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Virginia Police Officers Accused Of Using Excessive Force On Army Officer; On Getting The COVID Vaccine While Pregnant; Former Republican Lawmaker On GOP Embracing Lies; Texas Senate Advances Bill Tightening Voter Restrictions. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired April 11, 2021 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: I'm Pamela Brown in Washington on this Sunday. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. Great to have you along with us tonight.
And we start with a U.S. Army officer suing two Virginia police officers after a traffic stop gone wrong. The officers allegedly pointed their guns at him, repeatedly pepper-sprayed him, and pushed him because of what they thought was a missing license plate on his new SUV. And it was all caught on camera.
The December incident has prompted Virginia Governor Ralph Northam to direct state police to conduct an independent investigation.
CNN's national correspondent Natasha Chen joins me now.
So, Natasha, what are you learning about the details of this incident?
NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pamela, you mentioned the Virginia governor. He's now invited Lieutenant Caron Nazario to meet and talk further about the larger issue of police reform after he saw the video and called it very disturbing. And we should warn our viewers, this video is difficult to watch. We had to watch it several times to put this story together it. It doesn't get any easier.
What you're going to see is video from three angles. Two angles from the body cameras worn by the police officers in Windsor, Virginia, and the third angle from Nazario's personal cell phone.
CHEN (voice-over): 6:30 p.m., December 5th, 2020. Lieutenant Caron Nazario driving in his Army fatigues through the small town of Windsor, Virginia, saw flashing lights in his rearview mirror. He wasn't sure why he was being pulled over. According to his lawsuit, he slowed down and put his blinker on, indicating his intention to pull over, but didn't do so for another minute and 40 seconds, which he later explained was in order to find a well-lit area.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Driver, roll the window down. Put your hands out the window. Turn the vehicle off, put your hands out the window. CHEN: Hearing these different commands while sitting in his car with
his seatbelt on, Nazario began recording from his own cell phone and put his hands out the window as ordered. It turns out Officer Daniel Crocker had not seen the temporary license plate taped to the back window of Nazario's brand new Chevrolet Tahoe. And seeing tinted windows and a driver not stopping right away, Crocker decided it was a high-risk traffic stop.
But this was never explained to Nazario, who, for several minutes, continued to ask why he'd been pulled over.
SECOND LT. CARON NAZARIO, U.S. ARMY: What's going on?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many occupants are in your vehicle?
NAZARIO: It's only myself. Why are your weapons drawn? What's going on?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get out of the car now.
NAZARIO: I'm serving this country and this is how I'm treated?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, guess what, I'm a veteran, too. I'm going to obey. Get out of the car.
CHEN: Body camera footage shows Officer Joe Gutierrez, gun drawn, unfastening the Velcro around what might be his taser at this time.
NAZARIO: What's going on?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's going on? You're fixing to ride the lightning, son.
CHEN: The lawsuit says Nazario thought "ride the lightning" meant he could be killed.
NAZARIO: I'm honestly afraid to get out. Can I ask what's going on?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. You should be. Get out now.
NAZARIO: I have not committed any crimes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're being stopped. You're not cooperating at this point right now. You're under arrest for -- you're being detained. OK? You're being detained for --
NAZARIO: For a traffic violation I do not have to get out of the vehicle. You haven't even told me why I'm being stopped.
CHEN: About two to three minutes in, Officer Crocker tried to open the driver's door. In his report, he wrote, quote, "When I attempted to unlock and open the driver's door, the driver assaulted myself by striking my hand away and pulled away from Officer Gutierrez's grip." But in his own body camera footage, Nazario is not seen striking anyone. Crocker's report also says that at this point Gutierrez, quote, "gave
several more commands to comply with orders or he would be sprayed with his OC spray." But no such warnings could be heard. Gutierrez just sprayed Nazario, still without any either officer having told Nazario what exactly he was pulled over for.
NAZARIO: This is (EXPLETIVE DELETED). This (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get out of the car now.
NAZARIO: I don't even know if I can reach my seatbelt. Can you --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take your seatbelt off and get out of the car. You made this way more difficult than it had to be. Get on the ground. Get on the ground.
NAZARIO: Can you please talk to me about what's going on?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get on the ground now.
NAZARIO: Can you please talk to me about what's going on? Why am I being treated like this? Why?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because you're not cooperating. Get on the ground. Lie down or you're going to get tazed.
CHEN: The officers handcuffed Nazario, then stood him back up. He told them his dog was in the backseat and was choking from the pepper spray. Medics arrived and the conversation mellowed.
NAZARIO: What would have been a two-minute traffic stop turned into all this.
CHEN: Nazario explained why he didn't immediately pull over.
NAZARIO: I was pulling over to a well-lit area for my safety and yours. I have respect for law enforcement.
CHEN: But Gutierrez said that wasn't the problem.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The climate we're in, with the media spewing with the race relations between minorities and law enforcement, I get it, OK? So, like, I told you, as far as you not stopping, you weren't comfortable, and you wanted a well-lit spot, Lieutenant, that happens all the time. It happens to me a lot. And it's I'll say 80 percent of the time, not always, 80 percent of the times, it's a minority.
