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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Day One Of Derek Chauvin Murder Trial; Protesters March In Minneapolis; Pres. Biden Announces Expansion Of Vaccinations; Civil Rights, Voting Rights Groups File Lawsuit Over New Georgia Voting Law; Michigan GOP Chair Calls Three Top Elected Democratic Women "Witches". Aired 8-9p ET

Aired March 29, 2021 - 20:00   ET

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


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Here's how victory sounded and looked.

[VIDEO CLIP PLAYS]

BURNETT: The incident disrupted the supply chain of everything -- TVs, cars, furniture, and fuel. The head of the world's largest shipper says the effects will be felt for months.

Thanks for watching. It's time for "AC360."

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Good evening, Jim Sciutto here sitting in for Anderson.

It is sad to think that this time last year, George Floyd had just two months left to live. Two months later, his death caught on camera during an arrest by Minneapolis police officers and would shake the country, the world. It would send millions into the streets in the middle of a pandemic. That's how galvanizing, unifying it was and how in the eyes of many, symptomatic it was of this country's original infection, chronic and often deadly, institutional racism.

The events of that fateful moment just 3:00 p.m. on the 25th of May, the corner of 38th and Chicago Avenue reignited a national reckoning on race and pitted mostly peaceful demonstrators against a President who turned troops on them so he could have a photo op.

The killing also forced a reexamination of policing nationwide; and in Minneapolis, it brought an enormous civil settlement to Mr. Floyd's family, which is not the same as justice. The search for that began today.

Joining us now just outside the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, CNN national correspondent, Sara Sidner. Sara, Tell us what you're seeing there tonight.

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, a little bit of wind here, Jim. But we heard very poignant and pointed testimony today from a 911 dispatcher, from someone who was on the ground witnessing what was happening to George Floyd as he was under Derek Chauvin's knee. And we also heard from another witness who talks about exactly what this felt like to him as he was watching all this happen. We also saw a video that the public has not yet seen, and we saw the

video that the world has seen, and so did the jury, some of them for the very first time.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JERRY BLACKWELL, PROSECUTOR: On May 25, of 2020. Mr. Derek Chauvin betrayed this badge when he used excessive and unreasonable force upon the body of Mr. George Floyd.

SIDNER (voice over): The prosecution's opening statement tells you everything you need to know about how they want the jury to see this case.

BLACKWELL: Nine two nine. The three most important numbers in the case.

SIDNER (voice over): Nine minutes and 29 seconds, the excruciating time George Floyd's neck was under then officer Derek Chauvin's knee.

BLACKWELL: This case is not about split second decision making.

SIDNER (voice over): And to help make that point, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell played one of the videos for the jury.

[VIDEO CLIP PLAYS]

BLACKWELL: You will see, he does not let up and he does not get up. You will learn that Mr. Chauvin is told that they can't even find the pulse.

SIDNER (voice over): The first witness, a 911 dispatcher. Her May 25th dispatch was also played in court showing she was watching surveillance video of Floyd being pinned down that day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (via phone): I don't know. You can call me a snitch if you want to, but we have the cameras up for three points call.

JENA LEE SCURRY, MINNEAPOLIS 911 DISPATCHER: My instincts were telling me that something is wrong.

SIDNER (voice over): Jurors were told they'd also be seeing and hearing all the video from bystanders' cameras to police body worn cameras, as well as hearing from Minneapolis police officers, the Chief of Police, medical experts and witnesses on the scene.

Donald Williams was one of those witnesses. Williams is trained in mixed martial arts where chokeholds are practiced and what he saw on the street that day alarmed him.

DONALD WILLIAMS, WITNESS: To get a choke tighter, you hit different shimmies, which I felt the officer on top was shimmying to actually give the final choking while he was on top to get the kill choke.

SIDNER (voice over): For the defense's case. ERIC NELSON, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Derek Chauvin did exactly what he had

been trained to do over the course of his 19-year career.

The use of force is not attractive, but it is a necessary component of policing.

SIDNER (voice over): Chauvin's attorney, Eric Nelson made clear, this will also be a battle of experts.

NELSON: This will ultimately be another significant battle in this trial. What was Mr. Floyd's actual cause of death?

