Return to Transcripts main page

The Lead with Jake Tapper

Twenty-Eight Million Kids Ages 5-11 Could Soon Get Pfizer's Vaccine If Authorized; Social Media Execs Testify Amid Massive Facebook Document Leak; CNN: At Least 5 Former Trump Staffers Have Met With 1/6 Committee; The Wrap: Gun Used By Baldwin Was Filled With Live Ammo, Used By Crew For Target Practice Hours Before Shooting. Aired 4- 5p ET

Aired October 26, 2021 - 16:00   ET




VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: And half the job there was to keep everybody calm.


BLACKWELL: Good job.

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We've arrived at the moment that so many parents have been waiting for.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Any minute, a key FDA panel will vote on whether to recommend Pfizer's vaccine for kids as young as 5. So how soon can shots go into arms?

Who's talking? At least five former Trump staffers have voluntarily spoken with the House committee investigating the January 6th insurrection. We'll talk to a member of that committee for more details, next.

Plus, a new report that the gun handed to Alec Baldwin had been loaded with bullets just hours before so that the crew could use it for target practice.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we begin today with breaking news in the health lead. Twenty-eight million American children may soon have access to a COVID vaccine.

Right now, right this second, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's advisory committee is voting on whether to recommend Pfizer's vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11 under emergency use conditions. This comes as the American academy of pediatrics says the number of kids testing positive for COVID is still considered, quote, extremely high. Nearly 6.3 million American kids have gotten infected since the pandemic began. More than 100,000 this past week alone though we should note children are far less likely than adults to be hospitalized or to suffer long-term effects from COVID.

And as CNN's Alexandra Field reports, even though this is the seventh consecutive week of declines in cases for kids, experts are hoping today's vote will soon lead to shots going into little arms to save health and lives.


DR. DAVID KIMBERLIN, CO-DIRECTOR, PEDIATRIIC INFECTIOUS DISEASES DIVISION, UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA AT BIRMINGHAM: I think we all have been feeling the urgency for a vaccine for children for some time.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The FDA's vaccine advisers now weighing whether to recommend emergency use authorization of Pfizer's vaccine for children as young as 5, the next step toward making 28 million more people eligible to get the shot.

Since the start of the pandemic, more than 6 million children have tested positive for COVID. In the past week, more than a quarter of new cases were among children.

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: If we can create a situation where more of these kids are not getting infected, we should be able to drive this pandemic down, which is what we really hope to do.

FIELD: It's about the public good but health experts say it's about your children, too.

COLLINS: One shouldn't actually discount the fact that kids can get pretty sick with COVID-19. Sadly, more than 700 children have died of COVID since this pandemic began. Kids can also get the long COVID consequences, even though they might not have a severe case. It turns out some of them just don't seem to recover. They have the fatigue, the brain fog. It makes it hard to function in school.

FIELD: Some school districts are already starting to prepare for life after vaccines. Hopkinton High School in Massachusetts will try lifting its mask mandate for vaccinated students and staff for three weeks starting Monday. Fulton County schools in Georgia plan to drop their mask mandate 30 days after vaccines are authorized for kids as young as 5.

Today, Tyson Foods, one of the first major companies to implement a vaccine mandate, announcing 96 percent of active employees are vaccinated, days before their deadline. But debates over COVID-related mandates are raging on across the country. A new order from Alabama Governor Kay Ivey telling state agencies to fight federal vaccine mandates.

The union representing New York's Police Department suing the city, days before the deadline for city workers to get a first shot.

DERMOT SHEA, NYPD COMMISSIONER: Vaccines have been around for a long time. They have been mandated in many ways for a long time. I just think it's, you know, we're going through this unnecessary pain and losing people and, you know, that's my two cents on it for what it's worth.

FIELD: And in Florida, the newly appointed surgeon general flat-out refusing to wear a mask in a meeting at the request of a cancer patient.

State Senator Tina Polsky.

