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Member of Far-Right Oath Keepers to Plead Guilty in Insurrection; Senate Blocks Voting Rights Bill in Blow for Democrats; Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Cheerleader in Student Speech Case. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired June 23, 2021 - 10:00   ET


SANDRA WEISE, OWNER, FINNISH BISTRO: Know how to handle a pandemic, that's for sure.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: I did it. Who did? But you made it. You made it through and I have a strong feeling you will make it through this. Sandra Weise, thank you for coming on and talking about these issues with us.

WEISE: Thank you.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: This breaking news in to CNN. CNN is learning that one of the Oath Keepers involved in the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol is, and this is crucial, going to plead guilty shortly.

HARLOW: Our Whitney Wild has the breaking details. Whitney?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a significant development, Jim and Poppy -- excuse me, sorry -- because this was a major conspiracy case. There are 16 people who are charged as part of the Oath Keepers. The allegation from the prosecutors has always been that they preplanned this attack, they coordinated it ahead of time, came to Washington and then executed preplanned attack strategies here on the day of the insurrection.

This guilty plea we are learning about from a notice in a court filing, this is related to a case of a man named Graydon Young. He is a 54-year-old man from Florida. He's one of a pair of siblings who prosecutors say traveled to a Virginia hotel in early January to attend these Trump rallies. He is facing six crimes including conspiracy and aiding and abetting the obstruction of the congressional proceedings.

These could be reduced with a plea deal. That's quite often the case, that certain charges are dropped or the length of the sentence is reduced given that these people are deciding now to cooperate with the Department of Justice. So that's happening today at 2:00.

But this is, again, a significant development because we are watching these conspiracy cases unfold. So what we're watching for now is how his case will affect the other people who are charged in this Oath Keepers' case. Now that he's cooperating with the Department of Justice, it does have implications possibly for the other people who are charged as part of that major conspiracy case, Poppy and Jim.

SCIUTTO: Whitney Wild, this gets to organization and planning here, right, which is federal prosecutors' allegation, that this was not sort of something spontaneous but they planned. We had you on just yesterday showing some of that video there as they were discussing how they would attempt to enter the Capitol. Explain the importance of that in this guilty plea and prosecutor's plans going forward.

WILD: What they're trying to do here is, sure, I think they will end up using information that this person can supply to shore up the conspiracy cases against other people. And the -- especially when we're having this nationwide conversation about what really happened that day, when so many people saying this wasn't planned, it wasn't that bad, there is going to be someone today who will possibly admit that it was planned, that it was a conspiracy.

We don't yet know to what charges he's going to plead guilty or what prosecutors are going to drop but that's the significance here, someone who is involved saying exactly what prosecutors say happened did happen, and they're pleading guilty to these major charges. I mean, that's the implication and that's what is really significant when we're having this national conversation about what really happened, Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: No. I mean, it contradicts this alternative theory that this was spontaneous, so you've heard from some Republican lawmakers that it was like tourists in the Capitol, which, of course, we know already it was not. Whitney Wild , thank you so much for bringing us this news.

Well, turning now to another story we're following this hour, that is news on the ongoing pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci is issuing a warning about the delta variant first identified in India. He says that that variant does pose a major risk in this country to the progress already made against COVID-19.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO THE PRESIDENT: The delta variant is the greatest threat in the U.S. to our attempt to eliminate COVID-19. Good news, our vaccines are effective against the delta variant.

There is a danger, a real danger that if there is a persistence of a recalcitrance to getting vaccinated that you can see localized surges.


HARLOW: Just take a look at how rapidly this variant is spreading. In early May, it accounted for 1 in every 100 cases. Just over two weeks ago, it's spiked to one and ten, now it's one in five.

SCIUTTO: It shows how quickly. And, by the way, the data shows that it's spreading more quickly in areas with lower vaccination rates. Colorado is reporting the second highest prevalence of the delta variant in the country. According to CDC, it is 1 of 23 states that have reported at least 300 sequences of the variant, this over a four- week period as of June.

