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Lt. Gen. Russel Honore is Interviewed about Capitol Security; Thirteen Mass Shootings over the Weekend; Bipartisan Negotiations on Infrastructure; Belarus Accused of Hijacking Plane. Aired 9:30-10a ET.

Aired May 24, 2021 - 09:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: It's been more than four months since the January 6th violent insurrection and now National Guard troops are leaving the Capitol, turning the security back to Capitol Police who were overwhelmed that day. Yesterday, a CNN camera crew captured troops loading equipment on the final day of their assignment. They leave the Capitol with Democrats and Republicans still fighting over funding for the Capitol Police force, debating the creation even of a commission to investigate the Capitol attack.

Join me now is the man tasked with leading a review of Capitol security following January 6th. He's retired Lieutenant General Russel Honore.

General, thanks for taking the time this morning.

LT. GEN. RUSSEL L. HONORE, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Good morning.

SCIUTTO: So this week a bipartisan plan -- a bipartisan plan to investigate January 6th will likely be blocked by Republican senators, many of whom called for a commission exactly like this after January 6th. I'll just note one here, John Cornyn, who said in February, tweeted, I should say, I agree with Speaker Pelosi, a 9/11-type investigation is called for to help prevent this from happening again. That's a tweet from John Cornyn in February.

That's all changed now. Have Republicans who opposed this failed in their duty to protect the Capitol?

HONORE: Well, let me just say this, Jim, thanks to the National Guard. I spent five weeks in a hotel with about 800 from Michigan primarily and in the middle of the night, in the cold, they were -- the temperature for that 5 weeks, I don't think, went over 40 degrees. They did their mission. They've accomplished their mission and they're going home. And they did it with honor. As far as your question in dealing with the legislators in the Congress and the Senate who opposed the commission, I'm not quite sure their motive to do it. That's not my area of specialty. But I think the country, and as the bill is written, want to know what were the precursory cause of the 1/6 attack on the Capitol. They want to know how did it happen or what might have motivated and the impact of domestic terrorism. That's direct language from that bill.


HONORE: And they can get to negotiate and it's bipartisan. So I'm not quite sure what the pushback, but this needs to be done.

SCIUTTO: By not doing it, are they making the next one more likely to happen, by not investigating the root causes and addressing them?

HONORE: Well, I'll tell you what, if we don't investigate this, I don't know what we're going investigate, you know what I mean? Because it's just an investigation. It does not change the law. It makes recommendation to the Congress and maybe change things for the president and the Congress to work together on how we monitor domestic terrorism and it reassures the fact that we're all looking to prevent future attacks like this on the Capitol.

This has big consequences for our democracy because as we've stated before, the Capitol is a target.


HONORE: How do we prevent this from happening again?

Now, they -- the American people want to know that the people in Washington are actively working together to secure the Capitol and secure our democracy.


SCIUTTO: Yes, and they're not working together.

You mentioned the National Guard. One of your recommendations from the security review is for a quick reaction force of National Guards men and women. That's running into opposition now. We saw that it took hours without a quick reaction force in January 6th to get National Guards men and women there.

What will be the consequence of this? And does it make it more likely that the Capitol Police get overwhelmed again in circumstances like this?

HONORE: Well, you -- the Capitol Police had the option to call the D.C. Metropolitan, as well as other police agencies for scheduled events, such as known demonstrations that might be happening in collaboration with park place. Those scheduled events, that system worked well, as we saw during the presidential speech at the Capitol.

What we're concerned about is the no-notice events that might happen. What happened if the Capitol's attacked at 3:00 in the morning? Who's going to be there to back up the Capitol Police?

And that's why I think we recommended we have a National Guard present, just like we have National Guard fighter squadron over at Andrews Air Force Base and a National Guard and defense battery of -- inside the Capitol after 9/11. This is what we do.


HONORE: And they're ready. Right now, if you followed his schedule, the National Guard won't be able to responsible in minutes, as we recommended with QRF, it's going to take hours because you've got to recall them from their day jobs in most cases.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Now that's --

HONORE: So that is the limit we have, you're either going to have the Guard standing by or you're going to have to wait for them to mobilize.

SCIUTTO: So here we are, four and a half months later, still debating the money, still debating the recommends, the safety review made, and, in fact, not just debating, but they're about to blow up a bipartisan commission. It was negotiated in a bipartisan manner. Is the Capitol exposed to violence like this going forward?

