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Travel Seeing Comeback as CDC Advises Against It; Derek Chauvin Murder Trial Continues; Attack at U.S. Capitol Raises Fresh Questions About Security; Proposals to Secure Capitol Hill Caught Up in Partisan Infighting; Risk of Catastrophic Flood As Toxic Reservoir Leaks in Florida. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired April 5, 2021 - 09:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Very good Monday morning. I'm Jim Sciutto. Nice to have Poppy Harlow back.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Nice to be back with you, my friend. I'm Poppy Harlow. Happy Monday, everyone.

This pandemic is not taking a spring break but millions of Americans are. And that has doctors very concerned. The TSA just reported that it's screened more than six million people at airports across the country Thursday and our country is walking a fine line between vaccinations and another surge of infections. Right now the U.S. is averaging more than three million vaccination doses administered per day. That's a big increase, and that's pretty good news. We're following all those headlines.

SCIUTTO: It is indeed. Keeping to watch variants, though. And this we're also following. The trial riveting the nation. Starting next hour, prosecutors calling more witnesses in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged in the death of George Floyd. The Minneapolis police chief and an emergency room doctor could be called to the stand as early as today. It will be worth watching. We're going to bring it to you live.

Let's begin, though, this morning with CNN's Pete Muntean on these new travel numbers.

And you really do get a sense of the country moving beyond the pandemic, regardless of what the data shows, but the travel data is showing one thing, and it's going up.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. You know, these numbers are huge for the pandemic. The TSA says it's screened 1.54 million people at airports across the country yesterday. 1.4 million people Saturday, 1.58 million people on Friday. That is the pandemic record and this all means about six million people have flown since Thursday. Now these new numbers are about 10 times greater than where we were

the low point of the pandemic about a year ago. But still about two- thirds of where we were back before the pandemic struck in 2019. So there is still a long way to go. But travelers tell us they feel empowered to get out right now, in spite of what health experts are saying, just to wait a little bit. Here's what travelers are telling us.


JADE DEL ORBE, AIR TRAVELER: I feel because people are just probably like just tired of being at home. You get tired of (INAUDIBLE) like playing, they're whatever, I guess, like, some people have gotten the vaccine so they're like, oh, yes, we can go out now, it's a lot easier with the vaccine.


MUNTEAN: Now these numbers are so big that Delta Airlines actually had to fill some middle seats early on its flights over the weekend. It said it had to do that keep up with demand, about 100 of its flights were cancelled because of staffing issues. Delta has been capping capacity and says it's no longer capping capacity after May 1st.

You know, these numbers probably only go up from here. The CDC has said that fully vaccinated Americans can travel with low risk. We will see if more people combat the travel now that the CDC has issued those new guidelines -- Jim, Poppy.

HARLOW: OK. Pete, thank you for that reporting for us.

Let's bring in Dr. Megan Ranney, emergency physician at Brown University.

I think, Dr. Ranney, that, I mean, Pete's right. When you hear the CDC that has been very cautious, especially under this new leadership, saying OK, fully vaccinated people can travel. These numbers don't seem like they're going to go anywhere but up.

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY: Totally. And honestly, it's appropriate. These vaccines are tremendously effective. We have real world studies now showing that they're well over 90 percent effective when given as intended, and that traveling for folks who have been vaccinated is likely safe as long as we all still wear masks on airplanes or buses or trains.

The thing that worries me about these pictures is, of course, most adult Americans have not yet been vaccinated. And none of our kids have. And so what we're doing with this travel is mixing folks across the country, potentially making those variants spread faster and putting that end, which is in sight, a little further out of reach.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Ranney, tell us about this particular mutation. I don't want to go too deep into the weeds of the science here, but it's causing concern among doctors. It's a mutation that's been nicknamed eek, which is found in more than one of these new variants, and the worry about it is that it does make the vaccines less effective. Where they have been shown in general to be good against variants. Significance of that and what needs to be done about it?

RANNEY: Yes. This is the reason why so many of us are concerned about people getting out and about before they have been vaccinated.


The vaccines are tremendously effective. But every time the virus spreads, it has the chance to mutate. Right now, the mutations that are out there, the b-117 which we've all heard about. The b-531 which was first identified in South Africa and P-1 which comes from Brazil, those -- it seems that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and probably the Johnson & Johnson one work against all three of those. The vaccine might be a little bit less effective against the strain, that b-351 that comes from South Africa.

We are dodging a bullet. If one of these mutations mutates a little further and makes it that the vaccines no longer work, then we are right back where we were last fall before we had effective vaccines. That is what we want to avoid, if any more breakout mutations that are more dangerous again right now, the existing vaccines seem to work pretty well against these new variants not as well as they do against what they were originally tested against, but it is so important for us to keep masking in public places and to get the vaccine as soon as it's available.