It does seem obvious at this point, but this morning, Dr. Anthony Fauci said the best way to protect children who can't yet get vaccinated against the delta variant, of course, approved now, emergency approved for kids 12 and up, is for those who are eligible, to make sure they get the vaccine, in effect, to protect your children and other's children.


CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us now. And, Sanjay, this country has come so far and it's doing pretty well internationally in terms of vaccination rates. How serious a threat does the delta variant pose to that recovery? And could it -- I mean, could it turn things around? I hate to even ask the question.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, it's important question to ask. And I think it's pretty clear that we will see probably some slight resurgences overall in terms of this particular variant causing those upticks in cases. We've seen that in other places around the world.

I think there're a couple of questions. As you point out, the vaccines are very protective. Question one is, does this become the sort of COVID strain looking ten years from now, five years from now? Is this it now? We knew it was going to sort of tinker with itself for a while and eventually land on the strain, kind of like the 1918 flu did? Is this it? If it is, the vaccines are very protective. If it isn't, then as the virus spreads more and more in unvaccinated communities, more mutations can occur and we may get more mutations and more strains. So that becomes a potential risk to everyone.

But going into the late summer, early fall, we'll probably see some bump-ups because of this particular virus.

HARLOW: Is the vaccination rate in this country high enough to prevent a big surge?

GUPTA: I've gotten so used to not painting this country with one brush anymore, Poppy, because it totally depends. It's amazing. Let me show you quickly the vaccination protection, which, again, is the good news in all this. They pooled this data from Pfizer and AstraZeneca. So you're talking about vaccines are distributed around the world. And you get good protection against both the alpha, which was the U.K. variant, and the delta, which is the one that we're talking about. By the way, you've got to get two shots because now we know just one shot gives you far less protection.

But, Poppy, to your point, if you look sort of at a more granular level at communities -- we looked in Florida, for example, communities where there's lower vaccination rates versus a similar community where there's higher vaccination rates, you do see delta becoming a larger percentage of the overall infections. And that's not preordained. Delta -- it didn't necessarily -- it wasn't going to turn out this way, but delta does seems to attack or be more prevalent in unvaccinated communities, whereas, for example, gamma, which is the Brazil variant, seems to be more common in vaccinated communities but it's not spreading as much. It's a much smaller percentage.

So we'll see, but that's sort of where we are.

HARLOW: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you very, very much. Let's hope more people get vaccinated quickly because this thing is clearly spreading way, way too much. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: The best way to protect yourself and others, it's in the data.

Well, just hours from now, President Biden will announce his plan to curb gun violence and a rise in crime as the nation really reels, many cities in the country reeling from this.

HARLOW: Already in the U.S. this year, there have been 296 mass shootings, 16 mass murders, those are events in which four or more people are killed in this year, and nearly 9,500 gun violence deaths.

Let's get to John Harwood for more details on what we'll hear from Biden today which will, aside from executive orders, include yet another call on Congress to act, right?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And one of the things, Poppy, that Joe Biden has learned in his long career, is that the federal government in Washington may have limited comprehension for why crime is going up and limited ability to do much about it. But the one thing the federal government cannot do and the president and the White House cannot do is ignore the situation.

And so Joe Biden is going to take some actions today, call on Congress to take some more actions and speak out about it at the White House this afternoon. So things like some regulatory steps to try to crack down on gun dealers who are not following current background check laws, asking Congress to strengthen background check laws, something they have failed to do earlier this year and for the last several years, emphasize some community-based anti gun violence interventions that can be funded through money that the state and local governments have, using some of the American rescue plan money to hire more police officers, urging Congress to approve his nominee, David Chipman, to head the ATF. So all of these things are ways in which the president can say, I recognize what is happening.

It is unclear exactly why it's happening post-pandemic. The homicide rate is moving somewhat independently from what we're seeing in statistics for other crimes. But, nevertheless, Joe Biden is going to speak out on it. And we need to remember that one of the things that lifted Joe Biden to his nomination to become the Democratic nominee for president was he took a somewhat more moderate approach than others.

[10:10:00] And the center of gravity Senate within the Democratic Party favors that, not a defund the police agenda, more a moderate agenda that Joe Biden is going to be emphasizing again today.