TINA POLSKY (D), FLORIDA STATE SENATE: That's really is about, a matter of respect. It's not a lot to ask to wear a mask for 10, 15 minutes.


FIELD (on camera): So, Jake, the FDA vaccine advisers have spent hours today weighing the evidence both for and against the emergency use authorization. The FDA says it is likely that the benefits of vaccinating children will outweigh the risks. This team of advisers also heard from a Pfizer doctor who says he believes that the pandemic has the potential to worsen over the winter. He cited the coming cold weather, the presence of the delta variant and the large number of susceptible children who can continue to spread the virus -- Jake.


TAPPER: All right. Alexandra Field, thanks so much.

Let's bring in Dr. Peter Hotez. He's co-director of the Center of Vaccine Development in Texas Children's Hospital.

And, Dr. Hotez, obviously, when that FDA advisory committee has their final vote, we'll bring the news to our viewers. Meanwhile, Pfizer says that its vaccine is more than 90 percent effective in preventing any symptomatic infection in kids between ages 5 and 11. Assuming that the FDA panel recommend this and the FDA and CDC follow suit and those are assumptions, but assuming that happens, what do parents need to know when they decide whether or not to vaccinate their kids?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, CO-DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR VACCINE DEVELOPMENT AT TEXAS CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: Well, first of all, we're going to hear from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, from the Centers for Disease Control and then Dr. Walensky has to sign off on it. Possibly as early as November 2nd, November 3rd we could have that option.

The answer is, Jake, you know, this -- the delta variant has taught us that kids can get very sick and lots of kids can get very sick with the delta variant. We've had 8,300 hospital admissions of kids between the ages of 5 to 11, about half of them have had this very serious multisystem inflammatory syndrome of children. We've had at least 100 deaths in the 5 to 11 age category. And we have about 14 percent of the kids, according to some estimates, having long COVID symptoms lasting more than 15 months. So, we have to get away from this false impression that kids do really well with COVID-19. Some do, but many do not. And so I think I'm hoping parents do accept the vaccine with some

level of enthusiasm, but there's a lot of uncertainty right now depending on at least three or four factors.

TAPPER: So the FDA has said in general that they believe the benefits of the vaccine outweigh any potential risks. What are those potential risks, especially for children?

HOTEZ: Well, the one risk that everyone focuses on is inflammation of the heart, myocarditis. And the rate of myocarditis is still a race occurrence. It's between 4 and 10 per 100,000, depending on whose estimates you look at. And it seems to be higher among young males.

So I think possibly the only thing holding people back is to wait and see if those rates go even higher among younger age groups. So far we haven't seen it in the clinical bridging studies that were presented to the FDA, although there are still small numbers. So I think kids are going to do very well with this. But that's potentially the only thing that could hold people back.

And I think I am concerned about the rate of COVID going up, and we have to remember that the rate of myocarditis among COVID cases is far, far higher than anything we see with the vaccine.

TAPPER: So the risk of getting myocarditis is higher if one gets COVID as opposed to if one gets the vaccine, but how serious is it? Is it easy to treat? Is it a long-term condition?

HOTEZ: Well, the myocarditis which is extremely rare. We're talking a couple per thousand, you know, is quite uncommon. Seems to do pretty well. And usually resolves spontaneously. Sometimes requiring hospitalization. Rarely it's more serious than that.

But you have to weigh that with all of the severe illness that we've already documented in kids across the South. So when you do the risk/benefit ratio, especially with -- there's still a lot of COVID transmission raging across the country, there's no question that the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risk.

TAPPER: Dr. Hotez, there's this breaking story that the house oversight committee looking into the -- the response to the COVID pandemic is reporting that the former White House coronavirus response coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, in closed door congressional testimony, according to the committee, said that at the start of the pandemic the Trump administration seemed distracted by political considerations, such as the re-election campaign, and they botched the response.