SIDNER (voice over): He wants the jury to look at the whole scene and listen to the use of force and medical experts, as well as read the medical reports.

NELSON: That revealed Mr. Floyd had an exceptionally high level of carbon dioxide. Dr. Baker found none of what are referred to as the telltale signs of asphyxiation.

There was no petechial hemorrhaging. There was no evidence that Mr. Floyd's airflow was restricted.

[20:05:24]

SIDNER (voice over): Instead, he suggested it was illicit drugs found in Floyd's system that aggravated a medical condition that took Floyd's life.

NELSON: Hypertension, coronary disease, the ingestion of methamphetamine and fentanyl and the adrenaline flowing through his body, all of which acted to further compromise an already compromised heart.

SIDNER (voice over): There was one thing that the defense and prosecution did agree on.

NELSON: There is no political or social cause in this courtroom.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: Sara, one of the biggest headlines today is adding time to when Chauvin had his knee on Floyd's neck, right. You know, additional almost 40 seconds. I wonder, how has the public received the testimony so far?

SIDNER: You know, people listening to this or saying, oh, that's it, he's going to get convicted and that's often what happens when the prosecution has to put their case out there first.

But when it comes to the politics of this, you know, you heard the prosecutor and the defense both said, "This is not about a social justice movement. It's not about politics." That may be the case inside the court.

But out in the streets, it is absolutely the case that the people who are out here believe, watching this trial and whatever happens in this trial will be either an indictment on the American justice system or show that the justice system works depending on the verdict -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Sara Sidner, thanks so much. These are live pictures from Minneapolis now. The public reacting to events inside that courtroom today.

Joining us now, Floyd family attorney, Chris Stewart, part of the team that won the massive settlement from the City of Minneapolis.

Mr. Stewart, thanks so much for joining us.

You heard the attorney for Derek Chauvin say he did not -- he did exactly what was what he was trained to do in reacting to George Floyd, you know, illicit drugs in his system. I wonder, what you make of that defense tonight?

CHRIS STEWART, FLOYD FAMILY ATTORNEY: Yes, we weren't aware that the officers of Minnesota were trained to murder and I think the Police Chief who was going to be testifying is going to vehemently disagree with the attorney for Derek Chauvin.

The drugs in the system, all of the other arguments, you know, they have to argue something because their client was caught on tape murdering someone.

SCIUTTO: The prosecution began today by playing the entire video of Chauvin's knee on George Floyd's neck for a greater period of time. We've thought about eight forty six, right, eight minutes, 46 seconds. Now, nine minutes 29 seconds based partly on new video from an eye witness plus also the police camera video.

What is the impact of that length of time in your view on the defense and the prosecution?

STEWART: I mean, it's heartbreaking to know that, you know, the torture lasted even longer, because that's what it is. It was torture.

This isn't the standard situation where an officer has to make a split second decision and pull the gun or pull the trigger. No, this was premeditated torture.

He smugly sat on top of him. He looked at the crowd. He puffed up his chest.

That type of individual can't be walking the streets and definitely can't wear a badge.

SCIUTTO: One of the star witnesses you might say for the prosecution, the 911 dispatcher, she testified her instincts were telling her something was wrong.

In fact, she thought the video from the scene was frozen because the position of the police officer on George Floyd's neck seemed to be lasting longer than she thought was possible. Right? I mean, how important was that testimony to you? STEWART: I mean, Jim, think about it. The mind blowing things that

have come out, their own 911 operator called the police on the police. A firefighter was a witness and was begging them to get off him so she could check the pulse.

There were witnesses screaming, "You're killing him." Georgia screaming, "You're killing him." And justice still isn't guaranteed for an African-American. That's mind blowing.

[20:10:00]

SCIUTTO: Okay, so on the flip side. You've heard the defense of Derek Chauvin talk about the use of drugs here, right? In fact, the Judge has allowed a previous arrest from 2019, where the allegation is that George Floyd ingested drugs prior to the arrest, and the allegation is prior to this arrest in 2020, he did the same thing.

So tell me your reaction to that allegation and the relevance to the trial at this point.

STEWART: Well, it is not relevant because doing drugs, any citizen that does, it's not a death sentence. You don't get executed by a police officer, because you made a mistake or you're battling in life.

