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Cuomo Denies Sexual Harassment Allegations; COVID Rising. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired August 3, 2021 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:32]

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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: And I'm Alisyn Camerota.

Minutes from now, President Biden will give an update on his administration's vaccination efforts and America's role in the global fight against coronavirus, this as the highly contagious Delta variant continues to rip across the U.S. and hit unvaccinated people.

BLACKWELL: And, today, the country is seeing hospitalizations and daily new infections at levels that we have not seen since February. That's when the vaccine shots were limited.

The White House says a third, a third of new infections are coming from either Florida or Texas. The city of New York is taking the unprecedented step of requiring now proof of vaccination for indoor activities.

We're talking restaurants to eat indoors, fitness centers, entertainment venues. New York's mayor is calling it the Key to New York Pass.

CNN national correspondent Athena Jones joins us.

So, what can you tell us about this? A lot of people looking forward to it, some not so much.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Sure. It's a big deal, though. This is the farthest we have seen any city go in America so far when it comes to mandates or requirements.

As you said, starting September 13, you will have to show proof of vaccination to go into any of these places, if you're going to eat inside, if you're going to work out inside, or see any sort of entertainment inside.

And the proof of vaccination can be several things. It can be the vaccination cards you get when you get your vaccination. There's also -- in New York state, there's an Excelsior app, which is created by New York state, shows you made your vaccines.

And there's going to be another app called the NYC Safe Pass. And people just have to show that they have taken one dose of the vaccine. Now, right now, about 60 percent of New Yorkers have taken at least one dose, but the mayor wants to see that number go much, much higher. He's -- just yesterday, just Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio stopped short of bringing back an indoor mask mandate.

He said he wants to focus on the thing that will make a difference. And so he says he wants people to not only save their own lives, but also be able to enjoy the city. Take a listen to some of what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL DE BLASIO (D), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: This is a miraculous place literally full of wonders. And if you're vaccinated, all that's going to open up to. You will have the key. You can open the door. But if you're unvaccinated, unfortunately, you will not be able to participate in many things. That's the point we're trying to get across.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: So I guess a prize for getting a vaccine, and not only saving your life, but being able to have a social life. A similar pass was introduced in France, and you saw a lot of people signing up to get vaccines.

So this is a big step that city officials hope will make a big difference.

BLACKWELL: All right, Athena Jones, thank you.

CAMEROTA: Thanks, Athena.

All right, Louisiana is now breaking its record for the number of people in its hospitals sick with COVID. A short time ago, the state's Health Department announced there are now more than 2, 100 patients in COVID wards, which exceeds a record set back in January. You see every county in Louisiana has high transmission of the virus, as just 37 percent of the state is vaccinated.

Joining us now is Rebekah Gee. She's the CEO of LSU Health Care Services Division and a former secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health.

Ms. Gee, thank you very much for being here.

How can Louisiana be worse today than it was before vaccines were available?

REBEKAH GEE, CEO, LSU HEALTH CARE SERVICES DIVISION: Unfortunately, Louisiana is familiar with disaster and disaster response.

Our hurricanes have taught us how to take care of ourselves and others at times of distress. But, recently, we have failed with the COVID vaccine. As you just pointed out, we have one of the lowest rates of vaccination in the country. We have a highly contagious Delta variant that is much more transmissible than the previous virus that we knew a year ago.

And right now, we have the highest numbers of new cases of any state in the nation, more than triple the U.S. average. And, as you said, minutes ago, it was reported we have the highest numbers of hospitalization since the pandemic began; 52 have died since yesterday, the most deaths since January of 2020.

So this is putting an enormous strain on our doctors, nurses and hospital staff, not only here at LSU, but throughout Louisiana.

CAMEROTA: I was so struck by what the chief medical officer at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, I think your biggest hospital, said about that describing where we are right now in Louisiana with hospitalizations.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. CATHERINE O'NEAL, OUR LADY OF THE LAKE REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER: We no longer think we're giving adequate care to anybody, because these are the darkest days of the pandemic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: These are the darkest days of the pandemic?

