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Michael Avenatti Headed to Prison; Tokyo Olympics Bans Spectators; Interview with State Rep. Armando Martinez (D-TX); Texas Targets Voter Restrictions; Surfside Recovery Effort Continues. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired July 8, 2021 - 15:00   ET



ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Champlain Towers South, the building that collapsed, is on Collins Avenue.

So, to the east, towards the ocean, all of the buildings are recommended to hire a structural engineer, a geotechnical engineer to look at the plans, to look at the foundation, so that core samples can be taken, analyzed, because Alisyn, one of the big issues that they're studying right now is saltwater intrusion.

Did that have an impact? It could have. Maybe not. We don't know. It's very early in the investigation. But what can be done now is to study these buildings. What is the impact of the saltwater intrusion that has happened over the years to these buildings? And is that posing a risk to the buildings that are still standing?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: If it is saltwater intrusion, that building is not alone.


Rosa Flores for us there in Surfside, thanks so much.

Brand-new hour. Good to be with you. I'm Victor Blackwell.

CAMEROTA: And I'm Alisyn Camerota.

At this hour in Washington, the spotlight is on voting rights. President Biden set to meet any minute with civil rights groups at the White House. The focus is to protect and expand Americans' right to vote. As you know, Republican legislatures across the country are passing bills to restrict voting rights.

The vice president also warning how dangerous these new laws are. Here's what she said.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These laws create obstacle upon obstacle. These laws make it harder for you to vote, because they don't want you to vote.

And so I will say again, your vote matters. Matters.


BLACKWELL: Of course, that event to just discuss expanding voting comes on the same day the governor of Texas called a special session to push through a restrictive voting bill in that state. Much more on that in a moment.

But, first, CNN's Jeff Zeleny is at the White House.

Jeff, the White House said today that the president plans to deliver a major speech on voting rights. But what can we expect from the meeting that's happening?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: We do know, Victor and Alisyn, that President Biden momentarily will be meeting privately in the Roosevelt Room here at the White House with civil rights leaders, talking about this really assault on voting rights that we have seen in state after state across the country.

Vice President Harris has just returned here to the White House after delivering that speech across Washington here at Howard University, calling the threat against voting rights the fight of the nation's lifetime. The question is, what can or will the White House tried to do about it?

Now, several voting rights groups have really been frustrated that the president has not stepped up to really be more proactive in trying to deliver some type of federal legislation.

Of course, this is why the narrow Democratic majorities in the House and Senate are very important here. Several members, Democrats alone, have expressed opposition to some of these bills on Capitol Hill. So the White House is meeting right now with civil rights leaders, and with the central message of saying, look, we understand we are trying to expand some type of voting rights fight here through the federal courts, which we have seen, as well as some type of legislation.

What this is ultimately going to get down to is, can President Biden really rally support for changing -- ultimately, what's at stake here is the filibuster. That is the rule in the Senate that would allow some of these measures to pass by a simple majority, not the 60-vote threshold to eliminate that filibuster.

So, right now, the president is listening to these civil rights leaders. They know the problem. They certainly want some federal action on this. But there's not -- there are limits to what the president and vice president can do about this, but they can listen. That's what they're doing here right now.

But there's no question, since Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were elected last November, so many voting laws, so many states have changed their voting laws. Of course, this is under the drumbeat of former President Donald Trump inaccurately saying that the election was fraudulent. That's not true. But states have rallied to pass voting rights laws.

So that is what has brought us to this moment here. But the White House insists that President Biden's still focused on voting rights. We will see if he can do anything about it actually -- Victor and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much for that reporting.


BLACKWELL: All right, let's go to Texas now and that special legislative session.

Republicans are now proposing a revised election bill that Democrats warn will still suppress voting.

CAMEROTA: So, this special session kicked off this morning, and it included nearly a dozen issues, ranging from those voting rights to critical race theory.

Protesters gathered outside of the Capitol with a message for Governor Greg Abbott.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If we have to stand out here every day, if we have to march every day, if we have to put our hands up every day.


One thing that Governor Greg Abbot underestimates is the power of the people. The power will always be on the people. And we are standing here today to show him what democracy looks like.



BLACKWELL: CNN's Dianne Gallagher is in Austin, Texas.

So, Dianne, what's different about this bill than the bill that Democrats stopped during the regular session?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, there are a lot of similarities. But the at the core of things, Victor, they're starting all over again.

