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Buttigieg Says, White House Open to Negotiating on Corporate Tax Hike; USAID Urges Continued Full Access to Ethiopia's Tigray Region; Tiger Still Missing in Houston as Search Intensifies. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired May 13, 2021 - 10:30   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: After President Biden speaks about that pipeline situation in the next hour, he will then meet with several Republican senators with hopes, hopes of hammering out to a compromise on his big infrastructure plan.

Last hour, I spoke with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg about where the White House might be willing to give, willing to negotiate on a tax hike. Have a listen.


SCIUTTO: You're saying there could be other ways to get this done. Does that mean you're saying that it does not have to be a corporate tax hike to pay for this?

PETE BUTTIGIEG, SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION: Well, again, that's the way to do it that we believe makes the most sense. We also think it's just fair to expect corporations to pay their fair share. But, yes, this is the right time for those who have alternative proposals on how to pay for this, to put those proposals on the table.


HARLOW: Our John Harwood joins us now. Good morning, John. A big day for the president's infrastructure agenda, Republicans, are they really ready to come to the table and negotiate? I mean, you have had Biden saying, okay, maybe a lower corporate tax rate, maybe 25, not 28 percent. And then that answer to Jim was like maybe different way to pay for it.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. There was a notable quote in Buttigieg's interview with Jim where he said maybe there is a way to do this without crossing anybody's red line. We will see.

There is some limited appetite among a small number of Republicans to negotiate with President Biden. There is also a larger appetite of Republicans and Democrats as well to look reasonable, to appear that they want to negotiate. Joe Biden, even if he ends up doing it with Democrats alone, needs to show he tried. But remember that Republicans view the level of need in the country and the willingness to pay for that financing that need in a much more constrained and limited way than Joe Biden does. That makes it hard to find common ground. Maybe can you pull off a small chunk of it. They did that last week. The Senate passed overwhelmingly a water infrastructure bill, just $35 billion. But that had Democrats and Republicans together.

But the one thing you can't forget, and I don't think do you because you've been talking about it this morning, there is overwhelming desire within the Republican Party to massively resist President Biden whatever he does. That's why so many House Republicans keep lying about the election. That's why they won't participate in a January 6 commission, throw up all sorts of smoke screens.

There is an all-out intensity about the Republican resistance to Biden that will be difficult to overcome -- uphill.

SCIUTTO: Yes. We'll be watching closely. John Harwood at the White House, thanks very much.

Coming up, a CNN exclusive report you will not want to miss. We take you inside Ethiopia's Tigray Region, where troops remain at large and evidence increases of alleged atrocities there. Our in-depth investigation on the ground, next.



HARLOW: This morning, the U.S. Agency for International Development is stepping up its calls for full access to Ethiopia's Tigray Region. This comes in the wake of a CNN report that Eritrean forces disguised as Ethiopian military are blocking critical humanitarian aid to that region.

SCIUTTO: Despite promises by Ethiopia's prime minister to withdraw Eritrean forces, the conflict for control of the Tigray rages on. After months reporting on the crisis from outside the country, our Nima Elbagir and her crew were finally granted access by the Ethiopian government. They found evidence of atrocities, including violent executions. Here is their exclusive report.

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's been over a month now since the Ethiopian government promised the United States, the United Nations, the world that Eritrean troops had begun their withdrawal from the Tigray Region. We went to Tigray to see for ourselves whether that was really true.


ELBAGIR (voice over): A show of force by Ethiopia's National Defense Force in its Tigray Region, a government visibly flexing control.

We traveled outside of the capital, Mek'ele, across the region to see if the Ethiopian government has kept its promises to the world, unimpeded aid access and the withdrawal of their Eritrean allies. The conflict for control of Tigray blazes on.

Days earlier, these Tigrayan forces fighting for regional autonomy pushed out Eritrean troops from this town. As we arrived, one young man, Kasa (ph), wants to show us where his father, brother and cousin weretaken and executed just days ago. The blood is still visible. It stains the ground.

