Return to Transcripts main page

ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Lead Investigator, Forensic Experts Testify In Chauvin Trial; Interview With Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY); CDC: COVID Variant First Seen In U.K. Now Dominant In U.S.; Former Florida Tax Collector At Center Of GOP Congressman's Legal Troubles; Idaho Gov. Bans Mandated COVID-19 "Vaccine Passports"; Biden To Announce New Executive Actions On Guns. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired April 7, 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: You know, everything, Matthew says so crucial and you think of two of the doctors who work at the hospital were involved, and he was originally treated for that poisoning have died since then, and now -- and now here he is with these very severe illnesses.

All right, thanks for joining us. Anderson starts now.

[20:00:15]

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. Another significant day in the Derek Chauvin murder trial, another turbulent day for what appears to be the defense's attempt to suggest that George Floyd was killed by the drugs in his system, preexisting medical conditions or anything but Officer Chauvin's knee on his neck.

Some of the damage to that theory came when of key piece of testimony for the defense was turned completely around just a short time later by the prosecution. Again, tonight a lot to talk about with our legal and forensic team, but first, CNN's Omar Jimenez on the day in court.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JUDGE PETER CAHILL, HENNEPIN COUNTY DISTRICT: Sergeant, just a reminder, you're still under oath.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Today's testimony, more cops taking the stand against former officer Derek Chauvin.

STEVE SCHLEICHER, PROSECUTOR: In your opinion, does defendant's use of force during that time period need to be reasonable within the entire time period?

SGT. JODY STIGER, LOS ANGELES POLICE DEPARTMENT: Yes.

CAHILL: Will be the truth and nothing.

JIMENEZ (voice over): But one of the more significant exchanges came when Special Agent James Ryerson took the stand, an agent with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension that led the investigation into the events of May 25th.

The defense played him video from the scene.

ERIC NELSON, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Published Exhibit 1007. And I'm going to ask you, sir, to listen to Mr. Floyd's voice.

[VIDEO CLIP PLAYS]

NELSON: Did you hear that?

JAMES RYERSON, SPECIAL AGENT, MINNESOTA BUREAU OF CRIMINAL APPREHENSION: Yes, I did.

NELSON: Did it appear that Mr. Floyd said "I ate too many drugs."

RYERSON: Yes, it did.

JIMENEZ (voice over): But minutes later, prosecutors played a longer clip from the same video.

SCHLEICHER: Having heard it in context, are you able to tell what Mr. Floyd is saying there.

RYERSON: Yes, I believe Mr. Floyd is saying "I ain't doing no drugs."

SCHLEICHER: So it's a little different than what you're asked about when you only saw a portion of the video correct?

RYERSON: Yes, sir.

JIMENEZ (voice over): A key moment as one of the defense's main theories is that Floyd died largely from drugs in his system, combined with his medical history.

Earlier in the day, Sergeant Jody Stiger with the Los Angeles Police Department was called by prosecutors as a use of force expert and testified like others have, the force Derek Chauvin used on George Floyd was excessive.

STIGER: He was in the prone position. He was handcuffed. He was not attempting to resist. He was not attempting to assault the officers, kick, punch or anything of that nature.

JIMENEZ (voice over): But Chauvin's attorney during cross examination focused on what could have happened, specifically one of their central arguments that the growing crowd became a perceived threat and distracted Chauvin.

NELSON: And when someone starts threatening you, it's a possible -- possibility that an officer can view that as a potential deadly assault that's about to happen. That's what they're trained.

STIGER: Yes.

NELSON: That's what they're trained.

JIMENEZ (voice over): But during prosecutor questioning --

STIGER: I did not perceive them as being a threat.

SCHLEICHER: And why is that?

STIGER: Because they were merely filming and they were -- most of it was their concern for Mr. Floyd.

JIMENEZ (voice over): The defense also moved to show there were points where Chauvin's knee may not have been on the neck, but on some portions of the shoulder. Prosecutors called the placement irrelevant.

SCHLEICHER: Is the risk related to the pressure on the neck or the pressure on the body?

STIGER: The pressure on the body -- any additional pressure on the body complicates breathing more so than if there was no pressure at all.

JIMENEZ (voice over): And the final portion of the day, forensic experts testified about drugs found in the police squad car as well as Floyd's vehicle including illicit drugs in pill form.

