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Police Reform Efforts; New Federal Charges in Ahmaud Arbery Case; President Biden Visits Georgia. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired April 29, 2021 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[15:00:39]

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Top of a new hour. Hello, everyone. I'm Alisyn Camerota.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good to be with you.

On his 100th day in office, President Biden is selling his plan to transform America, a plan he laid out in his joint address to Congress last night.

Now, he's doing it with the help of an old friend. Right now, President Biden and the first lady are visiting America's oldest living president, former President Jimmy Carter, and former first lady Rosalynn Carter, at their two-bedroom home in Plains, Georgia.

Later today, he is holding a drive-in rally in that state, where he will pitch the next steps of his presidency, a vision that includes big help from big government for the middle class.

CNN's Martin Savidge is in President Carter's hometown of Plains.

Martin, what are you hearing about the visit, if anything, so far?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's the big buzz of the town, that's for sure. You don't get a lot of excitement in Plains, until you get now to man who once held the top job in the United States gathering together for what down here is really referred to as a social call.

Of course, the president is here to begin selling his infrastructure and rebuilding plan to America. But he stops off in Plains because, of course, the Carters and the Bidens have an extremely long history that goes all the way back in the mid-'70s, when, at that time, Joe Biden, who was just a freshman senator from Delaware, was very much behind the new president of the United States, Jimmy Carter from Georgia.

And, in fact, Carter has credited Biden as being one of his staunchest supporters in the Senate at that time. Fast-forward, then, to last year, and then Jimmy Carter gets to be the one who makes this emotional endorsement of Joe Biden to become president of the United States.

But what neither man could take into account would be the critical role of the home state of Jimmy Carter, Georgia, what it would play in all of this administration. It became a surprise victory state, of course, and then, on top of that, two Senate Democratic victories that made all the difference in the Senate for the president now.

They have got a lot to talk about -- Victor and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Martin Savidge, thank you very much for being on the ground for us.

We want to bring in CNN senior White House correspondent Phil Mattingly, and CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel.

Great to see both of you.

Jamie, let me start with you.

Tell us what you think the significance of this visit to former President Jimmy Carter today is.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So I think we're seeing normal again. This is the presidents club. And Joe Biden has tremendous respect for it, unlike former President Trump, who you might remember.

The press said to him during a coronavirus briefing, are you calling your former presidents to ask advice? And I think his quote was, I don't think I'm going to learn much.

Joe Biden is the polar opposite. He really respects the tradition. Obviously, Jimmy Carter is the oldest president. And he was going to Georgia. But he's reached out to George W. Bush. He talks, I'm told, regularly to former President Obama.

This is classic Joe Biden, Alisyn.

BLACKWELL: Phil, the president is in Georgia to sell the legislation that he kind of fleshed out for the American people yesterday. And, of course, we heard immediately after that the pushback from Senator Tim Scott as well.

Where do the potential -- where is, I should say, the potential for any bipartisan movement forward on this, which is what we know Senator Manchin says he's going to need at least an attempt at to support it?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's a complex dynamic, to say the least.

Look, it's not just the $1.8 trillion human infrastructure proposal, as the White House calls it, the president rolled out for the first time last night. There's also that $2.25 trillion infrastructure and jobs plan he rolled out last month. They're really kind of moving on a parallel track here. And I think you have seen Republicans, a group of Senate Republicans

have put on the table their own physical infrastructure proposal, significantly smaller than what the president put on the table, about $600 billion, obviously, far short of $2.25 trillion.

And White House officials I talked to over here acknowledge that's not going to be enough, in their eyes, but they believe it is the start of a real negotiation. The staffs have been going back and forth, I'm told, over the course of the last several days.

It's something the president wants to pursue. It's something his team knows it has to pursue.

[15:05:01]

Victor, you hit a key point here, that, yes, they can move key elements of both of these proposals through the budget reconciliation process, not to wander too far down Senate procedure weeds, but the process that allows them to move something through the Senate with a majority only, but only if they keep all Democrats together.

And if Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema or any other Democrat says that I need bipartisan negotiations to ever even consider moving on a unilateral basis, then they're going to have to pursue them. I think when you look at the second proposal that the president put out last night, the reality is this. They are huge Democratic priorities. It is a reshaping of how the U.S. and the federal government operates when it comes to education, when it comes to the social safety net for families.

