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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
President Joe Biden Unveils New Plan To Fight Omicron Variant; Facebook Sold Ads Comparing COVID Vaccine To Holocaust; Mark Meadows Agrees With Trump That His New Book Is Fake News; Investigators Questioning What School Officials Knew Before Deadly Shooting; Senate To Vote Soon On Keeping Government Running: Only After GOP Lawmakers Threaten Shutdown Over Vaccine Mandates; Prosecution Rests In Jussie Smollett Trial. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired December 02, 2021 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is a plan in place unless somebody decides to be totally erratic.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Well, this is Washington, so who knows? But at this point, it appears the plan may hold, and you'd have a hundred senators in agreement. Wow.
Thanks for joining us. Anderson starts now.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. Tonight, an exclusive interview with Facebook whistleblower Francis Haugen on her former company's role in the spread of COVID misinformation and disinformation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRANCES HAUGEN, FORMER FACEBOOK PRODUCT MANAGER: It is about the doctors and nurses who have to cope with conspiracies about COVID-19 and vaccines. It is about people who have suffered harassment online.
Facebook knows what is happening on the platform, and they have systematically under invested in fighting those harms. They know they do far too little about it. In fact, they have incentives for it to be this way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That's a portion of her congressional testimony from yesterday. She is going to expand on that tonight on this program.
Also exclusive reporting from CNN's Donie O'Sullivan on how the social network, Facebook, makes money on the anti-vaccine message. This comes at the end of the day that saw seven new cases of the omicron variant identified, which is not unexpected, but certainly underscores the need to get on top of the situation. It prompted Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla late today to tweet that his company has asked the F.D.A. to expand authorization for booster doses of its COVID vaccine to include 16 and 17-year-olds. Quoting now, from him, "It is our hope to provide strong protection for as many people as possible particularly in light of the new variant," he said.
Now, when he posted that there were two new reported cases; one in Minnesota, the other in Colorado. Late today, New York added five new cases. Today, we also saw President Biden visit the National Institutes of Health just outside Washington to unveil new COVID fighting policies to include tighter testing requirements for travelers coming into the U.S. and extending the current mask mandate for domestic planes, trains, and buses.
He touched on that in his remarks today, but made vaccination especially boosters the heart of his message, using the B word more than two dozen times.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The C.D.C., the Food and Drug Administration, the F.D.A. and our top public officials recommend all adults -- all adults get a booster shot when it's time.
But here's the deal, more than about a hundred million are eligible for boosters, but haven't gotten the booster shot yet. Folks, if you're over the age of 80, and you got vaccinated before June the second, six months has gone by. Go get your booster now. Go get it now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: There's a big hitch in those plants though because as successful as the President hopes to be in ensuring everyone can get a vaccine or booster, it's still demand not supply that's the problem. And sadly, something as basic and fact based is preventing a deadly illness still breaks down along party lines.
New polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows just 36 percent of Republicans saying they will get a booster compared to 77 percent of Democrats. That's more than a two to one gap.
But again, it's not simply driven by politics. It is reinforced on social media. So joining us now with his exclusive new reporting on how Facebook is profiting from pumping anti-vaccine information into the public sphere, CNN's Donie O'Sullivan. So what have you learned?
DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Anderson. So a FOX News personality caused outrage a few nights ago when she compared Dr. Anthony Fauci to a Nazi doctor, the angel of death. But this sort of stuff is not happening in a vacuum. In fact, it's all over people's Facebook feeds. And I want to show you some of the ads we found on Facebook that the platform has been allowing to run and profit from over just the past few months.
One ad here it says, "I'm originally from America, but I currently reside in 1941 Germany." Another shows a picture of a vaccine and says, "Slowly and quietly." But it's a holocaust, again, playing into this ridiculous idea that the vaccine is a part of a mass slaughter regime.
And then going to the lines of political violence. We have ads that say, "Make hanging traitors great again." Facebook will often like to frame a lot of these issues in a free speech contests are saying, well, we don't want to trample on speech too much, but these are actual ads that they are accepting, that they are running, and that they're taking money for to target their users.
COOPER: And do we know if these are still up? What is Facebook saying about this?
O'SULLIVAN: So Facebook will always tout and promote that they have all these moderators, all this artificial intelligence that can catch these ads, which are clear violations of the rules. But they didn't catch them until CNN brought them to their attention.
