Return to Transcripts main page

At This Hour

Biden To Meet With French President After Major Diplomatic Clash; House Dems Again Delay Infrastructure Vote Amid Party Divisions; Attorneys: Armorer Says She Has "No Idea" Where Live Rounds Came From. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 29, 2021 - 11:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: The proposal to discuss this, although they backed off somewhat, but that is quite an endorsement. And it shows how deep the relationship between the two of them. And I should also note that the President said the two of them prayed for peace, and for each other.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Fascinating. And great details there as well.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Thanks so much to all of you for joining us today. I'm Jim Sciutto in Rome.

HILL: And I'm Erica Hill in New York. Stay with us. "AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan, starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Here's what we're watching at this hour. President Biden on the world stage, a warm welcome from the Pope and this hour, Biden meets with a French president amid strained relations.

Live rounds on a movie set, the armor defending her role in the tragedy that led to the fatal shooting by Alec Baldwin. And one step closer, the FDA could soon authorize a vaccine for children as young as five leaving only the CDC to weigh in before we see younger kids get vaccinated.

Thank you so much for being here. We begin with breaking news, which is President Biden is about to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron in Rome, where he will conclude his -- afterwards he will conclude his first day of meetings in his high state trip to Europe. Relations between the two countries the U.S. and France are strained after France declared a crisis of trust last month, I'm sure you will remember, over a U.S. deal to sell nuclear powered submarines to Australia, undercutting another deal with the French.

Things even devolved to the point where France recalled its U.S. ambassador for the first time in history. And already today, President Biden met with Pope Francis at the Vatican for a lengthy 90 minutes. The White House says the second Catholic U.S. President and the Pope discussed a range of issues including the pandemic and the climate crisis. Let's begin there CNN's Kaitlan Collins is live in Rome. She's been following all of these big moments that have been playing out today, in this very moment big trip. Kaitlan, can you set the stage for us for this first face to face between Biden and Macron that's about to play out, this first face to face since that falling out?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's the first of several meetings that he's going to have with world leaders during this summit on the sidelines. But this one could be the most tense given of course, the backdrop that this is coming just a few months after that huge dust up between the two of them.

Really it is major diplomatic feud at times because of course, you know, the French were so angered by this deal that they were cut out of, that derailed their own multibillion dollar deal that they recalled their ambassador to the U.S. for several days before eventually sending him back.

And so the tensions between the two have calmed some over some phone calls that they've had between President Biden and President Macron. But this is their first time actually meeting in person. And of course, those meetings are much more critical according to both sides, because they are in person. They're not conducted over the phone. They don't have a translator, any of that matter. It's often a world leader, one on one with another world leader talking about the issues.

And so of course, this issue with this submarine deal, this nuclear submarine deal that the U.S. had not informed the French of that is what they said was really the biggest affront to them is that they were kept out of the loop for so long.

It's going to be the backdrop of this meeting that is going to happen in just a few moments from now. Though there are other issues that are going to be discussed. And the White House seems to have this idea that largely they have moved past this. And this is really a time to try to mend that relationship between these two very old allies.

And they are going to focus on other issues that of course, are definitely high for debate on them, counterterrorism in the Middle East, talking about technology and trade. And of course, all these issues that are important to France, including European defense is another one. And so one thing we should note, Kate, though, is that to give you a sense of how maybe the French just have not completely forgotten what has happened with this submarine deal.

This is a meeting that is being held on French territory, technically, because it's going to be held at the French Embassy in Rome, not at any of the G20 sites that are going to be happening with those world leaders tomorrow. I'm told by a diplomatic source, this is intentional on the French's -- on the French behalf because of course, they wanted this meeting to kind of be on their turf, given of course the power balance of them going into this meeting following that diplomatic feud.

BOLDUAN: Or power imbalance, right? That's exactly right. Kaitlan, stay with me. Also joining us is CNN global affairs analyst Susan Glasser, she's a staff writer for The New Yorker. And also with us is CNN's Wolf Blitzer also joining us live in Rome. Wolf, what are you going to be leaning into and listening for in this meeting with Macron?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm going to be listening to see what they say publicly. And then we're going to be all waiting to hear what went on behind the scenes inside that room. I'm sure there'll be leaks coming from the French. There'll be leaks coming from the U.S. side. I want to hear what's going on. This is America's oldest ally, France going back to the Revolutionary War.


