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At This Hour

Survivors Of Jeffrey Epstein's Abuse React To Maxwell Conviction; Stocks Set New Records Despite Pandemic Uncertainty; White House Signals Pandemic Strategy Shift As Omicron Surges. Aired 11:30a- 12p ET

Aired December 30, 2021 - 11:30   ET




AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: New this morning, "relieved and grateful," the words of Annie Farmer, a survivor of Jeffrey Epstein's sexual abuse. After the conviction of his longtime associate Ghislaine Maxwell, she was found guilty on five of six counts in her sex trafficking trial.

CNN's Sonia Moghe, live in New York with more reaction from survivors. Sonia?

SONIA MOGHE, CNN REPORTER: Amara, this has been a day that's just been in the making and coming and wished for by so many of these survivors for years. Many of them believed that they wouldn't be believed by law enforcement, by the public with these allegations against such powerful people including Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell. And many of these survivors were dealt this huge blow after Epstein was arrested for sex trafficking charges and then died by suicide just weeks after his arrest.

Now that one woman you mentioned, Annie Farmer, she described the abuse that she dealt with. She testified on the witness stand in front of Ghislaine Maxwell, which was a very difficult thing to do. Here is what she said this morning about how she feels about the verdict.


ANNIE FARMER, GHISLAINE MAXWELL VICTIM: It's a very rare opportunity to be able to be in court and tell your story and to see the person that perpetrated the abuse held accountable. And so, I definitely felt like that was not just for me but for so many of you know the other people involved in this case that didn't have that opportunity. This is one important step towards justice. And I think, you know, in this particular case, there are, you know, there were other people involved and other perpetrators, and we certainly hope that they will continue to the investigations so that other people will be held accountable.


MOGHE: And that's one thing that many survivors of this abuse say that they want. They want to know that the other people of power who have been named in the trial, some who weren't named in the trial, will be held accountable. And one woman called this verdict -- she did not get to testify, but she said her soul yearned for justice for years and that she will not forget the day that this verdict came down for the rest of her life.

WALKER: I'm sure she won't. The courage of these survivors just incredible.

Thank you so much, Sonia Moghe.

Joining me now is CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney, Joey Jackson and CNN legal analyst and former assistant U.S. attorney Elie Honig.

Elie, first to you. Your reaction to this verdict and its potential impact on other cases going forward.

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Amara, the first thought really has to be with these victims. And four of them testified at this trial, but really, they spoke on behalf of dozens and dozens of victims victimized by Jeffrey Epstein, Ghislaine Maxwell, and others over many, many years. And I think it's so important that we remember that prosecutors initially gave Jeffrey Epstein essentially a free pass over a decade ago down in Florida.

And really, the only reason we were able to see justice here after all these years is because of intrepid, really effective local reporting down in Florida and because the southern district of New York stepped up and pursued justice for Ghislaine Maxwell.

I think victims are right to point out this is just a partial step towards justice. Only one person has now been convicted. There way more than one person, way more than two people involved in this. And we'll see if prosecutors have the evidence and the will to go after those people.

WALKER: Yeah. It's so powerful to hear the victims say that they didn't believe that they would be believed. And they have been seen, heard and believed through this conviction.

Joey, so Maxwell's lawyers are saying that they're planning to appeal, as is her family. Any chance of that succeeding?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Amara, good to be with you and my friend Elie.

I think it's early at this point just with respect to appeals, just how that goes.


When you're appealing, you're appealing a verdict but not really. You're appealing the information that the jury got to gather the verdict. Very thin distinction, but here's what it is.

In the event that the judge made judicial errors, allowed evidence before the jury that the judge should not have allowed, made rulings that was prejudicial otherwise hurt Miss Maxwell, those are the issues that are being appealed. And certainly, the attorneys throughout the course of the trial, the defense attorneys that is, made a record of what those are, and they will now appeal that. Always an uphill battle when you move to appeal.

I'll just tell you one quick thing pivoting from that with the government has now is a lot of leverage, Amara. Why do I say that?

Initially, they may have the government look to speak to Miss Maxwell, and she wasn't speaking about a thing. You could remember how defiant she was, Amara, when she was asked by the judge, do you wish to testify. That's yours and you're really in your province alone. She said no, I'm not going to testify because the government has not proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Guess what? Here we are and they have. So, the issue now is whether she will be inclined to speak knowing that she's facing a very stiff sentence and what if anything, the government will do for her by gleaning other names and other people who could be held accountable if she decides to speak now.