So many of us in more highly vaccinated areas feel like we have come out hugely from the darkest days of the pandemic. And to hear that the doctors feel they can't give adequate care to anybody, so where does that leave you? What's -- what -- can you just sort of paint a picture for us of what it's like in hospitals right now?

[15:05:11]

GEE: Sure.

I mean, the wards are full with patients. We had 128 patients yesterday who were admitted. We had a disaster medical assistance team come from the federal government to help us. But they will only be able to help staff six beds at the Lake, who you just heard from.

So, it's really challenging, look, to provide cancer care, to provide trauma care, all of the things that people need that they put off from the pandemic. So we're seeing people with new diagnoses because they put it off. They're having trouble getting care.

Now, we have in our -- one of our hospitals 5 percent of our staff are sick. One is on a ventilator with this virus. So it's -- the biggest challenge now is staff. It's not the masks, the PPE, the ventilators we saw earlier in the pandemic. It's people. And people are getting sick, and you can get sick if you have been vaccinated, but 25 percent less likely to die or be hospitalized. And so we really need people to get vaccinated. The really good news,

though, is that here in Louisiana, people are hearing this news. And we have more than tripled the number of people that have gotten a vaccine in the past few days. We are number one per capita in terms of new vaccinations in the country right now.

So my hope is that people will see this and start taking care of themselves and others. But, right now, it's really hard in these hospitals. We're taking our surgery units and putting them into recovery centers for COVID, really putting off all elective procedures, and it's really challenging for our staff. And they're tired.

They have been at this for a very long time.

CAMEROTA: Who could blame them? Of course, they're physically and emotionally drained.

What will happen with the shortage of doctors and nurses and staff?

GEE: Look, right now, we're caring for the patients, but we need people to get vaccinated.

These new numbers are good, but it will take a good month-and-a-half to see the result of these new vaccinations. And so we're just going to have to take care of people like we have done all along. But the message has to be, please, get vaccinated. You can get a vaccine in the airport. You can get a vaccine at your local pharmacy.

Please, if you're on the fence, take your chances with this vaccine. It's a lot better than taking your chances with COVID.

CAMEROTA: Yes, Rebekah Gee, we hear you loud and clear. Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us.

GEE: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Microsoft and Tyson today join the growing list of companies ordering workers to be fully vaccinated from coronavirus. And more companies are going the way of New York City and requiring customers and clients to be vaccinated too.

That includes Equinox gyms, Morgan Stanley.

Joining me now is David Cooley. He owns The Abbey. That's a bar in West Hollywood that now requires vaccination or a negative test from its patrons. The mandate started this weekend.

David, thanks for your time.

I understand that this started because some of your employees were being mistreated. Tell me about that.

DAVID COOLEY, CEO & FOUNDER, THE ABBEY FOOD & BAR: Yes, it's been an extremely difficult 16, 17 months, the Health Department guidelines changing all the time. And they were kind of making these requirements and changes

periodically and then forcing the businesses to police those requirements, eight-feet table, eight-foot table separation. Of course, you have to be I.D.ed to be 21, six to a table. And then it came to the same household.

And we -- some of our employees got spit on, they got punched at, they were screamed at, and it was ruthless. We had to open -- 14 -- four times in the past year, which was not easy, because that means putting people out of work.

Of course, the waste of the cost of the produce, the meats, the cheeses, the bakery and so forth.

BLACKWELL: Yes.

COOLEY: And it's expensive.

And I just decided, when we -- we actually have a celebration. And thank you. Your network covered it up, when we were -- had a countdown.

BLACKWELL: Yes.

COOLEY: And then it got to the point where you the Delta variant came in, and it was getting worse.

And my main concern of my businesses are the health and the safety of our customers, to keep our businesses open, and to keep people employed. So, when I saw this COVID -- the new case of Delta coming in, it was getting worse and worse.

I don't want to be shut down. I don't want to tell my employees to go home. I want us -- to keep us open. And when you come into an environment and businesses, you do have to follow the Health Department guidelines. And in a controlled environment, when you come into a business, we have it pretty much covered as best as we can.

We're keeping and keeping the mandate on that you have to keep your mask on. And, unfortunately, it's -- my business has -- just did a milestone of 30 years. And I built my company up on that everyone is welcome, no matter--

(CROSSTALK)

BLACKWELL: Well, David, let me ask you this.