And she says that it cost lives. She estimates between 30 percent and 40 percent of the lives of the people who died from COVID could have been saved. The committee estimates that's about 130,000 lives that needlessly died.

What do you make of this?

HOTEZ: Well, you know, I -- saying botched, I think, is too generous. It's not just a matter of botched. They were caught unaware, that they didn't know what they were dealing with. The White House pretty early on knew exactly what was up with COVID-19 and we talked about this early on in 2020, Jake. There was a deliberate disinformation campaign to say that COVID was a hoax. It was no worse than the flu. spectacularizing hydroxychloroquine. The hospital admissions were catch-up and elective surgeries.


This was a deliberate attempt to deceive the American people, and I was one of the early ones to call it out, Jake. If you remember, not because I'm so brilliant but because having gone up against the anti- vaccine groups for many years, writing that book "Vaccines Did Not Cause Rachel's Autism." By default, I became a bit of an expert in anti-science disinformation.

And I saw pretty early on it was really terrible what the West Wing of the White House and the Oval Office tried to do to the American people.

TAPPER: OK, just to be clear for anybody just tuning in. He's talking about the Trump White House during 2020.

Dr. Peter Hotez, thank you so much.

We're watching closely for an FDA panel advisory panel to vote on whether or not to recommend the Pfizer vaccine for kids between 5 and 11. We'll bring you that news live when the decision comes down.

Until then, it's not just Facebook in the hot seat. For the first time today, executives from TikTok and Snapchat were called before Congress. We'll show you why, next.

Plus, ammunition found on set. Reports of crew firing live rounds during free time, and more disturbing details about the scene of that fatal movie shooting.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Topping our tech lead this hour, hey, we're not Facebook. That was the message today from social media companies, TikTok and Snapchat and YouTube testifying on Capitol Hill. This comes amid, of course, that massive leak of documents from inside Facebook, ones that suggest the company knew that its platforms were being used for human trafficking and spreading extremism and inciting violence.

As CNN's Donie O'Sullivan reports for us now, lawmakers have a long list of concerns about all of these social media empires are impacting young people.


DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube on the hot seats on Capitol Hill.

SEN. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R-TN): Why do you need all of this personal data, especially on our children?

O'SULLIVAN: The platform's questioned about how kids use social media, how they are affected by it and what the companies to do to protect teenagers and America?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): Parents of America cannot trust these apps with their children.

O'SULLIVAN: It's the first time TikTok and Snapchat have been called before Congress. They were grilled about content their app suggests to kids' accounts.

SEN. MIKE LEE (R-UT): I'm sure the articles about the porn stars were accurate and fact checked and the tips on why you shouldn't go to bars alone are accurate and fact checked, but that's not my question. And this is about whether it's appropriate for children ages 13 and up as you've certified.

JENNIFER PARK STOUT, SNAPCHAT VP GLOBAL PUBLIC POLICY: Absolutely. And, Senator, I think this is an area where we're constantly evolving. If there are any instances where these publishers are surfacing content to an age cohort that is inappropriate, then they will be removed.

O'SULLIVAN: One big message, we're not Facebook.

STOUT: Snapchat is different. Snapchat was built as an antidote to social media.

MICHAEL BECKERMAN, TIKTOK VP, HEAD OF PUBLIC POLICY, AMERICAS: Our leadership makes safety and wellness a priority particularly to protect teens on the platform.

O'SULLIVAN: But lawmakers warning the executives just because they're not Facebook doesn't mean they don't have a lot of work to do.

BLUMENTHAL: That bar is in the gutter. What we want is not a race to the bottom but, really, a race to the top.

O'SULLIVAN: Facebook has been plagued this week by the disclosure of internal documents which paint the company as harmful to society, including running algorithms that funnel harmful content to children.

BLUMENTHAL: There has been a definite and deafening drum beat of continuing disclosures about Facebook, and there will be accountability.

