Return to Transcripts main page

Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Charlottesville Jury Finds Unite The Right Defendants Liable For More Than $26 Million In Damages; January 6 Committee Subpoenas Proud Boys And Oath Keepers; Jurors In The Trial Over Ahmaud Arbery's Killing End First Day Of Deliberations; Child Dies After Waukesha Parade Tragedy; Death Toll Rises To 6; Pres. Biden Announces Release Of Oil Reserves, But Says Gas Prices Will Not Drop Overnight; "Toxic Is Spot-On": House Members Describe Rolling Animosity Among Lawmakers; Missouri Man Is Finally Free After Being Exonerated In Triple Murder Case; Spent 43 Years In Prison. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired November 23, 2021 - 20:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: How the golf cart sized craft, which is going 15,000 miles an hour is going to intentionally slam into a 525-foot wide harmless asteroid. Just think about that speed -- it is incredible.

It's known as a moonlit. NASA hopes the collision will change the asteroid's orbit which is of course the stuff of movies, shifting an asteroid's path to save the Planet Earth.

Thanks so much for joining us. AC 360 starts now.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Good evening, the jury in the cases of the three white men charged in the killing of an unarmed black man, Ahmaud Arbery just wrapped up its first day of deliberation. It is one of three cases we are focused on this evening, all have captured the attention of Americans across the political spectrum and delve into issues of either race or far right extremism.

And also, importantly, whether we're too violent as a nation to agree on an appropriate definition of the word "justice."

I'm John Berman, in for Anderson. We'll get to the men charged for killing Ahmaud Arbery in a moment, but we begin with the breaking news in a pair of legal cases that involve two of the most tragic episodes of violent right-wing extremism in this country's recent history.

First in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a partial verdict was announced just hours ago, in a civil case brought against some of those involved with that 2017 Unite the Right rally that left one woman, Heather Heyer, dead.

In a moment, we will hear reaction from her mother. First though, CNN's Elle Reeve joins us now. Elle, what can you tell us about the verdict?

ELLE REEVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the jury was hung on the question of Federal conspiracy charges relating to a law passed in the 1870s to fight the KKK. But they did find these guys liable under a Virginia conspiracy law, and that's really interesting because the other defendants took great pains to say they never had any contact with James Alex Fields, who is convicted of first-degree murder for driving his car into a crowd and killing Heather Heyer who is serving a life sentence.

What it means is that the jury finds that, at least in some part, the leaders of the group who glamorized violence or planned for it at the event are in some way responsible for those who came to the event and participated in that violence.

BERMAN: Hey, Elle, I should note, you were there that night. You were there in 2017. You are there now to see this jury's decision on this and there's a lot of money in play -- a lot of money. What can you tell us about that?

REEVE: There is. So, there are two parts of that weekend. There was a torch march, which had no permit, and there was a rally, which did have a permit. Those who participated in the torch march are being held responsible for a lot more money than those that didn't.

Another strange thing is that on the conspiracy charge, and that's the one that hits all the defendants, they've awarded very low numbers for compensatory damages, $1 or zero dollars. But they awarded half a million or a million dollars in punitive damages, and the Supreme Court has held that the ratio between those two has to be a lot smaller, like at most one to 10.

And so that means that the Judge will possibly have to lower that from you know, six figures to two or three.

BERMAN: Oh, that's interesting. So this number could change, the total number is over $20 million now, but that number could be brought down substantially, which impacts I suppose my next question, Elle, which is, is it likely that this case, the outcome will have what the plaintiff's side wanted here, which is to be a deterrent for white supremacist organizing in the future?

REEVE: Well, it clearly sends a message that for people who explicitly call for violence, there could be consequences if somebody is inspired by that to do it. Most of the people involved in this case have quit organizing.

Richard Spencer says he hates the alt-right and it hates him back. Matthew Heimbach has been talking to me about the long term consequences of this. He, during this trial got fired from McDonald's because someone saw him on the news and figured out that he was a professional racist.

So yes, like a lot of these guys are out of the movement, but the old money white nationalist behind the scenes who has funded them and nurtured them, they weren't involved in this case, and so they are still out there.

BERMAN: Well, Elle Reeve, as I said, you were there that night in 2017. You're there tonight. I imagine there are more chapters in the future you'll be covering as well. We appreciate the work you're doing on this.

