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Nine Children, One Adult Killed in Fiery, Multi-Vehicle Crash; Trump Supporters Still Trying to Change Georgia Election Results; Iran's President-Elect Says He Won't Meet With Biden. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired June 21, 2021 - 13:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Stay with us. Ana Cabrera picks up right now. Have a good day.

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Hello and thanks for being with us. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

We begin this hour with a horrific tragedy on an Alabama highway. A team of federal investigators is now on the scene after ten people were killed in a fiery multi-vehicle crash over the weekend as a tropical storm rolled through. In all, nine children lost their lives, the youngest, a nine-month old baby. Her father died too. The eight other children were riding in a van from a girl's ranch for abused and neglected kids and they were on their way back from a beach trip. Witnesses pulled one survivor from the wreckage, a woman who lost two of her own children in the crash.

CNN's Martin Savidge is outside the Girls Ranch, where a majority of the victims lived. Martin, this is just so sad. What more can you tell us about these girls and what happened?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, what compounds the tragedy here, it's on so many levels, and you've already pointed out several of them, which is the fact that how many died, ten people, nine of them were children. And then on top of that, many of those children came from this ranch, which was primarily a kind of foster care program. In other words, these were children that had been taken from situations where they may have been abused, where parents may have been addicted to drugs or where they were in other kinds of calamities within their own home. So they were restarting their lives after their own traumas, and then this tragedy.

We now have ten NTSB investigators, federal authorities now that are joining the investigation. It's already underway by two days by state and local authorities as they try to determine what exactly happened. 2:30 in the afternoon Saturday is when this happened. It was I-65 northbound just south of Montgomery, Alabama. And there was a tropical storm system that had passed through the area. So, weather looked at now as the possible main culprit.

If you've seen the images from the crash site, you'll see how horrific the aftermath is, which is just a minor testament as to how bad it was to be caught up in it. Fire was the worst thing, 17 vehicles, seven of them caught on fire. Two semi-trucks also involved, and then, of course, most of the deaths in the van from this ranch. There was one survivor that was pulled, that was the driver of the van, by passersby.

The man who is the CEO of this particular facility talked about the loss.


MICHAEL SMITH, CEO, ALABAMA SHERIFF'S YOUTH RANCHES: We lost eight young people that can make a difference in our world. We lost eight young people that didn't have a chance to have their own children. We lost eight young people that can't break the cycle of where they've been and change it for their children. It's a sad day.


SAVIDGE: The person who was pulled from that van alive was an adult, the director of Ranch Life. She was unconscious. She lost two of her own children in that same vehicle.

Just a horrific day on Saturday, and the official cause is still a long way off to be determined. They're asking for people who may have pictures or video, dash cam, to contribute to try to help authorities. Ana?

CABRERA: Well, we are honoring them today. Thank you, Martin Savidge, for that reporting.

Now to pandemic, new research finds the delta variant is spreading faster in counties that are less vaccinated. Those areas now are at more risk.

With us to discuss, Dr. Pete Hotez, co-Director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children's Hospital, he's also the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Hotez, good to see you.

The delta variant, we know, was first discovered in India. It is more transmissible. It causes more severe disease. And there are counties and states lagging in vaccination rates right now where we know some hospitalizations from COVID are surging in some places. What is the real risk here?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, CO-DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR VACCINE DEVELOPMENT, TEXAS CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: Yes, that's right, Ana. We're not out of this yet by any means. This delta variant is more transmissible than even the U.K. variant, the B117 variant, which was more transmissible in turn than the original lineage. So this is the most transmissible of all the variants that we've seen, and we saw what happened in the U.K. where it overtook the entire nation. So I'm worried that's going to happen in the U.S.

In terms of virus isolates right now, we went from 10 percent of the virus isolates being the delta variant, now, it's 19 percent. So it's going up pretty precipitously. And you have to believe that anyone who is not vaccinated at this point is at high risk of getting that delta variant.


CABRERA: I wonder if the vaccine is convenient enough right now, because I just have to wonder is it in every primary care, every pediatrician's office? Is it at workplaces and schools? Have officials fully maximized accessibility or is there a weak link?

