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U.S. Marine Held in Russia Tests Positive For COVID; CDC Updates COVID Camp Guidance; Hackers Launch Cyberattack on U.S.; Interview With Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA); Republicans Block Insurrection Commission. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired May 28, 2021 - 15:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Top of the hour. I'm Victor Blackwell.

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

We begin with a vote to preserve ignorance, or, as Democrats say, proof of Republicans' -- quote -- "fear and fealty to Donald Trump."

A short time ago, GOP senators blocked the bill to create that independent bipartisan commission that would have tried to find the truth behind the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The final Senate vote was 54 to 35, with these Republican senators voting in favor of that bipartisan commission.

BLACKWELL: Now, these are the same senators, except for Rob Portman, who voted to convict Donald Trump in his second impeachment for inciting the insurrection. Ten Republican votes were needed to create the bipartisan commission. They didn't get them.

CNN's Jessica Dean is on Capitol Hill, has been following all of this.

So, we showed the Republicans who voted for it, but there were 11 senators, mostly Republicans, who did not cast a vote at all. Are they explaining why?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, those explanations are kind of trickling in this afternoon, Victor and Alisyn.

We have heard from a number of people who said they had family matters that they had committed to, they wouldn't be able to be here, they were traveling, doing work on behalf of their Senate committees. It really varies.

Notably, Senator Pat Toomey says he would have supported the commission had he been here, but he was attending to a personal family matter. So we are getting various explanations, but, again, 11 senators not voting on this, two of those being Democrat, Senator Murray and also Senator Sinema, Senator Murray saying that she has a private family matter that she had to attend to as well.

But the broader picture is, at this point, this bipartisan commission is dead. It will not be moving forward as is in the Senate. So, right now, the question becomes, what happens next?

Here is Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Take a listen.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): And I'm just terribly disappointed that so many Republicans refused to even look at a bipartisan, down-the-middle look at it because they're afraid of Donald Trump. Donald Trump is a bane to our democracy.

And unless people in his own party stand up to him, it's bad for the party, it's bad for those individuals, but, most of all, it's bad for the country.


DEAN: And I spoke with senator Joe Manchin right after he came off of the floor there. Of course, he's a notable moderate Democrat that really wants to build consensus on this.

And he said that they're not done. He says that they're not done with this. And I tried to press him on about what that means. If they can't get the votes now, what makes them think they can get the votes at a later time?

And he said it's going to be public outrage, that the public is going to have to be outraged that a bipartisan commission can't be formed to look into the deadly insurrection that happened here on January 6.

So, we will see if the public outrage comes and if that, in fact, can put any pressure on any additional Republicans. Right now, Alisyn and Victor, that doesn't look likely that would happen. Instead, it's more likely that this becomes a select committee put together by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

I asked her about that last week, and she said she really had hoped this bipartisan commission was going to work out. So now we will see what House Speaker Pelosi does, what Democrats do to move forward -- Victor and Alisyn.

BLACKWELL: All right, we, of course, will watch that.

Jessica Dean, thank you.

CAMEROTA: Our next guest knew Capitol Police officer Howie Liebengood personally.

Officer Liebengood served the force for 15 years, but took his own life just three days after the Capitol insurrection as a -- quote -- "direct result of the trauma and strain from the January 6 attack on the Capitol and the around-the-clock shifts in the subsequent days."

That's according to a statement from Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton, who joins -- from Virginia -- who joins us now.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for being here.

Only six Republican senators want to get to the bottom of what happened on January 6.


CAMEROTA: The rest, I guess, want to preserve ignorance, or I guess protect Donald Trump?

What do you say to them today?


WEXTON: It's appalling. It's absolutely disgusting that they're -- that they're taking the short-term view.

They're just looking to the next election. They don't want to offend Donald Trump. They want to protect him at all costs. But this is our democracy that we're talking about. And not being willing to get to the bottom of it is just horrifying to me.

Now, it's not just that. It's that they were able to ignore the pleas of the families of the fallen officers like Brian Sicknick and Howie Liebengood, who fought so bravely on that day to protect us all. And then they just ignored their families. It's just horrifying that they don't want to get to the bottom of what happened.



