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Texan Valedictorian Who Spoke Out Against Abortion Ban Reacts To Law Going Into Effect; Grand Jury Indicts 3 Aurora Officers, 2 Paramedics In Elijah McClain Death; Soon: Pentagon Holds Briefing On End Of War In Afghanistan. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired September 01, 2021 - 12:30   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: The law bans abortions after just six weeks of pregnancy, a time when most women don't even know that they're pregnant. No exceptions for rape or incest.

It also allows anyone to sue those who help a woman get an abortion. And that could even mean an Uber driver giving a woman a ride to the doctor. That is what is new and especially unique about this law. And this is exactly what 18-year-old Paxton Smith feared. She's a Texas valedictorian whose high school graduation speech went viral over the summer when she tossed out her prepared and planned remarks to instead take on the state abortion law. Listen to this.


PAXTON SMITH, VALEDICTORIAN WHO USED GRADUATION SPEECH TO PROTEST TX ABORTION LAW: And I cannot give up this platform to promote complacency and peace when there was a war on my body and a war on my rights, a war on the rights of your mothers, a war on the rights of your sister's, a war on the rights of your daughters. We cannot stay silent.


BOLDUAN: Paxton Smith is joining me now. Paxton, thank you. What is your reaction to learning of this news today?

SMITH: It's very upsetting to see and it is so heart wrenching to know that so many people in Texas have had a fundamental human rights taken away from them today.

BOLDUAN: You know, you'd said, I remember in your speech -- in your graduation speech that you were terrified about this law and you laid out what scared you so much about it, I want to remind everyone what you said at the time.


SMITH: I am terrified that if my contraceptives fail, I am terrified that if I am raped, then my hopes and aspirations and dreams and efforts for my future will no longer matter.


BOLDUAN: How are you feeling today?

SMITH: It's very surreal. I'm very upset that this law has been able to go into effect. And I know that a lot of people share that sentiment and the idea that if we do face ourselves with an unplanned pregnancy, then that life changing decision of whether or not you carry that pregnancy determine what happens afterwards is no longer up to us.

BOLDUAN: You feared that this would -- this law would take effect, of course. Did you have some belief that it wouldn't -- that it wouldn't come to this? Obviously, you feared it enough to speak out about it but you call it kind of surreal which of course means that, you know, like outside of this reality. But now knowing that it is the law of the land today, and that we're hearing from clinics that they're turning patients away today, how does that impact you?

SMITH: In the same way before, it's kind of unbelievable that in a place in a state in the United States, a place that values freedom and liberty from person to person then the freedom of deciding what happens with your body. And subsequently, what happens with your life is being taken away from people. That's very upsetting. And it's upsetting that the only people that can help people who do get pregnant are no longer allowed to, they are constantly under threat from outsiders.

BOLDUAN: And you took such -- you took a risk this spring when you put aside your prepared remarks in your graduation speech and decided to use the platform to speak out against the ban. Now that it is officially law in the state, how do you look back on that decision?

SMITH: I'm glad that I did it. I think a lot of times, some of the most important voices in the issue are the ones that are not listened to. It is stories like mine, and stories of other people who do have the ability to get pregnant, but are not the ones being told. And the abortion issue is so often looked at as this outside issue when the reality is that it is a human issue and it deeply affects every person differently and very personally. And I think that's something that needs to be brought to light. And so I'm glad that I gave that speech because I think that's something that needed to be talked about.

BOLDUAN: You're now just starting college and you've clearly got lots of time to decide what to do in the future but how was this speech that you gave it really kind of was -- I mean, it went viral in the definition of the, you know, the most basic sense of the word by definition. How has this experience impacted kind of what you're thinking about that with your future?

SMITH: I don't think that this has really impacted my future at all ultimately. My goal is to become a musician and that is still the plan.

BOLDUAN: Has it -- has this decision, this law, this ban in effect in Texas doesn't make you question living in Texas?


SMITH: It definitely does. Yes, I worry about the state of my rights and the state where the value of my voice, the value of being able to decide what happens with my life and my body if I get pregnant is not taken into account.