This wasn't like he is some hardcore drug addict. He had a job. He was a security guard until COVID hit. He had a family. He was a father.

So you know, they can paint whatever picture they one of him, but the reality speaks for itself. But just because someone has issues in this country, they don't get murdered by a rogue police officer.

SCIUTTO: One thing I noted earlier this morning, as I was watching this press conference from the Floyd family lawyers was them noting the civil settlement prior to the criminal case, saying the city has already settled right to say that there was a wrong committed here. They noted that in public, right, that's not by accident.

And I'm curious what point you think they were trying to make there?

STEWART: I think they were accepting reality, you know, that the officer there has committed murder. Think about Walter Scott. We settled that case for a historic amount before he got 20 years, and he got 20 years.

And so you know, the civil case is separate from the criminal case. It settles when it settles and the city took responsibility. They did the right thing. The only person that hasn't taken responsibility is the man that is sitting there taking notes the entire time paying more attention, in this case they did to taking a pulse.

SCIUTTO: I understand this, Chris, but you know, these trials are competitive. Right? And you have the defense making their argument here. What's your reaction to the defense argument that George Floyd had a history? How do you respond to that if you're in the courtroom today? STEWART: Yes, that history did not have anything to do with being

killed with a knee on his neck. Derek Chauvin has a history. He has multiple incidents of abusing people. What about his history? That didn't seem to factor in while he had his knee on George Floyd's neck?

So it's a he-said she-said game, but the video speaks for itself.

SCIUTTO: All right. Chris Stewart, Floyd family attorney. Thanks so much. I know there are a lot of difficult issues here and we're very sensitive to what we're seeing on the screen right there right now live pictures from Minneapolis, thanks very much.

STEWART: Thanks for having me.

SCIUTTO: Well, perspective now from CNN senior legal analyst and former Federal prosecutor Laura Coates. Also, CNN law enforcement analyst, former top cop in Philadelphia and before that, in D.C., CNN analyst, Mark O'Mara, who successfully defended George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin.

So Laura, let's begin with you. Is there any reason to believe in your view that the jurors in this case could see that video of Mr. Floyd's death and conclude that Chauvin's actions were justified?

I mean, the big headline today, right, was that, it wasn't eight forty six, right? It was nine twenty nine. Okay, not eight minutes 46 seconds, but nine minutes 29 seconds where Chauvin had his knee in effect on George Floyd's neck.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, very rarely, in a case of this stature being so high profile, do you have the events where the actual facts that come in to trial are even worse than what you thought they were in the court of public opinion.

Normally, it's either they are the same or there may be a few surprises, but to lead off to know that it was even worse. And of course, Jim, that the officers were on notice. It wasn't as if they were unaware that perhaps George Floyd was no longer breathing. There were people who were imploring the officers to at the very least check.

Not only do you know about bystanders who were calling the police on these officers, but you had police, a dispatch woman, who was a part of the overall policing law enforcement team in general who also called to say something about this does not look right. My gut -- and call me a snitch if you want to, but I thought compelled in some way to call.

You add that onto the notion that although persuasion can ebb and flow in a trial, depending upon who is presenting evidence, you do have this extraordinary compelling video that answers at least the first question here, which is very key, which is, was there a reasonable amount of force used to repel any act of violence or for self-defense? Nine minutes and 29 seconds, half of which he was basically unconscious? The answer is no.

[20:15:08]

SCIUTTO: It's amazing to think like eight forty six is now nine twenty nine.

Mark, the defense case so far, draws attention to George Floyd's past history or alleged past history as a drug user. Right? I mean, in fact, the Judge has allowed admitting evidence of a 2019 arrest where drugs were taken in.

You know, given your experience here, tell me the relevance of that evidence.

MARK O'MARA, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, as a defense team, they are going to make as best a job if they can out of it, but it really is sort of victim blaming when you look at a case like this.

What they're trying to suggest and what the defense is going to focus on is, yes, he has a prior record; yes, he had this previous event and almost this modus operandi argument that he takes drugs, and therefore the death was his fault.

Because let's face it, they know, the defense knows that they have one benefit in their favor. And that is, it is very difficult to convict a cop in any courtroom in America.