And I think U.S. officials including the President of the United States, the Vice President, Secretary of State Tony Blinken, the National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, they were all stunned at how this very, very confidential deal that the U.S. and the U.K. made with Australia on these nuclear powered submarines how that stunned the French they had no idea.

Remember, France had a deal to sell diesel powered submarines to Australia for tens of billions of dollars that's going to go away right now. And there was no advanced consultation between the U.S. and France. France did not have any advanced word on this. And the French were really upset.

Jake Sullivan, the National Security Adviser, went to Paris to try to improve things the Secretary of State Tony Blinken, who speaks French, and has had a long U.S.-French relationship. He went to Paris, and now the President is going to meet with Macron. And then the Vice President Kamala Harris is going to go to Paris herself to try to ease this relationship, improve the relationship.

It's really been nasty, it's really been ugly. They're working really hard. There was one thought that maybe the President himself after Scotland would go to Paris and try to improve their relationship. But that's gone away their meeting here, as we know this hour here in Rome, instead, but the Vice President will be going to Paris. But it's a very important relationship. And this is one issue that's really been at the center of this rupture.

And there's no doubt I will say this, Kate, there's no doubt I think it was the first time in U.S. French relations that France actually recalled its ambassador for consultations. Ambassador Etienne in Washington, he had to go back to Paris. Normally, that happens when countries are in a real, real dispute for France to do that with the U.S. that underscores how serious this crisis was.

BOLDUAN: And we're watching and waiting to see as we've been tracking all the live movements of the President as he's been moving about Rome, we're going to be bringing that to everyone as it happens this hour.

And Susan, you know, Biden, when I'm thinking about this rift in this kind of crisis and confidence and friendship, I started thinking about that video from Biden and Macron when they were literally arm in arm back in June of this year. When that was, of course, a moment, I think was the G7 that Macron declared that America was definitely back when asked about it by reporters.

I mean, so does that mean the same thing you think if America was back what it meant in June of this year, does it mean the same now and I don't know would Macron say the same thing now, just four months later?

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Look, I think the point of this meeting and all this flurry of diplomatic activity, Kate, is to send the message we're moving on, that this was a spat between friends as opposed to a kind of major rift or strategic divergence between the two.

And I do think it's been an enormous distraction from two of the top priorities of the administration when it comes to foreign policy, number one, working to restore alliances that were sort of battered and bruised over the previous four years of the Trump administration.

That's a key part of this administration's strategic goals in the world working with Europeans on things like not just how to counter China and its rising authoritarianism in the world. But Russia, for example, climate change, which is going to be the subject, not only at the G20, but also at the COP 26 meeting.

And so that I think has been a distraction, number one. Number two, the heart of the Biden foreign policy first world is the idea that China represents the biggest, almost an existential, certainly geopolitical challenge for the United States in the 21st century.

And this August deal, the submarine deal that the French are so exercised about was a key strategic move there. What I've heard from senior Biden officials is regret at what they see as a sort of a tactical screw up, a diplomatic foul, if you will, with the French. But not any remorse when it comes to the bigger strategic decision to make a new -- and to the Chinese very challenging alliances with the Australians in the region. So those are two things that I think have gotten lost a little bit in this sort of how mad is France right now discussion.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And Kaitlan, you mentioned it just a little bit, but I wanted to dig a little deeper into it. I mean, moving on, maybe but forgetting about it completely, might be a different thing. And there, the Biden team has been working overtime, it appears, to try and to try -- I don't know if repair this relationship is kind of the best way I'm thinking about it right now. But what do they say about it?

COLLINS: Well, they said that they believe this is something that they've kind of moved on from in the sense that it's not going to be a big point of contention in this meeting between the French President and President Biden today. It's not so clear that that is going to be the case and so it remains to be seen how the French president decides to proceed with this.