REEVE: Thank you.

BERMAN: As we mentioned, one woman was killed during that 2017 rally. Her name was Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal. She was killed when one of the defendants drove his car into a crowd of counter protesters. That man is now serving multiple life sentences. We're honored that Heather's mother, Susan Bro could join us tonight.

Susan, very nice to see you. We appreciate you being with us. When you heard what the jury decided today. What went through your mind?

SUSAN BRO, MOTHER OF HEATHER HEYER: Well, my first question was trying to understand why they were not convicted on one and two and it took a while to parse out that that was Federal related, but yes, I was glad the jury was able to recognize that. I mean, even when the evidence seems very clear you can't always determine what a jury is going to say or do. So I was glad they were able to recognize the preponderance of evidence that definitely showed the clients to be guilty, and the evidence was their own words. That was the beauty of the case that Integrity for America spent a great deal of time finding the defendants' own words to use in the case.


BERMAN: This partial verdict, and obviously, the previous criminal trial of James Fields, Jr., does this feel like enough accountability for you? Is this what justice in your mind looks like?

BRO: I guess. I don't know that we ever feel justice in a murder case. This is the first and God knows, I hope the only murder in my life. I don't know that you ever feel complete justice. But I don't know what else could be done. I think that this speaks volumes to trying to set things straight.

BERMAN: Trying to set things straight. What is it that you hope that people take away from the jury's decision today in terms of any larger message about what is and isn't acceptable in this country?

BRO: Well, that the defendants seem to want to argue that their speech was protected by First Amendment rights, and I would say speech is protected, action from that speech is not protected. So when you speak, and you yourself and others act on that speech, it is no longer protected.

You know, it's funny, because I've often said, think before you speak. So yes, definitely in this case.

BERMAN: What about healing? What about healing and coming together?

BRO: With who? I mean, those of us who were not doing the hate speech, we're coming together in the first place. And I would like to think that we could have a meeting of minds across dividing lines, but I'm not hearing any form of repentance or sorriness from the defendants in the case. They spent most of the cases kind of jovially, pardon my word, jokingly for sending their evidence in their defense and didn't show remorse. They have not changed. So no, I have no interest in making amends with those people.

BERMAN: No, and that's not what I was suggesting at all. I was just talking about -- believe me, believe me, and I hear you, I hear what you're saying there. I was speaking more about the divisions that we're seeing day in and day out and society and sort of getting a sense of what is acceptable and not acceptable, and this jury may have laid down a marker and said, "This isn't right."

That being said, I want you to talk about what is right, I want you to talk about your daughter, Heather Heyer, for us, just remind us who she was and what you want her legacy to be.

BRO: Well, first off, I need people to stop putting Heather on a pedestal. She was a normal 32-year-old feisty woman. She had a rough edges, just like anybody. And she was a random murder in a mass car attack. She just happened to be the one that took the brunt force and it hit her aorta in her abdomen and bled out in four places.

She was not assassinated. She was not a saint. She was a normal person.

So what I want you to take away from that is stand up and do the right thing. You don't know what kind of impact that will have. Even now, four years later, I'm talking on CNN and after this, I'll be talking to some international press, because the impact of that one small act has been felt around the world.

But I also want to congratulate the plaintiffs in this case and Integrity for America. We were not party to the trial, Heather nor the foundation, but I strongly supported the case, and I'm very proud of the plaintiffs for not buckling under pressure when questioned by the defendants who were acting as their own lawyers, particularly. From what I understand they were antagonized and picked at a bit to try to make them break down or lash out and they did not do so. So, I'm very proud of them.

BERMAN: Susan Bro, stand up and do the right thing.

BRO: Yes.

BERMAN: It's a message -- that's the message I'm getting from you tonight. I really do appreciate you being with us. I appreciate your words and your guidance through this. Be well, and we look forward to speaking to you again.

BRO: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.

BERMAN: We also want to highlight the foundation you mentioned that you've created to honor your daughter. You can find details at It is a scholarship program for individuals --

BRO: No, no. BERMAN: Sorry, go ahead.

BRO: Dot-com.


BRO: That was a mistake made when it was formed, and we've just kept it, it is dot-com not dot-org.