I mean, I can only imagine how those families are feeling this afternoon, the message that's being sent to them.

Have you spoken to Howie Liebengood's family this afternoon since this vote?

WEXTON: I haven't spoken to them since the vote.

But I think it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that it wasn't going to pass. And they were -- they were very, very disappointed. I mean, this would be an ideal vehicle to be able to get to the bottom of what happened, to do it in a bipartisan way, with an expert commission who don't have any kind of other agenda to push.

It would have been fantastic to be able to do it. But, sadly, the Republicans don't have the courage or the backbone to let it happen.

CAMEROTA: I mean, Howie Liebengood lost his life; 160 other Capitol Police officers were injured, some of them grievously.

How can the people who voted against this, the lawmakers who voted against this, say that they support police?

WEXTON: That's the thing that's most -- that's most disgusting about this, that they talk -- they talk a good game about backing the blue, but when they have an actual opportunity to do it, they absolutely go run and run away scared and go back to protect Donald Trump, rather than protecting our police officers who fought so bravely for us.

There are still 70 officers who are out on disability leave because of the injuries they sustained on January 6. And there are another 70 who have retired. And things like this vote today doesn't make them want to stay on.

It's very frightening what they're doing with our democracy and with our police.

CAMEROTA: So what do Democrats do now? Have you heard that the next move by Speaker Pelosi is a select committee?

WEXTON: I don't know that she's going to have a choice. I mean, she gave the Republicans everything they wanted in the bipartisan commission, and that still wasn't enough.

They keep moving the goalposts, but we need to get to the bottom of what happened. So, if a select committee is the only way to do that, we will get to the truth of what happened. And we will act on it.

CAMEROTA: I also want to ask you about this Republican congresswoman, this freshman, from Georgia who repeatedly compares anyone or anything she doesn't like, particularly Democrats, to Nazis.

Can Democrats do anything about her?

WEXTON: It's absolutely reprehensible. She's already been removed from her committees.

I mean, what needs to happen now is for the Republicans to remove her from their caucus or their committee. But I don't know that that's going to happen, because, again, none of them have the courage. And she seems to be popular with Donald Trump.

So it's just horrifying, what she says. I try to ignore (AUDIO GAP) but gets a lot of oxygen and a lot of play. But the kind of rhetoric that she has is so hateful and so hurtful, it's no way to govern.

CAMEROTA: And it's really hard to ignore it, because she is a believer in QAnon. And there's new polling out that 14 percent of all Americans now believe in some of the QAnon conspiracy theories; 23 percent, in other words, a quarter of Republicans, believe in these QAnon conspiracy theories, 22 percent of white evangelicals.

So she's not alone. This is not going away.


And it's not surprising, when the Republicans have been pushing the big lie for so long, that it would turn out of control and we would have these crazy conspiracy theories, like QAnon.

But stopping that disinformation is so important. And, sadly, we're not able to do much, when half of -- half of Congress is unwilling to do so and feels that they have benefited from it politically. And so they're not willing to look past that at the future of our democracy and what it actually does to our institutions.

So it's pretty scary, but we need good people to speak up and to make it clear that this sort of thing is not acceptable, and this is not what we believe, and this is not what America is about.

CAMEROTA: Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton, thank you very much for your time.

WEXTON: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Hackers backed by Russia have launched another massive cyberattack on the U.S. This time, 150 government agencies, think tanks nonprofits were hit. That's according to Microsoft, which flagged that attack.

Now, here's the context. We're just a few weeks away from the first Biden-Putin summit. And just two weeks ago, the U.S. sanctioned Russia for a different cyberattack that impacted 100 American companies.

CAMEROTA: Microsoft determined this latest hack started with the U.S. Agency for International Development.


By gaining access to the USAID Web site, the hackers were able to send out very convincing-looking phishing e-mails, like this one on your screen. And when you click on it, users unknowingly unleash this malware into the system that opens a backdoor for cyberattacks.

So, CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr just got an exclusive interview with the defense secretary. She joins us now.

Barbara, what's the latest?


