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President Biden Signs Anti-Asian Hate Crime Bill; Louisiana Police Bodycam Footage Leaked; Republicans Poised to Block Bipartisan Commission to Investigate Insurrection?. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 20, 2021 - 14:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Thanks for joining us on NEWSROOM, everyone. I'm Alisyn Camerota.

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

A lot going on this afternoon.

Up first, any moment now, President Biden will sign into law a bill that's being hailed as an imperative response to the sharp rise of violence against Asian Americans.

CAMEROTA: The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act passed overwhelmingly in both the House and the Senate, but 62 House Republicans voted against it. Why would they be against trying to stop violence against Asian Americans? We will take you live to the White House shortly.

BLACKWELL: First, they were victims of the mob terror on January 6, and yet it's getting more obvious by the hour that most Republican senators do not want to sign on to this commission to find the truth behind the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The independent commission appears to be virtually dead on arrival as it heads over to the Senate. Now, the House just approved the bill, setting up the commission; 35 Republicans voted for it, defying their leader, Kevin McCarthy.

Now, former President Trump is, understandably and expectedly weighing in, predictably calling them weak and ineffective.

CAMEROTA: You will remember the Kevin McCarthy decided it was best for him not to know what led to the riots and what role President Trump played, and then Senate leader Mitch McConnell followed suit.

Now the dominoes have begun to fall in the Senate. A short time ago, Richard Burr became the sixth GOP senator to decide he also does not need to know what happened. He claims it's unnecessary, since other people are already doing investigations. Ten Republican senators are needed to pass this bill. And despite

those significant headwinds, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi remains hopeful.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I don't think that what we have heard from the Senate is so bad, compared to what we usually hear from the Senate. This is about prioritizing, sequencing, honoring the report of General Honore and the inspects general about what needs to be done.

But I would like to have the trust that the Senate wants to find the truth as well. And let's just give them a chance to do that without hanging something over them about a timetable.


CAMEROTA: CNN's Manu Raju is live for us on Capitol Hill.

So, Manu, Republican leader Kevin McCarthy just spoke out about this commission.

He made a revelation. What did he say?


He said that he -- for the first time that he would be willing to testify before an outside commission. I asked him, would you be willing to talk about his conversation with Donald Trump on January 6? That was a heated conversation that's been widely reported, that Donald Trump raised concerns that Kevin McCarthy was not doing enough here.

But McCarthy said that he would be willing to talk. Now, then I asked him afterwards, what about a select committee, which is something that Democrats are talking about doing afterwards, creating an independent panel within the House that is comprised of lawmakers, some -- which is different than an outside commission that this bill would create?

And then I said, "Would you be willing to talk to a select committee?"

He would not go that far and said there's no need for a select committee.

So, you're seeing him saying he's willing to testify with an outside commission, but that may never happen, because Republicans in the Senate are poised to block it. In fact, it seems increasingly certain that Republicans would even prevent debate from beginning on this bill.

A number of Republicans -- you mentioned Richard Burr -- have indicated that they will vote against opening debate on this bill. I just asked Richard Burr if he would actually open debate on this bill. He said no. He would vote no to sustain a filibuster on that.

And other Republicans, including ones like Mitt Romney, someone who has been open to the idea of a commission, someone who has voted multiple times to convict Donald Trump on charge -- during his impeachment trials, indicated to me that he wants changes to the bill.

He said he wants -- same -- that's what Susan Collins, who also voted to impeach -- convict Donald Trump on his second impeachment trial, she wants changes as well. And then I asked Romney, would you be willing to at least see debate begin on this proposal? And he says he is not there yet.

So, it just shows you how unlikely it is that anything will get through the Senate. Republicans, if they do filibuster this as soon as next week, it would be the first time they do that to legislation in this Congress. And it could be over this commission, which is drafted by bipartisan support in the House.

CAMEROTA: OK, Manu, stay with us, if you would.

And we also want to bring in David Chalian. He's our CNN political director.

David, Nancy Pelosi does congressional math better than anybody. Why would she still sound hopeful?


