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DOJ Opens Civil Rights Investigation into Phoenix City Government & Police; As Investigation "Nears Completion," NY Lawmakers Starting Impeachment Unless Gov. Cuomo Resigns; State Trooper Claims NY Governor Inappropriately Touched, Kissed Her; Alabama Cases, Hospitalizations Spike as Delta Variant Surges But Vaccines Start Ticking Up; CA Dixie Fire Now State's 6th-Largest in History, Decimates Greenville; Cancellations Upend Spirit Airlines' Scheduled for 5th Day. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired August 5, 2021 - 14:30   ET



ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, so this tells me DOJ is looking more broadly than just the police department itself. Of course, the police department is sort of intertwined with the city on a lot of its practices.


HONIG: But I think it could be some of the things Paula talked about, this idea of retaliation could mean two things. It could mean retaliating against civilians who come forward with complaints.

It also could mean retaliating within the police department. If a police officer comes forward and says, I saw something improper, is that police officer then being demoted or treated differently?

If so, that's a city-related issue because the city handles employment for the police department.

Also, the issue relating to homelessness. I mean, there obviously are city wide implications of that. That's something that goes beyond the police department.

Those two things how do our police deal with people who are disabled and homeless, that's new. That's not something you typically see in the pattern-and-practice investigations.


Just as if on cue, the mayor of Phoenix has just said she welcomes this investigation, as we've seen in other instances. The statement just coming out from the mayor of the city.

Paula Reid, Elie Honig, thank you both.

HONIG: Thanks, man.

BLACKWELL: All right. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is still not stepping down. A state lawmaker is now prepared for the impeachment process. Their investigation into alleged misconduct, they say, is nearing completion.



BLACKWELL: The impeachment investigation against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is, quote, "near completion." That's according to a letter to the governor from the state committee attorneys.

Now, this is just days after that damning report that detailed sexual harassment allegations from 11 women. The governor is showing no signs that he will step down.

CNN's Erica Hill is following all of that for us now.

Let's start with the timeline. The governor has a deadline that is coming up. What do you know?


This letter sent out today was sent to Governor Cuomo's attorney saying, yes, we're nearing completion, as you said, into these investigations, into, as they said, various allegations of misconduct.

We are giving you until 5:00 next Friday, August 13th, if you would like to submit any additional evidence, submit anything in writing.

The letter let them know some of the things they're looking at right now include the governor's deposition as well as the statement that he released on August 3rd, the day that the A.G.'s report was released.

And then also what was essentially his response, this 85-page this response that was also put out on that day.

BLACKWELL: OK. Where does that put the state assembly on the timeline for potential impeachment moving forward?

HILL: In terms of potential articles of impeachment?


HILL: Those wouldn't come out we know before August 13th, they said that. We will give you at least until that deadline.

We are told things are moving pretty quickly. You may recall the assembly speaker came out earlier this week and said, well, we're going to really start moving things along right now.

He was talking about because of what they learned on Tuesday, they would move expeditiously in his words to conclude the investigations as soon as possible. They do want to move quickly on this.

When those articles of impeachment are ready, they can then be sent to the assembly. As you pointed out, we know the majority of members have told CNN that

they would vote to impeach from there. It would then be sent over to the Senate for the trial.

BLACKWELL: Yes, they say they have the votes.

Erica Hill, thank you.

BLACKWELL: At least four district attorneys have requested additional evidence from the state's investigation to decide if any criminal charges are necessary against Governor Cuomo.

One of those inquiries involves a state trooper who told the attorney general that the governor, on one occasion, allegedly ran his finger from the trooper's neck down her spine while they were standing in an elevator.

On another occasion, while the trooper was holding the door open for the governor, he allegedly ran his hand from her belly button to her right hip.

On a third occasion, the governor allegedly kissed her on the cheek in front of another trooper.

That officer is no longer assigned to the unit that protects the governor.

Thomas Mungeer is president of the New York State Trooper's Police Benevolent Association. He is with me now.

Thank you, sir.

I read your statement in response to the attorney general's report. One thing you did not say is that the governor should resign. Do you believe he should?


I believe that's going to be up to the assembly, what steps they take, and then subsequently the Senate or, if not, the people of the state of New York.

BLACKWELL: Let's go specifically into the report and this case of Trooper One, as she is known.

That she was actually from the very beginning brought into this position having not meeting the qualifications.

I'll read from it, from the report.

"After meeting Trooper One, the governor spoke with a senior member of his protective detail about seeking to have Trooper One join the Protective Services Unit." "Trooper One was then hired to the unit, despite not meeting the

requirement to have at least three years of state police service to join the PSU."

