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Source Says, New York State Impeachment Committee Says Investigations is Near Completion; CNN Reports, U.S. Intel Scours Genetic Data from Wuhan Lab in Origin Hunt; Video Shows Possible Prison Camp for Belarusian Dissenters. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired August 5, 2021 - 10:30   ET

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


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JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: This just into CNN, the New York State Assembly says its impeachment investigation is nearly complete and it is now inviting the embattled governor, Andrew Cuomo, to submit any evidence to counter the state attorney general's report on the sexual harassment allegations against him.

This comes as a majority of New York Assembly members tell CNN they are already prepared to vote to impeach the governor if he refuses to resign. That would the first step, then there would be a trial in the Senate, much likely to see in the U.S. Congress.

CNN's Polo Sandoval has more. So, Polo, tell us where we stand on this process. I mean, if the impeachment investigation is already complete, they're reaching out for any defense he has. I mean, that shows you how quickly this process is moving.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And that is important of this reporting, Jim. What it does, it gives us a better idea of what we would expect regarding a timeline when it comes to the impeachment investigation that's been ongoing now by the committee, regarding the New York State Assembly here looking into the allegations against Governor Cuomo.

According to a colleague, Lauren del Valle, and her conversations with a source close to the that impeachment committee's investigation, it seems that the attorneys for Governor Cuomo were actually presented with a letter from the impeachment committee informing them that, as you said a while ago, that their probe, which, we'll recall, urgently started in early March, was, quote, near completion.

This letter also going on to advice Governor Cuomo that now is the time for him to present any kind of evidence that would support basically his defense against these mounting allegations against the governor and that he would have presumably until or at least we expect that he would have until next Friday to present any kind of evidence that this committee should consider before then formally presenting the New York State Assembly with their findings here. So that is certainly telling here. Now, meanwhile, Governor Cuomo, for his part, he remains defiant, rejecting these ongoing calls for him to step down as his political support basically crumbles around him here. And then there's also the legal fallout that we've seen here with at least four local prosecutors requesting the evidence that was actually compiled as part of the separate attorney general's investigation as they potentially consider criminal charges here.

So, again, what we know here based on this new reporting from our colleague now suggesting that we could potentially hear or see some evidence that would be presented by Governor Cuomo in his defense as he continues to deny these allegations. And he has about eight days to produce that evidence.

SCIUTTO: Polo Sandoval, thanks so much for updating us on all of it.

So, let's take a moment here, a few moments, in fact, to step back and look at the evidence, look at how this unfolded.

It all begins in December 2020. Lindsey Boylan, a former top aide to Cuomo, first accuses the governor of sexual harassment and unwanted kissing. At the time, the governor denied it.

Moving up, February 24th, Boylan expands on the allegations in a blog, describing how Cuomo asked her if she wanted to play strip poker and claimed he kissed her on the lips without warning at work.

Three days later, another woman came forward. Former Adviser Charlotte Bennett alleges to the New York Times that the governor inundated her with questions about her personal sex life on February 28th.

Facing political pressure, Governor Cuomo then asked New York Attorney General Letitia James to create a special counsel to investigate the claims against him.

On March 1st, the New York Times published an account of a third accuser, this one, Anna Ruch. The woman who had never worked for Cuomo shared this photo with The Times and claimed he asked if he could kiss her at a wedding reception in 2019.

Later that same day, the A.G. announced the independent investigation. And the governor immediately went on defense.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable. It was unintentional and I truly and deeply apologize for it. I ask the people of this state to wait for the facts from the attorney general's report before forming an opinion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: On March 6th, as that investigation continued, two more former Cuomo staffers came forward with allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct. [10:35:00]

Karen Hinton told the Washington Post that the governor summoned her to a hotel room while Ana Liss told the Wall Street Journal he inappropriately touched her at a reception.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAREN HINTON, ACCUSED GOVERNOR CUOMO OF INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR: Andrew Cuomo is the master of the art of this kind of behavior, and it's something that shows his pattern of behavior over time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: On March 12th, former Reporter Jessica Bakeman accused Cuomo of putting his hands on her back and waist, refusing to let go, while posing for a photo at a 2014 holiday party.

Next, March 19th, an eighth accuser, this one, a current Cuomo aide, Alyssa McGrath, told the New York Times that Cuomo made suggestive comments and would call her beautiful Italian.

