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At This Hour

Sex Trafficking Trial Begins For Epstein Partner Ghislaine Maxwell; Soon, Biden Addresses Nation on Omicron Variant; Deaf Football Team Plays in First-Ever Championship Game. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired November 29, 2021 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN AT THIS HOUR: Happening right now, the highly anticipated sex trafficking trial of Ghislaine Maxwell has begun in New York City. She's accused of recruiting and grooming girls as young as 14 years old, forming a network for Jeffrey Epstein to sexually exploit. Epstein, the convicted pedophile, he died in jail, you remember, two years ago.

CNN's Kara Scannell is live outside the federal courthouse in New York with the very latest. Kara, this has been a long time coming, this trial. What's happening this morning?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Yes, Kate. It really has been a long time coming for many of these alleged victims, both of Jeffrey Epstein and of Ghislaine Maxwell. So, today, what's underway right now is jury selection. Both sides, the prosecution and Maxwell's attorney, have selected 12 jurors and 6 alternates. One of the jurors has an issue with an employer, so the judge is trying to work that out. But once that is resolved, then they will move forward. The jury will be sworn in and opening statements will get under way.

Prosecutors saying they need only 25 minutes to lay out their case. Of course, they have accused Maxwell of helping Jeffrey Epstein recruit, groom, and sexually abused girls, some as young as 14 years old. Now, this conduct was alleged to have occurred between 1994 and 2004 in both New York, Florida, New Mexico, and Maxwell's London home.

Maxwell's lawyers will have about an hour they said they will need to present their opening statements in the case. We haven't heard a lot from her side of what they're going to argue here, but one thing is clear, I think we'll see that they're going to try to make lot of the fact that Jeffrey Epstein is not on trial here and Ghislaine Maxwell is and making the point that he really is the one and that she is the proxy for the government.

But, again, you know, we're still waiting for the judge to work through this issue around jury selection. Then we'll have opening statements and possibly the first witness as soon as this afternoon. Kate?

BOLDUAN: All right, Kara, thank you very much for that.

Jury selection is also underway right now in the trial of former Empire Actor Jussie Smollett. You'll remember this wild story from a few years ago. Smollett is accused of making false reports to police after claiming that he was the victim of a hate crime attack, an attack that police later said that he staged.

CNN's Omar Jimenez has the very latest from Chicago.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, it's been a long road just to get to this point, jury selection in the trial of Jussie Smollett beginning today. He faces six counts of making false police reports that he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack as a black and gay man. This goes all the way back to January 2019 when he told police he was physically attacked in Downtown Chicago by two men, that they hurled those racial and homophobic slurs at him, that an unknown chemical substance was poured on him and that they put a noose around his neck. So, Police investigated and they said he made it all up, orchestrated it with two brothers for publicity.

So, Jussie Smollett was charged with 16 counts of disorderly conduct. Those charges were dropped after the state's attorney's office cited that what he had done so far, the $10, 000 bond paid and community service likely is where the case was headed anyway. A special prosecutor was appointed and that got us the charges where we are now, six counts of making false police reports. He has maintained his innocence throughout this and he has also pleaded not guilty to the particular charges in this trial. We're expecting as speedy, as the judge said they're looking at a time line of four to five days. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Omar, thank you.

Coming up for us, President Biden is about to address the American people on the coronavirus omicron variant. What is known, what is still not known and what moves is the Biden administration going to take now? We're going to bring you his remarks live. We're going to take you live to the White House, coming up.



BOLDUAN: We're really standing by. We're just minutes away from President Biden delivering remarks on the coronavirus omicron variant. The president just received a briefing from the nation's top health officials on this, and we're going to bring you the president's remarks as soon as he begins speaking.