It is not something Republicans are looking at with any opportunity to negotiate or come on board with. That would be something Democrats would probably have to do later, but bipartisanship, at least at this point in time, something the White House wants to pursue, guys.

BLACKWELL: Yes, do we know how long -- I mean, one of the things that Senator Manchin told Manu Raju is that there has to be an attempt, you at least have to try to get some support.

What -- do we know how long the White House has committed to trying to get Republican support?

MATTINGLY: They have been cagey. They don't want to put a hard deadline on things.

I think, when I talk to Democrats on Capitol Hill, both senators and their staffers, they're putting weeks at this point in time. I think that, by the end of May, if there's not tangible, concrete progress forward towards an actual resolution, I think Democrats on Capitol Hill are going to make very clear to the White House it's time to move on, the window is closing here to do something big before an election year.

Right now, I think the White House wants to continue to feel things out, see if there's actually some possibility for an opening there before putting a hard deadline on things. But, guys, make no mistake about it. Democrats and the president know, if they want to go big, and if they want to move fast, they need to move very, very soon.

And I think we're talking weeks, not months, in terms of the opening for any type of bipartisan agreement.

CAMEROTA: Jamie, you just talked about the difference between former President Trump and President Biden.

And one of them is how they deal with their Department of Justice. And so we just heard from President Biden that he didn't know about the raid on Rudy Giuliani's home. He didn't -- obviously, he wasn't sort of operating in cahoots at all, of course, with the attorney general.

And so Rudy Giuliani's home has been raided. And now the question is, what will Rudy Giuliani do? And just moments ago, we spoke to Michael Cohen, who is the one person perhaps on Earth who can most identify with exactly what happened here, as the former also personal attorney to Donald Trump and having had his own office and home raided.

So here's what he told us about whether he thinks that Rudy Giuliani will protect Donald Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP: Prior to Donald becoming president, Rudy didn't like Donald, and Donald certainly didn't like Rudy.

So, do I think Rudy will give up Donald in a heartbeat? Absolutely. He certainly doesn't want to follow my path down into a 36-month sentence for something as innocuous as a hush money payment, right, to a porn star.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Your thoughts, Jamie?

GANGEL: Well, first of all, I want to commend you. You kept a straight face during that interview, Alisyn.

Look, I think Michael Cohen knows exactly what he's talking about. And whereas this case does not appear to have -- to go toward Donald Trump, that doesn't mean that, if Rudy Giuliani needs to make a deal, and decides he wants to make a deal, that it couldn't go into other territory.

Do you remember in -- I think it was November 2019, Rudy Giuliani made this offhand remark about that he had insurance, that his hospital bills would be paid? And his lawyer jumped in and said, oh, he's just joking.

But the reality is, Rudy Giuliani knows a lot. And I think there's a real question. If he is under threat of going to prison, I would not rule it out.

BLACKWELL: Certainly.

Jamie Gangel, Phil Mattingly, thank you both.

CAMEROTA: Yes, that insurance comment didn't seem to be a reference to Aetna.

(CROSSTALK)

BLACKWELL: No, no, no.

CAMEROTA: It was something else.

BLACKWELL: Blue Cross either, yes.

(LAUGHTER)

CAMEROTA: Yes. That's right.

BLACKWELL: All right, so right now, on Capitol Hill, the families of people killed by police are meeting with lawmakers to push for real reform in the criminal justice system.

You're going to hear how leaders on both sides of the aisle are responding.

CAMEROTA: Plus: A federal grand jury hands down indictments against three men accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia last year. As you will remember, he was out for a jog.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:14:24]

BLACKWELL: So, there are some signs that there could be a bipartisan path forward in the push for reform of policing in America.

These lawmakers from each party, they just met to discuss the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Now, earlier, the family of Floyd and other relatives of people killed during police encounters met with the most powerful Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, along with Senators Cory Booker and Tim Scott, who are leading negotiations on police reform legislation.

And just last night, President Biden made the call before Congress to pass the George Floyd bill.

CAMEROTA: But while he urged that it be approved by the first anniversary of George Floyd's death on May 25, today, Democratic leaders did not commit to that deadline.

[15:15:08]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We will bring it to the floor when we are ready. And we will be ready when we have a good, strong, bipartisan bill.

And that is up to the Senate, and then we will have it in the House because it'll be a different bill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: So, this all comes as new federal indictments were handed down against the men accused of killing another black man. That's Ahmaud Arbery.

