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Former Gaetz Associate to Plead Guilty, Cooperating with Federal Probe; South Carolina Governor Drops Mask Mandate for Schools Sparking Chaos; Deadly Street Clashes in West Bank Amid Israel-Hamas Fighting. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired May 14, 2021 - 15:30   ET

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


[15:30:00]

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: All right, let's push forward on the breaking news. Joel Greenberg, a close confidante of Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, he struck a deal with federal prosecutors. Greenberg will now cooperate with ongoing investigations.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Matt Gaetz has not been charged and denies any wrongdoing. Let's bring in our CNN senior legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid with her reporting. What does this mean for Matt Gaetz?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: We know that Greenberg is currently sitting in jail. He's facing 33 federal charges. But here he's cut a deal to cooperate with prosecutors and plead guilty to just six charges, but one of those charges is sex trafficking of a minor. And in this plea, he admits to having sex with this minor at least seven times while she was underage. And notably as part of this plea deal, he plans to admit he that introduced this minor to other adult men who engaged in sex acts with this child.

Now, Congressman Gaetz is not mentioned at all in this plea deal. He has not been charged. He has denied any wrongdoing. But we know that Gaetz is currently under federal investigation for possible sex trafficking, prostitution and allegations that he too may have had sex with a minor.

[15:35:00]

And this plea deal requires Greenberg, his close associate, to cooperate in any ongoing investigations. Now, CNN has previously reported that Greenberg has already provided investigators with details about how he and Congressman Gaetz exchanged gifts and money for sex with women.

Now, this plea deal is interesting because it details the arrangements of Greenberg's, quote -- and I'm quoting federal prosecutors here -- sugar daddy relationships with young women with whom he engaged in drug-fueled sex acts. This plea agreement reveals that Greenberg spent $70,000 in 150

transactions to pay women for sex via different accounts, including his Venmo account and he would label these payments school, food or ice cream.

No we've previously seen receipts that show Gaetz and Greenberg paying women for sex via Venmo, and we'll likely learn more about this plea deal and what Greenberg is sharing with investigators on Monday when he appears in Federal Court in Orlando.

CAMEROTA: Sounds like there's more information to be had. Paula Reid, thank you very much for that.

BLACKWELL: Some states are dropping mask mandates for students in schools, although many children are not vaccinated. The South Carolina Education Superintendent joins us live next.

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BLACKWELL: Even before the CDC issued new guidance for people who are fully vaccinated to get rid of their masks in most cases, some states had already started dropping the mask mandate for students in schools, even though most kids are not vaccinated.

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Yesterday in Utah, the governor announced that he would end the mask requirement for all K through 12 students for the last week of the school year. And earlier this week the governor of South Carolina removed the mask mandate for students there.

Molly Spearman is the South Carolina Superintendent of Education. Thank you for being with us. Let's start right there with this governor's order. You oppose it, but do you believe that Governor McMaster's order makes those students, their families, those communities less safe or it puts them at some greater risk?

MOLLY SPEARMAN, SOUTH CAROLINA SUPERINTENDENT OF EDUCATION: Thanks for having me on, Victor. South Carolina has been fortunate that our schools have been open. All of our schools are open to give parents that option to send their students in person.

Most of them have been open since January. And we were able to keep students safe because of the five mitigation factors. So I did oppose the governor's executive order, however, it caused such a stew and really chaos across the state, I felt that I needed to rescind my order as well. So I am concerned about the safety of all of our students. We are working to get more students vaccinated as quickly as we can. But I and parents alike are very concerned.

BLACKWELL: OK, so let's talk about your order because there's a distinction here. The governor's order created some opt-out form which parents, guardians could opt their children out of wearing a mask in schools. You rescinded the mandate all together. So didn't yours go further whereas parents would have made the children not wearing a mask the exception, you've now gotten rid of the rule?

SPEARMAN: Well, the requirement, but we are still strongly recommending that all students and teachers wear masks. We also said that districts should abide by the local -- our department of health rules and the CDC. So you'll find that most of our districts are continuing with the mask requirement. A few of them are actually saying that they will not abide by the governor's order. Others are saying strongly recommend.

My situation really on Tuesday night, this sort of came out at 5:00 after schools were closed. A lot of uncertainty. And I did -- I made my motion because I felt that I needed to do something to settle the calm. But we are still working to have support districts and parents to wear masks and also to get our students vaccinated just as soon as possible.

BLACKWELL: Does this order -- your rescinded order -- does this mean that administrators, teachers, staff, that they no longer have to wear masks?

SPEARMAN: It depends on the local district. And most -- we have 81 districts in South Carolina. Most all of them, excluding possibly three or four, are saying we are abiding by the CDC and South Carolina Department of Health mandates, which do say everyone should wear masks.

So, it's a real mixture. It's very unfortunate because it has caused a lot of confusion. I had told superintendents that we were going to stick to our order until the end of the year, but it just became impossible when the conflicting order came out and parents were able to opt out. It was moot really after that.

So, my advice to other states is to keep the order in place until the school year is out. Work very hard to get all students vaccinated. That's certainly what we're doing in South Carolina.

BLACKWELL: For your guidance and the guidance of those few districts that are suggesting -- or they defer to the CDC -- does that mean those teenagers who are fully vaccinated and those teachers, those staff members who are fully vaccinated, that they will not have to wear masks?

SPEARMAN: Well, that information just came out yesterday. We're asking for some clarification because it's a little confusing as to what they have actually said.

And again, most of our districts are -- will go by what the guidance is, but it's a little confusing today. We have asked for some clarification, whether those vaccinated students should continue wearing masks and those vaccinated teachers should continue wearing masks inside schools.