The ad about comparing the U.S. government crackdown and restrictions on COVID to the Nazi regime and calling the vaccines a holocaust tool, those two ads got taken down Facebook said after CNN brought it to their attention, but that ad, and I don't know if we can show it again, "Make hanging traitors great again," that's still up on the platform. That's not seemingly against Facebook's rules even though this is just months after we saw gallows outside the Capitol and people chanting "Hang Mike Pence."
COOPER: So some of these were run on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. The CEO, I think of Instagram is going to be testifying. Do we know what we expect to hear from him?
O'SULLIVAN: Well, we're probably going to hear something along the lines of, we know we have some issues. We have some work to do, but we're still doing great and we're catching 99.999 percent of everything.
This is clearly not the case. I mean, you know, we poked around a little, we found these ads very, very easily. If we are able to find them, a trillion dollar company with Facebook with that resources, they should be able to find this stuff themselves.
COOPER: And again, it is important to point out, this is not just some individual posting that picture of free speech. This is an ad that Facebook is actually profiting from.
O'SULLIVAN: This is an ad. You know, one ad that was run, I think they only had to spend 400 or 500 bucks, and they were able to reach I think up to half a million people and people in specific states. A lot of states we saw targeted with some specific ads -- Florida, Texas -- a lot of states where there is those major COVID issues or we've seen those spikes throughout the year.
COOPER: Fascinating. Donie O'Sullivan, appreciate it. Perspective now from former Facebook executive, Frances Haugen in her first interview since testifying before the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.
Frances, this reporting from Donie O'Sullivan shows that Facebook is not only allowing posts that compare the vaccine to the holocaust, but they're actually profiting from it. They're accepting money to run them as paid ads.
Why is this happening? I mean, they don't -- why do they -- is that part of the business model?
HAUGEN: Facebook's business model is conditioned on fixing problems after they find them. Facebook is known since 2018, Mark has publicly made comments on it. Mark Zuckerberg has made comment saying engagement based ranking. That means prioritizing content or ads based on their ability to provoke a reaction from you, which is usually the most extreme and polarizing content. It is dangerous because people are drawn to engage with extreme content.
But Mark said at the time, it's okay, AI will save us. The only problem is the AI misses lots and lots of problems. In the case of hate speech, only three to five percent of hate speech is caught. I wouldn't be surprised if they had policies against anti-vaccine content like this, that they let a similar amount of bad content through.
COOPER: It's been almost two months since you spoke out about Facebook's misinformation problems. And when you see ads like this that say, you know, "I'm originally from America, but I currently reside in 1941 Germany" on the platform this week, are you surprised that this is still so prevalent?
HAUGEN: I'm not surprised at all. One of the things that I think most people don't understand is that while I've spent most of my time talking about how engagement based ranking amplifies the most extreme and polarizing content in our news feeds, the same happens with ads. Ads that are provocative that elicit extreme emotions from us are cheaper to run than more centrist or compassionate ads.
Think about it, which one provokes you to do an angry comment? One of those ads like you described, or an ad saying, I support our nurses? Facebook knows there are these problems in their systems. They've know that psychologists have known for decades, it's easier to provoke people to anger and the biases and the algorithms end up giving the most reach for the least amount of dollars to extreme content like these.
COOPER: You testified yesterday, you said that they thought they could reduce misinformation by 25 percent overnight with changes to its algorithm. You think -- I mean, it's that easy?
HAUGEN: Oh, yes. There are multiple components to Facebook's ranking systems where people have known for years that even single term, single factors in the systems are increasing misinformation dramatically. Facebook has a whole series of these interventions that don't involve censorship. They don't involve looking at good ideas and bad ideas. They just involve not running the system so hot.
Facebook knows that when they let the system run hot and run fast, they make more money. And if Facebook had to go in there and stand accountable, it's likely that they would choose safer settings, and they'd be willing to go of these little tiny slices of profits, 0.1 percent here, half a percent there, but we would have significantly less misinformation not just in English, but all the other languages in the world, the vast majority of which get no safety systems from Facebook.
COOPER: After your first Senate hearing in October, Facebook came out against you, as you obviously know, they released a statement that said in part that you worked for the company for less than two years, had no direct reports, never attended a decision point meeting with C- level executives.
Were you at all surprised that they chose to try to attack you like that? Dismiss you as a low-level employee?
HAUGEN: The thing that Facebook didn't disclose is what my relative seniority was in the company. You know, by the time I left, I was more senior than at least 60 percent, if not 70 percent of people because in tech, turnover is really fast.