At this point, today, there were two different bills that were introduced one in the House, one in the Senate, and they have got to start from scratch, going through committee meetings, voting them out of each chamber into the other, and going through the whole process again.

And the content, it's pretty similar to that bill, SB-7, that the Democrats killed by walking off the floor and denying quorum back at the end of the regular session. If you take the House bill, for example, we're talking about banning 24-hour drive-through voting, adding new crimes to the election process, for example, making it a felony for an election official to send out an unsolicited mail-in ballot application.

It also further empowers those partisan poll watchers and it makes it -- there's some more voter I.D. necessities for voting by mail. There are some key differences, though, from both of the bills that were introduced this new special session, and they don't include some of the more controversial measures that were jammed into that SB-7 last session, like banning Sunday morning voting, so getting rid of Souls to the Polls.

And they also don't have the component that would lower the threshold for overturning and election. Democrats see that as a small victory from their walkout, but say that, altogether, they feel like this is political theater at its finest still.


STATE. REP. CHRIS TURNER (D-TX): It's based on a lie that there's rampant problems in our elections and the big lie that Donald Trump actually won the last election. That's what this is all about.

All across the country, you see Republicans clamoring to pass these anti-voter bills, so they can curry favor with Donald Trump and his supporters. And that is exactly what's going on here.


GALLAGHER: Now, Democrats are fired up. Everyone I have spoken to has said that they are willing to do anything. It is all on the table.

Republicans, Victor, Alisyn, oh, they're kind of embarrassed about what happened last time around and say that this is about uniformity and security and this will get done this summer.

CAMEROTA: OK, Dianne Gallagher, thank you very much for that reporting.

So we want to bring in now Texas state Representative Armando Martinez. He was one of the Democrats who walked out of the statehouse, walked off the floor just a few weeks ago.

Representative, thanks so much for being here.

So, what about today? I mean, voting restrictions are back. Were you and your colleagues tempted to walk out again?

STATE REP. ARMANDO MARTINEZ (D-TX): Well, I think we're going to leave all options on the table.

I mean, especially here in Texas, it's just a catastrophe to see what Republicans are doing, especially with voting. No matter our race or political party or zip code, all of us know that, in a democracy, voters pick the leaders. Our leaders should not be picking their voters. And we know Texas is already among the most restrictive voting rights

states in the country. So, I think all options are still on the table on what we're going to do, and especially to protect the voting rights of our people here in the state of Texas.

CAMEROTA: Well, I do want to get to what your plan is.

But, first, Republicans say that they have removed the two most objectionable tenets of that bill that first caused you to break quorum.

And here is what -- as Dianne just laid out for us, so it no longer lowers the standards in court, I believe, for overturning elections, and it no longer delays those Sunday voting hours that would have prevented the popular Souls to the Polls program.

So is this now acceptable to you that they have struck those two things?

MARTINEZ: Well, it's still not acceptable.

I think there's so much in there that we still have to go through and digest to make sure that we're not restricting any type of voting or access to voting for the -- for our communities.

And I think that's the biggest issue. So there's still so much to digest about this new legislation that's coming out. Of course, we know that, during session, it was horrible, especially when they were trying to ram a 200-page amended bill down our throats that hadn't even been looked at by either party.

So I think, when we're looking at what they have already filed, it's something we still have to go back and look. But we want to make sure that everybody still has access, and that's the most important thing. We should not be creating barriers for people to vote or restricting...

CAMEROTA: So, basically, Representative, are you saying that you just haven't had time to look through it all and digest it because some of these things have happened behind closed doors?


MARTINEZ: Absolutely. That's absolutely right.

And I think there's so much that we still need to go through. I think there's a line by line, page by page that all of us need to look at, make sure that we actually know what they're trying to introduce.

But I'm still sure there is there is access issues. I'm still sure there's a way to restrict people from voting. And that's exactly what we don't want to do.


CAMEROTA: One of the things that Governor Abbott -- I'm sorry. We're having a little bit of a delay problem.

One of the things that Governor Abbott said that he would do if you Democrats didn't fall in line was dock your pay. Is that happening?

MARTINEZ: Well, Governor Abbott can say and do whatever he wants, but the most important thing for us to do is to protect voting rights and democracy here in Texas. And that's what we're going to do.

So he can say and do and act however way he wants, if it's about a political platform. For us, as Democrats, it's about protecting voting rights for the people of Texas.

