Return to Transcripts main page
Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
President Biden Vows To Bring An End To Nord Stream 2 Pipeline If Russia Invades Ukraine; Macron Says Both He And Putin Agree On Need For Diplomacy To Find Solution To Ukraine Crisis; States Ending Mask Mandates In Schools Or Elsewhere Indoors; National Archives Recovered Boxes Of Records From Trump Team At Mar-a-Lago; Some Miami Residents Claim Their Voter Registration Was Unknowingly Changed From Democrat To Republican; New Controversy For VA. Gov. Youngkin. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired February 07, 2022 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: They are New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut and Oregon. One of the states that is still silent on mask mandates for kids in schools though is the one with the largest school district, New York.
Thanks for joining us. AC 360 starts now.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Good evening.
As increased numbers of Russian troops gather near the Ukrainian border and key world leaders met today to ward off a possible invasion, President Biden and Germany's Chancellor stood before reporters to try to put an end to reports of a divide between the two NATO allies. They pronounced themselves unified in their country's opposition to Russian aggression. And both they and the leaders of France and Russia meeting in Moscow agreed on the need to find a peaceful conclusion, which means, today could be a turning point, or just the calm before the storm.
I'm John Berman, in for Anderson.
At the White House with Germany's Olaf Scholz, President Biden said the two countries were unified and that they were working in lockstep. The German leader at one point actually switched from speaking German to speaking English to emphasize, quote, "We will be united, we will act together."
But the effort at chumminess could not hide the fact that they do not in fact appear to be totally in lockstep. Issues include sending legal aid to Ukraine and what happens to a multibillion dollar pipeline that travels between Germany and Russia known as Nord Stream 2 if Russia invades.
The President was unequivocal. Quoting him now, quote, "We will bring an end to it." The German Chancellor, well, he won't even mention the pipeline by name, and he avoided a direct response both during the news conference and later in an interview with my colleague, Jake Tapper. At the news conference, he chose to instead reiterate what he had
already said, quote: "We are acting together, we are absolutely unified." And while there is a lot of hope for a diplomatic resolution, Russia's Vladimir Putin after meeting with the French President today again blamed Ukraine for the conflict.
He again alleged mistreatment of its Russian-speaking citizens, which is something many analysts believe he is just using as a pretext for war. The Pentagon today said there are now more than 100,000 Russian troops in the area with more arriving every day and war is exactly what Ukraine is preparing for tonight as CNN's Melissa Bell who is in Ukraine will document for us in our next hour.
Here is a preview of what they want the world to see.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Suddenly, the apparent calm left behind by the 1986 Soviet-era accident is broken. Ukrainian forces run drills in what remains a radiation exclusion zone free of any inhabitants. They are practicing urban combat.
Of course, this is also an information and propaganda war.
Everyone waits for Russian President Vladimir Putin to decide.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: A reminder of what's at stake.
Let's start at the White House with CNN's M.J. Lee.
M.J., the President and the German Chancellor were clearly hoping to put on a united front today, but seemed to disagree on the critical Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would allow Russia to export natural gas directly to Germany, bypassing Ukraine. President Biden was forceful, saying the pipeline would not go forward in the event of a Russian invasion, but the U.S. does not oversee the project.
So, how exactly what that work?
M.J. LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, it is very clear after today that this pipeline is going to remain a major sticking point, as you said. When President Biden was asked about this, he specifically said if Russia were to invade Ukraine, that this pipeline would be no more.
I should note, though that when he was pressed, well, how can the U.S. do that? He didn't get into specifics. He just said, well, I promise you that this is possible. And then in real contrast, the German Chancellor, when he was asked, will you commit to doing away with this pipeline, not letting it go forward if an invasion were to occur? He didn't make that commitment.
He talked about it in broader terms, saying, you know, our front is going to be united, we are going to be on the same page. But that lack of a commitment is going to continue raising questions about how united that front is, and also just how feasible is it to put a stop to this project if Germany is not actually on board.
BERMAN: Yes. Chancellor Scholz clearly was trying to avoid that question repeatedly, both at the White House and from our Jake Tapper.
M.J., what level of support does the White House think it has from Germany and other key allies in the event of a Russian invasion?
LEE: Well publicly, the administration is clearly trying to say that the U.S. and Germany are on the same page. You don't get more categorical language than some of the language we heard from the President today. He said things like Germany is completely, totally, and thoroughly reliable. He also said that there is complete trust between the U.S. and Germany.