O'SULLIVAN: The internal documents also show Facebook has been losing younger users for years while sites like Snapchat and TikTok may be even more popular with kids and teenagers than with adult users. Just last month, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration's specifically called on Snapchat and TikTok to do more to stop the online sale of drugs that include fentanyl. That's according to "The Washington Post."

Lawmakers did not appear to be satisfied with what they claim they've done to stop illegal drug sales.

STOUT: We have stepped up and have deployed proactive detection measures to get ahead of what the drug dealers are doing. They are constantly evading our tactics, not just on Snapchat but on every platform.

O'SULLIVAN: With Senate Amy Klobuchar suggesting they may be more inclined to do something where the law would change to hold them liable.

KLOBUCHAR: I think there's other ways to create liability when something happens so maybe that will make you work faster so we don't lose another kid.

O'SULLIVAN: Illegal drugs are not the only concern. Some asked about the social media's effects on teens, including mental health, especially eating disorders.

BLUMENTHAL: In fact, the algorithms push emotional and provocative content, toxic content that amplifies depression, anger, hate, anxiety, because those emotions attract and hook kids and others to their platforms.

LESLIE MILLER, YOUTUBE, VP, GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS & PUBLIC POLICY: We prohibit content that promotes or glorifies things such as eating disorders. It has no place on our platform.


O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): And a good reminder for all the scrutiny that Facebook does get, these other platforms, Snapchat, TikTok, they have a lot of the same issues as well. In fact, many of them are awash with misinformation and hate. And the very same issues we talk about on Facebook.

But unfortunately for Facebook, the Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen continues to release documents from inside the company. More will be coming out in the next few days, also probably next coming weeks. And newsrooms like CNN, we're continuing to wade through them. So, a lot more stories to come.

TAPPER: It would be great if there were heroic whistleblowers from inside these other companies who want to share information with the press.

O'SULLIVAN: They should call me. They should call me.

TAPPER: You or me. You or me. Either one.

Thanks, Donie. I appreciate it.

Joining us to discuss, technology reporter Deepa Seetharaman. She covers Facebook and other tech companies for "The Wall Street Journal".

And, Deepa, thanks so much for joining us. I'm sure you'd also enjoy any of those leaks as well from people inside TikTok, Instagram or YouTube.


TAPPER: So, Donie touched on this. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg held an earnings call yesterday in the wake of the release of the Facebook papers.

Take a listen.


MARK ZUCKERBERG, FACEBOOK CEO: Good faith criticism helps us get better, but my view is what we are seeing is a coordinated effort to selectively use leaked documents to paint a false picture of our company.


TAPPER: Now forgetting for a second the irony of Zuckerberg being offended at the idea of selecting limited information providing that the people and enraging individuals which is basically his entire business plan, it's really amazing to see him playing the victim here.

SEETHARAMAN: Yeah, I mean, that's been the Facebook tone and posture during this entire process starting when "The Wall Street Journal" started reporting on these documents back in September until now. I mean, the company feels like it's under siege. That's just a continuation of a mentality we've been seeing from them since Cambridge Analytica, two, three years ago.

They've just built up over time and each scandal has mounted. They've come to a place where they believe that they are being wronged. Just publicly by a lot of this media pressure.

TAPPER: What do you make of his tone on that call?

SEETHARAMAN: He was pretty angry. And I think extremely frustrated.

I think, you know, Mark has been in charge of this company since he was 19. He is -- it's his entire legacy, and I think the feeling internally is that the -- that legacy is being attacked.

That's our understanding just from talking to sources and other people around him is just there have been -- there's a feeling that he's being personally attacked. That this company is actually really good and does a lot of really good things in the world, and everybody in the media is short changing that when, you know, the reality is that these are interesting documents that expose interesting, important issues inside these companies that deserve public scrutiny.

TAPPER: These documents are Facebook officials, Facebook employees expressing fear and concern about what Facebook is doing. It's not you or me judging them. It's their own employees saying, history is not going to judge us kindly.

