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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Trial Begins for Ex-Officer Charged in George Floyd's Death; This Week: Biden to Unveil Multi-Trillion Dollar Infrastructure Plan; Interview with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 29, 2021 - 16:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Thank you so much for being with me here today. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

I'm Brooke Baldwin here in New York. Let's go to Jake in Washington.

THE LEAD starts right now.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: -- Police Officer Derek Chauvin in Minnesota and we got our first look at how the prosecution and defense plan to make their cases after Chauvin was charged with killing George Floyd last May by kneeling on his neck for almost ten minutes in a shocking viral video.

Chauvin has pleaded not guilty. Today, the defense suggested that he was not responsible for Mr. Floyd's death at all, instead that George Floyd died because of a combination of underlying health conditions and being high on drugs at the time. They cited the county medical examiner's report.

The prosecution is relying on an independent autopsy commissioned by the Floyd family which says that George Floyd died solely because Officer Chauvin compressed his neck for an extended period of time. The jurors also today watched the video of Mr. Floyd's death where you can hear him say repeatedly he cannot breathe as the officer knelt on his neck and his back and a warning, we will play that video momentarily, and it is graphic.

The defense says Officer Chauvin was only restraining Floyd as he was trained to do, as CNN's Sara Sidner reports from Minneapolis.


JERRY BLACKWELL, SPECIAL ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: On May 25th of 2020, Mr. Derek Chauvin betrayed this badge when he used excessive and unreasonable force upon the body of Mr. George Floyd.

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The prosecution's opening statement tells you everything you need to know about how they want the jury to see this case.

BLACKWELL: 9-2-9, the three most important numbers in the case.

SIDNER: Nine minutes and 29 second, the excruciating time George Floyd's neck was under then-Officer Derek Chauvin's knee.

BLACKWELL: This case is not about split-second decision-making.

SIDNER: And to help make that point, Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell played one of the videos for the jury.



FLOYD: Man, I can't breathe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you want?

FLOYD: I can't breathe.

BLACKWELL: You'll see he does not let up and he does not get up. You will learn that Mr. Chauvin is told that they can't even find the pulse.

SIDNER: The first witness, a 911 dispatcher. Her May 25th dispatch was also played in court showing she was watching surveillance video of Floyd being picked down that day.

DISPATCHER: I didn't know. You can call me a snitch if you want to, but we have the cameras up for 320's call.

My instincts were telling me that something is wrong.

SIDNER: Jurors were told that they would also be seeing and hearing all the video from by-standers' cameras, two police body-worn cameras, as well as hearing from the Minneapolis police officers, the chief of police, medical experts and witnesses on the scene.

For the defense's case --

ERIC NELSON, DEFENSE ATTORNEY FOR DEREK CHAUVIN: Derek Chauvin did exactly what he had been trained to do over the course of his 19-year career. The use of force is not attractive, but it is a necessary component of policing.

SIDNER: Chauvin's attorney Eric Nelson made clear this will also be a battle of experts

NELSON: This will ultimately be another significant battle in this trial. What was Mr. Floyd's actual cause of death?

SIDNER: He wants the jury to look at the whole scene and listen to the use of force and medical experts as well as read the medical reports. NELSON: That revealed Mr. Floyd had an exceptionally high level of

carbon dioxide. Dr. Baker found none of what are referred to as the telltale signs of asphyxiation. There was no petechial hemorrhaging. There was no evidence that Mr. Floyd's air flow was restricted.

SIDNER: Instead, he suggested it was illicit drugs found in Floyd's system that aggravated a medical condition that took Floyd's life.

NELSON: Hypertension, his coronary disease, the ingestion of methamphetamine and fentanyl and the adrenaline flowing through his body, all of which acted to further compromise an already compromised heart.

SIDNER: There was one thing the defense and prosecution did agree on.

NELSON: There is no political or social cause in this courtroom.