BOLDUAN: Paxton, thank you so much.

SMITH: Thank you so much.

BOLDUAN: Just ahead for us. We are hearing of charges being filed in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain in Aurora, Colorado. This breaking news coming in just now, we're going to have more on this after the break.



BOLDUAN: We do have breaking news. A Colorado grand jury has filed a 32 count indictment against three Aurora police officers and two paramedics in connection with the 2019 death of Elijah McClain. The State's Attorney General just made the announcement. Listen.


PHIL WEISER, COLORADO ATTORNEY GENERAL: For their alleged conduct on the night of August 24th, 2019 that resulted in the death of Mr. McClain. Each of the five defendants face one count of manslaughter and one count of criminally negligent homicide.

BOLDUAN: Twenty-three-year-old Elijah McClain, he died three days after he was violently detained by Aurora police, put in a chokehold and eventually injected with ketamine by paramedics. He was stopped by the officers after a 911 caller reported a suspicious person wearing a ski mask walking along the road. He was then -- before -- then eventually wrestled to the ground and put in a -- put into a carotid hold by the police.

But before being wrestled to the ground, McClain is heard telling the officers he was trying to stop his music so he could listen to them better. Paramedics arrived on the scene and administered ketamine which is a powerful, powerful drug.

Joining me now, back with me is Jeffrey Toobin. Jeffrey, the D.A. had said that it would not -- they had looked at this and did not find enough evidence to prove that the officers violated Colorado law but the governor then gave it to the A.G. and now this. What do you think?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the D.A. explained when he initially decided to not to file charges is that the autopsy was ambiguous about the cause of death. The more extensive investigation of the Attorney General, you know, elaborated on the facts and, you know, unfortunately, there have been so many of these cases of African American men being killed by the police that it's hard to keep track for many people of which one is which.

I think many people may remember the phrase that this gentleman used when he was assaulted by the police which was, I'm just different. I'm just different. That became very much associated with this case.

You know, it's so ironic that, you know, that the reason the 911 caller called in supposedly was this person was acting sketchy and wearing a ski mask. This is Colorado. Even at the end of August, it gets chilly at night. It's not exactly a shocking thing in Colorado to wear a ski mask. The real problem, it certainly seems is that he was a black man walking down the street.

He was, you know, doing nothing wrong. There doesn't seem to have been any reason to stop him at all. And then he was set upon by all these officers and then the paramedics shooting him up with ketamine, which is as you said terribly powerful drug for literally no reason at all.

Now the police have claimed that in McClain tried to get their gun, tried to reach for one of the officers guns, everything we know about this fellow whose hobby was playing the violin for cats suggest that's very unlikely but perhaps, a trial will resolve that.

BOLDUAN: And to the point on the ketamine, McClain, on the way to the hospital, I'm now remembering this and looking at this, as he was taking to the hospital, he actually had a heart attack on the way, a 23-year-old kid. And then he was declared brain dead three days later.

TOOBIN: Right.

BOLDUAN: The fact that it's not just the officers, it's also the paramedics here charged.

TOOBIN: Right. Well, that's certainly unusual in the context of these cases. But given the magnitude of the drugs that were administered, he only weighs 100 -- he only weighed 140 pounds. He was given a dose that apparently is one and a half times the amount that is suggested for someone of that size and whether he should have been injected with it at all is obviously something that is going to come up as an important part of the trial.

But, you know, it does seem reasonable if the facts are as alleged by the prosecution that if the paramedics acted in such an incredibly irresponsible way to inject this poor guy with a drug that killed him, it would be appropriate to add the paramedics to the police who stopped him in the first place in the charges in this case.

BOLDUAN: Look, Elijah McClain, this name has been added to the long, long sad list of black -- of people who have been died at the hands of police, his name is added to that list, a rallying cry now and now charges. We'll see what happens. Good to see Jeffrey, thank you.