And if they can build up that reasonable doubt, maybe it was George, maybe it was his heart, maybe it was the fentanyl or the drugs, that's going to be their focus and you're going to see it play out with every witness that they present building up to the one thing that the defense has in their favor and that is prosecution does not get their case until they convince all 12 people beyond a reasonable doubt.

SCIUTTO: Chief Ramsey, you've led the police in both D.C. and Philadelphia. So Derek Chauvin, according to the defense, was doing what he was trained to do. There were standards for police behavior, right, in terms of reacting to, for instance, folks they are trying to arrest, and do they resist arrest.

Tell us based on your experience, when you look at this video now more than we've seen before, frankly, nine twenty nine, not eight forty six, but nine minutes 29 seconds. Based on your experience, is there anything to justify that reaction from a police officer making arrest or attempting to?

CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: No, it isn't. An officer has the authority and the right to use force to overcome resistance, but only that force necessary to overcome that resistance.

Now, when you look at that video, early on when they're trying to put Mr. Floyd into the car, it does look as if he is resisting. They actually go on the other side of the car to try to, you know, get him in and actually wind up pulling him through.

But it does come to a point where you know, he is under control. He is handcuffed. They get him in a prone position, which by itself is problematic because of positional asphyxia. You have to be very careful when you have a situation like that.

And you look at three things in police training, is it necessary? Is it proportional? And is it objectively reasonable? And it wasn't.

He had stopped whatever resistance he was putting up, he had stopped -- the force should have stopped at that point in time.

SCIUTTO: Yes, listen, it's a national conversation right because it gets to the standard of what is allowed in those moments, which are difficult, we should grant, but Mark O'Mara, Charles Ramsey, Laura Coates, thanks very much.

Let's take a quick break and pick up when we come back.

Later, the pandemic: new and welcome word on how effective the two leading vaccines are in the real world. But also a deeply heartfelt warning from the head of the C.D.C. about dark days ahead if we do not stick with prevention efforts today. A leading public health expert joins us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:23:06]

SCIUTTO: Welcome back. These are live pictures of protesters on the streets of Minneapolis not far from the courthouse and day one of the Derek Chauvin murder trial in the death of George Floyd.

Back with us, Laura Coates, Charles Ramsey, Mark O'Mara.

Laura, so, the Judge will now allow testimony from a prior arrest from Floyd in 2019 originally rejected, now, will become part of this trial. Chauvin's lawyer say similarities exist between the two events.

I mean, key too, well, the allegation of drugs ingested prior to his arrest. Tell us the relevance of this to the current charges. Is that potentially material influential?

COATES: Well, the idea here when you look at what evidence to enter, you have to do this thing where you're comparing the prejudicial value of it versus the probative value.

To me, the prejudice to the victim is much greater than any probative value. And frankly, I don't understand why the defense would want to raise this issue because if they are going to say that the fact pattern was analogous, that there were some MO that George used, the ingestion of some substance in a police encounter. Remember, in 2019, he lived and the officers ended up providing him medical treatment.

So to compare, either if they find it analogous, that it does show you that even more so there was not reasonable action by the cops in 2020 when they sat on his neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds.

So the idea of using this is nonsensical. What they're trying to do, of course, is put George Floyd on trial as opposed to Derek Chauvin. In any event, it is not more probative than prejudicial, because it does not go to the meat of the matter here, which is whether the officer was reasonable in his use of force and whether the kneeling was a substantial causal factor to killing George Floyd.

[20:25:02]

SCIUTTO: Mark, it struck me as I watched this press conference play out live this morning on the air from the Floyd family attorneys. They mentioned more than once the fact that the City of Minneapolis agreed to settle a wrongful death lawsuit pay Floyd's family $27 million while the jury was being chosen.

I mean, in effect, you might say for folks consuming this news from home that this was an admission of guilt, right, or at least responsibility here. Tell me, based on your experience is that -- does that influence the trial -- the criminal trial of Derek Chauvin?

O'MARA: Well, it does. It would be nice if we can do this trial in a complete vacuum, but we know it hasn't been for the past year and it's not going to be.

So I think what the Floyd family team said was look, they've heard everything from cops and now hearing evidence what was in a call, they are now hearing evidence of maybe a prior 2019 event. Let's get out the other side of the coin, which is at least one group of people, the city, have looked at this and said he did so much wrong, Chauvin, that we need to compensate the family for what he did wrong.