Well, as -- you are right, Alisyn. She does do congressional math pretty darn well. I don't think that's a real sense of hope. I think what that is, is an attempt to use what the House passed last night and try and use that as some leverage to let that create some momentum, where there seems none to exist right now, in the United States Senate.


So she doesn't want to leapfrog and say, this is what I'm doing, because I think it's not going to go anywhere in the Senate. She wants that bipartisan bill with those 35 Republicans that passed out of her chamber last night to influence the way these Senate Republicans are thinking.

Manu's reporting indicates that's not happening just yet, but Pelosi not willing to give up on that.

BLACKWELL: David, let's listen to the number two Republican in the Senate, John Thune, on the opposition to creating this commission.


SEN. JOHN THUNE (R-SD): Could be weaponized politically, and drug into next year. Anything that gets us rehashing the 2020 election, I think, is a day lost on being able to draw a contrast between us and the Democrats' very radical left-wing agenda.


BLACKWELL: Yes, so, this is not really, like, a behind-the-scenes conversation about the political implications of this. They're now saying, on record, this could hurt our chances of regaining the majority.


This is, in clear English, for everyone just to hear from John Thune, putting politics ahead of the principle of trying to get a bipartisan, independent, authoritative assessment of what occurred in the build-up to and on the day of January 6, so that it never happens again in American history.

CAMEROTA: David, there was this letter from Capitol Police, from officers who were there that day, and it's on letterhead of Capitol -- of the United States Capitol Police, but they didn't want to sign their name to it because of all the political backlash.

And they are basically beseeching the lawmakers, their lawmakers, whose lives they saved that day, to do the right thing. And I just want to read a portion of it. It's long, but I think that it really bears reading.

They say: "We members of the United States Capitol Police write this letter to express our profound disappointment with the recent comments from both chambers' minority leaders expressing no need for a January 6 commission. The brave men and women of the United States Capitol Police were subjected to hours and hours of physical trauma, which has led to months of mental anguish.

"If you look around the Capitol Building, you still have doors that are broken, windows still smashed and in some cases missing. Officers are forced to go to work with the daily reminder of what happened that dreadful day."

And they go on to say: "It's inconceivable that some of the members that we protect would downplay the events of January 6."

I mean, so the people who don't want to vote for this, who don't want this commission are now against the very police officers who risked their lives and who do every day to protect those lawmakers.

CHALIAN: And we really should underscore, Alisyn, how rare it is for United States Capitol Police officers to weigh in on what had become a political battle here.

Of course, the whole goal of that letter is to remove it from politics, which is also what the Republican Congressman John Katko was arguing he was doing when McCarthy asked him to negotiate with the Democrats to get a bipartisan deal on this commission, which he did.

And his attempt was to remove politics. And those officers, in a very rare instance, injected themselves into the political debate, knowing that it was a political debate, to try and raise it above the fray. And you see that that is not the case of where we are in the United States Senate right now.

BLACKWELL: David, stay with us. I want to bring Manu back in on his new reporting about Speaker Nancy


She made a commitment not to serve in her role for more than four years after regaining the majority back in 2018. You're getting new details on when she may be leaving, her thoughts moving forward. What do you have?

RAJU: Well, she has been keeping things very close to the vest. It's still not clear, despite that pledge that she made that this would be her last term as speaker, that, in fact, it will be her last term as speaker.

In fact, some of her confidants say that it's possible she could run for reelection again. She's already raising millions of dollars for her campaign and potentially could try to seek the speaker's gavel as well.

But she has to keep the majority first, which is one reason why there's not an expectation, despite some rumors, that she will step aside early, sometime in the middle of this Congress, because the belief is that she needs to stay in her perch as leader, as speaker, to raise millions and millions of dollars to keep the Democrats' very fragile majority.

But, at the moment, what both -- the Democrats are looking at her decision very closely, because it could affect their own political futures, people like Hakeem Jeffries, who's viewed as a likely heir apparent. He would not say to me directly if he would support Pelosi staying speaker in another term, saying that he supports her right now.

Because people like Steny Hoyer and Jim Clyburn, the number two and the number three in the House Democratic leadership, there's an expectation that they would not -- that Jeffries would overtake them. But they're not saying one way or the other if they will run.


