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Trump Responds to Insurrection Lawsuit; Secretary of State in Middle East; Country Marks Anniversary of George Floyd's Death. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 25, 2021 - 14:00   ET

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


[14:00:21]

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

ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: And I'm Erica Hill, in today for Victor Blackwell.

Today, of course, marks one year since George Floyd was murdered at the hands of police. And, today, his family and the country are reflecting on what happened to him and also what needs to change about policing in America.

CAMEROTA: You are looking at live pictures of a park in Minneapolis where the George Floyd Memorial Foundation is hosting a remembrance.

The Minnesota governor has asked the people of his state to pause for a moment of silence lasting nine minutes and 29 seconds, the length of time that Derek Chauvin held his knee on George Floyd's neck as Floyd begged for his life.

HILL: Moments ago, George Floyd's family, including his young daughter, Gianna, arrived at the White House. They are currently meeting with President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

This morning, they met with several lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as Congress, of course, also missed the president's deadline, which he had set for today, to pass legislation named in Floyd's honor.

We want to begin with CNN's Joe Johns who's at that memorial event in Minneapolis this hour.

So, Joe, how is George Floyd's life and legacy being honored today?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I heard you just talking a moment ago about the governor of Minnesota. We are expecting to hear from him as well, as the mayor of Minneapolis, in just a little while.

But I can also tell you that there is a food truck festival here. You can hear the music behind me. And the fact of the matter is, though, having spent a couple days in this city, it's very clear that the seriousness of the moment is not lost on the people here in Minneapolis.

As I talk to people, they say they want to see what government is going to do. They want to see change. There's a great deal of anger, in fact, still about the death of George Floyd one year ago today.

So, all of that is in everybody's mind. And it is also relevant to point out, as you did, that the family of George Floyd is up in Washington, D.C., meeting with the president of the United States. And all of that goes to show there's real concern on a national level about what government is going to do, how government is going to respond to the issue of excessive use of police force.

The other thing I think is important to point out is, this situation will turn very solemn, we expect, later today with what is expected to be a candlelight vigil at George Floyd Square. That is the place where he died one year ago today.

And there has been what could be a potential wrinkle. We got a report of a number of shots, multiple shots in the area of George Floyd Square earlier today, apparently, one person slightly injured. Police responded. So, there is a bit of a concern now about how that could affect the candlelight vigil tonight.

No word, of course, from the family or the organizers. When we know more, we will get back to you.

CAMEROTA: OK, Joe Johns, thank you very much for the reporting.

So, a short time ago, George Floyd's family arrived at the White House to mark the one-year anniversary of his death.

HILL: President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris meeting privately with the family. This comes as bipartisan negotiations on a police reform bill bearing George Floyd's name continue in Congress.

CNN's Phil Mattingly is at the White House.

So, Phil, what do we know about the meeting that is taking place right now, and connected to that in many ways, just how close Congress is to an agreement on the police reform bill?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look, I think, when you look at what the Floyd family is doing today, not just on this side of Pennsylvania Avenue, but also on the other side, on Capitol Hill, it's very clear the legacy of George Floyd and the legacy of what transpired is something they are utilizing and have for now months to try and push through transformative change when it comes to policing.

And they believe that their appearances here and their efforts behind the scenes, not just with the president, but with lawmakers, are helping move that process along. And it's something Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill say has had a tangible effect, when they physically meet with the family and hear their pain and what they're trying to do here. Now, the meeting itself with the president and the vice president today, it's closed. There's no press. There's no spray. There's none of those things you often see at the top of these meetings, where reporters run in, shout out questions as loud as we can to try and get the president to engage, and then are ushered out for the meeting to actually begin.

The president made very clear to his team, I'm told, that he wanted this meeting to be private. He did not want reporters inside of it. He wanted to have a very real conversation with a family who's -- the bond that he has had with them has really grown in the wake of the course of the last year.

[14:05:03]

Obviously, during his campaign, he met with the family a couple days after the murder of George Floyd. He recorded a video for the memorial service. He stayed in touch with them.

