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Maryland Candy Company Cooks Up Chocolate-Covered Cicadas; California Poised To Fully Reopen On June 15th; Dr. William Schaffner Answers Your Questions; Agriculture Secretary On Relief Plan For Minority Farmers; Time To Put Away The Sweatpants; Companies Face Decision Over Requiring Workers Be Vaccinated; DNA Evidence Could Exonerate Executed Black Man; How Trump Weaponized The Big Lie To Reshape The GOP. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired May 22, 2021 - 19:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: I personally had not tried it I never but, this Maryland Candy Company excellent in that something for -- with the sweet juice chocolate covered -- and before you go trying to dip your own wait a second, there's a little more to it to Catch Chocolates Owner Sarah Dwyer says first you dip them in boiling water and then coat them in oil and spices.

I can barely get through this I'm so sick to my stomach reading about this. Coat them in oil and spices and then and this is how you get that satisfying crunch their air fried before being dropped at chocolate. I'd say get them well stocked last but there are literally billions of them. So enjoy. Your next hour of CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

Suns is out, masks off friends and family reunite for some much needed FaceTime as the pandemic retreats. Also tonight, new DNA evidence could soon exonerate a man who was executed four years ago. And the Nazi origins of the big lie how Trump weaponized it to reshape the Republican Party?

I'm Pamela Brown in Washington. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM on this Saturday and we have some major developments tonight on many pandemic fronts.

Good news, California officials are announcing that they will lift all capacity and distancing requirements on June 15th. Very welcome news for the state's massive entertainment industry of course, and there are also some new carrots for those who've put off getting the stick some states are now offering lottery tickets or even savings bonds if you're willing to get the vaccine.

In Toledo some local bars are offering shots if you get a shot. Look forward to the CDC 30 percent of the U.S. population is now fully vaccinated against Coronavirus. And we have more good news to share the number of cases week over week is falling in at least 37 states.

Also new tonight a new scientific report that two doses of either the Oxford AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccines are "Highly effective" against the variant first found in India.

Well, one year ago as Memorial Day weekend approached you may remember the world was full of warnings, wear a mask don't get in groups so gather with other people it's not even safe to visit out of town family members. Now as vaccines push the pandemic into retreat Americans are more than ready to reemerge.

CNN's Paul Vercammen is at Hollywood, California where the showbiz industry is itching to get back to work. Paul, you're at a landmark theater where they're taking a creative approach to encouraging vaccines tell us more.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're having way too much fun with this Pam. And so we'll I'll take a grand entrance of sorts. I'm at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre. This is a landmark the Academy Awards were here in the 50s it's ornate.

And today if you came in and got the Pfizer vaccine or Johnson & Johnson, you had a chance to win a lottery. Two pairs of tickets to the play Hamilton a difficult ticket indeed to get to LA. And by the way, this is all part of a strategy in Los Angeles because we're seeing the big super vaccination sites such as Dodger Stadium go away.

And now we're seeing more of these pop up sites as they try to get into the neighborhoods and get more shots and arm. So far 61 percent of people in Los Angeles County have had at least one vaccination.

So here today at the Pantages with its 10,000 feet of gold leaf and shining chandeliers we watched people come on up one father had been vaccinated but his son had not and to borrow a line from Hamilton. He was not going to miss his shot.


JACQUI LEE, GOT VACCINATED TODAY: Well, I love theater and I've seen a few shows here like cabs and so on. I would love to win the tickets to Hamilton because if you get the vaccine today you are entered in a drawing to win the tickets. So and I haven't got my vaccine yet. So I decided to come today and get the Johnson & Johnson because it is one and done.

ELIS MASSEY, BROUGHT SON APOLLO TO GET HI VACCINE: Waiting so long to have the theater open again. You know, that's a big - that was definitely the driver in this you know other than the getting him vaccinate everybody in the house vaccinated to win Hamilton tickets. Amazing, amazing.


VERCAMMEN: So they were thrilled here at this theater and we should also note that almost 50 percent of the residents of Los Angeles County are fully vaccinated, Pam?

BROWN: Well, that is good news. Free Hamilton tickets are not the only carrot in town as we know I mentioned earlier introducing you some of the other places but if you would expand on that these other places they're offering to people who show up for a shot. What are they offering them to entice them?

VERCAMMEN: Well, if you don't know this Los Angeles is absolutely bonkers over the Lakers and throughout town today also, you could get Lakers seasons seats a pair of them and that's, that's a very, very lucrative deal for these fans. So they were going to these other vaccination sites.