The second thing is, I worked at four social media accompanies, all of which in algorithmic roles. As a result, like I'm one of the foremost experts in the industry at understanding the problems with AI systems in a social media context.
HAUGEN: It's true. I've never been in a C-suite meeting, but you know, I also brought out an extensive cache of documents that demonstrates that Facebook has consistently lied about the safety options that exist, about the fact that it's not doing everything it can to fight these problems, and that they're not willing to sacrifice slivers of profit for our safety.
COOPER: You said the company would be stronger if Zuckerberg stepped down as CEO. If -- I mean, do you think that's at all likely? And if you were the CEO of Facebook, I mean, what is the first change you would make? Or you know, on day one, what would your agenda be?
HAUGEN: You know, when I originally came forward, I really don't like personalizing conflicts, like I think the problems of Facebook are about incentives and about organizational choices. But when Mark came out and said, hey, I know we've called out all these things that are endangering people's lives as a result of our underinvestment safety on the platform. I know what the solution is, we should find 10,000 new engineers to build video games.
Like when that happened, like that was a real -- it made me think maybe more needs to be done, maybe someone who's willing to accept responsibility for the power that Facebook has, should be in control. If I had the ability to direct -- if I could wave a magic wand and direct the company, I think the first thing I would do is have a radically more transparent stance with the academic community, the civil society community, and the government, because Facebook has problems that need tens of thousands more people working on them.
And right now, Facebook cannot solve those problems, because every team in the company is understaffed, and it will only continue to get worse because every time there's a scandal, it's harder for Facebook to hire.
The only way Facebook can rebuild trust with the community and with the world is through things like transparency, and being willing to, you know, open the book and say, this is what we're actually doing to solve these problems.
We're not going to wave our hands and say we're working on it anymore.
COOPER: I mean, why is -- with all their money, why are they understaffed?
HAUGEN: I think there's a process of you know, every time a scandal happens, it gets harder to hire. Right? And that's one of the things about feedback cycles. You know, part of what I said originally in my testimony was that Facebook needs a moment to declare moral bankruptcy, right?
The way we move forward is with truth and reconciliation, and because Facebook is unwilling to admit the problems it has, and is unwilling to say, okay, we need to a reset, like I made mistakes, I accept responsibility, but we need to move forward -- because they're not willing to do that, it is hard for people to hold them -- have good faith in them and it makes it harder to hire.
COOPER: I don't know much about the Metaverse, I don't really -- I'm not smart enough to understand what the future of tech is. But if Facebook is morally bankrupt, does it concern you the idea of them going all in on creating a new universe?
HAUGEN: So, Anderson?
HAUGEN: Anderson, to correct you, it is not that I said that they are morally bankrupt, I said, they need to declare moral bankruptcy. Bankruptcy is a process where people get financial freedom, right? They say, I messed up, I accept the consequences. It's going to be painful for a couple years. But society says we value people's lives more than we value money.
HAUGEN: And I'm saying that Facebook right now is stuck. They're stuck in a feedback loop. And they need to start solving problems together with the community and not alone, because they're having trouble moving forward alone. But with regards to the Metaverse, I don't think Facebook has demonstrated that they are designing safety first. You know, I want you to imagine for a second, let's say you're 19 and you come home from school, and you put on your headset, and suddenly you're more handsome than you were before, your apartment is nicer. Your clothes are nicer, your hair is nicer.
You spend all evening in this fantasy world. And then you go to bed and you go brush your teeth, and you look in the mirror and now your hair is worse, your body is worse, your apartment is worse. What does that do to you as a person? Right?
I worry that the kinds of problems that the vision of the Metaverse that Mark is promoting are going to do to people, and I can't imagine Facebook is building new plans for that right now. And I hate the idea that we might get five years or 10 years down the line and spend all 10 years saying we're seeing these problems with addiction, you're ruining people's lives before Facebook stops gaslighting us that they exist. We need more transparency and we need it upfront.
COOPER: Frances Haugen, I really appreciate your time. Thank you.
HAUGEN: My pleasure.
COOPER: Well, after reportedly writing in his book that the former President tested positive for COVID three days before his first debate with Joe Biden, former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is calling it fake news. Our Gloria Borger has some new reporting that may explain why he is doing that.
Also, ahead, new information about the 15-year-old sophomore accused of killing four high school students and injuring seven others. Why his parents were at the school just hours before the shooting.