CHEN: And while the officers couldn't understand why Nazario didn't get out of the car as instructed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why wouldn't you comply?
CHEN: Nazario said he didn't know why he was being stopped.
NAZARIO: I've never looked out the window and saw guns blazing immediately.
CHEN: Gutierrez eventually told Nazario that he had a conversation with the chief of police and was giving him the option to let this all go.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no need for this to be on your record. I don't want it to be on your record. However, it's entirely up to you. If you want to fight and argue, and I don't mean to be disrespectful. OK? I mean, you have that right as a citizen, if that's what you want, we'll charge you. It doesn't change my life either way.
(END OF VIDEOTAPE)
CHEN: CNN has not yet been able to reach either police officer at this time. It's not clear if they have legal representation for this lawsuit.
Now we mentioned the Virginia governor earlier. Other politicians have also weighed in, including both Virginia's senators who stated their outrage this weekend over seeing these videos. They both called for federal police reform. In fact Senator Warner said the Senate is long overdue for taking up and passing a bill called the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act -- Pamela.
BROWN: OK. Thank you so much, Natasha Chen, we appreciate it.
And joining me now to discuss CNN legal analyst and criminal defense Joey Jackson, and Anthony Barksdale, former Baltimore interim police commissioner.
Gentlemen, nice to see you on this Sunday evening. Obviously, this story, I mean, just seeing that camera footage, it's disturbing, Joey. This Army officer is suing the two police officers for violating his First and Fourth Amendment rights. Does he have a case?
JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I really believe he does, Pamela. Good to be with you. Listen, the bottom line is that if you can treat a person of color who is wearing Army fatigues like this, you can only imagine if he was wearing a hoodie, you don't stand a chance. And so when you look at this, it's -- you know, it's beyond troubling, and it keeps happening over and over again.
And let me be clear, for those officers who are out there every day serving communities, respecting communities, interacting with communities, I applaud you and continue to do what you do. For those who are disrespectful to communities of color, who are terrorizing communities, who are engaging in this kind of behavior, you have to rethink, and you have to re-evaluate what you're doing and the effect that it's having.
And so at the end of the day when you look and examine this, you know, my late father, may he rest in peace, Pamela, as a law enforcement officer, he was a cop. He always told me that with all the equipment that he had with him, his night stick and his gun and everything else, the most powerful tool he had was his mouth. If you could be respectful to people in this day and age, right, you want to de- escalate a scenario, you want to show people courtesy and show them respect.
One final point and that's this, Pam. This was a person who was pulling into driving the speed limit, if not slower, pulling into a well-lit area. That should inform your judgment if someone's pulling into a gas station with surveillance all around as to what you're encountering. So it's just no need to engage in conduct like this. It furthers the vibe with law enforcement, it's troubling. And it does nothing in this day and age when we're trying to bridge that gap, not further divide it.
BROWN: And, Anthony, as a former interim police commissioner, is there any way that you can justify the behavior of these officers?
ANTHONY BARKSDALE, FORMER BALTIMORE INTERIM POLICE COMMISSIONER: No. There's no way to justify it. The initial stop may have been valid, but then when we get there even on their body cam footage, everything, we can see the tag hanging from the rear of the vehicle. So where do we lose it? We start losing it with the officer escalating the situation.
If they say it's a felony stop, you pull the suspect, you pull the driver back to you. You stay in control. You don't advance on the vehicle. They advance, guns, weapons, taser out, gun out, and they advance on the vehicle. When the gentleman says that he is scared, listen, de-escalate, calm it down, don't push the situation. And that's exactly what we saw.
And then we saw it get to a point where you're using force. You're going to mace a driver sitting behind the wheel of a big SUV? No, what are we doing? I mean, we're seeing flaws in the training of police officers across the United States, from Chauvin to this incident, we've got problems.
BROWN: And what do you do about that? I mean, you know, as we know, police departments are cash strapped. They are not getting adequate training. What do you do about that?
BARKSDALE: There are ways to do it. In Baltimore we set up a training program where we would take incidents from current events and then plug them into our academy. And then we would call officers in. We would actually go to the street, go to the same blocks that they patrol and put them through these scenarios. You can't tell me that it cost a whole bunch of money to run cops through scenarios that we're seeing on social media.
There should be a Chauvin training type of model, a training scenario for cops right now. This car stop in Virginia, there should be a training scenario based on this car stop. Right now these governors, these mayors, you don't have to wait. You tell those police chiefs we're holding you accountable to fix this training in these departments and get it done or you're gone.
BROWN: Anthony Barksdale, thank you. We appreciate it. And we hope to have you back on the show soon. Meantime, week three of testimony in the Derek Chauvin trial begins
tomorrow with George Floyd's family members expected to testify.
Joey Jackson, you are still here with us. There is a reason why I didn't say goodbye to you. Did the prosecution meet the burden of proof here?