MATTHEW FRANK, PROSECUTOR: And what were the results of the testing?

BREAHNA GILES, FORENSIC SCIENTIST, MINNESOTA BUREAU OF CRIMINAL APPREHENSION: The tablets contained methamphetamine and fentanyl.

FRANK: Are you able at the BCA lab to quantify how much methamphetamine or fentanyl are in those pills?

GILES: For methamphetamine, yes. For fentanyl, no.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And Omar Jimenez joins us now from Minneapolis. So can you explain the context and significance of the drugs found in both vehicles?

JIMENEZ: Yes, significant mainly for the fact that the jury can now hear for themselves that drugs were found in these vehicles. We did know prior to this that some of these same drugs were already found in George Floyd's system based on the autopsy report, but it speaks to the larger point of, as closely as you and I have been paying attention to this, the only people that really matter at this point are the jurors in that courtroom.

And based on reports that we've gotten from inside, this week has seemed to be a little bit harder for them to pay full attention as we've sort of been in this expert testimony phase compared to what we saw last week, which was the more dramatic emotional testimony phase that we saw.

Nonetheless, many of them have been taking notes. We've seen some confer back and forth among themselves. And then of course, we work our way towards what will be the final portion of prosecutor testimony or prosecutor calling witnesses trying to get to the official cause of death for George Floyd.

[20:05:11]

COOPER: Omar Jimenez, appreciate it. Thanks.

Joining us now, two CNN legal analysts, former federal prosecutor Laura Coates, criminal defense attorney, Mark O'Mara.

So Laura, you heard the recording of George Floyd. The defense arguing, he said one thing; the prosecution is arguing he said something else. Who do you think is the stronger argument?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the idea of the prosecution and the defense quibbling over what George Floyd said is really a lack of focus here, and here is why.

Whether or not George Floyd said he ate drugs, ingested them in some way, or never use them at all, remember, it does not go to the heart of the matter here, which is why Derek Chauvin, the defendant in this case applied a non-proportional deadly force, what was not reasonable and there was no threat posed.

And number two, even if they suppose that George Floyd was under the influence of drugs and that they thought, the officers on the scene thought that that was the cause of his physical distress. Well, look, he's in the custody of police officers, Anderson, which means they owe him a duty of care.

Why did they withhold that duty of care? Why do they not render aid? If you were in a jail cell and went into cardiac arrest or something was wrong with you, would you like the guard to say, well, I didn't do anything about that, so I'll leave the person alone to die in some respect. No, we wouldn't expect that because if they are in your custody, they are in your care.

Why have they not provided information about -- to explain either of those things? The idea of what he said is a bit of a lack of focus and red herring for me,

COOPER: Mark, obviously, the defense wants to focus on drugs as much as possible. They believe that could possibly be believed to be one of the causes of death or a cause of death.

Also, you know, the members of the Floyd legal team or family will say, they're trying to sully George Floyd's reputation by linking him with drugs. Does that -- do the drugs matter?

MARK O'MARA, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It does matter to a certain extent because the defense has to come up with alternative theories of death, and at the very least, they have to be able to say that we don't know exactly what happened to him physiologically, but we do know that those drugs in his system had some effect. And then they get to argue that the state cannot prove beyond a

reasonable doubt that there was a causal connection are enough of a causal connection between Chauvin's actions and the death.

Again, I think the defense has to be very careful. To me, it came across almost as a bit of a parlor trick, this confirmation bias, of do you hear what I hear? And I think that the jury is going to think that that may have been a bit of a cheap shot, so they have to be careful.

But absolutely, the drugs are going to be primary focus for the defense because they have to come up with something other than that nine and a half minute video.

COOPER: Laura, you've made the point, and I think it's worth just repeating, because you did just mention it, that even if drugs played some role, again, unclear what if any; but if they did, the fact that he was in police custody, handcuffed, that they had a duty of care.

COATES: Absolutely, Anderson. Remember, the idea that came out in the opening statement by Mr. Blackwell, in your custody is in your care. Remember, toxicology reports or the finding of pills someplace else, or the analysis of indiscernible audio. This is all after the fact. What matters is what the officers knew in that particular moment.

They did not know what toxicology reports would yield, but they did know that somebody was in physical duress and they were in their custody.

