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Interview with Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD); Interview with FDNY EMS Lieutenant Anthony Almojera; FBI Concludes Bubba Wallace Not Hate Crime Target. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired June 24, 2020 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: No drugs were found, her family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, in an hour (ph), Senate Democrats are expected to block debate on the Republicans' version of a police reform bill. Democrats are instead planning to push forward with their own legislation in the House.

Both parties have been under intense pressure from the public to change law enforcement practices. This, of course, after the killing of George Floyd just last month in Minneapolis, other incidents as well.

Joining me now, Senator Ben Cardin, Democrat from Maryland. Senator, than you for taking the time this morning.

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-MD): It's good to be with you, Jim. Thanks.

SCIUTTO: We had CNN Republican Mike Braun on the air this morning. He talked about his own proposal, which is introducing legislation to scale back qualified immunity for police officers. That of course is an element of police reform that Democrats want, not currently in the Republican bill. I wonder, do you believe that that Braun proposal could bridge the gap?

CARDIN: Well, I think we need to have discussions between Democrats and Republicans and have a base bill on the floor of the United States Senate that's truly a bipartisan bill, that makes a difference in policing in America. That's not where we are right now.

Leader McConnell's going to move forward with a vote today on the Scott bill, which is a partisan bill, it does not accomplish the objectives of fundamental reform and it's a way in which the Republican leader can check a box but not get anything done. So we need to start with a bipartisan bill.

SCIUTTO: But let's dig down a little bit more. Because when you look at the differences, they're not that vast, right? I mean, for instance, both the Democratic and GOP bills condition federal funding to local police departments on restricting chokeholds. The Democratic version adds a ban on chokeholds by federal officers, but most people interact, frankly, with their local police departments here. I wonder, is that not a place to find compromise? CARDIN: The bills are nowhere near similar, and they -- the Scott bill does not provide fundamental changes. It doesn't even outlaw all forms of chokeholds, it certainly doesn't establish national standards, it doesn't provide for the end of racial and religious discriminatory profiling, it doesn't have the -- deal with no-knock warrants, it doesn't deal with qualified immunity.

There are so many areas that it just doesn't deal with, which are the fundamental problems of policing in America. So, no, we believe -- and I must tell you, the stakeholders, the advocate community also agrees that the Scott bill would not make a fundamental difference in policing in America, it would be a lost opportunity if that's what we do.

SCIUTTO: I just wonder, though, because you do have two Democrats -- well, one Democrat, Doug Jones, and Angus King, of course, independent who caucuses with the Democrats -- who are willing now to vote to allow debate on this. We don't know how they would vote on a final bill.

But do you worry -- at the end of the day, you're going to need Republican and Democratic support in the Senate to pass something before November. Do you worry about taking a position here that you miss the moment, you miss the moment?

CARDIN: It's just the opposite. This is to take advantage of the moment. If we were (ph) proceed (ph) today, we will not get to a satisfactory conclusion. We're hopeful that we'll see Democrats and Republicans come together. Let's start off with a bill, we (ph) could work it through the Judiciary Committee and get Democrats' and Republicans' input, we could do it through just honest negotiations between the two parties.

Let's start off with a bill that we can be proud of, and then let's have an open amendment process and debate the issues, as the Senate traditionally has done in the past. That's not what's being suggested today. What's being suggested today is a process that is bound to lead to failure. It's a missed opportunity, so that's why we're standing up for principle at this moment.

SCIUTTO: I want to ask about another topic, because you have remarkable testimony taking place today. And that is two career Department of Justice prosecutors will testify under oath that on two major cases -- including a case involving the president's longtime ally, Roger Stone -- that there was direct political interference from the highest levels of the Justice Department to water down these cases.

And I just wonder, when you look at that and other instances under Attorney General Bill Barr, are you concerned that the attorney general is undermining the rule of law for politics?

CARDIN: Oh, absolutely. I'm very concerned about Attorney General Barr and his record as attorney general.

We have a proud tradition in this country of the independence of the Department of Justice, that the attorney general represents the people of this nation, not just the president of the United States. And we've seen, over and over and over again, the attorney general doing the president's political bidding rather than standing up for the independence of the Department of Justice.

So we're very concerned that this attorney general has led the Department of Justice in a very partisan political way, which is unprecedented.


SCIUTTO: Final question, because this news just broke moments ago. Michael Flynn -- of course the president's short-time national security advisor -- who pleaded guilty to lying twice, and lying about discussions with Russian officials during the transition, an appeals court, effectively saying the case is over.