COOPER: Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is trying to walk back some explosive claims he reportedly made in his new book about the former President's positive COVID test. Now before we get to his denial, let's just take a look at the timeline because it's important.
As was first reported in "The Guardian," Meadows reveals in his soon to be released memoire that the former President first tested positive for COVID, September 26th. That was three days before his first debate with then Vice President Joe Biden.
Meadows and the former President are now pointing out that he tested negative after testing positive. That same day, he hosted a White House event both inside and outside for then Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, at least 12 attendees later tested positive there.
The next day, September 27th, he hosted an indoor White House reception for Gold Star families, followed by a maskless news conference in the White House Briefing Room.
On September 29th, which was debate day, Meadows reports the former President was moving slower than usual, but quote, "Nothing was going to stop him from going out there."
On October 1st, the former President finally acknowledged that he had coronavirus and in October 2nd, he was hospitalized. Now yesterday, the former President called the reporting and the claim in Meadows' book that he tested positive on September 26th fake news and just a few hours later, Meadows went on Newsmax and seem to agree with his former boss.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: I believe the President says it's fake news. What is the story here?
MARK MEADOWS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, the President is right. It's fake news. If you actually read the book about the context of it. That story outlined a false positive, literally had a test, had two other tests after that that showed that he didn't have COVID during the debate.
And yet, you know, the way that the media wants to spin it is certainly to be as negative about Donald Trump as they possibly can while giving Joe Biden a pass.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So that's true, at least according to Meadows' account that is reportedly in the book that the former President tested negative after testing positive. What Meadows didn't say there that is reportedly in the book is that Meadows was telling everyone in the former President's immediate circle to treat him as if he was positive.
COOPER: Maybe Meadows left that part out of the interview he did with Newsmax because what our Gloria Borger is now learning about the former President's reaction to the relevant revelation about his positive test. She joins us now along with CNN medical analyst, Dr. Leana Wen, author of the book "Lifelines: A Doctor's Journey in the Fight for Public Health."
So Gloria, the former President is disputing was reportedly in this book written by Meadows, and that's it. Meadows himself seems to agree. What more are you learning about the former President's reaction to all of this?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: So he agrees that what he wrote was fake news because we reported what's in the book badly. And of course, that's not true. What I'm learning is that the former President, according to a source, who is familiar with the President's thinking, is that the former President is furious about what is in the book, and that he is angry with Mark Meadows. Now, I was told by one source that Meadows and the President have not had a close relationship. But other sources are telling other reporters at CNN that it is a relationship that has been fine, because don't forget Mark Meadows is on the Trump train for 2024. But that the President is mad about the way Meadows characterized all of this in the book.
So what I think we are witnessing on Newsmax is Mark Meadows trying to get back in the President's good graces, and saying, yes, blame it on the press. What I was trying to tell you is all the President had was a false positive, and that's it and move on.
COOPER: But you know, Gloria, what's interesting about this is the White House then went out of their way and the former President, too, to avoid ever acknowledging when he got his first positive test for COVID.
I mean, if you think back to that time, though, this was a question of, could he have possibly been positive during the debate? And he would never come forward and say, yes, I tested positive on this date, you know, days before. They didn't want to go there.
BORGER: Yes, and Meadows is also saying there were three tests. We think there were two, we don't know about any kind of third test. We know that the debate required a negative test 72 hours --
COOPER: Right, and the debate themselves, for some odd reason did not test on that day right before the debate. I find that --
BORGER: Well, if you'll recall -- if you recall, we all noticed the President arrived late. There is an honor system, and, you know, they obviously told the folks there, you know, he had tested negative and so he went on to the debate stage.
That was the situation. But, you know, that's not in the excerpt of the book that "The Guardian" printed. And again, we haven't seen the book. That's not -- that's not mentioned,
COOPER: Dr. Wen, just in terms of the timeline of when the former President started showing symptoms and was taken to Walter Reed, does a positive test on September 26th, as the Meadows' book reportedly says took place, does that make the most sense since he was hospitalized at Walter Reed on October 2nd?
DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Yes, because the previous timeline made no sense to those of us who have actually treated COVID patients. And that's because you don't go from zero to a hundred overnight.
And so what we had heard was that October 1st was when former President Trump first started testing positive, he first started having symptoms, then by the next day, he was so severely ill that he had low oxygen saturation, he had such severe shortness of breath that he had to be airlifted and go to the hospital and be in the ICU.