That then brings us to Tuesday. After a four-month investigation, a new report by the New York attorney general found the governor sexually harassed allegedly 11 women, including a state trooper who assigned to his security detail, as well as an unnamed former aide who says that Cuomo groped her at the executive mansion.

The governor continues to deny the reports. He also says he will not resign.

Now, at least four district attorney's offices in New York are requesting additional material from the state's report. Among them, the Manhattan D.A.'s office, which says, it is asking for evidence to, quote, properly investigate these potential sex crimes.

Joining me now to discuss Deanna Paul, Staff Writer for The Wall Street Journal, as well as a former New York City prosecutor. Great to have you on.

Your experience reporting out this story but also as a prosecutor yourself, and you've been covering this from the beginning. Tell us the significance of these potential criminal investigations here setting aside for a moment the political ones, the potential impeachment, because the bar is quite high, the legal bar is quite high to prove crimes were committed. Explain what that bar is and what happens next here.

DEANNA PAUL, STAFF WRITER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: So, thank you so much for having me. And, yes, at this point, there are four district attorney's offices that have requested evidence from the attorney general's office. There's also a fifth D.A.'s office that is reviewing the allegations made in the report, so the Manhattan D.A.'s office, the Westchester D.A.'s office, the Nassau County D.A.'s office and Albany. In a criminal case, you have to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. And so they're, at this point, going to likely call in the complainants and review the evidence themselves, conduct their own independent investigations., see if there is corroborating evidence and only time will tell what charges, in any, are filed against the governor.

SCIUTTO: Can you give us a sense about timeline here, right? I mean, the Manhattan D.A., for instance, says it is asking for evidence. Of course, it has got multiple investigations underway right now into other things, but that is the nature of the way D.A.'s offices work. What would the potential crimes be and over what timeframe might we see them?

PAUL: So, I can't tell you what the timeframe will be but I can tell you that the letter that came from the Manhattan district attorney's office, they talked about incidents involving two different women. So, a state trooper where the governor is -- something happened at his office in Manhattan. And then there was a second incident with a state employee, where he grabbed her buttocks a few times. And so those are the two things that the Manhattan D.A.'s office are looking into.

The state trooper is actually the subject of what the Nassau County D.A.'s office and Westchester are also looking into. And so she seems to be the focus of a number of the D.A.'s offices investigations at this point.

SCIUTTO: Explain the significance of the physical touching here, right, as part of this. Because that seems to be -- that case, for instance, the one in the elevator, but also the one with the state trooper involves physical touching. Explain the importance of that in potentially proving criminal activity, criminal behavior.

PAUL: I mean, the crimes that could be charged could be forcible touching. I mean, they would involve physical touching. And so in Nassau County, the incident that the D.A.'s office is looking into is where the governor is said to have put his hand on the state trooper's stomach and ran it across to her hip where she had her gun holstered. And so I'm sure that the D.A.'s offices will probably look into the corroborating evident.

And I know the report had a number of text messages and, I mean, they spoke to 179 different witnesses and reviewed 74,000 pieces of evidence. So, I'm sure the D.A.'s offices will also be looking into all of that.

SCIUTTO: Final question here because there is also a civil line of investigation, right? There is one lawsuit so far that's been issued here. What is the potential outcome of those? I mean, that is basically a financial penalty path, is it not, if you could prove financial damages.

[10:40:00]

PAUL: So, civil suits, there are financial damages. Lindsey Boylan yesterday released a statement that she planned to sue for retaliation. And so the report actually found that the governor and his senior officials had retaliated against her after she came forward with claims of sexual harassment, by trying to discredit her and disparage her.

There is also possible civil liability for the hostile work environment that was created for the other complainants.

So time will tell. We'll see what if any of those civil suits are.

SCIUTTO: Understood. I know there is a lot still to be resolved here. Deanna Paul, thanks for helping us walking through where it stands right now.

PAUL: Thank you for having me.

SCIUTTO: Coming up next this hour, CNN is learning of a treasure trove of genetic data that U.S. intelligence found in a lab in Wuhan, China. Could this lead to establishing the origin of COVID-19. We're going to have a live report coming up.