[11:10:02] It is very unlikely we are going to see the same level of camaraderie that we did four or five months ago at that G7 summit where I was there and you saw the two of them, not just in that moment that you showed where Macron had his arm around President Biden's back, but also there was another where the two of them were sitting there laughing, talking, and Macron was saying, yes, he did think America was back and making a pretty clear dig at the former president of the United States during that meeting in Cornwall in England.

And so it's unlikely that that is going to be the same kind of relationship that you see at least publicly between the two of them when they do meet here at the French Embassy in Rome, and just a few moments. And so I think when it comes to the broader relationship between France, the United States, and what it means.

It's not like that relationship is going to change in a major way. But the question of whether or not it undermines the trust between the two of them, when that is what President Biden came to office saying he was seeking to restore, after the way, former President Trump treated a lot of these alliances that of course undermines that argument in the eyes of the French in and of other nations.

And so the thing that is going to be what President Biden is working to try to restore when they are meeting. And so we'll also be looking really closely at the joint statement that these two sides issue afterward. Often that is a side -- a statement that is agreed upon by both sides, I'm told they've actually spent days working on that statement sending back and forth, edits and whatnot.

So while we waiting to see what exactly does it say, do they try to make any concessions toward the French side, any kind of concrete things coming out of that, as a way to try to kind of heal this relationship.

BOLDUAN: I mean I think we have some video of the French President Emmanuel Macron arriving at I believe, I would just assume that he's arriving at the French Embassy. Yes, there's a French First Lady, as arriving near the French Embassy ahead of this meeting.

You know, speaking of the, Wolf, just your final thought, and as Kaitlan was talking about the joint statement afterward, I mean, you've seen so many of these high profile, high stakes, put whatever, you know, descriptor you want in front of it, meetings between world leaders and the joint statement that comes out afterward. There's a lot of jockeying. There's a lot of back and forth that goes into it before those things go out.

BLITZER: Yes, you're absolutely right. And we'll see, they'll use diplomatic language. I don't know if they'll say it's fruitful or productive, whatever they're going to say is going to be diplomatic. There's no doubt that the strained relationship exists. And it's not just I will say this, Kate, it's not just because of the deal, the nuclear powered submarine deal with Australia that caught the French completely by surprise.

It's also other issues, including the chaotic and deadly U.S. withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. And the French were not happy seeing what was going on the way the U.S. withdrew. They were certainly and France was deeply involved in Afghanistan, as we know.

So like the other European allies, there has been serious questions raised about U.S. diplomacy since June. I was in Geneva at that summit, when President Biden met with Russian President Putin and had followed the G7 and the U.K., things were moving seemingly in the right direction.

But since then, there have been the setbacks in U.S. diplomatic efforts, including Afghanistan. And I think that's undermine confidence that the French and other European allies, the Germans, they have differences with U.S. on several of these issues. That's why this G20 Summit that's taking place this weekend, here in Rome is so critical.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. It's great to see you guys. Thank you so much. We're going to be watching and bringing you the moments as they happen live, as the President will be meeting with French president, we believe this hour. We'll bring you all of that as it happen.

So while the President is overseas, House Democratic leaders back here in the United States, they were again forced to delay a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill yesterday. This is after the President's trip to the Hill yesterday, laying it all on the line to his party in that closed door meeting. So where are things then headed? Where are things at this moment?

CNN's Manu Raju is live on Capitol Hill with all this new reporting. Manu, what is the latest that you're hearing about the infrastructure bill and broadly speaking where they are in terms of the framework that President Biden laid out yesterday?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, now it's almost certain that the Progressives in the House are going to get what they want that infrastructure bill, that $1.2 trillion plan that the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had been pushing hard to get a vote on yesterday, that that will move in conjunction with that larger economic bill that Joe Biden laid out, $1.75 trillion. The progressives have threatened to block that infrastructure plan unless they got an agreement to move that bill along the larger proposal.

And also they are pushing to get all 50 Senate Democrats to support say that they will back the Biden economic framework. Right now up to this point, there have not been 50 Democrats who have said that they will be yes votes then two hold out senators who have been that way for months Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have not gone as far as saying they will endorse this plan.


