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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Texas Reopens; Crisis In Yemen; Five Jurors Selected In Trial For Ex-Cop, One Juror Said He Never Saw Video. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 10, 2021 - 16:30   ET



DR. SHERRI ONYIEGO, HARRIS COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH AUTHORITY: We're certainly not at a rate where -- where we're at a -- where we feel comfortable saying that we can comfortably say that this is over, and that we have made progress to be able to stop wearing masks or stop doing any of those prevention measures.

And I can say that we're still at a high rate, and it doesn't take very much for us to continue to increase very rapidly once a number of these prevention measures have been lifted.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: School districts in Texas are debating what to do after this mask order was lifted.

Houston area school districts still -- Houston area school districts still require masks. What do you recommend for schools?

ONYIEGO: Yes, well, we're still recommending that students -- that schools were masks, that they continue to do a lot of the mitigation factors that have -- that we have continued to recommend from a public health standpoint.

We're still recommending that they wear masks kids 2 and over, as well as additional mitigating factors. We're very pleased to know that teachers are now included in the prioritization of the vaccines that the state of Texas has given us.

And so we're also encouraging school districts to get their teachers vaccinated as soon as possible, because we know that that's going to be one of the things that helps us to get to where we need to go.

TAPPER: Dr. Sherri Onyiego, thank you so much for your time and expertise today. Appreciate it.

ONYIEGO: Thank you.

TAPPER: Four hundred thousand children, the size of Miami's population, are at risk of dying in a country that a top U.N. official calls hell.

Coming up next, a new CNN investigation goes inside hospitals for a look at how dire the situation really is.


TAPPER: In our world lead, 400,000 children, 400,000, are at risk of dying right now in Yemen, as its six-year civil war rages on, 400,000, according to the United Nations World Food Program, whose chief tweeted this urgent plea today:


DAVID BEASLEY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WORLD FOOD PROGRAM: We need this war to end and we need support financially, food, nutrition, medical supplies, and we need it now.


TAPPER: And now a heartbreaking new CNN investigation shows just how dire the situation really is on the ground.

The Biden administration says it wants to bring an end to the war, which was partially funded by American tax dollars, by no longer backing the Saudi-led coalition, which has been fighting Iranian- backed Houthis. U.S. backing of the war started under Obama and escalated under Trump.

Now, CNN's investigation finds it's been more than two months since the U.S.-backed Saudi blockade has allowed tankers packed with the necessary fuel for food and supplies to reach starving Yemenis to dock at the crucial port of Hodeidah, which is controlled by the Houthis.

And 14 tankers scheduled to dock there are currently being held off the Saudi coast, according to a vessel tracking app, all which goes against a United Nations agreement.

CNN's Nima Elbagir made a very dangerous trip on a small boat to get inside Houthi territory in Northern Yemen, a place few foreign journalists have ever been, in order to show the world, in order to show you what it's really like for innocent parents and children.

And we want to warn you: Some of these images will be tough to watch.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The derelict coastline of the north of Yemen. Rusting hulks tell a story of war, blockade and devastation.

For years now, the Houthi-controlled north has been increasingly isolated from the outside world. We secretly traveled through the night by boat after our previous reporting here led the government to deny us entry.

On the road to Hodeidah port, we get a sense of the humanitarian disaster kept from the outside world, along the roadside, hundreds of stalled food supply trucks with no fuel to move. In a country in the grip of hunger, their cargo stands spoiling in the hot sun. The port of Hodeidah is the supply gateway for the rest of the

country. It should be bustling with activity, but, today, it is eerily empty, a result of the U.S.-backed Saudi blockade. The last tanker to dock here was in December.

In the echoing silence, it dawns on us, we are about to witness the terrible impact of this blockade, desperate patients and family members trying to get the attention of Victor Khaled (ph), chairman of Hodeidah's hospital. If he signs these papers, they get some financial relief for their treatments and medicines.

He doesn't get far before he is stopped again and again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Nima, this is the pediatric emergency.

ELBAGIR: Since the Yemen war started six years ago, families have been in financial freefall. The fuel blockade has sped that descent into oblivion.

This is the main hospital for Hodeidah province, and we're surrounded by doctors and nurses rushed off their feet.

(on camera): Is this a normal day. Is this, this busy all the time?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not the busiest day...


ELBAGIR: This is not a busy day?



(voice-over): Dr. Khaled wants to show us some of his critical patients in the therapeutic feeding center, a 10-year-old girl whose growth has been so stunted by starvation, she can no longer stand.

(on camera): Dr. Khaled says, every hour of every day, they are receiving more and more cases of severe malnutrition that are this advanced, because the parents can't afford to feed their children. They also can't afford to bring them to the hospital to treat them.


(voice-over): The U.N. says pockets of Yemen are in famine-like conditions, but it says Hodeidah is not considered one of them, because it doesn't meet the metrics to declare famine.