CAMEROTA: Let me put up on the screen a few of the issues that Governor Abbott feels are so pressing that he needed to call this special session, so voting rights, as we have been discussing.

There's also social media censorship on the agenda, critical race theory, rules for transgender student athletes. There were more, but one of the things that is not on the agenda is COVID and what's happening in the state of Texas.

So let me pull up the map for you, because there are hot spots in Texas, particularly East -- well, actually, it looks like West Texas -- that are having all of these cases, an outbreak of cases, as you can see, the darker reds and the oranges there.

And so why isn't this at the top of the agenda?

MARTINEZ: You know, absolutely. That was a lot of the questions that we had.

There's so many more fundamental issues that we should be addressing here in Texas, one, especially COVID, and access to health care. Texas is ranked last in the uninsured population. And we have not addressed that. We have also -- we haven't addressed the grid and the electric grid (AUDIO GAP) the problem.

These are more pressing issues. I mean (AUDIO GAP) in the Rio Grande Valley, where I'm from, we just had additional flooding. And it's happened three years in a row. But we have not -- he has not addressed that and funding those issues for infrastructure and drainage, so that people aren't displaced from their homes or lose their homes because of a rain event.

So, as you can see, his priorities are not in the right place, especially when it comes to expanding Medicaid and making sure that we have access to health care, especially during these times of COVID.

CAMEROTA: Texas state Representative Martinez, thank you for your time.

MARTINEZ: Absolutely. Thank you.

BLACKWELL: All right, just in to CNN, the Justice Department is charging five people from Florida for allegedly attacking at least seven police officers during the insurrection. So the defendants are from the Tampa area. They allegedly used stolen

riot shields and flagpoles to beat offices in the head and the neck and they're accused of punching and kicking in elbowing the officers.

All but one of the five has been arrested. And as more suspects are arrested, more than 500 so far, CNN is learning more about the congressional probe into the January 6 attack. Democrats on the House select committee are strategizing now to try to keep the investigation from devolving into what they would describe as a circus.

For the full story, CNN congressional correspondent Jessica Dean is with us now.

Jessica, so what's the plan? How to Democrats try to keep this from being a circus?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor and Alisyn, one thing is that they are going to try to expand the investigation besides just what former President Trump may have -- what role he may have played in the insurrection and the lead-up into the insurrection.

They also want to look at, in addition to potentially calling him, to potentially calling some members of Congress, even House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, perhaps. They also want to look at, why was the Capitol so ill-prepared when it came to the insurrectionists?

Why were the insurrectionists able to find very specific parts of the Capitol, specific offices? How did they navigate into kind of areas that are not really publicly known here in the Capitol? They want to get into all of that. So that's one thing.

They're also hoping to keep this as nonpartisan as possible. Now, the question is, can they actually do that? It's going to be a tough needle to thread. One way they're trying to guard against that, of course, is that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi selected Congresswoman Liz Cheney, a Republican, a former top-ranking Republican who was ousted from her leadership position for her take on all of this, but nonetheless a Republican, to serve on her part of the committee.

So she's trying to keep this as bipartisan as possible, and this, of course, all coming as we wait to hear from the minority leader, McCarthy, on whether -- on who he will be selecting.

We are getting indications from sources that he will be placing up to five people on this select committee. The question now is, who will that be? So we're waiting for all of this to kind of take shape. But, as it does, we know that, right now, House Democrats who are on this committee are getting down to logistics, Victor and Alisyn.


They have got to get documents. They have got to get staffed up. And then they want to keep this, as I said, as on the straight and narrow and facts-based as possible -- guys.

CAMEROTA: Jessica Dean, thank you.

OK, so next: a state of emergency in Japan and spectators banned from Tokyo Olympic events. Why some doctors say the Games should be canceled.

BLACKWELL: Plus, a new report says that five clusters of unvaccinated people in the U.S. are putting the rest of the country at risk.

And just into CNN, Michael Avenatti, you remember the name. He's the attorney or was the attorney for Stormy Daniels. He's been sentenced in an extortion case. Find out how long he will spend in prison and what the judge had to say about it.



CAMEROTA: We are just two weeks away from the start of the Tokyo Olympics, and Japan now declaring a state of emergency because of rising coronavirus cases.