VERCAMMEN: So we had Hamilton tickets on one side, we have Lakers tickets on the other side, the whole country seemingly offering up these incentives now to put vaccines into people's arms, Pam.

BROWN: Alright, Paul Vercammen. Thank you so much for that and joining me now with more on a pandemic in retreat, Dr. William Schaffner, Professor of Infectious Diseases at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center Dr, great to have you on.

I want to start by asking you about this new reporting just in that the Oxford AstraZeneca and the Pfizer vaccines are both highly effective against the variant first seen in India. How encouraging is this news, even as India continues to grapple with its second wave? And what about people who are watching right now who said, well, what about the Moderna shots? I got that shot? Well, that helped me against the India variant.

DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, DIVISION OF INFECTIOUS DISEASE VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: Well, Pamela, shucks, I'm vaccinated already. I can't get in that lottery for the Hamilton tickets.

BROWN: Right? Oh, I know. I want to may be flown out there to get the shot, if I knew that.

DR. SCHAFFNER: Exactly. But let's get serious. I think it's wonderful news, that the vaccine actually is providing protection that is documented against this variant in India, because variants can be imported into the United States, and they might spread here.

So far, our vaccines are doing a good job in protecting against almost all of the variants, even partial protection against that South African variant, but there's not much of that in this country. So more people, let's get vaccinated, the vaccines are working.

As you said, the cases are going down around the country. We need to keep driving them down here in my state; there are still a lot of people who haven't taken advantage of the vaccine. We urge them to come in and get it.

BROWN: You know, it's interesting; I was in Kentucky, visiting family over the last week and just anecdotally talking to people. I did talk to a lot of people who are still sort of hesitant and are still kind of waiting and watching to see how things go with the vaccines and whether they should take it.

I'm going to get to those viewer questions in just a moment. Those who are still wondering about the vaccines but first, I want to get to what you mentioned how far we've come since a year ago? Case numbers are falling in at least 37 states.

But there are still these lingering concerns. Dr. Schaffner right now 38 percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated. That means more than 60 percent of the population isn't. So how safe is it to be out and about right now, when you don't know, the vaccination status of people you might encounter?

DR. SCHAFFNER: Well, it's progressively safer, isn't it? That's wonderful. If we're vaccinated, that vaccine is going to provide us very, very good protection, not 100 percent 95 percent. So that's excellent. But we need these other people to come in and be vaccinated also.

Because if we all start taking off our masks, and the recommendations are for the unvaccinated to stay masked, come on in, join us, the water's fine, so to speak, let's all get vaccinated. And then, you know, we'll solve this problem. We don't have to worry about who's wearing a mask or not. If we're all vaccinate.

BROWN: All right, I want to get to some of these excellent viewer questions that came in. This is the first one up. My fiance and I are both fully vaccinated. She's a very vulnerable person with many lung related issues, are we at different levels of risk, even though we are vaccinated.

DR. SCHAFFNER: You might want to be a little careful about your partner there who has a lot of underlying conditions. And they may want to be very, very careful and continue to wear the mask for a period of time.

Because even though they're vaccinated, it's 95 percent effective. And if you have a lot of underlying conditions that predispose you to severe disease, might want to just go easy and not be the first folks to take off your mask.

BROWN: So this actually brings me to my own question. And that is you have, according to the CDC, nearly I think it was 2000 breakthrough cases, COVID cases that were either fatal or the person was hospitalized out of the 123 million vaccinated American.

So what does that tell you? Are there some people who - where the vaccine is not as effective because of their immune systems because of underlying conditions compared to other people? Why are we seeing some of these breakthrough cases?

DR. SCHAFFNER: Exactly as you say, Pamela. We recognize that people who are Immuno-compromised that means their immune systems don't work as well as normally. That means they can respond to the vaccine as robustly and they may get partial protection and protection that's not as strong as people with normal immune systems.


DR. SCHAFFNER: So many of these people who are getting breakthrough infections fall into that category. And we urge those folks, of course, both to take the belt and suspenders approach, get vaccinated and continue to take care.

BROWN: And I want to ask you this viewer question. This is something I actually heard when I was home in Kentucky, two people are concerned about side effects and the research or lack thereof, the long term data and this viewer is asking about that.