How do you know? The person was handcuffed, and literally under the body of an officer. They have a duty to protect and safeguard and actually render aid to somebody who is in distress in their custody.

Why didn't they do so? Remember, you had the ER physician testify that time was essentially of the essence and with every moment that lapsed from the time the person was not receiving oxygen or was unconscious in some way that it was exponentially less likely the person would survive.

Officers are trained to perform and render CPR, and nothing about the crowd made it impossible for them to do so. It was a conscious decision and this is a charge of unintentional murder, that's true, but it still does require that he had the intent to act or not perform a task that led to the death of George Floyd.

As long as you're having that sort of stay on the shore, keep your eyes on the prize prosecution about these issues, any discussion about whether he ingested or said this or did not say that, the person who was actually the defendant is Derek Chauvin, not George Floyd.

COOPER: Mark, you know, in the trial of the officers in the beating of Rodney King, I remember the attorneys for the officers sort of going almost blow by blow in trying to kind of come up with explanations and explain things away which clearly enough members of the jury believed.

[20:10:08] COOPER: Do you see the defense in this case using the videos, which we

have now all seen in some way kind of -- trying to show it to the jury in a different way?

O'MARA: I think you're going to. I think that's what they started with the still shots where they showed at different times during the nine and a half minutes, Chauvin's knee was not precisely on the neck. I think they're going to show some of the uncertainties that exists there.

Because again, and Anderson, you and I have talked about this a lot. You know, the defense's job is to show that there's reasonable doubt, to plant those seeds right now and to let them germinate a bit so they show up somewhere else. No question they are going to go through that video and try and say, here, it's not on the neck, here is what he is doing. Maybe in this particular moment, Floyd was resisting and that allows for an increase in the force used.

That is going to be the defense's case, if they could present it the right way. Because that reasonable doubt is the only way they're going to get away without a conviction.

COOPER: Mark O'Mara, Laura Coates, thanks very much.

And later, the forensic testimony today and looking ahead to perhaps pivotal testimony to come on the manner of George Floyd's death. We're joined tonight by forensic scientist Lawrence Kobilinsky of John Jay College of Criminal Justice here in New York.

So Professor Kobilinsky, you heard questions about possible drug use by Mr. Floyd come back into focus today in that courtroom, how much could that factor into what a medical examiner or other forensic experts might testify to in coming days?

LAWRENCE KOBILINSKY, PROFESSOR, JOHN JAY COLLEGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE: Well, it's certainly an important factor because the finding of the toxicologists from NMS Labs was that there were 11 nanograms per milliliter of blood, which is a lethal dose for a healthy person.

Of course, when you have somebody who is addicted to drugs and using this level of drug, fentanyl, you can build up a tolerance and you can withstand large amounts of fentanyl. That doesn't mean you can't overdose, but the fact of the matter is, he was alive and well before he encountered police officer Derek Chauvin.

COOPER: The Floyd family, as you know, had their own autopsy done contradicting the County Medical Examiner attributing his death to asphyxia. How critical is just that distinction to the prosecution's case and proving the cause of death of Mr. Floyd -- the cause of Mr. Floyd's death.

KOBILINSKY: In reality, it's not that much of a distinction. Asphyxia can have different meanings. You can close off the airway. That is not the case here, Mr. Floyd's airway was open. However, the positional, the proning of the body down and the handcuffing in the back. And not only the position, but the compression asphyxia, the weight of Chauvin's body and the other officers pressing down on the torso is enough to kill a person.

Forget the neck. I mean, the neck is an added factor. It's a complicated situation. But just the fact of the pressure on the torso in a prone position with handcuffs, with hands on the back is enough to kill a person.

COOPER: So wait, so somebody just laying in a prone position on the floor with hands handcuffed behind their back, even if somebody isn't putting their knee on somebody's neck that can -- that can cause death?

KOBILINSKY: That's right. It's actually referred to as burking, and it can be done if somebody is sitting on the chest. You don't have to be prone. If you prevent the chest from rising and expanding, the lungs can't expand, you can't breathe in. The airway is clear, but you can't bring oxygen into the lungs, and so, there is a buildup of carbon dioxide.

Remember, the emergency room doctor found a very high level of carbon dioxide three times the normal level that you would find in a normal person. But that hypoxia, that low oxygen concentration in the blood resulted in cardiac failure, and that led to asystole, which is a flatlining of the heart.