HOTEZ: Well, the issue is the plan despite best efforts by the Biden administration is not a fully national plan. It's very much regulated at the state and local level. So there's a lot of heterogeneity in different parts of the country in terms of how accessible it is. And one thing that's clear is the vaccination rates overwhelmingly are lowest in the southern states, and so that's where I worry we're going to start seeing a big uptick in cases from this delta variant in those low vaccination areas in the south. And that's what we saw last summer, a big surge. So this is where the risk is again.

CABRERA: And we're going to talk to somebody, in fact, in one of these places, one of these counties that has less than 40 percent of adults even with one shot or 40 percent of the population with even one shot at this point. And they are seeing a tremendous surge, worse, in fact, than it was at the height during the winter season, we are told. That is coming up in a bit.

But the U.S., when we talk bigger picture, we know the U.S. has extended coronavirus restrictions on nonessential travel to Canada and Mexico for another month, another sign that this pandemic is not over. The White House is working with both the countries to identify the conditions under which restrictions can be lifted safely and sustainably, we are told. So when will we know it is safe and sustainable?

HOTEZ: Well, to be honest with you, Ana, I've never really understood the travel restrictions in the first place. They've not really been working very effectively this whole pandemic, and in Canada and the U.S., for instance, both share a commitment to try and to aggressively vaccinate their country as quickly as possible. So I see travel restrictions at this point actually counterproductive. So I'm glad they're working to lift them. I don't understand the rationale for them at this point.

CABRERA: Crowds are back. The Foo Fighters concert was packed last night here in New York City, full capacity. In fact, you take a look at some of the images and it is like the pandemic didn't even exist. All attendees did have to have proof of vaccination. We are also learning the Olympics is going to allow spectators. Venues at 50 percent capacity, a maximum of 10,000 people and masks will be required. No shouting allowed. But as far as we know, vaccines aren't a requirement for spectators. Do you look at these two situations differently? Are you okay with either of them?

HOTEZ: I do, Ana, very differently, because it all depends on the level of transmission in the community. Right now, you've got the New York area, the northeast has a lot going for it. You've got, for instance, in Vermont and New Hampshire, more than 80 percent of the population, not just the adults, the whole population vaccinated and transmission is low and likely it will stay down. So I think having venues like that are probably okay.

The Tokyo Olympics where the -- only a small population is a percentage of the population is vaccinated and we have people coming from all over the world where they're not vaccinated, that's a very high risk situation, just like it is in the south where the vaccination rates are so low. So it's all about understanding and the context of community-level transmission where it's at currently and where we expect it's going to be in the next few weeks.

CABRERA: Quickly, I do want to ask you about what you and other scientists have been facing. Listen to Dr. Fauci fighting back against his critics who say he flip-flopped on masks.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES (voice over): It is essential as a scientist that you evolve your opinion and your recommendations based on the data as it evolves. That is the nature of science. It is a self-correcting process. And that's the reason why I say people who then criticize me about that are criticizing science.


CABRERA: Dr. Hotez, I know you agree, but what has it been like to be a scientist during a pandemic that coincides with such a deep political polarization?

HOTEZ: Well, I've just written about this today, Ana, in The Daily Beast, and it has to do with the fact that there is a marked anti- science agenda coming from the political right, and now a component of it has been specifically working to target scientists. And we're seeing a lot of dog whistles coming actually from members of the U.S. Congress, which is extraordinary because it's leading to a lot of people lobbying threats against people like Dr. fauci and myself. I'm getting emails saying that an army of patriots will hunt me down, and that sort of stuff. So it's very damaging.

And Dr. Fauci is absolutely right, that this is a new pathogen, the way we talk about the pathogen changes just from the variants alone, it has different behaviors.


So, keeping up is a challenge, but having these threats lobbed at us is really disconcerting. And in addition, to being self-defeating and counterproductive, it's a scary time for many of us.

CABRERA: What goes through your mind when you read some of these threats? HOTEZ: Well, it's just astonishing. I got my M.D. and PhD in the 1980s because I wanted to use science for humanitarian purposes and make vaccines. It never occurred to me that I would be targeted and be the object of aggression because I was a scientist. And it's taking time to understand what's going on, and that is the -- there's a political agenda here to incorporate anti-science as part of the same forces that led to the insurrection on January 6th. It's a way to maintain power and a way to maintain control. It's a very crude way to do it, but, unfortunately, it seems to be working for them in this way. And it's a scary time for us.