HARLOW: Some universities have just announced that they will mandate COVID vaccines, Rutgers, Cornell among them. For my kids to go to school, they have to have certain vaccinations, MMR, polio, et cetera, But I don't believe the flu shot is vaccinated for most children. Recommended, not mandated. So where does this fall in that? Should they be mandated for schools? Should they not?

RANNEY: I think we're going to see most colleges mandating vaccines for their students, that the kids can come back safely to schools and to protect the community around. We saw last fall those early surges in cases were related largely to college kids coming back to campus, holding parties, socializing, going out to grocery stores. You got a lot of people in a dense area this virus is going to spread. It's also important to protect staff and folks for whom the vaccine might not be as effective. I think we are going to see a growing movement towards schools but also many workplaces and healthcare facilities mandating this vaccine for their workers.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Ranney, just so I'm clear on this new mutation, you're saying the vaccines work in general for the new variants. But if the variants have this new mutation, does that mean the vaccines don't work as well? I mean, is that already in the data? Or are we still trying to figure it out?

RANNEY: So still trying to figure it out. There was just new papers, some new data from Pfizer that was released last week, Thursday/Friday, that showed that their vaccine still works against this new South African variant. SCIUTTO: OK.

RANNEY: The b-1351 that has the eek mutation.


RANNEY: But a little bit less well.


RANNEY: So they've released new data from South Africa that was really promising, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Understood. Well, we'll keep asking. And I know we're learning as we go along.

Dr. Megan Ranney, comforting to hear that, though, at this point. Thanks so much.

Coming up next hour, testimony will resume in the trial, the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer charged with killing George Floyd.

SCIUTTO: Let's go to our colleague Josh Campbell. He joins us in Minneapolis this morning.

What more do we know, Josh, about who prosecutors are going to bring to the stand this day and this week?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy. As you mentioned, we're starting week two of testimony here in Minneapolis. Looking back last week it was a week filled with gripping testimony. Especially from these two senior law enforcement officers who rejected this idea that somehow Derek Chauvin was acting within policy whenever he held George Floyd down on the pavement for over nine minutes.

Now we're expecting to hear today, sometime this week is from the actual police chief here in Minneapolis, who's already been on record publicly criticizing the actions of Derek Chauvin, calling what he did is murder. A second witness we're expecting to hear from is the chief medical official who was on duty that night at the hospital last May. He was supervising efforts to try to resuscitate George Floyd, according to the prosecution. He was also in charge of taking blood samples.

And that's important because we know that the defense's strategy has been to turn the tables here and try to claim that it wasn't Chauvin's actions that resulted in George Floyd's death, but perhaps the idea that Floyd was under the influence of some kind of drug at the time of his arrest. So we're expecting robust questioning from the prosecution, from the defense as court gets kicked off here in just a couple of hours -- Jim, Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Understood, it will be very worth watching. As we said we're going to bring it to you live the moment it starts.

Josh Campbell in Minneapolis, thank you.

Joining me now to discuss all to expect today and this week, Laura Coates, former federal prosecutor and CNN senior legal analyst.

Laura, good to have you back on. What struck me is the prevalence of police testifying in effect against the former police officer Derek Chauvin. And today, for instance, we could hear from the chief of police in Minneapolis, Medaria Arradondo. Don't know exactly what they will say on the stand, but I want to release a statement said soon after this took place last year.


Said the following, "Mr. George Floyd's tragic death was not due to a lack of training. The training was there. Chauvin knew what he was doing. The officers knew what was happening. One intentionally caused it and the others failed to prevent it. This was murder, it wasn't a lack of training."

I mean, that goes right at what the defense argument is here, right, that this is part of training, and he was just respond, et cetera to the crowd and to the threat from Floyd. Other cops say no. How well are they making that case?

LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Very well. But of course, you know, as many people who are watching this trial may say, OK, I've heard enough, the video was enough. I've seen the nine-minute, 29 video, that's enough. Prosecutors have to be very, very meticulous. They cannot leave a single stone unturned. They have to be exhaustive in their exploration of the evidence. They have to preempt. They have to be able to anticipate and they have to be able to dismiss the things that they have anticipated about the defense's case.

So you're going to see what you're going to think of almost like a -- the cup runeth over of evidence here in terms of trying to develop and improve those elements. Bur remember it should come as no surprise to people that the officers in this case have distanced themselves. It might be surprising in the first instance to think that a police officer is not going to kind of protect the so-called one of their own.