BOLDUAN: In just minutes, we're going to hear from the top Pentagon officials about the end of the war in Afghanistan, their comments coming after President Biden defiantly defending the exit, much more on that ahead.



BOLDUAN: In just minutes, the Defence Secretary and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will speak for the first time since the last U.S. troops left Afghanistan bringing an end to the 20-year war. This after the President defiantly defended his decision to withdraw and also defended the execution of that plan in his speech yesterday.

Joining me now for more on this is CNN global affairs analyst Kim Dozier and retired lieutenant general and former NATO ambassador, Douglas Lute. Ambassador after hearing from the President, what do you hope to hear from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Defence Secretary in just a few minutes?

LT. GEN. DOUGLAS LUTE (RET.), FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO: Well, I'd expect to hear Kate, first of all, a recognition for what was accomplished over the last two weeks, you know, after a rough start, of what -- remember the images of the desperation and the chaos at Kabul National Airport. After those scenes, we really did see the military kick into high gear and deliver as we expected to do with an orderly process of deliberate profit that saw the evacuation of 120,000 vulnerable people. So I think they're going to -- they will recognise that and they will applaud that performance.

BOLDUAN: One thing came about the President's speech yesterday that kind of sets the groundwork of what we might hear in a few minutes is Biden pledged to, as the way he put it is, to continue to speak out for the basic rights of the Afghan people, especially women and girls. Is it clear to you what that means and how that -- how they do that now?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: You know, it seems like those are words with no way to follow through on them. We've heard various different promises both from the President and from the Secretary of State about how they would hold the Taliban to promises they'd made about offering amnesty, offering rights to women and girls.

Meanwhile, like many volunteers who've tried to get people out, my phone is blowing up with people reporting incidents of one person who was a government worker just told me that his house has been ransacked. They stole his car, they beat him up, they all knew he worked for the past government so much for the promise of amnesty. And a group of international aid workers who got turned away from the border in Tajikistan, three of the women were pulled off the bus by the Taliban and threatened with whipping because they didn't have a male escort.

So some of the promises we're hearing from the top of the group don't seem to be followed through -- throughout the different provinces. And we haven't seen that Taliban do anything that they wouldn't have already done in response to U.S. government requests. So I just don't see what the leverage is.

BOLDUAN: Ambassador, one of the criticisms that Biden pushed back on in his speech yesterday is something that we kind of touched on our last conversation, this idea that the status quo was sustainable. Let me play what he said.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're left with a simple decision, either follow through on the commitment made by the last administration and leave Afghanistan, or say we weren't leaving and committed another tens of thousands more troops going back to war. That was the choice, the real choice between leaving or escalating.


BOLDUAN: What do you think of that Ambassador?

LUTE: Well, I think the facts behind what the President asserted there are quite clear and that is that we did not have a stable stalemate in the run up to the May 1st withdrawal date. And what do I mean by that? I mean that in the last several years, each of those years has featured 10,000 civilian casualties among the Afghan people, another 10,000 casualties among the Afghan security forces and overall, a 30 percent attrition rate among -- within the Afghan army. So this wasn't everything was OK and everything was stable and we decided to leave. This was an eroding situation when the decision was taken.

BOLDUAN: One question that is out there now, Kim, from the President's speech, and also I don't know if that maybe the Joint Chiefs Chairman and the Defence Secretary will be asked is what will it take to draw America back into Afghanistan or anywhere? You know, what effort or what conflict or what threat is worth committing U.S. troops to? Do you think the President has defined that yet? Because he definitely made clear yesterday that the focus needs to shift.

DOZIER: I think this President is going to stick with the over the horizon response to most problems. He does not want to be someone who puts people boots on the ground. So I think you're going to see a real standoff policy. And some U.S. allies are already expected thing that they can't count on the U.S. if they get in trouble.


BOLDUAN: Ambassador, thank you as always, Kim, great to see you thank you, as well. And we will be bringing that Pentagon briefing, the remarks from the Defence Secretary and the Joint Chiefs Chairman when they begin very soon. That will be coming up next.

Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right after this break.