SEETHARAMAN: Exactly. I mean, nobody cares what I think. And that's fine. But these are people who are deep in the algorithms, people who understand the way these systems work who are tasked with the job of finding this weak spots and finding the areas where Facebook is failing to meet some of their promises. You just heard that segment from today's hearing where all these different tech companies talked about the fact that they have policies.

This has been Facebook's standpoint, too. They have long said, yeah, we have policies against hate speech, policies against nudity, but what is at issue here are -- to what extent is the company actually enforcing those policies? And what the document shows is they're having a lot of trouble.

TAPPER: The executives from TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube were testifying today. It was focused on how their companies interact with children on social media because kids are more on TikTok and Instagram and Snapchat than they are on Facebook.

You have written about this a lot. These apps are creating long-term mental health issues such as eating disorders for young people, including also we just heard in that report about selling drugs that turn out to be laced with fentanyl and kids died. Are we as a society, is the news media in general paying enough attention to that?

SEETHARAMAN: I don't think we fully understand the way that these apps work and interact in our communities. We know that Instagram has internal research that said that for about one-third of teenagers who already experience body image issues, that one-third of them felt like Instagram made things worse, right? We know that for at least a subset of teens, it's not -- may not be 100 percent, but at least a sizable chunk of them, that Instagram aggravates pre-existing issues. So that's got to be the case with all these other companies.

But what I'm not necessarily -- what we're not really getting from those companies is what their findings are, their research and how robust that research is. That's one thing from these Facebook files. You see them and you see that this is a company full of people who are conscientious, who are thoughtful, thinking through these big issues. I'm not sure if the other companies that testified today have similarly robust kind of integrity teams inside the company.

TAPPER: Yeah, and as opaque as Facebook is, these other companies are even less transparent.

Deepa Seetharaman, thank you so much. Appreciate it. Great to have you on.

We have breaking news for you now when it comes to vaccinating children against COVID. An FDA advisory panel has just voted to recommend the authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for kids 5 to 11 years old.

This shot is one-third of the dose of the vaccination given to adults. It's about 10 micrograms, I believe. [16:25:03]

It's two shots separated by two or three weeks, I think.

This is not the final sign-off needed to get shots into little arms immediately. The FDA has to then take this advisory committee's decision into consideration. And then after that, the CDC will weigh in. We think that will happen next week.

Coming up -- while Steve Bannon is facing criminal contempt of Congress, some other Trump associates are talking to investigators about the insurrection voluntarily.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Topping our politics lead today, CNN is learning there are at least five former Trump aides who have talked to the January 6th committee voluntarily. They were contacted by the committee investigating the deadly January 6th insurrection as members try to piece together what led up to that horrible day.

CNN's chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins was first to report this development.

And, Kaitlan, this cannot be sitting well with Mr. Trump.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, no, because, of course, his attorney has instructed those aides who have gotten subpoenas from the committee not to comply saying, don't turn over any documents. Don't give any testimony to them. But this is separate because these are people who have not been subpoenaed by the committee. They're not legally compelled to go and speak to them.

But either the committee has reached out to them or they've reached out to the committee and decided to go and answer questions from the members of the committee or their staff to talk about what happened in the West Wing in the run up to what happened January 6. Of course, the day of is a day that the committee is greatly interested in learning more about.

And so, it's notable that at least five of these former Trump staffers have gone in willingly to speak about what they know to share information. It's not clear exactly, of course, the extent of those conversations or whether or not they gleaned anything. But we know the committee is trying to paint a picture of what is largely a black hole on January 6th which is what happened inside the west wing that day and what conversations top aides were having. So this is notable, Jake, and it also comes as we're hearing from five other former Trump aides that they have been reached out to by the committee trying to get in touch with them to see if they also like to come in and talk about what they know. And so this kind of ranges in the reasons of why they're doing this.