JACKSON: You know, Pamela, I really think they did. They really put out a very compelling case. Remember the case is built upon a couple of pillars. One relates to whether or not the use of force was objectively reasonable. I'll speak to that in a moment. And the other relates to the whole medical issue as to cause of death. And I think as to the issue of use of force and establishing that, it was objectively unreasonable, what they demonstrated by bringing in law enforcement.
They had a 27-year sergeant who indicated there are ways to do things, that's not the way. They brought in Lieutenant Zimmerman, the senior most officer on the force, right, a supervisor who indicated that's not what you do. And then of course they brought in the chief with regard to talking about the sanctity of life and other experts who just demonstrated that there's a nature and a need to reassess.
And so while initially perhaps you do need to use force to resolve the situation, many would argue otherwise, he said he was claustrophobic, he indicated he has anxiety. Perhaps you can de-escalate and speak to him. But absent that, it didn't happen, there was not a proper assessment such that the continuation of force, Pam, was reasonable.
Pivoting to the issue of the medical status, what happens here is that if you're the prosecution, all you have to demonstrate is that the knee to the neck was a substantial cause of death, not that it was the sole cause. And so you see the defense making arguments as to COVID, arguments as to heart disease and hypertension, arguments as to blockage of arteries, arguments as to methamphetamines and Fentanyl.
All of these things, they may very well be contributing factors and relevant, but are they the substantial cause if you look at how Mr. Floyd appeared in that Cup Food earlier and an hour later he was dead, I would suggest to you that the prosecution met the burden to establish what the substantial cause was, and that was the knee to the neck.
And so in answer to your question, I thought their case was very compelling, and I believe to this point they've proven it indeed.
BROWN: All right, Joey Jackson, thank you so much.
JACKSON: Thank you, Pamela.
BROWN: And still ahead on this Sunday evening, should pregnant women get a coronavirus vaccine? For some, it is not an easy decision. One woman decided to get the shot. I'm going to talk to her and to a doctor who recently had a baby.
Plus, Texas could soon have a law that bans drive-through voting. I'm going to ask the state senator behind the bill why it's needed, ahead.
BROWN: Well, first the good news. Always good to start off with the good news, right? The U.S. recorded a daily high Saturday with 4.6 million doses of COVID vaccine reported. Given, that's 500,000 more than the old daily record reached the previous Saturday. But then there is this. For the third straight week new cases and hospitalizations are increasing among people who haven't been vaccinated.
Michigan health officials now saying the state is in the middle of another surge. Officials are pleading with the Biden administration to send more vaccine. Last hour, I talked with principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre about why the White House won't do it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRINCIPAL DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: We have offered other ways to be helpful. And like I said I can't stress this enough. We have to do this in a fair and equitable way. We are in the middle of this process.
We're still in the middle of it. We still have a lot more people to vaccinate. And so we're offering personnel help. You mentioned the federal help that we're bringing down to Michigan to help with -- to be vaccinators.
We're helping with testing as well, and also therapeutic means to be helpful in the state. This is not to let the states figure out at all. We have been working very closely with governors and state local officials. That is something that we've been doing on day one as we put forth a comprehensive strategy on how to get our vaccination program out there across the country.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: So, again, that was Karine Jean-Pierre of the White House Press Office talking with me last hour.
So now that the question on whether to get the COVID vaccine that weighs especially hard on pregnant women and fathers to be, or women who want to get pregnant. The CDC says the vaccines are unlikely to pose a risk to mothers-to-be. But adds the scientific data is limited. Add disinformation to the mix, and it can be a really tough choice.
I want to bring in our CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen, who is a new mother herself, and Dimple Ajmera, she is a councilwoman in Charlotte, North Carolina, who chose to get the COVID vaccine while pregnant.
Ladies, great to see you. I've been looking forward to this conversation. I know I have many friends just anecdotally who have been talking about this. So I look forward to hearing what you have to say. [19:20:07]
Dimple, first to you. You went very public. And you tweeted not only that you decided to get the COVID vaccine. But you also included a picture of the shot going into your arm. Tell us what led to your decision to do that?
DIMPLE AJMERA (D), COUNCILWOMAN, CHARLOTTE, NC: Thank you, Pamela, for having me. I decided to take a COVID vaccine using an acronym BRAIT to arrive at the decision. Well, BRAIT stands for benefits, risk, alternatives, intuition, and time. So I looked at benefits. I asked myself a question, well, what are the benefits here? That's when I reached out to experts like Dr. Wen and my OB-GYN to arrive at the decision.
And, in my case, really the benefits were that it will provide me the comfort to protect me and my baby, and also it will give me hope to help beat this virus and doing my part. And, most importantly, it will give me the freedom from anxiety and fear of living for almost six months of catching this vaccine. So those were the benefits after speaking with my OB-GYN and experts. Then I looked at risk. So, the question was, well, what are the risks associated with taking this vaccine?