Not clear exactly what effect these steps is going to have but Joe Biden is trying to tell the American people, I'm on it.

HARLOW: We'll wait for those remarks in a few hours. John Harwood, thanks a lot for the reporting at the White House.

SCIUTTO: Still to come this hour, Democrats are strategizing their next move after Senate Republicans knocked down even debating an elections reform bill. But one Republican secretary of state says that bipartisan compromise should be on the table. How he and others made this work in his state, the state of Kentucky, that's coming up.

HARLOW: Plus, Republicans do well winning elections rural areas across the country, but when it comes to big cities, do they stand a chance now? The newly elected Republican player of the 12th largest city in American, Ft. Worth, Texas, she is be with us to talk about that.

And a rift in the Trump family, new reporting shows a break between the former president and Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. We'll have the details.



SCIUTTO: Right now, many Democrats are demanding action after Senate Republicans blocked debate on a sweeping election reform bill. Democrats were hoping to use that legislation to battle restrictive voting laws enacted by several GOP-led states after the last election often claiming fraud while there wasn't fraud.

But while some states have made it harder to vote, Kentucky, a red state, is making it easier. And, by the way, they're doing it in a bipartisan way.

Joining me now to talk about this is the Republican secretary of state in Kentucky, Secretary Michael Adams. Secretary, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.


SCIUTTO: So, you've seen the trend nationally in many states where you have GOP majorities and state legislatures where the push is to restrict voting, here, you have a rare Republican state, but I should note, this is a bipartisan effort between Democrats and Republicans, of course, a Democratic governor in Kentucky. Why are Republicans in Kentucky expanding access to voting while in other states doing the opposite?

ADAMS: Well, I think just because we got two things right here. Number one, our bill, which is, by the way, the biggest election reform measure we've had in 130 years. Our bill, number one, was put together by election administrators, not by a think tank, not by a caucus or a bunch of staffers for legislators that put together by election officials, me, Democrats and Republicans around the state, local officials, state officials.

Number two, we actually got everybody around the table at the same time. The Democratic governor played a role. Obviously, I played a role. And this was a bipartisan package from the get-go. And this is the right way to make election policy in America, is not have a party line vote in Washington or state legislatures and ram something through, because then you're going to have half the public think that you're up to something. The best way to do this is just get everyone at the table together.

SCIUTTO: It's a great point. It really is, because the sanctity and security of elections has become now a partisan issue. I wonder this, because there is evidence that Republicans -- Republican voters like so of the expanded voting measures, like mail-in ballots, for instance, as much as Democratic voters do. As a Republican lawmaker, are you concerned that Republicans in other states might be shooting themselves in the foot to some degree by enacting some of the restrictions they have put in place?

ADAMS: Yes, I do think that. There's one thing the Democrats and Republicans all agree on, they all want to vote. So, voting is actually pretty popular among voters. Look, I think this should be decided at the state level. I think the local culture of a state should factor in in what that state system looks like. Here in Kentucky, most Democrats want to vote in person and most Republicans want to vote in person. So, for us, the best way to expand voting was to expand the number of days of voting.

But this should be decided based on the culture of the state. You have got Republican states that vote by mail. You've got Democratic states that don't. Just listen to your own voters.

SCIUTTO: Yes, I hear you. Listen, I know your opinion on the national voting legislation, which was blocked in the Senate yesterday. You speak about compromise that took place in Kentucky, and there has been discussion of compromise on national voting legislation. For instance, Joe Manchin, he put his backing behind a compromise that would actually enact many of the things that Republicans are looking for, for instance, the ability to purge rolls of outdated information, but also have voter I.D.

And I wonder, though you oppose what went before the Senate yesterday, do you, from your perspective, see the possibility for compromise on what Joe Manchin is proposing?

ADAMS: I think there's a long way to go. The last major federal election law we had was HAVA. And it was a bipartisan product. You had a Democratic Senate and a Republican president and House, and it was great. I would rather see that sort of approach where there's certain bare minimums versus Congress telling us how to run our state's elections. Some of the same people in Congress, a year ago today, when we had our election, we think we were going to have a debacle here in Kentucky in primary. They had egg on their face. We had a great election, highest turnout ever last year.