But this is more complicated than that, because you've got the addition of the pressure on the neck, which also reduced flow of blood to the brain, decreasing oxygen to the brain. The brain can only survive four or five minutes without oxygen.

And, also that pressure on the neck can create a syndrome, the vagus nerve, which normally innervates the heart and the lungs are depressed. And so that too can lead to a situation of cardiac arrest.

The problem with that, Andrew Baker has to explain what medical reason did Mr. Floyd suffer a cardiopulmonary arrest? That's not in the report.

COOPER: Professor Kobilinsky, I appreciate it. Thank you.

So much disturbing detail, but important to know and something all the jurors obviously are going to have to be facing as well and dealing with.

Next, one of the co-sponsors of police reform legislation named after George Floyd on the Bill's chances in the Senate.

And later, Dr. Anthony Fauci joins us on why despite more than three million people getting vaccinated every day now, the COVID danger remains and in some places, it is growing. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:19:24]

COOPER: Even as the Chauvin trial continues, there is major legislation now in the U.S. Senate aimed at putting an end to these kind of wrenching episodes. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, it is called which has already passed in the House, it bans or discourages police chokeholds, requires or provides funding for police body cams and dash cams that works to end racial profiling and makes it easier to prosecute alleged police misconduct.

New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries is a Member of the House Democratic leadership, cosponsor of the bill. He joins us now.

Congressman Jeffries, so eight days into this trial, I am wondering what your impressions are of the prosecution's case so far, and how consequential is the trial for the Equal Justice Movement.

[20:20:05]

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): Good evening, Anderson. Thanks for having me on. I think that the prosecution has presented an incredibly strong case to date.

They've made clear, I believe, through overwhelming evidence and witness testimony that excessive force was used, resulting in the death of George Floyd.

As far as I'm concerned, George Floyd was killed in cold blood in what was really a modern day lynching, something that should never happen on the streets of America or for that matter, anywhere in the world.

And it's certainly important for us to see accountability as it relates to the death of George Floyd. More importantly, I think it will be important for Congress to act in a decisive fashion.

The House has passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act through great leadership from Speaker Pelosi and Congresswoman Karen Bass. And we're working with the Senate to see if we can get this legislation through that body into the President's desk so it can be signed into law.

COOPER: You tweeted at the start of this trial, you said: "Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd in cold blood. It's not that complicated." Obviously, the trial is ongoing. I wonder how confident are you that the jury will return a guilty verdict in this case or will be able to come to a decision?

JEFFRIES: Well, certainly, it seems to me that based on all the information that we know, including what has been presented over the last eight or nine days, and what will continue to come in throughout the trial, points to a clear conviction in this particular case.

George Floyd had a knee to his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds while handcuffed, including while he was on the street corner, lifeless and motionless, let alone clearly he was not resisting.

You know, for the last year or so as we've been struggling through this pandemic, we've been urged by the public health professionals to wash our hands for 20 seconds. For many of us, that seems like an eternity. Those 20 seconds of washing our hands, which is something that we all should continue to do as we navigate our way through COVID-19.

Can you imagine a knee to someone's neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds? That's murder.

COOPER: I want to also ask you about the January 6th insurrection. Former republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner writes in a forthcoming book that the former President, quote, " ... incited that bloody insurrection for nothing more than selfish reasons, perpetuated by the bull blank he'd been shoveling since he lost a fair election the previous November."

I mean, Speaker Boehner's words are not going to change the minds of those who continue to push the big lie or deny the reality of the insurrection. But do you think they can have some impact?

JEFFRIES: Well, it is my hope that more Republicans will continue to speak up because right now, we're in a situation where Democrats from great leadership from President Biden and Vice President Harris are pushing transformational pieces of legislation like the American Rescue Plan, so we can crush the virus and provide relief to Americans who are struggling, ultimately, lay the foundation to revive our economy, restore hope, and get children back in schools.

And Republicans are the party of Donald Trump, Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, the big lie, and the QAnon conspiracy theory -- that is not sustainable if we're going to have a legitimate two-party system. We can disagree about ideas, but perhaps we should agree about the importance of American democracy, and right now, that is not the case with far too many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle.

Hopefully, beyond John Boehner, more Republican stateswomen and men will speak up and take their party back.

