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At This Hour

Scenes of Horror Unfold in Israel, Gaza After Deadliest Day Yet; Biden Faces Angry Rift in Own Party Over Israel-Hamas Conflict; Former Gaetz Ally Pleads Guilty, Admits to Soliciting Sex with a Minor; CDC Mask Guidance Draws Confusion and Criticism. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired May 17, 2021 - 11:00   ET



JOHN STANKEY, CEO, AT&T: I think it's the entire changing media landscape of what's, you know -- let's give Netflix its credit, was one of the catalyzing events that kind of started to move things along. And so, I think that movement is, in fact, what's causing some of the response here.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Okay, boss, John, thank you. Thank you.

Boss-to-be, David Zaslav, look forward to meeting you. And thanks -- thanks for the time.

DAVID ZASLAV, CEO, DISCOVERY, INC.: OK, I look forward to seeing you.

STANKEY: Good seeing you again, Poppy.

HARLOW: Thanks, gentlemen.

All right. That will do it for us. Thank you for joining us. We'll see you here tomorrow morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.


AT THIS HOUR with Kate Bolduan starts right now.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

Here are the top things we're watching AT THIS HOUR:

Israeli warplanes unleashing a heavy round of airstrikes in Gaza after the conflict's deadliest day yet. What will or can President Biden do to stop this violence?

Congressman Matt Gaetz may be in greater legal jeopardy now. A close ally just now pleading guilty. So what is he telling prosecutors about the congressman to get a deal?

Bill Gates investigated by the board of Microsoft reportedly over a sexual relationship with a staffer. Gates insists that had nothing to do with why he left.

Thanks so much for being here, everybody.

We begin with the escalating violence between Israel and Hamas at this hour. Israeli warplanes hammering Gaza with heavy air strikes this morning. Sunday was the deadliest day in the conflict so far with Hamas-run Gaza ministry of health claiming at least 52 people were killed in Israel airstrikes yesterday alone. More than 200 killed in the last week.

Egypt and Qatar, they're working to broker a cease-fire. But a source tells CNN those efforts so far are stalled.

This morning, Secretary of State Tony Blinken, he spoke to reporters about what the United States is doing to stop the violence.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: Hundreds of people killed or injured including children being pulled from the rubble. We're also alarmed by how journalists and medical personnel have been put at risk. Palestinians and Israelis like people everywhere have the right to live in safety and security. The current violence has ripped it away. So we've been working intensively behind the scenes to try to bring an end to the conflict.


BOLDUAN: All right. CNN's Nic Robertson is joining me now near the Gaza border.

Nick, Blinken says that they're working intensively behind the scenes to bring calm. What does that look like on the ground right now? What's been happening where you are?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: And I think one of the important things that the secretary of state said as he went on in that -- in that short briefing was if both parties want a cease- fire, then we're ready to help. I think that if both parties want a cease-fire, I think that gives you a little bit of a broader understanding of what is happening. That maybe they don't.

And certainly that's a position of Israel's prime minister. That he does want to win this soon. But not right now.

Hamas is continuing to fire its rockets through the day. They hit a residential neighborhood in Ashdod, north of here. And right where we are, with Israeli Defense Forces, we're at one of their artillery emplacements. And they have various artillery pieces scattered around this idea. We have seen them unloading artillery shells to deliver to those artillery pieces through the day.

And in the past couple of hours, they've been firing sporadically from here, artillery fire into Gaza. And in the past, the artillery has been used to target Hamas' tunnel network. That is the focus of the Israeli air force last night, a very intense bombardment, taking out nine miles of Hamas' tunnel that the IDF says is used by Hamas to move around the battlefield.

So, I think when you're standing here and the artillery shells being delivered to the big guns behind me and those big guns are firing off into Gaza, that speaks a lot more loudly than politician and diplomats who are trying to wind things down.

Hamas says there are two stumbling blocks. One, they want Israel to stop what they call provocations, if you will, in Jerusalem. The other one, Hamas says Israel wants them to go into cease-fire first.

These Hamas has stumbling blocks, we don't have Israel's position on that.

BOLDUAN: Nic, thank you so much for being there on the ground. I really appreciate it.

So, President Biden is facing a lot of questions this morning himself about what he is going to do to help bring this violence to an end. And the questions aren't just coming from Republican politicians here in the United States. Some in his own party are demanding that the president do more.