BERMAN: We'll fix it right now. We have it right in the screen, There are programs for individuals are dedicated to promoting positive social change, and now, thank you very much, Susan.

We are going to turn to that other case I mentioned involving right- wing extremists.

More subpoenas released this afternoon from the Select House Committee investigating the January 6th riot. Ryan Nobles joins us from Capitol Hill with that story.

So Ryan, these subpoenas not just to individuals but also to groups. What's going on here?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, John. The January 6th Select Committee wants information from these right- wing extremist groups that were pretty prominent, like during the violence and chaos here on January 6th.

Among them, the Proud Boys, their leader Henry Enrique Tarrio; the Oath Keepers, their leader, Elmer Stewart Rhodes, and then this right- wing fringe group with a close association to QAnon, the First Amendment Praetorian, Robert Patrick Lewis is one of their leaders. This group apparently provided security for some of the speakers, Michael Flynn, among them, some of the rally goers on that day.

And what the Committee wants to find out is, was there some sort of organized effort by any of these groups to do more than just come here and peacefully protest? Did they have plans to break into the Capitol and try and interrupt the democratic process, and then taking it out even further? Were they instructed or encouraged to do so by some of the leaders of the American government at that time including the former President, perhaps his campaign or his close associates? They want answers to those questions.

Of course, John, the big question is, how cooperative will these groups or their leaders be?

BERMAN: And Ryan, I understand you have some news tonight about Bernard Kerik, obviously a high profile Trump and Giuliani ally. He is responding to his subpoena, what does he say?

NOBLES: Yes, and this falls into that question -- under that question of cooperation. Kerik, first of all, wants an apology from the January 6th Select Committee. He says that they incorrectly identified him as being a part of this group that met at the Willard Hotel on January 5th. He said that he was not at that meeting, and he has the records to prove so.

But he also said, and this is perhaps more interesting than his plea for an apology is that he is ready and willing to cooperate with this investigation and that he is ready to hand over hundreds of pages of documents that he has. He wants time for he and his lawyers to go through them, redact what needs to be redacted and then offer up to the committee what he thinks is responsible.

He is also willing to testify. He does want to do that in a public hearing. He doesn't want to do it behind closed doors. So even though Kerik is complaining about the way the Committee is treating him, it is significant that he is willing to cooperate. The question is, will the Committee agree to his terms, which has been a big rub with them in many of their subpoena targets?

BERMAN: We'll see if he follows through. Ryan Nobles, thank you so much for that.

Just ahead. The latest on that third case we are watching, the fate of the men accused in the killing of an unarmed black man, Ahmaud Arbery, that is now in the hands of a jury. As we mentioned, the jury has just wrapped up their first day of deliberations.

And later, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm on whether President Biden's decision today to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve could have any real impact on high prices.



BERMAN: The jury has just finished its first day of deliberations in the case of three white men charged the death of an unarmed black man, Ahmaud Arbery. They will continue tomorrow morning. Sara Sidner has the details on how the prosecution today closed its case one day after the defense sparked outrage.


LINDA DUNIKOSKI, LEAD PROSECUTOR: When three people chase an unarmed man in two pickup trucks with guns in order to violate his personal liberty, who gets to claim, I'm not really responsible for that. Under the law in Georgia, no one gets to say that.

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The prosecution getting the last word in the murder trial of three men for the killing of Ahmaud Arbery.

Arbery was jogging in February of 2020 when he was chased down by Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael, and William Bryan, Jr. in their trucks. The men's defense, they thought Arbery had committed burglary and they were planning to make a citizen's arrest.

But Travis McMichael ended up shooting Arbery to death.

DUNIKOSKI: Where's the empathy? How about, don't bring a shotgun with you? This is really easy. Call the police.

SIDNER (voice over): The prosecutor said the men didn't bother to wait for police, only making this 9-1-1 call after they were chasing Arbery for an alleged crime they never witnessed.

GREGORY MCMICHAEL, DEFENDANT (via phone): I'm out here in Satilla Shores. There is a black male running down the street --

DUNIKOSKI: What's your emergency? There is a black running down the street?

SIDNER (voice over): It turned out, Arbery had not committed a burglary.

DUNIKOSKI: They want you to hear burglary, so that's a felony, so that you can say that from that felony that he committed, that burglary, they can chase him down.