We sat down, actually, to talk to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for Memorial Day, Monday. And we will bring you that interview on Monday.

But, on this day, when the nation has apparently suffered another cyberattack, which is the new battlefield, of course, for America's troops, we talked to the secretary about what he thinks it all means and what can be done.


STARR: You mentioned being dominant on the cyber-battlefield. But Americans wonder, I mean, do we just have to sit and take attack after attack after attack in the cyber-domain?

Or, in your judgment, is there a way to get ahead? Is there a way to go on offense?

LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We have the capability to conduct offensive operations. We also have significant capability to be able to defend ourselves.

And we always look at defending forward, from a military perspective. And my job is to create the options for the president to be able to choose when he desires to respond. We want good options for him to choose from. And so that's what -- that's what the Department of Defense is focused on.

STARR: Are you satisfied that you have a menu of effective offensive cyber-operations, even if you can't talk about them?

AUSTIN: I have a number of offensive options. And, yes -- and we will always maintain credible, effective options.

Again, I present those options to the -- to my boss, and when he chooses to take advantage of them, we can employ them.


STARR: So, just to be clear, the secretary is not talking specifically about this latest cyberattack, but he is saying that America, the U.S. government has the ability to go on the offense, to go on attack in cyberspace, if it comes to that.

Those are some, of course, of the most classified operations the U.S. military and the U.S. government conduct.

More Monday on Memorial Day. Lloyd Austin talks about his time on the battlefield, some of the best days he had and one of the very worst and the courage he saw from U.S. troops.

CAMEROTA: Barbara, we will look forward to that exclusive interview that you got.

And thank you very much for sharing it here with us first.

STARR: Thanks.

CAMEROTA: OK, this just in to CNN: the CDC putting out new guidance for summer camps. Parents, you will want to hear this.


Plus, the Department of Homeland Security is warning the city of Tulsa that it may be the target of white supremacists as it prepares to mark 100 years since a race massacre.

And we will talk to the man who used to run the Pentagon unit tasked with looking into UFO sightings. A government report is set to be released as early as next week.



BLACKWELL: So, just in time for the unofficial start of summer, the CDC has just updated its guidelines for summer camps for the next two months, focusing on the goal that many 12-to-15 -- or 12-to-18-year- olds, I should say, will be fully vaccinated.

CAMEROTA: OK, so, parents, listen up.

The CDC says staff and campers who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear masks, even indoors. But, of course, unvaccinated campers should continue to wear masks indoors or went in a crowded outdoor space.

Joining us now is Dr. Megan Ranney. She's an emergency room physician at Brown University.

Dr. Ranney, this is exciting for campers and parents alike. But, to be honest, it's still a little confusing. So, kids under 12 will not be vaccinated, so they will have to wear masks at summer camp. And, also, what are they saying about when kids are sleeping at night?

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: So here are the big takeaways from these new guidelines, which I, like everybody else across the country, is just -- we're just starting to digest them.

Big takeaway number one, if you are fully vaccinated, you don't need to wear masks. This is consistent with CDC's guidance that was released a couple of weeks ago about vaccinated adults.

The second big thing is that, if you're outdoors, even if you are unvaccinated, you don't need to wear a mask. The CDC is now encouraging folks to wear masks, for kids who are unvaccinated to wear masks outdoors if they're in crowded settings. But it says it's OK for them to take it off. And that's so correct.

If you have got a bunch of kids outdoors, you have got the breeze blowing, chance of one of them giving COVID to another, especially with our low COVID rates right now, is really low. So we can let our kids play outdoors without masks on.


And then that third thing is, yes, no masks if you're sleeping overnight, thank goodness. Can you imagine having an overnight with a mask on? Pretty difficult.

But they do still recommend vaccinations for that age 12 and up. It's the best way to protect our kids.

BLACKWELL: This is great news for so many parents who were concerned and kids who were headed off to summer camp. Now they have got this new guidance.

Let's move on to the adults who are headed somewhere this weekend. We heard from the mayor of Miami Beach, Dan Gelber. He says that there are too many people likely coming to his city. He's concerned about the spread there. I wonder if you are as concerned, because we heard the same thing from

Mayor Gelber ahead of spring break, and we didn't see any huge spikes. The same thing in Texas. Are you concerned headed into this weekend?