I just don't assume that members of Congress know better how to run our elections here in Frankfort, Kentucky, or Augusta, Maine, where else. I believe in local decision-making to the extent that it's possible. You can certainly have a floor by Congress about certain minimum standards.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I wonder, you know the allegation that you've heard from many Republicans and frankly from the former president that the 2020 election was marred by widespread election fraud, not legitimate, et cetera. In Kentucky, did you see any widespread election fraud in 2020?

ADAMS: Absolutely not. In fact, I've maintained we've had a more secure election than we've had prior to 2020 when we had our old outdated rules from the 19th century. And the biggest thing that Kentucky showed, I think, is you can have access and security at the same time. It's a false choice. People are polarized, they're making partisan arguments about either security and access but you can have both at the same time. We've made voting easier but also more secure here in Kentucky.

SCIUTTO: So what do we do about what -- again, to your credit, you're talking about this honestly, you're working across the aisle, dealing with this based on data, right, as opposed to outrageous allegations. What do you think needs to be done? Because, frankly, the security of that election has been -- the legitimacy, rather, has been attacked, and a lot of people buy it, right? I mean, we see in the public polling where a good portion of the country thinks that the election was illegitimate. How do you respond to that? What damage has it done and what's the best way to reverse that damage?

ADAMS: Well, look, it's really frustrating. It was frustrating in 2000 and 2004 when Democrats said that George Bush stole the election. It was frustrating after 2016 and 2020 too. Unfortunately, the losing side tends to think they didn't get a fair shake, and I disagree. I think we had a good election, certainly here in Kentucky. But I think the starting point --

SCIUTTO: You know this one is different though, right? The candidate in 2004, they conceded. They invited the new president into the White House. They have not continued a public campaign, right? It is different and more expansive this time.

ADAMS: Yes, I don't disagree with that. I think the starting point should be to depoliticize the manner in which who people choose to vote. There's nothing inherently Republican about voting in person or Democratic about voting by absentee or mail-in ballot. It doesn't make a difference. Historically, people voted in a certain way based upon their life circumstances. And now, it's Democrats from the mail-in ballot, and Republicans want to vote in person. It's kind of ridiculous. How people vote really shouldn't be a partisan issue.

SCIUTTO: I hear you. Well, listen, my mom is from the great state of Kentucky, so always good to have a voice thereon. Secretary of State Michael Adams, thank you.

ADAMS: Thanks a lot.

SCIUTTO: A big question on Capitol Hill is will a deal be reached on infrastructure. You and I, Poppy, have asked that question a lot in recent weeks and months.

HARLOW: There will be yet another meeting on it soon. White House officials is set to huddle with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Our Manu Raju following all of it on Capitol Hill. Manu, good morning, what are you learning?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. There is a push to try to get a bipartisan deal, but a bipartisan deal just is not there at the moment because they are still struggling between the White House and a bipartisan group of senators to find out how to pay for this $1.2 trillion plan. There're disagreements about on how to use already enacted COVID relief money, as well as whether there should be any taxes, that's off the table for the Republicans, as well as other questions in dealing with tax enforcement. That's a big issue that the white house has been pushing, concerns about Republicans, about exactly how that would play out.

And now, there are also some growing concerns from the left, including liberals like Senator Elizabeth Warren, who say these bipartisan talks are simply going on too long and that it's time to instead go on their own, a Democratic-only approach. And now, she made it very clear to me this morning she couldn't get behind any bipartisan deal that comes together and it's time to go it alone.


RAJU: What concerns you about these bipartisan talks right now?

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): Is how much time they're chewing up and how much delay they keep putting into the process when they recognize that's not the whole infrastructure package. It is a subset, and right off the top before the negotiations even began, the people involved acknowledged it was not going to solve the problems that we face on infrastructure.

RAJU: You can support that?

WARREN: Absolutely. We cannot have a subset of what needs to be done in America.