COOPER: Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

JEFFRIES: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: Just ahead, we're fortunate tonight to have with us Dr. Anthony Fauci. He'll join us for a lengthy conversation about the new challenges facing us from coronavirus, rising cases among kids and young adults, the dominance of a virulent strain of the virus and a lot more. That's when we continue. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:28:20]

COOPER: The CDC says a far more contagious variant of the coronavirus first identified in the United Kingdom is now the dominant strain in the United States. Florida and Michigan have the highest number of cases of the variant and those are two of the five states now that account for about 43 percent of all cases.

What's more, Michigan is now in the throes of a surge in cases, another reason our next guest says that despite the success with vaccinations thus far, it's premature to declare victory.

We're pleased to welcome Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden's Chief Medical adviser.

Thanks for being with us. Dr. Fauci. C.D.C. Director, Dr. Rochelle Walenksy is warning of clusters of cases associated with daycare centers and youth sports.

Yesterday, you warned that more and more young people are getting into quote, "serious trouble," namely severe disease requiring hospitalization. Why are cases among kids and young adults now suddenly rising?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: You know, I think it's what's called, you know, the relative impact of the virus.

We are seeing now among elderly individuals, which were really those that were the most vulnerable some months ago, but right now, for example, more than 75 percent of individuals 65 years of age or older have had at least one shot of a two-shot vaccine, which means when you look at the entire population, there's relatively more protection among older individuals as opposed to younger individuals.

So what we're seeing now is what appears to be, but it's actually the reality of a disproportionately more infections in younger individuals.

You combine that with what you just mentioned, what Dr. Walensky said about clusters of cases and daycare, as well as school sports, particularly team sports, which people engage in close contact without masks. I think that is what is explaining these surges of cases in young individuals driven by the variant that you mentioned, the b.1.1.7 which had originated in the U.K. and now is dominant in the United States.

[20:30:22]

COOPER: The Pfizer vaccine. It's available for teenagers 16 and up, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are available for people 18 and up. What do you recommend parents of children under the age of 15 do since there's no vaccine available to them? I mean, is it safe for children to be around unmasked vaccinated people?

FAUCI: Yes. Anderson, I think what we have to do is to abide by the public health measures that we recommend to the extent that we possibly can, that is universal masking, avoiding close contact, avoiding congregate settings, particularly indoor, there are a number of tests that are going on right now trials in age de-escalation, to be able to vaccinate children at a younger and younger age, there was just a trial that was completed, that showed list essentially 100 percent efficacy in preventing COVID-19 in kids 12 years old to 15 years old.

And soon, we're doing studies that hopefully within a period of several months, will get similar results in younger kids, even down to the age of six months.

COOPER: So just nationwide, kind of big picture, in terms of hospitalizations in terms of deaths. Where are we in this pandemic? I mean, in terms of the, you know, the highs we've seen and the lows we've seen?

FAUCI: Well, certainly deaths are coming down. Hospitalizations are coming down. We're seeing hospitalizations, as you alluded to a moment ago, a bit more skewed to younger people than it were several months ago. But the number that is disturbing, Anderson is the number of cases each day, when we had the big spike that we discussed so many times, that went way up to, you know, two to three or more 100,000 cases per day, then it came back down.

But now it's plateaued. At a disturbingly high level, the last count yesterday was 63,000 cases in a single day. When you're at that level, there is the risk of getting a surge back up. So, the way we're looking at it now, it's almost a race between getting people vaccinating.

And this surge that seems to want to increase and do what's going on, for example, in Europe, where they're having some surges now, that are really quite alarming with vaccinating now, between three and 4 million people per day, and the vaccination program is going on really very well.

So, if we could just, as I've said, so many times hang in there a bit longer to get each day more and more people by the millions are getting vaccinated to the point where we'll have enough people vaccinated with a risk of that surge will diminish greatly. So that's really where we are right now this kind of balance of a risk benefit, namely getting the vaccines going, and not just pulling back on all the public health measures. Now's not the time, as I've said so many time to declare victory prematurely. We still have a considerable risk there that we need to get by.

COOPER: So what is it known or clear what percentage of the population needs to be vaccinated or fully vaccinated in order to kind of cross that threshold?