Some Democrats even questioning Biden's commitment to human rights in light of this.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond is joining me now from the White House.


Jeremy, what are you hearing there?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, Kate, President Biden's response to this conflict has been relatively muted, at least publicly. Now, we know that over the weekend, the president spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

But publicly, we have yet to hear President Biden directly call for a ceasefire. Instead, what we have heard are the comments from the secretary of state, Tony Blinken, making clear that the U.S. would support a cease-fire if the two parties want to do so and calling on Hamas specifically to end its rocket attacks on the state of Israel.

This comes as we're seeing more than 25 Democratic senators issue this letter calling directly for that very same cease-fire. You also have beyond that some very -- much more progressive House Democrats who are calling on the Biden administration to take a much tougher stance on Israel, including some calling for the conditioning of U.S. military aid to Israel on certain steps on the ground there.

The Biden administration though clearly resisting this. President Biden much more traditional in terms of U.S. politics in his support for the state of Israel. He did say yesterday, he talked about both Palestinians and Israelis in this message in White House celebration of aid that was prerecorded last week. Listen.


JOSEPH R. BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We also believe Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live in safety and security, and enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy. And my administration is going to continue to engage Palestinians and Israelis and other regional partners to work towards sustained calm.


DIAMOND: And even though the president's message publicly is relatively muted, we know there are rising concerns inside the White House because of this rising civilian death toll. President Biden is scheduled to speak on vaccinations later today and he may very well face questions about this conflict after that -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Thanks so much, Jeremy.

Joining me right now for more on this is CNN global affairs analyst, Aaron David Miller. He also served, of course, for two decades as a State Department negotiator/adviser on the Middle East for both Democratic and Republican presidents.

Aaron, you heard Joe Biden and what he was saying in that prerecorded message right there. Is it clear what sustainable calm is that Biden is calling for?

AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think it's a cease- fire because anything beyond that gets very tricky and would require enormous investment of time. I think the president, frankly, Kate, wants this thing to go away. He's shackled with the greatest challenge of national recovery since Franklin Roosevelt, probably argues there is no single foreign policy challenge out there. He may be right, that is more deadly and destructive to his presidency and the future of the American republic.

So he is picking his foreign policy spots carefully. They low balled. They de-prioritized the Middle East. It's not as important as it used to be. But it is still important.

And when that happens, the region comes back and remind you that it's still there. Like the Hotel California, you can check out anytime, but you can't really leave. That's Biden's problem right now.

What he can do -- I mean, the last three rounds, '08-'09, 2012, 2014, the American role was important but they didn't bring this to a conclusion. The Egyptians most likely, maybe with the Qataris, but the Egyptians will be the driving force here.

I just think the president has not reached a conclusion that Mr. Netanyahu is ready to conclude.

BOLDUAN: Yeah. And out there, in all of this, is what are the goals here from every side in this round of violence? I ask that because isn't this part of the problem even if the fighting stops? Where do they go from there? MILLER: I mean, you've identified the most poignant tragic and

hopeless aspect of this very sad business. The odds that anything will happen that's constructive and positive, that Israelis and Hamas get into an indirect long term cease-fire agreement that will open up Gaza economically and exchange for quiet and cease-fire, they've been working on that off and on for five years. It's never materialized.

And we're still as the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is likely going to leave Israelis and Palestinians with more mistrust, lack of confidence, the politics on each side more toxic and the issues Mr. Trump thought he was taking Jerusalem off the table. Well guess what? Jerusalem has become the table.

My only concern, Kate, is the longer this goes on, the greater the danger of a real mass casualty event in which a Hamas rocket slams into a residential center or an Israeli artillery shell does the same and you get something that's even more horrific than what we have seen which is bad enough.

BOLDUAN: Well, add the things that we are seeing now that we also already haven't seen before. Netanyahu said on Sunday that they are sharing with the Biden administration the intelligence that they say led to them bombing the building in Gaza that housed both the "Associated Press" and Al Jazeera.


"A.P." has been there for 15 years. So far no American official though says that they've seen that intel.

What do you think is going on here? How big of a problem could this slice of this conflict become?

MILLER: Well, that's one of the things that's going to increase pressure to stop. You heard Tony Blinken. I think the comments suggest he's not persuaded, or the Israelis, the idea if it's not made their case.