When at that time, the clinical course for the variants that were dominant were then -- there were about five to eight days between when you first start having your symptoms to when you start having shortness of breath.
And so one day just made no sense, and so this is the reason why so many of us were asking at the time, when was he -- when did he test positive? And also when was his last negative test?
By the way, there is one question that would actually, I think, help us to solve this issue of did people really think that this was a false positive, which is, when did President Trump actually get monoclonal antibodies? Because for someone his age who is older, who has chronic medical illnesses as the President, if he tested positive and his medical team really believed he tested positive, they would have given him monoclonal antibodies on September 26th, or shortly thereafter.
We know that he got those antibodies but we don't know when and I think finding out that question will really help us to understand that his medical team and the President think that he really had COVID.
COOPER: Gloria, so "The Guardian" reported as I mentioned that in the book, Meadow says he told people in the former President's circle, quote -- sorry, he told people in the former President's quote " ... immediate circle to treat him as if he was positive," end quote.
COOPER: Even after the negative tests, which obviously doesn't -- it doesn't seem to square with what Meadows is now saying that, oh, no, he got a negative test, forgot two negative tests, and so he was totally fine.
I mean, if he is telling people treat this guy like he is positive, what does it say about the then First Family going maskless at the debate? And also I mean, with Gold Star families, for goodness sakes.
BORGER: Right. I mean, it is hard to parse here. I mean, first of all, who is in the President's inner circle? Isn't the family in the President's inner circle? And also, what does that mean about contact tracing?
COOPER: We are seeing pictures of the family sitting maskless at the debate, even though the Cleveland Clinic had asked everyone to be wearing masks.
BORGER: Wearing a mask? And, Dr. Wen knows more about this than I do, but shouldn't you be doing contact tracing with people who were in immediate contact with the President of the United States, and I would presume that would mean his immediate family. So how to explain the fact that they would go maskless in a place that is actually asking people to wear masks, if they knew that he had had even a false positive at a certain point, because from the moment he gets a false positive, wouldn't you start saying that people, okay, we have to figure out just who the President has been in contact.
COOPER: You would if you were a decent human being or with any sense of shame, all the people sitting there who we just saw on camera, you know, Eric Trump, Donnie, Jr. You know, the whole the whole mishegas there, you know, they are shameless. And clearly, you know, we're making a very particular point by going maskless.
Dr. Wen, looking back on it now, in light of the claims in Meadows' book, should the former President or his family even have been at that debate? I mean, shouldn't they have been quarantining?
WEN: Absolutely. So to be clear, anyone. I don't care if it's the President, former President or anybody else. If you have symptoms and you have a positive test, you should not be going anywhere. You should be in isolation.
Also, if you're a close contact, to Gloria's point, if you're a close contact, and certainly the family who lived with him should be close contacts. If you are a close contact of somebody who tested positive, you should be in quarantine if you are unvaccinated, which they were at the time. You should not be going anywhere.
And also you should not be test shopping. You don't get a test, and then once it's positive, and you don't like that, you take more tests until you get -- until it becomes negative. That's not the way this should work.
COOPER: Dr. Leana Wen, Gloria Borger, appreciate it. Thank you.
Up next, new developments in that deadly Michigan high school shooting including new information about the teenage suspect's concerning behavior in the days before the massacre. The Oakland County prosecutor joins us next.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: New information tonight about the concerning behavior of the 15-year-old accused of killing four students and injured seven others during an attack at his high school in Oakland County, Michigan on Tuesday. Today, the Oakland County Sheriff's had two teachers separately reported their concerns about the sophomore starting the day before the deadly shooting he's accused of. He also revealed that school officials met with him twice including once with his parents just hours before the killings. After that meeting, he was sent back to class.
The suspect's behavior in the days leading up to the shooting may not be the only red flag. Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald joins us now.
Ms. McDonald, appreciate you being with us. What updates are you able to share with us tonight on where the investigation stands?
KAREN MCDONALD, PROSECUTOR, OAKLAND COUNTY: Well, we've issued charges against the shooter, four counts of first degree murder, seven counts of assault with intent to murder and then a charge of terrorism causing death, which at the time, I didn't know but is quite unique. And that came about because we were sitting down and talking about what the charges were going to be. And when you look at the victims, in this case, there were four murdered children. There were several other injured. But then there's this whole group of people, these students who were traumatized, and the entire community, I mean, there's hundreds of students that witnessed this that heard this, that that literally ran for their lives. And they need to have a voice too. This is a tragic, tragic, horrific crime.