SIDNER (voice over): The burden is on the prosecution to prove the nine charges against each defendant beyond a reasonable doubt, including aggravated assault and murder. The defense interrupted the prosecution's argument several times, each time calling for a mistrial over the prosecutor's interpretation of the law for the jury.

FRANKLIN HOGUE, ATTORNEY: You can't argue a misstatement of the law.

JUDGE TIMOTHY R. WALMSLEY, CHATHAM COUNTY COURT: The motion for mistrial is denied.

SIDNER (voice over): In closing arguments, Monday, the defense went after Arbery's actions and his character. They refer to video taken of Arbery wandering inside a home construction site months before he was killed.

LAURA HOGUE, GREGORY MCMICHAEL'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: He was a recurring night time intruder.

SIDNER (voice over): One defense attorney went after the dead 25-year- old's appearance.

L. HOGUE: In his khaki shorts with no socks to cover his long, dirty toenails.


SIDNER (voice over): Her comments caused gasps in the court and Arbery's mother Wanda Cooper-Jones rushed out of court in horror. The prosecution calling out the defense's move to disparage a victim.

DUNIKOSKI: Malign a victim, it is the victim's fault. I know you're not going to buy into that. It's offensive.


BERMAN: Sara Sidner joins us now. Sara, we're always looking for some kind of signs from the jury room here. Any indication about whether they would reach a verdict before this week wraps up?

SIDNER: You know, the Judge did ask the jurors today, this evening actually, whether or not they were close to a verdict because he wanted to check to see how long they may stay or if they need to go home.

And initially we heard for the first time from the foreperson in this case, and what we heard was we are in the process of working to reach a verdict. And at first, the jurors did not indicate that they wanted to go home and then later on about 10 minutes later, the Judge went ahead and dismissed them for the day saying they will come back tomorrow morning at 8:30.

But all indications are at this point that they are reach going towards reaching a verdict, meaning that they are -- this is not perhaps a hung jury, and that they are going to be starting that work all over again tomorrow morning, bright and early -- John.

BERMAN: So that's interesting. The body language might be that they are moving ever closer to that moment. Sara Sidner, thank you so much.

Perspective now from criminal defense attorney, Sara Azari and Bakari Sellers, an attorney and CNN political commentator and author of the memoir, "My Vanishing Country."

Sara, we played some of the rebuttal today. Do you think the prosecution did what it needed to do?

SARA AZARI, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: John, absolutely. This prosecutor gets an A plus for me all the way not just on rebuttal, but throughout the course of this trial.

The three things that really stood out to me that I found were very effective was number one, the exorbitant amount of time she spent really sort of stripping away the entire defense, that there was no valid citizen's arrest, there was no immediate knowledge of a crime, there was no witnessing of a crime, and Arbery was not fleeing from a felony crime.

And then she went into the second part of the analysis, which is self- defense, arguing under the exceptions under Georgia law, that, you know, these guys were first aggressors. They provoked the incident by bringing two trucks and a gun, and then of course, their accompanying conduct. And, of course, that they were committing felonies. Those are exceptions to self-defense. So she completely stripped away the defense.

The next thing she did, John, that I thought was very effective is she rose above those despicable racist comments that the defense attorneys made. She used Arbery's appearance that they used to vilify him to show that he is not a threat, right? He she said, you know, he had these baggy shorts, and so the defendants could see the waistband. And they could, you know, they could clearly see that he didn't have a weapon, he didn't have a gun. He didn't even have a cell phone or a wallet. Right? So that was really clever on her part. And last, but not least, she circled back to the most basic piece of evidence, which was that 9-1-1 call that you just played, which is, what is the emergency? A black man running down the street. I mean, mic drop, right?

This really just sums up what this case is all about and what we've seen through this trial.

BERMAN: Bakari, talk more about that moment, if you will, because this was the 9-1-1 call that Gregory McMichael made, and we heard him in Sara Sidner's piece say, "There is a black man running down the street," unquote. So how much did that encapsulate what the prosecution was trying to prove here?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I think this puts Ahmaud Arbery in the long list of individuals whose names we call out often, and that's the troublesome part about trying to separate race or racism from our system of jurisprudence in this country.