Look, the fact that there might have been some sort of Hamas military intelligence office in that building which was directing attacks or providing intelligence for attacks, the fact the Israelis have the right to do this in terms of laws of war, if it's proportionate if, they provide ample warning, if they go out of their way to avoid civilians doesn't make it right.

I'm, you know, one of my former bosses is Jim Baker. He is right. You don't go to war with media. And I just don't think that attack could have been justified given the risks that the Israelis have taken. What happens if people didn't leave or the warning wasn't timely enough? You could have ended up with a real disaster.

BOLDUAN: Yeah. I'm very curious to hear what the Biden administration says about this going forward. Because it's, I think, their response to this element of it is also extremely important.

It's good to see you, Aaron. I'm sorry it is over this, but thank you for being here.

MILLER: Good to see you too, Kate. Take care.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, potentially mounting legal trouble for Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz. His former confidante pleads guilty in federal court. Is this a turning point?

Also ahead, when and where do you have to wear a mask now? If you're confused, you are not alone. What the CDC is saying now and what changes are coming next. We'll be right back.



BOLDUAN: AT THIS HOUR, a major development in the investigation into Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz.

Moments ago, his former friend and associate pleaded guilty in federal court. Joel Greenberg is his name. He was facing 33 federal counts. But instead, he struck a deal with prosecutors and then pleaded guilty to just six counts, including soliciting sex from a minor. A plea deal and major warning sign in it the wide-ranging investigation that involves Congressman Gaetz.

Joining me right now is CNN's Paula Reid. She's been following all of this outside the courtroom in Florida.

Paula, what happened in court? What more are you learning about this deal that Greenberg struck?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Kate, it was remarkable to see Joel Greenberg. This is the first time we've seen him since it was revealed he entered into this cooperation deal with the Justice Department. I mean this was a man who's admitted to spending tens of thousands of dollars on prostitutes, attending drug-fueled sex parties and here he was in court. He was shackled and hands restrained as he tried to sign forms and pretty meekly and quietly answered yes/no questions from the judge.

And the big question now is how long will he remain in jail? What kind of sentence is he going to get?

Clearly, prosecutors have cut him a break, reducing these charges from 33 to just six and that happened in exchange for his cooperation. This is valuable information he's providing to prosecutors. He won't learn his sentence which will be up to the judge until later this summer. But the big question is what is he telling investigators and what does all of this meaning for Congressman Matt Gaetz?

It's important to note that congressman has not mentioned at all in the plea agreement. He, of course, has not been charged with any crimes.

But there is a really important passage in this plea agreement, something that Greenberg actually admitted to today in court. He admitted that not only did he solicit a minor for sex, he had sex seven times. He also introduced that minor to other adult men who also paid her for sex. And, Kate, the big question is who are those other men?

Now, Gaetz and his team, they have attacked Joel Greenberg's credibility. They raised the issues of what a problematic witness he would be. That's all completely fair. But we know from our sources that this investigation does not hinge solely on Joel Greenberg. Investigators have hundreds of documents and other witness that's they're talking to.

BOLDUAN: Great reporting, Paula. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

Joining me now for more on this and what this actually means is defense attorney, former federal prosecutor Shan Wu.

So, Shan, jumping off where Paula was just reporting, what does this plea agreement tell you about the level of cooperation between Greenberg and prosecutors and how bad is this moment for Matt Gaetz potentially?

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: It's potentially a devastating moment for Matt Gaetz. The plea agreement document itself is extensive, some 88-plus pages. And the factual predicate as Paula alluded has the crucial point for Gaetz that there are other men involved, that Greenberg had procured these women for other men as well.

And the cooperation deal as you know has to be full and complete. An old saying is there is no such thing as a little bit of cooperation. It's like being a little pregnant.

So, he has to give up everything. He cannot hold back anything. And with this amount of time hanging over his head, he is going to be very motivated to do everything he can to help.

BOLDUAN: How much -- there is no half way of cooperating with prosecutors on something like. This but how much would you have to give up to prosecutors already in order to get the plea deal? With the deal, it doesn't end your cooperation. But how much do you think they already have?

WU: I think they is already a lot. They would not be giving him this deal if they hadn't fully vetted and corroborated what he is telling them.