And I think the team won that out there and I can understand why with all the other negative information about George Floyd that has been processed out there.

SCIUTTO: Chief Ramsey, you've led police departments in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. The standard for the use of force by police officers in Minneapolis like in many other places, but let's speak about there because this is what matters here, right, is threat to the police officer, threat of the use of deadly force by the person involved, you know to others involved.

When you look at this as a police officer, do you have any doubt that Chauvin overused this force, right? I mean, that it was within what was allowed as an officer of the law?

RAMSEY: Yes, it went beyond what was necessary. I mean, in the early stages of the arrest as they were trying to put him in a car, you can see some level of resistance, but that was overcome and remember, you've got four policemen there.

They get him in a prone position. He had already been handcuffed. At some point in time, he just stopped resisting and yet the pressure continued. There was no need for that.

In fact, when you have someone in a prone position, you're in danger of positional asphyxia because the rib cage can't expand when they're flat like that especially if they've got weight on their back.

And so as soon as you get them under control, roll them on the side, sit them up. Let them start breathing again. They didn't do that.

The pressure continued. It had to be something that if it didn't cause the death, it was significant in terms of what ultimately happened.

SCIUTTO: Now, listen, news today, right, 43 seconds added to that eight forty six, eight minutes 46 seconds that we talked about now. It's now nine twenty nine, right?

I mean, listen relevant to the discussion, Laura Coates, Charles Ramsey, Mark O'Mara, thanks very much.

Just ahead this hour, why the C.D.C. Director has a recurring feeling of quote, in her words, "impending doom" even as President Biden today announced the expansion of COVID vaccinations across the country. The details when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:32:26]

SCIUTTO: President Biden announced today that within the next three weeks 90 percent, 90 percent of Americans will be eligible for a vaccine. Also, that they will live within five miles of a vaccination site that's key it's about access, that's because he expects the number of pharmacies participating in the federal pharmacy vaccination program to more than double. So, good news on the vaccination front, that means something to you.

However, with cases now trending upward in a majority of states President Biden also called on state leaders to keep their mask mandates because the battle is quote, far from one. His comments echoed and emotional plea also made today from his CDC director.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: I'm going to lose the script and I'm going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending view (ph). We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are, and so much reason for hope, but right now I'm scared.

I know what it's like as a physician to stand in that patient room downed, loved, masked, shielded. And to be the last person to touch someone else's loved one because there was one couldn't be there. I know what it's like when you're the physician, when you're the healthcare provider and you're worried that you don't have the resources to take care of the patients in front of you. I know that feeling of nausea when you read the crisis standards of care and you wonder whether there are going to be enough ventilators to go around and who's going to make that choice. And I know what it's like to pull up to your hospital every day and see the extra morgue sitting outside.

So, I'm speaking today not necessarily as your CDC director not only is your CDC director but as a wife, as a mother, as a daughter to ask you to just please hold on a little while longer. I so badly want to be done. I know you all so badly want to be done. We're just almost there but not quite yet. And so, I'm asking you to just hold on a little longer to get vaccinated when you can so that all of those people that we all love them will still be here when this pandemic ends.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Just hold on a little bit longer. Joining us now Dr. Leana Wen, former Baltimore health commissioner and CNN medical analysts. I wonder do you share her fear about what may be coming.

LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I think that Dr. Walensky is speaking for a lot of us that we have been there before, and we know what the catastrophe what could really look like. And there are a lot of worrisome signs that we could be trending in that direction again because we do have increasing levels of infections again.

[20:35:14]

And I think we keep on talking about Jim this race between vaccines and variants. But I think there's another factor here and that factor is human behavior.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

WEN: Because what happens next really depends on what we do and whether we're going to keep on masking and avoiding indoor gatherings until we can get vaccinated.

SCIUTTO: Yes. So, don't stop too soon and I should mention your you're the author of the forthcoming book Lifelines A Doctor's Journey In The Fight For Public Health essential to what we're facing now. No coincidence that Dr. Walensky warned of this impending doom in her words as the President announced 90 percent of Americans will be eligible for the vaccine by April 19th. Do you believe that this could be the key right to turn the country around? To like standing in the way of a fourth surge before it takes place.