"In an e-mail to Trooper One shortly after the RFK Bridge event, that's where they met -- senior investigator number one noted, "Ha-ha, they changed the minimum from three years to two just for you."

Do you interpret that as the governor having targeted this trooper?

MUNGEER: Well, definitely, somebody wanted her to come on to the detail. I believe that the report that the A.G. put out there kind of indicated that the governor kind of recruited her to come on.

BLACKWELL: OK. Beyond that though, there were contacts from the executive chamber that were noted there to instruct a senior investigator to bring this trooper on.

Quote, "Hire the female trooper from the bridge." Quote, "He wants her on the detail tomorrow." Quote, "We are making adjustments for her."


Yes, the governor wanted more women, more minorities in that PSU, in the Protective Services Unit, but should that, the expedience have thrown up some red flags, some warning to people in the agency?

MUNGEER: Well, hindsight is 20/20.

Listen, people are brought on to details -- I have never seen a situation where they lowered the requirement to have somebody calm come on like that, for whatever reason that they thought so.

But now, it is as plain as day after you see what the report says from the attorney general.

Again, the Monday-morning quarterback, it is easy to see that in today's light.

BLACKWELL: Let's put it in the context of looking forward. Should women be assigned to this detail for as long as the governor is in office?

MUNGEER: I believe my troopers can hold their own. This trooper acted very heroically. She came forward. She told her story. And she continues to serve the people of the state of New York every day.

So I wouldn't want to ban women from this detail. They can hold their own. They will be fine.

You know, state troopers work out mostly by themselves throughout the state of New York, male, female, and they perform admirably for the people of the state of New York.

BLACKWELL: Also according to the report, this trooper also was told, quote, "always have an answer, don't tell him, the governor, no, and whatever he wants, make it happen."

It would seem that it would be just impossible to do this job with that type of environment.

What do you think about what you heard from that report on that element?

MUNGEER: Well, seeing overall the report, it sounds like the environment overall was toxic, not only on the detail where my trooper served but overall in the second-floor offices. So that doesn't surprise me.

But, yes, it almost sounds like you are being set up for failure.

BLACKWELL: Thomas Mungeer, thank you so much.

MUNGEER: Thank you, sir.

BLACKWELL: Health experts issue a new dire COVID warning: Expect surges nationwide in the weeks ahead. But there's one big sign of hope when it comes to vaccinations. We'll have that for you.



BLACKWELL: The White House says vaccination rates are moving in the right direction, with the country reporting more than 400,000 shots every day for close to a week now.

Now, that trend is largely happening in the country's coronavirus hot spots.

Including Alabama, where a surge in cases among the unvaccinated has left close to 2,000 people in the hospital. That's today alone. That's up more than 500 percent from a month ago.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is in Birmingham.

Miguel, vaccinations are up across the state, but is that going to be enough to at least slow this outbreak?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, look, they're going to need a trickle of these new vaccinations to turn into a torrent.

All of the numbers -- well, almost all of the numbers in Alabama going in the wrong direction.

As you said, the number of infections is up significantly across the state.

Every single county in the state is either at moderate or high risk, most of them at high risk of community transmission. That means a 10 percent infection rate in that county. So rural areas, cities, nowhere is safe. The most worrying sign of all are the hospitalizations. They are up

very sharply. They haven't seen a rise like that since last year.

They're not sure where the top of the wave is yet here, all due to this delta variant, which is highly contagious and may be making people sicker as well.

There's a bright spot as you mentioned. Those vaccinations are up. In the spring, they were doing about 30,000 vaccinations on a seven-day rolling basis.

A month ago, they were doing over 7,000. Now they're doing about 12,500 a day on a seven-day rolling average. So that is a good sign.

What people say, the reason they are getting vaccinated, at least a lot of people here, is that, as the economy opens up, as the masking rules go away, as the social distancing goes away, and as schools start to open, they are concerned about themselves, their families and mixing with the broader economy again and getting back out into something resembling normal life again.

That is forcing some people to get vaccinated. There will be a lot of people in Alabama who will not get vaccinated under any circumstances. But they are seeing that movable middle starting to move toward vaccinations here.

Let's just hope there's a lot more of it ahead -- Victor?

BLACKWELL: Yes, indeed.

Miguel Marquez for us there in Birmingham. Thanks so much.

Right now, at least 100 wildfires are raging across the country, torching more than a million acres.