Well, the answer is all I could find that unforeseen, rare complications, which are possibly nonexistent. That's all I could find for risk. Then I looked at alternatives. What are the alternatives here? The alternative, if I do not want to catch COVID-19 and go through major pregnancy complications, and, at the same time, not take the risk of unforeseen rare complication, the only alternative is to seek quarantine until I give birth.
AJMERA: Well, in our case, that was not really possible for me and my family because of the high risk with my husband being a dentist and high exposure and him potentially being a carrier and also because of my service on the Charlotte City Council.
AJMERA: Then I looked at the intuition. What is it that my intuition tells me that is best for me? Well, from my intuition, I can't, in assessing the risk, I kept telling myself that I cannot accept the risk of contracting COVID-19 and developing major complications related to pregnancy just for the sake of unforeseen risk that may not even exist.
BROWN: Yes. Right. Right. Well, we're running out of time so I -- Dimple, I want to hear more of what you have to say. But I do need to hear from Dr. Wen because, Dr. Wen, not only did you have a baby at the beginning of this pandemic, you have since been vaccinated. Tell us, what are the concerns for pregnant women taking the vaccine and side effects they may experience. You know, I think for pregnant women, some who are nervous about this, they say well, there's only limited data. And I'm not just talking about pregnant women. Also women who want to
get pregnant, who might worry how it could impact their fertility. Tell us what we need to know. Educate us.
DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. So I think there are -- I would separate these two groups into the two categories, women who want to become pregnant but are not pregnant yet, and women who are already pregnant. So for women who are not yet pregnant, there is no link whatsoever to any concerns about fertility.
This is actually disinformation that some anti-vaccine activists have been spreading. And so I think it's really important to know women, people who are thinking about becoming pregnant, there is no reason for them not to get the vaccine. For women who are pregnant, they were not initially included in the vaccine trials.
And so we don't have direct data. However, we now have tens of thousands of women who have chosen to get the vaccine and who are pregnant. And it's really important as the councilwoman alluded to, there have been no adverse safety signals in this population. And so any risk of having the vaccine in pregnancy is purely theoretical.
And that must be weighed against the very real risk of contracting COVID-19. And it is true that pregnant women are at higher risk for having severe outcomes compared to nonpregnant women. And so they are at higher risk for being hospitalized, for being in the ICU. Also there is a higher rate of pre-term birth. And so that is a real risk that women need to think about in consultation with their doctors.
BROWN: If they have -- if they get COVID. All right, Dr. Leana Wen, Dimple Ajmera, best of luck with the rest of your pregnancy and with labor and delivery, and the journey ahead for you, Dimple. And Dr. Leana Wen, as always, thank you so much.
We'll be right back.
BROWN: Well, a stunning new poll found that a majority of Republicans simply do not accept the results of the 2020 election. 55 percent of Republicans falsely believe Joe Biden's victory was the result of illegal voting or rigging, according to a Reuters-Ipsos poll. Worded another way, 60 percent of Republicans agreed, again incorrectly, that the election was stolen from Trump.
I'm joined now by former Republican Congressman Denver Riggleman.
Thank you for coming on. You are one of the few Republicans who warned against the spread of these lies, these conspiracy theories. What's the solution here?
DENVER RIGGLEMAN (R), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: I think we continue to fight, and you know, Pamela -- and thanks for having me on -- it is not slowing down.
There's three things I want to point out really quickly and these might surprise you, the last one, especially.
The first one President Trump mentioned, you know, stop the steal or the election was stolen at the R.N.C. dinner for the big donors. Here in Virginia, every single governor's candidate is running on some type of election integrity commission, Pamela, every single one of them.
And we have a committee I just found out tonight, a committee here, a huge one here in my district that is having Mike Flynn come to speak for $20,000.00 at a Reagan Dinner, right here in our district.
I've been warning people that this is still here. It's not going away. It's very difficult to argue with crazy or to argue with these type of fantasies or conspiracy theories that are still just really metastasizing still in the grassroots here in certain areas, especially here in my district.
So Pamela, you know, I thought the use of law enforced facts, I thought getting out there and making sure that I was loud about this would be helpful, but I'm not seeing a whole lot of changes right now and it is really concerning me, especially what's even happening here in my own district.
BROWN: Right. I mean, that's the thing. They are basing these ideas not on facts, so how do you combat it with facts if it's not even rooted in fact? I mean, how do you stop this train? You had the former President feeling it as you noted, Republican politicians, mainstream conservative media keep pushing lies about the election and the Capitol attack?
I mean, as you have been on the front lines of trying to deal with this, what have you learned about combating this and you know, what to do in the future? Because this could have serious repercussions.
RIGGLEMAN: I think a couple things, Pamela. We do need some kind of -- we need some kind of disinformation center that's based on the C.D.C., something like a centers for disinformation defense, you know, public trust P3 that can drag these bad players out into the sunlight, you know, because that is the best disinfectant.