And we are -- we're sending that information out. In fact, we were just on the phone before I got on air with you to get some clarification on that. BLACKWELL: All right, Molly Spearman, Superintendent of Education in

South Carolina, keep us updated on what you learn from the CDC moving forward with those teachers and students who are vaccinated. Thanks so much for your time.

SPEARMAN: Thank you for having me on.

CAMEROTA: OK, Victor, tensions are escalating in the Middle East with some of the worst fighting in years between Israel and Hamas. We're live in Israel next.

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CAMEROTA: Another day of violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Today a confrontation in the West Bank left at least ten Palestinians dead. The Palestinian Health Ministry reports that 126 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza fighting.

BLACKWELL: The U.N. Secretary General is calling for all parties to immediately cease fighting and allow for mediation to take place. CNN's Nic Robertson joins us from Ashdod, Israel. Nic, what are you seeing there?

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NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, in Ashdod here, we've seen sirens going off because there have been incoming rockets from Gaza. We've seen and heard the sirens going off in the next town down the coast towards Gaza in Ashkelon there.

We were right along the border with troops, with Israeli troops, with their tanks, with their armored personnel careers, with their heavy diggers, where they were digging sand berms, to sort of, you know, keep their equipment safe. Now that location was being targeted around dusk. Multiple times we had to run for cover there, so the rockets have been coming out from Gaza.

They have been engaged, as we've seen so many times, engaged by the Israeli Iron Dome defensive system taking out those rockets. Sometimes quite low. Very clear to us that those Israeli troops on the outskirts of Gaza do appear to be being targeted.

So we've had Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to Israelis today saying that -- he said that the country would deal a blow to Hamas. He said that they have done it, that they will continue to do it, that they have been targeted in their tunnels in the past 24 hours. He said Hamas thought that they could hide. We've shown them that they can't, and that we'll continue doing this.

But we've also heard from Gaza today. The electricity there has been cut off because the power cables between Israel that supplies much of Gaza's electricity and Gaza was cut. The power station there ran out of fuel. People have been fleeing the areas of the heaviest air strikes into what the U.N. calls safe zones, safe accommodation which was schools. But the U.N. is saying that those school buildings are being overrun. They have so many people that are fleeing the danger. CAMEROTA: Yes, we can see that. The pictures are just horrible

actually. Nic Robertson, thank you very much for all of the reporting.

BLACKWELL: So just days after being ousted from the House GOP leadership, what is next for Congresswoman Liz Cheney, and how does she plan to keep the former president from being elected to another term? She speaks to CNN's Jake Tapper at 5:00 Eastern. We'll be right back.

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BLACKWELL: This week's CNN Hero became paralyzed from the waist down and struggled for years to get into shape and attain a healthy life- style. He created an adaptive physical training and nutrition program to help people with disabilities push beyond their limitations. Meet Wesley Hamilton.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WESLEY HAMILTON, CNN HERO: Come on, easy.

My main goal is to teach people how to take control of their life. Take full accountability and embrace your reality.

Slowly, you can start right here.

When we go through our program, it's only the bring. I want to be there through your whole journey because I want to see you successful.

There we go. One more.

I gained so much from my injury and I want other people to have that same be mindset.

You're learning that you're about to do more.

I believe that once we help someone, now they have the ability to help someone else. This is something that has to have a ripple effect. We're coming together and empowering each other and being inspirational for one another.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLACKWELL: Fantastic. To learn more about Wesley's work head to CNNheroes.com.

CAMEROTA: What an incredible hero. OK, so Victor, what happened when you tried to venture out without your mask last night?

BLACKWELL: So I didn't put my mask back on until I came back into the building today. I went to two of the places on the list that still requiring masks. Everybody still had their mask on. I was the only person in these two places without a mask. I expected, you know, exuberance. There wasn't any. CAMEROTA: Because they require masks still. No wonder you were getting this side eye.

BLACKWELL: I just thought they forgot to take the sign off the door. And here's why because we had -- I mean you know, we of course, were into the breaking news. But I just expected that once that was an option that companies would allow then people who have been vaccinated to do that. It's very difficult to navigate, but I thought there would be exuberance, there'd be dancing, there'd be celebration. There were people sniffing pineapples through masks at the grocery store.

CAMEROTA: I just like the idea of you ripping off your mask and walking proudly into -- where was it?

BLACKWELL: I'm not saying.

CAMEROTA: OK, got it.

OK, here's my experience last night. I had a totally different experience. I went to a school event. There were about 30 parents. It was all outdoors, of course, and not a single person was wearing mask and furthermore everybody shook hands with each other.

That I did not see coming. OK, I thought that maybe the handshake was just going to just like go the way of the dodo bird. Oh, no. It's back with a vengeance. We didn't even ask each other permission. We just all like immediately went to shake hands. It's back.

BLACKWELL: You're just going around grabbing people's hands. Hello. Hello.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

BLACKWELL: You know, I guess, you know, a year and a half of elbow bumping. We're probably over that but I feel for these business owners trying to navigate this space of do we drop the mandate? I was just a little too excited, too bold. It's not that I won't put the mask back on. I just was expecting more than really, I guess companies are ready for.

CAMEROTA: But were people giving you the hairy eyeball?

BLACKWELL: Oh, yes, I get the stank eye, I mean sometimes I get the stank eye even when I don't deserve it, regardless of the mask. But I certainly got it at the two places I went yesterday. So.

CAMEROTA: I just love that image. I wish you had posted it. All right, have a wonderful weekend. The Lead with Jake Tapper starts right now.

END