This viewer says are instances of paralysis stroke, blood clotting, et cetera, being heavily tracked compared to years before COVID vaccine. As it appears news outlets are reporting people have developed these after COVID vaccine, but they're being labeled as "Coincidental". So I guess this viewer is asking how we know if it's coincidental or related to the vaccine.

DR. SCHAFFNER: There's an elaborate vaccine safety system that exists in the United States. Anyone who has a reaction is some sort of medical event that occurs after vaccination can report it, you go to VAERS, "VAERS" in Google, you or your health care provider can report it. It's being reviewed. And then in short, Pamela, you compare the occurrence of whatever the event is in a group of vaccinated people.

And the group of unvaccinated people were doing that on an ongoing basis, and so far, except for that rare blood clotting disorder and be very rare - reactions, which we all know about, no other condition is occurring more frequently in the vaccinated than in the unvaccinated. The surveillance system is very intense, and these are very sure, reassuring results. These are very safe vaccines.

BROWN: All right. Well, that was helpful information I'm sure for a lot of people who are still on the fence. Dr. William Schaffner, thank you so much. And a reminder, we're going to see you again a little later in the hour.

DR. SCHAFFNER: Thank you.

BROWN: Well, as the pandemic retreats in America reopened, some companies are now weighing whether to segregate vaccinated and unvaccinated staff. Employment Law Attorney Douglas Bradley thinks that is a terrible idea and he is live later this hour to discuss that.

Also ahead, he said he was innocent until his dying day and now new DNA evidence could finally exonerate Ledell Lee, who was executed four years ago. Plus, Richard Branson talk space tourism was CNN as Virgin Galactic completes its third successful spaceflight.

But first before all that I'm going to ask Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, what the President's climate plan means for farmers and rural America? He joins me next.



BROWN: Why the Biden Administration fights to get trillions in new spending through Congress, the administration is celebrating an early victory on another front. The American rescue plan includes $5 billion to try and save minority owned farms which struggled long before the pandemic but even more so as COVID hit communities of color especially hard.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack joins me for tonight's big interview on the show. Mr. Secretary, welcome.

TOM VILSACK, U.S. SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE: Thank you. It's good to be with you.

BROWN: You say that this could be one of the most significant pieces of civil rights legislation in decades. Why is that? And why should every viewer who's watching this show right now still invested in this, I feel like this is a really important issue.

VILSACK: But if you know the history of the Department of Agriculture's relationship with socially disadvantaged farmers. You know that we've not always made every policy program opportunity available to these folks. And as a result, over time, they've had a harder time being able to maintain and keep their farm or expand their farming operation.

This debt relief is the beginning of an effort to try to create a more equitable USDA to try to respond to the cumulative effect of discrimination that's occurred over many, many, many decades.

And basically also respond to the fact that when COVID relief was provided, a significant percentage of that COVID relief went to white farmers because of the structure in the way in which our support programs currently operate. Very smart, very small amount, maybe less than 1 percent went to socially disadvantaged producers.

So it's a matter of equity. And it's a matter of making sure that we do what we can to make sure that folks are able to keep their land to stay in the farm because I think it's an all of our interests, to have folks continue to farm in this country and have diversity in our farming operations.

BROWN: I want to point out the follow up on something you said. You said while the USDA paid out billions for farmers over COVID related market losses, less than 1 percent of that money went to non white farmers, if you would explain how is that possible? How can something like that happen?

VILSACK: Well, it has to do with the size of operations and what basically many socially disadvantaged farmers were producing? They may not have large enough operations. They may not have as sophisticated enough machinery to produce the row crops that did receive a significant amount of assistance and help.

They may be especially crop producers that have received very little. They may be organic producers that received very little. They may be folks who have a very, very small acreage. So at the end of the day, the system is currently structured to promote and to help large scale farming operations. And what we're trying to do is to create a balance. Yes, we want to continue to help those who farm large farms, but at

the same time, we want to make sure that small and medium sized operators have a fair shot, and many of them happen to be socially disadvantaged.

So this debt relief plan basically speaks to that rebalancing if you will an opportunity for everyone to fully participate in USDA programs.


BROWN: As you know, well know that this is not without controversy a group of white farmers is suing claiming that this is race based discrimination and therefore unconstitutional. And listen to Senator Lindsey Graham earlier this year


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): In this bill, if you're a farmer, your loan will be forgiven up to 120 percent of your loan, not 100 percent but 120 percent of your loan, if you're socially disadvantaged if you're African American, some other minority but if you're a white person, if you're a white woman, no forgiveness as reparations.