SIDNER: But in the streets and for Floyd's family, Chauvin is not the only one on trial. America's justice system is.

PHILONISE FLOYD, GEORGE FLOYD'S BROTHER: To say that your skin should be a death sentence, America is watching.

SIDNER: Before the trial began, the Floyd family and their lawyers knelt outside court for nearly ten minutes to illustrate just how long Floyd begged for his life under Chauvin's knee.

BRANDON WILIAMS, GEORGE FLOYD'S NEPHEW: We came here for one thing and one thing only. We came to get justice. Somebody needs to be held accountable.


SIDNER (on camera): And they are saying the whole world is watching as well as several members of the Floyd family who are here also watching as this trial gets under way. We should also mention that in cross-examination that 911 dispatcher was asked about whether or not she saw the squad car that Floyd was in when officers were on either side of it rocking back and for, and she said that indeed she did.

The defense clearly trying to show that there was a struggle between Floyd and the officers, but in the end when asked whether or not she still believed she still might have been seeing excessive force from her vantage point, she said yes -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Sara Sidner, thanks so much.

Let's discuss.

Van Jones, this is one of the most important and high-profile trials in recent history. What are the political and societal stakes of this trial beyond just the trial?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, they are astronomical. I mean, it reminds me of when I was a young person during the Rodney King trial back in, you know, 1992. You're looking to see do I matter? Can -- can -- can anything happen to a black person that is considered a crime if a police officer does it?

You have a whole generation globally trying to answer that question. If this conduct from this officer is ruled non-criminal, he's just doing his job, it's okay, it will feel like a declaration of open season for a lot of African-Americans who already feel that even with this level of community oversight, police get away with too much too often. And so, this is -- I think this is -- for a generation that's coming up, this is the most important trial for them and therefore for the (AUDIO GAP)

TAPPER: And, Sara Sidner, still with us from Minnesota I believe. Sara, the -- we've heard from two witnesses this afternoon, one of which was the 911 dispatcher. Basically she was testifying that from her vantage point, it looked as though it was excessive force to the degree that she even thought that the screen had frozen because he was kneeling on George Floyd's neck so long. Do I have that right?

SIDNER: You have that absolutely right, perfectly right, Jake. She talked about the fact that she's looking at this, remember, from a dispatcher's standpoint where she's listening in her ear and making calls, but she's also able to finally see the surveillance video up above the scene from the back of the car. So, she's actually able to see George Floyd being pulled out of the car. Of course, she didn't know who he was at the time.

But she's watching that, and she's noticing that minute after minute is going by and yet officers are still down and Chauvin in particular down with their knee down on his body, and so, to her, it seemed like it was an awful long time. She thought her screen was frozen and when she realized it wasn't, she thought it was so significant that she called a supervisor and said, look, I don't want to be a snitch or anything, but this doesn't look right to me.

And she made that very clear on the stand, and I'm sure that that had a major impact also on the jury, and I know we're in just sort of the beginning phases of all of this, but some of this testimony has been -- especially hers -- has been quite strong, Jake.

TAPPER: Former federal prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers joins us now.

And, Jennifer, one of the most striking moments is when the prosecution played a full witness video of the amount of time Officer Chauvin knelt on George Floyd's neck. The prosecutor told the jury he wanted to see them happen, quote, without lawyer talk and without lawyer spin, these jurors, some of them, watching that video in full for the very first time, and that's -- that's a long nine and a half minutes.

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It was really, really powerful, Jake. I mean, I western we do have gotten a look at the jury to see if they had any reactions, but there's really no way you couldn't react to that amount of time and (AUDIO GAP) Chauvin just sit there with his knee on Floyd first as he's making noise and asking for help and then just nothing. I mean, how could that nine-plus minutes is him effectively unconscious. So I think that that was a really powerful --

TAPPER: Yeah, Jennifer's Cisco just froze there for a second.