Some believe they just have information they'd like to share. Some are trying to avoid a potential legal fight over a subpoena. And, of course, this does come as the president is engaged in a legal battle over this because, as you know, Jake, he has sued the January 6th committee, he sued the National Archives because they are trying to get testimony, trying to get documents from that day. So this is notable as well.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins from the White House for us, thank you so much.

Joining us now, January 6th select committee member and Democrat from Maryland, Congressman Jamie Raskin.

Congressman Raskin, good to see you again.

So, CNN is reporting as you just heard five Trump aides at least have talked to the committee. But is that a low estimate? Are there even more we don't know about?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): Well, I have reason to think that leaks around that are coming from the witnesses themselves because I'm quite certain they're not coming from the committee and there are certain things that indicate it's the witnesses themselves who are speaking. Look, those people are in a difficult position because Donald Trump, of course, is still the boss of the Republican Party. A lot of these people are still involved in campaigns and political work.

At the same time I've got good reason to believe a number of them are horrified and scandalized by what took place on January 6th and they want to do their legal duty and their civic duty by coming forward to explain exactly what happened. So, you know, we're going to continue to encourage everybody who has relevant information to come and talk to the January 6th committee.

TAPPER: I understand you are not naming them right now and you're trying to get their Cooperation. But will we ultimately find out who is voluntarily cooperating, who used to work for the Trump White House?

RASKIN: Well, unless there's an agreement not to make it public, I think that all of this will become clear in a matter of time. You know, we don't want to set people up for retaliation by president Trump who, as we can see from the Bannon matter, is doing whatever he can to stop people from testifying.

And, you know, we consider that also an interference with our work. There was the worst assault on the U.S. Capitol since the war of 1812. The most politically dangerous attack on our democracy, really, since the Civil War. And most people are rising to the occasion and understand that.

But Donald Trump wants to keep it going. He said the other day that the real insurrection took place on November 3rd, which is (AUDIO GAP) for a former president of the United States to say. That was the day of the election.

TAPPER: Right. So CNN has also learned, Congressman, that two Trump- era Department of Homeland Security Officials, Chad Wolf, and Ken Cuccinelli have been asked to voluntarily speak to the committee.

Are you going to ask them if the White House pressured them to help him overturn the election?

RASKIN: Well, there are several different lines of investigative inquiry that correspond to what took place on that day. There was a mass protest which was, you know, totally protected by the First Amendment that became a riot. So we're interested in how that happened.


Then there was an insurrection of groups like the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, the 3 Percenters, the Aryan Nations, the militia groups, QAnon followers who came locked and loaded as one of their hashtags had it, ready for civil war part 2 is another hashtag had it. And that was all surrounding a coup, a political coup directed not against the president of the United States but against the vice president of the United States, Mike Pence.

So we're very interested in each level of this activity, but ultimately it comes back to the president, to then-president Donald Trump and his determination to thwart the certification of the electoral votes. The whole point was to, you know, kick out the electors coming from Georgia, Arizona and Pennsylvania, lowering --


RASKIN: -- Joe Biden's (AUDIO GAP) to below 270 and putting it into the House of Representatives for a contingent election.

TAPPER: So, Steve Bannon, after the House voted to do so, was held in criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to participate in the subpoena. And he was referred to the Justice Department that criminal contempt of Congress charge a week ago.

Is Merrick Garland, the attorney general, dragging his feet on whether or not to formally charge Bannon?

RASKIN: Well, Jake, they have obviously got their process. They've got to run their traps on all of the guidelines for deciding on a criminal prosecution in a case like that. We think it's an open and shut case. We subpoenaed Steve Bannon to come here to bring documents with him, and to submit to an interview. He simply didn't show up.

Now in the United States, you've got the power to invoke your privilege against self-incrimination. You can say that might incriminate me. I think I may have committed a crime. I'm not going to speak about it. That's fine.

But you can't just not show up. You at least have to come say your name, address, your profession and answer those questions that don't relate to something that might implicate you.