RAJU: So this is the challenge for Democratic leaders because they're going to lose some support from people on the left, like Elizabeth Warren, but they go down that bipartisan route, but they can see if they can get enough Republican support if they do go that route. But the concern will be also in the Democratic-led House, a narrow majority there getting that bill through. These Democratic liberals, they want to move forward on this Democratic-only approach or through the budget reconciliation process, passes in a simple majority basis, but they want commitments from moderates that they will go that route as well.


And they don't have those commitments yet, so a lot of issues still here before they can get this on to Joe Biden's desk. Guys?

HARLOW: Manu Raju, thank you for that reporting.

We do have breaking news from the Supreme Court just in.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Jessica Schneider joins us now from Washington. A freedom of speech case that has been closely watched, where did the court decide here?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This is a hot button case here that focuses on these free speech issues in this age of social media. You'll remember this case. It was about this cheerleader from Pennsylvania who issued a profanity latent Snapchat message. She was subsequently kicked off the cheerleading team for one minute.

The Supreme Court this morning saying that the school district violated her First Amendment rights by kicking her off the cheerleading team, basically saying that this was off-campus speech and this off-campus could not be regulated by the school here.

This is an 8-1 decision. It was Justice Thomas who is dissenting here. So, again, once again, we're seeing several, most of these justices coming together to issue this ruling.

Now, this is affirming the lower court ruling that says her rights were violated when the school punished her because of her off-campus speech. But what this decision also lays out is it says there may be some off-campus speech that schools can, in fact, regulate. The Supreme Court here saying things like bullying, harassment, those are off-campus speech topics that school districts might be able to step in and punish or regulate.

But in this case the school district just went too far, according to the Supreme Court. This was a Snapchat message. It was supposed to disappear. Someone actually had captured it and then showed it to someone affiliated with the cheerleading team. And that's how this then-sophomore, then-high school sophomore, got in trouble here.

The Supreme Court really indicated their belief that the school district had gone too far here. Several of the justices spoke out saying that the punishment here really just didn't fit the crime. In particular, Justice Kavanaugh, at oral argument, was particularly outspoken, which was interesting because, of course, he coaches girls' basketball, so he knows how student athletes can get. He said that this is really just a case of an athlete blowing off steam. And Justice Breyer was really outspoken during oral arguments too, saying, are you kidding me here? Are we going to punish students every time they swear off-campus? He said, if that were the case, millions of students would be punished in some way for swearing off-campus.

And, guys, this is really interesting as well because this comes at a time when social media is just so prevalent, and anything that these students do on social media, no matter where they are in the world, it can instantaneously be reflected back on campus. And that's sort of the line that the justices had to tow here, even though if something is said off-campus via social media, it can impact what happens on campus.

So that's why they're laying out sort of this broad scope and look at this, saying schools can sometimes regulate, whether it's bullying or harassing language. But in this case, this was really just, in the words of Justice Kavanaugh, a cheerleader blowing off some steam and the school district, therefore, can't punish her and that they violated her free speech rights. Guys?

HARLOW: Jessica, thank you for laying it all out for us. It's a fascinating case.

Let's get some more analysis on it. Jeffrey Toobin, our Chief Legal Analyst, is with us. Jeffrey, Breyer, again, with the majority opinion here, which is notable. You're surprised, Jeffrey Toobin, and -- right?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I'm sorry, guys, I am a little surprised. These cases began with a famous case in 1965 out of Des Moines, Iowa, where a student wore an armband to protest the Vietnam War, and she was disciplined, and the Supreme Court said, students have free speech rights except when it's disruptive. And all of the subsequent cases have been about whether the speech is disruptive. And there have been a long series of interesting cases that the court has dealt with with free speech rights of students, and in recent years, the students have lost most of the time. But this time in a, really, almost unanimous opinion, 8-1, the student won.

And I have to say, the Snapchat itself is like poetry. I mean, it is so -- I will paraphrase it because we can't say it exactly. But it is, F school, F softball, F cheer, F everything. I believe the student is speaking for every high school student whoever went to high school ever.

I mean, this sentiment is so universal in the frustration expressed in such a colorful way that I think Breyer at oral argument, Kavanaugh at oral argument said, look, this is how high school students talk, this is how communicate, largely through social media.


This one was Snapchat. And we're not going to discipline them unless there is some victim involved, like bullying.