So by the time you reach this point in the process, they already know a lot. And not only that, the sentencing is likely to be deferred. Typically, you defer that sentencing until the cooperation is completely done with including possibly any testimony at trial.

BOLDUAN: Is there any good news in this for Matt Gaetz that you see in this -- in this deal? WU: Not too much. I think the only silver lining in this cloud form

is that he's not named in the factual predicate. And also, they don't mention any public officials. Sometimes they'll mention that if there is a hint of that.

That could be for a couple reasons, Kate. One, they're just being very careful as they need to be not to taint his reputation, Gaetz's reputation. And also, it's maybe possible Greenberg's not giving them that evidence on Gaetz. We just don't know that.

But that is got news for him. There is no allusion to a public official and, of course, he's not named.

BOLDUAN: But then even if they had -- if they had something damning on Gaetz, they wouldn't need to put public official in this deal at this point, right?

WU: Absolutely not. That's correct. In fact, it would be the wiser course to just stay silent on that until you're ready to go public with the charge.

BOLDUAN: Look, and Gaetz has said that he never had a sexual relationship with a minor after he was an adult, but there also isn't really an in between here, right? There isn't any legal defense for having sex with a child. So if the evidence shows it, there's no -- there's no in between.

WU: Exactly right. He has no choice. He has to deny that. There is absolutely no defense to having sex with a child.

The only way out of that is for him to claim that it's never happened. These other statements he made early on saying, oh, I was overly generous to women. Maybe was too nice to them. That might cut it with adult women. That's not going to work at all with a child. He has no choice on that but to deny that it happened.

BOLDUAN: It is black and white on this. What -- you have pointed to victim testimony and how important of a role it will play here. Why is that?

WU: Well, Greenberg will carry baggage if he goes to trial, and the jury may not like him very much. I mean, he obviously done a lot of corrupt things even besides the sexual trafficking.

The victims, however, are different. And I think, hopefully, the Justice Department has learned that victims matter. They have a voice, and they have to be paid attention to.

If those women come forward and hopefully they have been contacted, that's going to be devastating for Gaetz as well as for Greenberg. They won't be able to overcome that, particularly if they have already located the woman who is a minor at the time. That is a box that he's just not going to be able to get out from.

BOLDUAN: Well, it's good to see you, Shan. Thank you very much. Coming up next for us, mask or no mass necessary. Americans are quite

simply confused after the CDC's abrupt change on its mask guidance. Some answers for you, straight ahead.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To clear things up, I found a few doctors at the CDC who minored in theater, and I asked them to reenact various scenarios in order to demonstrate correct mask behavior.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Welcome to a bar.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. Do I still have to wear a mask indoors?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You actually do not.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, as long as you're vaccinated.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, then that's bad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I'm entering a bar at 11:00 a.m. Did you really think I was vaxxed? Because that's you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're right, I deserve COVID-19.



BOLDUAN: "Saturday Night Live" there speaking for all of us, I guess.

The return to normal coming with a host of confusion and questions. Americans confused about when and where to wear their masks as the country reopens.

The CDC's big announcement last week that you can ditch your mass physical you're fully vaccinated is not as simple as it seems.

So, let's get -- try to get some clarity. Joining me right now is Dr. Chris Pernell. She's a public health physician and a fellow at the American College of Preventative Medicine.

And we will not be doing acting it out scenarios. So, don't worry, Doc.

(LAUGHTER) BOLDUAN: Days ago, we had folks saying the CDC was moving too slow in terms of updating their guidance. It really was just one point last week that people said that. And now we're hearing folks saying the CDC is moving too fast.

The reality, we are where, Doctor?

DR. CHRIS T. PERNELL, PUBLIC HEALTH PHYSICIAN: Look, Kate, the science is the science. We have to factor in human behavior. And I have to admit when the CDC released the new guidance, it gave me whiplash. It was unexpected. It fell unexpectedly on a lot of state and local public officials because we know that in our states and in our local communities, we just haven't reached as significant a level of fully vaccinated folks as we would like to see.

Are fully vaccinated folks safe? Yes, they are. These vaccines are powerful tools. But we don't have a way to differentiate those in public who are fully vaccinated from those who are not.

So it definitely left a lot of us perplexed. And I actually heard from folks right at the beauty salon where I was when the news broke, they're still wearing their masks.