BROWN: So, Mr. Secretary, how do you answer those claims?

VILSACK: Well, first of all, the fact is that those white farmers have had full advantage of all of the USDA programs throughout the last 30, 40, 50 years. So they've been able to expand and grow their operations, they've had multiple advantages in the system.

And in the COVID relief situation, in particular, they really were advantaged because we just got finished discussing. And many of those farmers are not meant that it's a couple, it's a man and a woman, husband and wife farming that farming operation. So this is really about speaking to the cumulative effect of discrimination that's occurred.

I will tell you, I spoke to black farmers, and I suspected many of those black farmers would be more than happy to exchange places with their white counterparts, given the nature of the activities of USDA over the last 30, 40 years, which has made it really difficult for black farmers, Hispanic farmers, Native-American farmers to succeed.

BROWN: I want to ask you another question about another Biden initiative, the goal of conserving at least 30 percent of America's land and waters by 2030. This is known as 30 and 30. How - 30 by 30 rather? How would this work without becoming what you've denied as a land grab, because as you've heard, there are concerns that this would be a land grab?

VILSACK: Well, first of all the principles of this 30 by 30 plan, speak specifically to those concerns by suggesting that it's all about voluntary conservation. That's currently what we're doing today. We're just not keeping track of it.

So this is an opportunity for us to look for ways in which we can expand conservation and basically give credit, if you will, for those who are doing right by the land and doing right by water quality. This also a value is honoring private property rights. You're not going to honor private property rights if it's a land grab. It's clearly not that it's unfortunate.

BROWN: So just to be clear, this would never involve eminent domain, just to be clear, correct? OK.

VILSACK: Oh, OK. I want to say that--

BROWN: I've already spoken about this - but conservatives. I've interviewed some on the show who have talked about that and have raised that concern, so I wanted to hear it directly from you on the show. Last question for you, Secretary yesterday, the White House unveiled their latest infrastructure counter proposal, reducing the total assets from 2.25 trillion to $1.7 trillion.

Republican Senators are still expressing their frustration with the total and many don't think this bill should include things outside of traditional infrastructure like roads and bridges. One piece of the plan would expand broadband access to rural America, would you be OK with removing this part of the bill in order for the bill to get passed through Congress?

VILSACK: I will tell you, if you want to talk about frustration, you need to talk about the frustration that rural folks have about an aging infrastructure across the board. And the fact that they don't have high speed internet access, which puts them in a competitive disadvantage to other parts of the country and for that matter, in a global economy, to folks all over the world.

I think everybody understands that appreciates the necessity of fixing our bridges, our roads, our ports, our inland waterways, broadband has to be part of this infrastructure plan. It's the 21st century infrastructure.

It is essential to the success of farming operations because it's going to be the way in which we can be more precise with what we do with our farming is the way in which we can advance opportunities for farmers to benefit from climate by sequestering carbon.

All of that is dependent on this infrastructure. So clearly - state has made the decision to take broadband out especially since almost all of them are on the record are talking about the need for expanded broadband in rural America.

BROWN: So what I hear from you is that broadband should be a non negotiable in the infrastructure bill. All right, Secretary Tom Vilsack, thank you for coming on the show.

VILSACK: Thank you.

BROWN: The pandemic turning point is a great thing for all of us. I think we can all agree on that, right? And for many people, it means putting away the sweat pants and returning to the office. Coming up, Dr. Schaffner is back along with Employment Lawyer Douglas Bradley. They're going to talk about how to return safely and what your boss can and can't ask you to do?



BROWN: Well, sooner rather than later, many more of us will head back to the office. The new CDC guidelines on masks make that a near certainty along with the increasing number of vaccinations. And a lot of people will be happy, more uncovered face to face time with co workers and friends and fewer online meetings.

But not everybody wants to get the vaccine. Some workers worry that they will be forced to get a shot they may not want or face losing their job.


Others worried that unvaccinated coworkers could put them at risk.

Douglas Brayley joins me now. He is the head of employment litigation for the global law firm, Ropes & Gray. Good evening to you, Douglas. Let's dive right in.

Is there anything in the law that stops your employer from forcing you to get a coronavirus vaccine? And what happens if an employee doesn't get a vaccine because of a medical issue or religious belief? Can that worker be fired?