But the reason that President Biden and other U.S. officials have been so emphatic in trying to stress this point is because Germany has been a little bit reluctant in talking about some of the things that they would do if Russia were to invade, so we're talking about questions about sanctions.
We are talking about the issue of sending weapons to Ukraine. And also, of course, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which as this press conference showed, the U.S. and Germany may not exactly be on the same page.
And the added complication that I think is worth mentioning, too, is that this is a new Chancellor, a new leader of Germany that Biden was meeting with today, right? He doesn't have the same relationship with this Chancellor that he did with the former German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.
So he made clear that one big mission that he had in having this bilat meeting today was simply to get to know his counterpart better.
BERMAN: We'll see what the results are in the coming days. M.J. Lee at the White House following developments there.
Now to Moscow and our international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson. Nic, what's the latest from Moscow and what they're saying about the diplomatic efforts?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: You know, I think you get a clue, John, the way both leaders decided to characterize the meetings. Putin said that they were business-like, that they were interesting, that they were useful, whereas Macron described them as all lively and substantial.
Substantial they were, they lasted more than five hours, but really in the press conference afterwards, it seemed to be President Putin who was landing most of the criticism and President Macron who was not pushing back so hard.
Putin criticized the leaders in Ukraine for not following through on the Minsk Agreements to bring a ceasefire to the Donbass region, the pro-Russian backed separatists in the east of the country.
Whereas, you know, if you listen to the Secretary State Antony Blinken today, he said: Look, it's the Ukrainian authorities who are doing pretty much everything they are supposed to do over the Minsk Agreement and it is Russia that it is doing pretty much nothing of what it's supposed to do over that agreement.
So, you know, there was a point where Macron could have pushed back against President Putin. He didn't. President Putin criticized NATO and said that NATO was the aggressor, Russia, it wasn't the aggressor.
Macron didn't push back on that. Part of what Putin was doing was putting pressure on Macron because he is going to Kyiv tomorrow to speak with Ukrainian leadership and both leaders said, look, we've got some points of convergence. There are places where we agree we can't take more steps forward.
But Putin framed it this way, which was a lot more of pressure on Macron than Macron putting pressure on Putin. Putin said: Let's see how Macron gets on in Kyiv tomorrow, what progress he makes on the points that I'm making to see how much more progress we can make going forward.
Macron was the one stressing the point, it's really important to keep the dialogue going. We owe it to find a peaceful solution. Let's keep the talking going.
It came out feeling somewhat unbalanced -- John.
BERMAN: Any sign that Macron, if his goal was to get Putin to de- escalate, that he made any headway at all?
ROBERTSON: You know, no. It was hard to sort of come away with it that kind of read. They did talk about you know -- and they use the language here rather than reducing the tensions, the language that Macron and Putin are using is sort of being a broad security guarantee or new security dispensation to Europe. This is something that gives Russia what it wants and Europe gets what it wants.
But on that key point of Russia de-escalating, which is something Putin said he -- rather Macron said he was going to come to Moscow to do, that didn't seem to land. Look, the talks they have were in private, they lasted over five hours. He may have said it behind closed doors, but out in front of the cameras, he did not want to appear to be derailing everything.
He wanted to appear as if there was reason for optimism, reason to keep the process going rather than put Putin in a corner, which he didn't do -- John.
BERMAN: Significant. Nic Robertson, thank you very much for that.
Perspective now from two experts on the situation in Eastern Europe, Jill Dougherty, a former CNN Moscow Bureau Chief and is now an adjunct professor at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown, and retired General Wesley Clark, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander. General Clark, as you know, U.S. Intelligence estimates now say that
Putin has about 70 percent of the military personnel and weapons on Ukraine's border he would need for a full-scale invasion. But U.S. Intelligence also indicates that Russian officials have doubts about whether or not a full scale invasion would work. Where do you see things standing at this moment?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I see President Putin looking at this as an operation in three phases. The first phase is to build up forces and extract as much discord and as many concessions from NATO and Ukraine as possible.
Second phase is, depending on how the first phase works, going big. Use that great Armed Forces he has built. He has got incredible weaponry now. He has got things we don't have in our arsenal.
We could not stop this if we deployed the U.S. military there the way it is organized. He has got an electronic warfare, jamming, cyber. He's got his nuclear weapons capability standing by. He has got it. They built it to gain supremacy over Ukraine. So no, this could be really ugly and that is what the U.S. military and that is what Lloyd Austin was trying to say.