They didn't want to wash away his blood. He says. They wanted to leave it there. The body they took to the graveyard but the blood, the place where his father was executed, he -- the family still wants that place marked.

Just a few meters from where Kasa's (ph) father died, his brother and cousin were executed. Murdered, he says, by Eritreans, the same Eritreans who were supposed to have withdrawn.

We return with Kasa (ph) to his family. In total, just this one family lost seven loved ones less than a week ago.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All of us have to run when they come, even the women. They rape the women and then kill them. May God bring mercy on us because we don't know what we can do.


ELBAGIR: The Eritreans are not only still here but a day into our journey and we've already found evidence of fresh atrocities.

We hear that the holy city of Aksum to the west has been sealed off by Eritrean soldiers for 12 days. We need to see for ourselves. So we head out towards Aksum but don't get very far. Something is not right. The team car behind us radios in.

There's a car coming.

A U.N. driver flashes us a warning but we decide to press on.

Hello. Can we go ahead? We're going to go.


ELBAGIR: Thank you.

But the road ahead is blocked. We get out of the car with our hands up and identify ourselves to the Ethiopian soldiers.

Hey, hey, hello? Hello? Hello? CNN. CNN. We're CNN, journalists.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's impossible.

ELBAGIR: We are journalists. Sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before, ask our commander.

ELBAGIR: We spoke --

The soldiers spots our camera. They're incredibly tense.

It's okay. It's okay.

The soldiers close in on us.

We did. We asked. We asked there. Sir? Sir, we asked.

As we're pulled to one side, we turned on our covert camera.

Are we detained? Unless we are detained, we're not giving them the camera.

We'll only go to the administration, civilian administration. If you want to have detain a CNN team, then that's what's happened now because we're not going to the camp willingly.

They have now said that we are allowed to go and meet the general in a civilian location, but it is still against our will, but we're going.

On our way to the headquarters, we're able to hide our footage and we are later released.

At the local hospital, we find out why the soldiers didn't want us to film.

What happened? It's okay. It's okay. You're clearly in shock. Just take a moment to breathe and then tell us what happened.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were in the bus station when the shooting started. We were running trying to get away and that's when it happened.

ELBAGIR: This girl is so scared, she is covering her face but she wants to tell us what happened, which is that a grenade detonated in front of a group of soldiers and she says they started randomly opening fire on civilians. She is clearly not a soldier. She is a teenage girl and she says that she was shot through the leg.

This is the main route to Aksum. It is a vital supply artery. But for 12 days now, nothing has been able to pass. First checkpoint, Ethiopian soldiers let us through. Ahead, we have been warned by senior Ethiopian military forces we'll find Eritrean soldiers.

As we crest the hill before we reach the second checkpoint, we turned on our covert cameras.

Hello, sir. Can I show you our papers? We're CNN, journalists. We have permission to travel.

These are Eritrean troops captured here for the first time on camera, a ragtag army in their distinctive light-colored fatigues, some are also wearing a previously retired Ethiopian Army uniform, a clear bid to sow confusion as to whether they're Ethiopian or Eritrean.

Eritrean soldiers are telling that we don't have permission to travel, even though the Ethiopian soldiers waved us through. The other thing is Eritrean soldiers are supposed to have begun withdrawing. But here they are manning a check point and blocking us from going forward.

Hello, sir. How you are? Journalists. We have permission. You're asking us to turn back? Okay. We've been sent back.

Both Eritrea and Ethiopia promised these troops would withdraw weeks ago, yet this foreign force is still here and occupying, obstructing a key supply route with impunity.

After calling the interim government, military contacts and others on our fourth attempt, we make it through. Three days after setting off, we finally arrive in Aksum, a UNESCO Heritage Site, the holiest city in Ethiopia and a place of pilgrimage. But even the act of worship here is a dangerous one. The war is never far away.

At a local health facility, we see firsthand the consequences of this almost two-week siege.