CABRERA: Yes. Well, I'm sorry you're going through that. We are so grateful for what you do, for your expertise, for speaking out and helping us all through this pandemic and trying to keep us safer and healthier. Dr. Peter Hotez, I appreciate you being with us.

HOTEZ: Thanks so much, Ana. I appreciate it.

CABRERA: A big win today for some college athletes. In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court said the NCAA can't limit the amount of education-related benefits student athletes can receive. But the ruling doesn't go so far as to allow players to collect salaries. It could, however, give them a bigger piece of the multibillion dollar pie.

CNN Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider joins us. And, Jessica, as a former college athlete myself, help me understand how this is going beyond the typical college scholarships, paying for room and board, et cetera.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You probably wish that this ruling was in place before you were a student athlete, Ana. So this does go beyond the scholarships and room and board and tuition. This will allow schools to give money for athletes for additional school expenses, like computers or maybe scholarships for post-graduate study or maybe even paid internships. So even though these aren't direct cash payments or any salaries for these student athletes, this does amount to a tremendous breakthrough in this long- running fight to get student athletes paid.

And what's especially interesting here is the concurrence that was written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the conservative on the court. He alluded to the fact that the fight here is far from over. He said that there are serious questions about other restrictions the NCAA places on students making money and he slammed the NCAA's justification for those restrictions because the NCAA has argued that paying athletes would dilute their amateur status and fans prefer student athletes get paid, which the other justice said there wasn't much evidence for that.

So, Justice Kavanaugh writing, but those traditions alone cannot justify the NCAA's decision to build a massive money-raising enterprise on the backs of student athletes who are not fairly compensated. Nowhere else in America can businesses get away with agreeing not to pay their workers a fair market rate on the theory that their product is defined by not paying their workers a fair market rate. And under ordinary principles of anti-trust law, it is not evident why college sports should be any different. The NCAA is not above the law. So, some foreboding language there.

And Justice Kavanaugh, he did pushed back, Ana, on the idea of tradition and history hampering the right of student athletes to at least get some compensation, especially when the NCAA and the colleges and the coaches are making millions of dollars every year. The NCAA president earns nearly $4 million annually. NCAA's March Madness T.V. deal, it's worth $1.1 billion per year, all of this while compensation for student athletes is really severely limited. And, Ana, it is all in the name of amateurism, but that could be changing with this latest decision from the court.

CABRERA: Very interesting. Jessica Schneider, thank you.

Fueled by the big lie, a challenge to President Biden's win in Georgia is now in the hands of a state judge. Will he allow a third ballot review, and if not, will skeptical Republicans finally accept defeat?

Plus, Iran just elected a new president who likes to slam the west. What does it mean to the U.S. effort to stop Iran's nuclear program?

And there's a new poll on who should lead the Republican Party in 2024. And guess what, the winner was not former President Trump.



CABRERA: It won't change the outcome of the 2020 results in Georgia, but that is not stopping supporters of former President Trump from continuing their search for fraud. And today, it's on a judge to decide the fate of this latest push to undermine democracy. Keep in mind, Georgia already did a full recount, as well as an audit.

CNN Political Correspondent Sara Murray is outside Atlanta for us. So, what happened today, Sara?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, essentially, the judge had a hearing for a couple hours and he considered a number of motions to dismiss surrounding this case. This is the case that was brought by plaintiffs who believed that there was some fraud that occurred in the election. They want to inspect the ballots. And there were a number of entities from the Fulton County government who are trying to get portions of this case dismissed. After numerous hours of arguments, though, the judge has decided he wants to ruminate on this a little bit longer. He did not make a ruling today. So we are waiting to see if he's going to allow all or parts of the lawsuit to move forward.

CABRERA: Okay. Sorry, I thought maybe we had some sound. Forgive me for the pause.


If somehow this audit is allowed to go forward, how will it different than the one that's been happening in Arizona?