RANNEY: So, I have a much lower level of concern now than I did a month ago or two months ago. The reason why is because more of us are vaccinated.

And you look at those vaccination numbers, day after day, they keep rising. Every person that's vaccinated protects not just themself, but all the people around them. And many of those most crowded sites, like nightclubs, are actually asking for proof of vaccination before they will let you in.

That's the right thing to do. Those are the places where COVID will spread, where you're crowded, you're breathing heavily, you're dancing, there's not a lot of ventilation. It's where I would recommend wearing a mask if you don't know that everybody is vaccinated.

But my overall level of worry right now is lower, thanks to our successes with vaccines.

CAMEROTA: Doctor, tragically, in this country, we seem to go from one epidemic to the next.

And just as we come out of the pandemic of coronavirus, we see the heinousness of mass shootings beginning again and gun violence as a whole, I think 7,500 deaths so far in 2021 because of gun violence. That's a 23 percent over -- increase over 2020, because, of course, we were inside much of 2020.

And I know that you do see it as a public health issue. What can be done?

RANNEY: You know, I'm heading into work in the E.R. this weekend, Alisyn. It's going to be a Saturday night in the trauma rooms. I'm anticipating that we are going to see a lot of assaults and gunshot wounds.

We have seen, as you say, a dramatic increase in the number of shootings over the last year. But there is so much that we can do to stop this. It is not inevitable. And it's not something that just relies on laws being passed. There are great things like community- based violence intervention programs.

We have got one in my hometown of Providence, Nonviolence Institute that I'm on the board of, that does a great work of taking street workers, people that used to be in gangs, and using them to help break up community disputes, to stop the cycle of violence, and to heal that ripple effect, because every gunshot wound hurts not just the victim, but also their family and their community.

That's one example of many places across the country where communities are working together to stop this, while we also work for more sensible policies that are needed to help us take a real public health approach to this problem.

BLACKWELL: So much that can be done, and some of our leaders aren't even sending thoughts and prayer tweets anymore.

Dr. Megan Ranney, thanks so much.

RANNEY: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: All right, next, I'm going to speak with the parents of a former Marine who is in a Russian prison right now. They just learned that their son tested positive for COVID-19.

Hear their message for President Biden ahead of his summit with Vladimir Putin.



BLACKWELL: Just weeks before the big summit between President Biden and Vladimir Putin, a hearing for a former U.S. Marine behind bars in Russia has been postponed after he tested positive for COVID-19.

Trevor Reed is serving a nine-year sentence in a Russian jail. He was charged with assaulting police officers. He and his family have denied those charges.

Paula and Joey Reed are Trevor Reed's parents. And they are with us now.

Thank you both for being with us.

I want to talk about the summit in a moment.

But, first, Paula, let me start with you and your son's health. Is he experiencing symptoms? What do you know about his treatment?

PAULA REED, MOTHER OF TREVOR REED: We don't know anything about his treatment. We haven't been able to talk to him since he was taken to isolation.

He was experiencing a fever, cough, and he lost his sense of smell or taste, possibly both. That's all we know.

BLACKWELL: And what's the effort? I know that there have been some communications with the U.S. embassy there.

What are the communications to try to get some answers about how your son is doing?

JOEY REED, FATHER OF TREVOR REED: We communicate with the embassy daily, sometimes multiple times a day, and the State Department.

They tried for several days to get a COVID test for my son. And that was denied by the jail. And then, finally, his attorneys wrote a request, and he was given a COVID test last Sunday. They're currently trying to get contact with Trevor, either by phone

or in person, or have him contact his family. And they're not getting through, through the Russian systems. They're trying all day every day for the last three days.

BLACKWELL: I cannot imagine the not knowing, now that you know that he has tested positive.

How'd you find out about the positive test?

P. REED: We found out through his legal team.

BLACKWELL: And when's the last time--

J. REED: They -- yes, they met with him--

BLACKWELL: Go ahead.

J. REED: They met with him on Monday for a meeting at the courthouse.