And the third thing is that after he does it, if he does it, he then is prepared to absorb the punches. He's got $650 billion in foreign exchange. He is pretty sure that he can use gas to leverage the Europeans, so you know, he is riding high. As far as our European allies are concerned, of course, they are going to go and talk to him because first of all, President Macron is in an election campaign. He wants to appear like a statesman. He's going to do the best he can.
He knows all this talk from Putin about a threat from NATO is malarkey. But, but nobody wants to see Ukraine as the beaten zone for a Russian military action. We don't want to see it, and the Ukrainians don't want to see it. And if it happens, it will be a challenge to hold the sanctions together and make them lasting and make them very painful because we are dependent on Russian energy. So, it's going to be tough.
BERMAN: Jill, as the General noted, there's a whole lot of talking, right? President Biden meeting with a German Chancellor and French President Emmanuel Macron with Vladimir Putin, conducting shuttle diplomacy going to Kyiv now. What do you think will come of all of this? Do you think that Putin might want some kind of off ramp here?
JILL DOUGHERTY, FORMER CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: You know, I think right now, if you look at the conversation that took place with President Macron, I think it is President Putin who is saying: Keep on guessing. Keep on guessing.
I mean, I look very carefully at the comments that he made, and they were really noncommittal. These proposals could be the basis of the foundation for something, but quote, "It's too early to begin talking about this," or about the details. So I think President Putin now, as usual, has set up the situation he
has, I think, General Clark described it quite well. But now he is watching and he is allowing the Europeans to run all over Europe, come to Moscow, go to Kyiv. But really the real game for Putin is not the Europeans, it is the United States.
And so I think, if he has -- if he can allow this kind of show of diplomacy and there is a chance that he is still interested in that to go then, but the big game is the United States and what the United States will do.
BERMAN: One of the things that you do, Jill, it's so useful is you monitor Russian media and Russian television. What are they saying about this? How are they framing this?
DOUGHERTY: You know, tonight, and every night is a little different. I think the thing that worries me is that there is a really strong feeling that enough is enough, time for negotiations is over. We've been dealing with this and a lot of really strong comments.
This is -- I should set the scene, it is a big discussion group with a lot of people yelling at each other. But essentially, they're talking about politics, and several of them were very critical of the United States. The United States didn't do anything for us at the end of the Soviet Union and they are greedy, and now it's time, no more talking. We can do what we want.
And also, I think, rhetorically setting the scene, as President Putin said, they are violating the rights of the Russian speakers. That could be a justification for Russia to go in. There are many ways that they could do this.
BERMAN: General Clark, we have about 30 seconds left. NATO Supreme Allied Commander or the NATO Secretary General, I should say said that NATO is considering a longer term military posture in Eastern Europe to strengthen deterrence. How would that work?
CLARK: Well, I think what you see is a greater number of forces forward deployed. I think the United States would have to relook at its commitments worldwide, might need to put another division back into Germany with more deployments into Poland or Romania or elsewhere.
But the important thing is that from this point on, the world is different. The fact that Putin has massed these forces, is offering these threats to the world, has the military -- you can't go back even, if he did he de-escalates, this is a marked change in the way Russia relates to the world and NATO has to acknowledge it and take the proper actions. We can't have this happening again.
BERMAN: General Wesley Clark, Jill Dougherty I appreciate you both being with us. Thank you.
Up next, we do have breaking news. Several states among the first to impose strict COVID restrictions
made some surprise announcements today that they would soon start relaxing them. Which states made the moves and why?
And later why some voters in Florida are claiming they were duped into changing their party affiliation from Democrat to Republican. Our Randi Kaye has that for us tonight on 360.
BERMAN: Some very significant developments in the pandemic fight tonight, some of the earliest states to impose mask mandates in schools and elsewhere to help stop the spread are now one by one announcing dates when those mandates will come to an end.
These are all states led by Democrats in once hard hit COVID zones and they seem to be decisions driven by science, not politics
New Jersey is ending its mandate for schools and childcare settings on March 7th. Connecticut rolling back its rules in schools on February 28th. Delaware school mask mandates will expire on March 31st, and the states universal indoor mask mandate will end on February 11th. Oregon will also be dropping its indoor mask mandate no later than March 31st, and that includes schools.