You say that everyone is welcome. Now they're welcome with a vaccine or a proof of a negative test. To hear that you have had that kind of abuse for your -- or your employees have seen that kind of abuse because of the spacing of the tables, what's been the reaction from customers now after you require either proof of vaccine or a negative test?

[15:10:12]

COOLEY: I would say 98 percent love it, because they feel there's a safe zone.

We have done other things to make sure our employees are safe. We're requiring them to have vaccines. We offered a $250 bonus if you show us your vaccine. If there's some other issues that they can't get vaccine, they do have to come in and show a daily COVID test.

But the majority of the people is loving it and thankful and very, extremely supportive.

BLACKWELL: Yes. And, of course, we're seeing, as we just reported, New York City now requiring to go into restaurants there and entertainment.

(CROSSTALK)

BLACKWELL: I see your applause there that you support that as well.

COOLEY: Proud of -- so proud of you.

BLACKWELL: David--

COOLEY: And I have to say, I spoke to my city manager and my mayor.

BLACKWELL: Yes.

COOLEY: And they are following suit. And they're extremely supportive of our decision. Once we made the decision, there were dozens of other restaurants in our community also following suit.

BLACKWELL: Yes.

And we will see if the city there follows as well.

David Cooley, thank you so much for telling us your story.

COOLEY: My pleasure. (AUDIO GAP) having me on.

BLACKWELL: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: All right, well, New York's attorney general releases damning findings after her investigation into Governor Andrew Cuomo. They detail sexual harassment and a toxic work environment.

Many Democrats now calling for his resignation, but Governor Cuomo maintains his innocence and remains defiant. So, what's next?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:16:09]

CAMEROTA: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo facing renewed calls to resign after today's blistering bombshell report from the New York attorney general detailing a pattern of sexual harassment from multiple women.

The governor pushed back denying the allegations. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): I want you to know directly from me that I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances.

I am 63 years old. I have lived my entire adult life in public view. That is just not who I am. And that's not who I have ever been.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: His words stand in stark contrast to the findings in the months-long investigation by New York Attorney General Letitia James. She says Cuomo sexually harassed current and former employees, creating a toxic workplace and violating state and federal law.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LETITIA JAMES, NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL: The independent investigation found that Governor Cuomo sexually harass multiple women, many of whom were young women, by engaging in unwanted groping, kisses, hugging, and by making inappropriate comments.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Investigators went on to give more details about the governor's alleged conduct.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOON KIM, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Some suffered through unwanted touching and grabbing of their most intimate body parts. Others suffered through repeated offensive sexually suggestive or gender-based comments. A number of them endured both.

None of them welcomed it, and all of them found it disturbing, humiliating, uncomfortable, and inappropriate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand released this joint statement reiterating their calls for Governor Cuomo to step down.

And the Senate majority leader spoke just moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): No elected official is above the law.

The people of New York deserve better leadership in the governor's office. We continue to believe that the governor should resign.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLACKWELL: We're already seeing reaction to this development. The Albany County district attorney says that they will request investigative materials from the New York A.G. on the Cuomo report and says a criminal investigation is ongoing.

CAMEROTA: And we are also now getting more reaction from some of the governor' alleged victims.

CNN's Erica Hill joins us now.

So, what are you seeing on social media? What are you hearing?

ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, a lot on social media, and a lot we heard too just this morning in that press conference.

And, if we could, I just want to play a little bit more of that to give you a better sense of what we're hearing from this 165-page report, 11 complainants, we learned, nine of them current or former state employees. And here is just a little bit more of what the investigators say they learned.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES: Governor Cuomo sexually harass multiple women, many of whom were young women, by engaging in unwanted groping, kisses, hugging.

KIM: Some suffered through unwanted touching and grabbing of their most intimate body parts.

ANNE CLARK, SPECIAL INVESTIGATOR: The governor hugged executive assistant number one, and reached under her blouse to grab her breast.

The governor held her so closely that her breasts were pressed against his body, and he sometimes ran his hands up and down his -- her back while he did so. There were also several occasions on which the governor grabbed her butt.