Joining me right now though is CNN White House Correspondent Jeremy Diamond, CNN's Chief Political Correspondent, co-Anchor of State of the Union Dana Bash, and Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, she is a Professor of Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Jeremy, on the one hand, they don't want to overreact, coming from the administration, but they don't want to be caught flat-footed when there's so much that is not known but will be known soon. What are you hearing the president is going to say when you understand the place, the position that they're in?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you're exactly right, Kate. The White House sees two opportunities here in what we're going to hear from the president today, first of all, to try and urge the public not to panic as we still wait to learn more about this omicron variant, and, secondly, to be able to demonstrate some confidence here and to show that they are on top of the situation of a potentially very concerning variant.


President Biden will deliver these remarks after having just wrapped up a briefing in the Oval Office with his COVID-19 response team. And the president is going to lay out what we do and what we do not know about this latest variant.

We're also going to hear the president most likely use this as an opportunity to urge Americans who have not yet to get vaccinated and to urge those who are vaccinated and are eligible for a booster to go ahead and get that booster.

We've heard Dr. Fauci on several programs over the last couple days making clear that while we don't know a lot about this variant yet, it is likely that the boosters and the vaccines will still provide a degree of protection against this latest variant, so, making that clarion call for Americans to get vaccinated or to get those boosters.

But, again, President Biden will make clear that we still have a lot to learn about this variant, and a lot of that information is going to come in in the next week or two.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And a lot can happen, though, in those interim days, Dana, right? I mean, like any administration when facing a potential crisis, and more importantly I think growing fear about what is not known. They need to do something but not create unnecessary panic. How do they get that right?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a difficult line to walk. I interviewed Dr. Francis Collins, the head of NIH, on State of the Union yesterday, and he was walking it, explaining what Jeremy just said, that the reality is that there is more that scientists and public health experts don't know about this variant than they do know. And it is going to take time to study real-life cases, to study the variant in a lab, probably a couple weeks to get a sense of whether this variant is on the level of the delta variant or something completely different when it comes to transmissibility and when it comes to how when a person gets it, how sick they get when that happens. But I think the key thing here is that this is a president who was elected for times like this, for uncertain times, and he knows that. And so getting out in front is so much about maybe less about giving answers, because, as we just said, there aren't that many, but at least giving people confidence that there are adults in the room and they are there and that they are paying attention and they're going to try to figure this out as we know more and those in the scientific community know more.

There is an emotional exhaustion in this country and in the world. But just when we feel like we're finally getting past COVID, we're finally getting to the point where we can ease up a bit, something like this comes down the pike. So, walking that line is what you're going to clearly see from the president in a few minutes.

BOLDUAN: And, Dr. Marrazzo, I mean, as a physician, you see every day the emotional exhaustion of COVID and the pandemic. I mean, what would you like to hear from the president, especially when there is so much that we do not know?

DR. JEANNE MARRAZZO, PROFESSOR OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES, UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA AT BIRMINGHAM: Right. Kate, I think it's really important to emphasize that we don't know everything we need to know about this new variant yet.

There really are kind of three levels of knowledge, I would say, and Dana mentioned at least two of them. First of all, there are the sequencing data, which has got everybody up in arms, right? We see now 50 new mutations or mutations that we haven't seen in this combination before, some of which suggest really serious mutations on the spike protein, which we know is responsible for generating the antibodies that really protect us.

The second level of information is probably going to come out from laboratory studies in the next several days. And that's where we'll find out if the antibodies that the vaccine induces are active against this virus and just how active they are.

And then, of course, the third level is what's really going to happen in our human bodies, right? Are we going to start to see breakthrough infections? Are we going to start to see more transmission and more cases? Hopefully, we'll have a lot more information before we find out at that later level. We really don't want to wait until then.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And in the interim, Dr. Marrazzo, one thing we are seeing in terms of governments, including the United States, are travel restrictions being put in place on travel from Southern Africa. South Africa's president, the World Health Organization, they're speaking out against these travel bans in response to the variant. I want to play for you what a spokesperson for the WHO just told us earlier this hour. Listen.