DOUGLAS BRAYLEY, HEAD OF EMPLOYMENT LITIGATION, ROPES & GRAY: Great question. And it's definitely one that we've been hearing a lot from employers all over the country and in every industry you can think of.

You hit it right on the head, Pamela, that the two main exceptions to the general rule that an employer could mandate a vaccine would be for issues such as disability, accommodation, or accommodating a sincerely held religious belief.

But the background rule in the United States is that employers get to set the rules of their workplace.

BROWN: So basically, you're saying an employer can say that you need to be vaccinated in order to come back to the workplace. How would an employer verify that? Is your boss legally allowed to ask if you've received a vaccine shot?

BRAYLEY: It is a great question and the Federal EEOC, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission specifically addressed this question because folks had been asking, and they said that it is okay, that it does not constitute unlawful discrimination for your boss to ask you whether you got the vaccine or even to ask to see the vaccination card.

The follow up questions that come after that could be a problem, and that's where employers really need to watch out.

BROWN: What do you mean by the follow up questions? Walk us through that.

BRAYLEY: Well, let's say that your employer asks you, did you get the vaccine? And you say, no. If your boss starts to ask you follow up questions that might get into your sensitive medical history; that could be a problem, and that could be an issue under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

So my advice to employers would be, you can ask the question, but if the answer is no, stop there.

BROWN: Okay. And even though companies can require employees get vaccinated, do you think they should?

BRAYLEY: On balance, I don't think they should. I think it is better for employers to strongly encourage the vaccine, to make it as easy as possible to get the vaccine, to make it as easy as possible to come back to work once you have received the vaccine.

But mandating implies that if you say no, I don't want to, then you lose your job. And although an employer has the right to set that rule and the right to terminate employment, except with some exceptions, is the employer really willing to do that when it comes down to it? What if 10 percent of your workforce decided to say no to the vaccine, is the company really ready to fire 10 percent of their employees?

BROWN: And let's talk about that with infectious disease expert, Dr. William Schaffner. Again, the health consequences of this, the potential consequences that people are wondering, too. There's the question of can companies mandate this and the question of health. Doctor, what if 10 percent of the office does not want to get a vaccine? How much of a risk would that be for others who have been vaccinated?

SCHAFFNER: Well, we have to recognize, Pamela that when we go back to work, there will be undoubtedly some people in the environment who are not vaccinated. That's really pretty likely given the level of vaccination in the country today.

We can make the environment at work as low risk as possible, but I don't think we can ever say it's going to be completely safe. So the risk we want to keep low.

I think we could probably ask our employers, if we're mixing vaccinated and unvaccinated folks, are there opportunities to keep people apart? If some people still wish to wear masks, may they do that?

I'm with Mr. Brayley, I don't think employers at this stage with this still pretty new vaccine, which as we've discussed is somewhat controversial to oblige people to be vaccinated. That opens up a Pandora's Box.

BROWN: All right, Douglas Brayley, Dr. William Schaffner, thank you to you both.

BRAYLEY: Thank you.

SCHAFFNER: Thank you.

BROWN: Well, Arkansas may have executed an innocent man after someone else's DNA was found on the murder weapon. When we come back, I'm going to speak to Attorney Laura Nirider about the case. She represents Brendan Dassey from the Netflix series "Making a Murderer."



BROWN: A disturbing and devastating story out of Arkansas. In 2017, Ledell Lee was executed for the murder of Debra Reese. He maintained his innocence for 22 years on death row.


LEDELL LEE, EXECUTED FOR THE MURDER OF DEBRA REESE IN 2017: But my dying words will always be as it has been: I am an innocent man.


BROWN: Four years after Lee's execution, new DNA evidence may exonerate him. The murder weapon was recently tested for DNA for the first time. Last month, that test found the DNA of someone else.

Lee's attorney tried to get the weapon tested before the execution, but a Judge blocked it. I'm joined now by Laura Nirider. She is a Clinical Professor of Law at Northwestern and co-director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions. Thank you for coming on.

It just seems shocking to me, Laura, that it took almost 30 years for the murder weapon to be tested for DNA. How can that happen? Why isn't that standard procedure for capital cases at this point?

LAURA NIRIDER, CLINICAL PROFESSOR OF LAW, NORTHWESTERN PRITZKER SCHOOL OF LAW: Well, thanks so much for having me on, Pamela, and you're absolutely right. This kind of DNA testing in all cases, but particularly capital cases where the death penalty is at stake, this would be the norm.