But the problem that we're having, Pamela, is that it's follow the money. Marjorie Taylor Greene raising $3.2 million and a quarter or Lauren Boebert raising $700,000.00 or the flyers that I'm seeing coming into my mailbox right now that are raising money on election integrity and stop to steal.
The money portion of this, I think is the most important thing people need to identify right now. We can talk about fantasies or why people get sucked in to QAnon. The issue is there's hundreds of millions of dollars that can be raised based on stop the steal myth.
It's no accident that Mike Flynn is speaking here in my district and getting paid $20,000.00. These people are grifters, they are carnival barkers. And they are snake oil salesmen. And when you have individuals like this, they sort of rope these
individuals in, they take their money and they laugh all the way to the bank and they think about how these people are, and Pamela that's the issue. We've got to follow the money.
We've got to nip it in the bud with something where people start identifying these individuals as the grifters they are. The fact is, they are really just -- they're just carnival barkers.
BROWN: What do you say to this woman who our Donie O'Sullivan spoke to at the top of it saying, "What's wrong with conspiracy theories?" Why are they so bad? What would you say to her?
RIGGLEMAN: Yes, you know, I'm sorry, I laugh about it. What's wrong with conspiracy theories? We can't even have a dialogue. You said it at the beginning, didn't you, Pamela? How do you argue with somebody -- how do you have a fact-based policy driven conversation, right, if someone believes that world is flat, or that 9/11 was an inside job or that there's a Democratic cabal of Satanists that you know, that are taking blood from children?
How do you have a reasonable conversation with anybody that's caught in those loops? Conspiracy theories are bad. Conspiracy theories are destructive because of this.
It destroys families. It destroys policy, but it destroys our ability to have some kind of normal conversation on where this country should go, and I think conspiracy theories and disinformation might be the biggest challenge we have in the United States right now.
We better nip it in the bud or I'm telling you, there's more violence to come. There's more issues like that to come and we're going to have a very, I would say awful, 2022 election cycle when you have these, you know, sort of fantasies against facts and fantasies are winning in the fundraising race right now.
BROWN: Wow. That is alarming. Denver Riggleman, let's keep this conversation going. Thank you for coming on to shine a light on what you've been up to.
RIGGLEMAN: Thanks, Pamela. Any time.
BROWN: All right, and tonight on CNN NEWSROOM, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Agency is calling an incident at a nuclear facility a terrorist action. Who they claim is behind it, up next.
BROWN: In a speech to high power donors last night, former President Trump again harped on the big lie that the 2020 election wasn't free and fair and secure, and that his second term was stolen from him.
State Republicans nationwide have used that lie as the basis for new laws making it harder to vote. In Texas, one such bill is poised to become law. Republicans there
defending the measure. Here is Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LT. GOV. DAN PATRICK (R-TX): Nothing has changed in the election code regarding early voting. Nothing has changed.
Nothing has changed for mail-in ballots on Election Day or early voting, and anyone who says different is lying to you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Okay, that is false. We're not lying to you. This law would limit early voting hours from what they were before. It would ban drop boxes and it would prohibit drive-thru voting, which was used in early voting last year.
I'm joined now by the author of this bill, Texas State Senator Bryan Hughes. Nice to have you on.
STATE SEN. BRYAN HUGHES (R-TX): Thank you for having me.
BROWN: So this bill bans drop boxes and drive-thru voting, two methods that make it easier to vote and were widely used in Harris County, a huge county with around 2.7 million registered voters.
Why are Texas lawmakers like yourself taking away methods of voting that make it easier to vote?
HUGHES: Drop boxes, drive-thru voting, 24-hour voting not in the Texas Election Code, never been even discussed. One county in one election tried that and the results are not so good.
They tell us now they're not sure all the votes got counted. We have evidence from drive-thru voting that no folks didn't have a secret ballot machines being passed around in the car. No poll watchers. No security.
And so the safest and most secure way to vote is in the polling place with protections in place. We make accommodations for folks who have a disability, we will bring the machine out to them. And of course, mail ballots for 65 or over, overseas, or disabled folks.
But beyond that, we like voting in the polling place. And even after Senate Bill 7, as you know, will have much more expansive early voting in mail requirements than many states; many, many blue states for that matter.
BROWN: Okay, so let's talk a little bit about this. First of all, in terms of the poll waters at these dropping locations, they are supposed to be there. They have -- they are supposed to have the same security as a polling location where you would go to vote and you say drive-thru voting has never been allowed in Texas.
But that's not true. The Texas Code stipulates early voting is allowed within movable structures. The Texas Election Code does not explicitly outlaw drive-thru polling locations. Plus a Federal Judge, a conservative judge ruled that drive-thru voting was legally permissible in Texas for early voting based on that code.
So why ban something that the most populous county used successfully and securely in 2020 and a court allowed? Why are you laughing? Why not set conditions for it to be available throughout the state instead?
HUGHES: Oh, I'm not laughing, I'm listening to what you're saying. I want to respond to properly because that's not exactly what happened.