And California's Governor Gavin Newsom has also announced tonight that his statewide indoor mask requirement will expire next Tuesday citing a 65 percent drop in cases since the peak of omicron.
So is it a sign that the pandemic's end is near? Or just the new normal that we will be able to live with COVID for the long haul? Let's bring in CNN senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen and Elizabeth, what do you make of how fast this all happened today and what do you think is behind it?
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: So John, I think a couple of things are behind it.
First of all, we're seeing omicron rates really dropping in many parts of the country. You know, we were so high just weeks ago, they are getting much lower. I think the other thing that is happening is that if one state sees another state start to put on -- start to get rid of these mandates, sort of gives them permission to do the same thing. It seems less scary to do the same thing.
Now, I will note, however, that the C.D.C. says that there should be indoor mask mandates for areas of quote "high transmission," virtually the entire country is in an area of high transmission.
White House spokesperson Jen Psaki talked about this today that this is the C.D.C.'s requirement, it appears that these states even Democratic-led states are saying we don't really care, we're going to be getting rid of them anyhow.
BERMAN: And the states that are dropping the mask mandates in schools, how many children ages five to 11 have been vaccinated? COHEN: This is the interesting thing is that, if there were higher
rates of vaccination, you might feel better about taking away mask mandates for schools. So let's take a look. These are children ages five to 11 and what you see when you look at that is for example, in Connecticut 34 percent of children ages five to 11 are fully vaccinated, Delaware 23 percent. That's about the national average. Oregon 30 percent.
So you're taking masks off in classrooms where not a big percentage of children are vaccinated. Now, it's higher for the older children. That's just five to 11. But you're telling children and teachers to take off masks when most children this age are not vaccinated.
BERMAN: Interesting. All right, Elizabeth Cohen, thank you very much.
BERMAN: I want to take this now to another health authority, CNN medical analyst, Dr. Leana Wen has been all for relaxing restrictions at the right time. Is that time now?
Wen is the author of "Lifelines: A Doctor's Journey in the Fight for Public Health" and joins us now. We tease you there. You had to hear me read your introduction, Dr. Wen, nice to see you. Do you agree with the move?
DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I do. There was and is a time in place for pandemic restrictions, but when they were put in, it was always with the understanding that they would be removed as soon as we can. And in this case, circumstances have changed, case counts are declining. Also, the science has changed.
We know that vaccines protect very well against omicron, which is the dominant variant. Everyone five and older have widespread access to vaccines, and we also know about one way masking, the idea that even if other people around you are not wearing masks, if you wear a high quality mask, that also protects you, the wearer, too.
And so in this case, I'm not saying I don't think anyone really is saying that no one should ever wear masks, but rather that the responsibility should shift from a government mandate imposed from the state or the local district or the school rather, it should shift to an individual responsibility by the family who can still decide that their child can wear a mask if needed.
BERMAN: You know, take New Jersey, the case in New Jersey, for instance. Their new case average is just over 4,000. Is that an acceptable number to do this? Or are they projecting out to March 7th at this point?
WEN: I don't think we should be looking at case counts at all at this point, especially when we're dealing with a milder variant and when so many people were exposed to omicron and therefore have at least some level of protection either through vaccination or immunity.
The key number that we should be looking at is hospitalizations. If our ICUs and hospitals in that particular region are not overwhelmed, if they're not overcapacity, we can set a number for example, 75 percent or 80 percent full, then we should be able to relax all restrictions. And I actually believe that we should be starting to with the first restriction removed, should actually be the restriction on children because while for adults, you could say, well, what's the harm of adults masking when they go into a grocery store? There actually is a harm that we should be discussing of children continuing to mask.
That doesn't mean that masking doesn't have its place for children when there are very high rates of hospitalization, if we get a new variant in the future that children are particularly susceptible to, we may want to bring masks back, but we should also be intellectually honest and say that masking has had a cost especially for the youngest of learners, people with English as a second language, children with learning disabilities, there has been a cost to them. So the risk benefit calculation has really changed.
BERMAN: I think it's really important what you just said there that you don't think case counts are the right metric to use here, we have to reframe you say, how we think about this going forward.
I also want to ask, what about the administration because the White House was asked about this today, the decision being made in largely Democratic-led states now to do this and the White House continue to say, well, the C.D.C. still recommends masking in schools. .Is it time for the White House at the Federal level to push for a change of recommendations?