And there's also a question about what will happen to her seat. Her daughter, Christine Pelosi, is seen as one of potential many successors to that seat, so a lot of people watching someone who has been just a formidable president atop the Democratic Caucus and questions about whether she will try to continue in that perch after next year, guys.

CAMEROTA: Manu, really interesting reporting.

David, give us the broader context here. How critical is Nancy Pelosi to the Democrats keeping their majority?

CHALIAN: Well, to Manu's point about the fund-raising, I think she raised $32 million for Democrats in the first quarter of this year alone.

And, remember, guys, next year will mark the 20th anniversary of when Nancy Pelosi was elected the leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives. Two decades, she has been overseeing the Democratic Party in the House. And she is by far the party's biggest fund-raiser.

So that is a huge component of this. But the filing deadline in California, if she's going to run again, is next spring. So we will know by then a definitive decision if she actually plans to seek another term.

BLACKWELL: All right, Manu Raju, David Chalian, thank you both.

And there are also new developments on the 2019 death of a black man after an encounter with law enforcement. Ronald Greene, he died after a pursuit involving Louisiana State Police. There's new bodycam video that shows Greene's -- the disturbing final moments and how it's spawning and why it's spawning the new accusations of a cover-up.



BLACKWELL: It has taken two years to see what really happened in the final moments before a black man died in the custody of Louisiana State Police.

The bodycam footage shows state troopers Tase, kick, punch, drag Ronald Greene. And that video disproves the official version of events that the family got from law enforcement after Greene's death.

CAMEROTA: CNN's Ryan Young is looking into this story.

So, Ryan, tell us about this video and the story. What happened?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, this is obviously very difficult.

And we're only talking about this because someone decided to leak the video. But just in the last half-hour or so, I actually talked to Ronald Greene's mother. And she says she is actually elated that we're all now seeing what the family has believed for quite some time.

As you can imagine, this has been very tough for the family, because they have been begging for a deeper investigation. And I have to tell you, the video that you're about to see is very disturbing.


RONALD GREENE, KILLED IN POLICE CUSTODY: I'm your brother. I'm scared.

YOUNG (voice-over): Terrifying pleas from Ronald Greene after a high- speed chase led to a deadly confrontation with Louisiana State Police just outside the city of Monroe in May of 2019.


YOUNG: In bodycam video obtained by the Associated Press, troopers can be seen, repeatedly punch Greene after dragging him out of his vehicle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Taser, Taser, Taser.


YOUNG: The Troopers Tase Greene multiple times while he's face down on the ground as they attempt to handcuff him. Another trooper can be seen kicking Greene.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got blood all over me. I hope this guy ain't got (EXPLETIVE DELETED) AIDS.

YOUNG: The Associated Press released three segments of the original video, which it says is 46 minutes' long. Only two of the video clips have audio.

CNN has neither reviewed or obtained the original video, and it's unclear what occurred before or in between the video clips. The video is being seen by the public for the first time, but the incident took place two years ago.

The bodycam footage is shocking, considering the way the encounter was described in the Louisiana State Police initial report in 2019, which says troopers attempted to pull Greene over for an unspecified traffic violation that ended when Greene crashed his vehicle. The report also says -- quote -- "Greene was taken into custody after resisting arrest and a struggle with troopers."

Greene died on the way to the hospital, the report said. At no time on the video can troopers be seen trying to render any medical aid to Greene, who, according to the Associated Press, was face down and moaning for more than nine minutes.

CNN has reached out to the attorneys for the officers for comment.

Lee Merritt is an attorney for the Greene family and spoke to CNN.

LEE MERRITT, ATTORNEY FAMILY OF RONALD GREENE: It's not only what you're seeing, but the sounds that go with it. You can hear him screaming and writhing in pain as he says: "I'm your brother. Please stop. I'm sorry. I was just scared."

YOUNG: The Department of Justice is investigating the incident. And in a statement to CNN, the Louisiana State Police says: "The premature public release of investigative files and video evidence in this case is not authorized and was not obtained through official sources.