The governor pressed and ran his fingers across the chest of a woman while reading the name of her company whose logo was on her chest.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: Now, we are hearing some reaction, some fairly swift reaction on Twitter, from some of the women who we know were interviewed for this, who shared their stories.

[15:20:04]

Ana Liss here saying: "Thank you, thank you to everyone who expressed support out loud, and in whispers. For hugs and hand squeezes and texts. Thank you."

And also referencing there some of the other women who had come forward, one of them, Charlotte Bennett, who posted quite clearly: "Resign, New York Governor Cuomo," on Twitter. Now, we should point out, in that taped statement -- and you saw a

little bit of it from Governor Cuomo -- he directly addressed Charlotte Bennett. He spoke to her directly. He apologized. But then he went on to say that he had heard Charlotte Bennett and her attorney, but they had misunderstood his words.

And in his estimation, they were hearing things that he didn't really say that weren't really there.

Well, we also got reaction to that, what we heard from Governor Cuomo earlier. Debra Katz, who's the attorney for Charlotte Bennett, saying very clearly the governor has a serious problem with the truth.

And we're also just getting some reaction from the lieutenant governor of New York, who said in a statement: "I believe these brave women and admire their courage coming forward," going on, as you see here: "Sexual harassment is unacceptable in any workplace," noting: "No one is above the law, and certainly not -- it is unacceptable in any workplace and certainly not in public service."

As you pointed out, we are hearing from lawmakers at the state level. We're hearing from folks in Washington. The governor gave no indication that he plans to resign, but there is an impeachment inquiry right now in the state. There is a meeting coming up on Monday. This is far from over.

BLACKWELL: Yes, of course it is.

Let's now -- Erica, thank you very much.

Let's get continue the conversation, the legal and political fallout from the developments, bring in Areva Martin, CNN legal analyst, Elie Honig, CNN legal analyst and former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and John Harwood, CNN White House correspondent.

I want to go back to that tweet from the lieutenant governor. And she says that: "The A.G.'s investigation has documented repulsive, unlawful behavior by the governor towards multiple women. I believe these brave women and admire their courage coming forward. No one is above the law. Under New York's Constitution, the Assembly will now determine the next steps. Because lieutenant governors stand next in line of succession, it would not be appropriate to comment further on the process at this moment."

Elie, I mean, she's not going directly at impeachment. But after a statement like that, what else does she have to say?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, impeachment is really the big question.

And if you watched the governor's statement today, he steered very clear of that. I thought it was conspicuous. He talked a lot about how I look forward to my day in court. I think he's referring to civil suits there because he can and likely will be sued by some of these accusers. But here's the real question for the elected officials in New York,

particularly the Democrats in the Assembly. Everyone's talking big right now, he should resign, he should resign. That's meaningless unless the Assembly takes action to impeach him.

There is such thing as impeachment in New York state law. They have impeached a governor before in the early 1900s. So we will see if the rhetoric is equal to the action here or if it just ends up being empty rhetoric, but Governor Cuomo absolutely can be impeached, if there's political will for it.

CAMEROTA: But, Areva, beyond the political outcome or consequences, wasn't it just strange to hear a state attorney general, the New York attorney general, come out and with her investigators lay out these what they considered compelling and corroborated instances of sexual harassment, 165 pages' worth, and then say, but our job here is done, our work is done, there's nothing more we can do with it?

I mean, why not? Why aren't there any legal consequences if that's all so compelling?

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Alisyn, I think you're correct.

I was listening to that press conference. And I was both proud and disappointed with the attorney general for the state of New York. I thought she did an excellent job of laying out the facts. She did it with poise, and she did it with grace in commending the women. She called them heroic.

But then she did stop short of saying what actions should be taken with respect to these scathing allegations that have been found to be credible by these very capable investigators.

There are a couple of things that she obviously could have done. She could have made her own criminal referral, because there are allegations that have been corroborated with respect to unwanted touching which could lead to criminal charges. She could file her own complaint for sexual harassment. She has the power, the power and authority to do so.

(CROSSTALK)

CAMEROTA: Why didn't she do that?

MARTIN: I think that there are -- well, I don't think. I know. There are a lot of politics wrapped up into this case, Alisyn. This is not CEO of a private company. This is not manager of a fast food restaurant.