But we also need to recognize that those kids are not eating, they're not sleeping. They're in shock and they're terrified to go back to school. And they're also mourning the loss of their friends. So, that's why we charged terrorism.
Sometime tomorrow, though my office will be announcing I will be announcing potential whether or not we'll be issuing potential charges against the young persons, the shooters parents.
COOPER: You mentioned that you know that your office is trying to determine whether or not the shooters parents will face charges. Do you know yet what those charges might look like? If you did, you said you're going to make an announcement on this tomorrow. I assume some of this the very least would be related to the purchase of the weapon or the storage of the weapon that according to reporting was bought by his father several days before the shooting.
MCDONALD: The purchase of the weapon, the accessibility of the weapon, was it securely stored. Was it was it purchased for the shooter? Did the parents have any reasonable idea that he may use that weapon to hurt other people? Those are all things that we're considering, and we'll consider when we announce whether we will charge them or not.
COOPER: You also notice that there's an additional piece of evidence that has yet to be released and obviously I look, I certainly know the position you're in there's a lot you can say you don't want to, you know, impact a potential future jury. I don't know if there's any you can say even in general terms of what that other thing relates to.
MCDONALD: There's the consideration of impacting a potential Anderson, but there's also another thing that I hold that weighs on me, which is I -- these parents are in such terrible, horrible grief, it's, it's a terrible thing, what happened. The information that will be announced tomorrow will also disclose that it probably could have been prevented. And that is, is unconscionable.
So, it's just not enough to charge this shooter and prosecute and convict and incarcerate. That is, we will do that I will do that passionately like these were my own children. But the question we have to ask now is, what are we going to do? Because we, we have to do better. And I believe part of that is holding people accountable. Gun ownership is a right but with that, right comes responsibilities and duties. And if you're going to be a responsible gun owner, and I know several of them I grew up with, with the guns in my home, my dad was a hunter, I'm certainly not saying people shouldn't have guns, I'm saying that they should be held accountable to what happens to that gun. You must secure it safely, you must make sure that it doesn't end up in the hands of somebody that intends to do harm or in this case, go into a school, come out of a bathroom, shoot any person that he could find and murder children. Somebody has to be accountable. And yes, we're going to hold him accountable.
But we're also going to make sure that the person or the individuals that gave him access to that weapon, and did so and not just a negligible way, far beyond negligence are held accountable. And you know, I spoke to the -- to these parents the day after this happens. And you know, I've done a lot of things in my career, I prosecuted really terrible crimes. I was a family court judge, and I'm a mom. But I will tell you, those are some of the most painful moments of my life, to -- because there's just nothing we can say. They sent their children to school. And that should be a place where when you take your child to school, that's the place we don't worry about them.
I mean, Anderson, you're a parent, I'm a parent, I've heard from so many parents across the country, they want people to be held accountable. And that doesn't mean you can't have a gun. It means that if you're going to own a gun, you should do so safely.
COOPER: You said what the parents did, you didn't -- I'm paraphrasing, and correct me if I'm wrong, but was far beyond just negligence, negligently leaving the gun unsecured or whatever the details of it may be? Are you saying that they somehow encouraged him to have a weapon or to give him the weapon? Can you say?
MCDONALD: I'm not saying anything definitive at this moment. And again, you understand why I can't do that it's not respectful to the victims at this point. I will say that it's it doesn't take encouragement to harm or kill people that would rise to the level of criminal culpability. It takes the knowledge and the probability that that may happen, and then knowingly allowing that individual to have access to their weapon.
COOPER: And just for finally, the fact that school officials met with the parents and this young man on the day of the actual shooting hours before. Again, I know there's a lot you can't say so but it's my job to ask. Is there something in that meeting that the parents should have then informed the school about or at the very least informed some of the buddy about and or taken away access to the weapon to their child? Is there something that happened in that meeting that should have could have prevented the course of this if people that acted responsibly?
MCDONALD: The event that caused the teacher concern and that had the school officials bring parents to school was -- it's hard, it's hard to look at that. What that what was produced at that meeting and everybody looked at. It's very hard to look at that and say that there was no concern. And unfortunately, he was allowed to go back to class. And we now know that he had a weapon with him at that time. And that is simply tragic. And it's my job to hold people accountable who violate the law. And that's all I can say right now.