Just a few hours after the guilty verdict for Derek Chauvin, he was on the phone with the family, expressing relief, as he put it at the time, about the verdict, but also making clear that he believed they needed to keep pushing forward on police reform.

And he promised them they would come to the White House. And here they are. And included in the group is Gianna, George Floyd's daughter, who the president has repeatedly invoked in public conversations and I'm told private conversations, who told the president in their first meeting that she believed her father would change the world.

Biden references that constantly, now an opportunity once again and now in the Oval Office to meet with the president and the family.

Now, as it comes to police reform, look, I think the White House has made clear they didn't want to make a public show of today because they want to give negotiators space. They want to make sure that the bipartisan negotiations that are very much still happening on Capitol Hill have an opportunity to progress.

And progress is what members on both sides of the aisle have said they're making. Are they near a deal at this very moment? It doesn't seem like it, based on conversations that I have had with people involved. But they do believe they're moving toward a framework, perhaps some type of resolution in the weeks ahead.

They obviously won't hit the president's deadline of today. But the White House says they're OK with that. They just want a bill on the president's desk at some point. And, as of now, those talks, unlike so many other bipartisan negotiations on Capitol Hill, are moving forward, guys.

HILL: Well, moving forward is good to hear, at least, even if it may not meet that deadline.

Phil Mattingly at the White House, thank you.

And in just a moment, we're actually going to speak with some of George Floyd's family members.

Also ahead: Secretary of State Tony Blinken.

CAMEROTA: Yes, he's in the Middle East speaking about the cease-fire and pushing U.S. support for rebuilding Gaza.

HILL: Plus: Donald Trump's first legal response to an insurrection lawsuit. He is claiming total immunity while he was president.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:11:19]

HILL: Secretary of State Antony Blinken just wrapping up day one of his three-day trip to the Middle East.

CAMEROTA: He met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The president -- the meetings come amid a fragile cease-fire which ended 11 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas. Blinken is pledging U.S. support to help rebuild Gaza, but making it clear that help would not benefit Hamas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Asking all of us to help rebuild Gaza only makes sense if there is confidence that what is rebuilt is not lost again because Hamas decides to launch more rocket attacks in the future. So, this is vitally important.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: CNN's Kylie Atwood has more from the State Department.

Kylie, what do we know about the trip so far?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're learning a few new things today.

Secretary of State Tony Blinken announced that the U.S. would be reopening their consulate in Jerusalem. That is the primary place for U.S. diplomatic relations with the Palestinians. It was closed down during the Trump administration. It's demonstrative of the fact that the Biden administration is committed to rebuilding their relationship with the Palestinians.

Secondarily, we're also learning, as you mentioned, that the U.S. is upping its assistance to the Palestinians, a total of some $360 million in assistance. And I'm told that about $38 million of that is new humanitarian assistance to Gaza and the West Bank that, of course, have faced enormous wreckage in the violence over the last few weeks.

And then, when we heard secretary of state Tony Blinken speaking with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he did reiterate that the U.S. supports Israel's right to defend itself And they spoke about the U.S. support for the Iron Dome that has provided a lot of the stability and a lot of the protection from these incoming rockets.

Now, one thing that I also want to point out is that Secretary Blinken just told reporters that the U.S. also is against anything that would actually be seen as a possible spoiler here. This is a very fragile cease-fire that is under way. The U.S. is putting a lot of diplomatic heft into keeping the cease-fire here in this current moment in time.

But he said the United States would oppose anything such as demolitions or the continued building of settlements or any support to terrorist groups that could essentially re-trigger any violence.

HILL: Kylie, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is also pushing this theory again -- sorry. I thought we had a chance for another question, Kylie. We don't.

But thank you for the reporting as always.

CAMEROTA: Thanks, Kylie.

OK, so we now know that President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet face to face next month. The White House confirms the summit will take place in Geneva, Switzerland, on June 16 at the end of Biden's first international trip since taking office.