But he just blew us off. That's a crime in the District of Columbia the way it's a crime across the country. And the Justice Department will have to deal with it. But we have other sanctions available to us that we will use either in his case or in the case of other people who decide that they are too good for the justice process of the United States and too good for a congressional subpoena.

TAPPER: Democrat of Maryland, Congressman Jamie Raskin, thank you so much for your time. Appreciate it.

A new report says the gun that Alec Baldwin fired was previously loaded with live ammo just hours earlier for target practice.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our national lead, moments ago CNN obtained what may be the final photograph of Halyna Hutchins working on the New Mexico film set before her tragic death. A crew member shared this image on Facebook from the set of the film "Rust." That's Hutchins to the right of the camera in a puffy jacket, headphones seen with Alec Baldwin in the background.

There's also new reporting that the gun was filled with live ammo just hours before that tragedy used by crew members, we're told, for target practice. That's according to sources who spoke to the site 'The Wrap".

And as CNN's Stephanie Elam reports for us now, it's raising series new questions about what safety protocols were actually followed on set.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The "Rust" movie set now shut down as more details emerge about what the set was like before the fatal shot fired by Alec Baldwin that killed the film's director of photography. "The Wrap" now reporting the crew used on- site live weapons for firing live rounds for target practice during down time and production.

SHARON WAXMAN, FOUNDER & CEO, THE WRAP: We learned that this happened the morning of the day that Halyna Hutchins was killed in the early afternoon. So what happened between the time those guns came back, the live ammunition in them, and they should have been checked.

ELAM: CNN has not been able to confirm "The Wrap's" reporting. New court documents show the presence of ammunition on the set. Some found in boxes. Some loose in a tray and in a fanny pack. And several spent casings along with three revolvers.

The records do not indicate what type of ammunition was found, whether there were blanks, dummy rounds or live ammo.

MARCUS COOLEY, PROP MASTER AND PRODUCTION DESIGNER: Hundreds of thousands of rounds are fired very year on the set. As far as the live ammunition, there's no reason they should ever, ever have come on the set.

ELAM: An affidavit reveals the assistant director yelled "cold gun," when he handed it to Baldwin, a term indicating the gun was not loaded with live ammo. But it wasn't. The actor firing what he thought was a secured gun instead killing Halyna Hutchins as she set up the camera shot and injuring the film's director.

CALLER: We need help immediately.

ELAM: It's a tragedy many say they saw coming. Including veteran prop master Neal Zoromski who told the "L.A. Times" he turned down the prop master job on "Rust," calling the production an accident waiting to happen, and warning corners were being cut on safety.

NEAL ZOROMSKI, PROP MASTER WHO TURNED DOWN JOB ON "RUST": I impressed upon them there were great concerns about that and they really didn't respond to my concerns about that.

ELAM: The affidavit also painting a picture of the low-budget film plagued by problems. That morning, camera people walked off set over pay and housing disputes. The scene in which Baldwin was to fire the weapon happening after lunch. But the gun was ruled safe before lunch.

The film's director couldn't confirm to detectives if it was checked after everyone returned to the set, raising the question about the allegation the crew was using prop weapons for target practice.

COOLEY: It's not something I would participate in.


It's not something that's allowed. And any crew member that's on a project that that is partaking is putting themselves by allowing that to happen and others at risk.


ELAM (on camera): Now CNN has reached out to the production company behind "Rust", in light of this reporting from "The Wrap". And they referred back to the previous statement basically saying that safety is the utmost importance. They are doing their own internal investigation and they received no official complaints about prop safety and weapons safety on the set of "Rust."

Also worth noting is that the state of New Mexico said that they had not received any official complaints either before this tragic accident on the movie set -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Stephanie Elam in Santa Fe, New Mexico, thank you so much. Why was there so much ammunition around the film set? Coming up next,

we're going to talk to someone who is an expert on handling weapons in film.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: We are back with our national lead and serious new questions about the safety protocols on the movie set of the film "Rust" in the hours and days leading up to the tragic shooting.