HONORE: I think the Capitol is secure. The Capitol is always vulnerable.

What we do about to ensure that all branches of government -- you know, there was some things that happened in 1/6 that need to be investigated. Where in the hell was the FBI? Where in the hell was Homeland Security? Where in the hell was the Secret Service and their back- ups? There are a lot of questions that need to be answered in the commission. And why did we have such a failure in intelligence?

You know, we told them what the Capitol Police, what they needed to do to fix intelligence, but we didn't tell any information to the FBI or to Homeland Security. All that needs to come out in the commission.


HONORE: That's why we need to have the commission because we had a failure of government that day. Thank God the Capitol Police, along with the Metropolitan Police, were able to secure and keep safe the members on both the Senate and the House side.


HONORE: We got to get this work done because the government did not work that day.

SCIUTTO: It did not. It's still open questions as to what happened in the White House that day.

Lieutenant General Russel Honore, thanks so much for joining us again.

HONORE: Thanks to the National Guard. Safe travels.

HARLOW: All right.

Well, the gun violence crisis in this country got worse and worse over the weekend. Shootings took place everywhere from a concert to a house party. More on all of this ahead.



SCIUTTO: There's more devastating evidence that gun violence is a crisis, a real crisis in this country. There have been, wait for it, 13 mass shootings just since Friday across the country, all over the map, as you can see there, killing 13 people, injuring more than 70.

HARLOW: According to the gun violence archive, more than 7,500 people have died from gun violence across the United States this year alone and we're not even halfway through the year.

Our Polo Sandoval takes a closer look at this spate of shootings.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A deadly spike in gun violence putting communities across the United States on edge this morning. Two people were shot during an attempted robbery at a New York City subway station.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're getting over COVID and it looks like the madness is coming back.

SANDOVAL: And in New Jersey, police are investigating an incident at a house party that left two dead and 12 others wounded late Saturday night. Police also discovered three people shot to death at an Atlanta area condominium. And in Youngstown, Ohio, three people are dead and at least eight others injured after a shooting outside a bar.

MAYOR JAMAEL TITO BROWN (D), YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO: It breaks my heart to hear when we have young men and women who die at a young age, so much potential ahead of them.

SANDOVAL: A 14-year-old girl was killed and 14 others shot attending what police are calling an unauthorized concert in North Charleston, South Carolina.

CHIEF REGGIE BURGESS, NORTH CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA, POLICE: It is a sad day that we have to be here today to talk about another death of another young person.

SANDOVAL: Two men were shot and killed and eight others injured in downtown Minneapolis early Saturday morning. One of the victims died the same day he was scheduled to graduate from college. According to the gun violence archive, over 7,500 people have died from gun violence in the United States this year. That's including at least 471 teenagers and 120 children. ALEXIS CLOONAN, AIDEN LEOS' SISTER: He said, mommy, my tummy hurts. So she went and she picked him up.


And he was bleeding on her.

SANDOVAL: Aiden Leos was fatally shot in an apparent road rage incident in Orange County, California as his mother was driving him to kindergarten Friday morning. The six-year-old's family is seeking justice and asking the public for any information.

CLOONAN: Please help us find the people that did this to my little brother. He's only six and he was so sweet.

SANDOVAL: In Minneapolis, city leaders are offering a $30,000 reward to find who's responsible for three recent shootings that left one child dead and two others critically injured.

MAYOR JACOB FREY (D), MINNESOTA: The community has been exceedingly clear, we need to bring the perpetrators to justice.

SANDOVAL: One of the victims, six-year-old Aniya Allen, who was shot in the head while riding in the car with her mother last week. She later died at the hospital.

KG WILSON, ANIYA ALLEN'S GRANDFATHER: Not only do we want justice for our babies, we don't want these people out here to shoot somebody else babies and there will be another press conference because another family will be standing up here with us.


SANDOVAL: Now back here to southern New Jersey and the very latest on that shooting that took place over the weekend.

New Jersey State Police have not announced any possible motive in that shooting that left at least two people dead. They are currently making a plea to the public to come forward with any kind of information, Jim and Poppy.