In northern California, the Dixie Fire is now the state's largest active wildfire. It is the state's sixth largest wildfire ever.

It burned through more than 300,000 acres of Greenville, just decimating that town.

CNN's Josh Campbell is near the flames in Chico,


What's the latest on the fight now, Josh?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Victor, the images we are seeing and the stories we are hearing are simply devastating. Over 300,000 acres burned.

You can see this plume of smoke.

One indication that shows you what firefighters are battling with is the winds here are moving so rapidly, 30-40 miles an hour they are contending with. You can see this Dixie Fire, some of the neighboring fires in and

around this area as well.

Just to give you a sense of how fast it's moving overnight, officials tell us one acre per second, one acre per second.

Devastating images from the town of Greenville, which was ravaged last night.

Homes, businesses, schools. Flames ripping through part of this town, really showing you that no place here is immune as these wildfires go from location to location.

It's important to note that we have to focus on the cause. Experts continue to tell us that climate change is a major factor here.

I'll read you a statement from the California State Fire Agency:

They say, "While wildfires are a natural part of California's landscape, the fire season in California and across the west is starting earlier and ending later each year. Climate change is a key driver of this trend."

Of course, there are still people out there who deny that climate change is real.

It's become highly politicized. However, we are seeing steps potentially towards bipartisanship.

Take a listen. This is a Republican Congressman who covers this area. He posted this video, an emotional plea to the public, to appreciate what is happening in front of their very eyes to get the politics out of this.

Take a listen.


REP. DOUG LAMAFTA (R-CA): We'll take up the fight even harder and more so. We got to stop this. We got to get D.C. to pay attention. We got to get Sacramento to pay attention.

Forget the politics. Forget the nonsense. We have to stop making this happen by inattention to what's obvious.


CAMPBELL: Victor, we're hearing pleas here from Republicans and Democrats to take climate change serious as this part of the country continues to be ravaged.

Whether or not we'll see action on a boarder scale in Washington, yet to be seen -- Victor?

BLACKWELL: Yes. The evidence is burning through communities.

Josh Campbell, for us there in Greenville, California, thank you.

Long lines of angry passengers. Have you heard about this? Spirit Airlines cancelling more flights today. We're live from one of the airports caught up in this chaos.



BLACKWELL: More trouble for Spirit Airlines. Today, the company is scrapping almost half of its scheduled flights. This is the fifth straight day of these cancellations.

Yesterday, Spirit blamed weather and staffing shortages and insisted the problems would subside over the next few days.

CNN's aviation and transportation correspondent, Pete Muntean, is joining us from Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Pete, you just got a feel for the thousands of people who have been stranded by these cancellations.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION & TRANSPORTATION CORRESPONDENT: It is so many people, Victor, when you consider just how many flights have been cancelled. Take a look at the line here. It stretches for hours.

Some people in line here found out on their way to the airport that their flights were today were cancelled. Some had flights cancelled yesterday, rebooked on flights today, only to have that flight cancelled again.

Look at the numbers. Spirit Airlines cancelled another 400 flights today on top of all of the issues over the last few days. It has cancelled more than 1600 flights since Saturday.

Spirit is blaming overlapping operational issues, issues with the weather, issues with staffing shortages, issues with an I.T. problem responsible for crew scheduling.

Yesterday, the airline insisted these delays would subside in the coming days. But for so many here, that hasn't happened yet.


DEVONA MITCHELL, SPIRIT FLIGHT CANCELLED: I'm very angry. This is the first time I even flew with Spirit.

WAGAR AHMED, SPIRIT FLIGHT CANCELLED: It's a very, very inconvenient for us, you know, going through the hell, you know.

ARDAN, SPIRIT FLIGHT CANCELLED: I just want to get to my destination and never have to deal with Spirit Airlines again.


MUNTEAN: Some passengers are getting rebooked on other airlines. Some have been lucky enough to get a refund.

But there are still a lot of angry people here and at airports across the country served by Spirit Airlines.

This comes at a time when so many people are coming back to travel. The numbers have been pretty high.

Spirit says it's working against them. Their planes are pretty full, not leaving many empty seats for people to take when their original flight gets cancelled -- Victor?

BLACKWELL: Hopefully, they can get it together soon.

Pete Muntean for us. Thank you.

Top of the hour. I'm Victor Blackwell. It's good to be with you.


Any moment now, the president is oxygen expected to address a new executive order he'll sign, which sets any manufacturing target to combat climate change.

The order aims to make half of all vehicles sold in the U.S. by year 2030 zero-emissions vehicle.