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New Florida Voting Law Faces Immediate Legal Pushback; Justice Department Says Arizona Election Audit May Violate Federal Law; South Carolina House Approves Firing Squad as Execution Method; U.S. Won't Shoot Down Out-Of-Control Chinese Rocket. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired May 6, 2021 - 15:30   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Legal challenges are already piling up in Florida in response to a voting law just signed this morning. Republican Governor Ron DeSantis refused to talk to local reporters about it instead of hearing of hearing it exclusively on Fox TV to make the announcement.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): I have what we think is the strongest election integrity measures in the country. I'm actually going to sign it right here. It's going to take effect.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, real quick question, will you allow drop boxes, and do you cut back hours for voting?

DESANTIS: So what we said, the drop boxes were -- look, I am not a fan of drop boxes at all to be honest with you, but the legislature wanted to keep them, but they need to be monitored. You can't just leave these boxes out where there's no supervision where they are in all hours of night. So the drop boxes will be available only when they are monitored and during regular voting hours.


CAMEROTA: OK, joining us now is Alan Hays, he's the supervisor of elections for Lake County Florida, he's a Republican who is not crazy about all the aspects of this new law. Mr. Hayes, thanks so much for being here. Let's just start there with what the governor said about drop boxes. So they now have to be monitored at all hours by a supervisor. What happens if you leave a drop box alone?


CAMEROTA: And what problem was the governor fixing there? What went wrong in the 2020 election with drop boxes?

HAYS: I'm not aware of anything that went wrong with them, Alisyn. Here in my office, just outside my office in the parking lot, we had a drop box that was available 24 hours a day and seven days a week, and it had not one but three security cameras trained on that drop box for the entire time it was sitting out there.

One of those cameras even collects the license tag number of any vehicle that happens to go by there and we had absolutely no problems with it whatsoever. I'm not aware --

CAMEROTA: So why now? I mean it's so helpful to hear you say that. So why, why is this law necessary that a human being has to monitor the drop boxes now, other than just, you know, making it feel as though there's some sort of intimidation or some sort of restriction for voters?

HAYS: Well, as I told you back in March, Alisyn, I don't know why. I didn't ask the legislators why. This is, in my eyes, not good public policy, and I'm trying to do everything I can to make it convenient for all the voters in my county regardless of whether they are affiliated with any party or not, and so we did that.

Now here's the irony of it all, and first let me say something too good about the legislature. As you remember back in March when you and I spoke, the bill in its present condition at that time I labeled as a travesty, and I felt like that was an accurate label. They, to their credit, did take some of the most egregious parts out of it.

But there's nothing at all to keep anyone from going to a postal service office or a drop box, not all postal drop boxes are in post offices. Most of them are out in the parking lot or they are out on the street. I pass one every day going to work that is six or eight blocks from the nearest post office, and somebody could go by there at 2:00 in the morning or ten as at night and put any number of ballots they want to in there. So if it's ballot harvesting, they are trying to combat, let's focus on ballot harvesting and penalize those perpetrators of that.

CAMEROTA: Right, I mean you --

HAYS: Rather making it inconvenient (INAUDIBLE).

CAMEROTA: Yes, and Mr. Hayes, you make such a good point. I mean mailboxes are not monitored by a human being around the clock because we trust people to mail their letters. And so now the idea that they are putting this restriction in, and that they didn't consult you all. As you point out, you did call the original bill a travesty.

But it's as though the legislature did not listen to the folks on the front lines, you guys, you know, the supervisors of the elections, and they just wanted to I guess solve a problem that you would say didn't really exist.

HAYS: That's certainly what it appears. To their credit they did listen to us. They did not do what we asked them to do completely. They did it the way it is.


Now it's up to the voters to contact the legislators to get them to change it. That's another thing, Alisyn, being a legislator myself, I recognize that each session there's a series of glitch bills to clean up errors from previous legislation, and this can be so easily corrected next January when the legislature convenes again.

CAMEROTA: I mean obviously, the folks who are filing lawsuits want it corrected before that. Do you think that they stand a chance? I mean I think that you agree with some of these lawsuits in terms of what they are trying to change.

HAYS: I haven't read the lawsuits yet. So really would prefer not to comment on them. I just speak to the elements of the bill itself, and I am very familiar with that and I know what we are trying to do for our voters here in Lake County.

CAMEROTA: Well, Alan Hays, I really appreciate talking to you, as always. Thanks so much for explaining what's going on there and why it may not have been necessary. We'll talk again.

HAYS: All right. Thank you, Alisyn. Have a great day.

CAMEROTA: You, too.