The Election Code does not provide for drive-thru voting. I was on an interview with one of my Democratic colleagues today in Dallas and he agreed --
BROWN: The structures -- that allows for certain structures for early voting and the judge said that the early --
HUGHES: That's right.
BROWN: The drive-thru voting would be a structure and this is a conservative judge. But go ahead, I don't want to get too in the weeds on this.
HUGHES: Oh, thank you very much. The Federal Judge that looked at these measures Harris County took said that the plaintiffs who brought the suit lacked standing, and so he couldn't rule.
But if he could, he would have a problem with them.
BROWN: On Election Day, he made it clear.
HUGHES: That's what the judge said in the Southern District of Texas. That's correct. That's exactly right. That's exactly right. And so I want to be clear on that.
So drive-thru voting had never been discussed, never been done in Texas. Even the folks in Harris County will admit this was the first time that it happened.
The legislature sets Election Day and legislates policy. Harris County is not the capital and local officials can't make up the rules as they go along.
I might like what they do, I may not like it, but in our system, the legislature makes the laws and the local governments have to follow them.
And again, drive-thru voting was not successful. The numbers didn't line up. There was no secret ballot in many cases. There's some real problems with it. BROWN: Okay, so let's about this, because by your standards, look,
Governor Abbott limited drop boxes in 2020, which was not explicitly in the law and the courts upheld that.
So you have that, but also look, the local election administrators were interpreting the law and what to do during a pandemic and that is why in Harris County in particular, they came up with these measures.
Here is what one of the administrators said to CNN earlier today about this, why they decided to put these methods into place.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ISABEL LONGORIA, HARRIS COUNTY ELECTIONS ADMINISTRATOR: The idea came because if you can do groceries drive-thru, if you can do banking drive-thru, why can't you do that in-person voting drive-thru.
A hundred twenty-seven thousand people used that in November, and we used it in July of last year. We used it in December of last year. We're going to use it in May of this year. It's something that is working that voters like and it's being taken away without explanation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: So why take power away from local election officials to decide how best to administer elections in their area?
HUGHES: I'm not questioning their motives, they say that it was for COVID-19, I'll take their word for it.
The legislature sets the law for the whole state, locals follow that law. Picking up groceries, going to the bank is not quite as important as voting. Secret ballot matters to us in Texas.
If you're jammed in a car with someone looking over your shoulder, you're not casting a secret ballots. Also testimony was that poll watchers weren't there to make sure the rules were being followed.
BROWN: Okay, but if --
HUGHES: I was on a call with one of my Democratic colleagues and he admitted, drive-thru voting is not done in Texas.
BROWN: Hold on. Hold on. Okay. But really quick, if secret voting -- secret ballots are so important, why is Texas under this bill allowing poll watchers to use their own discretion and decide to videotape someone filling out a ballot if they're getting assistance? Would that -- doesn't that undercut that argument?
HUGHES: We had testimony from Democrats, a prosecutor in the Rio Grande Valley failed Democratic candidates who talked about cheating. They told us folks come in and claim to be helping voters but in fact, they're intimidating and they are forcing their will on them.
Voters came to us after the fact and complained. That provision is to make sure voters are casting their ballots and not being influenced by someone else and again --
BROWN: But they could be intimidated by the poll watchers. You can see that that can happen if they're being videotaped by poll watchers which is, I believe unprecedented.
HUGHES: The poll watchers aren't there to tell them how to vote nor can they. Poll watchers are the eyes and the ears of the public.
BROWN: Yes, but they are videotaping them.
HUGHES: The Democrats.
BROWN: They're videotaping them.
HUGHES: They are videotaping --
BROWN: Under this bill.
HUGHES: The poll watchers are allowed to videotape what's going on in the process. They cannot share that. They can only release it to the Secretary of State if there's reasonable belief it violates the law.
Poll watchers are there from the Republican Party, Democratic Party, all candidates. They're the eyes and ears of the public.
We've had cases in Texas where the poll watcher says this irregularity took place. The election worker says no. That video evidence, like a police body cam will show us what really happened. That's the idea. It's about having evidence so we know what's going on.
BROWN: But that's why they fill affidavits for what's going on which would be used in court, video evidence could go viral. It could get out and you could misconstrue it.
People could be intimidated by that. Do you see that argument?
HUGHES: There are poll watchers. They're from both sides. If one poll watcher is kind of intimidating voters ...
BROWN: That is true, I am talking about video.
HUGHES: ... the other party can -- the other party can expose them. Remember, poll watchers are there from all parties for multiple candidates. We're not talking about just Democrats or just Republicans. Poll watchers are the eyes and ears of the public and this is not a new concept.
HUGHES: This has been this way for a while.
BROWN: That is true, but what is a new concept is allowing them to videotape voters while they're filling out their ballots with assistance, but I want to ask you because the underpinning of this and I was reading through the law, the bill as it is earlier, and it's all founded on this idea of preventing fraud.
It says, this was enacted solely to prevent fraud in the electoral process.