He was shot to death, you will remember, while jogging in February of 2020. And the defendants claimed that they were making a citizen's arrest.

BLACKWELL: CNN's Evan Perez and Jessica Dean are joining us now.

Evan, let's start with you on the Arbery case in Georgia. State prosecutors have already charged the three men with murder. Tell us about how the Justice Department is moving forward with this case.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Victor.

Now, for the first time, the federal government is bringing charges in this case. These are charges against the father and son Travis McMichael and Gregory McMichael.

And the person who -- the man who shot the video, the now infamous video that shows the final moments of Ahmaud Arbery as he's chased down, hunted down by these men. And then, of course, there's the shooting death.

William Bryan is the man who shot that video. And he's also facing charges. Now, these are civil rights charges, hate crime and kidnapping charges that are being brought by prosecutors here at the Justice Department. And, really, what this represents is -- what you're seeing from the -- from the Justice Department is a reinvigoration, really, of the Civil Rights Division here in this building.

For about four years, we really haven't seen very much of these types of cases from the Justice Department. In fact, last year, the Civil Rights Division did more types of investigations trying to challenge states for coronavirus restrictions, claiming that they were an infringement on people's religious rights or on their businesses.

But now we're seeing a lot more activity, not only in the Arbery case. There was another case just brought today against a former West Virginia police officer for using excessive force against -- out of state some time ago.

And we, of course, know that the attorney general, Merrick Garland, has announced just in the last two weeks two pattern or practice investigations against police departments in Minneapolis and in Louisville.

So you're seeing a lot of activity. We're expecting a lot more from the department on this area.

CAMEROTA: So, Jessica, you're on Capitol Hill.

As Evan said, we are seeing a lot of activity, meetings. What are lawmakers are saying about actual, concrete deals?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right.

So we just left Senator Tom -- Tim Scott's office, Republican from South Carolina that's really been one of the key negotiators in these bipartisan discussions. And what is important to take away from today is for the first time we saw a full bipartisan, bicameral group get together.

So we had Republicans and Democrats from the Senate and also the House getting together to talk about this with these key figures who have been hashing this out. And that includes Senator Scott, but also New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker and Congresswoman Karen Bass of California.

Those three have been talking now for weeks. And if you talk to them -- and I have spoken to all of them many, many times in the last several days, in the last several weeks -- they all expressed what I would say is a cautious optimism that they can get something done.

You will remember they made this effort. There was an effort last summer in the wake of George Floyd's death to get something done. And they are hopeful that, this time, they're going to make it all the way to the finish line, their goal being -- sources telling me that their goal is to file a compromise bipartisan bill.

So here's a look at Senator Lindsey Graham and Congresswoman Bass coming out of that meeting. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Do you think you guys are pretty close?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I don't know. I think we're trying hard. And if you try hard, you usually get where you want to go.

QUESTION: And how's it working with Representative Bass?

GRAHAM: She's wonderful. I probably just ruined her political career, but she's wonderful.

(LAUGHTER)

GRAHAM: Never met a more reasonable person.

REP. KAREN BASS (D-CA): Uh-oh. You're really getting--

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

GRAHAM: I'm killing you.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DEAN: And there's a couple things, too, Alisyn and Victor, to keep in mind.

Again, they have got a ways to go. There are some sticking points, some key sticking points, including qualified immunity and something called Section 242, which is about the bar for holding a police officer criminally responsible and being able to take them to court.

So there are serious issues they have still got to hash out. But the things they have got going for them, there is genuine friendship and respect among this group. They also all have the individual backing of their leadership.

So, all of the leadership has fully backed and authorized these people to really negotiate on their behalf, so the idea being that, if they can come to an agreement, that it has a very good shot of passing not just the Senate, but then also the House.

[15:20:06]

I asked Speaker Pelosi earlier today. There have been some House progressives that have really kind of balked at any idea on compromise on some of these things. I asked the speaker just how confident she is that she can get that through the House. She said, very confident -- Alisyn and Victor.

CAMEROTA: Wow.

BLACKWELL: Jessica Dean.

CAMEROTA: And to see them compliment each other.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

CAMEROTA: -- smiling.

BLACKWELL: Some levity there. We will see if that legislation gets to the president's desk.

So many pieces of legislation named for the victims of gun violence at the hands of police.

Jessica Dean, Evan Perez, thank you so much.