Two-month-old Yohanes' (ph) life has been hanging in the balance. His mother risked her life and his to get him past the soldiers encircling the city so that he can receive life-saving oxygen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When he first got ill, it was a hard time, so I couldn't bring him. There was an act of war. He got weaker but I couldn't find transport. I had to travel difficult roads along to get him here.

ELBAGIR: He's not out of danger yet. The hospital electricity flickers on and off and they are still waiting to get more cylinders of oxygen.

In the almost two weeks that Aksum has been cut off from the outside world, violence has spiked. We find this 24-year-old teacher.

Do you know who did this to you?


ELBAGIR: Eritrean soldiers did this? I'm so sorry.

This is just one case that we are able to capture because we're here. But it's impossible to know how many more women this was done to while the city was closed off from the outside world.

Another health facility, Aksum Referral Hospital, soldiers walk in and out of the hospital with impunity. One spots the camera and runs off. They run out of blood here. Doctors and medical students are donating their own but it's still not enough. People who could have been saved are dying. Every patient you see here, the old, the young, the helpless all injured in this conflict.

Our journey here has brought into focus the hollowness of Ethiopia's promises. As we leave Aksum, a line of soldiers encircles the hospital. There is no respite.


ELBAGIR (on camera): CNN reached out to the Eritrean and Ethiopian governments with multiple requests for comment but they did not respond.

Nima Elbagir, CNN, London.

HARLOW: To our Nima Elbagir and her entire team on the ground, the world wouldn't see it, Jim, without her and without the cameras.

SCIUTTO: No question. And we're glad they're safe.

HARLOW: We'll be right back.



SCIUTTO: This next story is going to grab your attention. A man who police say wrangled a Bengal tiger in front of a Houston home on Sunday and forced it into an SUV has now posted bond over that incident.

HARLOW: But days after the sighting, authorities still are not sure where that tiger is and the mystery surrounding the man who wrangled it is deepening as well.

Our Rosa Flores has the latest from Houston. Rosa?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, good morning. Well, the latest is that this man that is linked to this missing tiger, his name is 26 -- I mean, excuse me. His name is Victor Hugo Cuevas and he's 26 years old. He's out on bond on evading police charges. According to the Houston Police Department, he was the man that was seen loading this tiger on to an SUV and then taking off. After a short pursuit, police say that he did get away with this tiger.

Now, I've talked to his attorney and his attorney is adamant that this man is not the owner of the tiger, which begs the question then who owns this tiger. The Houston Police Department has not identified the owner. He has not released the name of the owner.

However, HPD Commander Ron Borza does say that the circle of individuals, the deal in exotic animals is very small here in the city of Houston. The investigating agency is the Houston Police Department and the Houston Police Department says that this is police doing police work. They have not given the public any indication, and this is worth repeating, they have not given the public any indication that this tiger is out on the loose or roaming the streets of Houston.

As for the man that is linked to this missing tiger, he was already out on bond on two separate cases, including one out of Fort Bend County from back in 2017 for murder. And now that he's linked to this missing tiger, Jim and Poppy, now there is a motion filed in court to revoke his bond on the murder charge. That hearing is tomorrow. Jim and Poppy? HARLOW: Wow. Okay, Rosay, thank you very much for all of that reporting. I hope they locate that tiger soon. Thank you.

All right, when COVID-19 hit, the race to begin developing a vaccine began very quickly. Well, this weekend, this Saturday, CNN will take you inside the mission to give the world a shot with the new film, Race for the Vaccine. Here is a preview.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Gal's (ph) team gave the world the first glimpse of its new enemy. Each coronavirus particle filled with genetic instructions called RNA and covered in a corona or crown of protein spikes.

Inhale one of these viruses and the spikes latch on the cells in our airways. The spikes then change shape fusing the virus and the cell together. At this point, the virus can replicate and fast.



SCIUTTO: Be sure to watch Race for the Vaccine. It airs Saturday at 9:00 P.M. Eastern right here on CNN.

HARLOW: I can't wait for that. Thank you all so much for joining us today. We'll see you tomorrow morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: Always good to have you with us. I'm Jim Sciutto. At This Hour with Kate Bolduan starts right after a short break.