HILL: Relations, of course, between the U.S. and Russia have deteriorated in recent months over issues including election interference and Ukraine.

Washington applying harsh new sanctions on Moscow in the wake of a massive SolarWinds cyberattack on U.S. government agencies.

Attorneys for former President Donald Trump defending his January 6 speech amid a new lawsuit.

CAMEROTA: And they're claiming that Donald Trump is still immune even today.

Congressman Eric Swalwell filed the lawsuit, seeking to hold Trump accountable for the Capitol insurrection. But former President Trump's attorneys argue his fiery speech to a crowd of ginned-up supporters is protected by the Constitution.

[14:15:05]

CNN's Kara Scannell is here now with new details.

So, what have you just learned, Kara?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn and Erica, we're learning that the former president's lawyers are arguing back and pushing back on the challenges to the statements that he made on January 6 encouraging the pro-Trump crowd to head to the Capitol and to challenge the certification of the presidential election for Joe Biden.

So, now Trump's attorneys are saying that the speech that he gave that day was protected by the First Amendment. And, also, because he was president at the time, they're saying he has absolute immunity from this lawsuit -- Alisyn.

HILL: So, that absolute immunity.

Kara, I also understand there are some new details about the investigation into President Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani. What more do we know about that?

SCANNELL: Well, Erica, we have learned that the prosecutors' investigation here has gotten a lot broader, that their seizure of materials goes far beyond the 18 devices they had taken from Giuliani and his company.

According to a court filing today that had some faulty redactions in it, we were able to learn that prosecutors has seized and searched devices that include a number of Ukrainians. One of them was very prominent in the efforts to remove the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. That's the focus of Giuliani's investigation.

So, we have learned that prosecutors had looked at the e-mails of Yuriy Lutsenko. He was the former prosecutor general. He had met with Giuliani multiple times. And he was the person who had falsely said that the U.S. ambassador had spoken negatively about Donald Trump and that she had given him a do-not-prosecute list, suggesting that she was corrupt.

Now, we also learned that two other Ukrainians' e-mails were accessed. Those include the former head of Ukrainian fiscal service, a man by the name of Roman Nasirov. His e-mail and iCloud was searched. In addition to him, the iPad and iPhone of Ukrainian businessmen Alexander Levin was also searched by prosecutors.

Now, these searches occurred in late 2019 and early 2020. That was just a few months after Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two of Giuliani's associates, were arrested as they were about to board a plane to Austria.

Now, this new information comes to light as Rudy Giuliani is fighting the search warrants that were executed on his home and office. This filing was made public today by Parnas' attorney because he wants to obtain details about any of those materials that were seized in any of these searches that relate to Parnas -- Erica, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Kara Scannell, thank you very much. Nothing like those faulty redactions to help get a clearer picture.

(LAUGHTER)

CAMEROTA: Thank you.

HILL: Yes, there is that.

Could it be new evidence of a cover-up? Why key pieces of body camera footage in the death of Ronald Greene were not reported to police. We're going to speak with the family's lawyer, who is calling for arrests and accountability.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:22:30]

CAMEROTA: Right now, George Floyd's family is meeting with President Biden, as we mark one year since he was murdered by police.

There's a push on Capitol Hill to pass a bipartisan police reform bill in his name.

Our next guest is Tera Brown. She is George Floyd's cousin and the director of the George Floyd Foundation.

Tera, great to see you.

TERA BROWN, COUSIN OF GEORGE FLOYD: Hi. Thank you for having me.

CAMEROTA: Thanks for being here.

What does today mean for you and your family?

BROWN: Obviously, we're still heartbroken.

Today is a day that it marks the anniversary of his passing. And so, you know, there's no way of avoiding that this is a tremendous loss for us. As much as it's a loss for us, we do understand that it's -- we want to celebrate the life that he lived and focus on just making sure that there is -- we build on the legacy that we want to honor him with.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

I read, Tera, that you had always prided yourself, or I guess considered yourself the protector and nurturer of the family. And I can imagine that today and this year has been hard for somebody who couldn't protect the family from all of this pain.