I mean, look, my colleague just laid out all the facts that the prosecution laid out, but I think we would both agree that our stomach is in knots because we've seen this system fail black people before. We've seen this system fail people of color before, and what we saw in this prosecution, she laid it out perfectly.

I mean, if you were to have a split screen between what the defense said and talking about the color of his toenails, for example, or what he looked like, or his appearance, versus the prosecution's case, where they simply said they played a 9-1-1 tape, and what's your emergency? You know, it's a black man running.

I mean, so you look at these things in totality and you can't help but to have some certain level of heartbreak for a system that doesn't benefit black people in this country. And I want to remind people that I've had this conversation, day in and day out.

I was at Halls Chophouse in Colombia today for lunch and they -- people were pulling me aside and they said, you know, this jury can't come back with a not guilty verdict, can it? And I remind people often that you know, you had not one but two prosecutors who actually saw this tape, but declined to initiate charges against these individuals.

And so I think that is the reason for hesitancy, although the prosecution has done a yeoman's job in putting together the best case they possibly could.


BERMAN: Bakari, if you will talk a little bit more about that because I've heard a lot of it. I wasn't at lunch at the Chophouse. But I've had a lot of people ask me, essentially, why would the defense say those things about Mr. Ahmaud Arbery's toenails? Why would she say something that offensive? And the answer has to be to a degree, Bakari? Because she thinks it will work.

SELLERS: I mean, there is no question. I mean, I think that most people see the inherent and believe that inherent prejudice of black skin. I mean, that's the fact. I mean, you know, there is this -- there used to be an old doctrine, an old legal doctrine, reasonable fear of the black man. And that's what this is. That's what this case is about.

You have a black man who is running down the street. There is an inherent fear that comes along with the color of his skin. And so that is why I believe she did that. Now, the question is, I mean, when you look at the jury makeup, you look at the overwhelming number of white people who are on this jury. I mean, let's just be blunt about it.

Let's have an honest conversation about it, and the question is, will they come back with a verdict that we all believe is just or will this system break our heart again? I think that's the question.

BERMAN: So Sara, Sara Sidner reporting on the conversation between the Judge and the jury at the end of the day. That's pretty interesting. You don't normally get that kind of body language there. It seems as if the jury was saying, you know, we're getting there. What do you take away from that?

AZARI: Well, look, John, I think the timeline is critical here. Whenever juries get a case that is close to a weekend or a Holiday, there's always a concern that they may not -- they may not carry out their civic duties as they should and rush through the deliberations.

I think they've -- you know, they're doing their best to get out of there. We have to remember this Thanksgiving is you know, the first big Holiday coming out of the pandemic where we can be with friends and family, vaccinated and safe.

And these jurors are human beings, they want to get back to their lives. They want to have their -- you know, Black Friday and Cyber Monday. I think like Bakari said, this is not a very difficult analysis. You know, there is -- of course, there's extensive instructions, lesser as to Roddie Bryan, but this is not the Rittenhouse type of, you know, deliberation.

And yet, you know, there is this concern about the belief system of these jurors, and are they at all struggling? Is this, you know, are they looking at this as like the boogeyman who invaded this community and these guys were heroes? You know, keeping the community safe and black-free? Or are they actually going to take the time and apply the law to the facts and reach the correct verdict?

But I think, you know, Thanksgiving, I think, you know, it's possible we get a verdict tomorrow, but I can't read the tea leaves. I never can.

BERMAN: Sara Azari --

SELLER: Let me just say, John -- let me just say, John, real quick, don't ever -- don't ever try to predict what a jury is going to do. They are a jury of your peers, and we know 12 people are as inconsistent and as unpredictable as we could possibly imagine. So they may be here for a long time or they may be here until breakfast tomorrow.

BERMAN: Noted. Noted. Well, we look forward to speaking to you both again when we do get a verdict. Thank you.

So we have a tragic update to report on Sunday's deadly SUV crash in Wisconsin. Also more of what investigators are learning about the events that turned a Christmas Parade into a nightmare for that small town.



JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: A sixth person, a child now confirmed dead after that SUV plowed through a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Prosecutors made the announcement during the first court appearance by the suspect Darrell Brooks.

Omar Jimenez with the latest on the investigation.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are not words to describe the risk that this defendant presents to our community.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After being accused of killing six and injuring over 60 others, 39-year-old Darrell Brooks makes his initial court appearance.