FAUCI: You know, Anderson, the honest answer is no, it's going to be a combination of people who are vaccinated, and those who have been infected and have successfully recovered and are immune to reinfection at least with the wild type virus that infected them in the first place. This is a very elusive number, this issue of herd immunity, it varies from disease, it varies on the ability and the efficiency of transmission from person to person. And it varies with the efficacy of the vaccine.

I've said multiple times that my estimate, and I have to underscore Anderson is only an estimate that it's somewhere between 70 and 85 percent of the population where you have a combination of people who are vaccinated and people who recovered. You don't need necessarily to get to this mystical number.

The more and more people you get vaccinated, the closer and closer you get to control. So you may get to 50 percent of the people vaccinated or 60 percent and still get to the point where you have a market diminishing of the number of infections per day. That's what we're looking for. And I believe we're going to get there if we keep that vaccinating people at the rate that we're doing right now.

[20:35:03]

COOPER: There is still confusion about what vaccinated people can and cannot do. Obviously you try to model best practices in your own life. You've been vaccinated, you're still wearing masks, double masks, I believe. I know, you said you would feel comfortable flying right now if it was essential.

Do you go out to dinner? Have you seen your, you know, daughters yet? I mean, what do you tell people who've been vaccinated and, you know, are not model necessarily, you know, wanting to be models for everybody else but don't want to do anything to hurt other people.

FAUCI: You know, Anderson there's kind of a two fold answer to that. What you can do now, and what's going to happen literally as the weeks go by, because the more people outside besides yourself, that are vaccinated, the more you can do as a vaccinated person, for example, the first guideline that the CDC put out, answer your question is, what can you do if you're vaccinated, and that is if you're with another vaccinated person in the setting of a home, you can really act normally, you don't need to mask you can have physical contact, even if there are people in that home setting, who are not vaccinated. Because if they are healthy people, and the risk of their getting a really serious impact, or a serious effect of infection is so low, you can interact with them without a mask.

The next thing that was mentioned was travel, even though travel does increase the risk of transmission. If you're going to need to travel, being vaccinated diminishes the risk considerably. And there are certain things that you don't necessarily have to do. You don't have to get tested before and after your travel except if the destination requires that. When you come back from international travel, you don't have to quarantine yourself.

And what we're going to be seeing more and more Anderson is that guidelines are going to come out about acting out in the community, going to restaurants going to places of worship. Again, your own protection because you're vaccinated, the more people around you vaccinated, the more leeway and flexibility you're going to have.

COOPER: Dr. Anthony Fauci, appreciate your time. Thank you.

FAUCI: Good to be with you. Thank you

COOPER: Still to come, how Congressman Matt Gaetz's future may turn on the legal troubles of another Florida politician currently in jail. The details of that when we continue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:41:13] COOPER: At the heart of the Federal probe of Congressman Matt Gaetz is in association with another Florida politician currently in jail. CNN's Paula Reid has the details about how this man's legal issues could compound Gaetz's own legal troubles.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Joel Greenberg is headed to court this week.

JOEL GREENBERG, FMR TAX COLLECTOR: It really is an honor to be here today.

REID (voice-over): He's the man whose close friendship with Representative Matt Gaetz has led to an investigation into the Congressman as well. Federal investigators are examining Gaetz for possible prostitution and sex trafficking crimes, including an alleged sexual relationship with a minor.

Gaetz and Greenberg have been friends for years posting photos together. Gaetz even told a local radio station in 2017 that Greenberg would make a good member of Congress.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): Joel Greenberg has gone into the Seminole County tax collector's office. He's taking it by storm. He's been a disrupter.

REID (voice-over): Gaetz was Greenberg's first donor to his reelection campaign last year, giving $1,000, the maximum amount. The duo also left an unsolicited voicemail on Florida State Representative Anna Eskamani's cellphone in 2019. What she gave to CNN.

GREENBERG: This is your favorite tax collector. I'm up in the Panhandle was your favorite U.S. Congressman Mr. Gaetz.

GAETZ: Hi Anna.

GREENBERG: And we were just chatting about you and talking about your lovely qualities and your --

GAETZ: We think you're the future of the Democratic Party in Florida.

REID (voice-over): Eskamani has called the message weird and cringe worthy. Greenberg has been awaiting trial in jail after violating the terms of his bail earlier this year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).