Remember, he was fired the very next day and by June, just a few days after George Floyd was killed, the police chief was calling this murder. There is one element of that particular statement you read, and that's the word intentional. Remember, this officer has been charged with unintentional murder. Meaning he didn't have to intend to actually kill. He had to intend to act in the way he did that posed that grave bodily or even deadly threat.

If he was intentional about kneeling on the neck for that amount of time, it didn't matter if he woke up in the morning and thought I'm going to kill somebody. He did not, obviously. But the idea of as long as he intended the action that caused the death, that can constitute the unintentional murder.

HARLOW: Laura, the testimony by Chief Arradondo follows the testimony last week by Lieutenant Zimmerman who called the use of force totally unnecessary. You're a former federal prosecutor. How would you question the chief today?

COATES: I would go methodically through the training. I would talk about what the standards are. I would talk about the environment, the culture of the police in Minneapolis. I would talk about the different policy measures I've made clear to all of the people in the ranks. I would go through what our expectations are. And I would acknowledge, I would acknowledge that an officer is absolutely entitled to use force.

This is no big secret. This is not an aha moment or a gotcha. You're entitled to use force. But what this chief has to do is demonstrate to the prosecution that there was a moment in time it went from reasonable expected use of force that is OK for an officer and transformed into assault. That it was no longer reasonable. If somebody was operating under the color and pretext of their badge to carry out something that officers are not supposed to do.

When you continue to make that clear line in the sand, you have a very strong case. And you're going to see this at different layers, a sergeant, a lieutenant, the chief of police who ultimately made the decision to fire this person.

SCIUTTO: Understood. Listen, lots to watch this week. There is lots more to come. We're going to bring it to you live as we've said,

Laura Coates, good to have you on.

Well, Capitol police are reeling after the latest deadly attack on their own. What this means for the future of security on Capitol Hill? Also, Florida is racing to prevent a catastrophic flood situation. Hundreds of homes evacuated as a toxic waste water reservoir is in real danger now of collapsing. We're going to go there live.

HARLOW: Plus Republican-led efforts to pass voting legislation setting off a fierce battle across the nation. Calls for boycotts as corporations speak out over Georgia's new restrictive law. But will it make other states speak twice? We will be joined by the Texas state senator who is pushing his own bill.



SCIUTTO: There are growing concerns this morning about security at the U.S. Capitol in the wake of not one but two deadly attacks already this year, in just three months. The chairman of the Union for U.S. Capitol Police Officers said the department is quote, "struggling to meet existing mission requirements."

Now, he wants Congress to step up and hire hundreds of new officers. My next guest led a taskforce to review the U.S. Capitol security in the wake of the January 6th insurrection. He urged Congress to revamp its security forces, take a number of major steps. Joining me now, retired Army Lieutenant General Russel Honore. Sir, thanks so much for taking the time this morning. RUSSEL HONORE, RETIRED ARMY LIEUTENANT GENERAL: Good morning.

SCIUTTO: So, on Friday, one officer killed, another injured, just three months after a deadly attack on January 6th on the Capitol. Is the U.S. Capitol, in your view, unsafe today?

HONORE: I think the Capitol is safe for people to go and come. We never know what's going to happen on any given day, because the Capitol is a target. It could be a lone wolf which happened last week, unfortunately officer Evans in the line of duty lost his life as a car screamed in that high speed hit him and his colleague, and he ended up losing his life. The barriers didn't block the car. The Capitol is a target and any time the police is -- when you look at why that is so, Jim, that is the seat of our power.



HONORE: The Capitol is the center of our power, without the Capitol functioning, our democracy doesn't work. So those who for whatever reason, political, ideological or just basic people who hate us, it's going to always be a big target and we've got to be ready 24/7, and that burden goes on the Capitol police. Ultimately --

SCIUTTO: Right --

HONORE: They are the ones responsible and it puts a lot of pressure on them and losing two numbers here in this short period of time is very hard on that police force.

SCIUTTO: How do foreign actors, terrorists view this, if twice in three months, people can get into the Capitol and kill U.S. officers and threaten the lives of members of Congress. Do foreign terrorist organizations look at that as an invitation?

HONORE: I think we look back at history, we'll continue to be challenged. There will be others who will step their game up, I think and learn something for what happened on 1/6 or from the incident that happened on Friday and that Capitol police force, I think is ready with the support they have from the National Guard and the other police forces there, the Capitol police will protect the capitol. Ultimately, that's what they did on 1/6 after much reorganization and fighting with the support of the D.C. Police Department, they kept members of Congress safe.

SCIUTTO: Yes, let me ask you this, and I understand your desire to express confidence in Capitol police officers and many of them have served bravely, but the head of the union is saying, today, they're unable to meet the mission. They can't do it today. How can it be safe if they can't finish their mission?

