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At This Hour

Sources Say, Biden Considering Sanctions Against Putin's Inner Circle; Trump Ally Perdue to Challenge Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA); Jussie Smollett Trial Resumes, Defense to Call Witnesses. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired December 06, 2021 - 11:30   ET



ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I think what you'll hear prosecutors, when you add it all up, that amounts to involuntary manslaughter.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN AT THIS HOUR: And one reason for the charges against the parents, according to the prosecutor is that their son had, they way the prosecutor says it, free access to the gun. If the gun, Elie, had been locked and secured, as the defense attorney said in court, if he wasn't supposed to have a key and somehow got it, would that change the case against the parents, do you think?

HONIG: That is absolutely a relevant fact here. If, in fact, this gun was left unlocked, unguarded and the son got it, that is going to be damning for the parents. But if it was locked up, that's going to help the parents' case. That doesn't mean that they will beat the case. But one thing that the prosecutor said this morning on New Day that I found a little unsettling from a prosecutorial point is she was asked -- Brianna asked her was this gun secured, was it locked or not, and the prosecutor said, well, we don't exactly now, but he had access to it.

You have to know that as a prosecutor. What does that mean? Was it locked, was it not locked, did he have a key, did he not have a key? So, prosecutors need to figure that out specifically quickly.

BOLDUAN: And the school system is now asking for an independent third party to be brought into investigate the shooting at the school. Karen McDonald, who I've been talking about, she was also asked this morning if anyone at the school could face charges. I want to play what she said on Good Morning, America.


KAREN MCDONALD, OAKLAND COUNTY PROSECUTOR: That has not been presented to our office. That is an investigative process that I'll leave to law enforcement. I can tell you that there is outrage in the community. I can tell you that we all should be looking at the events that led up to that horrific event. And as a community, as a school, as a nation, talk about what could have been -- what we could have done different so that didn't happen. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: How do you interpret that, Elie?

HONIG: So, it is absolutely necessary, Kate, that the school, that law enforcement, that prosecutors, police, all take a very careful look at what the school did and did not do. That said, the way I understand what the prosecutor is saying here is I think that it is very unlikely that we see criminal charges against the school. Because if the school missed signs here or there or should have done more, that is not necessarily enough to charge somebody. And, remember, you can't charge the school. You have to charge an individual if you are going to charge involuntary manslaughter.

So, they're going to need to be able to point to an individual and say that person didn't just miss signs, that person, like the parents did, contributed to a situation where it was readily foreseeable that this person would go and kill somebody or cause great bodily harm. That is a high burden. I don't see it being made against the school. That's what how I read what the prosecutor is saying.

BOLDUAN: It's great to see you, Elie, thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

So, across the state of Michigan and beyond, there has been an outpouring of support for the families of the four young victims. On Saturday, family and friends of Tate Myre were honored on the field before the Michigan played in the Big Ten Championship. He was a celebrated football player at Oxford High School whose coach says was trying to save others when he was shot and killed.

The Wolverines also wore a patch during the game of Oxford's logo, four hearts with the number 42, the number Myre wore for his high school team. Michigan won that game putting up 42 points.

The Detroit Lions also paid tribute, Jalen Elliott wearing a Lions jersey with Tate's name and number on back ahead of the game. And the Lions won their first win of the season. After that win, the new head coach had this to say.


DAN CAMPBELL, DETROIT LIONS HEAD COACH: This game ball goes to the whole Oxford community, all those who were affected. And that being said, man, I just -- you know, I just -- I want us to not forget these names, Madisyn Baldwin, Hana St. Juliana, Justin Shilling, Phoebe Arthur, John Asciutto, Riley Franz, Elijah Mueller, Kylie Ossege, Aiden Watson and Molly Darnell, who is a teacher. Those names for all those who will never be forgotten and they're in our hearts, in our prayers and all the families, and not to mention all those that were affected by all of this.


BOLDUAN: From Michigan and far beyond.

We'll be right back.



BOLDUAN: Developing this morning, sources tell CNN the Biden administration is weighing a wide set of sanctions on Russia to deter Vladimir Putin from launching an invasion into Ukraine. The two leaders are set to hold a video call tomorrow.

And it comes as U.S. intelligence estimates Russia could begin a military offensive in Ukraine in a matter of months with a buildup of some 175,000 Russian troops at the border.

Let's get over to CNN's Arlette Saenz at the White House for more on this. Is there any more clarity on what the White House is considering here, Arlette?


ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, the Biden administration is weighing which sanctions would be most impactful to help deter Russia from invading Ukraine. And sources have told CNN that there are a number of options on the table, including sanctions against top members of President Putin's inner circle as well as Russian energy producers and Russian banks. One of those options would likely target top Russian oligarchs likely cutting off or limiting their ability to travel and also cutting off their access to American banks and credit systems.

Now, officials say that no final decision has been made at this moment, but President Biden hinted that he was looking at taking some type of actions against Russia just on Friday when he told reporters that he was assembling a comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives to deter Russia from invading Ukraine. Now, officials have said that the U.S. is also speaking with European partners with the goal of trying to have united and coordinated effort as they are addressing these issues with Russia.

Now, President Biden -- this all comes as President Biden is set to hold a secure video call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, where officials say that the president plans to specifically address the concerns the U.S. has with Russia's military activity along the Ukraine border. So, the president considering some of these sanctions as well as that video call to give a message directly President Putin as the U.S. grows more concerned about their activities.

BOLDUAN: Arlette, thank you so much.

Joining me now for more on this exactly is former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor.

Ambassador, first, I want to ask you about this video call that President Biden will be having with Putin tomorrow. This is, I believe, their first call since July. How important is this call? WILLIAM TAYLOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Kate, I think that it is very important. It's very important for President Putin to hear again from President Biden about Ukraine. And we will recall that earlier back in April, President Biden had to call president Putin as well as President Putin put together a large force on Ukraine's borders at that time. And President Biden called him up first, by the way, called President Zelensky of Ukraine, but then called President Putin directly and said, back off of Ukraine. And it turns out President Putin did that, he did back off. Didn't remove all his equipment, didn't remove all his troops, but he did back off and deescalated to some degree.

So, this is an important conference call that is coming up on Tuesday for President Biden to lay out again, just as Arlette said, what the consequences would be if President Putin decides to invade Ukraine.

BOLDUAN: I'm curious what you think the consequences though imminently are for Ukraine with what we're seeing from U.S. intelligence, this new estimate from U.S. intelligence that Russia could begin a military offensive in Ukraine in a matter of months with up to 175,000 troops. What can Putin do with that?

TAYLOR: President Putin can lose a lot of Russians with that. That is -- the last time he invaded Ukraine, back in 2014-2015, Ukraine was not prepared for that invasion. Ukraine is much better equipped now. Its military is stronger, it has better weapons, it is better led, morale is higher, training is much higher. President Putin, if he sends his troops against Ukrainian troops, is going to lose a lot. This gets to be very bloody. It will be bloody on both sides certainly, on Ukrainian side as well as on the Russian side. But President Putin will have to contend with many casualties, many Russian casualties because the Ukrainians are ready.

BOLDUAN: Do you think Putin underestimates Ukraine?

TAYLOR: I think he does. I think he does. I don't know President Putin. I don't know what is in his mind. But all the indications are that he does not understand the new Ukraine. He understands what Ukraine used to be in Soviet times. This is what must be in his mind. He sent out a message in the summer describing Ukraine as only sovereign under Russian control. That is not Ukraine today. Ukraine is different. Ukraine since 2014, since the Russians invaded, has unified against Russia, and I don't think that President Putin understands that.

BOLDUAN: So, we know that Biden is considering a new round of sanctions. They're not going into detail exactly who or what is going to be the target. We know the range now. But what do you think Biden's options are here?

TAYLOR: I think President Biden wants to make it clear to President Putin that the costs would be very high, the cost to the Russian military, the cost to the Russian economy, the cost to oligarchs that are close to President Putin. They will be -- the cost to the economy from these enhanced sanctions that will hit the Russian economy very hard, harder, as President Biden has said, harder than Secretary Clinton said, harder than in the past.


So, he has understand -- Mr. Putin has to understand from President Biden what these costs are. And if he is making a rational decision, then he'll think about that. He might not be making a rational -- it might be an emotional decision that President Putin does this. It would be a horrible mistake.

BOLDUAN: You wrote an op-ed in August about how you thought -- your suggestion for how Biden should handle Ukraine, and one move that you support that I read again this morning with interest is you said that Biden should go there and visit Ukraine. You say no American president set foot on Ukrainian soil since George W. Bush in 2008. Why do you think Biden should do that?

TAYLOR: Because Ukraine is important to the United States. And the best way for that message, the importance of Ukraine, Ukraine's independence, its sovereignty, all the things that we say, the best way to convey that is to show up in Kiev.