And so, that's yet an open question, but I think the government's leverage here with regard to others being held accountable is huge at this point in time.

WALKER: Yeah. Elie, you mentioned that as well, because this is just you were saying partial justice, right? Because we're only seeing one person convicted thus far. How do you see this playing out then? Do you think Maxwell will move to name names, high-profile figures to get her sentenced reduced?

HONIG: Well, that's the big question as Joey says. And you need two parties in order to cooperate. First question is, will Ghislaine Maxwell be interested in trying to cooperate now. Like Joey said, her incentives have changed. Now she's guilty. Now she's looking at much maybe all of the rest of her natural life behind bars.

So, will she have an incentive to maybe come in and cooperate? Perhaps. But there are other factors as well. She may be fearful. She may not want to cooperate. Maybe she thinks she's innocent.

On the other hand, will prosecutors, will the SDNY want to cooperate with Ghislaine Maxwell? Now, it's a little late in the game. It's a very late in the game now that she's been convicted, but you still can cooperate with somebody after trial.

I've done it, not often, but rarely. But the only way the SDNY is going to give her a cooperation deal is if they are entirely convinced that she is ready to be fully truthful to give up everything she's done and everything that anybody else in this ring or elsewhere has done. If she does flip, Amara, that will be a game changer and I think that will be the best road to achieve full justice here.

WALKER: I'm sure there are some high-profile figures who are shaking in their boots right now watching this play out, uncertain how it will go. Appreciate you both. Joey Jackson, Elie Honig, thank you so much.

JACKSON: Thanks, Amara.

WALKER: Up next. It's been a wild year on Wall Street despite uncertainty with the pandemic. Will 2022 be the same? We'll discuss next.



WALKER: They're calling it the Santa Claus rally on Wall Street, stocks hitting new highs as record-breaking year of trading wraps up tomorrow. Despite the uncertainty from the pandemic and financial pain on Main Street.

CNN's Matt Egan joins us with more. Hi, there, Matt. So, yes, explain the disconnect.

MATT EGAN, CNN BUSINESS WRITER: Well, Amara, the stock market is clearly ending the year with a bang. The S&P 500 is up by 28 percent so far this year. The Dow started the year at 30,600. It's now getting close to 37,000. And also, we're seeing a flurry of record highs. The S&P has notched 70 record highs, the latest one coming just yesterday.

Now, as you mentioned, this is all happening despite COVID and a lot of pessimism on Main Street. For the real economy, the biggest positive is clearly the jobs market. We learned this morning that jobless claims fell in the latest week. They are holding near 52-year lows, but that's often getting overshadowed by the high cost of living.

In a recent CNN poll, nearly two-thirds of Americans rated the economy as in poor shape. And the big disconnect here is the fact that the companies that make up the S&P 500, they often have the resources and the flexibility to pass along higher costs to consumers. And so, that's why companies are able to protect their bottom line.

Amara, the big key in 2022 of course is going to be how the economy and how companies deal with COVID, because that clearly poses a risk for the stock market going forward.

And the other big key is that the Federal Reserve is removing the punch bowl to fight inflation. It plans to raise interest rates, end its stimulus program, and that is going to be another risk for the stock market. Amara?

WALKER: So much uncertainty ahead. Thanks so much, Matt Egan. Appreciate it.

All right. Now to this developing story. A tiger is dead, and a man seriously hurt after putting his arm into the tiger's enclosure at a Florida zoo. The man was employed by a third party to clean restrooms and the gift shop at the zoo in Naples. And then police say the man entered an unauthorized area of the enclosure after hours and was either petting or feeding the tiger. [11:45:00]

The Collier County Sheriff's Office says their deputy was forced to shoot the tiger when other attempts to free the man's arm did not work. The Malayan tiger named Eko is a critically endangered species and it was killed.

Coming up, Strategy shift.

The White House looks to change its coronavirus messaging as we enter the third year of the pandemic. We will discuss next.

But first, Carole King and James Taylor in an unforgettable concert film, "Just Call Out My Name" premieres on Sunday at 9:00 p.m. on CNN. Here's a preview.


JAMES TAYLOR, SINGER: Our challenge was to figure out how to do an intimate show in a really large arena.