KEVIN COSTELLO, COURT COMMISSIONER: I have not seen anything like this my very long career.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): He was charged with five counts of first degree intentional homicide. But prosecutors say a sixth is coming.

SUSAN OPPER, DISTRICT ATTORNEY, WAUKESHA COUNTY: I wish to notify the court sadly that today we learned of another death of a child.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): And there is new video of the moments.


JIMENEZ (voice-over): Police found and arrested the 39-year-old Brooks Sunday night on the front porch of 24-year-old Daniel Rider who had no idea what it just happened at the Waukesha Christmas parade about a mile away.

DANIEL RIDER, WAUKESHA RESIDENT: Here at one point asked me what was going on downtown. I was like, it was a parade today. He's like, oh, that was about that was.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): The man he now knows was Brooks then asked to use his phone and call an Uber.

DARRELL BROOKS, SUSPECT: Hey, can I call some -- I called the Uber and I'll post me wait for it over here but I'm going to know when it's coming. Can you keep (INAUDIBLE) please?

JIMENEZ (voice-over): Not long after Rider says he saw police going up and down the street and felt it had to do with Brooks. So he told him to leave moments later.


RIDER: So I'm looking for his ID. And moments later the police summon and get him in cuffs. I'd had no idea in my house. The Uber showed up maybe a minute his (INAUDIBLE). So, I just think about sometimes if he had gotten in that car what could have happened.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): Before allegedly driving his car through the parade. Police say Brooks was involved in a domestic disturbance earlier Sunday. He has a criminal history going back to the '90s. But in July 2020, he was accused of firing a handgun during an argument. In February this year he was released on bail. Less than nine months later, he allegedly ran over a woman who claims she's the mother of his child with his car. Nine days later, he was released on just $1,000 bail. Less than two weeks before the Christmas parade.

The Milwaukee County District Attorney's office called that bail amount inappropriately low. Authority say Brooks also had an outstanding arrest warrant and an unrelated case in Nevada where he's a registered sex offender.


Meanwhile a community is trying to heal, mourning the six that were killed and processing loved ones that nearly added to the toll.


BERMAN: And Omar Jimenez joins us now. Omar, I understand you have some new information about one of the injured.

JIMENEZ: Yes, John, as we understand a firefighter son who is marching with his high school band during the Waukesha Christmas parade has just been released from the ICU, but there's still a long road to recovery there as the statement that was released said that he had to go under or that he had to undergo surgery for a broken femur, that he is -- there also monitoring other injuries as well as potentially going to have to place a chest drainage tube on him as well, along with as I mentioned, monitoring for more complications.

So a long road to recovery and is the reality for the over 60 people who survived this but still have a long way to go before any semblance of normal, either physically, or of course, emotional. John.

BERMAN: No, I was going to say there the physical was about the emotional ones as well. Omar Jimenez, thank you so much for being there.

President Biden took a rare step today that he says will help lower gas prices. But will it make a difference in when what energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told me, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BERMAN: With growing concern over inflation, President Biden announced that rare step this afternoon to try to lower gas prices. The President said the Energy Department will tap into 5 -- 50 million barrels from the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve. He called it a largest release from the reserve in U.S. history. The move was made jointly with other oil consuming countries, including China and India as oil rich nations continue to ignore requests to increase production to pre pandemic levels. But President Biden says it will take time to see a change in prices.


JOE BIDEN (D) PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: While our companies combined actions will not solve the problem of high gas prices overnight, it will make a difference. It will take time but before long, you should see the price of gas drop where you fill up your tank.


BERMAN: So I spoke about the move earlier with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.


BERMAN (on-camera): Secretary Granholm, thanks so much for joining us. So what sort of tangible impact, tangible savings can Americans expect to see at the gas pumps from this move by President Biden?

JENNIFER GRANHOLM, ENERGY SECRETARY: Well, John, as you know, this is a question of supply and demand. So it's the release of 50 million gallon -- barrels of oil is the most significant exchange of oil that we have done in this country. Part of the pricing has already been figured in because you've seen public reporting about this for a couple of weeks, a lot of speculation. So you've seen already a bit of a drop in the price per barrel of oil. The question is, when can people see it at the pump, and that's probably going to happen over the next few weeks. It won't be all at once, because the supply will not be released all at once, people have to bid on it. But it will be throughout December, and then the releases will occur into January.