WEN: Yes, it is because a while we're seeing states and localities take matters into their own hands. That means that the Federal government is becoming less and less relevant.
If the C.D.C. guidance that they're putting out is now not being followed by virtually anyone, that makes the C.D.C. and our Federal public health authorities have less credibility. And so I really believe that they need to be changing their guidance.
And look, they don't have to do it overnight. They could say, here's an off ramp to masking. You meet these criteria, and this is how you can begin to remove masks or remove other restrictions. But we need to hear their leadership here.
The C.D.C. has already lost a lot of trust and credibility. This is their time to rebuild and remove restrictions as quickly as they were put in.
BERMAN: I don't want to drag you into politics here, Dr. Wen, but is this a statement that things have come to a different place now that starting now, things needs to change going forward? Or is this an admission that some of the decisions that have been made over the last two years may not have been the right ones?
WEN: Yes, it's an important question, John, I'm glad you asked it this way, because it's definitely the former. I don't want anyone listening to think that, oh, well, now that things are changing, it means that we never should have had mask policies in the first place.
Actually, at the beginning of the pandemic, masking was one of the few things that we had. We didn't have vaccines, we didn't have testing, we didn't have other treatments. We had masking. And so masking was really necessary at that time.
Even last month, masking was necessary because we were seeing omicron overwhelm our hospitals. Our hospitals were at the brink of collapse. We needed it.
But just as there was a need then, things have changed and we have to have an honest, nuanced conversation that is based in science, but that is also thoughtful. I think the two sides if you will have both become more extreme, more polarized, and the nuanced conversation based on thoughtful positions that is what we have to have at this time.
BERMAN: Well, we certainly appreciate your willingness to have that thoughtful discussion, Dr. Leana Wen, thanks so much for being with us tonight.
WEN: Thank you.
BERMAN: Up next, how the quest for some White House records is running up against the former President's preferred method of document destruction, and why some documents were found at what was once dubbed his winter White House, the details when we return.
BERMAN: Getting White House documents and other information from the former president and his allies has been a particularly difficult task for the January 6 Committee. Perhaps more so with new reports by the Washington Post and CNN that the former president had a habit of ripping up documents, even taking boxes of information that belonged to the National Archives to Mar-a-Lago.
I'm joined now by the Washington Post, Josh Dawsey who has helped lead the coverage on this story for his paper, particularly these documents and ended up in Mar-a-Lago. Josh, what do we know about these records that the archives got back from Mar-a-Lago? What types are they how much material is there?
JOSH DAWSEY, POLITICAL INVESTIGATIONS REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: So what we know John is at the National Archives went to Mar-a-Lago the former presidents would be trying to push a resort last month to get 15 boxes of documents that were not turned over to them at the end of the presidency as they should have been. Among the items were love letters, and the former presidents worked with Kim Jong-un, the letter that Barack Obama wrote him when he took over his presidency, and all sorts of other mementos, gifts and things that were should have been turned over to the National Archives. The New York Times reported tonight as well, that there was also the famous hurricane Sharpie map and those items.
So, what we know about those items, and they were a collection of things that the President obviously deemed the former president deemed personal, but should have been turned over according to the National Archives, when he left the White House.
BERMAN: And I did know your reporting, that you had experts telling you that was much more than usual, that this was an unusually high level of documents that had not been turned over. In the Archives, in a statement said that Trump, the Trump administration officials are continuing to search for additional records. What do we know about what might still be missing?
DAWSEY: Well, we don't know a lot, I mean, for many months, and National Archives didn't know that these documents were even missing. What they started to do was looking for certain documents that were in the public domain, or people told them about, and they realized, hey, we don't have these documents, we need to go get them. There were two things that we've learned that were unprecedented here, John. One, the number of materials that went to the National went to Mar-a-Lago with the former president and step one of the National Archives. And two, a number of materials that were turned over to the National Archives that were actually damaged that were ripped up. Some of them put back together, some of them not put back together.
But they really had a painstaking task with this president, or the former president trying to both retrieve documents and try and put documents together that were already turned in or to make some of the documents because they were ripped.
BERMAN: Hold that thought, Josh, I want to bring it Norm Eisen, a former counsel the House Democrats during the former president's first impeachment, he is also a CNN legal analyst.
Ambassador, you just heard Josh talk about these records. What stands out to you?
NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, not that we need another example, John, but it is another example of the illegality of former President Trump's conduct on a grand scale the Presidential Records Act, something I was responsible for helping enforce when I was working in the White House Counsel's Office requires that these documents be preserved. They've got to be left in the custody of the National Archives and for goodness sakes the ripped up documents some of which you haven't been able to put back together that's a wholesale violation of the Act too.
To me, it raises the question of whether there are criminal penalties for the destruction of government documents. And it does raise the question of whether one of the possible criminal referrals that the committee may be looking at is conduct in and around these documents.
BERMAN: So, Josh, to the best of your knowledge, has there been any attempt by the former president or member of his team to impede the handover of documents like these to the National Archives?
DAWSEY: I'm not aware of any sort of effort to impede. Obviously, the former president took them and properly according to the National Archives. His team says that this was not nefarious and he put things that, you know, he did not view as things that had to go to the National Archives. Obviously, the National Archives feels totally differently. I'm not aware of any effort to. But we still have a lot of reporting to do on this job. And some of the facts have come out. But there's still a lot more to know.
BERMAN: And the reason I was asking that and this is to you, Ambassador is because, yes, there is the national records law here. But it's not like the Archives has an archives police force here. And it's not as if that these laws are typically enforced. Josh's article, which is terrific notes that basically it's an agreement. I mean, it's a handshake agreement from each White House, to abide by the letter of the law, and they get their wrist slapped, and then they try to comply later on.
But what would cross the line do you think, in this case --
EISEN: Well --
BERMAN: -- that would prove, you know, that would bring some kind of charges here, would it be you needed to have an actual intent to destroy to hide things?
EISEN: You would need that criminal or wrongful intent, John, but we know that probably these boxes at Mar-a-Lago are just a violation of the law. I mean, how incredible it is to say, well those words about an ex-president. But when it comes to the documents that were ripped up and destroyed, that may be more serious, because obstruction of justice prevents a president any American from destroying records that they think may incriminate them in a possible investigation. And we know that some of these materials, according to reporting that have been turned over to Congress were torn up, some they've not even been able to put back together again. So that's where the intent questions become more serious.
Imagine what it's going to be like when there's a hearing and there's some incriminating documents. They put it up on the screen, and it's been torn and taped back together. That speaks volumes. So, we're not jumping to any conclusions, but I think that some hard looks will be had with respect to some of those documents about January 6.
BERMAN: It is notable and Josh's reporting, and also the CNN reporting. The President knew that you weren't supposed to destroy the documents. This became an issue inside the Oval Office, chiefs of staff knew the President knew, yet he continued to do it.
Josh Dawsey terrific reporting. Norm Eisen, fantastic analysis. Thank you both for being with us tonight.
DAWSEY: Thank you for having me.
BERMAN: So Florida Democrats raising concerns after some voters claimed they were duped into changing their party affiliation from Democrat or Republican. Our Randi Kaye investigates, next.
BERMAN: Florida's Democratic Party is demanding an investigation and reports of possible voter registration irregularities, after some people claim they were duped into changing their party affiliation. The party's chair sent the letter at Florida Secretary of State expressing concern over reports that senior citizens in a Miami Dade public housing complex unknowingly had their party changed after updating their voter registration with people who ended up working on behalf of the Florida Republican Party. The controversy is highlighting these comments from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis back in November.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): Today for the first time in the history of Florida we've now overtaken Democrats are more registered Republicans in Florida than Democrats.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: "360s" Randi Kaye has the story.
JUAN SALAZAR, FL DEMOCRATIC VOTER: They don't say they're going to turn me to the path.
RANDI KAYE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Seventy seven year old Juan Salazar is a Democrat or at least he used to be. In December Salazar says someone wearing a bright red baseball cap approached him and switched his party affiliation without his consent.
(on-camera): You were a lifelong Democrat.
SALAZAR: From 1978.
KAYE (on-camera): And now all of a sudden you're a Republican?
SALAZAR: I'm a Republican.
KAYE (on-camera): You don't want to be a Republican?
SALAZAR: I don't want to be.
KAYE (voice-over): He says it all happened at his housing complex in Miami, Florida. Its home to elderly low income residents who speak little English. He says he now believes it was a Republican who told him he needed to update his registration. But keep in mind in Florida, once you register to vote, there is no reason to update that registration unless you want to make a change like your party affiliation. That was not the case with any of the people we spoke with. (on-camera): This is the old card?
SALAZAR: That's the old card.
KAYE (on-camera): And it says right here Democratic Party.