But I'm hearing from sources who have been in contact with Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, that they are feeling more confident that she will ultimately be a yes on this proposal. They haven't people have spoken to her, have come away with that I believe, particularly after she put out a statement that was positive about the bill yesterday, but she stopped short of endorsing it. Now her office will not comment about whether she will ultimately be, yes, but that is the feeling among Democrats.

At the same time, Joe Manchin, it's uncertain where he will ultimately come down. I talked to him multiple times yesterday, he will only say he's talking in good faith, but he did say signal supportiveness for that overall price tag 1.75 trillion.

He had been at 1.5 trillion. So there is some belief that Democrats can ultimately get there after months of painful and messy negotiations punt after punt and deadlines being pushed back and blown. Perhaps they believe they can get there in the next several weeks. Still an open question though about when exactly that might be, Kate.

BOLDUAN: It's good to see you, Manu. Thank you for tracking it all.

All right, so quick program everyone. Next Tuesday is election night America, two huge governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey. Plus, who will be victorious in the fight to leave New York City. Special live coverage starts Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. on CNN.

Coming up for us this hour, attorneys for the armor on the Alec Baldwin movie say that she has no idea how live ammo got on that set. So the very latest on who and where investigators are focusing now. That's next.



BOLDUAN: Developing this morning for the first time we are hearing from the armorer at the center of the investigation on Alec Baldwin's movie set. The movie cinematographer was killed. The director injured after being shot by what was supposed to be a prop gun.

Now attorneys for armorer Hannah Gutierrez say that she has no idea where the live round came from. CNN's Josh Campbell is live in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He's following all of this for us. Josh, what's the latest you're hearing?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Kate, we've heard from investigators and prosecutors that their main focus on the site that they were bring charges is going to come down to how those live rounds got on a movie set. And up to now we haven't heard from this armorer Hannah Gutierrez.

She's breaking her silence today. In a statement from her attorney, they are defending her saying that she wasn't responsible for what transpired. I'll read part of it. It says safety is Hannah's number one priority on set. Ultimately, this set would never have been compromised if live ammo were not introduced. Hannah has no idea where the live rounds came from.

The whole production set became unsafe due to various factors, including lack of safety meetings, not the fault of Hannah. Of course, one key question is whether she raised any of these issues as the person responsible for firearm safety on the set. Now, we have not yet heard that answer.

Now, we do know that in court documents. This Hannah Gutierrez, the armorer, said that there were never any live rounds on that set that was contradicted by the sheriff who said that this was a live round of ammunition suspected live round that fatally killed, shot and killed Halyna Hutchins.

Now the sheriff was also on CNN New Day today as said, as it relates to Hannah Gutierrez, he would like her to come back in for additional questioning, take a listen.


SHERIFF ADAN MENDOZA, SANTA FE COUNTY, NEW MEXICO: We encourage Ms. Gutierrez-Reed to come in so we can try to determine, you know, how those live rounds ended up on set, who brought them there, and why they were there. There's a lot of follow up questions as far as my investigators are concerned. She is cooperating. But the sooner the better that she comes in, we can clarify some of these questions.


CAMPBELL: Now we know that the other individual that is the focus of the investigation is the Assistant Director Dave Halls. We're waiting to hear from him, as well as additional information from Alec Baldwin, the actor himself.

We know that the sheriff here has said that they -- thus far, all the witnesses have been cooperative, but they do have additional questions. Again, as they try to answer that key question, how did the live random round of ammunition make its way out of the set, into that firearm that ultimately took the life of the cinematographer, Kate?

BOLDUAN: Yes, Halyna Hutchins, thank you so much, Josh. I really appreciate it. Joining me right now is Richard Howell. He's a film armorer with 30 years experience and CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor. Richard, I just want to first get your reaction to what we're hearing from the armorer through her attorney saying that she has no idea where the live ammunition came from. When you hear that, just what do you think?

RICHARD HOWELL, FILM ARMORER WITH 30 YEARS EXPERIENCE: Well, I just don't agree with it at all. You know, the armorer is completely responsible for the on set security of the actors, of the crew. And the armorer is responsible for making sure that you only have blank ammunitions on the set, and no live ammunition. So this is a Colt revolver. And so you should check that you're only loading blank rounds and nothing else.