So, it'll be over the course of the next period of time couple of months that it will be phased in.

BERMAN (on-camera): So, as you know, there are those who say that the U.S. tapping into this eupatorium reserve, is a short term Band Aid and has to do with optics for the administration of an administration that has been having difficulty is at least in the polls, right. There's a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll that said a majority of Americans believe the President has accomplished not much or nothing at all. So what do you say to that?

GRANHOLM: Well, first of all, the President has accomplished a lot. And I can go through the litany of how GDP growth, job creation has been. Job creation has been the most of any president in history in the first year of a presidency, the drop in unemployment benefits, et cetera, when the raising wages. But separate from that, I mean, this, this is a short term solution. That is true, it is not intended to be a long term solution. It's intended to correct the supply and demand mismatch in the market right now. So, as more production comes online after COVID, then you will see obviously, the supply coming up to where the demand is, that hasn't happened fully yet. And that's why this mechanism of doing this exchange of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is to be able to mash supply and demand over the next shorter period of time over the next few months.

BERMAN (on-camera): In terms of short term relief, what about maybe pressuring states to reduce some of their gas taxes or even a temporary reduction in the federal gas tax?

GRANHOLM: Yes, I mean, that it's certainly a tool, it's a tool that states have, it's a tool in the President's toolbox as well, there's a lot of consideration there. Obviously, most gas taxes go toward funding, the repair of roads, we've just signed a big infrastructure bill, you don't want to take away what's already happened.

But really the big issue longer term, John, is the investment in clean energy, we've got to invest in the sources of energy that will get us off of these volatile fossil fuels. And that will help to obviously address climate change and put people to work. And that's really what the bipartisan infrastructure law is was all about. It's what the climate components of the Build Back Better agenda are all about. We have to invest in the clean energy infrastructure, in order that we don't end up in this place again.

BERMAN (on-camera): I get that this administration's goal a longer either medium term goal, but in the short term, look, it's possible that prices could go up again. Would you encourage or are you encouraging then an increase in production -- domestic production, an increase in pumping, an increase in may be drilled?

GRANHOLM: Yes, yes. Yes. Yes, we are. We're in we're asking those who are producers to increase so that we have a supply that meets the demand? Unfortunately, right now, John, I mean, for example, there are 23 million acres of public lands on and offshore that have been leased by the oil and gas companies that are not being drilled upon. There are 9,500 permits that have been issued for pumping that have not been acted upon, they're just sitting there stockpiled.


So we want to see greater production. The number of employees hired in the oil and gas industry are not even close to the level they were pre-COVID. The number of rigs are down -- hundreds of rigs less than what it -- what existed before COVID. So, we want to see more production both domestically as well as internationally in this so that we can relieve people's pain at the pump. And know that this is a transition and invest in the longer term solutions, which is of course on the clean energy side. BERMAN (on-camera): Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, thank you for being with us. Thank you for your time. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

GRANHOLM: Yes, I hope you have a great Thanksgiving too John, thanks and to all your viewers.


BERMAN: Up next, reports of a toxic work environment on Capitol Hill. Who's making the claims and who they say is to blame in a moment?


BERMAN: Tonight, an unsettling news report about what it's like to work on Capitol Hill and what that means for getting anything done for the people you who want things to get done. The report from our Lauren Fox details a toxic work environment wrought with bitter heated exchanges, threats against them and their families and worry about the erosion of decorum.


Lauren Fox joins us now also with us, Maggie Haberman, Washington correspondent for The New York Times and a CNN political analyst.

So Lauren, you spoke with more than a dozen members, Democrats and Republicans. What are they saying, and what are they saying is to blame for this?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, many of the Democrats who I talked to pointed directly to January 6, John as the moment that everything really started to change and shift on Capitol Hill. That's not to say that there weren't tense moments before that. That's not to say that President Trump's presidency was easy on the House of Representatives and the decorum there.

But one member Cheri Bustos, who is not running for reelection, because she says things would become way too toxic, to require her to come back to Washington for another term. She told me that specifically after that day, it wasn't just the fact that there was an attack on her workplace. But it was the fact that that evening, when they came back into the chamber to certify a free and fair election, there were more than 130 of her colleagues who voted not to certify that election. And she said that really changed the dynamics that really changed the game on Capitol Hill.