BLACKWELL: Olympic officials will now banned spectators for -- from some venues to try to slow the spread. In Tokyo, 920 new infections were reported Wednesday. That's the highest daily additional caseload since the middle of May.

And the Delta variant is now accounting for up to 30 percent of the cases. And the White House says it's still assessing if first lady Dr. Jill Biden will attend the Olympics, as hoped.

Let's go now to CNN's Selina Wang. She joins us from Tokyo.

And, Selina, as I understand it, it's the Tokyo venues that will not have spectators, right?


The Tokyo Olympic venues and also three neighboring areas are banning any spectators from their venues. It is still possible that some of the Olympic events held in prefectures and other areas will still allow some spectators, but it's still unclear how many.

And this comes as a big relief to much of the public here and public health experts, who have been pushing for no spectators for quite some time, even though spectators -- months ago announced that all overseas spectators would be banned.

And this is as COVID-19 cases are surging yet again here in Tokyo, the highest level in months, more cases driven by the Delta variant. And a key concern, Victor and Alisyn, is the low vaccination rate here. Just 15 percent of the Japanese population has been fully vaccinated.

And all of this, of course, is a major blow to Olympic organizers and Japan, which has spent years, more than $15 billion, planning for these Games, has spent more than a billion dollars alone rebuilding that national stadium where the opening ceremony is going to be held.

And it's just going to be extraordinary to see those stands nearly completely empty. But the public here is still not convinced that these Games are going to be held safely. I'm here in Shinjuku, Tokyo, where hours ago, Thursday night local time, there was an anti-Olympics protest.

Take a listen to what one protester and what one passerby had to tell me.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We should not hold the Olympics with increasing COVID cases.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Infections will definitely spread if the Olympics are held. And overseas visitors will bring the virus back to their home country. It will be a disaster.


WANG: Now, despite a long list of COVID-19 rules for Olympic participants, you have had instances of athletes who've been fully vaccinated and testing negative before departure testing positive for COVID-19 in Japan. There have been a few instances of that.

So, still concern from the public and from health experts -- Victor, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Selina Wang, thank you for that recording from Tokyo for us.

BLACKWELL: So, up after the break: The attorney who represented porn star Stormy Daniels is headed to prison. Michael Avenatti was just sentenced for trying to extort millions of dollars from Nike -- I should say.

We will share, let's call them colorful comments that the judge had for him.



BLACKWELL: You know the name from the Trump years.

Michael Avenatti was the attorney who represented Stormy Daniels. He's just been sentenced to two-and-a-half years in federal prison for trying to extort millions of dollars from Nike.

CAMEROTA: Avenatti was the lawyer for Donald Trump's alleged mistress Stormy Daniels, as you know.

He reportedly openly wept when he spoke at his sentencing hearing today.

Joining us now to talk about this and other legal issues, we have CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig, a former state and federal prosecutor. He's also the author of the fabulous new book "Hatchet Man: How Bill Barr Broke the Prosecutor's Code and Corrupted the Justice Department."

OK, Elie, Michael Avenatti was so familiar to us, obviously, during the whole Stormy Daniels thing. I know that his attorneys had asked for six months. Prosecutors had wanted, what, eight years?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Eight years, right.

CAMEROTA: So, he got two-and-a-half years?

HONIG: All said, a pretty good result for Michael Avenatti. I mean, I have done extortion cases involving less money -- this was multimillions -- that have resulted in more time than two-and-a-half years.

Now, Avenatti went in front of the judge, and he did the smart thing for any defendant. He expressed remorse. Whether it was sincere or not, who knows? But he did get a bit of a break.

But here's the important thing. He has two more federal indictments pending, one in California, one in New York. He's only going to...

CAMEROTA: For what?

HONIG: If he gets convicted -- for stealing from his own clients.

And that's even worse than this, because Nike is a powerful entity. He tried to extort them. They didn't pay him a penny. This is his own clients. He stole hundreds of thousands of dollars. So he's got more problems ahead.

BLACKWELL: Colorful comments from the judge too there in the courtroom.

HONIG: Yes. Yes.

Let's turn now to the Trump lawsuit, suing Facebook, Google, Twitter as well. Does this have a chance, or is it something else?

HONIG: I'm going to try to make short work of this. No chance. No chance. This is a stunt. This is fund-raising.

Let's just start with this. The First Amendment, the first word of the First Amendment is Congress. Congress shall make no law. That means it only applies to governmental entities.