I just wonder, what message do you believe that sends, in your view, given the lies, the pleading guilty to lies and the substance of what he was lying about?

CARDIN: Well, it's outrageous. But recognize this is more about the partisanship of the president, the attorney general and how they've led the Department of Justice than it is about one individual, Michael Flynn.

As I understand the appellate court ruling, it's just reaffirming the fact that the attorney general has the discretion on prosecution. Well, we understand that, but we expect him to exercise that with the independence that that responsibility is required. He has not done that.

So I think it's a condemnation of the attorney general, of the president. As the issue you mentioned earlier, that's going to be the hearing on -- in the House Judiciary Committee, and that is the politicizing of the Department of Justice. It's wrong.

SCIUTTO: Senator Ben Cardin, pleasure to have you on the program this morning.

CARDIN: Thank you very much.

HARLOW: All right, our next guest has been on the scene of 200 coronavirus deaths. The paramedic, with a warning for people as cities reopen. The virus is still out there.



HARLOW: Welcome back. A major step this week in New York City, once the epicenter of coronavirus, now cases trending downward and the city officially in phase two now of reopening.

But one paramedic has this warning. He writes, in "The Washington Post," quote, "We just had 20,000-some people die in this city, and already the crowds are lining back up outside restaurants and jamming into bars. This virus is still out there. We respond to 911 calls for COVID every day.

I've been on the scene at more than 200 of these deaths -- trying to revive people, consoling their families -- but you can't even be bothered to stay six feet apart and wear a mask.

TEXT: ... "200 of these deaths -- trying to revive people, consoling their families -- but you can't even be bothered to stay six feet apart and wear a mask, because why? You're a tough guy? It makes you look weak? You'd rather ignore the whole thing and pretend..."

HARLOW: FDNY EMS Lieutenant Anthony Almojera joins us now. Thank you so much for being here. It's -- the work you do is remarkably important, and we've had you on over the months and we just appreciate your time. Could you just tell us more about what it is like right now for you guys with these reopenings?

ANTHONY ALMOJERA, FDNY EMS LIEUTENANT: It's a little nerve-wracking. Just to give you some context, this past week, two EMTs at my station tested positive for COVID. So the virus is definitely still out there. And, you know, to see people -- I want to reopen, I want people to get back to their lives. Nobody doesn't want that.

But to see people be haphazard with it, you see photos in the papers of everybody congregating, for us in the EMS community -- and I'm sure the rest of the health care workers -- seeing (ph) that is -- we're fraught with anxiety, you know? We just went through hell, trying to revive and take care of people, and we don't want to go through it again.

So to see it is really -- it's, you know, wear a mask, just wear a mask.

HARLOW: Yes, yes, it's a simple request.

You write in this piece, talking about being dispatched and seeing sort of the slow-moving stress that this can put on the heart for example, and the disproportionate impact on minority communities. And you said, "I feel like watching a bomb go off in slow motion."

ALMOJERA: Yes. It's -- you know, you would hope that when a bomb hits, you know, either you're free from it or you're obliterated by it, right? You don't want to feel it. But with this COVID in New York City, you felt every bit of that energy, and it took all of it out of you as a responder.

To sit there and go into home after home, trying to revive these people, and -- and console them -- you know, I always thought that I had an unlimited amount of empathy. You know, as a paramedic, you have to have some of that, you know, you think you have that. And COVID put that to the test. There is a limit.


ALMOJERA: And so we watched it happen in these waves. And you think you get a little break, and here it comes again, you know?

HARLOW: Even before COVID, I mean, the job of an EMS, a paramedic, is very difficult for you guys. You personally have been shot, you've been beaten, you've been cursed at and you've been long calling for -- especially now -- hazard pay on -- being on the frontlines of this, which you haven't gotten.

But also just equal pay, because looking at the numbers -- and you note this -- EMTs are paid about 40 percent less than your colleagues in the FDNY and the fire department.

Mayor de Blasio said, look, we're not going to figure this out in the middle of a crisis, but we will address this after the crisis. And I know the city passed a resolution to get you equal pay, but it's nonbinding. Where does it go from here?

ALMOJERA: It's in the mayor's hands, you know? He's a mayor that preaches equality. And the thing that we can't understand at EMS is that we're 54 percent minority, we're 38 percent women, we're the most diverse 911 workforce. You would think somebody who would preach equality and see the work that we do, as a 911 service, with just the same dangers as the other two, would equalize us.