"LSP is confident in the judicial system and fair review of this incident and continues to offer our full cooperation. Unauthorized release of evidence undermines the investigative process and compromises the fair and impartial outcome for the Greene family, LSP employees, and the community. We are unable to provide any further information at this time."

Greene's mother tells NBC she thinks the Louisiana State Police murdered her son. MONA HARDIN, MOTHER OF RONALD GREENE: They beat him, with the purpose

of letting him just die.


YOUNG: Yes, when you think about this, the family's been asking for the FBI and their involvement for quite some time.

There's something that stands out about that video, that, at some point, it looks like Greene wants to turn over to his side to get a breath. Another trooper comes over while he's handcuffed and puts his foot right in the middle of his back, making him flat again.

The family has been begging for constant attention for this case for some time. And, obviously, this video really helps to shed some light to this.

Now, thing that stands out is, obviously, we don't have any officials on camera. We would love to be able to talk to the state troopers to try to figure out exactly what happened or see that 46 minutes of video, so we can kind of see the -- what led up to these events, but you're talking about two years later, and we still don't have any answers.


CAMEROTA: Ryan, there's so much more that has to come out about this. Thank you very much for your reporting.

With us now is Anthony Barksdale. He's a senior law enforcement analyst and the former acting Baltimore police commissioner. And Ted James, a Louisiana state rep and chair of the state's Legislative Black Caucus.

OK, I want to start with you, Commissioner Barksdale, because, obviously, we talk to you about far too many of these, but this one -- I mean, not all cases are the same. This one, when you look at just the few clips that CNN has been able to get, the Tasing, the punching. He's begging, again, for mercy. They keep him handcuffed and lying on his stomach.

An officer is kicking him. They're calling him names. It's straight-up sadistic, the clips that we have seen thus far. And they told the family -- the Louisiana State Police told the family he died in a car crash.

I mean, as somebody who has run, obviously, a department, how does a commander let the officers get away with a police report like that?

ANTHONY BARKSDALE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Alisyn, I am so happy that you're talking at the executive level.

It's not just these troopers. You have got to hold everyone accountable from the bottom to the top. Yes, that excessive force, I mean, it's -- it's beyond excessive force. They -- it is just absolutely unacceptable, and you're right to focus there. But for two years, two years later, and we're hearing the same type of

talk from this jurisdiction that we hear from DA Womble about the Elizabeth City incident. It sounds the same. We're starting to see patterns here. And we have got to break these patterns and start holding everyone accountable.

BLACKWELL: Let me come to you, sir, there with the Louisiana state -- I'm sorry -- Representative James.

Why has it taken two years?

STATE REP. EDWARD "TED" JAMES (D-LA): You know, I will tell you that the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, we met with the family on last year.

Unfortunately, it has taken two years, but because of our work at the caucus and organizations like the Urban League of Louisiana, the governor requested the state police and the DA make this video available to the family on last year.

That was too late. We knew last year that there was a cover-up and there was a lie. But I can't say that the governor didn't step into action. We don't have the same colonel of state police. We have a new colonel of state police. They have more than three colonels, troopers in the state police that are African-American for the first time.

So the cover-up was discovered and swift action has been taken here because of the actions of the Black Caucus and requests from the family. Of course, this was my second time seeing the video, and I'm extremely disappointed. And we're going to continue to see what is going on with those officers.

Now, the main officer, Officer Hollingsworth, he lost his life the day before he learned that he was going to be fired. So, after the Black Caucus made sure that this video was shown to the family, and we got a new colonel of state police, swift action did take place here in Louisiana.

CAMEROTA: And, Representative, have you seen the full 46 minutes that we understand exists? Not -- I mean, have you seen more than just those three clips?

JAMES: I have seen a lot more than what has been leaked, yes.

CAMEROTA: And what -- OK. And what are we missing? What else do we see on that? Does any of it comport with what the Louisiana State Police troopers say happened?

JAMES: None of it does. We knew the moment that we saw the video that Trooper Hollingsworth had lied and falsified a report.

We knew that Ronald Greene did not die from a car accident. Ronald Greene was beaten to death. And not only was he beaten to death. You saw the actions of troopers. They put their foot on him. They didn't render aid. And they went as far as to drag him by his ankles. So, those actions are not indicative of Louisiana State Police. We're

going to continue here, the caucus, to make sure that the troopers are brought to justice. Unfortunately, Officer Hollingsworth lost his life before he could have been brought to justice.