OK, so next, South Carolina is one step closer to approving firing squads as an approved method of execution. We'll explain why.



CAMEROTA: OK, lots of legal issues in the news to tell you about. Number one, the Justice Department says Arizona's recount of the 2020 presidential election may be against federal law.

Also, Rudy Giuliani's allies want former President Donald Trump to pay Rudy's mounting legal bills. In South Carolina, lawmakers want to allow execution by firing squad.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: So Alisyn and I are on from 2:00 to 4:00 P.M. here on the East Coast. You know that because you're either watching or listening, thanks for being here.

And during this part of the show we like to head up two to four topics, this time legal topics with a smart guest, and today we've got CNN legal analyst, Elie Honig. Elie, thanks for being with us.

Arizona recount, ordered by the Republican led state senate, may violate federal law that requires ballots to remain in the controls of election officials for 22 months. What happens here?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Victor, first of all, good to be with you, 2:00 to 4:00, although do miss you both at 6:00 A.M. as well.

BLACKWELL: Do you really?

HONIG: It's good that DOJ is in -- if you are going to be up at 6:00 a.m., might as well see the two of you. It's good that DOJ is involved in the situation in Arizona. Because I

see a couple of potential problems. First, federal law requires that states maintain secure custody of all ballots for 22 months.

Second of all, there's a real concern for voter intimidation here. Imagine being an Arizona voter, you get a knock at your door from someone who says, hi, I am a state investigator, and I have questions about the way you voted in 2020. That can really deter people from voting in the future.

And third, you just know there's the danger that this gets spun into part of the big lie. The guidelines for this audit are vague, anyone can come in, try to say they found something wrong and watch it become fodder for 2020 conspiracy theories. So again, it's good that DOJ is involved in overseeing this.

CAMEROTA: OK, let's talk about Rudy Giuliani. So Rudy Giuliani wants former President Donald Trump to pay his mounting legal bills. Number one, why would Trump agree to do that and wouldn't that be a conflict of interest? I mean some of these things that he may be in trouble for involve Donald Trump. Wouldn't that be a conflict for Donald Trump to start paying the bills?

HONIG: You're absolutely right, that would be a potential conflict of interest. And if Donald Trump was going to start paying Rudy Giuliani's fees, then a judge may need get involved and sort of question both sides to make sure they understand. Look, there's a potential conflict here because Rudy, one of the options that may be available to him if he gets charged is to cooperate against Donald Trump.

We don't know this, we don't if Rudy is even going to get charged but in my experience at the SDNY, same office Rudy used to lead, same office that's now investigating Rudy, there's really two reasons that people cooperate.

One is time, people can't or don't want to do the jail time, don't want to take the risk of trail. And number two is money. I've seen people flip on former business associates, partners, criminal associates, even family members when one person though the other person should be helping them out with legal fees or other finances, and it didn't happen. Again, we're a long way from that. But Donald Trump is taking a risk here by holding out on Rudy Giuliani.

BLACKWELL: So let's go to South Carolina, the House there is voting to add firing squad to the state's execution methods. There's a lack of lethal injection drugs, so inmates on death row would have to choose either being shot to death or electrocuted, if there are no lethal injection drugs available. State senate has already approved the plan. Where does this go?

HONIG: Victor, it's just as inhumane as you convey it just there. You know, look, this will be challenged in state courts potentially federal courts under the 8th Amendment which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. And I want to say this, I have been involved in death penalty cases on both sides. As a DOJ prosecutor, I charged murder cases, tried murder cases that were death eligible. Now we asked the DOJ for permission not to seek the death penalty, which was always granted under administrations of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama in my cases.

I have also been involved in defending a death penalty case, I have been on death row, I have physically been inside the building where death row is. And it bothers me to see politicians trying to score sort of cheap, symbolic points with cruel measures like this. I don't want to see that until somebody has actually been on death row and understands what it's like to be there and how cruel that situation is.

BLACKWELL: All right. Elie Honig, good to have you.

HONIG: Thanks. Victor.


BLACKWELL: Next, the Pentagon is closely watching a Chinese rocket that is hurtling toward earth, but it says it's not planning to try to shoot it down. We've got an astrophysicist who is with us live to explain what could or should happen, next.


CAMEROTA: OK, so the U.S. says it's not planning to shoot down an out of control Chinese rocket that is speeding towards earth this weekend. The Pentagon says it is just too early to explore options since there is no way to know exactly where the debris from this Chinese rocket will land until the rocker gets closer to earth.


This is video of last week's rocket launch. Right now that rocket is barreling towards earth at 18,000 miles per hour.

