Return to Transcripts main page

At This Hour

Derek Chauvin Pleads Guilty to Federal Charges in Floyd Murder; Putin and Xi Meet Virtually Amid Escalating Tensions With Biden; President Biden Surveys Tornado Damage in Kentucky. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired December 15, 2021 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN AT THIS HOUR: Breaking news. Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis Police officer convicted of murdering George Floyd, he just pleaded guilty to federal charges that he violated Floyd's civil rights.

CNN's Josh Campbell is live in Minneapolis joining us live with the details on this. What more are you learning about this new plea, Josh?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kate. We just got out of the courthouse here. We're in district court in St. Paul. Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis Police officer, who was previously convicted on state murder charges, we know he was also charged by the federal government with civil rights violations, he just changed his plea today from not guilty to guilty. We understand now from prosecutors that they will be seeking a 25-year sentence as part of that plea agreement.

Now, that was not the only case that Chauvin was facing, the case involving George Floyd. Prosecutors allege that back in 2017, he violated the civil rights of a 14-year-old juvenile, allegedly assaulting that juvenile with a flashlight, choking him. Again, part of this discussion today, he also pleaded guilty to that case.

Now, we didn't hear much from Chauvin today. He did answer some questions from prosecutors. They went through during parts of this plea agreement asking him, and I'll just read some of it. They asked him, did you keep George Floyd down on the ground beyond the point of him being responsive? Chauvin said, correct. They said you kept your knee down on him, injuring him. Chauvin said, correct. They also asked about that case involving the 14-year-old, if he assaulted that child, if he choked him, if he assaulted him with that flashlight? Again, Derek Chauvin admitting, yes, that he did do those things.

Now, I'll remind our viewers what this indictment actually entailed. I'll read part of it. The federal government alleged that Derek Chauvin willfully deprived George Floyd of the right, secured and protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States to be freed from an unreasonable seizure, which includes the right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a police officer. But, again, the news here is that we see behind us, the family of George Floyd gathering to speak after this major development in court today, Derek Chauvin now pleading guilty to those federal charges. We also know for the good of our viewers that there were also three other officers who have also been charged.

Their case has now been what's called severed or separated. Derek Chauvin is pleading guilty but those charges that those other three officers also violated George Floyd's civil rights by failing to intervene and provide medical assistance. That trial continues. They have pled not guilty but that we expect that their trial will continue here just in the next couple of months.

BOLDUAN: Josh, thanks for the update. I really appreciate it. We'll continue to follow that.

But let's turn our focus to Wall Street right now as the Federal Reserve is expected to take a big step toward raising interest rates.

Let's go to CNN's Matt Egan. He is joining me now. All right, Matt, what's happening right now?

MATT EGAN, CNN BUSINESS REPORTER: Well, Kate, this is one of the most important Fed meetings in recent memory, and that's because for the first time in a long time, the United States is dealing with elevated inflation. And this sticker shock is getting worse and it's squeezing everyday American families.

Now, the high cost of living is certainly weighing on the president's poll numbers, but it's really the Federal Reserve, not the White House, that's responsible for maintaining price stability. And right now, there's anything but price stability. The Fed has come under fire from critics because for months, the chairman, Jerome Powell, he said that inflation was just going to be a temporary problem. He infamously called it transitory.

Now, Powell has since said it's probably a good time to retire the phrase transitory, but that doesn't stop Economist Mohamed El-Erian from recently saying that the Fed, quote, probably made the worst inflation call in the history of the Federal Reserve.

Now, new numbers out this week show that producer prices were up by nearly 10 percent from a year ago. That is the biggest inflation spike of that kind since that metric began a decade ago. Consumer prices are at a 39-year high. As you can see, we're talking about double-digit price increases for everything, from new cars and furniture to used cars up more than 30 percent from a year ago.

Now, the good news is the Fed knows how to fight inflation. It can tap the brakes on the economy. In this case, that means it can unwind the bond buying stimulus program that it launched in March of 2020 and also eventually raise interest rates off of rock bottom levels. And that would raise the cost of borrowing for car loans and mortgages and credit cards.

But, Kate, the bad news is, the harder the Fed has to hit the brakes, the greater the chance that it causes some sort of an accident, either in the economy or in financial markets or in both. And so that is the very difficult balancing act facing the Fed today.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Good to see you, Matt. Thank you for that.

Coming up for us, President Biden is in Kentucky to tour the catastrophic damage from the tornadoes there. We're going to take you there, next.



BOLDUAN: A tit-for-tat with global implications. Russia and China holding a virtual summit today just after President Biden's Summit for Democracy last week, which notably excluded both Russia and China.