But in so many cases across so many states, it's not the norm rather, the norm is for factors within the criminal legal system, prosecutors and judges, to resist conducting DNA testing in these cases. It's a trend that has got to be reversed.


NIRIDER: You know, to date, we've had 185 innocent people be exonerated, off death rows around the country. It's a staggering number. For every eight people that we execute, we exonerate one person off death row. I mean, imagine if, you know, if this was the rate of error when it

comes to parking tickets, we'd be outraged, let alone matters of life and death.

BROWN: And in this case, he had continued to say he was innocent. Now all of these years later, there was someone else's DNA on the murder weapon. But again, what is the rationale? What could possibly be the rationale in a case like this to not test the murder weapon, particularly in a capital punishment case where the person is saying they're innocent?

NIRIDER: You're exactly right, and that's exactly the question to ask. There is a principle in our legal system that applies to criminal cases called finality. The idea is that at a certain point, after a defendant, even a capital defendant -- after a defendant has had a certain number of appeals, has had a certain number of chances to raise an issue. The idea is, we close the courthouse doors.

We simply say, I'm sorry, I'm turning away from this case. It's closed. It's done. We're not listening any longer. It's final.

This is an incredibly harmful and damaging principle in the criminal legal system. It is something that anyone who has been wrongfully convicted, whether capital or otherwise has to fight even in cases where there is DNA evidence that hasn't been tested, other forms of forensic testing yet to be done. You're always pushing that, you know, snowball up the mountain, pushing against that principle of finality.

BROWN: Here's what Lee's attorney told CNN about these new findings. Let's listen.


LEE SHORT, ATTORNEY: I think if those results had been had before he was executed, he'd still be alive.


BROWN: Even in the face of this new evidence, the Judge, the Arkansas A.G. and the Governor all defended the execution. DNA seems pretty definitive and certainly brings in reasonable doubt. So how definitive does new evidence have to be for wrongful convictions or retrials?

NIRIDER: Well, you're absolutely right. The evidence that was tested in this case, and the results that were generated by it certainly generate serious doubt about the integrity of Mr. Lee's conviction, and that conviction -- and of course, his execution.

You know, when we take a step back, though, when we look at actors in the criminal legal system, it can be very hard for folks to recognize that they may have inadvertently contributed to a wrongful conviction that they are, in part, part and parcel of a system that can dole out such serious cases of injustice.

I think this is a perfect moment for all of us who care about matters of criminal justice to get educated, to start realizing that our capital system is seriously flawed. And that Mr. Lee's case, like so many other cases, is a great example of that, unfortunately.

BROWN: Well, it's just outrageous to think that people have been put to death if they're innocent, and there could have been DNA introduced to exonerate them, and that the DNA or other evidence is being blocked.

And I'm wonder, if you look back historically, and you look at the cases now and who has been put on death row, how many other cases are there out there that could be like Lee, where they've either been put to death or they're on the death row, where there's potential evidence out there that could be exonerating?

NIRIDER: There are way too many cases like Mr. Lee's out there, cases of people who have been executed, and unfortunately, cases of people who are scheduled to be executed or are awaiting execution, but who have powerful claims of innocence.

People like Julius Jones in Oklahoma, James Daily in Florida, and Pervis Payne in Tennessee, these are all death row inmates with serious claims of innocence that need to be investigated.

And then of course, there's the Sedley Alley case in Tennessee, another case that's being handled by the Innocence Project, and other lawyers. Sedley Alley was put to death in 2006, actually executed by the state for murder. Now his daughter, April Alley is coming forward and asking for access to the DNA evidence in her father's case so that she can determine once and for all, whether her father was innocent as he said. So far, the courts in Tennessee have blocked her request.

BROWN: This is such an important issue. Laura Nirider, I really appreciate you coming on the show to discuss it. We'll be continuing to shine a spotlight on this.

NIRIDER: Thank you so much for covering it.

BROWN: Well, up next, the Nazi origins of the big lie and how Trump weaponized the big lie to reshape the Republican Party.



BROWN: Republicans who back a so-called audit of President Biden's November win in Arizona say Trump supporters are ready to follow suit in other states and none of that would even have a snowball's chance in Phoenix of happening if it weren't for the quote, "big lie" that Donald Trump has been pushing, in all caps, FOR MONTHS, even before the election happened, that he was denied victory in the 2020 election, thanks to massive voter fraud.