DR. MARGARET HARRIS, SPOKESWOMAN, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: South Africa should get a gold medal for the quality of its science and the quality of its transparency. As I said, we have not seen nearly enough of that, transparency particularly. And, indeed, to then make South Africa feel that doing all the right things leads to a very bad outcome is not good -- not just bad for South Africa itself, it's bad for the world.



BOLDUAN: I was struck by that. What do you think of these travel restrictions, Dr. Marrazzo, and the global response so far?

MARRAZZO: Right. So, first of all, the fact that we have molecular surveillance for these variants emerging from South Africa is remarkable. It reflects an incredible investment in the scientific infrastructure there, much of it from work with scientists in the United States. So, it's fantastic. Should they have withheld this information just because of concerns that this might have happened, absolutely, not. You can't not do the right thing just because you're concerned that it might create some of these issues.

That said, travel bans are a blunt instrument, right? We already know that this virus has gotten out of South Africa. It's now in many countries. And it's highly likely that the travel ban may help, but it's not really going to be a definitive answer. At best, maybe it will slow things down by 10 percent or 20 percent. Maybe that's an estimate.

You have to balance that against the cost, real human costs, the real economic cost, and the demoralization of people not being able to see their families, not getting on with work, getting stuck in other countries, et cetera, et cetera. So, it is a very, very tough call.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Well, we're going to hear more very soon. If you guys could stick with me, we're standing by to hear from President Biden any moment about this very thing.

Still ahead for us, as well as waiting for President Biden, this, the players and coaches of this high school team, they are all deaf. They went all the way to the championship game for the first time ever. It is their journey and their story that will stop you in your tracks, their remarkable run. You will want to see this next.



BOLDUAN: You don't have to like football to love this next story. All of the players and coaches on one California high school football team are deaf, and this year, they went all the way playing in the championship game for the first time ever.

CNN's Nick Watt has the story.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The Cubs in their school's 68-year history have not ever never, not even once, made it to a championship game, and here they are.

Their opponents, Faith Baptist, have won this Southern California Championship about a dozen times in their history. They are good.

Tickets for this blockbuster game sold out in 45 minutes. They had to move it to a nearby high school, bigger bleachers, to seat the growing fan base. Many of them are standing a lot.

JUSTINE GUADARRAMA, PARENT: But today is the biggest crowd I've ever seen. It is just -- because you have not only people that come to this school, you have a lot of deaf people that come from different schools, because whenever there's a deaf event, people just want to be there.

WATT: now we caught up with the Cubs for the mid-week team talk.


WATT: -- and practice. The voice you'll hear is a sign language interpreter.

ENOS ZORNOZA, WIDE RECEIVER/CORNERBACK: We're making history here. And if we do lose, I'm still incredibly proud of this team. If we win the championship game, that would just be that much more awesome.

WATT: Here is the already awesome back story. The CSDR cubs in the past lost a lot.

JORY VALENCIA, WIDE RECEIVER/CORNERBACK: The team stunk, quite honestly. CSDR were often viewed as kind of the laughing stock, right? We're always going to have these lousy seasons, but that has not been the case this season.

WATT: First game, a 68-0 victory. Yes, that's a 6. This is not a well-funded fancy pants program.

Why are you guys doing so well? What's the secret?

ZORNOZA: We've practiced strong. We work together. We've got this sense of brotherhood amongst us. We're a family.

WATT: Next up, the drubbing, then a shellacking. Their season so far, 12-0.

You're not just a good deaf football team. You're a good football team.

KEITH ADAMS, HEAD COACH: Exactly right. Exactly right. We've played against other good teams, let me say, but we just keep beating them.

WATT: Back at the championship game second quarter, the Cubs are down 28-0. Oh, boy.

AMELIA ORTIZ, PARENT: Typically, for our games, we are winning by a pretty -- you know, 20, 30-point margin by halftime, and this is definitely a different vibe. WATT: And then a hook-and-ladder play sparks a startling rally. Suddenly it's 28-22. The crowd is going nuts. But how do the players feed off of that? With their eyes.