HONORE: I think that's -- I think that's an overstatement. I spoke with the union chief last week. They got nearly a 1,000 National Guard there backing up the Capitol police. I understand where you want to go. We made the recommendation that they need to get the funding to recruit and hire 233 officers that are short.

We made the recommendation to hire another additional 800 officers. Those recommendations are there, it's up to Congress to take action. But I will not go as far as he has at the -- cannot meet the mission. That's BS. The Capitol police mission -- that meet the mission along with the National Guard buddies, and they will continue to meet the mission.

So, I think that's an overstatement. But I understand his enthusiasm to want to get to 233 officers, then we need recruiting money, we may need --


HONORE: Some incentive money, and we need to balance the Capitol police benefits in retirement to be that equal to the park police and the D.C. police. You know, they don't have the same generous retirement that Park police and D.C. police. That need to be fixed, and we got aware of the Congress and I'm sure when they do a supplemental level, it will be considered --



SCIUTTO: Understood. And I -- you're already on the record recommending hundred -- to hiring hundreds more officers to address insufficiencies there. In the wake of January 6th, several U.S. Capitol police officers were disciplined either for not fulfilling their duty sufficiently in terms of protecting the Capitol or in some circumstances, the possibility of aiding the attackers. Has the U.S. Capitol police force in your view today removed any insider threat?

HONORE: Jim, I'm not aware of that other than what I've read in the newspaper, that wasn't a part of our report. But I know the FBI and the internal leadership inside the Capitol police, I trust them to be doing the right thing and sorting those investigations out, I do not know.

SCIUTTO: OK, understood. The other question, we had a Democratic member of Congress on this broadcast allege that Republican members of the house gave tours to those who later participated on January 6th. We have not seen evidence of that, and I wonder in your investigation, did you see any evidence of either communication or help or tours from members or staff members on the Hill?

HONORE: That was not a part of our investigation. We did spend a lot of time on making recommendations on the increase in security in cyber. We made recommendations that everyone coming into the Capitol get background checks, the entire congressional staff. All of them need to get background checks is what we recommended.

But I know nothing about the incident for which you speak. But we do think that everyone going into the Capitol that worked there should have complete background checks and we need to improve the ability to process people with vestibules outside of the Capitol corridor, so people can come in, be quickly screened and going through using the best of technology, Jim, and process them in the Capitol safely, and we do recommend that very strongly.


SCIUTTO: Final question. You've made some sweeping recommendations here. And I know based on your work, you take this very seriously. You believe they're necessary, hundreds more officers, but also protections in home districts, not just here in Washington. But sadly, this has become a political football, right? You have accusations, this investigation was not bipartisan, et cetera. Do you believe that Congress can meet in the middle here and address these real security concerns?

HONORE: I hope so, and I'm -- I'm sure Speaker Pelosi and leader Schumer will work this along with the minority leaders. I think most of them are in agreement that we need to make some of the changes, if not all the changes we've recommended to them. It's a function of getting in supplemental because without that, the work don't start. We can't wait until next year's budget.

The architect at the Capitol along with the Sergeant of Arms in the house and the Senate have these recommendations. They generally are in agreement on what they need to be doing, hardening the Capitol, what needs to be done to provide additional training and resources for the police department and to relook the amount of overtime. Right now, many of these police are working 12-15 hours a day, because they're 233 short.

They are that short because last year they didn't have a class. And the facts on that is last year, the Capitol police consumed 720,000 hours of overtime. That's a lot of over time. And --


HONORE: And for that, we recommend the hiring of over nearly 300 officers just to fill the gap to take care of the overtime. Most of those officers there are doing their job. They're proud of what they're doing. And again, I want to reaffirm people that the Capitol is a target, but those officers are on their job and they are getting better at taking care of one another and closing the gaps and seams, and they're --


HONORE: Getting better at reading intelligence.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and we saw them act bravely on Friday certainly. Lieutenant General Russel Honore, we know you take this work very seriously, and we wish you the very best of luck.

HONORE: Have a good day and bless the officer Evans and his family and his fellow officers. This is going to be another tough one and another funeral in the Capitol police.

SCIUTTO: Yes, we share that sentiment as well. General Honore, thank you. Well, officials in one Florida County are scrambling now to prevent what the governor says could be a catastrophic flood featuring millions of gallons, not just of water, but toxic waste water. We're going to be on top of it.

HARLOW: We are also moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Take a look at U.S. futures, all pointing higher here, investors really encouraged by the strong jobs report on Friday, showing employers hired more than 900,000 workers last month. Also optimism about vaccination rates accelerating, we'll keep a close eye on the markets. Stay with us.