Putin and Xi calling their conversation a very positive one today. Putin also pledging to attend the Beijing Winter Olympics in person in February, another contrast with Joe Biden who has announced a diplomatic boycott of the games and is threatening major sanctions against Russia over Ukraine.

Joining me for more on this to talk about this is CNN Political and National Security Analyst David Sanger, National Security Correspondent for The New York Times. It's good to see you, David.

I describe it as a tit-for-tat, what we're seeing now, but what do you make of these kind of competing summits taking place at such a moment of tension?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: You know, I think it's deeper than just a tit-for-tat, in that what we have seen happen over the past year or two is that Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, the sort of odd couple of our geopolitical adversaries, have begun to come together in an alliance of convenience.

These are two countries that don't get along with each other terribly well. The Russians, obviously, have very deep resentments of China's economic rise at a time that Russia itself has remained with an economy that's about the size of Italy's. But at the same time, they see a moment to go counter the United States and to counter President Biden as he pushes his theme that this is a contest between democracies and autocracies, when he's clearly talking about the two of them.

BOLDUAN: It's not necessarily a crisis moment with Russia or China. It's kind of -- the issue is, it feels like, is that Biden is kind of nearing or kind of looking at reaching a crisis moment with both of these adversaries at the very same time. So, where do you see this going?

SANGER: Well, you know, the big debate all fall in Washington has been, are we kind of slipping into a cold war with these two countries? Now, no one in the administration wants to use that phrase, and they rightly say, look, this is very different from the cold war that we remember. We've got a deep economic relationship with China that creates mutual dependencies that didn't exist in the old cold war with the Soviet Union.

But we certainly have seen a lot of cold war-like behavior. We've seen U.S. sanctions on Chinese companies. We're supposed to see some more of those tomorrow. We have seen the tension with Russia over Ukraine. We've seen debates over whether China is going to try to intimidate or eventually try to take over Taiwan. These are all pretty deep cold war-like behaviors with both countries. And, of course, we're seeing these two countries try to show that even while the U.S. gathers the western allies, they, too, can create a system where they hope to set some rules globally.

So, right now, the question is, is there an off ramp here for Biden so that we're not simultaneously in a low level conflict with our two major adversaries?

BOLDUAN: This morning, on a different topic, but related because of national security, this morning, Microsoft issued a warning that China and other adversaries like Iran and North Korea is trying to exploit a software flaw that the Biden administration has come out and said that could affect hundreds of millions of devices globally. How serious is this? I mean, what should people know here, David?

SANGER: So, this is a flaw that was not created by the Chinese or Russians or Iranians that actually existed by accident in open source software that is used in a very wide variety of applications, including in devices that companies and individuals use. And it had to get sealed up and. Over the weekend, we saw the U.S. government issue a warning about it and there's been a patch that has been sent out about it.

But the fact of the matter is that hackers can exploit these kinds of vulnerabilities faster than people will pay attention and get them sealed up. And it could be weeks or months before it's sealed up. And so what's interesting, but not surprising, is that suddenly we're seeing activity from Russian, Chinese, Iranian hackers who are trying to use this.

Now, the question is, can they only use it for surveillance or could they do deeper damage with it? And so far we don't know. We haven't seen a huge amount of damage the way we did with, they say, the SolarWinds hack a year ago, which was run by Russian intelligence, but that may be coming.

BOLDUAN: That's the scariest part, is what we don't know.


BOLDUAN: It's good to see you, David.


Thank you so much. SANGER: Great to be with you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, President Biden touring damage from the tornadoes right now in Kentucky, we're going to take you there live, next.


BOLDUAN (voice over): Developing at this hour, you're seeing live pictures from Kentucky. President Biden, he just arrived in tornado- ravaged Mayfield, Kentucky. He's getting a firsthand look at the catastrophic damage there.


You see him there with the governor, Governor Beshear. They're going to be taking an aerial tour. They're going to be visiting -- I think they're going to be in three different towns today.

We're also learning, at the same time as we watch this, heartbreaking new details about the lives lost in all of this. Six members of one family were killed in Bowling Green. Rachel and Steven Brown and three of their four children, along with Rachel's mother, died when a tornado hit their home. The couple's 13-year-old daughter is still missing.

And we also just learned another family was killed on that very same block as the Browns, five people dead in that family. Authorities say two of them were infants.

CNN's Brian Todd is live in Mayfield, Kentucky. He's joining us now with more. Brian, what are you seeing today?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, the president is about to see some scenes of not just devastation but what you can really call annihilation. This is a town of 10,000 people that, according to the head of Kentucky's Emergency Management System, he says, a town that doesn't exist.