So live rounds shouldn't be on the location on the set at all, it's an absolute no, no. And this all goes down to the preparation of the job in the first place. So when they're back at the armory base, they should test the firearms, test fired, the batch of blank ammunition for the sound and the flash and so on, and so that all works well. And then you go out to your set and, you know, there's just -- there's no way that shouldn't be any live ammunition there at all.


The other thing the armorer is responsible for is all this set security health and safety that when you've done dry rehearsals to make sure everything's lined up with a camera, then when that's all cleared by the armorer and let's say the armorer is totally in charge of this, then you make sure that these dry rehearsals nobody is in front of the fire, in this case, Alec Baldwin. Nobody should ever, ever be there. It's just not necessary.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And to that point, what Richard is getting at Elie. The attorneys for Gutierrez also say that she, the way the structure was set up, she was hired to do two jobs in the film and could not focus on her responsibilities as an armorer and that she had to ask producers for support.

That part of the statement, they say she fought for training, days to maintain weapons, and proper time to prepare for gunfire, but ultimately was overruled by production and her department. So she seems to be casting blame on producers here. What do you see here Elie?

I think we have an audio issue with Elie. We're going to try to reconnect. But I guess honestly, Richard, what do you think when you hear that from Gutierrez, that she fought for training days to prepare -- to maintain the weapons and says that she was ultimately overruled, basically saying she couldn't do her job?

HOWELL: Well, this goes back to, you know, the first point really on investigation. And that's the importance -- the appointment of the armorer, armorer company, does that person that company have sufficient experience to actually go on set and have a certain amount of gravitas personality, to commonly politely deal with all issues on the set in terms of safety, and that's -- that is the 100 percent responsibility of the armorer, nobody else.

And so you're in control of that is say in a nice, polite, calm way. And everybody defers to what you state is a safe conditions. And I would also like to add that onset, you know, the, you have a close working relationship between the actor and the armorer, and nobody else should be involved with the handling the firearms at all.

I'd also like to say that, in all cases, it's not the actor's responsibility at all, for the safety of the, you know, the blank rounds, you know, the setup of the firearm and who's in front, of course, actors will have a great deal of experience in this area. And I'm sure Alec Baldwin did. But it still boils down to all the responsibility is with the armorer.

BOLDUAN: Richard, it's great having you on.

HOWELL: So I just don't blame the actor here at all. And that's my personal opinion. And it's a direct relationship between armorer and actor, and the actor has to trust the armorer. And that's the way it works. BOLDUAN: Richard, thank you so much for your perspective on this. I really appreciate it.

I want to get back over it. Let's go back overseas. Let's get back to Rome, Phil Mattingly joining me now from outside of the French Embassy. This -- we're awaiting the arrival. Phil, tell me what where we are in this but where I believe we're still waiting the arrival of President Biden to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron. What are you seeing?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kate, that's correct. We're here at the French Embassy to the Holy See, the President obviously having meetings with the Italian President and Prime Minister, the next meeting is this one.

And it's by far the most consequential of the day when it comes to what we've seen over the course of the last several weeks related to the French and American relationship. You and Wolf and Kaitlan and Susan, were all talking about the details here.

I think there's a couple of interesting things, I'm talking about U.S. officials and French officials that we're going to be watching when the President pulls up behind me. He will walk up those stairs in between the two columns behind me.

He will shake hands with President Macron. And for a President that prioritizes the personal that makes very clear when it comes to meetings, whether it's with lawmakers or with foreign leaders he wants to be face to face. He embraces the face to face meetings.

This is an incredibly important face to face meeting. The personal relationship here matters. Kate, you made a great point we were all in at the G7 just a couple of months ago in June when the President was sitting right next to President Macron, when Macron said America is definitely back.

However, underneath that comment and certainly in an exacerbated manner over the course of the last several months, there is very rare real skepticism between President Macron, his top advisors in terms of America's role in the world, in terms of what you are should be doing, in terms of how France should lead Europe and potentially a new direction.


And that was just underscored about 10 to 12 X based on that deal, the submarine deal. The outrage based on that deal was very real.