But Dr. Khaled thinks the reality on the ground has outpaced the U.N.'s projections. The Saudi fuel blockade is biting. Malnutrition numbers are spiking. And, at the same time, this busy hospital is running out of the vital fuel that keeps its generators running, which means that babies like Maryam (ph), who doctors say at two months weighs the same as a newborn, would die. Yemen has been devastated by a civil war which has pitted Iran backed

Ansarullah, known as Houthis, against the internationally recognized government and a U.S.-backed Saudi-led coalition. We're in Houthi territory, some of whose officials have been designated as terrorists by the U.S. for targeting neighboring Saudi Arabia.

We have been granted a rare interview with a leading Houthi official. We must meet in an undisclosed location because, his aides say, of the threat of assassination.

We ask him to respond to allegations they are escalating this war.

MOHAMMED ALI AL-HOUTHI, SENIOR HOUTHI OFFICIAL (through translator): Not true at all. The battle is continuing. And it has not stopped.

ELBAGIR (on camera): Do you trust America to take forward negotiations to bring peace here in Yemen?

AL-HOUTHI (through translator): Trust must come about decisions. And so far, we have not seen any concrete decisions being made.

ELBAGIR: You have spoken about being subjected as a nation to international terror. But three of the leaders within the Ansarullah movement are designated by the U.S. as terrorists. One of your key slogans talks about death to America.

How do you see this as pushing forward the negotiation and the possibility for peace in the future?

AL-HOUTHI (through translator): When we say death to America, they effectively kill us with their bombs, rockets and blockades. They provide logistics and intelligence support and their actual participation in the battle. So, who is bigger and greater, the ones who are killing us or the ones who say death to them?

ELBAGIR (voice-over): The Biden administration has announced it has withdrawn support for the Saudi offensive. But it comes after six long years of war. And for the children dying of hunger, it still hasn't brought peace any quicker. Piece and help can't come soon enough.

(on camera): Over half the hospitals in this district are threatened with shuttering. This is one of them. They need urgent support, urgent help.

Can you imagine what it would do to this community if this facility was shut down? I mean, look at the chaos that there is already here. And that's while it's functioning.

(voice-over): For years now, the U.N. has been warning that famine is coming to Yemen.

Doctors across Yemen's north tell us famine has arrived, another hospital witnessing wave after wave of children in the red zone, severe malnourishment. Impoverished mothers desperate to keep their children alive are forced to make harrowing choices. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Just to get to the hospital,

I stopped eating and drinking, not even water, just to get him treated.

ELBAGIR: These doctors are keeping track of the numbers spiking beyond what they ever imagined.

(on camera): The doctor was saying that, in 2020, this population, 23 percent of the children under 5 here were severely malnourished. In 2021, they think that number is going to go over 30 percent. There is no doubt in his mind, he says, that they here and Hajjah are in famine.

(voice-over): Nearly three years ago, the U.N. Security Council condemned the use of starvation as a method of warfare, demanding access to supplies that are necessary for food preparation, including water and fuel, be kept intact here and in other conflicts.

That clearly hasn't happened. What's more, the world has stopped caring. The U.N. needs almost $4 billion to staunch this crisis. They received less than half that from donors. Numbers don't lie, but numbers also don't reflect the full tragedy.

This is Hasan Ali (ph). Ten months and struggling to breathe, he came into the hospital six days ago. He keeps losing weight, even with the critical care he's receiving. Hours after we left Hasan Ali died, one more child in Yemen that represents so much more pain.

The doctors here are desperate for the world to see and to help.


TAPPER: And Nima joins us now live from Khartoum in Sudan.

Nima, this is an absolutely heartbreaking investigation done by your team that endured an arduous, long journey to a place few journalists have gone to do this reporting.

Have you gotten any response from the U.S. yet?

ELBAGIR: Well, firstly, I should say, we have not received any response from Saudi Arabia, whom we put our findings to.

We did however receive response from Tim Lenderking, who is the newly appointed U.S. envoy to Yemen. And he told us, this is a complex environment, but he denies the claims that we show in that report.


He says that those boats are currently off the port of Hodeidah, and, Jake, that's just not true. He also says that food continues to flow through Hodeidah unimpeded and also, that is just not true. You saw those food trucks along the side of that road.

He says the U.S. is committed to push the parties towards peace. And the question that we have for him is, how is that possible when you are not acknowledging the full impact of that U.S.-backed Saudi embargo on the people of Yemen -- Jake.

TAPPER: Just infuriating. And the Biden administration claims that they want to end the war in Yemen. But from what you're seeing on the ground, there needs to be solutions now.

What can our viewers do to help?

ELBAGIR: That's a really great question. I think one of the big issues with Yemen is because of the difficulty in getting there. It's really fallen off the world's radar, and part of that is actually intentional. We were stopped from getting a visa for eight months by the Saudi-backed internationally recognized government, which is what the world has been rallying around. And they were able to block our access until we all got into that boat and crossed.