KAYE (on-camera): And the new card says Republican Party of Florida. And that's not what you want?
SALAZAR: No. I want to be the Democrat.
KAYE (voice-over): Juan isn't the only one who may have been targeted. Miami resident Ernesto Morejon told us a lady in a red hat came to his door to try and register him as a Republican, even though he's a Democrat.
ERNESTO MOREJON, FL DEMOCRATIC VOTER: No. I asked to her, are you a Republican? And she told me yes.
KAYE (voice-over): Ernesto refused to sign the form. But he says his sister and brother-in-law both Democrats who live elsewhere in Miami Dade County, had their registrations changed after being fooled.
SEN. ANNETTE TADDEO (D-FL) STATE SENATE: It doesn't seem like a one off kind of mistake. It is a concerted effort.
KAYE (voice-over): Senator Annettee Taddeo is the vice chair of the Ethics and Elections Committee in Florida Senate after receiving at least a dozen calls from concerned Democratic voters, Taddeo sent this letter to Florida Secretary of State, a Republican requesting an investigation.
(on-camera): About 10 minutes from where Juan lives, we found another woman who says her voter registration was changed from Democrat to Republican. She's lives here. She didn't want to go on camera but told us a woman had knocked on her door and told her that she needed to update voter registration because it had expired.
(voice-over): That woman's daughter sent us these pictures her mother took of the woman she says recently changed her voter registration. Look closely at her ID, it says RPOF, that stands for Republican Party of Florida. The woman's daughter says her mother signed the form, but says after that someone checked the box Republican Party under party affiliation. And her daughter says there is no way her mother could have checked that box on her own, since it's in English, and her mother doesn't speak or read English.
TADDEO: But it is not legal to fill out the form for people.
KAYE (voice-over): Yet the woman's voter registration was still changed. That's her old card on the left, it reads Democratic Party, her new card on the right show she's now registered with the Republican Party of Florida. All of this could have real consequences. Florida is a closed primary state. So in a primary election, you can only vote for a candidate that is aligned with the party you're registered with.
TADDEO: It seems like they're filling out the form for them because they not knowingly again, lifelong Democrats would never have checked Republican Party of Florida. It does raise some very big red flags.
BERMAN: So Randi Kaye with me now. Randi, what does the state's Republican Party have to say about this?
KAYE: Well, John, we reached out to the Republican Party of Florida and the executive director told me that the party conducts voter registration in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations. She also said that they will review any report of concern, and that election integrity is important and continues to be a priority for the Republican Party of Florida.
But John, I can tell you that there are hundreds of these third party voter registration organizations throughout the state and it is legal for them to reach out to voters. When it becomes a problem is if they didn't register with the state or if they are filling out these forms for the voters instead of having the voters do it themselves. Or if they're changing party affiliation without the voters consent, then it becomes illegal. And that's what they're investigating.
But I should also note that all of the voters we spoke with have already reached out to the board of elections. They're asking that their party affiliation be changed back to the Democratic Party. They are eagerly awaiting their new voter registration cards hoping they'll come in the mail real soon. They haven't received them yet. But they're looking forward to becoming a member of the Democratic Party here in Florida once again, John.
BERMAN: Quite a story. Thanks so much, Randi Kaye.
So Virginia's new Republican governor is now under fire for a tweet on his campaigns official account mocking, high school teenager. He now says he regrets it but that 17-year-old is with us tonight and says he's still seeking an apology directly from Glenn Youngkin. Why he wants one? Will he get it? Next.
BERMAN: No shortage of controversy with Virginia's new governor Glenn Youngkin between trying to roll back COVID prevention measures to setting up a tip line for parents to tattle on teachers educating about so-called divisive subjects. Now the Republican is facing heat for a tweet that went out on his campaigns official account Saturday. Here it is. It attacks a high school student named Ethan Lynne a 17- year-old senior in high school. Why? For retweeting a report over the weekend from a Richmond public radio station about Governor Youngkin potentially abandoning efforts to highlight that slaves once lived that is executive mansion. The team Youngkin account posted a photo Lin took a few months ago with former Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, who once had a racist picture surface from his medical school yearbook.
The Youngkin account wrote quote, here's a picture of Ethan with a man that had a black face KKK photo in his yearbook. Again, even 17 years old. The tweets from the Youngkin campaign ignited a storm of criticism from Democrats for attacks on a minor. The Youngkin team has since removed the tweet and the governor tried to do some damage control earlier posting this quote, on Saturday night an unauthorized tweet came from a campaign account. I regret that this happened and it shouldn't have. I've addressed it with my team, we must continue to work to bring Virginia's together. There is so much more that unites us than divides us.