MURRAY: Well, it's not going to be the same kind of free-for-all that we have seen in Arizona. The judge has made clear that even though he's going to make a limited number of ballots, we're talking about fewer than 50,000 absentee ballots available, potentially, to these plaintiffs, he's not just going to hand them over. They're still going to remain in the custody of the Fulton County government. And the folks who want access to these ballots are going to have to submit their protocols ahead of time to the judge to explain what they want to do, how they want to do it.

Just to give you a sense of what these folks are looking for, these are people who believe that there are somehow counterfeit ballots in this batch of absentee ballots. They want to look at the creases, they want to look at the paper that was used, they want to determine whether a bubble may have been filled out by a person or perhaps by a machine. Of course, it bears repeating that these ballots have been recounted, they have been audited, there have been no signs of fraud. Back to you.

CABRERA: All right, thank you so much for that update, Sara Murray in Atlanta for us.

And we're getting new details today on secret DOJ subpoenas during the Trump administration that involved at least two Democratic congressmen as well as a White House lawyer. But now we're learning they may not have been the intended targets.

CNN's Tom Foreman is here now to help break this down. So, Tom, if Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell weren't the targets, how did they get pulled into it?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You said the right word there, if. This was a very leaky White House under Donald Trump and he was obsessed with leaks. Now, what they said was, send the Department of Justice after this, because we want to make sure this classified information is not being put out there in a way that's damaging to the U.S.

So, one of their initial targets was a senior aide on the House Intelligence Committee. He worked with Representative Adam Schiff, who is ranking member at that time. Apple provided the investigators at the Department of Justice with names connected to the accounts they were looking at and who shows up in there? Well, Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, who are both California Democrats, who are also very sharp critics of the president.

Now, in another probe, and they had a lot of probes into leaks here, they also came up with the name of the president's then attorney, Don McGahn. So that added another name to it. What do all these have in common? Well, they could have been linked in through what they're calling a bureaucratic maneuver. They were simply looking and look who showed, these people had accounts that were connected to this and it's spread out from there. But also Donald Trump had very strong disagreements with these people. At the time, he was not in much agreement with his own attorney. So he had personal embarrassments and political liabilities connected to all of this.

That's why there's this question out there of was this really just a mistake, or was this some kind of very nefarious fishing expedition using the Department of Justice as a weapon, Ana.

CABRERA: So, how are we going to get to the bottom of this, Tom? What's next?

FOREMAN: Well, it's in D.C. We'll never get to the bottom of anything but we'll try. What they're going to do is -- they're talking about subpoenas under the inspector general probe right now to look into what happened.

Look, try to get some people on the record and say what really happened here? The lawmakers, of course, are demanding answers. They're saying, this was flat out dirty politics. That's what this was, or at least just smacks of it, and we need to find out if that's what was happening.

And really key here, the Department of Justice is seeking what the senior leaders knew, what did Bill Barr know? Did he know about this? So far, people up the chain have been saying, we didn't know what was going on here, and people are saying if you did not know, if the records of members of Congress and their family members were being collected as part of an investigation, if you did not know, why did you not know? And if you did know, why didn't you take some measures to say, wait a minute, we have to look at this and ask if this is really about national security or if this is about an insecure president's security. Ana?

CABRERA: We know Democrats in the House want to subpoena testimony from Bill Barr and Jeff Sessions and others. So we'll see if we ever hear from them on this. Thank you, Tom Foreman.

FOREMAN: You're welcome.

CABRERA: I appreciate it.

Just days after the U.S. summit with Russia, the White House is preparing to unleash new sanctions. What this means for future talks Moscow, stay with us.



CABRERA: Iran's incoming president is wasting no time taking a hard line stand. Only days after his supposed landslide win, Ebrahim Raisi said he won't meet with President Biden or give ground on Iran's ballistic weapons program.

CNN National Security Analyst and Washington Investigative Correspondent for The New York Times Mark Mazzetti joins us now.

So, Mark, how does this new leadership in Iran impact the prospects of a new Iran nuclear deal? MARK MAZZETTI, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, there's no question that the incoming president is an extreme hardliner. He has come up through the ranks of the Iranian bureaucracy since the revolution.