Let me bring Van back. Van, the defense is also arguing that the force was necessary because, their argument, not mine, George Floyd struggled with officers. He was taller and heavier and bigger than the officers. That's all factual.

The defense also said that the officer did exactly what he was trained to do over his 19 years as an officer and that the use of force is not excessive. It's not attractive they said, but it's necessary.

What did you make of that argument?

JONES: Well, it's a lie. It's a lie. You can use the minimum force necessary to make an arrest and no more.

So, as -- the term excessive force actually means exactly what it says. It's one of those remarkable legal terms you don't have to have a law degree to understand.


Were you using force in excess of what was needed to affect the arrest? He clearly was.

The guy was literally, you know, begging for his life, he wasn't struggling and he lost consciousness, begging for his mother, he's not fighting back and that's why. And the other thing you see is the police creating their own peril by being so brutal towards this man, they draw a crowd, and then the lawyer says, well, because of the crowd that they, you know, didn't take care of the person who was being arrested. No, it's because were you brutalizing the person that you had the crowd.

So you're going to see all the classic stuff here. Police crate a peril and then use the peril they created to justify their misconduct. They're going to try to put George Floyd on trial, not the officer. But at the end of the day, you can believe your lying -- they're going to tell you don't believe your lying eyes when you are see video after video of what looked to the entire world like a lynching.

TAPPER: And, Sara Sidner, you -- they said and you described in your piece, the battle of the experts. You have the defense that has the county medical examiner saying that George Floyd died because of drugs and his physical condition, and then an independent autopsy that says, no, it was because the officer was leaning on the guy's neck for almost ten minutes.

At some point, the jurors are just going to have to decide which one makes the most sense to them because -- I mean, I find it hard to believe just as somebody who practices common sense that even if George Floyd had the drugs in his system that he'd be dead right now if it weren't for the officer kneeling on his neck.

SIDNER: Right, and if you look at the paperwork itself, I mean, it says that he died of a homicide. That is because somebody else created his death and affected his death. I think one pay to put this. Benjamin Crump, the attorney for the family, sort of put it the this way: he was walking and talking and driving and sitting and doing all of the things in life until the officers put their knee on his body. And so that was one of the points that I think you're going to hear made at some point in this trial -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. It's going to be up to the jurors, of course. Thanks to one and all of you, appreciate it.

SIDNER: That's right.

TAPPER: The Biden administration pushing a $3 trillion infrastructure plan this week. The question is, who is going to pay for it, and how?

And now, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg says several options are out but one is on the table.

Then, President Biden making a big announcement about who can get a vaccine in the next three weeks. That's ahead as well.

Stay with us.






TAPPER: We're back now with our politics lead.

In moments, I'm going to speak with the Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg ahead of President Biden's next big legislative push, an infrastructure plan that could come with a $3 trillion price tag right on the heels of Biden's COVID rescue plan for almost $2 trillion.

Just this afternoon, President Biden announced that the nation is closing in on his goal of allowing every American adult to be eligible for the coronavirus vaccine by May boosted by doubling the number of pharmacies where American adults can get a shot -- as CNN's Kaitlan Collins now reports.


BIDEN: And as much as we're doing, America, it's time to do even more.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Moments ago, President Biden announcing he's accelerating vaccine access in the U.S. BIDEN: For the vast, vast majority of adults, you won't have to wait

until May 1. You'll be eligible for your shot on April 19th.

COLLINS: Biden now says 90 percent of U.S. adults will be eligible to get vaccinated by April 19th and to make that possible, the administration is more than doubling the number of pharmacies nationwide where people can get vaccinated.

BIDEN: Ninety percent of Americans will be within five miles of a location where they can get a shot.

COLLINS: The president is also preparing for his next big push, infrastructure.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: In the coming weeks, the president will lay out a vision for a second package that focuses squarely on creating economic security for the middle class.

COLLINS: On Wednesday, Biden will return to Pittsburgh where he announced his presidential campaign, this time to lay out his ambitious infrastructure plan to rebuild the nation's roads, bridges, water systems and technology.