We are expecting to hear from not only prosecutors later today, but as well as the state's governor, Phil Murphy, who was very vocal about this shooting yesterday, calling it a horrific mass shooting, in the governor's own words, a despicable and cowardly act of gun violence. So we do expect to hear more.

But here on the ground, you certainly get a sense of frustration. In fact, the head of the congregation just around the corner from where that shooting happened saying that something needs to be done now, and not just in his community, but throughout the rest of the country.


SCIUTTO: And yet gun legislation once again dead letter on Capitol Hill. Polo Sandoval, thanks very much.

A White House senior advisor says the president is willing to change course on the future of the infrastructure bill. Could bipartisan talks be on the brink of crumbling just days before the administration's self-imposed deadline? Signs seem to be pointing that way.



HARLOW: Bipartisan negotiations over President Biden's infrastructure package are coming to a head. The White House's self-imposed deadline for progress on the bill is coming up in a matter of days. Biden's team has already reduced the size of the proposal by $550 billion. So it's now down to $1.7 billion.

Not though the cuts specifically, Jim, that Republicans were really looking for.

SCIUTTO: True. And also continuing questions, debate about how to pay for it.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny joins us live from the White House.

And, Jeff, listen, you know, if you can't come to agreement on a bipartisan proposal to investigate January 6th, I wonder where the negotiations stand right now on this given the gulf between the two sides on a number of issues.


Infrastructure is one of those things where there actually is bipartisan agreement about the need to do infrastructure, but not the need to or how to pay for it or what else should be included. And there is a -- sort of a growing sense of pessimism that there would be a bipartisan deal reached. But this is the week that it could happen.

There was that self-imposed deadline set by Memorial Day that the White House and Senate Republicans wanted to have some type of broad agreement about what an infrastructure bill would look like and how it would be paid for. But they are still very far apart. We heard earlier this morning from Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who offered this timeline.


PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: We really need to get this done this summer, which is why we continue to want to see, even just in the few days between now and the holiday, some real progress if we're going to pursue this path.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ZELENY: So saying there, if we're going to pursue this path. That means they are considering alternatives, plan b. And that would mean trying to do a Democratic only plan through reconciliation that, you know, special rules in the Senate to get this through. But a big question if all Democrats would come onboard with that as well.

But this week is a critical week for infrastructure between the White House and it's likely the president is still going to meet one more time with lawmakers to try and hammer out a deal before going it alone with Democrats.

Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: We'll see if they can get it done.


HARLOW: Jeff, thanks so much for the reporting at the White House.

ZELENY: You bet.

HARLOW: Well, strong condemnation, of course, from what happened. OK, countries around the world, including the United States, are calling out Belarus and its leader after the country is accused of forcing down this commercial airliner in order to arrest an opposition activist. More on how this happened ahead.



HARLOW: Well, countries around the world are now calling for an immediate investigation into a flight that was forced down -- forced to land and diverted to Minsk, Belarus in a mid-air scare for passengers. Again, a commercial airliner. A prominent Belarusian opposition activist was on that plane and then arrested right after the plane landed.

SCIUTTO: Yes, basically a government sanctioned hijacking.


SCIUTTO: This comes as the president of Belarus has been fending off opposition protests since he claimed victory last year following a controversial election to say the least widely condemned by the international community.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen has more on this.

Fred, the circumstances of this just amazing. I mean a fighter jet was sent up to force this plane to the ground.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you're absolutely right, Jim, a fighter jet was -- was sent up and actually that plane was pretty close to starting its dissent into Lithuania where it was supposed to land when it was ordered to divert to Minsk Airport because the authorities had notified the jet that there was allegedly a bomb scare, or a potential bomb onboard the plane and then that fighter jet escorted it all the way to Minsk Airport, even though the dissent into Lithuania would have been a lot shorter.

Then, as the plane landed, the authorities, obviously, coming there and arresting this opposition activist and journalist. He's actually the founder of one of the main telegram channels that was used by the opposition to really showcase some of the police brutality last year in the demonstrations that took place in Belarus and then also to organize those demonstrations to a certain extent. His name is Raman Pratasevich and he is now currently in custody and he possibly faces the death penalty in Belarus because he's also on their terrorism list as well.


As you can imagine, a lot of condemnation coming in from the EU and the U.S. as well. I want to read you a statement from Antony Blinken.