I was there in 2008 when President Bush was there. So, that was the last president who was there. And President Biden has been there, of course, as vice president. He's been there, he's been several times -- many times, he knows the place. Ukrainians know him. That visit, President Biden's visit there, which probably had been discussed with President Zelensky, when President Zelensky was in the Oval Office in September, that would send a very strong message and it could resonate -- could be a message to President Putin.

BOLDUAN: So, interesting. Thank you, Ambassador, for being here. I appreciate it.

TAYLOR: Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, Georgia, the state of Georgia, Georgia's governor's race just got a lot more interesting. Brian Kemp facing a Republican challenger and let's just say it could get ugly.



BOLDUAN: Former Republican Senator David Perdue is throwing his hat in the race to be Georgia's next governor, and he's leaving no question as to why.


DAVID PERDUE (R), GEORGIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I'm David Perdue. I'm running for governor to make sure Stacey Abrams is never governor of Georgia.

To fight back we simply have to be united. Unfortunately, today we're divided, and Brian Kemp and Brad Raffensperger are to blame. Look, I like Brian. This isn't personal. It's simple. He has failed all of us and cannot win in November. Instead of protecting our elections, he caved to Abrams and cost us two Senate seats, the Senate majority and gave Joe Biden free rein. Think about how different it would be today if Kemp had fought Abrams first instead of fighting Trump.


BOLDUAN: Trump and clearly apparently backing Trump's election fraud lies.

Joining me now, CNN's Michael Warren for more on this. Michael, what does this announcement mean for that race?

MICHAEL WARREN, CNN REPORTER: Well, it means, Kate, that Georgia Republicans should prepare for a knockdown drag out fight in this gubernatorial primary, and it's going to focus on what else, the 2020 election. You heard Perdue reference Kemp and basically blame him for Republicans' losses in 2020 and 2021. The Kemp campaign is responding in kind with a statement from a spokesman saying Perdue is the man who lost Republicans the United States Senate.

So, they are fighting about this. A Kemp ally has told me that they are willing to make David Perdue's life a living hell over this. And, of course, there's the question of what Donald Trump will do. A spokesman for Trump telling our colleague, Gabby Orr, that Trump is going to endorse Perdue sometime soon. All of this is happening. Democrats in Georgia, Stacey Abrams, who just announced her candidacy last week, they are all smiling at this. The chaos can only help them, they think. It's going to be a race to watch, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely will, even more so as of this morning. Thank you so much, Michael. It's good to see you.

Now to this, the trial former Empire Actor Jussie Smollett just resumed in Chicago a short time ago. The defense team started calling witnesses this morning. The big question though is, will Smollett take the stand in his own defense? He's accused of staging a fake hate crime in an attempt to get media attention, if you'll likely remember.

CNN's Omar Jimenez is in Chicago. He's been tracking this from the very beginning. Omar, what's the very latest there today?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kate. So, of course, we're watching to see if Jussie Smollett will take the stand in his own defense. But right now, the defense called its fourth witness on the fifth day of trial. They are currently cross-examining a man who worked security at a nearby hotel to where this alleged scheme took place. And significantly, a few moments ago, he said that he saw two men running away from the scene around the time when this alleged attack would have happened and shown a flashlight in one of their faces and said that one of those men was white. At least that's what he says he saw.

Now, that's significant because, of course, that comes in contrast to what we've heard over the course of this trial, specifically when two brothers who have worked on the show Empire points Bola and Ola Osundairo, they testified that Jussie Smollett recruited them for this alleged scheme because he didn't believe the show Empire, which he was formerly a star of, was taking an alleged hate letter that he had received seriously enough.

And at least one of them, Bola Osundairo, who had been friends with Smollett prior to this, said that Jussie was the mastermind behind this and that they did a dry run in the days leading up to when this was supposed to happen.


And Ola Osundairo testified that he wouldn't have been involved at all if he had known the police would be involved.

Now, of course, Smollett has maintained his innocence throughout all of this. He's facing six disorderly conduct charges for allegedly making false police reports, saying that he was victim of an alleged hate crime in January 2019. This is likely the last full day of testimony, we'll see, as the judge said, he wants it to be in the jury's hands by at least tomorrow. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Wow, moving quickly. It's good to see you, Omar. Thank you very much. More updates to come from Chicago on this.

Thank you all so much for being with us today. I'm Kate Bolduan.

Inside Politics with John King picks up right after this break.