That wasn't a direct apology to Ethan Lynne, though, when Ethan's not satisfied with that. We reached out to the Youngkin team for comment but have not yet heard back.
In the meantime, we got Ethan's parents permissions to interview him. And he joins us tonight.
Ethan, I want to get to Governor Youngkin's response in a moment. But first of all, can you tell me what went through your mind when you saw the governor's campaign had put out a tweet that went after you?
ETHAN LYNNE, VIRGINIA HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: Well John, I was surprised. I could not believe this was free (ph). I'll never -- I never thought we would get to the place where a governor is attacking his constituents online. That's something that Donald Trump would do. He promised He will be different than Trump and take out and then our politics have become too toxic. So not only do I hope he apologizes, I hope he condemns what happens in a stronger way.
BERMAN: All right, let me read again, what he put out. This was more than 24 hours after the original tweet he wrote, on Saturday night and unauthorized tweet came from my campaign account. I regret that this happened and it shouldn't have. I have addressed it with my team. We must continue to work to bring Virginians together, there is so much more that unites us than divides us, unquote. So what do you make of that statement?
LYNNE: I thought it was a non apology. He's just sorry that the whole situation happening and he's not actually sorry for what was said. He didn't even take credit that it was his campaign team account. He just said that it was a campaign account and did not, you know, strongly condemn the situation in any way, shape or form.
BERMAN: Do you expect to hear from the governor personally?
LYNNE: I don't know what my expectations are on the floor. So I don't know. I have heard nothing from him or his staff since what happened Saturday night, so likely not.
BERMAN: Do you want to hear from him? LYNNE: Yes, of course. You know, I would like an apology to be my family, but the only way to stop this is by publicly condemning this type of bullying and rhetoric and politics, the governor should be setting a better example for students like me because he is our, you know, state figure that we have to look up to.
BERMAN: So the Washington Post reports that there may have been some confusion by Youngkin's campaign staff about your age and whether you work in an official capacity for the Democratic Party. What do you make of that? Look, I mean, again, I do want to know, you're 17 years old, so which they would have seen on your Twitter account.
LYNNE: Right, exactly. I mean, first off, yes, my, in my bio, it literally says high school senior. So regardless of how old I was, you shouldn't be going after anyone, anyone in high school. But it shouldn't take you long going through my tweets to figure out that I am a public school student, and I am 17. And that's, you know, if you just don't look at my bio. But, you know, look, I'm an active in politics from a young age. But whether I'm a Democrat or not active or not, Governor Youngkin should not be attacking or cyber bullying his constituents online. He promised to be different as governor, and unfortunately, he's been proven wrong by this.
BERMAN: What age do you think is fair game to go after someone for a politician?
LYNNE: Well, I honestly don't think it should happen that much, especially from an official account of someone, you know, who is a state, a statewide official. But certainly, you should never go out for a minor. I know that that's the -- that is always been the golden unwritten rule in politics.
BERMAN: Do you think people should save up if they have gripes with what you've been putting online? They should save up till your birthday and then tweet about you then.
LYNNE: I mean, they can I think that would be a waste of time, because I'm it's not like I'm just going to disappear. I'm going to continue to call out the governor and be a voice for students.
BERMAN: Well, I guess that's what I'm saying, it is an asymmetrical relationship right now where you can say whatever you want about the governor, but at least for now, you don't think his campaign should say anything about you.
LYNNE: All right, right. Well, I think that it weren't just goes to the point where, you know, you never attacked from minors on Twitter. And also, I had just simply shared a public radio report about what happened, that should not have prompted that response of them posting me with the former governor. I mean, mind you, besides him attacking me a minor, it is completely unprecedented for a governor to attack their immediate predecessor, especially after Youngkin had, you know, explained about how good friends he was with Governor Northam.
BERMAN: Ethan Lynne, I wish you a wonderful rest of your school year.
LYNNE: Thank you so much, John.
BERMAN: Thanks for being with us.
Still to come, a live report from the White House. We'll get the latest from CNN's Kaitlan Collins and the showdown over Ukraine. The diplomatic moves made just today, and the big question, will the talks help avoid a Russian invasion or bring the region closer to conflict?