BLACKWELL: OK, so the rocket is expected to re-enter the earth's atmosphere sometime over the weekend. So let's bring in Jonathan McDowell, space historian, an astrophysicist with the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. So Jonathan, I have plans on Saturday and I have plans on Sunday.

CAMEROTA: You think.

BLACKWELL: They do not include dodging this rocket. Should we be concerned?



MCDOWELL: Is some small chance, right, that the debris from this rocket will hit somewhere populated. But the chance that it's going to hit you is sort of one in billions. So there are much worse things to worry about.

CAMEROTA: Jonathan, hold on a second. I find this cold comfort. I mean I know it might not hit Victor and me, but I don't like the idea that it's just going to drop somewhere on earth. I mean this isn't the first time. About a year ago, I think -- correct me if I'm wrong -- debris from a different rocket did fall to earth and it ended up some hitting villages along the Ivory Coast. So it can hit a populated area. I mean this seems like we should have thought this one out a little better.

MCDOWELL: Yes, I absolutely agree. It's unacceptable. It's not best practice. And in fact, every space agency in the world, except for China's, designs its big rockets to not leave big empty rocket stages like this in earth orbit for exactly this reason.

And so it's just this Long March 5B rocket has essentially launched once a year ago and then this one now that has this problem.

And so there is a risk, as the folks in Cote d'Ivoire found out and so, yes, it's just not one that you need to lose sleep over for your own personal safety. But we should absolutely hold the Chinese to account for it.

BLACKWELL: So, the decision to not shoot it down, we've heard from the Pentagon saying we don't know where it's going yet. Why don't we know or have a better idea of where this debris could land?

MCDOWELL: Because the rocket is traveling in orbit, which means it's traveling at 18,000 miles an hour. And so although we can sort of predict when it's going to come down, even that's right uncertain to about a day now.

And traveling at 18,000 miles an hour, right, if you're an hour off in when it's going to come down, then you're 18,000 miles out. So we really won't know until after it's happened which area is going to be the target.

CAMEROTA: Jonathan, I mean, just out of curiosity, why did China build a huge rocket that just orbits the earth until it falls to earth and might hit somebody?

MCDOWELL: Well, it's cheaper than building a rocket that has a re- startable engine that can be brought down in a targeted location. So, as far as I can tell, they haven't said. But the impression one gets from their statements is that they just don't care. They go, yes, it will probably land in the ocean so we're just going to roll the dice and hope that it doesn't hurt anybody.

And that's one evaluation of the odds, but most other countries have been more conservative about how they roll those dice.

BLACKWELL: You know what I learned in prepping for this? Is there is a lot of junk out there. This is just one piece that's headed to the earth but there's a lot of trash just kind of floating out there.

MCDOWELL: That's right. This is exceptional in that we haven't had an uncontrollable entry of a 20-ton object before this particular type of rocket since Sky Lab in the 1970s, but we're tracking over 20,000 objects in orbit around the earth right now. And that's becoming actually a traffic problem for other satellites. And so that's also something that the space community is going to have to address in the years to come. Is it's getting really busy up there.

CAMEROTA: Jonathan McDowell, you're great, but I don't know if I like the term uncontrol entry of a 20-ton object orbiting the earth. I don't know if I feel better about this. But thank you for explaining to us what is happening and what we're going to see this weekend. We really appreciate you being here.

BLACKWELL: Thanks, Jonathan.

MCDOWELL: You're welcome. Keep your Sky Lab helmets on.

CAMEROTA: OK, we'll have to.

OK, next an Ohio State Senator and his Zoom meeting fail. Why he's getting criticized for what he tried to do with this fake background.



CAMEROTA: OK, before we go, we have got to share this video of an Ohio State Senator Andrew Brenner who logged into a public meeting clearly from his car but he tried to use the old office Zoom background to make it look like he was still in the office.

Now Victor, the seat belt which you are about to see was a dead giveaway. And by the way, there he is, OK, and this came on the very same day that the legislature was considering a distracted driving bill to keep drivers from texting, much less participating in a Zoom meeting while driving.

BLACKWELL: Why is no one calling him out? Brenner told the "Columbus Dispatch" that he was parked for most of the call but when he was driving, he insists he was not distracted. He said I've actually been on other calls, numerous calls while driving, phone calls for the most part. But on video calls I'm not paying attention to the video. To me, it's like a phone call.

CAMEROTA: Victor, who would ever try to pretend they were at work, you know --

BLACKWELL: I don't know.

CAMEROTA: -- when in fact they're on vacation?

BLACKWELL: You know, if you put the background - you change the background, things could work out. "The Lead" with Jake Tapper starts now. [16:00:00]