BROWN: That is so true. That has always been my role. And so I do have -- you know, I may have said before that I just have so much guilt about really just not being there or not being able to save him.

And so that is why it's just so important to me, that, you know, we can't get him back. We know we will never get him back, but we can do things as far as policy and legislation and getting those changes that will save lives, save the lives of others.

CAMEROTA: And, Tera, what's happening with George's daughter, Gianna, his young daughter that we all remember seeing? How is she?

BROWN: Gianna is doing well.

She's surrounded by people who love her and support her and care for her. And so, as much as we can, we want to shield her from the inevitable pain that she will probably some day feel. But, right now, she's happy and just doing as well as she can. She understands some things, but she's 7, so we just try to protect her as much as we can.

[14:25:11]

CAMEROTA: I mean, we all remember that sweet statement that she made just days after her father was killed.

Let's just play another minute of that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIANNA FLOYD, DAUGHTER OF GEORGE FLOYD: Daddy changed the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He did what?

FLOYD: Daddy changed the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Daddy changed the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: I mean, that was just days after he was killed, and she said, "Daddy changed the world."

And so, a year later, there have been a lot of changes. I mean, from where you sit, what has been the biggest thing to come out of George Floyd's death?

BROWN: Well, I have to say, Gianna, my goodness, that is -- that moves me every time I hear her say that, because I honestly know that she believes that.

And so I agree there have been some changes, as far as awareness, and people have been awakened to the sensitivity of understanding what some black men go through with police brutality and things like that.

So, we have noticed that, and people have spoken out more about it. I have seen corporations move into making sure that they have the diversity trainings and things like that. Even in the state of Texas, we are actually -- they have moved to police reform in the city where we're from.

They have already banned the choke hold and things like that. We're actually working on a policing reform act in the state of Texas as we speak. So, there are some changes, and we just have to keep focusing on making sure that we keep the main thing the main thing.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I understand.

I mean, Confederate statues came down. Schools changed their names. There was a national conversation that came out of this. But I know that what your family has really wanted and has called for from the day after your cousin was killed was police reform. You don't want this to happen to another family. And so, I mean, we keep hearing about the status of the George Floyd

police reform act and whether or not it will be bipartisanly passed. If it doesn't happen, because a lot of people don't have a lot of faith right now in what happens on Capitol Hill, what's next for your family?

BROWN: I really can't allow myself to focus on if it's not going to happen.

Every bit of my energy is focused on, how do we make it happen? So, with that being said, I understand that this is not something that we would expect to happen quickly anyway, because it took us this long to get Derek Chauvin arrested and charged and even to get the conviction.

So -- and this is the first time, I'm understanding, in the state of Minneapolis that a white police officer has been convicted of the murder of a black man. So, I'm understanding that these things do take time, and we're -- I can't allow myself to think that nothing's going to happen. We just have to keep pushing.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I understand.

I mean, your family has always -- even in their most raw grief, has always been hopeful that something can come out of this, that your cousin didn't die in vain, and that there's something positive that will come out of this.

And frankly, your family's incredibly good attitude, I think, has carried a lot of us as well.

And so another question for you, something in terms of the generosity of your family. You got a multimillion-dollar -- your family got a multimillion-dollar settlement from the city of Minneapolis for the wrongful death, basically, of George Floyd.

And I understand that you're going to give half-a-million dollars of it away. Who's going to get that money?

BROWN: Well, there -- we know for sure that a lot of that money will go towards the community where he was murdered.

And so there are some projects and things that will be worked out. I'm not sure of the details on those at this point. But we do know that it will go for restoration and to help the community where he was murdered.

CAMEROTA: Tera Brown, I know this is a tough day for you, but we really appreciate you taking time and helping us remember your cousin.

Thank you.

BROWN: Thank you. We appreciate you so much.

HILL: CNN has learned that two Louisiana officers involved in the death of a black man in police custody will be fired.

[14:30:00]