, the attorney said he's not aware of any communication between the congressman and his client. But, as this moves forward, the attorney said there's always a possibility that the government and the attorneys will not be able to reach a deal and this will go to trial, but, right now, again, not a great day for Congressman Gaetz, as his closest friend and political ally appears to be likely to cooperate with the government.

BALDWIN: What's the story also, Paula, with -- I know there was news that investigators were taking a close look at that trip that Congressman Gaetz has taken to the Bahamas. Tell me more about that.

REID: That's right.

So, this falls under this larger investigation into whether Gaetz and some of his associates were allegedly looking online for women and then trading gifts or money for sex. And one part of this larger probe is looking at whether Congressman Gaetz may have been provided with women or travel in exchange for political favors.

That trip to the Bahamas is one instance under scrutiny in this larger sex crimes investigation looking at whether the congressman and some of his associates may have violated sex trafficking or prostitution laws.

BALDWIN: Paula Reid.

Welcome to the CNN family, Paula Reid, by the way, welcoming you as our new correspondent. Appreciate you.


REID: Thank you.

BALDWIN: This just in.

South Carolina authorities believe former NFL player Phillip Adams is the gunman who shot and killed five people at this home yesterday, including two children, ages 5 and 9. That is according to a state official.

The York County sheriff says Adams was found dead after he shot himself. The victims are Dr. Robert Lesslie, his wife of 40 years, their two grandkids, and a workman on their property. And a sixth person was wounded.

The York County sheriff is now investigating what led to the attack. The doctor opened his practice in the Rock Hill area about 40 years ago. Today, his office posted a message notifying his patients that he had -- quote -- "passed into glory."

Just a short time ago, President Biden mentioned that tragedy in South Carolina as he unveiled a spectrum of new actions on gun reform. Some will be immediate through executive order. Others, the president acknowledged will take time, including removing liability protections on gun makers.

Now, among these executive actions, the president here is putting restrictions on ghost guns, which are untraceable self-assembled firearms, as well as on pistol-stabilizing braces. That was the kind used by that shooter in Boulder, Colorado.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have all asked, what are we waiting for? Because we aren't waiting for a tragedy. I know that. We have had more tragedy than we can bear.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nothing I'm about to recommend in any way impinges on the Second Amendment. We're not going to give up now.

The idea that we have so many people dying every single day from gun violence in America is a blemish on our character as a nation.


BALDWIN: Kaitlan Collins is our chief White House correspondent.

And let's just talk about the president's legislative goals here to prevent gun violence. How likely is he, is this White House to get any traction from Congress?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it seems really unlikely, because, so far, what they have relied on are those two bills that have made it through the House -- of course, they have got a Democratic majority there -- but seem to basically face insurmountable odds in the Senate right now, based on what we have heard from lawmakers.

And so we have not seen President Biden unveil his own legislative proposal when it comes to guns. That is something he talked about on the campaign trail, but has not gotten there yet, because he's made clear he's got other priorities. And so he has said that guns is something that's important to him, but, legislatively, we know infrastructure is what he's dealing with right now.

And so that is why you saw him take those executive steps today that he believes he can, even though he himself admitted on the campaign trail that, really, what you can do as president when it comes to guns and these executive actions is not permanent and it's not anywhere near as extensive as what legislation from Capitol Hill could do.

And so, Brooke, these measures that he's taking today, telling the Justice Department basically to pursue these rules on certain guns, it really remains to be seen what effect those are going to have, because the one you just mentioned on ghost guns, basically, they want it to be more traceable, to actually classify them as firearms, because, right now, you can essentially print and assemble these guns at your house.

They don't have serial numbers on them. So, of course, you can't trace them. But it's really hard to enforce a rule like that, given the nature of how people put these guns together. And so that's another concern that I think the White House is facing.

And even President Biden acknowledged today that they are limited, but they felt like this is just the beginning, and then they said there are more executive actions from the White House to come on guns.

BALDWIN: Kaitlan, thank you from the White House.

We want to get you back to Minneapolis. In just a couple of minutes, we do expect to hear more testimony from this pulmonologist, this expert on breathing who is in the chair there in the Derek Chauvin murder trial. He has already presented this jury compelling evidence, devastating evidence, according to our legal analyst Elie Honig, that the officer's actions led to George Floyd's death.

So, we will take you back to the courtroom in just a moment.



BALDWIN: All right, any moment now, we expect the trial to resume there in Minneapolis, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin accused of murdering George Floyd.

The defense is set to cross-examine this doctor, this veteran pulmonologist, who already knocked down a theory that the defense has already alluded to, that Chauvin thought Floyd, George Floyd, could breathe because he was talking.



TOBIN: At that time, when he's saying, "Please, I can't breathe this," he's -- we know, at that point, he has oxygen in his brain.

But -- and, again, it's a perfect example of how it gives you a huge false sense of security, because, very shortly after that, we're going to see that he has a major loss of oxygen in the way that he moves his leg.

And so it tells you how dangerous is the concept of, if you can breathe -- or if you can speak, you can breathe. Yes, that is true on the surface, but highly misleading, very -- a very dangerous mantra to have out there.


BALDWIN: Elie Honig and Cedric Alexander are back with me.

And, Elie, earlier, you described this expert witness testimony as devastating for the defense, impeccable, crystal clear.