Now, this conversation policing in America and what reform should look like goes more in-depth this Sunday with the new season of CNN's "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA" with W. Kamau Bell. First episode delves into debates over defunding law enforcement and systemic racism within its ranks.

And W. Kamau Bell is here with us. So, a lot to talk about. And, first, I mean, we have heard -- good

afternoon to you, I should say.

We have heard what the members of Congress are discussing. How does that align with or does it reconcile with the changes to policing that people you are speaking with say that this country needs to see?

W. KAMAU BELL, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it shows that all of the protests and uprisings that happened last year around the country and around the world, that Washington, D.C., politicians have heard that, and are in some sense listening to it.

But I still think that they're -- even when you hear about the negotiation of it, even though Derek Chauvin was convicted on three charges, black and brown folks have still been killed by police since that happened. So this is something that certainly needs to happen quickly and needs to happen substantially.

It needs to be a clear look at the entire system. It can't just be about reforming around the edges.

CAMEROTA: So, Kamau, for your first episode, you -- obviously, you have sat down with lots of people, including police officers, and you talked about this idea of defunding the police.

So let's just play a portion of what you heard.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BELL: Is this moment different as far as like where we are in America, and specifically around law enforcement?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For me, it's just this moment of being a black man in a police uniform, right?

And there are some problems, some systemic problems that's been in policing for a very long time that you know need to be rooted out. And so you sit in this place where you are like, do I fit in, right?

Sometimes, you even ask the question, do I fit in? I'm a black man before I put on a uniform.

BELL: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I'm one when I take it off. I'm not--

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you're one while you got it on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: I look forward to hearing more about that.

But about that slogan of defunding the police or the idea, I guess, of defunding the police, even -- it's gotten a lot of criticism. I mean, even former President Obama has called it something like a bad slogan.

(CROSSTALK)

BELL: Snappy. He said snappy, which--

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

CAMEROTA: Snappy. OK, snappy. I thought he had said bad.

But what what's your conclusion, having spoken to a lot of people now?

BELL: Well, this was filmed in large part in Oakland, California, where I live, with the -- the home of the Black Panther Party, and also where they set a little bit of the movie the "Black Panther."

So it's a place that has talked about policing for years and tried to deal with America's racist history of policing. And so, as much as people get afraid of hearing the words defund the police, in the episode, I work hard and bring an activists and organizers to explain what that means.

And it is simply about redistributing the funds that we put into policing and taking some of the jobs off their plate that they show they do not do a great job of handling.

Like, here in Alameda in California, out here near where I live, a man was drunk in the park named Mario Gonzalez, and he ended up dead at the hands of police because people called the police saying there's a man drunk in the park.

That shouldn't happen. So it's about creating different jobs, resources -- putting resources in other areas, with people who are better able to handle problems that police clearly do not know how to handle.

BLACKWELL: We heard from Republican Senator Tim Scott during his response to the president's address. He said that America is not a racist country.

The vice president, Kamala Harris, she responded to that. I want you to listen to this and then get your reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I don't think America is a racist country. But we also do have to speak truth about the history of racism in our country and its existence today.

One of the greatest threats to our national security is domestic terrorism manifested by white supremacists.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: What's your reaction to that? BELL: You know, I learned in high school debate that you can't have a

debate until you define the terms.

I feel like I don't know how either of them are defining the term racist country. I define that as a country that is built on racism. So, yes, I believe America is a racist country, because it literally is built on and runs on racism.

I don't know how either one of them are defining racist country. I would have to talk to them about it. But I think until we actually are all defining terms the same way, like we're defining defund the police in this episode, it's just -- it's not a conversation that we can really have.

CAMEROTA: W. Kamau Bell, we can't wait to watch the new season, always thought-provoking.

[15:25:02]

Thanks so much for being with us.

And don't miss the all new season of "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA." It premieres this Sunday night at 10:00, only on CNN.

BLACKWELL: Every year, when that series premieres, it is on topic. It is on the central topic of the country. And he does it again.

CAMEROTA: My mother sets her DVR right away. "I have got to watch Kamau," she tells me.

BLACKWELL: Yes, it's fantastic.

CAMEROTA: OK, President Biden is telling all Americans to go get their shots. Still, so many vaccines actually are in danger of being unused and then thrown away.

BLACKWELL: And we will talk to a doctor who enrolled her young children into a vaccine trial. One of them is just 7 months old.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)