That would be an easy win for him. It's the stroke of a pen. We can't figure it out, to the point that, you know, in COVID, you mentioned earlier how it had a disproportionate impact on minority communities, the members that I represent live in those communities. We live in East New York, Brooklyn and the Bronx and uptown and in Queens, we live here. We don't have the funds to buy a house in other places.

So we filed a lawsuit to try and address the inequality, because it's got to be based on some type of discrimination which we feel, Hey, we're the most diverse workforce and we're not paid like the other, and we have empirical evidence that shows that, but you know. He could fix it tomorrow if he wanted to.

HARLOW: Could -- Anthony, just briefly before you go, I was so struck by the suicide rate and you note that you have had six EMTs and two additional EMT medics commit suicide since this pandemic started. You're very worried the mental health repercussions of this for your team are not being addressed.

ALMOJERA: Yes. So we've had five EMTs die of COVID, we've had two commit suicide, we've had others who express the desire to. And I believe in New Jersey, they had a member that committed suicide. The suicide rates are high to begin with in EMS and with COVID, it's going to get higher.

Unfortunately, this past weekend, Lieutenant Matt Keene, who we all knew and loved, shot himself. And it's a real tragedy because we know -- we're trying to manage this crisis. And to have PTSD diagnosed, it takes 30 days after the event. We're not after the event --

HARLOW: Right. ALMOJERA: -- there's no time to heal, you're constantly COVID, you're

back in it. And then you have the protests and everything else, and then unfortunately, the mental health of EMS workers has been put off for far too long, even though the unions have tried to advocate to have an independent agency, outside of the fire department, taking care of the mental health that we so desperately need.

And, Poppy, if I may bring up one thing because this past weekend, this past week, we lost three members. We had one commit suicide, unfortunately, and we had two 25-year veterans pass away. And their families are reaching out for help. And if I can give the help fund that we have set up, to help EMS members, you know, because we don't get paid a lot and we had to set up this external fund to try and augment when people pass away or have emergencies.

If I may give that website?


ALMOJERA: It's Every little bit you can donate will help, will go a long way to help the members of FDNY EMS.

HARLOW: Anthony, thank you for being here and for what you wrote and the work you and your team do every day. We appreciate it very much.

ALMOJERA: Poppy, thank you and CNN for having me on to get the message out about EMS. Stay well.


HARLOW: Sure. We'll be right back.


HARLOW: NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace tells CNN he is angered but also relieved after the FBI determined that he was not the target of a hate crime.

SCIUTTO: That's right. Federal investigators, they investigated. They say the rope found hanging in Wallace's garage at Talladega was, quote, "a garage door pull rope fashioned like a noose," it had been there since 2019, long before Wallace used this garage.

CNN's Nick Valencia joins me now from Talladega Super Speedway in Lincoln, Alabama. So, Nick, what more do we know about the investigation and Bubba Wallace's reaction?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the FBI and DOJ have wrapped up their investigation, Jim, as you mentioned, that they have concluded that there was no hate crime.

And Bubba Wallace was very clear in his interviews, last night and again this morning, saying that he wasn't the one that spotted what he's calling a noose, that it was actually somebody on his team that was so concerned by it that they elevated it to the NASCAR president. And it was only after the president had a pull-aside conversation with

Bubba Wallace, that he took to, you know, social media to release a statement. You know, he was told by the NASCAR president, he says, that he was the victim of a hate crime.

He spoke again to CNN this morning, saying that he believes as though some Americans are bringing his integrity into question, and he's mad that people think that he manufactured this as a hoax.


BUBBA WALLACE, NASCAR DRIVER: Yes, there's no comparison there, just simply listening to the facts that was delivered to me. I was just, I would say, an innocent bystander but people won't buy that, and that's OK. I know what's true in my heart and in my mind. And the people around me know that's the truth, and I'll lay my head down at night, sleeping really good, knowing that I'm telling the truth.


VALENCIA: Now, video that was posted on YouTube last year shows that noose, as it's described by Bubba Wallace, in that same garage, NASCAR saying that there's no way that anyone could have known that that same garage was going to be used by the Bubba Wallace team this week, when they were racing at Talladega.

NASCAR, also being criticized for jumping the gun here in a hyper- charged environment, some fans thinking that they went too far in their statement. They say that they're committed to providing an inclusive environment for everyone -- Jim, Poppy.


SCIUTTO: Nick Valencia, thank you for following and updating.

More than half the states across this country, now, are seeing an increase -- some of them quite sharp -- in coronavirus cases. This as top health officials say the virus is clearly not under control.

And later today on CNN, former national security advisor John Bolton will share stories from his new book with Wolf. Watch "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer, tonight, 6:00 p.m. Eastern time.