ZORNOZA: During your break, during halftime, you look around.


They are cheering. Their hands are waving in the air. You see their energy and that feels so good.

WATT: The Cubs' average winning margin this season nearly 50 points.

Have you yourselves scored any touchdowns this year?

VALENCIA: More than 15. I lost count.

WATT: Nice.

These kids were already confident. They didn't need this historic run to prove their worth in the world but some opponents underestimated them badly.

ZORNOZA: I think they do dismiss us oftentimes. They think we're a deaf school, no big deal, then I think it's a lesson learned for them that deaf people out there and other programs can do better than they are doing.

WATT: Back to that championship game, halftime, Valencia, Touchdown King, is iced, he is out. Tatum Adams is limping. He's the coach's son, by the way. And his brother, starting Quarterback Trevon, takes a hit, his night is over. The limping Kaden (ph) has to take his spot.

Now, to most of us, a football game sounds like this. With these kids, we'll turn off the sound. That could be a disadvantage. They make it an advantage.

ZORNOZA: During the game, we're able to throw out plays exact place hearing teams don't understand what our plays are, what is being shared on the field.

ROBIN DRAGOO, INTERPRETER: Tree, that's the part of their play, is tree. Watch the ball. Watch the ball.

ADAMS: This is our first language, our native language. We're using our native language on the field.

VALENCIA: And visual acuity is more alert than your hearing opponents typically and so that we use that as an advantage, yes.

WATT: To go from laughing stock to media darlings moving merch.

ADAMS: Now, we've got T.V. producers, movie producers reaching out to us. It's endless.

VALENCIA: Yes, it definitely feels like we've reached celebrity status.

GUADARRAMA: I don't think the media and everything is getting to their heads. They are just focused on the game.

WATT: But with two key Cubs stars sidelined, those burly Faith Baptist boys proved just too much, a second half blowout.

The Cubs destroyed. They weren't in this for a heartwarming story about deaf kids against the odds. They were in this to win.

KAVEH ANGOORANI, DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: I'm very proud. They defeated us, yes, but they have taught us a lesson. That means that the expectation is going to be higher next year.

WATT: And get this. There were only two seniors on this Cubs team next year maybe, just maybe.


BOLDUAN: Nick, thank you so much. What an awesome team. What an amazing story. Nick Watt, thank you for that.

Still ahead, we're standing by, everyone, standing by for President Biden. He's about to address the nation, about to speak about the omicron variant. The latest on the pandemic, much more to come. Our eyes are on the White House.

Inside Politics with John King begins right now.

JOHN KING, CNN INSIDE POLITICS: Hello, everybody, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John king in Washington. A very busy news day, a very busy hour ahead, a wait-and-see moment in the COVID pandemic.

Any minute now, the president of the United States addresses the nation and details what we know and don't know about the new omicron variants. Scientists caution against panic. It will take weeks, they say, before we know if the world again is in big trouble.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We're on high alert. The CDC, who does that kind of surveillance, is very, very on top of this, looking for this. There are a lot of things about it that we do not know but that we'll be able to be ascertained in the next week or two, I believe.


KING: Plus, a character crossroads for Republicans. Path number one, show remorse, move on from an ugly episode of bigotry, path number two, revoke an apology and double down on Islamophobia and division.

And decision time for the January 6th committee. Will the panel hit the former Trump White House chief of staff be hit with a contempt charge or some other penalty for refusing to cooperate? We begin though this hour with a new COVID test for the American president. Any moment now, Joe Biden at the White House will urge Americans to be calm and the president will ask you for more time. The omicron coronavirus variant is the new wrinkle in this pandemic that just won't quit.


What we don't know outpaces what we do.

But the president did put new travel restrictions in place already as a precaution and the Biden COVID team now --