Now, there are some Republicans who blame Democratic leaders for the toxic environment, saying that the metal detectors at the front door, the requirements to wear masks are just far too much. But a lot of Democrats say it is the fact that we have colleagues who continue to talk about the big lie.

BERMAN: The big lie January 6, Maggie, which all gets back to the former President Donald Trump. To what extent does this environment help him control the Republican Party in Congress? MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I mean, Donald Trump, you know, governs by fear and always has governed by fear. And to the extent that you have Republicans who are looking not just to him as somebody who is their leader, but also looking at the -- a common enemy, in their view, and Democrats. And Trump has certainly stoked that. That is -- that is in his to his benefit and in his favor. And it is something that he prefers he wants Republicans to look at Democrats as their enemy.

And I do think Lauren makes the point that you do hear a lot of complaints from Republicans, that the atmosphere is just toxic across the board now, it is no longer just Republicans. But there are these threats that Democratic lawmakers in particular are facing and that is part of why the climate is so bad. Donald Trump is very good and has been historically John a throwing gasoline on a fire, not tamping it down. And I think that's what you're seeing here.

BERMAN: You know, it's interesting, you say Donald Trump wants Republicans to see Democrats as the enemy, Lauren, but your reporting also points out that there's some, you know, party on party fight here, Republican on Republican threats and danger here. What are you hearing along those lines? I mean, we know about Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger. But are there more?

FOX: Well, it's about how you talk to your colleagues. And it's about how you talk publicly about your colleagues. You know, I asked one Democrat Representative Stephanie Murphy, who is a moderate from the state of Florida about what she thought of a toxic work environment. And I apologized and said, I don't know if toxic is too strong of a word. She said, no, toxic is the perfect word. She then said, there's plenty of Dem on Dem violence. And she talks a little bit about this fight that the Democratic Party has been in for the last month or two months now on Capitol Hill as they've tried to pass both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and that larger social safety net bill, eventually, they were successful in those pursuits.

But there was a lot of pain sort of along the way. And she said she felt like the way her colleagues were talking publicly, really crossed a line. And of course, that's not the same thing. As what happened on January 6, we're not making that comparison at all. It's just generally about the attitude and the decorum up here on Capitol Hill. There is a feeling that people aren't polite, John, and that might seem small, but it's a huge deal. When you talk about how legislators who are supposed to be examples in this country conduct themselves.

BERMAN: Look, we just want them to do their jobs, whatever it takes to get the job done.

Maggie, I want to ask you about another bit of reporting here. We learned that the Republican National Committee is paying some of the former President's personal legal bills not having to do with the presidency, per se. What's going on here? And I do want to remind people that that this guy is a billionaire, right.

HABERMAN: It's pretty extraordinary, John, this is reporting by two reporters in The Washington Post. It's a terrific story. And they found on Earth and in filings I believe that the Republican National Committee has been paying for lawyers representing Donald Trump in this investigation in New York, which is a state investigation that has nothing to do with his time as president everything to do with his business practices. No, yes Donald Trump will make the argument that he was investigated because he was president. I don't think he was investigated because he was president but I do think things came to light that might not have otherwise because he was president. Regardless, it's not clear how any of this relates to party duties or activities.


You know, his argument would be in his folks argument has always been he's raised a ton of money for them. But this is really unheard of that you would have something like this for a former president in general, and somebody who is thinking of running again and somebody who's under investigation just separately.

BERMAN: Laura Fox, Maggie Haberman, thank you both.

A Missouri man spent 43 years in prison for a triple murder. He says he didn't commit. What a judge said about the case today, next.


BERMAN: A Missouri man is free tonight after spending 43 years in prison for a triple murder he says he didn't commit. Today, a judge set aside the condition of 62-year-old Kevin Strickland the judge said there was no evidence tying Strickland to the 1978 crime. Only witness testimony from the sole survivor of the shooting who later recanted her account saying she made a mistake. When Strickland left prison he told reporters he didn't think this day would come.


According to the National Registry of Exonerations, Strickland's release makes this confinement the longest wrongful imprisonment in Missouri history and one of the longest in the nation.

The news continues. So let's head over to Chris for "CUOMO PRIME TIME."