BROWN: But the Texas Attorney General's Office put 22,000 hours into trying to dig up voter fraud in Texas and only found 16 minor cases out of 11 million votes that is statistically insignificant.
To what end does a state that already has some of the strictest voting laws on the books put restrictions in place on voting in the name of voter fraud when the instances of fraud are statistically insignificant and you've risked disenfranchising voters who have a constitutionally protected right to vote.
HUGHES: There are over 400 open cases of investigations of voter fraud by the Attorney General right now because of COVID-19 protocols, courts were not open year.
BROWN: Not from the 2020 -- the 2020 election, there were 16 minor -- people filling out wrong addresses.
HUGHES: Yes, thank you.
BROWN: How does that justify taking away access to voting?
HUGHES: There are 400 -- there are over 400 open cases. Let me give you some details in the 2018 election cycle.
Please remember, our legislature meets every two years. We meet odd numbered years. So when problems come up, we try to deal with them.
In 2017, the legislature passed Senate Bill 5, a mail bail reform bill passed with bipartisan support.
BROWN: That's right.
HUGHES: In 2019, our next session, I filed Senate Bill 9, passed the Senate, did not pass the House. They are these same issues. And here we are, again. In Texas --
BROWN: I'm talking about voter fraud. This is about the 2020 election and what you're trying to do with this bill.
HUGHES: Ma'am, so I understand you want to talk about the national debate and about Georgia. This is about Texas and Texas elections. We had -- we had Democrats testify under oath about cheating with mail ballots, with people claiming to offer assistance.
We're responding to what Democrats told us under oath in front of the Senate Committee. Prosecutors, failed candidates, election workers --
BROWN: Are you really saying that this is -- this bill is predicated on what Democrats had testified to? Democrats have come out and said that it will disproportionately hurt minorities in Texas because more than half of those voting at those drive-thru locations were minorities, according to one Democratic lawmaker.
So what evidence --
HUGHES: I am not talking -- I am not --
BROWN: I am still hearing evidence from you on why these new voting -- these voting methods are insecure or are unsecure, I should say, or where you see the fraud in these voting methods. Can you show us anything?
HUGHES: Okay, when I say -- when I tell you -- I certainly can. When I say Democrats, I don't mean the politicians repeating talking points from Washington. I mean, on the ground, prosecutor, I'm talking about law enforcement, failed candidates.
In my district, let me give you an example, in my district in East Texas, I have a County Commissioner under criminal indictment with some other folks for mail ballot fraud.
Now, this is a Democratic County Commissioner, the complaint was brought by a Democrat. They happened to both be African-American. This is not about race or about party. These rules apply to everyone.
BROWN: Right. They are being prosecuted.
HUGHES: When we have sworn testimony -- when we have sworn testimony -- yes, they are. When we have sworn testimony before the legislature, there's a problem, we try and address those problems.
In '17 and '19, in this year, I understand there's this national debate, and I'm not part of that. This is about making the system in Texas better for everyone. We heard the same objection to voter ID 10 years ago and you all told us --
BROWN: But to what end, is my question -- to what end to you use ...
HUGHES: To what end --
BROWN: ... a statistically insignificant number of voter fraud cases in this case, 16 minor cases in Texas after 22,000 hours. To what end do you use that as justification for a bill that even American Airlines has come out with its statement saying, it makes it harder to vote, saying that we believe we should break down barriers as to diversity, equity and inclusion in our society, not create them. What do you say to that?
HUGHES: As far as this bill goes, and as far as the number of investigations going on, you're relying on one story before the process is over. There's over 400 open cases of voter fraud in Texas by the A.G. today. That's the fact. It's documented. There's no question about that.
BROWN: Why does the Secretary State said that the 2020 election was secure and smooth then?
HUGHES: As far as what the country -- as far as -- BROWN: Why did they say that if there's all this concern to justify
HUGHES: Election fraud didn't start in 2020, it is not going to end. It's a process Texas and other states have dealt with for a long time.
When we go to other areas of the law and try to clean it up, we don't get these objections. This is part of a political discussion out of Washington. What we're trying to do is make Texas law better for everyone.
HUGHES: With voter ID, we heard the same thing, if you require voter --
BROWN: But do you really make it better for everyone?
HUGHES: We were told -- yes we do. We do. And let me tell you why, with voter ID, we were told, if you require photo ID, you're going to discourage voters, you're going to depress turnout.
What happened? We put in voter ID and turnout increased because when people know the system is fair, know their vote is going to count and count right, they are encouraged to turn out. That's what we want.
This idea about turnout, Republicans have done well in turnout elections in Texas. In 2020, if you want to talk about 2020, President Trump won Texas. We held the legislature, held every seat in Congress.
This is not something we're concerned about.
BROWN: By setting a margin on taxes, right.
HUGHES: That's exactly -- that's exactly right. So this is an ongoing process to clean up the elections and we want to make it fair for everyone. As far as American Airlines --
BROWN: But are you going to do this after every election to keep putting bills on the table to, you know, put more restrictions in place in the name of voter fraud when the examples that I looked through today are statistically insignificant, like I said, the 16 were about people putting wrong addresses on their applications or ballot.