REID (voice-over): He served as Seminole County tax collector until he was first indicted last June. Greenberg is now charged with 33 criminal counts, including allegations of stalking and harassing a political opponent, wire fraud and creating fake IDs. Also included one count of sex trafficking a child between the ages of 14 and 17.

While details in court records for this charge are scant, CNN has learned investigators believe Greenberg recruited multiple women online for sex, and that he introduced the women who received cash payments to Gaetz who had sex with them too.

Gaetz has denied all allegations. Writing on Monday, I have never ever paid for sex. And second, I as an adult man have not slept with a 17- year-old.

GAETZ: Providing for flights and hotel rooms for people that you're dating who are of legal age is not a crime.

REID (voice-over): But a source tells CNN investigators are examining whether any federal campaign money was involved in paying for travel and expenses for the women. Additionally, information that may connect Gaetz to a fake ID scheme at the center of Greenberg's case was presented to federal investigators at a meeting last year. Sources familiar with the matter tell CNN.

Now, Greenberg's case returns to court Thursday for a hearing on new charges, allegedly embezzling over $400,000 and using the money to buy personal items including memorabilia autographed by NBA legends, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. He's entered a plea of not guilty, but as the legal pressure against Greenberg grows, some say Gaetz should be worried.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As more comes out about Joel Greenberg, the pressure on Greenberg to flip on Matt Gaetz will be immense.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And Paula Reid joins us now. So the former president who obviously ally of Congressman Gaetz for what that's worth, he weighed in today. What did he say?

REID: Well, Anderson in a brief statement, the former president said Gaetz never asked him for a pardon. And he also noted that Gaetz has denied these allegations. But the Congressman was one former President Trump's most loyal supporters. So this was a pretty tepid response given the circumstances.

As for that pardon, CNN has learned that Gaetz did seek a preemptive pardon at the end of the Trump administration, and that he made that request, that desire known to someone outside the White House Counsel's Office. There's no indication that he made this appeal directly to the former president.

[20:45:15]

COOPER: Paula Reid, appreciate it. Thanks very much.

As more people get COVID-19 vaccinations, the notion of so-called vaccine passports to prove you've been inoculated is running in opposition in several states, including Florida, we'll take you there next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: I mentioned the phrase vaccine passports these days and you're likely to run into some sort of pushback, especially from politicians. Just today, Idaho's Republican governor signed an executive order, barring any governmental agency in his state from requiring proof of vaccination to conduct public business received public services.

That action follows similar orders from the governor in Texas saying no vaccine passport should be created by state agencies. Seems nowhere is the debate more heated than Florida where the governor has also taken action.

Randi Kaye tonight has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[20:50:08]

RANDI KAYE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At Rocco's Tacos and Tequila Bar in Delray Beach, Florida customers are returning and with them talk of so-called vaccine passports. Owner Rocco Miguel has been vaccinated and would like others to do the same, but he's not in favor of requiring it in his restaurants for staff and customers. For him, it's about freedom of choice.

ROCCO MIGUEL, OWNER, ROCCO'S TACOS AND TEQUILA BAR: Requiring people to have a vaccination card to come into the restaurant or a vaccination app or a passport. I think it infringes on their rights.

KAYE (voice-over): That tracks with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' view, it's part of why he issued an executive order banning vaccine passports in the state of Florida. DeSantis has dismissed vaccine passports in the same way he did many other measures during the pandemic, like mask mandates and lock downs, all in the name of protecting rights. And in this case, privacy.

(on-camera): Do you think you'd get more business or see more business if a vaccine was required here?

MIGUEL: I think quite the opposite. If we required it that would be a perception of that we're trying to govern them.

KAYE (voice-over): DeSantis argues that vaccine passports reduce individual freedom and would create two classes of citizens based on vaccination.

(on-camera): According to the executive order, businesses here in Florida are prohibited from requiring customers to provide documentation certifying a COVID-19 vaccination or post transmission recovery in order to gain access to that business.

(voice-over): DeSantis' order puts him at odds with those who believe they were included in the order and are planning for or at least considering requiring a vaccine passport. Like the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa.

JUDY LISI, CEO, STRAZ CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS: It's really critical to our reopening and eventually to get us to 100 percent capacity.

KAYE (voice-over): CEO Judy Lisi says she's surprised by and disappointed with the governor's decision.