BLACKWELL: Yes, we saw the clip there. "I have got blood all over me. I hope this guy ain't got F'ing AIDS."

AP reports that Greene is cuffed face down for nine minutes as the officers wipe blood from their hands and faces

Commissioner, what should happen to these officers?

BARKSDALE: They should all be in jail. That's what should happen.

And, look, this -- again, we're seeing a victim, because he might have -- he might have started as a suspect, but then he becomes a victim. So, they need to be held accountable. And separation from service is not accountability. To walk away with your pension after you have been part of covering up a man that was killed at the hands of your troopers is not accountability.

There's a lot of work to be done here, and it's unacceptable. And these actions ruin it for cops, for sheriffs, for deputies across the United States.


We have got to raise the level of accountability across the board. And walking away from the job and saying that's good enough isn't enough.

BLACKWELL: I think you make a good point when you talk about the conversation at the executive level, because activists and others have rejected this bad apple narrative, that it's a couple of people who are doing bad things.

And there are lots of -- of course, most officers, most people in law enforcement are doing well, but it takes a lot of cooperation, correct me if I'm wrong here, Commissioner, for this to have happened in 2019, and only because of a leak do we see it now. There have to be the breadth and the levels of cooperation with keeping this from the public.

BARKSDALE: Absolutely, Victor, absolutely.

It takes work to bury something like this. And I'm glad that there has been some effort, but it's not enough. It's not enough. And you're talk -- we're talking two years later.


Representative, I think that the Justice Department has opened an investigation into this, but it's been two years. I mean, I know that there's been a change in administration, but why isn't this being fast-tracked? JAMES: You know, I can't answer that. I will tell you that the

previous Justice Department, I didn't trust that Justice Department at all to render any type of justice in regards to police misconduct.

I have a lot more confidence in this Justice Department under President Biden. But I will tell you that, as -- on the state level, we aren't taking this lightly. We had a police task force after this incident and the death of -- last summer.

We have a bill right now that's moving through the legislature that will repeal qualified immunity. That's a huge step in the right direction. Other troopers that are in that video have been arrested, have been suspended. It's not enough. I will admit that.

And it's not just an issue of bad actors. There were systemic problems in state police. We have a new colonel. I like his leadership. I see what he is doing. So one of the things that I'm not going to allow to happen is to just say that we're sitting here lightly, not taking decisive action in Louisiana under this administration.

It's way too slow. I think that what I saw should be seen by the entire general public, but we're making advances here legislatively to make sure that issues like this don't happen, because, way too often, we see too many police officers that use their badge as a shield from liability.

And I will tell you that the Black Caucus here is working extremely hard to root out those bad actors and to create a more trusting system of law enforcement in our state.

CAMEROTA: Very good to know.

State Rep. Ted James, Commissioner Anthony Barksdale, thank you very much for your time.

JAMES: Thank you.

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BLACKWELL: All right, let's go live to the White House now.

We're expecting in just a few moments President Biden to come into the room. It looks like he is doing that now as everyone's standing. You see members of Congress there waiting to hear the president speak about and then sign an anti-Asian hate crime bill into law, as we have seen this sharp rise of violence against Asian Americans,

And you will notice I don't see a single mask there, as the mitigation efforts have changed, the guidance there at the White House.

The president there and Vice President Kamala Harris. She appears to be first to speak. Let's listen.






HARRIS: Good afternoon, everyone. Good afternoon.

Let me start by saying to all of the leaders here, thank you. Thank you to the members of our United States Congress on both sides of the aisle who helped pass the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act. Thank you.


HARRIS: And a special thanks to Senator Mazie Hirono--


HARRIS: -- and Congresswoman Grace Meng--


HARRIS: -- for leading this incredible effort.

And I know you did not do it alone. And there are many more I could name, a couple of whom I will, among them, Senator Tammy Duckworth.


HARRIS: Senator Richard Blumenthal.


HARRIS: Senator Jerry Moran.