We're going to show you what the president is about to see. Look at this behind me. This is one of the main drags of Mayfield, and you have leveled businesses and some excavation going on here. There is a shovel that's been scooping up some degree and taking it out of what used to be a floral design business over here. They have been working at a frenetic pace, Kate.

I can tell you that I covered a few tornadoes and hurricanes in my time and the pace of this cleanup and salvage operation, the excavation here is really unlike any we've ever seen. It's much faster than we have seen in recent years. They've already, over here, installed some telecommunication poles. They are working on them over here. You can see this. The president is not far away right now. He's going to see all of this.

And what's also interesting is the human dynamic of people who are victims of this. The first day or two after a tornado hits, you talk to people at their homes, and we've talked to them this week here, picking through what's left of their homes, and they're kind of stoic, a little shell-shocked and they don't show much emotion. It's right about now that it sets in.

We just talked to two people about what it means that this all happened around Christmas time, that they lost their homes, and they just started crying. And one of them also said, this isn't Christmas, there's no way it can be Christmas when their houses and businesses look like this, Kate.

So, this is some of what the president is about to experience here as he talks to people who are just kind of trying to process all this.

BOLDUAN: Yes. It's just all too overwhelming when you see the scope and scale of it. Brian, thank you very much.

And joining me now on the phone is someone who knows this too well, Chris Smiley. He's the mayor of Dawson Springs, Kentucky, which is one of the towns that President Biden will be visiting. Mayor, thank you for getting on the phone. Can you give me the latest update on what is going on in your town?

MAYOR CHRIS SMILEY, DAWSON SPRINGS, KENTUCKY (voice over): Well, right now, we have FEMA here. We're moving along. Of course, we're not moving along as fast as we want to, but I think we're making a pretty good speed of it. We're just hoping that these people and volunteers keep on coming.

Of course, we're expecting to see the president today. He's supposed to make a run-through. We just got our help (ph) stuck up for a little bit, but I understand what he's doing. We're grateful for that. We've had great volunteers. We've had overwhelming physical material and building material and clothes. We just -- we're way over 100 percent (ph).

Actually, we've run out of places to keep our county seat, which is Madisonville. Their mayor, Kevin Cotton, he's been over here every day, ever since it hit, helping to navigate through all this stuff, and Jack the -- the county attorney, Jack Whitfield. They've both been great. Probably we just got out of here if they hadn't come. It's overwhelming when a third of your town is gone, or 75 percent of it is gone.

BOLDUAN: Yes, 75 percent, I've heard you say 75 percent of your town has been just wiped out. I mean, what do you -- when the president does come, what do you want him to see, what do you want him to take away and remember of Dawson Springs?

SMILEY (voice over): Well, Mayor Cotton and I were talking earlier. We want to make sure to stress that what we've got here, we want action now. It will take weeks and weeks and months to get forms filled out and stuff like that so we can get some action on the ground. We need stuff done now. We need it completed. We need to find these people places to live.

Of course, we have to get the debris and stuff cleaned up so we can set up maybe temporary houses. And a lady is wondering if it's all right if her insurance company sets up a trailer up for her and let her live in it until she can get her house rebuilt or whatever.


I thought that was great. And things like that, that's going to happen.

I think the last count I heard was, what, 45?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're down at 38.

SMILEY (voice over): Down at 38 that are unaccounted for. We're still seeing that people that are under the rubble. That still to be people that hasn't notified or doesn't realize that somebody is looking for them and they left town or whatever.

BOLDUAN: 38 people unaccounted.

SMILEY (voice over): I think we've got 14 bodies inside the city so far.

BOLDUAN: Brian Todd, who is one of our correspondent on the ground, he said this is about the moment when it really starts -- the emotion kind of takes over when people are dealing with shock when they see just the devastation in front of them, and this is devastation on a scale we've never seen before from a tornado. How are you doing? I mean, you've got 75 percent of your town is gone. How are you doing personally?

SMILEY (voice over): Well, I'm 63 years old. I did done utility work for 40 years. I saw a lot of stuff tore up but I've never seen anything like this. Plus, as being the mayor, you feel like you're responsible for everybody in it. And it's like losing your child, you know? It's terrible, it is.

BOLDUAN: It truly is. Mayor, thank you for your strength, thank you for coming on. I really appreciate it.

SMILEY (voice over): Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you very much. Mayor of Dawson Springs, where the president is going to be heading today, we're going to continue to stay on this.

Thank you all so much for being here. I'm Kate Bolduan.

Inside Politics with John King begins after a quick break.