WEN: Absolutely. Already we have over 70 percent of those over 65 who have received at least one dose of the vaccine. About half of those over 65 are now fully vaccinated. I mean that's really incredible we're making so much good progress here.

And I think that's why this is so frustrating because we are so close and we're getting more and more information that these vaccines are so effective at protecting you against being severely ill but also protecting you from transmitting the disease to others which is so crucial too.

SCIUTTO: This thing we're so close. Dr. Fauci told CBS this isn't just from the variants it's from people on spring break, you know, traveling around the country. This is the thing. If you were to tell folks watching tonight what to do what would it be just hold out a little bit longer?

WEN: I think it's also recognizing that people are just really tired and really want to see one another. And so, I think at this point we cannot -- they don't do it, we have to say here's how we can reduce the harm. And so, if you really want to travel hold up until you are vaccinated.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

WEN: And then when you're traveling make sure that you're wearing a mask the whole time. If you did go on spring break and you engaged in some behaviors that are riskier like you went to a bar, you saw friends indoors, then when you get back to your home community make sure to quarantine and get tested. At this point this is not about zero risk but it's about understanding what our risks are and then reducing that risk as much as we can.

SCIUTTO: How close are we? Because all of us want to get to the point right where we're more comfortable, right? You know, kids can go to school we can travel reasonably. How close are we to that point as a country.

WEN: It's hard to say what where we are as a country. But I will say this as individuals I think we're really close. And I actually hope that the CDC will issue guidelines very soon about what it is that fully vaccinated people can do. Right now they're saying you can see one another, that one family can see one other family that's not fully vaccinated.

But I actually think that we can do even more because there are such convincing studies that have come out including one by the CDC today saying that if you're fully vaccinated reduces your likelihood of even getting coronavirus and even asymptomatically by 90 percent.

And so, I think they should say a lot and I think that will give additional incentive to people to get vaccinated.

SCIUTTO: For sure. Listen, hold out, right? We're so close as a country. Dr. Leana Wen, thanks so much.

Coming up next this hour, look at those new voting restrictions Georgia's governor signed into law last week. One of the state's top election officials during the 2020 campaign joins us, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:42:31]

SCIUTTO: The Georgia NAACP and other civil rights and voting groups have filed lawsuits challenging Georgia's new voting laws. While saying Republicans bill it as a voter integrity law, the lawsuit says the changes target voters of color after record turnout for both the general and runoff elections in 2020. Quote, these officials are using racial discrimination as a means of achieving a partisan end.

The new state law imposes voter I.D. requirements for absentee ballots, limits the use of ballot drop boxes, makes it a crime to approach voters in line to give them food and water. It's also part of a larger Republican led effort in state legislatures across the country to pass new restrictive voting measures.

We're joined now by top official who helped oversee the Georgia elections in 2020, Gabriel Sterling who is the COO and CFO for Georgia Secretary of State's Office. We should put out the secretary of state is named in the lawsuit.

So, Mr. Sterling, these are highly charged new voting laws. You believe there are some good reforms in this new voting law, what is the pressing need though right away, we had a massively high turnout election in 2020, miniscule fraud. What's the justification for these restrictions?

GABRIEL STERLING, COO & CFO, GA SECRETARY OF STATE'S OFFICE: Well, there's twofold some are actual election ministration things and some are driven by politics and there's no question about that. But the reality that I'm having to deal with now and the reason I'm on your show and the reason I do so many interviews, is when I was dealing in December and November in January.

I deal with disinformation. I'm having to deal with disinformation again but from the opposite side. None of these things restricts anything especially based on race, it's just not true but it's a really good fundraising tool and a really good way to stir emotions people by saying that their votes being suppressed.

I mean putting in the voter I.D. requirement, it was lauded by them when we -- we're trying to do it with the absentee ballot portal that we put out there and these very same people sued to get rid of signature match just last year and they lost, now they're putting it into defendant.

They're trying both ways because they have to have the controversy, they have to have the lawsuits to raise the money. I mean there's no real extra research (ph). In fact this expands early voting days, mandatory once and it keeps all the optional ones there.

[20:45:03]

Drop boxes did not exist in the law in Georgia. They weren't done under the COVID emergency rules where it will put them out. So, they were authorized for the first time under this law, there is no real restriction, but I'll keep on saying that. And this thing about the water, yes, I get it.