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SCIUTTO: We have exclusive CNN reporting on the effort to uncover the origins of COVID-19. Right now, U.S. intelligence agencies are digging through a treasure trove of genetic data that could be key in finding the answer. The catalogue of information contains genetic blueprints drawn from virus samples studied at that lab in Wuhan, China, questions about origins there.

CNN Katie Bo Williams joins me now. So, Katie, tell me how big this trove of data is and what exactly they're hoping to find in there.

KATIE BO WILLIAMS, CNN REPORTER: Yes. This is a big pile of information, Jim. And what intelligence officials are looking for is they are looking for, as you said, genetic blueprint of a virus sample that is closely related to SARS-Cov-2, as we know it today, with the hope that that will help them kind of piece together some clues about how the virus evolved into the variants that we know today.

This is tough. This is a little bit like finding a needle in a haystack. And some of the scientists that we spoke to said, look, we're a little skeptical that there are any virus samples that this lab in Wuhan was working on that we researchers who work on this kind of stuff all the time weren't already aware of.

And to make things even tougher, even if the intelligence community is able to sort of identify a sort of kissing cousin to SARS-Cov-2, they're still need going to need a lot of other contextual information to be able to reach a high confidence judgment about whether or not this was something that leaked from a lab or whether this was something that developed naturally.

SCIUTTO: Right, the wet market explanation for this. And where does that investigation stand? Because we've heard back and forth from some officials who believe one theory is more likely than the others. Are we any closer?

WILLIAMS: Right. I think at this point, the intelligence community is still split in between these kind of two prevailing theories. And I would say, look, some of this kind of investigation takes time. So, for example, with this sort of big tranche of data that the National Labs are now sort of digging into right now, you have got two big problems here that makes this sort of such a big lift.

One of them is there is so much data here, it takes an enormous amount of computing power to be able process all of that. The other one is you have to have specialized linguists who are also scientists who are able to interpret all of this. That's a big lift.

SCIUTTO: No question. All right, Katie Bo Williams, we know you'll stay on top of it. Thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: Thanks so much, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Ahead, the Olympic sprinter from Belarus says she is now happy and safe in Poland after she says Belarusian officials tried to force her to return to her home country. Questions about what she would face there. So look at this, a prison camp where dissidents are being held. Maybe she would have ended up there as well. We have exclusive CNN reporting.

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SCIUTTO: Belarusian Olympic Sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya saying during a news conference today that she feels happy and safe now that she is in Poland. She hopes she and her husband will be able to remain there.

She defected after she says Belarusian officials tried to force her to return home after she had criticized her coaches.

The government of Belarus has cracked down on so many dissidents in recent days, and CNN's Nick Paton Walsh has been following those developments.

Nick, you've got some exclusive images from inside Belarus about what could be a camp for these people.

NICK PATON WALSH , CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes. I mean, many people, I think, listening to the plight of Krystsina Tsimanouskaya wondered quite how bad it is gotten inside of Belarus to make her fear that moment at the airport being forced home.

We've seen some images of what looks to be a prison camp about an hour's drive outside of Minsk that's been newly refurbished. You can see in some of these images, the barbed wire on the outside, security cameras inside, that you could see an individual in military fatigues.

The people who filmed this were told to move away by a military patrol. A lot of refurbishment on some of the interior buildings, reflective screens and bars on windows, a collective sort of body of evidence that makes many ask what else could this be for given the current repressive climate inside of Belarus.

On top of that too, after the last heavy crackdown last August, there were some people put in a similar style camp for a brief number of days and that being leaked, according to two of senior Belarus and police officials talking about how they might need to build camps like this. A western intelligence official that I spoke to said it was, quote, possible that this had been built for that purpose.

So, a lot of concern, I think, at these pictures, questions as to exactly why this might be needed given the repression has been so intense that demonstrations rarely happen.

[10:55:04]

A new election potentially further on in the next months ahead over a constitutional referendum, so a lot of concern about how much worse they are preparing for inside the country.

We got no comment out of the Belarusian government but the repression has been so constant, Jim. It is quite startling to hear the level of abuse inside the country. And it seems also too the increased emboldment of a Lukashenko government and acting in places like the Olympics now, as well, Jim.

SCIUTTO: So many thousands of dissidents already had been arrested. Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much for covering it.

And thanks so much to all of you for joining us today. I'm Jim Sciutto.

At This Hour with Kate Bolduan will start right after a short break.

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