So if this peace moves you, if your viewers are moved by this piece, then they have to make their voice heard. That's what lawmakers respond to. If people care, they should be tweeting about this piece, they should be tweeting out the #yemencantwait.

That's what a lot of the other agencies involved in this because it's not as complicated as we need a peace deal, we immediate to negotiate that. It is as simple as pressuring the Saudi coalition to allow fuel in. That would instantly change people's lives, Jake.

TAPPER: CNN's Nima Elbagir in Sudan for us with that incredible report, thank you so much. We'll be right back after this quick break.


TAPPER: In our national lead today, today, the fourth and fifth jurors were selected in the trial for former Police Officer Derek Chauvin, the former officer from Minneapolis charged in the killing of George Floyd. So far, the jury is made up of four men and one woman. One of those jurors told the court that he had never seen video of the incident.

Let's bring in criminal defense attorney and CNN legal analyst Joey Jackson, joining us on the phone.

Joey, I want to start with juror one, who says he hasn't seen the video, but has seen a still photo.

Is this a dream juror for the defense or the prosecution?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST (via telephone): Well, you know, interestingly enough, I think there would be people out there who would say how could this be in such a nationalized story that you wouldn't see video? Now, remember this, Jake, in keeping in tune with common events, there are many people who are not. And as a result of that, it's not that curious that you would find a member of the public who is not conversant with the tape.

Having said that it has to work to the benefit of the defense because people who have viewed that video have had a visceral reaction and that reaction has been quite negative as it relates to Chauvin's conduct. So, you have to believe this is a defense dream, someone who hasn't seen it. Last point, you can't form an opinion about something you haven't seen. So, this is a juror who potentially would have an open mind and be able to evaluate the evidence for what it is.

TAPPER: We're looking at live pictures from Minneapolis where they are picking jurors. It took a day to pick three jurors. Today, they selected two.

What's each side looking for?

JACKSON: Well, remember this. There was a questionnaire that was sent out in December, and that questionnaire had a number of very important points for jurors to write down about their past. Like what, what are your views on the funding of police? What are your views as it relates to the Black Lives Matter movement? Were you involved in any protest? If you were, what kind of sign did you hang up?

So, when you're at jury selection, remember that the attorneys on both sides, prosecution and defense, are armed with that information. So they're combing through the information to get fact-specific inquiries and questions to those jurors. Remember also this, many people are in the business, I'm skeptical as defense attorney, of telling attorneys what they want to hear.

The questions that you're going to ask as a prosecutor or a defense attorney is designed to elicit who you are. Don't tell me what I want to know. Tell me who you are. And I think the prosecution certainly is looking for people who are, you know, those who are open minded, those who are not so pro-law enforcement and the defense is looking for just, you know, the opposite.

People who could evaluate and otherwise, you know, consider the facts, evidence, circumstances and move forward from there.

TAPPER: Quickly if you could, Joey, the judge said he wants opening statements to start March 29th, which is more than two weeks away. Do you think this is going to be a long process, this trial?

JACKSON: It will be. Remember, three weeks has been set up for jury selection and that three weeks for process is designed to get you the jury. Thereafter, there are always delays. We've already seen a delay the first day as it related to that third-degree murder charge being stated or will it not?

During the course of the trial, there may be other legal issues that come up. There may be a jury that's sick. There maybe an attorney that's sick. So, would it be a process? That's not unlike any other process. At the end of the day, you're just hopeful that you can impanel a fair and impartial jury and they can make the determination on the facts and evidence in the courtroom, Jake, as opposed to what everyone is talking about nationally, including you and I now.

TAPPER: All right. Joey Jackson, thanks so much. Appreciate your expertise.

JACKSON: Thank you. TAPPER: Coming up, fallout over Prince Harry and Meghan's big interview with Oprah, now spilling into TV network drama in Britain. That's next.



TAPPER: Before we go today, we want to remember just one of the more than 528,000 lives lost to COVID in the U.S. today.

We're remembering Richard Zuckernick, who is a math teacher at Gar- Field High School in Woodridge, Virginia, and had battled COVID the past few months. His principal announced his death in a letter to parents last month.

Zuckernick was known for inspiring even the most reluctant of students in math and engineering and he had a really cool job outside of class, serving as an umpire for a Little League World Series regional tournament.

To the students and staff at Gar-Field High and to the Zuckernick family, may his memory be a blessing.

This Friday night, I will host a live CNN special, "Back to School: Kids, COVID and the Fight to Reopen". We'll talk to parents, and teachers and students about the challenges of the pandemic as well as some of the policymakers. That's Friday night at 9:00 p.m., only on CNN.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @JakeTapper.

Our coverage on CNN continues right now.