It is bad optics, except for the fact that people were using it to get around the decades old law, you can't do any lectionary or campaigning within 150 feet of the polling location was the same law everywhere in United States.

SCIUTTO: Gabriel, to your credit, in the midst of allegations of non- existent voter fraud and 2020. You held your ground, you said this was a valid election, you push back against Trump's allegations, et cetera. So, I want to state that for our viewers who might not be aware of that. Big picture, though, for folks at home, who are asking the question, why isn't more voting better? Right? I voted by drop box in D.C. Right? My wife and I, we signed our ballots, we like dropped our ballots in, no problem with that, right. And there's no evidence of that leading to, you know, voter fraud, just make the case for me and for folks at home. As to why you need more restrictions, when there is no evidence of the fraud that is used to justify these restrictions.

STERLING: Well, Jim we push back on your premise, what they're calling restrictions aren't restrictions. Having somebody put their I.D. number on a ballot makes it no longer subject to the subjective, you know, decision making of a part-time worker on whether a signature matches or not.

This goes to a binary objective measurement that in no way impedes anybody's ability to vote. And we have 97 percent of driver's license numbers on our voter registration records for everybody. Plus, we have 99.9 percent of the last force of the social security number, date of birth. So, that in no way provides a way to not vote.

Drop boxes, we're not mandatory last time, they were made available. And it was the first time we use something we didn't do it under the legislative intent. We did it under the COVID emergency. So, there were 38 counties had no drop boxes at all, now be forced to have them.

We've added mandatory early voting days. I'm telling you repeatedly, they need to have this for fundraising, they need to have this for people, there aren't new restrictions, there is expansions and how to vote in the states and making it easier for people to vote and easier for counties to administer them.

SCIUTTO: OK. So, your boss, the Georgia secretary of state he was stripped of some of his powers as part of the new law. And I've watched this very closely because I'm an American, I'm going to e not partisan but, you know, my general motivation is like more people vote.

That's a good thing. What issues in these laws in Georgia but also in other states, right, is taking away the rights of nonpartisan state officials from supervising the election, right? And allowing partisan, whether it's state legislatures and others to possibly intervene?

I just want to, you know, given president -- former President Trump's attempts to baselessly claim fraud in this election, right? Why should people at home have confidence that giving partisan, folks the ability to interfere over folks like yourself, right, who stood, you know, use to your credit, you stood on the line and said, these are the facts, I'm going to go with it. Why should they feel confident it's more safe now rather than before?

STERLING: Well, Jim, you're saying that Secretary Raffensperger isn't partisan, which he is very much. He's an elected Republican state official, and --

SCIUTTO: But he's willing to stand up to a Republican president, right. STERLING: Yes. But also, I'm a very partisan Republican as well, I'm just going to put that out there. But it doesn't stop the ability to follow the truth. And this is one of the other issues that there's a lot of disinformation about.

This other person is going to put in there as to be nonpartisan in a way that I don't even know if they can possibly fulfill it. They can't have been involved in a campaign, that can't have been paid, they can't be given money. It's one of those. It's a very constrained thing.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

STERLING: But the one we're talking about doing in this has nothing to do with certification. The law is not changed one with one certification. The Secretary of State still certifies elections, counties still certify elections. So the other thing that people talked about this, like, oh, this state election board can step in, by the way, it's a bipartisan board. So you're a Democrat, no matter what Democratic Party, will always appoint somebody Republican Party, will always appoint somebody regardless of who the partisans are elected to these roles.

This is for counties that consistently fail their voters. This is for counties that have those long lines, who don't fulfill absentee ballots, who don't count things well, who lose ballots and all those kinds of questions. And it's a long process. It's not like you can snap your fingers and all of a sudden the counties have taken over, they have to go through a whole process. There's hearings, there's investigations and they can appeal the ruling to a superior court and lots of due process. It'll take weeks and months.

[20:50:06]

So, this is not about changing election results. That's another red herring designed to incite people to fear. And again, the disinformation I dressed in December, in January, in February, November, this -- the same thing just on the other side, and they're doing it for justice, strong and political purpose.