PSAKI: We're currently 13th in the world. No one believes we should be there.

COLLINS: Aides say Biden's far-reaching plan will include $3 trillion in new spending and Biden will have to address how he plans to pay for it.

PSAKI: I can assure you that when the president lays out his infrastructure plan, he will also lay out a plan to pay for t.

COLLINS: That could lead to the next battle with lawmakers given Biden's agenda is expected to be offset by a wide range of tax hikes on corporations and wealthy Americans.

PSAKI: If they share a goal of building our infrastructure for the future but don't like the way he's going to propose to pay for it, we're happy to look at their proposals. If they don't want to pay for it, I guess they can propose that, too.


COLLINS (on camera): And, of course, Jake, we expect that Wednesday announcement from President Biden to just really jump start what will be very lengthy negotiations with lawmakers on Capitol Hill on what that infrastructure plan is going to look like. And one other thing to note, when President Biden was speaking earlier to reporters, he called on governors to mayors to reinstate mask mandates if they rescinded them saying it's not about the politics, it's about keeping people safe in the wake of some rising cases in several states -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much.

And joining me now is Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Secretary Buttigieg, thanks for joining us.

So, Republicans say they want to keep infrastructure, any big package, limited to roads and bridges. They are not interested in a Green New Deal, as the top Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Sam Graves, put it.

Which is more important to the Biden administration, getting the proposal President Biden wants in its entirety, or getting legislation that's likely more modest, but bipartisan, with Republican support, because it does not seem like you're going to be able to get both?


PETE BUTTIGIEG, U.S. TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: Well, I think that there's a tremendous opportunity now to have bipartisan support for a big, bold vision on infrastructure.

I see it in the conversations I'm having with Republicans and Democrats on the Hill. I definitely see it in the conversations I'm happening with people -- I'm having with people across the country.

Americans don't need a lot of selling to know that we have got to do big things when it comes to our infrastructure. And the truth is, you can't separate the climate part from this vision, because every road we fix, every bridge we build, we can either do it in a way that's better for the climate or worse for the climate.

Why wouldn't we want to be creating these jobs in a way that's better for the climate?

TAPPER: So, that sounds like you're saying there's an opportunity for bipartisanship, but you want to do what's big and bold and you feel is needed.

Take a listen to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell last week.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): We're hearing the next few months might bring a so-called infrastructure proposal that may actually be a Trojan horse for massive tax hikes and other job-killing left-wing policies.


TAPPER: So, Senate Democrats are keeping open the possibility of introducing this legislation under the special budget rules, which would require only 50 votes, not 60, meaning you could do it without any Republican support.

What will it mean, do you think, if Biden's first two big legislative pushes get zero Republican support?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, let's remember, the American Rescue Plan had lots of Republican support, an enormous amount of Republican support, just not here in Washington.

I think we can do better than that, though, with this infrastructure bill. I think this can be something that will reflect not only popularity among the American people, but I hope we can work in good faith with folks across the aisle in Congress to get some votes there.

Ultimately, it's up to them whether they're going to support something, but we're going to work with them to try to shape it in a way that earns as much support as possible.

And, at the same time, the American people can't wait. We have got a trillion-dollar backlog just in things like our roads and bridges. We have got to act. And I really am encouraged by the -- what I believe to be the sincere expressions of interest that I'm hearing from the other side of the aisle on doing something real.

Let's make very clear, this is a jobs bill that's going to have climate benefits. And I think that's something we should all be able to get behind.

TAPPER: Who are some of the Republicans that you're talking to that you feel encouraged when you talk to them?

BUTTIGIEG: You know, I will leave it to them. Some of them like to talk in public about our conversations, and some of them don't, and I'm fine with that.