HUGHES: So, I understand those examples.
BROWN: And by the way, I am not -- no one I think wants fraud. I don't think anyone wants fraud. People want to have confidence in their vote. But I'm taking it from the Texas Secretary of State's Office that said that this election was secure, the 2020 election was secure and smooth in the State of Texas.
So why are there -- is there this bill with these measures that many activists say it makes it harder to vote and will impose more restrictions and has poll watchers videotaping people at the polls? HUGHES: You're relying on one article with a political slant to it
that talks about a certain number of cases. I'm telling you, they're 400 open cases and let's go back and look at the sworn testimony --
BROWN: From the 2020 election?
HUGHES: Let's go back and look -- this is not about 2020. This is about making the process better.
BROWN: I know but I am not -- I am not just saying this for one article. I want to make sure our viewers know that.
HUGHES: Look at sworn -- when we look at sworn testimony, I am telling you about --
BROWN: This is -- I'm citing the Secretary of State and the Attorney General's Office, Ken Paxton's office and what they have uncovered, but go ahead.
HUGHES: I'm referring to your statistics about the number of cases and the number of hours. That's one article. It's out of context. There are over 400 open cases.
Here's what I'm saying. When Democrats and Republicans --
BROWN: Out of 11 million votes. Go ahead.
HUGHES: When -- when Democrats and Republicans come to us and testify under oath, here are the problems. Here's how people are cheating. Here's how this election was affected. We respond.
We're talking about prosecutors, we're talking about failed candidates on the Democratic side and on the Republican side.
As far as American Airlines goes, that's good Texas company. They made some general statements about voting. We agree voting is important. We want every vote to count and to count accurately.
Very few statements I saw from companies referred specifically to Senate bill 7. And when they did, they couldn't name a specific concern, just these vague generalizations coming out of Washington.
I didn't see a specific concern about the bill. I'd love to talk to him. If anybody has concerns, I'm going to listen. This bill is changed through the process and one that ascribes --
BROWN: Well, I can tell you they said, we are strongly opposed to these bill -- to this bill, and as you well know, the concerns are taking away these voting methods that made it easier to vote, which would include drop boxes.
HUGHES: Since you have --
BROWN: Go ahead.
HUGHES: Since you have the statement, what is the -- what's the specific provision in American Airlines statement? Because I didn't see one, it --
BROWN: They do not -- they did not say -- they did not give --
HUGHES: I didn't think they did.
BROWN: They just said, we are strongly opposed to this bill and others like it, but I will tell you and you well know this, they don't have to lay it out because you know what the issues are. You know that limiting -- banning drop boxes, banning drive-thru voting and the legislature has the right to change these laws, but it's worth -- this is the job of the journalists to scrutinize things like this.
So those are the two issues: the drive-thru voting, the blocking --
HUGHES: Well, we would --
BROWN: Hold on -- the banning the drop boxes and allowing poll watchers to videotape people while they're filling out their ballots. Those are some of the most concerning measures.
HUGHES: Right. So drop boxes. They hadn't been done before in Texas. We believe it's not a radical concept that that ballot should be handed to a live person, not sitting overnight, who knows who has access to it, who has control over it. Ballots, if they're turned in to be handed to a live person. That's not a new concept in Texas.
As far as American Airlines and these companies go, we're going to listen to them. If they have concerns, we listen to groups on the left and the right, citizens, companies whoever has concerns.
But ultimately, ultimately, if these companies don't like policies in Texas, I hear there's plenty of vacancies in California.
BROWN: So are you okay with American Airlines and moving to California in that case?
HUGHES: They can make their decision based on Texas being the ninth largest economy in the world.
HUGHES: With a great workforce, with great pro jobs climate.
BROWN: I am kidding. There's no indication they're going to leave. But are you willing to make more changes to this bill? Are you willing to push further changes depending on what these corporations say like American Airlines?
HUGHES: We listened to everyone after the bill was filed, we made changes. After committee, we made changes. On the floor, we made changes.
It's a process and we have a hearing and people testify, we listen to them. When other legislators have concerns, we listened to them. The bill's changes that go along, they get better and we like that process. It works. BROWN: And you did make changes, one for people with disability, not
having to get a doctor's note any more. So there have been some changes you made to this bill.
Texas State Senator Bryan Hughes, appreciate that lively discussion. We'll be right with so much.
HUGHES: Thank you for having me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: The U.S. is breaking records as it racist to vaccinate Americans against the coronavirus. The C.D.C. announcing more than 4.6 million people received a shot on Saturday.
GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D-MI): We are seeing a surge in Michigan despite the fact that we have some of the strongest policies in place. We are seeing a surge because of these variants.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: In a speech at a Republican National Committee retreat with donors and party leaders last night at Mar-a- Lago, Trump called Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell a quote, "dumb son of a bitch," unquote.