SCIUTTO: Well, Gabriel Sterling, I appreciate you because I followed your career and this and you've held your line in the midst of partisan attacks from your own party. So, let's keep up the conversation. You know, this is a contentious issue. I hope we can have you on again.

STERLING: Thank you, Jim. And have a great night.

SCIUTTO: Coming up this hour, the chairman of the Michigan Republican Party used a particularly caustic term to describe the three top Democratic women elected to office in that state. What he said and how one of those women is responding, is next.

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SCIUTTO: The chairman of the Michigan Republican Party is facing backlash tonight after use the term witches, I'm quoting, while characterizing the top three Democratic women elected to office in that state, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. Here's what GOP State Chair Ron Weiser said while speaking to a local Republican group on Friday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RON WEISER, MICHIGAN GOP CHAIRMAN: I mean the decision to continue to serve to make sure we had an opportunity to take out those three witches into (INAUDIBLE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Weiser later tweeted he should have, quote, chosen my words more carefully. Later at the same event, he was asked how to remove two Michigan Republican congressmen who voted to impeach the former president, again quoting here, the state GOP leader said quote, other than assassination, that's a quote. I have no other way other than voting out.

A lot to get through tonight. Joining me now is one of those women targeted by his words, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.

[20:54:59]

So, Madam Attorney General, this is not a small issue in your state after all, the governor was targeted with an actual terror plot, right? I mean, we've seen this before. When you heard those comments made by Ron Weiser last week, you tweeted, quote, as a gay Jewish woman, I have long since learned to respond to hateful rhetoric with humor. But as a prosecutor, I know these remarks are certain to inspire further death threats, which will eventually be acted upon and Ron Weiser will surely react with shock and deny any culpability.

So, you have a lot of experience here. These are -- these words are potentially dangerous, are they're not?

DANA NESSEL (D), MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL: I agree entirely. And in fact, he followed that up saying we were witches that needed to be burned at the stake. So he sort of, you know, implied a little bit more later on in that sentence, but it's not the first time. I mean, the party, the co-chair, they've called us evil. They've called us the three headed monster.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

NESSEL: You know, they go to great efforts to demonize and dehumanize people. And, you know, that's the entire reason why we had to create not just our hate crimes unit, but our domestic terrorism unit, which is flooded with death threats against elected leaders.

But it's like saying, oh, I didn't know that calling the governor, a dictator over and over would incite people to want to kidnap and murder her. I didn't know that calling, you know, COVID, the China virus would inspire people to murder Asians, or I didn't know that saying that the election was stolen, would cause people, you know, to mount an insurrection against our government. I mean, we know that that words matter, and that they incite actions.

SCIUTTO: I want to ask you this, because I personally, as a reporter, I covered international terrorism for many years. And I see parallels right now in this country, right in terms of rhetoric, but also the threat of domestic terrorists. For folks at home, who might look at this and say, well, it's not that big a deal, right? It's America, this is not going to go anywhere. Just tell me how you respond to that point and say, this is real. Right? I'm curious, you have a lot of experience here.

NESSEL: Well, we know it's real. And we see it every day. And we see it in terms of the threats that are made to public officials, threats that are made to the public. These are I don't want to say unprecedented times, but certainly in my lifetime. I've never seen anything to this extent. And of course, as attorney general of the state, I'm sort of privy to more inside knowledge.

So, I see the direct nexus between what is said by whether they are higher up elected officials, or they were party officials, I see their words repurposed later on by those that are involved in actions to actually harm these elected officials or to harm members of the public.

So, there is a direct correlation that you can't separate. But the thing is, I don't think that this was a slip of the tongue by the Michigan chair. I think this was poll tested, and that they actually looked at this and this is a strategy to get Trump supporters out in 2022 in Michigan, is to demonize this way. And I think the strategy that they're going to hold on to,

SCIUTTO: Well folks at home if you have not seen the video of the group that tried to target the governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, look it up online because this is real.

Attorney General Dana Nessel, we hope you stay safe. Thanks so much for joining us tonight.

NESSEL: Thanks for having me.

SCIUTTO: And we'll be right back.

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[21:00:32]

SCIUTTO: The news continues, so let's hand it over to my good friend, Chris Cuomo, "CUOMO PRIME TIME." Chris, over to you.