Here to discuss is Steve Wolf. He's a stunt coordinator and firearms safety expert for movies and television. He's also worked with detectives in the past to investigate deaths on movie sets.

Good to see you again.

I want to get your reaction to these reports that members of the clue were, quote, plinking just before. They loaded guns, including the one later handed to Alec Baldwin, we're told, with live ammunition and did target practice, bottles and cans.

How common is that on sets during downtime and how dangerous to be loading prop weapons with live ammo?

STEVE WOLF, THEATRICAL FIREARMS SAFETY EXPERT: Well, first of all, Jake, I want to clarify with you. It wasn't a prop gun, so you can't load a prop gun with live ammo. This is live ammo. This is a prop gun. It doesn't go in there.

So they weren't loading prop guns. They were loading real guns and shooting them.

TAPPER: Right.

WOLF: Then they were using real guns, those same real guns on set as their props. So that's where they got in trouble.

What people do in their downtime on set is totally up to them. If they want to go shooting, that's a lawful recreational activity. The problem is that if you use the same guns, guns which should never have been brought on the set in the first place because they are capable of shooting live ammo, that's where you get in trouble.

TAPPER: Anyone who has ever handled firearms, and I include myself in this, knows that there are just basic safety protocols when it comes to guns. Always assume it's loaded. Never have your finger on the trigger. Never point it at -- in any direction you're not ready to fire on.

But it's hard to square just like these very basic safety protocols with what we're hearing about the set.

WOLF: That's correct. And we don't say -- assume that it's loaded because assume gets you into the realm of make believe. Act as if.

TAPPER: Right.

WOLF: No. All guns are always loaded. So there's no mistake.

Unless you personally pick up a firearm, open it, look inside it and verify yourself that the gun is clear, the gun is loaded.

And as soon as this gun leaves my hand, by definition of safety, the gun is now loaded. So this issue about they were checked before lunch, were they checked again after lunch, you check a gun every single time you pick it up and you verify its condition to make sure that it's either clear or it's loaded.

There's no excuse for anyone to handle a firearm without knowing its condition themselves. You don't have to have a PhD in ballistics --

TAPPER: Right.

WOLF: -- to look at a gun and know whether it's loaded or not. You need a two-minute explanation from someone who knows what they're doing who can share that information with you.


WOLF: So, the idea that Alec or anyone else would rely on someone else to tell them hot gun, cold gun, to me is really irrelevant. I don't care what someone says about the gun. Hot, cold, call it a pancake if you want. When I pick it up, I look in it. I know what's in it and I believe that Alec should have done the same thing.

TAPPER: So, the ABC cop drama "The Rookie", a great show I watch with my son all the time, they're instituting a new policy. They're banning live weapons on set. Instead, actors are going to use air soft guns or replica guns, with reduced power. Typically fire plastic pellets.

Do you think this should be the new policy for all TV shows and movies, no actual guns on set ever?

WOLF: I think that modified guns are fine. And I think that guns without ammo are fine. If we just wanted to make a blanket policy to ensure that no one got shot, though, then saying, yes, no guns that are capable of having live ammo put into them should be brought on the set. And then you eliminate the possibility of that problem.

TAPPER: Steve Wolf --

WOLF: You can actually, if you want authenticity, you can start with any real gun and then you can have little welts put into the cylinder or into the chamber that once welded in there would make it impossible to put live ammo in there.


WOLF: Because it would hit up against a weld and couldn't go in.


Whereas a blank being a shorter casing could still go in there.

TAPPER: All right. Steve Wolf, thank you so much.

WOLF: So there's no argument that you lose authenticity if you ban real guns. You just have to modify them so they can't have live ammo put into them.

TAPPER: All right. Appreciate it, Steve. Thank you so much.

Coming up, key Democrats just met with President Biden at the White House. Are they any closer to a deal on Biden's agenda? We'll ask one of those members of Congress in that meeting, next.


TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.