I'm trying to find the deal space for what we can all come together around. And, as the president rolls out his vision, beginning with the Wednesday announcement, I think folks are going to find that it strikes a chord around the country. And my hope is, that means that it'll bring people across the aisle to the table here in Washington too.

TAPPER: Now, you have said that you want to have it paid for, at least part of it, with either spending cuts or tax increases.

It's possible that there are some moderate Democrats who won't support a raise in taxes, including Congressman Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey. He told Axios he's worried that tax increases could theoretically slow the economic recovery. He said -- quote -- "We need to be careful not to do anything that's too big or too much in the middle of a pandemic and an economic crisis" -- unquote.

As of right now, is raising taxes on wealthier Americans the primary funding source for your plan?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, you're going to hear more details from the administration in the coming days about how to pay for this.

But the one thing I will do is reiterate the president's commitment that his proposals will not raise taxes at all on anyone making under $400,000 a year.

TAPPER: So, nobody who makes under $400,000 a year will see a tax increase. You said also that a mileage tax showed -- quote -- "a lot of promise" as a way to help pay for the plan. That tax would charge people for how many miles they drive. Is that under consideration?

BUTTIGIEG: No, that's not part of the conversation about this infrastructure bill, so just want to make sure that's really clear.

But you will be hearing a lot more details in the coming days about how we envision being able to fund this. And, again, these are carefully thought-through, responsible ideas that ultimately are going to be a win for the economy, and need to be compared to the unaffordable cost of the status quo.

TAPPER: OK, so something of a backtrack on that.

Let me ask you about, is there a possible increase in the gas tax? That's a tax that has not been raised in years, as you know. Is that under consideration?


And, again, I want to reiterate the president's central commitment here. If you're making less than $400,000 a year, this proposal will not involve a tax increase for you.

TAPPER: There are still about 10 million Americans unemployed right now. How many jobs do you anticipate your infrastructure and transportation plan will create?


And is putting people back to work the primary goal, or is it the secondary goal?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, I think the president views this as an opportunity to boost American competitiveness.

So, I think of this as a jobs vision, which also means a lot in terms of climate, means a lot in terms of recovery, means a lot in terms of equity. I know some folks in Washington want to try to slice these things or separate them.

To me, talking about infrastructure and saying you don't want to mention climate is like talking about food and saying you don't want to mention nutrition. They all go hand in hand.

But, fundamentally, this is a jobs bill. As far as the numbers, I'm really excited to see what the economists do to score the details that the president will be sharing in the next few days. Safe to say we're going to be looking at millions of jobs, and maybe, most importantly of all, a chance to restore America's leadership role, at a time where, right now, we run a very real risk of being left behind because of the cost of disinvestment in our infrastructure.

TAPPER: This afternoon, your department announced that more than $30 billion from the American Rescue Plan will be available for public transit systems, who are no doubt suffering during this pandemic.

How long do you think it will take in order to get the ridership back up to a place where even the busiest transit systems, such as the ones in New York or Washington, D.C., have enough riders to break even?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, what we have been able to do, thanks to the American Rescue Plan, is get back from the cliff that a lot of these transit agencies were up against, as you said, over $30 billion being made available.

And I want to stress this isn't just the big city transit agencies you think about, but also going out to rural communities, everywhere that it's needed. And it's helping us fight COVID by getting people to where they need to be.

Now, the one thing I want to mention in terms of ridership is, we still don't know what some of the permanent changes are going to be, because we have been through such a shift in the way that Americans work, that the way that Americans get to work may change, too. That's something that may take years to play out.

But what we have been able to do right here and right now is avoid these route cuts and layoffs that were going to be very real this very spring, had the Congress and the president not acted with the Rescue Plan.

TAPPER: All right, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, thank you.

Good to see you again.

BUTTIGIEG: Same here. Thanks.

TAPPER: A desperate appeal for the director of the Centers for Disease Control.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Right now, I'm scared. Please hold on a little while longer.


TAPPER: What is happening across the United States that is causing such concern?

Stay with us.