We know that that is in itself a lie.

His arguments have been all bombast and no proof, but that hasn't mattered to his loyal backers or the roughly 70 percent of Republicans who agree with him, according to our recent poll.


BROWN: Trump's critics began using the term, the big lie, to warn about the corrosive nature of his untruths. But Trump has seized the term and made it his own.

Earlier this month, he declared the 2020 election is quote, "the big lie." The term has been used and twisted for decades, starting with Adolf Hitler.

Thomas Zimmer joins me now. He teaches German and European Studies at Georgetown University. Thanks for coming on, Thomas.

So tell us about this. What are some other examples like this in history, where a powerful leader has used a big lie, those terms, as a propaganda tool?

THOMAS ZIMMER, PROFESSOR, GERMAN AND EUROPEAN STUDIES, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Well, just like you said, the term "big lie" refers to a specific kind of political propaganda to a lie that is told for political purpose, and that is so outrageous, so bizarre that it is hard for people to resist.

They believe it is precisely because it is so shocking, because it is difficult to imagine anyone would lie in this shameless fashion about important political matters, and supporting the big lie then also becomes a litmus test of political loyalty for a movement or a party.

Now, the term itself, just like you said, was actually coined by none other than Adolf Hitler in the 1920s. He criticized the German Jews for deploying what he called the big lie that Germany's military was defeated in World War I, which of course it was, but that's not what the German far-right wanted to believe, instead clinging to the myth that the German Army had been stabbed in the back by internal enemies.

Now ironically, it was then Hitler and his regime that relied heavily on propaganda built around certain big lies and the practice of lying big, if you will.

Now, I think it's fair to say that pretty much every authoritarian regime has relied on propaganda techniques that might be described in such terms. It is basically sort of the one of authoritarian propaganda, right?

In our current context, I think what is interesting is, it has become a prominent part of our political debates after the 2020 election, and in particular, after the insurrection of January 6th, it has since been used to oppose Trump's outrageous claims.

But interestingly, and you mentioned this, in the latest turn of this story, Trump himself has started adopting the term. He is now attacking all those who insist on the facts as propagating a big lie.

So we're now in a weird situation, I'd say, in which the term is everywhere, and it is used for wildly differing political purposes to either defend the democratic process or to completely undermine it, which of course, again, traditionally, that is what it was used for, by basically every authoritarian regime that you can think of.

BROWN: So how -- help us understand how this big lie has taken ahold of the G.O.P. to the point where more than two thirds of them don't think that Biden won the election legitimately? What have we learned from history to help us understand how it has taken such a stronghold on Americans now?

ZIMMER: So I think it's important to remember that long before November, Trump and his supporters started talking about how the election was going to be rigged, how the Democrats were going to commit massive fraud, right?

They did the same thing back in 2016, by the way, you'll remember that Trump's ally, Roger Stone talked about the need to stop the steal even back then. Now, when Trump lost the 2020 election, he and his supporters went all in on various conspiracy theories.

But the real problem as so often is not just Trump, but really the fact that Republicans have decided to go all in on his lies and to enact policies based on Trump's lies. That's primarily happening on the state level, of course, where Republicans have introduced hundreds of bills designed to restrict and suppress the vote.

So the most important question that we are facing is, why the Republicans are willing to support Trump's outrageous claims? Now, this I believe, is where the term "big lie" isn't very helpful. It can actually obscure the real problem.

When it is taken to suggest that Republicans were wholeheartedly embracing democracy until recently, and were then sort of overwhelmed by Trump's brilliant propaganda and that is absolutely not what is happening. Trump's lies can only flow -- have such a massive effect because they can build on long standing anti-Democratic tendencies and impulses on the American right and among conservatives.

Long standing tendencies to prefer minoritarian elite rule, because they can latch on to decades long attempts by Republicans to present themselves as the only legitimate representatives of you know, quote- unquote, "real America" and to denounce Democrats not just a political opponent, but a threat to real America.

And on that basis, I think it is not that big of a step --

BROWN: Okay, I am so sorry to cut you off, but we're running out of time.


BROWN: Historian Thomas Zimmer from Georgetown University. Clearly, you're passionate about this issue, the big question: how can it impact democracy long term? Thanks so much.

And new video just into CNN, tens of thousands of people marching through Central London to support Palestinians as a delicate ceasefire with Israel holds for now. But while the bombing in Gaza is over, the agony is just beginning for the people who live there. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)