[20:40:45] COOPER: Let me just ask, did he have the gun in the meeting that with his parents in the school official? Is it -- do you know, when he got the weapon?
MCDONALD: I think that it's already been public, that he did have the weapon. And during COVID they don't use lockers. So they just had backpacks.
COOPER: So he had a backpack. You believe in the meeting with the gun in it when he was meeting with school officials and his parents.
MCDONALD: That's a very strong possibility.
COOPER: Well, Karen McDonald, I appreciate the situation you're in and the work you're doing, obviously, and I appreciate you spending some time with us tonight and I wish you the best.
MCDONALD: Thank you.
COOPER: Karen McDonald.
Coming up next, breaking news. Senators voting any moment now on a bill to keep the government running but only after Republican lawmakers threaten to shut down if they didn't get their way on weakening what many experts see as a key measure for stopping the spread of COVID.
COOPER: It's breaking news out of the Capitol tonight. The Senate is expected to vote shortly on temporary funding to head off a government shutdown tomorrow at midnight, around the top of the hour is the latest estimate for when it could happen. The House passed measure earlier today but we wouldn't even be doing this at nearly the 11th hour if a group of House and Senate Republicans hadn't been trying to hold up the bill unless it defunded President Biden's directive that large employers require people get vaccinated against COVID or get tested for it regularly.
They wanted to shut down the government for that. Simply they were willing to shut down the entire government with all that entails including jeopardizing the economy in the name making it easier for individuals to spread a deadly virus. Said one congressman, Chip Roy of Texas says quote, I think we should be throwing our bodies in front of the train of the continuing resolution, while vaccine mandates are in place. Just to be clear, that is not a real terrain. He's talking about only a real virus and real hypocrisy, because some of the same lawmakers trying to tie the President's hands on vaccines, mask wearing and other anti-COVID measures are also criticizing his handling of the pandemic.
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REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R) MINORITY LEADER: I took President Biden as word. I took him at his word when he said he was going to get COVID under control. Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, more Americans have died this year than last year under COVID.
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COOPER: That's House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, who voted against the continuing resolution tonight echoing what has become a Republican talking point and a sore point for the White House.
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JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: These supporters of this of the former president are advocating for shutting the federal government down so that 20% of the public who are refusing to get vaccinated or tested can be free to infect their co-workers, our children, filling hospitals, that they -- that that is what they are advocating for. They want to shut the government down in order to advocate for people to assert that on society.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, joining us now CNN political analyst and Axios Managing Editor, Margaret Talev. Also CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist, Paul Begala.
So Margaret, what does it say that some Republicans feel shutting down the government and undermining vaccines or winning issues for them?
MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Anderson, the polling shows that for some of those Republicans, that is actually true. Not nationwide, as you know, a clear majority of Americans support vaccine mandates and supports getting the vaccine. But that is and that's certainly even more true for Democrats. It's just not true if you look at Republicans alone, Republican voting blocs alone. And when you look at two of the leaders behind the Senate amendment that's being voted on right now that's going to fail but the defund vaccine mandate. You're looking at Mike Lee from Utah, you're looking at Roger Marshall from Kansas, these are states where the vaccination rate is like 50 -- 55, 56% it's below the national average. It's pulling the numbers back and in their states in many of the states where you're seeing yes votes right now on this amendment. They have vaccination rates below 50% and real feeling among many of their constituents that it's a civil liberties issue, et cetera, et cetera.
So, it's become politicized, and this will come up in primary contests. This will come up in the 2024 presidential primary, some of the Republicans that you're see talking about people', you know, right not to get vaccinated. These are people who are either facing primary challenges or are going to be running for president in 2024. And you're seeing that play out.
COOPER: Paul, it does seem to be a kind of a hypocritical position to be attacking on the for the President's performance on COVID. And at the same time, trying to undercut what the President has done to get more people to get vaccinated. PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. It's like they're rooting for the virus instead of the victims. And I think Margaret makes a really good point. This is increasingly a red state plague. I looked at Senator Marshall particular, he's a doctor, and he has said that he's vaccinated so he knows better, right? He knows the science. He's a he's a he's a medical doctor, before he became a Senator. And he's from Butler County, Kansas. I looked it up. Butler County, Kansas has 25 cases of COVID right now. San Francisco more than 10 times the size only has 45 cases. Right? The hospitalization rate in Butler County, Kansas is up 38% in the last two weeks. In San Francisco, it's down 19%. Why? Because 77% of San Franciscans are vaccinated and only 44% of Butler County, Kansas is vaccinated.