LISI: If you think about mass gathering places like theaters and stadiums and arenas, we're sitting right next to each other. So, it becomes really important to have a vaccine program as an option for our guests, and for our artists.

KAYE (voice-over): At Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, proof of COVID-19 vaccination was going to be mandatory for staff and students come the fall semester. But when I alerted the university CEO to the governor's executive order banning vaccine passports --

GEORGE HANBURY, PRESIDENT & CEO, NOVA SOUTHEASTERN UNIV.: I will change whatever is necessary to comply with the law and to the governor's executive order.

KAYE (voice-over): The popular South Beach Wine and Food Festival may also now have to change its plans to require proof of a vaccine or a negative COVID test to enter next month's event.

LEE BRIAN SCHRAGER, FOUNDER, SOUTH BEACH WINE & FOOD FESTIVAL: We'll be constantly re-evaluating up until the last second, but for now, this is the plan we have in place and the plan that I hope stays in place.

KAYE (voice-over): Back at Rocco's Tacos, Rocco Miguel says he doesn't think a vaccine passport would make his restaurant any safer than it already is.

MIGUEL: People make a choice and people need to make hopefully a choice that they're not going to put other people at risk.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Randi joins us now. If the goal is herd immunity, how does banning vaccine passports play into that?

KAYE: Well, Anderson there is concern that banning these passports could actually increase vaccine hesitancy. You probably recall that poll by NPR, PBS and Maris last month, which showed that about 47 percent of people who supported Donald Trump in 2020 were against the vaccine.

So that attitude they fear could actually delay or maybe even prevent the United States from reaching herd immunity as we see more and more Republicans here in Florida and certainly now the governor of Texas and elsewhere, making this a real wedge issue with Democrats. There is concern that we could see a spike in vaccine hesitancy and that could be a real problem here, Anderson.

COOPER: Randi Kaye, appreciate it. Thanks very much.

Coming up, we've got breaking news and President Biden's first steps on gun control. Details from the White House, when we continue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:57:45]

COOPER: There's breaking news tonight in what looks to be President Biden's first limited steps on gun control, doesn't involve legislation but executive orders. Our chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins joins us with more.

So what are we expecting from President Biden tomorrow?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So, these are the first actions that he's taken as president to actually do anything on these gun measures. President Biden had said, we should expect these a few weeks ago after those shootings in Atlanta and the other one in Boulder, Colorado. And so, what we're going to see tomorrow is the President and the Attorney General by his side going through these executive actions that they believe help are going to stem some of the gun violence that we've seen.

One is a rule that they're proposing, basically, within the Justice Department to stop the proliferation of these so-called ghost guns, those are those kits that you can order online, people can assemble them in as little as 30 minutes. And they don't have zero numbers. That's really been the concern that the White House. And White House officials said that they had with those so-called ghost guns.

The second thing Anderson, is they want to try to increase the regulation of those braces that people can put on pistols. This is similar to the one that the shooter in Colorado used. Basically, you can put it on a pistol and it makes it more accurate and more stable. So you were obviously able to hit your target more easily.

And so, the thing is with these and with the few other things that they're going to be introducing tomorrow there, they fall pretty short of the sweeping measures that President Biden promised on the campaign trail, but when the White House was asked about that tonight, what exactly these measures are going to look like, how they're going to stop what President Biden says he wants to stop.

They said they said and they stressed Anderson that these are just the first of many steps that they want to take. But right now, this is what they're doing, you know, of course, within his first 100 days in office, taking these steps, signing these executive actions tomorrow.

COOPER: And the President is expected to nominate a new head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

COLLINS: Yes. That's another thing he's going to announce tomorrow. David Chipman is going to be -- he's going to nominate him. He actually see it confirmed by the Senate. But it is a federal agency that it of course enforces these existing gun laws. It has really been without permanent leadership for some time. I don't think anyone has actually gone through the Senate confirmation process for this since 2013.

But also it's important who he is because he also right now is currently a senior policy advisor for Giffords, which is that gun advocacy group that gun control advocacy group that was founded by the former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who of course was shot about a decade ago. Anderson.

[21:00:03]

COOPER: Yes. Kailtan Collins. Thanks very much and also happy birthday.

COLLINS: Thank you Anderson.

COOPER: Take care. The news continues, want to hand things over to Chris for "CUOMO PRIME TIME." Chris.