CAROLE KING, SINGER: We wish everybody could be close in. One way to do that is to perform in the round.

TAYLOR: What we came up with was the idea that we would basically have a club in an arena. We're also rotating slowly, the stage rotates. We've designed the show to be as close and intimate as possible and to play to everybody in the room.




WALKER: As we countdown the final hours of 2021, we are seeing alarming record-breaking numbers of COVID in America. The U.S. is now averaging more than 300,000 cases a day as we prepare to enter the third year of this pandemic. The highly infectious Omicron variant, pandemic fatigue and slowing vaccination rates are leading the White House to consider shifting its strategy.

Joining me now is CNN political commentator Dr. Abdul El-Sayed. He is an epidemiologist and the former Detroit health commissioner. Always great to see you, Doctor.

So, like we're saying, we're seeing the administration making some shifts when it comes to pandemic strategy. What -- what do you want to see more of?

DR. ABDUL EL-SAYED, EPIDEMIOLOGIST: I'll tell you this. It's not as much about a strategy that hasn't failed, it's about execution on the past strategy. It's rather absurd that we're going into year three and we still don't have enough tests for the American public. And the fact that our hospital systems are still facing overwhelm and we're still trying to flatten the curve. That being said, there's been a lot that's worked out. You look at the vaccines and the efficacy that those vaccines have had, that's been amazing. So, what I would like to see moving forward right now, if there are two big things I would really like to see out of the administration, is number one, a pivotal way from saying that two vaccine is enough, instead fully vaccinated ought to mean boosted.

And then the second piece is that we need to recognize that we have enough N95 and surgical masks to go around, and the evidence suggests that they do a much better job preventing the spread of this variant and this disease. And so, we really should be calling masking, a surgical mask or more, N95, KN59, KF94, those are two places where I think we can do a lot better in terms of preventing illness.

WALKER: I do want to ask you since you know you were a public health commissioner. I guess the difficulty balancing, right, the economy and also public health and what you think -- how you think the CDC has been doing its job because Rochelle Walensky on CNN yesterday admitted that look, the decision to update the guidelines to lessen the isolation time, had much to do - as much do with the economy as it did with the science. Do you agree with that, or should it be strictly based on data?

EL-SAYED: Well, my frustration is that this is Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's not the centers for business operations. And the real focus here ought to just be about controlling the spread of the virus. That being said, it is really important to recognize that a functioning society and all of the consequences, potential lockdowns, also have public health harmed, and those ought to be weighed.

That being said, without having been able to do basic things like make sure that we have enough testing so folks can test negative before they're let out of isolation or upgrading the mask requirement. It's somewhat frustrating to see that this was the first step taken.

It's clear that Omicron is spreading extremely quickly. It's clear that that's going to have implications for our society. And yes, we have to weigh that in.

That being said, we've got to go with the science first and there are other potential tools on the table if the administration was able to make those available. And so, rather than trying to limit isolation which could, of course, allow people to be passing on virus before they fully cleared it.

I would have rather seen an upgrade in the vaccine requirement to be three shots instead of two. I would have seen an upgrade in terms of masking required in public places to be more than a cloth mask or to be a surgical or N95 mask. Those things prevented the spread of illness and prevent and save lives rather than potentially leaving people at risk.

WALKER: We have less than a minute, but I do want to ask you this question. Because this is something that you know our team has been talking about and I know a lot of the viewers have been asking questions about children and returning to schools. So, New York City, the mayor there saying that kids will be back on school on Monday, no negative test needed. But D.C.'s mayor taking a different approach. All students have to show a negative test to return to the classroom.

What do you think about that approach considering that COVID tests are in short supply? Should negative tests or negative results be required to get kids back in school?


EL-SAYED: Well, look, getting kids back in school has to be number one, but doing so safely has to be critical. And I do think requiring a negative test is an important prudent approach and we can't just keep bending to the fact that we don't have enough tests. The tests that we do have should go to the schools because of course that is a priority for us. And so, I do think that requiring a negative test before going back to the classroom is a prudent approach here.

WALKER: Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, always great to have you. Thank you so much.

EL-SAYED: Thank you, Amara.

WALKER: "Inside Politics" is up next." Phil Mattingly is in for John King. It starts right after this break.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN HOST: Hello and welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Phil Mattingly in for John King in Washington.

A numbing pandemic first. Omicron pushes the average U.S. daily COVID case count above 300,000.