They are dying because of failed leadership, and they're being misled. These are good people and they're certainly no dumber than anybody in San Francisco but they're being misled by their leaders and Dr. Marshall ought to know better, I cannot believe that a man who's a medical doctor would actually be misleading people like this.
COOPER: Margaret, how much control does Mitch McConnell have over the Senate Republican Congress at this point? I mean, the former president keeps going after him calling him a broken old crow insisting he resigned. Are GOP senators really looking to McConnell for their cues or the -- or is it all coming from Mar-a-Lago?
TALEV: I mean, you know, it's the right question me asking, actually thinking tonight's case, Mitch McConnell is showing that he does still have the ability to corral votes when you need to, what's going to happen is that shut down. We think unless something goes horribly weird in the next hour or so is going to be averted. Because McConnell and a large block of Republican leaders who are kind of the more centrist or traditional, Republicans are saying, we're not going to have a shutdown. That's a terrible idea. That's really stupid. And they managed to work out this deal where there would be a simple majority vote that everybody knew was going to fail, so that the people who wanted to go on record in favor of defunding Biden's vaccine mandate could have their say, and then the shutdown could still be averted.
So -- But, but,can McConnell, you know, can McConnell completely clamp down on the section of the of the party that's giving him agita in the House? No, we know the answer. And can you -- can he avoid votes like this at all? No, but he's still showing the ability to get things done the way he thinks he needs to. In this case, he felt pretty strongly and publicly that a shutdown over this was not a good idea. But if these wanted to go on the board with their votes, he would help them do it.
COOPER: Margaret Talev, appreciate it, Paul Begala as well.
Up next, more breaking news, the prosecution resting in the trial of actor Jussie Smollett, who accused -- was accused of staging his own hate crime. It was a wild day in court surprising accusations are heated exchanges and emotional outbreak. CNN's Omar Jimenez has more for us coming up next.
COOPER: Breaking news. The prosecution has rested in the trial of former Empire star Jussie Smollett after more than three days of testimony. The two brothers accused of attacking Smollett testified that the TV star actually staged the attack. According to the brother Smollett who's black and gay told him to carry out a fake racist and anti-gay hate crime, while pretending to be Trump supporters just to garner media attention. But Smollett's attorney call for mistrial today and then became emotional in court saying the judge wouldn't allow her to continue a critical line of questioning for his defense. She also claims the judge lunged at her during the sidebar, which the judge denies.
CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez joins us now from the courthouse. So first of all, why is the attorney calling for a mistrial?
OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Anderson, so this is because the defense attorney felt the judge demeaned a critical line of questioning or at least a line of questioning they felt was critical to their defense. This happened during the testimony of Ola Osundairo. And basically what was happening was the attorney was asking or about potentially homophobic remarks he had made specifically overtaxed when he described someone as a fruit. And when the defense attorney asked if he would describe a woman that way, the judge said that this line of questioning was collateral. So she asked for a sidebar, the jury was sent out of the room.
She called she and her defense team called for a mistrial. Things escalated. She got emotional and began to sob as she said it was inappropriate for the judge to make that comment about a major portion of their case, at which point she also wanted to say on the record that the judge lunged at her during a sidebar, which as you mentioned, the judge denied. But a separate defense attorney got up and said that the judge had been making faces during the courses of their objections. And the judge shot back and said, you're really good at making faces. So this was a really tense exchange that played out over the course of a good portion of an hour with the jury out of the room. The jury came back into at one point and cross examination with this witness continued calmly, I should say, Anderson.
COOPER: Wait, the lawyer was crying talking to the judge?
JIMENEZ: Yes, this came when she was trying to make her point about why what the judge did was so wrong and inappropriate in the course on the face of the jury that they felt that this idea that Ola Osundairo could have potentially been homophobic was a theory that they had. That could have been a potential motivation for what they believe was a real hate crime attack against Jussie Smollett. And so, she felt it was a little prejudicial --
COOPER: Got it.
JIMENEZ: -- I guess, in a way. And when he came back, he told the jury, not to consider those words.
COOPER: Omar Jimenez, appreciate it. Thank you.
Coming up, Alec Baldwin's first extensive public interview about the deadly shooting of that New Mexico movie set when he's saying for the first time about the tragedy, next.