This is the governor of the state of New York. This is the attorney general for the state of New York. There are reports that she herself may be thinking of running for governor. So, perhaps trying to avoid any further appearance of conflict with respect to her own political aspirations, that might be motivating her decision. But, clearly, there were actions that she could have taken that were not taken beyond just making this report, this very scathing report. You called it a bombshell. I totally agree with you -- making that available to the public.

[15:25:04]

But the good news here, Alisyn, is that the Albany district attorney's office is apparently on -- in the midst of an investigation, a criminal investigation. So it's not clear that the governor will be immune from further punishment beyond what happens to him politically.

CAMEROTA: Hey, John, we're expecting to hear from President Biden in just a few minutes.

We have learned from the White House that, in addition to talking about vaccinations against coronavirus, he's also going to address the findings of this report.

Let's play for our viewers, though, what we heard from the president back in March, of course, before the findings were made public.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: If the investigation confirms the claims of the women, should he resign?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, I think he would probably ended up being prosecuted too.

A woman should be presumed to telling the truth and should not be scapegoated and become victimized by her coming forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: No indications that he is going to resign. We actually got an update from Hakeem Jeffries.

He was one of the holdouts from the New York delegation of Democrats in calling for a resignation. Today, after getting the findings of this report, the chair of the Democratic Caucus says that, yes, the governor should step down.

What's the potency, do you think, of what we're hearing from Washington on this governor and the situation here?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Not much.

There may have been a time, Victor, when embarrassment, shame, falling poll numbers would force somebody to leave office in response to disgrace and humiliation and embarrassment. We saw the Bill Clinton did not do that in 1998 when he faced the Lewinsky affair. We saw that Ralph Northam a couple of years ago, tremendous pressure to step down after there was a yearbook photo in which he seemed to have appeared in blackface, although he said he wasn't sure if that was him. He didn't resign. He stuck it out. He's a fairly popular governor

right now. Andrew Cuomo has given no indication that he intends to step down. It's going to be very difficult for President Biden to step away from that pretty clear statement he gave to George Stephanopoulos.

So I would expect at 4:00 for him to say that he thinks that Governor Cuomo should step down. But I don't think that will likely have much effect on Governor Cuomo either. He clearly wants to tough this out. There's a year left in his term. And I think the relevant question is, does the New York legislature have the will to impeach him and drag that process out over the next year?

We will find out. The legislative leadership has not indicated which way they're going to go. But Governor Cuomo has indicated that he's going to fight.

CAMEROTA: So that's the political track.

Elie, in terms of the legal track, if this does somehow end up in a court of law, what about Governor Cuomo's defense, which is, I do this with everybody, I have a long history of grabbing people by the face and kissing them on the cheek or the forehead, I have all these pictures, a dozen pictures here that I can show you, maybe I'm a little old school, but this is how I operate, and it was nothing untoward, and certainly nothing illegal?

HONIG: Yes, listen, so for all the things that Governor Cuomo said in his pretaped speech, these five words stuck out to me.

He said -- and I quote -- "I never touched anyone inappropriately."

There are some instances, the wedding, that kind of thing, which maybe he can try to give his own spin on. But you cannot take that categorical statement, "I never touched anyone inappropriately," you cannot square that with the 168-page investigative report that the attorney general's independent investigators turned out.

There's just way too many incidents that go far beyond a kiss on the cheek or the head at a wedding, that go into arguably the realm of criminal sexual assault, and particularly the incident where Cuomo allegedly reached under a woman's blouse.

So it's just a straight up battle of the evidence here. And I think, if you look at the evidence in that report, there's so much of it, and it's so internally consistent and self-corroborating, that it's really hard to credit that "I never touched anyone inappropriately" defense.

CAMEROTA: Well, Areva Martin, Elie Honig, John Harwood, thank you all for your expertise. Obviously, this is not going away and we will call upon you again.

BLACKWELL: Thank you all.

The divide is growing among Democrats about how to deal with the expired eviction moratorium. So far, there is no relief for the millions of Americans facing homelessness.

Chairwoman Maxine Waters joins us to talk about this next.

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